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Famous Modern Ghost Stories (Various authors) online
Already did the emperor know who Lazarus was, and prepared to meet him. But the monarch was a brave man, and felt his own tremendous, unconquerable power, and in his fatal duel with him who had miraculously risen from the dead he wanted not to invoke human help. And so he met Lazarus face to face:
"Lift not thine eyes upon me, Lazarus," he ordered. "I heard thy face is like that of Medusa and turns into stone whomsoever thou lookest at. Now, I wish to see thee and to have a talk with thee, before I turn into stone,"--added he in a tone of kingly jesting, not devoid of fear.
Coming close to him, he carefully examined Lazarus' face and his strange festal garments. And although he had a keen eye, he was deceived by his appearance.
"So. Thou dost not appear terrible, my venerable old man. But the worse for us, if horror assumes such a respectable and pleasant air. Now let us have a talk."
Augustus sat, and questioning Lazarus with his eye as much as with words, started the conversation: "Why didst thou not greet me as thou enteredst?"
Lazarus answered indifferent:
"I knew not it was necessary."
"Art thou a Christian?"
Augustus approvingly shook his head.
"That is good. I do not like Christians. They shake the tree of life before it is covered with fruit, and disperse its odorous bloom to the winds. But who art thou?"
With a visible effort Lazarus answered:
"I was dead."
"I had heard that. But who art thou now?"
Lazarus was silent, but at last repeated in a tone of weary apathy:
"I was dead."
"Listen to me, stranger," said the emperor, distinctly and severely giving utterance to the thought that had come to him at the beginning, "my realm is the realm of Life, my people are of the living, not of the dead. Thou art here one too many. I know not who thou art and what thou sawest there; but, if thou liest, I hate thy lies, and if thou tellst the truth, I hate thy truth. In my bosom I feel the throb of life; I feel strength in my arm, and my proud thoughts, like eagles, pierce the space. And yonder in the shelter of my rule, under the protection of laws created by me, people live and toil and rejoice. Dost thou hear the battle-cry, the challenge men throw into the face of the future?"
Augustus, as in prayer, stretched forth his arms and exclaimed solemnly:
"Be blessed, O great and divine Life!"
Lazarus was silent, and with growing sternness the emperor went on:
"Thou art not wanted here, miserable remnant, snatched from under Death's teeth, thou inspirest weariness and disgust with life; like a caterpillar in the fields, thou gloatest on the rich ear of joy and belchest out the drivel of despair and sorrow. Thy truth is like a rusty sword in the hands of a nightly murderer,--and as a murderer thou shalt be executed. But before that, let me look into thine eyes. Perchance, only cowards are afraid of them, but in the brave they awake the thirst for strife and victory; then thou shalt be rewarded, not executed.... Now, look at me, Lazarus."
At first it appeared to the deified Augustus that a friend was looking at him,--so soft, so tenderly fascinating was Lazarus' glance. It promised not horror, but sweet rest and the Infinite seemed to him a tender mistress, a compassionate sister, a mother. But stronger and stronger grew its embraces, and already the mouth, greedy of hissing kisses, interfered with the monarch's breathing, and already to the surface of the soft tissues of the body came the iron of the bones and tightened its merciless circle,--and unknown fangs, blunt and cold, touched his heart and sank into it with slow indolence.