Marius stood in the doorway of his workshop and gazed at the beauty around him: blue sky, rolling hills, trees in groves and standing singly, a stream that took its way through the valley. Here was so much that he loved and lived by. It did strange things to him: it could bring him contentment, and it could drive him almost mad. Sometimes he felt as if all that beauty were imprisoned within him, begging for release through the marble in his shop. Then he would take mallet and chisel and work for days on end; and the work brought him joy, but it also brought him pain for he could never put into form the things that were inside of him.
He was in a brooding mood. Some idea was seeking birth and the pressure on his consciousness was a torment. A half-glimpsed figure flitted in and out of his mind: sometimes so near that an instant more and he would have captured it; then it was gone — he had been too eager. His gaze shifted from the wandering stream to a nearby hill and its temple, sacred to Apollo. As he watched the play of sunlight on the gleaming marble, the idea took shape: he would make a statue of Apollo worthy to be housed within the temple, and he would give it as an offering to the god.
He selected the marble with care, discarding some pieces because they were too small, others because the grain was not fine enough; and when at last he came upon a block that satisfied him, he studied its proportions, deciding how much he would hew off before he began the more delicate chiselling of the figure.
Days slipped by into weeks, these in turn became months, and Marius had not completed the statue. It was more than life-size, yet perfect in detail — surely a gift worthy of the shrine for which it was intended. But as Marius stood before it, checking every line of feature and limb, he felt an ache in his heart: what did it matter that the conception was noble, the craftsmanship excellent? The thing withal was but a block of marble! In that moment of terrible disappointment he flung his mallet at the head and marred the face beyond repair.
The gruelling work began again. At first Marius had looked for another piece of marble; then the thought came that perhaps he had been too ambitious: size was not the standard of worth, nor did it make a gift acceptable in the eyes of the gods. So he had chipped away until he came to the unsculptured stone, and then plunged once more into the ordeal of creation. The work went faster than he had expected, and there was an absorption with it not experienced before. Yet, when at last he stood back, hoping he had finished, there was only a hunger in his heart. True, something was growing in the statue — but it was something that reminded him of himself, for it seemed crying out to him to give it further life. Sadly he covered his work and left the shop.
Weeks passed and Marius would not look at the statue. One day he uncovered it, hoping against hope, but the same mute appeal was there. Then, lest his will desert him, he caught up his mallet and hit the head with all his strength. The neck snapped and the head rolled to the floor.
As before, Marius thought of selecting fresh marble, but discarded the idea. The original block was the finest in the shop. Moreover, he had grown to love the feel of it, and to regard it as essential to his hope of ultimate success. Gently, almost as though apologizing for the need, he chipped off the sculptured parts; what was left would allow him a statuette some three hands high. He went to work on this with an enthusiasm that amazed him. It was as if he had found what he had wanted to do all along. Deftly he worked, and the figure took shape with a perfection surpassing that of its predecessors; now the marble glowed as though infused with life, and the face of the god was so beautiful that Marius himself felt awed when he looked upon it.
At last it was finished: a mere fragment of what he had first visioned. Reverently Marius took it up to the temple — and left a part of himself there with it. Never before had he felt so 'filled' and yet so conscious of a void after completion of a work — and the shop seemed deserted.
That night an urge beyond understanding or control took him to the temple. He paused at the threshold of the shrine: all was in shadow except for the light from the altar fire. Within that area stood the figure of the god, bathed in the subdued glow of the flame. To Marius, for a brief moment, the statue was alive, and light streamed from it and mingled with that upon the altar. The moment passed and, half ashamed, Marius drew his hand across his eyes. Tears! Yes, but tears of happiness, though undoubtedly they had confused his sight. Of one thing, however, he was certain — the god had smiled. His gift had been accepted.
Marius stood in the doorway of his workshop, and a great contentment filled him. It would not last — he knew that — for life is made for strivings after the unattainable; but never again would the shadows seem so dark, never again would he give way to despondency — always he would remember that the god had smiled.
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