436 ON THE LAST DAY
But this dying man had not the child-like mind, he felt he was a man ; he did not tremble like the sinner, he knew he was a true believer. He had kept to the forms of religion in all their strictness ; millions he knew must go the broad way to destruction ; with sword and with fire he could have destroyed their bodies here, as their souls were already destroyed and always would be ; his way was now towards Heaven, where Mercy opened the gate for him, the promised mercy.
And the soul went with the Angel of Death, but yet once he looked back to the couch where the earthly form lay in its white shroud, a strange image of its * I'—and they flew, and they went—it seemed as in a vast hall and yet as in a wood : Nature was pruned, drawn out, tied up and set in rows, made artificial like the old French gardens ; and here there was a masquerade.
* That is human life,' said the Angel of Death. All the figures were seen more or less masked ; it was not altogether the noblest or mightiest who went dressed in velvet and gold ; it was not quite the lowest and most insignificant who went in the cloak of poverty. It was a wonderful masquerade, and it was in particular quite strange to see how all of them concealed something carefully from each other under their clothing ; but the one tugged at the other in order that this might be revealed, and then one saw the head of some animal sticking out : with one it was a grinning ape, with another an ugly goat, a clammy snake, or a flabby fish.
It was the animal which we all carry about, the animal which has grown fast in one, and it hopped and sprang and tried to come to light, and every one held his clothes tight about it, but the others tore them aside and shouted, 1 Look! look ! there he is ! There she is !' and the one laid bare the other's shame.
1 And what was the animal in me ? ' asked the wandering soul, and the Angel of Death pointed to a haughty figure in front of them, around whose head appeared a many-coloured glory, but beside the man's heart the feet of the animal were concealed, the peacock's feet; the glory was only the many-coloured tail of the bird.
And as they wandered on, great birds screamed horridly