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Famous Modern Ghost Stories (Various authors) online
"My master, what has befallen thee, master?"
The very same day the sculptor left for Rome. On the way Aurelius was pensive and taciturn, staring attentively at everything--the men, the ship, the sea, as though trying to retain something. On the high sea a storm burst upon them, and all through it Aurelius stayed on the deck and eagerly scanned the seas looming near and sinking with a thud.
At home his friends were frightened at the change which had taken place in Aurelius, but he calmed them, saying meaningly:
"I have found it."
And without changing the dusty clothes he wore on his journey, he fell to work, and the marble obediently resounded under his sonorous hammer. Long and eagerly worked he, admitting no one, until one morning he announced that the work was ready and ordered his friends to be summoned, severe critics and connoisseurs of art. And to meet them he put on bright and gorgeous garments, that glittered with yellow gold--and--scarlet byssus.
"Here is my work," said he thoughtfully.
His friends glanced and a shadow of profound sorrow covered their faces. It was something monstrous, deprived of all the lines and shapes familiar to the eye, but not without a hint at some new, strange image.
On a thin, crooked twig, or rather on an ugly likeness of a twig rested askew a blind, ugly, shapeless, outspread mass of something utterly and inconceivably distorted, a mad leap of wild and bizarre fragments, all feebly and vainly striving to part from one another. And, as if by chance, beneath one of the wildly-rent salients a butterfly was chiseled with divine skill, all airy loveliness, delicacy, and beauty, with transparent wings, which seemed to tremble with an impotent desire to take flight.
"Wherefore this wonderful butterfly, Aurelius?" said somebody falteringly.
"I know not"--was the sculptor's answer.
But it was necessary to tell the truth, and one of his friends who loved him best said firmly:
"This is ugly, my poor friend. It must be destroyed. Give me the hammer."
And with two strokes he broke the monstrous man into pieces, leaving only the infinitely delicate butterfly untouched.
From that time on Aurelius created nothing. With profound indifference he looked at marble and bronze, and on his former divine works, where everlasting beauty rested. With the purpose of arousing his former fervent passion for work and, awakening his deadened soul, his friends took him to see other artists' beautiful works,--but he remained indifferent as before, and the smile did not warm up his tightened lips. And only after listening to lengthy talks about beauty, he would retort wearily and indolently:
"But all this is a lie."
And by the day, when the sun was shining, he went into his magnificent, skilfully built garden and having found a place without shadow, he exposed his bare head to the glare and heat. Red and white butterflies fluttered around; from the crooked lips of a drunken satyr, water streamed down with a splash into a marble cistern, but he sat motionless and silent,--like a pallid reflection of him who, in the far-off distance, at the very gates of the stony desert, sat under the fiery sun.
And now it came to pass that the great, deified Augustus himself summoned Lazarus. The imperial messengers dressed him gorgeously, in solemn nuptial clothes, as if Time had legalized them, and he was to remain until his very death the bridegroom of an unknown bride. It was as though an old, rotting coffin had been gilt and furnished with new, gay tassels. And men, all in trim and bright attire, rode after him, as if in bridal procession indeed, and those foremost trumpeted loudly, bidding people to clear the way for the emperor's messengers. But Lazarus' way was deserted: his native land cursed the hateful name of him who had miraculously risen from the dead, and people scattered at the very news of his appalling approach. The solitary voice of the brass trumpets sounded in the motionless air, and the wilderness alone responded with its languid echo.