IN the garden all the apple-trees were in blossom. They
had hastened to bring forth flowers before they got green
leaves, and in the yard all the ducklings walked up and down,
and the cat too: it basked in the sun and licked the sunshine
from its own paws. And when one looked at the fields, how
beautifully the corn stood and how green it shone, without
comparison! and there was a twittering and a fluttering of all
the little birds, as if the day were a great festival; and so
it was, for it was Sunday. All the bells were ringing, and all
the people went to church, looking cheerful, and dressed in
their best clothes. There was a look of cheerfulness on
everything. The day was so warm and beautiful that one might
well have said: 'God's kindness to us men is beyond all
limits.' But inside the church the pastor stood in the pulpit,
and spoke very loudly and angrily. He said that all men were
wicked, and God would punish them for their sins, and that the
wicked, when they died, would be cast into hell, to burn for
ever and ever. He spoke very excitedly, saying that their evil
propensities would not be destroyed, nor would the fire be
extinguished, and they should never find rest. That was
terrible to hear, and he said it in such a tone of conviction;
he described hell to them as a miserable hole where all the
refuse of the world gathers. There was no air beside the hot
burning sulphur flame, and there was no ground under their
feet; they, the wicked ones, sank deeper and deeper, while
eternal silence surrounded them! It was dreadful to hear all
that, for the preacher spoke from his heart, and all the
people in the church were terrified. Meanwhile, the birds sang
merrily outside, and the sun was shining so beautifully warm,
it seemed as though every little flower said: 'God, Thy
kindness towards us all is without limits.' Indeed, outside it
was not at all like the pastor's sermon.
The same evening, upon going to bed, the pastor noticed
his wife sitting there quiet and pensive.
'What is the matter with you?' he asked her.
'Well, the matter with me is,' she said, 'that I cannot
collect my thoughts, and am unable to grasp the meaning of
what you said to-day in church- that there are so many wicked
people, and that they should burn eternally. Alas! eternally-
how long! I am only a woman and a sinner before God, but I
should not have the heart to let even the worst sinner burn
for ever, and how could our Lord to do so, who is so
infinitely good, and who knows how the wickedness comes from
without and within? No, I am unable to imagine that, although
you say so.'
It was autumn; the trees dropped their leaves, the earnest
and severe pastor sat at the bedside of a dying person. A
pious, faithful soul closed her eyes for ever; she was the
...'If any one shall find rest in the grave and mercy
before our Lord you shall certainly do so,' said the pastor.
He folded her hands and read a psalm over the dead woman.
She was buried; two large tears rolled over the cheeks of
the earnest man, and in the parsonage it was empty and still,
for its sun had set for ever. She had gone home.
It was night. A cold wind swept over the pastor's head; he
opened his eyes, and it seemed to him as if the moon was
shining into his room. It was not so, however; there was a
being standing before his bed, and looking like the ghost of
his deceased wife. She fixed her eyes upon him with such a
kind and sad expression, just as if she wished to say
something to him. The pastor raised himself in bed and
stretched his arms towards her, saying, 'Not even you can find
eternal rest! You suffer, you best and most pious woman?'
The dead woman nodded her head as if to say 'Yes,' and put
her hand on her breast.
'And can I not obtain rest in the grave for you?'
'Yes,' was the answer.
'Give me one hair- only one single hair- from the head of
the sinner for whom the fire shall never be extinguished, of
the sinner whom God will condemn to eternal punishment in
'Yes, one ought to be able to redeem you so easily, you
pure, pious woman,' he said.
'Follow me,' said the dead woman. 'It is thus granted to
us. By my side you will be able to fly wherever your thoughts
wish to go. Invisible to men, we shall penetrate into their
most secret chambers; but with sure hand you must find out him
who is destined to eternal torture, and before the cock crows
he must be found!' As quickly as if carried by the winged
thoughts they were in the great city, and from the walls the
names of the deadly sins shone in flaming letters: pride,
avarice, drunkenness, wantonness- in short, the whole
seven-coloured bow of sin.
'Yes, therein, as I believed, as I knew it,' said the
pastor, 'are living those who are abandoned to the eternal
fire.' And they were standing before the magnificently
illuminated gate; the broad steps were adorned with carpets
and flowers, and dance music was sounding through the festive
halls. A footman dressed in silk and velvet stood with a large
silver-mounted rod near the entrance.
'Our ball can compare favourably with the king's,' he
said, and turned with contempt towards the gazing crowd in the
street. What he thought was sufficiently expressed in his
features and movements: 'Miserable beggars, who are looking
in, you are nothing in comparison to me.'
'Pride,' said the dead woman; 'do you see him?'
'The footman?' asked the pastor. 'He is but a poor fool,
and not doomed to be tortured eternally by fire!'
'Only a fool!' It sounded through the whole house of
pride: they were all fools there.
Then they flew within the four naked walls of the miser.
Lean as a skeleton, trembling with cold, and hunger, the old
man was clinging with all his thoughts to his money. They saw
him jump up feverishly from his miserable couch and take a
loose stone out of the wall; there lay gold coins in an old
stocking. They saw him anxiously feeling over an old ragged
coat in which pieces of gold were sewn, and his clammy fingers
'He is ill! That is madness- a joyless madness- besieged
by fear and dreadful dreams!'
They quickly went away and came before the beds of the
criminals; these unfortunate people slept side by side, in
long rows. Like a ferocious animal, one of them rose out of
his sleep and uttered a horrible cry, and gave his comrade a
violent dig in the ribs with his pointed elbow, and this one
turned round in his sleep:
'Be quiet, monster- sleep! This happens every night!'
'Every night!' repeated the other. 'Yes, every night he
comes and tortures me! In my violence I have done this and
that. I was born with an evil mind, which has brought me
hither for the second time; but if I have done wrong I suffer
punishment for it. One thing, however, I have not yet
confessed. When I came out a little while ago, and passed by
the yard of my former master, evil thoughts rose within me
when I remembered this and that. I struck a match a little bit
on the wall; probably it came a little too close to the
thatched roof. All burnt down- a great heat rose, such as
sometimes overcomes me. I myself helped to rescue cattle and
things, nothing alive burnt, except a flight of pigeons, which
flew into the fire, and the yard dog, of which I had not
thought; one could hear him howl out of the fire, and this
howling I still hear when I wish to sleep; and when I have
fallen asleep, the great rough dog comes and places himself
upon me, and howls, presses, and tortures me. Now listen to
what I tell you! You can snore; you are snoring the whole
night, and I hardly a quarter of an hour!' And the blood rose
to the head of the excited criminal; he threw himself upon his
comrade, and beat him with his clenced fist in the face.
'Wicked Matz has become mad again!' they said amongst
themselves. The other criminals seized him, wrestled with him,
and bent him double, so that his head rested between his
knees, and they tied him, so that the blood almost came out of
his eyes and out of all his pores.
'You are killing the unfortunate man,' said the pastor,
and as he stretched out his hand to protect him who already
suffered too much, the scene changed. They flew through rich
halls and wretched hovels; wantonness and envy, all the deadly
sins, passed before them. An angel of justice read their
crimes and their defence; the latter was not a brilliant one,
but it was read before God, Who reads the heart, Who knows
everything, the wickedness that comes from within and from
without, Who is mercy and love personified. The pastor's hand
trembled; he dared not stretch it out, he did not venture to
pull a hair out of the sinner's head. And tears gushed from
his eyes like a stream of mercy and love, the cooling waters
of which extinguished the eternal fire of hell.
Just then the cock crowed.
'Father of all mercy, grant Thou to her the peace that I
was unable to procure for her!'
'I have it now!' said the dead woman. 'It was your hard
words, your despair of mankind, your gloomy belief in God and
His creation, which drove me to you. Learn to know mankind!
Even in the wicked one lives a part of God- and this
extinguishes and conquers the flame of hell!'
The pastor felt a kiss on his lips; a gleam of light
surrounded him- God's bright sun shone into the room, and his
wife, alive, sweet and full of love, awoke him from a dream
which God had sent him!