A deep voice responded--
"Enter!--but leave sin behind, for the ground whereon thou shalt stand is holy!"
The King entered, and paused. The hermit turned a pair of gleaming, unrestful eyes upon him, and said--
"Who art thou?"
"I am the King," came the answer, with placid simplicity.
"Welcome, King!" cried the hermit, with enthusiasm. Then, bustling about with feverish activity, and constantly saying, "Welcome, welcome," he arranged his bench, seated the King on it, by the hearth, threw some faggots on the fire, and finally fell to pacing the floor with a nervous stride.
"Welcome! Many have sought sanctuary here, but they were not worthy, and were turned away. But a King who casts his crown away, and despises the vain splendours of his office, and clothes his body in rags, to devote his life to holiness and the mortification of the flesh--he is worthy, he is welcome!--here shall he abide all his days till death come." The King hastened to interrupt and explain, but the hermit paid no attention to him- -did not even hear him, apparently, but went right on with his talk, with a raised voice and a growing energy. "And thou shalt be at peace here. None shall find out thy refuge to disquiet thee with supplications to return to that empty and foolish life which God hath moved thee to abandon. Thou shalt pray here; thou shalt study the Book; thou shalt meditate upon the follies and delusions of this world, and upon the sublimities of the world to come; thou shalt feed upon crusts and herbs, and scourge thy body with whips, daily, to the purifying of thy soul. Thou shalt wear a hair shirt next thy skin; thou shalt drink water only; and thou shalt be at peace; yes, wholly at peace; for whoso comes to seek thee shall go his way again, baffled; he shall not find thee, he shall not molest thee."
The old man, still pacing back and forth, ceased to speak aloud, and began to mutter. The King seized this opportunity to state his case; and he did it with an eloquence inspired by uneasiness and apprehension. But the hermit went on muttering, and gave no heed. And still muttering, he approached the King and said impressively--
"'Sh! I will tell you a secret!" He bent down to impart it, but checked himself, and assumed a listening attitude. After a moment or two he went on tiptoe to the window-opening, put his head out, and peered around in the gloaming, then came tiptoeing back again, put his face close down to the King's, and whispered--
"I am an archangel!"
The King started violently, and said to himself, "Would God I were with the outlaws again; for lo, now am I the prisoner of a madman!" His apprehensions were heightened, and they showed plainly in his face. In a low excited voice the hermit continued- -
"I see you feel my atmosphere! There's awe in your face! None may be in this atmosphere and not be thus affected; for it is the very atmosphere of heaven. I go thither and return, in the twinkling of an eye. I was made an archangel on this very spot, it is five years ago, by angels sent from heaven to confer that awful dignity. Their presence filled this place with an intolerable brightness. And they knelt to me, King! yes, they knelt to me! for I was greater than they. I have walked in the courts of heaven, and held speech with the patriarchs. Touch my hand--be not afraid--touch it. There--now thou hast touched a hand which has been clasped by Abraham and Isaac and Jacob! For I have walked in the golden courts; I have seen the Deity face to face!" He paused, to give this speech effect; then his face suddenly changed, and he started to his feet again saying, with angry energy, "Yes, I am an archangel; A MERE ARCHANGEL!--I that might have been pope! It is verily true. I was told it from heaven in a dream, twenty years ago; ah, yes, I was to be pope!-- and I SHOULD have been pope, for Heaven had said it--but the King dissolved my religious house, and I, poor obscure unfriended monk, was cast homeless upon the world, robbed of my mighty destiny!" Here he began to mumble again, and beat his forehead in futile rage, with his fist; now and then articulating a venomous curse, and now and then a pathetic "Wherefore I am nought but an archangel--I that should have been pope!"
So he went on, for an hour, whilst the poor little King sat and suffered.