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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Eldridge Paul, Viereck George Sylvester
 

«My First Two Thousand Years; the Autobiography of the Wandering Jew», George Viereck и др.

PROLOGUE: MOUNT ATHOS

I: THE SEVEN PLOVERS

THE sun hurled spears of fire at the golden cross crowning the marble peak of Mount Athos.

Suddenly the flaming glory was darkened by the shadows of seven black-breasted plovers hovering for a moment, as if in deliberation, over the ivy-crowned tower of the monastery, and vanishing with a shrill cry.

“What an unearthly sound!” exclaimed Aubrey Lowell.

“Their screams,” remarked his companion, a German of colossal stature, “echo the sounds of the battle-fields over which they have flown.”

“It is incomprehensible to me by what subterranean channels the Holy Fathers keep in touch with the outside world, in times such as these,” Aubrey remarked.

“Not many months ago,” Professor Bassermann replied, dropping his voice to a whisper, “a mutiny against the Government broke out on a Russian warship. Eluding the Grand Fleet, at least thirty of the officers and the men landed, no one knows where. A little later thirty newcomers, holy hermits, no doubt, sought refuge in one of the monasteries.”

“I presume,” Aubrey said, “the Holy Fathers were not pleased by this invasion.”

“The Holy Fathers,” Professor Bassermann continued, “are desperately afraid of being drawn into a political controversy, and are in mortal terror of the long arm of the Czar, and of the Kaiser. It is fortunate that our diplomatic friend in Constantinople secured an introduction to Father Ambrose for us. In such perilous times every traveler is subject to suspicion and may be denied an asylum. Fate was in an ironical mood when she tempted us to go globe-trotting during a World War. Who knows how long we may be compelled to wait here, until we receive our visa!”

“Meanwhile,” Aubrey said, “we can probe the mysteries of the place. I am sure every shrine has its secrets. In every fold of the altar cloth rustles a century. Even in the sunshine, the ghosts of past generations seem to wander about.”

“You are in a mood for fantasy, my friend,” replied the other.

“In a spot where for twelve centuries men’s minds have dwelt upon the eternal, everything seems to glow with hidden significance. Here all things are possible.”

Their ears caught the rustling of wings overhead. Once more a shadow flitted over the landscape.

“What is that?” asked Basil Bassermann.

“Plovers—seven plovers. This is the second time they have flown over the belfry.”

“You counted them?”

“Yes, and I counted seven,” Aubrey remarked. “The very atmosphere admits of no other number.”

“Superstition is a form of atavism to which all minds are subject. Even my blood,” Professor Bassermann conceded somewhat ponderously, “feels the dust of ages rising from all these ancient objects.”

“What a confession for the foremost scientist of Harvard!” Aubrey taunted the old professor. “You know,” he added after a pause, knitting his brow to recapture a thought, “I have studied the history of superstition a little. There is an ancient story about seven plovers. The seven soldiers who assisted at the crucifixion were transformed into plovers, doomed to circle the sky forever.”

“Perhaps it means that we shall never get our visa,” Professor Bassermann remarked with a wry face. “Are your sacred fowls harbingers of evil? Our old peasants always say that plovers prophesy rain.”

“They foretell something. What it is, however, has for the moment escaped me.”

He nervously passed his hand through his hair.

“We are both tired and overwrought from travel,” Professor Bassermann interjected. “There is a tension in the air which affects even me. Surely of all places this must be the very hotbed of superstition. By the way, do you know that Father Ambrose, as soon he divests himself of his stole, is a remarkable psychologist? Most of the monks here are crude and ignorant, but he has studied the library of Mount Athos, the oldest in the world, and is acquainted with the history of mental science from Aristotle to Freud. You will probably find that many of your ideas are in sympathy with his. He is a mystic.”

“What is a mystic, Professor?”

“You’re half a mystic. A part of your brain is open to the lantern of knowledge, but there are dark alleys in those gray convolutions that shut themselves stubbornly to facts.”

“To facts, perhaps, not to truth.”

“Truth is based on facts, Aubrey. There can be no valid truth outside of human experience.”

“I,” Aubrey replied, “seek a reconciliation between the miraculous and science, between the revealed and the unrevealed mysteries.”


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