AS Dante set out with Virgil on his wonderful journey the shadows of evening fell around them. On earth
the long day's work was ended, and weary men and women were laying down their burdens that they
might rest until a new morning dawned. But for Dante there was to be no rest that night.
He had set out bravely, eagerly, as you know, to follow his guide, but ere he had taken many steps
the pilgrim's courage began to ebb.
What if after all he was not worthy to undertake this pilgrimage through the Eternal land? What if
he was not worthy to follow so wise a guide as the ancient Roman poet? Ah, he had been rash to
attempt a journey so full of unknown perils, Dante thought to himself, foolish even to dream of it.
Now this way, now that, his thoughts swayed him, until his purpose to follow Virgil grew
 weak, and he called out to him to stay his steps.
"Master," cried the perplexed traveller, "Master, if I venture on this journey I begin to fear that
it will end in folly. Thou art wise and canst understand my doubts. Tell me, then, what shall I do?"
"Fear has fallen upon thy soul," answered his guide, "craven fear, which makes thee afraid to go
forward. Yet if thou wilt hearken to my words thy terror may vanish, even as the mist vanishes
before the sun."
But there was little need to bid Dante be attentive to the words of his guide, for even as Virgil
began to speak the pilgrim knew that it was of Beatrice, of his beloved lady, that he was to hear.
"Ere I came to thine aid," said the ancient poet, "I sat in my place in the eternal world. Suddenly
I heard a voice, gentle, soft, call to me. Turning I saw a fair and radiant lady by my side. Her
eyes shone brighter than the morning star as she begged me to go to the aid of her friend. He was in
a desert place she said, bestead by sore dangers. Even
 now she feared lest she had sought my help too late.
"Hasten thou then to save him from his fate," cried the lady. "Thus shalt thou comfort me, for I am
Beatrice, who thus entreat thine aid. If thou wilt do my will then shall thy name be often on my
lips when I kneel at the feet of my dear Lord."
"As her words ceased the lady turned aside her head, and lo! tears were glistening in her starry
eyes. Then did I hasten to thee that I might do her behest. I have saved thee from the beasts, why
dost thou now fear to follow me? Doth not courage spring up in thy heart since so blessed a lady,
even Beatrice, Gareth for thy safety?
And indeed Dante had forgotten all his fears. His beloved lady had thought of him, had sent to
rescue him from danger! What room was there left in his heart for fear?
In a loud undaunted voice he cried, "O full of pity she who thus succoured me, and courteous thou
who so obeyed her call. No longer do I dally with vain fears. Lead on, O Master, for I follow with
 Thus in steadfast mood did Dante follow his guide along the dark and wooded path.
Ere they had journeyed far they came to a large gateway. Over the gate was engraved an inscription
which the pilgrim stayed to read.
Surely never a sadder line has been written than the last line which Dante read as he stood thus
without the gate.
"All hope abandon, ye who enter here." As the words sank into his mind he glanced timidly at his
guide. Virgil would surely not lead him within the gloomy portal.
"This gate," said his guide, "is the entrance into the Inferno." Now Inferno is the Italian name for
"Master," said Dante, "these are hard words that are inscribed above the entrance."
Virgil saw the fear that was in Dante's heart steal up over his pale cheeks, and he answered:
"Here thou must leave distrust behind thee," but as he spoke he cast a look of encouragement upon
his follower, and stretching out his hand held Dante's firmly in his own. Thus the poet entered the
Even as he stepped within the portal, groans
 and cries seemed to fill the air. So doleful were the sounds that the pilgrim himself wept for very
pity. Around him pressed a great crowd of spirits as they hurried hither and thither, wringing their
hands or smiting them loudly together.
"What race is this, O Master?" cried Dante, "bewildered by the tumult around him.
"These," answered Virgil, "are those who, when they lived on earth, were too indolent to be either
good or bad. They let the years slip by unheeding, serving neither God nor the Evil one, but
thinking only of themselves."
Then as Dante watched them, with less pity now than scorn in his eyes, he saw that many of the crowd
were rushing after a banner that floated aimlessly in the air. And he knew that just in such a way
on earth their empty lives had drifted, now here, now there.
One spirit amid the crowd Dante recognised. He had been a simple priest until the people raised him
to the high honour of Pope.
FOR EVER AND FOR EVER HE MUST PLY HIS BARK FROM SHORE
But Pope Celestine had no wish to face the duties and the dangers of so great a position, and ere
long, Dante tells us, he, "from cowardice,
 made the great refusal." Slipping from the Pope's chair he resigned his post that he might live his
life in lazy ease.
But here, on the outskirts of the Inferno, Virgil would not linger. He hastened his companion onward
through the crowd of spirits, until they came to the bank of a river named Acheron.
There by the side of the river stood another group of spirits, waiting, watching. Dante too watched,
and ere long he saw coming towards them a boat, in which sat a ferryman. He was an old, white-haired
man named Charon. His was a task that never ended, for ever and for ever he must ply his bark from
shore to shore.
At Charon's approach the crowd of downcast spirits huddled more close together.
Then the old ferryman mocked at them with cruel words, telling them that he would row them across
the river to a land from which they would never return, nor need they ever expect to see the light
of the sun shining upon the other shore. Henceforth they would dwell in darkness, while bitter cold
or burning heat would torment their spirits.
 The miserable crowd, wailing as they listened to Charon's words, stepped into the boat, which was
now fastened to the bank.
Nor dared any of them linger, for should they do so, well they knew that the old ferryman would
seize his oar, and beating them with it, would speedily drive them into the bark.
Now when Charon's eyes fell upon Dante, who was still dwelling in the body which was his on earth,
his anger knew no bounds. Sternly he bade his strange visitor to begone, for he was used to ferry
only evil spirits across the river.
But as Dante did not stir from the spot on which he stood, Charon shouted to him again to begone.
By some other passage must thou reach the opposite side," he cried; "a swifter, lighter bark must
carry thee across."
"Nay," said Virgil, speaking now for the first time since they had reached the river-bank, "nay,
anger not thyself; Charon, for it is willed in Heaven that thou shalt take this pilgrim across the
river in thy bark."
Sullenly, on hearing these words, the old
 man made room for his strange passenger, and Dante, with Virgil by his side, entered the boat.
Charon then began to row toward the other bank.
'son," said Virgil to Dante, "wonder not at the ferryman's rough words. Never before hath a good
spirit passed across this river, therefore it is that Charon dislikes to have thee in his bark."
As Virgil ceased speaking a flash of lightning lit up the gloomy region, then the ground around them
trembled violently. Dante, over-powered with fear, lay in the bottom of the boat as though sunk in
sleep. Nought more did he know of the passage across the river.
When at length he was roused by a terrible peal of thunder, he was no longer in Charon's boat, but
standing on the edge of a great abyss.
This borderland of the Inferno was called Limbo, and in this place Dante saw some strange sights,
heard some strange voices.