Ricord said: “I am very nearly an old man now. I know too well the nature of those evils which destroy men’s souls. Death and anger are not mere child’s play.”
“You are wrong, my son. All things human are child’s play, and less than child’s play: its shadow merely. For there is no truth in the body and all that pertains to it – our thoughts, our passions, our individual wills. Only one thing in man is true: his agony of soul. Like a caged beast the soul struggles and writhes in its longing to be united with that celestial Spirit which it has lost. In this alone men are not children; for each immortal soul is by itself greater than the whole world, which is mortal.
“As children are greater than the mud-castles they build, so men’s souls are greater than their lives. The children engage in mock battles; they kick over their playmates’ castles, and run wailing for their mothers; but an immortal soul can no more be destroyed than a block of marble can be dissolved in water.”
“If there is no true substance in evil, then, ” Ricord asked, “why should it cause us such affliction? Do you call the torturing of innocent people till they die child’s play?”
“My son, all is shadow and child’s play, save the cry of a soul cut off from God. The hands of the executioner are not in themselves evil, nor are his pincers and red-hot irons. There is no evil in the heart of an executioner, for he is made of perishable matter, whose law is to obey the Devil that moulded it. But the agonised cry of an outraged soul is like that of a child to its father: both appeal and accusation. Could you be so blind as to doubt our Father’s compassion?”
“No, ” Ricord said, hesitantly. “But if I have of my own free will caused the deaths of other men, what fate will God hold in store for me then?”
“The executioner’s fate: eternity of darkness. The murderer inflicts his own punishment upon himself, as does the voluptuary: he brings his soul by violence down to the level of his body, and plunges it into a black pit where it loses all power of distinguishing good and evil.”
“I can see evil still.” Ricord said.
“Evil is everywhere; the whole world can see it. But to see the good is another matter. In every man there is a tiny window, as it were, designed for this purpose, but obscured with vapour, and dust, and every sort of impurity. It is so hard to see through this window clearly that we often mistake one thing for another, and are covered with confusion. But you have done worse: you have put up a great wooden shutter in front of this poor window, and have scarcely one slender crack left for a little daylight to pass through. In these times there are many, many souls such as yours.”