Imágenes de páginas

tle deformed creature rolling about on the Of his origin he knew nothing except that littered floor of her uncleanly hovel, he had from the old woman's rambling outbursts trembled at the sound of her voice and he had gathered that he was of Syrian had obeyed it like a beaten spaniel puppy. blood and a homeless outcast. When he had grown older he had seen But though he had so long trained himthat she lived upon alms and thievery and self to look downward that it had at last witchlike evil doings that made all decent become an effort to lift his heavily lashed folk avoid her. She had no kinsfolk or eyelids, there came a time when he learned friends, and only such visitors as came to that his eyes were not so hideously evil as her in the dark hours of night and seemed his task-mistress had convinced him that to consult with her as she sat and mum- they were. When he was only seven years bled strange incantations while she stirred old she sent him out to beg alms for her, a boiling pot. Zia had heard of sooth- and on the first day of his going forth she sayers and dealers with evil spirits, and at said a strange thing, the meaning of which such hours was either asleep on his pallet he could not understand. in a far corner or, if he lay awake, hid his "Go not forth with thine eyes bent face under his wretched covering and downward on the dust. Lift them, and stopped his ears. Once when she had look long at those from whom thou askest drawn near and found his large eyes open alms. Lift them and look as I see thee and staring at her in spellbound terror, look at the sky when thou knowest not I she had beaten him horribly and cast him am near thee. I have seen thee, hunchinto the storm raging outside.

back. Gaze at the passers-by as if thou A strange passion in her seemed her sawest their souls and asked help of hatred of his eyes. She could not endure them.” that he should look at her as if he were She said it with a fierce laugh of dethinking. He must not let his eyes rest rision, but when in his astonishment he on her for more than a moment when he involuntarily lifted his gaze to hers, she spoke. He must keep them fixed on the struck at him, her harsh laugh broken in ground or look away from her. From his

two. babyhood this had been so. A hundred "Not at me, hunchback! Not at me! times she had struck him when he was too At those who are ready to give!" she cried young to understand her reason.

The out. first strange lesson he had learned was He had gone out stunned with amazethat she hated his eyes and was driven to ment. He wondered so greatly that when fury when she found them resting inno- he at last sat down by the roadside under cently upon her. Before he was three a fig-tree he sat in a dream. He looked years old he had learned this thing and up at the blueness above him as he always had formed the habit of looking down did when he was alone. His eyelids did upon the earth as he limped about. For not seem heavy when he lifted them to long he thought that his eyes were as look at the sky. The blueness and the hideous as his body was distorted. In her billows of white clouds brought rest to frenzies she told him that evil spirits him, and made him forget what he was. looked out from them and that he was The floating clouds were his only friends. possessed of devils. Without thought of There was something-yes, there was rebellion or resentment he accepted with something, he did not know what. He timorous humility, as part of his existence, wished he were a cloud himself, and could her taunts at his twisted limbs. What lose himself at last in the blueness as the use in rebellion or anger? With the clouds did when they melted away. fatalism of the East he resigned himself Surely the blueness was the something. to that which was. He had been born a The soft, dull pad of camel's feet apdeformity, and even his glance carried proached upon the road without his hearevil. This was life. He knew no other. ing them. He was not roused from his

[graphic][merged small][merged small]


absorption until the camel stopped its stranger's own, they became large with tread so

near him that he started and tears-big, piteous tears. looked up.

It was necessary that he "Why?" persisted the man, anxiously. should look up a long way.

He was a

"Is it because thou seest evil in my soul ?” deformed little child, and the camel was “No! no!" sobbed Zia. “One taught a tall and splendid one, with rich trap- me to look away because I am hideous and pings and golden bells. The man it car

-my eyes-are evil.” ried was dressed richly, and the expression "Evil!" said the stranger. “They have

“ of his dark face was at once restleșs and lied to thee." He was trembling as he curious. He was bending down and star- spoke. "A man who has been pondering ing at Zia as if he were something on sin dare not pass their beauty by. They strange.

draw him, and show him his own soul. "What dost thou see, child ?” he said at Having seen them, I must turn my camlast, and he spoke almost in a breathless el's feet backward and go no farther on whisper. "What art thou waiting for?” this road which was to lead me to a black

Zia stumbled to his feet and held out deed.” He bent down, and dropped a his bag, frightened, because he had never purse into the child's alms-bag, still starbegged before and did not know how, and ing at him and breathing hard. "They if he did not carry back money and food, have the look," he muttered, "of eyes that he would be horribly beaten again. might behold the Messiah. Who knows?

“Alms! alms !” he stammered. “Mas- Who knows?" And he turned his camter-Lord- I beg for- for her who keeps el's head, still shuddering a little, and he

She is poor and old. Alms, great rode away back toward the place from lord, for a woman who is old !"

which he had come. The man with the restless face still There was gold in the purse he had stared. He spoke as if unaware that he given, and when Zia carried it back to uttered words and as if he were afraid. Judith, she snatched it from him and

"The child's eyes!" he said. "I cannot asked him many questions. She made him pass him by! What is it? I must not be repeat word for word all that had passed. held back. But the unearthly beauty of After that he was sent out to beg day his eyes!” He caught his breath as he after day, and in time he vaguely underspoke. And then he seemed to awaken as stood that the old woman had spoken one struggling against a spell.

falsely when she had said that evil spirits "What is thy name?” he asked.

looked forth hideously from his eyes. PeoZia also had lost his breath.


ple often said that they were beautiful, had the man meant when he spoke of his and gave him money because something

in his gaze drew them near to him. But He told his name, but he could answer this was not all. At times there were no further questions. He did not know those who spoke under their breath to whose son he was; he had no home; of one another of some wonder of light in his mistress he knew only that her name them, some strange luminousness which was Judith and that she lived on alms. was not earthly.

Even while he related these things he “He surely sees that which we cannot. remembered his lesson, and, dropping his Perhaps when he is a man he will be a eyelids, fixed his gaze on the camel's feet. great soothsayer and reader of the stars,

"Why dost thou cast thine eyes down- he heard a woman whisper to a companward?” the man asked in a troubled and ion one day. intense voice.

Those who were evil were afraid to Zia could not speak, being stricken meet his gaze, and hated it as old Judith with fear and the dumbness of bewilder- did, though, as he was not their servant, ment. He stood quite silent, and as he they dared not strike him when he lifted lifted his eyes and let them rest on the his soft, heavy eyelids.



But Zia could not understand what old boy, a helpless little hunchback men

, people meant when they whispered about dicant. him or turned away fiercely. A weight When he saw the first white-and-red was lifted from his soul when he realized spot upon his flesh he stood still and stared that he was not as revolting as he had at it, gasping, and the sweat started out believed. And when people spoke kindly upon him and rolled down in great drops. to him he began to know something like "Jehovah!” he whispered, "God of Ishappiness for the first time in his life. rael! Thy servant is but a child !" He brought home so much in his alms- But there broke out upon him other bag that the old woman ceased to beat spots, and every time he found a new one him and gave him more liberty. He was his flesh quaked, and he could not help allowed to go out at night and sleep under looking at it in secret again and again. the stars. At such times he used to lie Every time he looked it was because he and look up at the jeweled myriads until hoped it might have faded away. But no he felt himself drawn upward and float- spot faded away, and the skin on the palms ing nearer and nearer to that unknown of his hands began to be rough and something which he felt also in the high cracked and to show spots also. blueness of the day.

In a cave on a hillside near the road When he first began to feel as if some where he sat and begged there lived a mysterious ailment was creeping upon him deathly being who, with face swathed in he kept himself out of Judith's way as linen and with bandaged stumps of limbs, much as possible. He dared not tell her hobbled forth now and then, and came that sometimes he could scarcely crawl down to beg also, but always keeping at from one place to another. A miserable a distance from all human creatures, and, fevered weakness became his secret. As as he approached the pitiful, rattled loudly the old woman took no notice of him ex- his wooden clappers, wailing out: "Uncept when he brought back his day's earn- clean! Unclean!" ings, it was easy to evade her. One morn- It was the leper Berias, whose hopeless ing, however, she fixed her eyes on him tale of awful days was almost done. Zia suddenly and keenly.

himself had sometimes limped up the hill"Why art thou so white?" she said, side and laid some of his own poor food and caught him by the arm, whirling him upon a stone near his cave so that he toward the light. "Art thou ailing?" might find it. One day he had also taken "No! no!" cried Zia.

a branch of almond-blossom in full flower, She held him still for a few seconds, and had laid it by the food. And when still staring.

he had gone away and stood at some dis“Thou art too white,” she said. “I will tance watching to see the poor ghost come have no such whiteness. It is the white- forth to take what he had given, he had ness of-of an accursed thing. Get thee seen him first clutch at the blossoming gone!”

branch and fall upon his face, holding it He went away, feeling cold and shaken. to his breast, a white, bound, shapeless He knew he was white. One or two thing, sobbing, and uttering hoarse, croakalmsgivers had spoken of it, and had ing, unhuman cries. No almsgiver but looked at him a little fearfully. He him- Zia had ever dreamed of bringing a flower self could see that the flesh of his thin to him who was forever cut off from all body was becoming an unearthly color. bloom and loveliness. Now and then he had shuddered as he It was this white, shuddering creature looked at it because— because — There that Zia remembered with the sick chill was one curse so horrible beyond all oth- of horror when he saw the spots. ers that the strongest man would have "Unclean! Unclean!” he heard the quailed in his dread of its drawing near cracked voice cry to the sound of the him. And he was a child, a twelve-year- wooden clappers. "Unclean! Unclean!"


Judith was standing at the door of her And with his rags he fled naked through hovel one morning when Zia was going the doorway, and hid himself in the little forth for the day. He had fearfully been wood beyond. aware that for days she had been watching him as he had never known her to LATER, as he went on his way, he had watch him before. This morning she had hidden himself in the daytime behind followed him to the door, and had held bushes by the wayside or off the road; he him there a few moments in the light had crouched behind rocks and boulders; with some harsh speech, keeping her eyes he had slept in caves when he had found fixed on him the while.

them; he had shrunk away from all huEven as they so stood there fell upon man sight. He knew it could not be long the clear air of the morning a hollow, before he would be discovered, and then far-off sound-the sound of wooden clap- he would be shut up; and afterward he pers rattled together, and the hopeless would be as Berias until he died alone. crying of two words, “Unclean! Un- Like unto Berias! To him it seemed as clean!”

though surely never child had sobbed beThen silence fell. Upon Zia descended fore as he sobbed, lying hidden behind his a fear beyond all power of words to utter. boulders, among his bushes, on the bare In his quaking young torment he lifted hill among the rocks. his eyes and met the gaze of the old wo- For the first four nights of his wanderman as it flamed down


ing he had not known where he was go“Go within !" she commanded sud- ing, but on this fifth night he discovered. denly, and pointed to the wretched room He was on the way to Bethlehem-beauinside. He obeyed her, and she followed tiful little Bethlehem curving on the crest him, closing the door behind them. of the Judean mountains and smiling

"Tear off thy garment!" she ordered. down upon the fairness of the fairest of “Strip thyself to thy skin-to thy skin!" sweet valleys, rich with vines and figs and

He shook from head to foot, his trem- olives and almond-trees. He dimly rebling hands almost refusing to obey him. called stories he had overheard of its loveShe did not touch him, but stood apart, liness, and when he found that he had glaring. His garments fell from him and wandered unknowingly toward it, he was lay in a heap at his feet, and he stood aware of a faint sense of peace. He had among them naked.

seen nothing of any other part of the One look, and she broke forth, shaking world than the poor village outside which with fear herself, into a breathless storm the hovel of his bond-mistress had clung of fury.

to a low hill. Since he was near it, he “Thou hast known this thing and hid- vaguely desired to see Bethlehem. den it!" she raved. “Leper! Leper! He had learned of its nearness as he lay Accursed hunchback thing!"

hidden in the undergrowth on the mounAs he stood in his nakedness and sobbed tain-side that he had begun to climb the great, heavy childish sobs, she did not dare night before. Awakening from sleep, he to strike him, and raged the more.

had heard many feet passing up the climbIf it were known that she had harbored ing road - the feet of men and women him, the priests would be upon her, and and children, of camels and asses, and all all that she had would be taken from her had seemed to be of a procession ascendand burned. She would not even let him ing the mountain-side. Lying flat upon put his clothes on in her house.

the earth, he had parted the bushes cau"Take thy rags and begone in thy nak- tiously, and watched, and listened to the edness! Clothe thyself on the hillside! shouts, cries, laughter, and talk of those Let none see thee until thou art far away! who were near enough to be heard. So Rot as thou wilt, but dare not to name bit by bit he had heard the story of the me! Begone! begone! begone!"

passing throng. The great Emperor Au

« AnteriorContinuar »