The Mother





ROBERT HAVEN SCHAUFFLER



All day her watch had lasted on the plateau above the town. And now the

sun slanted low over the dull, blue sheen of the western sea, playing

changingly with the angular mountain which rose abruptly from its surge.



The young matron did not heed the magic which was transforming the

theater of hills to the north and lingering lovingly at last on the

eastern summit. Nor had she any eyes for the changing hue of the

ivy-clad cubes of stone that formed the village over which her hungry

gaze passed, sweeping the length and breadth of the plain below.



She seemed not much above thirty: tall, erect and lithe. Her throat,

bared to the breeze, was of the purest modeling; her skin of a whiteness

unusual in that warm climate. Her head, a little small for her rounded

figure, was crowned with a coil of chestnut hair, and her eyes glowed

with a look strange to the common light of every day. It was her soul

that was scanning that southward country.



From time to time she would fondle a small object hidden beneath the

white folds of her robe. Once she threw her arms out in a passionate

gesture toward the plain, and tears overflowed the beautiful eyes. Again

she fell on her knees, and the throes of inner prayer found relief at

her lips:



Father, my Father, grant me to see him ere the dusk!



Once again she sank down, moaning:



He is in Thine everlasting arms. But Thou, who knowest times and

seasons, give him to me on this day of days!



Under the curve of a shielding hand her vision strained through the

clear, pure air,--strained and found at last two specks far out in the

plain, and followed them breathlessly as they crept nearer. One traveler

was clad in a dark garment, and stopped presently, leaving his

light-robed companion to hasten on alone toward the hungry-eyed woman on

the plateau.



All at once she gathered her skirt with a joyous cry and ran with lithe,

elastic steps down through the village.



They met on a low, rounded hill near the plain.



My son, my darling! she cried, catching him passionately to her bosom.

We have searched, and waited, and agonized, she continued after a

pause, smiling at him through her happy tears. But it matters nothing

now. I have thee again.



My mother, said the boy as he caressed her cheek, looking at her

dreamily, I have been with my cousin. Even now he waits below for me. I

must bid thee farewell. I must pass from thy face forever.



His lip trembled a little, but he smiled bravely. For it is the will of

God, the Father.



The mother's face went ashen. She tottered and would have fallen but for

his slender arm about her.



Her thoughts were whirling in wild confusion, yet she knew that she must

decide calmly, wisely, quickly.



Her lips moved, but made no sound.



Oh, lay Thy wise and gracious hand upon me! was what she breathed in

silence.



Then her voice sounded rich and happy and fresh, as it had always

sounded for him.



His will be done. Thou comest to bid farewell to thy brothers and

father?



It may not be, he answered. My lot henceforth is to flee the touch of

the world, the unsympathetic eye, the ribald tongue of those like my

brothers--the defilement of common life.



The mother pressed him closer.



Say all that is in thine heart, she murmured. We will bide here.



They sank down together on the soft, bright turf, facing the brilliance

of the west, she holding her child as of old in the hollow of her arm.



He began to speak.



For long and long a voice within me said, 'Go and seek thy cousin.' So

I sought and found, and we abode together in the woods and fields, and

were friends with our dear brothers the beasts, and the fishes, and the

birds. There, day by day, my cousin would tell me of the dream that

filled his soul and of the holy men who had put the dream there.



The mother's eyes grew larger with a swift terror, but she held her

peace.



And at the last, when the beauty, the wind, the sun, the rain, and the

voice of God, had purified me in some measure, my cousin brought me to

visit these holy men.



The clear, boyish voice rose and began to vibrate with enthusiasm.



Ah, mother, _they_ are the chosen ones of God! Sweet and grave and

gentle they are, and theirs is the perfect life. They dwell spotless and

apart from the world. They own one common purse, and spend their lives

working with their hands and pondering and dreaming on purity, goodness,

and the commands of the great law.



He sprang up in his excitement from her encircling arm and stood erect

and wide-eyed before her.



Ah, mother, they are so good that they would do nothing on the Sabbath,

even to saving their own lives or the lives of their animals, or their

brothers. They bathe very often in sacred water. They have no wives, and

mortify the flesh, and--



What is their aim in this? the mother interrupted gently.



The boy was aflame with his subject.



Ah, that is it--the great goal toward which they all run, he cried.

They are doing my Father's work, and I must help! Hear, hear what is

before me: When a young novice comes to them they give him the symbols

of purity: a spade, an apron, and a white robe to wear at the holy

meals. In a year he receives a closer fellowship and the baths of

purification. After that he enters the state of bodily purity. Then

little by little he enters into purity of the spirit, meekness,

holiness. He becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit, and prophesies. Ah,

think, mother, how sweet it would be to lie entranced there for days and

weeks in an earthly paradise, with no rough world to break the spell,

while the angels sing softly in one's ears! I, even I, have already

tasted of that bliss.



Say on, she breathed. What does the holy man do then?



Then, the inspired, boyish tones continued--then he performs

miracles, and finally-- he clasped her hand convulsively--he becomes

Elias, the forerunner of the Messiah!



From far out in the wilderness came a melancholy cry.



It is John, my cousin, said the boy, radiant, half turning himself at

the sound. I must go to him.



She drew in her breath sharply, and rose to her feet.



Bear a message to John, she said. Not pourings of water, nor white

robes; not times and seasons, nor feasts in darkness and silence, shall

hasten the kingdom of heaven; neither formulas, nor phylacteries, nor

madness on the Sabbath. Above all, no selfish, proud isolation shall

usher in the glorious reign of the Messiah. These holy men,--these

Essenes,--are but stricter, sterner, nobler Pharisees. Tell thy cousin

to take all the noble and fine, to reject all the selfish and unmeaning,

in their lives. Doctrine is not in heaven. Not by fasts and scourgings,

not by vigils and scruples about the law; not by selfishly shutting out

the world, but by taking all poor, suffering, erring, striving humanity

into his heart will he become the true Elias.



There was a breathless, thrilling moment of perfect silence as the

glowing eyes of the mother looked deep into the astonished, questioning

eyes of the son.



Then she rested both hands on his shoulders and spoke almost in a

whisper.



As for thee, the time is now come. Does my son know what this day

means?



He looked at her wonderingly and was silent.



The mother spoke:



For many years I have kept these things and pondered them in my heart.

Now, _now_ the hour is here when thou must know them.



She bent so close that a strand of loosened hair swept his forehead.



In the time before thou wert born came as in a dream a wondrous visitor

to me straight from the Father. And that pure, ecstatic messenger

announced that the power of the Highest would overshadow me, and that my

child was to be the son of the Highest, who should save His people from

their sins--the Prince of Peace--the Messiah!



From the wilderness came a long, melancholy cry, but the rapt boy heard

not.



The mother continued in the soft, tender voice that began to tremble

with her in her ecstasy.



This day is thy birthday. Twelve years ago this eventide, when thou

camest into the world of men, men came to worship and praise God for

thee,--the lowliest and the highest,--as a token that thou wert to be

not only Son of God but Son of Man as well. Poor, ignorant shepherds

crowded about us in that little stable where we lay, and left the sweet

savor of their prayers, and tears, and rejoicings. And great, wise kings

from another part of the earth came also.



From beneath the folds of her robe she drew forth by a fine-spun chain

an intricately chased casket of soft, yellow gold.



The boy took it dreamily into his hands, and as his fingers opened it,

there floated forth upon the air of the hills of Nazareth the sacred

odor of incense mingled with a perfume indescribably delicate and

precious.



Read! whispered the mother.



The boy held his breath suddenly.



There, on the lower surface of the lid, graven in rude characters, as if

on the inspiration of the moment, stood the single word



LOVE



She flung wide her arms as if to embrace the universe.



Love! Love! Love! she cried in her rich mother's voice. It is the

greatest thing in the world! It is the message of the Messiah!



The heavens over the sea were of molten gold, and a golden glow seemed

to radiate from the boyish face that confronted them. In their

trance-like ecstasy the wonderful eyes gazed full into the blinding

west--gazed on and on until day had passed into night.



One iterant sound alone, as it drew closer, stirred the silence of that

evening: it was the voice of one crying in the wilderness.





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