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ABSOLUTION


by


F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)


The American Mercury, June 1924



There was once a priest with cold, watery eyes, who, in the still
of the night, wept cold tears.  He wept because the afternoons were
warm and long, and he was unable to attain a complete mystical
union with our Lord.  Sometimes, near four o'clock, there was a
rustle of Swede girls along the path by his window, and in their
shrill laughter he found a terrible dissonance that made him pray
aloud for the twilight to come.  At twilight the laughter and the
voices were quieter, but several times he had walked past Romberg's
Drug Store when it was dusk and the yellow lights shone inside and
the nickel taps of the soda-fountain were gleaming, and he had
found the scent of cheap toilet soap desperately sweet upon the
air.  He passed that way when he returned from hearing confessions
on Saturday nights, and he grew careful to walk on the other side
of the street so that the smell of the soap would float upward
before it reached his nostrils as it drifted, rather like incense,
toward the summer moon.

But there was no escape from the hot madness of four o'clock.  From
his window, as far as he could see, the Dakota wheat thronged the
valley of the Red River.  The wheat was terrible to look upon and
the carpet pattern to which in agony he bent his eyes sent his
thought brooding through grotesque labyrinths, open always to the
unavoidable sun.

One afternoon when he had reached the point where the mind runs
down like an old clock, his housekeeper brought into his study a
beautiful, intense little boy of eleven named Rudolph Miller.  The
little boy sat down in a patch of sunshine, and the priest, at his
walnut desk, pretended to be very busy.  This was to conceal his
relief that some one had come into his haunted room.

Presently he turned around and found himself staring into two
enormous, staccato eyes, lit with gleaming points of cobalt light.
For a moment their expression startled him--then he saw that his
visitor was in a state of abject fear.

"Your mouth is trembling," said Father Schwartz, in a haggard
voice.

The little boy covered his quivering mouth with his hand.

"Are you in trouble?" asked Father Schwartz, sharply.  "Take your
hand away from your mouth and tell me what's the matter."

The boy--Father Schwartz recognized him now as the son of a
parishioner, Mr. Miller, the freight-agent--moved his hand
reluctantly off his mouth and became articulate in a despairing
whisper.

"Father Schwartz--I've committed a terrible sin."

"A sin against purity?"

"No, Father . . . worse."

Father Schwartz's body jerked sharply.

"Have you killed somebody?"

"No--but I'm afraid--" the voice rose to a shrill whimper.

"Do you want to go to confession?"

The little boy shook his head miserably.  Father Schwartz cleared
his throat so that he could make his voice soft and say some quiet,
kind thing.  In this moment he should forget his own agony, and try
to act like God.  He repeated to himself a devotional phrase,
hoping that in return God would help him to act correctly.

"Tell me what you've done," said his new soft voice.

The little boy looked at him through his tears, and was reassured
by the impression of moral resiliency which the distraught priest
had created.  Abandoning as much of himself as he was able to this
man, Rudolph Miller began to tell his story.

"On Saturday, three days ago, my father he said I had to go to
confession, because I hadn't been for a month, and the family they
go every week, and I hadn't been.  So I just as leave go, I didn't
care.  So I put it off till after supper because I was playing with
a bunch of kids and father asked me if I went, and I said 'no,' and
he took me by the neck and he said 'You go now,' so I said 'All
right,' so I went over to church.  And he yelled after me:  'Don't
come back till you go.' . . ."


II


"On Saturday, Three Days Ago."


The plush curtain of the confessional rearranged its dismal
creases, leaving exposed only the bottom of an old man's old shoe.
Behind the curtain an immortal soul was alone with God and the
Reverend Adolphus Schwartz, priest of the parish.  Sound began, a
labored whispering, sibilant and discreet, broken at intervals by
the voice of the priest in audible question.

Rudolph Miller knelt in the pew beside the confessional and waited,
straining nervously to hear, and yet not to hear what was being
said within.  The fact that the priest was audible alarmed him.
His own turn came next, and the three or four others who waited
might listen unscrupulously while he admitted his violations of the
Sixth and Ninth Commandments.

Rudolph had never committed adultery, nor even coveted his
neighbor's wife--but it was the confession of the associate sins
that was particularly hard to contemplate.  In comparison he
relished the less shameful fallings away--they formed a grayish
background which relieved the ebony mark of sexual offenses upon
his soul.

He had been covering his ears with his hands, hoping that his
refusal to hear would be noticed, and a like courtesy rendered to
him in turn, when a sharp movement of the penitent in the
confessional made him sink his face precipitately into the crook of
his elbow.  Fear assumed solid form, and pressed out a lodging
between his heart and his lungs.  He must try now with all his
might to be sorry for his sins--not because he was afraid, but
because he had offended God.  He must convince God that he was
sorry and to do so he must first convince himself.  After a tense
emotional struggle he achieved a tremulous self-pity, and decided
that he was now ready.  If, by allowing no other thought to enter
his head, he could preserve this state of emotion unimpaired until
he went into that large coffin set on end, he would have survived
another crisis in his religious life.

For some time, however, a demoniac notion had partially possessed
him.  He could go home now, before his turn came, and tell his
mother that he had arrived too late, and found the priest gone.
This, unfortunately, involved the risk of being caught in a lie.
As an alternative he could say that he HAD gone to confession, but
this meant that he must avoid communion next day, for communion
taken upon an uncleansed soul would turn to poison in his mouth,
and he would crumple limp and damned from the altar-rail.

Again Father Schwartz's voice became audible.

"And for your--"

The words blurred to a husky mumble, and Rudolph got excitedly to
his feet.  He felt that it was impossible for him to go to
confession this afternoon.  He hesitated tensely.  Then from the
confessional came a tap, a creak, and a sustained rustle.  The
slide had fallen and the plush curtain trembled.  Temptation had
come to him too late. . . .

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. . . .  I confess to Almighty
God and to you, Father, that I have sinned. . . .  Since my last
confession it has been one month and three days. . . .  I accuse
myself of--taking the Name of the Lord in vain. . . ."

This was an easy sin.  His curses had been but bravado--telling of
them was little less than a brag.

". . . of being mean to an old lady."

The wan shadow moved a little on the latticed slat.

"How, my child?"

"Old lady Swenson," Rudolph's murmur soared jubilantly.  "She got
our baseball that we knocked in her window, and she wouldn't give
it back, so we yelled 'Twenty-three, Skidoo,' at her all afternoon.
Then about five o'clock she had a fit, and they had to have the
doctor."

"Go on, my child."

"Of--of not believing I was the son of my parents."

"What?"  The interrogation was distinctly startled.

"Of not believing that I was the son of my parents."

"Why not?"

"Oh, just pride," answered the penitent airily.

"You mean you thought you were too good to be the son of your
parents?"

"Yes, Father."  On a less jubilant note.

"Go on."

"Of being disobedient and calling my mother names.  Of slandering
people behind my back.  Of smoking--"

Rudolph had now exhausted the minor offenses, and was approaching
the sins it was agony to tell.  He held his fingers against his
face like bars as if to press out between them the shame in his
heart.

"Of dirty words and immodest thoughts and desires," he whispered
very low.

"How often?"

"I don't know."

"Once a week?  Twice a week?"

"Twice a week."

"Did you yield to these desires?"

"No, Father."

"Were you alone when you had them?"

"No, Father.  I was with two boys and a girl."

"Don't you know, my child, that you should avoid the occasions of
sin as well as the sin itself?  Evil companionship leads to evil
desires and evil desires to evil actions.  Where were you when this
happened?"

"In a barn in back of--"

"I don't want to hear any names," interrupted the priest sharply.

"Well, it was up in the loft of this barn and this girl and--a
fella, they were saying things--saying immodest things, and I
stayed."

"You should have gone--you should have told the girl to go."

He should have gone!  He could not tell Father Schwartz how his
pulse had bumped in his wrist, how a strange, romantic excitement
had possessed him when those curious things had been said.  Perhaps
in the houses of delinquency among the dull and hard-eyed
incorrigible girls can be found those for whom has burned the
whitest fire.

"Have you anything else to tell me?"

"I don't think so, Father."

Rudolph felt a great relief.  Perspiration had broken out under his
tight-pressed fingers.

"Have you told any lies?"

The question startled him.  Like all those who habitually and
instinctively lie, he had an enormous respect and awe for the
truth.  Something almost exterior to himself dictated a quick, hurt
answer.

"Oh, no, Father, I never tell lies."

For a moment, like the commoner in the king's chair, he tasted the
pride of the situation.  Then as the priest began to murmur
conventional admonitions he realized that in heroically denying he
had told lies, he had committed a terrible sin--he had told a lie
in confession.

In automatic response to Father Schwartz's "Make an act of
contrition," he began to repeat aloud meaninglessly:

"Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee. . . ."

He must fix this now--it was a bad mistake--but as his teeth shut
on the last words of his prayer there was a sharp sound, and the
slat was closed.

A minute later when he emerged into the twilight the relief in
coming from the muggy church into an open world of wheat and sky
postponed the full realization of what he had done.  Instead of
worrying he took a deep breath of the crisp air and began to say
over and over to himself the words "Blatchford Sarnemington,
Blatchford Sarnemington!"

Blatchford Sarnemington was himself, and these words were in effect
a lyric.  When he became Blatchford Sarnemington a suave nobility
flowed from him.  Blatchford Sarnemington lived in great sweeping
triumphs.  When Rudolph half closed his eyes it meant that
Blatchford had established dominance over him and, as he went by,
there were envious mutters in the air:  "Blatchford Sarnemington!
There goes Blatchford Sarnemington."

He was Blatchford now for a while as he strutted homeward along the
staggering road, but when the road braced itself in macadam in
order to become the main street of Ludwig, Rudolph's exhilaration
faded out and his mind cooled, and he felt the horror of his lie.
God, of course, already knew of it--but Rudolph reserved a corner
of his mind where he was safe from God, where he prepared the
subterfuges with which he often tricked God.  Hiding now in this
corner he considered how he could best avoid the consequences of
his misstatement.

At all costs he must avoid communion next day.  The risk of
angering God to such an extent was too great.  He would have to
drink water "by accident" in the morning, and thus, in accordance
with a church law, render himself unfit to receive communion that
day.  In spite of its flimsiness this subterfuge was the most
feasible that occurred to him.  He accepted its risks and was
concentrating on how best to put it into effect, as he turned the
corner by Romberg's Drug Store and came in sight of his father's
house.


III


Rudolph's father, the local freight-agent, had floated with the
second wave of German and Irish stock to the Minnesota-Dakota
country.  Theoretically, great opportunities lay ahead of a young
man of energy in that day and place, but Carl Miller had been
incapable of establishing either with his superiors or his
subordinates the reputation for approximate immutability which is
essential to success in a hierarchic industry.  Somewhat gross, he
was, nevertheless, insufficiently hard-headed and unable to take
fundamental relationships for granted, and this inability made him
suspicious, unrestful, and continually dismayed.

His two bonds with the colorful life were his faith in the Roman
Catholic Church and his mystical worship of the Empire Builder,
James J. Hill.  Hill was the apotheosis of that quality in which
Miller himself was deficient--the sense of things, the feel of
things, the hint of rain in the wind on the cheek.  Miller's mind
worked late on the old decisions of other men, and he had never in
his life felt the balance of any single thing in his hands.  His
weary, sprightly, undersized body was growing old in Hill's
gigantic shadow.  For twenty years he had lived alone with Hill's
name and God.

On Sunday morning Carl Miller awoke in the dustless quiet of six
o'clock.  Kneeling by the side of the bed he bent his yellow-gray
hair and the full dapple bangs of his mustache into the pillow, and
prayed for several minutes.  Then he drew off his night-shirt--like
the rest of his generation he had never been able to endure pajamas--
and clothed his thin, white, hairless body in woollen underwear.

He shaved.  Silence in the other bedroom where his wife lay
nervously asleep.  Silence from the screened-off corner of the hall
where his son's cot stood, and his son slept among his Alger books,
his collection of cigar-bands, his mothy pennants--"Cornell,"
"Hamlin," and "Greetings from Pueblo, New Mexico"--and the other
possessions of his private life.  From outside Miller could hear
the shrill birds and the whirring movement of the poultry, and, as
an undertone, the low, swelling click-a-tick of the six-fifteen
through-train for Montana and the green coast beyond.  Then as the
cold water dripped from the wash-rag in his hand he raised his head
suddenly--he had heard a furtive sound from the kitchen below.

He dried his razor hastily, slipped his dangling suspenders to his
shoulder, and listened.  Some one was walking in the kitchen, and
he knew by the light footfall that it was not his wife.  With his
mouth faintly ajar he ran quickly down the stairs and opened the
kitchen door.

Standing by the sink, with one hand on the still dripping faucet
and the other clutching a full glass of water, stood his son.  The
boy's eyes, still heavy with sleep, met his father's with a
frightened, reproachful beauty.  He was barefooted, and his pajamas
were rolled up at the knees and sleeves.

For a moment they both remained motionless--Carl Miller's brow went
down and his son's went up, as though they were striking a balance
between the extremes of emotion which filled them.  Then the bangs
of the parent's moustache descended portentously until they
obscured his mouth, and he gave a short glance around to see if
anything had been disturbed.

The kitchen was garnished with sunlight which beat on the pans and
made the smooth boards of the floor and table yellow and clean as
wheat.  It was the center of the house where the fire burned and
the tins fitted into tins like toys, and the steam whistled all day
on a thin pastel note.  Nothing was moved, nothing touched--except
the faucet where beads of water still formed and dripped with a
white flash into the sink below.

"What are you doing?"

"I got awful thirsty, so I thought I'd just come down and get--"

"I thought you were going to communion."

A look of vehement astonishment spread over his son's face.

"I forgot all about it."

"Have you drunk any water?"

"No--"

As the word left his mouth Rudolph knew it was the wrong answer,
but the faded indignant eyes facing him had signalled up the truth
before the boy's will could act.  He realized, too, that he should
never have come downstairs; some vague necessity for verisimilitude
had made him want to leave a wet glass as evidence by the sink; the
honesty of his imagination had betrayed him.

"Pour it out," commanded his father, "that water!"

Rudolph despairingly inverted the tumbler.

"What's the matter with you, anyways?" demanded Miller angrily.

"Nothing."

"Did you go to confession yesterday?"

"Yes."

"Then why were you going to drink water?"

"I don't know--I forgot."

"Maybe you care more about being a little bit thirsty than you do
about your religion."

"I forgot."  Rudolph could feel the tears straining in his eyes.

"That's no answer."

"Well, I did."

"You better look out!"  His father held to a high, persistent,
inquisitory note:  "If you're so forgetful that you can't remember
your religion something better be done about it."

Rudolph filled a sharp pause with:

"I can remember it all right."

"First you begin to neglect your religion," cried his father,
fanning his own fierceness, "the next thing you'll begin to lie and
steal, and the NEXT thing is the REFORM school!"

Not even this familiar threat could deepen the abyss that Rudolph
saw before him.  He must either tell all now, offering his body for
what he knew would be a ferocious beating, or else tempt the
thunderbolts by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ with
sacrilege upon his soul.  And of the two the former seemed more
terrible--it was not so much the beating he dreaded as the savage
ferocity, outlet of the ineffectual man, which would lie behind it.

"Put down that glass and go up-stairs and dress!" his father
ordered, "and when we get to church, before you go to communion,
you better kneel down and ask God to forgive you for your
carelessness."

Some accidental emphasis in the phrasing of this command acted like
a catalytic agent on the confusion and terror of Rudolph's mind.  A
wild, proud anger rose in him, and he dashed the tumbler
passionately into the sink.

His father uttered a strained, husky sound, and sprang for him.
Rudolph dodged to the side, tipped over a chair, and tried to get
beyond the kitchen table.  He cried out sharply when a hand grasped
his pajama shoulder, then he felt the dull impact of a fist against
the side of his head, and glancing blows on the upper part of his
body.  As he slipped here and there in his father's grasp, dragged
or lifted when he clung instinctively to an arm, aware of sharp
smarts and strains, he made no sound except that he laughed
hysterically several times.  Then in less than a minute the blows
abruptly ceased.  After a lull during which Rudolph was tightly
held, and during which they both trembled violently and uttered
strange, truncated words, Carl Miller half dragged, half threatened
his son up-stairs.

"Put on your clothes!"

Rudolph was now both hysterical and cold.  His head hurt him, and
there was a long, shallow scratch on his neck from his father's
finger-nail, and he sobbed and trembled as he dressed.  He was
aware of his mother standing at the doorway in a wrapper, her
wrinkled face compressing and squeezing and opening out into new
series of wrinkles which floated and eddied from neck to brow.
Despising her nervous ineffectuality and avoiding her rudely when
she tried to touch his neck with witch-hazel, he made a hasty,
choking toilet.  Then he followed his father out of the house and
along the road toward the Catholic church.


IV


They walked without speaking except when Carl Miller acknowledged
automatically the existence of passers-by.  Rudolph's uneven
breathing alone ruffled the hot Sunday silence.

His father stopped decisively at the door of the church.

"I've decided you'd better go to confession again.  Go in and tell
Father Schwartz what you did and ask God's pardon."

"You lost your temper, too!" said Rudolph quickly.

Carl Miller took a step toward his son, who moved cautiously
backward.

"All right, I'll go."

"Are you going to do what I say?" cried his father in a hoarse
whisper.

"All right."

Rudolph walked into the church, and for the second time in two days
entered the confessional and knelt down.  The slat went up almost
at once.

"I accuse myself of missing my morning prayers."

"Is that all?"

"That's all."

A maudlin exultation filled him.  Not easily ever again would he be
able to put an abstraction before the necessities of his ease and
pride.  An invisible line had been crossed, and he had become aware
of his isolation--aware that it applied not only to those moments
when he was Blatchford Sarnemington but that it applied to all his
inner life.  Hitherto such phenomena as "crazy" ambitions and petty
shames and fears had been but private reservations, unacknowledged
before the throne of his official soul.  Now he realized
unconsciously that his private reservations were himself--and all
the rest a garnished front and a conventional flag.  The pressure
of his environment had driven him into the lonely secret road of
adolescence.

He knelt in the pew beside his father.  Mass began.  Rudolph knelt
up--when he was alone he slumped his posterior back against the
seat--and tasted the consciousness of a sharp, subtle revenge.
Beside him his father prayed that God would forgive Rudolph, and
asked also that his own outbreak of temper would be pardoned.  He
glanced sidewise at his son, and was relieved to see that the
strained, wild look had gone from his face and that he had ceased
sobbing.  The Grace of God, inherent in the Sacrament, would do the
rest, and perhaps after Mass everything would be better.  He was
proud of Rudolph in his heart, and beginning to be truly as well as
formally sorry for what he had done.

Usually, the passing of the collection box was a significant point
for Rudolph in the services.  If, as was often the case, he had no
money to drop in he would be furiously ashamed and bow his head and
pretend not to see the box, lest Jeanne Brady in the pew behind
should take notice and suspect an acute family poverty.  But to-day
he glanced coldly into it as it skimmed under his eyes, noting with
casual interest the large number of pennies it contained.

When the bell rang for communion, however, he quivered.  There was
no reason why God should not stop his heart.  During the past
twelve hours he had committed a series of mortal sins increasing in
gravity, and he was now to crown them all with a blasphemous
sacrilege.

"Domini, non sum dignus; ut interes sub tectum meum; sed tantum dic
verbo, et sanabitur anima mea. . . ."

There was a rustle in the pews, and the communicants worked their
ways into the aisle with downcast eyes and joined hands.  Those of
larger piety pressed together their finger-tips to form steeples.
Among these latter was Carl Miller.  Rudolph followed him toward
the altar-rail and knelt down, automatically taking up the napkin
under his chin.  The bell rang sharply, and the priest turned from
the altar with the white Host held above the chalice:

"Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam meam in vitam
aeternam."

A cold sweat broke out on Rudolph's forehead as the communion
began.  Along the line Father Schwartz moved, and with gathering
nausea Rudolph felt his heart-valves weakening at the will of God.
It seemed to him that the church was darker and that a great quiet
had fallen, broken only by the inarticulate mumble which announced
the approach of the Creator of Heaven and Earth.  He dropped his
head down between his shoulders and waited for the blow.

Then he felt a sharp nudge in his side.  His father was poking him
to sit up, not to slump against the rail; the priest was only two
places away.

"Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam meam in vitam
aeternam."

Rudolph opened his mouth.  He felt the sticky wax taste of the
wafer on his tongue.  He remained motionless for what seemed an
interminable period of time, his head still raised, the wafer
undissolved in his mouth.  Then again he started at the pressure of
his father's elbow, and saw that the people were falling away from
the altar like leaves and turning with blind downcast eyes to their
pews, alone with God.

Rudolph was alone with himself, drenched with perspiration and deep
in mortal sin.  As he walked back to his pew the sharp taps of his
cloven hoofs were loud upon the floor, and he knew that it was a
dark poison he carried in his heart.


V


"Sagitta Volante in Dei"


The beautiful little boy with eyes like blue stones, and lashes
that sprayed open from them like flower-petals had finished telling
his sin to Father Schwartz--and the square of sunshine in which he
sat had moved forward half an hour into the room.  Rudolph had
become less frightened now; once eased of the story a reaction had
set in.  He knew that as long as he was in the room with this
priest God would not stop his heart, so he sighed and sat quietly,
waiting for the priest to speak.

Father Schwartz's cold watery eyes were fixed upon the carpet
pattern on which the sun had brought out the swastikas and the flat
bloomless vines and the pale echoes of flowers.  The hall-clock
ticked insistently toward sunset, and from the ugly room and from
the afternoon outside the window arose a stiff monotony, shattered
now and then by the reverberate clapping of a far-away hammer on
the dry air.  The priest's nerves were strung thin and the beads of
his rosary were crawling and squirming like snakes upon the green
felt of his table top.  He could not remember now what it was he
should say.

Of all the things in this lost Swede town he was most aware of this
little boy's eyes--the beautiful eyes, with lashes that left them
reluctantly and curved back as though to meet them once more.

For a moment longer the silence persisted while Rudolph waited, and
the priest struggled to remember something that was slipping
farther and farther away from him, and the clock ticked in the
broken house.  Then Father Schwartz stared hard at the little boy
and remarked in a peculiar voice:

"When a lot of people get together in the best places things go
glimmering."

Rudolph started and looked quickly at Father Schwartz's face.

"I said--" began the priest, and paused, listening.  "Do you hear
the hammer and the clock ticking and the bees?  Well, that's no
good.  The thing is to have a lot of people in the center of the
world, wherever that happens to be.  Then"--his watery eyes widened
knowingly--"things go glimmering."

"Yes, Father," agreed Rudolph, feeling a little frightened.

"What are you going to be when you grow up?"

"Well, I was going to be a baseball-player for a while," answered
Rudolph nervously, "but I don't think that's a very good ambition,
so I think I'll be an actor or a Navy officer."

Again the priest stared at him.

"I see EXACTLY what you mean," he said, with a fierce air.

Rudolph had not meant anything in particular, and at the
implication that he had, he became more uneasy.

"This man is crazy," he thought, "and I'm scared of him.  He wants
me to help him out some way, and I don't want to."

"You look as if things went glimmering," cried Father Schwartz
wildly.  "Did you ever go to a party?"

"Yes, Father."

"And did you notice that everybody was properly dressed?  That's
what I mean.  Just as you went into the party there was a moment
when everybody was properly dressed.  Maybe two little girls were
standing by the door and some boys were leaning over the banisters,
and there were bowls around full of flowers."

"I've been to a lot of parties," said Rudolph, rather relieved that
the conversation had taken this turn.

"Of course," continued Father Schwartz triumphantly, "I knew you'd
agree with me.  But my theory is that when a whole lot of people
get together in the best places things go glimmering all the time."

Rudolph found himself thinking of Blatchford Sarnemington.

"Please listen to me!" commanded the priest impatiently.  "Stop
worrying about last Saturday.  Apostasy implies an absolute
damnation only on the supposition of a previous perfect faith.
Does that fix it?"

Rudolph had not the faintest idea what Father Schwartz was talking
about, but he nodded and the priest nodded back at him and returned
to his mysterious preoccupation.

"Why," he cried, "they have lights now as big as stars--do you
realize that?  I heard of one light they had in Paris or somewhere
that was as big as a star.  A lot of people had it--a lot of gay
people.  They have all sorts of things now that you never dreamed
of."

"Look here--"  He came nearer to Rudolph, but the boy drew away, so
Father Schwartz went back and sat down in his chair, his eyes dried
out and hot.  "Did you ever see an amusement park?"

"No, Father."

"Well, go and see an amusement park."  The priest waved his hand
vaguely.  "It's a thing like a fair, only much more glittering.  Go
to one at night and stand a little way off from it in a dark place--
under dark trees.  You'll see a big wheel made of lights turning
in the air, and a long slide shooting boats down into the water.  A
band playing somewhere, and a smell of peanuts--and everything will
twinkle.  But it won't remind you of anything, you see.  It will
all just hang out there in the night like a colored balloon--like a
big yellow lantern on a pole."

Father Schwartz frowned as he suddenly thought of something.

"But don't get up close," he warned Rudolph, "because if you do
you'll only feel the heat and the sweat and the life."

All this talking seemed particularly strange and awful to Rudolph,
because this man was a priest.  He sat there, half terrified, his
beautiful eyes open wide and staring at Father Schwartz.  But
underneath his terror he felt that his own inner convictions were
confirmed.  There was something ineffably gorgeous somewhere that
had nothing to do with God.  He no longer thought that God was
angry at him about the original lie, because He must have
understood that Rudolph had done it to make things finer in the
confessional, brightening up the dinginess of his admissions by
saying a thing radiant and proud.  At the moment when he had
affirmed immaculate honor a silver pennon had flapped out into the
breeze somewhere and there had been the crunch of leather and the
shine of silver spurs and a troop of horsemen waiting for dawn on a
low green hill.  The sun had made stars of light on their
breastplates like the picture at home of the German cuirassiers at
Sedan.

But now the priest was muttering inarticulate and heart-broken
words, and the boy became wildly afraid.  Horror entered suddenly
in at the open window, and the atmosphere of the room changed.
Father Schwartz collapsed precipitously down on his knees, and let
his body settle back against a chair.

"Oh, my God!" he cried out, in a strange voice, and wilted to the
floor.

Then a human oppression rose from the priest's worn clothes, and
mingled with the faint smell of old food in the corners.  Rudolph
gave a sharp cry and ran in a panic from the house--while the
collapsed man lay there quite still, filling his room, filling it
with voices and faces until it was crowded with echolalia, and rang
loud with a steady, shrill note of laughter.



Outside the window the blue sirocco trembled over the wheat, and
girls with yellow hair walked sensuously along roads that bounded
the fields, calling innocent, exciting things to the young men who
were working in the lines between the grain.  Legs were shaped
under starchless gingham, and rims of the necks of dresses were
warm and damp.  For five hours now hot fertile life had burned in
the afternoon.  It would be night in three hours, and all along the
land there would be these blonde Northern girls and the tall young
men from the farms lying out beside the wheat, under the moon.



THE END



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