It was early in the morning when the cook ran across for Gospel. He came with the scientist dying, come quickly.
They hurriedly toddled one after another; in front of the cook, muttering in prayer, behind him the short, fat priest, with the set for the last anointing in his hand, a black leather box from which the gilded cross had been worn. He also prayed, but only internally.
However, his prayer was disturbed by a memory. It is a memory that he hurried over to the patient next door a few days ago. Even then, the cook came for her because the woman, the evil demon, had finally gone home once to bring money, a portion of her pension. She only went for half an hour, the chef said, the fair was free, but she had to hurry. And they were in a hurry, just as they were now. The Reverend involuntarily reiterated to himself: the fair is free, the fair is free – but in the teacher’s villa, when through the maid’s stairs, the kitchen, the-27-the pastor was almost at the target, only a door separated him from the patient, the woman was standing in front of him at once! This situation would have been embarrassing for her and the cook in the foreign kitchen if Gosspel had not been convinced that her intention was pure and holy.
Now, in the prayer he sent to heaven, this memory was also mingled, praying that the Providence would not leave his servant, to remove this living obstacle from the path of his zealous plan, to break the woman in pain, to crush her with the force of the blow to save the soul…
The street was quiet, deserted this cool morning. A teddy lad worked on the roof of the house opposite. Sang. She sang:
The blackthorn is green and then turns blue
Little brunette girl will reconcile
She sang loudly, cheerfully, carefree. The priest and the cook did not listen, they hurried to the dying man.
Gospel entered the laboratory. This room was new, unusual, surprising to him. All sorts of glass-clad instruments stood apart on tiny wheeled tables that could be pushed back and forth, here a magnifying glass, a slicing device, and a plethora of thin spying tubes soaked in unknown materials. Along the walls, one small drawer lined up after another, on each drawer, on each shelf with a sign, a collection of thousands of preparations and notes. Large chemical kitchen with glass plate-28-sealed and up on top of the castes are large mason jars in which disgusting, mysterious things swam. Raw morning light illuminated the room from three large windows, making a terribly sober, unpleasantly clean, and brittle impression on Gospel. Even the chairs, the tables, they were so unfriendly, strangers.
Five or six people were lounging in the room. Some of the master’s disciples and two journalists who rumored that the prophet was dying rushed here. They looked in surprise at the priest, who himself felt that he was an unexpected, paradoxical appearance in this terrible frosty, instrumental room. But he didn’t care, he went straight to the door that led to the infirmary.
But the door was locked.
Gospel waited a few minutes, then tried the doorknob again to see if anyone noticed that he wanted to go in. However, nothing moved inside. One would have thought that no one in the next room would have heard the sometimes heavy, bronchial breathing, which was getting faster, faster, stronger than the rumble of the plane at departure, then abruptly stopped for a few minutes. The priest was still standing there. Expected. One time or another he knocked softly and rattled the padlock. One journalist finally spoke behind him:
– It is closed.
Gospel didn’t answer the mockery. He remained there with a patient, monotonous calm. It didn’t matter to him what the others thought of-29-disciples, what reporters think might be considered modest, intrusive. He fulfilled a vocation. He waited dullly as the hunter waited in the ambush, waiting without thought for the insecure. His gaze clung to the motionless handle. Sometimes he pushed the church stock closer to him and tried to pray, but he couldn’t get to true spiritual immersion. He was very disturbed by the recurring growl that sounded from the sick room and the singing of the bachelor that sounded into the room as well. In a merry, healthy, carefree voice, he always blew the same song:
Green blackthorn will turn blue…
Only this one blew continuously; he may not have known any other song; he may also have known otherwise, but he loved it best; he may not have loved it either, but that came to mind. The fact is that he could never finish, he always started again: The blackthorn is green, then it turns blue…
The growl grew louder next door, but only that was heard, no crying or movement. It was on Gospelda’s mind that perhaps the patient had been abandoned, locked up, left to die alone. If so! Up should be this door…
– Is anyone in there? He asked the waiters.
“The woman and the doctor,” one of the students replied.-30-
“Thank you,” the priest replied calmly, waiting further, his eyes fixed on the copper handle. The pure copper shone radiantly and the revered unconscious began to count the reflection of the windows on the cylindrical handle. He felt as if he was hypnotized; the knowledge that only this lock was holding him back from his great purpose, as if it were a great blunt angle, pierced his thoughts, stopping the world for him.
Outside, the teddy helper was still torturing that song, from the blueness of the blackthorn, still inferring the little girl’s peace, with annoying stubbornness.
And time passed, it passed the same way, just like the song
A lot of time has passed. Gospel couldn’t tell how much.
A new sound was now coming out of the sick room, a different growl that had almost swallowed the former, the usual. The disciples, the journalists, noticed them too, restless, and they were gathered at the door. It was a wonderful, horrible sound, one that could not be confused with anything else he had once heard. A moist deep gargling sound that seems to sound from somewhere from the bottom up, something inside, all the way inside. It was as if heavy balls were rolling in a half-empty barrel in some bubbly liquid and rolling that barrel, slowly, evenly. This death growl sounded terrible, much more terrible than any wailing -31-or, shouting, his hearing squeezed the throats of those waiting. Renewed, discontinued, renewed again, twice, thrice, in succession. They all listened intently, at every break they thought it was the last one, watching silently.
The growl became more and more intermittent, stalled, sometimes taking half a minute, then starting again. Gospel and his companions were almost surprised when, after a pause, nothing was finally heard, the sound was not renewed.
Steps approached. The key creaked in the lock. Both wings of the door opened. She opened it. His face was faint and stiff, and his eyes were so wide open that Gospel could see the pupils narrowing from the raw light that suddenly flowed toward him. He opened the door with both arms and simply said,
– He’s dead. They can come in.
But Gospel felt as if he had spoken to her, as if he had said, I won, I defeated…
And as the others walked slowly to the dead, the pious priest fell to his knees at an instrumental table, folded his balding skull into his clasped hands, and there, before the microscope, as he did before the altar, began from the depths of his humiliated, broken heart:
– Pater noster, qui es is coelo, sanctificatur nomen tuum…
He was buried from the laboratory. There stood the coffin, a simple wooden coffin with a poor tablecloth. Dozens of wreaths roared around him, sent by associations, universities, academies, seemed banal, laurel, palm-like to make official wreaths. There was only one other, one individual, the one lying on the coffin itself, the woman’s wreath. Big red wheel, all the way to red geranium, the flower that opened there in the window of that garden house long ago long ago
There were many people in the room, many people in black coats, who placed their vegetable, ribbon memories next to the coffin and spoke a few glorifying words over the corpse on behalf of bodies. The Alliance of Free Thinkers and the League that called itself the deceased prophet were also represented by a larger delegation. There was an unpleasant odor in the air, like at a horticultural exhibition or in the stairwell of elite balls – the aroma of evergreen leaves and the smell of mankind.
It was the orator of the league who spoke, “… and now rest in the lap of nature, great man, you whose life and death bear witness to us, you who not only were able to live according to your great doctrine, but you are also a martyr to the new, natural belief. For martyrdom is nothing but a testimony to the threshold of death, even against death. You have sealed the knowledge of your life with the knowledge of death… “
It appeared in the speakers that he was very pleased with his speech.
And the woman stood by the hearth, lean, -33-straight. In his black, wrinkled dress, it was like a carving from some medieval church — a devil or an angel, all the same — standing there motionless, his yellow eyes clinging to the coffin, to the black cloth, to the red wreath. And his face is as if cut from wood…