“ ‘That was so,’ said Serapion, turning pale, and his eyes glowing with a somber fire. ‘But Serapion the martyr, had no connection with that monk, who, in the fury of his asceticism, did battle against human nature. I am Serapion the martyr, to whom you allude.’
“ ‘What?’ I cried, with feigned surprise. ‘ You believe that you are that Serapion who suffered such a hideous martyrdom so many hundred years ago?’
“ ‘That,’ said Serapion with much calmness, ‘may appear incredible to you, and I admit that it must sound very wonderful to many who cannot see further than the points of their own noses. However, it is as I tell you. God’s omnipotence permitted me to survive my martyrdom, and to recover from its effects, because it was ordained, in His mysterious providence, that I had still to pass a certain period of my existence, to His praise and glory, here in the Theban desert. There is nothing now to remind me of the tortures which I suffered except sometimes a severe headache, and occasional violent cramps and twitching in my limbs.’
“ ‘Now,’ thought I, ‘is the time to commence my cure.’
“I made a wide circumscribes, and talked in an erudite style concerning the malady of ‘Fixed Idea’, which attacks people, marring, like one single discord, the otherwise harmonious organisms. I spoke of the scientific man who could not be induced to rise from his chair for fear he would break the windows across the street with his nose.
I mentioned the Abbot Molanus, who conversed most rationally upon every subject, but would not leave his room because he thought he was a barleycorn, and the hens would swallow him. I came to the fact that to confound oneself with some historical character was a frequent form of Fixed Idea. ‘Nothing more absurd and preposterous,’ I said, ‘could possibly be imagined than that a little bit of woodland country eight miles from B, daily frequented by country folk, sportsmen, and people walking for exercise was the Theban desert, and he himself that ascetic who suffered martyrdom many centuries ago.’
“Serapion listened in silence. He seemed to feel what I said, and to be struggling with himself in deep reflection. So that I thought it was time to strike my decisive blow. I stood up, took him by both hands, and cried, loudly and emphatically:
“ ‘Count P, awake from the pernicious dream which is enthralling you; throw off that abominable dress, and come back to your family, which mourns your loss, and to the world where you have such important duties to discharge.’
“Serapion gazed at me with a somber, penetrating gaze. Then a sarcastic smile played about his lips and cheeks, and he said, slowly and solemnly:
“ ‘You have spoken, sir, long, and, as you consider, wisely and well. Allow me, in turn, to say a few words in reply. Saint Anthony, and all the men of the Church who have withdrawn from the world into solitude, were often visited by vexing spirits, who, envying the inward peace and contentment of their souls, carried on with them lengthy contests, until they had to lie down conquered in the dust.