All the apple trees in the garden were blooming. They had hastened to cover themselves with blossoms before their green leaves were fully unfolded. All the ducklings were in the farmyard, and so was the cat; it basked in the sun and tried to lick the sunshine from its own paws.
And to look across the fields was a pleasing sight; there stood the corn, so beautifully green, while all the small birds chirped and twittered as happily as if they were having a great holiday.
And, indeed, people could rightly think of this as a holiday, for it was Sunday. The bells were chiming while people in their best clothes were walking to church and looking so cheerful. It was such a bright, warm day that one might well say: "How good God is to grant us so many blessings!"
But inside the church the preacher in the pulpit spoke in a loud and angry tone; he said that all humans were wicked and that God would certainly punish them by sending them to the eternal torments of hell when they died. He said that they would never find peace or rest in hell, for their consciences would never die nor would the fires ever be extinguished.
This was terrible to hear, but still he went on as if the subject he was explaining were really true. He described hell to them as a stagnant cave, where all the impure and sinful of the world would be; there would be no air, only the hot sulphur flames, and no bottom there, and the wicked would sink deeper and deeper into eternal silence forever!
It was horrible to hear this, but the preacher spoke from his heart, and all the people in the church were terrified.
But the birds outside the church sang joyously, and the sun was shining warmly; it was as if each little bird were saying, "Nothing is so great as the loving-kindness of the Almighty!"
Yes, outside the church, it was not at all like the preacher's sermon.
"Bring me a hair, just one single hair, from the head of just one sinner whom God will condemn to eternal torture in hell."
"Yes, you should be freed that easily, you pure, you pious woman!" he said.
"Then follow me," said the dead. It has been granted us that you can fly through the air by my side, wherever your thoughts are directed. To mortals we shall be invisible, and able to pass unseen through the closed and bolted doors of inner rooms. But you must be certain that the man you point out to me as eternally damned is really one whom God will condemn to the torments of hell-fire forever, and he must be found before the cock crows."
And quickly, as if carried by the wings of thoughts, they arrived at the great city. On the walls of the houses letters of living flame gave the names of the deadly sins: Arrogance, Greed, Drunkenness, Wantonness-in fact, the whole seven-colored bow of sin.