“Take my arm,” said Balder; and as together they descended the spur of the mountain, he added lovingly, “I’ll bring no clouds across your sky, my dear old man!” So the hospitable inn received them.
The discussion between the two was never renewed; but Balder held to his creed. He elaborated and fortified what had been mere outline before. No dogma can be conceived which many circumstances will not seem to confirm and justify. But we cannot attempt to keep abreast of Balder’s deductions. There are as many theological systems as individual souls; and no system can be wholly apprehended by any one save its author.
Mastery of men and things,—supreme knowledge to the end of supreme power,—such seems to have been his ambition,—an ambition too abstract and lofty for much rivalry. Nature and human nature were at once his laboratory and his instruments. His senses were to him outlets of divinity. The good and evil of such a scheme scarce need pointing out. It was the apotheosis of self-respect; but self-respect raised to such a height becomes self-worship; human vision dazzles at the sublimity of the prospect; at the moment of greatest weakness the soul arrogates invincible power, and falls! For, the mightier man is, the more absolutely does he need the support of a mightier Man than he can ever be.
No doubt Balder had often been assailed by doubts and weariness; the path had seemed too long and arduous, and he had secretly pined for some swift issue from perplexity and delay. In such a moment was it that the voice of darkness gained his ear, and, like a will-o’-the-wisp, lured him to calamity. Verily, it is not easy to be God. Only builders of the Tower of Babel know the awfulness of its overthrow.
Balder’s spirit lay prostrate among the ruins, too stunned and bewildered to see the reason or justice of his fall. Such a state is dangerous, for, the better part of the mind being either occupied with its disaster or stupefied by it, the superficial part is readily moved to folly or extravagance,—to deeds and thoughts which a saner moment would scout and ridicule. Well is it, then, if the blind steps are guided to better foothold than they know how to choose. Angels are said to be particularly watchful over those who sleep; perhaps, also, during the darkness which follows on moral perversion.
After lying motionless for half an hour, Balder suddenly sat upright and settled his hat on his head. A new purpose had come to him which, arriving later than it might have done, made him wish to act upon it without delay.
The old mariner had by this time bailed out his boat, and, having shipped a mast in the forward thwart, was dropping down stream. As he neared the promontory Balder hailed him:—
“Hullo! skipper, take me across?”