The boy continues sad, listless. When will he realize: there is no cure for the pain of death other than work? For to dwell on sorrow is a very great sin, since from there how easily may enter the devil? But still Carl Phillip refuses to do his exercises, and his teacher at school tells me that he has failed in his most recent exams! Surely, if he continues on this path, he will fall into perdition.
“You must whip the child, Sebastian,” said Anna Berthe, the elder sister of my late wife, María Barbara, who came to live with us when we got married. She had no home then, she has no home now, and so she came to live with us. An excellent woman, who knows her Christian duties and does them without complaint. Though, as we learned all too soon, she can have strong views, and no hesitancy in expressing them, as we learned early on.
“This bread won’t do,” she said to my wife two days after coming to our house, “will you never learn how to do a thing properly? Here, let me show you.”
Indeed, the bread had been as hard as freshly-kilned brick, but was the comment welcome?
No, but the help was, since Anna Berthe was as often correct as she was blunt. The two women went into the kitchen, where the elder sister taught the younger. The bread improved greatly, but did the relationship?
Ah, I have fallen into thinking as these new people do, they who have brought me back. For we didn’t have “relationships,” then, and there could be no worrying about how they fared. We had instead obligations, to which we attended, if we were upstanding in the eyes of the Lord.
“It’s very easy to fall into the sin of anger,” I counseled my María Barbara later that night. “Be not proud. She means well, though her tongue is harsh.”
Fortunately, María Barbara was a gentle soul, who could rankle, but never sustain the injuries for long. A slight or insult was felt, yes, but never nurtured. And the next day, the pair would begin anew, and what would it be for the new day? A dress ironed imperfectly, a floor swept badly, it hardly mattered what. I grew weary of the bickering, and needed to assert my God-given authority as father and head of the household.
“There will be no hard words here in this house,” I said sharply. “María Barbara, it is you duty to honor Anne Berthe, as your elder sister. And you, Anne Berthe, will curb your tongue.”
“I’m sure I now my place,” said she, “since an unmarried woman is seldom welcome in a married sister’s home….”
“Enough,” I said, “There will be no more talk thus.”
Did it end? Of course not, but it did drive it down to more manageable levels. And so my wife learned a good deal from her elder sister, and loved her, as the Bible and our good Lord commanded her to do. Anne Berthe, however, never could quite control her desire to meddle, and so she was instructing me, days after I had heard the news of my late wife’s death.
I sighed—what to do? Carl Phillip was but five; his mother had died recently. I was nine when my mother died, but Carl Phillip was half that age.
“I shall talk to him first,” I said, and instantly regretted it. For why should I explain and excuse myself to this woman? Had not my obligation ceased, after the death of her sister? And yet where was she to go, and who would tend to the house and the womanly duties it required? Still, Anne Berthe frowned, but kept her silence.
“Are you well, my son,” I asked, after noting that his eyes were puffy and reddened.
“Would you like me to tell you a story?”
“There was once a man, Albert, who had a stone of great beauty. Where he had found it, and the circumstances surrounding it, the man would never reveal, but people came from miles around to see it.”
“What color was it,” asked Carl Phillip.
“It had the best qualities of every color. It had the purity of blue, the mystery of grey, the vitality of green, the radiance of gold, and the passion of red. Indeed, it was a color never seen—a color that left men speechless with awe. Word spread of the stone throughout the lands, and the multitude would come, begging to have glimpse of it. The simple Albert always obliged, nor would he accept any fee for displaying it. Eventually, word of this stone reached the ears of a wicked man, named Sastro. Instantly, Sastro conceived a plan to wrest the stone from Albert. He assembled a great army, which circled the humble abode of Albert. Sastro, with four of his men, strode into the cottage and ordered the poor Albert to cede him the stone, under pain of death. Very quietly, Albert showed him the glorious stone, and Sastro burned with lust to have it. And so, Albert put it inside a gold casket lined with velvet and gave it to him. Sastro returned to his castle.”
“And then what happened?”
“When he returned to his castle he immediately declared that he would hold a great feast, and that he would display the wonderful stone that had so amazed the multitudes. And so the preparations were made.
“And then what happened?”
“The day of the feast arrived, and Albert greeted each of the nobles with great condescension, since he alone possessed what they did not. They supped and drank, and at last did Albert stand, and reveal the stone.”
“The nobles roared with laughter, for what had Albert shown them? Nothing more that a common piece of fieldstone! Thus how the ill-gotten gains had transformed themselves!”
“So what did Albert do?”
“He ordered the nobles from his castle, and slunk to his room. There he wept and wept, as much for the loss of his stone as for the loss of his dignity. He wept rivers, and could contain himself not.”
“I’ve been crying too, Papa.”
“I know, my son, but we must go on. It is a very great sin to despair.”
“Tell me more, Papa, about Albert and the wicked Sastro.”
“He wept so much that one day, he felt a strange weakness in his eyes. And thus daily did they grow weaker, until one day, he could see no longer. After seven days and seven nights of weeping, he had gone completely blind. He left the castle then, and wandered the dusty roads desolate, until Jesus did see him, and inquire of his plight.”
“And what did Jesus say to him?”
“He said, ‘Behold and I shall cause you to see,’ and there did the Albert stand with his vision restored, and the people said that a very great prophet had been sent to them, and the news did spread out wondrously.”
“So is that the end of the story?”
“Yes, and no, for only in the Apocrypha do we learn the other side of the story.”
“And that is?”
“Yes, the savior had restored sight to the thief Sastro, but he had performed another miracle as well. He had made all the rocks in the world as lustrous as the one Sastro had stolen, and the people rushed in a frenzy, picking up stones and putting them in their pockets or buckets or in their up-raised skirts. Sastro alone was still.”
“Yes, Jesus had restored vision to Sastro, but he had decreed it that Sastro would never see the color of the rock he had stolen. And thus, it was a blessing and a punishment at the same time.”
“And the stones, Papa? Are they still there.”
“As time passed, the people ceased to care about the stones, but if you want my opinion, my son?”
“Yes, Papa,” he said sleepily, for the tale had done it’s trick.
“Yes, the stones are still there,” I whispered, and got up to leave.
Had he heard?