Where was the word—the word that he had been used to utter night and morning, the word that had meant to him more than he had ever known? What had become of it?
He groped for it in the dark room of his mind. He had thought he could lay his hand upon it in a moment, but it was gone. Some one had taken it away. Everything else was most clear to him: the terror of death; the lonely soul appealing from his father’s eyes; the instant need of comfort and help. But at the one point where he looked for help he could find nothing; only an empty space. The word of hope had vanished. He felt for it blindly and in desperate haste.
“Father, wait! I have forgotten something—it has slipped away from me. I shall find it in a moment. There is hope—I will tell you presently—oh, wait!”
The bony hand gripped his like a vice; the glazed eyes opened wider. “Tell me,” whispered the old man; “tell me quickly, for I must go.”
The voice sank into a dull rattle. The fingers closed once more, and relaxed. The light behind the eyes went out.
Hermas, the master of the House of the Golden Pillars, was keeping watch by the dead.
LOVE IN SEARCH OF A WORD
The break with the old life was as clean as if it had been cut with a knife. Some faint image of a hermit’s cell, a bare lodging in a back street of Antioch, a class-room full of earnest students, remained in Hermas’ memory. Some dull echo of the voice of John the Presbyter, and the murmured sound of chanting, and the murmur of great congregations, still lingered in his ears; but it was like something that had happened to another person, something that he had read long ago, but of which he had lost the meaning.
His new life was full and smooth and rich—too rich for any sense of loss to make itself felt. There were a hundred affairs to busy him, and the days ran swiftly by as if they were shod with winged sandals.
Nothing needed to be considered, prepared for, begun. Everything was ready and waiting for him. All that he had to do was to go on with it. The estate of Demetrius was even greater than the world had supposed. There were fertile lands in Syria which the emperor had given him, marble-quarries in Phrygia, and forests of valuable timber in Cilicia; the vaults of the villa contained chests of gold and silver; the secret cabinets in the master’s room were full of precious stones. The stewards were diligent and faithful. The servants of the magnificent household rejoiced at the young master’s return. His table was spread; the rose-garland of pleasure was woven for his head, and his cup was already filled with the spicy wine of power.
The period of mourning for his father came at a fortunate moment, to seclude and safeguard him from the storm of political troubles and persecutions that fell upon Antioch after the insults offered by the mob to the imperial statues in the year 887. The friends of Demetrius, prudent and conservative persons, gathered around Hermas and made him welcome to their circle. Chief among them was Libanius, the sophist, his nearest neighbour, whose daughter Athenais had been the playmate of Hermas in the old days.