Vanity, saith the preacher, vanity!
These were the vaunted last words of my uncle, the bishop, though I’ truth he said more, it seemed meet to leave his worldly utterances here. As he himself was unclear at the end whether he was alive or dead, who was I to draw the line at the arbitrary moment he stopped speaking? At the end we perceive that life’s a dream. His words must stand as his memorial, and therefore they must be proof against the ages. His words, and his tomb of course. His tomb and the crystal. Yes, that, you see before you. Remarkable, isn’t it?
So kind he was to my mother and my brothers. We never knew her of course, nor our father, who died young, but she was passing fair, and was our mother once. So kind for the bishop to take us into his household, and permit us to behold the radiance of his faith. For if any man in this Church was worthy of the title of holy, ‘twas he no less than any other. Not that he would have welcomed such titles. ‘What worth have words to me?’ he would thunder. And a temper did he have, as all men have their weaknesses, but his ire was provoked by the weakness and vanity of other men. Men who vexed him sore with their worldly desires. My uncle prayed daily for their salvation, and wished most powerfully that they would, through the poverty and chastity he forced them to accept, find God. See yon tomb thence in the South corner? My uncle wept for a sennight for Dean Gandolf, the poor soul who snatched that spot for his own edification. Pray God Purgatory did not trouble him.
No, there was not a man nor woman in the earthly realm did my uncle not want to see the very best from. You see before you my uncle holding the very world, for the very world was his dearest concern. The riches and power belonging to others were to him nothing. Vanity, saith the preacher, vanity! There is naught but what the Lord might give that He might not also take, and so lived my uncle. Such fellows with their jewels and gold and land must ultimately, by being stripped of them, be enriched.
What crystal is it? The globe mine uncle holds in his hands? ‘Tis Lapis Lazuli. See how the blue shines with the sunbeam from the aery dome, or would if today was brighter, and ‘tween the hours of nine and ten, perhaps. See how the veins of gold run throughout, signifying the love of our Lord, and that of my uncle. And the columns, peach blossom marble all. But ‘tis for the glory of the Lord only. My uncle was so pious and humble that his crystal is a painted boulder, columns not marble but cheap stone. See how the paint flakes. Ah God!
Listen not to those prideful souls who tell you my uncle ordered the world carved from a lump of the crystal “big as a jew’s head! blue as the vein o’ the Madonna’s breast!” Listen not to those vain voices that say he had secured it ‘neath the earth in his vineyard lest ungodly hands bring it to light before his passing. No. Listen not to those praters who tell you his sons stole the marble, stole the lapis lazuli, and sold it. He had no sons – he was a man of the Holy Church – save the flock, who were his children.
For if there had been such a crystal, surely his soul would be paying now in Hell. See the painting on the North wall – the judgement of the unholy. Listen not to those who tell you the figure on the left being roasted on the flames resembles my Uncle. For had there been such a crystal, and had there been any sons, they would have surely been directed to sell it to feed the poor. My uncle would never have admitted to such a thing – ‘twould be vanity. He was, after all, a man of the Church.
This story was written from a prompt in a game of Three Card Twist on the online writing community The Word Cloud. It is inspired by Robert Browning’s poem ‘The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St Praxed’s Church‘