|Duccio di Buoninsegna, The Raising of Lazarus, 1310-11|
When Lazarus emerged from the grave wherein for the space of three days and three nights he had dwelt under the mysterious dominion of death, and returned living to his abode, the ominous peculiarities which later made his very name a thing of dread remained for a long time unnoticed.
Rejoicing in his return to life, his friends and neighbors overwhelmed him with caresses and they satisfied their eager interest by ministering to him and caring for his food, his drink and his raiment. They clothed him in rich attire, bright with the hues of hope and merriment, and when he sat among them once more, arrayed like the bridegroom in his wedding garments, and ate and drank once more, they wept for joy and summoned the neighbors to view him, who had so miraculously risen from the dead. The neighbors came and rejoiced; strangers too came from distant cities and villages and in accents of tumultuous praise voiced their homage to the miracle—the house of Mary and Martha hummed like a beehive.
All that seemed novel in the features of Lazarus and in his demeanor they explained as natural traces of his serious illness and the shock through which he had passed. It was manifest that the destructive effect of Death upon the corpse had been merely arrested by the miraculuous power, but not altogether undone. And what the hand of Death had already accomplished upon the face and the body of Lazarus was like an artist's unfinished sketch covered by a thin film. A deep earthy bluish pallor rested on the temples of Lazarus, below his eyes and on his hollow cheeks; his lanky fingers were of the same earthy blue and his nails, which had grown long during his sojourn in the grave had turned livid. Here and there, on the lips and elsewhere, his skin, swollen in the grave, had cracked open and was covered by a fine reddish film that glistened like transparent slime. And he had grown very fat. His body, inflated in the grave, retained that ominous obesity beneath which one scents the putrid sap of dissolution. But the cadaverous and fetid odor which had permeated the burial robes of Lazarus, and seemingly his very body, soon disappeared completely; in the course of weeks even the bluish tint of his hands and of his countenance faded, and time also smoothed out the reddish blisters though they never vanished altogether. Such was the appearance of Lazarus as he faced the world in this his second life. To those who had seen him buried it seemed perfectly natural.
The manner of Lazarus also had undergone a change, but this circumstance surprised no one and failed to attract due attention. Until his death Lazarus had always been care free and merry. He had loved laughter and harmless jests. It was this agreeable and merry disposition, free from malice and gloom, that had made him so well beloved by the Teacher. But now he was grave and silent. He neither jested himself nor responded with an approving smile to the jests of others: and the words which he uttered on rare occasions were the simplest, most commonplace and indispensable words, as bare of a profounder meaning as the sounds with which animals express pain or pleasure, thirst and hunger. Such words a man may speak all his life and none would ever learn what grieved or pleased him in the depths of his soul.
Thus he sat with the face of a corpse over which for the space of three days the hand of death had held sway in the gloom of the grave,—arrayed in solemn wedding garments that glistened with ruddy gold and blood-red crimson; dull and silent, ominously transformed and uncanny, but still undiscovered in his new character, he sat at the festive board among his banqueting friends and neighbors. Now tenderly, now tempestuously the waves of rejoicing surged around him; fervently affectionate glances feasted upon his face that was still numb, with the chill of the grave; the warm hand of a friend caressed his blue tipped leaden fingers. The music played. They had summoned musicians to play merry tunes: the cymbal, the pipe, the lute and the timbrel. And it sounded like the humming of bees, like the chirping of crickets, like the singing of birds, this rejoicing in the house of Mary and Martha.
A reckless one lifted the veil. A reckless one, with one breath of a fleeting word, destroyed the sweet dreams and revealed the truth in its hideous nakedness. The thought was not yet clear in the questioner's head when his lips, parting in a smile inquired:
"Why don't you tell us, Lazarus, what was There?" And they all paused, amazed at the query, as though they had just realized that Lazarus had been dead three days, and they glanced up curiously awaiting the answer. But Lazarus was silent.
"Will you not tell us?" questioned the curious one "Was is so dreadful There?"
And again the thought failed to keep pace with the words: if it had kept abreast with them the question would not have been put, for it gripped in the next instant the questioner's own heart with fear unutterable. And they were all perturbed, they waited eagerly for the reply of Lazarus; but he was dumb, looking cold and stern and downcast. And then they noted anew, as though for the first time, the dreadful bluish pallor of his countenance and his hideous obesity; his livid hand still reposed on the table as though forgotten there. All eyes were fixed on that hand in a strange fascination as though expecting that it might give the craved reply. The musicians had still been playing, but lo! now the silence reached them too, like a rivulet which reaches and quenches the scattered coals, and smothered were the sounds of merriment. The pipes were mute; the high-sounding cymbal and the melodious timbrel were silent; with the sound of a breaking chord, as though song itself were dying, tremulously, brokenly groaned the lute; and all was still.
"Thou wilt not?" repeated the questioner unable to repress his prating tongue. Silence reigned and the bluish hand reposed on the table and did not stir. Then it moved a little, and all heaved a sigh of relief and lifted their eyes: Lazarus, the risen, was gazing straight into their faces with a glance that took in all,—stolid and gruesome.
This was on the third day after he had emerged from his grave. Since then many had tested the pernicious power of his gaze, but neither those whom it wrecked forever, nor those who in the primal sources of life that are as mysterious as death itself found force to resist, could ever explain the nature of that dreadful, that invisible something which reposed in the depths of his black pupils. Lazarus looked into the world calmly and frankly without seeking to hide anything, without any thought of revealing anything; his gaze was as cold as the glance of one infinitely indifferent to all things living. Many thoughtless people jostled him in the street failing to recognize him, and only later learned the identity of that quiet corpulent man the edge of whose gaudy and festive apparel had brushed against them. The sun shone as brightly as ever, the fountains murmured their song, and the native sky remained as cloudless and azure as before, but those who had fallen under the sway of that mysterious glance neither felt the glow of the sun, nor heard the fountain nor recognized the sky. Some of these wept bitterly, others tore their hair in despair and madly called to their friends for help, but mostly it happened that they began to die, languidly, without a struggle, drooping for many weary years, pining away under the eyes of their friends, fading, withering, listless like a tree drying up silently on rocky ground. And the first, who cried and stormed, came sometimes back to life, but the others—never.
"Then thou wilt not tell us, Lazarus, what thou hast seen There?" for the third time repeated the insistent inquirer. But now his voice was dull and weary, and deathly grey languor looked from his eyes. And the same deathly dull languor hid the faces of the others like a veil of dust: they exchanged glances of dreary wonderment as though at a loss to grasp why they had met around the richly laden table. The conversation lagged. The guests began to feel vaguely that it was time to go home, but they were too weak to overcome the viscous and paralyzing listlessness that had robbed their muscles of strength, and they kept their seats, each for himself, isolated like dimly flickering lights scattered about the field in the darkness of night.
But the musicians were paid to play, and once more they took up their instruments and the air was filled with the sounds of music: but the notes, both merry and mournful, sounded mechanical and forced. The same familiar melody was unrolled before the ears of the guests, but the latter listened in wonderment: they could not understand why people found it necessary or amusing to have others pull at tightly drawn strings or whistle with inflated cheeks through thin reeds to produce the oddly discordant noises.
"How badly they play!" someone said.
The musicians felt hurt and departed. One after another the guests left too, for the night had already fallen. And when the calm of night surrounded them, and they had begun to breathe at ease there rose before each one of them the image of Lazarus: the blue cadaverous face, the wedding garments, gaudy and sumptuous, and the frigid stare in the depths of which had congealed the Horrible. As though, turned to stone they stood in different corners, and darkness enveloped them; and in that darkness more and more vividly burned the dreadful vision of him who for three days and for three nights had been under the mysterious spell of Death. Three days he had been dead; three times the sun rose and set, and he was dead; the children played, the brooks coursed babbling over the stones, the biting dust swept over the highway,—but he was dead. And now he was again among the living—touching them, looking at them—LOOKING at them! and from the black orbs of his pupils, as through a dark glass, there gazed upon the people the inscrutable Beyond.
No one took care of Lazarus; he had retained no neighbors or friends, and the great desert which enchained the Holy City had encroached to the very threshold of his dwelling. And it entered his house, made itself broad on his couch, like a spouse, and quenched the fire in his hearth. One after the other his sisters, Mary and Martha, forsook him; for a long time Martha had loathed to leave him, not knowing who would feed him and comfort him; she wept and prayed.
But one night when the wind swept over the desert and whistled through the tops of the cypress trees bending them over the roof of his hut, she quietly dressed and quietly went out into the darkness. Lazarus might have heard the slamming door, he might have heard it banging against the doorposts as it failed to shut tightly. But he did not rise, he did not step out, he did not investigate. And all through the night until the morn the cypress trees rustled overhead, and the door piteously knocked against the posts letting in the cold, the greedy, the insistent desert.
He was shunned as a leper, and as a leper they almost forced him to wear a bell around his neck in order to warn the people of his approach, but someone, with blanching cheek, suggested how dreadful it would be to hear the bell of Lazarus in the dead of night outside the windows,—and with blanching cheeks the people agreed with him.
And as he did nothing for himself, he would probably have starved had not his neighbors, impelled by a strange fear, saved some food for him. Children carried it to him. They did not fear him, neither did they mock him, as, with innocent cruelty, they often laugh at unfortunate beings. They were indifferent to him, and Lazarus evinced the same indifference toward them. Given over to the ravages of time and the encroachments of the desert, his house was falling to wreck and ruin, and his flock of goats, bleating and hungry, had a long time since scattered among his neighbors. His wedding garments too had grown old. Just as he had donned them on that happy day when the musicians played he had worn them ever since, without change, as though unable to see the difference between the new and the old, the torn and the whole. The bright colors had faded and paled; the wicked dogs of the city and the sharp thorns of the desert had rent the delicate fabric into shreds.
In the day time when the merciless sun consumed all that was living, and the very scorpions sought refuge under the stones writhing with a frenzied desire to sting he sat unmoved beneath the burning rays, holding aloft his blue streaked face and shaggy wild beard.
While yet the people stopped to talk to him, someone once inquired:
"Poor Lazarus, it evidently pleases thee to sit and look upon the sun?" and he replied:
"Yes. It pleases me."
So severe must have been the cold of those three days in the grave, so dense its gloom, that there was not any heat nor any light upon earth strong enough to warm Lazarus, bright enough to illumine the darkness of his eyes,—thus thought the curious as they departed sighing.
And when the sun's luridly crimson disc descended to earth Lazarus retired into the desert and walked straight towards the sun as though striving to catch up with it. Always he walked straight towards the sun, and those who tried to follow him in order to learn what he did at night in the desert had indelibly impressed on their memory the black silhouette of a tall and corpulent man against the crimson back-ground of the mighty orb. The night with its terrors drove them back, and they never learned what Lazarus was doing in the desert, but the image of the black shadow on a crimson background burned itself on their brain and refused to leave them. Like an animal frenziedly rubbing its eyes to remove a cinder they stupidly rubbed their eyes, but the impression left by Lazarus was not to be blotted out, and death alone granted oblivion.
But there were people afar off who had never seen Lazarus, having merely heard rumors of him. These with a daring curiosity that is stronger than fear and feeds on fear, with a secret sneer in their hearts, ventured to approach him as he basked in the sun, and engaged in conversation with him. By this time the appearance of Lazarus had somewhat changed for the better, and he no longer looked so terrifying. And in the first moment they snapped their fingers and thought disapprovingly of the folly of the inhabitants of the Holy City. And when their short conversation was over, they wended their way home, but their appearance was such that the inhabitants of the Holy City at once recognized them saying:
"There goes another madman upon whom Lazarus has cast his glance," and they paused raising their hands with compassion.
Brave warriors came rattling their arms, men who knew no fear; with laughter and songs came happy hearted youths; careworn traders, jingling their coins, ran in for a moment; and the haughty temple attendants left their staffs at the door of Lazarus,—but none returned the same as he had come. The same horrible pall sank upon their souls and imparted a novel appearance to the old familiar world.
Those who still felt like talking thus described their impressions.
"All objects visible to the eye and sensible to the touch became empty, light and diaphanous like unto luminous shadows flitting through the gloom."
"A great darkness enveloped the universe; and was not dispelled by the sun, the moon or the stars, but enshrouded the earth with a boundless black pall, embracing it like a mother."
"It penetrated all objects, even iron and stone, and the particles thereof lost their union and became lonely; it penetrated even into the hearts of the particles unto the severing of the very atoms."
"For the great void that surrounds the universe was not filled by things visible, by sun, moon or stars, but shoreless it stretched penetrating all things, severing all things, body from body, particle from particle."
"In emptiness the trees spread out their roots and the very trees seemed empty."
"In emptiness tottering to a phantom ruin, and empty themselves, rose ghostly temples, palaces and houses."
"And in that waste Man moved restlessly, and he too was empty and light like unto a shadow."
"For there was no more time, and the beginning of all things and the end thereof met face to face."
"The sound of the builders' hammers was still heard as they reared the edifice, but its downfall could be seen already, and behold, emptiness soon yawned over the ruins."
"Hardly a man was born, before funeral tapers gleamed at his bier; these barely flickered an instant, and emptiness reigned in the place of the Man, the funeral tapers and the bier."
"In the embrace of Gloom and Waste; Man trembled hopelessly with the dread of the Infinite."
Thus spoke those who had still a desire to speak. But those who would not speak and died in silence could have probably told much more.
At that time there lived in Rome a celebrated sculptor. Out of clay, marble and bronze he fashioned the forms of gods and of men, and such was the beauty of his work that men proclaimed it immortal. But the sculptor himself was dissatisfied with it and claimed that there was something else to strive for, a beauty that was truly supreme, such as he had never yet been able to fix in marble or bronze. "I have not yet garnered the splendor of the moon," he was wont to say. "I have not yet caught the radiance of the sun. My marble lacks soul, my beautiful bronze lacks life." At night, beneath the moonlit sky, he roamed about the highways, crossing the black shadows of cypress trees, his white tunic gleaming in the light of the moon, and friends who chanced to meet him hailed him in jest: "Art thou gathering moonlight, Aurelius? And where be thy baskets?"
And joining in their laughter he made reply, pointing to his eyes:
"Behold the baskets wherein I gathered the light of the moon and the radiance of the sun."
And he spoke the truth, for the light of the moon gleamed in his eyes, the radiance of the sun glowed in them. But he could not convert them into marble, and this was the radiant sorrow of his life.
He came from an ancient patrician family, had a loving wife and dutiful children, and lacked nothing.
When a dim rumor concerning Lazarus reached his ear, he consulted his wife and friends and undertook the long journey to Judea in order to see him who had so miraculously risen from the dead. The monotony of life weighed heavily upon him in those days and he hoped that the journey would awaken his interest in the world. What he had heard concerning the risen one did not deter him, for he had pondered much upon death, though he had no longing for it. Neither had he patience with those who would confuse death with life. "On this side life and its beauty," he reasoned, "and on the other, death with its mystery. Nothing better could one imagine than to live and enjoy life and the glory of living." And he even entertained a somewhat vain and glorious notion of convincing Lazarus that this was the true view and of bringing him back to life, even as his body had been brought back to life.
This seemed an easy task for him, for the rumors concerning the risen one, fearsome and strange as they were, failed to convey the whole truth and only vaguely hinted at something' dreadful.
Lazarus was rising from his rock for his journey into the desert in the path of the setting sun, when the rich Roman, accompanied by an armed slave, approached him, and in a sonorous voice called to him: "Lazarus!"
Lazarus beheld a haughty and handsome man, resplendent with fame, clad in white apparel bearing precious gems that sparkled in the sunshine. The radiance of the sun lent to the head and the features a semblance of dull bronze. After his scrutiny Lazarus obediently resumed his seat, and listlessly looked to the ground.
"Truly thou art not fair to look upon, poor Lazarus," calmly observed the Roman, toying with his golden chain. "Thou art even terrifying in appearance, poor fellow; and Death was no sluggard the day thou so carelessly didst fall into its clutches. But thou art as fat as a wine barrel, and the great Caesar says that fat people are harmless. I cannot see why people are so afraid of thee. Thou wilt permit me to stay overnight? It is already late and I have no abode."
Nobody had ever sought permission to pass a night with Lazarus.
"I have no couch to offer thee," said he.
"I am somewhat of a soldier and can sleep sitting," replied the Roman. "We shall light a fire."
"I have no fire."
"In the darkness then like two comrades shall we hold our converse. I suppose thou hast some wine here?"
"I have no wine."
The Roman laughed. "Now I comprehend why thou art so morose and why thou takest no delight in thy second life. Thou hast no wine. Very well. We shall do without. Thou knowest there are words that turn one's head even as Falernian wine."
With a motion of his hand he dismissed the slave and they were left alone. And again the sculptor spoke, but it seemed that with the sinking sun the glow of life had departed from his words, for they lost color and substance. They reeled and slipped and stumbled, as though unsteady of foot of drunken with the wine of anguish and dismay. Yawning chasms appeared between them like distant hints of a vast void and utter darkness.
"I am thy guest now and thou wilt not offend me, Lazarus", he said. "Hospitality is a duty even for those who have been dead three days. For they say that thou didst pass three days in the grave. It must have been very chilly there, and it is thence comes thy bad habit of doing without wine and fire. But I love the fire. It grows dark here so early. The line of thy brow and forehead is quite noteworthy, even as the skyline of palaces ruined by an earthquake and buried beneath ashes. But why is thy apparel so odd and unattractive? I have seen the bridegrooms in thy country arrayed like this, such absurd attire, such repulsive garments! But art thou then a bridegroom?"
The sun had already vanished and gigantic black shadows came hurrying from the east, as though the bare feet of giants came rustling over the sands, and the chill breath of swiftly fleeing wind blew up behind them.
"In the darkness thou seemest even bigger oh Lazarus, as though thou hast grown stouter in these last few minutes. Dost thou perchance feed on darkness? But I should like some fire, just a little blaze the tiniest flame would do.... And I am a trifle cold...."
"You have here such barbarously chilly nights If it were not pitch dark I should say that thou art looking at me, Lazarus. Yes, methinks thou ART looking at me. I feel it. Now thou art smiling!"
The night had set in and a dense blackness filled the air.
"How good will it be when the sun rises again on the morrow.... Thou knowest I am a great sculptor. My friends call me so. I create, yes I create things, but daylight is needed for that. I impart life unto the cold lifeless marble. In the fire I melt the ringing bronze, in a vivid and glowing fire.... Why touchest thou me with thy hand?"
"Come", said Lazarus, "thou art my guest." And they entered the house. And the shadows of a long night descended upon the earth.
The slave who had grown tired waiting for his master called for him when the sun had already risen high overhead. And he saw under its rays Lazarus and his master huddled closely together. They were gazing upward in silence.
The slave wept aloud and called to his master: "Master, what troubleth thee? Master!"
The same day Aurelius left for Rome. The whole way he was pensive and silent, scrutinizing everything, the people, the ship and the sea, as though struggling to commit something to memory. A fierce tempest overtook them, and all the while Aurelius remained on the deck gazing eagerly on the rising and sinking waves.
At home the change that had taken place in him caused consternation, but he calmed the apprehensions of his household and observed significantly: "I have found it."
In the same raiment that he had worn during the journey without change he went to work, and the marble obediently responded to the resounding blows of his hammer. He worked long and eagerly, refusing to admit any one; at last one morning he announced that his work was ready, and summoned all his friends, the severe critics and experts in art. He attired himself into sumptuous and festive garments that sparkled with gold and shone with the purple of Bysson.
"Behold what I have created", he said musingly.
His friends gazed on the work and the shadow of a deep sorrow clouded their faces. The group was simply hideous to look upon: it possessed none of the forms familiar to the eye, though it was not devoid of a dim suggestion of some novel and fanciful image. Upon a twisted thin little twig, or rather upon the misshapen likeness of one, crouched an unsightly, distorted mass of crude fragments that seemed to be weakly striving to flee in all directions. And casually, under a crude ridge they observed a wondrously wrought butterfly, with diaphanous wings that was all aquiver with the futile longing to soar skyward.
"Why this wondrously wrought butterfly, Aurelius?" someone dubiously inquired.
"I don't know", replied the sculptor.
But the truth has to be told, and one of his friends (the one who loved him best) interposed: "My poor friend, this is a monstrosity. It must be destroyed. Give me the hammer."
And with two blows of the hammer he destroyed the hideous heap, sparing only the wondrous butterfly.
From that time on Aurelius created nothing. He gazed with profound indifference upon marble and bronze and upon his former godlike creations wherein beauty immortal dwelt. In the hope of inspiring him once more with his old zeal for work and of reviving his moribund soul, his friends led him to view the beautiful work of others, but he maintained the same lack of interest, and no warming smile ever parted again his tightly drawn lips. Only when they ventured to hold lengthy speeches on love and beauty he wearily and listlessly replied:
"But all this is a lie."
And in the daytime when the sun was shining he strolled into his luxurious garden, and seeking out some spot undimmed by the shade he yielded up his uncovered head and lacklustre eyes to radiance and warmth. Red and white butterflies flitted about the garden, from the contorted lips of a blissfully drunken Satyr the water splashed coursing down into the marble cistern, but he sat unmoved like a faint shadow of him who in a distant land sat as immobile at the very gates of the desert beneath the arid rays of the midday sun.
And now Augustus himself, the great, the divine, summoned Lazarus to appear before him.
They attired him in sumptuous wedding garment, for time and usage seemed to have prescribed these as befitting him as though he had remained until his death the betrothed of some unknown bride. It was as though an old, decaying and decrepit coffin were regilded and adorned with fresh gaudy tinsel. And he was conducted by a sumptuously garbed and gay cortege, as though in truth it were a bridal procession, and the heralds loudly sounded their trumpets clearing the way for the messengers of the emperor. But the path of Lazarus was deserted. His native land had learned to execrate the odious name of the miraculously risen one, and the mere news of his dread approach was sufficient to scatter the people. The blasts of the brass horns fell on the solitude and only the desert air responded with a melancholy echo.
Then they took him across the sea. And it was the most gorgeous and the saddest ship that was ever mirrored against the azure waves of the Mediterranean There were many people aboard, but the vessel was as mute and silent as the grave and the very waves seemed to sob hopelessly as they laved the beautifully curved and lofty prow. Lazarus sat alone, holding his bared head to the sun, listening in silence to the murmur of the waters, and afar off the sailors and the messengers lounged around feebly and listlessly huddled together like a cluster of despondent shadows. If a clap of thunder had rent the air, if a sudden gale had torn the gaudy sails, the ship would have doubtlessly perished for there was none on board with strength or zeal enough to struggle for life. With a last weak effort some stepped to the rail and eagerly gazed into the blue and transparent abyss waiting perhaps for a mermaid's pink shoulder to flash from the deep or for some drunken and joy maddened centaur to gallop by splashing the foam of the sea with his hoofs.
With stolid indifference Lazarus set foot on the streets of the Eternal City, as though all its wealth, the majesty of its structures that seemed to have been reared by giants, the splendor, the beauty, the music of its elegance were simply the echo of the desert wind, the reflex of Palestine's arid sands. Chariots sped by, crowds of handsome, sturdy, haughty men passed on, the builders of the Eternal City, the proud participants of her bustling life; the air filled with the notes of songs, the murmur of fountains, the pearly cadences of women's laughter! drunkards held pompous speeches and the sober listened smilingly; and the horseshoes clattered and clatterer upon the pavements. Caught all around by the whirlpool of noisy merriment there moved through the city like a blot of icy silence one fat and clumsy creature sowing in his path annoyance, wrath and a vaguely cankering grief. Who dare be sad in Rome? The citizens were indignant and frowned, and two days later the whole ready tongued Rome knew of the miraculously resurrected one and timidly avoided him.
But there were in Rome many brave people eager to test their prowess, and to their thoughtless challenge Lazarus readily responded. Busy with the affairs of state the Emperor delayed receiving him and the miraculously risen one for seven days in succession paid visits to those who would see him.
A merry winebibber met Lazarus and hailed him with carefree laughter on his ruddy lips.
"Drink, Lazarus, drink!" he shouted. "How Augustus would laugh to see thee drunk!"
And drunken women laughed at the sally, while they showered rose leaves on the blue-streaked hands of Lazarus. But the winebibber looked into his eyes—and his joy was forever ended. He remained drunken for life: he drank no more, yet he remained drunken but in the place of joyous reveries which the wine yields, horrible dreams haunted his ill-fated soul. Horrible dreams became the sole nourishment of his stricken spirit. Horrible dreams held him day and night in the spell of their hideous fancies, and death itself was less terrible than appeared his ferocious precursors.
Lazarus called on a youth and a maiden, lovers and fair to look on in their love. Proudly and firmly grasping the woman he loved the youth remarked with gentle compassion:
"Look on us, Lazarus, and rejoice with us. Is there aught stronger than love?"
And Lazarus looked. And they ceased not from loving all their life long, but their love became gloomy and somber, like the cypress trees that grow above tombs, feeding their roots on the dissolution within the grave and seeking vainly in the evening hour to reach heaven with their dusky and pointed tops. Thrown by the unfathomable force of life into each other's arms they mingled their kisses with tears, their joy with pain, and realized their twofold bondage: the humble slaves of inexorable life and the helpless bondsmen of ominous and mute Nothingness. Ever united, ever parted, they flashed upwards like sparks and like sparks faded in shoreless gloom.
Then came Lazarus to a haughty sage and the sage told him:
"I know all the terrors that thou canst relate to me, Lazarus. Wherewith wilt thou terrify me?"
But it was not long before the sage realized that the knowledge of the horrible is not the horrible, and that the vision of death is not death itself. And he realized that wisdom and folly are the equals in the sight of the Infinite, for the Infinite knows them not. And the boundaries between knowledge and ignorance, between truth and falsehood, between height and depth vanished, and his formless thoughts were suspended in emptiness. Then he seized his grey head in his hands and cried out in agony:
"I cannot think! I cannot think!"
Thus succumbed to the stolid gaze of the miraculously risen one all things that served to affirm life, its meaning and its joys. And it was said that it would be dangerous to allow him to face the Emperor, that it would be safer to put him to death and burying him secretly to spread the rumor that he had disappeared without leaving a trace. Swords were already sharpened and some youths devoted to the welfare of the nation volunteered to be his slayers, when suddenly Augustus demanded to have Lazarus brought before him on the morrow and upset their cruel plans.
Though it was impossible to remove Lazarus, it was thought best to soften somewhat the dreary impression produced by his appearance. For this reason skilled artists were summoned, also hair arrangers and masters of make-up and they labored all night over the head of Lazarus. They trimmed his beard, curled it and made it appear neat and attractive. The livid coloring of his face and hands was removed by means of paint: his hands were bleached and his cheeks touched up with red. The repulsive wrinkles of suffering that furrowed his senile features were patched up, painted and smoothed over, and lines of goodnatured laughter and pleasant cheerful good humor were skillfully drawn in their place.
Lazarus submitted stolidly to all they did with him and soon was transformed into a naturally corpulent handsome old man, who looked like a harmless grandfather with numerous descendants. One could almost see the trace of a smile on his lips with which he might have related to them laughable stories, one almost detected in the corner of his eyes the calm tenderness of old age,—such was his quiet and reassuring appearance. But they had not dared to take off his wedding attire, nor could they change his eyes,—dark and dreadful glasses through which there peered upon the world the unfathomable Beyond.
The magnificence of the Imperial palace failed to impress Lazarus. There might have been no difference between his ramshackle but at the threshold of the desert and the splendid and massive palace of stone, so stolidly indifferent was his unobserving glance. Under his feet the solid marble slabs seemed to turn to the sinking sand of the desert, and the throngs of gaily attired and haughty Romans might have been thin air. They avoided looking into his face as he passed, fearing to succumb to the baneful spell of his eyes; but when they judged from the sound of his footsteps that he had passed on, they paused and raising their heads with a little fearsome curiosity watched the departing figure of the tall, corpulent, slightly stooping old man who was slowly wending his way into the heart of the Imperial' palace. If Death itself had passed by they would not have glanced after it with greater awe. For until then Death had been known unto the dead only and life unto the living and there had been no bridge between the twain. But this strange being knew Death, and awful, ominous, accursed was his knowledge. "He will be the death of our great and divine Augustus", mused some of them anxiously and muttered curses in his wake as he slowly and stolidly made his way more and more deeply into the palace.
Caesar had already learned the story of Lazarus and nerved himself to meet him. He was a man of daring and courage and thoroughly conscious of his own invincible power. In this fateful encounter with the risen one he chose not to lean upon the feeble aid of men. Face to face, man to man he met Lazarus.
"Do not lift up thine eyes to me, Lazarus," he commanded him as the stranger entered. "I have heard that thy head is like Medusa's turning to stone him who ventures to look upon thee. But I desire to talk with thee and to examine thee before I am turned to stone", he added with an Imperial attempt at a jest that was not unmixed with a little awe.
Approaching him he examined attentively the face and the queer apparel of Lazarus, and though he prided himself on his sharp and observant eye he was deceived by the skill of the artists.
"Well, thou art not so terrible, worthy patriarch. But it is all the worse for people if the terrible assumes such a dignified and agreeable guise. Now let us converse."
Augustus sat down and with a glance that was as searching as his words he commenced to question him.
"Why didst thou not salute me as thou earnest in?"
"I did not know that it was necessary."
"Art thou a Christian?"
Augustus nodded approvingly.
"Good. I dislike these Christians. They shake the tree of life before it yields its full fruitage and scatter to the wind its blossoming fragrance. But what art thou?"
With an effort Lazarus replied:
"Once I was dead."
"So I have heard. But what art thou now?"
Lazarus hesitated and again replied listlessly, stolidly:
"Once I was dead."
"Listen to me, thou enigma", resumed the Emperor, in measured and severe words voicing the thoughts which had been in his mind before. "My empire is the empire of the living, my people is a living people and not dead. Thou art out of place here. I do not know thee, I do not know what thou hast seen There. But whether thou liest—I abhor thy lying, and if thou be telling the truth I abhor thy truth. In my bosom I feel the throbbing of life. I feel vigor in my hands, and my proud thoughts soar like eagles through space. And there, behind me, under the protection of my dominion, in the shadow of laws created by me, people live and labor and rejoice. Hearest thou this wondrous harmony of life? Hearest thou this warlike challenge which men fling into the face of the future summoning it to a combat?"
Augustus reverently raised his hands and solemnly exclaimed:
"Blessed be Thou Great and Divine Life!"
But Lazarus was silent and with added severity the Emperor continued:
"Thou art out of place here. Thou art a pitiful remnant, a half-eaten scrap from the table of Death, thou breathest into people melancholy and hatred of life. Thou art like the locust that eateth the full ear of grain knitting the slime of despair and despondency. Thy truth is like unto the rusty sword in the hands of a murderous night prowler, and I shall put thee to death like an assassin. But ere I do this I will gaze into thine eyes. Perhaps only the cowards fear them, perhaps they will wake the thirst of conflict and longing for victory in the brave. If that be so thou meritest a reward, not death. Look then upon me, Lazarus."
And at first Augustus fancied as though a friend were looking upon him, so gentle, so caressing, so tenderly soothing was the gaze of Lazarus. It boded no terrors but calm and repose, it was the gaze of a tender lover, of a compassionate sister: through his eyes Infinity gazed even as a mother. But the embrace grew stronger and stronger until his breath was stopped by lips that seemed to crave for kisses. And in the next instant he felt the iron fingers plowing through the tender tissues of his flesh, and cruel claws sank slowly into his heart.
"I am in pain", moaned Divus Augustus with blanching cheek. "Yet, look on me still, Lazarus, look on."
As though through slowly opening gates that had been shut for aeons the horror of the Infinite poured coldly and calmly out of the growing breach. Fathomless waste and fathomless darkness entered like twin shadows quenching the light of the sun, removing the ground underfoot, obliterating all overhead. And pain left the benumbed heart of Augustus.
"Look, look still, Lazarus", commanded he reeling.
Time ceased and the beginning of things faced the end thereof in an ominous meeting. The throne of Augustus, so recently reared, was overthrown; a barren waste reigned in the place of Augustus and of his throne. Rome herself had gone to a silent doom, and a new city rose in her place, only in her turn to be swallowed up by nothingness.. Like phantom giants cities and states and empires swiftly fell and vanished into emptiness, swallowed up in the insatiable maw of the Infinite.
"Stop", commanded Caesar, and already a note of indifference sounded in his voice. His arms hung limply from his shoulders, and his eagle eyes now flashed, now grew dim in a futile struggle against the darkness that threatened to overwhelm him.
"Thou hast slain me, Lazarus", he stammered listlessly.
And these words of hopelessness saved him. He remembered his people whose shield he was called to be, and his moribund heart was pierced with a sharp and redeeming pang. He thought of them bitterly as he pictured them doomed to ruin. He thought of his people with anguish in his soul as he saw them like luminous shadows flitting through the gloom of the Infinite. Tenderly he thought of them as of brittle vessels throbbing with life blood and endowed with hearts that know both sorrow and joy.
Thus reasoning and feeling, with the balance now favoring life, now inclined towards death, he slowly fought his way back to life, to find in its sufferings and joys a shield against the emptiness and the terror of the Infinite.
"No, thou hast not slain me, Lazarus", he exclaimed, with firmness, "but I shall slay thee, Go!"
That night Divus Augustus partook of food and drink with a keen delight. But there were moments when the uplifted arm paused in mid-air and a shadow dimmed the lustre of his shining aquiline eyes,—it was like a wave of icy horror beating against his feet. Downed, but not utterly destroyed, coldly awaiting the appointed hour, the spirit of Fear cast its shadow into the Emperor's life, standing guard at the head of his bed as he slumbered at night and meekly yielding the sunny days to the joys and the sorrows of life.
Next day, by the Emperor's command, they burned out the eyes of Lazarus with hot irons and sent him back to his native land. Divus Augustus dared not put him to death.
Lazarus returned to the desert, and the desert received him with the breath of the hissing wind and the arid welcome of the consuming sun. Once again he sat on the rock, raising aloft his shaggy neglected beard. In the place of the two burned-out eyes twin black sockets peered dull and gruesome at the sky. In the distance surged the restless roar of the Holy City, but near him all was deserted and dumb. No one came near the place where the miraculously risen one was passing the end of his days, and his neighbors had long since forsaken their abodes. His accursed knowledge, banished by the searing irons into the depths of his head, lay there concealed as though in ambush; as though from ambush it assailed the beholder with a myriad invisible eyes, and no one dared now look at Lazarus.
And in the evening, when the sun, ruddy and swollen, was sinking in the west, sightless Lazarus slowly groped after it. He stumbled over stones and fell, fat and weak as he was, then he rose heavily and walked on. And against the crimson canvas of the sunset his dark form and outstretched arms gave him a monstrous resemblance to the cross.
And it happened one day that he went and never returned. Thus apparently ended the second life of Lazarus, who had been three days under the dominion of Death and miraculously rose from the dead.
When the King Loses His Head and Other Stories by Leonid Andreyev, tr. Archibald J. Wolfe, p. International Book Company, New York, 1920.