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Title: Hypatia — or New Foes with an Old Face
Author: Kingsley, Charles
Language: English
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HYPATIA

or

NEW FOES WITH AN OLD FACE


By Charles Kingsley



PREFACE


A picture of life in the fifth century must needs contain much which
will be painful to any reader, and which the young and innocent will
do well to leave altogether unread. It has to represent a very hideous,
though a very great, age; one of those critical and cardinal eras in
the history of the human race, in which virtues and vices manifest
themselves side by side--even, at times, in the same person--with the
most startling openness and power. One who writes of such an era labours
under a troublesome disadvantage. He dare not tell how evil people were;
he will not be believed if he tells how good they were. In the present
case that disadvantage is doubled; for while the sins of the Church,
however heinous, were still such as admit of being expressed in words,
the sins of the heathen world, against which she fought, were utterly
indescribable; and the Christian apologist is thus compelled, for the
sake of decency, to state the Church’s case far more weakly than the
facts deserve.

Not, be it ever remembered, that the slightest suspicion of immorality
attaches either to the heroine of this book, or to the leading
philosophers of her school, for several centuries. Howsoever base and
profligate their disciples, or the Manichees, may have been, the great
Neo-Platonists were, as Manes himself was, persons of the most rigid and
ascetic virtue.

For a time had arrived, in which no teacher who did not put forth the
most lofty pretensions to righteousness could expect a hearing. That
Divine Word, who is ‘The Light who lighteth every man which cometh into
the world,’ had awakened in the heart of mankind a moral craving never
before felt in any strength, except by a few isolated philosophers or
prophets. The Spirit had been poured out on all flesh; and from one end
of the Empire to the other, from the slave in the mill to the emperor
on his throne, all hearts were either hungering and thirsting after
righteousness, or learning to do homage to those who did so. And He who
excited the craving, was also furnishing that which would satisfy
it; and was teaching mankind, by a long and painful education, to
distinguish the truth from its innumerable counterfeits, and to find,
for the first time in the world’s life, a good news not merely for the
select few, but for all mankind without respect of rank or race.

For somewhat more than four hundred years, the Roman Empire and the
Christian Church, born into the world almost at the same moment, had
been developing themselves side by side as two great rival powers, in
deadly struggle for the possession of the human race. The weapons of
the Empire had been not merely an overwhelming physical force, and a
ruthless lust of aggressive conquest: but, even more powerful still, an
unequalled genius for organisation, and an uniform system of external
law and order. This was generally a real boon to conquered nations,
because it substituted a fixed and regular spoliation for the fortuitous
and arbitrary miseries of savage warfare: but it arrayed, meanwhile,
on the side of the Empire the wealthier citizens of every province, by
allowing them their share in the plunder of the labouring masses below
them. These, in the country districts, were utterly enslaved; while
in the cities, nominal freedom was of little use to masses kept from
starvation by the alms of the government, and drugged into brutish good
humour by a vast system of public spectacles, in which the realms of
nature and of art were ransacked to glut the wonder, lust, and ferocity
of a degraded populace.

Against this vast organisation the Church had been fighting for now four
hundred years, armed only with its own mighty and all-embracing message,
and with the manifestation of a spirit of purity and virtue, of love
and self-sacrifice, which had proved itself mightier to melt and weld
together the hearts of men, than all the force and terror, all the
mechanical organisation, all the sensual baits with which the Empire
had been contending against that Gospel in which it had recognised
instinctively and at first sight, its internecine foe.

And now the Church had conquered. The weak things of this world
had confounded the strong. In spite of the devilish cruelties of
persecutors; in spite of the contaminating atmosphere of sin which
surrounded her; in spite of having to form herself, not out of a race
of pure and separate creatures, but by a most literal ‘new birth’ out
of those very fallen masses who insulted and persecuted her; in spite of
having to endure within herself continual outbursts of the evil passions
in which her members had once indulged without cheek; in spite of
a thousand counterfeits which sprang up around her and within her,
claiming to be parts of her, and alluring men to themselves by that very
exclusiveness and party arrogance which disproved their claim; in spite
of all, she had conquered. The very emperors had arrayed themselves
on her side. Julian’s last attempt to restore paganism by imperial
influence had only proved that the old faith had lost all hold upon the
hearts of the masses; at his death the great tide-wave of new opinion
rolled on unchecked, and the rulers of earth were fain to swim with the
stream; to accept, in words at least, the Church’s laws as theirs; to
acknowledge a King of kings to whom even they owed homage and obedience;
and to call their own slaves their ‘poorer brethren,’ and often, too,
their ‘spiritual superiors.’

But if the emperors had become Christian, the Empire had not. Here and
there an abuse was lopped off; or an edict was passed for the visitation
of prisons and for the welfare of prisoners; or a Theodosius was
recalled to justice and humanity for a while by the stern rebukes of
an Ambrose. But the Empire was still the same: still a great tyranny,
enslaving the masses, crushing national life, fattening itself and its
officials on a system of world-wide robbery; and while it was paramount,
there could be no hope for the human race. Nay, there were even those
among the Christians who saw, like Dante afterwards, in the ‘fatal gift
of Constantine,’ and the truce between the Church and the Empire, fresh
and more deadly danger. Was not the Empire trying to extend over the
Church itself that upas shadow with which it had withered up every
other form of human existence; to make her, too, its stipendiary
slave-official, to be pampered when obedient, and scourged whenever she
dare assert a free will of her own, a law beyond that of her tyrants; to
throw on her, by a refined hypocrisy, the care and support of the masses
on whose lifeblood it was feeding? So thought many then, and, as I
believe, not unwisely.

But if the social condition of the civilised world was anomalous at the
beginning of the fifth century, its spiritual state was still more so.
The universal fusion of races, languages, and customs, which had gone
on for four centuries under the Roman rule, had produced a corresponding
fusion of creeds, an universal fermentation of human thought and faith.
All honest belief in the old local superstitions of paganism had
been long dying out before the more palpable and material idolatry of
Emperor-worship; and the gods of the nations, unable to deliver those
who had trusted in them, became one by one the vassals of the ‘Divus
Caesar,’ neglected by the philosophic rich, and only worshipped by
the lower classes, where the old rites still pandered to their grosser
appetites, or subserved the wealth and importance of some particular
locality.

In the meanwhile, the minds of men, cut adrift from their ancient
moorings, wandered wildly over pathless seas of speculative doubt, and
especially in the more metaphysical and contemplative East, attempted to
solve for themselves the questions of man’s relation to the unseen by
those thousand schisms, heresies, and theosophies (it is a disgrace to
the word philosophy to call them by it), on the records of which the
student now gazes bewildered, unable alike to count or to explain their
fantasies.

Yet even these, like every outburst of free human thought, had their use
and their fruit. They brought before the minds of churchmen a thousand
new questions which must be solved, unless the Church was to relinquish
for ever her claims as the great teacher and satisfier of the human
soul. To study these bubbles, as they formed and burst on every wave of
human life; to feel, too often by sad experience, as Augustine felt,
the charm of their allurements; to divide the truths at which they aimed
from the falsehood which they offered as its substitute; to exhibit the
Catholic Church as possessing, in the great facts which she proclaimed,
full satisfaction, even for the most subtle metaphysical cravings of a
diseased age;--that was the work of the time; and men were sent to do
it, and aided in their labour by the very causes which had produced the
intellectual revolution. The general intermixture of ideas, creeds,
and races, even the mere physical facilities for intercourse between
different parts of the Empire, helped to give the great Christian
fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries a breadth of observation,
a depth of thought, a large-hearted and large-minded patience and
tolerance, such as, we may say boldly, the Church has since beheld but
rarely, and the world never; at least, if we are to judge those great
men by what they had, and not by what they had not, and to believe, as
we are bound, that had they lived now, and not then, they would have
towered as far above the heads of this generation as they did above the
heads of their own. And thus an age, which, to the shallow insight of
a sneerer like Gibbon, seems only a rotting and aimless chaos of
sensuality and anarchy, fanaticism and hypocrisy, produced a Clement and
an Athanase, a Chrysostom and an Augustine; absorbed into the sphere of
Christianity all which was most valuable in the philosophies of Greece
and Egypt, and in the social organisation of Rome, as an heirloom for
nations yet unborn; and laid in foreign lands, by unconscious agents,
the foundations of all European thought and Ethics.

But the health of a Church depends, not merely on the creed which
it professes, not even on the wisdom and holiness of a few great
ecclesiastics, but on the faith and virtue of its individual members.
The _mens sana_ must have a _corpus sanum_ to inhabit. And even for the
Western Church, the lofty future which was in store for it would have
been impossible, without some infusion of new and healthier blood into
the veins of a world drained and tainted by the influence of Rome.

And the new blood, at the era of this story, was at hand. The great tide
of those Gothic nations, of which the Norwegian and the German are the
purest remaining types, though every nation of Europe, from Gibraltar to
St. Petersburg, owes to them the most precious elements of strength,
was sweeping onward, wave over wave, in a steady south-western current,
across the whole Roman territory, and only stopping and recoiling when
it reached the shores of the Mediterranean. Those wild tribes were
bringing with them into the magic circle of the Western Church’s
influence the very materials which she required for the building up of
a future Christendom, and which she could find as little in the Western
Empire as in the Eastern; comparative purity of morals; sacred respect
for woman, for family life, law, equal justice, individual freedom, and,
above all, for honesty in word and deed; bodies untainted by hereditary
effeminacy, hearts earnest though genial, and blessed with a strange
willingness to learn, even from those whom they despised; a brain equal
to that of the Roman in practical power, and not too far behind that of
the Eastern in imaginative and speculative acuteness.

And their strength was felt at once. Their vanguard, confined with
difficulty for three centuries beyond the Eastern Alps, at the expense
of sanguinary wars, had been adopted wherever it was practicable, into
the service of the Empire; and the heart’s core of the Roman legion
was composed of Gothic officers and soldiers. But now the main body had
arrived. Tribe after tribe was crowding down to the Alps, and trampling
upon each other on the frontiers of the Empire. The Huns, singly their
inferiors, pressed them from behind with the irresistible weight of
numbers; Italy, with her rich cities and fertile lowlands, beckoned them
on to plunder; as auxiliaries, they had learned their own strength and
Roman weakness; a _casus belli_ was soon found. How iniquitous was the
conduct of the sons of Theodosius, in refusing the usual bounty, by
which the Goths were bribed not to attack the Empire!--The whole pent-up
deluge burst over the plains of Italy, and the Western Empire became
from that day forth a dying idiot, while the new invaders divided Europe
among themselves. The fifteen years before the time of this tale had
decided the fate of Greece; the last four that of Rome itself. The
countless treasures which five centuries of rapine had accumulated
round the Capitol had become the prey of men clothed in sheepskins and
horse-hide; and the sister of an emperor had found her beauty, virtue,
and pride of race worthily matched by those of the hard-handed Northern
hero who led her away from Italy as his captive and his bride, to found
new kingdoms in South France and Spain, and to drive the newly-arrived
Vandals across the Straits of Gibraltar into the then blooming
coast-land of Northern Africa. Everywhere the mangled limbs of the Old
World were seething in the Medea’s caldron, to come forth whole, and
young, and strong. The Longbeards, noblest of their race, had found a
temporary resting-place upon the Austrian frontier, after long southward
wanderings from the Swedish mountains, soon to be dispossessed again by
the advancing Huns, and, crossing the Alps, to give their name for ever
to the plains of Lombardy. A few more tumultuous years, and the Franks
would find themselves lords of the Lower Rhineland; and before the hairs
of Hypatia’s scholars had grown gray, the mythic Hengist and Horsa would
have landed on the shores of Kent, and an English nation have begun its
world-wide life.

But some great Providence forbade to our race, triumphant in every other
quarter, a footing beyond the Mediterranean, or even in Constantinople,
which to this day preserves in Europe the faith and manners of Asia. The
Eastern World seemed barred, by some stern doom, from the only influence
which could have regenerated it. Every attempt of the Gothic races to
establish themselves beyond the sea, whether in the form of an organised
kingdom, as the Vandals attempted in Africa; or of a mere band of
brigands, as did the Goths in Asia Minor, under Gainas; or of a
praetorian guard, as did the Varangens of the middle age; or as
religious invaders, as did the Crusaders, ended only in the corruption
and disappearance of the colonists. That extraordinary reform in
morals, which, according to Salvian and his contemporaries, the Vandal
conquerors worked in North Africa, availed them nothing; they lost more
than they gave. Climate, bad example, and the luxury of power degraded
them in one century into a race of helpless and debauched slave-holders,
doomed to utter extermination before the semi-Gothic armies of
Belisarius; and with them vanished the last chance that the Gothic
races would exercise on the Eastern World the same stern yet wholesome
discipline under which the Western had been restored to life.

The Egyptian and Syrian Churches, therefore, were destined to labour not
for themselves, but for us. The signs of disease and decrepitude
were already but too manifest in them. That very peculiar turn of the
Graeco-Eastern mind, which made them the great thinkers of the then
world, had the effect of drawing them away from practice to speculation;
and the races of Egypt and Syria were effeminate, over-civilised,
exhausted by centuries during which no infusion of fresh blood had
come to renew the stock. Morbid, self-conscious, physically indolent,
incapable then, as now, of personal or political freedom, they afforded
material out of which fanatics might easily be made, but not citizens of
the kingdom of God. The very ideas of family and national life-those two
divine roots of the Church, severed from which she is certain to wither
away into that most godless and most cruel of spectres, a religious
world-had perished in the East from the evil influence of the universal
practice of slaveholding, as well as from the degradation of that Jewish
nation whichhad been for ages the great witness for those ideas; and
all classes, like their forefather Adam--like, indeed, ‘the old Adam’
in every man and in every age--were shifting the blame of sin from their
own consciences to human relationships and duties--and therein, to the
God who had appointed them; and saying as of old, ‘_The woman whom thou
gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat._’ The
passionate Eastern character, like all weak ones, found total abstinence
easier than temperance, religious thought more pleasant than godly
action; and a monastic world grew up all over the East, of such vastness
that in Egypt it was said to rival in numbers the lay population,
producing, with an enormous decrease in the actual amount of moral
evil, an equally great enervation and decrease of the population. Such
a people could offer no resistance to the steadily-increasing tyranny of
the Eastern Empire. In vain did such men as Chrysostom and Basil oppose
their personal influence to the hideous intrigues and villainies of the
Byzantine court; the ever-downward career of Eastern Christianity went
on unchecked for two more miserable centuries, side by side with the
upward development of the Western Church; and, while the successors
of the great Saint Gregory were converting and civilising a new-born
Europe, the Churches of the East were vanishing before Mohammedan
invaders, strong by living trust in that living God, whom the
Christians, while they hated and persecuted each other for arguments
about Him, were denying and blaspheming in every action of their lives.

But at the period whereof this story treats, the Graeco-Eastern mind
was still in the middle of its great work. That wonderful metaphysic
subtlety, which, in phrases and definitions too often unmeaning to
our grosser intellect, saw the symbols of the most important spiritual
realities, and felt that on the distinction between homoousios and
homoiousios might hang the solution of the whole problem of humanity,
was set to battle in Alexandria, the ancient stronghold of Greek
philosophy, with the effete remains of the very scientific thought to
which it owed its extraordinary culture. Monastic isolation from family
and national duties especially fitted the fathers of that period for the
task, by giving them leisure, if nothing else, to face questions with
a lifelong earnestness impossible to the more social and practical
Northern mind. Our duty is, instead of sneering at them as pedantic
dreamers, to thank Heaven that men were found, just at the time when
they were wanted, to do for us what we could never have done for
ourselves; to leave to us, as a precious heirloom, bought most truly
with the lifeblood of their race, a metaphysic at once Christian and
scientific, every attempt to improve on which has hitherto been found a
failure; and to battle victoriously with that strange brood of theoretic
monsters begotten by effete Greek philosophy upon Egyptian symbolism,
Chaldee astrology, Parsee dualism, Brahminic spiritualism-graceful and
gorgeous phantoms, whereof somewhat more will be said in the coming
chapters.

I have, in my sketch of Hypatia and her fate, closely followed authentic
history, especially Socrates’ account of the closing scene, as given
in Book vii. Para 15, of his _Ecclesiastical History_. I am inclined,
however, for various historical reasons, to date her death two years
earlier than he does. The tradition that she was the wife of Isidore,
the philosopher, I reject with Gibbon, as a palpable anachronism of at
least fifty years (Isidore’s master, Proclus, not having been born till
the year before Hypatia’s death), contradicted, moreover, by the very
author of it, Photius, who says distinctly, after comparing Hypatia and
Isidore, that Isidore married a certain ‘Domna.’ No hint, moreover, of
her having been married appears in any contemporary authors; and the
name of Isidore nowhere occurs among those of the many mutual friends
to whom Synesius sends messages in his letters to Hypatia, in which,
if anywhere, we should find mention of a husband, had one existed. To
Synesius’s most charming letters, as well as to those of Isidore, the
good Abbot of Pelusium, I beg leave to refer those readers who wish for
further information about the private life of the fifth century.

I cannot hope that these pages will be altogether free from anachronisms
and errors. I can only say that I have laboured honestly and
industriously to discover the truth, even in its minutest details,
and to sketch the age, its manners and its literature, as I found
them-altogether artificial, slipshod, effete, resembling far more the
times of Louis Quinze than those of Sophocles and Plato. And so I
send forth this little sketch, ready to give my hearty thanks to any
reviewer, who, by exposing my mistakes, shall teach me and the public
somewhat more about the last struggle between the Young Church and the
Old World.



CHAPTER I: THE LAURA


In the four hundred and thirteenth year of the Christian Era, some three
hundred miles above Alexandria, the young monk Philammon was sitting on
the edge of a low range of inland cliffs, crested with drifting sand.
Behind him the desert sand-waste stretched, lifeless, interminable,
reflecting its lurid glare on the horizon of the cloudless vault of
blue. At his feet the sand dripped and trickled, in yellow rivulets,
from crack to crack and ledge to ledge, or whirled past him in tiny jets
of yellow smoke, before the fitful summer airs. Here and there, upon the
face of the cliffs which walled in the opposite side of the narrow
glen below, were cavernous tombs, huge old quarries, with obelisks
and half-cut pillars, standing as the workmen had left them centuries
before; the sand was slipping down and piling up around them, their
heads were frosted with the arid snow; everywhere was silence,
desolation-the grave of a dead nation, in a dying land. And there he
sat musing above it all, full of life and youth and health and beauty--a
young Apollo of the desert. His only clothing was a ragged sheep-skin,
bound with a leathern girdle. His long black locks, unshorn from
childhood, waved and glistened in the sun; a rich dark down on cheek and
chin showed the spring of healthful manhood; his hard hands and sinewy
sunburnt limbs told of labour and endurance; his flashing eyes and
beetling brow, of daring, fancy, passion, thought, which had no sphere
of action in such a place. What did his glorious young humanity alone
among the tombs?

So perhaps he, too, thought, as he passed his hand across his brow, as
if to sweep away some gathering dream, and sighing, rose and wandered
along the cliffs, peering downward at every point and cranny, in search
of fuel for the monastery from whence he came.

Simple as was the material which he sought, consisting chiefly of the
low arid desert shrubs, with now and then a fragment of wood from some
deserted quarry or ruin, it was becoming scarcer and scarcer round Abbot
Pambo’s Laura at Scetis; and long before Philammon had collected his
daily quantity, he had strayed farther from his home than he had ever
been before.

Suddenly, at a turn of the glen, he came upon a sight new to him....a
temple carved in the sandstone cliff; and in front a smooth platform,
strewn with beams and mouldering tools, and here and there a skull
bleaching among the sand, perhaps of some workman slaughtered at his
labour in one of the thousand wars of old. The abbot, his spiritual
father--indeed, the only father whom he knew, for his earliest
recollections were of the Laura and the old man’s cell-had strictly
forbidden him to enter, even to approach any of those relics of ancient
idolatry: but a broad terrace-road led down to the platform from the
table-land above; the plentiful supply of fuel was too tempting to be
passed by.... He would go down, gather a few sticks, and then return, to
tell the abbot of the treasure which he had found, and consult him as to
the propriety of revisiting it.

So down he went, hardly daring to raise his eyes to the alluring
iniquities of the painted imagery which, gaudy in crimson and blue,
still blazed out upon the desolate solitude, uninjured by that rainless
air. But he was young, and youth is curious; and the devil, at least in
the fifth century, busy with young brains. Now Philammon believed most
utterly in the devil, and night and day devoutly prayed to be delivered
from him; so he crossed himself, and ejaculated, honestly enough,
‘Lord, turn away mine eyes, lest they behold vanity!’.... and looked
nevertheless....

And who could have helped looking at those four colossal kings, who sat
there grim and motionless, their huge hands laid upon their knees in
everlasting self-assured repose, seeming to bear up the mountain on
their stately heads? A sense of awe, weakness, all but fear, came over
him. He dare not stoop to take up the wood at his feet, their great
stern eyes watched him so steadily.

Round their knees and round their thrones were mystic characters
engraved, symbol after symbol, line below line--the ancient wisdom of
the Egyptians, wherein Moses the man of God was learned of old--why
should not he know it too? What awful secrets might not be hidden there
about the great world, past, present, and future, of which he knew only
so small a speck? Those kings who sat there, they had known it all;
their sharp lips seem parting, ready to speak to him.... Oh that they
would speak for once!.... and yet that grim sneering smile, that seemed
to look down on him from the heights of their power and wisdom, with
calm contempt.... him, the poor youth, picking up the leaving and rags
of their past majesty .... He dared look at them no more.

So he looked past them into the temple halls; into a lustrous abyss of
cool green shade, deepening on and inward, pillar after pillar, vista
after vista, into deepest night. And dimly through the gloom he could
descry, on every wall and column, gorgeous arabesques, long lines of
pictured story; triumphs and labours; rows of captives in foreign and
fantastic dresses, leading strange animals, bearing the tributes of
unknown lands; rows of ladies at feasts, their heads crowned with
garlands, the fragrant lotus-flower in every hand, while slaves brought
wine and perfumes, and children sat upon their knees, and husbands by
their side; and dancing girls, in transparent robes and golden girdles,
tossed their tawny limbs wildly among the throng.... What was the
meaning of it all? Why had it all been? Why had it gone on thus, the
great world, century after century, millennium after millennium, eating
and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage, and knowing nothing
better.... how could they know anything better? Their forefathers had
lost the light ages and ages before they were born.... And Christ had
not come for ages and ages after they were dead.... How could they
know?.... And yet they were all in hell.... every one of them. Every one
of these ladies who sat there, with her bushy locks, and garlands, and
jewelled collars, and lotus-flowers, and gauzy dress, displaying all her
slender limbs-who, perhaps, when she was alive, smiled so sweetly, and
went so gaily, and had children, and friends, and never once thought of
what was going to happen to her--what must happen to her.... She was in
hell.... Burning for ever, and ever, and ever, there below his feet. He
stared down on the rocky floors. If he could but see through them....
and the eye of faith could see through them.... he should behold her
writhing and twisting among the flickering flame, scorched, glowing....
in everlasting agony, such as the thought of enduring for a moment made
him shudder. He had burnt his hands once, when a palm-leaf but caught
fire.... He recollected what that was like.... She was enduring ten
thousand times more than that for ever. He should hear her shrieking
in vain for a drop of water to cool her tongue.... He had never heard a
human being shriek but once.... a boy bathing on the opposite Nile bank,
whom a crocodile had dragged down.... and that scream, faint and distant
as it came across the mighty tide, had rung intolerable in his ears
for days.... and to think of all which echoed through those vaults of
fire-for ever! Was the thought bearable!--was it possible! Millions
upon millions burning forever for Adam’s fall .... Could God be just in
that?....

It was the temptation of a fiend! He had entered the unhallowed
precincts, where devils still lingered about their ancient shrines; he
had let his eyes devour the abominations of the heathen, and given place
to the devil. He would flee home to confess it all to his father. He
would punish him as he deserved, pray for him, forgive him. And yet
could he tell him all? Could he, dare he confess to him the whole
truth--the insatiable craving to know the mysteries of learning--to see
the great roaring world of men, which had been growing up in him slowly,
month after month, till now it had assumed this fearful shape? He
could stay no longer in the desert. This world which sent all souls to
hell--was it as bad as monks declared it was? It must be, else how could
such be the fruit of it? But it was too awful a thought to be taken on
trust. No; he must go and see.

Filled with such fearful questionings, half-inarticulate and vague, like
the thoughts of a child, the untutored youth went wandering on, till
he reached the edge of the cliff below which lay his home. It lay
pleasantly enough, that lonely Laura, or lane of rude Cyclopean cells,
under the perpetual shadow of the southern wall of crags, amid its grove
of ancient date-trees. A branching cavern in the cliff supplied the
purposes of a chapel, a storehouse, and a hospital; while on the sunny
slope across the glen lay the common gardens of the brotherhood, green
with millet, maize, and beans, among which a tiny streamlet, husbanded
and guided with the most thrifty care, wandered down from the cliff
foot, and spread perpetual verdure over the little plot which voluntary
and fraternal labour had painfully redeemed from the inroads of the
all-devouring sand. For that garden, like everything else in the Laura,
except each brother’s seven feet of stone sleeping-hut, was the common
property, and therefore the common care and joy of all. For the common
good, as well as for his own, each man had toiled up the glen with his
palm-leaf basket of black mud from the river Nile, over whose broad
sheet of silver the glen’s mouth yawned abrupt. For the common good,
each man had swept the ledges clear of sand, and sown in the scanty
artificial soil, the harvest of which all were to share alike. To
buy clothes, books, and chapel furniture for the common necessities,
education, and worship, each man sat, day after day, week after week,
his mind full of high and heavenly thoughts, weaving the leaves of their
little palm-copse into baskets, which an aged monk exchanged for goods
with the more prosperous and frequented monasteries of the opposite
bank. Thither Philammon rowed the old man over, week by week, in a light
canoe of papyrus, and fished, as he sat waiting for him, for the common
meal. A simple, happy, gentle life was that of the Laura, all portioned
out by rules and methods, which were held hardly less sacred than those
of the Scriptures, on which they were supposed (and not so wrongly
either) to have been framed. Each man had food and raiment, shelter on
earth, friends and counsellors, living trust in the continual care of
Almighty God; and, blazing before his eyes, by day and night, the hope
of everlasting glory beyond all poets’ dreams.... And what more would
man have had in those days? Thither they had fled out of cities,
compared with which Paris is earnest and Gomorrha chaste,--out of a
rotten, infernal, dying world of tyrants and slaves, hypocrites and
wantons,--to ponder undisturbed on duty and on judgment, on death and
eternity, heaven and hell; to find a common creed, a common interest,
a common hope, common duties, pleasures, and sorrows.... True, they had
many of them fled from the post where God had placed them, when they
fled from man into the Thebaid waste.... What sort of post and what
sort of an age they were, from which those old monks fled, we shall see,
perhaps, before this tale is told out.

‘Thou art late, son,’ said the abbot, steadfastly working away at his
palm-basket, as Philammon approached.

‘Fuel is scarce, and I was forced to go far.’

‘A monk should not answer till he is questioned. I did not ask the
reason. Where didst thou find that wood?’

‘Before the temple, far up the glen.’

‘The temple! What didst thou see there?’

No answer. Pambo looked up with his keen black eye.

‘Thou hast entered it, and lusted after its abominations.’

‘I--I did not enter; but I looked--’

‘And what didst thou see? Women?’

Philammon was silent.

‘Have I not bidden you never to look on the face of women? Are they not
the firstfruits of the devil, the authors of all evil, the subtlest of
all Satan’s snares? Are they not accursed for ever, for the deceit of
their first mother, by whom sin entered into the world? A woman first
opened the gates of hell; and, until this day, they are the portresses
thereof. Unhappy boy! What hast thou done?’

‘They were but painted on the walls.’

‘Ah!’ said the abbot, as if suddenly relieved from a heavy burden. ‘But
how knewest thou them to be women, when thou hast never yet, unless thou
liest--which I believe not of thee--seen the face of a daughter of Eve?’

‘Perhaps--perhaps,’ said Philammon, as if suddenly relieved by a new
suggestion--‘perhaps they were only devils. They must have been, I
think, for they were so very beautiful.’

‘Ah! how knowest thou that devils are beautiful?’

‘I was launching the boat, a week ago, with Father Aufugus; and on the
bank,....not very near,....there were two creatures....with long hair,
and striped all over the lower half of their bodies with black, and
red, and yellow....and they were gathering flowers on the shore. Father
Aufugus turned away; but I.... I could not help thinking them the most
beautiful things that I had ever seen....so I asked him why he turned
away; and he said that those were the same sort of devils which tempted
the blessed St. Anthony. Then I recollected having heard it read aloud,
how Satan tempted Anthony in the shape of a beautiful woman.... And
so.... and so.... those figures on the wall were very like.... and I
thought they might be....’

And the poor boy, who considered that he was making confession of a
deadly and shameful sin, blushed scarlet, and stammered, and at last
stopped.

‘And thou thoughtest them beautiful? Oh utter corruption of the
flesh!--oh subtilty of Satan! The Lord forgive thee, as I do, my poor
child; henceforth thou goest not beyond the garden walls.’

‘Not beyond the walls! Impossible! I cannot! If thou wert not my father,
I would say, I will not!--I must have liberty!--I must see for myself--I
must judge for myself, what this world is of which you all talk so
bitterly. I long for no pomps and vanities. I will promise you this
moment, if you will, never to re-enter a heathen temple--to hide my
face in the dust whenever I approach a woman. But I must--I must see
the world; I must see the great mother-church in Alexandria, and the
patriarch, and his clergy. If they can serve God in the city, why not
I? I could do more for God there than here .... Not that I despise this
work--not that I am ungrateful to you--oh, never, never that!--but I
pant for the battle. Let me go! I am not discontented with you, but with
myself. I know that obedience is noble; but danger is nobler still.
If you have seen the world, why should not I? If you have fled from it
because you found it too evil to live in, why should not I, and return
to you here of my own will, never to leave you? And yet Cyril and his
clergy have not fled from it....’

Desperately and breathlessly did Philammon drive this speech out of his
inmost heart; and then waited, expecting the good abbot to strike him
on the spot. If he had, the young man would have submitted patiently;
so would any man, however venerable, in that monastery. Why not? Duly,
after long companionship, thought, and prayer, they had elected Pambo
for their abbot--Abba--father--the wisest, eldest-hearted and headed of
them--if he was that, it was time that he should be obeyed. And obeyed
he was, with a loyal, reasonable love, and yet with an implicit,
soldier-like obedience, which many a king and conqueror might envy. Were
they cowards and slaves? The Roman legionaries should be good judges on
that point. They used to say that no armed barbarian, Goth or Vandal,
Moor or Spaniard, was so terrible as the unarmed monk of the Thebaid.

Twice the old man lifted his staff to strike; twice he laid it down
again; and then, slowly rising, left Philammon kneeling there, and moved
away deliberately, and with eyes fixed on the ground, to the house of
the brother Aufugus.

Every one in the Laura honoured Aufugus. There was a mystery about him
which heightened the charm of his surpassing sanctity, his childlike
sweetness and humility. It was whispered--when the monks seldom and
cautiously did whisper together in their lonely walks--that he had been
once a great man; that he had come from a great city--perhaps from Rome
itself. And the simple monks were proud to think that they had among
them a man who had seen Rome. At least, Abbot Pambo respected him. He
was never beaten; never even reproved--perhaps he never required it; but
still it was the meed of all; and was not the abbot a little partial?
Yet, certainly, when Theophilus sent up a messenger from Alexandria,
rousing every Laura with the news of the sack of Rome by Alaric, did
not Pambo take him first to the cell of Aufugus, and sit with him there
three whole hours in secret consultation, before he told the awful story
to the rest of the brotherhood? And did not Aufugus himself give letters
to the messenger, written with his own hand, containing, as was said,
deep secrets of worldly policy, known only to himself? So, when the
little lane of holy men, each peering stealthily over his plaiting
work from the doorway of his sandstone cell, saw the abbot, after his
unwonted passion, leave the culprit kneeling, and take his way toward
the sage’s dwelling, they judged that something strange and delicate had
befallen the common weal, and each wished, without envy, that he were as
wise as the man whose counsel was to solve the difficulty.

For an hour or more the abbot remained there, talking earnestly and
low; and then a solemn sound as of the two old men praying with sobs and
tears; and every brother bowed his head, and whispered a hope that He
whom they served might guide them for the good of the Laura, and of His
Church, and of the great heathen world beyond; and still Philammon knelt
motionless, awaiting his sentence; his heart filled-who can tell how?
‘The heart knoweth its own bitterness, and a stranger intermeddleth not
with its joy.’ So thought he as he knelt; and so think I, too, knowing
that in the pettiest character there are unfathomable depths, which the
poet, all-seeing though he may pretend to be, can never analyse, but
must only dimly guess at, and still more dimly sketch them by the
actions which they beget.

At last Pambo returned, deliberate, still, and slow, as he had gone, and
seating himself within his cell, spoke--

‘And the youngest said, Father, give me the portion of goods that
falleth to my share.... And he took his journey into a far country, and
there wasted his substance with riotous living. Thou shalt go, my son.
But first come after me, and speak with Aufugus.’

Philammon, like everyone else, loved Aufugus; and when the abbot
retired and left the two alone together, he felt no dread or shame about
unburdening his whole heart to him. Long and passionately he spoke, in
answer to the gentle questions of the old man, who, without the rigidity
or pedantic solemnity of the monk, interrupted the youth, and let
himself be interrupted in return, gracefully, genially, almost
playfully. And yet there was a melancholy about his tone as he answered
to the youth’s appeal--

‘Tertullian, Origen, Clement, Cyprian--all these moved in the world;
all these and many more beside, whose names we honour, whose prayers
we invoke, were learned in the wisdom of the heathen, and fought and
laboured, unspotted, in the world; and why not I? Cyril the patriarch
himself, was he not called from the caves of Nitria to sit on the throne
of Alexandria?’

Slowly the old man lifted his band, and putting back the thick locks of
the kneeling youth, gazed, with soft pitying eyes, long and earnestly
into his face.

‘And thou wouldst see the world, poor fool? And thou wouldst see the
world?’

‘I would convert the world!’

‘Thou must know it first. And shall I tell thee what that world is like,
which seems to thee so easy to convert? Here I sit, the poor unknown old
monk, until I die, fasting and praying, if perhaps God will have mercy
on my soul: but little thou knowest how I have seen it. Little thou
knowest, or thou wouldst be well content to rest here till the end. I
was Arsenius.... Ah! vain old man that I am! Thou hast never heard
that name, at which once queens would whisper and grow pale. Vanitas
vanitatum! omnia vanitas! And yet he, at whose frown half the world
trembles, has trembled himself at mine. I was the tutor of Arcadius.’

‘The Emperor of Byzantium?’

‘Even so, my son, even so. There I saw the world which thou wouldst see.
And what saw I? Even what thou wilt see. Eunuchs the tyrants of their
own sovereigns. Bishops kissing the feet of parricides and harlots.
Saints tearing saints in pieces for a word, while sinners cheer them on
to the unnatural fight. Liars thanked for lying, hypocrites taking pride
in their hypocrisy. The many sold and butchered for the malice, the
caprice, the vanity of the few. The plunderers of the poor plundered in
their turn by worse devourers than themselves. Every attempt at reform
the parent of worse scandals; every mercy begetting fresh cruelties;
every persecutor silenced, only to enable others to persecute him in
their turn: every devil who is exorcised, returning with seven others
worsethan himself; falsehood and selfishness, spite and lust, confusion
seven times confounded, Satan casting out Satan everywhere--from the
emperor who wantons on his throne, to the slave who blasphemes beneath
his fetters.’

‘If Satan cast out Satan, his kingdom shall not stand.’

‘In the world to come. But in this world it shall stand and conquer,
even worse and worse, until the end. These are the last days spoken of
by the prophets,--the beginning of woes such as never have been on
the earth before--“On earth distress of nations with perplexity, men’s
hearts failing them for fear, and for the dread of those things which
are coming on the earth.” I have seen it long. Year after year I have
watched them coming nearer and ever nearer in their course like the
whirling sand-storms of the desert, which sweep past the caravan, and
past again, and yet overwhelm it after all--that black flood of the
northern barbarians. I foretold it; I prayed against it; but, like
Cassandra’s of old, my prophecy and my prayers were alike unheard.
My pupil spurned my warnings. The lusts of youth, the intrigues of
courtiers, were stronger than the warning voice of God; then I ceased
to hope; I ceased to pray for the glorious city, for I knew that her
sentence was gone forth; I saw her in the spirit, even as St. John saw
her in the Revelations; her, and her sins, and her ruin. And I fled
secretly at night, and buried myself here in the desert, to await the
end of the world. Night and day I pray the Lord to accomplish His elect,
and to hasten His kingdom. Morning by morning I look up trembling, and
yet in hope, for the sign of the Son of man in heaven, when the sun
shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, and the stars
shall fall from heaven, and the skies pass away like a scroll, and the
fountains of the nether fire burst up around our feet, and the end of
all shall come. And thou wouldst go into the world from which I fled?’

‘If the harvest be at hand, the Lord needs labourers. If the times be
awful, I should be doing awful things in them. Send me, and let that
day find me, where I long to be, in the forefront of the battle of the
Lord.’

‘The Lord’s voice be obeyed! Thou shalt go. Here are letters to Cyril
the patriarch. He will love thee for my sake: and for thine own sake,
too, I trust. Thou goest of our free will as well as thine own. The
abbot and I have watched thee long, knowing that the Lord bad need of
such as thee elsewhere. We did but prove thee, to see by thy readiness
to obey, whether thou wert fit to rule. Go, and God be with thee. Covet
no man’s gold or silver. Neither eat flesh nor drink wine, but live as
thou hast lived--a Nazarite of the Lord. Fear not the face of man; but
look not on the face of woman. In an evil hour came they into the world,
the mothers of all mischiefs which I have seen under the sun. Come; the
abbot waits for us at the gate.’

With tears of surprise, joy, sorrow, almost of dread, Philammon hung
back.

‘Nay--come. Why shouldst thou break thy brethren’s hearts and ours by
many leave-takings! Bring from the storehouse a week’s provision of
dried dates and millet. The papyrus boat lies at the ferry; thou shalt
descend in it. The Lord will replace it for us when we need it. Speak
with no man on the river except the monks of God. When thou hast
gone five days’ journey downward, ask for the mouth of the canal
of Alexandria. Once in the city, any monk will guide thee to the
archbishop. Send us news of thy welfare by some holy mouth. Come.’

Silently they paced together down the glen to the lonely beach of the
great stream. Pambo was there already, his white hair glittering in the
rising moon, as with slow and feeble arms he launched the light canoe.
Philammon flung himself at the old men’s feet, and besought, with many
tears, their forgiveness and their blessing.’We have nothing to forgive.
Follow thou thine inward call. If it be of the flesh, it will avenge
itself; if it be of the Spirit, who are we that we should fight against
God? Farewell.’ A few minutes more, and the youth and his canoe were
lessening down the rapid stream in the golden summer twilight. Again a
minute, and the swift southern night had fallen, and all was dark but
the cold glare of the moon on the river, and on the rock-faces, and on
the two old men, as they knelt upon the beach, and with their heads upon
each other’s shoulders, like two children, sobbed and prayed together
for the lost darling of their age.



CHAPTER II: THE DYING WORLD


In the upper story of a house in the Museum Street of Alexandria, built
and fitted up on the old Athenian model, was a small room. It had been
chosen by its occupant, not merely on account of its quiet; for though
it was tolerably out of hearing of the female slaves who worked, and
chattered, and quarrelled under the cloisters of the women’s court on
the south side, yet it was exposed to the rattle of carriages and the
voices of passengers in the fashionable street below, and to strange
bursts of roaring, squealing, trumpeting from the Menagerie, a short way
off, on the opposite side of the street. The attraction of the situation
lay, perhaps, in the view which it commanded over the wall of the Museum
gardens, of flower-beds, shrubberies, fountains, statues, walks, and
alcoves, which had echoed for nearly seven hundred years to the wisdom
of the Alexandrian sages and poets. School after school, they had all
walked, and taught, and sung there, beneath the spreading planes and
chestnuts, figs and palm-trees. The place seemed fragrant with all
the riches of Greek thought and song, since the days when Ptolemy
Philadelphus walked there with Euclid and Theocritus, Callimachus and
Lycophron.

On the left of the garden stretched the lofty eastern front of
the Museum itself, with its picture galleries, halls of statuary,
dining-halls, and lecture-rooms; one huge wing containing that famous
library, founded by the father of Philadelphus, which hold in the time
of Seneca, even after the destruction of a great part of it in Caesar’s
siege, four hundred thousand manuscripts. There it towered up, the
wonder of the world, its white roof bright against the rainless blue;
and beyond it, among the ridges and pediments of noble buildings, a
broad glimpse of the bright blue sea.

The room was fitted up in the purest Greek style, not without an
affectation of archaism, in the severe forms and subdued half-tints of
the frescoes which ornamented the walls with scenes from the old myths
of Athene. Yet the general effect, even under the blazing sun which
poured in through the mosquito nets of the courtyard windows, was one
of exquisite coolness, and cleanliness, and repose. The room had neither
carpet nor fireplace; and the only movables in it were a sofa-bed, a
table, and an arm-chair, all of such delicate and graceful forms as may
be seen on ancient vases of a far earlier period than that whereof we
write. But, most probably, had any of us entered that room that morning,
we should not have been able to spare a look either for the furniture,
or the general effect, or the Museum gardens, or the sparkling
Mediterranean beyond; but we should have agreed that the room was
quite rich enough for human eyes, for the sake of one treasure which it
possessed, and, beside which, nothing was worth a moment’s glance. For
in the light arm-chair, reading a manuscript which lay on the table, sat
a woman, of some five-and-twenty years, evidently the tutelary goddess
of that little shrine, dressed in perfect keeping with the archaism of
the chamber, in simple old snow-white Ionic robe, falling to the feet
and reaching to the throat, and of that peculiarly severe and graceful
fashion in which the upper part of the dress falls downward again from
the neck to the waist in a sort of cape, entirely hiding the outline of
the bust, while it leaves the arms and the point of the shoulders bare.
Her dress was entirely without ornament, except the two narrow purple
stripes down the front, which marked her rank as a Roman citizen, the
gold embroidered shoes upon her feet, and the gold net, which looped
back, from her forehead to her neck, hair the colour and gloss of which
were hardly distinguishable from that of the metal itself, such as
Athene herself might heaven vied for tint, and mass, and ripple. Her
features, arms, and hands were of the severest and grandest type of old
Greek beauty, at once showing everywhere the high development of the
bones, and covering them with that firm, round, ripe outline, and waxy
morbidezza of skin, which the old Greeks owed to their continual use
not only of the bath and muscular exercise, but also of daily unguents.
There might have seemed to us too much sadness in that clear gray eye;
too much self-conscious restraint in those sharp curved lips; too much
affectation in the studied severity of her posture as she read, copied,
as it seemed, from some old vase or bas-relief. But the glorious grace
and beauty of every line of face and figure would have excused, even
hidden those defects, and we should have only recognised the marked
resemblance to the ideal portraits of Athene which adorned every panel
of the walls.

She has lifted her eyes off her manuscript; she is looking out with
kindling countenance over the gardens of the Museum; her ripe curling
Greek lips, such as we never see now, even among her own wives and
sisters, open. She is talking to herself. Listen!

‘Yes. The statues there are broken. The libraries are plundered. The
alcoves are silent. The oracles are dumb. And yet--who says that the old
faith of heroes and sages is dead? The beautiful can never die. If the
gods have deserted their oracles, they have not deserted the souls who
aspire to them. If they have ceased to guide nations, they have not
ceased to speak to their own elect. If they have cast off the vulgar
herd, they have not cast off Hypatia. ...............

‘Ay. To believe in the old creeds, while every one else is dropping away
from them.... To believe in spite of disappointments.... To hope against
hope.... To show oneself superior to the herd, by seeing boundless
depths of living glory in myths which have become dark and dead
to them.... To struggle to the last against the new and vulgar
superstitions of a rotting age, for the faith of my forefathers, for
the old gods, the old heroes, the old sages who gauged the mysteries of
heaven and earth--and perhaps to conquer--at least to have my reward!
To be welcomed into the celestial ranks of the heroic--to rise to the
immortal gods, to the ineffable powers, onward, upward ever, through
ages and through eternities, till I find my home at last, and vanish in
the glory of the Nameless and the Absolute One!....

And her whole face flashed out into wild glory, and then sank again
suddenly into a shudder of something like fear and disgust, as she saw,
watching her from under the wall of the gardens opposite, a crooked,
withered Jewish crone, dressed out in the most gorgeous and fantastic
style of barbaric finery.

‘Why does that old hag haunt me? I see her everywhere--till the last
month at least--and here she is again! I will ask the prefect to find
out who she is, and get rid of her, before she fascinates me with that
evil eye. Thank the gods, there she moves away! Foolish!--foolish of me,
a philosopher. I, to believe, against the authority of Porphyry himself,
too, in evil eyes and magic! But there is my father, pacing up and down
in the library.’

As she spoke, the old man entered from the next room. He was a Greek,
also, but of a more common, and, perhaps, lower type; dark and fiery,
thin and graceful; his delicate figure and cheeks, wasted by meditation,
harmonised well with the staid and simple philosophic cloak which he
wore as a sign of his profession. He paced impatiently up and down the
chamber, while his keen, glittering eyes and restless gestures betokened
intense inward thought.... ‘I have it.... No; again it escapes--it
contradicts itself. Miserable man that I am! If there is faith in
Pythagoras, the symbol should be an expanding series of the powers of
three; and yet that accursed binary factor will introduce itself. Did not
you work the sum out once, Hypatia?’

‘Sit down, my dear father, and eat. You have tasted no food yet this
day.’

‘What do I care for food! The inexpressible must be expressed, the work
must be done if it cost me the squaring of the circle. How can he, whose
sphere lies above the stars, stoop every moment to earth?

‘Ay,’ she answered, half bitterly, ‘and would that we could live without
food, and imitate perfectly the immortal gods. But while we are in this
prison-house of matter, we must wear our chain; even wear it gracefully,
if we have the good taste; and make the base necessities of this body
of shame symbolic of the divine food of the reason. There is fruit, with
lentils and rice, waiting for you in the next room; and bread, unless
you despise it too much.’

‘The food of slaves!’ he answered. ‘Well, I will eat, and be ashamed of
eating. Stay, did I tell you? Six new pupils in the mathematical school
this morning. It grows! It spreads! We shall conquer yet!’

She sighed. ‘How do you know that they have not come to you, as Critias
and Alcibiades did to Socrates, to learn a merely political and mundane
virtue? Strange! that men should be content to grovel, and be men, when
they might rise to the rank of gods! Ah, my father! That is my bitterest
grief! to see those who have been pretending in the morning lecture-room
to worship every word of mine as an oracle, lounging in the afternoon
round Pelagia’s litter; and then at night--for I know that they do
it--the dice, and the wine, and worse. That Pallas herself should be
conquered every day by Venus Pandemos! That Pelagia should have more
power than I! Not that such a creature as that disturbs me: no created
thing, I hope, can move my equanimity; but if I could stoop to hate--I
should hate her--hate her.’

And her voice took a tone which made it somewhat uncertain whether, in
spite of all the lofty impassibility which she felt bound to possess,
she did not hate Pelagia with a most human and mundane hatred.

But at that moment the conversation was cut short by the hasty entrance
of a slave girl, who, with fluttering voice, announced--

‘His excellency, madam, the prefect! His chariot has been at the gate
for these five minutes, and he is now coming upstairs.’

‘Foolish child!’ answered Hypatia, with some affectation of
indifference. ‘And why should that disturb me? Let him enter.’

The door opened, and in came, preceded by the scent of half a dozen
different perfumes, a florid, delicate-featured man, gorgeously dressed
out in senatorial costume, his fingers and neck covered with jewels.

‘The representative of the Caesars honours himself by offering at the
shrine of Athene Polias, and rejoices to see in her priestess as lovely
a likeness as ever of the goddess whom she serves.... Don’t betray me,
but I really cannot help talking sheer paganism whenever I find myself
within the influence of your eyes.’

‘Truth is mighty,’ said Hypatia, as she rose to greet him with a smile
and a reverence.

‘Ah, so they say--Your excellent father has vanished. He is really too
modest--honest, though--about his incapacity for state secrets. After
all, you know, it was your Minervaship which I came to consult. How
has this turbulent Alexandrian rascaldom been behaving itself in my
absence?’

‘The herd has been eating, and drinking, and marrying, as usual, I
believe,’ answered Hypatia, in a languid tone.

‘And multiplying, I don’t doubt. Well, there will be less loss to the
empire if I have to crucify a dozen or two, as I positively will, the
next riot. It is really a great comfort to a statesman that the masses
are so well aware that they deserve hanging, and therefore so careful to
prevent any danger of public justice depopulating the province. But how
go on the schools?’

Hypatia shook her head sadly.

‘Ah, boys will be boys.... I plead guilty myself. Video meliora
proboque, deteriora sequor. You must not be hard on us.... Whether we
obey you or not in private life, we do in public; and if we enthrone you
queen of Alexandria, you must allow your courtiers and bodyguards a
few court licences. Now don’t sigh or I shall be inconsolable. At all
events, your worst rival has betaken herself to the wilderness, and gone
to look for the city of the gods above the cataracts.’

‘Whom do you mean?’ asked Hypatia, in a tone most unphilosophically
eager.

‘Pelagia, of course. I met that prettiest and naughtiest of humanities
half-way between here and Thebes, transformed into a perfect Andromache
of chaste affection.’

‘And to whom, pray?’

‘To a certain Gothic giant. What men those barbarians do breed! I was
afraid of being crushed under the elephant’s foot at every step I took
with him!’

‘What!’ asked Hypatia, ‘did your excellency condescend to converse with
such savages?’

‘To tell you the truth, he had some forty stout countrymen of his with
him, who might have been troublesome to a perplexed prefect; not to
mention that it is always as well to keep on good terms with these
Goths. Really, after the sack of Rome, and Athens cleaned out like a
beehive by wasps, things begin to look serious. And as for the great
brute himself, he has rank enough in his way,--boasts of his descent
from some cannibal god or other,--really hardly deigned to speak to a
paltry Roman governor, till his faithful and adoring bride interceded
for me. Still, the fellow understood good living, and we celebrated our
new treaty of friendship with noble libations--but I must not talk about
that to you. However, I got rid of them; quoted all the geographical
lies I had ever heard, and a great many more; quickened their appetite
for their fool’s errand notably, and started them off again. So now the
star of Venus is set, and that of Pallas in the ascendant. Wherefore
tell me--what am I to do with Saint Firebrand?’

‘Cyril?’

‘Cyril.’

‘Justice.’

‘Ah, Fairest Wisdom, don’t mention that horrid word out of the
lecture-room. In theory it is all very well; but in poor imperfect
earthly practice, a governor must be content with doing very much what
comes to hand. In abstract justice, now, I ought to nail up Cyril,
deacons, district visitors, and all, in a row, on the sandfill out
side. That is simple enough; but, like a great many simple and excellent
things, impossible.’

‘You fear the people?’

‘Well, my dear lady, and has not the villainous demagogue got the whole
mob on his side? Am I to have the Constantinople riots re-enacted here?
I really cannot face it; I have not nerve for it; perhaps I am too lazy.
Be it so.’

Hypatia sighed. ‘Ah, that your excellency but saw the great duel which
depends on you alone! Do not fancy that the battle is merely between
Paganism and Christianity--’

‘Why, if it were, you know, I, as a Christian, under a Christian and
sainted emperor, not to mention his august sister--’

‘We understand,’ interrupted she, with an impatient wave of her
beautiful hand. ‘Not even between them; not even between philosophy and
barbarism. The struggle is simply one between the aristocracy and the
mob,--between wealth, refinement, art, learning, all that makes a nation
great, and the savage herd of child-breeders below, the many ignoble,
who were meant to labour for the noble few. Shall the Roman empire
command or obey her own slaves? is the question which you and Cyril have
to battle out; and the fight must be internecine.’

‘I should not wonder if it became so, really,’ answered the prefect,
with a shrug of his shoulders. ‘I expect every time I ride, to have my
brains knocked out by some mad monk.’

‘Why not? In an age when, as has been well and often said, emperors and
consulars crawl to the tombs of a tent-maker and a fisherman, and kiss
the mouldy bones of the vilest slaves? Why not, among a people whose
God is the crucified son of a carpenter? Why should learning, authority,
antiquity, birth, rank, the system of empire which has been growing up,
fed by the accumulated wisdom of ages,--why, I say, should any of
these things protect your life a moment from the fury of any beggar who
believes that the Son of God died for him as much as for you, and that
he is your equal if not your superior in the sight of his low-born and
illiterate deity!’ [Footnote: These are the arguments and the language
which were commonly employed by Porphyry, Julian, and the other
opponents of Christianity.]

‘My most eloquent philosopher, this may be--and perhaps is--all very
true. I quite agree that there are very great practical inconveniences
of this kind in the new--I mean the Catholic faith; but the world is
full of inconveniences. The wise man does not quarrel with his creed for
being disagreeable, any more than he does with his finger for aching: he
cannot help it, and must make the best of a bad matter. Only tell me how
to keep the peace.’

‘And let philosophy be destroyed?’

‘That it never will be, as long as Hypatia lives to illuminate the
earth; and, as far as I am concerned, I promise you a clear stage and--a
great deal of favour; as is proved by my visiting you publicly at this
moment, before I have given audience to one of the four hundred bores,
great and small, who are waiting in the tribunal to torment me. Do help
me and advise me. What am I to do?’

‘I have told you.’

‘Ah, yes, as to general principles. But out of the lecture-room I prefer
a practical expedient for instance, Cyril writes to me here--plague on
him! he would not let me even have a week’s hunting in peace-that there
is a plot on the part of the Jews to murder all the Christians. Here is
the precious document--do look at it, in pity. For aught I know or care,
the plot may be an exactly opposite one, and the Christians intend to
murder all the Jews. But I must take some notice of the letter.’

‘I do not see that, your excellency.’

‘Why, if anything did happen, after all, conceive the missives which
would be sent flying off to Constantinople against me!’

‘Let them go. If you are secure in the consciousness of innocence, what
matter?’

‘Consciousness of innocence? I shall lose my prefecture!’

‘Your danger would just be as great if you took notice of it. Whatever
happened, you would be accused of favouring the Jews.’

‘And really there might be some truth in the accusation. How the
finances of the provinces would go on without their kind assistance,
I dare not think. If those Christians would but lend me their money,
instead of building alms-houses and hospitals with it, they might burn
the Jews’ quarter to-morrow, for aught I care. But now....’

‘But now, you must absolutely take no notice of this letter. The very
tone of it forbids you, for your own honour, and the honour of
the empire. Are you to treat with a man who talks of the masses at
Alexandria as “the flock whom the King of kings has committed to his
rule and care”? Does your excellency, or this proud bishop, govern
Alexandria?’

‘Really, my dear lady, I have given up inquiring.’

‘But he has not. He comes to you as a person possessing an absolute
authority over two-thirds of the population, which he does not scruple
to hint to you is derived from a higher source than your own. The
consequence is clear. If it be from a higher source than yours, of
course it ought to control yours’; and you will confess that it ought
to control it--you will acknowledge the root and ground of every
extravagant claim which he makes, if you deign to reply.’

‘But I must say something, or I shall be pelted in the streets. You
philosophers, however raised above your own bodies you may be, must
really not forget that we poor worldlings have bones to be broken.’

‘Then tell him, and by word of mouth merely, that as the information
which he sends you comes from his private knowledge and concerns not
him as bishop, but you as magistrate, you can only take it into
consideration when he addresses you as a private person, laying a
regular information at your tribunal.’

‘Charming! queen of diplomatists as well as philosophers! I go to obey
you. Ah! why were you not Pulcheria? No, for then Alexandria had been
dark, and Orestes missed the supreme happiness of kissing a hand which
Pallas, when she made you, must have borrowed from the workshop of
Aphrodite.’

‘Recollect that you are a Christian,’ answered Hypatia, half smiling.

So the prefect departed; and passing through the outer hall, which was
already crowded with Hypatia’s aristocratic pupils and visitors, bowed
his way out past them and regained his chariot, chuckling over the
rebuff which he intended to administer to Cyril, and comforting himself
with the only text of Scripture of the inspiration of which he was
thoroughly convinced--‘Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.’

At the door was a crowd of chariots, slaves with their masters’
parasols, and the rabble of onlooking boys and market-folk, as usual in
Alexandria then, as in all great cities since, who were staring at the
prefect, and having their heads rapped by his guards, and wondering what
sort of glorious personage Hypatia might be, and what sort of glorious
house she must live in, to be fit company for the great governor of
Alexandria. Not that there was not many a sulky and lowering face
among the mob, for the great majority of them were Christians, and
very seditious and turbulent politicians, as Alexandrians, ‘men of
Macedonia,’ were bound to be; and there was many a grumble among them,
all but audible, at the prefect’s going in state to the heathen woman’s
house--heathen sorceress, some pious old woman called her--before he
heard any poor soul’s petition in the tribunal, or even said his prayers
in church.

Just as he was stepping into his curricle a tall young man, as
gorgeously bedizened as himself, lounged down the steps after him, and
beckoned lazily to the black boy who carried his parasol.

‘Ah, Raphael Aben-Ezra! my excellent friend, what propitious
deity--ahem! martyr--brings you to Alexandria just as I want you? Get up
by my side, and let us have a chat on our way to the tribunal.’

The man addressed came slowly forward with an ostentatiously low
salutation, which could not hide, and indeed was not intended to
hide, the contemptuous and lazy expression of his face; and asked in a
drawling tone--

‘And for what kind purpose does the representative of the Caesars bestow
such an honour on the humblest of his, etc. etc.--your penetration will
supply the rest.’

‘Don’t be frightened; I am not going to borrow money of you,’ answered
Orestes, laughingly, as the Jew got into the curricle.

‘I am glad to hear it. Really one usurer in a family is enough. My
father made the gold, and if I spend it, I consider that I do all that
is required of a philosopher.’

‘A charming team of white Nisaeans, is not this? And only one gray foot
among all the four.’

‘Yes.... horses are a bore, I begin to find, like everything else.
Always falling sick, or running away, or breaking one’s peace of mind in
some way or other. Besides, I have been pestered out of my life there
in Cyrene, by commissions for dogs and horses and bows from that old
Episcopal Nimrod, Synesius.’

‘What, is the worthy man as lively as ever?’

‘Lively? He nearly drove me into a nervous fever in three days. Up at
four in the morning, always in the most disgustingly good health and
spirits, farming, coursing, shooting, riding over hedge and ditch
after rascally black robbers; preaching, intriguing, borrowing money;
baptizing and excommunicating; bullying that bully, Andronicus;
comforting old women, and giving pretty girls dowries; scribbling one
half-hour on philosophy, and the next on farriery; sitting up all night
writing hymns and drinking strong liquors; off again on horseback at
four the next morning; and talking by the hour all the while about
philosophic abstraction from the mundane tempest. Heaven defend me
from all two-legged whirlwinds! By the bye, there was a fair daughter of
my nation came back to Alexandria in the same ship with me, with a cargo
that may suit your highness.’

‘There are a great many fair daughters of your nation who might suit me,
without any cargo at all.’

‘Ah, they have had good practice, the little fools, ever since the days
of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. But I mean old Miriam--you know. She has
been lending Synesius money to fight the black fellows with; and really
it was high time. They had burnt every homestead for miles through the
province. But the daring old girl must do a little business for herself;
so she went off, in the teeth of the barbarians, right away to the
Atlas, bought all their lady prisoners, and some of their own sons and
daughters, too, of them, for beads and old iron; and has come back with
as pretty a cargo of Lybian beauties as a prefect of good taste could
wish to have the first choice of. You may thank me for that privilege.’

‘After, of course, you had suited yourself, my cunning Raphael?’

‘Not I. Women are bores, as Solomon found out long ago. Did I never tell
you? I began, as he did, with the most select harem in Alexandria. But
they quarrelled so, that one day I went out, and sold them all but one,
who was a Jewess--so there were objections on the part of the Rabbis.
Then I tried one, as Solomon did; but my “garden shut up,” and my
“sealed fountain” wanted me to be always in love with her, so I went to
the lawyers, allowed her a comfortable maintenance, and now I am as free
as a monk, and shall be happy to give your excellency the benefit of any
good taste or experience which I may possess.’

‘Thanks, worthy Jew. We are not yet as exalted as yourself, and will
send for the old Erictho this very afternoon. Now listen a moment to
base, earthly, and political business. Cyril has written to me, to say
that you Jews have plotted to murder all the Christians.’

‘Well--why not? I most heartily wish it were true, and think, on the
whole, that it very probably is so.’

‘By the immortal--saints, man! you are not serious?’

‘The four archangels forbid! It is no concern of mine. All I say is,
that my people are great fools, like the rest of the world; and have,
for aught I know or care, some such intention. They won’t succeed, of
course; and that is all you have to care for. But if you think it worth
the trouble--which I do not--I shall have to go to the synagogue on
business in a week or so, and then I would ask some of the Rabbis.’

‘Laziest of men!--and I must answer Cyril this very day.’

‘An additional reason for asking no questions of our people. Now you can
honestly say that you know nothing about the matter.’

‘Well, after all, ignorance is a stronghold for poor statesmen. So you
need not hurry yourself.’

‘I assure your excellency I will not.’

‘Ten days hence, or so, you know.’

‘Exactly, after it is all over.’

‘And can’t be helped. What a comfort it is, now and then, that Can’t be
helped!’

‘It is the root and marrow of all philosophy. Your practical man, poor
wretch, will try to help this and that, and torment his soul with ways
and means, and preventives and forestallings; your philosopher quietly
says--It can’t be helped. If it ought to be, it will be--if it is, it
ought to be. We did not make the world, and we are not responsible for
it.--There is the sum and substance of all true wisdom, and the epitome
of all that has been said and written thereon from Philo the Jew to
Hypatia the Gentile. By the way, here’s Cyril coming down the steps of
the Caesareum. A very handsome fellow, after all, though lie is looking
as sulky as a bear.’

‘With his cubs at his heels. What a scoundrelly visage that tall
fellow-deacon, or reader, or whatever he is by his dress--has!’

‘There they are--whispering together. Heaven give them pleasant thoughts
and pleasanter faces!’

‘Amen!’ quoth Orestes, with a sneer: and he would have said Amen in
good earnest, had he been able to take the liberty--which we shall--and
listen to Cyril’s answer to Peter, the tall reader.

‘From Hypatia’s, you say? Why, he only returned to the city this
morning.’

‘I saw his four-in-hand standing at her door, as I came down the Museum
Street hither, half an hour ago.’

‘And twenty carriages besides, I don’t doubt?’

‘The street was blocked up with them. There! Look round the corner
now.--Chariots, litters, slaves, and fops.--When shall we see such a
concourse as that where it ought to be?’

Cyril made no answer; and Peter went on--‘Where it ought to be, my
father--in front of your door at the Serapeium?’

‘The world, the flesh, and the devil know their own, Peter: and as long
as they have their own to go to, we cannot expect them to come to us.’

‘But what if their own were taken out of the way?’

‘They might come to us for want of better amusement.... devil and all.
Well--if I could get a fair hold of the two first, I would take the
third into the bargain, and see what could be done with him. But
never, while these lecture-rooms last--these Egyptian chambers of
imagery--these theatres of Satan, where the devil transforms himself
into an angel of light, and apes Christian virtue, and bedizens his
ministers like ministers of righteousness, as long as that lecture-room
stands and the great and the powerful flock to it, to learn excuses for
their own tyrannies and atheisms, so long will the kingdom of God be
trampled under foot in Alexandria; so long will the princes of this
world, with their gladiators, and parasites, and money-lenders, be
masters here, and not the bishops and priests of the living God.’

It was now Peter’s turn to be silent; and as the two, with their little
knot of district-visitors behind them, walk moodily along the great
esplanade which overlooked the harbour, and then vanish suddenly up some
dingy alley into the crowded misery of the sailors’ quarter, we will
leave them to go about their errand of mercy, and, like fashionable
people, keep to the grand parade, and listen again to our two
fashionable friends in the carved and gilded curricle with four white
blood-horses.

‘A fine sparkling breeze outside the Pharos, Raphael--fair for the
wheat-ships too.’

‘Are they gone yet?

‘Yes--why? I sent the first fleet off three days ago; and the rest are
clearing outwards to-day.’

‘Oh!--ah--so!--Then you have not heard from Heraclian?’

‘Heraclian? What the-blessed saints has the Count of Africa to do with
my wheat-ships?’

‘Oh, nothing. It’s no business of mine. Only he is going to rebel ....
But here we are at your door.’

‘To what?’ asked Orestes, in a horrified tone.

‘To rebel, and attack Rome.’

‘Good gods--God, I mean. A fresh bore! Come in, and tell a poor
miserable slave of a governor--speak low, for Heaven’s sake!--I hope
these rascally grooms haven’t overheard you.’

‘Easy to throw them into the canal, if they have,’ quoth Raphael, as he
walked coolly through hall and corridor after the perturbed governor.

Poor Orestes never stopped till he reached a little chamber of the inner
court, beckoned the Jew in after him, locked the door, threw himself
into an arm-chair, put his hands on his knees, and sat, bending forward,
staring into Raphael’s face with a ludicrous terror and perplexity.

‘Tell me all about it. Tell me this instant.’

‘I have told you all I know,’ quoth Raphael, quietly seating himself on
a sofa, and playing with a jewelled dagger. ‘I thought, of course, that
you were in the secret, or I should have said nothing. It’s no business
of mine, you know.’

Orestes, like most weak and luxurious men, Romans especially, had a
wild-beast vein in him--and it burst forth.

‘Hell and the furies! You insolent provincial slave--you will carry
these liberties of yours too far! Do you know who I am, you accursed
Jew? Tell me the whole truth, or, by the head of the emperor, I’ll twist
it out of you with red-hot pincers!’

Raphael’s countenance assumed a dogged expression, which showed that
the old Jewish blood still heat true, under all its affected shell of
Neo-Platonist nonchalance; and there was a quiet unpleasant earnest in
his smile, as he answered--

‘Then, my dear governor, you will be the first man on earth who ever yet
forced a Jew to say or do what he did not choose.’

‘We’ll see!’ yelled Orestes. ‘Here, slaves!’ And he clapped his hands
loudly.

‘Calm yourself, your excellency,’ quoth Raphael, rising. ‘The door
is locked; the mosquito net is across the window; and this dagger
is poisoned. If anything happens to me, you will offend all the Jew
money-lenders, and die in about three days in a great deal of pain,
having missed our assignation with old Miriam, lost your pleasantest
companion, and left your own finances and those of the prefecture in a
considerable state of embarrassment. How much better to sit down, hear
all I have to say philosophically, like a true pupil of Hypatia, and not
expect a man to tell you what he really does not know.’

Orestes, after looking vainly round the room for a place to escape, had
quietly subsided into his chair again; and by the time that the slaves
knocked at the door he had so far recovered his philosophy as to ask,
not for the torturers, but for a page and wine.

‘Oh, you Jews!’ quoth he, trying to laugh off matters. ‘The same
incarnate fiends that Titus found you!’

‘The very same, my dear prefect. Now for this matter, which is really
important-at least to Gentiles. Heraclian will certainly rebel. Synesius
let out as much to me. He has fitted out an armament for Ostia, stopped
his own wheat-ships, and is going to write to you to stop yours, and to
starve out the Eternal City, Goths, senate, emperor, and all. Whether
you will comply with his reasonable little request depends of course on
yourself.’

‘And that again very much on his plans.’

‘Of course. You cannot be expected to--we will euphemise-unless it be
made worth your while.’

Orestes sat buried in deep thought.

‘Of course not,’ said he at last, half unconsciously. And then, in
sudden dread of having committed himself, he looked up fiercely at the
Jew.

‘And how do I know that this is not some infernal trap of yours? Tell me
how you found out all this, or by Hercules (he had quite forgotten his
Christianity by this time)--by Hercules and the Twelve Gods, I’ll--’

‘Don’t use expressions unworthy of a philosopher. My source of
information was very simple and very good. He has been negotiating a
loan from the Rabbis at Carthage. They were either frightened, or loyal,
or both, and hung back. He knew--as all wise governors know when they
allow themselves time--that it is no use to bully a Jew; slid applied to
me. I never lend money--it is unphilosophical: but I introduced him to
old Miriam, who dare do business with the devil himself; and by that
move, whether he has the money or not, I cannot tell: but this I can
tell, that we have his secret--and so have you now; and if you want more
information, the old woman, who enjoys an intrigue as much as she does
Falernian, will get it you.’

‘Well, you are a true friend, after all.’

‘Of course I am. Now, is not this method of getting at the truth much
easier and pleasanter than setting a couple of dirty negroes to pinch
and pull me, and so making it a point of honour with me to tell you
nothing but lies? Here comes Ganymede with the wine, just in time to
calm your nerves, and fill you with the spirit of divination.... To the
goddess of good counsels, my lord. What wine this is!’

‘True Syrian--fire and honey; fourteen years old next vintage, my
Raphael. Out, Hypocorisma! See that he is not listening. The impudent
rascal! I was humbugged into giving two thousand gold pieces for him
two years ago, he was so pretty--they said he was only just rising
thirteen--and he has been the plague of my life ever since, and is
beginning to want the barber already. Now, what is the count dreaming
of?’

‘His wages for killing Stilicho.’

‘What, is it not enough to be Count of Africa?’

‘I suppose he sets off against that his services during the last three
years.’

‘Well, he saved Africa.’

‘And thereby Egypt also. And you too, as well as the emperor, may be
considered as owing him somewhat.’

‘My good friend, my debts are far too numerous for me to think of paying
any of them. But what wages does he want?’

‘The purple.’

Orestes started, and then fell into thought. Raphael sat watching him a
while.

‘Now, most noble lord, may I depart? I have said all I have to say; and
unless I get home to luncheon at once, I shall hardly have time to find
old Miriam for you, and get through our little affair with her before
sunset.’

‘Stay. What force has he?’

‘Forty thousand already, they say. And those Donatist ruffians are with
him to a man, if he can but scrape together wherewith to change their
bludgeons into good steel.’

‘Well, go.... So. A hundred thousand might do it,’ said he, meditating,
as Raphael bowed himself out. ‘He won’t get them. I don’t know,
though; the man has the head of a Julius. Well--that fool Attalus talked
of joining Egypt to the Western Empire.... Not such a bad thought either.
Anything is better than being governed by an idiot child and three
canting nuns. I expect to be excommunicated every day for some offence
against Pulcheria’s prudery.... Heraclian emperor at Rome.... and I
lord and master on this side the sea. The Donatists pitted again fairly
against the orthodox, to cut each other’s throats in peace.... no more
of Cyril’s spying and tale-bearing to Constantinople.... Not such a
baddish of fare.... But then-it would take so much trouble!’

With which words, Orestes went into his third warm bath for that day.



CHAPTER III: THE GOTHS


For two days the young monk held on, paddling and floating rapidly down
the Nile-stream, leaving city after city to right and left with longing
eyes, and looking back to one villa after another, till the reaches of
the banks hid them from his sight, with many a yearning to know what
sort of places those gay buildings and gardens would look like on a
nearer view, and what sort of life the thousands led who crowded the
busy quays, and walked and drove, in an endless stream, along the great
highroads which ran along either bank. He carefully avoided every
boat that passed him, from the gilded barge of the wealthy landlord or
merchant, to the tiny raft buoyed up with empty jars, which was floating
down to be sold at some market in the Delta. Here and there he met and
hailed a crew of monks, drawing their nets in a quiet bay, or passing
along the great watery highway from monastery to monastery: but all the
news he received from them was, that the canal of Alexandria was still
several days’ journey below him. It seemed endless, that monotonous
vista of the two high clay banks, with their sluices and water-wheels,
their knots of palms and date-trees; endless seemed that wearisome
succession of bars of sand and banks of mud, every one like the one
before it, every one dotted with the same line of logs and stones strewn
along the water’s edge, which turned out as he approached them to be
basking crocodiles and sleeping pelicans. His eye, wearied with the
continual confinement and want of distance, longed for the boundless
expanse of the desert, for the jagged outlines of those far-off hills,
which he had watched from boyhood rising mysteriously at morn out of
the eastern sky, and melting mysteriously into it again at even, beyond
which dwelt a whole world of wonders, elephants and dragons, satyrs and
anthropophagi,--ay, and the phoenix itself. Tired and melancholy, his
mind returned inward to prey on itself, and the last words of Arsenius
rose again and again to his thoughts. ‘Was his call of the spirit or of
the flesh?’ How should he test that problem? He wished to seethe world
that might be carnal. True; but, he wished to convert the world.... was
not that spiritual? Was he not going on a noble errand?.... thirsting
for toil, for saintship, for martyrdom itself, if it would but come and
cut the Gordian knot of all temptations, and save him-for he dimly
felt that it would save him--a whole sea of trouble in getting safe and
triumphant out of that world into which he had not yet entered .... and
his heart shrank back from the untried homeless wilderness before
him. But no! the die was cast, and he must down and onward, whether in
obedience to the spirit or the flesh. Oh, for one hour of the quiet of
that dear Laura and the old familiar faces!

At last, a sudden turn of the bank brought him in sight of a
gaudily-painted barge, oil board of which armed men, in uncouth and
foreign dresses, were chasing with barbaric shouts some large object in
the water. In the bows stood a man of gigantic stature, brandishing a
harpoon in his right hand, and in his left holding the line of a second,
the head of which was fixed in the huge purple sides of a hippopotamus,
who foamed and wallowed a few yards down the stream. An old grizzled
warrior at the stern, with a rudder in either hand, kept the boat’s
head continually towards the monster, in spite of its sudden and frantic
wheelings; and when it dashed madly across the stream, some twenty oars
flashed through the water in pursuit. All was activity and excitement;
and it was no wonder if Philammon’s curiosity had tempted him to drift
down almost abreast of the barge ere he descried, peeping from under a
decorated awning in the afterpart, some dozen pairs of languishing
black eyes, turned alternately to the game and to himself. The
serpents!--chattering and smiling, with pretty little shrieks and
shaking of glossy curls and gold necklaces, and fluttering of muslin
dresses, within a dozen yards of him! Blushing scarlet, he knew not
why, he seized his paddle, and tried to back out of the snare.... but
somehow, his very efforts to escape those sparkling eyes diverted his
attention from everything else: the hippopotamus had caught sight of
him, and furious with pain, rushed straight at the unoffending canoe;
the harpoon line became entangled round his body, and in a moment he
and his frail bark were overturned, and the monster, with his huge white
tusks gaping wide, close on him as he struggled in the stream.

Luckily Philammon, contrary to the wont of monks, was a bather, and swam
like a water-fowl: fear he had never known: death from childhood had
been to him, as to the other inmates of the Laura, a contemplation too
perpetual to have any paralysing terror in it, even then, when life
seemed just about to open on him anew. But the monk was a man, and a
young one, and had no intention of dying tamely or unavenged. In an
instant he had freed himself from the line; drawn the short knife which
was his only weapon; and diving suddenly, avoided the monster’s rush,
and attacked him from behind with stabs, which, though not deep, still
dyed the waters with gore at every stroke. The barbarians shouted with
delight. The hippopotamus turned furiously against his new assailant,
crushing, alas! the empty canoe to fragments with a single snap of his
enormous jaws; but the turn was fatal to him; the barge was close upon
him, and as he presented his broad side to the blow, the sinewy arm of
the giant drove a harpoon through his heart, and with one convulsive
shudder the huge blue mass turned over on its side and floated dead.

Poor Philammon! He alone was silent, amid the yells of triumph;
sorrowfully he swam round and round his little paper wreck.... it would
not have floated a mouse. Wistfully be eyed the distant banks, half
minded to strike out for them and escape,.... and thought of the
crocodiles,.... and paddled round again,.... and thought of the
basilisk eyes;.... he might escape the crocodiles, but who could escape
women?.... and he struck out valiantly for shore.... when he was brought
to a sudden stop by finding the stem of the barge close on him, a noose
thrown over him by some friendly barbarian, and himself hauled on
board, amid the laughter, praise, astonishment, and grumbling of the
good-natured crew, who had expected him, as a matter of course, to avail
himself at once of their help, and could not conceive the cause of his
reluctance.

Philammon gazed with wonder on his strange hosts, their pale
complexions, globular heads and faces, high cheek-bones, tall and sturdy
figures; their red beards, and yellow hair knotted fantastically above
the head; their awkward dresses, half Roman or Egyptian, and half
of foreign fur, soiled and stained in many a storm and fight, but
tastelessly bedizened with classic jewels, brooches, and Roman coins,
strung like necklaces. Only the steersman, who had come forward to
wonder at the hippopotamus, and to help in dragging the unwieldy brute
on board, seemed to keep genuine and unornamented the costume of his
race, the white linen leggings, strapped with thongs of deerskin, the
quilted leather cuirass, the bears’-fur cloak, the only ornaments of
which were the fangs and claws of the beast itself, and a fringe of
grizzled tufts, which looked but too like human hair. The language which
they spoke was utterly unintelligible to Philammon, though it need not
be so to us.

‘A well-grown lad and a brave one, Wulf the son of Ovida,’ said the
giant to the old hero of the bearskin cloak; ‘and understands wearing
skins, in this furnace-mouth of a climate, rather better than you do.’

‘I keep to the dress of my forefathers, Amalric the Amal. What did to
sack Rome in, may do to find Asgard in.’

The giant, who was decked out with helmet, cuirass, and senatorial
boots, in a sort of mongrel mixture of the Roman military and civil
dress, his neck wreathed with a dozen gold chains, and every finger
sparkling with jewels, turned away with an impatient sneer.

‘Asgard--Asgard! If you are in such a hurry to get to Asgard up this
ditch in the sand, you had better ask the fellow how far it is thither.’

Wulf took him quietly at his word, and addressed a question to the young
monk, which he could only answer by a shake of the head.

‘Ask him in Greek, man.’

‘Greek is a slave’s tongue. Make a slave talk to him in it, not me.’

‘Here--some of you girls! Pelagia! you understand this fellow’s talk.
Ask him how far it is to Asgard.’

‘You must ask me more civilly, my rough hero,’ replied a soft voice from
underneath the awning. ‘Beauty must be sued, and not commanded.’

‘Come, then, my olive-tree, my gazelle, my lotus-flower, my--what was
the last nonsense you taught me?--and ask this wild man of the sands how
far it is from these accursed endless rabbit-burrows to Asgard.’

The awning was raised, and lying luxuriously on a soft mattress,
fanned with peacock’s feathers, and glittering with rubies and topazes,
appeared such a vision as Philammon had never seen before.

A woman of some two-and-twenty summers, formed in the most voluptuous
mould of Grecian beauty, whose complexion showed every violet vein
through its veil of luscious brown. Her little bare feet, as they
dimpled the cushions, were more perfect than Aphrodite’s, softer than a
swan’s bosom. Every swell of her bust and arms showed through the thin
gauze robe, while her lower limbs were wrapped in a shawl of orange
silk, embroidered with wreaths of shells and roses. Her dark hair lay
carefully spread out upon the pillow, in a thousand ringlets entwined
with gold and jewels; her languishing eyes blazed like diamonds from
a cavern, under eyelids darkened and deepened with black antimony; her
lips pouted of themselves, by habit or by nature, into a perpetual kiss;
slowly she raised one little lazy hand; slowly the ripe lips opened; and
in most pure and melodious Attic, she lisped her huge lover’s question
to the monk, and repeated it before the boy could shake off the spell,
and answer....

‘Asgard? What is Asgard?’

The beauty looked at the giant for further instructions.

‘The City of the immortal Gods,’ interposed the old warrior, hastily and
sternly, to the lady.

‘The city of God is in heaven,’ said Philammon to the interpreter,
turning his head away from those gleaming, luscious, searching glances.

His answer was received with a general laugh by all except the leader,
who shrugged his shoulders.

‘It may as well be up in the skies as up the Nile. We shall be just
as likely, I believe, to reach it by flying, as by rowing up this big
ditch. Ask him where the river comes from, Pelagia.’

Pelagia obeyed.... and thereon followed a confusion worse confounded,
composed of all the impossible wonders of that mythic fairyland with
which Philammon had gorged himself from boyhood in his walks with the
old monks, and of the equally trustworthy traditions which the Goths had
picked up at Alexandria. There was nothing which that river did not do.
It rose in the Caucasus. Where was the Caucasus? He did not know. In
Paradise--in Indian Aethiopia--in Aethiopian India. Where were they? He
did not know. Nobody knew. It ran for a hundred and fifty days’ journey
through deserts where nothing but flying serpents and satyrs lived, and
the very lions’ manes were burnt off by the heat....

‘Good sporting there, at all events, among these dragons,’ quoth Smid
the son of Troll, armourer to the party.

‘As good as Thor’s when he caught Snake Midgard with the bullock’s
head,’ said Wulf.

It turned to the east for a hundred days’ journey more, all round Arabia
and India, among forests full of elephants and dog-headed women.

‘Better and better, Smid!’ growled Wulf, approvingly.

‘Fresh beef cheap there, Prince Wulf, eh?’ quoth Smid; ‘I must look over
the arrow-heads.’

--To the mountains of the Hyperboreans, where there was eternal night,
and the air was full of feathers.... That is, one-third of it came from
thence, and another third came from the Southern ocean, over the Moon
mountains, where no one had ever been, and the remaining third from the
country where the phoenix lived, and nobody knew where that was. And
then there were the cataracts, and the inundations-and-and-and above the
cataracts, nothing but sand-hills and ruins, as full of devils as they
could hold.... and as for Asgard, no one had ever heard of it.... till
every face grew longer and longer, as Pelagia went on interpreting and
misinterpreting; and at last the giant smote his hand upon his knee, and
swore a great oath that Asgard might rot till the twilight of the gods
before he went a step farther up the Nile.

‘Curse the monk!’ growled Wulf. ‘How should such a poor beast know
anything about the matter?’

‘Why should not he know as well as that ape of a Roman governor?’ asked
Smid.

‘Oh, the monks know everything,’ said Pelagia. ‘They go hundreds and
thousands of miles up the river, and cross the deserts among fiends and
monsters, where any one else would be eaten up, or go mad at once.’

‘Ah, the dear holy men! It’s all by the sign of the blessed cross!’
exclaimed all the girls together, devoutly crossing themselves, while
two or three of the most enthusiastic were half-minded to go forward and
kneel to Philammon for his blessing; but hesitated, their Gothic lovers
being heathenishly stupid and prudish on such points.

‘Why should he not know as well as the prefect? Well said, Smid! I
believe that prefect’s quill-driver was humbugging us when he said
Asgard was only ten days’ sail up.’

‘Why?’ asked Wulf.

‘I never give any reasons. What’s the use of being an Amal, and a son
of Odin, if one has always to be giving reasons like a rascally Roman
lawyer? I say the governor looked like a liar; and I say this monk looks
like an honest fellow; and I choose to believe him, and there is an end
of it.’

‘Don’t look so cross at me, Prince Wulf; I’m sure it’s not my fault; I
could only say what the monk told me,’ whispered poor Pelagia.

‘Who looks cross at you, my queen?’ roared the Amal. ‘Let me have him
out here, and by Thor’s hammer, I’ll--’

‘Who spoke to you, you stupid darling?’ answered Pelagia, who lived in
hourly fear of thunderstorms. ‘Who is going to be cross with any one,
except I with you, for mishearing and misunderstanding, and meddling,
as you are always doing? I shall do as I threatened, and run away with
Prince Wulf, if you are not good. Don’t you see that the whole crew are
expecting you to make them an oration?’

Whereupon the Amal rose.

‘See you here, Wulf the son of Ovida, and warriors all! If we want
wealth, we shan’t find it among the sand-hills. If we want women, we
shall find nothing prettier than these among dragons and devils. Don’t
look angry, Wulf. You have no mind to marry one of those dog-headed
girls the monk talked of, have you? Well, then, we have money and women;
and if we want sport, it’s better sport killing men than killing beasts;
so we had better go where we shall find most of that game, which we
certainly shall not up this road. As for fame and all that, though I’ve
had enough, there’s plenty to be got anywhere along the shores of that
Mediterranean. Let’s burn and plunder Alexandria: forty of us Goths
might kill down all these donkey-riders in two days, and hang up that
lying prefect who sent us hereon this fool’s errand. Don’t answer, Wulf.
I knew he was humbugging us all along, but you were so open-mouthed to
all he said, that I was bound to let my elders choose for me. Let’s
go back; send over for any of the tribes; send to Spain for those
Vandals--they have had enough of Adolf by now, curse him!--I’ll warrant
them; get together an army, and take Constantinople. I’ll be Augustus,
and Pelagia, Augusta; you and Smid here, the two Caesars; and we’ll make
the monk the chief of the eunuchs, eh?--anything you like for a quiet
life; but up this accursed kennel of hot water I go no farther. Ask your
girls, my heroes, and I’ll ask mine. Women are all prophetesses, every
one of them.’

‘When they are not harlots,’ growled Wulf to himself.

‘I will go to the world’s end with you, my king!’ sighed Pelagia; ‘but
Alexandria is certainly pleasanter than this.’

Old Wulf sprang up fiercely enough.

‘Hear me, Amalric the Amal, son of Odin, and heroes all! When my fathers
swore to be Odin’s men, and gave up the kingdom to the holy Annals, the
sons of the Aesir, what was the bond between your fathers and mine? Was
it not that we should move and move, southward and southward ever, till
we came back to Asgard, the city where Odin dwells for ever, and gave
into his hands the kingdom of all the earth? And did we not keep our
oath? Have we not held to the Amals? Did we not leave Adolf, because we
would not follow a Balth, while there was an Amal to lead us? Have we
not been true men to you, son of the Aesir?’

‘No man ever saw Wulf, the son of Ovida, fail friend or foe.’

‘Then why does his friend fail him? Why does his friend fail himself? If
the bison-bull lie down and wallow, what will the herd do for a leader?
If the king-wolf lose the scent, how will the pack hold it? If the
Yngling forgets the song of Asgard, who will sing it to the heroes?’

‘Sing it yourself, if you choose. Pelagia sings quite well enough for
me.’

In an instant the cunning beauty caught at the hint, and poured forth a
soft, low, sleepy song:--

‘Loose the sail, rest the oar, float away down, Fleeting and gliding by
tower and town; Life is so short at best! snatch, while thou canst, thy
rest, Sleeping by me!’

‘Can you answer that, Wulf?’ shouted a dozen voices.

‘Hear the song of Asgard, warriors of the Goths! Did not Alaric the king
love it well? Did I not sing it before him in the palace of the Caesars,
till he swore, for all the Christian that he was, to go southward in
search of the holy city? And when he went to Valhalla, and the ships
were wrecked off Sicily, and Adolf the Balth turned back like a lazy
hound, and married the daughter of the Romans, whom Odin hates, and went
northward again to Gaul, did not I sing you all the song of Asgard in
Messina there, till you swore to follow the Amal through fire and water
until we found the hall of Odin, and received the mead-cup from his own
hand? Hear it again, warriors of the Goths!’

‘Not that song!’ roared the Amal, stopping his ears with both his hands.
‘Will you drive us blood-mad again, just as we are settling down into
our sober senses, and finding out what our lives were given us for?’

‘Hear the song of Asgard! On to Asgard, wolves of the Goths!’ shouted
another; and a babel of voices arose.

‘Haven’t we been fighting and marching these seven years?’

‘Haven’t we drunk blood enough to satisfy Odin ten times over? If he
wants us lot him come himself and lead us!’

‘Let us get our winds again before we start afresh!’

‘Wulf the Prince is like his name, and never tires; he has a
winter-wolf’s legs under him; that is no reason why we should have.’

‘Haven’t you heard what the monk says?-we can never get ever those
cataracts.’

‘We’ll stop his old wives’ tales for him, and then settle for
ourselves,’ said Smid; and springing from the thwart where he had been
sitting, he caught up a bill with one hand, and seized Philammon’s
throat with the other.... in a moment more, it would have been all over
with him....

For the first time in his life Philammon felt a hostile gripe upon him,
and a new sensation rushed through every nerve, as he grappled with the
warrior, clutched with his left hand the up-lifted wrist, and with his
right the girdle, and commenced, without any definite aim, a fierce
struggle, which, strange to say, as it went on, grew absolutely
pleasant.

The women shrieked to their lovers to part the combatants, but in vain.

‘Not for worlds! A very fair match and a very fair fight! Take your long
legs back, Itho, or they will be over you! That’s right, my Smid, don’t
use the knife! They will be overboard in a moment! By all the Valkyrs,
they are down, and Smid undermost!’

There was no doubt of it; and in another moment Philammon would have
wrenched the bill out of his opponent’s hand, when, to the utter
astonishment of the onlookers, he suddenly loosed his hold, shook
himself free by one powerful wrench, and quietly retreated to his seat,
conscience-stricken at the fearful thirst for blood which had suddenly
boiled up within him as he felt his enemy under him.

The onlookers were struck dumb with astonishment; they had taken for
granted that he would, as a matter of course, have used his right of
splitting his vanquished opponent’s skull--an event which they would
of course have deeply deplored, but with which, as men of honour, they
could not on any account interfere, but merely console themselves for
the loss of their comrade by flaying his conqueror alive, ‘carving him
into the blood-eagle,’ or any other delicate ceremony which might serve
as a vent for their sorrow and a comfort to the soul of the deceased.

Smid rose, with a bill in his hand, and looked round him-perhaps to
see what was expected of him. He half lifted his weapon to strike ....
Philammon, seated, looked him calmly in the face.... The old warrior’s
eye caught the bank, which was now receding rapidly past them; and when
he saw that they were really floating downwards again, without an
effort to stem the stream, he put away his bill, and sat himself down
deliberately in his place, astonishing the onlookers quite as much as
Philammon had done.

‘Five minutes’ good fighting, and no one killed! This is a shame!’ quoth
another. ‘Blood we must see, and it had better be yours, master monk,
than your betters’,’--and therewith he rushed on poor Philammon.

He spoke the heart of the crew; the sleeping wolf in them had
been awakened by the struggle, and blood they would have; and not
frantically, like Celts or Egyptians, but with the cool humorous cruelty
of the Teuton, they rose altogether, and turning Philammon over on his
back, deliberated by what death he should die.

Philammon quietly submitted--if submission have anything to do with that
state of mind in which sheer astonishment and novelty have broken up all
the custom of man’s nature, till the strangest deeds and sufferings are
taken as matters of course. His sudden escape from the Laura, the new
world of thought and action into which he had been plunged, the new
companions with whom he had fallen in, had driven him utterly from his
moorings, and now anything and everything might happen to him. He who
had promised never to look upon woman found himself, by circumstances
over which he had no control, amid a boatful of the most objectionable
species of that most objectionable genus--and the utterly worst having
happened, everything else which happened must be better than the worst.
For the rest, he had gone forth to see the world--and this was one of
the ways of it. So he made up his mind to see it, and be filled with the
fruit of his own devices.

And he would have been certainly filled with the same in five minutes
more, in some shape too ugly to be mentioned: but, as even sinful women
have hearts in them, Pelagia shrieked out--

‘Amalric! Amalric! do not let them! I cannot bear it!’

‘The warriors are free men, my darling, and know what is proper. And
what can the life of such a brute be to you?’

Before he could stop her, Pelagia had sprung from her cushions, and
thrown herself into the midst of the laughing ring of wild beasts.

‘Spare him! spare him for my sake!’ shrieked she.

‘Oh, my pretty lady! you mustn’t interrupt warriors’ sport!’

In an instant she had torn off her shawl, and thrown it over Philammon;
and as she stood, with all the outlines of her beautiful limbs revealed
through the thin robe of spangled gauze--

‘Let the man who dares, touch him beneath that shawl!--though it be a
saffron one!’

The Goths drew back. For Pelagia herself they had as little respect as
the rest of the world had. But for a moment she was not the Messalina of
Alexandria, but a woman; and true to the old woman-worshipping instinct,
they looked one and all at her flashing eyes, full of noble pity and
indignation, as well as of mere woman’s terror--and drew back, and
whispered together.

Whether the good spirit or the evil one would conquer, seemed for a
moment doubtful, when Pelagia felt a heavy hand on her shoulder, and
turning, saw Wulf the son of Ovida.

‘Go back, pretty woman! Men, I claim the boy. Smid, give him to me. He
is your man. You could have killed him if you had chosen, and did not;
and no one else shall.’

‘Give him us, Prince Wulf! We have not seen blood for many a day!’

‘You might have seen rivers of it, if you had had the hearts to go
onward. The boy is mine, and a brave boy. He has upset a warrior fairly
this day, and spared him; and we will make a warrior of him in return.’

And he lifted up the prostrate monk.

‘You are my man now. Do you like fighting?’

Philammon, not understanding the language in which he was addressed,
could only shake his head--though if he had known what its import was,
he could hardly in honesty have said, No.

‘He shakes his head! He does not like it! He is craven! Let us have
him!’

‘I had killed kings when you were shooting frogs,’ cried Smid. ‘Listen
to me, my sons! A coward grips sharply at first, and loosens his hand
after a while, because his blood is soon hot and soon cold. A brave
man’s grip grows the firmer the longer he holds, because the spirit of
Odin comes upon him. I watched the boy’s hands on my threat; and he will
make a man; and I will make him one. However, we may as well make him
useful at once; so give him an oar.’

‘Well,’ answered his new protector, ‘he can as well row us as he rowed
by us; and if we are to go back to a cow’s death and the pool of Hela,
the quicker we go the better.’

And as the men settled themselves again to their oars, one was put into
Philammon’s hand, which he managed with such strength and skill that his
late tormentors, who, in spite of an occasional inclination to robbery
and murder, were thoroughly good-natured, honest fellows, clapped him
on the back, and praised him as heartily as they had just now heartily
intended to torture him to death, and then went forward, as many of them
as were not rowing, to examine the strange beast which they had just
slaughtered, pawing him over from tusks to tail, putting their heads
into his mouth, trying their knives on his hide, comparing him to all
beasts, like and unlike, which they had ever seen, and laughing and
shoving each other about with the fun and childish wonder of a party
of schoolboys; till Smid, who was the wit of the party, settled the
comparative anatomy of the subject for them--‘Valhalla! I’ve found out
what he’s most like!--One of those big blue plums, which gave us all the
stomach-ache when we were encamped in the orchards above Ravenna!’



CHAPTER IV: MIRIAM


One morning in the same week, Hypatia’s favourite maid entered her
chamber with a somewhat terrified face.

‘The old Jewess, madam--the hag who has been watching so often lately
under the wall opposite. She frightened us all out of our senses last
evening by peeping in. We all said she had the evil eye, if any one ever
had--’

‘Well, what of her?’

‘She is below, madam, and will speak with you. Not that I care for her;
I have my amulet on. I hope you have?’

‘Silly girl! Those who have been initiated as I have in the mysteries
of the gods, can defy spirits and command them. Do you suppose that the
favourite of Pallas Athene will condescend to charms and magic? Send her
up.’

The girl retreated, with a look half of awe, half of doubt, at the lofty
pretensions of her mistress, and returned with old Miriam, keeping,
however, prudently behind her, in order to test as little as possible
the power of her own amulet by avoiding the basilisk eye which had
terrified her.

Miriam came in, and advancing to the proud beauty, who remained seated,
made an obeisance down to the very floor, without, however, taking her
eyes for an instant off Hypatia’s face.

Her countenance was haggard and bony, with broad sharp-cut lips, stamped
with a strangely mingled expression of strength and sensuality. Put the
feature about her which instantly fixed Hypatia’s attention, and from
which she could not in spite of herself withdraw it, was the dry,
glittering, coal-black eye which glared out from underneath the gray
fringe of her swarthy brows, between black locks covered with gold
coins. Hypatia could look at nothing but those eyes; and she reddened,
and grew all but unphilosophically angry, as she saw that the old woman
intended her to look at them, and feel the strange power which she
evidently wished them to exercise.

After a moment’s silence, Miriam drew a letter from her bosom, and with
a second low obeisance presented it.

‘From whom is this?’

‘Perhaps the letter itself will tell the beautiful lady, the fortunate
lady, the discerning lady,’ answered she, in a fawning, wheedling tone.
‘How should a poor old Jewess know great folks’ secrets?’

‘Great folks?--’

Hypatia looked at the seal which fixed a silk cord round the letter. It
was Orestes’; and so was the handwriting.... Strange that he should have
chosen such a messenger! What message could it be which required such
secrecy?

She clapped her hands for the maid. ‘Let this woman wait in the
ante-room.’ Miriam glided out backwards, bowing as she went. As Hypatia
looked up over the letter to see whether she was alone, she caught
a last glance of that eye still fixed upon her, and an expression in
Miriam’s face which made her, she knew not why, shudder and turn chill.

‘Foolish that I am! What can that witch be to me? But now for the
letter.’

‘To the most noble and most beautiful, the mistress of philosophy,
beloved of Athene, her pupil and slave sends greeting.’....

‘My slave! and no name mentioned!’

‘There are those who consider that the favourite hen of Honorius, which
bears the name of the Imperial City, would thrive better under a new
feeder; and the Count of Africa has been despatched by himself and by
the immortal gods to superintend for the present the poultry-yard of the
Caesars--at least during the absence of Adolf and Placidia. There are
those also who consider that in his absence the Numidian lion might be
prevailed on to become the yoke-fellow of the Egyptian crocodile; and
a farm which, ploughed by such a pair, should extend from the upper
cataract to the Pillars of Hercules, might have charms even for a
philosopher. But while the ploughman is without a nymph, Arcadia
is imperfect. What were Dionusos without his Ariadne, Ares without
Aphrodite, Zeus without Hera? Even Artemis has her Endymion; Athens
alone remains unwedded; but only because Hephaestus was too rough a
wooer. Such is not he who now offers to the representative of Athene the
opportunity of sharing that which may be with the help of her wisdom,
which without her is impossible. [Greek expression omitted] Shall Eros,
invincible for ages, be balked at last of the noblest game against which
he ever drew his bow?’....

If Hypatia’s colour had faded a moment before under the withering glance
of the old Jewess, it rose again swiftly enough, as she read line after
line of this strange epistle; till at last, crushing it together in her
hand, she rose and hurried into the adjoining library, where Theon sat
over his books.

‘Father, do you know anything of this? Look what Orestes has dared to
send me by the hands of some base Jewish witch!’--And she spread the
letter before him, and stood impatient, her whole figure dilated with
pride and anger, as the old man read it slowly and carefully, and then
looked up, apparently not ill pleased with the contents.

‘What, father?’ asked she, half reproachfully. ‘Do not you, too, feel
the insult which has been put upon your daughter?’

‘My dear child,’ with a puzzled look, ‘do you not see that he offers
you--’

‘I know what he offers me, father. The Empire of Africa.... I am to
descend from the mountain heights of science, from the contemplation
of the unchangeable and ineffable glories, into the foul fields and
farmyards of earthly practical life, and become a drudge among political
chicanery, and the petty ambitions, and sins, and falsehoods of
the earthly herd.... And the price which he offers me--me, the
stainless--me, the virgin--me, the un-tamed,--is-his hand! Pallas
Athene! dost thou not blush with thy child?’

‘But, my child--my child,--an empire--’

‘Would the empire of the world restore my lost self-respect-my just
pride? Would it save my cheek from blushes every time I recollected that
I bore the hateful and degrading name of wife?--The property, the puppet
of a man--submitting to his pleasure--bearing his children--wearing
myself out with all the nauseous cares of wifehood--no longer able to
glory in myself, pure and self-sustained, but forced by day and night
to recollect that my very beauty is no longer the sacrament of Athene’s
love for me, but the plaything of a man;--and such a man as that!
Luxurious, frivolous, heartless--courting my society, as he has done for
years, only to pick up and turn to his own base earthly uses the scraps
which fall from the festal table of the gods! I have encouraged him too
much--vain fool that I have been! No, I wrong myself! It was only--I
thought--I thought that by his being seen at our doors, the cause of
the immortal gods would gain honour and strength in the eyes of the
multitude.... I have tried to feed the altars of heaven with earthly
fuel.... And this is my just reward! I will write to him this
moment,--return by the fitting messenger which he has sent, insult for
insult!’

‘In the name of Heaven, my daughter!--for your father’s sake!--for my
sake! Hypatia!--my pride, my joy, my only hope!--have pity on my gray
hairs!’

And the poor old man flung himself at her feet, and clasped her knees
imploringly.

Tenderly she lifted him up, and wound her long arms round him, and laid
his head on her white shoulder, and her tears fell fast upon his gray
hair; but her lip was firm and determined.

‘Think of my pride--my glory in your glory; think of me.... Not for
myself! You know I never cared for myself!’ sobbed out the old man. ‘But
to die seeing you empress!’

‘Unless I died first in childbed, father, as many a woman dies who
is weak enough to become a slave, and submit to tortures only fit for
slaves.’

‘But--but--said the old man, racking his bewildered brains for some
argument far enough removed from nature and common sense to have an
effect on the beautiful fanatic--‘but the cause of the gods! What you
might do for it!.... Remember Julian!’

Hypatia’s arms dropped suddenly. Yes; it was true! The thought flashed
across her mind with mingled delight and terror.... Visions of her
childhood rose swift and thick--temples--sacrifices--priesthoods--
colleges--museums! What might she not do? What might she not make
Africa? Give her ten years of power, and the hated name of Christian
might be forgotten, and Athene Polias, colossal in ivory and gold,
watching in calm triumph over the harbours of a heathen Alexandria....
But the price!

And she hid her face in her hands, and bursting into bitter tears,
walked slowly away into her own chamber, her whole body convulsed with
the internal struggle.

The old man looked after her, anxiously and perplexed, and then
followed, hesitating. She was sitting at the table, her face buried
in her hands. He did not dare to disturb her. In addition to all the
affection, the wisdom, the glorious beauty, on which his whole heart fed
day by day, he believed her to be the possessor of those supernatural
powers and favours to which she so boldly laid claim. And he stood
watching her in the doorway, praying in his heart to all gods and
demons, principalities and powers, from Athene down to his daughter’s
guardian spirit, to move a determination which he was too weak to
gainsay, and yet too rational to approve.

At last the struggle was over, and she looked up, clear, calm, and
glorious again.

‘It shall be. For the sake of the immortal gods--for the sake of art,
and science, and learning, and philosophy.... It shall be. If the gods
demand a victim, here am I. If a second time in the history of the ages
the Grecian fleet cannot sail forth, conquering and civilising, without
the sacrifice of a virgin, I give my throat to the knife. Father, call
me no more Hypatia: call me Iphigenia!’

‘And me Agamemnon?’ asked the old man, attempting a faint jest through
his tears of joy. ‘I daresay you think me a very cruel father; but--’

‘Spare me, father--I have spared you.’

And she began to write her answer.

‘I have accepted his offer--conditionally, that is. And on whether he
have courage or not to fulfil that condition depends--Do not ask me what
it is. While Cyril is leader of the Christian mob, it may be safer for
you, my father, that you should be able to deny all knowledge of my
answer. Be content. I have said this--that if he will do as I would have
him do, I will do as you would have me do.’

‘Have you not been too rash? Have you not demanded of him something
which, for the sake of public opinion, he dare not grant openly, and yet
which he may allow you to do for yourself when once--’

‘I have. If I am to be a victim, the sacrificing priest shall at least
be a man, and not a coward and a time-server. If he believes this
Christian faith, let him defend it against me; for either it or I shall
perish. If he does not--as he does not--let him give up living in a lie,
and taking on his lips blasphemies against the immortals, from which his
heart and reason revolt!’

And she clapped her hands again for the maid-servant, gave her the
letter silently, shut the doors of her chamber, and tried to resume her
Commentary on Plotinus. Alas! what were all the wire-drawn dreams of
metaphysics to her in that real and human struggle of the heart? What
availed it to define the process by which individual souls emanated
from the universal one, while her own soul had, singly and on its own
responsibility, to decide so terrible an act of will? or to write fine
words with pen and ink about the immutability of the supreme Reason,
while her own reason was left there to struggle for its life amid a
roaring shoreless waste of doubts and darkness? Oh, how grand,
and clear, and logical it had all looked half an hour ago! And how
irrefragably she had been deducing from it all, syllogism after
syllogism, the non-existence of evil!--how it was but a lower form of
good, one of the countless products of the one great all-pervading mind
which could not err or change, only so strange and recondite in its form
as to excite antipathy in all minds but that of the philosopher, who
learnt to see the stem which connected the apparently bitter fruit
with the perfect root from whence it sprang. Could she see the stem
there?--the connection between the pure and supreme Reason, and the
hideous caresses of the debauched and cowardly Orestes? was not that
evil pure, unadulterate with any vein of good, past, present,
or future?...

True;--she might keep her spirit pure amid it all; she might sacrifice
the base body, and ennoble the soul by the self-sacrifice .... And yet,
would not that increase the horror, the agony, the evil of it-to her,
at least, most real evil, not to be explained away-and yet the gods
required it? Were they just, merciful in that? Was it like them, to
torture her, their last unshaken votary? Did they require it? Was it
not required of them by some higher power, of whom they were only the
emanations, the tools, the puppets?--and required of that higher power
by some still higher one--some nameless, absolute destiny of which
Orestes and she, and all heaven and earth, were but the victims, dragged
along in an inevitable vortex, helpless, hopeless, toward that for which
each was meant?--And she was meant for this! The thought was unbearable;
it turned her giddy. No! she would not! She would rebel! Like
Prometheus, she would dare destiny, and brave its worst! And she sprang
up to recall the letter.... Miriam was gone; and she threw herself on
the floor, and wept bitterly.

And her peace of mind would certainly not have been improved, could she
have seen old Miriam hurry home with her letter to a dingy house in the
Jews’ quarter, where it was un-sealed, read, and sealed up again with
such marvellous skill, that no eye could have detected the change; and
finally, still less would she have been comforted could she have heard
the conversation which was going on in a summer-room of Orestes’ palace,
between that illustrious statesman and Raphael Aben-Ezra, who were lying
on two divans opposite each other, whiling away, by a throw or two of
dice, the anxious moments which delayed her answer.

‘Trays again! The devil is in you, Raphael!’

‘I always thought he was,’ answered Raphael, sweeping up the gold
pieces....

‘When will that old witch be back?’

‘When she has read through your letter and Hypatia’s answer.’

‘Read them?’

‘Of course. You don’t fancy she is going to be fool enough to carry a
message without knowing what it is? Don’t be angry; she won’t tell.
She would give one of those two grave-lights there, which she calls her
eyes, to see the thing prosper.’

‘Why?’

‘Your excellency will know when the letter comes. Here she is; I hear
steps in the cloister. Now, one bet before they enter. I give you two to
one she asks you to turn pagan.’

‘What in? Negro-boys?’

‘Anything you like.’

‘Taken. Come in, slaves?’

And Hypocorisma entered, pouting.

‘That Jewish fury is outside with a letter, and has the impudence to say
she won’t let me bring it in!’

‘Bring her in then. Quick!’

‘I wonder what I am here for, if people have secrets that I am not to
know,’ grumbled the spoilt youth.

‘Do you want a blue ribbon round those white sides of yours, you
monkey?’ answered Orestes. ‘Because, if you do, the hippopotamus hide
hangs ready outside.’

‘Let us make him kneel down here for a couple of hours, and use him as a
dice-board,’ said Raphael, ‘as you used to do to the girls in Armenia.’

‘Ah, you recollect that?--and how the barbarian papas used to grumble,
till I had to crucify one or two, eh? That was something like life! I
love those out-of-the-way stations, where nobody asks questions: but
here one might as well live among the monks in Nitria. Here comes
Canidia! Ah, the answer? Hand it here, my queen of go-betweens!’

Orestes read it--and his countenance fell.

‘I have won?’

‘Out of the room, slaves! and no listening!’

‘I have won then?’

Orestes tossed the letter across to him, and Raphael read--

‘The immortal gods accept no divided worship; and he who would command
the counsels of their prophetess must remember that they will vouchsafe
to her no illumination till their lost honours be restored. If he who
aspires to be the lord of Africa dare trample on the hateful cross, and
restore the Caesareum to those for whose worship it was built--if he
dare proclaim aloud with his lips, and in his deeds, that contempt
for novel and barbarous superstitions, which his taste and reason have
already taught him, then he would prove himself one with whom it were a
glory to labour, to dare, to die in a great cause. But till then--’

And so the letter ended.

‘What am I to do?’

‘Take her at her word.’

‘Good heavens! I shall be excommunicated! And--and--what is to become of
my soul?’

‘What will become of it in any case, my most excellent lord?’ answered
Raphael blandly.

‘You mean--I know what you cursed Jews think will happen to every one
but yourselves. But what would the world say? I an apostate! And in the
face of Cyril and the populace! I daren’t, I tell you!’

‘No one asked your excellency to apostatise.’

‘Why, what? What did you say just now?’

‘I asked you to promise. It will not be the first time that promises
before marriage have not exactly coincided with performance afterwards.’

‘I daren’t--that is, I won’t promise. I believe, now, this is some trap
of your Jewish intrigue, just to make me commit myself against those
Christians, whom you hate.’

‘I assure you, I despise all mankind far too profoundly to hate them.
How disinterested my advice was when I proposed this match to you, you
never will know; indeed, it would be boastful in me to tell you. But
really you must make a little sacrifice to win this foolish girl. With
all the depth and daring of her intellect to help you, you might be a
match for Romans, Byzantines, and Goths at once. And as for beauty--why,
there is one dimple inside that wrist, just at the setting on of the
sweet little hand, worth all the other flesh and blood in Alexandria.’

‘By Jove! you admire her so much, I suspect you must be in love with her
yourself. Why don’t you marry her? I’ll make you my prime minister,
and then we shall have the use of her wits without the trouble of her
fancies. By the twelve Gods! If you marry her and help me, I’ll make you
what you like!’

Raphael rose and bowed to the earth.

‘Your serene high-mightiness overwhelms me. But I assure you, that never
having as yet cared for any one’s interest but my own, I could not be
expected, at my time of life, to devote myself to that of another, even
though it were to yours.’

‘Candid!’

‘Exactly so; and moreover, whosoever I may marry, will be practically,
as well as theoretically, my private and peculiar property.... You
comprehend.’

‘Candid again.’

‘Exactly so; and waiving the third argument, that she probably might not
choose to marry me, I beg to remark that it would not be proper to allow
the world to say, that I, the subject, had a wiser and fairer wife than
you, the ruler; especially a wife who bad already refused that ruler’s
complimentary offer.’

‘By Jove! and she has refused me in good earnest! I’ll make her repent
it! I was a fool to ask her at all! What’s the use of having guards, if
one can’t compel what one wants? If fair means can’t do it, foul shall!
I’ll send for her this moment!’

‘Most illustrious majesty--it will not succeed. You do not know that
woman’s determination. Scourges and red-hot pincers will not shake her,
alive; and dead, she will be of no use whatsoever to you, while she will
be of great use to Cyril.’

‘How?’

‘He will be most happy to make the whole story a handle against you,
give out that she died a virgin-martyr, in defence of the most holy
catholic and apostolic faith, get miracles worked at her tomb, and pull
your palace about your ears on the strength thereof.’

‘Cyril will hear of it anyhow: that’s another dilemma into which you
have brought me, you intriguing rascal! Why, this girl will be boasting
all over Alexandria that I have offered her marriage, and that she has
done herself the honour to refuse me!’

‘She will be much too wise to do anything of the kind; she has sense
enough to know that if she did so, you would inform a Christian populace
what conditions she offered you, and, with all her contempt for the
burden of the flesh, she has no mind to be lightened of that pretty load
by being torn in pieces by Christian monks; a very probable ending for
her in any case, as she herself, in her melancholy moods, confesses!’

‘What will you have me do then?’

‘Simply nothing. Let the prophetic spirit go out of her, as it will, in
a day or two, and then--I know nothing of human nature, if she does
not bate a little of her own price. Depend on it, for all her
ineffabilities, and impassibilities, and all the rest of the
seventh-heaven moonshine at which we play here in Alexandria, a throne
is far too pretty a bait for even Hypatia the pythoness to refuse.
Leave well alone is a good rule, but leave ill alone is a better. So
now another bet before we part, and this time three to one. Do nothing
either way, and she sends to you of her own accord before a month is
out. In Caucasian mules? Done? Be it so.’

‘Well, you are the most charming counsellor for a poor perplexed devil
of a prefect! If I had but a private fortune like you, I could just take
the money, and let the work do itself.’

‘Which is the true method of successful government. Your slave bids you
farewell. Do not forget our bet. You dine with me to-morrow?’

And Raphael bowed himself out.

As he left the prefect’s door, he saw Miriam on the opposite side of the
street, evidently watching for him. As soon as she saw him, she held on
her own side, without appearing to notice him, till he turned a corner,
and then crossing, caught him eagerly by the arm.

‘Does the fool dare!’

‘Who dare what?’

‘You know what I mean. Do you suppose old Miriam carries letters without
taking care to know what is inside them? Will he apostatise? Tell me. I
am secret as the grave!’

‘The fool has found an old worm-eaten rag of conscience somewhere in the
corner of his heart, and dare not.’

‘Curse the coward! And such a plot as I had laid! I would have swept
every Christian dog out of Africa within the year. What is the man
afraid of?’

‘Hell-fire.’

‘Why, he will go there in any case, the accursed Gentile!’

‘So I hinted to him, as delicately as I could; but, like the rest of the
world, he had a sort of partiality for getting thither by his own road.’

‘Coward! And whom shall I get now? Oh, if that Pelagia had as much
cunning in her whole body as Hypatia has in her little finger, I’d seat
her and her Goth upon the throne of the Caesars. But--’

‘But she has five senses, and just enough wit to use them, eh?’

‘Don’t laugh at her for that, the darling! I do delight in her, after
all. It warms even my old blood to see how thoroughly she knows her
business, and how she enjoys it, like a true daughter of Eve.’

‘She has been your most successful pupil, certainly, mother. You may
well be proud of her.’

The old hag chuckled to herself a while; and then suddenly turning to
Raphael--‘See here! I have a present for you;’ and she pulled out a
magnificent ring.

‘Why, mother, you are always giving me presents. It was but a month ago
you sent me this poisoned dagger.’

‘Why not, eh?--why not? Why should not Jew give to Jew? Take the old
woman’s ring!’

‘What a glorious opal!’

‘Ah, that is an opal, indeed! And the unspeakable name upon it; just
like Solomon’s own. Take it, I say! Whosoever wears that never need fear
fire, steel, poison, or woman’s eye.’

‘Your own included, eh?’

‘Take it, I say!’ and Miriam caught his hand, and forced the ring on his
finger. ‘There! Now you’re safe. And now call me mother again. I like
it. I don’t know why, but I like it. And--Raphael Aben-Ezra--don’t laugh
at me, and call me witch and hag, as you often do. I don’t care about
it from any one else; I’m accustomed to it. But when you do it, I always
long to stab you. That’s why I gave you the dagger. I used to wear it;
and I was afraid I might be tempted to use it some day, when the thought
came across me how handsome you’d look, and how quiet, when you were
dead, and your soul up there so happy in Abraham’s bosom, watching all
the Gentiles frying and roasting for ever down below. Don’t laugh at me,
I say; and don’t thwart me! I may make you the emperor’s prime minister
some day. I can if I choose.’

‘Heaven forbid!’ said Raphael, laughing.

‘Don’t laugh. I cast your nativity last night, and I know you have no
cause to laugh. A great danger hangs over you, and a deep temptation.
And if you weather this storm, you may be chamberlain, prime minister,
emperor, if you will. And you shall be--by the four archangels, you
shall!’

And the old woman vanished down a by-lane, leaving Raphael utterly
bewildered.

‘Moses and the prophets! Does the old lady intend to marry me? What can
there be in this very lazy and selfish personage who bears my name, to
excite so romantic an affection? Well, Raphael Aben-Ezra, thou hast one
more friend in the world beside Bran the mastiff; and therefore one more
trouble--seeing that friends always expect a due return of affection
and good offices and what not. I wonder whether the old lady has been
getting into a scrape kidnapping, and wants my patronage to help her
out of it.... Three-quarters of a mile of roasting sun between me and
home!.... I must hire a gig, or a litter, or some-thing, off the next
stand .... with a driver who has been eating onions.... and of course
there is not a stand for the next half-mile. Oh, divine aether! as
Prometheus has it, and ye swift-winged breezes (I wish there were any
here), when will it all be over? Three-and-thirty years have I endured
already of this Babel of knaves and fools; and with this abominable good
health of mine, which won’t even help me with gout or indigestion, I am
likely to have three-and-thirty years more of it....I know nothing, and
I care for nothing, and I expect nothing; and I actually can’t take the
trouble to prick a hole in myself, and let the very small amount of
wits out, to see something really worth seeing, and try its strength at
something really worth doing--if, after all, the other side the grave
does not turn out to be just as stupid as this one.... When will it be
all over, and I in Abraham’s bosom--or any one else’s, provided it be
not a woman’s?’



CHAPTER V: A DAY IN ALEXANDRIA


In the meanwhile, Philammon, with his hosts, the Goths, had been
slipping down the stream. Passing, one after another, world-old cities
now dwindled to decaying towns, and numberless canal-mouths, now fast
falling into ruin with the fields to which they ensured fertility,
under the pressure of Roman extortion and misrule, they had entered
one evening the mouth of the great canal of Alexandria, slid easily all
night across the star-bespangled shadows of Lake Mareotis, and found
themselves, when the next morning dawned, among the countless masts and
noisy quays of the greatest seaport in the world. The motley crowd of
foreigners, the hubbub of all dialects from the Crimea to Cadiz, the
vast piles of merchandise, and heaps of wheat, lying unsheltered in that
rainless air, the huge bulk of the corn-ships lading for Rome, whose
tall sides rose story over story, like floating palaces, above the
buildings of some inner dock--these sights, and a hundred more, made the
young monk think that the world did not look at first sight a thing to
be despised. In front of heaps of fruit, fresh from the market-boats,
black groups of glossy negro slaves were basking and laughing on the
quay, looking anxiously and coquettishly round in hopes of a purchaser;
they evidently did not think the change from desert toil to city
luxuries a change for the worse. Philammon turned away his eyes from
beholding vanity; but only to meet fresh vanity wheresoever they fell.
He felt crushed by the multitude of new objects, stunned by the din
around; and scarcely recollected himself enough to seize the first
opportunity of escaping from his dangerous companions.

‘Holloa!’ roared Smid the armourer, as he scrambled on to the steps of
the slip; ‘you are not going to run away without bidding us good-bye?’

‘Stop with me, boy!’ said old Wulf. ‘I saved you; and you are my man.’

Philammon turned and hesitated.

‘I am a monk, and God’s man.’

‘You can be that anywhere. I will make you a warrior.’

‘The weapons of my warfare are not of flesh and blood, but prayer and
fasting,’ answered poor Philammon, who felt already that he should have
ten times more need of the said weapons in Alexandria than ever he had
had in the desert.... ‘Let me go! I am not made for your life! I thank
you, bless you! I will pray for you, sir! but let me go!’

‘Curse the craven hound!’ roared half a dozen voices. ‘Why did you not
let us have our will with him, Prince Wulf? You might have expected such
gratitude from a monk.’

‘He owes me my share of the sport,’ quoth Smid. ‘And here it is!’ And
a hatchet, thrown with practised aim, whistled right for Philammon’s
head--he had just time to swerve, and the weapon struck and snapped
against the granite wall behind.

‘Well saved!’ said Wulf coolly, while the sailors and market-women above
yelled murder, and the custom-house officers, and other constables
and catchpolls of the harbour, rushed to the place--and retired again
quietly at the thunder of the Amal from the boat’s stern--

‘Never mind, my good follows! we’re only Goths; and on a visit to the
prefect, too.’

‘Only Goths, my donkey-riding friends!’ echoed Smid, and at that ominous
name the whole posse comitatus tried to look unconcerned, and found
suddenly that their presence was absolutely required in an opposite
direction.

‘Let him go,’ said Wulf, as he stalked up the steps. ‘Let the boy go.
I never set my heart on any man yet,’ he growled to himself in an under
voice, ‘but what he disappointed me--and I must not expect more from
this fellow. Come, men, ashore, and get drunk!’

Philammon, of course, now that he had leave to go, longed to stay--at
all events, he must go back and thank his hosts. He turned unwillingly
to do so, as hastily as he could, and found Pelagia and her gigantic
lover just entering a palanquin. With downcast eyes he approached the
beautiful basilisk, and stammered out some commonplace; and she, full of
smiles, turned to him at once.

‘Tell us more about yourself before we part. You speak such beautiful
Greek--true Athenian. It is quite delightful to hear one’s own accent
again. Were you ever at Athens?’

‘When I was a child; I recollect--that is, I think--’

‘What?’ asked Pelagia eagerly.

‘A great house in Athens--and a great battle there--and coming to Egypt
in a ship.’

‘Heavens!’ said Pelagia, and paused.... ‘How strange! Girls, who said he
was like me?’

‘I’m sure we meant no harm, if we did say it in a joke,’ pouted one of
the attendants.

‘Like me!--you must come and see us. I have something to say to you ....
You must!’

Philammon misinterpreted the intense interest of her tone, and if he did
not shrink back, gave some involuntary gesture of reluctance. Pelagia
laughed aloud.

‘Don’t be vain enough to suspect, foolish boy, but come! Do you think
that I have nothing to talk about but nonsense? Come and see me. It
may be better for you. I live in--’ and she named a fashionable street,
which Philammon, though he inwardly vowed not to accept the invitation,
somehow could not help remembering.

‘Do leave the wild man, and come,’ growled the Amal from within the
palanquin. ‘You are not going to turn nun, I hope?’

‘Not while the first man I ever met in the world stays in it,’ answered
Pelagia, as she skipped into the palanquin, taking care to show the most
lovely white heel and ankle, and, like the Parthian, send a random
arrow as she retreated. But the dart was lost on Philammon, who had been
already hustled away by the bevy of laughing attendants, amid baskets,
dressing-cases, and bird-cages, and was fain to make his escape into the
Babel round, and inquire his way to the patriarch’s house.

‘Patriarch’s house?’ answered the man whom he first addressed, a little
lean, swarthy fellow, with merry black eyes, who, with a basket of fruit
at his feet, was sunning himself on a baulk of timber, meditatively
chewing the papyrus-cane, and examining the strangers with a look of
absurd sagacity. ‘I know it; without a doubt I know it; all Alexandria
has good reason to know it. Are you a monk?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then ask your way of the monks; you won’t go far without finding one.’

‘But I do not even know the right direction; what is your grudge against
monks, my good man?’

‘Look here, my youth; you seem too ingenuous for a monk. Don’t flatter
yourself that it will last. If you can wear the sheepskin, and haunt
the churches here for a month, without learning to lie, and slander, and
clap, and hoot, and perhaps play your part in a sedition--and--murder
satyric drama--why, you are a better man than I take you for. I, sir, am
a Greek and a philosopher; though the whirlpool of matter may have,
and indeed has, involved my ethereal spark in the body of a porter.
Therefore, youth,’ continued the little man, starting up upon his baulk
like an excited monkey, and stretching out one oratorio paw, ‘I bear a
treble hatred to the monkish tribe. First, as a man and a husband;....
for as for the smiles of beauty, or otherwise,--such as I have, I have;
and the monks, if they had their wicked will, would leave neither men
nor women in the world. Sir, they would exterminate the human race in a
single generation, by a voluntary suicide! Secondly, as a porter; for
if all men turned monks, nobody would be idle, and the profession of
portering would be annihilated. Thirdly, sir, as a philosopher; for as
the false coin is odious to the true, so is the irrational and animal
asceticism of the monk, to the logical and methodic self-restraint of
one who, like your humblest of philosophers, aspires to a life according
to the pure reason.’

‘And pray,’ asked Philammon, half laughing, ‘who has been your tutor in
philosophy?’

‘The fountain of classic wisdom, Hypatia herself. As the ancient
sage--the name is unimportant to a monk--pumped water nightly that he
might study by day, so I, the guardian of cloaks and parasols, at the
sacred doors of her lecture-room, imbibe celestial knowledge. From my
youth I felt in me a soul above the matter-entangled herd. She revealed
to me the glorious fact, that I am a spark of Divinity itself. A fallen
star, I am, sir!’ continued he, pensively, stroking his lean stomach--‘a
fallen star!--fallen, if the dignity of philosophy will allow of
the simile, among the hogs of the lower world--indeed, even into the
hog-bucket itself. Well, after all, I will show you the way to the
Archbishop’s. There is a philosophic pleasure in opening one’s treasures
to the modest young. Perhaps you will assist me by carrying this basket
of fruit?’ And the little man jumped up, put his basket on Philammon’s
head, and trotted off up a neighbouring street.

Philammon followed, half contemptuous, half wondering at what this
philosophy might be, which could feed the self-conceit of anything so
abject as his ragged little apish guide; but the novel roar and whirl of
the street, the perpetual stream of busy faces, the line of curricles,
palanquins, laden asses, camels, elephants, which met and passed him,
and squeezed him up steps and into doorways, as they threaded their
way through the great Moon-gate into the ample street beyond, drove
everything from his mind but wondering curiosity, and a vague, helpless
dread of that great living wilderness, more terrible than any dead
wilderness of sand which he had left behind. Already he longed for the
repose, the silence of the Laura--for faces which knew him and smiled
upon him; but it was too late to turn back ow. His guide held on for
more than a mile up the great main street, crossed in the centre of the
city, at right angles, by one equally magnificent, at each end of which,
miles away, appeared, dim and distant over the heads of the living
stream of passengers, the yellow sand-hills of the desert; while at the
end of the vista in front of them gleamed the blue harbour, through a
network of countless masts.

At last they reached the quay at the opposite end of the street; and
there burst on Philammon’s astonished eyes a vast semicircle of blue
sea, ringed with palaces and towers....He stopped involuntarily; and
his little guide stopped also, and looked askance at the young monk, to
watch the effect which that grand panorama should produce on him.

‘There!--Behold our works! Us Greeks!--us benighted heathens! Look at it
and feel yourself what you are, a very small, conceited, ignorant young
person, who fancies that your new religion gives you a right to despise
every one else. Did Christians make all this? Did Christians build that
Pharos there on the left horn--wonder of the world? Did Christians
raise that mile-long mole which runs towards the land, with its two
drawbridges, connecting the two ports? Did Christians build this
esplanade, or this gate of the Sun above our heads? Or that Caesareum
on our right here? Look at those obelisks before it!’ And he pointed
upwards to those two world-famous ones, one of which still lies on its
ancient site, as Cleopatra’s Needle. ‘Look up! look up, I say, and feel
small--very small indeed! Did Christians raise them, or engrave them
from base to point with the wisdom of the ancients? Did Christians build
that Museum next to it, or design its statues and its frescoes--now,
alas! re-echoing no more to the hummings of the Attic bee? Did they pile
up out of the waves that palace beyond it, or that Exchange? or fill
that Temple of Neptune with breathing brass and blushing marble? Did
they build that Timonium on the point, where Antony, worsted at Actium,
forgot his shame in Cleopatra’s arms? Did they quarry out that island of
Antirrhodus into a nest of docks, or cover those waters with the sails
of every nation under heaven? Speak! Thou son of bats and moles--thou
six feet of sand--thou mummy out of the cliff caverns! Can monks do
works like these?’

‘Other men have laboured, and we have entered into their labours,’
answered Philammon, trying to seem as unconcerned as he could. He was,
indeed, too utterly astonished to be angry at anything. The overwhelming
vastness, multiplicity, and magnificence of the whole scene; the range
of buildings, such as mother earth never, perhaps, carried on her lap
before or since, the extraordinary variety of form-the pure Doric and
Ionic of the earlier Ptolemies, the barbaric and confused gorgeousness
of the later Roman, and here and there an imitation of the grand
elephantine style of old Egypt, its gaudy colours relieving, while they
deepened, the effect of its massive and simple outlines; the eternal
repose of that great belt of stone contrasting with the restless ripple
of the glittering harbour, and the busy sails which crowded out into
the sea beyond, like white doves taking their flight into boundless
space?--all dazzled, overpowered, saddened him.... This was the
world.... Was it not beautiful?.... Must not the men who made all this
have been--if not great.... yet.... he knew not what? Surely they had
great souls and noble thoughts in them! Surely there was something
godlike in being able to create such things! Not for themselves alone,
too; but for a nation--for generations yet unborn.... And there was the
sea.... and beyond it, nations of men innumerable .... His imagination
was dizzy with thinking of them. Were they all doomed--lost?.... Had God
no love for them?

At last, recovering himself, he recollected his errand, and again asked
his way to the archbishop’s house.

‘This way, O youthful nonentity!’ answered the little man, leading the
way round the great front of the Caesareum, at the foot of the obelisks.

Philammon’s eye fell on some new masonry in the pediment, ornamented
with Christian symbols.

‘How? Is this a church?’

‘It is the Caesareum. It has become temporarily a church. The immortal
gods have, for the time being, condescended to waive their rights; but
it is the Caesareum, nevertheless. This way; down this street to the
right. There,’ said he, pointing to a doorway in the side of the Museum,
‘is the last haunt of the Muses--the lecture-room of Hypatia, the school
of my unworthiness. And here,’ stopping at the door of a splendid house
on the opposite side of the street, ‘is the residence of that blest
favourite of Athene--Neith, as the barbarians of Egypt would denominate
the goddess--we men of Macedonia retain the time-honoured Grecian
nomenclature.... You may put down your basket.’ And he knocked at
the door, and delivering the fruit to a black porter, made a polite
obeisance to Philammon, and seemed on the point of taking his departure.

‘But where is the archbishop’s house?’

‘Close to the Serapeium. You cannot miss the place: four hundred columns
of marble, now ruined by Christian persecutors, stand on an eminence--’

‘But how far off?’

‘About three miles; near the gate of the Moon.’

‘Why, was not that the gate by which we entered the city on the other
side?’

‘Exactly so; you will know your way back, having already traversed it.’

Philammon checked a decidedly carnal inclination to seize the little
fellow by the throat, and knock his head against the wall, and contented
himself by saying--

‘Then do you actually mean to say, you heathen villain, that you have
taken me six or seven miles out of my road?’

‘Good words young man. If you do me harm, I call for help; we are close
to the Jews’ quarter, and there are some thousands there who will swarm
out like wasps on the chance of beating a monk to death. Yet that which
I have done, I have done with a good purpose. First, politically, or
according to practical wisdom--in order that you, not I, might carry
the basket. Next, philosophically, or according to the intuitions of the
pure reason--in order that you might, by beholding the magnificence of
that great civilisation which your fellows wish to destroy, learn
that you are an ass, and a tortoise, and a nonentity, and so beholding
yourself to be nothing, may be moved to become something.’

And he moved off.

Philammon seized him by the collar of his ragged tunic, and held him in
a gripe from which the little man, though he twisted like an eel could
not escape.

‘Peaceably, if you will; if not, by main force. You shall go back with
me, and show me every step of the way. It is a just penalty.’

‘The philosopher conquers circumstances by submitting to them. I go
peaceably. Indeed, the base necessities of the hog-bucket side of
existence compel me of themselves back to the Moon-gate, for another
early fruit job.’

So they went back together.

Now why Philammon’s thoughts should have been running on the next new
specimen of womankind to whom he had been introduced, though only in
name, let psychologists tell, but certainly, after he had walked some
half-mile in silence, he suddenly woke up, as out of many meditations,
and asked--

‘But who is this Hypatia, of whom you talk so much?’

‘Who is Hypatia, rustic? The queen of Alexandria! In wit, Athene; Hera
in majesty; in beauty, Aphrodite!’

‘And who are they?’ asked Philammon.

The porter stopped, surveyed him slowly from foot to head with an
expression of boundless pity and contempt, and was in the act of walking
off in the ecstasy of his disdain, when he was brought to suddenly by
Philammon’s strong arm.

‘Ah!--I recollect. There is a compact.... Who is Athene? The goddess,
giver of wisdom. Hera, spouse of Zeus, queen of the Celestials.
Aphrodite, mother of love.... You are not expected to understand.’

Philammon did understand, however, so much as this, that Hypatia was a
very unique and wonderful person in the mind of his little guide; and
therefore asked the only further question by which he could as yet test
any Alexandrian phenomenon--

‘And is she a friend of the patriarch?’

The porter opened his eyes very wide, put his middle finger in a
careful and complicated fashion between his fore and third fingers, and
extending it playfully towards Philammon, performed therewith certain
mysterious signals, the effect whereof being totally lost on him, the
little man stopped, took another look at Philammon’s stately figure, and
answered--

‘Of the human race in general, my young friend. The philosopher must
rise above the individual, to the contemplation of the universal....
Aha!-Here is something worth seeing, and the gates are open.’ And he
stopped at the portal of a vast building.

‘Is this the patriarch’s house?’

‘The patriarch’s tastes are more plebeian. He lives, they say, in two
dirty little rooms--knowing what is fit for him. The patriarch’s house?
Its antipodes, my young friend--that is, if such beings have a cosmic
existence, on which point Hypatia has her doubts. This is the temple of
art and beauty; the Delphic tripod of poetic inspiration; the solace of
the earthworn drudge; in a word, the theatre; which your patriarch, if
he could, would convert to-morrow into a--but the philosopher must not
revile. Ah! I see the prefect’s apparitors at the gate. He is making the
polity, as we call it here; the dispositions; settling, in short,
the bill of fare for the day, in compliance with the public palate. A
facetious pantomime dances here on this day every week--admired by
some, the Jews especially. To the more classic taste, many of his
movements--his recoil, especially--are wanting in the true antique
severity--might be called, perhaps, on the whole, indecent. Still the
weary pilgrim must be amused. Let us step in and hear.’

But before Philammon could refuse, an uproar arose within, a rush
outward of the mob, and inward of the prefect’s apparitors.

‘It is false!’ shouted many voices. ‘A Jewish calumny! The man is
innocent!’

‘There is no more sedition in him than there is in me,’ roared a fat
butcher, who looked as ready to fell a man as an ox. ‘He was always the
first and the last to clap the holy patriarch at sermon.’

‘Dear tender soul,’ whimpered a woman; ‘and I said to him only this
morning, why don’t you flog my boys, Master Hierax? how can you expect
them to learn if they are not flogged? And he said, he never could abide
the sight of a rod, it made his back tingle so.’

‘Which was plainly a prophecy!’

‘And proves him innocent; for how could he prophesy if he was not one of
the holy ones?’

‘Monks, to the rescue! Hierax, a Christian, is taken and tortured in the
theatre!’ thundered a wild hermit, his beard and hair streaming about
his chest and shoulders.

‘Nitria! Nitria! For God and the mother of God, monks of Nitria! Down
with the Jewish slanderers! Down with heathen tyrants!’--And the mob,
reinforced as if by magic by hundreds from without, swept down the huge
vaulted passage, carrying Philammon and the porter with them.

‘My friends,’ quoth the little man, trying to look philosophically calm,
though he was fairly off his legs, and hanging between heaven and earth
on the elbows of the bystanders, ‘whence this tumult?’

‘The Jews got up a cry that Hierax wanted to raise a riot. Curse them
and their sabbath, they are always rioting on Saturdays about this
dancer of theirs, instead of working like honest Christians!’

‘And rioting on Sunday instead. Ahem! sectarian differences, which the
philosopher--

The rest of the sentence disappeared with the speaker, as a sudden
opening of the mob let him drop, and buried him under innumerable legs.

Philammon, furious at the notion of persecution, maddened by the cries
around him, found himself bursting fiercely through the crowd, till he
reached the front ranks, where tall gates of open ironwork barred all
farther progress, but left a full view of the tragedy which was enacting
within, where the poor innocent wretch, suspended from a gibbet, writhed
and shrieked at every stroke of the hide whips of his tormentors.

In vain Philammon and the monks around him knocked and beat at
the gates; they were only answered by laughter and taunts from the
apparitors within, curses on the turbulent mob of Alexandria, with its
patriarch, clergy, saints, and churches, and promises to each and all
outside, that their turn would come next; while the piteous screams grew
fainter and more faint, and at last, with a convulsive shudder, motion
and suffering ceased for ever in the poor mangled body.

‘They have killed him! Martyred him! Back to the archbishop! To the
patriarch’s house: he will avenge us!’ And as the horrible news, and
the watchword which followed it, passed outwards through the crowd, they
wheeled round as one man, and poured through street after street towards
Cyril’s house; while Philammon, beside himself with horror, rage, and
pity, hurried onward with them.

A tumultuous hour, or more, was passed in the street before he could
gain entrance; and then he was swept, along with the mob in which he had
been fast wedged, through a dark low passage, and landed breathless in
a quadrangle of mean and new buildings, overhung by the four hundred
stately columns of the ruined Serapeium. The grass was already
growing on the ruined capitals and architraves.... Little did even its
destroyers dream then, that the day would come when one only of that
four hundred would be left, as ‘Pompey’s Pillar,’ to show what the men
of old could think and do.

Philammon at last escaped from the crowd, and putting the letter which
he had carried in his bosom into the hands of one of the priests who
was mixing with the mob, was beckoned by him into a corridor, and up a
flight of stairs, and into a large, low, mean room, and there, by virtue
of the world-wide freemasonry which Christianity had, for the first
time on earth, established, found himself in five minutes awaiting the
summons of the most powerful man south of the Mediterranean.

A curtain hung across the door of the inner chamber, through which
Philammon could hear plainly the steps of some one walking up and down
hurriedly and fiercely.

‘They will drive me to it!’ at last burst out a deep sonorous voice.
‘They will drive me to it.... Their blood be on their own head! It
is not enough for them to blaspheme God and His church, to have the
monopoly of all the cheating, fortune-telling, usury, sorcery, and
coining of the city, but they must deliver my clergy into the hands of
the tyrant?’

‘It was so even in the apostles’ time,’ suggested a softer but far more
unpleasant voice.

‘Then it shall be so no longer! God has given me the power to stop
them; and God do so to me, and more also, if I do not use that power.
To-morrow I sweep out this Augean stable of villainy, and leave not a
Jew to blaspheme and cheat in Alexandria.’

‘I am afraid such a judgment, however righteous, might offend his
excellency.’

‘His excellency! His tyranny! Why does Orestes truckle to these
circumcised, but because they lend money to him and to his creatures? He
would keep up a den of fiends in Alexandria if they would do as much for
him! And then to play them off against me and mine, to bring religion
into contempt by setting the mob together by the ears, and to end with
outrages like this! Seditious! Have they not cause enough? The sooner
I remove one of their temptations the better: let the other tempter
beware, lest his judgment be at hand!’

‘The prefect, your holiness?’ asked the other voice slily.

‘Who spoke of the prefect? Whosoever is a tyrant, and a murderer, and an
oppressor of the poor, and a favourer of the philosophy which despises
and enslaves the poor, should not he perish, though he be seven times a
prefect?’

At this juncture Philammon, thinking perhaps that he had already heard
too much, notified his presence by some slight noise, at which the
secretary, as he seemed to be, hastily lifted the curtain, and somewhat
sharply demanded his business. The names of Pambo and Arsenius, however,
seemed to pacify him at once; and the trembling youth was ushered into
the presence of him who in reality, though not in name, sat on the
throne of the Pharaohs.

Not, indeed, in their outward pomp; the furniture of the chamber was
but a grade above that of the artisan’s; the dress of the great man was
coarse and simple; if personal vanity peeped out anywhere, it was in
the careful arrangement of the bushy beard, and of the few curling locks
which the tonsure had spared. But the height and majesty of his figure,
the stern and massive beauty of his features, the flashing eye, curling
lip, and projecting brow--all marked him as one born to command. As the
youth entered, Cyril stopped short in his walk, and looking him through
and through, with a glance which burnt upon his cheeks like fire, and
made him all but wish the kindly earth would open and hide him, took the
letters, read them, and then began--

‘Philammon. A Greek. You are said to have learned to obey. If so you
have also learned to rule. Your father-abbot has transferred you to my
tutelage. You are now to obey me.’

‘And I will.’

‘Well said. Go to that window, then, and leap into the court.’

Philammon walked to it, and opened it. The pavement was fully twenty
feet below; but his business was to obey, and not take measurements.
There was a flower in the vase upon the sill. He quietly removed it,
and in an instant more would have leapt for life or death, when Cyril’s
voice thundered ‘Stop!’

‘The lad will pass, my Peter. I shall not be afraid now for the secrets
which he may have overheard.’

Peter smiled assent, looking all the while as if he thought it a great
pity that the young man had not been allowed to put talebearing out of
his own power by breaking his neck.

‘You wish to see the world. Perhaps you have seen something of it
to-day.’

‘I saw the murder--’

‘Then you saw what you came hither to see; what the world is, and what
justice and mercy it can deal out. You would not dislike to see God’s
reprisals to man’s tyranny?.... Or to be a fellow-worker with God
therein, if I judge rightly by your looks?’

‘I would avenge that man.’

‘Ah! my poor simple schoolmaster! And his fate is the portent of
portents to you now! Stay awhile, till you have gone with Ezekiel into
the inner chambers of the devil’s temple, and you will see worse
things than these--women weeping for Thammuz; bemoaning the decay of an
idolatry which they themselves disbelieve--That, too, is on the list of
Hercules’ labour, Peter mine.’

At this moment a deacon entered.... ‘Your holiness, the rabbis of the
accursed nation are below, at your summons. We brought them in through
the back gate, for fear of--’

‘Right, right. An accident to them might have ruined us. I shall not
forget you. Bring them up. Peter, take this youth, introduce him to the
parabolani.... Who will be the best man for him to work under?’

‘The brother Theopompus is especially sober and gentle.’

Cyril shook his head laughingly.... ‘Go into the next room, my son ....
No, Peter, put him under some fiery saint, some true Boanerges, who will
talk him down, and work him to death, and show him the best and worst
of everything. Cleitophon will be the man. Now then, let me see my
engagements; five minutes for these Jews--Orestes did not choose to
frighten them: let us see whether Cyril cannot; then an hour to look
over the hospital accounts; an hour for the schools; a half-hour for the
reserved cases of distress; and another half-hour for myself; and then
divine service. See that the boy is there. Do bring in every one in
their turn, Peter mine. So much time goes in hunting for this man and
that man.... and life is too short for all that. Where are these Jews?’
and Cyril plunged into the latter half of his day’s work with that
untiring energy, self-sacrifice, and method, which commanded for him,
in spite of all suspicions of his violence, ambition, and intrigue,
the loving awe and implicit obedience of several hundred thousand human
beings.

So Philammon went out with the parabolani, a sort of organised guild
of district visitors.... And in their company he saw that afternoon
the dark side of that world, whereof the harbour-panorama had been the
bright one. In squalid misery, filth, profligacy, ignorance,
ferocity, discontent, neglected in body, house, and soul, by the civil
authorities, proving their existence only in aimless and sanguinary
riots, there they starved and rotted, heap on heap, the masses of the
old Greek population, close to the great food-exporting harbour of the
world. Among these, fiercely perhaps, and fanatically, but still among
them and for them, laboured those district visitors night and day. And
so Philammon toiled away with them, carrying food and clothing, helping
sick to the hospital, and dead to the burial; cleaning out the infected
houses--for the fever was all but perennial in those quarters--and
comforting the dying with the good news of forgiveness from above; till
the larger number had to return to evening service. He, however, was
kept by his superior, watching at a sick-bedside, and it was late at
night before he got home, and was reported to Peter the Reader as having
acquitted himself like ‘a man of God,’ as, indeed, without the least
thought of doing anything noble or self-sacrificing, he had truly done,
being a monk. And so he threw himself on a truckle-bed, in one of the
many cells which opened off a long corridor, and fell fast asleep in a
minute.

He was just weltering about in a dreary dream-jumble of Goths dancing
with district visitors, Pelagia as an angel, with peacock’s wings;
Hypatia with horns and cloven feet, riding three hippopotami at
once round the theatre; Cyril standing at an open window, cursing
frightfully, and pelting him with flower-pots; and a similar self-sown
after-crop of his day’s impressions; when he was awakened by the tramp
of hurried feet in the street outside, and shouts, which gradually, as
he became conscious, shaped themselves into cries of ‘Alexander’s Church
is on fire! Help, good Christians! Fire! Help!’

Whereat he sat up in his truckle-bed, tried to recollect where he was,
and having with some trouble succeeded, threw on his sheepskin, and
jumped up to ask the news from the deacons and monks who were hurrying
along the corridor outside.... ‘Yes, Alexander’s church was on fire;’
and down the stairs they poured, across the courtyard, and out into the
street, Peter’s tall figure serving as a standard and a rallying point.

As they rushed out through the gateway, Philammon, dazzled by the sudden
transition from the darkness within to the blaze of moon and starlight
which flooded the street, and walls, and shining roofs, hung back a
moment. That hesitation probably saved his life; for in an instant he
saw a dark figure spring out of the shadow, a long knife flashed across
his eyes, and a priest next to him sank upon the pavement with a groan,
while the assassin dashed off down the street, hotly pursued by monks
and parabolani.

Philammon, who ran like a desert ostrich, had soon outstripped all but
Peter, when several more dark figures sprang out of doorways and corners
and joined, or seem to join, the pursuit. Suddenly, however, after
running a hundred yards, they drew up opposite the mouth of a side
street; the assassin stopped also. Peter, suspecting something wrong,
slackened his pace, and caught Philammon’s arm.

‘Do you see those fellows in the shadow?’

But, before Philammon could answer, some thirty or forty men, their
daggers gleaming in the moonlight, moved out into the middle of the
street, and received the fugitives into their ranks. What was the
meaning of it? Here was a pleasant taste of the ways of the most
Christian and civilised city of the Empire!

‘Well,’ thought Philammon, ‘I have come out to see the world, and I
seem, at this rate, to be likely to see enough of it.’

Peter turned at once, and fled as quickly as he had pursued; while
Philammon, considering discretion the better part of valour, followed,
and they rejoined their party breathless.

‘There is an armed mob at the end of the street.’

‘Assassins!’ ‘Jews!’ ‘A conspiracy!’ Up rose a Babel of doubtful voices.
The foe appeared in sight, advancing stealthily, and the whole party
took to flight, led once more by Peter, who seemed determined to make
free use, in behalf of his own safety, of the long legs which nature had
given him.

Philammon followed, sulkily and unwillingly, at a foot’s pace; but he
had not gone a dozen yards when a pitiable voice at his feet called to
him--

‘Help! mercy! Do not leave me here to be murdered! I am a Christian;
indeed I am a Christian!’

Philammon stooped, and lifted from the ground a comely negro-woman,
weeping, and shivering in a few tattered remnants of clothing.

‘I ran out when they said the church was on fire,’ sobbed the poor
creature, ‘and the Jews beat and wounded me. They tore my shawl and
tunic off me before I could get away from them; and then our own people
ran over me and trod me down. And now my husband will beat me, if I ever
get home. Quick! up this side street, or we shall be murdered!’

The armed men, whosoever they were, were close on them. There was no
time to be lost; and Philammon, assuring her that he would not desert
her, hurried her up the side street which she pointed out. But the
pursuers had caught sight of them, and while the mass held on up the
main sight, three or four turned aside and gave chase. The poor negress
could only limp along, and Philammon, unarmed, looked back, and saw the
bright steel points gleaming in the moonlight, and made up his mind to
die as a monk should. Nevertheless, youth is hopeful. One chance for
life. He thrust the negress into a dark doorway, where her colour hid
her well enough, and had just time to ensconce himself behind a pillar,
when the foremost pursuer reached him. He held his breath in fearful
suspense. Should he be seen? He would not die without a struggle at
least. No! the fellow ran on, panting. But in a minute more, another
came up, saw him suddenly, and sprang aside startled. That start saved
Philammon. Quick as a cat, he leapt upon him, felled him to the earth
with a single blow, tore the dagger from his hand, and sprang to his
feet again just in time to strike his new weapon full into the third
pursuer’s face. The man put his hand to his head, and recoiled against
a fellow-ruffian, who was close on his heels. Philammon, flushed with
victory, took advantage of the confusion, and before the worthy pair
could recover, dealt them half a dozen blows which, luckily for them,
came from an unpractised hand, or the young monk might have had more
than one life to answer for. As it was, they turned and limped off,
cursing in an unknown tongue; and Philammon found himself triumphant
and alone, with the trembling negress and the prostrate ruffian, who,
stunned by the blow and the fall, lay groaning on the pavement.

It was all over in a minute.... The negress was kneeling under the
gateway, pouring out her simple thanks to Heaven for this unexpected
deliverance; and Philammon was about to kneel too, when a thought struck
him; and coolly despoiling the Jew of his shawl and sash, he handed them
over to the poor negress, considering them fairly enough as his own by
right of conquest; but, lo and behold! as she was overwhelming him with
thanks, a fresh mob poured into the street from the upper end, and
were close on them before they were aware .... A flush of terror and
despair,.... and then a burst of joy, as, by mingled moonlight and
torchlight, Philammon descried priestly robes, and in the forefront of
the battle--there being no apparent danger--Peter the Reader, who
seemed to be anxious to prevent inquiry, by beginning to talk as fast as
possible.

‘Ah, boy! Safe? The saints be praised! We gave you up for dead! Whom
have you here? A prisoner? And we have another. He ran right into our
arms up the street, and the Lord delivered him into our hand. He must
have passed you.’

‘So he did,’ said Philammon, dragging up his captive, ‘and here is his
fellow-scoundrel.’ Whereon the two worthies were speedily tied
together by the elbows; and the party marched on once more in search of
Alexander’s church, and the supposed conflagration.

Philammon looked round for the negress, but she had vanished. He was far
too much ashamed of being known to have been alone with a woman to say
anything about her. Yet he longed to see her again; an interest--even
something like an affection--had already sprung up in his heart toward
the poor simple creature whom he had delivered from death. Instead of
thinking her ungrateful for not staying to tell what he had done
for her, he was thankful to her for having saved his blushes, by
disappearing so opportunely.... And he longed to tell her so--to know
if she was hurt--to--Oh, Philammon! only four days from the Laura, and
a whole regiment of women acquaintances already! True, Providence having
sent into the world about as many women as men, it maybe difficult to
keep out of their way altogether. Perhaps, too, Providence may have
intended them to be of some use to that other sex, with whom it has so
mixed them up. Don’t argue, poor Philammon; Alexander’s church is on
fire!-forward!

And so they hurried on, a confused mass of monks and populace, with
their hapless prisoners in the centre, who, hauled, cuffed, questioned,
and cursed by twenty self-elected inquisitors at once, thought fit,
either from Jewish obstinacy or sheer bewilderment, to give no account
whatsoever of themselves.

As they turned the corner of a street, the folding-doors of a large
gateway rolled open; a long line of glittering figures poured across the
road, dropped their spear-butts on the pavement with a single rattle,
and remained motionless. The front rank of the mob recoiled; and an
awe-struck whisper ran through them.... ‘The Stationaries!’

‘Who are they?’ asked Philammon in a whisper.

‘The soldiers--the Roman soldiers,’ answered a whisperer to him.

Philammon, who was among the leaders, had recoiled too--he hardly knew
why--at that stern apparition. His next instinct was to press forward as
close as he dared.... And these were Roman soldiers!--the conquerors of
the world!--the men whose name had thrilled him from his childhood
with vague awe and admiration, dimly heard of up there in the lonely
Laura.... Roman soldiers! And here he was face to face with them at
last!

His curiosity received a sudden check, however, as he found his arm
seized by an officer, as he took him to be, from the gold ornaments on
his helmet and cuirass, who lifted his vine-stock threateningly over the
young monk’s head, and demanded--

‘What’s all this about? Why are you not quietly in your beds, you
Alexandrian rascals?’

‘Alexander’s church is on fire,’ answered Philammon, thinking the
shortest answer the wisest.

‘So much the better.’

‘And the Jews are murdering the Christians.’

‘Fight it out, then. Turn in, men, it’s only a riot.’

And the steel-clad apparition suddenly flashed round, and vanished,
trampling and jingling, into the dark jaws of the guardhouse-gate, while
the stream, its temporary barrier removed, rushed on wilder than ever.

Philammon hurried on too with them, not without a strange feeling of
disappointment. ‘Only a riot!’ Peter was chuckling to his brothers
over their cleverness in ‘having kept the prisoners in the middle, and
stopped the rascals’ mouths till they were past the guard-house.’ ‘A
fine thing to boast of,’ thought Philammon, ‘in the face of the men who
make and unmake kings and Caesars!’ ‘Only a riot!’ He, and the corps of
district visitors--whom he fancied the most august body on earth--and
Alexander’s church, Christians murdered by Jews, persecution of the
Catholic faith, and all the rest of it, was simply, then, not worth the
notice of those forty men, alone and secure in the sense of power and
discipline, among tens of thousands .... He hated them, those soldiers.
Was it because they were indifferent to the cause of which he was
inclined to think himself a not unimportant member, on the strength of
his late Samsonic defeat of Jewish persecutors? At least, he obeyed the
little porter’s advice, and ‘felt very small indeed.’

And he felt smaller still, being young and alive to ridicule, when,
at some sudden ebb or flow, wave or wavelet of the Babel sea, which
weltered up and down every street, a shrill female voice informed them
from an upper window, that Alexander’s church was not on fire at all;
that she had gone to the top of the house, as they might have gone, if
they had not been fools, etc. etc.; and that it ‘looked as safe and
as ugly as ever’; wherewith a brickbat or two having been sent up in
answer, she shut the blinds, leaving them to halt, inquire, discover
gradually and piecemeal, after the method of mobs, they had been
following the nature of mobs; that no one had seen the church on fire,
or seen any one else who had seen the same, or even seen any light in
the sky in any quarter, or knew who raised the cry; or--or--in short,
Alexander’s church was two miles off; if it was on fire, it was either
burnt down or saved by this time; if not, the night-air was, to say
the least, chilly: and, whether it was or not, there were ambuscades
of Jews--Satan only knew how strong--in every street between them and
it.... Might it not be better to secure their two prisoners, and then
ask for further orders from the archbishop? Wherewith, after the manner
of mobs, they melted off the way they came, by twos and threes, till
those of a contrary opinion began to find themselves left alone, and
having a strong dislike to Jewish daggers, were fain to follow the
stream.

With a panic or two, a cry of ‘The Jews are on us!’ and a general rush
in every direction (in which one or two, seeking shelter from the
awful nothing in neighbouring houses, were handed over to the watch
as burglars, and sent to the quarries accordingly), they reached the
Serapeium, and there found, of course, a counter-mob collected to inform
them that they had been taken in--that Alexander’s church had never
been on fire at all--that the Jews had murdered a thousand Christians
at least, though three dead bodies, including the poor priest who lay
in the house within, were all of the thousand who had yet been seen--and
that the whole Jews’ quarter was marching upon them. At which news
it was considered advisable to retreat into the archbishop’s house as
quickly as possible, barricade the doors, and prepare for a siege--a
work at which Philammon performed prodigies, tearing woodwork from the
rooms, and stones from the parapets, before it struck some of the
more sober-minded that it was as well to wait for some more decided
demonstration of attack, before incurring so heavy a carpenter’s bill of
repairs.

At last the heavy tramp of footsteps was heard coming down the street,
and every window was crowded in an instant with eager heads; while Peter
rushed downstairs to heat the large coppers, having some experience in
the defensive virtues of boiling water. The bright moon glittered on a
long line of helmets and cuirasses. Thank Heaven! it was the soldiery.

‘Are the Jews coming?’ ‘Is the city quiet?’ ‘Why did not you prevent
this villainy?’ ‘A thousand citizens murdered while you have been
snoring!’--and a volley of similar ejaculations, greeted the soldiers as
they passed, and were answered by a cool--‘To your perches, and sleep,
you noisy chickens, or we’ll set the coop on fire about your ears.’

A yell of defiance answered this polite speech, and the soldiery, who
knew perfectly well that the unarmed ecclesiastics within were not to be
trifled with, and had no ambition to die by coping-stones and hot water,
went quietly on their way.

All danger was now past; and the cackling rose jubilant, louder than
ever, and might have continued till daylight, had not a window in
the courtyard been suddenly thrown open, and the awful voice of Cyril
commanded silence.

‘Every man sleep where he can. I shall want you at daybreak. The
superiors of the parabolani are to come up to me with the two prisoners,
and the men who took them.’

In a few minutes Philammon found himself, with some twenty others, in
the great man’s presence: he was sitting at his desk, writing, quietly,
small notes on slips of paper.

‘Here is the youth who helped me to pursue the murderer, and having
outrun me, was attacked by the prisoners,’ said Peter. ‘My hands are
clean from blood, I thank the Lord!’

‘Three set on me with daggers,’ said Philammon, apologetically, ‘and I
was forced to take this one’s dagger away, and beat off the two others
with it.’

Cyril smiled, and shook his head.

‘Thou art a brave boy; but hast thou not read, “If a man smite thee on
one cheek, turn to him the other”?’

‘I could not run away, as Master Peter and the rest did.’

‘So you ran away, eh? my worthy friend?’

‘Is it not written,’ asked Peter, in his blandest tone, “If they
persecute you in one city, flee unto another”?’

Cyril smiled again. ‘And why could not you run away, boy?’

Philammon blushed scarlet, but he dared not lie. ‘There was a--a poor
black woman, wounded and trodden down, and I dare not leave her, for she
told me she was a Christian.’

‘Right, my son, right. I shall remember this. What was her name?’

‘I did not hear it.--Stay, I think she said Judith.’

‘Ah! the wife of the porter who stands at the lecture-room door, which
God confound! A devout woman, full of good works, and sorely ill-treated
by her heathen husband. Peter, thou shalt go to her to-morrow with the
physician, and see if she is in need of anything. Boy, thou hast done
well. Cyril never forgets. Now bring up those Jews. Their Rabbis were
with me two hours ago promising peace: and this is the way they
have kept their promise. So be it. The wicked is snared in his own
wickedness.’

The Jews were brought in, but kept a stubborn silence.

‘Your holiness perceives,’ said some one, ‘that they have each of them
rings of green palm-bark on their right hand.’

‘A very dangerous sign! An evident conspiracy!’ commented Peter.

‘Ah! What does that mean, you rascals? Answer me, as you value your
lives.’

‘You have no business with us: we are Jews, and none of your people,’
said one sulkily. ‘None of my people? You have murdered my people! None
of my people? Every soul in Alexandria is mine, if the kingdom of God
means anything; and you shall find it out. I shall not argue with you,
my good friends, anymore than I did with your Rabbis. Take these fellows
away, Peter, and lock them up in the fuel-cellar, and see that they
are guarded. If any man lets them go, his life shall be for the life of
them.’

And the two worthies were led out.

‘Now, my brothers, here are your orders. You will divide these notes
among yourselves, and distribute them to trusty and godly Catholics in
your districts. Wait one hour, till the city be quiet; and then start,
and raise the church. I must have thirty thousand men by sunrise.’

‘What for, your holiness?’ asked a dozen voices.

‘Read your notes. Whosoever will fight to-morrow under the banner of the
Lord, shall have free plunder of the Jews’ quarter, outrage and murder
only forbidden. As I have said it, God do so to me, and more also, if
there be a Jew left in Alexandria by to-morrow at noon. Go.’

And the staff of orderlies filed out, thanking Heaven that they had
a leader so prompt and valiant, and spent the next hour over the hall
fire, eating millet cakes, drinking bad beer, likening Cyril to Barak,
Gideon, Samson, Jephtha, Judas Maccabeus, and all the worthies of the
Old Testament, and then started on their pacific errand.

Philammon was about to follow them, when Cyril stopped him.

‘Stay, my son; you are young and rash, and do not know the city. Lie
down here and sleep in the anteroom. Three hours hence the sun rises,
and we go forth against the enemies of the Lord.’

Philammon threw himself on the floor in a corner, and slumbered like a
child, till he was awakened in the gray dawn by one of the parabolani.

‘Up, boy! and see what we can do. Cyril goes down greater than Barak the
son of Abinoam, not with ten, but with thirty thousand men at his feet!’

‘Ay, my brothers!’ said Cyril, as he passed proudly out in full
pontificals, with a gorgeous retinue of priests and deacons--‘the
Catholic Church has her organisation, her unity, her common cause, her
watchwords, such as the tyrants of the earth, in their weakness and
their divisions, may envy and tremble at, but cannot imitate. Could
Orestes raise, in three hours, thirty thousand men, who would die for
him?’

‘As we will for you!’ shouted many voices.

‘Say for the kingdom of God.’ And he passed out.

And so ended Philammon’s first day in Alexandria.



CHAPTER VI: THE NEW DIOGENES


About five o’clock the next morning, Raphael Aben-Ezra was lying in bed,
alternately yawning over a manuscript of Philo Judaeus, pulling the ears
of his huge British mastiff, watching the sparkle of the fountain in the
court outside, wondering when that lazy boy would come to tell him that
the bath was warmed, and meditating, half aloud....

‘Alas! poor me! Here I am, back again--just at the point from which I
started!.... How am I to get free from that heathen Siren? Plagues on
her! I shall end by falling in love with her.... I don’t know that I
have not got a barb of the blind boy in me already. I felt absurdly
glad the other day when that fool told me he dare not accept her modest
offer. Ha! ha! A delicious joke it would have been to have seen Orestes
bowing down to stocks and stones, and Hypatia installed in the ruins of
the Serapeium, as High Priestess of the Abomination of Desolation!. And
now.... Well I call all heaven and earth to witness, that I have fought
valiantly. I have faced naughty little Eros like a man, rod in hand.
What could a poor human being do more than try to marry her to some one
else, in hopes of sickening himself of the whole matter? Well, every
moth has its candle, and every man his destiny. But the daring of
the little fool! What huge imaginations she has! She might be another
Zenobia, now, with Orestes as Odenatus, and Raphael Aben-Ezra to play
the part of Longinus, and receive Longinus’s salary of axe or poison.
She don’t care for me; she would sacrifice me, or a thousand of me, the
cold-blooded fanatical archangel that she is, to water with our blood
the foundation of some new temple of cast rags and broken dolls.... Oh,
Raphael Aben-Ezra, what a fool you are!.... You know you are going off
as usual to her lecture, this very morning!’

At this crisis of his confessions the page entered, and announced, not
the bath, but Miriam.

The old woman, who, in virtue of her profession, had the private entry
of all fashionable chambers in Alexandria, came in hurriedly; and
instead of seating herself as usual, for a gossip, remained standing,
and motioned the boy out of the room.

‘Well my sweet mother? Sit: Ah? I see! You rascal, you have brought in
no wine for the lady. Don’t you know her little ways yet?’

‘Eos has got it at the door, of course,’ answered the boy, with a saucy
air of offended virtue.

‘Out with you, imp of Satan!’ cried Miriam. ‘This is no time for
winebibbing. Raphael Aben-Ezra, why are you lying here? Did you not
receive a note last night?’

‘A note? So I did, but I was too sleepy to read it. There it lies. Boy,
bring it here....What’s this? A scrap out of Jeremiah? “Arise, and
flee for thy life, for evil is determined against the whole house
of Israel!”--Does this come from the chief rabbi; I always took the
venerable father for a sober man.... Eh, Miriam?’

‘Fool! instead of laughing at the sacred words of the prophets, get up
and obey them. I sent you the note.’

‘Why can’t I obey them in bed? Here I am, reading hard at the Cabbala,
or Philo--who is stupider still--and what more would you have?’

The old woman, unable to restrain her impatience, literally ran at him,
gnashing her teeth, and, before he was aware, dragged him out of bed
upon the floor, where he stood meekly wondering what would come next.

‘Many thanks, mother, for having saved me the one daily torture of
life--getting out of bed by one’s own exertion.’

‘Raphael Aben-Ezra! are you so besotted with your philosophy and your
heathenry, and your laziness, and your contempt for God and man, that
you will see your nation given up for a prey, and your wealth plundered
by heathen dogs? I tell you, Cyril has sworn that God shall do so to
him, and more also, if there be a Jew left in Alexandria by to-morrow
about this time.’

‘So much the better for the Jews, then, if they are half as tired
of this noisy Pandemonium as I am. But how can I help it? Am I Queen
Esther, to go to Ahasuerus there in the prefect’s palace, and get him to
hold out the golden sceptre to me?’

‘Fool! if you had read that note last night, you might have gone and
saved us, and your name would have been handed down for ever from
generation to generation as a second Mordecai.’

‘My dear mother, Ahasuerus would have been either fast asleep, or far
too drunk to listen to me. Why did you not go yourself?’

‘Do you suppose that I would not have gone if I could? Do you fancy me
a sluggard like yourself? At the risk of my life I have got hither in
time, if there be time to save you.’

‘Well: shall I dress? What can be done now?’

‘Nothing! The streets are blockaded by Cyril’s mob--There! do you hear
the shouts and screams? They are attacking the farther part of the
quarter already.’

‘What! are they murdering them?’ asked Raphael, throwing on his pelisse.
‘Because, if it has really come to a practical joke of that kind, I
shall have the greatest pleasure in employing a counter-irritant. Here,
boy! My sword and dagger! Quick!’

‘No, the hypocrites! No blood is to be shed, they say, if we make no
resistance, and let them pillage. Cyril and his monks are there, to
prevent outrage, and so forth.... The Angel of the Lord scatter them!’

The conversation was interrupted by the rushing in of the whole
household, in an agony of terror; and Raphael, at last thoroughly
roused, went to a window which looked into the street. The thoroughfare
was full of scolding women and screaming children; while men, old and
young, looked on at the plunder of their property with true Jewish
doggedness, too prudent to resist, but too manful to complain--while
furniture came flying out of every window, and from door after door
poured a stream of rascality, carrying off money, jewels, silks, and
all the treasures which Jewish usury had accumulated during many
a generation. But unmoved amid the roaring sea of plunderers and
plundered, stood, scattered up and down, Cyril’s spiritual police,
enforcing, by a word, an obedience which the Roman soldiers could only
have compelled by hard blows of the spear-butt. There was to be no
outrage, and no outrage there was: and more than once some man in
priestly robes hurried through the crowd, leading by the hand, tenderly
enough, a lost child in search of its parents.

Raphael stood watching silently, while Miriam, who had followed him
upstairs, paced the room in an ecstasy of rage, calling vainly to him to
speak or act.

‘Let me alone, mother,’ he said, at last. ‘It will be full ten minutes
more before they pay me a visit, and in the meantime what can one do
better than watch the progress of this, the little Exodus?’

‘Not like that first one! Then we went forth with cymbals and songs to
the Red Sea triumph! Then we borrowed, every woman of her neighbour,
jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment.’

‘And now we pay them back again;.. it is but fair, after all. We ought
to have listened to Jeremiah a thousand years ago, and never gone back
again, like fools, into a country to which we were so deeply in debt.’

‘Accursed land!’ cried Miriam. ‘In an evil hour our forefathers
disobeyed the prophet; and now we reap the harvest of our sins!--Our
sons have forgotten the faith of their forefathers for the philosophy of
the Gentiles, and fill their chambers’ (with a contemptuous look round)
‘with heathen imagery; and our daughters are--Look there!’

As she spoke, a beautiful girl rushed shrieking out of an adjoining
house, followed by some half-drunk ruffian, who was clutching at the
gold chains and trinkets with which she was profusely bedecked, after
the fashion of Jewish women. The rascal had just seized with one hand
her streaming black tresses, and with the other a heavy collar of gold,
which was wound round her throat, when a priest, stepping up, laid a
quiet hand upon his shoulder. The fellow, too maddened to obey, turned,
and struck back the restraining arm...and in an instant was felled to
the earth by a young monk..

‘Touchest thou the Lord’s anointed, sacrilegious wretch?’ cried the man
of the desert, as the fellow dropped on the pavement, with his booty in
his hand.

The monk tore the gold necklace from his grasp, looked at it for a
moment with childish wonder, as a savage might at some incomprehensible
product of civilised industry, and then, spitting on it in contempt,
dashed it on the ground, and trampled it into the mud.

‘Follow the golden wedge of Achan, and the silver of Iscariot, thou root
of all evil!’ And he rushed on, yelling, ‘Down with the circumcision!
Down with the blasphemers!’--while the poor girl vanished among the
crowd.

Raphael watched him with a quaint thoughtful smile, while Miriam
shrieked aloud at the destruction of the precious trumpery.

‘The monk is right, mother. If those Christians go on upon that method,
they must beat us. It has been our ruin from the first, our fancy for
loading ourselves with the thick clay.’

‘What will you do?’ cried Miriam, clutching him by the arm.

‘What will you do?’

‘I am safe. I have a boat waiting for me on the canal at the garden
gate, and in Alexandria I stay; no Christian hound shall make old Miriam
move afoot against her will. My jewels are all buried--my girls are
sold; save what you can, and come with me!’

‘My sweet mother, why so peculiarly solicitous about my welfare, above
that of all the sons of Judah?’

‘Because--because--No, I’ll tell you that another time. But I loved your
mother, and she loved me. Come!’

Raphael relapsed into silence for a few minutes, and watched the tumult
below.

‘How those Christian priests keep their men in order! There is no use
resisting destiny. They are the strong men of the time, after all,
and the little Exodus must needs have its course. Miriam, daughter of
Jonathan--’

‘I am no man’s daughter! I have neither father nor mother, husband
nor--Call me mother again!’

‘Whatsoever I am to call you, there are jewels enough in that closet to
buy half Alexandria. Take them. I am going.’

‘With me!’

‘Out into the wide world, my dear lady. I am bored with riches. That
young savage of a monk understood them better than we Jews do. I shall
just make a virtue of necessity, and turn beggar.’

‘Beggar?’

‘Why not? Don’t argue. These scoundrels will make me one, whether I like
or not; so forth I go. There will be few leavetakings. This brute of a
dog is the only friend I have on earth; and I love her, because she has
the true old, dogged, spiteful, cunning, obstinate Maccabee spirit in
her--of which if we had a spark left in us just now, there would be no
little Exodus; eh, Bran, my beauty?’

‘You can escape with me to the prefect’s, and save the mass of your
wealth.’

‘Exactly what I don’t want to do. I hate that prefect as I hate a dead
camel, or the vulture who eats him. And to tell the truth, I am growing
a great deal too fond of that heathen woman there--’

‘What?’ shrieked the old woman--‘Hypatia?’

‘If you choose. At all events, the easiest way to cut the knot is to
expatriate. I shall beg my passage on board the first ship to Cyrene,
and go and study life in Italy with Heraclian’s expedition. Quick--take
the jewels, and breed fresh troubles for yourself with them. I am going.
My liberators are battering the outer door already.’

Miriam greedily tore out of the closet diamonds and pearls, rubies and
emeralds, and concealed them among her ample robes--‘Go! go! Escape from
her! I will hide your jewels!’

‘Ay, hide them, as mother earth does all things, in that all-embracing
bosom. You will have doubled them before we meet again, no doubt.
Farewell, mother!’

‘But not for ever, Raphael! not for ever! Promise me, in the name of the
four archangels, that if you are in trouble or danger, you will write to
me, at the house of Eudaimon.’

‘The little porter philosopher, who hangs about Hypatia’s lecture-room?’

‘The same, the same. He will give me your letter, and I swear to you,
I will cross the mountains of Kaf, to deliver you!--I will pay you all
back. By Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob I swear! May my tongue cleave to the
roof of my mouth, if I do not account to you for the last penny!’

‘Don’t commit yourself to rash promises, my dear lady. If I am bored
with poverty, I can but borrow a few gold pieces of a rabbi, and turn
pedler. I really do not trust you to pay me back, so I shall not be
disappointed if you do not. Why should I?’

‘Because--because--O God! No--never mind! You shall have all back.
Spirit of Elias! where is the black agate? Why is it not among
these?--The broken half of the black agate talisman!’

Raphael turned pale. ‘How did you know that I have a black agate?’

‘How did I? How did I not?’ cried she, clutching him by the arm. ‘Where
is it? All depends on that! Fool!’ she went on, throwing him off from
her at arm’s length, as a sudden suspicion stung her--‘you have not
given it to the heathen woman?’

‘By the soul of my fathers, then, you mysterious old witch, who seem to
know everything, that is exactly what I have done.’

Miriam clapped her hands together wildly. ‘Lost! lost! lost! Not I will
have it, if I tear it out of her heart! I will be avenged of her--the
strange woman who flatters with her words, to whom the simple go in, and
know not that the dead are there, and that her guests are in the depths
of hell! God do so to me, and more also, if she and her sorceries be on
earth a twelvemonth hence!’

‘Silence, Jezebel! Heathen or none, she is as pure as the sunlight! I
only gave it her because she fancied the talisman upon it.’

‘To enchant you with it, to your ruin!’

‘Brute of a slave-dealer! you fancy every one as base as the poor
wretches whom you buy and sell to shame, that you may make them as much
the children of hell, if that be possible, as yourself!’

Miriam looked at him, her large black eyes widening and kindling. For an
instant she felt for her poniard--and then burst into an agony of tears,
hid her face in her withered hands, and rushed from the room, as a crash
and shout below announced the bursting of the door.

‘There she goes with my jewels. And here come my guests, with the young
monk at their head.--One rising when the other sets. A worthy pair of
Dioscuri! Come, Bran!...Boys! Slaves! Where are you? Steal every one
what he can lay his hands on, and run for your lives through the back
gate.’

The slaves had obeyed him already. He walked smiling downstairs through
utter solitude, and in the front passage met face to face the mob of
monks, costermongers and dock-workers, fishwives and beggars, who were
thronging up the narrow entry, and bursting into the doors right and
left; and at their head, alas! the young monk who had just trampled the
necklace into the mud...no other, in fact, than Philammon.

‘Welcome, my worthy guests! Enter, I beseech you, and fulfil, in your
own peculiar way, the precepts which bid you not be over anxious for the
good things of this life..For eating and drinking, my kitchen and cellar
are at your service. For clothing, if any illustrious personage will
do me the honour to change his holy rags with me, here are an Indian
shawl-pelisse and a pair of silk trousers at his service. Perhaps you
will accommodate me, my handsome young captain, choragus of this new
school of the prophets?’

Philammon, who was the person addressed, tried to push by him
contemptuously.

‘Allow me, sir. I lead the way. This dagger is poisoned,-a scratch and
you are dead. This dog is of the true British breed; if she seizes you,
red-hot iron will not loose her, till she hears the bone crack. If any
one will change clothes with me, all I have is at your service. If not,
the first that stirs is a dead man.’

There was no mistaking the quiet, high-bred determination of the
speaker. Had he raged and blustered, Philammon could have met him on
his own ground: but there was an easy self-possessed disdain about him,
which utterly abashed the young monk, and abashed, too, the whole crowd
of rascals at his heels.

‘I’ll change clothes with you, you Jewish dog!’ roared a dirty fellow
out of the mob.

‘I am your eternal debtor. Let us step into this side room. Walk
upstairs, my friends. Take care there, sir!--That porcelain, whole, is
worth three thousand gold pieces: broken, it is not worth three pence.
I leave it to your good sense to treat it accordingly. Now then, my
friend!’ And in the midst of the raging vortex of plunderers, who
were snatching up everything which they could carry away, and breaking
everything which they could not, lie quietly divested himself of his
finery, and put on the ragged cotton tunic, and battered straw hat,
which the fellow handed over to him.

Philammon, who had had from the first no mind to plunder, stood watching
Raphael with dumb wonder; and a shudder of regret, he knew not why,
passed through him, as he Saw the mob tearing down pictures, and dashing
statues to the ground. Heathen they were, doubtless; but still, the
Nymphs and Venuses looked too lovely to be so brutally destroyed...
There was something almost humanly pitiful in their poor broken arms and
legs, as they lay about upon the pavement.... He laughed at himself for
the notion; but he could not laugh it away.

Raphael seemed to think that he ought not to laugh it away; for he
pointed to the fragments, and with a quaint look at the young monk--

‘Our nurses used to tell us, ‘“If you can’t make it, You ought not to
break it.”’

‘I had no nurse,’ said Philammon.

‘Ah!--that accounts--for this and other things. Well,’ he went on, with
the most provoking good-nature, ‘you are in a fair road, my handsome
youth; I wish you joy of your fellow-workmen, and of your apprenticeship
in the noble art of monkery. Riot and pillage, shrieking women and
houseless children in your twentieth summer, are the sure path to a
Saint-ship, such as Paul of Tarsus, who, with all his eccentricities,
was a gentleman, certainly never contemplated. I have heard of Phoebus
Apollo under many disguises, but this is the first time I ever saw him
in the wolf’s hide.’

‘Or in the lion’s,’ said Philammon, trying in his shame to make a fine
speech.

‘Like the Ass in the Fable. Farewell! Stand out of the way, friends!
‘Ware teeth and poison!’

And he disappeared among the crowd, who made way respectfully enough for
his dagger and his brindled companion.



CHAPTER VII: THOSE BY WHOM OFFENCES COME


Philammon’s heart smote him all that day, whenever he thought of his
morning’s work. Till then all Christians, monks above all, had been
infallible in his eyes: all Jews and heathens insane and accursed.
Moreover, meekness under insult, fortitude in calamity, the contempt of
worldly comfort, the worship of poverty as a noble estate, were virtues
which the Church Catholic boasted as her peculiar heritage: on which
side had the balance of those qualities inclined that morning? The
figure of Raphael, stalking out ragged and penniless into the wide
world, haunted him, with its quiet self-assured smile. And there haunted
him, too, another peculiarity in the man, which he had never before
remarked in any one but Arsenius--that ease and grace, that courtesy and
self-restraint, which made Raphael’s rebukes rankle all the more keenly,
because he felt that the rebuker was in some mysterious way superior to
him, and saw through him, and could have won him Over, Or crushed him
in argument, or in intrigue--or in anything, perhaps, except mere brute
force. Strange--that Raphael, of all men, should in those few moments
have reminded him so much of Arsenius; and that the very same qualities
which gave a peculiar charm to the latter should give a peculiar
unloveliness to the former, and yet be, without a doubt, the same. What
was it? Was it rank which gave it Arsenius had been a great man, he
knew--the companion of kings. And Raphael seemed rich. He had heard
the mob crying out against the prefect for favouring him. Was it then
familiarity with the great ones of the world which produced this manner
and tone? It was a real strength, whether in Arsenius or in Raphael. He
felt humbled before it--envied it. If it made Arsenius a more complete
and more captivating person, why should it not do the same for him? Why
should not he, too, have his share of it?

Bringing with it such thoughts as these, the time ran on till noon, and
the mid-day meal, and the afternoon’s work, to which Philammon looked
forward joyfully, as a refuge from his own thoughts.

He was sitting on his sheepskin upon a step, basking, like a true son
of the desert, in a blaze of fiery sunshine, which made the black
stone-work too hot to touch with the bare hand, watching the swallows,
as they threaded the columns of the Serapeium, and thinking how often he
had delighted in their air-dance, as they turned and hawked up and down
the dear old glen at Scetis. A crowd of citizens with causes,
appeals, and petitions, were passing in and out from the patriarch’s
audience-room. Peter and the archdeacon were waiting in the shade close
by for the gathering of the parabolani, and talking over the morning’s
work in an earnest whisper, in which the names of Hypatia and Orestes
were now and then audible.

An old priest came up, and bowing reverently enough to the archdeacon,
requested the help of one of the parabolani. He had a sailor’s family,
all fever-stricken, who must be removed to the hospital at once.

The archdeacon looked at him, answered an off-hand ‘Very well,’ and went
on with his talk.

The priest, bowing lower than before, re-presented the immediate
necessity for help.

‘It is very odd,’ said Peter to the swallows in the Serapeium, ‘that
some people cannot obtain influence enough in their own parishes to get
the simplest good works performed without tormenting his holiness the
patriarch.’

The old priest mumbled some sort of excuse, and the archdeacon, without
deigning a second look at him, said--‘Find him a man, brother Peter.
Anybody will do. What is that boy--Philammon--doing there? Let him go
with Master Hieracas.’

Peter seemed not to receive the proposition favourably, and whispered
something to the archdeacon....

‘No. I can spare none of the rest. Importunate persons must take their
chance of being well served. Come--here are our brethren; we will all go
together.’

‘The farther together the better for the boy’s sake,’ grumbled Peter,
loud enough for Philammon--perhaps for the old priest--to overhear him.

So Philammon went out with them, and as he went questioned his
companions meekly enough as to who Raphael was.

‘A friend of Hypatia!’--that name, too, haunted him; and he began, as
stealthily and indirectly as he could, to obtain information about her.
There was no need for his caution; for the very mention of her name
roused the whole party into a fury of execration.

‘May God confound her, siren, enchantress, dealer in spells and
sorceress! She is the strange woman of whom Solomon prophesied.’

‘It is my opinion,’ said another, ‘that she is the forerunner of
Antichrist.’

‘Perhaps the virgin of whom it is prophesied that he will be born,’
suggested another.

‘Not that, I’ll warrant her,’ said Peter, with a savage sneer.

‘And is Raphael Aben-Ezra her pupil in philosophy?’ asked Philammon.

‘Her pupil in whatsoever she can find where-with to delude men’s souls,’
said the old priest.

‘The reality of philosophy has died long ago, but the great ones find it
still worth their while to worship its shadow.’

‘Some of them worship more than a shadow, when they haunt her house,’
said Peter. ‘Do you think Orestes goes thither only for philosophy?’

‘We must not judge harsh judgments,’ said the old priest; ‘Synesius of
Cyrene is a holy man, and yet he loves Hypatia well.’

‘He a holy man?--and keeps a wife! One who had the insolence to tell the
blessed Theophilus himself that he would not be made bishop unless he
were allowed to remain with her; and despised the gift of the Holy Ghost
in comparison of the carnal joys of wedlock, not knowing the Scriptures,
which saith that those who are in the flesh cannot please God! Well said
Siricius of Rome of such men--“Can the Holy Spirit of God dwell in other
than holy bodies?” No wonder that such a one as Synesius grovels at the
feet of Orestes’ mistress!’

‘Then she is profligate?’ asked Philammon.

‘She must be. Has a heathen faith and grace? And without faith and
grace, are not all our righteousnesses as filthy rags? What says St.
Paul?--That God has given them over to a reprobate mind, full of all
injustice, uncleanness, covetousness, maliciousness, you know the
catalogue--why do you ask me?’

‘Alas! and is she this?’

‘Alas! And why alas? How would the Gospel be glorified if heathens were
holier than Christians? It ought to be so, therefore it is so. If she
seems to have virtues, they, being done without the grace of Christ, are
only bedizened vices, cunning shams, the devil transformed into an
angel of light. And as for chastity, the flower and crown of all
virtues--whosoever says that she, being yet a heathen, has that,
blasphemes the Holy Spirit, whose peculiar and highest gift it is, and
is anathema maranatha for ever! Amen!’ And Peter, devoutly crossing
himself, turned angrily and contemptuously away from his young
companion.

Philammon was quite shrewd enough to see that assertion was not
identical with proof. But Peter’s argument of ‘it ought to be, therefore
it is,’ is one which saves a great deal of trouble...and no doubt he had
very good sources of information. So Philammon walked on, sad, he knew
not why, at the new notion which he had formed of Hypatia, as a sort
of awful sorceress--Messalina, whose den was foul with magic rites and
ruined souls of men. And yet if that was all she had to teach, whence
had her pupil Raphael learned that fortitude of his? If philosophy had,
as they said, utterly died out, then what was Raphael?

Just then, Peter and the rest turned up a side street, and Philammon and
Hieracas were left to go on their joint errand together. They paced on
for some way in silence, up one street and down another, till Philammon,
for want of anything better to say, asked where they were going.

‘Where I choose, at all events. No, young man! If I, a priest, am to be
insulted by archdeacons and readers, I won’t be insulted by you.’

‘I assure you I meant no harm.’

‘Of course not; you all learn the same trick, and the young ones catch
it of the old ones fast enough. Words smoother than butter, yet very
swords.’

‘You do not mean to complain of the archdeacon and his companions?’ said
Philammon, who of course was boiling over with pugnacious respect for
the body to which he belonged.

No answer.

‘Why, sir, are they not among the most holy and devoted of men?’

‘Ah--yes,’ said his companion, in a tone which sounded very like
‘Ah--no.’

‘You do not think so?’ asked Philammon bluntly.

‘You are young, you are young. Wait a while till you have seen as much
as I have. A degenerate age this, my son; not like the good old times,
when men dare suffer and die for the faith. We are too prosperous
nowadays; and fine ladies walk about with Magdalens embroidered on their
silks, and gospels hanging round their necks. When I was young they died
for that with which they now bedizen themselves.’

‘But I was speaking of the parabolani.’

‘Ah, there are a great many among them who have not much business where
they are. Don’t say I said so. But many a rich man puts his name on the
list of the guild just to get his exemption from taxes, and leaves the
work to poor men like you. Rotten, rotten! my son, and you will find
it out. The preachers, now--people used to say--I know Abbot Isidore
did--that I had as good a gift for expounding as any man in Pelusium;
but since I came here, eleven years since, if you will believe it, I
have never been asked to preach in my own parish church.’

‘You surely jest!’

‘True, as I am a christened man. I know why--I know why: they are afraid
of Isidore’s men here.... Perhaps they may have caught the holy man’s
trick of plain speaking--and ears are dainty in Alexandria. And there
are some in these parts, too, that have never forgiven him the part he
took about those three villains, Marc, Zosimus, and Martinian, and a
certain letter that came of it; or another letter either, which we
know of, about taking alms for the church from the gains of robbers and
usurers. “Cyril never forgets.” So he says to every one who does him a
good turn.... And so he does to every one who he fancies has done him
a bad one. So here am I slaving away, a subordinate priest, while such
fellows as Peter the Reader look down on me as their slave. But
it’s always so. There never was a bishop yet, except the blessed
Augustine--would to Heaven I had taken my abbot’s advice, and gone to
him at Hippo!--who had not his flatterers and his tale-bearers, and
generally the archdeacon at the head of them, ready to step into the
bishop’s place when he dies, over the heads of hard-working parish
priests. But that is the way of the world. The sleekest and the oiliest,
and the noisiest; the man who can bring in most money to the charities,
never mind whence or how; the man who will take most of the bishop’s
work off his hands, and agree with him in everything he wants, and save
him, by spying and eavesdropping, the trouble of using his own eyes;
that is the man to succeed in Alexandria, or Constantinople, or Rome
itself. Look now; there are but seven deacons to this great city, and
all its priests; and they and the archdeacon are the masters of it and
us. They and that Peter manage Cyril’s work for him, and when Cyril
makes the archdeacon a bishop, he will make Peter archdeacon....They
have their reward, they have their reward; and so has Cyril, for that
matter.’

‘How?’

‘Why, don’t say I said it. But what do I care? I have nothing to lose,
I’m sure. But they do say that there are two ways of promotion in
Alexandria: one by deserving it, the other by paying for it. That’s
all.’

‘Impossible!’

‘Oh, of course, quite impossible. But all I know is just this, that when
that fellow Martinian got back again into Pelusium, after being turned
out by the late bishop for a rogue and hypocrite as he was, and got the
ear of this present bishop, and was appointed his steward, and ordained
priest--I’d as soon have ordained that street-dog--and plundered him and
brought him to disgrace--for I don’t believe this bishop is a bad man,
but those who use rogues must expect to be called rogues--and ground the
poor to the earth, and tyrannised over the whole city so that no man’s
property, or reputation, scarcely their lives, were safe; and after all,
had the impudence, when he was called on for his accounts, to bring the
church in as owing him money; I just know this, that he added to all his
other shamelessness this, that he offered the patriarch a large sum of
money to buy a bishopric of him.... And what do you think the patriarch
answered?’

‘Excommunicated the sacrilegious wretch, of course!’

‘Sent him a letter to say that if he dared to do such a thing again he
should really be forced to expose him! So the fellow, taking courage,
brought his money himself the next time; and all the world says that
Cyril would have made him a bishop after all, if Abbot Isidore had not
written to remonstrate.’

‘He could not have known the man’s character,’ said poor Philammon,
hunting for an excuse.

‘The whole Delta was ringing with it. Isidore had written to him again
and again.’

‘Surely then his wish was to prevent scandal, and preserve the unity of
the church in the eyes of the heathen.’

The old man laughed bitterly.

‘Ah, the old story--of preventing scandals by retaining them, and
fancying that sin is a less evil than a little noise; as if the worst of
all scandals was not the being discovered in hushing up a scandal. And
as for unity, if you want that, you must go back to the good old times
of Dioclesian and Decius.’

‘The persecutors?’

‘Ay, boy--to the times of persecution, when Christians died like
brothers, because they lived like brothers. You will see very little of
that now, except in some little remote county bishopric, which no one
ever hears of from year’s end to year’s end. But in the cities it is
all one great fight for place and power. Every one is jealous of his
neighbour. The priests are jealous of the deacons, and good cause they
have. The county bishops are jealous of the metropolitan, and he is
jealous of the North African bishops, and quite right he is. What
business have they to set up for themselves, as if they were infallible?
It’s a schism, I say--a complete schism. They are just as bad as their
own Donatists. Did not the Council of Nice settle that the Metropolitan
of Alexandria should have authority over Libya and Pentapolis, according
to the ancient custom?’

‘Of course he ought,’ said Philammon, jealous for the honour of his own
patriarchate.

‘And the patriarchs of Rome and Constantinople are jealous of our
patriarch.’

‘Of Cyril?’

‘Of course, because he won’t be at their beck and nod, and let them be
lords and masters of Africa.’

‘But surely these things can be settled by councils?’

‘Councils? Wait till you have been at one. The blessed Abbot Isidore
used to say, that if he ever was a bishop--which he never will be--he
is far too honest for that--he would never go near one of them; for he
never had seen one which did not call out every evil passion in men’s
hearts, and leave the question more confounded with words than they
found it, even if the whole matter was not settled beforehand by some
chamberlain, or eunuch, or cook sent from court, as if he were an
anointed vessel of the Spirit, to settle the dogmas of the Holy Catholic
Church.’

‘Cook?’

‘Why, Valens sent his chief cook to stop Basil of Caesarea from opposing
the Court doctrine.... I tell you, the great battle in these cases is
to get votes from courts, or to get to court yourself. When I was young,
the Council of Antioch had to make a law to keep bishops from running
off to Constantinople to intrigue, under pretence of pleading the cause
of the orphan and widow. But what’s the use of that, when every noisy
and ambitious man shifts and shifts, from one see to another, till he
settles himself close to Rome or Byzantium, and gets the emperor’s ear,
and plays into the hands of his courtiers?’

‘Is it not written, “Speak not evil of dignities”? ‘said Philammon, in
his most sanctimonious tone.

‘Well, what of that? I don’t speak evil of dignities, when I complain of
the men who fill them badly, do I?’

‘I never heard that interpretation of the text before.’

‘Very likely not. That’s no reason why it should not be true and
orthodox. You will soon hear a good many more things, which are true
enough--though whether they are orthodox or not, the court cooks must
settle. Of course, I am a disappointed, irreverent old grumbler.
Of course, and of course, too, young men must needs buy their own
experience, instead of taking old folks’ at a gift. There--use your own
eyes, and judge for yourself. There you may see what sort of saints are
bred by this plan of managing the Catholic Church. There comes one of
them. Now! I say no more!’

As he spoke, two tall negroes came up to them, and set down before
the steps of a large church which they were passing an object new to
Philammon--a sedan-chair, the poles of which were inlaid with ivory and
silver, and the upper part enclosed in rose-coloured silk curtains.

‘What is inside that cage?’ asked he of the old priest, as the negroes
stood wiping the perspiration from their foreheads, and a smart
slave-girl stepped forward, with a parasol and slippers in her hand, and
reverently lifted the lower edge of the curtain.

‘A saint, I tell you!’

An embroidered shoe, with a large gold cross on the instep, was put
forth delicately from beneath the curtain, and the kneeling maid put on
the slipper over it.

‘There!’ whispered the old grumbler. ‘Not enough, you see, to use
Christian men as beasts of burden--Abbot Isidore used to say--ay, and
told Iron, the pleader, to his face, that he could not conceive how a
man who loved Christ, and knew the grace which has made all men free,
could keep a slave.’

‘Nor can I,’ said Philammon.

‘But we think otherwise, you see, in Alexandria here. We can’t even walk
up the steps of God’s temple without an additional protection to our
delicate feet.’

‘I had thought it was written, “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for
the place where thou standest is holy ground.”’

‘Ah! there are a good many more things written which we do not find
it convenient to recollect.--Look! There is one of the pillars of the
church-the richest and most pious lady in Alexandria.’

And forth stepped a figure, at which Philammon’s eyes opened wider than
they had done even at the sight of Pelagia. Whatever thoughts the rich
and careless grace of her attire might have raised in his mind, it had
certainly not given his innate Greek good taste the inclination to
laugh and weep at once, which he felt at this specimen of the tasteless
fashion of an artificial and decaying civilisation. Her gown was stuffed
out behind in a fashion which provoked from the dirty boys who lay about
the steps, gambling for pistachios on their fingers, the same comments
with which St. Clement had upbraided from the pulpit the Alexandrian
ladies of his day. The said gown of white silk was bedizened, from waist
to ankle, with certain mysterious red and green figures at least a foot
long, which Philammon gradually discovered to be a representation, in
the very lowest and ugliest style of fallen art, of Dives and Lazarus;
while down her back hung, upon a bright blue shawl, edged with
embroidered crosses, Job sitting, potsherd in hand, surrounded by his
three friends--a memorial, the old priest whispered, of a pilgrimage
which she had taken a year or two before, to Arabia, to see and kiss the
identical dunghill on which the patriarch had sat.

Round her neck hung, by one of half a dozen necklaces, a manuscript of
the Gospels, gilt-edged and clasped with jewels; the lofty diadem of
pearls on the head carried in front a large gold cross; while above and
around it her hair, stiffened with pomatum, was frizzled out half a foot
from a wilderness of plaits and curls, which must have cost some hapless
slave-girl an hour’s work, and perhaps more than one scolding, that very
morning.

Meekly, with simpering face and downcast eyes, and now and then a
penitent sigh and shake of the head and pressure of her hand on her
jewelled bosom, the fair penitent was proceeding up the steps, when she
caught sight of the priest and the monk, and turning to them with an
obeisance of the deepest humility, entreated to be allowed to kiss the
hem of their garments.

‘You had far better, madam,’ said Philammon, bluntly enough, ‘kiss the
hem of your own. You carry two lessons there which you do not seem to
have learnt yet.’

In an instant her face flashed up into pride and fury. ‘I asked for your
blessing, and not for a sermon. I can have that when I like.’

‘And such as you like,’ grumbled the old priest, as she swept up the
steps, tossing some small coin to the ragged boys, and murmuring to
herself, loud enough for Philammon’s hearing, that she should certainly
inform the confessor, and that she would not be insulted in the streets
by savage monks.

‘Now she will confess her sins inside--all but those which she has been
showing off to us here outside, and beat her breast, and weep like a
very Magdalen; and then the worthy man will comfort her with--“What a
beautiful chain! And what a shawl--allow me to touch it! How soft and
delicate this Indian wool! Ah! if you knew the debts which I have been
compelled to incur in the service of the sanctuary!--” And then of
course the answer will be, as, indeed, he expects it should, that if it
can be of the least use in the service of the Temple, she, of course,
will think it only too great an honour.... And he will keep the chain,
and perhaps the shawl too. And she will go home, believing that she
has fulfilled to the very letter the command to break off her sins by
almsgiving, and only sorry that the good priest happened to hit on that
particular gewgaw!’

‘What,’ asked Philammon; ‘dare she actually not refuse such
importunity?’

‘From a poor priest like me, stoutly enough; but from a popular
ecclesiastic like him.... As Jerome says, in a letter of his I once saw,
ladies think twice in such cases before they offend the city newsmonger.
Have you anything more to say?’

Philammon had nothing to say; and wisely held his peace, while the old
grumbler ran on--

‘Ah, boy, you have yet to learn city fashions! When you are a little
older, instead of speaking unpleasant truths to a fine lady with a cross
on her forehead, you will be ready to run to the Pillars of Hercules
at her beck and nod, for the sake of her disinterested help towards a
fashionable pulpit, or perhaps a bishopric. The ladies settle that for
us here.’

‘The women?’

‘The women, lad. Do you suppose that they heap priests and churches
with wealth for nothing? They have their reward. Do you suppose that
a preacher gets into the pulpit of that church there, without looking
anxiously, at the end of each peculiarly flowery sentence, to see
whether her saintship there is clapping or not? She, who has such a
delicate sense for orthodoxy, that she can scent out Novatianism or
Origenism where no other mortal nose would suspect it. She who meets at
her own house weekly all the richest and most pious women of the city,
to settle our discipline for us’ as the court cooks do our doctrine. She
who has even, it is whispered, the ear of the Augusta Pulcheria herself,
and sends monthly letters to her at Constantinople, and might give the
patriarch himself some trouble’ if he crossed her holy will!’

‘What! will Cyril truckle to such creatures?’

‘Cyril is a wise man in his generation--too wise, some say, for a child
of the light. But at least, he knows there is no use fighting with those
whom you cannot conquer; and while he can get money out of these great
ladies for his almshouses, and orphan-houses, and lodging-houses, and
hospitals, and workshops, and all the rest of it--and in that, I will
say for him, there is no man on earth equal to him, but Ambrose of Milan
and Basil of Caesarea--why, I don’t quarrel with him for making the best
of a bad matter; and a very bad matter it is, boy, and has been ever
since emperors and courtiers have given up burning and crucifying us,
and taken to patronising and bribing us instead.’

Philammon walked on in silence by the old priest’s side, stunned and
sickened.... ‘And this is what I have come out to see--reeds shaken in
the wind, and men clothed in soft raiment, fit only for kings’ palaces!’
For this he had left the dear old Laura, and the simple joys and
friendships of childhood, and cast himself into a roaring whirlpool of
labour and temptation! This was the harmonious strength and unity of
that Church Catholic, in which, as he had been taught from boyhood,
there was but one Lord, one Faith, one Spirit. This was the indivisible
body, ‘without spot or wrinkle, which fitly joined together and
compacted by that which every member supplied, according to the
effectual and proportionate working of every part, increased the
body, and enabled it to build itself up in Love!’ He shuddered as the
well-known words passed through his memory, and seemed to mock the
base and chaotic reality around him. He felt angry with the old man for
having broken his dream; he longed to believe that his complaints were
only exaggerations of cynic peevishness, of selfish disappointment; and
yet, had not Arsenius warned him? Had he not foretold, word for word,
what the youth would find-what he had found? Then was Saint Paul’s great
idea an empty and an impossible dream? No! God’s word could not fail;
the Church could not err. The fault could not be in her, but in her
enemies; not, as the old man said, in her too great prosperity, but in
her slavery. And then the words which he had heard from Cyril at their
first interview rose before him as the true explanation. How could the
Church work freely and healthily while she was crushed and fettered by
the rulers of this world? And how could they be anything but the tyrants
and antichrists they were, while they were menaced and deluded by
heathen philosophy, and vain systems of human wisdom? If Orestes was the
curse of the Alexandrian Church, then Hypatia was the curse of Orestes.
On her head the true blame lay. She was the root of the evil. Who would
extirpate it?....

Why should not he? It might be dangerous; yet, successful or
unsuccessful, it must be glorious. The course of Christianity wanted
great examples. Might he not-and his young heart beat high at the
thought--might he not, by some great act of daring, self-sacrifice,
divine madness of faith, like David’s of old, when he went out against
the giant--awaken selfish and luxurious souls to a noble emulation, and
recall to their minds, perhaps to their lives, the patterns of those
martyrs who were the pride, the glory, the heirloom of Egypt? And as
figure after figure rose before his imagination, of simple men and weak
women who had conquered temptation and shame, torture and death, to live
for ever on the lips of men, and take their seats among the patricians
of the heavenly court, with brows glittering through all eternities with
the martyr’s crown, his heart beat thick and fast, and he longed only
for an opportunity to dare and die.

And the longing begot the opportunity. For he had hardly rejoined his
brother visitors when the absorbing thought took word again, and he
began questioning them eagerly for more information about Hypatia.

On that point, indeed, he obtained nothing but fresh invective; but when
his companions, after talking of the triumph which the true faith had
gained that morning, went on to speak of the great overthrow of Paganism
twenty years before, under the patriarch Theophilus; of Olympiodorus and
his mob, who held the Serapeium for many days by force of arms against
the Christians, making sallies into the city, and torturing and
murdering the prisoners whom they took; of the martyrs who, among those
very pillars which overhung their heads, had died in torments rather
than sacrifice to Serapis; and of the final victory, and the soldier
who, in presence of the trembling mob, clove the great jaw of the
colossal idol, and snapped for ever the spell of heathenism, Philammon’s
heart burned to distinguish himself like that soldier, and to wipe out
his qualms of conscience by some more unquestionable deed of Christian
prowess. There were no idols now to break but there was philosophy--‘Why
not carry war into the heart of the enemy’s camp, and beard Satan in his
very den? Why does not some man of God go boldly into the lecture-room
of the sorceress, and testify against her to her face?’

‘Do it yourself, if you dare,’ said Peter. ‘We have no wish to get our
brains knocked out by all the profligate young gentlemen in the city.’

‘I will do it,’ said Philammon.

‘That is, if his holiness allows you to make such a fool of yourself.’

‘Take care, sir, of your words. You revile the blessed martyrs, from St.
Stephen to St. Telemachus, when you call such a deed foolishness.’

‘I shall most certainly inform his holiness of your insolence.’

‘Do so,’ said Philammon, who, possessed with a new idea, wished for
nothing more. And there the matter dropped for the time. ...............

‘The presumption of the young in this generation is growing
insufferable,’ said Peter to his master that evening.

‘So much the better. They put their elders on their mettle in the race
of good works. But who has been presuming to-day?’

‘That mad boy whom Pambo sent up from the deserts dared to offer himself
as champion of the faith against Hypatia. He actually proposed to go
into her lecture-room and argue with her to her face. What think you of
that for a specimen of youthful modesty and self-distrust?’

Cyril was silent a while.

‘What answer am I to have the honour of taking back? A month’s
relegation to Nitria on bread and water? You, I am sure, will not allow
such things to go unpunished; indeed, if they do, there is an end to all
authority and discipline.’

Cyril was still silent; whilst Peter’s brow clouded fast. At last he
answered--

‘The cause wants martyrs. Send the boy to me.’

Peter went down with a shrug, and an expression of face which looked but
too like envy, and ushered up the trembling youth, who dropped on his
knees as soon as he entered.

‘So you wish to go into the heathen woman’s lecture-room, and defy her?
Have you courage for it?’

‘God will give it me.’

‘You will be murdered by her pupils.’

‘I can defend myself,’ said Philammon, with a pardonable glance
downward at his sinewy limbs. ‘And if not: what death more glorious than
martyrdom?’

Cyril smiled genially enough. ‘Promise me two things.’

‘Two thousand, if you will.’

‘Two are quite difficult enough to keep. Youth is rash in promises, and
rasher in forgetting them. Promise me that, whatever happens, you will
not strike the first blow.’

‘I do.’

‘Promise me again, that you will not argue with her.’

‘What then?’

‘Contradict, denounce, defy. But give no reasons. If you do, you are
lost. She is subtler than the serpent, skilled in all the tricks of
logic, and you will become a laughing-stock, and run away in shame.
Promise me.’

‘I do.’

‘Then go.’

‘When?’

‘The sooner the better. At what hour does the accursed woman lecture
to-morrow, Peter?’

‘We saw her going to the Museum at nine this morning.’

‘Then go at nine to-morrow. There is money for you.’

‘What is this for?’ asked Philammon, fingering curiously the first coins
which he ever had handled in his life.

‘To pay for your entrance. To the philosopher none enters without money.
Not so to the Church of God, open all day long to the beggar and the
slave. If you convert her, well. And if not’.... And he added to himself
between his teeth, ‘And if not, well also--perhaps better.’

‘Ay!’ said Peter bitterly, as he ushered Philammon out. ‘Go up to Ramoth
Gilead, and prosper, young fool! What evil spirit sent you here to feed
the noble patriarch’s only weakness?’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Philammon, as fiercely as he dare.

‘The fancy that preachings, and protestations, and martyrdoms can drive
out the Canaanites, who can only be got rid of with the sword of the
Lord and of Gideon. His uncle Theophilus knew that well enough. If he
had not, Olympiodorus might have been master of Alexandria, and incense
burning before Serapis to this day. Ay, go, and let her convert you!
Touch the accursed thing, like Achan, and see if you do not end by
having it in your tent. Keep company with the daughters of Midian, and
see if you do not join yourself to Baal poor, and eat the offerings of
the dead!’

And with this encouraging sentence, the two parted for the night.



CHAPTER VIII: THE EAST WIND


As Hypatia went forth the next morning, in all her glory, with a crowd
of philosophers and philosophasters, students, and fine gentlemen,
following her in reverend admiration across the street to her
lecture-room, a ragged beggar-man, accompanied by a huge and
villainous-looking dog, planted himself right before her, and extending
a dirty hand, whined for an alms.

Hypatia, whose refined taste could never endure the sight, much less the
contact, of anything squalid and degraded, recoiled a little, and bade
the attendant slave get rid of the man with a coin. Several of the
younger gentlemen, however, considered themselves adepts in that noble
art of ‘upsetting’ then in vogue in the African universities, to which
we all have reason enough to be thankful, seeing that it drove Saint
Augustine from Carthage to Rome; and they, in compliance with the usual
fashion of tormenting any simple creature who came in their way by
mystification and insult, commenced a series of personal witticisms,
which the beggar bore stoically enough. The coin was offered him, but
he blandly put aside the hand of the giver, and keeping his place on the
pavement, seemed inclined to dispute Hypatia’s farther passage.

‘What do you want? Send the wretch and his frightful dog away,
gentlemen!’ said the poor philosopher in some trepidation.

‘I know that dog,’ said one of them; ‘it is Aben-Ezra’s. Where did you
find it before it was lost, you rascal.’

‘Where your mother found you when she palmed you off upon her goodman,
my child--in the slave-market. Fair Sybil, have you already forgotten
your humblest pupil, as these young dogs have, who are already trying to
upset their master and instructor in the angelic science of bullying?’

And the beggar, lifting his broad straw hat, disclosed the features of
Raphael Aben-Ezra. Hypatia recoiled with a shriek of surprise.

‘Ah! you are astonished. At what, I pray?’

‘To see you, sir, thus!’

‘Why, then? You have been preaching to us all a long time the glory of
abstraction from the allurements of sense. It augurs ill, surely, for
your estimate either of your pupils or of your own eloquence, if you are
so struck with consternation because one of them has actually at last
obeyed you.’

‘What is the meaning of this masquerade, most excellent sir?’ asked
Hypatia and a dozen voices beside.

‘Ask Cyril. I am on my way to Italy, in the character of the New
Diogenes, to look, like him, for a man. When I have found one, I shall
feel great pleasure in returning to acquaint you with the amazing news.
Farewell! I wished to look once more at a certain countenance, though
I have turned, as you see, Cynic; and intend henceforth to attend no
teacher but my dog, who will luckily charge no fees for instruction; if
she did, I must go untaught, for my ancestral wealth made itself wings
yesterday morning. You are aware, doubtless, of the Plebiscitum against
the Jews, which was carried into effect under the auspices of a certain
holy tribune of the people?’

‘Infamous!’

‘And dangerous, my dear lady. Success is inspiriting.... and Theon’s
house is quite as easily sacked, as the Jews’ quarter.... Beware.’

‘Come, come, Aben-Ezra,’ cried the young men; ‘you are far too good
company for us to lose you for that rascally patriarch’s fancy. We will
make a subscription for you, eh? And you shall live with each of us,
month and month about. We shall quite lose the trick of joking without
you.’

‘Thank you, gentlemen. But really you have been my butts far too long
for me to think of becoming yours. Madam, one word in private before I
go.’

Hypatia leant forward, and speaking in Syriac, whispered hurriedly--

‘Oh, stay, sir, I beseech you: You are the wisest of my pupils--perhaps
my only true pupil.... My father will find some concealment for you from
these wretches; and if you need money, remember, he is your debtor. We
have never repaid you the gold which--’

‘Fairest Muse, that was but my entrance-fee to Parnassus. It is I who
am in your debt; and I have brought my arrears, in the form of this
opal ring. As for shelter near you,’ he went on, lowering his voice, and
speaking like her, in Syriac--‘Hypatia the Gentile is far too lovely
for the peace of mind of Raphael the Jew.’ And he drew from his finger
Miriam’s ring and offered it.

‘Impossible!’ said Hypatia, blushing scarlet: ‘I cannot accept it.’

‘I beseech you. It is the last earthly burden I have, except this
snail’s prison of flesh and blood. My dagger will open a crack through
that when it becomes intolerable. But as I do not intend to leave my
shell, if I can help it, except just when and how I choose, and as, if
I take this ring with me, some of Heraclian’s Circumcellions will
assuredly knock my brains out for the sake of it-I must entreat.’

‘Never! Can you not sell the ring, and escape to Synesius? He will give
you shelter.’

‘The hospitable hurricane! Shelter, yes; but rest, none. As soon pitch
my tent in the crater of Aetna. Why, he will be trying day and night to
convert me to that eclectic farrago of his, which he calls philosophic
Christianity. Well, if you will not have the ring, it is soon disposed
of. We Easterns know how to be magnificent, and vanish as the lords of
the world ought.’

And he turned to the philosophic crowd.

‘Here, gentlemen of Alexandria! Does any gay youth wish to pay his
debts once and for all?--Behold the Rainbow of Solomon, an opal such
as Alexandria never saw before, which would buy any one of you, and his
Macedonian papa, and his Macedonian mamma, and his Macedonian sisters,
and horses, and parrots, and peacocks, twice over, in any slave-market
in the world. Any gentleman who wishes to possess a jewel worth ten
thousand gold pieces, will only need to pick it out of the gutter into
which I throw it. Scramble for it, you young Phaedrias and Pamphili!
There are Laides and Thaides enough about, who will help you to spend
it.’

And raising the jewel on high, he was in the act of tossing it into the
street, when his arm was seized from behind, and the ring snatched
from his hand. He turned, fiercely enough, and saw behind him, her eyes
flashing fury and contempt, old Miriam.

Bran sprang at the old woman’s throat in an instant; but recoiled again
before the glare of her eye. Raphael called the dog off, and turning
quietly to the disappointed spectators--

‘It is all right, my luckless friends. You must raise money for
yourselves, after all; which, since the departure of my nation, will be
a somewhat more difficult matter than ever. The over-ruling destinies,
whom, as you all know so well when you are getting tipsy, not even
philosophers can resist, have restored the Rainbow of Solomon to its
original possessor. Farewell, Queen of Philosophy! When I find the man,
you shall hear of it. Mother, I am coming with you for a friendly word
before we part, though’ he went on, laughing, as the two walked away
together, ‘it was a scurvy trick of you to balk one of The Nation of the
exquisite pleasure of seeing those heathen dogs scrambling in the gutter
for his bounty.’

Hypatia went on to the Museum, utterly bewildered by this strange
meeting, and its still stranger end. She took care, nevertheless, to
betray no sign of her deep interest till she found herself alone in
her little waiting-room adjoining the lecture-hall; and there, throwing
herself into a chair, she sat and thought, till she found, to her
surprise and anger, the tears trickling down her cheeks. Not that her
bosom held one spark of affection for Raphael. If there had ever been
any danger of that the wily Jew had himself taken care to ward it off,
by the sneering and frivolous tone with which he quashed every approach
to deep feeling, either in himself or in others. As for his compliments
to her beauty, she was far too much accustomed to such, to be either
pleased or displeased by them. But she felt, as she said, that she
had lost perhaps her only true pupil; and more--perhaps her only true
master. For she saw clearly enough, that under that Silenus’ mask was
hidden a nature capable of--perhaps more than she dare think of. She had
always felt him her superior in practical cunning; and that morning had
proved to her what she had long suspected, that he was possibly also her
superior in that moral earnestness and strength of will for which she
looked in vain among the enervated Greeks who surrounded her. And even
in those matters in which he professed himself her pupil, she had long
been alternately delighted by finding that he alone, of all her school,
seemed thoroughly and instinctively to comprehend her every word, and
chilled by the disagreeable suspicion that he was only playing with her,
and her mathematics and geometry, and meta-physic and dialectic, like
a fencer practising with foils, while he reserved his real strength for
some object more worthy of him. More than once some paradox or question
of his had shaken her neatest systems into a thousand cracks, and
opened up ugly depths of doubt, even on the most seemingly-palpable
certainties; or some half-jesting allusion to those Hebrew Scriptures,
the quantity and quality of his faith in which he would never confess,
made her indignant at the notion that he considered himself in
possession of a reserved ground of knowledge, deeper and surer than her
own, in which he did not deign to allow her to share.

And yet she was irresistibly attracted to him. That deliberate and
consistent luxury of his, from which she shrank, he had always boasted
that he was able to put on and take off at will like a garment: and now
he seemed to have proved his words; to be a worthy rival of the great
Stoics of old time. Could Zeno himself have asked more from frail
humanity? Moreover, Raphael had been of infinite practical use to
her. He worked out, unasked, her mathematical problems; he looked out
authorities, kept her pupils in order by his bitter tongue, and drew
fresh students to her lectures by the attractions of his wit, his
arguments, and last, but not least, his unrivalled cook and cellar.
Above all he acted the part of a fierce and valiant watch-dog on her
behalf, against the knots of clownish and often brutal sophists, the
wrecks of the old Cynic, Stoic, and Academic schools, who, with venom
increasing, after the wont of parties, with their decrepitude, assailed
the beautifully bespangled card-castle of Neo-Platonism, as an empty
medley of all Greek philosophies with all Eastern superstitions. All
such Philistines had as yet dreaded the pen and tongue of Raphael, even
more than those of the chivalrous Bishop of Cyrene, though he certainly,
to judge from certain of his letters, hated them as much as he could
hate any human being; which was after all not very bitterly.

But the visits of Synesius were few and far between; the distance
between Carthage and Alexandria, and the labour of his diocese, and,
worse than all, the growing difference in purpose between him and
his beautiful teacher, made his protection all but valueless. And now
Aben-Ezra was gone too, and with him were gone a thousand plans and
hopes. To have converted him at last to a philosophic faith in the old
gods! To have made him her instrument for turning back the stream of
human error I... How often had that dream crossed her! And now, who
would take his place? Athanasius? Synesius in his good-nature might
dignify him with the name of brother, but to her he was a powerless
pedant, destined to die without having wrought any deliverance on
the earth, as indeed the event proved. Plutarch of Athens? He was
superannuated. Syrianus? A mere logician, twisting Aristotle to mean
what she knew, and he ought to have known, Aristotle never meant. Her
father? A man of triangles and conic sections. How paltry they all
looked by the side of the unfathomable Jew!--Spinners of charming
cobwebs..... But would the flies condescend to be caught in them?
Builders of pretty houses..... If people would but enter and live in
them! Preachers of superfine morality.... which their admiring pupils
never dreamt of practising. Without her, she well knew, philosophy must
die in Alexandria. And was it her wisdom--or other and more earthly
charms of hers--which enabled her to keep it alive? Sickening thought!
Oh, that she were ugly, only to test the power of her doctrines!

Ho! The odds were fearful enough already; she would be glad of any help,
however earthly and carnal. But was not the work hopeless? What she
wanted was men who could act while she thought. And those were just the
men whom she would find nowhere but--she knew it too well--in the hated
Christian priesthood. And then that fearful Iphigenia sacrifice loomed
in the distance as inevitable. The only hope of philosophy was in her
despair! ...............

She dashed away the tears, and proudly entered the lecture-hall, and
ascended the tribune like a goddess, amid the shouts of her audience....
What did she care for them? Would they do what she told them? She was
half through her lecture before she could recollect herself, and banish
from her mind the thought of Raphael. And at that point we will take the
lecture up. ...............

‘Truth? Where is truth but in the soul itself? Facts, objects, are but
phantoms matter-woven--ghosts of this earthly night, at which the soul,
sleeping here in the mire and clay of matter, shudders and names its own
vague tremors sense and perception. Yet, even as our nightly dreams stir
in us the suspicion of mysterious and immaterial presences, unfettered
by the bonds of time and space, so do these waking dreams which we call
sight and sound. They are divine messengers, whom Zeus, pitying
his children, even when he pent them in this prison-house of flesh,
appointed to arouse in them dim recollections of that real world of
souls whence they came. Awakened once to them; seeing, through the
veil of sense and fact, the spiritual truth of which they are but the
accidental garment, concealing the very thing which they make palpable,
the philosopher may neglect the fact for the doctrine, the shell for
the kernel, the body for the soul, of which it is but the symbol and the
vehicle. What matter, then, to the philosopher whether these names of
men, Hector or Priam, Helen or Achilles, were ever visible as phantoms
of flesh and blood before the eyes of men? What matter whether they
spoke or thought as he of Scios says they did? What matter, even,
whether he himself ever had earthly life? The book is here--the word
which men call his. Let the thoughts thereof have been at first whose
they may, now they are mine. I have taken them to myself, and thought
them to myself, and made them parts of my own soul. Nay, they were and
ever will be parts of me; for they, even as the poet was, even as I am,
are but a part of the universal soul. What matter, then, what myths
grew up around those mighty thoughts of ancient seers? Let others try
to reconcile the Cyclic fragments, or vindicate the Catalogue of ships.
What has the philosopher lost, though the former were proved to be
contradictory, and the latter interpolated? The thoughts are there, and
ours, Let us open our hearts lovingly to receive them, from whencesoever
they may have come. As in men, so in books, the soul is all with which
our souls must deal; and the soul of the book is whatsoever beautiful,
and true, and noble we can find in it. It matters not to us whether the
poet was altogether conscious of the meanings which we can find in him.
Consciously or unconsciously to him, the meanings must be there; for
were they not there to be seen, how could we see them? There are
those among the uninitiate vulgar--and those, too, who carry under
the philosophic cloak hearts still uninitiate--who revile such
interpretations as merely the sophistic and arbitrary sports of fancy.
It lies with them to show what Homer meant, if our spiritual meanings be
absurd; to tell the world why Homer is admirable, if that for which we
hold him up to admiration does not exist in him. Will they say that the
honour which he has enjoyed for ages was inspired by that which seems to
be his first and literal meaning? And more, will they venture to impute
that literal meaning to him? can they suppose that the divine soul of
Homer could degrade itself to write of actual and physical feastings,
and nuptials, and dances, actual nightly thefts of horses, actual
fidelity of dogs and swineherds, actual intermarriages between deities
and men, or that it is this seeming vulgarity which has won for him from
the wisest of every age the title of the father of poetry? Degrading
thought! fit only for the coarse and sense-bound tribe who can
appreciate nothing but what is palpable to sense and sight! As soon
believe the Christian scriptures, when they tell us of a deity who has
hands and feet, eyes and ears, who condescends to command the patterns
of furniture and culinary utensils, and is made perfect by being
born--disgusting thought!--as the son of a village maiden, and defiling
himself with the wants and sorrows of the lowest slaves!’

‘It is false! blasphemous! The Scriptures cannot lie!’ cried a voice
from the farther end of the room.

It was Philammon’s. He had been listening to the whole lecture; and yet
not so much listening as watching, in bewilderment, the beauty of the
speaker, the grace of her action, the melody of her voice, and last, but
not least, the maze of her rhetoric, as it glittered before his
mind’s eye like a cobweb diamonded with dew. A sea of new thoughts and
questions, if not of doubts, came rushing in at every sentence on his
acute Greek intellect, all the more plentifully and irresistibly
because his speculative faculty was as yet altogether waste and empty,
undefended by any scientific culture from the inrushing flood. For
the first time in his life he found himself face to face with the
root-questions of all thought--‘What am I, and where?’ ‘What can I
know?’ And in the half-terrified struggle with them, he had all but
forgotten the purpose for which he entered the lecture-hall. He
felt that he must break the spell. Was she not a heathen and a
false prophetess? Here was something tangible to attack; and half
in indignation at the blasphemy, half in order to force himself into
action, he had sprung up and spoken.

A yell arose. ‘Turn the monk out!’ ‘Throw the rustic through the window!’
cried a dozen young gentlemen. Several of the most valiant began to
scramble over the benches up to him; and Philammon was congratulating
himself on the near approach of a glorious martyrdom, when Hypatia’s
voice, calm and silvery, stifled the tumult in a moment.

‘Let the youth listen, gentlemen. He is but a monk and a plebeian, and
knows no better; he has been taught thus. Let him sit here quietly, and
perhaps we may be able to teach him otherwise.’

And without interrupting, even by a change of tone, the thread of her
discourse, she continued--

‘Listen, then, to a passage from the sixth book of the _Iliad_, in which
last night I seemed to see glimpses of some mighty mystery. You know it
well: yet I will read it to you; the very sound and pomp of that great
verse may tune our souls to a fit key for the reception of lofty wisdom.
For well said Abamnon the Teacher, that “the soul consisted first of
harmony and rhythm, and ere it gave itself to the body, had listened to
the divine harmony. Therefore it is that when, after having come into
a body, it hears such melodies as most preserve the divine footstep of
harmony, it embraces such, and recollects from them that divine harmony,
and is impelled to it, and finds its home in it, and shares of it as
much as it can share.”’

And therewith fell on Philammon’s ear, for the first time, the mighty
thunder-roll of Homer’s verse--

So spoke the stewardess: but Hector rushed From the house, the same way
back, down stately streets, Through the broad city, to the Scaian gates,
Whereby he must go forth toward the plain, There running toward him
came Andromache, His ample-dowered wife, Eetion’s child-- Eetion the
great-hearted, he who dwelt In Thebe under Placos, and the woods Of
Placos, ruling over Kilic men. His daughter wedded Hector brazen-helmed,
And met him then; and with her came a maid, Who bore in arms a
playful-hearted babe An infant still, akin to some fair star, Only and
well-loved child of Hector’s house, Whom he had named Scamandrios, but
the rest Astyanax, because his sire alone Upheld the weal of Ilion the
holy. He smiled in silence, looking on his child But she stood close to
him, with many tears; And hung upon his hand, and spoke, and called him.
‘My hero, thy great heart will wear thee out; Thou pitiest not thine
infant child, nor me The hapless, soon to be thy widow; The Greeks will
slay thee, falling one and all Upon thee: but to me were sweeter far,
Having lost thee, to die; no cheer to me Will come thenceforth, if thou
shouldst meet thy fate; Woes only: mother have I none, nor sire. For
that my sire divine Achilles slew, And wasted utterly the pleasant homes
Of Kilic folk in Thebe lofty-walled, And slew Eetion with the sword!
yet spared To strip the dead: awe kept his soul from that. Therefore he
burnt him in his graven arms, And heaped a mound above him; and around
The damsels of the Aegis-holding Zeus, The nymphs who haunt the upland,
planted elms. And seven brothers bred with me in the halls, All in one
day went down to Hades there; For all of them swift-foot Achilles slew
Beside the lazy kine and snow-white sheep. And her, my mother, who of
late was queen Beneath the woods of Places, he brought here Among his
other spoils; yet set her free Again, receiving ransom rich and great.
But Artemis, whose bow is all her joy, Smote her to death within her
father’s halls. Hector! so thou art father to me now, Mother, and
brother, and husband fair and strong! Oh, come now, pity me, and stay
thou here Upon the tower, nor make thy child an orphan And me thy wife
a widow; range the men Here by the fig-tree, where the city lies Lowest,
and where the wall can well be scaled; For here three times the best
have tried the assault Round either Ajax, and Idomeneus, And round the
Atridai both, and Tydeus’ son, Whether some cunning seer taught them
craft, Or their own spirit stirred and drove them on.’ Then spake tall
Hector, with the glancing helm All this I too have watched, my wife; yet
much I hold in dread the scorn of Trojan men And Trojan women with their
trailing shawls, If, like a coward, I should skulk from war. Beside, I
have no lust to stay; I have learnt Aye to be bold, and lead the van of
fight, To win my father, and myself, a name. For well I know, at heart
and in my thought, The day will come when Ilios the holy Shall lie in
heaps, and Priam, and the folk Of ashen-speared Priam, perish all. But
yet no woe to come to Trojan men, Nor even to Hecabe, nor Priam king,
Nor to my brothers, who shall roll in dust, Many and fair, beneath the
strokes of foes, So moves me, as doth thine, when thou shalt go Weeping,
led off by some brass-harnessed Greek, Robbed of the daylight of thy
liberty, To weave in Argos at another’s loom, Or bear the water of
Messeis home, Or Hypereia, with unseemly toils, While heavy doom
constrains thee, and perchance The folk may say, who see thy tears
run down, “This was the wife of Hector, best in fight At Ilium, of
horse-taming Trojan men.” So will they say perchance; while unto thee
Now grief will come, for such a husband’s loss, Who might have warded
off the day of thrall. But may the soil be heaped above my corpse Before
I hear thy shriek and see thy shame!’ He spoke, and stretched his arms
to take the child, But back the child upon his nurse’s breast Shrank
crying, frightened at his father’s looks. Fearing the brass and crest of
horse’s hair Which waved above the helmet terribly. Then out that father
dear and mother laughed, And glorious Hector took the helmet off, And
laid it gleaming on the ground, and kissed His darling child, and danced
him in his arm; And spoke in prayer to Zeus, and all the gods ‘Zeu,
and ye other gods, oh grant that this My child, like me, may grow the
champion here As good in strength, and rule with might in Troy That men
may say, “The boy is better far Than was his sire,” when he returns
from war, Bearing a gory harness, having slain A foeman, and his mothers
heart rejoice. Thus saying, on the hands of his dear wife He laid the
child; and she received him back In fragrant bosom, smiling through her
tears.

[Footnote: The above lines are not meant as a ‘translation,’ but as an
humble attempt to give the literal sense in some sort of metre. It would
be an act of arrogance even to aim at success where Pope and Chapman
failed. It is simply, I believe, impossible to render Homer into English
verse; because, for one reason among many, it is impossible to preserve
the pomp of sound, which invests with grandeur his most common words.
How can any skill represent the rhythm of Homeric Greek in a language
which--to take the first verse which comes to hand--transforms ‘boos
megaloio boeien,’ into ‘great ox’s hide’?]

‘Such is the myth. Do you fancy that in it Homer meant to hand down to
the admiration of ages such earthly commonplaces as a mother’s brute
affection, and the terrors of an infant? Surely the deeper insight of
the philosopher may be allowed without the reproach of fancifulness, to
see in it the adumbration of some deeper mystery!

‘The elect soul, for instance--is not its name Astyanax, king of the
city; by the fact of its ethereal parentage, the leader and lord of
all around it, though it knows it not? A child as yet, it lies upon
the fragrant bosom of its mother Nature, the nurse and yet the enemy
of man--Andromache, as the poet well names her, because she fights with
that being, when grown to man’s estate, whom as a child she nourished.
Fair is she, yet unwise; pampering us, after the fashion of mothers,
with weak indulgences; fearing to send us forth into the great realities
of speculation, there to forget her in the pursuit of glory, she would
have us while away our prime within the harem, and play for ever round
her knees. And has not the elect soul a father, too, whom it knows not?
Hector, he who is without--unconfined, unconditioned by Nature, yet its
husband?--the all-pervading, plastic Soul, informing, organising, whom
men call Zeus the lawgiver, Aether the fire, Osiris the lifegiver; whom
here the poet has set forth as the defender of the mystic city, the
defender of harmony, and order, and beauty throughout the universe?
Apart sits his great father--Priam, the first of existences, father
of many sons, the Absolute Reason; unseen, tremendous, immovable, in
distant glory; yet himself amenable to that abysmal unity which Homer
calls Fate, the source of all which is, yet in Itself Nothing, without
predicate, unnameable.

‘From It and for It the universal Soul thrills through the whole
Creation, doing the behests of that Reason from which it overflowed,
unwillingly, into the storm and crowd of material appearances; warring
with the brute forces of gross matter, crushing all which is foul and
dissonant to itself, and clasping to its bosom the beautiful, and all
wherein it discovers its own reflex; impressing on it its signature,
reproducing from it its own likeness, whether star, or daemon, or soul
of the elect:--and yet, as the poet hints in anthropomorphic language,
haunted all the while by a sadness--weighed down amid all its labours by
the sense of a fate--by the thought of that First One from whom the Soul
is originally descended; from whom it, and its Father the Reason before
it, parted themselves when they dared to think and act, and assert their
own free will.

‘And in the meanwhile, alas! Hector, the father, fights around, while
his children sleep and feed; and he is away in the wars, and they know
him not-know not that they the individuals are but parts of him the
universal. And yet at moments--oh! thrice blessed they whose celestial
parentage has made such moments part of their appointed destiny--at
moments flashes on the human child the intuition of the unutterable
secret. In the spangled glory of the summer night--in the roar of the
Nile-flood, sweeping down fertility in every wave--in the awful depths
of the temple-shrine--in the wild melodies of old Orphic singers, or
before the images of those gods of whose perfect beauty the divine
theosophists of Greece caught a fleeting shadow, and with the sudden
might of artistic ecstasy smote it, as by an enchanter’s wand, into an
eternal sleep of snowy stone--in these there flashes on the inner eye a
vision beautiful and terrible, of a force, an energy, a soul, an idea,
one and yet million-fold, rushing through all created things, like the
wind across a lyre, thrilling the strings into celestial harmony--one
life-blood through the million veins of the universe, from one great
unseen heart, whose thunderous pulses the mind hears far away, beating
for ever in the abysmal solitude, beyond the heavens and the galaxies,
beyond the spaces and the times, themselves but veins and runnels from
its all-teeming sea.


‘Happy, thrice happy! they who once have dared, even though breathless,
blinded with tears of awful joy, struck down upon their knees in utter
helplessness, as they feel themselves but dead leaves in the wind which
sweeps the universe--happy they who have dared to gaze, if but for an
instant, on the terror of that glorious pageant; who have not, like the
young Astyanax, clung shrieking to the breast of mother Nature, scared
by the heaven-wide flash of Hector’s arms, and the glitter of his
rainbow crest! Happy, thrice happy,! even though their eyeballs, blasted
by excess of light, wither to ashes in their sockets!--Were it not a
noble end to have seen Zeus, and die like Semele, burnt up by his
glory? Happy, thrice happy! though their mind reel from the divine
intoxication, and the hogs of Circe call them henceforth madmen and
enthusiasts. Enthusiasts they are; for Deity is in them, and they in
It. For the time, this burden of individuality vanishes, and recognising
themselves as portions of the universal Soul, they rise upward, through
and beyond that Reason from whence the soul proceeds, to the fount of
all--the ineffable and Supreme One--and seeing It, become by that act
portions of Its essence. They speak no more, but It speaks in them, and
their whole being, transmuted by that glorious sunlight into whose rays
they have dared, like the eagle, to gaze without shrinking, becomes an
harmonious vehicle for the words of Deity, and passive itself, utters
the secrets of the immortal gods! What wonder if to the brute mass they
seem as dreamers? Be it so.... Smile if you will. But ask me not to
teach you things unspeakable, above all sciences, which the word-battle
of dialectic, the discursive struggles of reason, can never reach, but
which must be seen only, and when seen confessed to be unspeakable.
Hence, thou disputer of the Academy!--hence, thou sneering
Cynic!--hence, thou sense-worshipping Stoic, who fanciest that the soul
is to derive her knowledge from those material appearances which she
herself creates!.... hence--; and yet no: stay and sneer if you will.
It is but a little time--a few days longer in this prison-house of
our degradation, and each thing shall return to its own fountain; the
blood-drop to the abysmal heart, and the water to the river, and the
river to the shining sea; and the dew-drop which fell from heaven shall
rise to heaven again, shaking off the dust-grains which weighed it down,
thawed from the earth-frost which chained it here to herb and sward,
upward and upward ever through stars and suns, through gods, and through
the parents of the gods, purer and purer through successive lives,
till it enters The Nothing, which is The All, and finds its home at
last.’....

And the speaker stopped suddenly, her eyes glistening with tears, her
whole figure trembling and dilating with rapture. She remained for a
moment motionless, gazing earnestly at her audience, as if in hopes of
exciting in them some kindred glow; and then recovering herself, added
in a more tender tone, not quite unmixed with sadness--

‘Go now, my pupils. Hypatia has no more for you to-day. Go now, and
spare her at least--woman as she is after all--the shame of finding
that she has given you too much, and lifted the veil of Isis before
eyes which are not enough purified to behold the glory of the
goddess.--Farewell!’

She ended: and Philammon, the moment that the spell of her voice was
taken off him, sprang up, and hurried out through the corridor into the
street....

So beautiful! So calm and merciful to him So enthusiastic towards all
which was noble! Had not she too spoken of the unseen world, of the hope
of immortality, of the conquest of the spirit over the flesh, just as a
Christian might have done? Was the gulf between them so infinite? If so,
why had her aspirations awakened echoes in his own heart--echoes too,
just such as the prayers and lessons of the Laura used to awaken? If the
fruit was so like, must not the root be like also?.... Could that be a
counterfeit? That a minister of Satan in the robes of an angel of
light? Light, at least, it was purity, simplicity, courage, earnestness,
tenderness, flashed out from eye, lip, gesture.... A heathen, who
disbelieved? .... What was the meaning of it all?

But the finishing stroke yet remained which was to complete the utter
confusion of his mind. For before he had gone fifty yards up the street,
his little friend of the fruit-basket, whom he had not seen since
he vanished under the feet of the mob in the gateway of the theatre,
clutched him by the arm, and burst forth, breathless with running--

‘The--gods--heap their favours--on those who--who least deserve them!
Rash and insolent rustic! And this is the reward of thy madness!’

‘Off with you!’ said Philammon, who had no mind at the moment to renew
his acquaintance with the little porter. But the guardian of parasols
kept a firm hold on his sheepskin.

‘Fool! Hypatia herself commands! Yes, you will see her, have speech with
her! while I--I the illuminated--I the appreciating--I the obedient--I
the adoring--who for these three years past have grovelled in the
kennel, that the hem of her garment might touch the tip of my little
finger--I--I--I--’

‘What do you want, madman?’

‘She calls for thee, insensate wretch! Theon sent me--breathless at once
with running and with envy--Go! favourite of the unjust gods!’

‘Who is Theon?’

‘Her father, ignorant! He commands thee to be at her
house--here-opposite--to-morrow at the third hour. Hear and obey! There
they are coming out of the Museum, and all the parasols will get wrong!
Oh, miserable me!’ And the poor little fellow rushed back again, while
Philammon, at his wits’ end between dread and longing, started off,
and ran the whole way home to the Serapeium, regardless of carriages,
elephants, and foot-passengers; and having been knocked down by a
surly porter, and left a piece of his sheepskin between the teeth of a
spiteful camel-neither of which insults he had time to resent-arrived at
the archbishop’s house, found Peter the Reader, and tremblingly begged
an audience from Cyril.



CHAPTER IX: THE SNAPPING OF THE BOW


Cyril heard Philammon’s story and Hypatia’s message with a quiet smile,
and then dismissed the youth to an afternoon of labour in the city,
commanding him to mention no word of what had happened, and to come to
him that evening and receive his order when he should have had time
to think over the matter. So forth Philammon went with his companions,
through lanes and alleys hideous with filth and poverty, compulsory
idleness and native sin. Fearfully real and practical it all was; but he
saw it all dimly as in a dream. Before his eyes one face was shining; in
his ears one silvery voice was ringing.... ‘He is a monk, and knows no
better.’.... True! And how should he know better? How could he tell
how much more there was to know, in that great new universe, in such
a cranny whereof his life had till now been past? He had heard but one
side already. What if there were two sides? Had he not a right-that is,
was it not proper, fair, prudent, that he should hear both, and then
judge?

Cyril had hardly, perhaps, done wisely for the youth in sending him out
about the practical drudgery of benevolence, before deciding for him
what was his duty with regard to Hypatia’s invitation. He had not
calculated on the new thoughts which were tormenting the young monk;
perhaps they would have been unintelligible to him bad he known of them.
Cyril had been bred up under the most stern dogmatic training, in those
vast monastic establishments, which had arisen amid the neighbouring
saltpetre quarries of Nitria, where thousands toiled in voluntary
poverty and starvation at vast bakeries, dyeries, brick-fields, tailors’
shops, carpenters’ yards, and expended the profits of their labour, not
on themselves, for they had need of nothing, but on churches, hospitals,
and alms. Educated in that world of practical industrial production as
well as of religious exercise, which by its proximity to the great
city accustomed monks to that world which they despised; entangled from
boyhood in the intrigues of his fierce and ambitious uncle Theophilus,
Cyril had succeeded him in the patriarchate of Alexandria without
having felt a doubt, and stood free to throw his fiery energy and clear
practical intellect into the cause of the Church without scruple, even,
where necessary, without pity. How could such a man sympathise with the
poor boy of twenty, suddenly dragged forth from the quiet cavern-shadow
of the Laura into the full blaze and roar of the world’s noonday? He,
too, was cloister-bred. But the busy and fanatic atmosphere of Nitria,
where every nerve of soul and body was kept on a life-long artificial
strain, without rest, without simplicity, without human affection, was
utterly antipodal to the government of the remote and needy, though
no less industrious commonwealths of Coenobites, who dotted the lonely
mountain-glens, far up into the heart of the Nubian desert. In such a
one Philammon had received, from a venerable man, a mother’s sympathy as
well as a father’s care; and now he yearned for the encouragement of a
gentle voice, for the greeting of a kindly eye, and was lonely and sick
at heart.... And still Hypatia’s voice haunted his ears, like a strain
of music, and would not die away. That lofty enthusiasm, so sweet and
modest in its grandeur--that tone of pity--in one so lovely it could
not be called contempt--for the many; that delicious phantom of being an
elect spirit, unlike the crowd.... ‘And am I altogether like the crowd?’
said Philammon to himself, as he staggered along under the weight of a
groaning fever-patient. ‘Can there be found no fitter work for me than
this, which any porter from the quay might do as well? Am I not somewhat
wasted on such toil as this? Have I not an intellect, a taste, a reason?
I could appreciate what she said.--Why should not my faculties be
educated? Why am I only to be shut out from knowledge? There is a
Christian Gnosis as well as a heathen one. What was permissible to
Clement’--he had nearly said to Origen, but checked himself on the
edge of heresy--‘is surely lawful for me! Is not my very craving for
knowledge a sign that I am capable of it? Surely my sphere is the study
rather than the street!’

And then his fellow-labourers--he could not deny it to himself--began to
grow less venerable in his eyes. Let him try as he might to forget the
old priest’s grumblings and detractions, the fact was before him. The
men were coarse, fierce, noisy.... so different from her! Their talk
seemed mere gossip--scandalous too, and hard-judging, most of it; about
that man’s private ambition, and that woman’s proud looks; and who had
stayed for the Eucharist the Sun-day before, and who had gone out after
the sermon; and how the majority who did not stay could possibly dare to
go, and how the minority who did not go could possibly dare to stay....
Endless suspicions, sneers, complaints.... what did they care for the
eternal glories and the beatific vision? Their one test for all men and
things, from the patriarch to the prefect, seemed to be--did he or it
advance the cause of the Church?--which Philammon soon discovered to
mean their own cause, their influence, their self-glorification. And the
poor boy, as his faculty for fault-finding quickened under the influence
of theirs, seemed to see under the humble stock-phrases in which they
talked of their labours of love, and the future reward of their present
humiliations, a deep and hardly-bidden pride, a faith in their
own infallibility, a contemptuous impatience of every man, however
venerable, who differed from their party on any, the slightest, matter.
They spoke with sneers of Augustine’s Latinising tendencies, and with
open execrations of Chrysostom, as the vilest and most impious of
schismatics; and, for aught Philammon knew, they were right enough. But
when they talked of wars and desolation past and impending, without a
word of pity for the slain and ruined, as a just judgment of Heaven
upon heretics and heathens; when they argued over the awful struggle
for power which, as he gathered from their words, was even then pending
between the Emperor and the Count of Africa, as if it contained but one
question of interest to them--would Cyril, and they as his bodyguard,
gain or lose power in Alexandria? and lastly, when at some mention of
Orestes, and of Hypatia as his counsellor, they broke out into open
imprecations of God’s curse, and comforted themselves with the prospect
of everlasting torment for both; he shuddered and asked himself
involuntarily--were these the ministers of a Gospel?--were these the
fruits of Christ’s Spirit?.... And a whisper thrilled through the inmost
depth of his soul--‘Is there a Gospel? Is there a Spirit of Christ?
Would not their fruits be different from these?’

Faint, and low, and distant, was that whisper, like the mutter of an
earthquake miles below the soil. And yet, like the earthquake-roll, it
had in that one moment jarred every belief, and hope, and memory of his
being each a hair’s-breadth from its place.... Only one hair’s-breadth.
But that was enough; his whole inward and outward world changed shape,
and cracked at every joint. What if it were to fall in pieces? His brain
reeled with the thought. He doubted his own identity. The very light of
heaven had altered its hue. Was the firm ground on which he stood after
all no solid reality, but a fragile shell which covered--what?

The nightmare vanished, and he breathed once more. What a strange dream!
The sun and the exertion must have made him giddy. He would forget all
about it.

Weary with labour, and still wearier with thought, he returned that
evening, longing and yet dreading to be permitted to speak with Hypatia.
He half hoped at moments that Cyril might think him too weak for it;
and the next, all his pride and daring, not to say his faith and hope,
spurred him on. Might he but face the terrible enchantress, and rebuke
her to her face! And yet so lovely, so noble as she looked! Could
he speak to her, except in tones of gentle warning, pity, counsel,
entreaty? Might he not convert her--save her? Glorious thought! to win
such a soul to the true cause! To be able to show, as the firstfruits of
his mission, the very champion of heathendom! It was worth while to have
lived only to do that; and having done it, to die.

The archbishop’s lodgings, when he entered them, were in a state of
ferment even greater than usual. Groups of monks, priests, parabolani,
and citizens rich and poor, were banging about the courtyard, talking
earnestly and angrily. A large party of monks fresh from Nitria, with
ragged hair and beards, and the peculiar expression of countenance which
fanatics of all creeds acquire, fierce and yet abject, self-conscious
and yet ungoverned, silly and yet sly, with features coarsened and
degraded by continual fasting and self-torture, prudishly shrouded from
head to heel in their long ragged gowns, were gesticulating wildly and
loudly, and calling on their more peaceable companions, in no measured
terms, to revenge some insult offered to the Church.

‘What is the matter?’ asked Philammon of a quiet portly citizen, who
stood looking up, with a most perplexed visage, at the windows of the
patriarch’s apartments.

‘Don’t ask me; I have nothing to do with it. Why does not his holiness
come out and speak to them? Blessed virgin, mother of God! that we were
well through it all!--’

‘Coward!’ bawled a monk in his ear. ‘These shopkeepers care for nothing
but seeing their stalls safe. Rather than lose a day’s custom, they
would give the very churches to be plundered by the heathen!’

‘We do not want them!’ cried another. ‘We managed Dioscuros and his
brother, and we can manage Orestes. What matter what answer he sends?
The devil shall have his own!’

‘They ought to have been back two hours ago: they are murdered by this
time.’

‘He would not dare to touch the archdeacon!’

‘He will dare anything. Cyril should never have sent them forth as lambs
among wolves. What necessity was there for letting the prefect know that
the Jews were gone? He would have found it out for himself fast enough,
the next time he wanted to borrow money.’

‘What is all this about, reverend sir?’ asked Philammon of Peter the
Reader, who made his appearance at that moment in the quadrangle,
walking with great strides, like the soul of Agamemnon across the meads
of Asphodel, and apparently beside himself with rage.

‘Ah! you here? You may go to-morrow, young fool! The patriarch can’t
talk to you. Why should he? Some people have a great deal too much
notice taken of them, in my opinion. Yes; you may go. If your head is
not turned already, you may go and get it turned to-morrow. We shall see
whether he who exalts himself is not abased, before all is over!’ And he
was striding away, when Philammon, at the risk of an explosion, stopped
him.

‘His holiness commanded me to see him, sir, before--’

Peter turned on him in a fury. ‘Fool! will you dare to intrude your
fantastical dreams on him at such a moment as this?’

‘He commanded me to see him,’ said Philammon, with the true soldierlike
discipline of a monk; ‘and see him I will in spite of any man. I believe
in my heart you wish to keep me from his counsels and his blessing.’

Peter looked at him for a moment with a right wicked expression, and
then, to the youth’s astonishment, struck him full in the face, and
yelled for help.

If the blow had been given by Pambo in the Laura a week before,
Philammon would have borne it. But from that man, and coming
unexpectedly as the finishing stroke to all his disappointment and
disgust, it was intolerable; and in an instant Peter’s long legs were
sprawling on the pavement, while he bellowed like a bull for all the
monks in Nitria.

A dozen lean brown hands were at Philammon’s throat as Peter rose.
‘Seize him! hold him!’ half blubbered he. ‘The traitor! the heretic! He
holds communion with heathens!’

‘Down with him!’ ‘Cast him out! Carry him to the archbishop!’ while
Philammon shook himself free, and Peter returned to the charge.

‘I call all good Catholics to witness! He has beaten an ecclesiastic in
the courts of the Lord’s house, even in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem!
And he was in Hypatia’s lecture-room this morning!’

A groan of pious horror rose. Philammon set his back against the wall.

‘His holiness the patriarch sent me.’

‘He confesses, he confesses! He deluded the piety of the patriarch into
letting him go, under colour of converting her; and even now he wants
to intrude on the sacred presence of Cyril, burning only with the carnal
desire that he may meet the sorceress in her house to-morrow!’

‘Scandal!’ ‘Abomination in the holy place!’ and a rush at the poor youth
took place.

His blood was thoroughly up. The respectable part of the crowd, as usual
in such cases, prudently retreated, and left him to the mercy of the
monks, with an eye to their own reputation for orthodoxy, not to mention
their personal safety; and he had to help himself as he could. He looked
round for a weapon. There was none. The ring of monks were baying at him
like hounds round a bear: and though he might have been a match for any
one of them singly, yet their sinewy limbs and determined faces warned
him that against such odds the struggle would be desperate.

‘Let me leave this court in safety! God knows whether I am a heretic;
and to Him I commit my cause! The holy patriarch shall know of your
iniquity. I will not trouble you; I give you leave to call me heretic,
or heathen, if you will, if I cross this threshold till Cyril himself
sends for me back to shame you.’

And he turned, and forced his way to the gate, amid a yell of derision
which brought every drop of, blood in his body into his cheeks. Twice,
as he went down the vaulted passage, a rush was made on him from behind,
but the soberer of his persecutors checked it. Yet he could not leave
them, young and hot-headed as he was, without one last word, and on the
threshold he turned.

‘You! who call yourselves the disciples of the Lord, and are more like
the demoniacs who abode day and night in the tombs, crying and cutting
themselves with stones--’

In an instant they rushed upon him; and, luckily for him, rushed also
into the arms of a party of ecclesiastics, who were hurrying inwards
from the street, with faces of blank terror.

‘He has refused!’ shouted the foremost. He declares war against the
Church of God!’

‘Oh, my friends,’ panted the archdeacon, ‘we are escaped like the bird
out of the snare of the fowler. The tyrant kept us waiting two hours at
his palace-gates, and then sent lictors out upon us, with rods and axes,
telling us that they were the only message which he had for robbers and
rioters.’

‘Back to the patriarch!’ and the whole mob streamed in again, leaving
Philammon alone in the street--and in the world.

Whither now?

He strode on in his wrath some hundred yards or more before he asked
himself that question. And when he asked it, he found himself in no
humour to answer it. He was adrift, and blown out of harbour upon a
shoreless sea, in utter darkness; all heaven and earth were nothing to
him. He was alone in the blindness of anger.

Gradually one fixed idea, as a light-tower, began to glimmer through the
storm.... To see Hypatia, and convert her. He had the patriarch’s leave
for that. That must be right. That would justify him--bring him back,
perhaps, in a triumph more glorious than any Caesar’s, leading captive,
in the fetters of the Gospel, the Queen of Heathendom. Yes, there was
that left, for which to live.

His passion cooled down gradually as he wandered on in the fading
evening light, up one street and down another, till he had utterly lost
his way. What matter? He should find that lecture-room to-morrow at
least. At last he found himself in a broad avenue, which he seemed to
know. Was that the Sun-gate in the distance? He sauntered carelessly
down it, and found himself at last on the great Esplanade, whither the
little porter had taken him three days before. He was close then to the
Museum, and to her house. Destiny had led him, unconsciously, towards
the scene of his enterprise. It was a good omen; he would go thither
at once. He might sleep upon her doorstep as well as upon any other.
Perhaps he might catch a glimpse of her going out or coming in, even
at that late hour. It might be well to accustom himself to the sight
of her. There would be the less chance of his being abashed to-morrow
before those sorceress eyes. And moreover, to tell the truth, his
self-dependence, and his self-will too, crushed, or rather laid to
sleep, by the discipline of the Laura, had started into wild life, and
gave him a mysterious pleasure, which he had not felt since he was a
disobedient little boy, of doing what he chose, right or wrong, simply
because he chose it. Such moments come to every free-willed creature.
Happy are those who have not, like poor Philammon, been kept by a hotbed
cultivation from knowing how to face them? But he had yet to learn,
or rather his tutors had to learn, that the sure path toward willing
obedience and manful self-restraint, lies not through slavery, but
through liberty.

He was not certain which was Hypatia’s house; but the door of the Museum
he could not forget. So there he sat himself down under the garden wall,
soothed by the cool night, and the holy silence, and the rich perfume of
the thousand foreign flowers which filled the air with enervating balm.
There he sat and watched, and watched, and watched in vain for some
glimpse of his one object. Which of the houses was hers? Which was the
window of her chamber! Did it look into the street? What business had
his fancy with woman’s chambers?.... But that one open window, with the
lamp burning bright inside--he could not help looking up to it--he could
not help fancying--hoping. He even moved a few yards to see better the
bright interior of the room. High up as it was, he could still discern
shelves of books--pictures on the walls. Was that a voice? Yes! a
woman’s voice--reading aloud in metre--was plainly distinguishable in
the dead stillness of the night, which did not even awaken a whisper in
the trees above his head. He stood, spellbound by curiosity.

Suddenly the voice ceased, and a woman’s figure came forward to the
window, and stood motionless, gazing upward at the spangled star-world
overhead, and seeming to drink in the glory, and the silence, and the
rich perfume.... Could it be she? Every pulse in his body throbbed
madly.... Could it be? What was she doing? He could not distinguish the
features; but the full blaze of the eastern moon showed him an upturned
brow, between a golden stream of glittering tresses which hid her
whole figure, except the white hands clasped upon her bosom.... Was she
praying? were these her midnight sorceries?....

And still his heart throbbed and throbbed, till he almost fancied she
must hear its noisy beat--and still she stood motionless, gazing upon
the sky, like some exquisite chryselephantine statue, all ivory and
gold. And behind her, round the bright room within, painting, books, a
whole world of unknown science and beauty.... and she the priestess of
it all....inviting him to learn of her and be wise! It was a temptation!
He would flee from it!--Fool that he was!--and it might not be she after
all!

He made some sudden movement. She looked down, saw him, and shutting
the blind, vanished for the night. In vain, now that the temptation had
departed, he sat and waited for its reappearance, half cursing himself
for having broken the spell. But the chamber was dark and silent
henceforth; and Philammon, wearied out, found himself soon wandering
back to the Laura in quiet dreams, beneath the balmy, semi-tropic night.



CHAPTER X: THE INTERVIEW


Philammon was aroused from his slumbers at sunrise the next morning by
the attendants who came in to sweep out the lecture-rooms, and wandered,
disconsolately enough, up and down the street; longing for, and yet
dreading, the three weary hours to be over which must pass before he
would be admitted to Hypatia. But he had tasted no food since noon the
day before: he had but three hours’ sleep the previous night, and
had been working, running, and fighting for two whole days without a
moment’s peace of body or mind. Sick with hunger and fatigue, and aching
from head to foot with his hard night’s rest on the granite-flags, he
felt as unable as man could well do to collect his thoughts or brace his
nerves for the coming interview. How to get food he could not guess; but
having two hands, he might at least earn a coin by carrying a load; so
he went down to the Esplanade in search of work. Of that, alas! there
was none. So he sat down upon the parapet of the quay, and watched the
shoals of sardines which played in and out over the marble steps below,
and wondered at the strange crabs and sea-locusts which crawled up and
down the face of the masonry, a few feet below the surface, scrambling
for bits of offal, and making occasional fruitless dashes at the nimble
little silver arrows which played round them. And at last his whole
soul, too tired to think of anything else, became absorbed in a mighty
struggle between two great crabs, who held on stoutly, each by a claw,
to his respective bunch of seaweed, while with the others they tugged,
one at the head and the other at the tail of a dead fish. Which would
conquer?.... Ay, which? And for five minutes Philammon was alone in the
world with the two struggling heroes.... Might not they be emblematic?
Might not the upper one typify Cyril?--the lower one Hypatia?--and the
dead fish between, himself?.... But at last the deadlock was suddenly
ended--the fish parted in the middle; and the typical Hypatia and Cyril,
losing hold of their respective seaweeds by the jerk, tumbled down, each
with its half-fish, and vanished head over heels into the blue depths in
so undignified a manner, that Philammon burst into a shout of laughter.

‘What’s the joke?’ asked a well-known voice behind him; and a hand
patted him familiarly on the back. He looked round, and saw the little
porter, his head crowned with a full basket of figs, grapes, and
water-melons, on which the poor youth cast a longing eye. ‘Well, my
young friend, and why are you not at church? Look at all the saints
pouring into the Caesareum there, behind you.’

Philammon answered sulkily enough something inarticulate.

‘Ho, ho! Quarrelled with the successor of the Apostles already? Has my
prophecy come true, and the strong meat of pious riot and plunder proved
too highly spiced for your young palate? Eh?’

Poor Philammon! Angry with himself for feeling that the porter was
right; shrinking from the notion of exposing the failings of his
fellow-Christians; shrinking still more from making such a jackanapes
his confidant: and yet yearning in his loneliness to open his heart to
some one, he dropped out, hint by hint, word by word, the events of the
past evening, and finished by a request to be put in the way of earning
his breakfast.

‘Earning your breakfast! Shall the favourite of the gods--shall the
guest of Hypatia--earn his breakfast, while I have an obol to share
with him? Base thought! Youth! I have wronged you. Unphilosophically I
allowed, yesterday morning, envy to ruffle the ocean of my intellect. We
are now friends and brothers, in hatred to the monastic tribe.’

‘I do not hate them, I tell you,’ said Philammon. ‘But these Nitrian
savages--’

‘Are the perfect examples of monkery, and you hate them; and therefore,
all greaters containing the less, you hate all less monastic monks--I
have not heard logic lectures in vain. Now, up! The sea woos our dusty
limbs: Nereids and Tritons, charging no cruel coin, call us to Nature’s
baths. At home a mighty sheat-fish smokes upon the festive board; beer
crowns the horn, and onions deck the dish; come then, my guest and
brother!’

Philammon swallowed certain scruples about becoming the guest of a
heathen, seeing that otherwise there seemed no chance of having anything
else to swallow; and after a refreshing plunge in the sea, followed the
hospitable little fellow to Hypatia’s door, where he dropped his daily
load of fruit, and then into a narrow by-street, to the ground-floor
of a huge block of lodgings with a common staircase, swarming with
children, cats, and chickens; and was ushered by his host into a little
room, where the savoury smell of broiling fish revived Philammon’s
heart.

‘Judith! Judith! where lingerest thou? Marble of Pentelicus! foam-flake
of the wine dark main! lily of the Mareotic lake! You accursed black
Andromeda, if you don’t bring the breakfast this moment, I’ll cut you in
two!’

The inner door opened, and in bustled, trembling, her hands full of
dishes, a tall lithe negress, dressed in true negro fashion, in a
snow-white cotton shift, a scarlet cotton petticoat, and a bright yellow
turban of the same, making a light in that dark place which would have
served as a landmark a mile off. She put the dishes down, and the porter
majestically waved Philammon to a stool; while she retreated, and stood
humbly waiting on her lord and master, who did not deign to introduce
to his guest the black beauty which composed his whole seraglio.... But,
indeed, such an act of courtesy would have been needless; for the first
morsel of fish was hardly safe in poor Philammon’s mouth, when the
regress rushed upon him, caught him by the head, and covered him with
rapturous kisses.

Up jumped the little man with a yell, brandishing a knife in one hand
and a leek in the other; while Philammon, scarcely less scandalised,
jumped up too, and shook himself free of the lady, who, finding it
impossible to vent her feelings further on his head, instantly changed
her tactics, and, wallowing on the floor, began frantically kissing his
feet.

‘What is this? before my face! Up, shameless baggage, or thou diest the
death!’ and the porter pulled her up upon her knees.

‘It is the monk! the young man I told you of, who saved me from the Jews
the other night! What good angel sent him here that I might thank him?’
cried the poor creature, while the tears ran down her black shining
face.

‘I am that good angel,’ said the porter, with a look of intense
self-satisfaction. ‘Rise, daughter of Erebus; thou art pardoned, being
but a female. What says the poet?--

‘“Woman is passion’s slave, while rightful lord O’er her and passion,
rules the nobler male.”

Youth! to my arms! Truly say the philosophers, that the universe is
magical in itself, and by mysterious sympathies links like to like. The
prophetic instinct of thy future benefits towards me drew me to thee as
by an invisible warp, hawser, or chain-cable, from the moment I beheld
thee. Thou went a kindred spirit, my brother, though thou knewest it
not. Therefore I do not praise thee--no, nor thank thee in the least,
though thou hast preserved for me the one palm which shadows my weary
steps--the single lotus-flower (in this case black, not white) which
blooms for me above the mud-stained ocean wastes of the Hylic Borboros.
That which thou hast done, thou hast done by instinct--by divine
compulsion--thou couldst no more help it than thou canst help eating
that fish, and art no more to be praised for it.’

‘Thank you,’ said Philammon.

‘Comprehend me. Our theory in the schools for such cases is this--has
been so at least for the last six months; similar particles, from one
original source, exist in you and me. Similar causes produce similar
effects; our attractions, antipathies, impulses, are therefore, in
similar circumstances, absolutely the same; and therefore you did the
other night exactly what I should have done in your case.’

Philammon thought the latter part of the theory open to question, but he
had by no means stopped eating when he rose, and his mouth was much too
full of fish to argue.

‘And therefore,’ continued the little man, ‘we are to consider ourselves
henceforth as one soul in two bodies. You may have the best of the
corporeal part of the division.... yet it is the soul which makes the
person. You may trust me, I shall not disdain my brotherhood. If any
one insults you henceforth, you have but to call me; and if I be within
hearing, why, by this right arm---’

And he attempted a pat on Philammon’s head, which, as there was a head
and shoulder’s difference between them, might on the whole have been
considered, from a theatric point of view, as a failure. Whereon the
little man seized the calabash of beer, and filling therewith a cow’s
horn, his thumb on the small end, raised it high in the air.

‘To the Tenth Muse, and to your interview with her!’

And removing his thumb, he sent a steady jet into his open mouth, and
having drained the horn without drawing breath, licked his lips, handed
it to Philammon, and flew ravenously upon the fish and onions.

Philammon, to whom the whole was supremely absurd, had no invocation to
make, but one which he felt too sacred for his present temper of mind:
so he attempted to imitate the little man’s feat, and, of course, poured
the beer into his eyes, and up his nose, and in his bosom, and finally
choked himself black in the face, while his host observed smilingly--

‘Aha, rustic! unacquainted with the ancient and classical customs
preserved in this centre of civilisation by the descendants of
Alexander’s heroes? Judith! clear the table. Now to the sanctuary of the
Muses!’

Philammon rose, and finished his meal by a monkish grace. A gentle and
reverent ‘Amen’ rose from the other end of the room. It was the negress.
She saw him look up at her, dropped her eyes modestly, and bustled away
with the remnants, while Philammon and his host started for Hypatia’s
lecture-room.

‘Your wife is a Christian?’ asked he when they were outside the door.

‘Ahem--! The barbaric mind is prone to superstition. Yet she is, being
but a woman and a negress, a good soul, and thrifty, though requiring,
like all lower animals, occasional chastisement. I married her on
philosophic grounds. A wife was necessary to me for several reasons: but
mindful that the philosopher should subjugate the material appetite,
and rise above the swinish desires of the flesh, even when his nature
requires him to satisfy them, I purposed to make pleasure as unpleasant
as possible. I had the choice of several cripples--their parents, of
ancient Macedonian family like myself, were by no means adverse; but I
required a housekeeper, with whose duties the want of an arm or a leg
might have interfered.’

‘Why did you not marry a scold?’ asked Philammon.

‘Pertinently observed: and indeed the example of Socrates rose luminous
more than once before my imagination. But philosophic calm, my dear
youth, and the peaceful contemplation of the ineffable? I could not
relinquish those luxuries. So having, by the bounty of Hypatia and her
pupils, saved a small suns, I went out bought me a negress, and hired
six rooms in the block we have just left, where I let lodgings to young
students of the Divine Philosophy.’

‘Have you any lodgers now?’

‘Ahem! Certain rooms are occupied by a lady of rank. The philosopher
will, above all things, abstain from babbling. To bridle the tongue,
is to--But there is a closet at your service; and for the hall of
reception, which you have just left--are you not a kindred and fraternal
spark? We can combine our meals, as our souls are already united.’

Philammon thanked him heartily for the offer, though he shrank from
accepting it; and in ten minutes more found himself at the door of the
very house which he had been watching the night before. It was she,
then, whom he had seen!.... He was handed over by a black porter to a
smart slave-girl, who guided him up, through cloisters and corridors,
to the large library, where five or six young men were sitting, busily
engaged, under Theon’s superintendence, in copying manuscripts and
drawing geometric diagrams.

Philammon gazed curiously at these symbols of a science unknown to
him, and wondered whether the day would ever come when he too would
understand their mysteries; but his eyes fell again as he saw the
youths staring at his ragged sheepskin and matted locks with undisguised
contempt. He could hardly collect himself enough to obey the summons of
the venerable old man, as he beckoned him silently out of the room, and
led him, with the titters of the young students ringing in his ears,
through the door by which he had entered, and along a gallery, till he
stopped and knocked humbly at a door.... She must be within! knocked
together under him. His heart sank and sank into abysses! Poor
wretch!.... He was half minded once to escape and dash into the
street.... but was it not his one hope, his one object?.... But why did
not that old man speak? If he would have but said something!.... If
he would only have looked cross, contemptuous!.... But with the same
impressive gravity, as of a man upon a business in which he had no
voice, and wished it to be understood that lie had none, the old man
silently opened the door, and Philammon followed.... There she was!
looking more glorious than ever; more than when glowing with the
enthusiasm of her own eloquence; more than when transfigured last night
in golden tresses and glittering moonbeams. There she sat, without
moving a finger, as the two entered. She greeted her father with a
smile, which made up for all her seeming want of courtesy to him, and
then fixed her large gray eyes full on Philammon.

‘Here is the youth, my daughter. It was your wish, you know; and I
always believe that you know best--’

Another smile put an end to this speech, and the old man retreated
humbly toward another door, with a somewhat anxious visage, and then
lingering and looking back, his hand upon the latch--

‘If you require any one, you know, you have only to call--we shall be
all in the library.’

Another smile; and the old man disappeared, leaving the two alone.

Philammon stood trembling, choking, his eyes fixed on the floor. Where
were all the fine things he had conned over for the occasion? He dared
not look up at that face, lest it should drive them out of his head. And
yet the more lie kept his eyes turned from the face, the more lie was
conscious of it, conscious that it was watching him; and the more all
the fine words were, by that very knowledge, driven out of his head....
When would she speak? Perhaps she wished him to speak first. It was her
duty to begin, for she had sent for him.... But still she kept silence,
and sat scanning him intently from head to foot, herself as motionless
as a statue; her hands folded together before her, over the manuscript
which lay upon her knee. If there was a blush on her cheek at her own
daring, his eyes swam too much to notice it.

When would the intolerable suspense end? She was, perhaps, as unwilling
to speak as he. But some one must strike the first blow: and, as often
happens, the weaker party, impelled by sheer fear, struck it, and broke
the silence in a tone half indignant, half apologetic--

‘You sent for me hither!’

‘I did. It seemed to me, as I watched you during my lecture, both before
and after you were rude enough to interrupt me, that your offence was
one of mere youthful ignorance. It seemed to me that your countenance
bespoke a nobler nature than that which the gods are usually pleased to
bestow upon monks. That I may now ascertain whether or not my surmises
were correct, I ask you for what purpose are you come hither?’

Philammon hailed the question as a godsend.--Now for his message! And
yet he faltered as he answered, with a desperate effort,--‘To rebuke you
for your sins.’

‘My sins! What sins?’ she asked, as she looked up with a stately, slow
surprise in those large gray eyes, before which his own glance sank
abashed, he knew not why. What sins?--He knew not. Did she look like
a Messalina? But was she not a heathen and a sorceress?--And yet he
blushed, and stammered, and hung down his head, as, shrinking at the
sound of his own words, he replied--


‘The foul sorceries--and profligacy worse than sorceries, in which, they
say--’ He could get no farther: for he looked up again and saw an awful
quiet smile upon that face. His words had raised no blush upon the
marble cheek.

‘They say! The bigots and slanderers; wild beasts of the desert, and
fanatic intriguers, who, in the words of Him they call their master,
compass heaven and earth to make one proselyte, and when they have found
him, make him two-fold more the child of hell than themselves. Go--I
forgive you: you are young, and know not yet the mystery of the world.
Science will teach you some day that the outward frame is the sacrament
of the soul’s inward beauty. Such a soul I had fancied your face
expressed; but I was mistaken. Foul hearts alone harbour such foul
suspicions, and fancy others to be what they know they might become
themselves. Go! Do I look like--? The very tapering of these fingers, if
you could read their symbolism, would give your dream the lie.’ And she
flashed full on him, like sun-rays from a mirror, the full radiance of
her glorious countenance.

Alas, poor Philammon! where were thy eloquent arguments, thy orthodox
theories then? Proudly he struggled with his own man’s heart of flesh,
and tried to turn his eyes away; the magnet might as well struggle to
escape from the spell of the north. In a moment, he knew not how, utter
shame, remorse, longing for forgiveness, swept over him, and crushed him
down; and he found himself on his knees before her, in abject and broken
syllables entreating pardon.

‘Go--I forgive you. But know before you go, that the celestial milk
which fell from Here’s bosom, bleaching the plant which it touched to
everlasting whiteness, was not more taintless than the soul of Theon’s
daughter.’

He looked up in her face as he knelt before her. Unerring instinct
told him that her words were true. He was a monk, accustomed to believe
animal sin to be the deadliest and worst of all sins--indeed, ‘the great
offence’ itself, beside which all others were comparatively venial:
where there was physical purity, must not all other virtues follow in
its wake? All other failings were invisible under the dazzling veil of
that great loveliness; and in his self-abasement he went on--

‘Oh, do not spurn me!--do not drive me away! I have neither friend,
home, nor teacher. I fled last night from the men of my own faith,
maddened by bitter insult and injustice--disappointed and disgusted with
their ferocity, narrowness, ignorance. I dare not, I cannot, I will not
return to the obscurity and the dulness of a Thebaid Laura. I have a
thousand doubts to solve, a thousand questions to ask, about that great
ancient world of which I know nothing--of whose mysteries, they say, you
alone possess the key! I am a Christian; but I thirst for knowledge....
I do not promise to believe you-I do not promise to obey you; but let me
hear! Teach me what you know, that I may compare it with what I
know.... If indeed’ (and he shuddered as he spoke the words) ‘I do know
anything!’

‘Have you forgotten the epithets which you used to me just now?’

‘No, no! But do you forget them; they were put into my mouth. I--I did
not believe them when I said them. It was agony to me; but I did it, as
I thought, for your sake--to save you. Oh, say that I may come and hear
you again! Only from a distance--in the very farthest corner of your
lecture-room. I will be silent; you shall never see me. But your words
yesterday awoke in me--no, not doubts; but still I must, I must hear
more, or be as miserable and homeless inwardly as I am in my outward
circumstances!’ And he looked up imploringly for consent.

‘Rise. This passion and that attitude are fitting neither for you nor
me.’

And as Philammon rose, she rose also, went into the library to her
father, and in a few minutes returned with him.

‘Come with me, young man,’ said he, laying his hand kindly enough on
Philammon’s shoulder.... ‘The rest of this matter you and I can settle;’
and Philammon followed him, not daring to look back at Hypatia, while
the whole room swam before his eyes.

‘So, so I hear you have been saying rude things to my daughter. Well,
she has forgiven you--’

‘Has she?’ asked the young monk, with an eager start.

‘Ah! you may well look astonished. But I forgive you too. It is lucky
for you, however, that I did not hear you, or else, old man as I am, I
can’t say what I might not have done. Ah! you little know, you little
know what she is.--and the old pedant’s eyes kindled with loving pride.
‘May the gods give you some day such a daughter!--that is, if you learn
to deserve it--as virtuous as she is wise, as wise as she is beautiful.
Truly they have repaid me for my labours in their service. Look, young
man! little as you merit it, here is a pledge of your forgiveness, such
as the richest and noblest in Alexandria are glad to purchase with
many an ounce of gold--a ticket of free admission to all her lectures
henceforth! Now go; you have been favoured beyond your deserts, and
should learn that the philosopher can practise what the Christian only
preaches, and return good for evil.’ And he put into Philammon’s hand
a slip of paper, and bid one of the secretaries show him to the outer
door.

The youths looked up at him from their writing as he passed, with faces
of surprise and awe, and evidently thinking no more about the absurdity
of his sheepskin and his tanned complexion; and he went out with a
stunned, confused feeling, as of one who, by a desperate leap, has
plunged into a new world. He tried to feel content; but he dare not. All
before him was anxiety, uncertainty. He had cut himself adrift; he was
on the great stream. Whither would it lead him? Well--was it not the
great stream? Had not all mankind, for all the ages, been floating on
it? Or was it but a desert-river, dwindling away beneath the fiery
sun, destined to lose itself a few miles on, among the arid sands? Were
Arsenius and the faith of his childhood right? And was the Old World
coming speedily to its death-throe, and the Kingdom of God at hand?
Or was Cyril right, and the Church Catholic appointed to spread, and
conquer, and destroy, and rebuild, till the kingdoms of this world had
become the kingdoms of God and of His Christ! If so, what use in this
old knowledge which he craved? And yet, if the day of the destruction of
all things were at hand, and the times destined to become worse and not
better, till the end-how could that be?....

‘What news?’ asked the little porter, who had been waiting for him at
the door all the while. ‘What news, O favourite of the gods!’

‘I will lodge with you, and labour with you. Ask me no more at present.
I am--I am--

‘Those who descended into the Cave of Trophonius, and beheld the
unspeakable, remained astonished for three days, my young friend--and so
will you!’ And they went forth together to earn their bread.

But what is Hypatia doing all this while, upon that cloudy Olympus,
where she sits enshrined far above the noise and struggle of man and his
work-day world?

She is sitting again, with her manuscripts open before her; but she is
thinking of the young monk, not of them.

‘Beautiful as Antinous!.... Rather as the young Phoebus himself, fresh
glowing from the slaughter of the Python. Why should not he, too, become
a slayer of Pythons, and loathsome monsters, bred from the mud of sense
and matter? So bold and earnest! I can forgive him those words for the
very fact of his having dared, here in my fathers house, to say them to
me.... And yet so tender, so open to repentance and noble shame!--That
is no plebeian by birth; patrician blood surely flows in those veins;
it shows out in every attitude, every tone, every motion of the hand
and lip. He cannot be one of the herd. Who ever knew one of them crave
after knowledge for its own sake?.... And I have longed so for one
real pupil! I have longed so to find one such man, among the effeminate
selfish triflers who pretend to listen to me. I thought I had found
one--and the moment that I had lost him, behold, I find another; and
that a fresher, purer, simpler nature than ever Raphael’s was at its
best. By all the laws of physiognomy--by all the symbolism of gesture
and voice and complexion--by the instinct of my own heart, that young
monk might be the instrument, the ready, valiant, obedient instrument,
for carrying out all my dreams. If I could but train him into a
Longinus, I could dare to play the part of a Zenobia, with him as
counseller.... And for my Odenatus--Orestes? Horrible!’

She covered her face with her hand a minute. ‘No!’ she said, dashing
away the tears--‘That--and anything--and everything for the cause of
Philosophy and the gods!’



CHAPTER XI: THE LAURA AGAIN


Not a sound, not a moving object, broke the utter stillness of the glen
of Scetis. The shadows of the crags, though paling every moment before
the spreading dawn, still shrouded all the gorge in gloom. A winding
line of haze slept above the course of the rivulet. The plumes of the
palm-trees hung motionless, as if awaiting in resignation the breathless
blaze of the approaching day. At length, among the green ridges of the
monastery garden, two gray figures rose from their knees, and began,
with slow and feeble strokes, to break the silence by the clatter of
their hoes among the pebbles.

‘These beans grow wonderfully, brother Aufugus. We shall be able to
sow our second crop, by God’s blessing, a week earlier than we did last
year.’

The person addressed returned no answer; and his companion, after
watching him for some time in silence, recommenced--

‘What is it, my brother? I have remarked lately a melancholy about you,
which is hardly fitting for a man of God.’

A deep sigh was the only answer. The speaker laid down his hoe, and
placing his hand affectionately on the shoulder of Aufugus, asked
again--

‘What is it, my friend? I will not claim with you my abbot’s right to
know the secrets of your heart: but surely that breast hides nothing
which is unworthy to be spoken to me, however unworthy I may be to hear
it!’

‘Why should I not be sad, Pambo, my friend? Does not Solomon say that
there is a time for mourning?’

‘True: but a time for mirth also.’

‘None to the penitent, burdened with the guilt of many sins.’

‘Recollect what the blessed Anthony used to say--“Trust not in thine own
righteousness, and regret not that which is past.”’

‘I do neither, Pambo.’

‘Do not be too sure of that. Is it not because thou art still trusting
in thyself, that thou dost regret the past, which shows thee that thou
art not that which thou wouldst gladly pride thyself on being?’

‘Pambo, my friend,’ said Arsenius solemnly, ‘I will tell thee all. My
sins are not yet past; for Honorius, my pupil, still lives, and in him
lives the weakness and the misery of Rome. My sins past? If they are,
why do I see rising before me, night after night, that train of accusing
spectres, ghosts of men slain in battle, widows and orphans, virgins of
the Lord shrieking in the grasp of barbarians, who stand by my bedside
and cry, “Hadst thou done thy duty, we had not been thus! Where is that
imperial charge which God committed to thee?”’.... And the old man hid
his face in his hands and wept bitterly.

Pambo laid his hand again tenderly on the weeper’s shoulder.

‘Is there no pride here, my brother? Who art thou, to change the fate of
nations and the hearts of emperors, which are in the hand of the King of
kings? If thou wert weak, and imperfect in thy work--for unfaithful, I
will warrant thee, thou wert never--He put thee there, because thou wert
imperfect, that so that which has come to pass might come to pass; and
thou bearest thine own burden only-and yet not thou, but He who bore it
for thee.’

‘Why then am I tormented by these nightly visions?’

‘Fear them not, friend. They are spirits of evil, and therefore lying
spirits. Were they good spirits they would speak to thee only in pity,
forgiveness, encouragement. But be they ghosts or demons, they must be
evil, because they are accusers, like the Evil One himself, the accuser
of the saints. He is the father of lies, and his children will be like
himself. What said the blessed Anthony? That a monk should not busy his
brain with painting spectres, or give himself up for lost; but rather be
cheerful, as one who knows that he is redeemed, and in the hands of the
Lord, where the Evil One has no power to hurt him. “For,” he used to
say, “the demons behave to us even as they find us. If they see us east
down and faithless, they terrify us still more, that they may plunge us
in despair. But if they see us full of faith, and joyful in the Lord,
with our souls filled with the glory which shall be, then they shrink
abashed, and flee away in confusion.” Cheer up, friend! such thoughts
are of the night, the hour of Satan and of the powers of darkness; and
with the dawn they flee away.’

‘And yet things are revealed to men upon their beds, in visions of the
night.’

‘Be it so. Nothing, at all events, has been revealed to thee upon thy
bed, except that which thou knowest already far better than Satan does,
namely, that thou art a sinner. But for me, my friend, though I doubt
not that such things are, it is the day, and not the night, which brings
revelations.’

‘How, then?’

‘Because by day I can see to read that book which is written, like the
Law given on Sinai, upon tables of stone, by the finger of God Himself.’

Arsenius looked up at him inquiringly. Pambo smiled.

‘Thou knowest that, like many holy men of old, I am no scholar, and knew
not even the Greek tongue, till thou, out of thy brotherly kindness,
taughtest it to me. But hast thou never heard what Anthony said to a
certain Pagan who reproached him with his ignorance of books? “Which is
first,” he asked, “spirit, or letter?--Spirit, sayest thou? Then know,
the healthy spirit needs no letters. My book is the whole creation,
lying open before me, wherein I can read, whensoever I please, the word
of God.”’

‘Dost thou not undervalue learning, my friend?’

‘I am old among monks, and have seen much of their ways; and among them
my simplicity seems to have seen this--many a man wearing himself with
study, and tormenting his soul as to whether he believed rightly this
doctrine and that, while he knew not with Solomon that in much learning
is much sorrow, and that while he was puzzling at the letter of God’s
message, the spirit of it was going fast and faster out of him.’

‘And how didst thou know that of such a man?’

‘By seeing him become a more and more learned theologian, and more and
more zealous for the letter of orthodoxy; and yet less and less loving
and merciful--less and less full of trust in God, and of hopeful
thoughts for himself and for his brethren, till he seemed to have
darkened his whole soul with disputations, which breed only strife,
and to have forgotten utterly the message which is written in that book
wherewith the blessed Anthony was content’ ‘Of what message dost thou
speak?’

‘Look,’ said the old abbot, stretching his hand toward the Eastern
desert, ‘and judge, like a wise man, for thyself!’

As he spoke, a long arrow of level light flashed down the gorge from
crag to crag, awakening every crack and slab to vividness and life. The
great crimson sun rose swiftly through the dim night-mist of the desert,
and as he poured his glory down the glen, the haze rose in threads and
plumes, and vanished, leaving the stream to sparkle round the rocks,
like the living, twinkling eye of the whole scene. Swallows flashed by
hundreds out of the cliffs, and began their air-dance for the day; the
jerboa hopped stealthily homeward on his stilts from his stolen meal
in the monastery garden; the brown sand-lizards underneath the stones
opened one eyelid each, and having satisfied themselves that it was
day, dragged their bloated bodies and whip-like tails out into the most
burning patch of gravel which they could find, and nestling together as
a further protection against cold, fell fast asleep again; the buzzard,
who considered himself lord of the valley, awoke with a long querulous
bark, and rising aloft in two or three vast rings, to stretch himself
after his night’s sleep, bung motionless, watching every lark which
chirruped on the cliffs; while from the far-off Nile below, the
awakening croak of pelicans, the clang of geese, the whistle of the
godwit and curlew, came ringing up the windings of the glen; and last
of all the voices of the monks rose chanting a morning hymn to some wild
Eastern air; and a new day had begun in Seetis, like those which went
before, and those which were to follow after, week after week, year
after year, of toil and prayer as quiet as its sleep.

‘What does that teach thee, Aufugus, my friend?’

Arsenius was silent.

‘To me it teaches this: that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at
all. That in His presence is life, and fulness of joy for evermore. That
He is the giver, who delights in His own bounty; the lover, whose mercy
is over all His works--and why not over thee, too, O thou of little
faith? Look at those thousand birds--and without our Father not one of
them shall fall to the ground: and art thou not of more value than many
sparrows, thou for whom God sent His Son to die?.... Ah, my friend, we
must look out and around to see what God is like. It is when we
persist in turning our eyes inward, and prying curiously over our own
imperfections, that we learn to make a God after our own image, and
fancy that our own darkness and hardness of heart are the patterns of
His light and love.’

‘Thou speakest rather as a philosopher than as a penitent Catholic.
For me, I feel that I want to look more, and not less, inward. Deeper
self-examination, completer abstraction, than I can attain even here,
are what I crave for. I long--forgive me, my friend--but I long more and
more, daily, for the solitary life. This earth is accursed by man’s sin:
the less we see of it, it seems to me, the better.’

‘I may speak as a philosopher, or as a heathen, for aught I know: yet it
seems to me that, as they say, the half loaf is better than none; that
the wise man will make the best of what he has, and throw away no lesson
because the book is somewhat torn and soiled. The earth teaches me thus
far already. Shall I shut my eyes to those invisible things of God which
are clearly manifested by the things which are made, because some
day they will be more clearly manifested than now? But as for more
abstraction, are we so worldly here in Scetis?’

‘Nay, my friend, each man has surely his vocation, and for each some
peculiar method of life is more edifying than another. In my case, the
habits of mind which I acquired in the world will cling to me in spite
of myself even here. I cannot help watching the doings of others,
studying their characters, planning and plotting for them, trying to
prognosticate their future fate. Not a word, not a gesture of this our
little family, but turns away my mind from the one thing needful.’

‘And do you fancy that the anchorite in his cell has fewer
distractions?’

‘What can he have but the supply of the mere necessary wants of life?
and them, even, he may abridge to the gathering of a few roots and
herbs. Men have lived like the beasts already, that they might at the
same time live like the angels--and why should not I also?’

‘And thou art the wise man of the world--the student of the hearts
of others--the anatomiser of thine own? Hast thou not found out that,
besides a craving stomach, man carries with him a corrupt heart? Many
a man I have seen who, in his haste to fly from the fiends without him,
has forgotten to close the door of his heart against worse fiends who
were ready to harbour within him. Many a monk, friend, changes his
place, but not the anguish of his soul. I have known those who, driven
to feed on their own thoughts in solitude, have desperately cast
themselves from cliffs or ripped up their own bodies, in the longing to
escape from thoughts, from which one companion, one kindly voice, might
have delivered them. I have known those, too, who have been so puffed up
by those very penances which were meant to humble them, that they have
despised all means of grace, as though they were already perfect, and
refusing even the Holy Eucharist, have lived in self-glorying dreams
and visions suggested by the evil spirits. One such I knew, who, in
the madness? of his pride, refused to be counselled by any mortal
man--saying that he would call no man master: and what befell him? He
who used to pride himself on wandering a day’s journey into the desert
without food or drink, who boasted that he could sustain life for three
months at a time only on wild herbs and the Blessed Bread, seized with
an inward fire, fled from his cell back to the theatres, the circus, and
the taverns, and ended his miserable days in desperate gluttony, holding
all things to be but phantasms, denying his own existence, and that of
God Himself.’

Arsenius shook his head.

‘Be it so. But my case is different. I have yet more to confess, my
friend. Day by day I am more and more haunted by the remembrance of
that world from which I fled. I know that if I returned I should feel
no pleasure in those pomps, which, even while I battened on them, I
despised. Can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing
women; or discern any longer what I eat or what I drink? And yet--the
palaces of those seven hills, their statesmen and their generals, their
intrigues, their falls, and their triumphs--for they might rise and
conquer yet!--for no moment are they out of my imagination,-no moment in
which they are not tempting me back to them, like a moth to the candle
which has already scorched him, with a dreadful spell, which I must at
last obey, wretch that I am, against my own will, or break by fleeing
into some outer desert, from whence return will be impossible!’

Pambo smiled.

‘Again, I say, this is the worldly-wise man, the searcher of hearts! And
he would fain flee from the little Laura, which does turn his thoughts
at times from such vain dreams, to a solitude where he will be utterly
unable to escape those dreams. Well, friend!--and what if thou art
troubled at times by anxieties and schemes for this brother and for
that? Better to be anxious for others than only for thyself. Better to
have something to love--even something to weep over--than to become in
some lonely cavern thine own world,--perhaps, as more than one whom I
have known, thine own God.’

‘Do you know what you are saying?’ asked Arsenius in a startled tone.

‘I say, that by fleeing into solitude a man cuts himself off from
all which makes a Christian man; from law, obedience, fellow-help,
self-sacrifice--from the communion of saints itself.’

‘How then?’

‘How canst thou hold communion with those toward whom thou canst show no
love? And how canst thou show thy love but by works of love?’

‘I can, at least, pray day and night for all mankind. Has that no
place--or rather, has it not the mightiest place--in the communion of
saints!

‘He who cannot pray for his brothers whom he does see, and whose sins
and temptations he knows, will pray but dully, my friend Aufugus, for
his brothers whom he does not see, or for anything else. And he who will
not labour for his brothers, the same will soon cease to pray for them,
or love them either. And then, what is written? “If a man love not his
brother whom he hath seen, how will he love God whom he hath not seen?”’

‘Again, I say, do you know whither your argument leads?’

‘I am a plain man, and know nothing about arguments. If a thing be true,
let it lead where it will, for it leads where God wills.’

‘But at this rate, it were better for a man to take a wife, and have
children, and mix himself up in all the turmoil of carnal affections, in
order to have as many as possible to love, and fear for, and work for.’

Pambo was silent for a while.

‘I am a monk and no logician. But this I say, that thou leavest not the
Laura for the desert with my good will. I would rather, had I my wish,
see thy wisdom installed somewhere nearer the metropolis--at Troe or
Canopus, for example--where thou mightest be at hand to fight the Lord’s
battles. Why wert thou taught worldly wisdom, but to use it for the good
of the Church? It is enough. Let us go.’

And the two old men walked homeward across the valley, little guessing
the practical answer which was ready for their argument in Abbot Pambo’s
cell, in the shape of a tall and grim ecclesiastic, who was busily
satisfying his hunger with dates and millet, and by no means refusing
the palm-wine, the sole delicacy of the monastery, which had been
brought forth only in honour of a guest.

The stately and courtly hospitality of Eastern manners, as well as the
self-restraining kindliness of monastic Christianity, forbade the abbot
to interrupt the stranger; and it was not till he had finished a hearty
meal that Pambo asked his name and errand.

‘My unworthiness is called Peter the Reader. I come from Cyril, with
letters and messages to the brother Aufugus.’

Pambo rose, and bowed reverentially.

‘We have heard your good report, sir, as of one zealously affected in
the cause of the Church Catholic. Will it please you to follow us to the
cell of Aufugus?’

Peter stalked after them with a sufficiently important air to the little
hut, and there taking from his bosom Cyril’s epistle, handed it to
Arsenius, who sat long, reading and re-reading with a clouded brow,
while Pambo watched him with simple awe, not daring to interrupt by a
question lucubrations which he considered of unfathomable depth.

‘These are indeed the last days,’ said Arsenius at length, ‘spoken of by
the prophet, when many shall run to and fro. So Heraclian has actually
sailed for Italy?’

‘His armament was met on the high seas by Alexandrian merchantmen, three
weeks ago.’

‘And Orestes hardens his heart more and more?’

‘Ay, Pharaoh that he is; or rather, the heathen woman hardens it for
him.’

‘I always feared that woman above all the schools of the heathen,’ said
Arsenius. ‘But the Count Heraclian, whom I always held for the wisest
as well as the most righteous of men! Alas!--alas! what virtue will
withstand, when ambition enters the heart!’

‘Fearful, truly,’ said Peter, ‘is that same lust of power: but for
him, I have never trusted him since he began to be indulgent to those
Donatists.’

‘Too true. So does one sin beget another.’

‘And I consider that indulgence to sinners is the worst of all sins
whatsoever.’

‘Not of all, surely, reverend sir?’ said Pambo humbly. But Peter, taking
no notice of the interruption, went on to Arsenius--

‘And now, what answer am I to bear back from your wisdom to his
holiness?’

‘Let me see--let me see. He might--it needs consideration--I ought to
know more of the state of parties. He has, of course, communicated with
the African bishops, and tried to unite them with him?’

‘Two months ago. But the stiff-necked schismatics are still jealous of
him, and hold aloof.’

‘Schismatics is too harsh a term, my friend. But has he sent to
Constantinople?’

‘He needs a messenger accustomed to courts. It was possible, he thought,
that your experience might undertake the mission.’

‘Me? Who am I? Alas! alas! fresh temptations daily! Let him send by
the hand of whom he will.... And yet--were I--at least in Alexandria--I
might advise from day to day.... I should certainly see my way
clearer.... And unforeseen chances might arise, too .... Pambo,
my friend, thinkest thou that it would be sinful to obey the Holy
Patriarch?’

‘Aha!’ said Pambo, laughing, ‘and thou art he who was for fleeing into
the desert an hour agone! And now, when once thou smellest the battle
afar off, thou art pawing in the valley, like the old war-horse. Go, and
God be with thee! Thou wilt be none the worse for it. Thou art too old
to fall in love, too poor to buy a bishopric, and too righteous to have
one given thee.’

‘Art thou in earnest?’

‘What did I say to thee in the garden? Go, and see our son, and send me
news of him.’

‘Ah! shame on my worldly-mindedness! I had forgotten all this time to
inquire for him. How is the youth, reverend sir?’

‘Whom do you mean?’

‘Philammon, our spiritual son, whom we sent down to you three months
ago,’ said Pambo. ‘Risen to honour he is, by this time, I doubt not?’

‘He? He is gone!’

‘Gone?’

‘Ay, the wretch, with the curse of Judas on him. He had not been with us
three days before he beat me openly in the patriarch’s court, cast off
the Christian faith, and fled away to the heathen woman, Hypatia, of
whom he is enamoured.’

The two old men looked at each other with blank and horror-stricken
faces.

‘Enamoured of Hypatia?’ said Arsenius at last.

‘It is impossible!’ sobbed Pambo. ‘The boy must have been treated
harshly, unjustly? Some one has wronged him, and he was accustomed
only to kindness, and could not bear it. Cruel men that you are, and
unfaithful stewards. The Lord will require the child’s blood at your
hands!’

‘Ay,’ said Peter, rising fiercely, that is the world’s justice! Blame
me, blame the patriarch, blame any and every one but the sinner. As if
a hot head and a hotter heart were not enough to explain it all! As if a
young fool had never before been bewitched by a fair face!’

‘Oh, my friends, my friends,’ cried Arsenius, ‘why revile each other
without cause? I, I only am to blame. I advised you, Pambo!--I sent
him--I ought to have known--what was I doing, old worldling that I am,
to thrust the poor innocent forth into the temptations of Babylon? This
comes of all my schemings and my plottings! And now his blood will be on
my head-as if I bad not sins enough to bear already, I must go and add
this over and above all, to sell my own Joseph, the son of my old age,
to the Midianites! Here, I will go with you--now--at once--I will not
rest till I find hint, clasp his knees till he pities my gray hairs! Let
Heraclian and Orestes go their way for aught I care--I will find him,
I say. O Absalom, my son! would to God I had died for thee, my son! my
son!’



CHAPTER XII: THE BOWER OF ACRASIA


The house which Pelagia and the Amal had hired after their return to
Alexandria, was one of the most splendid in the city. They had been now
living there three months or more, and in that time Pelagia’s taste had
supplied the little which it needed to convert it into a paradise
of lazy luxury. She herself was wealthy; and her Gothic guests,
overburdened with Roman spoils, the very use of which they could not
understand, freely allowed her and her nymphs to throw away for them the
treasures which they had won in many a fearful fight. What matter? If
they had enough to eat, and more than enough to drink, how could the
useless surplus of their riches be better spent than in keeping their
ladies in good humour?.... And when it was all gone....they would go
somewhere or other--who cared whither?--and win more. The whole world
was before them waiting to be plundered, and they would fulfil their
mission, whensoever it suited them. In the meantime they were in no
hurry. Egypt furnished in profusion every sort of food which could
gratify palates far more nice than theirs. And as for wine--few of them
went to bed sober from one week’s end to another. Could the souls of
warriors have more, even in the halls of Valhalla?

So thought the party who occupied the inner court of the house, one
blazing afternoon in the same week in which Cyril’s messenger had so
rudely broken in on the repose of the Scetis. Their repose, at least,
was still untouched. The great city roared without; Orestes plotted,
and Cyril counterplotted, and the fate of a continent hung--or seemed to
hang--trembling in the balance; but the turmoil of it no more
troubled those lazy Titans within, than did the roll and rattle of the
carriage-wheels disturb the parakeets and sunbirds which peopled, under
an awning of gilded wire, the inner court of Pelagia’s house. Why should
they fret themselves with it all? What was every fresh riot, execution,
conspiracy, bankruptcy, but a sign--that the fruit was growing ripe
for the plucking? Even Heraclian’s rebellion, and Orestes’ suspected
conspiracy, were to the younger and coarser Goths a sort of child’s
play, at which they could look on and laugh, and bet, from morning till
night; while to the more cunning heads, such as Wulf and Smid, they were
but signs of the general rottenness--new cracks in those great walls
over which they intended, with a simple and boyish consciousness of
power, to mount to victory when they chose.

And in the meantime, till the right opening offered, what was there
better than to eat, drink, and sleep? And certainly they had chosen
a charming retreat in which to fulfil that lofty mission. Columns
of purple and green porphyry, among which gleamed the white limbs of
delicate statues, surrounded a basin of water, fed by a perpetual jet,
which sprinkled with cool spray the leaves of the oranges and mimosas,
mingling its murmurs with the warblings of the tropic birds which
nestled among the branches.

On one side of the fountain, under the shade of a broad-leaved palmetto,
lay the Amal’s mighty limbs, stretched out on cushions, his yellow hair
crowned with vine-leaves, his hand grasping a golden cup, which had
been won from Indian Rajahs by Parthian Chosroos, from Chosroos by Roman
generals, from Roman generals by the heroes of sheepskin and horsehide;
while Pelagia, by the side of the sleepy Hercules-Dionysos, lay leaning
over the brink of the fountain, lazily dipping her fingers into the
water, and basking, like the gnats which hovered over its surface, in
the mere pleasure of existence.

On the opposite brink of the basin, tended each by a dark-eyed Hebe,
who filled the wine-cups, and helped now and then to empty them, lay the
especial friends and companions in arms of the Amal, Goderic the son
of Ermenric, and Agilmund the son of Cniva, who both, like the Amal,
boasted a descent from gods; and last, but not least, that most
important and all but sacred personage, Smid the son of Troll,
reverenced for cunning beyond the sons of men; for not only could he
make and mend all matters, from a pontoon bridge to a gold bracelet,
shoe horses and doctor them, charm all diseases out of man and beast,
carve runes, interpret war-omens, foretell weather, raise the winds, and
finally, conquer in the battle of mead-horns all except Wulf the son of
Ovida; but he had actually, during a sojourn among the half-civilised
Maesogoths, picked up a fair share of Latin and Greek, and a rough
knowledge of reading and writing.

A few yards off lay old Wulf upon his back, his knees in the air,
his hands crossed behind his head, keeping up, even in his sleep,
a half-conscious comment of growls on the following intellectual
conversation:--

‘Noble wine this, is it not?’

‘Perfect. Who bought it for us?’

‘Old Miriam bought it, at some great tax-farmer’s sale. The fellow was
bankrupt, and Miriam said she got it for the half what it was worth.’

‘Serve the penny-turning rascal right. The old vixen-fox took care, I’ll
warrant her, to get her profit out of the bargain.’

‘Never mind if she did. We can afford to pay like men, if we earn like
men.’

‘We shan’t afford it long, at this rate,’ growled Wulf.

‘Then we’ll go and earn more. I am tired of doing nothing.’

‘People need not do nothing, unless they choose,’ said Goderic. ‘Wulf
and I had coursing fit for a king, the other morning on the sand-hills.
I had had no appetite for a week before, and I have been as sharp-set as
a Danube pike ever since.’

‘Coursing? What, with those long-legged brush-tailed brutes, like a fox
upon stilts, which the prefect cozened you into buying.’

‘All I can say is, that we put up a herd of those--what do you call them
here--deer with goats’ horns?’

‘Antelopes?’

‘That’s it--and the curs ran into them as a falcon does into a skein of
ducks. Wulf and I galloped and galloped over those accursed sand-heaps
till the horses stuck fast; and when they got their wind again, we found
each pair of dogs with a deer down between them--and what can man want
more, if he cannot get fighting? You eat them, so you need not sneer.’

‘Well, dogs are the only things worth having, then, that this Alexandria
does produce.’

‘Except fair ladies!’ put in one of the girls.

‘Of course. I’ll except the women. But the men-’

‘The what? I have not seen a man since I came here, except a dock-worker
or two--priests and fine gentlemen they are all--and you don’t call them
men, surely?’

‘What on earth do they do, beside riding donkeys?’

‘Philosophise, they say.’

‘What’s that?’

‘I’m sure I don’t know; some sort of slave’s quill-driving, I suppose.’

‘Pelagia! do you know what philosophising is?’

‘No--and I don’t care.’

‘I do,’ quoth Agilmund, with a look of superior wisdom; ‘I saw a
philosopher the other day.’

‘And what sort of a thing was it?’

‘I’ll tell you. I was walking down the great street there, going to the
harbour; and I saw a crowd of boys--men they call them here--going into
a large doorway. So I asked one of them what was doing, and the fellow,
instead of answering me, pointed at my legs, and set all the other
monkeys laughing. So I boxed his ears, and he tumbled down.’

‘They all do so here, if you box their ears,’ said the Amal
meditatively, as if he had bit upon a great inductive law.

‘Ah,’ said Pelagia, looking up with her most winning smile, ‘they are
not such giants as you, who make a poor little woman feel like a gazelle
in a lion’s paw!’

‘Well--it struck me that, as I spoke in Gothic, the boy might not
have understood me, being a Greek. So I walked in at the door, to save
questions, and see for myself. And there a fellow held out his hand--I
suppose for money, So I gave him two or three gold pieces, and a box
on the ear, at which he tumbled down, of course, but seemed very well
satisfied. So I walked in.’

‘And what did you see?’

‘A great hall, large enough for a thousand heroes, full of these
Egyptian rascals scribbling with pencils on tablets. And at the farther
end of it the most beautiful woman I ever saw--with right fair hair
and blue eyes, talking, talking--I could not understand it; but the
donkey-riders seemed to think it very fine; for they went on looking
first at her, and then at their tablets, gaping like frogs in drought.
And, certainly, she looked as fair as the sun, and talked like an
Alruna-wife. Not that I knew what it was about, but one can see somehow,
you know.--So I fell asleep; and when I woke, and came out, I met some
one who understood me, and he told me that it was the famous maiden, the
great philosopher. And that’s what I know about philosophy.’

‘She was very much wasted then, on such soft-handed starvelings. Why
don’t she marry some hero?’

‘Because there are none here to marry,’ said Pelagia; ‘except some who
are fast netted, I fancy, already.’

‘But what do they talk about, and tell people to do, these philosophers,
Pelagia?’

‘Oh, they don’t tell any one to do anything--at least, if they do,
nobody ever does it, as far as I can see; but they talk about suns and
stars, and right and wrong, and ghosts and spirits, and that sort of
thing; and about not enjoying oneself too much. Not that I ever saw that
they were any happier than any one else.’

‘She must have been an Alruna-maiden,’ said Wulf, half to himself.

‘She is a very conceited creature, and I hate her,’ said Pelagia.

‘I believe you,’ said Wulf.

‘What is an Alruna-maiden?’ asked one of the girls.

‘Something as like you as a salmon is like a horse-leech. Heroes, will
you hear a saga?’

‘If it is a cool one,’ said Agilmund; ‘about ice, and pine-trees, and
snowstorms, I shall be roasted brown in three days more.’

‘Oh,’ said the Amal, ‘that we were on the Alps again for only two hours,
sliding down those snow-slopes on our shields, with the sleet whistling
about our ears! That was sport!’

‘To those who could keep their seat,’ said Goderic. ‘Who went head over
heels into a glacier-crack, and was dug out of fifty feet of snow, and
had to be put inside a fresh-killed horse before he could be brought to
life?’

‘Not you, surely,’ said Pelagia. ‘Oh, you wonderful creature! what
things you have done and suffered!’

‘Well,’ said the Amal, with a look of stolid self-satisfaction, ‘I
suppose I have seen a good deal in my time, eh?’

‘Yes, my Hercules, you have gone through your twelve labours, and saved
your poor little Hesione after them all, when she was chained to the
rock, for the ugly sea-monsters to eat; and she will cherish you, and
keep you out of scrapes now, for her own sake;’ and Pelagia threw her
arms round the great bull-neck, and drew it down to her.

‘Will you hear my saga?’ said Wulf impatiently.

‘Of course we will,’ said the Amal; ‘anything to pass the time.’

‘But let it be about snow,’ said Agilmund.

‘Not about Alruna-wives?’

‘About them, too,’ said Goderic; ‘my mother was one, so I must needs
stand up for them.’

‘She was, boy. Do you be her son. Now hear, Wolves of the Goths!’

And the old man took up his little lute, or as he would probably have
called it, ‘fidel,’ and began chanting to his own accompaniment.

Over the camp fires Drank I with heroes, Under the Donau bank Warm in
the snow-trench, Sagamen heard I there, Men of the Longbeards, Cunning
and ancient, Honey-sweet-voiced. Scaring the wolf-cub, Scaring the
horn-owl out, Shaking the snow-wreaths Down from the pine-boughs, Up
to the star-roof Rang out their song. Singing how Winil men Over the
icefloes Sledging from Scanland on Came unto Scoring; Singing of Gambara
Freya’s beloved. Mother of Ayo Mother of Ibor. Singing of Wendel men,
Ambri and Assi; How to the Winilfolk Went they with war-words-- ‘Few are
ye, strangers, And many are we; Pay us now toll and fee, Clothyarn, and
rings, and beeves; Else at the raven’s meal Bide the sharp bill’s doom.’

Clutching the dwarfs’ work then, Clutching the bullock’s shell, Girding
gray iron on, Forth fared the Winils all, Fared the Alruna’s sons, Ayo
and Ibor. Mad of heart stalked they Loud wept the women all, Loud the
Alruna-wife; Sore was their need.

Out of the morning land, Over the snowdrifts, Beautiful Freya came,
Tripping to Scoring. White were the moorlands, And frozen before her;
But green were the moorlands, And blooming behind her, Out of her golden
locks Shaking the spring flowers, Out of her garments Shaking the south
wind, Around in the birches Awaking the throstles, And making chaste
housewives all Long for their heroes home, Loving and love-giving, Came
she to Scoring. Came unto Gambara, Wisest of Valas-- ‘Vala, why weepest
thou Far in the wide-blue, High up in the Elfin-home, Heard I thy
weeping.’

‘Stop not thy weeping, Till one can fight seven, Sons have I, heroes
tall, First in the sword-play; This day at the Wendels’ hands Eagles
must tear them; While their mothers, thrall-weary, Must grind for the
Wendels’

Wept the Alruna-wife; Kissed her fair Freya-- ‘Far off in the morning
land High in Valhalla, A window stands open, Its sill is the snow-peaks,
Its posts are the water-spouts Storm rack its lintel, Gold cloud-flakes
above it Are piled for the roofing. Far up to the Elfin-home, High in
the wide-blue. Smiles out each morning thence Odin Allfather; From
under the cloud-eaves, Smiles out on the heroes, Smiles out on chaste
housewives all, Smiles on the brood-mares, Smiles on the smith’s work:
And theirs is the sword-luck, With them is the glory-- So Odin hath
sworn it--


     Who first in the morning
     Shall meet him and greet him.’


Still the Alruna wept-- ‘Who then shall greet him? Women alone are here:
Far on the moorlands Behind the war-lindens, In vain for the bill’s doom
Watch Winil heroes all, One against seven.’

Sweetly the Queen laughed-- ‘Hear thou my counsel now; Take to thee
cunning, Beloved of Freya. Take thou thy women-folk, Maidens and wives:
Over your ankles Lace on the white war-hose; Over your bosoms Link up
the hard mailnets; Over your lips Plait long tresses with cunning;--
So war-beasts full bearded King Odin shall deem you, When off the gray
sea-beach At sunrise ye greet him.’

Night’s son was driving His golden-haired horses up. Over the Eastern
firths High flashed their manes. Smiled from the cloud-eaves out
Allfather Odin, Waiting the battle-sport: Freya stood by him. ‘Who are
these heroes tall-- Lusty-limbed Longbeards? Over the swans’ bath
Why cry they to me? Bones should be crashing fast, Wolves should be
full-fed, Where’er such, mad-hearted, Swing hands in the sword-play.’

Sweetly laughed Freya-- ‘A name thou hast given them-- Shames neither
thee nor them, Well can they wear it. Give them the victory, First have
they greeted thee; Give them the victory, Yokefellow mine! Maidens and
wives are these-- Wives of the Winils; Few are their heroes And far on
the war-road, So over the swans’ bath They cry unto thee.’

Royally laughed he then; Dear was that craft to him, Odin Allfather,
Shaking the clouds. ‘Cunning are women all, Bold and importunate!
Longbeards their name shall be, Ravens shall thank them: Where the women
are heroes, What must the men be like? Theirs is the victory; No need of
me!’

[Footnote: This punning legend may be seen in Paul Warnefrid’s _Gesta
Langobardorum_. The metre and language are intended as imitations of
those of the earlier Eddaic poems.]

‘There!’ said Wulf, when the song was ended; ‘is that cool enough for
you?’

‘Rather too cool; eh, Pelagia?’ said the Amal, laughing.

‘Ay,’ went on the old man, bitterly enough, ‘such were your mothers; and
such were your sisters; and such your wives must be, if you intend to
last much longer on the face of the earth--women who care for something
better than good eating, strong drinking, and soft lying.’

‘All very true, Prince Wulf,’ said Agilmund, ‘but I don’t like the saga
after all. It was a great deal too like what Pelagia here says those
philosophers talk about--right and wrong, and that sort of thing.’

‘I don’t doubt it.’

‘Now I like a really good saga, about gods and giants, and the fire
kingdoms and the snow kingdoms, and the Aesir making men and women out
of two sticks, and all that.’

‘Ay,’ said the Amal, ‘something like nothing one ever saw in one’s
life, all stark mad and topsy-turvy, like one’s dreams when one has been
drunk; something grand which you cannot understand, but which sets you
thinking over it all the morning after.’

‘Well,’ said Goderic, ‘my mother was an Alruna-woman, so I will not be
the bird to foul its own nest. But I like to hear about wild beasts and
ghosts, ogres, and fire-drakes, and nicors--something that one could
kill if one had a chance, as one’s fathers had.’

‘Your fathers would never have killed nicors,’ said Wulf, ‘if they had
been--’

‘Like us--I know,’ said the Amal. ‘Now tell me, prince, you are old
enough to be our father; and did you ever see a nicor?’

‘My brother saw one, in the Northern sea, three fathoms long, with the
body of a bison-bull, and the head of a cat, and the beard of a man, and
tusks an ell long, lying down on its breast, watching for the fishermen;
and he struck it with an arrow, so that it fled to the bottom of the
sea, and never came up again.’

‘What is a nicor, Agilmund?’ asked one of the girls.

‘A sea-devil who eats sailors. There used to be plenty of them where our
fathers came from, and ogres too, who came out of the fens into the
hall at night, when the warriors were sleeping, to suck their blood, and
steal along, and steal along, and jump upon you--so!’

Pelagia, during the saga, had remained looking into the fountain, and
playing with the water-drops, in assumed indifference. Perhaps it was to
hide burning blushes, and something very like two hot tears, which fell
unobserved into the ripple. Now she looked up suddenly--

‘And of course you have killed some of these dreadful creatures,
Amalric?’

‘I never had such good luck, darling. Our forefathers were in such a
hurry with them, that by the time we were born, there was hardly one
left.’

‘Ay, they were men,’ growled Wulf.

‘As for me,’ went on the Amal, ‘the biggest thing I ever killed was a
snake in the Donau fens. How long was he, prince? You had time to see,
for you sat eating your dinner and looking on, while he was trying to
crack my bones.’

‘Four fathom,’ answered Wulf.

‘With a wild bull lying by him, which he had just killed. I spoilt his
dinner, eh, Wulf?’

‘Yes,’ said the old grumbler, mollified, ‘that was a right good fight.’

‘Why don’t you make a saga about it, then, instead of about right and
wrong, and such things?’

‘Because I am turned philosopher. I shall go and hear that Alruna-maiden
this afternoon.’

‘Well said. Let us go too, young men: it will pass the time, at all
events.’

‘Oh, no! no! no! do not! you shall not!’ almost shrieked Pelagia.

‘Why not, then, pretty one?’

‘She is a witch--she--I will never love you again if you dare to go.
Your only reason is that Agilmund’s report of her beauty.’

‘So? You are afraid of my liking her golden locks better than your black
ones?’

‘I? Afraid?’ And she leapt up, panting with pretty rage. ‘Come, we will
go too--at once--and brave this nun, who fancies herself too wise to
speak to a woman, and too pure to love a man! Lookout my jewels! Saddle
my white mule! We will go royally. We will not be ashamed of Cupid’s
livery, my girls--saffron shawl and all! Come, and let us see whether
saucy Aphrodite is not a match after all for Pallas Athene and her owl!’

And she darted out of the cloister.

The three younger men burst into a roar of laughter, while Wulf looked
with grim approval.

‘So you want to go and hear the philosopher, prince?’ said Smid.

‘Wheresoever a holy and a wise woman speaks, a warrior need not be
ashamed of listening. Did not Alaric bid us spare the nuns in Rome,
comrade? And though I am no Christian as he was, I thought it no shame
for Odin’s man to take their blessing; nor will I to take this one’s,
Smid, son of Troll.’



CHAPTER XIII: THE BOTTOM OF THE ABYSS


‘Here am I, at last!’ said Raphael Aben-Ezra to himself. ‘Fairly and
safely landed at the very bottom of the bottomless; disporting myself on
the firm floor of the primeval nothing, and finding my new element, like
boys when they begin to swim, not so impracticable after all. No man,
angel, or demon, can this day cast it in my teeth that I am weak enough
to believe or disbelieve any phenomenon or theory in or concerning
heaven or earth; or even that any such heaven, earth, phenomena,
or theories exist--or otherwise.... I trust that is a sufficiently
exhaustive statement of my opinions? .... I am certainly not dogmatic
enough to deny--or to assert either--that there are sensations.... far
too numerous for comfort .... but as for proceeding any further, by
induction, deduction, analysis, or synthesis, I utterly decline
the office of Arachne, and will spin no more cobwebs out of my
own inside--if I have any. Sensations? What are they, but parts of
oneself--if one has a self! What put this child’s fancy into one’s head,
that there is anything outside of one which produces them? You have
exactly similar feelings in your dreams, and you know that there is no
reality corresponding to them--No, you don’t! How dare you be dogmatic
enough to affirm that? Why should not your dreams be as real as your
waking thoughts? Why should not your dreams be the reality, and your
waking thoughts the dream? What matter which?

‘What matter indeed? Here have I been staring for years--unless that,
too, is a dream, which it very probably is--at every mountebank “ism”
 which ever tumbled and capered on the philosophic tight-rope; and they
are every one of them dead dolls, wooden, worked with wires, which are
_petitiones principii_.... Each philosopher begs the question in hand,
and then marches forward, as brave as a triumph, and prides himself--on
proving it all afterwards. No wonder that his theory fits the universe,
when he has first clipped the universe to fit his theory. Have I not
tried my hand at many a one--starting, too, no one can deny, with the
very minimum of clipping,.... for I suppose one cannot begin lower than
at simple “I am I”.... unless--which is equally demonstrable--at “I am
not I.” I recollect--or dream--that I offered that sweet dream, Hypatia,
to deduce all things in heaven and earth, from the Astronomics of
Hipparchus to the number of plumes in an archangel’s wing, from that one
simple proposition, if she would but write me out a demonstration of it
first, as some sort of [Greek expression] for the apex of my inverted
pyramid. But she disdained.... People are apt to disdain what they know
they cannot do.... “It was an axiom,” it was, “like one and one making
two.”.... How cross the sweet dream was, at my telling her that I did
not consider that any axiom either, and that one thing and one thing
seeming to us to be two things, was no more proof that they really were
two, and not three hundred and sixty-five, than a man seeming to be
an honest man, proved him not to be a rogue; and at my asking her,
moreover, when she appealed to universal experience, how she proved that
the combined folly of all fools resulted in wisdom!

‘“I am I” an axiom, indeed! What right have I to say that I am not any
one else? How do I know it? How do I know that there is any one else
for me not to be? I, or rather something, feel a number of sensations,
longings, thoughts, fancies--the great devil take them all--fresh ones
every moment, and each at war tooth and nail with all the rest; and
then on the strength of this infinite multiplicity and contradiction,
of which alone I am aware, I am to be illogical enough to stand up, and
say, “I by myself I,” and swear stoutly that I am one thing, when all I
am conscious of is the devil only knows how many things. Of all quaint
deductions from experience, that is the quaintest! Would it not be more
philosophical to conclude that I, who never saw or felt or heard this
which I call myself, am what I have seen, heard, and felt--and no more
and no less--that sensation which I call that horse, that dead man,
that jackass, those forty thousand two-legged jackasses who appear to be
running for their lives below there, having got hold of this same notion
of their being one thing each--as I choose to fancy in my foolish
habit of imputing to them the same disease of thought which I find in
myself--crucify the word!--The folly of my ancestors--if I ever had
any--prevents my having any better expression.... Why should I not be
all I feel--that sky, those clouds--the whole universe? Hercules! what
a creative genius my sensorium must be!--I’ll take to writing’ poetry--a
mock-epic, in seventy-two books, entitled “The Universe: or, Raphael
Aben-Ezra,” and take Homer’s Margites for my model. Homer’s? Mine! Why
must not the Margites, like everything else, have been a sensation of my
own? Hypatia used to say Homer’s poetry was a part of her.... only she
could not prove it.... but I have proved that the Margites is a part of
me.... not that I believe my own proof--scepticism forbid! Oh, would to
heaven that the said whole disagreeable universe were annihilated, if
it were only just to settle by fair experiment whether any of master “I”
 remained when they were gone! Buzzard and dogmatist! And how do you know
that that would settle it? And if it did--why need it be settled?....

‘I daresay there is an answer pat for all this. I could write a pretty
one myself in half an hour. But then I should not believe it .... nor
the rejoinder to that.... nor the demurrer to that again .... So.... I
am both sleepy and hungry.... or rather, sleepiness and hunger are me.
Which is it! Heigh-ho....’ and Raphael finished his meditation by a
mighty yawn.

This hopeful oration was delivered in a fitting lecture-room. Between
the bare walls of a doleful fire-scarred tower in the Campagna of Rome,
standing upon a knoll of dry brown grass, ringed with a few grim pines,
blasted and black with smoke; there sat Raphael Aben-Ezra, working out
the last formula of the great world problem--‘Given Self; to find God.’
Through the doorless stone archway he could see a long vista of the
plain below, covered with broken trees, trampled crops, smoking villas,
and all the ugly scars of recent war, far onward to the quiet purple
mountains and the silver sea, towards which struggled, far in the
distance, long dark lines of moving specks, flowing together, breaking
up, stopping short, recoiling back to surge forward by some fresh
channel, while now and then a glitter of keen white sparks ran through
the dense black masses.... The Count of Africa had thrown for the empire
of the world--and lost.

‘Brave old Sun!’ said Raphael, ‘how merrily he flashes off the
sword-blades yonder, and never cares that every tiny spark brings
a death-shriek after it! Why should he? It is no concern of his.
Astrologers are fools. His business is to shine; and on the whole, he
is one of my few satisfactory sensations. How now? This is questionably
pleasant!’

As he spoke, a column of troops came marching across the field, straight
towards his retreat.

‘If these new sensations of mine find me here, they will infallibly
produce in me a new sensation, which will render all further ones
impossible.... Well? What kinder thing could they do for me?.... Ay--but
how do I know that they would do it? What possible proof is there that
if a two-legged phantasm pokes a hard iron-gray phantasm in among my
sensations, those sensations will be my last? Is the fact of my turning
pale, and lying still, and being in a day or two converted into crows’
flesh, any reason why I should not feel? And how do I know that would
happen? It seems to happen to certain sensations of my eyeball--or
something else--who cares? which I call soldiers; but what possible
analogy can there be between what seems to happen to those single
sensations called soldiers, and what may or may not really happen to all
my sensations put together, which I call me? Should I bear apples if a
phantasm seemed to come and plant me? Then why should I die if another
phantasm seemed to come and poke me in the ribs?

‘Still I don’t intend to deny it.... I am no dogmatist. Positively the
phantasms are marching straight for my tower! Well, it may be safer
to run away, on the chance. But as for losing feeling,’ continued he,
rising and cramming a few mouldy crusts into his wallet, ‘that, like
everything else, is past proof. Why--if now, when I have some sort of
excuse for fancying myself one thing in one place, I am driven mad with
the number of my sensations, what will it be when I am eaten, and turned
to dust, and undeniably many things in many places.... Will not the
sensations be multiplied by--unbearable! I would swear at the thought,
if I had anything to swear by! To be transmuted into the sensoria of
forty different nasty carrion crows, besides two or three foxes, and a
large black beetle! I’ll run away, just like anybody else.... if anybody
existed. Come, Bran! ...............

‘Bran! where are you; unlucky inseparable sensation of mine? Picking up
a dinner already off these dead soldiers? Well, the pity is that this
foolish contradictory taste of mine, while it makes me hungry,
forbids me to follow your example. Why am I to take lessons from my
soldier-phantasms, and not from my canine one? Illogical! Bran! Bran!’
and he went out and whistled in vain for the dog.

‘Bran! unhappy phantom, who will not vanish by night or day, lying on
my chest even in dreams; and who would not even let me vanish, and solve
the problem--though I don’t believe there is any--why did you drag me
out of the sea there at Ostia? Why did you not let me become a whole
shoal of crabs? How did you know, or I either, that they may not be
very jolly fellows, and not in the least troubled with philosophic
doubts?.... But perhaps there were no crabs, but only phantasms of
crabs.... And, on the other hand, if the crab-phantasms give jolly
sensations, why should not the crow-phantasms? So whichever way it turns
out, no matter; and I may as well wait here, and seem to become crows,
as I certainly shall do.--Bran!.... Why should I wait for her? What
pleasure can it be to me to have the feeling of a four-legged, brindled,
lop-eared, toad-mouthed thing always between what seem to be my legs?
There she is! Where have you been, madam? Don’t you see I am in marching
order, with staff and wallet ready shouldered? Come!’

But the dog, looking up in his face as only dogs can look, ran toward
the back of the ruin, and up to him again, and back again, until he
followed her.

‘What’s this? Here is a new sensation with a vengeance! O storm and
cloud of material appearances, were there not enough of you already,
that you must add to your number these also? Bran! Bran! Could you find
no other day in the year but this, whereon to present my ears with the
squeals of--one--two--three--nine blind puppies?’

Bran answered by rushing into the hole where her new family lay tumbling
and squalling, bringing out one in her mouth, and laying it at his feet.

‘Needless, I assure you. I am perfectly aware of the state of the case
already. What! another? Silly old thing!--do you fancy, as the fine
ladies do, that burdening the world with noisy likenesses of your
precious self, is a thing of which to be proud? Why, she’s bringing out
the whole litter!.... What was I thinking of last? Ah--the argument was
self-contradictory, was it, because I could not argue without using
the very terms which I repudiated. Well.... And--why should it not be
contradictory; Why not? One must face that too, after all. Why should
not a thing be true and false also? What harm in a thing’s being false?
What necessity for it to be true? True? What is truth? Why should a
thing be the worse for being illogical? Why should there be any logic at
all? Did I ever see a little beast flying about with “Logic” labelled on
its back? What do I know of it, but as a sensation of my own mind--if I
have any? What proof is that that I am to obey it, and not it me? If a
flea bites me I get rid of that sensation; and if logic bothers me, I’ll
get rid of that too. Phantasms must be taught to vanish courteously.
One’s only hope of comfort lies in kicking feebly against the tyranny
of one’s own boring notions and sensations--every philosopher
confesses that--and what god is logic, pray, that it is to be the sole
exception?.... What, old lady? I give you fair warning, you must choose
this day, like any nun, between the ties of family and those of duty.’

Bran seized him by the skirt, and pulled him down towards the puppies;
took up one of the puppies and lifted it towards him; and then repeated
the action with another.

‘You unconscionable old brute! You don’t actually dare to expect the to
carry your puppies for you?’ and he turned to go.

Bran sat down on her tail and began howling.

‘Farewell, old dog! you have been a pleasant dream after all.... But if
you will go the way of all phantasms.’.... And he walked away.

Bran ran with him, leaping and barking; then recollected her family and
ran back; tried to bring them, one by one, in her mouth, and then to
bring them all at once; and failing sat down and howled.

‘Come, Bran! Come, old girl!’

She raced halfway up to him; then halfway back again to the puppies;
then towards him again: and then suddenly gave it up, and dropping
her tail, walked slowly back to the blind suppliants, with a deep
reproachful growl.

‘* * *!’ said Raphael with a mighty oath; ‘you are right after all! Here
are nine things come into the world, phantasms or not, there it is; I
can’t deny it. They are something, and you are something, old dog; or at
least like enough to something to do instead of it; and you are not I,
and as good as I, and they too, for aught I know, and have as good a
right to live as I; and by the seven planets and all the rest of it,
I’ll carry them!’

And he went back, tied up the puppies in his blanket, and set forth,
Bran barking, squeaking, wagging, leaping, running between his legs and
upsetting him, in her agonies of joy.

‘Forward! Whither you will, old lady! The world is wide. You shall be
my guide, tutor, queen of philosophy, for the sake of this mere common
sense of yours. Forward, you new Hypatia! I promise you I will attend no
lectures but yours this day!’

He toiled on, every now and then stepping across a dead body, or
clambering a wall out of the road, to avoid some plunging, shrieking
horse, or obscene knot of prowling camp followers, who were already
stripping and plundering the slain.... At last, in front of a large
villa, now a black and smoking skeleton, he leaped a wall, and found
himself landed on a heap of corpses.... They were piled up against the
garden fence for many yards. The struggle had been fierce there some
three hours before.

‘Put me out of my misery! In mercy kill me!’ moaned a voice beneath his
feet.

Raphael looked down; the poor wretch was slashed and mutilated beyond
all hope.

‘Certainly, friend, if you wish it,’ and he drew his dagger. The poor
fellow stretched out his throat, and awaited the stroke with a ghastly
smile. Raphael caught his eye; his heart failed him, and he rose.

‘What do you advise, Bran?’ But the dog was far ahead, leaping and
barking impatiently.

‘I obey,’ said Raphael; and he followed her, while the wounded man
called piteously and upbraidingly after him.

‘He will not have long to wait. Those plunderers will not be as
squeamish as I.... Strange, now! From Armenian reminiscences I should
have fancied myself as free from such tender weakness as any of
my Canaanite-slaying ancestors.... And yet by some mere spirit of
contradiction, I couldn’t kill that fellow, exactly because he asked me
to do it.... There is more in that than will fit into the great inverted
pyramid of “I am I.”. Never mind, let me get the dog’s lessons by heart
first. What next, Bran? Ah! Could one believe the transformation? Why,
this is the very trim villa which I passed yesterday morning, with the
garden-chairs standing among the flower-beds, just as the young ladies
had left them, and the peacocks and silver pheasants running about,
wondering why their pretty mistresses did not come to feed them. And
here is a trampled mass of wreck and corruption for the girls to find,
when they venture back from Rome, and complain how horrible war is for
breaking down all their shrubs, and how cruel soldiers must be to kill
and cook all their poor dear tame turtle-doves! Why not? Why should they
lament over other things--which they can just as little mend--and which
perhaps need no more mending? Ah! there lies a gallant fellow underneath
that fruit-tree!’

Raphael walked up to a ring of dead, in the midst of which lay,
half-sitting against the trunk of the tree, a tall and noble officer
in the first bloom of manhood. His casque and armour, gorgeously inlaid
with gold, were hewn and battered by a hundred blows; his shield was
cloven through and through; his sword broken in the stiffened hand which
grasped it still. Cut off from his troop, he had made his last stand
beneath the tree, knee-deep in the gay summer flowers, and there he lay,
bestrewn, as if by some mockery--or pity--of mother nature, with faded
roses, and golden fruit, shaken from off the boughs in that last deadly
struggle. Raphael stood and watched him with a sad sneer.

‘Well!--you have sold your fancied personality dear! How many dead
men?.... Nine.... Eleven! Conceited fellow! Who told you that your one
life was worth the eleven which you have taken?’

Bran went up to the corpse--perhaps from its sitting posture fancying it
still living--smelt the cold cheek, and recoiled with a mournful whine.

‘Eh? That is the right way to look at the phenomena, is it? Well, after
all, I am sorry for you.... almost like you.... All your wounds in
front, as a man’s should be. Poor fop! Lais and Thais will never curl
those dainty ringlets for you again! What is that bas-relief upon your
shield? Venus receiving Psyche into the abode of the gods!.... Ah! you
have found out all about Psyche’s wings by this time.... How do I
know that? And yet, why am I, in spite of my common sense--if I have
any--talking to you as you, and liking you, and pitying you, if you are
nothing now, and probably never were anything? Bran! What right had you
to pity him without giving your reasons in due form, as Hypatia would
have done? Forgive me, sir, however--whether you exist or not, I cannot
leave that collar round your neck for these camp-wolves to convert into
strong liquor.’

And as he spoke, he bent down, and detached, gently enough, a
magnificent necklace.

‘Not for myself, I assure you. Like Ate’s golden apple, it shall go to
the fairest. Here, Bran!’ And he wreathed the jewels round the neck
of the mastiff, who, evidently exalted in her own eyes by the burden,
leaped and barked forward again, taking, apparently as a matter of
course, the road back towards Ostia, by which they had come thither
from the sea. And as he followed, careless where he went, he continued
talking to himself aloud after the manner of restless self-discontented
men.

....’And then man talks big about his dignity and his intellect, and
his heavenly parentage, and his aspirations after the unseen, and the
beautiful, and the infinite--and everything else unlike himself. How
can he prove it? Why, these poor blackguards lying about are very fair
specimens of humanity.--And how much have they been bothered since they
were born with aspirations after anything infinite, except infinite sour
wine? To eat, to drink; to destroy a certain number of their species; to
reproduce a certain number of the same, two-thirds of whom will die in
infancy, a dead waste of pain to their mothers and of expense to their
putative sires.... and then--what says Solomon? What befalls them
befalls beasts. As one dies, so dies the other; so that they have all
one breath, and a man has no pre-eminence over a beast; for all is
vanity. All go to one place; all are of the dust, and turn to dust
again. Who knows that the breath of man goes upward, and that the breath
of the beast goes downward to the earth? Who, indeed, my most wise
ancestor? Not I, certainly. Raphael Aben-Ezra, how art thou better than
a beast? W hat pre-eminence hast thou, not merely over this dog, But
over the fleas whom thou so wantonly cursest? Man must painfully win
house, clothes, fire.... A pretty proof of his wisdom, when every flea
has the wit to make my blanket, without any labour of his own, lodge him
a great deal better than it lodges me! Man makes clothes, and the fleas
live in them.... Which is the wiser of the two?....

‘Ah, but--man is fallen.... Well--and the flea is not. So much better he
than the man; for he is what he was intended to be, and so fulfils the
very definition of virtue, which no one can say of us of the red-ochre
vein. And even if the old myth be true, and the man only fell, because
he was set to do higher work than the flea, what does that prove--but
that he could not do it?

‘But his arts and his sciences?.... Apage! The very sound of those
grown-children’s rattles turns me sick.... One conceited ass in a
generation increasing labour and sorrow, and dying after all even as
the fool dies, and ten million brutes and slaves, just where their
fore-fathers were, and where their children will be after them, to the
end of the farce.... The thing that has been, it is that which shall be;
and there is no new thing under the sun....

‘And as for your palaces, and cities, and temples.... look at this
Campagna, and judge. Flea-bites go down after a while--and so do they.
What are they but the bumps which we human fleas make in the old earth’s
skin?. Make them? We only cause them, as fleas cause flea-bites....
What are all the works of man, but a sort of cutaneous disorder in this
unhealthy earth-hide, and we a race of larger fleas, running about among
its fur, which we call trees? Why should not the earth be an animal? How
do I know it is not? Because it is too big? Bah! What is big, and
what is little? Because it has not the shape of one?.... Look into
a fisherman’s net, and see what forms are there! Because it does not
speak?.... Perhaps it has nothing to say, being too busy. Perhaps it
can talk no more sense than we.... In both cases it shows its wisdom by
holding its tongue. Because it moves in one necessary direction? ....
How do I know that it does? How can I tell that it is not flirting with
all the seven spheres at once, at this moment? But if it does--so much
the wiser of it, if that be the best direction for it. Oh, what a base
satire on ourselves and our notions of the fair and fitting, to say that
a thing cannot be alive and rational, just because it goes steadily on
upon its own road, instead of skipping and scrambling fantastically up
and down without method or order, like us and the fleas, from the cradle
to the grave! Besides, if you grant, with the rest of the world, that
fleas are less noble than we, because they are our parasites, then you
are bound to grant that we are less noble than the earth, because we are
its parasites. .... Positively, it looks more probable than anything
I have seen for many a day.... And, by the bye, why should not
earthquakes, and floods, and pestilences, be only just so many ways
which the cunning old brute earth has of scratching herself when the
human fleas and their palace and city bites get too troublesome?’

At a turn of the road he was aroused from this profitable meditation
by a shriek, the shrillness of which told him that it was a woman’s.
He looked up, and saw close to him, among the smouldering ruins of a
farmhouse, two ruffians driving before them a young girl, with her hands
tied behind her, while the poor creature was looking back piteously
after something among the ruins, and struggling in vain, bound as she
was, to escape from her captors and return.

‘Conduct unjustifiable in any fleas,--eh, Bran? How do I know that,
though? Why should it not be a piece of excellent fortune for her, if
she had but the equanimity to see it? Why--what will happen to her?
She will betaken to Rome, and sold as a slave.... And in spite of a few
discomforts in the transfer, and the prejudice which some persons have
against standing an hour on the catasta to be handled from head to foot
in the minimum of clothing, she will most probably end in being far
better housed, fed, bedizened, and pampered to her heart’s desire, than
ninety-nine out of a hundred of her sister fleas.... till she begins
to grow old.... which she must do in any case....And if she have not
contrived to wheedle her master out of her liberty, and to make tip a
pretty little purse of savings, by that time--why, it is her own fault.
Eh, Bran?’

But Bran by no means agreed with his view of the case; for after
watching the two ruffians, with her head stuck on one side, for a minute
or two, she suddenly and silently, after the manner of mastiffs, sprang
upon them, and dragged one to the ground.

‘Oh! that is the “fit and beautiful,” in this case, as they say in
Alexandria, is it? Well--I obey. You are at least a more practical
teacher than ever Hypatia was. Heaven grant that there may be no more of
them in the ruins!’

And rushing on the second plunderer, he laid him dead with a blow of his
dagger, and then turned to the first, whom Bran was holding down by the
throat.

‘Mercy, mercy!’ shrieked the wretch. ‘Life! only life!’

‘There was a fellow half a mile back begging me to kill him: with which
of you two am I to agree?--for you can’t both be right.’

‘Life! Only life!’

‘A carnal appetite, which man must learn to conquer,’ said Raphael,
as he raised the poniard..... In a moment it was over, and Bran and
he rose--Where was the girl? She had rushed back to the ruins, whither
Raphael followed her; while Bran ran to the puppies, which he had laid
upon a stone, and commenced her maternal cares.

‘What do you want, my poor girl?’ asked he in Latin. ‘I will not hurt
you.’

‘My father! My father!’

He untied her bruised and swollen wrists; and without stopping to thank
him, she ran to a heap of fallen stones and beams, and began digging
wildly with all her little strength, breathlessly calling ‘Father!’

‘Such is the gratitude of flea to flea! What is there, now, in the mere
fact of being accustomed to call another person father, and not
master, or slave, which should produce such passion as that?.... Brute
habit!.... What services can the said man render, or have rendered,
which make him worth--Here is Bran!.... What do you think of that, my
female philosopher?’

Bran sat down and watched too. The poor girl’s tender hands were
bleeding from the stones, while her golden tresses rolled down over
her eyes, and entangled in her impatient fingers; but still she worked
frantically. Bran seemed suddenly to comprehend the case, rushed to the
rescue, and began digging too, with all her might.

Raphael rose with a shrug, and joined in the work. ...............

‘Hang these brute instincts! They make one very hot. What was that?’

A feeble moan rose from under the stones. A human limb was uncovered.
The girl threw herself on the place, shrieking her father’s name.
Raphael put her gently back and exerting his whole strength, drew out
of the ruins a stalwart elderly man, in the dress of an officer of high
rank.

He still breathed. The girl lifted up his head and covered him with
wild kisses. Raphael looked round for water; found a spring and a broken
sherd, and bathed the wounded man’s temples till he opened his eyes and
showed signs of returning life.

The girl still sat by him, fondling her recovered treasure, and bathing
the grizzled face in holy tears.

‘It is no business of mine,’ said Raphael. ‘Come, Bran!’

The girl sprang up, threw herself at his feet, kissed his hands, called
him her saviour, her deliverer, sent by God.

‘Not in the least, my child. You must thank my teacher the dog, not me.’

And she took him at his word, and threw her soft arms round Bran’s Deck;
and Bran understood it, and wagged her tail, and licked the gentle face
lovingly.

‘Intolerably absurd, all this!’ said Raphael. ‘I must be going, Bran.’

‘You will not leave us? You surely will not leave an old man to die
here?’

‘Why not? What better thing could happen to him?’

‘Nothing,’ murmured the officer, who had not spoken before.

‘Ah, God! he is my father!’

‘Well?’

‘He is my father!’

‘Well?’

‘You must save him! You shall, I say!’ And she seized Raphael’s arm in
the imperiousness of her passion.

He shrugged his shoulders: but felt, he knew not why, marvellously
inclined to obey her.

‘I may as well do this as anything else, having nothing else to do.
Whither now, sir?’

‘Whither you will. Our troops are disgraced, our eagles taken. We are
your prisoners by right of war. We follow you.’

‘Oh, my fortune! A new responsibility! Why cannot I stir, without live
animals, from fleas upward, attaching themselves to me? Is it not
enough to have nine blind puppies at my back, and an old brute at my
heels, who will persist in saving my life, that I must be burdened over
and above with a respectable elderly rebel and his daughter? Why am I
not allowed by fate to care for nobody but myself? Sir, I give you
both your freedom. The world is wide enough for us all. I really ask no
ransom.’

‘You seem philosophically disposed, my friend.’

‘I? Heaven forbid! I have gone right through that slough, and come out
sheer on the other side. For sweeping the last lingering taint of it out
of me, I have to thank, not sulphur and exorcisms, but your soldiers and
their morning’s work. Philosophy is superfluous in a world where all are
fools.’

‘Do you include yourself under that title?’

‘Most certainly, my best sir. Don’t fancy that I make any exceptions. If
I can in any way prove my folly to you, I will do it.’

‘Then help me and my daughter to Ostia.’

‘A very fair instance. Well--my dog happens to be going that way; and
after all, you seem to have a sufficient share of human imbecility to
be a very fit companion for me. I hope, though, you do not set up for a
wise man!’

‘God knows--no! Am I not of Heraclian’s army?’

‘True; and the young lady here made herself so great a fool about you,
that she actually infected the very dog.’

‘So we three fools will forth together.’

‘And the greatest one, as usual, must help the rest. But I have nine
puppies in my family already. How am I to carry you and them?’

‘I will take them,’ said the girl; and Bran, after looking on at the
transfer with a somewhat dubious face, seemed to satisfy herself that
all was right, and put her head contentedly under the girl’s hand.

‘Eh? You trust her, Bran?’ said Raphael, in an undertone. ‘I must
really emancipate myself from your instructions if you require a similar
simplicity in me. Stay! there wanders a mule without a rider; we may as
well press into the service.’

He caught the mule, lifted the wounded man into the saddle, and the
cavalcade set forth, turning out of the highroad into a by-lane, which
the officer, who seemed to know the country thoroughly, assured would
lead them to Ostia by an unfrequented route.

‘If we arrive there before sundown, we are saved,’ said he.

‘And in the meantime,’ answered Raphael, ‘between the dog and this
dagger, which, as I take care to inform all comers, is delicately
poisoned, we may keep ourselves clear of marauders. And yet, what a
meddling fool I am!’ he went on to himself. ‘What possible interest can
I have in this uncircumcised rebel! The least evil is, that if we are
taken, which we most probably shall be, I shall be crucified for helping
to escape. But even if we get safe off--here is a fresh tie between me
and those very brother fleas, to be rid of whom I have chosen beggary
and starvation. Who knows where it may end? Pooh! The man is like other
men. He is certain, before the day is over, to prove ungrateful, or
attempt the mountebank-heroic, or give me some other excuse for bidding
good-evening. And in the meantime there is something quaint in the fact
of finding so sober a respectability, with a young daughter too, abroad
on this fool’s errand, which really makes me curious to discover with
what variety of flea I am to class him.’

But while Aben-Ezra was talking to himself about the father, he could
not help, somehow, thinking about the daughter. Again and again he
found himself looking at her. She was, undeniably, most beautiful. Her
features were not as regularly perfect as Hypatia’s, nor her stature so
commanding; but her face shone with a clear and joyful determination,
and with a tender and modest thoughtfulness, such as he had never beheld
before united in one countenance; and as she stepped along, firmly and
lightly, by her father’s side, looping up her scattered tresses as she
went, laughing at the struggles of her noisy burden, and looking up with
rapture at her father’s gradually brightening face, Raphael could
not help stealing glance after glance, and was surprised to find them
returned with a bright, honest, smiling gratitude, which met full-eyed,
as free from prudery as it was from coquetry.... ‘A lady she is,’ said
he to himself; ‘but evidently no city one. There is nature--or something
else, there, pure and unadulterated, without any of man’s additions or
beautifications.’ And as he looked, he began to feel it a pleasure
such as his weary heart had not known for many a year, simply to watch
her....

‘Positively there is a foolish enjoyment after all in making other fleas
smile.... Ass that I am! As if I had not drunk all that ditch-water cup
to the dregs years ago!’

They went on for some time in silence, till the officer, turning to
him--

‘And may I ask you, my quaint preserver, whom I would have thanked
before but for this foolish faintness, which is now going off, what and
who you are?’

‘A flea, sir--a flea--nothing more.’

‘But a patrician flea, surely, to judge by your language and manners?’

‘Not that exactly. True, I have been rich, as the saying is; I may be
rich again, they tell me, when I am fool enough to choose.’

‘Oh if we were but rich!’ sighed the girl.

‘You would be very unhappy, my dear young lady. Believe a flea who has
tried the experiment thoroughly.’

‘Ah! but we could ransom my brother! and now we can find no money till
we get back to Africa.’

‘And none then,’ said the officer, in a low voice. ‘You forget, my poor
child, that I mortgaged the whole estate to raise my legion. We must not
shrink from looking at things as they are.’

‘Ah! and he is prisoner! he will be sold for a slave--perhaps--ah!
perhaps crucified, for he is not a Roman! Oh, he will be crucified!’ and
she burst into an agony of weeping....Suddenly she dashed away her tears
and looked up clear and bright once more.

‘No! forgive me, father! God will protect His own!’

‘My dear young lady,’ said Raphael, ‘if you really dislike such
a prospect for your brother, and are in want of a few dirty coins
wherewith to prevent it, perhaps I may be able to find you them in
Ostia.’

She looked at incredulously, as her eye glanced over his rags, and then,
blushing, begged his pardon for her unspoken thoughts.

‘Well, as you choose to suppose. But my dog has been so civil to you
already, that perhaps she may have no objection to make you a present
of that necklace of hers. I will go to the Rabbis, and we will make all
right; so don’t cry. I hate crying; and the puppies are quite chorus
enough for the present tragedy.’

‘The Rabbis? Are you a Jew?’ asked the officer.

‘Yes, sir, a Jew. And you, I presume, a Christian: perhaps you may
have scruples about receiving--your sect has generally none about
taking--from one of our stubborn and unbelieving race. Don’t be
frightened, though, for your conscience; I assure you I am no more a Jew
at heart than I am a Christian.’

‘God help you then!’

‘Some one, or something, has helped me a great deal too much, for
three-and-thirty years of pampering. But, pardon me, that was a strange
speech for a Christian.’

‘You must be a good Jew, sir, before you can be a good Christian.’

‘Possibly. I intend to be neither--nor a good Pagan either. My dear sir,
let us drop the subject. It is beyond me. If I can be as good a brute
animal as my dog there--it being first demonstrated that it is good to
be good--I shall be very well content.’

The officer looked down on with a stately, loving sorrow. Raphael caught
his eye, and felt that he was in the presence of no common man.

‘I must take care what I say here, I suspect, or I shall be entangled
shortly in a regular Socratic dialogue.... And now, sir, may I return
your question, and ask who and what are you? I really have no intention
of giving you up to any Caesar, Antiochus, Tiglath-Pileser, or other
flea-devouring flea.... They will fatten well enough without your blood.
So I only ask as a student of the great nothing-in-general, which men
call the universe.’

‘I was prefect of a legion this morning. What I am now, you know as well
as I.’

‘Just what I do not. I am in deep wonder at seeing your hilarity, when,
by all flea-analogies, you ought to be either be howling your fate like
Achilles on the shores of Styx, or pretending to grin and bear it, as
I was taught to do when I played at Stoicism. You are not of that sect
certainly, for you confessed yourself a fool just now.’

‘And it would be long, would it not, before you made one of them do as
much? Well, be it so. A fool I am; yet, if God helps us as far as Ostia,
why should I not be cheerful?’

‘Why should you?’

‘What better thing can happen to a fool, than that God should teach that
he is one, when he fancied himself the wisest of the wise? Listen to
me, sir. Four mouths ago I was blessed with health, honour, lands,
friends--all for which the heart of man could wish. And if, for an
insane ambition, I have chosen to risk all those, against the solemn
warnings of the truest friend, and the wisest saint who treads this
earth of God’s--should I not rejoice to have it proved to me, even by
such a lesson as this, that the friend who never deceived me before was
right in this case too; and that the God who has checked and turned me
for forty years of wild toil and warfare, whenever I dared to do what
was right in the sight of my own eyes, has not forgotten me yet, or
given up the thankless task of my education?’

‘And who, pray, is this peerless friend?’

‘Augustine of Hippo.’

‘Humph! It had been better for the world in general, if the great
dialectician had exerted his powers of persuasion on Heraclian himself.’

‘He did so, but in vain.’

‘I don’t doubt it. I know the sleek Count well enough to judge what
effect a sermon would have upon that smooth vulpine determination of
his.... “An instrument in the hands of God, my dear brother.... We
must obey His call, even to the death,” etc. etc.’ And Raphael laughed
bitterly.

‘You know the Count?’

‘As well, sir, as I care to know any man.’

‘I am sorry for your eyesight, then, sir,’ said the Prefect severely,
‘if it has been able to discern no more than that in so august a
character.’

‘My dear sir, I do not doubt his excellence--nay, his inspiration. How
well he divined the perfectly fit moment for stabbing his old comrade
Stilicho! But really, as two men of the world, we must be aware by this
time that every man has his price.’....

‘Oh, hush! hush!’ whispered the girl. ‘You cannot guess how you pain
him. He worships the Count. It was not ambition, as he pretends, but
merely loyalty to him, which brought here against his will.’

‘My dear madam, forgive me. For your sake I am silent.’....

‘For her sake! A pretty speech for me! What next?’ said he to himself.
‘Ah, Bran, Bran, this is all your fault!’

‘For my sake! Oh, why not for your own sake? How sad to hear one--one
like you, only sneering and speaking evil!’

‘Why then? If fools are fools, and one can safely call them so, why not
do it?’

‘Ah,--if God was merciful enough to send down His own Son to die for
them, should we not be merciful enough not to judge their failings
harshly!’

‘My dear young lady, spare a worn-out philosopher any new anthropologic
theories. We really must push on a little faster, if we intend to reach
Ostia to-night.’

But, for some reason or other, Raphael sneered no more for a full
half-hour.

Long, however, ere they reached Ostia, the night had fallen; and their
situation began to be more than questionably safe. Now and then a wolf,
slinking across the road towards his ghastly feast, glided like a lank
ghost out of the darkness, and into it again, answering Bran’s growl by
a gleam of his white teeth. Then the voices of some marauding party rang
coarse and loud through the still night, and made them hesitate and stop
a while. And at last, worst of all, the measured tramp of an imperial
column began to roll like distant thunder along the plain below. They
were advancing upon Ostia! What if they arrived there before the routed
army could rally, and defend themselves long enough to re-embark!....
What if--a thousand ugly possibilities began to crowd up.

‘Suppose we found the gates of Ostia shut, and the Imperialists
bivouacked outside?’ said Raphael half to himself.

‘God would protect His own,’ answered the girl; and Raphael had no heart
to rob her of her hope, though he looked upon their chances of escape as
growing smaller and smaller every moment. The poor girl was weary; the
mule weary also; and as they crawled along, at a pace which made it
certain that the fast passing column would be at Ostia an hour before
them, to join the vanguard of the pursuers, and aid them in investing
the town, she had to lean again and again on Raphael’s arm. Her shoes,
unfitted for so rough a journey, bad been long since torn off, and her
tender feet were marking every step with blood. Raphael knew it by her
faltering gait; and remarked, too, that neither sigh nor murmur passed
her lips. But as for helping her, he could not; and began to curse
the fancy which had led to eschew even sandals as unworthy the
self-dependence of a Cynic.

And so they crawled along, while Raphael and the Prefect, each guessing
the terrible thoughts of the other, were thankful for the darkness which
hid their despairing countenances from the young girl; she, on the other
hand, chatting cheerfully, almost laughingly, to her silent father.

At last the poor girl stepped on some stone more sharp than usual--and,
with a sudden writhe and shriek, sank to the ground. Raphael lifted her
up, and she tried to proceed, but sank down again.... What was to be
done?

‘I expected this,’ said the Prefect, in a slow stately voice. ‘Hear me,
sir! Jew, Christian, or philosopher, God seems to have bestowed on you a
heart which I can trust. To your care I commit this girl--your property,
like me, by right of war. Mount her upon this mule. Hasten with
her--where you will--for God will be there also. And may He so deal with
you as you deal with her henceforth. An old and disgraced soldier can do
no more than die.’

And he made an effort to dismount; but fainting from his wounds, sank
upon the neck of the mule. Raphael and his daughter caught in their
arms.

‘Father! Father! Impossible! Cruel! Oh--do you think that I would have
followed you hither from Africa, against your own entreaties, to desert
you now?’

‘My daughter, I command!’

The girl remained firm and sound.

‘How long have you learned to disobey me? Lift the old disgraced man
down, sir, and leave to die in the right place--on the battlefield where
his general sent him.’

The girl sank down on the road in an agony of weeping. ‘I must help
myself, I see,’ said her father, dropping to the ground. ‘Authority
vanishes before old age and humiliation. Victoria! has your father no
sins to answer for already, that you will send before his God with your
blood too upon his head?’

Still the girl sat weeping on the ground; while Raphael, utterly at his
wits end, tried hard to persuade himself that it was no concern of his.

‘I am at the service of either or of both, for life or death; only be so
good as to settle it quickly.... Hell! here it is settled for us, with a
vengeance!’

And as he spoke, the tramp and jingle of horsemen rang along the lane,
approaching rapidly.

In an instant Victoria had sprung to her feet--weakness and pain had
vanished.

‘There is one chance--one chance for him! Lift over the bank, sir! Lift
over, while I run forward and meet them. My death will delay them long
enough for you to save him!’

‘Death?’ cried Raphael, seizing her by the arm. ‘If that were all--’

‘God will protect His own,’ answered she calmly, laying her finger
on her lips; and then breaking from his grasp in the strength of her
heroism, vanished into the night.

Her father tried to follow her, but fell on his face, groaning. Raphael
lifted him, strove to drag up the steep bank: but his knees knocked
together; a faint sweat seemed to melt every limb.... There was a pause,
which secured ages long.... Nearer and nearer came the trampling.... A
sudden gleam of the moon revealed Victoria standing with outspread arms,
right before the horses’ heads. A heavenly glory seemed to bathe her
from head to foot.... or was it tears sparkling in his own eyes?....
Then the grate and jar of the horse-hoofs on the road, as they pulled up
suddenly.... He turned his face away and shut his eyes....

‘What are you?’ thundered a voice.

‘Victoria, the daughter of Majoricus the Prefect.’

The voice was low, but yet so clear and calm, that every syllable rang
through Aben-Ezra’s tingling ears....

A shout--a shriek--the confused murmur of many voices.... He looked up,
in spite of himself-a horseman had sprung to the ground, and clasped
Victoria in his arms. The human heart of flesh, asleep for many a year,
leaped into mad life within his breast, and drawing his dagger, he
rushed into the throng--

‘Villains! Hellhounds! I will balk you! She shall die first!’

And the bright blade gleamed over Victoria’s head.... He was struck
down--blinded--half-stunned--but rose again with the energy of
madness.... What was this? Soft arms around him.... Victoria’s!

‘Save him! spare him! He saved us! Sir! It is my brother! We are safe!
Oh, spare the dog! It saved my father!’

‘We have mistaken each other, indeed, sir!’ said a gay young Tribune, in
a voice trembling with joy. ‘Where is my father?’

‘Fifty yards behind. Down, Bran! Quiet! O Solomon, mine ancestor, why
did you not prevent me making such an egregious fool of myself? Why, I
shall be forced, in self-justification, to carry through the farce!’

There is no use telling what followed during the next five minutes,
at the end of which time Raphael found himself astride of a goodly
war-horse, by the side of the young Tribune, who carried Victoria before
him. Two soldiers in the meantime were supporting the Prefect on his
mule, and convincing that stubborn bearer of burdens that it was not
quite so unable to trot as it had fancied, by the combined arguments of
a drench of wine and two sword-points, while they heaped their general
with blessings, and kissed his hands and feet.

‘Your father’s soldiers seem to consider themselves in debt to him: not,
surely, for taking them where they could best run away?’

‘Ah, poor fellows!’ said the Tribune; ‘we have had as real a panic among
us as I ever read of in Arrian or Polybius. But he has been a father
rather than a general to them. It is not often that, out of a routed
army, twenty gallant men will volunteer to ride back into the enemy’s
ranks, on the chance of an old man’s breathing still.’

‘Then you knew where to find us?’ said Victoria.

‘Some of them knew. And he himself showed us this very by-road
yesterday, when we took up our ground, and told us it might be of
service on occasion--and so it has been.’

‘But they told me that you were taken prisoner. Oh, the torture I have
suffered for you!’

‘Silly child! Did you fancy my father’s son would be taken alive? I and
the first troop got away over the garden walls, and cut our way out into
the plain, three hours ago.’

‘Did I not tell you,’ said Victoria, leaning toward Raphael, ‘that God
would protect His own?’

‘You did,’ answered he; and fell into a long and silent meditation.



CHAPTER XIV: THE ROCKS OF THE SIRENS


THESE four months had been busy and eventful enough to Hypatia and
to Philammon; yet the events and the business were of so gradual and
uniform a tenor, that it is as well to pass quickly over them, and show
what had happened principally by its effects.

The robust and fiery desert-lad was now metamorphosed into the pale and
thoughtful student, oppressed with the weight of careful thought and
weary memory. But those remembrances were all recent ones. With his
entrance into Hypatia’s lecture-room, and into the fairy realms of Greek
thought, a new life had begun for him; and the Laura, and Pambo, and
Arsenius, seemed dim phantoms from some antenatal existence, which faded
day by day before the inrush of new and startling knowledge.

But though the friends and scenes of his childhood had fallen back
so swiftly into the far horizon, he was not lonely. His heart found a
lovelier, if not a healthier home, than it had ever known before. For
during those four peaceful and busy months of study there had sprung
up between Hypatia and the beautiful boy one of those pure and yet
passionate friendships--call them rather, with St. Augustine, by the
sacred name of love--which, fair and holy as they are when they link
youth to youth, or girl to girl, reach their full perfection only
between man and woman. The unselfish adoration with which a maiden
may bow down before some strong and holy priest, or with which an
enthusiastic boy may cling to the wise and tender matron, who, amid
the turmoil of the world, and the pride of beauty, and the cares of
wifehood, bends down to with counsel and encouragement--earth knows
no fairer bonds than these, save wedded love itself. And that second
relation, motherly rather than sisterly, had bound Philammon with a
golden chain to the wondrous maid of Alexandria.

From the commencement of his attendance in her lecture-room she had
suited her discourses to what she fancied were his especial spiritual
needs; and many a glance of the eye towards him, on any peculiarly
important sentence, set the poor boy’s heart beating at that sign that
the words were meant for him. But before a month was past, won by the
intense attention with which he watched for every utterance of hers, she
had persuaded her father to give a place in the library as one of his
pupils, among the youths who were employed there daily in transcribing,
as well as in studying, the authors then in fashion.

She saw him at first but seldom--more seldom than she would have wished;
but she dreaded the tongue of scandal, heathen as well as Christian,
and contented herself with inquiring daily from her father about the
progress of the boy. And when at times she entered for a moment the
library, where he sat writing, or passed him on her way to the Museum, a
look was interchanged, on her part of most gracious approval, and on his
of adoring gratitude, which was enough for both. Her spell was working
surely; and she was too confident in her own cause and her own powers to
wish to hurry that transformation for which she so fondly hoped.

‘He must begin at the beginning,’ thought she to herself. ‘Mathematics
and the Parmenides are enough for him as yet. Without a training in the
liberal sciences be cannot gain a faith worthy of those gods to whom
some day I shall present him; and I should find his Christian ignorance
and fanaticism transferred, whole and rude, to the service of those gods
whose shrine is unapproachable save to the spiritual man, who has passed
through the successive vestibules of science and philosophy.’

But soon, attracted herself, as much as wishing to attract him, she
employed him in copying manuscripts for her own use. She sent back his
themes and declamations, corrected with her own hand; and Philammon laid
them by in his little garret at Eudaimon’s house as precious badges of
honour, after exhibiting them to the reverential and envious gaze of the
little porter. So he toiled on, early and late, counting himself
well paid for a week’s intense exertion by a single smile or word of
approbation, and went home to pour out his soul to his host on the
one inexhaustible theme which they had in common--Hypatia and her
perfections. He would have raved often enough on the same subject to
his fellow-pupils, but he shrank not only from their artificial city
manners, but also from their morality, for suspecting which he saw but
too good cause. He longed to go out into the streets, to proclaim to the
whole world the treasure which he had found, and call on all to come and
share it with him. For there was no jealousy in that pure love of his.
Could he have seen her lavishing on thousands far greater favours than
she had conferred on him, he would have rejoiced in the thought that
there were so many more blest beings upon earth, and have loved them
all and every one as brothers, for having deserved her notice. Her
very beauty, when his first flush of wonder was past, he ceased to
mention--ceased even to think of it. Of course she must be beautiful. It
was her right; the natural complement of her other graces but it was to
him only what the mother’s smile is to the infant, the sunlight to the
skylark, the mountain-breeze to the hunter--an inspiring element, on
which he fed unconsciously. Only when he doubted for a moment some
especially startling or fanciful assertion, did he become really aware
of the great loveliness of her who made it; and then his heart silenced
his judgment with the thought--Could any but true words come out of
those perfect lips?--any but royal thoughts take shape within that
queenly head?.... Poor fool! Yet was it not natural enough?

Then, gradually, as she passed the boy, poring over his book, in some
alcove of the Museum Gardens, she would invite him by a glance to join
the knot of loungers and questioners who dangled about her and her
father, and fancied themselves to be reproducing the days of the
Athenian sages amid the groves of another Academus. Sometimes, even, she
had beckoned him to her side as she sat in some retired arbour, attended
only by her father; and there some passing observation, earnest and
personal, however lofty and measured, made him aware, as it was intended
to do, that she had a deeper interest in him, a livelier sympathy for
him, than for the many; that he was in her eyes not merely a pupil to be
instructed, but a soul whom she desired to educate. And those delicious
gleams of sunlight grew more frequent and more protracted; for by each
she satisfied herself more and more that she had not mistaken either
his powers or his susceptibilities: and in each, whether in public or
private, Philammon seemed to bear himself more worthily. For over and
above the natural ease and dignity which accompanies physical beauty,
and the modesty, self-restraint, and deep earnestness which he had
acquired under the discipline of the Laura, his Greek character was
developing itself in all its quickness, subtlety, and versatility, until
he seemed to Hypatia some young Titan, by the side of the flippant,
hasty, and insincere talkers who made up her chosen circle.

But man can no more live upon Platonic love than on the more prolific
species of that common ailment; and for the first month Philammon would
have gone hungry to his couch full many a night, to lie awake from baser
causes than philosophic meditation, had it not been for his magnanimous
host, who never lost heart for a moment, either about himself, or any
other human being. As for Philammon’s going out with him to earn his
bread, he would not hear of it. Did he suppose that he could meet any
of those monkish rascals in the street, without being knocked down and
carried off by main force? And besides there was a sort of impiety in
allowing so hopeful a student to neglect the ‘Divine Ineffable’ in order
to supply the base necessities of the teeth. So he should pay no rent
for his lodgings--positively none; and as for eatables--why, he must
himself work a little harder in order to cater for both. Had not all his
neighbours their litters of children to provide for, while he, thanks
to the immortals, had been far too wise to burden the earth with animals
who would add to the ugliness of their father the Tartarean hue of their
mother? And after all, Philammon could pay him back when he became a
great sophist, and made money, as of course he would some day or other;
and in the meantime, something might turn up--things were always
turning up for those whom the gods favoured; and besides, he had fully
ascertained that on the day on which he first met Philammon, the planets
were favourable, the Mercury being in something or other, he forgot
what, with Helios, which portended for Philammon, in his opinion, a
similar career with that of the glorious and devout Emperor Julian.

Philammon winced somewhat at the hint; which seemed to have an ugly
verisimilitude in it: but still, philosophy he must learn, and bread he
must eat; so he submitted.

But one evening, a few days after he had been admitted as Theon’s pupil,
he found, much to his astonishment, lying on the table in his garret, an
undeniable glittering gold piece. He took it down to the porter the
next morning, and begged him to discover the owner of the lost coin,
and return it duly. But what was his surprise, when the little man, amid
endless capers and gesticulations, informed him with an air of mystery,
that it was anything but lost; that his arrears of rent had been paid
for him; and that by the bounty of the upper powers, a fresh piece of
coin would be forthcoming every month! In vain Philammon demanded to
know who was his benefactor. Eudaimon resolutely kept the secret and
imprecated a whole Tartarus of unnecessary curses on his wife if she
allowed her female garrulity--though the poor creature seemed never to
open her lips from morning till night--to betray so great a mystery.

Who was the unknown friend? There was but one person who could have done
it.... And yet he dared not--the thought was too delightful--think it
was she. It must have been her father. The old man had asked him more
than once about the state of his purse. True, he had always returned
evasive answers; but the kind old man must have divined the truth. Ought
he not--must he not--go and thank him? No; perhaps it was more courteous
to say nothing. If he--she--for of course she had permitted, perhaps
advised, the gift--had intended him to thank them, would they have so
carefully concealed their own generosity?.... Be it so, then. But how
would he not repay them for it! How delightful to be in her debt for
anything--for everything! Would that he could have the enjoyment of
owing her existence itself!

So he took the coin, bought unto himself a cloak of the most philosophic
fashion, and went his way, such as it was, rejoicing.

But his faith in Christianity? What had become of that?

What usually happens in such cases. It was not dead; but nevertheless it
had fallen fast asleep for the time being. He did not disbelieve it;
he would have been shocked to hear such a thing asserted of him: but he
happened to be busy believing something else--geometry, conic sections,
cosmogonies, psychologies, and what not. And so it befell that he had
not just then time to believe in Christianity. He recollected at times
its existence; but even then he neither affirmed nor denied it. When
he had solved the great questions--those which Hypatia set forth as the
roots of all knowledge--how the world was made, and what was the
origin of evil, and what his own personality was, and--that being
settled--whether he had one, with a few other preliminary matters, then
it would be time to return, with his enlarged light, to the study of
Christianity; and if, of course, Christianity should be found to be at
variance with that enlarged light, as Hypatia seemed to think ....
Why, then--What then?.... He would not think about such disagreeable
possibilities. Sufficient for the day was the evil thereof.

Possibilities? It was impossible.... Philosophy could not mislead. Had
not Hypatia defined it, as man’s search after the unseen? And if he
found the unseen by it, did it not come to just the same thing as if the
unseen had revealed itself to him? And he must find it--for logic and
mathematics could not err. If every step was correct, the conclusion
must be correct also; so he must end, after all, in the right path--that
is, of course, supposing Christianity to be the right path--and return
to fight the Church’s battles, with the sword which he had wrested from
Goliath the Philistine....But he had not won the sword yet.; and in the
meanwhile, learning was weary work; and sufficient for the day was the
good, as well as the evil, thereof.

So, enabled by his gold coin each month to devote himself entirely
to study, he became very much what Peter would have coarsely termed a
heathen. At first, indeed, he slipped into the Christian churches,
from a habit of conscience. But habits soon grow sleepy; the fear of
discovery and recapture made his attendance more and more of a labour.
And keeping himself apart as much as possible from the congregation, as
a lonely and secret worshipper, he soon found himself as separate from
them in heart as in daily life. He felt that they, and even more than
they, those flowery and bombastic pulpit rhetoricians, who were paid for
their sermons by the clapping and cheering of the congregation, were
not thinking of, longing after, the same things as himself. Besides, he
never spoke to a Christian; for the negress at his lodgings seemed to
avoid him--whether from modesty or terror, he could not tell; and cut
off thus from the outward ‘communion of saints,’ he found himself fast
parting away from the inward one. So he went no more to church, and
looked the other way, he hardly knew why, whenever he passed the
Caesareum; and Cyril, and all his mighty organisation, became to him
another world, with which he had even less to do than with those
planets over his head, whose mysterious movements, and symbolisms, and
influences Hypatia’s lectures on astronomy were just opening before his
bewildered imagination.

Hypatia watched all this with growing self-satisfaction, and fed herself
with the dream that through Philammon she might see her wildest hopes
realised. After the manner of women, she crowned him, in her own
imagination, with all powers and excellences which she would have wished
him to possess, as well as with those which he actually manifested, till
Philammon would have been as much astonished as self-glorified could he
have seen the idealised caricature of himself which the sweet enthusiast
had painted for her private enjoyment. They were blissful months those
to poor Hypatia. Orestes, for some reason or other, had neglected to
urge his suit, and the Iphigenia-sacrifice had retired mercifully into
the background. Perhaps she should be able now to accomplish all without
it. And yet--it was so long to wait! Years might pass before Philammon’s
education was matured, and with them golden opportunities which might
never recur again.

‘Ah!’ she sighed at times, ‘that Julian had lived a generation later!
That I could have brought all my hard-earned treasures to the feet of
the Poet of the Sun, and cried, “Take me!--Hero, warrior, statesman,
sage, priest of the God of Light! Take thy slave! Command her--send
her--to martyrdom, if thou wilt!” A pretty price would that have been
wherewith to buy the honour of being the meanest of thy apostles, the
fellow-labourer of Iamblichus, Maximus, Libanius, and the choir of sages
who upheld the throne of the last true Caesar!’



CHAPTER XV: NEPHELOCOCCUGIA


Hypatia had always avoided carefully discussing with Philammon any
of those points on which she differed from his former faith. She was
content to let the divine light of philosophy penetrate by its own
power, and educe its own conclusions. But one day, at the very time at
which this history reopens, she was tempted to speak more openly to her
pupil than she yet had done. Her father had introduced him, a few days
before, to a new work of hers on Mathematics; and the delighted and
adoring look with which the boy welcomed her, as he met her in the
Museum Gardens, pardonably tempted her curiosity to inquire what
miracles her own wisdom might have already worked. She stopped in her
walk, and motioned her father to begin a conversation with Philammon.

‘Well!’ asked the old man, with an encouraging smile, ‘and how does our
pupil like his new--’

‘You mean my conic sections, father? It is hardly fair to expect an
unbiased answer in my presence.’

‘Why so?’ said Philammon. ‘Why should I not tell you, as well as all the
world, the fresh and wonderful field of thought which they have opened
to me in a few short hours?’

‘What then?’ asked Hypatia, smiling, as if she knew what the answer
would be. ‘In what does my commentary differ from the original text of
Apollonius, on which I have so faithfully based it?’

‘Oh, as much as a living body differs from a dead one. Instead of mere
dry disquisitions on the properties of lines and curves, I found a
mine of poetry and theology. Every dull mathematical formula seemed
transfigured, as if by a miracle, into the symbol of some deep and noble
principle of the unseen world.’

‘And do you think that he of Perga did not see as much? or that we can
pretend to surpass, in depth of insight, the sages of the elder world?
Be sure that they, like the poets, meant only spiritual things, even
when they seem to talk only of physical ones, and concealed heaven under
an earthly garb, only to hide it from the eyes of the profane; while we,
in these degenerate days, must interpret and display each detail to the
dull ears of men.’

‘Do you think, my young friend,’ asked Theon, ‘that mathematics can
be valuable to the philosopher otherwise than as vehicles of spiritual
truth? Are we to study numbers merely that we may be able to keep
accounts; or as Pythagoras did, in order to deduce from their laws the
ideas by which the universe, man, Divinity itself, consists?’

‘That seems to me certainly to be the nobler purpose.’

‘Or conic sections, that we may know better how to construct machinery;
or rather to devise from them symbols of the relations of Deity to its
various emanations?’

‘You use your dialectic like Socrates himself, my father,’ said Hypatia.

‘If I do, it is only for a temporary purpose. I should be sorry to
accustom Philammon to suppose that the essence of philosophy was to be
found in those minute investigations of words and analyses of notions,
which seem to constitute Plato’s chief power in the eyes of those who,
like the Christian sophist Augustine, worship his letter while they
neglect his spirit; not seeing that those dialogues, which they fancy
the shrine itself, are but vestibules--’

‘Say rather, veils, father.’

‘Veils, indeed, which were intended to baffle the rude gaze of the
carnal-minded; but still vestibules, through which the enlightened soul
might be led up to the inner sanctuary, to the Hesperid gardens and
golden fruit of the Timaeus and the oracles.... And for myself, were
but those two books left, I care not whether every other writing in the
world perished to-morrow.’[Footnote: This astounding speech is usually
attributed to Proclus, Hypatia’s ‘great’ successor.]

‘You must except Homer, father.’

‘Yes, for the herd.... But of what use would he be to them without some
spiritual commentary?’

‘He would tell them as little, perhaps, as the circle tells to the
carpenter who draws one with his compasses.’

‘And what is the meaning of the circle?’ asked Philammon.

‘It may have infinite meanings, like every other natural phenomenon;
and deeper meanings in proportion to the exaltation of the soul which
beholds it. But, consider, is it not, as the one perfect figure, the
very symbol of the totality of the spiritual world; which, like it, is
invisible, except at its circumference, where it is limited by the dead
gross phenomena of sensuous matter! and even as the circle takes its
origin from one centre, itself unseen,--a point, as Euclid defines it,
whereof neither parts nor magnitude can be predicated,--does not
the world of spirits revolve round one abysmal being, unseen and
undefinable--in itself, as I have so often preached, nothing, for it
is conceivable only by the negation of all properties, even of those of
reason, virtue, force; and yet, like the centre of the circle, the cause
of all other existences?’

‘I see,’ said Philammon; for the moment, certainly, the said abysmal
Deity struck him as a somewhat chill and barren notion.... but that
might be caused only by the dulness of his own spiritual perceptions. At
all events, if it was a logical conclusion, it must be right.

‘Let that be enough for the present. Hereafter you may be--I fancy that
I know you well enough to prophesy that you will be--able to recognise
in the equilateral triangle inscribed within the circle, and touching it
only with its angles, the three supra-sensual principles of existence,
which are contained in Deity as it manifests itself in the physical
universe, coinciding with its utmost limits, and yet, like it, dependent
on that unseen central One which none dare name.’

‘Ah!’ said poor Philammon, blushing scarlet at the sense of his own
dulness, ‘I am, indeed, not worthy to have such wisdom wasted upon
my imperfect apprehension.... But, if I may dare to ask.... does not
Apollonius regard the circle, like all other curves, as not depending
primarily on its own centre for its existence, but as generated by the
section of any cone by a plane at right angles to its axis?’

‘But must we not draw, or at least conceive a circle, in order to
produce that cone? And is not the axis of that cone determined by the
centre of that circle?’

Philammon stood rebuked.

‘Do not be ashamed; you have only, unwittingly, laid open another, and
perhaps, as deep a symbol. Can you guess what it is?’

Philammon puzzled in vain.

‘Does it not show you this? That, as every conceivable right section of
the cone discloses the circle, so in all which is fair and symmetric
you will discover Deity, if you but analyse it in a right and symmetric
direction?’

‘Beautiful!’ said Philammon, while the old man added--

‘And does it not show us, too, how the one perfect and original
philosophy may be discovered in all great writers, if we have but that
scientific knowledge which will enable us to extract it?’

‘True, my father: but just now, I wish Philammon, by such thoughts as I
have suggested, to rise to that higher and more spiritual insight into
nature, which reveals her to us as instinct throughout--all fair and
noble forms of her at least--with Deity itself; to make him feel that it
is not enough to say, with the Christians, that God has made the world,
if we make that very assertion an excuse for believing that His presence
has been ever since withdrawn from it.’

‘Christians, I think, would hardly say that,’ said Philammon.

‘Not in words. But, in fact, they regard Deity as the maker of a
dead machine, which, once made, will move of itself thenceforth, and
repudiate as heretics every philosophic thinker, whether Gnostic
or Platonist, who, unsatisfied with so dead, barren, and sordid
a conception of the glorious all, wishes to honour the Deity by
acknowledging His universal presence, and to believe, honestly, the
assertion of their own Scriptures, that He lives and moves, and has His
being in the universe.’

Philammon gently suggested that the passage in question was worded
somewhat differently in the Scripture.

‘True. But if the one be true, its converse will be true also. If
the universe lives and moves, and has its being in Him, must He not
necessarily pervade all things?’

‘Why?--Forgive my dulness, and explain.’

‘Because, if He did not pervade all things, those things which He did
not pervade would be as it were interstices in His being, and in so far,
without Him.’

‘True, but still they would be within His circumference.’

‘Well argued. But yet they would not live in Him, but in themselves.
To live in Him they must be pervaded by His life. Do you think it
possible--do you think it even reverent to affirm that there can be
anything within the infinite glory of Deity which has the power of
excluding from the space which it occupies that very being from which it
draws its worth, and which must have originally pervaded that thing,
in order to bestow on it its organisation and its life? Does He retire
after creating, from the spaces which He occupied during creation,
reduced to the base necessity of making room for His own universe, and
endure the suffering--for the analogy of all material nature tells us
that it is suffering--of a foreign body, like a thorn within the flesh,
subsisting within His own substance? Rather believe that His wisdom and
splendour, like a subtle and piercing fire, insinuates itself eternally
with resistless force through every organised atom, and that were it
withdrawn but for an instant from the petal of the meanest flower, gross
matter, and the dead chaos from which it was formed, would be all which
would remain of its loveliness....

‘Yes’--she went on, after the method of her school, who preferred,
like most decaying ones, harangues to dialectic, and synthesis to
induction.... ‘Look at yon lotus-flower, rising like Aphrodite from
the wave in which it has slept throughout the night, and saluting, with
bending swan-neck, that sun which it will follow lovingly around the
sky. Is there no more there than brute matter, pipes and fibres, colour
and shape, and the meaningless life-in-death which men call vegetation?
Those old Egyptian priests knew better, who could see in the number and
the form of those ivory petals and golden stamina, in that mysterious
daily birth out of the wave, in that nightly baptism, from which it
rises each morning re-born to a new life, the signs of some divine idea,
some mysterious law, common to the flower itself, to the white-robed
priestess who held it in the temple rites, and to the goddess to whom
they both were consecrated.... The flower of Isis!.... Ah!--well. Nature
has her sad symbols, as well as her fair ones. And in proportion as
a misguided nation has forgotten the worship of her to whom they owed
their greatness, for novel and barbaric superstitions, so has her sacred
flower grown rarer and more rare, till now--fit emblem of the worship
over which it used to shed its perfume--it is only to be found in
gardens such as these--a curiosity to the vulgar, and, to such as me, a
lingering monument of wisdom and of glory past away.’

Philammon, it may be seen, was far advanced by this time; for he bore
the allusions to Isis without the slightest shudder. Nay--he dared even
to offer consolation to the beautiful mourner.

‘The philosopher,’ he said, ‘will hardly lament the loss of a mere
outward idolatry. For if, as you seem to think, there were a root of
spiritual truth in the symbolism of nature, that cannot die. And thus
the lotus-flower must still retain its meaning, as long as its species
exists on earth.’

‘Idolatry!’ answered she, with a smile. ‘My pupil must not repeat to me
that worn-out Christian calumny. Into whatsoever low superstitions the
pious vulgar may have fallen, it is the Christians now, and not the
heathens, who are idolaters. They who ascribe miraculous power to dead
men’s bones, who make temples of charnel-houses, and bow before the
images of the meanest of mankind, have surely no right to accuse of
idolatry the Greek or the Egyptian, who embodies in a form of symbolic
beauty ideas beyond the reach of words!

‘Idolatry? Do I worship the Pharos when I gaze at it, as I do for hours,
with loving awe, as the token to me of the all-conquering might of
Hellas? Do I worship the roll on which Homer’s words are written, when
I welcome with delight the celestial truths which it unfolds to me, and
even prize and love the material book for the sake of the message
which it brings? Do you fancy that any but the vulgar worship the image
itself, or dream that it can help or hear them? Does the lover mistake
his mistress’s picture for the living, speaking reality? We worship the
idea of which the image is a symbol. Will you blame us because we use
that symbol to represent the idea to our own affections and emotions
instead of leaving it a barren notion, a vague imagination of our own
intellect?’

‘Then,’ asked Philammon, with a faltering voice, yet unable to restrain
his curiosity, ‘then you do reverence the heathen gods?’

Why Hypatia should have felt this question a sore one, puzzled
Philammon; but she evidently did feel it as such, for she answered
haughtily enough--

‘If Cyril had asked me that question, I should have disdained to answer.
To you I will tell, that before I can answer your question you must
learn what those whom you call heathen gods are. The vulgar, or rather
those who find it their interest to calumniate the vulgar for the sake
of confounding philosophers with them, may fancy them mere human beings,
subject like man to the sufferings of pain and love, to the limitations
of personality. We, on the other hand, have been taught by the primeval
philosophers of Greece, by the priests of ancient Egypt, and the sages
of Babylon, to recognise in them the universal powers of nature, those
children of the all-quickening spirit, which are but various emanations
of the one primeval unity--say rather, various phases of that unity, as
it has been variously conceived, according to the differences of climate
and race, by the wise of different nations. And thus, in our eyes, he
who reverences the many, worships by that very act, with the highest
and fullest adoration, the one of whose perfection they are the partial
antitypes; perfect each in themselves, but each the image of only one of
its perfections.’

‘Why, then,’ said Philammon, much relieved by this explanation, ‘do you
so dislike Christianity? may it not be one of the many methods--’

‘Because,’ she answered, interrupting him impatiently, ‘because it
denies itself to be one of those many methods, and stakes its existence
on the denial; because it arrogates to itself the exclusive revelation
of the Divine, and cannot see, in its self-conceit, that its own
doctrines disprove that assumption by their similarity to those of all
creeds. There is not a dogma of the Galileans which may not be found,
under some form or other, in some of those very religions from which it
pretends to disdain borrowing.’

‘Except,’ said Theon, ‘its exaltation of all which is human and
low-born, illiterate, and levelling.’

‘Except that--. But look! here comes some one whom I cannot--do not
choose to meet. Turn this way--quick!’

And Hypatia, turning pale as death, drew her father with unphilosophic
haste down a side-walk.

‘Yes,’ she went on to herself, as soon as she had recovered her
equanimity. ‘Were this Galilean superstition content to take its place
humbly among the other “religiones licitas” of the empire, one might
tolerate it well enough, as an anthropomorphic adumbration of divine
things fitted for the base and toiling herd; perhaps peculiarly fitted,
because peculiarly flattering to them. But now--’

‘There is Miriam again,’ said Philammon, ‘right before us!’

‘Miriam?’ asked Hypatia severely. ‘You know her then? How is that?’

‘She lodges at Eudaimon’s house, as I do,’ answered Philammon frankly.
‘Not that I ever interchanged, or wish to interchange, a word with so
base a creature.’

‘Do not! I charge you!’ said Hypatia, almost imploringly. But there was
now no way of avoiding her, and perforce Hypatia and her tormentress met
face to face.

‘One word! one moment, beautiful lady,’ began the old woman, with a
slavish obeisance. ‘Nay, do not push by so cruelly. I have--see what I
have for you!’ and she held out with a mysterious air, ‘The Rainbow of
Solomon.’

‘Ah! I knew you would stop a moment--not for the ring’s sake, of course,
nor even for the sake of one who once offered it to you.--Ah! and where
is he now? Dead of love, perhaps! at least, here is his last token to
the fairest one, the cruel one.... Well, perhaps she is right.... To be
an empress--an empress!.... Far finer than anything the poor Jew could
have offered.... But still.... An empress need not be above hearing her
subject’s petition....’

All this was uttered rapidly, and in a wheedling undertone, with a
continual snaky writhing of her whole body, except her eye, which
seemed, in the intense fixity of its glare, to act as a fulcrum for all
her limbs; and from that eye, as long as it kept its mysterious hold,
there was no escaping.

‘What do you mean? What have I to do with this ring?’ asked Hypatia,
half frightened.

‘He who owned it once, offers it to you now. You recollect a little
black agate--a paltry thing..... If you have not thrown it away, as you
most likely have, he wishes to redeem it with this opal.... a gem surely
more fit for such a hand as that.’

‘He gave me the agate, and I shall keep it.’

‘But this opal--worth, oh, worth ten thousand gold pieces--in exchange
for that paltry broken thing not worth one?’

‘I am not a dealer, like you, and have not yet learnt to value things
by their money price. It that agate had been worth money, I would never
have accepted it.’

‘Take the ring, take it, my darling,’ whispered Theon impatiently; ‘it
will pay all our debts.’

‘Ah, that it will--pay them all,’ answered the old woman, who seemed to
have mysteriously overheard him.

‘What!--my father! Would you, too, counsel me to be so mercenary? My
good woman,’ she went on, turning to Miriam, ‘I cannot expect you to
understand the reason of my refusal. You and I have a different standard
of worth. But for the sake of the talisman engraven on that agate, if
for no other reason, I cannot give it up.’

‘Ah! for the sake of the talisman! That is wise, now! That is noble!
Like a philosopher! Oh, I will not say a word more. Let the beautiful
prophetess keep the agate, and take the opal too; for see, there is a
charm on it also! The name by which Solomon compelled the demons to do
his bidding. Look! What might you not do now, if you knew how to use
that! To have great glorious angels, with six wings each, bowing at your
feet whensoever you called them, and saying, “Here am I, mistress; send
me.” Only look at it!’

Hypatia took the tempting bait, and examined it with more curiosity than
she would have wished to confess; while the old woman went on--

‘But the wise lady knows how to use the black agate, of course?
Aben-Ezra told her that, did he not?’

Hypatia blushed somewhat; she was ashamed to confess that Aben-Ezra had
not revealed the secret to her, probably not believing that there was
any, and that the talisman had been to her only a curious plaything,
of which she liked to believe one day that it might possibly have
some occult virtue, and the next day to laugh at the notion as
unphilosophical and barbaric; so she answered, rather severely, that her
secrets were her own property.

‘Ah, then! she knows it all--the fortunate lady! And the talisman
has told her whether Heraclian has lost or won Rome by this time, and
whether she is to be the mother of a new dynasty of Ptolemies, or to die
a virgin, which the Four Angels avert! And surely she has had the great
demon come to her already, when she rubbed the flat side, has she not?’

‘Go, foolish woman! I am not like you, the dupe of childish
superstitions.’

‘Childish superstitions! Ha! ha! ha!’ said the old woman, as she turned
to go, with obeisances more lowly than ever. ‘And she has not seen the
Angels yet!.... Ah well! perhaps some day, when she wants to know how to
use the talisman, the beautiful lady will condescend to let the poor old
Jewess show her the way.’

And Miriam disappeared down an alley, and plunged into the thickest
shrubberies, while the three dreamers went on their way.

Little thought Hypatia that the moment the old woman had found herself
alone, she had dashed herself down on the turf, rolling and biting at
the leaves like an infuriated wild beast..... ‘I will have it yet! I
will have it, if I tear out her heart with it!’



CHAPTER XVI: VENUS AND PALLAS


As Hypatia was passing across to her lecture-room that afternoon, she
was stopped midway by a procession of some twenty Goths and damsels,
headed by Pelagia herself, in all her glory of jewels, shawls, and
snow-white mule; while by her side rode the Amal, his long legs, like
those of Gang-Rolf the Norseman, all but touching the ground, as he
crushed down with his weight a delicate little barb, the best substitute
to be found in Alexandria for the huge black chargers of his native
land.

On they came, followed by a wondering and admiring mob, straight to the
door of the Museum, and stopping began to dismount, while their slaves
took charge of the mules and horses.

There was no escape for Hypatia; pride forbade her to follow her own
maidenly instinct, and to recoil among the crowd behind her; and in
another moment the Amal had lifted Pelagia from her mule, and the rival
beauties of Alexandria stood, for the first time in their lives, face to
face.

‘May Athene befriend you this day, Hypatia!’ said Pelagia with her
sweetest smile. ‘I have brought my guards to hear somewhat of your
wisdom this afternoon. I am anxious to know whether you can teach Ahem
anything more worth listening to than the foolish little songs which
Aphrodite taught me, when she raised me from the sea-foam, as she rose
herself, and named me Pelagia.’

Hypatia drew herself up to her stateliest height, and returned no
answer.

‘I think my bodyguard will well hear comparison with yours. At least
they are the princes and descendants of deities. So it is but fitting
that they should enter before your provincials. Will you show them the
way?’

No answer.

‘Then I must do it myself. Come, Amal!’ and she swept up the steps,
followed by the Goths, who put the Alexandrians aside right and left, as
if they had been children.

‘Ah! treacherous wanton that you are!’ cried a young man’s voice out
of the murmuring crowd. ‘After having plundered us of every coin out
of which you could dupe us, here you are squandering our patrimonies on
barbarians!’

‘Give us back our presents, Pelagia,’ cried another, ‘and you are
welcome to your herd of wild bulls!’

‘And I will!’ cried she, stopping suddenly; and clutching at her chains
and bracelets, she was on the point of dashing them among the astonished
crowd--

‘There! take your gifts! Pelagia and her girls scorn to be debtors to
boys, while they are worshipped by men like these!’

But the Amal, who, luckily for the students, had not understood a word
of this conversation, seized her arm, asking if she were mad.

‘No, no!’ panted she, inarticulate with passion. ‘Give me gold--every
coin you have. These wretches are twitting me with what they gave me
before--before--oh Amal, you understand me?’ And she clung imploringly
to his arm.

‘Oh! Heroes! each of you throw his purse among these fellows! they say
that we and our ladies are living on their spoils!’ And he tossed his
purse among the crowd.

In an instant every Goth had followed his example: more than one
following it up by dashing a bracelet or necklace into the face of some
hapless philosophaster.

‘I have no lady, my young friends,’ said old Wulf, in good enough Greek,
‘and owe you nothing: so I shall keep my money, as you might have kept
yours; and as you might, too, old Smid, if you had been as wise as I.’

‘Don’t be stingy, prince, for the honour of the Goths,’ said Smid,
laughing.

‘If I take in gold I pay in iron,’ answered Wulf, drawing half out of
its sheath the huge broad blade, at the ominous brown stains of which
the studentry recoiled; and the whole party swept into the empty
lecture-room, and seated themselves at their ease in the front ranks.

Poor Hypatia! At first she determined not to lecture--then to send for
Orestes--then to call on her students to defend the sanctity of the
Museum; but pride, as well as prudence, advised her better; to retreat
would be to confess herself conquered--to disgrace philosophy--to lose
her hold on the minds of all waverers. No! she would go on and brave
everything, insults, even violence; and with trembling limbs and a pale
cheek, she mounted the tribune and began.

To her surprise and delight, however, her barbarian auditors were
perfectly well behaved. Pelagia, in childish good-humour at her triumph,
and perhaps, too, determined to show her contempt for her adversary by
giving her every chance, enforced silence and attention, and checked
the tittering of the girls, for a full half-hour. But at the end of
that time the heavy breathing of the slumbering Amal, who had been twice
awoke by her, resounded unchecked through the lecture-room, and deepened
into a snore; for Pelagia herself was as fast asleep as he. But now
another censor took upon himself the office of keeping order. Old Wulf,
from the moment Hypatia had begun, had never taken his eyes off her
face; and again and again the maiden’s weak heart had been cheered, as
she saw the smile of sturdy intelligence and honest satisfaction which
twinkled over that scarred and bristly visage; while every now and then
the graybeard wagged approval, until she found herself, long before the
end of the oration, addressing herself straight to her new admirer.

At last it was over, and the students behind, who had sat meekly through
it all, without the slightest wish to ‘upset’ the intruders, who had so
thoroughly upset them, rose hurriedly, glad enough to get safe out of so
dangerous a neighbourhood. But to their astonishment, as well as to that
of Hypatia, old Wulf rose also, and stumbling along to the foot of the
tribune, pulled out his purse, and laid it at Hypatia’s feet.

‘What is this?’ asked she, half terrified at the approach of a figure
more rugged and barbaric than she had ever beheld before.

‘My fee for what I have heard to-day. You are a right noble maiden, and
may Freya send you a husband worthy of you, and make you the mother of
kings!’

And Wulf retired with his party.

Open homage to her rival, before her very face! Pelagia felt quite
inclined to hate old Wulf.

But at least he was the only traitor. The rest of the Goths agreed
unanimously that Hypatia was a very foolish person, who was wasting her
youth and beauty in talking to donkey-riders; and Pelagia remounted her
mule, and the Goths their horses, for a triumphal procession homeward.

And yet her heart was sad, even in her triumph. Right and wrong were
ideas as unknown to her as they were to hundreds of thousands in her
day. As far as her own consciousness was concerned, she was as destitute
of a soul as the mule on which she rode. Gifted by nature with boundless
frolic and good-humour, wit and cunning, her Greek taste for the
physically beautiful and graceful developed by long training, until she
had become, without a rival, the most perfect pantomime, dancer,
and musician who catered for the luxurious tastes of the Alexandrian
theatres, she had lived since her childhood only for enjoyment and
vanity, and wished for nothing more. But her new affection, or rather
worship, for the huge manhood of her Gothic lover had awoke in her a new
object--to keep him--to live for him--to follow him to the ends of the
earth, even if he tired of her, ill-used her, despised her. And slowly,
day by day, Wulf’s sneers bad awakened in her a dread that perhaps the
Amal might despise her.... Why, she could not guess: but what sort of
women were those Alrunas of whom Wulf sang, of whom even the Amal and
his men spoke with reverence, as something nobler, not only than her,
but even than themselves? And what was it which Wulf had recognised in
Hypatia which had bowed the stern and coarse old warrior before her in
that public homage?.... it was not difficult to say what.... But why
should that make Hypatia or any one else attractive? And the poor
little child of nature gazed in deep bewilderment at a crowd of new
questions, as a butterfly might at the pages of the book on which it has
settled, and was sad and discontented--not with herself, for was she
not Pelagia the perfect?--but with these strange fancies which came
into other people’s heads.--Why should not every one be as happy as they
could? And who knew better than she how to be happy, and to make others
happy?....

‘Look at that old monk standing on the pavement, Amalric! Why does he
stare so at me? Tell him to go away.’

The person at whom she pointed, a delicate-featured old man, with a
venerable white beard, seemed to hear her; for he turned with a sudden
start, and then, to Pelagia’s astonishment, put his hands before his
face, and burst convulsively into tears.

‘What does he mean by behaving in that way? Bring him here to me this
moment! I will know!’ cried she, petulantly catching at the new object,
in order to escape from her own thoughts.

In a moment a Goth had led up the weeper, who came without demur to the
side of Pelagia’s mule.

‘Why were you so rude as to burst out crying in my face?’ asked she
petulantly.

The old man looked up sadly and tenderly, and answered in a low voice,
meant only for her ear--

‘And how can I help weeping, when I see anything as beautiful as you are
destined to the flames of hell for ever?’

‘The flames of hell?’ said Pelagia, with a shudder. ‘What for?’

‘Do you not know?’ asked the old man, with a look of sad surprise. ‘Have
you forgotten what you are?’

‘I? I never hurt a fly!’

‘Why do you look so terrified, my darling? What have you been saying to
her, you old villain?’ and the Amal raised his whip.

‘Oh! do not strike him. Come, come to-morrow, and tell me what you
mean.’

‘No, we will have no monks within our doors, frightening silly women.
Off, sirrah! and thank the lady that you have escaped with a whole
skin.’ And the Amal caught the bridle of Pelagia’s mule, and pushed
forward, leaving the old man gazing sadly after them.

But the beautiful sinner was evidently not the object which had brought
the old monk of the desert into a neighbourhood so strange and ungenial
to his habits; for, recovering himself in a few moments, he hurried on
to the door of the Museum, and there planted himself, scanning earnestly
the faces of the passers-out, and meeting, of course, with his due share
of student ribaldry.

‘Well, old cat, and what mouse are you on the watch for, at the hole’s
mouth here?’

‘Just come inside, and see whether the mice will not singe your whiskers
for you....’

‘Here is my mouse, gentlemen,’ answered the old monk, with a bow and
a smile, as he laid his hand on Philammon’s arm, and presented to his
astonished eyes the delicate features and high retreating forehead of
Arsenius.

‘My father,’ cried the boy, in the first impulse of affectionate
recognition; and then--he had expected some such meeting all along, but
now that it was come at last, he turned pale as death. The students saw
his emotion.

‘Hands off, old Heautontimoroumenos! He belongs to our guild now! Monks
have no more business with sons than with wives. Shall we hustle him for
you, Philammon?’

‘Take care how you show off, gentlemen: the Goths are not yet out of
hearing!’ answered Philammon, who was learning fast how to give a smart
answer; and then, fearing the temper of the young dandies, and shrinking
from the notion of any insult to one so reverend and so beloved as
Arsenius, he drew the old man gently away, and walked up the street with
him in silence, dreading what was coming.

‘And are these your friends?’

‘Heaven forbid! I have nothing in common with such animals but flesh and
blood, and a seat in the lecture-room!’

‘Of the heathen woman?’

Philammon, after the fashion of young men in fear, rushed desperately
into the subject himself, just because he dreaded Arsenius’s entering on
it quietly.

‘Yes, of the heathen woman. Of course you have seen Cyril before you
came hither?’

‘I have, and--’

‘And,’ went on Philammon, interrupting him, ‘you have been told every
lie which prurience, stupidity, and revenge can invent. That I have
trampled on the cross--sacrificed to all the deities in the pantheon-and
probably’--(and he blushed scarlet)--‘that that purest and holiest of
beings--who, if she were not what people call a pagan, would be, and
deserves to be, worshipped as the queen of saints--that she--and I--’
and he stopped.

‘Have I said that I believed what I may have heard?’

‘No--and therefore, as they are all simple and sheer falsehoods, there
is no more to be said on the subject. Not that I shall not be delighted
to answer any questions of yours, my dearest father--’

‘Have I asked any, my child?’

‘No. So we may as well change the subject for the present,’--and he
began overwhelming the old man with inquiries about himself, Pambo, and
each and all of the inhabitants of the Laura to which Arsenius, to
the boy’s infinite relief, answered cordially and minutely, and even
vouchsafed a smile at some jest of Philammon’s on the contrast between
the monks of Nitria and those of Scetis.

Arsenius was too wise not to see well enough what all this flippancy
meant; and too wise, also, not to know that Philammon’s version was
probably quite as near the truth as Peter’s and Cyril’s; but for reasons
of his own, merely replied by an affectionate look, and a compliment to
Philammon’s growth.

And yet you seem thin and pale, my boy.’

‘Study,’ said Philammon, ‘study. One cannot burn the midnight oil
without paying some penalty for it.... However, I am richly repaid
already; I shall be more so hereafter.’

‘Let us hope so. But who are those Goths whom I passed in the streets
just now?’

‘Ah! my father,’ said Philammon, glad in his heart of any excuse to
turn the conversation, and yet half uneasy and suspicious at Arsenius’s
evident determination to avoid the very object of his visit. ‘It must
have been you, then, whom I saw stop and speak to Pelagia at the farther
end of the street. What words could you possibly have had wherewith to
honour such a creature?’

‘God knows. Some secret sympathy touched my heart.... Alas! poor child!
But how came you to know her?’

‘All Alexandria knows the shameless abomination,’ interrupted a voice
at their elbow--none other than that of the little porter, who had
been dodging and watching the pair the whole way, and could no longer
restrain his longing to meddle. ‘And well it had been for many a rich
young man had odd Miriam never brought her over, in an evil day, from
Athens hither.’

‘Miriam?’

‘Yes, monk; a name not unknown, I am told, in palaces as well as in
slave-markets.’

‘An evil-eyed old Jewess?’

‘A Jewess she is, as her name might have informed you; and as for her
eyes, I consider them, or used to do so, of course--for her injured
nation have been long expelled from Alexandria by your fanatic tribe--as
altogether divine and demoniac, let the base imagination of monks call
them what it likes.’

‘But how did you know this Pelagia, my son? She is no fit company for
such as you.’

Philammon told, honestly enough, the story of his Nile journey, and
Pelagia’s invitation to him.

‘You did not surely accept it?’

‘Heaven forbid that Hypatia’s scholar should so degrade himself!’

Arsenius shook his head sadly.

‘You would not have had me go?’

‘No, boy. But how long hast thou learned to call thyself Hypatia’s
scholar, or to call it a degradation to visit the most sinful, if
thou mightest thereby bring back a lost lamb to the Good Shepherd?
Nevertheless, thou art too young for such employment--and she meant to
tempt thee doubtless.’

‘I do not think it. She seemed struck by my talking Athenian Greek, and
having come from Athens.’

‘And how long since she came from Athens?’ said Arsenius, after a pause.
‘Who knows?’

‘Just after it was sacked by the barbarians,’ said the little porter,
who, beginning to suspect a mystery, was peaking and peering like
an excited parrot. ‘The old dame brought her hither among a cargo of
captive boys and girls.’

‘The time agrees.... Can this Miriam be found?’

‘A sapient and courteous question for a monk to ask! Do you not know
that Cyril has expelled all Jews four months ago?’

‘True, true.... Alas!’ said the old man to himself, ‘how little
the rulers of this world guess their own power! They move a finger
carelessly, and forget that that finger may crush to death hundreds
whose names they never heard--and every soul of them as precious in
God’s sight as Cyril’s own.’

‘What is the matter, my father?’ asked Philammon. ‘You seem deeply moved
about this woman....’

‘And she is Miriam’s slave?’

‘Her freedwoman this four years past,’ said the porter. ‘The good
lady--for reasons doubtless excellent in themselves, though not
altogether patent to the philosophic mind--thought good to turn her
loose on the Alexandrian republic, to seek what she might devour.’

‘God help her! And you are certain that Miriam is not in Alexandria?’

The little porter turned very red, and Philammon did so likewise; but he
remembered his promise, and kept it.

‘You both know something of her, I can see. You cannot deceive an
old statesman, sir!’--turning to the little porter with a look of
authority--‘poor monk though he be now. If you think fitting to tell me
what you know, I promise you that neither she nor you shall be losers by
your confidence in me. If not, I shall find means to discover.’

Both stood silent.

‘Philammon, my son! and art thou too in league against--no, not against
me; against thyself, poor misguided boy?’

‘Against myself?’

‘Yes--I have said it. But unless you will trust me, I cannot trust you.’

‘I have promised.’

‘And I, sir statesman, or monk, or both, or neither, have sworn by the
immortal gods!’ said the porter, looking very big.

Arsenius paused.

‘There are those who hold that an oath by an idol, being nothing, is of
itself void. I do not agree with them. If thou thinkest it sin to break
thine oath, to thee it is sin. And for thee, my poor child, thy promise
is sacred, were it made to Iscariot himself. But hear me. Can either of
you, by asking this woman, be so far absolved as to give me speech of
her? Tell her--that is, if she be in Alexandria, which God grant--all
that has passed between us here, and tell her, on the solemn oath of a
Christian, that Arsenius, whose name she knows well, will neither injure
nor betray her. Will you do this?’

‘Arsenius?’ said the little porter, with a look of mingled awe and pity.

The old man smiled. ‘Arsenius, who was once called the Father of the
Emperors. Even she will trust that name.’

‘I will go this moment’ sir; I will fly!’ and off rushed the little
porter.

‘The little fellow forgets,’ said Arsenius, with a smile, ‘to how much
he has confessed already, and how easy it were now to trace him to the
old hag’s lair.... Philammon, my son.... I have many tears to weep over
thee--but they must wait a while, I have thee safe now,’ and the old man
clutched his arm. ‘Thou wilt not leave thy poor old father? Thou wilt
not desert me for the heathen woman?’

‘I will stay with you, I promise you, indeed! if--if you will not say
unjust things of her.’

‘I will speak evil of no one, accuse no one, but myself. I will not say
one harsh word to thee, my poor boy. But listen now! Thou knowest that
thou camest from Athens. Knowest thou that it was I who brought thee
hither?’

‘You?’

‘I, my son: but when I brought thee to the Laura, it seemed right that
thou, as the son of a noble gentleman, shouldest hear nothing of it.
But tell me: dost thou recollect father or mother, brother or sister; or
anything of thy home in Athens?’

‘No.’

‘Thanks be to God. But, Philammon, if thou hadst had a sister-hush! And
if--I only say if--,

‘A sister!’ interrupted Philammon. ‘Pelagia?’

‘God forbid, my son! But a sister thou hadst once--some three years
older than thee she seemed.’

‘What! did you know her?’

‘I saw her but once--on one sad day.--Poor children both! I will not
sadden you by telling you where and how.’

‘And why did you not bring her hither with me? You surely had not the
heart to part us?’

‘Ah, my son, what right had an old monk with a fair young girl? And,
indeed, even had I had the courage, it would have been impossible. There
were others, richer than I, to whose covetousness her youth and beauty
seemed a precious prize. When I saw her last, she was in company with an
ancient Jewess. Heaven grant that this Miriam may prove to be the one!’

‘And I have a sister!’ gasped Philammon, his eyes bursting with tears.
‘We must find her! You will help me?--Now--this moment! There is nothing
else to be thought of, spoken of, done, henceforth, till she is found!’

‘Ah, my son, my son! Better, better, perhaps, to leave her in the hands
of God! What if she were dead? To discover that, would be to discover
needless sorrow. And what if--God grant that it be not so! she had only
a name to live, and were dead, worse than dead, in sinful pleasure--’

‘We would save her, or die trying to save her! Is it not enough for
me that she is my sister?’ Arsenius shook his head. He little knew the
strange new light and warmth which his words had poured in upon the
young heart beside him. ‘A sister!’ What mysterious virtue was there in
that simple word, which made Philammon’s brain reel and his heart throb
madly? A sister! not merely a friend, an equal, a help-mate, given
by God Himself, for loving whom none, not even a monk, could blame
him.--Not merely something delicate, weak, beautiful--for of course she
must be beautiful-whom he might cherish, guide, support, deliver, die
for, and find death delicious. Yes--all that, and more than that, lay
in the sacred word. For those divided and partial notions had flitted
across his mind too rapidly to stir such passion as moved him now; even
the hint of her sin and danger had been heard heedlessly, if heard at
all. It was the word itself which bore its own message, its own spell
to the heart of the fatherless and motherless foundling, as he faced for
the first time the deep, everlasting, divine reality of kindred.... A
sister! of his own flesh and blood--born of the same father, the
same mother--his, his, for ever! How hollow and fleeting seemed all
‘spiritual sonships,’ ‘spiritual daughterhoods,’ inventions of the
changing fancy, the wayward will of man! Arsenius--Pambo--ay, Hypatia
herself--what were they to him now? Here was a real relationship .... A
sister! What else was worth caring for upon earth?

‘And she was at Athens when Pelagia was’--he cried at last--‘perhaps
knew her--let us go to Pelagia herself!’

‘Heaven forbid!’ said Arsenius. ‘We must wait at least till Miriam’s
answer comes.’

‘I can show you her house at least in the meanwhile; and you can go in
yourself when you will. I do not ask to enter. Come! I feel certain that
my finding her is in some way bound up with Pelagia. Had I not met her
on the Nile, had you not met her in the street, I might never have heard
that I had a sister. And if she went with Miriam, Pelagia must know
her--she may be in that very house at this moment!’

Arsenius had his reasons for suspecting that Philammon was but too
right. But he contented himself with yielding to the boy’s excitement,
and set off with him in the direction of the dancer’s house.

They were within a few yards of the gate, when hurried footsteps behind
them, and voices calling them by name, made them turn; and behold,
evidently to the disgust of Arsenius as much as Philammon himself, Peter
the Reader and a large party of monks!

Philammon’s first impulse was to escape; Arsenius himself caught him by
the arm, and seemed inclined to hurry on.

‘No!’ thought the youth, ‘am I not a free man, and a philosopher?’ and
facing round, he awaited the enemy.

‘Ah, young apostate! So you have found him, reverend and ill-used sir.
Praised be Heaven for this rapid success!’

‘My good friend,’ asked Arsenius, in a trembling voice, ‘what brings you
here?’

‘Heaven forbid that I should have allowed your sanctity and age to
go forth without some guard against the insults and violence of this
wretched youth and his profligate companions. We have been following you
afar off all the morning, with hearts full of filial solicitude.’

‘Many thanks; but indeed your kindness has been superfluous. My son
here, from whom I have met with nothing but affection, and whom, indeed,
I believe far more innocent than report declared him, is about to return
peaceably with me. Are you not, Philammon?’

‘Alas! my father’’ said Philammon, with an effort, ‘how can I find
courage to say it’?--but I cannot return with you.’

‘Cannot return?’

‘I vowed that I would never again cross that threshold till--’

‘And Cyril does. He bade me, indeed he bade me, assure you that he would
receive you back as a son, and forgive and forget all the past.’

‘Forgive and forget? That is my part--not his. Will he right me against
that tyrant and his crew? Will he proclaim me openly to be an innocent
and persecuted man, unjustly beaten and driven forth for obeying his own
commands? Till he does that, I shall not forget that I am a free man.’

‘A free man!’ said Peter, with an unpleasant smile; ‘that remains to
be proved, my gay youth; and will need more evidence than that smart
philosophic cloak and those well-curled locks which you have adopted
since I saw you last.’

‘Remains to be proved?’

Arsenius made an imploring gesture to Peter to be silent.

‘Nay, sir. As I foretold to you, this one way alone remains; the
blame of it, if there be blame, must rest on the unhappy youth whose
perversity renders it necessary.’

‘For God’s sake, spare me!’ cried the old man, dragging Peter aside,
while Philammon stood astonished, divided between indignation and vague
dread.

‘Did I not tell you again and again that I never could bring myself to
call a Christian man my slave? And him, above all, my spiritual son?’

‘And, most reverend sir, whose zeal is only surpassed by your tenderness
and mercy, did not the holy patriarch assure you that your scruples were
groundless? Do you think that either he or I can have less horror than
you have of slavery in itself? Heaven forbid! But when an immortal soul
is at stake--when a lost lamb is to be brought back to the fold--surely
you may employ the authority which the law gives you for the salvation
of that precious charge committed to you? What could be more conclusive
than his Holiness’s argument this morning? “Christians are bound to
obey the laws of this world for conscience’ sake, even though, in the
abstract, they may disapprove of them, and deny their authority. Then,
by parity of reasoning, it must be lawful for them to take the advantage
which those same laws offer them, when by so doing the glory of God may
be advanced.”’

Arsenius still hung back, with eyes brimming with tears; but Philammon
himself put an end to the parley.

‘What is the meaning of all this? Are you, too, in a conspiracy against
me? Speak, Arsenius!’

‘This is the meaning of it, blinded sinner!’ cried Peter. ‘That you are
by law the slave of Arsenius, lawfully bought with his money in the city
of Ravenna; and that he has the power, and, as I trust, for the sake of
your salvation, the will also, to compel you to accompany him.’

Philammon recoiled across the pavement, with eyes flashing defiance. A
slave! The light of heaven grew black to him.... Oh, that Hypatia might
never know his shame! Yet it was impossible. Too dreadful to be true....

‘You lie!’ almost shrieked he. ‘I am the son of a noble citizen of
Athens. Arsenius told me so, but this moment, with his own lips!’

‘Ah, but he bought you--bought you in the public market; and he can
prove it!’

‘Hear me--hear me, my son!’ cried the old man, springing toward him.
Philammon, in his fury, mistook the gesture and thrust him fiercely
back.

‘Your son!--your slave! Do not insult the name of son by applying it to
me. Yes, sir; your slave in body, but not in soul! Ay, seize me--drag
home the fugitive--scourge him--brand him--chain him in the mill, if you
can; but even for that the free heart has a remedy. If you will not let
me live as a philosopher, you shall see me die like one!’

‘Seize the fellow, my brethren!’ cried Peter, while Arsenius, utterly
unable to restrain either party, hid his face and wept.

‘Wretches!’ cried the boy; ‘you shall never take me alive, while I have
teeth or nails left. Treat me as a brute beast, and I will defend myself
as such!’

‘Out of the way there, rascals! Place for the Prefect! What are you
squabbling about here, you unmannerly monks?’ shouted peremptory voices
from behind. The crowd parted, and disclosed the apparitors of Orestes,
who followed in his robes of office.

A sudden hope flashed before Philammon, and in an instant he had burst
through the mob, and was clinging to the Prefect’s chariot.

‘I am a free-born Athenian, whom these monks wish to kidnap back into
slavery! I claim your protection!’

‘And you shall have it, right or wrong, my handsome fellow. By Heaven,
you are much too good-looking to be made a monk of! What do you mean,
you villains, by attempting to kidnap free men? Is it not enough for you
to lock up every mad girl whom you can dupe, but you must--’

‘His master is here present, your Excellency, who will swear to the
purchase.’

‘Or to anything else for the glory of God. Out of the way! And take
care, you tall scoundrel, that I do not get a handle against you. You
have been one of my marked men for many a month. Off!’

‘His master demands the rights of the law as a Roman citizen,’ said
Peter, pushing forward Arsenius.

‘If he be a Roman citizen, let him come and make his claim at the
tribune to-morrow, in legal form. But I would have you remember, ancient
sir, that I shall require you to prove your citizenship before we
proceed to the question of purchase.’

‘The law does not demand that,’ quoth Peter.

‘Knock that fellow down, apparitor!’ Whereat Peter vanished, and an
ominous growl rose from the mob of monks.

‘What am I to do, most noble sir?’ said Philammon.

‘Whatever you like, till the third hour to-morrow--if you are fool
enough to appear at the tribune. If you will take my advice’ you will
knock down these fellows right and left, and run for your life.’ And
Orestes drove on.

Philammon saw that it was his only chance, and did so; and in another
minute he found himself rushing headlong into the archway of Pelagia’s
house, with a dozen monks at his heels. As luck would have it, the outer
gates, at which the Goths had just entered, were still open; but the
inner ones which led into the court beyond were fast. He tried them,
but in vain. There was an open door in the wall on his right: he rushed
through it, into a long range of stables, and into the arms of Wulf and
Smid, who were unsaddling and feeding, like true warriors, their own
horses.

‘Souls of my fathers!’ shouted Smid, ‘here’s our young monk come back!
What brings you here head over heels in this way, young curly-pate?’

‘Save me from those wretches!’ pointing to the monks, who were peeping
into the doorway.

Wulf seemed to understand it all in a moment; for, snatching up a heavy
whip, he rushed at the foe, and with a few tremendous strokes cleared
the doorway, and shut-to the door.

Philammon was going to explain and thank, but Smid stopped his mouth.

‘Never mind, young one, you are our guest now. Come in, and you shall be
as welcome as ever. See what comes of running away from us at first.’

‘You do not seem to have benefited much by leaving me for the monks,’
said old Wulf. ‘Come in by the inner door. Smid! go and turn those monks
out of the gateway.’

But the mob, after battering the door for a few minutes, had yielded
to the agonised entreaties of Peter, who assured them that if those
incarnate fiends once broke out upon them, they would not leave a
Christian alive in Alexandria. So it was agreed to leave a few to watch
for Philammon’s coming out; and the rest, balked of their prey, turned
the tide of their wrath against the Prefect, and rejoined the mass
of their party, who were still hanging round his chariot, ready for
mischief.

In vain the hapless shepherd of the people attempted to drive on. The
apparitors were frightened and hung back; and without their help it
was impossible to force the horses through the mass of tossing arms and
beards in front. The matter was evidently growing serious.

‘The bitterest ruffians in all Nitria, your Excellency,’ whispered one
of the guards, with a pale face; ‘and two hundred of them at the least.
The very same set, I will be sworn, who nearly murdered Dioscuros.’

‘If you will not allow me to proceed, my holy brethren,’ said Orestes,
trying to look collected, ‘perhaps it will not be contrary to the canons
of the Church if I turn back. Leave the horses’ heads alone. Why, in
God’s name, what do you want?’

‘Do you fancy we have forgotten Hieracas?’ cried a voice from the rear;
and at that name, yell upon yell arose, till the mob, gaining courage
from its own noise, burst out into open threats. ‘Revenge for the
blessed martyr Hieracas!’ ‘Revenge for the wrongs of the Church!’ ‘Down
with the friend of Heathens, Jews, and Barbarians!’ ‘Down with the
favourite of Hypatia!’ ‘Tyrant!’ ‘Butcher!’ And the last epithet so
smote the delicate fancy of the crowd, that a general cry arose of
‘Kill the butcher!’ and one furious monk attempted to clamber into the
chariot. An apparitor tore him down, and was dragged to the ground in
his turn. The monks closed in. The guards, finding the enemy number ten
to their one, threw down their weapons in a panic, and vanished; and in
another minute the hopes of Hypatia and the gods would have been lost
for ever, and Alexandria robbed of the blessing of being ruled by the
most finished gentleman south of the Mediterranean, had it not been for
unexpected succour; of which it will be time enough, considering who and
what is in danger, to speak in a future chapter.



CHAPTER XVII: A STRAY GLEAM


THE last blue headland of Sardinia was fading fast on the north-west
horizon, and a steady breeze bore before it innumerable ships, the
wrecks of Heraclian’s armament, plunging and tossing impatiently in
their desperate homeward race toward the coast of Africa. Far and
wide, under a sky of cloudless blue, the white sails glittered on
the glittering sea, as gaily now, above their loads of shame and
disappointment terror and pain, as when, but one short month before,
they bore with them only wild hopes and gallant daring. Who can
calculate the sum of misery in that hapless flight?.... And yet it
was but one, and that one of the least known and most trivial, of the
tragedies of that age of woe; one petty death-spasm among the unnumbered
throes which were shaking to dissolution the Babylon of the West. Her
time had come. Even as Saint John beheld her in his vision, by agony
after agony, she was rotting to her well-earned doom. Tyrannising
it luxuriously over all nations, she had sat upon the mystic
beast--building her power on the brute animal appetites of her dupes and
slaves: but she had duped herself even more than them. She was finding
out by bitter lessons that it was ‘to the beast’, and not to her, that
her vassal kings of the earth had been giving their power and strength;
and the ferocity and lust which she had pampered so cunningly in them,
had become her curse and her destruction.... Drunk with the blood of the
saints; blinded by her own conceit and jealousy to the fact that she had
been crushing and extirpating out of her empire for centuries past all
which was noble, purifying, regenerative, divine, she sat impotent
and doting, the prey of every fresh adventurer, the slave of her own
slaves.... ‘And the kings of the earth, who had sinned with her, hated
the harlot, and made her desolate and naked, and devoured her flesh, and
burned her with fire. For God had put into their hearts to fulfil His
will, and to agree, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the
words of God should be fulfilled.’.... Everywhere sensuality, division,
hatred, treachery, cruelty, uncertainty, terror; the vials of God’s
wrath poured out. Where was to be the end of it all? asked every man
of his neighbour, generation after generation; and received for answer
only, ‘It is better to die than to live.’

And yet in one ship out of that sad fleet, there was peace; peace amid
shame and terror; amid the groans of the wounded, and the sighs of
the starving; amid all but blank despair. The great triremes and
quinqueremes rushed onward past the lagging transports, careless, in the
mad race for safety, that they were leaving the greater number of their
comrades defenceless in the rear of the flight; but from one little
fishing-craft alone no base entreaties, no bitter execrations greeted
the passing flash and roll of their mighty oars. One after another, day
by day, they came rushing up out of the northern offing, each like a
huge hundred-footed dragon, panting and quivering, as if with terror, at
every loud pulse of its oars, hurling the wild water right and left
with the mighty share of its beak, while from the bows some gorgon or
chimaera, elephant or boar, stared out with brazen eyes toward the coast
of Africa, as if it, too, like the human beings which it carried, was
dead to every care but that of dastard flight. Past they rushed, one
after another; and off the poop some shouting voice chilled all hearts
for a moment, with the fearful news that the Emperor’s Neapolitan fleet
was in full chase.... And the soldiers on board that little vessel
looked silently and steadfastly into the silent steadfast face of the
old Prefect, and Victoria saw him shudder, and turn his eyes away--and
stood up among the rough fighting men, like a goddess, and cried aloud
that ‘the Lord would protect His own’; and they believed her, and
were still; till many days and many ships were passed, and the little
fishing-craft, outstripped even by the transports and merchantmen, as it
strained and crawled along before its single square-sail, was left alone
upon the sea.

And where was Raphael Aben-Ezra?

He was sitting, with Bran’s head between his knees, at the door of a
temporary awning in the vessel’s stern, which shielded the wounded men
from sun and spray; and as he sat he could hear from within the tent the
gentle voices of Victoria and her brother, as they tended the sick like
ministering angels, or read to them words of divine hope and comfort-in
which his homeless heart felt that he had no share....

‘As I live, I would change places now with any one of those poor mangled
ruffians to have that voice speaking such words to me....and to believe
them.’.... And he went on perusing the manuscript which he held in his
hand. ...............

‘Well!’ he sighed to himself after a while ‘at least it is the most
complimentary, not to say hopeful, view of our destinies with which I
have met since I threw away my curse’s belief that the seed of David was
fated to conquer the whole earth, and set up a second Roman Empire
at Jerusalem, only worse than the present one, in that the devils of
superstition and bigotry would be added to those of tyranny and rapine.’

A hand was laid on his shoulder, and a voice asked’ ‘And what may this
so hopeful view be?’

‘Ah! my dear General!’ said Raphael, looking up. ‘I have a poor bill
of fare whereon to exercise my culinary powers this morning. Had it not
been for that shark who was so luckily deluded last night, I should have
been reduced to the necessity of stewing my friend the fat decurion’s
big boots.’

‘They would have been savoury enough, I will warrant, after they had
passed under your magical hand.’

‘It is a comfort, certainly, to find that after all one did learn
something useful in Alexandria! So I will even go forward at once, and
employ my artistic skill.’

‘Tell me first what it was about which I heard you just now
soliloquising, as so hopeful a view of some matter or other?’

‘Honestly--if you will neither betray me to your son and daughter,
nor consider me as having in anywise committed myself--it was Paul of
Tarsus’s notion of the history and destinies of our stiff-necked nation.
See what your daughter has persuaded me into reading!’ And he held up a
manuscript of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

‘It is execrable Greek. But it is sound philosophy, I cannot deny. He
knows Plato better than all the ladies and gentlemen in Alexandria put
together, if my opinion on the point be worth having.’

‘I am a plain soldier, and no judge on that point, sir. He may or may
not know Plato; but I am right sure that he knows God.’

‘Not too fast,’ said Raphael with a smile. ‘You do not know, perhaps,
that I have spent the last ten years of my life among men who professed
the same knowledge?’

‘Augustine, too, spent the best ten years of his life among such; and
yet he is now combating the very errors which he once taught.’

‘Having found, he fancies, something better!’

‘Having found it, most truly. But you must talk to him yourself, and
argue the matter over, with one who can argue. To me such questions are
an unknown land.’

‘Well.... Perhaps I may be tempted to do even that. At least a
thoroughly converted philosopher--for poor dear Synesius is half heathen
still, I often fancy, and hankers after the wisdom of the Egyptian--will
be a curious sight; and to talk with so famous and so learned a man
would always be a pleasure; but to argue with him, or any other human
being, none whatsoever.’

‘Why, then?’

‘My dear sir, I am sick of syllogisms, and probabilities, and pros and
contras. What do I care if, on weighing both sides, the nineteen pounds
weight of questionable arguments against, are overbalanced by the twenty
pounds weight of equally questionable arguments for? Do you not see that
my belief of the victorious proposition will be proportioned to the one
over-balancing pound only, while the whole other nineteen will go for
nothing?’

‘I really do not.’

‘Happy are you, then. I do, from many a sad experience. No, my worthy
sir. I want a faith past arguments; one which, whether I can prove it
or not to the satisfaction of the lawyers, I believe to my own
satisfaction, and act on it as undoubtingly and unreasoningly as I
do upon my own newly-rediscovered personal identity. I don’t want to
possess a faith. I want a faith which will possess me. And if I ever
arrived at such a one, believe me, it would be by some such practical
demonstration as this very tent has given me.’

‘This tent?’

‘Yes, sir, this tent; within which I have seen you and your children
lead a life of deeds as new to me the Jew, as they would be to Hypatia
the Gentile. I have watched you for many a day, and not in vain. When I
saw you, an experienced officer, encumber your flight with wounded men,
I was only surprised. But since I have seen you and your daughter,
and, strangest of all, your gay young Alcibiades of a son, starving
yourselves to feed those poor ruffians--performing for them, day and
night, the offices of menial slaves--comforting them, as no man ever
comforted me--blaming no one but yourselves, caring for every one but
yourselves, sacrificing nothing but yourselves; and all this without
hope of fame or reward, or dream of appeasing the wrath of any god or
goddess, but simply because you thought it right.... When I saw that,
sir, and more which I have seen; and when, reading in this book here,
I found most unexpectedly those very grand moral rules which you were
practising, seeming to spring unconsciously, as natural results, from
the great thoughts, true or false, which had preceded them; then, sir, I
began to suspect that the creed which could produce such deeds as I have
watched within the last few days, might have on its side not merely a
slight preponderance of probabilities, but what the Jews used once to
call, when we believed in it--or in anything--the mighty power of God.’

And as he spoke, he looked into the Prefect’s face with the look of a
man wrestling in some deadly struggle; so intense and terrible was the
earnestness of his eye, that even the old soldier shrank before it.

‘And therefore,’ he went on, ‘therefore, sir, beware of your own
actions, and of your children’s. If, by any folly or baseness, such as I
have seen in every human being whom I ever met as yet upon this accursed
stage of fools, you shall crush my new-budding hope that there is
something somewhere which will make me what I know that I ought to be,
and can be--If you shall crush that, I say, by any misdoing of yours,
you had better have been the murderer of my firstborn; with such a
hate--a hate which Jews alone can feel--will I hate you and yours.’

‘God help us and strengthen us!’ said the old warrior in a tone of noble
humility.

‘And now,’ said Raphael, glad to change the subject, after this unwonted
outburst, ‘we must once more seriously consider whether it is wise to
hold on our present course. If you return to Carthage, or to Hippo--’

‘I shall be beheaded.’

‘Most assuredly. And how much soever you may consider such an event a
gain to yourself, yet for the sake of your son and your daughter--’

‘My dear sir,’ interrupted the Prefect, ‘you mean kindly. But do not, do
not tempt me. By the Count’s side I have fought for thirty years, and by
his side I will die, as I deserve.’

‘Victorius! Victoria!’ cried Raphael; ‘help me! Your father,’ he went
on, as they came out from the tent, ‘is still decided on losing his own
head, and throwing away ours, by going to Carthage.’

‘For my sake--for our sakes--father!’ cried Victoria, clinging to him.

‘And for my sake, also, most excellent sir,’ said Raphael, smiling
quietly. ‘I have no wish to be so uncourteous as to urge any help which
I may have seemed to afford you. But I hope that you will recollect that
I have a life to lose, and that it is hardly fair of you to imperil it
as you intend to do. If you could help or save Heraclian, I should be
dumb at once. But now, for a mere point of honour to destroy fifty good
soldiers, who know not their right hands from their left--Shall I ask
their opinion?’

‘Will you raise a mutiny against me, sir?’ asked the old man sternly.

‘Why not mutiny against Philip drunk, in behalf of Philip sober? But
really, I will obey you.... only you must obey us.... What is Hesiod’s
definition of the man who will neither counsel himself nor be counselled
by his friends?.... Have you no trusty acquaintances in Cyrenaica, for
instance?’

The Prefect was silent.

‘Oh, hear us, my father! Why not go to Euodius? He is your old
comrade--a well-wisher, too, to this.... this expedition.... And
recollect, Augustine must be there now. He was about to sail for
Berenice, in order to consult Synesius and the Pentapolitan bishops,
when we left Carthage.’

And at the name of Augustine the old man paused.

‘Augustine will be there; true. And this our friend must meet him.
And thus at least I should have his advice. If he thinks it my duty to
return to Carthage, I can but do so, after all. But the soldiers!’

‘Excellent sir,’ said Raphael, ‘Synesius and the Pentapolitan
landlords--who can hardly call their lives their own, thanks to the
Moors--will be glad enough to feed and pay them, or any other brave
fellows with arms in their hands, at this moment. And my friend
Victorius, here, will enjoy, I do not doubt, a little wild campaigning
against marauding blackamoors.’

The old man bowed silently. The battle was won.

The young tribune, who had been watching his father’s face with the most
intense anxiety caught at the gesture, and hurrying forward, announced
the change of plan to the soldiery. It was greeted with a shout of joy,
and in another five minutes the sails were about, the rudder shifted,
and the ship on her way towards the western point of Sicily, before a
steady north-west breeze.

‘Ah!’ cried Victoria, delighted. ‘And now you will see Augustine! You
must promise me to talk to him!’

‘This, at least, I will promise, that whatsoever the great sophist shall
be pleased to say, shall meet with a patient hearing from a brother
sophist. Do not be angry at the term. Recollect that I am somewhat
tired, like my ancestor Solomon, of wisdom and wise men, having found
it only too like madness and folly. And you cannot surely expect me to
believe in man, while I do not yet believe in God?’

Victoria sighed. ‘I will not believe you. Why always pretend to be worse
than you are?’

‘That kind souls like you may be spared the pain of finding me worse
than I seem.... There, let us say no more; except that I heartily wish
that you would hate me!’

‘Shall I try?’

‘That must be my work, I fear, not yours. However, I shall give you good
cause enough before long’ doubt it not.’

Victoria sighed again, and retired into the tent to nurse the sick.

‘And now, sir,’ said the Prefect, turning to Raphael and his son; ‘do
not mistake me. I may have been weak, as worn-out and hopeless men are
wont to be; but do not think of me as one who has yielded to adversity
in fear for his own safety. As God hears me, I desire nothing better
than to die; and I only turn out of my course on the understanding that
if Augustine so advise, my children hold me free to return to Carthage
and meet my fate. All I pray for is, that my life may be spared until I
can place my dear child in the safe shelter of a nunnery.’

‘A nunnery?’

‘Yes, indeed; I have intended ever since her birth to dedicate her to
the service of God. And in such times as these, what better lot for a
defenceless girl?’

‘Pardon me!’ said Raphael; ‘but I am too dull to comprehend what
benefit or pleasure your Deity will derive from the celibacy of your
daughter.... Except, indeed, on one supposition, which, as I have some
faint remnants of reverence and decency reawakening in me just now, I
must leave to be uttered only by the pure lips of sexless priests.’

‘You forget, sir, that you are speaking to a Christian.’

‘I assure you, no! I had certainly been forgetting it till the last two
minutes, in your very pleasant and rational society. There is no danger
henceforth of my making so silly a mistake.’

‘Sir!’ said the Prefect, reddening at the undisguised contempt of
Raphael’s manner...., ‘When you know a little more of St. Paul’s
Epistles, you will cease to insult the opinions and feelings of those
who obey them, by sacrificing their most precious treasures to God.’

‘Oh, it is Paul of Tarsus, then, who gives you the advice! I thank you
for informing me of the fact; for it will save me the trouble of any
future study of his works. Allow me, therefore, to return by your hands
this manuscript of his with many thanks from me to that daughter of
yours, by whose perpetual imprisonment you intend to give pleasure to
your Deity. Henceforth the less communication which passes between me
and any member of your family, the better.’ And he turned away.

‘But, my dear sir!’ said the honest soldier, really chagrined, ‘you must
not!--we owe you too much, and love you too well, to part thus for the
caprice of a moment. If any word of mine has offended you--forget it,
and forgive me, I beseech you!’ and he caught both Raphael’s hands in
his own.

‘My very dear sir,’ answered the Jew quietly; ‘let me ask the same
forgiveness of you; and believe me, for the sake of past pleasant
passages, I shall not forget my promise about the mortgage.... But-here
we must part. To tell you the truth, I half an hour ago was fearfully
near becoming neither more nor less than a Christian. I had actually
deluded myself into the fancy that the Deity of the Galileans might be,
after all, the God of our old Hebrew forefathers--of Adam and Eve, of
Abraham and David, and of the rest who believed that children and
the fruit of the womb were an heritage and gift which cometh of the
Lord--and that Paul was right--actually right--in his theory that the
church was the development and fulfilment of our old national polity....
I must thank you for opening my eyes to a mistake which, had I not been
besotted for the moment, every monk and nun would have contradicted by
the mere fact of their existence, and reserve my nascent faith for some
Deity who takes no delight in seeing his creature: stultify the primary
laws of their being. Farewell!’

And while the Prefect stood petrified with astonishment, he retired to
the further extremity of the deck, muttering to himself--

‘Did I not know all along that this gleam was too sudden and too bright
to last? Did I not know that he, too, would prove himself like all the
rest--an ass?.... Fool! to have looked for common sense on such an earth
as this!.... Back to chaos again, Raphael Aben-Ezra, and spin ropes of
sand to the end of the farce!’

And mixing with the soldiers, he exchanged no word with the Prefect and
his children, till they reached the port of Berenice; and then putting
the necklace into Victoria’s hands, vanished among the crowds upon the
quay, no one knew whither.



CHAPTER XVIII: THE PREFECT TESTED


WHEN we lost sight of Philammon, his destiny had hurled him once more
among his old friends the Goths, in search of two important elements of
human comfort, freedom and a sister. The former be found at once, in a
large hall where sundry Goths were lounging and toping, into the nearest
corner of which he shrank, and stood, his late terror and rage forgotten
altogether in the one new and absorbing thought--His sister might be in
that house!.... and yielding to so sweet a dream, he began fancying to
himself which of all those gay maidens she might be who had become in
one moment more dear, more great to him, than all things else in heaven
or earth. That fair-haired, rounded Italian? That fierce, luscious,
aquiline-faced Jewess? That delicate, swart, sidelong-eyed Copt? No.
She was Athenian, like himself. That tall, lazy Greek girl, then, from
beneath whose sleepy lids flashed, once an hour, sudden lightnings,
revealing depths of thought and feeling uncultivated, perhaps even
unsuspected, by their possessor. Her? Or that, her seeming sister? Or
the next?.... Or--Was it Pelagia herself, most beautiful and most
sinful of them all? Fearful thought! He blushed scarlet at the bare
imagination: yet why, in his secret heart, was that the most pleasant
hypothesis of them all? And suddenly flashed across him that observation
of one of the girls on board the boat, on his likeness to Pelagia.
Strange, that he had never recollected it before! It must be so! and
yet on what a slender thread, woven of scattered hints and surmises,
did that ‘must’ depend! He would be sane! he would wait; he would
have patience. Patience, with a sister yet unfound, perhaps perishing?
Impossible!

Suddenly the train of his thoughts was changed perforce:--

‘Come! come and see! There’s a fight in the streets,’ called one of the
damsels down the stairs, at the highest pitch of her voice.

‘I shan’t go,’ yawned a huge fellow, who was lying on his back on a
sofa.

‘Oh come up, my hero,’ said one of the girls. ‘Such a charming riot, and
the Prefect himself in the middle of it! We have not had such a one in
the street this month.’

‘The princes won’t let me knock any of these donkey-riders on the
head, and seeing other people do it only makes me envious. Give me the
wine-jug--curse the girl! she has run upstairs!’

The shouting and trampling came nearer; and in another minute Wulf came
rapidly downstairs, through the hall into the harem-court, and into the
presence of the Amal.

‘Prince--here is a chance for us. These rascally Greeks are murdering
their Prefect under our very windows.’

‘The lying cur! Serve him right for cheating us. He has plenty of
guards. Why can’t the fool take care of himself?’

‘They have all run away, and I saw some of them hiding among the mob. As
I live, the man will be killed in five minutes more.’

‘Why not?’

‘Why should he, when we can save him and win his favour for ever? The
men’s fingers are itching far a fight; it’s a bad plan not to give
hounds blood now and then, or they lose the knack of hunting.’

‘Well, it wouldn’t take five minutes.’

‘And heroes should show that they can forgive when an enemy is in
distress.’

‘Very true! Like an Amal too!’ And the Amal sprang up and shouted to his
men to follow him.

‘Good-bye, my pretty one. Why, Wulf,’ cried he, as he burst out into the
court, ‘here’s our monk again! By Odin, you’re welcome, my handsome boy!
come along and fight too, young fellow; what were those arms given you
for?’

‘He is my man,’ said Wulf, laying his hand on Philammon’s shoulder,
‘and blood he shall taste.’ And out the three hurried, Philammon, in his
present reckless mood, ready for anything.

‘Bring your whips. Never mind swords. Those rascals are not worth it,’
shouted the Amal, as he hurried down the passage brandishing his heavy
thong, some ten feet in length, threw the gate open, and the next moment
recoiled from a dense crush of people who surged in--and surged out
again as rapidly as the Goth, with the combined force of his weight
and arm, hewed his way straight through them, felling a wretch at every
blow, and followed up by his terrible companions.

They were but just in time. The four white blood-horses were plunging
and rolling over each other, and Orestes reeling in his chariot, with
a stream of blood running down his face, and the hands of twenty wild
monks clutching at him. ‘Monks again!’ thought Philammon and as he saw
among them more than one hateful face, which he recollected in Cyril’s
courtyard on that fatal night, a flush of fierce revenge ran through
him.

‘Mercy!’ shrieked the miserable Prefect--‘I am a Christian! I swear that
I am a Christian! the Bishop Atticus baptized me at Constantinople!’

‘Down with the butcher! down with the heathen tyrant, who refuses the
adjuration on the Gospels rather than be reconciled to the patriarch!
Tear him out of the chariot!’ yelled the monks.

The craven hound!’ said the Amal, stopping short, ‘I won’t help him!’
But in an instant Wulf rushed forward, and struck right and left; the
monks recoiled, and Philammon, burning to prevent so shameful a scandal
to the faith to which he still clung convulsively, sprang into the
chariot and caught Orestes in his arms.

‘You are safe, my lord; don’t struggle,’ whispered he, while the monks
flew on him. A stone or two struck him, but they only quickened his
determination, and in another moment the whistling of the whips round
his head, and the yell and backward rush of the monks, told him that he
was safe. He carried his burden safely within the doorway of Pelagia’s
house, into the crowd of peeping and shrieking damsels, where twenty
pairs of the prettiest hands in Alexandria seized on Orestes, and drew
him into the court.

‘Like a second Hylas, carried off by the nymphs!’ simpered he, as he
vanished into the harem, to reappear in five minutes, his head bound rip
with silk handkerchiefs, and with as much of his usual impudence as he
could muster.

‘Your Excellency--heroes all--I am your devoted slave. I owe you life
itself; and more, the valour of your succour is only surpassed by the
deliciousness of your cure. I would gladly undergo a second wound to
enjoy a second time the services of such hands, and to see such feet
busying themselves on my behalf.’

‘You wouldn’t have said that five minutes ago, quoth the Amal, looking
at him very much as a bear might at a monkey.

‘Never mind the hands and feet, old fellow, they are none of yours!’
bluntly observed a voice from behind’ probably Smid’s, and a laugh
ensued.

‘My saviours, my brothers!’ said Orestes, politely ignoring the
laughter. ‘How can I repay you? Is there anything in which my office
here enables me--I will not say to reward, for that would be a term
beneath your dignity as free barbarians--but to gratify you?’

‘Give us three days’ pillage of the quarter!’ shouted some one.

‘Ah, true valour is apt to underrate obstacles; you forget your small
numbers.’

‘I say,’ quoth the Amal--‘I say, take care, Prefect.--If you mean to
tell me that we forty couldn’t cut all the throats in Alexandria in
three days, and yours into the bargain, and keep your soldiers at bay
all the time--’

‘Half of them would join us!’ cried some one. ‘They are half our own
flesh and blood after all!’

‘Pardon me, my friends, I do not doubt it a moment. I know enough of the
world never to have found a sheep-dog yet who would not, on occasion,
help to make away with a little of the mutton which he guarded. Eh, my
venerable sir?’ turning to Wulf with a knowing bow.

Wulf chuckled grimly, and said something to the Amal in German about
being civil to guests.

‘You will pardon me, my heroic friends,’ said Orestes, ‘but, with your
kind permission, I will observe that I am somewhat faint and disturbed
by late occurrences. To trespass on your hospitality further would be
an impertinence. If, therefore, I might send a slave to find some of my
apparitors-’

‘No, by all the gods!’ roared the Amal, ‘you’re my guest now--my lady’s
at least. And no one ever went out of my house sober yet if I could help
it. Set the cooks to work, my men! The Prefect shall feast with us like
an emperor, and we’ll send him home to-night as drunk as he can wish.
Come along, your Excellency; we’re rough fellows, we Goths; but by the
Valkyrs, no one can say that we neglect our guests!’

‘It is a sweet compulsion,’ said Orestes, as he went in.

‘Stop, by the bye! Didn’t one of you men catch a monk.?’

‘Here he is, prince, with his elbows safe behind him.’ And a tall,
haggard, half-naked monk was dragged forward.

‘Capital! bring him in. His Excellency shall judge him while dinner’s
cooking’ and Smid shall have the hanging of him. He hurt nobody in the
scuffle; he was thinking of his dinner.’

‘Some rascal bit a piece out of my leg, and I tumbled down,’ grumbled
Smid.

‘Well, pay out this fellow for it, then. Bring a chair, slaves! Here,
your Highness, sit there and judge.’

‘Two chairs!’ said some one; ‘the Amal shan’t stand before the emperor
himself.’

‘By all means, my dear friends. The Amal and I will act as the two
Caesars, with divided empire. I presume we shall have little difference
of opinion as to the hanging of this worthy.’

‘Hanging’s too quick for him.’

‘Just what I was about to remark--there are certain judicial
formalities, considered generally to be conducive to the stability, if
not necessary to the existence, of the Roman empire--’

‘I say, don’t talk so much,’ shouted a Goth, ‘If you want to have the
hanging of him yourself, do. We thought we would save you trouble.’

‘Ah, my excellent friend, would you rob me of the delicate pleasure of
revenge? I intend to spend at least four hours to-morrow in killing this
pious martyr. He will have a good time to think, between the beginning
and the end of the rack.’

‘Do you hear that, master monk?’ said Smid, chucking him under the
chin, while the rest of the party seemed to think the whole business
an excellent joke, and divided their ridicule openly enough between the
Prefect and his victim.

‘The man of blood has said it. I am a martyr,’ answered the monk in a
dogged voice.

‘You will take a good deal of time in becoming one.’

‘Death may be long, but glory is everlasting.’

‘True. I forgot that, and will save you the said glory, if I can help
it, for a year or two. Who was it struck me with the stone?’

No answer.

‘Tell me, and the moment he is in my lictors’ hands I pardon you
freely.’

The monk laughed. ‘Pardon? Pardon me eternal bliss, and the things
unspeakable, which God has prepared for those who love Him? Tyrant and
butcher! I struck thee, thou second Dioclesian--I hurled the stone--I,
Ammonius. Would to heaven that it had smitten thee through, thou Sisera,
like the nail of Jael the Kenite!’

‘Thanks, my friend. Heroes, you have a cellar for monks as well as for
wine? I will trouble you with this hero’s psalm-singing tonight, and
send my apparitors for him in the morning.’

‘If he begins howling when we are in bed, your men won’t find much of
him left in the morning,’ said the Amal. ‘But here come the slaves,
announcing dinner.’

‘Stay,’ said Orestes; ‘there is one more with whom I have an account to
settle--that young philosopher there.’

‘Oh, he is coming in, too. He never was drunk in his life, I’ll warrant,
poor fellow, and it’s high time for him to begin.’ And the Amal laid
a good-natured bear’s paw on Philammon’s shoulder, who hung back in
perplexity, and cast a piteous look towards Wulf.

Wulf answered it by a shake of the head which gave Philammon courage
to stammer out a courteous refusal. The Amal swore an oath at him which
made the cloister ring again, and with a quiet shove of his heavy hand,
sent him staggering half across the court: but Wulf interposed.

‘The boy is mine, prince. He is no drunkard, and I will not let him
become one. Would to heaven,’ added he, under his breath, ‘that I could
say the same to some others. Send us out our supper here, when you are
done. Half a sheep or so will do between us, and enough of the strongest
to wash it down with. Smid knows my quantity.’

‘Why in heaven’s name are you not coming in?’

‘That mob will be trying to burst the gates again before two hours are
out; and as some one must stand sentry, it may as well be a man who will
not have his ears stopped up by wine and women’s kisses. The boy will
stay with me.’

So the party went in, leaving Wulf and Philammon alone in the outer
hall.

There the two sat for some half hour, casting stealthy glances at each
other, and wondering perhaps, each of them vainly enough, what was going
on in the opposite brain. Philammon, though his heart was full of his
sister, could not help noticing the air of deep sadness which hung about
the scarred and weather-beaten features of the old warrior. The grimness
which he had remarked on their first meeting seemed to be now changed
into a settled melancholy. The furrows round his mouth and eyes had
become deeper and sharper. Some perpetual indignation seemed smouldering
in the knitted brow and protruding upper lip. He sat there silent and
motionless for some half hour, his chin resting on his hands, and
they again upon the butt of his axe, apparently in deep thought, and
listening with a silent sneer to the clinking of glasses and dishes
within.

Philammon felt too much respect, both for his age and his stately
sadness, to break the silence. At last some louder burst of merriment
than usual aroused him.

‘What do you call that?’ said he, speaking in Greek.

‘Folly and vanity.’

‘And what does she there--the Alruna--the prophet-woman, call it?’

‘Whom do you mean?’

‘Why, the Greek woman whom we went to hear talk this morning.’

‘Folly and vanity.’

‘Why can’t she cure that Roman hairdresser there of it, then?’

Philammon was silent--‘Why not, indeed!’

‘Do you think she could cure any one of it?’

‘Of what?’

‘Of getting drunk, and wasting their strength and their fame, and their
hard-won treasures upon eating and drinking, and fine clothes, and bad
women.’

‘She is most pure herself, and she preaches purity to all who hear her.’

‘Curse preaching. I have preached for these four months.’

‘Perhaps she may have some more winning arguments--perhaps--’

‘I know. Such a beautiful bit of flesh and blood as she is might get a
hearing, when a grizzled old head-splitter like me was called a dotard.
Eh? Well. It’s natural.’

A long silence.

‘She is a grand woman. I never saw such a one, and I have seen many.
There was a prophetess once, lived in an island in the Weser-stream--and
when a man saw her, even before she spoke a word, one longed to crawl
to her feet on all fours, and say, “There, tread on me; I am not fit for
you to wipe your feet upon.” And many a warrior did it.... Perhaps I may
have done it myself, before now .... And this one is strangely like her.
She would make a prince’s wife, now.’

Philammon started. What new feeling was it, which made him indignant at
the notion?

‘Beauty? What’s body without soul? What’s beauty without wisdom? What’s
beauty without chastity? Best! fool! wallowing in the mire which every
hog has fouled!’

‘Like a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman who is
without discretion.’

‘Who said that?’

‘Solomon, the king of Israel.’

‘I never heard of him. But he was a right Sagaman, whoever said it. And
she is a pure maiden, that other one?’

‘Spotless as the’--blessed Virgin, Philammon was going to say--but
checked himself. There were sad recollections about the words.

Wulf sat silent for a few minutes, while Philammon’s thoughts reverted
at once to the new purpose for which alone life seemed worth having....
To find his sister! That one thought had in a few hours changed and
matured the boy into the man. Hitherto he had been only the leaf before
the wind, the puppet of every new impression; but now circumstance,
which had been leading him along in such soft fetters for many a month,
was become his deadly foe; and all his energy and cunning, all his
little knowledge of man and of society, rose up sturdily and shrewdly
to fight in this new cause. Wulf was now no longer a phenomenon to be
wondered at, but an instrument to be used. The broken hints which he had
just given of discontent with Pelagia’s presence inspired the boy with
sudden hope, and cautiously he began to hint at the existence of persons
who would be glad to remove her. Wulf caught at the notion, and replied
to it with searching questions, till Philammon, finding plain speaking
the better part of cunning, told him openly the whole events of the
morning, and the mystery which Arsenius had half revealed, and then
shuddered with mingled joy and horror, as Wulf, after ruminating over
the matter for a weary five minutes, made answer--

‘And what if Pelagia herself were your sister?’

Philammon was bursting forth in some passionate answer, when the old man
stopped him and went on slowly, looking him through and through--

‘Because, when a penniless young monk claims kin with a woman who is
drinking out of the wine-cups of the Caesars, and filling a place for
a share of which kings’ daughters have been thankful--and will be again
before long--why then, though an old man may be too good-natured to call
it all a lie at first sight, he can’t help supposing that the young monk
has an eye to his own personal profit, eh?’

‘My profit?’ cried poor Philammon, starting up. ‘Good God! what object
on earth can I have, but to rescue her from this infamy to purity and
holiness?’

He had touched the wrong chord.

‘Infamy? you accursed Egyptian slave!’ cried the prince, starting up in
his turn, red with passion, and clutching at the whip which hung
over his head. ‘Infamy? As if she, and you too, ought not to consider
yourselves blest in her being allowed to wash the feet of an Amal!’

‘Oh’ forgive me!’ said Philammon, terrified at the fruits of his own
clumsiness. ‘But you forget--you forget, she is not married to him!’

‘Married to him? A freedwoman? No; thank Freya! he has not fallen as
low as that, at least: and never shall, if I kill the witch with my own
hands. A freedwoman!’

Poor Philammon! And he had been told but that morning that he was a
slave. He hid his face in his hands, and burst into an agony of tears.

‘Come, come,’ said the testy warrior, softened at once. ‘Woman’s tears
don’t matter, but somehow I never could bear to make a man cry. When you
are cool, and have learnt common courtesy, we’ll talk more about this.
So! Hush; enough is enough. Here comes the supper, and I am as hungry as
Loke.’

And he commenced devouring like his namesake’ ‘the gray beast of the
wood,’ and forcing, in his rough hospitable way, Philammon to devour
also much against his will and stomach.

‘There. I feel happier now!’ quoth Wulf, at last. ‘There is nothing
to be done in this accursed place but to eat. I get no fighting, no
hunting. I hate women as they hate me. I don’t know anything indeed,
that I don’t hate, except eating and singing. And now, what with those
girls’ vile unmanly harps and flutes, no one cares to listen to a true
rattling warsong. There they are at it now, with their caterwauling,
squealing all together like a set of starlings on a foggy morning! We’ll
have a song too, to drown the noise.’ And he burst out with a wild rich
melody, acting, in uncouth gestures and a suppressed tone of voice, the
scene which the words described--

An elk looked out of the pine forest He snuffed up east, he snuffed down
west, Stealthy and still.

His mane and his horns were heavy with snow; I laid my arrow across my
bow, Stealthy and still.

And then quickening his voice, as his whole face blazed up into fierce
excitement--

The bow it rattled’ the arrow flew, It smote his blade-bones through and
through, Hurrah!

I sprang at his throat like a wolf of the wood, And I warmed my hands in
the smoking blood, Hurrah!

And with a shout that echoed and rang from wall to wall, and pealed
away above the roofs, he leapt to his feet with a gesture and look of
savage frenzy which made Philammon recoil. But the passion was gone in
an instant, and Wulf sat down again chuckling to himself--

‘There--that is something like a warrior’s song. That makes the old
blood spin along again! But this debauching furnace of a climate! no man
can keep his muscle, or his courage, or his money, or anything else in
it. May the gods curse the day when first I saw it!’

Philammon said nothing, but sat utterly aghast at an outbreak so unlike
Wulf’s usual caustic reserve and stately self-restraint, and shuddering
at the thought that it might be an instance of that daemoniac
possession to which these barbarians were supposed by Christians and by
Neo-Platonists to be peculiarly subject. But the horror was not yet at
its height; for in another minute the doors of the women’s court flew
open, and, attracted by Wulf’s shout, out poured the whole Bacchanalian
crew, with Orestes, crowned with flowers, and led by the Amal and
Pelagia, reeling in the midst, wine-cup in hand.

‘There is my philosopher, my preserver, my patron saint!’ hiccupped he.
‘Bring him to my arms, that I may encircle his lovely neck with pearls
of India, and barbaric gold!’

‘For God’s sake let me escape!’ whispered he to Wulf, as the rout rushed
upon him. Wulf opened the door in an instant, and he dashed through it.
As he wen, the old man held out his hand--

‘Come and see me again, boy!--Me only. The old warrior will not hurt
you!’

There was a kindly tone in the voice, a kindly light in the eye, which
made Philammon promise to obey. He glanced one look back through the
gateway as he fled, and just saw a wild whirl of Goths and girls,
spinning madly round the court in the world-old Teutonic waltz; while,
high above their heads, in the uplifted arms of the mighty Amal, was
tossing the beautiful figure of Pelagia, tearing the garland from her
floating hair to pelt the dancers with its roses. And that might be his
sister! He hid his face and fled, and the gate shut out the revellers
from his eyes; and it is high time that it should shut them out from
ours also.

Some four hours more had passed. The revellers were sleeping off their
wine, and the moon shining bright and cold across the court, when Wulf
came out, carrying a heavy jar of wine, followed by Smid, a goblet in
each hand.

‘Here, comrade, out into the middle, to catch a breath of night-air. Are
all the fools asleep?’

‘Every mother’s son of them. Ah! this is refreshing after that room.
What a pity it is that all men are not born with heads like ours!’

‘Very sad indeed,’ said Wulf, filling his goblet.

‘What a quantity of pleasure they lose in this life! There they are,
snoring like hogs. Now, you and I are good to finish this jar, at
least.’

‘And another after it, if our talk is not over by that time.’

‘Why, are you going to hold a council of war?’

‘That is as you take it. Now, look here, Smid. Whomsoever I cannot
trust, I suppose I may trust you, eh?’

‘Well!’ quoth Smid surlily, putting down his goblet, ‘that is a strange
question to ask of a man who has marched, and hungered, and plundered,
and conquered, and been well beaten by your side for five-and-twenty
years, through all lands between the Wesel and Alexandria!’

‘I am growing old, I suppose, and so I suspect every one. But hearken
to me, for between wine and ill-temper out it must come. You saw that
Alruna-woman?’

‘Of course.’

‘Well?’

‘Well?’

‘Why, did not you think she would make a wife for any man?’

‘Well?’

‘And why not for our Amal?’

‘That’s his concern as well as hers, and hers as well as ours.’

‘She? Ought she not to think herself only too much honoured by marrying
a son of Odin? Is she going to be more dainty than Placidia?’

‘What was good enough for an emperor’s daughter must be good enough for
her.’

‘Good enough? And Adolf only a Balt, while Amalric is a full-blooded
Amal--Odin’s son by both sides?’

‘I don’t know whether she would understand that.’

‘Then we would make her. Why not carry her off, and marry her to the
Amal whether she chose or not? She would be well content enough with him
in a week, I will warrant.’

‘But there is Pelagia in the way.’

‘Put her out of the way, then.’

‘Impossible.’

‘It was this morning; a week hence it may not be. I heard a promise made
to-night which will do it, if there be the spirit of a Goth left in the
poor besotted lad whom we know of.’

‘Oh, he is all right at heart; never fear him. But what was the
promise?’

‘I will not tell till it is claimed. I will not be the man to shame
my own nation and the blood of the gods. But if that drunken Prefect
recollects it--why let him recollect it. And what is more, the monk-boy
who was here to-night--’

‘Ah, what a well-grown lad that is wasted!’

‘More than suspects--and if his story is true, I more than suspect
too--that Pelagia is his sister.’

‘His sister! But what of that?’

‘He wants, of course, to carry her off and make a nun of her.’

‘You would not let him do such a thing to the poor child?’

‘If folks get in my way, Smid, they must go down. So much the worse for
them: but old Wulf was never turned back yet by man or beast, and he
will not be now.’

‘After all, it will serve the hussy right. But Amalric?’

‘Out of sight, out of mind.’

‘But they say the Prefect means to marry the girl.’

‘He? That scented ape? She would not be such a wretch.’

‘But he does intend; and she intends too. It is the talk of the whole
town. We should have to put him out of the way first.’

‘Why not? Easy enough’ and a good riddance for Alexandria. Yet if we
made away with him we should be forced to take the city too; and I doubt
whether we have hands enough for that.’

‘The guards might join us. I will go down to the barracks and try them,
if you choose’ to-morrow. I am a boon-companion with a good many of them
already. But after all, Prince Wulf--of course you are always right; we
all know that--but what’s the use of marrying this Hypatia to the Amal?’

‘Use?’ said Wulf, smiting down his goblet on the pavement. ‘Use? you
purblind old hamster-rat, who think of nothing but filling your own
cheek-pouches!--to give him a wife worthy of a hero, as he is, in spite
of all--a wife who will make him sober instead of drunk, wise instead
of a fool, daring instead of a sluggard--a wife who can command the rich
people for us, and give us a hold here, which if once we get, let us see
who will break it! Why, with those two ruling in Alexandria, we might be
masters of Africa in three months. We’d send to Spain for the Wendels,
to move on Carthage; we’d send up the Adriatic for the Longbeards to
land in Pentapolis; we’d sweep the whole coast without losing a man’ now
it is drained of troops by that fool Heraclian’s Roman expedition; make
the Wendels and Longbeards shake hands here in Alexandria; draw lots for
their shares of the coast’ and then--’

‘And then what?’

‘Why, when we had settled Africa, I would call out a crew of picked
heroes, and sail away south for Asgard--I’d try that Red Sea this
time--and see Odin face to face, or die searching for him.’

‘Oh!’ groaned Smid. ‘And I suppose you would expect me to come too,
instead of letting me stop halfway, and settle there among the dragons
and elephants. Well, well, wise men are like moorlands--ride as far as
you will on the sound ground, you are sure to come upon a soft place at
last. However, I will go down to the guards to-morrow, if my head don’t
ache.’

‘And I will see the boy about Pelagia. Drink to our plot!’

And the two old iron-heads drank on, till the stars paled out and the
eastward shadows of the cloister vanished in the blaze of dawn.



CHAPTER XIX: JEWS AGAINST CHRISTIANS


THE little porter, after having carried Arsenius’s message to Miriam,
had run back in search of Philammon and his foster-father; and not
finding them, had spent the evening in such frantic rushings to and fro,
as produced great doubts of his sanity among the people of the quarter.
At last hunger sent him home to supper; at which meal he tried to find
vent for his excited feelings in his favourite employment of beating his
wife. Whereon Miriam’s two Syrian slave-girls, attracted by her screams,
came to the rescue, threw a pail of water over him, and turned him out
of doors. He, nothing discomfited, likened himself smilingly to Socrates
conquered by Xantippe; and, philosophically yielding to circumstances,
hopped about like a tame magpie for a couple of hours at the entrance of
the alley, pouring forth a stream of light raillery on the passers-by,
which several times endangered his personal safety; till at last
Philammon, hurrying breathlessly home, rushed into his arms.

‘Hush! Hither with me! Your star still prospers. She calls for you.’

‘Who?’

‘Miriam herself. Be secret as the grave. You she will see and speak
with. The message of Arsenius she rejected in language which it is
unnecessary for philosophic lips to repeat. Come; but give her good
words-as are fit to an enchantress who can stay the stars in their
courses, and command the spirits of the third heaven.’

Philammon hurried home with Eudaimon. Little cared he now for Hypatia’s
warning against Miriam.... Was he not in search of a sister?

‘So’ you wretch, you are back again!’ cried one of the girls, as they
knocked at the outer door of Miriam’s apartments. ‘What do you mean by
bringing young men here at this time of night?’

‘Better go down, and beg pardon of that poor wife of yours. She has
been weeping and praying for you to her crucifix all the evening, you
ungrateful little ape!’

‘Female superstitions--but I forgive her. Peace, barbarian women!
I bring this youthful philosopher hither by your mistress’s own
appointment.’

‘He must wait, then, in the ante-room. There is a gentleman with my
mistress at present.’

So Philammon waited in a dark, dingy ante-room, luxuriously furnished
with faded tapestry, and divans which lined the walls; and fretted and
fidgeted, while the two girls watched him over their embroidery out of
the corners of their eyes, and agreed that he was a very stupid person
for showing no inclination to return their languishing glances.

In the meanwhile, Miriam, within, was listening, with a smile of grim
delight, to a swarthy and weather-beaten young Jew.

‘I knew, mother in Israel, that all depended on my pace; and night
and day I rode from Ostia toward Tarentum: but the messenger of the
uncircumcised was better mounted than I; I therefore bribed a certain
slave to lame his horse, and passed him by a whole stage on the second
day. Nevertheless, by night the Philistine had caught me up again, the
evil angels helping him; and my soul was mad within me.’

‘And what then, Jonadab Bar-Zebudah?’

‘I bethought me of Ehud, and of Joab also, when he was pursued by
Asahel, and considered much of the lawfulness of the deed, not being
a man of blood. Nevertheless, we were together in the darkness, and I
smote him.’

Miriam clapped her hands.

‘Then putting on his clothes, and taking his letters and credentials,
as was but reasonable, I passed myself off for the messenger of the
emperor, and so rode the rest of that journey at the expense of the
heathen; and I hereby return you the balance saved.’

‘Never mind the balance. Keep it, thou worthy son of Jacob. What next?’

‘When I came to Tarentum, I sailed in the galley which I had chartered
from certain sea-robbers. Valiant men they were, nevertheless, and kept
true faith with me. For when we had come halfway, rowing with all our
might, behold another galley coming in our wake and about to pass us by,
which I knew for an Alexandrian, as did the captain also, who assured me
that she had come from hence to Brundusium with letters from Orestes.’

‘Well?’

‘It seemed to me both base to be passed, and more base to waste all the
expense wherewith you and our elders had charged themselves; so I took
counsel with the man of blood, offering him over and above our bargain,
two hundred gold pieces of my own, which please to pay to my account
with Rabbi Ezekiel, who lives by the watergate in Pelusium. Then the
pirates, taking counsel, agreed to run down the enemy; for our galley
was a sharp-beaked Liburnian, while theirs was only a messenger
trireme.’

‘And you did it?’

‘Else had I not been here. They were delivered into our hands, so that
we struck them full in mid-length, and they sank like Pharaoh and his
host.’

‘So perish all the enemies of the nation!’ cried Miriam. ‘And now it is
impossible, you say, for fresh news to arrive for these ten days?’

‘Impossible, the captain assured me, owing to the rising of the wind,
and the signs of southerly storm.’

‘Here, take this letter for the Chief Rabbi, and the blessing of a
mother in Israel. Thou Last played the man for thy people; and thou
shalt go to the grave full of years and honours, with men-servants and
maid-servants, gold and silver, children and children’s children, with
thy foot on the necks of heathens, and the blessing of Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob, to eat of the goose which is fattening in the desert, and
the Leviathan which lieth in the great sea, to be meat for all true
Israelites at the last day.’

And the Jew turned and went out, perhaps, in his simple fanaticism, the
happiest man in Egypt at that moment.

He passed out through the ante-chamber, leering at the slave-girls, and
scowling at Philammon; and the youth was ushered into the presence of
Miriam.

She sat, coiled up like a snake on a divan writing busily in a tablet
upon her knees while on the cushions beside her glittered splendid
jewels, which she had been fingering over as a child might its toys.
She did not look up for a few minutes; and Philammon could not help, in
spite of his impatience, looking round the little room and contrasting
its dirty splendour, and heavy odour of wine, and food, and perfumes,
with the sunny grace and cleanliness of Greek houses. Against the
wall stood presses and chests fretted with fantastic Oriental carving;
illuminated rolls of parchment lay in heaps in a corner; a lamp of
strange form hung from the ceiling, and shed a dim and lurid light
upon an object which chilled the youth’s blood for a moment--a bracket
against the wall, on which, in a plate of gold, engraven with mystic
signs, stood the mummy of an infant’s head; one of those teraphim, from
which, as Philammon knew, the sorcerers of the East professed to evoke
oracular responses.

At last she looked up, and spoke in a shrill, harsh voice. ‘Well, my
fair boy, and what do you want with the poor old proscribed Jewess? Have
you coveted yet any of the pretty things which she has had the wit to
make her slave-demons save from the Christian robbers?’

Philammon’s tale was soon told. The old woman listened, watching him
intently with her burning eye; and then answered slowly--

‘Well, and what if you are a slave?’

‘Am I one, then? Am I?’

‘Of course you are. Arsenius spoke truth. I saw him buy you at Ravenna,
just fifteen years ago. I bought your sister at the same time. She is
two-and-twenty now. You were four years younger than her, I should say.’

‘Oh heavens! and you know my sister still! Is she Pelagia?’

‘You were a pretty boy,’ went on the hag, apparently not hearing him.
‘If I had thought you were going to grow up as beautiful and as
clever as you are, I would have bought you myself. The Goths were
just marching, and Arsenius gave only eighteen gold pieces for you--or
twenty--I am growing old, and forget everything, I think. But there
would have been the expense of your education, and your sister cost me
in training--oh what sums? Not that she was not worth the money--no, no,
the darling!’

‘And you know where she is? Oh tell me--in the name of mercy tell me!’

‘Why, then?’

‘Why, then? Have you not the heart of a human being in you? Is she not
my sister?’

‘Well? You have done very well for fifteen years without your
sister--why can you not do as well now? You don’t recollect her--you
don’t love her.’

‘Not love her? I would die for her--die for you if you will but help me
to see her!’

‘You would, would you? And if I brought you to her, what then! What if
she were Pelagia herself, what then? She is happy enough now, and rich
enough. Could you make her happier or richer?’

‘Can you ask? I must--I will--reclaim her from the infamy in which I am
sure she lives.’

‘Ah ha, sir monk! I expected as much. I know, none knows better, what
those fine words mean. The burnt child dreads the fire; but the burnt
old woman quenches it, you will find. Now listen. I do not say that you
shall not see her--I do not say that Pelagia herself is not the woman
whom you seek--but--you are in my power. Don’t frown and pout. I can
deliver you as a slave to Arsenius when I choose. One word from me to
Orestes, and you are in fetters as a fugitive.’

‘I will escape!’ cried he fiercely.

‘Escape me?’--She laughed, pointing to the teraph--‘Me, who, if you fled
beyond Kaf, or dived to the depths of the ocean, could make these dead
lips confess where you were, and command demons to bear you back to me
upon their wings! Escape me! Better to obey me, and see your sister.’

Philammon shuddered, and submitted. The spell of the woman’s eye, the
terror of her words, which he half believed, and the agony of longing,
conquered him, and he gasped out--

‘I will obey you--only--only--’

‘Only you are not quite a man yet, but half a monk still, eh? I must
know that before I help you, my pretty boy. Are you a monk still, or a
man?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Ah, ha, ha!’ laughed she shrilly. ‘And these Christian dogs don’t know
what a man means? Are you a monk, then? leaving the man alone, as above
your understanding.’

‘I?--I am a student of philosophy.’

‘But no man?’

‘I am a man, I suppose.’

‘I don’t; if you had been, you would have been making love like a man to
that heathen woman many a month ago.’

‘I--to her?’

‘Yes, I-to her!’ Said Miriam, coarsely imitating his tone of shocked
humility. ‘I, the poor penniless boy-scholar, to her, the great, rich,
wise, worshipped she-philosopher, who holds the sacred keys of the inner
shrine of the east wind--and just because I am a man, and the handsomest
man in Alexandria, and she a woman, and the vainest woman in Alexandria;
and therefore I am stronger than she, and can twist her round my finger,
and bring her to her knees at my feet when I like, as soon I open my
eyes, and discover that I am a man. Eh, boy! Did she ever teach you that
among her mathematics and metaphysics, and gods and goddesses?’

Philammon stood blushing scarlet. The sweet poison had entered, and
every vein glowed with it for the first time in his life. Miriam saw her
advantage.

‘There, there--don’t be frightened at your new lesson. After all, I
liked you from the first moment I saw you, and asked the teraph about
you, and I got an answer--such an answer! You shall know it some day. At
all events, it set the poor old soft-hearted Jewess on throwing away her
money. Did you ever guess from whom your monthly gold piece came?’

Philammon started, and Miriam burst into loud, shrill laughter.

‘From Hypatia, I’ll warrant! From the fair Greek woman, of course--vain
child that you are--never thinking of the poor old Jewess.’

‘And did you? did you?’ gasped Philammon.

‘Have I to thank you, then, for that strange generosity?’

‘Not to thank me, but to obey me; for mind, I can prove your debt to me,
every obol, and claim it if I choose. But don’t fear; I won’t be hard on
you, just because you are in my power. I hate every one who is not so.
As soon as I have a hold on them, I begin to love them. Old folks, like
children, are fond of their own playthings.’

‘And I am yours, then?’ said Philammon fiercely.

‘You are indeed, my beautiful boy,’ answered she, looking up with so
insinuating a smile that he could not be angry. ‘After all, I know how
to toss my balls gently--and for these forty years I have only lived
to make young folks happy; so you need not be afraid of the poor
soft-hearted old woman. Now--you saved Orestes’s life yesterday.’

‘How did you find out that?’

‘I? I know everything. I know what the swallows say when they pass each
other on the wing, and what the fishes think of in the summer sea. You,
too, will be able to guess some day, without the teraph’s help. But
in the mean time you must enter Orestes’s service. Why?-What are you
hesitating about? Do you not know that you are high in his favour? He
will make you secretary--raise you to be chamberlain some day, if you
know how to make good use of your fortune.’

Philammon stood in astonished silence; and at last--

‘Servant to that man? What care I for him or his honours? Why do you
tantalise me thus? I have no wish on earth but to see my sister!’

‘You will be far more likely to see her if you belong to the court of
a great officer--perhaps more than an officer--than if you remain a
penniless monk. Not that I believe you. Your only wish on earth, eh? Do
you not care, then, ever to see the fair Hypatia again?’

‘I? Why should I not see her? Am I not her pupil?’

‘She will not have pupils much longer, my child. If you wish to hear
her wisdom--and much good may it do you--you must go for it henceforth
somewhat nearer to Orestes’s palace than the lecture-room is. Ah! you
start. Have I found you an argument now? No--ask no questions. I explain
nothing to monks. But take these letters; to-morrow morning at the
third hour go to Orestes’s palace, and ask for his secretary, Ethan the
Chaldee. Say boldly that you bring important news of state; and then
follow your star: it is a fairer one than you fancy. Go! obey me, or you
see no sister.’

Philammon felt himself trapped; but, after all, what might not this
strange woman do for him? It seemed, if not his only path, still his
nearest path to Pelagia; and in the meanwhile he was in the hag’s power,
and he must submit to his fate; so he took the letters and went out.

‘And so you think that you are going to have her?’ chuckled Miriam to
herself, when Philammon went out. ‘To make a penitent of her, eh?--a
nun, or a she-hermit; to set her to appease your God by crawling on all
fours among the mummies for twenty years, with a chain round her neck
and a clog at her ankle, fancying herself all the while the bride of the
Nazarene? And you think that old Miriam is going to give her up to you
for that? No, no, sir monk! Better she were dead!.... Follow your dainty
bait!--follow it, as the donkey does the grass which his driver offers
him, always an inch from his nose.... You in my power!--and Orestes in
my power!.... I must negotiate that new loan to-morrow, I suppose....
I shall never be paid. The dog will ruin me, after all! How much is it,
now? Let me see.’.... And she began fumbling in her escritoire, over
bonds and notes of hand. ‘I shall never be paid: but power!--to have
power! To see those heathen slaves and Christian hounds plotting and
vapouring, and fancying themselves the masters of the world, and
never dreaming that we are pulling the strings, and that they are our
puppets!--we, the children of the promises--we, The Nation--we, the seed
of Abraham! Poor fools! I could almost pity them, as I think of their
faces when Messiah comes, and they find out who were the true lords of
the world, after all!....He must be the Emperor of the South, though,
that Orestes; he must, though I have to lend him Raphael’s jewels to
make him so. For he must marry the Greek woman. He shall. She hates
him, of course.... So much the deeper revenge for me. And she loves that
monk. I saw it in her eyes there in the garden. So much the better for
me, too. He will dangle willingly enough at Orestes’s heels for the
sake of being near her--poor fool! We will make him secretary, or
chamberlain. He has wit enough for it, they say, or for anything. So
Orestes and he shall be the two jaws of my pincers, to squeeze what I
want out of that Greek Jezebel.. And then, then for the black agate!’

Was the end of her speech a bathos? Perhaps not; for as she spoke the
last word, she drew from her bosom, where it hung round her neck by a
chain, a broken talisman, exactly similar to the one which she coveted
so fiercely, and looked at it long and lovingly--kissed it--wept
over it--spoke to it--fondled it in her arms as a mother would a
child--murmured over it snatches of lullabies; and her grim, withered
features grew softer, purer, grander; and rose ennobled, for a moment,
to their long-lost might-have-been, to that personal ideal which every
soul brings with it into the world, which shines, dim and potential,
in the face of every sleeping babe, before it has been scarred, and
distorted, and encrusted in the long tragedy of life. Sorceress she was,
pander and slave-dealer, steeped to the lips in falsehood, ferocity, and
avarice; yet that paltry stone brought home to her some thought, true,
spiritual, impalpable, unmarketable, before which all her treasures and
all her ambition were as worthless in her own eyes as they were in the
eyes of the angels of God.

But little did Miriam think that at the same moment a brawny, clownish
monk was standing in Cyril’s private chamber, and, indulged with the
special honour of a cup of good wine in the patriarch’s very presence,
was telling to him and Arsenius the following history--

‘So I, finding that the Jews had chartered this pirate-ship, went to
the master thereof, and finding favour in his eyes, hired myself to row
therein, being sure, from what I had overheard from the Jews, that she
was destined to bring the news to Alexandria as quickly as possible.
Therefore, fulfilling the work which his Holiness had entrusted to my
incapacity, I embarked, and rowed continually among the rest; and being
unskilled in such labour, received many curses and stripes in the cause
of the Church--the which I trust are laid to my account hereafter.
Moreover, Satan entered into me, desiring to slay me, and almost tore
me asunder, so that I vomited much, and loathed all manner of meat.
Nevertheless, I rowed on valiantly, being such as I am, vomiting
continually, till the heathens were moved with wonder, and forbore to
beat me, giving me strong liquors in pity; wherefore I rowed all the
more valiantly day and night, trusting that by my unworthiness the cause
of the Catholic Church might be in some slight wise assisted.’

‘And so it is,’ quoth Cyril. ‘Why do you not sit down, man?’

‘Pardon me,’ quoth the monk, with a piteous gesture; ‘of sitting, as of
all carnal pleasure, cometh satiety at the last.’

‘And now’ said Cyril, ‘what reward am I to give you for your good
service?’

‘It is reward enough to know that I have done good service. Nevertheless
if the holy patriarch be so inclined without reason, there is an ancient
Christian, my mother according to the flesh--’

‘Come to me to-morrow, and she shall be well seen to. And mind--look to
it, if I make you not a deacon of the city when I promote Peter.’

The monk kissed his superior’s hand and withdrew. Cyril turned to
Arsenius, betrayed for once into geniality by his delight, and smiting
his thigh--


‘We have beaten the heathen for once, eh?’ And then, in the usual
artificial tone of an ecclesiastic--‘And what would my father recommend
in furtherance of the advantage so mercifully thrown into our hand?’

Arsenius was silent.

‘I,’ went on Cyril, ‘should be inclined to announce the news this very
night, in my sermon.’

Arsenius shook his head.

‘Why not? why not?’ asked Cyril impatiently.

‘Better to keep it secret till others tell it. Reserved knowledge is
always reserved strength; and if the man, as I hope he does not, intends
evil to the Church, let him commit himself before you use your knowledge
against him. True, you may have a scruple of conscience as to the
lawfulness of allowing a sin which you might prevent. To me it seems
that the sin lies in the will rather than in the deed, and that
sometimes--I only say sometimes--it may be a means of saving the sinner
to allow his root of iniquity to bear fruit, and fill him with his own
devices.’

‘Dangerous doctrine, my father.’

‘Like all sound doctrine--a savour of life or of death, according as it
is received. I have not said it to the multitude, but to a discerning
brother. And even politically speaking--let him commit himself, if he be
really plotting rebellion, and then speak, and smite his Babel tower.’

‘You think, then, that he does not know of Heraclian’s defeat already?’

‘If he does, he will keep it secret from the people; and our chances of
turning them suddenly will be nearly the same.’

‘Good. After all, the existence of the Catholic Church in Alexandria
depends on this struggle, and it is well to be wary. Be it so. It is
well for me that I have you for an adviser.’

And thus Cyril, usually the most impatient and intractable of plotters,
gave in, as wise men should, to a wiser man than himself, and made up
his mind to keep the secret, and to command the monk to keep it also.

Philammon, after a sleepless night, and a welcome visit to the public
baths, which the Roman tyranny, wiser in its generation than modern
liberty, provided so liberally for its victims, set forth to the
Prefect’s palace, and gave his message; but Orestes, who had been
of late astonishing the Alexandrian public by an unwonted display of
alacrity, was already in the adjoining Basilica. Thither the youth was
conducted by an apparitor, and led up the centre of the enormous hall,
gorgeous with frescoes and coloured marbles, and surrounded by aisles
and galleries, in which the inferior magistrates were hearing causes,
and doing such justice as the complicated technicalities of Roman law
chose to mete out. Through a crowd of anxious loungers the youth passed
to the apse of the upper end, in which the Prefect’s throne stood empty,
and then turned into aside chamber, where he found himself alone with
the secretary, a portly Chaldee eunuch, with a sleek pale face, small
pig’s eyes, and an enormous turban. The man of pen and paper took the
letter, opened it with solemn deliberation, and then, springing to
his feet, darted out of the room in most undignified haste, leaving
Philammon to wait and wonder. In half an hour he returned, his little
eyes growing big with some great idea.

‘Youth! your star is in the ascendant; you are the fortunate bearer of
fortunate news! His Excellency himself commands your presence.’ And the
two went out.

In another chamber, the door of which was guarded by armed men, Orestes
was walking up and down in high excitement, looking somewhat the worse
for the events of the past night, and making occasional appeals to a
gold goblet which stood on the table.

‘Ha! No other than my preserver himself! Boy, I will make your fortune.
Miriam says that you wish to enter my service.’

Philammon, not knowing what to say, thought the best answer would be to
bow as low as he could.

‘Ah, ha! Graceful, but not quite according to etiquette. You will soon
teach him, eh, Secretary? Now to business. Hand me the notes to sign and
seal. To the Prefect of the Stationaries--’

‘Here, your Excellency.’

‘To the Prefect of the Corn market--how many wheat-ships have you
ordered to be unladen?’

‘Two, your Excellency.’

‘Well, that will be largess enough for the time being. To the Defender
of the Plebs--the devil break his neck!’

‘He may be trusted, most noble; he is bitterly jealous of Cyril’s
influence. And moreover, he owes my insignificance much money.’

‘Good! Now the notes to the Gaol-masters, about the gladiators.’

‘Here, your Excellency.’

‘To Hypatia. No. I will honour my bride elect with my own illustrious
presence. As I live, here is a morning’s work for a man with a racking
headache!’

‘Your Excellency has the strength of seven. May you live for ever!’

And really, Orestes’s power of getting through business, when he chose,
was surprising enough. A cold head and a colder heart make many things
easy.

But Philammon’s whole soul was fixed on those words. ‘His bride
elect!’.... Was it that Miriam’s hints of the day before had raised some
selfish vision, or was it pity and horror at such a fate for her--for
his idol?--But he passed five minutes in a dream, from which he was
awakened by the sound of another and still dearer name.

‘And now, for Pelagia. We can but try.’

‘Your Excellency might offend the Goth.’

‘Curse the Goth! He shall have his choice of all the beauties in
Alexandria, and be count of Pentapolis if he likes. But a spectacle I
must have; and no one but Pelagia can dance Venus Anadyomene.’

Philammon’s blood rushed to his heart, and then back again to his brow,
as he reeled with horror and shame.

‘The people will be mad with joy to see her on the stage once more.
Little they thought, the brutes, how I was plotting for their amusement,
even when as drunk as Silenus.’

‘Your nobility only lives for the good of your slaves.’

‘Here, boy! So fair a lady requires a fair messenger. You shall enter on
my service at once, and carry this letter to Pelagia. Why?--why do you
not come and take it?’

‘To Pelagia?’ gasped the youth. ‘In the theatre? Publicly? Venus
Anadyomene?’

‘Yes, fool! Were you, too, drunk last night after all?’

‘She is my sister!’

‘Well, and what of that? Not that I believe you, you villain! So!’ said
Orestes, who comprehended the matter in an instant. ‘Apparitors!’

The door opened, and the guard appeared.

‘Here is a good boy who is inclined to make a fool of himself. Keep him
out of harm’s way for a few days. But don’t hurt him; for, after all, he
saved my life yesterday, when you scoundrels ran away.’

And, without further ado, the hapless youth was collared, and led down
a vaulted passage into the guard-room, amid the jeers of the guard, who
seemed only to owe him a grudge for his yesterday’s prowess, and showed
great alacrity in fitting him with a heavy set of irons; which done, he
was thrust head foremost into a cell of the prison, locked in and left
to his meditations.



CHAPTER XX: SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER


‘But, fairest Hypatia, conceive yourself struck in the face by a great
stone, several hundred howling wretches leaping up at you like wild
beasts--two minutes more, and you are torn limb from limb. What would
even you do in such a case?’

‘Let them tear me limb from limb, and die as I have lived.’

‘Ah, but--When it came to fact, and death was staring you in the face?’

‘And why should man fear death?’

‘Ahem! No, not death, of course; but the act of dying. That may be,
surely, under such circumstances, to say the least, disagreeable. If our
ideal, Julian the Great, found a little dissimulation necessary, and was
even a better Christian than I have ever pretended to be, till he found
himself able to throw off the mask, why should not I? Consider me as a
lower being than yourself,--one of the herd, if you will; but a penitent
member thereof, who comes to make the fullest possible reparation, by
doing any desperate deed on which you may choose to put him, and
prove myself as able and willing, if once I have the power, as Julian
himself.’

Such was the conversation which passed between Hypatia and Orestes half
an hour after Philammon had taken possession of his new abode.

Hypatia looked at the Prefect with calm penetration, not unmixed with
scorn and fear.

‘And pray what has produced this sudden change in your Excellency’s
earnestness? For four months your promises have been lying fallow.’ She
did not confess how glad she would have been at heart to see them lying
fallow still.

‘Because--This morning I have news; which I tell to you the first as
a compliment. We will take care that all Alexandria knows it before
sundown. Heraclian has conquered.’

‘Conquered?’ cried Hypatia, springing from her seat.

‘Conquered, and utterly destroyed the emperor’s forces at Ostia. So
says a messenger on whom I can depend. And even if the news should prove
false, I can prevent the contrary report from spreading, or what is the
use of being prefect? You demur? Do you not see that if we can keep the
notion alive but a week our cause is won?’

‘How so?’

‘I have treated already with all the officers of the city, and every
one of them has acted like a wise man, and given me a promise of help,
conditional of course on Heraclian’s success, being as tired as I am of
that priest-ridden court at Byzantium. Moreover, the stationaries are
mine already. So are the soldiery all the way up the Nile. Ah! you have
been fancying me idle for these four months, but--You forget that you
yourself were the prize of my toil. Could I be a sluggard with that goal
in sight?’

Hypatia shuddered, but was silent; and Orestes went on--

‘I have unladen several of the wheat-ships for enormous largesses of
bread: though those rascally monks of Tabenne had nearly forestalled my
benevolence, and I was forced to bribe a deacon or two, buy up the stock
they had sent down, and retail it again as my own. It is really most
officious of them to persist in feeding gratuitously half the poor of
the city! What possible business have they with Alexandria?’

‘The wish for popularity, I presume.’

‘Just so; and then what hold can the government have on a set of rogues
whose stomachs are filled without our help?’

‘Julian made the same complaint to the high priest of Galatia, in that
priceless letter of his.’

‘Ah, you will set that all right, you know, shortly. Then again, I do
not fear Cyril’s power just now. He has injured himself deeply, I am
happy to say, in the opinion of the wealthy and educated, by expelling
the Jews. And as for his mob, exactly at the right moment, the
deities--there are no monks here, so I can attribute my blessings to the
right source--have sent us such a boon as may put them into as good a
humour as we need.’

‘And what is that?’ asked Hypatia.

‘A white elephant.’

‘A white elephant?’

‘Yes,’ he answered, mistaking or ignoring the tone of her answer.
‘A real, live, white elephant; a thing which has not been seen in
Alexandria for a hundred years! It was passing through with two tame
tigers, as a present to the boy at Byzantium, from some hundred-wived
kinglet of the Hyperborean Taprobane, or other no-man’s-land in the
far East. I took the liberty of laying an embargo on them, and, after a
little argumentation and a few hints of torture, elephant and tigers are
at our service.’

‘And of what service are they to be?’

‘My dearest madam-- Conceive.... How are we to win the mob without a
show?.... When were there more than two ways of gaining either the whole
or part of the Roman Empire--by force of arms or force of trumpery? Can
even you invent a third? The former is unpleasantly exciting, and hardly
practicable just now. The latter remains, and, thanks to the white
elephant, may be triumphantly successful. I have to exhibit something
every week. The people are getting tired of that pantomime; and since
the Jews were driven out, the fellow has grown stupid and lazy, having
lost the more enthusiastic half of his spectators. As for horse-racing,
they are sick of it.... Now, suppose we announce, for the earliest
possible day--a spectacle--such a spectacle as never was seen before in
this generation. You and I--I as exhibitor, you as representative--for
the time being only--of the Vestals of old--sit side by side....
Some worthy friend has his instructions, when the people are beside
themselves with rapture, to cry, “Long live Orestes Caesar!”....Another
reminds them of Heraclian’s victory--another couples your name with
mine.... the people applaud.... some Mark Antony steps forward, salutes
me as Imperator, Augustus--what you will--the cry is taken up--I refuse
as meekly as Julius Caesar himself--am compelled, blushing, to accept
the honour--I rise, make an oration about the future independence of the
southern continent--union of Africa and Egypt--the empire no longer to
be divided into Eastern and Western, but Northern and Southern. Shouts
of applause, at two drachmas per man, shake the skies. Everybody
believes that everybody else approves, and follows the lead.... And the
thing is won.’

‘And pray,’ asked Hypatia, crushing down her contempt and despair, ‘how
is this to bear on the worship of the gods?

‘Why.... why,.... if you thought that people’s minds were sufficiently
prepared, you might rise in your turn, and make an oration--you can
conceive one. Set forth how these spectacles, formerly the glory of the
empire, had withered under Galilaean superstition.... How the only path
toward the full enjoyment of eye and ear was a frank return to those
deities, from whose worship they originally sprang, and connected with
which they could alone be enjoyed in their perfection.... But I need not
teach you how to do that which you have so often taught me: so now
to consider our spectacle, which, next to the largess, is the most
important part of our plans. I ought to have exhibited to them the monk
who so nearly killed me yesterday. That would indeed have been a triumph
of the laws over Christianity. He and the wild beasts might have given
the people ten minutes’ amusement. But wrath conquered prudence; and
the fellow has been crucified these two hours. Suppose, then, we had a
little exhibition of gladiators. They are forbidden by law, certainly.’

‘Thank Heaven, they are!’

‘But do you not see that is the very reason why we, to assert our own
independence, should employ them?’

‘No! they are gone. Let them never reappear to disgrace the earth.’

‘My dear lady, you must not in your present character say that in
public; lest Cyril should be impertinent enough to remind you that
Christian emperors and bishops put them down.’

Hypatia bit her lip, and was silent.

‘Well, I do not wish to urge anything unpleasant to you.... If we could
but contrive a few martyrdoms--but I really fear we must wait a year
or two longer, in the present state of public opinion, before we can
attempt that.’

‘Wait? wait for ever! Did not Julian--and he must be our model--forbid
the persecution of the Galilaeans, considering them sufficiently
punished by their own atheism and self-tormenting superstition?’

‘Another small error of that great man.--He should have recollected that
for three hundred years nothing, not even the gladiators themselves,
had been found to put the mob in such good humour as to see a few
Christians, especially young and handsome women, burned alive, or thrown
to the lions.’

Hypatia bit her lip once more. ‘I can hear no more of this, sir. You
forget that you are speaking to a woman.’

‘Most supreme wisdom,’ answered Orestes, in his blandest tone, ‘you
cannot suppose that I wish to pain your ears. But allow me to observe,
as a general theorem, that if one wishes to effect any purpose, it is
necessary to use the means; and on the whole, those which have been
tested by four hundred years’ experience will be the safest. I speak
as a plain practical statesman--but surely your philosophy will not
dissent?’

Hypatia looked down in painful thought. What could she answer? Was it
not too true? and had not Orestes fact and experience on his side?

‘Well, if you must--but I cannot have gladiators. Why not a--one of
those battles with wild beasts? They are disgusting enough but still
they are less inhuman than the others; and you might surely take
precautions to prevent the men being hurt.’

‘Ah! that would indeed be a scentless rose! If there is neither danger
nor bloodshed, the charm is gone. But really wild beasts are too
expensive just now; and if I kill down my present menagerie, I can
afford no more. Why not have something which costs no money, like
prisoners?’

‘What! do you rank human beings below brutes?’

‘Heaven forbid! But they are practically less expensive. Remember, that
without money we are powerless; we must husband our resources for the
cause of the gods.’

Hypatia was silent.

‘Now, there are fifty or sixty Libyan prisoners just brought in from
the desert. Why not let them fight an equal number of soldiers? They are
rebels to the empire, taken in war.’

‘Ah, then,’ said Hypatia, catching at any thread of self-justification,
‘their lives are forfeit in any case.’

‘Of course. So the Christians could not complain of us for that. Did
not the most Christian Emperor Constantine set some three hundred German
prisoners to butcher each other in the amphitheatre of Treves?’

‘But they refused, and died like heroes, each falling on his own sword.’

‘Ah--those Germans are always unmanageable. My guards, now, are just
as stiff-necked. To tell you the truth, I have asked them already to
exhibit their prowess on these Libyans, and what do you suppose they
answered?’

‘They refused, I hope.’

‘They told me in the most insolent tone that they were men, and not
stage-players; and hired to fight, and not to butcher. I expected a
Socratic dialogue after such a display of dialectic, and bowed myself
out.’

‘They were right.’

‘Not a doubt of it, from a philosophic point of view; from a practical
one they were great pedants, and I an ill-used master. However, I can
find unfortunate and misunderstood heroes enough in the prisons, who,
for the chance of their liberty, will acquit themselves valiantly
enough; and I know of a few old gladiators still lingering about the
wine-shops, who will be proud enough to give them a week’s training.
So that may pass. Now for some lighter species of representation to
follow--something more or less dramatic.’

‘You forget that you speak to one who trusts to be, as soon as she has
the power, the high-priestess of Athene, and who in the meanwhile is
bound to obey her tutor Julian’s commands to the priests of his day, and
imitate the Galilaeans as much in their abhorrence for the theatre as
she hopes hereafter to do in their care for the widow and the stranger.’

‘Far be it from me to impugn that great man’s wisdom. But allow me to
remark, that to judge by the present state of the empire, one has a
right to say that he failed.’

‘The Sun-God whom he loved took him to himself, too early, by a hero’s
death.’

‘And the moment he was removed, the wave of Christian barbarism rolled
back again into its old channel.’

‘Ah! had he but lived twenty years longer!’

‘The Sun-God, perhaps, was not so solicitous as we are for the success
of his high-priest’s project.’

Hypatia reddened--was Orestes, after all laughing in his sleeve at her
and her hopes?

‘Do not blaspheme!’ she said solemnly.

‘Heaven forbid! I only offer one possible explanation of a plain fact.
The other is, that as Julian was not going quite the right way to work
to restore the worship of the Olympians, the Sun-God found it expedient
to withdraw him from his post, and now sends in his place Hypatia the
philosopher, who will be wise enough to avoid Julian’s error, and not
copy the Galilaeans too closely, by imitating a severity of morals at
which they are the only true and natural adepts.’

‘So Julian’s error was that of being too virtuous? If it be so, let
me copy him, and fail like him. The fault will then not be mine, but
fate’s.’

‘Not in being too virtuous himself, most stainless likeness of Athene,
but in trying to make others so. He forgot one half of Juvenal’s great
dictum about “Panem and Circenses,” as the absolute and overruling
necessities of rulers. He tried to give the people the bread without the
games.... And what thanks he received for his enormous munificence,
let himself and the good folks of Antioch tell--you just quoted his
Misopogon--’

‘Ay-the lament of a man too pure for his age.’

‘Exactly so. He should rather have been content to keep his purity
to himself, and have gone to Antioch not merely as a philosophic
high-priest, with a beard of questionable cleanliness, to offer
sacrifices to a god in whom--forgive me--nobody in Antioch had
believed for many a year. If he had made his entrance with ten thousand
gladiators, and our white elephant, built a theatre of ivory and glass
in Daphne, and proclaimed games in honour of the Sun, or of any other
member of the Pantheon--’

‘He would have acted unworthily of a philosopher.’

‘But instead of that one priest draggling up, poor devil, through the
wet grass to the deserted altar with his solitary goose under his arm,
he would have had every goose in Antioch--forgive my stealing a pun
from Aristophanes--running open-mouthed to worship any god known or
unknown--and to see the sights.’

‘Well,’ said Hypatia, yielding perforce to Orestes’s cutting arguments.
‘Let us then restore the ancient glories of the Greek drama. Let us give
them a trilogy of Aeschylus or Sophocles.’

‘Too calm, my dear madam. The Eumenides might do certainly, or
Philoctetes, if we could but put Philoctetes to real pain, and make the
spectators sure that he was yelling in good earnest.’

‘Disgusting!’

‘But necessary, like many disgusting things.’

‘Why not try the Prometheus?’

‘A magnificent field for stage effect, certainly. What with those ocean
nymphs in their winged chariot, and Ocean on his griffin.... But I
should hardly think it safe to reintroduce Zeus and Hermes to the people
under the somewhat ugly light in which Aeschylus exhibits them.’

‘I forgot that,’ said Hypatia. ‘The Orestean trilogy will be best, after
all.’

‘Best? perfect--divine! Ah, that it were to be my fate to go down
to posterity as the happy man who once more revived Aeschylus’s
masterpieces on a Grecian stage! But--Is there not, begging the pardon
of the great tragedian, too much reserve in the Agamemnon for our modern
taste? If we could have the bath scene represented on the stage, and an
Agamemnon who could be really killed--though I would not insist on that,
because a good actor might make it a reason for refusing the part--but
still the murder ought to take place in public.’

‘Shocking! an outrage on all the laws of the drama. Does not even the
Roman Horace lay down as a rule the--_Nec pueros coram populo Medea
trucidet_?’

‘Fairest and wisest, I am as willing a pupil of the dear old Epicurean
as any man living--even to the furnishing of my chamber; of which fact
the Empress of Africa may some day assure herself. But we are not now
discussing the art of poetry, but the art of reigning; and, after all,
while Horace was sitting in his easy-chair, giving his countrymen good
advice, a private man, who knew somewhat better than he what the mass
admired, was exhibiting forty thousand gladiators at his mother’s
funeral.’

‘But the canon has its foundation in the eternal laws of beauty. It has
been accepted and observed.’

‘Not by the people for whom it was written. The learned Hypatia has
surely not forgotten, that within sixty years after the _Ars Poetica_
was written, Annaeus Seneca, or whosoever wrote that very bad tragedy
called the Medea, found it so necessary that she should, in despite of
Horace, kill her children before the people, that he actually made her
do it!’

Hypatia was still silent--foiled at every point, while Orestes ran on
with provoking glibness.

‘And consider, too, even if we dare alter Aeschylus a little, we could
find no one to act him.’

‘Ah, true! fallen, fallen days!’

‘And really, after all, omitting the questionable compliment to me, as
candidate for a certain dignity, of having my namesake kill his mother,
and then be hunted over the stage by furies--’

‘But Apollo vindicates and purifies him at last. What a noble occasion
that last scene would give for winning them hack to their old reverence
for the god!’

‘True, but at present the majority of spectators will believe more
strongly in the horrors of matricide and furies than in Apollo’s power
to dispense therewith. So that I fear must be one of your labours of the
future.’

‘And it shall be,’ said Hypatia. But she did not speak cheerfully.

‘Do you not think, moreover,’ went on the tempter, ‘that those old
tragedies might give somewhat too gloomy a notion of those deities whom
we wish to reintroduce--I beg pardon, to rehonour? The history of the
house of Atreus is hardly more cheerful, in spite of its beauty, than
one of Cyril’s sermons on the day of judgment, and the Tartarus prepared
for hapless rich people?’

‘Well,’ said Hypatia, more and more listlessly; ‘it might be more
prudent to show them first the fairer and more graceful side of the
old Myths. Certainly the great age of Athenian tragedy had its playful
reverse in the old comedy.’

‘And in certain Dionysiac sports and processions which shall be
nameless, in order to awaken a proper devotion for the gods in those who
might not be able to appreciate Aeschylus and Sophocles.’

‘You would not reintroduce them?’

‘Pallas forbid! but give as fair a substitute for them as we can.’

‘And are we to degrade ourselves because the masses are degraded?’

‘Not in the least. For my own part, this whole business, like the
catering for the weekly pantomimes, is as great a bore to me as it
could have been to Julian himself. But, my dearest madam--“Panem and
Circenses”--they must be put into good humour; and there is but one
way--by “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride
of life,” as a certain Galilaean correctly defines the time-honoured
Roman method.’

‘Put them into good humour? I wish to lustrate them afresh for the
service of the gods. If we must have comic representations, we can only
have them conjoined to tragedy, which, as Aristotle defines it, will
purify their affections by pity and terror.’

Orestes smiled.

‘I certainly can have no objection to so good a purpose. But do you not
think that the battle between the gladiators and the Libyans will have
done that sufficiently beforehand? I can conceive nothing more fit for
that end, unless it be Nero’s method of sending his guards among the
spectators themselves, and throwing them down to the wild beasts in
the arena. How thoroughly purified by pity and terror must every worthy
shopkeeper have been, when he sat uncertain whether he might not follow
his fat wife into the claws of the nearest lion!’

‘You are pleased to be witty, sir,’ said Hypatia, hardly able to conceal
her disgust.

‘My dearest bride elect, I only meant the most harmless of _reductiones
ad absurdum_ of an abstract canon of Aristotle, with which I, who am a
Platonist after my mistress’s model, do not happen to agree. But do,
I beseech you, be ruled, not by me, but by your own wisdom. You cannot
bring the people to appreciate your designs at the first sight. You are
too wise, too pure, too lofty, too far-sighted for them. And therefore
you must get power to compel them. Julian, after all, found it necessary
to compel--if he had lived seven years more he would have found it
necessary to persecute.’

‘The gods forbid that--that such a necessity should ever arise here.’

‘The only way to avoid it, believe me, is to allure and to indulge.
After all, it is for their good.’

‘True,’ sighed Hypatia. ‘Have your way, sir.’

‘Believe me, you shall have yours in turn. I ask you to be ruled by
me now, only that you may be in a position to rule me and Africa
hereafter.’

‘And such an Africa! Well, if they are born low and earthly, they must,
I suppose, he treated as such; and the fault of such a necessity is
Nature’s, and not ours.--Yet it is most degrading!--But still, if the
only method by which the philosophic few can assume their rights, as
the divinely-appointed rulers of the world, is by indulging those lower
beings whom they govern for their good--why, be it so. It is no worse
necessity than many another which the servant of the gods must endure in
days like these.’

‘Ah,’ said Orestes, refusing to hear the sigh, or to see the bitterness
of the lip which accompanied the speech--‘now Hypatia is herself again;
and my counsellor, and giver of deep and celestial reasons for all
things at which poor I can only snatch and guess by vulpine cunning. So
now for our lighter entertainment. What shall it be?’

‘What you will, provided it be not, as most such are, unfit for the eyes
of modest women. I have no skill in catering for folly.’

‘A pantomime, then? We may make that as grand and as significant as we
will, and expend too on it all our treasures in the way of gewgaws and
wild beasts.’

‘As you like.’

‘Just consider, too, what a scope for mythologic learning a pantomime
affords. Why not have a triumph of some deity? Could I commit myself
more boldly to the service of the gods! Now--who shall it be?’

‘Pallas--unless, as I suppose, she is too modest and too sober for your
Alexandrians?’

‘Yes--it does not seem to me that she would be appreciated--at all
events for the present. Why not try Aphrodite? Christians as well as
Pagans will thoroughly understand her; and I know no one who would not
degrade the virgin goddess by representing her, except a certain lady,
who has already, I hope, consented to sit in that very character, by the
side of her too much honoured slave; and one Pallas is enough at a time
in any theatre.’

Hypatia shuddered. He took it all for granted, then--and claimed her
conditional promise to the uttermost. Was there no escape? She longed to
spring up and rush away, into the streets, into the desert--anything to
break the hideous net which she had wound around herself. And yet--was
it not the cause of the gods--the one object of her life? And after
all, if he the hateful was to be her emperor, she at least was to be
an empress; and do what she would--and half in irony, and half in the
attempt to hurl herself perforce into that which she knew that she must
go through, and forget misery in activity, she answered as cheerfully as
she could.

‘Then, my goddess, thou must wait the pleasure of these base ones! At
least the young Apollo will have charms even for them.’

‘Ah, but who will represent him? This puny generation does not produce
such figures as Pylades and Bathyllus--except among those Goths.
Besides, Apollo must have golden hair; and our Greek race has intermixed
itself so shamefully with these Egyptians, that our stage-troop is as
dark as Andromeda, and we should have to apply again to those accursed
Goths, who have nearly’ (with a bow) ‘all the beauty, and nearly all the
money and the power, and will, I suspect, have the rest of it before
I am safe out of this wicked world, because they have not nearly, but
quite, all the courage. Now--Shall we ask a Goth to dance Apollo? for we
can get no one else.’

Hypatia smiled in spite of herself at the notion. ‘That would be too
shameful! I must forego the god of light himself, if I am to see him in
the person of a clumsy barbarian.’

‘Then why not try my despised and rejected Aphrodite? Suppose we had her
triumph, finishing with a dance of Venus Anadyomene. Surely that is a
graceful myth enough.’

‘As a myth; but on the stage in reality?’

‘Not worse than what this Christian city has been looking at for many a
year. We shall not run any danger of corrupting morality, be sure.’

Hypatia blushed.

‘Then you must not ask for my help.’

‘Or for your presence at the spectacle? For that be sure is a necessary
point. You are too great a person, my dearest madam, in the eyes of
these good folks to be allowed to absent yourself on such an occasion.
If my little stratagem succeeds, it will be half owing to the fact of
the people knowing that in crowning me, they crown Hypatia.... Come
now--do you not see that as you must needs be present at their harmless
scrap of mythology, taken from the authentic and undoubted histories
of those very gods whose worship we intend to restore, you will consult
your own comfort most in agreeing to it cheerfully, and in lending
me your wisdom towards arranging it? Just conceive now, a triumph of
Aphrodite, entering preceded by wild beasts led in chains by Cupids, the
white elephant and all--what a field for the plastic art! You might have
a thousand groupings, dispersions, regroupings, in as perfect bas-relief
style as those of any Sophoclean drama. Allow me only to take this paper
and pen--’

And he began sketching rapidly group after group.

‘Not so ugly, surely?’

‘They are very beautiful, I cannot deny,’ said poor Hypatia.

‘Ah, sweetest Empress! you forget sometimes that I, too, world-worm as
I am, am a Greek, with as intense a love of the beautiful as even you
yourself have. Do not fancy that every violation of correct taste does
not torture me as keenly as it does you. Some day, I hope, you will have
learned to pity and to excuse the wretched compromise between that which
ought to be and that which can be, in which we hapless statesmen must
struggle on, half-stunted, and wholly misunderstood--Ah, well! Look,
now, at these fauns and dryads among the shrubs upon the stage, pausing
in startled wonder at the first blast of music which proclaims the exit
of the goddess from her temple.’

‘The temple? Why, where are you going to exhibit?’

‘In the Theatre, of course. Where else pantomimes?’

‘But will the spectators have time to move all the way from the
Amphitheatre after that--those--’

‘The Amphitheatre? We shall exhibit the Libyans, too, in the Theatre.’

‘Combats in the Theatre sacred to Dionusos?’

‘My dear lady’--penitently--‘I know it is an offence against all the
laws of the drama.’

‘Oh, worse than that! Consider what an impiety toward the god, to
desecrate his altar with bloodshed?’

‘Fairest devotee, recollect that, after all, I may fairly borrow
Dionusos’s altar in this my extreme need; for I saved its very existence
for him, by preventing the magistrates from filling up the whole
orchestra with benches for the patricians, after the barbarous
Roman fashion. And besides, what possible sort of representation, or
misrepresentation, has not been exhibited in every theatre of the empire
for the last four hundred years? Have we not had tumblers, conjurers,
allegories, martyrdoms, marriages, elephants on the tight-rope, learned
horses, and learned asses too, if we may trust Apuleius of Madaura; with
a good many other spectacles of which we must not speak in the
presence of a vestal? It is an age of execrable taste, and we must act
accordingly.’

‘Ah!’ answered Hypatia; ‘the first step in the downward career of the
drama began when the successors of Alexander dared to profane theatres
which had re-echoed the choruses of Sophocles and Euripides by degrading
the altar of Dionusos into a stage for pantomimes!’

‘Which your pure mind must, doubtless, consider not so very much better
than a little fighting. But, after all, the Ptolemies could not do
otherwise. You can only have Sophoclean dramas in a Sophoclean age; and
theirs was no more of one than ours is, and so the drama died a natural
death; and when that happens to man or thing, you may weep over it if
you will, but you must, after all, bury it, and get something else in
its place--except, of course, the worship of the gods.’

‘I am glad that you except that, at least,’ said Hypatia, somewhat
bitterly. ‘But why not use the Amphitheatre for both spectacles?’

‘What can I do? I am over head and ears in debt already; and the
Amphitheatre is half in ruins, thanks to that fanatic edict of the late
emperor’s against gladiators. There is no time or money for repairing
it; and besides, how pitiful a poor hundred of combatants will look in
an arena built to hold two thousand! Consider, my dearest lady, in what
fallen times we live!’

‘I do, indeed!’ said Hypatia. ‘But I will not see the altar polluted by
blood. It is the desecration which it has undergone already which has
provoked the god to withdraw the poetic inspiration.’

‘I do not doubt the fact. Some curse from Heaven, certainly, has fallen
on our poets, to judge by their exceeding badness. Indeed, I am inclined
to attribute the insane vagaries of the water-drinking monks and nuns,
like those of the Argive women, to the same celestial anger. But I will
see that the sanctity of the altar is preserved, by confining the combat
to the stage. And as for the pantomime which will follow, if you would
only fall in with my fancy of the triumph of Aphrodite, Dionusos would
hardly refuse his altar for the glorification of his own lady-love.’

‘Ah--that myth is a late, and in my opinion a degraded one.’

‘Be it so; but recollect, that another myth makes her, and not without
reason, the mother of all living beings. Be sure that Dionusos will have
no objection, or any other god either, to allow her to make her children
feel her conquering might; for they all know well enough, that if we
can once get her well worshipped here, all Olympus will follow in her
train.’

‘That was spoken of the celestial Aphrodite, whose symbol is the
tortoise, the emblem of domestic modesty and chastity: not of that baser
Pandemic one.’

‘Then we will take care to make the people aware of whom they are
admiring by exhibiting in the triumph whole legions of tortoises: and
you yourself shall write the chant, while I will see that the chorus is
worthy of what it has to sing. No mere squeaking double flute and a pair
of boys: but a whole army of cyclops and graces, with such trebles and
such bass-voices! It shall make Cyril’s ears tingle in his palace!’

‘The chant! A noble office for me, truly! That is the very part of the
absurd spectacle to which you used to say the people never dreamed of
attending. All which is worth settling you seemed to have settled for
yourself before you deigned to consult me.’

‘I said so? Surely you must mistake. But if any hired poetaster’s chant
do pass unheeded, what has that to do with Hypatia’s eloquence and
science, glowing with the treble inspiration of Athene, Phoebus, and
Dionusos? And as for having arranged beforehand--my adorable mistress,
what more delicate compliment could I have paid you?’

‘I cannot say that it seems to me to be one.’

‘How? After saving you every trouble which I could, and racking my
overburdened wits for stage effects and properties, have I not brought
hither the darling children of my own brain, and laid them down
ruthlessly, for life or death, before the judgment-seat of your lofty
and unsparing criticism?’

Hypatia felt herself tricked: but there was no escape now.

‘And who, pray, is to disgrace herself and me, as Venus Anadyomene?’

‘Ah! that is the most exquisite article in all my bill of fare! What if
the kind gods have enabled me to exact a promise from--whom, think you?’

‘What care I? How can I tell?’ asked Hypatia, who suspected and dreaded
that she could tell.

‘Pelagia herself!’

Hypatia rose angrily.

‘This, sir, at least, is too much! It was not enough for you, it seems,
to claim, or rather to take for granted, so imperiously, so mercilessly,
a conditional promise--weakly, weakly made, in the vain hope that you
would help forward aspirations of mine which you have let lie fallow for
months--in which I do not believe that you sympathise now!--It was not
enough for you to declare yourself publicly yesterday a Christian, and
to come hither this morning to flatter me into the belief that you will
dare, ten days hence, to restore the worship of the gods whom you have
abjured!--It was not enough to plan without me all those movements in
which you told me I was to be your fellow-counsellor--the very condition
which you yourself offered!--It was not enough for you to command me to
sit in that theatre, as your bait, your puppet, your victim, blushing
and shuddering at sights unfit for the eyes of gods and men:--but, over
and above all this, I must assist in the renewed triumph of a woman who
has laughed down my teaching, seduced away my scholars, braved me in
my very lecture-room--who for four years has done more than even Cyril
himself to destroy all the virtue and truth which I have toiled to
sow--and toiled in vain! Oh, beloved gods! where will end the tortures
through which your martyr must witness for you to a fallen race?’

And, in spite of all her pride, and of Orestes’s presence, her eyes
filled with scalding tears.

Orestes’s eyes had sunk before the vehemence of her just passion; but as
she added the last sentence in a softer and sadder tone, he raised them
again, with a look of sorrow and entreaty as his heart whispered--

‘Fool!--fanatic! But she is too beautiful! Win her I must and will!’

‘Ah! dearest, noblest Hypatia! What have I done? Unthinking fool that I
was! In the wish to save you trouble--In the hope that I could show you,
by the aptness of my own plans, that my practical statesmanship was not
altogether an unworthy helpmate for your loftier wisdom--wretch that I
am, I have offended you; and I have ruined the cause of those very gods
for whom, I swear, I am as ready to sacrifice myself as ever you can
be!’

The last sentence had the effect which it was meant to have.

‘Ruined the cause of the gods?’ asked she, in a startled tone.

‘Is it not ruined without your help? And what am I to understand from
your words but that--hapless man that I am!--you leave me and them
henceforth to our own unassisted strength?’

‘The unassisted strength of the gods is omnipotence.’

‘Be it so. But--why is Cyril, and not Hypatia, master of the masses
of Alexandria this day? Why but because he and his have fought,
and suffered, and died too, many a hundred of them, for their god,
omnipotent as they believe him to be? Why are the old gods forgotten; my
fairest logician?--for forgotten they are.’

Hypatia trembled from head to foot, and Orestes went on more blandly
than ever.

‘I will not ask an answer to that question of mine. All I entreat is
forgiveness for--what for I know not: but I have sinned, and that is
enough for me. What if I have been too confident--too hasty? Are you
not the price for which I strain? And will not the preciousness of the
victor’s wreath excuse some impatience in the struggle for it? Hypatia
has forgotten who and what the gods have made her--she has not even
consulted her own mirror, when she blames one of her innumerable adorers
for a forwardness which ought to be rather imputed to him as a virtue.’

And Orestes stole meekly such a glance of adoration, that Hypatia
blushed, and turned her face away.... After all, she was woman. And she
was a fanatic.... And she was to be an empress.... And Orestes’s voice
was as melodious, and his manner as graceful as ever charmed the heart
of woman.

‘But Pelagia?’ she said, at last, recovering herself.

‘Would that I had never seen the creature! But, after all, I really
fancied that in doing what I have done I should gratify you.’

‘Me?’

‘Surely if revenge be sweet, as they say, it could hardly find a more
delicate satisfaction than in degradation of one who--’

‘Revenge, sir? Do you dream that I am capable of so base a passion?’

‘I? Pallas forbid!’ said Orestes, finding himself on the wrong path
again. ‘But recollect that the allowing this spectacle to take place
might rid you for ever of an unpleasant--I will not say rival.’

‘How, then?’

‘Will not her reappearance on the stage, after all her proud professions
of contempt for it, do something towards reducing her in the eyes of
this scandalous little town to her true and native level? She will
hardly dare thenceforth to go about parading herself as the consort of
a god-descended hero, or thrusting herself unbidden into Hypatia’s
presence, as if she were the daughter of a consul.’

‘But I cannot--I cannot allow it even to her. After all, Orestes, she
is a woman. And can I, philosopher as I am, help to degrade her even one
step lower than she lies already?’

Hypatia had all but said ‘a woman even as I am’: but Neo-Platonic
philosophy taught her better; and she checked the hasty assertion of
anything like a common sex or common humanity between two beings so
antipodal.

‘Ah’ rejoined Orestes, ‘that unlucky word degrade! Unthinking that I
was, to use it, forgetting that she herself will be no more degraded in
her own eyes, or any one’s else, by hearing again the plaudits of those
“dear Macedonians,” on whose breath she has lived for years, than a
peacock when he displays his train. Unbounded vanity and self-conceit
are not unpleasant passions, after all, for their victim. After all, she
is what she is, and her being so is no fault of yours. Oh, it must be!
indeed it must!’

Poor Hypatia! The bait was too delicate, the tempter too wily; and yet
she was ashamed to speak aloud the philosophic dogma which flashed a ray
of comfort and resignation through her mind, and reminded her that after
all there was no harm in allowing lower natures to develop themselves
freely in that direction which Nature had appointed for them, and in
which only they could fulfil the laws of their being, as necessary
varieties in the manifold whole of the universe. So she cut the
interview short with--

‘If it must be, then.... I will now retire, and write the ode. Only, I
refuse to have any communication whatsoever with--I am ashamed of even
mentioning her name. I will send the ode to you, and she must adapt her
dance to it as best she can. By her taste, or fancy rather, I will not
be ruled.’

‘And I,’ said Orestes, with a profusion of thanks, ‘will retire to rack
my faculties over the “dispositions.” On this day week we exhibit--and
conquer! Farewell, queen of wisdom! Your philosophy never shows to
better advantage than when you thus wisely and gracefully subordinate
that which is beautiful in itself to that which is beautiful relatively
and practically.’

He departed; and Hypatia, half dreading her own thoughts, sat down at
once to labour at the ode. Certainly it was a magnificent subject. What
etymologies, cosmogonies, allegories, myths, symbolisms, between all
heaven and earth, might she not introduce--if she could but banish that
figure of Pelagia dancing to it all, which would not be banished, but
hovered, like a spectre, in the background of all her imaginations. She
became quite angry, first with Pelagia, then with herself, for being
weak enough to think of her. Was it not positive defilement of her mind
to be haunted by the image of so defiled a being? She would purify her
thoughts by prayer and meditation. But to whom of all the gods should
she address herself? To her chosen favourite, Athene? She who had
promised to be present at that spectacle? Oh, how weak she had been to
yield! And yet she had been snared into it. Snared--there was no doubt
of it--by the very man whom she had fancied that she could guide and
mould to her own purposes. He had guided and moulded her now against her
self-respect, her compassion, her innate sense of right. Already she
was his tool. True, she had submitted to be so for a great purpose. But
suppose she had to submit again hereafter--always henceforth? And what
made the thought more poignant was, her knowledge that he was right;
that he knew what to do, and how to do it. She could not help admiring
him for his address, his quickness, his clear practical insight: and yet
she despised, mistrusted, all but hated him. But what if his were the
very qualities which were destined to succeed? What if her purer and
loftier aims, her resolutions--now, alas! broken--never to act but on
the deepest and holiest principles and by the most sacred means, were
destined never to exert themselves in practice, except conjointly with
miserable stratagems and cajoleries such as these? What if statecrafts
and not philosophy and religion, were the appointed rulers of mankind?
Hideous thought! And yet--she who had all her life tried to be
self-dependent, originative, to face and crush the hostile mob of
circumstance and custom, and do battle single-handed with Christianity
and a fallen age--how was it that in her first important and critical
opportunity of action she had been dumb, irresolute, passive, the
victim, at last, of the very corruption which she was to exterminate?
She did not know yet that those who have no other means for regenerating
a corrupted time than dogmatic pedantries concerning the dead and
unreturning past, must end, in practice, by borrowing insincerely, and
using clumsily, the very weapons of that novel age which they deprecate,
and ‘sewing new cloth into old garments,’ till the rent become patent
and incurable. But in the meanwhile, such meditations as these drove
from her mind for that day both Athene, and the ode, and philosophy, and
all things but--Pelagia the wanton.

In the meanwhile, Alexandrian politics flowed onward in their usual pure
and quiet course. The public buildings were placarded with the news of
Heraclian’s victory; and groups of loungers expressed, loudly enough,
their utter indifference as to who might rule at Rome--or even at
Byzantium. Let Heraclian or Honorius be emperor, the capitals must be
fed; and while the Alexandrian wheat-trade was uninjured, what matter
who received the tribute? Certainly, as some friends of Orestes found
means to suggest, it might not be a bad thing for Egypt, if she could
keep the tribute in her own treasury, instead of sending it to Rome
without any adequate return, save the presence of an expensive army....
Alexandria had been once the metropolis of an independent empire....
Why not again? Then came enormous largesses of corn, proving, more
satisfactorily to the mob than to the shipowners, that Egyptian wheat
was better employed at home than abroad. Nay, there were even rumours of
a general amnesty for all prisoners; and as, of course, every evil-doer
had a kind of friend, who considered him an injured martyr, all parties
were well content, on their own accounts at least, with such a move.

And so Orestes’s bubble swelled, and grew, and glittered every day with
fresh prismatic radiance; while Hypatia sat at home, with a heavy heart,
writing her ode to Venus Urania, and submitting to Orestes’s daily
visits.

One cloud, indeed, not without squalls of wind and rain, disfigured
that sky which the Prefect had invested with such serenity by the simple
expedient, well known to politicians, of painting it bright blue, since
it would not assume that colour of its own accord. For, a day or two
after Ammonius’s execution, the Prefect’s guards informed him that
the corpse of the crucified man, with the cross on which it hung, had
vanished. The Nitrian monks had come down in a body, and carried them
off before the very eyes of the sentinels. Orestes knew well enough that
the fellows must have been bribed to allow the theft; but he dare not
say so to men on whose good humour his very life might depend; so,
stomaching the affront as best he could, he vowed fresh vengeance
against Cyril, and went on his way. But, behold!--within four-and-twenty
hours of the theft, a procession of all the rascality, followed by
all the piety, of Alexandria,--monks from Nitria counted by the
thousand,--priests, deacons, archdeacons, Cyril himself, in full
pontificals, and borne aloft in the midst, upon a splendid bier, the
missing corpse, its nail-pierced hands and feet left uncovered for the
pitying gaze of the Church.

Under the very palace windows, from which Orestes found it expedient to
retire for the time being, out upon the quays, and up the steps of the
Caesareum, defiled that new portent; and in another half-hour a servant
entered, breathlessly, to inform the shepherd of people that his
victim was lying in state in the centre of the nave, a martyr duly
canonised--Ammonius now no more, but henceforth Thaumasius the
wonderful, on whose heroic virtues and more heroic faithfulness unto the
death, Cyril was already descanting from the pulpit, amid thunders of
applause at every allusion to Sisera at the brook Kishon, Sennacherib in
the house of Nisroch, and the rest of the princes of this world who come
to nought.

Here was a storm! To order a cohort to enter the church and bring away
the body was easy enough: to make them do it, in the face of certain
death, not so easy. Besides, it was too early yet for so desperate a
move as would be involved in the violation of a church .... So Orestes
added this fresh item to the long column of accounts which he intended
to settle with the patriarch; cursed for half an hour in the name of all
divinities, saints, and martyrs, Christian and Pagan; and wrote off a
lamentable history of his wrongs and sufferings to the very Byzantine
court against which he was about to rebel, in the comfortable
assurance that Cyril had sent, by the same post, a counter-statement,
contradicting it in every particular.... Never mind.... In case he
failed in rebelling, it was as well to be able to prove his allegiance
up to the latest possible date; and the more completely the two
statements contradicted each other, the longer it would take to sift
the truth out of them; and thus so much time was gained, and so much the
more chance, meantime, of a new leaf being turned over in that Sibylline
oracle of politicians--the Chapter of Accidents. And for the time being,
he would make a pathetic appeal to respectability and moderation in
general, of which Alexandria, wherein some hundred thousand tradesmen
and merchants had property to lose, possessed a goodly share.

Respectability responded promptly to the appeal; and loyal addresses and
deputations of condolence flowed in from every quarter, expressing the
extreme sorrow with which the citizens had beheld the late disturbances
of civil order, and the contempt which had been so unfortunately evinced
for the constituted authorities: but taking, nevertheless, the liberty
to remark, that while the extreme danger to property which might ensue
from the further exasperation of certain classes, prevented their taking
those active steps on the side of tranquillity to which their feelings
inclined them, the known piety and wisdom of their esteemed patriarch
made it presumptuous in them to offer any opinion on his present
conduct, beyond the expression of their firm belief that he had been
unfortunately misinformed as to those sentiments of affection and
respect which his excellency the Prefect was well known to entertain
towards him. They ventured, therefore, to express a humble hope that,
by some mutual compromise, to define which would be an unwarrantable
intrusion on their part, a happy reconciliation would be effected, and
the stability of law, property, and the Catholic Faith ensured. All
which Orestes heard with blandest smiles, while his heart was black
with curses; and Cyril answered by a very violent though a very true and
practical harangue on the text, ‘How hardly shall they that have riches
enter into the kingdom of heaven.’

So respectability and moderation met with their usual hapless fate,
and, soundly cursed by both parties, in the vain attempt to please both,
wisely left the upper powers to settle their own affairs, and went home
to their desks and counters, and did a very brisk business all that week
on the strength of the approaching festival. One hapless innkeeper only
tried to carry out in practice the principles which the deputation from
his guild had so eloquently advocated; and being convicted of giving
away bread in the morning to the Nitrian monks, and wine in the evening
to the Prefect’s guards, had his tavern gutted, and his head broken by
a joint plebiscitum of both the parties whom he had conciliated, who
afterwards fought a little together, and then, luckily for the general
peace, mutually ran away from each other.

Cyril in the meanwhile, though he was doing a foolish thing, was doing
it wisely enough. Orestes might curse, and respectability might deplore,
those nightly sermons, which shook the mighty arcades of the Caesareum,
but they could not answer them. Cyril was right and knew that he was
right. Orestes was a scoundrel, hateful to God, and to the enemies of
God. The middle classes were lukewarm covetous cowards: the whole system
of government was a swindle and an injustice; all men’s hearts were mad
with crying, ‘Lord, how long?’ The fierce bishop had only to thunder
forth text on text, from every book of scripture, old and new, in order
to array on his side not merely the common sense and right feeling, but
the bigotry and ferocity of the masses.

In vain did the good Arsenius represent to him not only the scandal but
the unrighteousness of his new canonisation. ‘I must have fuel, my good
father,’ was his answer, ‘wherewith to keep alight the flame of zeal. If
I am to be silent as to Heraclian’s defeat, I must give them some other
irritant, which will put them in a proper temper to act on that defeat,
when they are told of it. If they hate Orestes, does he not deserve it?
Even if he is not altogether as much in the wrong in this particular
case as they fancy he is, are there not a thousand other crimes of
his which deserve their abhorrence even more? At all events, he must
proclaim the empire, as you yourself say, or we shall have no handle
against him. He will not dare to proclaim it if he knows that we are
aware of the truth. And if we are to keep the truth in reserve, we must
have something else to serve meanwhile as a substitute for it.’

And poor Arsenius submitted with a sigh, as he saw Cyril making a fresh
step in that alluring path of evil-doing that good might come, which led
him in after years into many a fearful sin, and left his name disgraced,
perhaps for ever, in the judgment of generations, who know as little
of the pandemonium against which he fought, as they do of the intense
belief which sustained him in his warfare; and who have therefore
neither understanding nor pardon for the occasional outrages and errors
of a man no worse, even if no better, than themselves.



CHAPTER XXI: THE SQUIRE-BISHOP


In a small and ill-furnished upper room of a fortified country house,
sat Synesius, the Bishop of Cyrene.

A goblet of wine stood beside him, on the table, but it was untasted.
Slowly and sadly, by the light of a tiny lamp, he went on writing a
verse or two, and then burying his face in his hand, while hot tears
dropped between his fingers on the paper; till a servant entering,
announced Raphael Aben-Ezra.

Synesius rose, with a gesture of surprise, and hurried towards the door.
‘No, ask him to come hither to me. To pass through those deserted rooms
at night is more than I can bear.’ And he waited for his guest at the
chamber door, and as he entered, caught both his hands in his, and tried
to speak; but his voice was choked within him.

‘Do not speak,’ said Raphael gently, leading him to his chair again. ‘I
know all.’

‘You know all? And are you, then, so unlike the rest of the world,
that you alone have come to visit the bereaved and the deserted in his
misery?’

‘I am like the rest of the world, after all; for I came to you on my own
selfish errand, to seek comfort. Would that I could give it instead! But
the servants told me all, below.’

‘And yet you persisted in seeing me, as if I could help you? Alas! I can
help no one now. Here I am at last, utterly alone, utterly helpless. As
I came from my mother’s womb, so shall I return again. My last child--my
last and fairest--gone after the rest!--Thank God, that I have had even
a day’s peace wherein to lay him by his mother and his brothers; though
He alone knows how long the beloved graves may remain unrifled. Let
it have been shame enough to sit here in my lonely tower and watch the
ashes of my Spartan ancestors, the sons of Hercules himself, my glory
and my pride, sinful fool that I was! cast to the winds by barbarian
plunderers.... When wilt thou make an end, O Lord, and slay me?’

‘And how did the poor boy die?’ asked Raphael, in hope of soothing
sorrow by enticing it to vent itself in words.

‘The pestilence.--What other fate can we expect, who breathe an air
tainted with corpses, and sit under a sky darkened with carrion birds?
But I could endure even that, if I could work, if I could help. But to
sit here, imprisoned now for months between these hateful towers; night
after night to watch the sky, red with burning homesteads; day after day
to have my ears ring with the shrieks of the dying and the captives--for
they have begun now to murder every male down to the baby at the
breast--and to feel myself utterly fettered, impotent, sitting here like
some palsied idiot, waiting for my end! I long to rush out, and fall
fighting, sword in hand: but I am their last, their only hope.
The governors care nothing for our supplications. In vain have I
memorialised Gennadius and Innocent, with what little eloquence my
misery has not stunned in me. But there is no resolution, no unanimity
left in the land. The soldiery are scattered in small garrisons,
employed entirely in protecting the private property of their officers.
The Ausurians defeat them piecemeal, and, armed with their spoils,
actually have begun to beleaguer fortified towns; and now there is
nothing left for us, but to pray that, like Ulysses, we may be devoured
the last. What am I doing? I am selfishly pouring out my own sorrows,
instead of listening to yours.’

‘Nay, friend, you are talking of the sorrows of your country, not of
your own. As for me, I have no sorrow--only a despair: which, being
irremediable, may well wait. But you--oh, you must not stay here. Why
not escape to Alexandria?’

‘I will die at my post as I have lived, the father of my people. When
the last ruin comes, and Cyrene itself is besieged, I shall return
thither from my present outpost, and the conquerors shall find the
bishop in his place before the altar. There I have offered for years the
unbloody sacrifice to Him, who will perhaps require of me a bloody one,
that so the sight of an altar polluted by the murder of His priest,
may end the sum of Pentapolitan woe, and arouse Him to avenge His
slaughtered sheep! There, we will talk no more of it. This, at least, I
have left in my power, to make you welcome. And after supper you shall
tell me what brings you hither.’

And the good bishop, calling his servant, set to work to show his guest
such hospitality as the invaders had left in his power.

Raphael’s usual insight had not deserted him when, in his utter
perplexity, he went, almost instinctively, straight to Synesius. The
Bishop of Cyrene, to judge from the charming private letters which he
has left, was one of those many-sided, volatile, restless men, who
taste joy and sorrow, if not deeply or permanently, yet abundantly and
passionately. He lived, as Raphael had told Orestes, in a whirlwind of
good deeds, meddling and toiling for the mere pleasure of action; and as
soon as there was nothing to be done, which, till lately, had happened
seldom enough with him, paid the penalty for past excitement in fits of
melancholy. A man of magniloquent and flowery style, not without a vein
of self-conceit; yet withal of overflowing kindliness, racy humour,
and unflinching courage, both physical and moral; with a very clear
practical faculty, and a very muddy speculative one--though, of course,
like the rest of the world, he was especially proud of his own weakest
side, and professed the most passionate affection for philosophic
meditation; while his detractors hinted, not without a show of reason,
that he was far more of an adept in soldiering and dog-breaking than in
the mysteries of the unseen world.

To him Raphael betook himself, he hardly knew why; certainly not for
philosophic consolation; perhaps because Synesius was, as Raphael used
to say, the only Christian from whom he had ever heard a hearty laugh;
perhaps because he had some wayward hope, unconfessed even to himself,
that he might meet at Synesius’s house the very companions from whom
he had just fled. He was fluttering round Victoria’s new and strange
brilliance like a moth round the candle, as he confessed, after supper,
to his host; and now he was come hither, on the chance of being able to
singe his wings once more.

Not that his confession was extracted without much trouble to the good
old man, who, seeing at once that Raphael had some weight upon his mind,
which he longed to tell, and yet was either too suspicious or too
proud to tell, set himself to ferret out the secret, and forgot all his
sorrows for the time, as soon as he found a human being to whom he might
do good. But Raphael was inexplicably wayward and unlike himself. All
his smooth and shallow persiflage, even his shrewd satiric humour,
had vanished. He seemed parched by some inward fever; restless,
moody, abrupt, even peevish; and Synesius’s curiosity rose with his
disappointment, as Raphael went on obstinately declining to consult the
very physician before whom he presented himself as patient.

‘And what can you do for me, if I did tell you?’

‘Then allow me, my very dear friend, to ask this. As you deny having
visited me on my own account, on what account did you visit me?’

‘Can you ask? To enjoy the society of the most finished gentleman of
Pentapolis.’

‘And was that worth a week’s journey in perpetual danger of death?’

‘As for danger of death, that weighs little with a man who is careless
of life. And as for the week’s journey, I had a dream one night, on my
way, which made me question whether I were wise in troubling a Christian
bishop with any thoughts or questions which relate merely to poor human
beings like myself, who marry and are given in marriage.’

‘You forget, friend, that you are speaking to one who has married, and
loved--and lost.’

‘I did not. But you see how rude I am growing. I am no fit company for
you, or any man. I believe I shall end by turning robber-chief, and
heading a party of Ausurians.’

‘But,’ said the patient Synesius ‘you have forgotten your dream all this
while.

‘Forgotten!--I did not promise to tell it you--did I?’

‘No; but as it seems to have contained some sort of accusation against
my capacity, do you not think it but fair to tell the accused what it
was?’

Raphael smiled.

‘Well then.... Suppose I had dreamt this. That a philosopher, an
academic, and a believer in nothing and in no man, had met at Berenice
certain rabbis of the Jews, and heard them reading and expounding a
certain book of Solomon--the Song of Songs. You, as a learned man, know
into what sort of trumpery allegory they would contrive to twist it; how
the bride’s eyes were to mean the scribes who were full of wisdom, as
the pools of Heshbon were of water; and her stature spreading like a
palm-tree, the priests who spread out their hands when blessing the
people; and the left hand which should be under her head, the Tephilim
which these old pedants wore on their left wrists; and the right hand
which should hold her, the Mezuzah which they fixed on the right side of
their doors to keep off devils; and so forth.’

‘I have heard such silly Cabbalisms, certainly.’

‘You have? Then suppose that I went on, and saw in my dream how this
same academic and unbeliever, being himself also a Hebrew of the
Hebrews, snatched the roll out of the rabbis’ hands, and told them that
they were a party of fools for trying to set forth what the book might
possibly mean, before they had found out what it really did mean; and
that they could only find out that by looking honestly at the plain
words to see what Solomon meant by it. And then, suppose that this same
apostate Jew, this member of the synagogue of Satan, in his carnal and
lawless imaginations, had waxed eloquent with the eloquence of devils,
and told them that the book set forth, to those who had eyes to see,
how Solomon the great king, with his threescore queens, and fourscore
concubines, and virgins without number, forgets all his seraglio and his
luxury in pure and noble love for the undefiled, who is but one; and
how as his eyes are opened to see that God made the one man for the one
woman, and the one woman to the one man, even as it was in the garden of
Eden, so all his heart and thoughts become pure, and gentle, and simple;
how the song of the birds, and the scent of the grapes, and the spicy
southern gales, and all the simple country pleasures of the glens of
Lebanon, which he shares with his own vine-dressers and slaves, become
more precious in his eyes than all his palaces and artificial pomp; and
the man feels that he is in harmony, for the first time in his life,
with the universe of God, and with the mystery of the seasons; that
within him, as well as without him, the winter is past, and the rain
is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth, and the voice of the
turtle is heard in the land.... And suppose I saw in my dream how the
rabbis, when they heard those wicked words, stopped their ears with one
accord, and ran upon that son of Belial and cast him out, because
he blasphemed their sacred books by his carnal interpretations. And
suppose--I only say suppose--that I saw in my dream how the poor man
said in his heart, “I will go to the Christians; they acknowledge the
sacredness of this same book; and they say that their God taught them
that ‘in the beginning God made man, male and female.’ Perhaps they will
tell me whether this Song of Songs does not, as it seems to me to do,
show the passage upwards from brutal polygamy to that monogamy which
they so solemnly command, and agree with me, that it is because the
song preaches this that it has a right to take its place among the holy
writings? You, as a Christian bishop, should know what answer such a man
would receive.... You are silent? Then I will tell you what answer
he seemed to receive in my dream. “O blasphemous and carnal man, who
pervertest Holy Scripture into a cloak for thine own licentiousness, as
if it spoke of man’s base and sensual affections, know that this book is
to be spiritually interpreted of the marriage between the soul and its
Creator, and that it is from this very book that the Catholic Church
derives her strongest arguments in favour of holy virginity, and the
glories of a celibate life.”’

Synesius was still silent.

‘And what do you think I saw in my dream that that man did when he found
these Christians enforcing, as a necessary article of practice, as well
as of faith, a baseless and bombastic metaphor, borrowed from that very
Neo-Platonism out of which he had just fled for his life? He cursed the
day he was born, and the hour in which his father was told, “Thou hast
gotten a man-child,” and said, “Philosophers, Jews, and Christians,
farewell for ever and a day! The clearest words of your most sacred
books mean anything or nothing’ as the case may suit your fancies; and
there is neither truth nor reason under the sun. What better is there
for a man, than to follow the example of his people, and to turn usurer,
and money-getter, and cajoler of fools in his turn, even as his father
was before him?”’

Synesius remained a while in deep thought, and at last-- ‘And yet you
came to me?’

‘I did, because you have loved and married; because you have stood out
manfully against this strange modern insanity, and refused to give up,
when you were made a bishop, the wife whom God had given you. You, I
thought, could solve the riddle for me, if any man could.’

‘Alas, friend! I have begun to distrust, of late, my power of solving
riddles. After all, why should they be solved? What matters one more
mystery in a world of mysteries? “If thou marry, thou hast not sinned,”
 are St. Paul’s own words; and let them be enough for us. Do not ask me
to argue with you, but to help you. Instead of puzzling me with deep
questions, and tempting me to set up my private judgment, as I have
done too often already, against the opinion of the Church, tell me your
story, and test my sympathy rather than my intellect. I shall feel with
you and work for you, doubt not, even though I am unable to explain to
myself why I do it.’

‘Then you cannot solve my riddle?’

‘Let me help you,’ said Synesius with a sweet smile, ‘to solve it for
yourself. You need not try to deceive me. You have a love, an undefiled,
who is but one. When you possess her, you will be able to judge better
whether your interpretation of the Song is the true one; and if you
still think that it is, Synesius, at least, will have no quarrel against
you. He has always claimed for himself the right of philosophising in
private, and he will allow the same liberty to you’ whether the mob do
or not.’

‘Then you agree with me? Of course you do!’

‘Is it fair to ask me whether I accept a novel interpretation, which
I have only heard five minutes ago, delivered in a somewhat hasty and
rhetorical form?’

‘You are shirking the question,’ said Raphael peevishly.

‘And what if I am? Tell me, point-blank, most self-tormenting of
men, can I help you in practice, even though I choose to leave you to
yourself in speculation?’

‘Well, then, if you will have my story, take it, and judge for yourself
of Christian common sense.’

And hurriedly, as if ashamed of his own confession, and yet compelled,
in spite of himself, to unbosom it, he told Synesius all, from his first
meeting with Victoria to his escape from her at Berenice.

The good bishop, to Aben-Ezra’s surprise, seemed to treat the whole
matter as infinitely amusing. He chuckled, smote his hand on his
thigh, and nodded approval at every pause--perhaps to give the speaker
courage--perhaps because he really thought that Raphael’s prospects were
considerably less desperate than he fancied....

‘If you laugh at me, Synesius, I am silent. It is quite enough to endure
the humiliation of telling you that I am--confound it!--like any boy of
sixteen.’

‘Laugh at you?--with you, you mean. A convent? Pooh, pooh! The old
Prefect has enough sense, I will warrant him, not to refuse a good match
for his child.’

‘You forget that I have not the honour of being a Christian.’

‘Then we’ll make you one. You won’t let me convert you, I know; you
always used to gibe and jeer at my philosophy. But Augustine comes
to-morrow.

‘Augustine?’

‘He does indeed; and we must be off by daybreak, with all the armed men
we can muster, to meet and escort him, and to hunt, of course, going and
coming; for we have had no food this fortnight, but what our own dogs
and bows have furnished us. He shall take you in hand, and cure you of
all your Judaism in a week; and then just leave the rest to me; I will
manage it somehow or other. It is sure to come right. No; do not be
bashful. It will be real amusement to a poor wretch who can find nothing
else to do--Heigho! And as for lying under an obligation to me, why
we can square that by your lending me three or four thousand gold
pieces--Heaven knows I want them!--on the certainty of never seeing them
again.’

Raphael could not help laughing in his turn.

‘Synesius is himself still, I see, and not unworthy of his ancestor
Hercules; and though he shrinks from cleansing the Augean stable of my
soul, paws like the war-horse in the valley at the hope of undertaking
any lesser labours in my behalf. But, my dear generous bishop, this
matter is more serious, and I, the subject of it, have become more
serious also, than you fancy. Consider: by the uncorrupt honour of your
Spartan forefathers, Agis, Brasidas, and the rest of them, don’t you
think that you are, in your hasty kindness, tempting me to behave in a
way which they would have called somewhat rascally?’

‘How then, my dear man! You have a very honourable and praiseworthy
desire; and I am willing to help you to compass it.’

‘Do you think that I have not cast about before now for more than one
method of compassing it for myself? My good man, I have been tempted a
dozen times already to turn Christian: but there has risen up in me the
strangest fancy about conscience and honour.... I never was scrupulous
before, Heaven knows--I am not over-scrupulous now--except about her.
I cannot dissemble before her. I dare not look in her face when I had
a lie in my right hand.... She looks through one-into one-like a
clear-eyed awful goddess.... I never was ashamed in my life till my eyes
met hers....’

‘But if you really became a Christian?’

‘I cannot. I should suspect my own motives. Here is another of these
absurd soul-anatomising scruples which have risen up in me. I should
suspect that I had changed my creed because I wished to change it--that
if I was not deceiving her I was deceiving myself. If I had not loved
her it might have been different: but now--just because I do love her,
I will not, I dare not, listen to Augustine’s arguments, or my own
thoughts on the matter.’

‘Most wayward of men!’ cried Synesius, half peevishly; ‘you seem to take
some perverse pleasure in throwing yourself into the waves again, the
instant you have climbed a rock of refuge!’

‘Pleasure? Is there any pleasure in feeling oneself at death-grips with
the devil? I bad given up believing in him for many a year .... And
behold, the moment that I awaken to anything noble and right, I find the
old serpent alive and strong at my throat! No wonder that I suspect
him, you, myself--I, who have been tempted, every hour in the last week,
temptations to become a devil. Ay,’ he went on, raising his voice, as
all the fire of his intense Eastern nature flashed from his black eyes,
‘to be a devil! From my childhood till now never have I known what it
was to desire and not to possess. It is not often that I have had to
trouble any poor Naboth for his vineyard: but when I have taken a fancy
to it, Naboth has always found it wiser to give way. And now.... Do you
fancy that I have not had a dozen hellish plots flashing across me in
the last week? Look here! This is the mortgage of her father’s whole
estate. I bought it--whether by the instigation of Satan or of God--of
a banker in Berenice, the very day I left them; and now they, and every
straw which they possess, are in my power. I can ruin them--sell them as
slaves--betray them to death as rebels--and last, but not least, cannot
I hire a dozen worthy men to carry her off, and cut the Gordian knot
most simply and summarily? And yet I dare not. I must be pure to
approach the pure; and righteous, to kiss the feet of the righteous.
Whence came this new conscience to me I know not, but come it has; and
I dare no more do a base thing toward her, than I dare toward a God,
if there be one. This very mortgage--I hate it, curse it, now that I
possess it--the tempting devil!’

‘Burn it,’ said Synesius quietly.

‘Perhaps I may. At least, used it never shall be. Compel her? I am too
proud, or too honourable, or something or other, even to solicit her.
She must come to me; tell me with her own lips that she loves me, that
she will take me, and make me worthy of her. She must have mercy on me,
of her own free will, or--let her pine and die in that accursed prison;
and then a scratch with the trusty old dagger for her father, and
another for myself, will save him from any more superstitions, and me
from any more philosophic doubts, for a few aeons of ages, till we start
again in new lives--he, I suppose, as a jackass, and I as a baboon. What
matter? but unless I possess her by fair means, God do so to me, and
more also, if I attempt base ones!’

‘God be with you, my son, in the noble warfare!’ said Synesius, his eyes
filling with kindly tears.

‘It is no noble warfare at all. It is a base coward fear, in one who
never before feared man or devil, and is now fallen low enough to be
afraid of a helpless girl!’

‘Not so,’ cried Synesius, in his turn; ‘it is a noble and a holy fear.
You fear her goodness. Could you see her goodness, much less fear it,
were there not a Divine Light within you which showed you what, and how
awful, goodness was? Tell me no more, Raphael Aben-Ezra, that you do not
fear God; for he who fears Virtue, fears Him whose likeness Virtue is.
Go on--go on.... Be brave, and His strength will be made manifest in
your weakness.’ ...............

It was late that night before Synesius compelled his guest to retire,
after having warned him not to disturb himself if he heard the
alarm-bell ring, as the house was well garrisoned, and having set the
water-clock by which he and his servants measured their respective
watches. And then the good bishop, having disposed his sentinels, took
his station on the top of his tower, close by the warning-bell; and as
he looked out over the broad lands of his forefathers, and prayed that
their desolation might come to an end at last, he did not forget to
pray for the desolation of the guest who slept below, a happier and more
healthy slumber than he had known for many a week. For before Raphael
lay down that night, he had torn to shreds Majoricus’s mortgage,
and felt a lighter and a better man as he saw the cunning temptation
consuming scrap by scrap in the lamp-flame. And then, wearied out with
fatigue of body and mind, he forgot Synesius, Victoria, and the rest,
and seemed to himself to wander all night among the vine-clad glens
of Lebanon, amid the gardens of lilies, and the beds of spices; while
shepherds’ music lured him on and on, and girlish voices, chanting the
mystic idyll of his mighty ancestor, rang soft and fitful through his
weary brain. ...............

Before sunrise the next morning, Raphael was faring forth gallantly,
well armed and mounted, by Synesius’s side, followed by four or five
brace of tall brush-tailed greyhounds, and by the faithful Bran,
whose lop-ears and heavy jaws, unique in that land of prick-ears and
fox-noses, formed the absorbing subject of conversation among some
twenty smart retainers, who, armed to the teeth for chase and war, rode
behind the bishop on half-starved, raw-boned horses, inured by desert
training and bad times to do the maximum of work upon the minimum of
food.

For the first few miles they rode in silence, through ruined villages
and desolated farms, from which here and there a single inhabitant
peeped forth fearfully, to pour his tale of woe into the ears of the
hapless bishop, and then, instead of asking alms from him, to entreat
his acceptance of some paltry remnant of grain or poultry, which had
escaped the hands of the marauders; and as they clung to his hands, and
blessed him as their only hope and stay, poor Synesius heard patiently
again and again the same purposeless tale of woe, and mingled his tears
with theirs, and then spurred his horse on impatiently, as if to escape
from the sight of misery which he could not relieve; while a voice in
Raphael’s heart seemed to ask him--‘Why was thy wealth given to thee,
but that thou mightest dry, if but for a day, such tears as these?’

And he fell into a meditation which was not without its fruit in due
season, but which lasted till they had left the enclosed country, and
were climbing the slopes of the low rolling hills, over which lay the
road from the distant sea. But as they left the signs of war behind
them, the volatile temper of the good bishop began to rise. He petted
his hounds, chatted to his men, discoursed on the most probable quarter
for finding game, and exhorted them cheerfully enough to play the man,
as their chance of having anything to eat at night depended entirely on
their prowess during the day.

‘Ah!’ said Raphael at last, glad of a pretext for breaking his own chain
of painful thought, ‘there is a vein of your land-salt. I suspect
that you were all at the bottom of the sea once, and that the old
Earth-shaker Neptune, tired of your bad ways, gave you a lift one
morning, and set you up as dry land, in order to be rid of you.’

‘It may really be so. They say that the Argonauts returned back through
this country from the Southern Ocean, which must have been therefore far
nearer us than it is now, and that they carried their mystic vessel over
these very hills to the Syrtis. However, we have forgotten all about
the sea thoroughly enough since that time. I well remember my first
astonishment at the side of a galley in Alexandria, and the roar of
laughter with which my fellow-students greeted my not unreasonable
remark, that it looked very like a centipede.’

‘And do you recollect, too, the argument which I had once with your
steward about the pickled fish which I brought you from Egypt; and the
way in which, when the jar was opened, the servants shrieked and
ran right and left, declaring that the fish-bones were the spines of
poisonous serpents?’

‘The old fellow is as obstinate as ever, I assure you, in his disbelief
in salt water. He torments me continually by asking me to tell him the
story of my shipwreck, and does not believe me after all, though he has
heard it a dozen times. “Sir,” he said to me solemnly, after you were
gone, “will that strange gentleman pretend to persuade me that anything
eatable can come out of his great pond there at Alexandria, when every
one can see that the best fountain in the country never breeds anything
but frogs and leeches?”’

As he spoke they left the last field behind them, and entered upon a
vast sheet of breezy down, speckled with shrubs and copse, and split
here and there by rocky glens ending in fertile valleys once thick with
farms and homesteads.

‘Here,’ cried Synesius, ‘are our hunting-grounds. And now for one hour’s
forgetfulness, and the joys of the noble art. What could old Homer have
been thinking of when he forgot to number it among the pursuits which
are glorious to heroes, and make man illustrious, and yet could laud in
those very words the forum?’

‘The forum?’ said Raphael. ‘I never saw it yet make men anything but
rascals.’

‘Brazen-faced rascals, my friend. I detest the whole breed of lawyers,
and never meet one without turning him into ridicule; effeminate
pettifoggers, who shudder at the very sight of roast venison, when they
think of the dangers by which it has been procured. But it is a cowardly
age, my friend--a cowardly age. Let us forget it, and ourselves.’

‘And even philosophy and Hypatia?’ said Raphael archly.

‘I have done with philosophy. To fight like a Heracleid, and to die like
a bishop, is all I have left--except Hypatia, the perfect, the wise! I
tell you, friend, it is a comfort to me, even in my deepest misery, to
recollect that the corrupt world yet holds one being so divine--’

And he was running on in one of his high-flown laudations of his idol,
when Raphael checked him.

‘I fear our common sympathy on that subject is rather weakened. I have
begun to doubt her lately nearly as much as I doubt philosophy.’

‘Not her virtue?

‘No, friend; nor her beauty, nor her wisdom; simply her power of making
me a better man. A selfish criterion, you will say. Be it so.... What a
noble horse that is of yours!’

‘He has been--he has been; but worn out now, like his master and his
master’s fortunes....’

‘Not so, certainly, the colt on which you have done me the honour to
mount me.’

‘Ah, my poor boy’s pet!.... You are the first person who has crossed him
since--’

‘Is he of your own breeding?’ asked Raphael, trying to turn the
conversation.

‘A cross between that white Nisaean which you sent me, and one of my own
mares.’

‘Not a bad cross; though he keeps a little of the bull head and
greyhound flank of your Africans.’

‘So much the better, friend. Give me bone--bone and endurance for this
rough down country. Your delicate Nisaeans are all very well for a few
minutes over those flat sands of Egypt: but here you need a horse who
will go forty miles a day over rough and smooth, and dine thankfully off
thistles at night. Aha, poor little man!’--as a jerboa sprang up from
a tuft of bushes at his feet--‘I fear you must help to fill our
soup-kettle in these hard times.’

And with a dexterous sweep of his long whip, the worthy bishop entangled
the jerboas long legs, whisked him up to his saddle-bow, and delivered
him to the groom and the game-bag.

‘Kill him at once. Don’t let him squeak, boy!--he cries too like a
child....’

‘Poor little wretch!’ said Raphael. ‘What more right, now, have we to
eat him than he to eat us?’

‘Eh? If he can eat us, let him try. How long have you joined the
Manichees?’

‘Have no fears on that score. But, as I told you, since my wonderful
conversion by Bran, the dog, I have begun to hold dumb animals in
respect, as probably quite as good as myself.’

‘Then you need a further conversion, friend Raphael, and to learn what
is the dignity of man; and when that arrives, you will learn to believe,
with me, that the life of every beast upon the face of the earth would
be a cheap price to pay in exchange for the life of the meanest human
being.’

‘Yes, if they be required for food: but really, to kill them for our
amusement!’

‘Friend, when I was still a heathen, I recollect well how I used to
haggle at that story of the cursing of the fig-tree; but when I learnt
to know what man was, and that I had been all my life mistaking for a
part of nature that race which was originally, and can be again, made
in the likeness of God, then I began to see that it were well if every
fig-tree upon earth were cursed, if the spirit of one man could be
taught thereby a single lesson. And so I speak of these, my darling
field-sports, on which I have not been ashamed, as you know, to write a
book.’

‘And a very charming one: yet you were still a pagan, recollect, when
you wrote it.’

‘I was; and then I followed the chase by mere nature and inclination.
But now I know I have a right to follow it, because it gives me
endurance, promptness, courage, self-control, as well as health and
cheerfulness: and therefore--Ah! a fresh ostrich-track!’

And stopping short, Synesius began pricking slowly up the hillside.

‘Back!’ whispered he, at last. ‘Quietly and silently. Lie down on your
horse’s neck, as I do, or the long-necked rogues may see you. They must
be close to us over the brow. I know that favourite grassy slope of old.
Round under yon hill, or they will get wind of us, and then farewell to
them!’

And Synesius and his groom cantered on, hanging each to their horses’
necks by an arm and a leg, in a way which Raphael endeavoured in vain to
imitate.

Two or three minutes more of breathless silence brought them to the
edge of the hill, where Synesius halted, peered down a moment, and then
turned to Raphael, his face and limbs quivering with delight, as he held
up two fingers, to denote the number of the birds.

‘Out of arrow-range! Slip the dogs, Syphax!’

And in another minute Raphael found himself galloping headlong down the
hill, while two magnificent ostriches, their outspread plumes waving in
the bright breeze, their necks stooped almost to the ground, and their
long legs flashing out behind them, were sweeping away before the
greyhounds at a pace which no mortal horse could have held for ten
minutes.

‘Baby that I am still!’ cried Synesius, tears of excitement glittering
in his eyes;.... while Raphael gave himself up to the joy, and forgot
even Victoria, in the breathless rush over rock and bush, sandhill and
watercourse.

‘Take care of that dry torrent-bed! Hold up, old horse! This will
not last two minutes more. They cannot hold their pace against this
breeze.... Well tried, good dog, though you did miss him! Ah, that my
boy were here! There--they double. Spread right and left, my children,
and ride at them as they pass!’

And the ostriches, unable, as Synesius said, to keep their pace against
the breeze, turned sharp on their pursuers, and beating the air with
outspread wings, came down the wind again, at a rate even more wonderful
than before.

‘Ride at him, Raphael--ride at him, and turn him into those bushes!’
cried Synesius, fitting an arrow to his bow.

Raphael obeyed, and the bird swerved into the low scrub; the
well-trained horse leapt at him like a cat; and Raphael, who dare not
trust his skill in archery, struck with his whip at the long neck as it
struggled past him, and felled the noble quarry to the ground. He was
in the act of springing down to secure his prize, when a shout from
Synesius stopped him.

‘Are you mad? He will kick out your heart! Let the dogs hold him!’

‘Where is the other?’ asked Raphael, panting.

‘Where he ought to be. I have not missed a running shot for many a
month.’

‘Really, you rival the Emperor Commodus himself.’

‘Ah! I tried his fancy of crescent-headed arrows once, and decapitated
an ostrich or two tolerably: but they are only fit for the amphitheatre:
they will not lie safely in the quiver on horseback, I find. But what
is that?’ And he pointed to a cloud of white dust, about a mile down the
valley. ‘A herd of antelopes? If so, God is indeed gracious to us! Come
down--whatsoever they are, we have no time to lose.’

And collecting his scattered forces, Synesius pushed on rapidly towards
the object which had attracted his attention.

‘Antelopes!’ cried one.

‘Wild horses!’ cried another.

‘Tame ones, rather!’ cried Synesius, with a gesture of wrath. ‘I saw the
flash of arms!’

‘The Ausurians!’ And a yell of rage rang from the whole troop.

‘Will you follow me, children?’

‘To death!’ shouted they.

‘I know it. Oh that I had seven hundred of you, as Abraham had! We would
see then whether these scoundrels did not share, within a week, the fate
of Chedorlaomer’s.’

‘Happy man, who can actually trust your own slaves!’ said Raphael, as
the party galloped on, tightening their girdles and getting ready their
weapons.

‘Slaves? If the law gives me the power of selling one or two of them who
are not yet wise enough to be trusted to take care of themselves, it
is a fact which both I and they have long forgotten. Their fathers grew
gray at my father’s table, and God grant that they may grow gray at
mine! We eat together, work together, hunt together, fight together,
jest together, and weep together. God help us all! for we have but one
common weal. Now--do you make out the enemy, boys?’

‘Ausurians, your Holiness. The same party who tried Myrsinitis last
week. I know them by the helmets which they took from the Markmen.’

‘And with whom are they fighting?’

No one could see. Fighting they certainly were: but their victims were
beyond them, and the party galloped on.

‘That was a smart business at Myrsinitis. The Ausurians appeared while
the people were at morning prayers. The soldiers, of course, ran for
their lives, and hid in the caverns, leaving the matter to the priests.’

‘If they were of your presbytery, I doubt not they proved themselves
worthy of their diocesan.’

‘Ah, if all my priests were but like them! or my people either!’ said
Synesius, chatting quietly in full gallop, like a true son of the
saddle. ‘They offered up prayers for victory, sallied out at the head
of the peasants, and met the Moors in a narrow pass. There their hearts
failed them a little. Faustus, the deacon, makes them a speech; charges
the leader of the robbers, like young David, with a stone, beats his
brains out therewith, strips him in true Homeric fashion, and routs the
Ausurians with their leader’s sword; returns and erects a trophy in due
classic form, and saves the whole valley.’

‘You should make him archdeacon.’

‘I would send him and his townsfolk round the province, if I could,
crowned with laurel, and proclaim before them at every market-place,
“These are men of God.” With whom can those Ausurians be dealing?
Peasants would have been all killed long ago, and soldiers would have
run away long ago. It is truly a portent in this country to see a fight
last ten minutes. Who can they be? I see them now, and hewing away
like men too. They are all on foot but two; and we have not a cohort of
infantry left for many a mile round.’

‘I know who they are!’ cried Raphael, suddenly striking spurs into his
horse. ‘I will swear to that armour among a thousand. And there is a
litter in the midst of them. On! and fight, men, if you ever fought in
your lives!’

‘Softly!’ cried Synesius. ‘Trust an old soldier, and perhaps--alas! that
he should have to say it--the best left in this wretched country. Round
by the hollow, and take the barbarians suddenly in flank. They will not
see us then till we are within twenty paces of them. Aha! you have a
thing or two to learn yet, Aben-Ezra.’

And chuckling at the prospect of action, the gallant bishop wheeled his
little troop and in five minutes more dashed out of the copse with a
shout and a flight of arrows, and rushed into the thickest of the fight.

One cavalry skirmish must be very like another. A crash of horses, a
flashing of sword-blades, five minutes of blind confusion, and
then those who have not been knocked out of their saddles by their
neighbours’ knees, and have not cut off their own horses’ heads instead
of their enemies’, find themselves, they know not how, either running
away or being run away from--not one blow in ten having taken effect on
either side. And even so Raphael, having made vain attempts to cut
down several Moors, found himself standing on his head in an altogether
undignified posture, among innumerable horses’ legs, in all possible
frantic motions. To avoid one was to get in the way of another; so he
philosophically sat still, speculating on the sensation of having his
brains kicked out, till the cloud of legs vanished, and he found himself
kneeling abjectly opposite the nose of a mule, on whose back sat,
utterly unmoved, a tall and reverend man, in episcopal costume. The
stranger, instead of bursting out laughing, as Raphael did, solemnly
lifted his hand, and gave him his blessing. The Jew sprang to his feet,
heedless of all such courtesies, and, looking round, saw the Ausurians
galloping off up the hill in scattered groups, and Synesius standing
close by him, wiping a bloody sword.

‘Is the litter safe’?’ were his first words.

‘Safe; and so are all. I gave you up for killed when I saw you run
through with that lance.

‘Run through? I am as sound in the hide as a crocodile, said Raphael,
laughing.

‘Probably the fellow took the butt instead of the point, in his hurry.
So goes a cavalry scuffle. I saw you hit three or four fellows running
with the flat of your sword.’

Ah, that explains,’ said Raphael, why, I thought myself once the best
swordsman on the Armenian frontier....’

‘I suspect that you were thinking of some one besides the Moors,’ said
Synesius, archly pointing to the litter; and Raphael, for the first
time for many a year, blushed like a boy of fifteen, and then turned
haughtily away, and remounted his horse, saying, ‘Clumsy fool that I
was!’

‘Thank God rather that you have been kept from the shedding of blood,’
said the stranger bishop, in a soft, deliberate voice, with a peculiarly
clear and delicate enunciation. ‘If God have given us the victory, why
grudge His having spared any other of His creatures besides ourselves?’

‘Because there are so many the more of them left to ravish, burn, and
slay,’ answered Synesius. ‘Nevertheless, I am not going to argue with
Augustine.’

Augustine! Raphael looked intently at the man, a tall, delicate-featured
personage, with a lofty and narrow forehead, scarred like his cheeks
with the deep furrows of many a doubt and woe. Resolve, gentle but
unbending, was expressed in his thin close-set lips and his clear quiet
eye; but the calm of his mighty countenance was the calm of a worn-out
volcano, over which centuries must pass before the earthquake-rents be
filled with kindly soil, and the cinder-slopes grow gay with grass and
flowers. The Jew’s thoughts, however, were soon turned into another
channel by the hearty embraces of Majoricus and his son.

‘We have caught you again, you truant!’ said the young Tribune; ‘you
could not escape us, you see, after all.’

‘Rather,’ said the father, ‘we owe him a second debt of gratitude for a
second deliverance. We were right hard bested when you rode up.’

‘Oh, he brings nothing but good with him whenever he appears; and then
he pretends to be a bird of ill-omen,’ said the light-hearted Tribune,
putting his armour to rights.

Raphael was in his secret heart not sorry to find that his old friends
bore him no grudge for his caprice; but all he answered was-- ‘Pray
thank any one but me; I have, as usual, proved myself a fool. But
what brings you here, like Gods e Machina? It is contrary to all
probabilities. One would not admit so astounding an incident, even in
the modern drama.’

‘Contrary to none whatsoever, my friend. We found Augustine at Berenice,
in act to set off to Synesius: we--one of us, that is--were certain that
you would be found with him; and we decided on acting as Augustine’s
guard, for none of the dastard garrison dare stir out.’

‘One of us,’ thought Raphael,--‘which one?’ And, conquering his pride,
he asked, as carelessly as he could, for Victoria.

‘She is there in the litter, poor child!’ said her father in a serious
tone.

‘Surely not ill?’

‘Alas! either the overwrought excitement of months of heroism broke down
when she found us safe at last’ or some stroke from God--.... Who can
tell what I may not have deserved?--But she has been utterly prostrate
in body and mind, ever since we parted from you at Berenice.’

The blunt soldier little guessed the meaning of his own words. But
Raphael, as he heard, felt a pang shoot through his heart, too keen for
him to discern whether it sprang from joy or from despair.

‘Come,’ cried the cheerful voice of Synesius, ‘come, Aben-Ezra; you have
knelt for Augustine’s blessing already, and now you must enter into the
fruition of it. Come, you two philosophers must know each other. Most
holy, I entreat you to preach to this friend of mine, at once the wisest
and the foolishest of men.’

‘Only the latter,’ said Raphael; ‘but open to any speech of Augustine’s,
at least when we are safe home, and game enough for Synesius’s new
guests killed.’

And turning away, he rode silent and sullen by the side of his
companions, who began at once to consult together as to the plans of
Majoricus and his soldiers.

In spite of himself, Raphael soon became interested in Augustine’s
conversation. He entered into the subject of Cyrenian misrule and ruin
as heartily and shrewdly as any man of the world; and when all the
rest were at a loss, the prompt practical hint which cleared up the
difficulty was certain to come from him. It was by his advice that
Majoricus had brought his soldiery hither; it was his proposal that they
should be employed for a fixed period in defending these remote southern
boundaries of the province; he checked the impetuosity of Synesius,
cheered the despair of Majoricus, appealed to the honour and the
Christianity of the soldiers, and seemed to have a word--and that the
right word--for every man; and after a while, Aben-Ezra quite forgot
the stiffness and deliberation of his manner, and the quaint use of
Scripture texts in far-fetched illustrations of every opinion which he
propounded. It had seemed at first a mere affectation; but the arguments
which it was employed to enforce were in themselves so moderate and so
rational that Raphael began to feel, little by little, that his apparent
pedantry was only the result of a wish to refer every matter, even the
most vulgar, to some deep and divine rule of right and wrong.

‘But you forget all this while, my friends,’ said Majoricus at last,
‘the danger which you incur by sheltering proclaimed rebels.’

‘The King of kings has forgiven your rebellion, in that while He has
punished you by the loss of your lands and honours, He has given you
your life for a prey in this city of refuge. It remains for you to bring
forth worthy fruits of penitence; of which I know none better than those
which John the Baptist commanded to the soldiery of old, “Do no violence
to any man, and be content with your wages.”’

‘As for rebels and rebellion,’ said Synesius, ‘they are matters
unknown among as; for where there is no king there can be no rebellion.
Whosoever will help us against Ausurians is loyal in our eyes. And as
for our political creed, it is simple enough--namely, that the emperor
never dies, and that his name is Agamemnon, who fought at Troy; which
any of my grooms will prove to you syllogistically enough to satisfy
Augustine himself. As thus--

‘Agamemnon was the greatest and the best of kings.

‘The emperor is the greatest and the best of kings.

‘Therefore, Agamemnon is the emperor, and conversely.’

‘It had been well,’ said Augustine, with a grave smile, ‘if some of our
friends had held the same doctrine, even at the expense of their logic.’

‘Or if,’ answered Synesius, ‘they believed with us, that the emperor’s
chamberlain is a clever old man, with a bald head like my own, Ulysses
by name, who was rewarded with the prefecture of all lands north of the
Mediterranean, for putting out the Cyclop’s eye two years ago. However,
enough of this. But you see, you are not in any extreme danger of
informers and intriguers.... The real difficulty is, how you will be
able to obey Augustine, by being content with your wages. For,’ lowering
his voice, ‘you will get literally none.’

‘It will be as much as we deserve,’ said the young Tribune: ‘but my
fellows have a trick of eating--’

‘They are welcome, then, to all deer and ostriches which they can
catch. But I am not only penniless, but reduced myself to live, like the
Laestrygons, on meat and nothing else; all crops and stocks for miles
round being either burnt or carried off.’

‘E nihilo nihil!’ said Augustine, having nothing else to say. But here
Raphael woke up on a sudden with--

‘Did the Pentapolitan wheat-ships go to Rome?’

‘No; Orestes stopped them when he stopped the Alexandrian convoy.’

‘Then the Jews have the wheat, trust them for it; and what they have
I have. There are certain moneys of mine lying at interest in the
seaports, which will set that matter to rights for a month or two. Do
you find an escort to-morrow, and I will find wheat.’

‘But; most generous of friends, I can neither repay you interest nor
principal.’

‘Be it so. I have spent so much money during the last thirty years in
doing nothing but evil, that it is hard if I may not at last spend a
little in doing good.--Unless his Holiness of Hippo thinks it wrong for
you to accept the goodwill of an infidel?’

‘Which of these three,’ said Augustine, ‘was neighbour to him who fell
among thieves, but he who had mercy on him? Verily, my friend Raphael
Aben-Ezra, thou art not far from the kingdom of God.’

‘Of which God?’ asked Raphael slyly.

‘Of the God of thy forefather Abraham, whom thou shalt hear us worship
this evening, if He will. Synesius, have you a church wherein I can
perform the evening service, and give a word of exhortation to these my
children?’

Synesius sighed. ‘There is a ruin, which was last month a church.’

‘And is one still. Man did not place there the presence of God, and man
cannot expel it.’

And so, sending out hunting-parties right and left in chase of
everything which had animal life, and picking up before nightfall a
tolerably abundant supply of game, they went homewards, where Victoria
was entrusted to the care of Synesius’s old stewardess, and the soldiery
were marched straight into the church; while Synesius’s servants, to
whom the Latin service would have been unintelligible, busied themselves
in cooking the still warm game.

Strangely enough it sounded to Raphael that evening to hear, among those
smoke-grimed pillars and fallen rafters, the grand old Hebrew psalms of
his nation ring aloft, to the very chants, too, which were said by the
rabbi to have been used in the Temple-worship of Jerusalem.... They, and
the invocations, thanksgivings, blessings, the very outward ceremonial
itself, were all Hebraic, redolent of the thoughts, the words of his
own ancestors. That lesson from the book of Proverbs, which Augustine’s
deacon was reading in Latin--the blood of the man who wrote these words
was flowing in Aben-Ezra’s veins.... Was it a mistake, an hypocrisy? or
were they indeed worshipping, as they fancied, the Ancient One who spoke
face to face with his forefathers, the Archetype of man, the friend of
Abraham and of Israel?

And now the sermon began; and as Augustine stood for a moment in prayer
in front of the ruined altar, every furrow in his worn face lit up by
a ray of moonlight which streamed in through the broken roof,
Raphael waited impatiently for his speech. What would he, the refined
dialectician, the ancient teacher of heathen rhetoric, the courtly and
learned student, the ascetic celibate and theosopher, have to say
to those coarse war-worn soldiers, Thracians and Markmen, Gauls and
Belgians, who sat watching there, with those sad earnest faces? What one
thought or feeling in common could there be between Augustine and his
congregation?

At last, after signing himself with the cross, he began. The subject was
one of the psalms which had just been read--a battle psalm, concerning
Moab and Amalek, and the old border wars of Palestine. What would he
make of that?

He seemed to start lamely enough, in spite of the exquisite grace of his
voice, and manner, and language, and the epigrammatic terseness of
every sentence. He spent some minutes over the inscription of the
psalm--allegorised it--made it mean something which it never did mean in
the writer’s mind, and which it, as Raphael well knew, never could mean,
for his interpretation was founded on a sheer mis-translation. He punned
on the Latin version--derived the meaning of Hebrew words from Latin
etymologies.... And as he went on with the psalm itself, the common
sense of David seemed to evaporate in mysticism. The most fantastic and
far-fetched illustrations, drawn from the commonest objects, alternated
with mysterious theosophic dogma. Where was that learning for which he
was so famed? Where was that reverence for the old Hebrew Scriptures
which he professed? He was treating David as ill as Hypatia used to
treat Homer--worse even than old Philo did, when in the home life of
the old Patriarchs, and in the mighty acts of Moses and Joshua, he could
find nothing but spiritual allegories wherewith to pamper the private
experiences of the secluded theosophist. And Raphael felt very much
inclined to get up and go away, and still more inclined to say, with a
smile, in his haste, ‘All men are liars.’....

And yet, what an illustration that last one was! No mere fancy, but a
real deep glance into the working of the material universe, as symbolic
of the spiritual and unseen one. And not drawn, as Hypatia’s were,
exclusively from some sublime or portentous phenomenon, but from
some dog, or kettle, or fishwife, with a homely insight worthy of old
Socrates himself. How personal he was becoming, too!... No long bursts
of declamation, but dramatic dialogue and interrogation, by-hints,
and unexpected hits at one and the other most commonplace soldier’s
failing.... And yet each pithy rebuke was put in a universal,
comprehensive form, which made Raphael himself wince--which might, he
thought, have made any man, or woman either, wince in like manner. Well,
whether or not Augustine knew truths for all men, he at least knew
sins for all men, and for himself as well as his hearers. There was
no denying that. He was a real man, right or wrong. What he rebuked in
others, he had felt in himself, and fought it to the death-grip, as the
flash and quiver of that worn face proclaimed.... But yet, why were the
Edomites, by an utterly mistaken pun on their name, to signify one sort
of sin, and the Ammonites another, and the Amalekites another? What
had that to do with the old psalm? What had it to do with the present
auditory? Was not this the wildest and lowest form of that unreal,
subtilising, mystic pedantry, of which he had sickened long ago in
Hypatia’s lecture-room, till he fled to Bran, the dog, for honest
practical realities?

No.... Gradually, as Augustine’s hints became more practical and orated,
Raphael saw that there was in his mind most real and organic connection,
true or false, in what seemed at first mere arbitrary allegory.
Amalekites, personal sins, Ausurian robbers and ravishers, were to him
only so many different forms of one and the same evil. He who helped
any of them fought against the righteous God: he who fought against them
fought for that God; but he must conquer the Amalekites within, if
he expected to conquer the Amalekites without. Could the legionaries
permanently put down the lust and greed around them, while their own
hearts were enslaved to lust and greed within? Would they not be helping
it by example, while they pretended to crush it by sword-strokes? Was it
not a mockery, an hypocrisy? Could God’s blessing be on it? Could they
restore unity and peace to the country while there was neither unity nor
peace within them? What had produced the helplessness of the people, the
imbecility of the military, but inward helplessness, inward weakness?
They were weak against Moors, because they were weak against enemies
more deadly than Moors. How could they fight for God outwardly, while
they were fighting against him inwardly? He would not go forth with
their hosts. How could He, when He was not among their hosts? He, a
spirit, must dwell in their spirits .... And then the shout of a king
would be among them, and one of them should chase a thousand.... Or if
not--if both people and soldiers required still further chastening and
humbling--what matter, provided that they were chastened and humbled?
What matter if their faces were confounded, if they were thereby driven
to seek His Name, who alone was the Truth, the Light, and the Life? What
if they were slain? Let them have conquered the inward enemies, what
matter to them if the outward enemies seemed to prevail for a moment?
They should be recompensed at the resurrection of the just, when death
was swallowed up in victory. It would be seen then who had really
conquered in the eyes of the just God--they, God’s ministers,
the defenders of peace and justice, or the Ausurians, the enemies
thereof.... And then, by some quaintest turn of fancy, he introduced a
word of pity and hope, even for the wild Moorish robbers. It might be
good for them to have succeeded thus far; they might learn from their
Christian captives, purified by affliction, truths which those captives
had forgotten in prosperity. And, again, it might be good for them, as
well as for Christians, to be confounded and made like chaff before the
wind, that so they too might learn His Name....And so on, through and
in spite of all conceits, allegories, overstrained interpretations,
Augustine went on evolving from the Psalms, and from the past, and from
the future, the assertion of a Living, Present God, the eternal enemy of
discord, injustice, and evil, the eternal helper and deliverer of those
who were enslaved and crushed thereby in soul or body.... It was all
most strange to Raphael.... Strange in its utter unlikeness to any
teaching, Platonist or Hebrew, which he had ever heard before, and
stranger still in its agreement with those teachings; in the instinctive
ease with which it seemed to unite and justify them all by the talisman
of some one idea--and what that might be, his Jewish prejudices could
not prevent his seeing, and yet would not allow him to acknowledge. But,
howsoever he might redden with Hebrew pride; howsoever he might long
to persuade himself that Augustine was building up a sound and right
practical structure on the foundation of a sheer lie; he could not help
watching, at first with envy, and then with honest pleasure, the
faces of the rough soldiers, as they gradually lightened up into fixed
attention, into cheerful and solemn resolve.

‘What wonder?’ said Raphael to himself, ‘what wonder, after all? He has
been speaking to these wild beasts as to sages and saints; he has
been telling them that God is as much with them as with prophets and
psalmists.... I wonder if Hypatia, with all her beauty, could have
touched their hearts as he has done?’

And when Raphael rose at the end of this strange discourse, he felt more
like an old Hebrew than he had done since he sat upon his nurse’s
knee, and heard legends about Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. What
if Augustine were right after all? What if the Jehovah of the old
Scriptures were not merely the national patron of the children of
Abraham, as the Rabbis held; not merely, as Philo held, the Divine
Wisdom which inspired a few elect sages, even among the heathen; but the
Lord of the whole earth, and of the nations thereof?--And suddenly,
for the first time in his life, passages from the psalms and prophets
flashed across him, which seemed to assert this. What else did that
whole book of Daniel and the history of Nebuchadnezzar mean--if not
that? Philosophic latitudinarianism had long ago cured him of the
Rabbinical notion of the Babylonian conqueror as an incarnate fiend,
devoted to Tophet, like Sennacherib before him. He had long in private
admired the man, as a magnificent human character, a fairer one, in his
eyes, than either Alexander or Julius Caesar.... What if Augustine had
given him a hint which might justify his admiration?.... But more.
.... What if Augustine were right in going even further than Philo and
Hypatia? What if this same Jehovah, Wisdom, Logos, call Him what they
might, were actually the God of the spirits, as well as of the bodies
of all flesh? What if he was as near--Augustine said that He was--to the
hearts of those wild Markmen, Gauls, Thracians, as to Augustine’s
own heart? What if He were--Augustine said He was--yearning after,
enlightening, leading home to Himself, the souls of the poorest, the
most brutal, the most sinful?--What if He loved man as man, and not
merely one favoured race or one favoured class of minds?.... And in the
light of that hypothesis, that strange story of the Cross of Calvary
seemed not so impossible after all.... But then, celibacy and
asceticism, utterly non-human as they were, what had they to do with the
theory of a human God?

And filled with many questionings, Raphael was not sorry to have the
matter brought to an issue that very evening in Synesius’s sitting-room.
Majoricus, in his blunt, soldierlike way, set Raphael and Augustine at
each other without circumlocution; and Raphael, after trying to smile
and pooh-pooh away the subject, was tempted to make a jest on a seeming
fallacious conceit of Augustine’s--found it more difficult than he
thought to trip up the serious and wary logician, lost his temper a
little--a sign, perhaps, of returning health in a sceptic--and
soon found himself fighting desperately, with Synesius backing him,
apparently for the mere pleasure of seeing a battle, and Majoricus
making him more and more cross by the implicit dogmatic faith with which
he hewed at one Gordian knot after another, till Augustine had to save
himself from his friends by tripping the good Prefect gently up, and
leaving him miles behind the disputants, who argued on and on, till
broad daylight shone in, and the sight of the desolation below recalled
all parties to more material weapons, and a sterner warfare.

But little thought Raphael Aben-Ezra, as he sat there, calling up every
resource of his wit and learning, in the hope, half malicious, half
honestly cautious, of upsetting the sage of Hippo, and forgetting all
heaven and earth in the delight of battle with his peers, that in a
neighbouring chamber, her tender limbs outspread upon the floor, her
face buried in her dishevelled locks; lay Victoria, wrestling all night
long for him in prayer and bitter tears, as the murmur of busy voices
reached her eager ears, longing in vain to catch the sense of words, on
which hung now her hopes and bliss-how utterly and entirely, she lead
never yet confessed to herself, though she dare confess it to that
Son of Man to whom she prayed, as to One who felt with tenderness and
insight beyond that of a brother, a father, even of a mother, for her
maiden’s blushes and her maiden’s woes.



CHAPTER XXII: PANDEMONIUM


But where was Philammon all that week?

For the first day or two of his imprisonment he had raved like some wild
beast entrapped. His new-found purpose and energy, thus suddenly dammed
back and checked, boiled up in frantic rage. He tore at the bars of his
prison; he rolled himself, shrieking, on the floor. He called in vain on
Hypatia, on Pelagia, on Arsenius--on all but God. Pray he could not, and
dare not; for to whom was he to pray? To the stars?--to the Abysses and
the Eternities?....

Alas! as Augustine said once, bitterly enough, of his own Manichaean
teachers, Hypatia had taken away the living God, and given him instead
the four Elements.... And in utter bewilderment and hopeless terror
he implored the pity of every guard and gaoler who passed along the
corridor, and conjured them, as brothers, fathers, men, to help him.
Moved at once by his agony and by his exceeding beauty, the rough
Thracians, who knew enough of their employer’s character to have little
difficulty in believing his victim to be innocent, listened to him and
questioned him. But when they offered the very help which he implored,
and asked him to tell his story, the poor boy’s tongue clove to the roof
of his mouth. How could he publish his sisters shame? And yet she was
about to publish it herself!.... And instead of words, he met their
condolences with fresh agonies, till they gave him up as mad; and, tired
by his violence, compelled him, with blows and curses, to remain quiet;
and so the week wore out, in dull and stupefied despair, which trembled
on the very edge of idiocy. Night and day were alike to him. The food
which was thrust in through his grate remained untasted; hour after
hour, day after day, he sat upon the ground, his head buried in his
hands, half-dozing from mere exhaustion of body and mind. Why should
he care to stir, to eat, to live? He had but one purpose in heaven and
earth: and that one purpose was impossible.

At last his cell-door grated on its hinges.

‘Up, my mad youth!’ cried a rough voice. ‘Up, and thank the favour of
the gods, and the bounty of our noble--ahem!--Prefect. To-day he gives
freedom to all prisoners. And I suppose a pretty boy like you may go
about your business, as well as uglier rascals!’

Philammon looked up in the gaoler’s face with a dim half-comprehension
of his meaning.

‘Do you hear?’ cried the man with a curse. ‘You are free. Jump up, or I
shut the door again, and your one chance is over.’

‘Did she dance Venus Anadyomene?’

‘She! Who?’

‘My sister! Pelagia!’

‘Heaven only knows what she has not danced in her time! But they say she
dances to-day once more. Quick! out, or I shall not be ready in time for
the sports. They begin an hour hence. Free admission into the theatre
to-day for all--rogues and honest men, Christians and heathens--Curse
the boy! he’s as mad as ever.’

So indeed Philammon seemed; for, springing suddenly to his feet, he
rushed out past the gaoler, upsetting him into the corridor, and fled
wildly from the prison among the crowd of liberated ruffians, ran from
the prison home, from home to the baths, from the baths to the theatre,
and was soon pushing his way, regardless of etiquette, towards the lower
tiers of benches, in order, he hardly knew why, to place himself as near
as possible to the very sight which he dreaded and abhorred.

As fate would have it, the passage by which he had entered opened close
to the Prefect’s chair of state, where sat Orestes, gorgeous in his
robes of office, and by him--to Philammon’s surprise and horror--Hypatia
herself.

More beautiful than ever, her forehead sparkling, like Juno’s own, with
a lofty tiara of jewels, her white Ionic robe half hidden by a crimson
shawl, there sat the vestal, the philosopher. What did she there? But
the boy’s eager eyes, accustomed but too well to note every light and
shade of feeling which crossed that face, saw in a moment how wan
and haggard was its expression. She wore a look of constraint, of
half-terrified self-resolve, as of a martyr: and yet not an undoubting
martyr; for as Orestes turned his head at the stir of Philammon’s
intrusion, and flashing with anger at the sight, motioned him fiercely
back, Hypatia turned too, and as her eyes met her pupil’s she blushed
crimson, and started, and seemed in act to motion him back also; and
then, recollecting herself, whispered something to Orestes which quieted
his wrath, and composed herself, or rather sank into her place again, as
one who was determined to abide the worst.

A knot of gay young gentlemen, Philammon’s fellow-students, pulled him
down among them, with welcome and laughter; and before he could collect
his thoughts, the curtain in front of the stage had fallen, and the
sport began.

The scene represented a background of desert mountains, and on the stage
itself, before a group of temporary huts, stood huddling together the
black Libyan prisoners, some fifty men, women, and children, bedizened
with gaudy feathers and girdles of tasselled leather, brandishing their
spears and targets, and glaring out with white eyes on the strange scene
before them, in childish awe and wonder.

Along the front of the stage a wattled battlement had been erected,
while below, the hyposcenium had been painted to represent rocks, thus
completing the rough imitation of a village among the Libyan hills.

Amid breathless silence, a herald advanced, and proclaimed that these
were prisoners taken in arms against the Roman senate and people,
and therefore worthy of immediate death: but that the Prefect, in his
exceeding clemency toward them, and especial anxiety to afford the
greatest possible amusement to the obedient and loyal citizens of
Alexandria, had determined, instead of giving them at once to the
beasts, to allow them to fight for their lives, promising to the
survivors a free pardon if they acquitted themselves valiantly.

The poor wretches on the stage, when this proclamation was translated
to them, set up a barbaric yell of joy, and brandished their spears and
targets more fiercely than ever.

But their joy was short. The trumpets sounded the attack: a body of
gladiators, equal in number to the savages, marched out from one of
the two great side passages, made their obeisance to the applauding
spectators, and planting their scaling-ladders against the front of the
stage, mounted to the attack.

The Libyans fought like tigers; yet from the first, Hypatia, and
Philammon also, could see that their promised chance of life was a mere
mockery. Their light darts and naked limbs were no match for the heavy
swords and complete armour of their brutal assailants, who endured
carelessly a storm of blows and thrusts on heads and faces protected by
visored helmets: yet so fierce was the valour of the Libyans, that even
they recoiled twice, and twice the scaling-ladders were hurled
down again, while more than one gladiator lay below, rolling in the
death-agony.

And then burst forth the sleeping devil in the hearts of that great
brutalised multitude. Yell upon yell of savage triumph, and still more
savage disappointment, rang from every tier of that vast ring of seats,
at each blow and parry, onslaught and repulse; and Philammon saw with
horror and surprise that luxury, refinement, philosophic culture itself,
were no safeguards against the infection of bloodthirstiness. Gay and
delicate ladies, whom he had seen three days before simpering delight
at Hypatia’s heavenward aspirations, and some, too, whom he seemed to
recollect in Christian churches, sprang from their seats, waved their
hands and handkerchiefs, and clapped and shouted to the gladiators. For,
alas! there was no doubt as to which side the favour of the spectators
inclined. With taunts, jeers, applause, entreaties, the hired ruffians
were urged on to their work of blood. The poor wretches heard no voice
raised in their favour: nothing but contempt, hatred, eager lust
of blood, glared from those thousands of pitiless eyes; and,
broken-hearted, despairing, they flagged and drew back one by one.
A shout of triumph greeted the gladiators as they climbed over the
battlement, and gained a footing on the stage. The wretched blacks
broke up, and fled wildly from corner to corner, looking vainly for an
outlet....

And then began a butchery.... Some fifty men, women, and children were
cooped together in that narrow space.... And yet Hypatia’s countenance
did not falter. Why should it? What were their numbers, beside the
thousands who had perished year by year for centuries, by that and far
worse deaths, in the amphitheatres of that empire, for that faith which
she was vowed to re-establish. It was part of the great system; and she
must endure it.

Not that she did not feel; for she, too, was woman; and her heart,
raised far above the brutal excitement of the multitude, lay calmly open
to the most poignant stings of pity. Again and again she was in the
act to entreat mercy for some shrieking woman or struggling child;
but before her lips could shape the words, the blow had fallen, or the
wretch was whirled away from her sight in the dense undistinguishable
mass of slayers and slain. Yes, she had begun, and she must follow
to the end.... And, after all, what were the lives of those few
semi-brutes, returning thus a few years earlier to the clay from which
they sprang, compared with the regeneration of a world?.... And it would
be over in a few minutes more, and that black writhing heap be still for
ever, and the curtain fall .... And then for Venus Anadyomene, and art,
and joy, and peace, and the graceful wisdom and beauty of the old Greek
art, calming and civilising all hearts, and softening them into pure
devotion for the immortal myths, the immortal deities, who had inspired
their forefathers in the glorious days of old.... But still the black
heap writhed; and she looked away, up, down, and round, everywhere, to
avoid the sickening sight; and her eye caught Philammon’s gazing at her
with looks of horror and disgust.... A thrill of shame rushed through
her heart, and blushing scarlet, she sank her head, and whispered to
Orestes--


‘Have mercy!--spare the rest!’

‘Nay, fairest vestal! The mob has tasted blood, and they must have
their fill of it, or they will turn onus for aught I know. Nothing so
dangerous as to check a brute, whether he be horse, dog, or man, when
once his spirit is up. Ha! there is a fugitive! How well the little
rascal runs!’

As he spoke, a boy, the only survivor, leaped from the stage, and rushed
across the orchestra toward them, followed by a rough cur-dog.

‘You shall have this youth, if he reaches us.’

Hypatia watched breathless. The boy had just arrived at the altar in
the centre of the orchestra, when he saw a gladiator close upon him.
The ruffian’s arm was raised to strike, when, to the astonishment of the
whole theatre, boy and dog turned valiantly to bay, and leaping on
the gladiator, dragged him between them to the ground. The triumph was
momentary. The uplifted hands, the shout of ‘Spare him!’ came too late.
The man, as he lay, buried his sword in the slender body of the child,
and then rising, walked coolly back to the side passages, while the poor
cur stood over the little corpse, licking its hands and face, and making
the whole building ring with his doleful cries. The attendants entered,
and striking their hooks into corpse after corpse, dragged them out of
sight, marking their path by long red furrows in the sand; while the
dog followed, until his inauspicious howlings died away down distant
passages.

Philammon felt sick and giddy, and half rose to escape. But Pelagia!....
No--he must sit it out, and see the worst, if worse than this was
possible. He looked round. The people were coolly sipping wine and
eating cakes, while they chatted admirably about the beauty of the great
curtain, which had fallen and hidden the stage, and represented, on
a ground of deep-blue sea, Europa carried by the bull across the
Bosphorus, while Nereids and Tritons played around.

A single flute within the curtain began to send forth luscious strains,
deadened and distant, as if through far-off glens and woodlands; and
from the side passages issued three Graces, led by Peitho, the goddess
of persuasion, bearing a herald’s staff in her hand. She advanced to the
altar in the centre of the orchestra, and informed the spectators
that, during the absence of Ares in aid of a certain great military
expedition, which was shortly to decide the diadem of Rome, and the
liberty, prosperity, and supremacy of Egypt and Alexandria, Aphrodite
had returned to her lawful allegiance, and submitted for the time being
to the commands of her husband, Hephaestus; that he, as the deity of
artificers, felt a peculiar interest in the welfare of the city of
Alexandria, the workshop of the world, and had, as a sign of his
especial favour, prevailed upon his fair spouse to exhibit, for this
once, her beauties to the assembled populace, and, in the unspoken
poetry of motion, to represent to them the emotions with which, as she
arose new-born from the sea, she first surveyed that fair expanse of
heaven and earth of which she now reigned undisputed queen.

A shout of rapturous applause greeted this announcement, and forthwith
limped from the opposite slip the lame deity himself, hammer and pincers
on shoulder, followed by a train of gigantic Cyclops, who bore on their
shoulders various pieces of gilded metal work.

Hephaestus, who was intended to supply the comic element in the vast
pantomimic pageant, shambled forward with studied uncouthness, amid
roars of laughter; surveyed the altar with ludicrous contempt; raised
his mighty hammer, shivered it to pieces with a single blow, and
beckoned to his attendants to carry off the fragments, and replace it
with something more fitting for his august spouse.

With wonderful quickness the metal open-work was put in its place, and
fitted together, forming a frame of coral branches intermingled with
dolphins, Nereids, and Tritons. Four gigantic Cyclops then approached,
staggering under the weight of a circular slab of green marble, polished
to a perfect mirror, which they placed on the framework. The Graces
wreathed its circumference with garlands of sea-weed, shells, and
corallines, and the mimic sea was complete.

Peitho and the Graces retired a few steps, and grouped themselves with
the Cyclops, whose grimed and brawny limbs, and hideous one-eyed
masks, threw out in striking contrast the delicate hue and grace of the
beautiful maiden figures; while Hephaestus turned toward the curtain,
and seemed to await impatiently the forthcoming of the goddess.

Every lip was breathless with expectation as the flutes swelled louder
and nearer; horns and cymbals took up the harmony; and, to a triumphant
burst of music, the curtain rose, and a simultaneous shout of delight
burst from ten thousand voices.

The scene behind represented a magnificent temple, half hidden in an
artificial wood of tropic trees and shrubs, which filled the stage.
Fauns and Dryads peeped laughing from among their stems, and gorgeous
birds, tethered by unseen threads, fluttered and sang among their
branches. In the centre an overarching avenue of palms led from the
temple doors to the front of the stage, from which the mimic battlements
had disappeared, and had been replaced, in those few moments, by a broad
slope of smooth greensward, leading down into the orchestra, and fringed
with myrtles, roses, apple-trees, poppies, and crimson hyacinths,
stained with the life-blood of Adonis.

The folding doors of the temple opened slowly, the crash of instruments
resounded from within; and, preceded by the musicians, came forth the
triumph of Aphrodite, and passed down the slope, and down the outer ring
of the orchestra.

A splendid car, drawn by white oxen, bore the rarest and gaudiest of
foreign flowers and fruits, which young girls, dressed as Hours and
Seasons, strewed in front of the procession and among the spectators.

A long line of beautiful youths and maidens, crowned with garlands,
and robed in scarfs of purple gauze, followed by two and two. Each pair
carried or led a pair of wild animals, captives of the conquering might
of Beauty.

Foremost were borne, on the wrists of the actors, the birds especially
sacred to the goddess--doves and sparrows, wrynecks and swallows; and a
pair of gigantic Indian tortoises, each ridden by a lovely nymph, showed
that Orestes had not forgotten one wish, at least, of his intended
bride.

Then followed strange birds from India, parakeets, peacocks, pheasants
silver and golden; bustards and ostriches: the latter, bestridden each
by a tiny cupid, were led on in golden leashes, followed by antelopes
and oryxes, elks from beyond the Danube, four-horned rams from the Isles
of the Hyperborean Ocean, and the strange hybrid of the Libyan hills,
believed by all spectators to be half-bull half-horse. And then a murmur
of delighted awe ran through the theatre, as bears and leopards, lions
and tigers, fettered in heavy chains of gold, and made gentle for the
occasion by narcotics, paced sedately down the slope, obedient to
their beautiful guides; while behind them, the unwieldy bulk of two
double-horned rhinoceroses, from the far south, was overtopped by the
long slender necks and large soft eyes of a pair of giraffes, such as
had not been seen in Alexandria for more than fifty years.

A cry arose of ‘Orestes! Orestes! Health to the illustrious Prefect!
Thanks for his bounty!’ And a hired voice or two among the crowd
cried, ‘Hail to Orestes! Hail, Emperor of Africa!’.... But there was no
response.

‘The rose is still in the bud,’ simpered Orestes to Hypatia. He rose,
beckoned and bowed the crowd into silence; and then, after a short
pantomimic exhibition of rapturous gratitude and humility, pointed
triumphantly to the palm avenue, among the shadows of which appeared
the wonder of the day--the huge tusks and trunk of the white elephant
himself.

There it was at last! Not a doubt of it! A real elephant, and yet as
white as snow. Sight never seen before in Alexandria--never to be seen
again! ‘Oh, thrice blest men of Macedonia!’ shouted some worthy on
high, ‘the gods are bountiful to you this day!’ And all mouths and eyes
confirmed the opinion, as they opened wider and yet wider to drink in
the inexhaustible joy and glory.

On he paced solemnly, while the whole theatre resounded to his heavy
tread, and the Fauns and Dryads fled in terror. A choir of nymphs swung
round him hand in hand, and sang, as they danced along, the conquering
might of Beauty, the tamer of beasts and men and deities. Skirmishing
parties of little winged cupids spread themselves over the orchestra,
from left to right, and pelted the spectators with perfumed comfits,
shot among them from their tiny bows arrows of fragrant sandal-wood, or
swung smoking censers, which loaded the air with intoxicating odours.

The procession came on down the slope, and the elephant approached the
spectators; his tusks were wreathed with roses and myrtles; his ears
were pierced with splendid earrings, a jewelled frontlet hung between
his eyes; Eros himself, a lovely winged boy, sat on his neck, and guided
him with the point of a golden arrow. But what precious thing was
it which that shell-formed car upon his back contained? The goddess!
Pelagia Aphrodite herself?

Yes; whiter than the snow-white elephant--more rosy than the pink-tipped
shell in which she lay, among crimson cushions and silver gauze, there
shone the goddess, thrilling all hearts with those delicious smiles, and
glances of the bashful playful eyes, and grateful wavings of her tiny
hand, as the whole theatre rose with one accord, and ten thousand eyes
were concentrated on the unequalled loveliness beneath them.

Twice the procession passed round the whole circumference of the
orchestra, and then returning from the foot of the slope towards the
central group around Hephaestus, deployed right and left in front of the
stage. The lions and tigers were led away into the side passages; the
youths and maidens combined themselves with the gentler animals into
groups lessening gradually from the centre to the wings, and stood
expectant, while the elephant came forward, and knelt behind the
platform destined for the goddess.

The valves of the shell closed. The Graces unloosed the fastenings of
the car. The elephant turned his trunk over his back, and, guided by
the hands of the girls, grasped the shell, and lifting it high in air,
deposited it on the steps at the back of the platform.

Hephaestus limped forward, and, with his most uncouth gestures,
signified the delight which he had in bestowing such a sight upon his
faithful artisans of Alexandria, and the unspeakable enjoyment which
they were to expect from the mystic dance of the goddess; and then
retired, leaving the Graces to advance in front of the platform,
and with their arms twined round each other, begin Hypatia’s song of
invocation.

As the first strophe died away, the valves of the shell reopened, and
discovered Aphrodite crouching on one knee within. She raised her head,
and gazed around the vast circle of seats. A mild surprise was on her
countenance, which quickened into delightful wonder, and bashfulness
struggling with the sense of new enjoyment and new powers. She glanced
downward at herself; and smiled, astonished at her own loveliness; then
upward at the sky; and seemed ready, with an awful joy, to spring up
into the boundless void. Her whole figure dilated; she seemed to drink
in strength from every object which met her in the great universe
around; and slowly, from among the shells and seaweeds, she rose to
her full height, the mystic cestus glittering round her waist, in deep
festoons of emeralds and pearls, and stepped forward upon the marble
sea-floor, wringing the dripping perfume from her locks, as Aphrodite
rose of old.

For the first minute the crowd was too breathless with pleasure to think
of applause. But the goddess seemed to require due homage; and when she
folded her arms across her bosom, and stood motionless for an instant,
as if to demand the worship of the universe, every tongue was loosed,
and a thunder-clap of ‘Aphrodite!’ rang out across the roofs of
Alexandria, and startled Cyril in his chamber at the Serapeium, and
weary muleteers on distant sand-hills, and dozing mariners far out at
sea.

And then began a miracle of art, such as was only possible among a
people of the free and exquisite physical training, and the delicate
aesthetic perception of those old Greeks, even in their most fallen
days. A dance, in which every motion was a word, and rest as eloquent as
motion; in which every attitude was a fresh motive for a sculptor of the
purest school, and the highest physical activity was manifested, not
as in the coarser comic pantomimes, in fantastic bounds and unnatural
distortions, but in perpetual delicate modulations of a stately and
self-restraining grace. The artist was for the moment transformed into
the goddess. The theatre, and Alexandria, and the gorgeous pageant
beyond, had vanished from her imagination, and therefore from the
imagination of the spectators, under the constraining inspiration of
her art, and they and she alike saw nothing but the lonely sea around
Cytherea, and the goddess hovering above its emerald mirror, saying
forth on sea, and air, and shore, beauty, and joy, and love....

Philammon’s eyes were bursting from his head with shame and horror: and
yet he could not hate her; not even despise her. He would have done so,
had there been the faintest trace of human feeling in her countenance to
prove that some germ of moral sense lingered within: but even the faint
blush and the downcast eye with which she had entered the theatre were
gone; and the only expression on her face was that of intense enjoyment
of her own activity and skill, and satisfied vanity, as of a petted
child.... Was she accountable? A reasonable soul, capable of right or
wrong at all? He hoped not .... He would trust not.... And still Pelagia
danced on; and for a whole age of agony, he could see nothing in heaven
or earth but the bewildering maze of those white feet, as they twinkled
over their white image in the marble mirror.... At last it was
over. Every limb suddenly collapsed, and she stood drooping in soft
self-satisfied fatigue, awaiting the burst of applause which rang
through Philammon’s ears, proclaiming to heaven and earth, as with a
mighty trumpet-blast, his sister’s shame.

The elephant rose, and moved forward to the side of the slabs. His back
was covered with crimson cushions, on which it seemed Aphrodite was
to return without her shell. She folded her arms across her bosom, and
stood smiling, as the elephant gently wreathed his trunk around her
waist, and lifted her slowly from the slab, in act to place her on his
back....

The little feet, clinging half fearfully together, had Just risen from
the marble-The elephant started, dropped his delicate burden heavily on
the slab, looked down, raised his forefoot, and throwing his trunk into
the air, gave a shrill scream of terror and disgust....

The foot was red with blood--the young boy’s blood--which was soaking
and bubbling up through the fresh sand where the elephant had trodden,
in a round, dark, purple spot....

Philammon could bear no more. Another moment and he had hurled down
through the dense mass of spectators, clearing rank after rank of
seats by the sheer strength of madness, leaped the balustrade into
the orchestra below, and rushed across the space to the foot of the
platform.

‘Pelagia! Sister! My sister! Have mercy on me! on yourself! I will hide
you! save you! and we will flee together out of this infernal place!
this world of devils! I am your brother! Come!’

She looked at him one moment with wide, wild eyes--The truth flashed on
her--

‘Brother!’

And she sprang from the platform into his arms.... A vision of a lofty
window in Athens, looking out over far olive-yards and gardens, and the
bright roofs and basins of the Piraeus, and the broad blue sea, with the
purple peaks of Aegina beyond all.... And a dark-eyed boy, with his
arm around her neck, pointed laughing to the twinkling masts in the far
harbour, and called her sister.... The dead soul woke within her; and
with a wild cry she recoiled from him in an agony of shame, and covering
her face with both her hands, sank down among the blood-stained sand.

A yell, as of all hell broke loose, rang along that vast circle--

‘Down with him!’ ‘Away with him!’ ‘Crucify the slave!’ ‘Give the
barbarian to the beasts!’ ‘To the beasts with him, noble Prefect!’ A
crowd of attendants rushed upon him, and many of the spectators sprang
from their seats, and were on the point of leaping down into the
orchestra.

Philammon turned upon them like a lion at bay; and clear and loud his
voice rose through the roar of the multitude.

‘Ay! murder me as the Romans murdered Saint Telemachus! Slaves as
besotted and accursed as your besotted and accursed tyrants! Lower than
the beasts whom you employ as your butchers! Murder and lust go fitly
hand in hand, and the throne of my sister’s shame is well built on the
blood of innocents! Let my death end the devil’s sacrifice, and fill up
the cup of your iniquity!’

‘To the beasts!’ ‘Make the elephant trample him to powder!’

And the huge brute, goaded on by the attendants, rushed on the youth,
while Eros leaped from his neck, and fled weeping up the slope.

He caught Philammon in his trunk and raised him high in air. For an
instant the great bellowing ocean of heads spun round and round. He
tried to breathe one prayer, and shut his eyes--Pelagia’s voice rang
sweet and clear, even in the shrillness of intense agony--

‘Spare him! He is my brother! Forgive him, men of Macedonia! For
Pelagia’s sake-- Your Pelagia! One boon--only this one!’

And she stretched her arms imploringly toward the spectators, and then
clasping the huge knees of the elephant, called madly to it in terms of
passionate entreaty and endearment.

The men wavered. The brute did not. Quietly he lowered his trunk, and
set down Philammon on his feet. The monk was saved. Breathless and
dizzy, he found himself hurried away by the attendants, dragged through
dark passages, and hurled out into the street, with curses, warnings,
and congratulations, which fell on an unheeding ear.

But Pelagia kept her face still hidden in her hands, and rising, walked
slowly back, crushed by the weight of some tremendous awe, across the
orchestra, and up the slope; and vanished among the palms and oleanders,
regardless of the applause and entreaties, and jeers, and threats, and
curses, of that great multitude of sinful slaves.

For a moment all Orestes’s spells seemed broken by this unexpected
catastrophe. A cloud, whether of disgust or of disappointment, hung upon
every brow. More than one Christian rose hastily to depart, touched with
real remorse and shame at the horrors of which they had been the willing
witnesses. The common people behind, having glutted their curiosity with
all that there was to see, began openly to murmur at the cruelty and
heathenry of it. Hypatia, utterly unnerved, hid her face in both her
hands. Orestes alone rose with the crisis. Now, or never, was the time
for action; and stepping forward, with his most graceful obeisance,
waved his hand for silence, and began his well-studied oration.

‘Let me not, O men of Macedonia, suppose that you can be disturbed from
that equanimity which befits politicians, by so light an accident as
the caprice of a dancer. The spectacle which I have had the honour and
delight of exhibiting to you--(Roars and applause from the liberated
prisoners and the young gentlemen)--and on which it seemed to me you
have deigned to look with not altogether unkindly eyes--(Fresh applause,
in which the Christian mob, relenting, began to join)--is but a pleasant
prelude to that more serious business for which I have drawn you here
together. Other testimonials of my good intentions have not been wanting
in the release of suffering innocence, and in the largess of food, the
growth and natural property of Egypt, destined by your late tyrants to
pamper the luxury of a distant court.... Why should I boast?--yet even
now this head is weary, these limbs fail me, worn out in ceaseless
efforts for your welfare, and in the perpetual administration of the
strictest justice. For a time has come in which the Macedonian race,
whose boast is the gorgeous city of Alexander, must rise again to the
political pre-eminence which they held of old, and becoming once more
the masters of one-third of the universe, be treated by their rulers
as freemen, citizens, heroes, who have a right to choose and to employ
their rulers--Rulers, did I say? Let us forget the word, and substitute
in its place the more philosophic term of ministers. To be your
minister--the servant of you all--To sacrifice myself, my leisure,
health, life, if need be, to the one great object of securing the
independence of Alexandria--This is my work, my hope, my glory--longed
for through weary years: now for the first time possible by the fall
of the late puppet Emperor of Rome. Men of Macedonia, remember that
Honorius reigns no more! An African sits on the throne of the Caesars!
Heraclian, by one decisive victory, has gained, by the favour of--of
Heaven, the imperial purple; and a new era opens for the world. Let the
conqueror of Rome balance his account with that Byzantine court, so long
the incubus of our Trans-Mediterranean wealth and civilisation; and let
a free, independent, and united Africa rally round the palaces and
docks of Alexandria, and find there its natural centre of polity and of
prosperity.’

A roar of hired applause interrupted him and not a few, half for the
sake of his compliments and fine words, half from a natural wish to be
on the right side--namely, the one which happened to be in the ascendant
for the time being--joined.... The city authorities were on the point
of crying, ‘Imperator Orestes,’ but thought better of it; and waited for
some one else to cry first--being respectable. Whereon the Prefect
of the Guards, being a man of some presence of mind, and also not in
anywise respectable, pricked up the Prefect of the docks with the point
of his dagger, and bade him, with a fearful threat, take care how he
played traitor. The worthy burgher roared incontinently--whether with
pain or patriotism; and the whole array of respectabilities--having
found a Curtius who would leap into the gulf, joined in unanimous
chorus, and saluted Orestes as Emperor; while Hypatia, amid the shouts
of her aristocratic scholars, rose and knelt before him, writhing
inwardly with shame and despair, and entreated him to accept that
tutelage of Greek commerce, supremacy, and philosophy which was forced
on him by the unanimous voice of an adoring people....

‘It is false!’ shouted a voice from the highest tiers, appropriated
to the women of the lower classes, which made all turn their heads in
bewilderment.

‘False! false! you are tricked! He is tricked! Heraclian was utterly
routed at Ostia, and is fled to Carthage, with the emperor’s fleet in
chase.’

‘She lies! Drag the beast down!’ cried Orestes, utterly thrown off his
balance by the sudden check.

‘She? He! I, a monk, brought the news! Cyril has known it--every Jew in
the Delta has known it, for a week past! So perish all the enemies of
the Lord, caught in their own snare!’

And bursting desperately through the women who surrounded him, the monk
vanished.

An awful silence fell on all who heard. For a minute every man looked in
his neighbour’s face as if he longed to cut his throat, and get rid of
one witness, at least, of his treason. And then arose a tumult, which
Orestes in vain attempted to subdue. Whether the populace believed the
monk’s words or not, they were panic-stricken at the mere possibility
of their truth. Hoarse with denying, protesting, appealing, the would-be
emperor had at last to summon his guards around him and Hypatia, and
make his way out of the theatre as best he could; while the multitude
melted away like snow before the rain, and poured out into the streets
in eddying and roaring streams, to find every church placarded by Cyril
with the particulars of Heraclian’s ruin.



CHAPTER XXIII: NEMESIS


That evening was a hideous one in the palace of Orestes. His agonies
of disappointment, rage, and terror were at once so shameful and so
fearful, that none of his slaves dare approach him; and it was not till
late that his confidential secretary, the Chaldean eunuch, driven by
terror of the exasperated Catholics, ventured into the tiger’s den, and
represented to him the immediate necessity for action.

What could he do? He was committed--Cyril only knew how deeply. What
might not the wily archbishop have discovered? What might not he pretend
to have discovered? What accusations might he not send off on the spot
to the Byzantine Court?

‘Let the gates be guarded, and no one allowed to leave the city,’
suggested the Chaldee.

‘Keep in monks? as well keep in rats! No; we must send off a
counter-report, instantly.’

‘What shall I say, your Excellency?’ quoth the ready scribe, pulling out
pen and inkhorn from his sash.

‘What do I care? Any lie which comes to hand. What in the devil’s name
are you here for at all, but to invent a lie when I want one?’

‘True, most noble,’ and the worthy sat meekly down to his paper.... but
did not proceed rapidly.

‘I don’t see anything that would suit the emergency, unless I stated,
with your august leave, that Cyril, and not you, celebrated the
gladiatorial exhibition; which might hardly appear credible?’

Orestes burst out laughing, in spite of himself. The sleek Chaldee
smiled and purred in return. The victory was won; and Orestes, somewhat
more master of himself, began to turn his vulpine cunning to the one
absorbing question of the saving of his worthless neck.

‘No, that would be too good. Write, that we had discovered a plot on
Cyril’s part to incorporate the whole of the African churches (mind and
specify Carthage and Hippo) under his own jurisdiction, and to throw off
allegiance to the Patriarch of Constantinople, in case of Heraclian’s
success.’

The secretary purred delighted approval, and scribbled away now with
right good heart.

‘Heraclian’s success, your Excellency.’

‘We of course desired, by every means in our power, to gratify the
people of Alexandria, and, as was our duty, to excite by every lawful
method their loyalty toward the throne of the Caesars (never mind who
sat on it) at so critical a moment.’

‘So critical a moment....’

‘But as faithful Catholics, and abhorring even in the extremest need,
the sin of Uzzah, we dreaded to touch with the unsanctified hands
of laymen the consecrated ark of the Church, even though for its
preservation....’

‘Its preservation, your Excellency....’

‘We, therefore, as civil magistrates, felt bound to confine ourselves
to those means which were already allowed by law and custom to our
jurisdiction; and accordingly made use of those largesses, spectacles,
and public execution of rebels, which have unhappily appeared to his
holiness the patriarch (too ready, perhaps, to find a cause of complaint
against faithful adherents of the Byzantine See) to partake of the
nature of those gladiatorial exhibitions, which are equally abhorrent
to the spirit of the Catholic Church, and to the charity of the sainted
emperors by whose pious edicts they have been long since abolished.’

‘Your Excellency is indeed great.... but--pardon your slave’s remark--my
simplicity is of opinion that it may be asked why you did not inform the
Augusta Pulcheria of Cyril’s conspiracy?’

‘Say that we sent a messenger off three months ago, but that.... Make
something happen to him, stupid, and save me the trouble.’

‘Shall I kill him by Arabs in the neighbourhood of Palmyra, your
Excellency?’

‘Let me see.... No. They may make inquiries there. Drown him at sea.
Nobody can ask questions of the sharks.’

‘Foundered between Tyre and Crete, from which sad calamity only one man
escaped on a raft, and being picked tip, after three weeks’ exposure to
the fury of the elements, by a returning wheat-ship--By the bye, most
noble, what am I to say about those wheat-ships not having even sailed?’

‘Head of Augustus! I forgot them utterly. Say that--say that the plague
was making such ravages in the harbour quarter that we feared carrying
the infection to the seat of the empire; and let them sail to-morrow.’

The secretary’s face lengthened.

‘My fidelity is compelled to remark, even at the risk of your just
indignation, that half of them have been unloaded again for your
munificent largesses of the last two days.’

Orestes swore a great oath.

‘Oh, that the mob had but one throat, that I might give them an emetic!
Well, we must buy more corn, that’s all.’

The secretary’s face grew longer still.

‘The Jews, most August--’

‘What of them?’ yelled the hapless Prefect. ‘Have they been
forestalling?’

‘My assiduity has discovered this afternoon that they have been buying
up and exporting all the provisions which they could obtain.’

‘Scoundrels! Then they must have known of Heraclian’s failure!’

‘Your sagacity has, I fear, divined the truth. They have been betting
largely against his success for the last week, both in Canopus and
Pelusium.’

‘For the last week! Then Miriam betrayed me knowingly!’ And Orestes
broke forth again into a paroxysm of fury.

‘Here--call the tribune of the guard! A hundred gold pieces to the man
who brings me the witch alive!’

‘She will never be taken alive.’

‘Dead, then--in any way! Go, you Chaldee hound! what are you hesitating
about?’

‘Most noble lord,’ said the secretary, prostrating himself upon the
floor, and kissing his master’s feet in an agony of fear....

‘Remember, that if you touch one Jew you touch all! Remember the bonds!
remember the--the--your own most august reputation, in short.’

‘Get up, brute, and don’t grovel there, but tell me what you mean, like
a human being. If old Miriam is once dead, her bonds die with her, don’t
they?’

‘Alas, my lord, you do not know the customs of that accursed folk. They
have a damnable practice of treating every member of their nation as a
brother, and helping each freely and faithfully without reward; whereby
they are enabled to plunder all the rest of the world, and thrive
themselves, from the least to the greatest. Don’t fancy that your bonds
are in Miriam’s hands. They have been transferred months ago. Your
real creditors may be in Carthage, or Rome, or Byzantium, and they will
attack you from thence; while all that you would find if you seized the
old witch’s property, would be papers, useless to you, belonging to
Jews all over the empire, who would rise as one man in defence of their
money. I assure you, it is a net without a bound. If you touch one you
touch all.... And besides, my diligence, expecting some such command,
has already taken the liberty of making inquiries as to Miriam’s place
of abode; but it appears, I am sorry to say, utterly unknown to any of
your Excellency’s servants.’

‘You lie!’ said Orestes.... ‘I would much sooner believe that you have
been warning the hag to keep out of the way.’

Orestes had spoken, for that once in his life, the exact truth.

The secretary, who had his own private dealings with Miriam, felt every
particular atom of his skin shudder at those words; and had he had hair
on his head, it would certainly have betrayed him by standing visibly on
end. But as he was, luckily for him, close shaven, his turban remained
in its proper place, as he meekly replied-- ‘Alas! a faithful servant can
feel no keener woe than the causeless suspicion of that sun before whose
rays he daily prostrates his--’

‘Confound your periphrases! Do you know where she is?’

‘No!’ cried the wretched secretary, driven to the lie direct at last;
and confirmed the negation with such a string of oaths, that Orestes
stopped his volubility with a kick, borrowed of him, under threat of
torture, a thousand gold pieces as largess to the soldiery, and ended
by concentrating the stationaries round his own palace, for the double
purpose of protecting himself in case of a riot, and of increasing the
chances of the said riot, by leaving the distant quarters of the city
without police.

‘If Cyril would but make a fool of himself, now that he is in the
full-blown pride of victory--the rascal!--about that Ammonius, or about
Hypatia, or anything else, and give me a real handle against him! After
all, truth works better than lying now and then. Oh, that I could poison
him! But one can’t bribe those ecclesiastics; and as for the dagger, one
could not hire a man to be torn in pieces by monks. No; I must just sit
still, and see what Fortune’s dice may turn up. Well, your pedants like
Aristides or Epaminondas--thank Heaven, the race of them has died
out long ago!--might call this no very creditable piece of provincial
legislation; but after all, it is about as good as any now going, or
likely to be going till the world’s end; and one can’t be expected to
strike out a new path. I shall stick to the wisdom of my predecessors,
and--oh, that Cyril may make a fool of himself to-night!’

And Cyril did make a fool of himself that night, for the first and last
time in his life; and suffers for it, as wise men are wont to do when
they err, to this very day and hour: but how much Orestes gained by his
foe’s false move cannot be decided till the end of this story; perhaps
not even then.



CHAPTER XXIV: LOST LAMBS


And Philammon?

For a long while he stood in the street outside the theatre, too much
maddened to determine on any course of action; and, ere he had recovered
his self-possession, the crowd began to pour from every outlet, and
filling the street, swept him away in its stream.

Then, as he heard his sister’s name, in every tone of pity, contempt,
and horror, mingle with their angry exclamations, he awoke from his
dream, and, bursting through the mob, made straight for Pelagia’s house.

It was fast closed; and his repeated knocks at the gate brought only,
after long waiting, a surly negro face to a little wicket.

He asked eagerly and instinctively for Pelagia; of course she had not
yet returned. For Wulf he was not within. And then he took his station
close to the gateway, while his heart beat loud with hope and dread.

At last the Goths appeared, forcing their way through the mob in a close
column. There were no litters with them. Where, then, were Pelagia and
her girls? Where, too, was the hated figure of the Amal? and Wulf, and
Smid? The men came on, led by Goderic and Agilmund, with folded arms,
knitted brows, downcast eyes: a stern disgust, not unmingled with shame,
on every countenance, told Philammon afresh of his sister’s infamy.

Goderic passed him close, and Philammon summoned up courage to ask for
Wulf.... Pelagia he had not courage to name.

‘Out, Greek hound! we have seen enough of your accursed race to-day!
What? are you trying to follow us in?’ And the young man’s sword flashed
from its sheath so swiftly, that Philammon had but just time enough
to spring back into the street, and wait there, in an agony of
disappointment and anxiety, as the gates slid together again, and the
house was as silent as before.

For a miserable hour he waited, while the mob thickened instead of
flowing away, and the scattered groups of chatterers began to form
themselves into masses, and parade the streets with shouts of ‘Down with
the heathen!’ ‘Down with the idolaters!’ ‘Vengeance on all blaspheming
harlots!’

At last the steady tramp of legionaries, and in the midst of the
glittering lines of armed men--oh, joy!--a string of litters!

He sprang forward, and called Pelagia’s name again and again. Once he
fancied he heard an answer: but the soldiers thrust him back.

‘She is safe here, young fool, and has seen and been seen quite enough
to-day already. Back!’

‘Let me speak to her!’

‘That is her business. Ours is now to see her home safe.’

‘Let me go in with you, I beseech!’

‘If you want to go in, knock for yourself when we are gone. If you have
any business in the house, they will open to you, I suppose. Out, you
interfering puppy!’

And a blow of the spear-butt in his chest sent him rolling back into
the middle of the street, while the soldiers, having delivered up their
charge, returned with the same stolid indifference. In vain Philammon,
returning, knocked at the gate. Curses and threats from the negro were
all the answer which he received; and at last, wearied into desperation,
he wandered away, up one street and down another, struggling in vain to
form some plan of action for himself, until the sun was set.

Wearily he went homewards at last. Once the thought of Miriam crossed
his mind. It was a disgusting alternative to ask help of her, the very
author of his sister’s shame: but yet she at least could obtain for him
a sight of Pelagia; she had promised as much. But then--the condition
which she had appended to her help! To see his sister, and yet to leave
her as she was!--Horrible contradiction! But could he not employ Miriam
for his own ends?--outwit her?--deceive her?--for it came to that. The
temptation was intense: but it lasted only a moment. Could he defile so
pure a cause by falsehood? And hurrying past the Jewess’s door, hardly
daring to look at it, lest the temptation should return, he darted
upstairs to his own little chamber, hastily flung open the door, and
stopped short in astonishment.

A woman, covered from head to foot in a large dark veil, stood in the
centre of the chamber.

‘Who are you? This is no place for you!’ cried he, after a minute’s
pause. She replied only by a shudder and a sob.... He caught sight,
beneath the folds of the veil, of a too well-known saffron shawl, and
springing upon her like the lion on the lamb, clasped to his bosom his
sister.

The veil fell from her beautiful forehead. She gazed into his eyes
one moment with a look of terrified inquiry, and saw nothing there but
love.... And clinging heart to heart, brother and sister mingled holy
kisses, and strained nearer and nearer still, as if to satisfy their
last lingering doubts of each other’s kin.

Many a minute passed in silent joy.... Philammon dare not speak; he dare
not ask her what brought her thither--dare not wake her to recollect
the frightful present by questions of the past, of his long forgotten
parents, their home, her history.... And, after all, was it not enough
for him that he held her at last?--her, there by her own will--the lost
lamb returned to him?--and their tears mingled as their cheeks were
pressed together.

At last she spoke.

‘I ought to have known you,--I believe I did know you from the first
day! When they mentioned your likeness to me, my heart leapt up
within me; and a voice whispered.... but I would not hear it! I was
ashamed--ashamed to acknowledge my brother, for whom I had sought and
longed for years.... ashamed to think that I had a brother.... Ah, God!
and ought I not to be ashamed?’

And she broke from him again, and threw herself on the floor.

‘Trample upon me; curse me!--anything but part me from him!’

Philammon had not the heart to answer her; but he made an involuntary
gesture of sorrowful dissent.

‘No! Call me what I am!--what he called me just now!--but do not take me
away! Strike me, as he struck me!--anything but parting!’

‘Struck you? The curse of God be on him!’

‘Ah, do not curse him!--not him! It was not a blow, indeed!--only a
push--a touch--and it was my fault--all mine. I angered him--I upbraided
him;--I was mad.... Oh, why did he deceive me? Why did he let me
dance?--command me to dance?’

‘Command you?’

‘He said that we must not break our words. He would not hear me, when I
told him that we could deny having promised. I said that promises made
over the wine need never be kept. Who ever heard of keeping them? And
Orestes was drunk, too. But he said that I might teach a Goth to be what
I liked, except a liar.... Was not that a strange speech?.... And Wulf
bade him be strong, and blest him for it.’

‘He was right,’ sobbed Philammon.

‘Then I thought he would love me for obeying him, though I loathed
it!--Oh, God, how I loathed it!.... But how could I fancy that he did
not like my doing it? Who ever heard of any one doing of their own will
what they did not like?’

Philammon sobbed again, as the poor civilised savage artlessly opened to
him all her moral darkness. What could he say?.... he knew what to say.
The disease was so utterly patent, that any of Cyril’s school-children
could have supplied the remedy. But how to speak it?--how to tell her,
before all things, as he longed to do, that there was no hope of her
marrying the Amal, and, therefore, no peace for her till she left him.

‘Then you did hate the--the--’ said he, at last, catching at some gleam
of light.

‘Hate it? Do I not belong, body and soul, to him?--him only?.... And
yet.... Oh, I must tell you all! When I and the girls began to
practise, all the old feelings came back--the love of being admired, and
applauded, and cheered; and dancing is so delicious!--so delicious to
feel that you are doing anything beautiful perfectly, and better than
every one else!.... And he saw that I liked it, and despised me for
it.... And, deceitful!--he little guessed how much of the pains which
I took were taken to please him, to do my best before him, to win
admiration, only that I might take it home and throw it all at his
beloved feet, and make the world say once more, “She has all Alexandria
to worship her, and yet she cares for that one Goth more than for--” But
he deceived me, true man that he is! He wished to enjoy my smiles to
the last moment, and then to cast me off, when I had once given him an
excuse.... Too cowardly to upbraid me, he let me ruin myself, to save
him the trouble of ruining me. Oh, men, men! all alike! They love us for
their own sakes, and we love them for love’s sake. We live by love, we
die for love, and yet we never find it, but only selfishness dressed
up in love’s mask.... And then we take up with that, poor, fond,
self-blinded creatures that we are!--and in spite of the poisoned hearts
around us, persuade ourselves that our latest asp’s egg, at least, will
hatch into a dove, and that though all men are faithless, our own tyrant
can never change, for he is more than man!’

‘But he has deceived you! You have found out your mistake. Leave him,
then, as he deserves!’

Pelagia looked up, with something of a tender smile. ‘Poor darling!
Little do you know of love!’

Philammon, utterly bewildered by this newest and strangest phase of
human passion, could only gasp out--

‘But do you not love me, too, my sister?’

‘Do I not love you? But not as I love him! Oh, hush, hush!--, you cannot
understand yet!’ And Pelagia hid her face in her hands, while convulsive
shudderings ran through every limb....

‘I must do it! I must! I will dare every thing, stoop to everything for
love’s sake! Go to her!--to the wise woman!--to Hypatia! She loves you!
I know that she loves you! She will hear you, though she will not me!’

‘Hypatia? Do you know that she was sitting there unmoved at--in the
theatre?’

‘She was forced! Orestes compelled her! Miriam told me so. And I saw it
in her face. As I passed beneath her, I looked up; and she was as pale
as ivory, trembling in every limb. There was a dark hollow round her
eyes--she had been weeping, I saw. And I sneered in my mad self-conceit,
and said, “She looks as if she was going to be crucified, not married!”.
But now, now!--Oh, go to her! Tell her that I will give her all I
have--jewels, money, dresses, house! Tell her that I--I--entreat
her pardon, that I will crawl to her feet myself and ask it, if she
requires!--Only let her teach me--teach me to be wise and good,
and honoured, and respected, as she is! Ask her to tell a poor
broken-hearted woman her secret. She can make old Wulf, and him, and
Orestes even, and the magistrates, respect her.... Ask her to teach me
how to be like her, and to make him respect me again, and I will give
her all--all!’

Philammon hesitated. Something within warned him, as the Daemon used
to warn Socrates, that his errand would be bootless. He thought of the
theatre, and of that firm, compressed lip; and forgot the hollow eye of
misery which accompanied it, in his wrath against his lately-worshipped
idol.

‘Oh, go! go! I tell you it was against her will. She felt for me--I saw
it--Oh, God! when I did not feel for myself! And I hated her, because
she seemed to despise me in my fool’s triumph! She cannot despise me
now in my misery.... Go! Go! or you will drive me to the agony of going
myself.’

There was but one thing to be done.

‘You will wait, then, here? You will not leave me again?’

‘Yes. But you must be quick! If he finds out that I am away, he may
fancy.... Ah, heaven! let him kill me, but never let him be jealous of
me! Go now! this moment! Take this as an earnest--the cestus which I
wore there. Horrid thing! I hate the sight of it! But I brought it with
me on purpose, or I would have thrown it into the canal. There; say it
is an earnest--only an earnest--of what I will give her!’

In ten minutes more Philammon was in Hypatia’s hall. The household
seemed full of terror and disturbance; the hall was full of soldiers. At
last Hypatia’s favourite maid passed, and knew him. Her mistress could
not speak with any one. Where was Theon, then? He, too, had shut himself
up. Never mind. Philammon must, would speak with him. And he pleaded
so passionately and so sweetly, that the soft-hearted damsel, unable to
resist so handsome a suppliant, undertook his errand, and led him up
to the library, where Theon, pale as death, was pacing to and fro,
apparently half beside himself with terror.

Philammon’s breathless message fell at first upon unheeding ears.

‘A new pupil, sir! Is this a time for pupils; when my house, my
daughter’s life, is not safe? Wretch that I am! And have I led her into
the snare? I, with my vain ambition and covetousness! Oh, my child! my
child! my one treasure! Oh, the double curse which will light upon me,
if--’

‘She asks for but one interview.’

‘With my daughter, sir? Pelagia! Will you insult me? Do you suppose,
even if her own pity should so far tempt her to degrade herself, that I
could allow her so to contaminate her purity?’

‘Your terror, sir, excuses your rudeness.’

‘Rudeness, sir? the rudeness lies in your intruding on us at such a
moment!’

‘Then this, perhaps, may, in your eyes at least, excuse me in my turn.’
And Philammon held out the cestus. ‘You are a better judge of its value
than I. But I am commissioned to say, that it is only an earnest of what
she will give willingly and at once, even to the half of her wealth, for
the honour of becoming your daughter’s pupil.’ And he laid the jewelled
girdle on the table.

The old man halted in his walk. The emeralds and pearls shone like the
galaxy. He looked at them; and walked on again more slowly.... What
might be their value? What might it not be? At least, they would pay all
his debts.... And after hovering to and fro for another minute before
the bait, he turned to Philammon.

‘If you would promise to mention the thing to no one--’

‘I will promise.’

‘And in case my daughter, as I have a right to expect, shall refuse--’

‘Let her keep the jewels. Their owner has learnt, thank God, to despise
and hate them! Let her keep the jewels--and my curse! For God do so to
me, and more also, if I ever see her face again!’

The old man had not heard the latter part of Philammon’s speech. He had
seized his bait as greedily as a crocodile, and hurried off with it into
Hypatia’s chamber, while Philammon stood expectant; possessed with a new
and fearful doubt. ‘Degrade herself!’ ‘Contaminate her purity!’ If
that notion were to be the fruit of all her philosophy? If selfishness,
pride, Pharisaism, were all its outcome? Why--had they not been its
outcome already? When had he seen her helping, even pitying, the poor,
the outcast? When had he heard from her one word of real sympathy for
the sorrowing; for the sinful?.... He was still lost in thought when
Theon re-entered, bringing a letter.

‘_From Hypatia to her well-beloved pupil_.

‘I pity you--how should I not? And more. I thank you for this your
request, for it shows me that my unwilling presence at the hideous
pageant of to-day has not alienated from me a soul of which I had
cherished the noblest hopes, for which I had sketched out the
loftiest destiny. But how shall I say it? Ask yourself whether a
change--apparently impossible--must not take place in her for whom you
plead, before she and I can meet. I am not so inhuman as to blame you
for having asked me; I do not even blame her for being what she is. She
does but follow her nature; who can be angry with her, if destiny have
informed so fair an animal with a too gross and earthly spirit? Why weep
over her? Dust she is, and unto dust she will return: while you, to
whom a more divine spark was allotted at your birth, must rise, and
unrepining, leave below you one only connected with you by the unreal
and fleeting bonds of fleshly kin.’

Philammon crushed the letter together in his hand, and strode from
the house without a word. The philosopher had no gospel, then, for the
harlot! No word for the sinner, the degraded! Destiny forsooth! She was
to follow her destiny, and be base, miserable, self-condemned. She was
to crush the voice of conscience and reason, as often as it awoke within
her, and compel herself to believe that she was bound to be that which
she knew herself bound not to be. She was to shut her eyes to that
present palpable misery which was preaching to her, with the voice of
God Himself, that the wages of sin are death. Dust she was, and unto
dust she will return! Oh, glorious hope for her, for him, who felt as
if an eternity of bliss would be worthless, if it parted him from his
new-found treasure! Dust she was, and unto dust she must return!

Hapless Hypatia! If she must needs misapply, after the fashion of her
school, a text or two here and there from the Hebrew Scriptures, what
suicidal fantasy set her on quoting that one? For now, upon Philammon’s
memory flashed up in letters of light, old words forgotten for
months--and ere he was aware, he found himself repeating aloud and
passionately, ‘I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of
the body, and the life everlasting,’.... and then clear and fair
arose before him the vision of the God-man, as He lay at meat in the
Pharisee’s house; and of her who washed His feet with tears, and wiped
them with the hairs of her head.... And from the depths of his agonised
heart arose the prayer, ‘Blessed Magdalene, intercede for her?’

So high he could rise, but not beyond. For the notion of that God-man
was receding fast to more and more awful abysmal heights, in the
minds of a generation who were forgetting His love in His power, and
practically losing sight of His humanity in their eager doctrinal
assertion of His Divinity. And Philammon’s heart re-echoed the spirit
of his age, when he felt that for an apostate like himself it were
presumptuous to entreat for any light or help from the fountain-head
itself. He who had denied his Lord, he who had voluntarily cut himself
off from the communion of the Catholic Church--how could he restore
himself? How could he appease the wrath of Him who died on the cross,
save by years of bitter supplication and self-punishment?....

‘Fool! Vain and ambitious fool that I have been! For this I threw away
the faith of my childhood! For this I listened to words at which I
shuddered; crushed down my own doubts and disgusts; tried to persuade
myself that I could reconcile them with Christianity--that I could make
a lie fit into the truth! For this I puffed myself up in the vain hope
of becoming not as other men are--superior, forsooth, to my kind! It was
not enough for me to be a man made in the image of God: but I must needs
become a god myself, knowing good and evil.--And here is the end! I call
upon my fine philosophy to help me once, in one real practical human
struggle, and it folds its arms and sits serene and silent, smiling upon
my misery! Oh! fool, fool, thou art filled with the fruit of thy own
devices! Back to the old faith! Home again, then wanderer! And yet how
home? Are not the gates shut against me? Perhaps against her too....
What if she, like me, were a baptized Christian?’

Terrible and all but hopeless that thought flashed across him, as in the
first revulsion of his conscience he plunged utterly and implicitly
back again into the faith of his childhood, and all the dark and cruel
theories popular in his day rose up before him in all their terrors. In
the innocent simplicity of the Laura he had never felt their force; but
he felt them now. If Pelagia were a baptized woman, what was before her
but unceasing penance? Before her, as before him, a life of cold
and hunger, groans and tears, loneliness and hideous soul-sickening
uncertainty. Life was a dungeon for them both henceforth. Be it so!
There was nothing else to believe in. No other rock of hope in earth
or heaven. That at least promised a possibility of forgiveness, of
amendment, of virtue, of reward--ay, of everlasting bliss and glory; and
even if she missed of that, better for her the cell in the desert than
a life of self-contented impurity! If that latter were her destiny, as
Hypatia said, she should at least die fighting against it, defying it,
cursing it! Better virtue with hell, than sin with heaven! And Hypatia
had not even promised her a heaven. The resurrection of the flesh was
too carnal a notion for her refined and lofty creed. And so, his four
months’ dream swept away in a moment, he hurried back to his chamber,
with one fixed thought before him--the desert; a cell for Pelagia;
another for himself. There they would repent, and pray, and mourn out
life side by side, if perhaps God would have mercy upon their souls.
Yet--perhaps, she might not have been baptized after all. And then
she was safe. Like other converts from Paganism, she might become a
catechumen, and go on to baptism, where the mystic water would wash
away in a moment all the past, and she would begin life afresh, in the
spotless robes of innocence. Yet he had been baptized, he knew from
Arsenius, before he left Athens; and she was older than he. It was
all but impossible yet he would hope; and breathless with anxiety
and excitement, he ran up the narrow stairs and found Miriam standing
outside, her hand upon the bolt, apparently inclined to dispute his
passage.

‘Is she still within?’

‘What if she be?’

‘Let me pass into my own room.’

‘Yours? Who has been paying the rent for you, these four months past?
You! What can you say to her? What can you do for her? Young pedant, you
must be in love yourself before you can help poor creatures who are in
love!’

But Philammon pushed past her so fiercely, that the old woman was
forced to give way, and with a sinister smile she followed him into the
chamber.

Pelagia sprang towards her brother.

‘Will she?--will she see me?’

‘Let us talk no more of her, my beloved,’ said Philammon, laying his
hands gently on her trembling shoulders, and looking earnestly into
her eyes.... ‘Better that we two should work out our deliverance for
ourselves, without the help of strangers. You can trust me?’

‘You? And can you help me? Will you teach me?’

‘Yes, but not here.... We must escape--Nay, hear me, one moment! dearest
sister, hear me! Are you so happy here that you can conceive of no
better place? And--and, oh, God! that it may not be true after all!--but
is there not a hell hereafter?’

Pelagia covered her face with her hands--‘The old monk warned me of it!’

‘Oh, take his warning....’ And Philammon was bursting forth with
some such words about the lake of fire and brimstone as he had been
accustomed to hear from Pambo and Arsenius, when Pelagia interrupted
him-- ‘Oh, Miriam! Is it true? Is it possible? What will become of me?’
almost shrieked the poor child.

‘What if it were true?--Let him tell you how he will save you from it,’
answered Miriam quietly.

‘Will not the Gospel save her from it--unbelieving Jew? Do not
contradict me! I can save her.’

‘If she does what?’

‘Can she not repent? Can she not mortify these base affections? Can
she not be forgiven? Oh, my Pelagia! forgive me for having dreamed one
moment that I could make you a philosopher, when you may be a saint of
God, a--’

He stopped short suddenly, as the thought about baptism flashed across
him, and in a faltering voice asked, ‘Are you baptized?’

‘Baptized?’ asked she, hardly understanding the term.

‘Yes--by the bishop--in the church.’

‘Ah,’ she said, ‘I remember now.... When I was four or five years
odd.... A tank, and women undressing.... And I was bathed too, and an
old man dipped my head under the water three times.... I have forgotten
what it all meant--it was so long ago. I wore a white dress, I know,
afterwards.’

Philammon recoiled with a groan.

‘Unhappy child! May God have mercy on you!’

‘Will He not forgive me, then? You have forgiven me. He?--He must be
more good even than you.--Why not?’

‘He forgave you then, freely, when you were baptized: and there is no
second pardon unless--

‘Unless I leave my love!’ shrieked Pelagia.

‘When the Lord forgave the blessed Magdalene freely, and told her
that her faith had saved her--did she live on in sin, or even in the
pleasures of this world? No! though God had forgiven her, she could not
forgive herself. She fled forth into the desert, and there, naked and
barefoot, clothed only with her hair, and feeding on the herb of the
field, she stayed fasting and praying till her dying day, never seeing
the face of man, but visited and comforted by angels and archangels. And
if she, she who never fell again, needed that long penance to work out
her own salvation--oh, Pelagia, what will not God require of you, who
have broken your baptismal vows, and defiled the white robes, which the
tears of penance only can wash clean once more?’

‘But I did not know! I did not ask to be baptized! Cruel, cruel parents,
to bring me to it! And God! Oh, why did He forgive me so soon? And to go
into the deserts! I dare not! I cannot! See me, how dedicate and tender
I am! I should die of hunger and cold! I should go mad with fear and
loneliness! Oh! brother, brother, is this the Gospel of the Christians?
I came to you to be taught how to be wise, and good, and respected, and
you tell me that all I can do is to live this horrible life of torture
here, on the chance of escaping torture forever! And how do I know that
I shall escape it? How do I know that I shall make myself miserable
enough? How do I know that He will forgive me after all? Is this true,
Miriam? Tell me, or I shall go mad!’

‘Yes,’ said Miriam, with a quiet sneer. ‘This is the gospel and good
news of salvation, according to the doctrine of the Nazarenes.’

‘I will go with you!’ cried Philammon. ‘I will go! I will never leave
you! I have my own sins to wash away!--Happy for me if I ever do
it!--And I will build you a cell near mine, and kind men will teach us,
and the will pray together night and morning, for ourselves and for each
other, and weep out our weary lives together--’

‘Better end them here, at once!’ said Pelagia, with a gesture of
despair, and dashed herself down on the floor.

Philammon was about to lift her up, when Miriam caught him by the arm,
and in a hurried whisper--‘Are you mad? Will you ruin your own purpose?
Why did you tell her this? Why did you not wait--give her hope--time
to collect herself--time to wean herself from her lover, instead of
terrifying and disgusting her at the outset, as you have done? Have you
a man’s heart in you? No word of comfort for that poor creature, nothing
but hell, hell, hell--See to your own chance of hell first! It is
greater than you fancy!’

‘It cannot be greater than I fancy!’

‘Then see to it. For her, poor darling!--why, even we Jews, who know
that all you Gentiles are doomed to Gehenna alike, have some sort of
hope for such a poor untaught creature as that.’

‘And why is she untaught? Wretch that you are. You have had the
training of her! You brought her up to sin and shame! You drove from her
recollection the faith in which she was baptized!’

‘So much the better for her, if the recollection of it is to make her
no happier than it does already. Better to wake unexpectedly in Gehenna
when you die, than to endure over and above the dread of it here. And
as for leaving her untaught, on your own showing she has been taught too
much already. Wiser it would be in you to curse your parents for having
had her baptized, than me for giving her ten years’ pleasure before she
goes to the pit of Tophet. Come now, don’t be angry with me. The old
Jewess is your friend, revile her as you will. She shall marry this
Goth.’

‘An Arian heretic!’

‘She shall convert him and make a Catholic of him, if you like. At all
events, if you wish to win her, you must win her my way. You have had
your chance, and spoiled it. Let me have mine. Pelagia, darling! Up, and
be a woman! We will find a philtre downstairs to give that ungrateful
man, that shall make him more mad about you, before a day is over, than
ever you were about him.’

‘No!’ said Pelagia, looking up. ‘No love-potions! No poisons!’

‘Poisons, little fool! Do you doubt the old woman’s skill? Do you think
I shall make him lose his wits, as Callisphyra did to her lover last
year, because she would trust to old Megaera’s drugs, instead of coming
to me!’

‘No! No drugs; no magic! He must love me really, or not at all! He
must love me for myself, because I am worth loving, because he honours,
worships me, or let me die. I, whose boast was, even when I was basest,
that I never needed such mean tricks, but conquered like Aphrodite, a
queen in my own right! I have been my own love-charm: when I cease to be
that, let me die!’

‘One as mad as the other!’ cried Miriam, in utter perplexity. ‘Hist!
what is that tramp upon the stairs?’

At this moment heavy footsteps were heard ascending the stairs.... All
three stopped aghast: Philammon, because he thought the visitors were
monks in search of him; Miriam, because she thought they were Orestes’s
guards in search of her; and Pelagia, from vague dread of anything and
everything....

‘Have you an inner room?’ asked the Jewess.

‘None.’

The old woman set her lips firmly, and drew her dagger. Pelagia wrapped
her face in her cloak, and stood trembling, bowed down, as if expecting
another blow. The door opened, and in walked, neither monks nor guard,
but Wulf and Smid.

‘Heyday, young monk!’ cried the latter worthy, with a loud laugh--‘Veils
here, too, eh? At your old trade, my worthy portress of hell-gate? Well,
walk out now; we have a little business with this young gentleman.’

And slipping past the unsuspecting Goths, Pelagia and Miriam hurried
downstairs.

‘The young one, at least, seems a little ashamed of her errand.... Now,
Wulf, speak low; and I will see that no one is listening at the door.’

Philammon faced his unexpected visitors with a look of angry inquiry.
What right had they, or any man, to intrude at such a moment on his
misery and disgrace?.... But he was disarmed the next instant by old
Wulf, who advanced to him, and looking him fully in the face with an
expression which there was no mistaking, held out his broad, brown hand.

Philammon grasped it, and then covering his face with his hands, burst
into tears.

‘You did right. You are a brave boy. If you had died, no man need have
been ashamed to die your death.’

‘You were there, then?’ sobbed Philammon.

‘We were.’

‘And what is more,’ said Smid, as the poor boy writhed at the admission,
‘we were mightily minded, some of us, to have leapt down to you and cut
you a passage out. One man, at least, whom I know of, felt his old blood
as hot for the minute as a four-year-old’s. The foul curs! And to hoot
her, after all! Oh that I may have one good hour’s hewing at them before
I die!’

‘And you shall!’ said Wulf. ‘Boy, you wish to get this sister of yours
into your power?’

‘It is hopeless--hopeless! She will never leave her--the Amal.’

‘Are you so sure of that?’

‘She told me so with her own lips not ten minutes ago. That was she who
went out as you entered!’

A curse of astonishment and regret burst from Smid....

‘Had I but known her! By the soul of my fathers, she should have found
that it was easier to come here than to go home again!’

‘Hush, Smid! Better as it is. Boy, if I put her into your power, dare
you carry her off?’

Philammon hesitated one moment.

‘What I dare you know already. But it would be an unlawful thing,
surely, to use violence.’

‘Settle your philosopher’s doubts for yourself. I have made my offer. I
should have thought that a man in his senses could give but one answer,
much more a mad monk.’

‘You forget the money matters, prince,’ said Smid, with a smile.

‘I do not. But I don’t think the boy so mean as to hesitate on that
account.’

‘He may as well know, however, that we promise to send all her trumpery
after her, even to the Amal’s presents. As for the house, we won’t
trouble her to lend it us longer than we can help. We intend shortly to
move into more extensive premises, and open business on a grander scale,
as the shopkeepers say,--eh, prince?’

‘Her money?--That money? God forgive her!’ answered Philammon. ‘Do you
fancy me base enough to touch it? But I am resolved. Tell me what to do,
and I will do it.’

‘You know the lane which runs down to the canal, under the left wall of
the house?’

‘Yes.’

‘And a door in the corner tower, close to the landing-place?’ ‘I do.’

‘Be there, with a dozen stout monks, to-morrow, an hour after sundown,
and take what we give you. After that, the concern is yours, not ours.’

‘Monks?’ said Philammon. ‘I am at open feud with the whole order.’

‘Make friends with them, then,’ shortly suggested Smid.

Philammon writhed inwardly. ‘It makes no difference to you, I presume,
whom I bring?’

‘No more than it does whether or not you pitch her into the canal, and
put a hurdle over her when you have got her,’ answered Smid; ‘which is
what a Goth would do, if he were in your place.’

‘Do not vex the poor lad, friend. If he thinks he can mend her instead
of punishing her, in Freya’s name, let him try. You will be there, then?
And mind, I like you. I liked you when you faced that great river-hog.
I like you better now than ever; for you have spoken to-day like a
Sagaman, and dared like a hero. Therefore mind; if you do not bring a
good guard to-morrow night, your life will not be safe. The whole city
is out in the streets; and Odin alone knows what will be done, and who
will be alive, eight-and-forty hours hence. Mind you!--The mob may do
strange things, and they may see still stranger things done. If you once
find yourself safe back here, stay where you are, if you value her life
or your own. And--if you are wise, let the men whom you bring with you
be monks, though it cost your proud stomach--’

‘That’s not fair, prince! You are telling too much!’ interrupted Smid,
while Philammon gulped down the said proud stomach, and answered, ‘Be it
so!’

‘I have won my bet, Smid,’ said the old man, chuckling, as the two
tramped out into the street, to the surprise and fear of all the
neighbours, while the children clapped their hands, and the street
dogs felt it their duty to bark lustily at the strange figures of their
unwonted visitors.

‘No play, no pay, Wulf. We shall see to-morrow.’

‘I knew that he would stand the trial! I knew he was right at heart!’

‘At all events, there is no fear of his ill-using the poor thing, if
he loves her well enough to go down on his knees to his sworn foes for
her.’

‘I don’t know that,’ answered Wulf, with a shake of the head. ‘These
monks, I hear, fancy that their God likes them the better the more
miserable they are: so, perhaps they may fancy that he will like them
all the more, the more miserable they make other people. However, it’s
no concern of ours.’

‘We have quite enough of our own to see to just now. But mind, no play,
no pay.’

‘Of course not. How the streets are filling! We shall not be able to see
the guards to-night, if this mob thickens much more.’

‘We shall have enough to do to hold our own, perhaps. Do you hear what
they are crying there? “Down with all heathens! Down with barbarians!”
 That means us, you know.’

‘Do you fancy no one understands Greek but yourself? Let them come ....
It may give us an excuse.... And we can hold the house a week.’

‘But how can we get speech of the guards?’

‘We will slip round by water. And, after all, deeds will win them better
than talk. They will be forced to fight on the same side as we, and most
probably be glad of our help; for if the mob attacks any one, it will
begin with the Prefect.’

‘And then--Curse their shouting! Let the soldiers once find our Amal
at their head, and they will be ready to go with him a mile, where they
meant to go a yard.’

‘The Goths will, and the Markmen, and those Dacians, and Thracians, or
whatever the Romans call them. But I hardly trust the Huns.’

‘The curse of heaven on their pudding faces and pigs’ eyes! There will
be no love lost between us. But there are not twenty of them scattered
in different troops; one of us can thrash three of them; and they will
be sure to side with the winning party. Besides, plunder, plunder,
comrade! When did you know a Hun turn back from that, even if he were
only on the scent of a lump of tallow?’

‘As for the Gauls and Latins,’.... went on Wulf meditatively, ‘they
belong to any man who can pay them.’....

‘Which we can do, like all wise generals, one penny out of our own
pocket, and nine out of the enemy’s. And the Amal is staunch?’

‘Staunch as his own hounds, now there is something to be done on the
spot. His heart was in the right place after all. I knew it all along.
But he could never in his life see four-and-twenty hours before him.
Even now if that Pelagia gets him under her spell again, he may throw
down his sword, and fall as fast asleep as ever.’

‘Never fear; we have settled her destiny for her, as far as that is
concerned. Look at the mob before the door! We must get in by the
postern-gate.’

‘Get in by the sewer, like a rat! I go my own way. Draw, old hammer and
tongs! or run away!’

‘Not this time.’ And sword in hand, the two marched into the heart of
the crowd, who gave way before them like a flock of sheep.

‘They know their intended shepherds already,’ said Smid. But at that
moment the crowd, seeing them about to enter the house, raised a yell of
‘Goths! Heathens! Barbarians!’ and a rush from behind took place.

‘If you will have it, then!’ said Wulf. And the two long bright blades
flashed round and round their heads, redder and redder every time they
swung aloft.... The old men never even checked their steady walk, and
knocking at the gate, went in, leaving more than one lifeless corpse at
the entrance.

‘We have put the coal in the thatch, now, with a vengeance,’ said Smid,
as they wiped their swords inside.

‘We have. Get me out a boat and half a dozen men, and I and Goderic will
go round by the canal to the palace, and settle a thing or two with the
guards.’

‘Why should not the Amal go, and offer our help himself to the Prefect?’

‘What? Would you have him after that turn against the hound? For troth
and honour’s sake, he must keep quiet in the matter.’

‘He will have no objection to keep quiet--trust him for that! But
don’t forget Sagaman Moneybag, the best of all orators,’ called Smid
laughingly after him, as he went off to man the boat.



CHAPTER XXV: SEEKING AFTER A SIGN


‘What answer has he sent back, father?’ asked Hypatia, as Theon
re-entered her chamber, after delivering that hapless letter to
Philammon.

‘Insolent that he is! he tore it to fragments and tied forth without a
word.’

‘Let him go, and desert us like the rest, in our calamity!’

‘At least, we have the jewels.’

‘The jewels? Let them be returned to their owner. Shall we defile
ourselves by taking them as wages for anything--above all, for that
which is unperformed?’

‘But, my child, they were given to us freely. He bade me keep
them; and--and, to tell you the truth, I must keep them. After this
unfortunate failure, be sure of it, every creditor we have will be
clamouring for payment.’

‘Let them take our house and furniture, and sell us as slaves, then. Let
them take all, provided we keep our virtue.’

‘Sell us as slaves? Are you mad?’

‘Not quite mad yet, father,’ answered she with a sad smile. ‘But how
should we be worse than we are now, were we slaves? Raphael Aben-Ezra
told me that he obeyed my precepts, when he went forth as a houseless
beggar; and shall I not have courage to obey them myself, if the need
come? The thought of his endurance has shamed my luxury for this many a
month. After all, what does the philosopher require but bread and
water, and the clear brook in which to wash away the daily stains of his
earthly prison-house? Let what is fated come. Hypatia struggles with the
stream no more!’

‘My daughter! And have you given up all hope? So soon disheartened!
What! Is this paltry accident to sweep away the purposes of years?
Orestes remains still faithful. His guards have orders to garrison the
house for as long as we shall require them.’

‘Send them away, then. I have done no wrong, and I fear no punishment.’

‘You do not know the madness of the mob; they are shouting your name in
the streets already, in company with Pelagia’s.’

Hypatia shuddered. Her name in company with Pelagia’s! And to this she
had brought herself!

‘I have deserved it! I have sold myself to a lie and a disgrace! I
have stooped to truckle, to intrigue! I have bound myself to a sordid
trickster! Father! never mention his name to me again! I have leagued
myself with the impure and the bloodthirsty, and I have my reward! No
more politics for Hypatia from henceforth, my father; no more orations
and lectures; no more pearls of Divine wisdom cast before swine. I have
sinned in divulging the secrets of the Immortals to the mob. Let them
follow their natures! Fool that I was, to fancy that my speech, my
plots, could raise them above that which the gods had made them!’

‘Then you give up our lectures? Worse and worse! We shall be ruined
utterly!’

‘We are ruined utterly already. Orestes? There is no help in him. I
know the man too well, my father, not to know that he would give us up
to-morrow to the fury of the Christians were his own base life--even his
own baser office--in danger.’

‘Too true--too true! I fear,’ said the poor old man, wringing his hands
in perplexity. ‘What will become of us,--of you, rather? What matter
what happens to the useless old star-gazer? Let him die! To-day or next
year is alike to him. But you, you! Let us escape by the canal. We may
gather up enough, even without these jewels, which you refuse, to pay
our voyage to Athens, and there we shall be safe with Plutarch; he
will welcome you--all Athens will welcome you--we will collect a fresh
school--and you shall be Queen of Athens, as you have been Queen of
Alexandria!’

‘No, father. What I know, henceforth I will know for myself only.
Hypatia will be from this day alone with the Immortal Gods!’

‘You will not leave me?’ cried the old man, terrified.

‘Never on earth!’ answered she, bursting into real human tears, and
throwing herself on his bosom. ‘Never--never! father of my spirit as
well as of my flesh!--the parent who has trained me, taught me, educated
my soul from the cradle to use her wings!--the only human being who
never misunderstood me--never thwarted me--never deceived me!’

‘My priceless child! And I have been the cause of your ruin!’

‘Not you!--a thousand times not you! I only am to blame! I tampered with
worldly politics. I tempted you on to fancy that I could effect what I
so rashly undertook. Do not accuse yourself unless you wish to break
my heart! We can be happy together yet.--A palm-leaf hut in the desert,
dates from the grove, and water from the spring--the monk dares be
miserable alone in such a dwelling, and cannot we dare to be happy
together in it?’

‘Then you will escape?’

‘Not to-day. It were base to flee before danger comes. We must hold
out at our post to the last moment, even if we dare not die at it like
heroes. And to-morrow I go to the lecture-room,--to the beloved Museum,
for the last time, to take farewell of my pupils. Unworthy as they are,
I owe it to myself and to philosophy to tell them why I leave them.’

‘It will be too dangerous--indeed it will!’

‘I could take the guards with me, then. And yet--no.... They shall never
have occasion to impute fear to the philosopher. Let them see her go
forth as usual on her errand, strong in the courage of innocence,
secure in the protection of the gods. So, perhaps, some sacred awe, some
suspicion of her divineness, may fall on them at last.’

‘I must go with you.’

‘No, I go alone. You might incur danger where I am safe. After all, I am
a woman.... And, fierce as they are, they will not dare to harm me.’

The old man shook his head.

‘Look now,’ she said smilingly, laying her hands on his shoulders, and
looking into his face.... ‘You tell me that I am beautiful, you know;
and beauty will tame the lion. Do you not think that this face might
disarm even a monk?’

And she laughed and blushed so sweetly, that the old man forgot his
fears, as she intended that he should, and kissed her and went his
way for the time being, to command all manner of hospitalities to the
soldiers, whom he prudently determined to keep in his house as long as
he could make them stay there; in pursuance of which wise purpose he
contrived not to see a great deal of pleasant flirtation between his
valiant defenders and Hypatia’s maids, who, by no means so prudish as
their mistress, welcomed as a rare boon from heaven an afternoon’s chat
with twenty tall men of war.

So they jested and laughed below, while old Theon, having brought out
the very best old wine, and actually proposed in person, by way of
mending matters, the health of the Emperor of Africa, locked himself
into the library, and comforted his troubled soul with a tough problem
of astronomy, which had been haunting him the whole day, even in the
theatre itself. But Hypatia sat still in her chamber, her face buried in
her hands, her heart full of many thoughts; her eyes of tears. She had
smiled away her father’s fears; she could not smile away her own.

She felt, she hardly knew why, but she felt as clearly as if a god had
proclaimed it to her bodily ears, that the crisis of her life was come:
that her political and active career was over, and that she must now be
content to be for herself, and in herself alone, all that she was, or
might become. The world might be regenerated: but not in her day;--the
gods restored; but not by her. It was a fearful discovery, and yet
hardly a discovery. Her heart had told her for years that she was hoping
against hope,--that she was struggling against a stream too mighty for
her. And now the moment had come when she must either be swept helpless
down the current, or, by one desperate effort, win firm land, and let
the tide roll on its own way henceforth.... Its own way?.... Not the
way of the gods, at least; for it was sweeping their names from off the
earth. What if they did not care to be known? What if they were weary of
worship and reverence from mortal men, and, self-sufficing in their own
perfect bliss, recked nothing for the weal or woe of earth? Must it not
be so? Had she not proof of it in everything which she beheld? What did
Isis care for her Alexandria? What did Athens care for her Athens?....
And yet Homer and Hesiod, and those old Orphic singers, were of another
mind.... Whence got they that strange fancy of gods counselling,
warring, intermarrying, with mankind, as with some kindred tribe?

‘Zeus, father of gods and men.’.... Those were words of hope and
comfort.... But were they true? Father of men? Impossible!--not father
of Pelagia, surely. Not father of the base, the foul, the ignorant....
Father of heroic souls, only, the poets must have meant.... But where
were the heroic souls now? Was she one? If so, why was she deserted by
the upper powers in her utter need? Was the heroic race indeed extinct?
Was she merely assuming, in her self-conceit, an honour to which she had
no claim? Or was it all a dream of these old singers? Had they, as some
bold philosophers had said, invented gods in their own likeness, and
palmed off on the awe and admiration of men their own fair phantoms?....
It must be so. If there were gods, to know them was the highest bliss
of man. Then would they not teach men of themselves, unveil their own
loveliness to a chosen few, even for the sake of their own honour, if
not, as she had dreamed once, from love to those who bore a kindred
flame to theirs?....What if there were no gods? What if the stream of
fate, which was sweeping away their names; were the only real power?
What if that old Pyrrhonic notion were the true solution of the problem
of the Universe? What if there were no centre, no order, no rest, no
goal--but only a perpetual flux, a down-rushing change? And before her
dizzying brain and heart arose that awful vision of Lucretius, of the
homeless Universe falling, falling, falling, for ever from nowhence
toward nowhither through the unending ages, by causeless and unceasing
gravitation, while the changes and efforts of all mortal things were but
the jostling of the dust-atoms amid the everlasting storm....

It could not be! There was a truth, a virtue, a beauty, a nobleness,
which could never change, but which were absolute, the same for ever.
The God-given instinct of her woman’s heart rebelled against her
intellect, and, in the name of God, denied its lie.... Yes,--there was
virtue, beauty.... And yet--might not they, too, be accidents of
that enchantment, which man calls mortal life; temporary and mutable
accidents of consciousness; brilliant sparks, struck out by the clashing
of the dust-atoms? Who could tell?

There were those once who could tell. Did not Plotinus speak of a direct
mystic intuition of the Deity, an enthusiasm without passion, a still
intoxication of the soul, in which she rose above life, thought, reason,
herself, to that which she contemplated, the absolute and first One,
and united herself with that One, or, rather, became aware of that union
which had existed from the first moment in which she emanated from
the One? Six times in a life of sixty years had Plotinus risen to that
height of mystic union, and known himself to be a part of God. Once had
Porphyry attained the same glory. Hypatia, though often attempting,
had never yet succeeded in attaining to any distinct vision of a being
external to herself; though practice, a firm will, and a powerful
imagination, had long since made her an adept in producing, almost
at will, that mysterious trance, which was the preliminary step to
supernatural vision. But her delight in the brilliant, and, as she
held, divine imaginations, in which at such times she revelled, had
been always checked and chilled by the knowledge that, in such matters,
hundreds inferior to her in intellect and in learning,--ay, saddest of
all, Christian monks and nuns, boasted themselves her equals,--indeed,
if their own account of their visions was to be believed, her
superiors--by the same methods which she employed. For by celibacy,
rigorous fasts, perfect bodily quiescence, and intense contemplation of
one thought, they, too, pretended to be able to rise above the body
into the heavenly regions, and to behold things unspeakable, which
nevertheless, like most other unspeakable things, contrived to be most
carefully detailed and noised abroad.... And it was with a half feeling
of shame that she prepared herself that afternoon for one more, perhaps
one last attempt, to scale the heavens, as she recollected how many
an illiterate monk and nun, from Constantinople to the Thebaid, was
probably employed at that moment exactly as she was. Still, the attempt
must be made. In that terrible abyss of doubt, she must have something
palpable, real; something beyond her own thoughts, and hopes, and
speculations, whereon to rest her weary faith, her weary heart....
Perhaps this time, at least, in her extremest need, a god might
vouchsafe some glimpse of his own beauty .... Athene might pity at
last.... Or, if not Athene, some archetype, angel, demon.... And then
she shuddered at the thought of those evil and deceiving spirits, whose
delight it was to delude and tempt the votaries of the gods, in the
forms of angels of light. But even in the face of that danger, she must
make the trial once again. Was she not pure and spotless as Athene’s
self? Would not her innate purity enable her to discern, by an
instinctive antipathy, those foul beings beneath the fairest mask? At
least, she must make the trial....

And so, with a look of intense humility, she began to lay aside her
jewels and her upper robes. Then, baring her bosom and her feet, and
shaking her golden tresses loose, she laid herself down upon the conch,
crossed her hands upon her breast, and, with upturned ecstatic eyes,
waited for that which might befall.

There she lay, hour after hour, as her eye gradually kindled, her bosom
heaved, her breath came fast: but there was no more sign of life
in those straight still limbs, and listless feet and hands, than in
Pygmalion’s ivory bride, before she bloomed into human flesh and blood.
The sun sank towards his rest; the roar of the city grew louder and
louder without; the soldiers revelled and laughed below: but every sound
passed through unconscious ears, and went its way unheeded. Faith, hope,
reason itself, were staked upon the result of that daring effort to
scale the highest heaven. And, by one continuous effort of her practised
will, which reached its highest virtue, as mystics hold, in its own
suicide, she chained down her senses from every sight and sound,
and even her mind from every thought, and lay utterly self-resigned,
self-emptied, till consciousness of time and place had vanished, and she
seemed to herself alone in the abyss.

She dared not reflect, she dared not hope, she dared not rejoice, lest
she should break the spell.... Again and again had she broken it at this
very point, by some sudden and tumultuous yielding to her own joy or
awe; but now her will held firm.... She did not feel her own limbs, hear
her own breath.... A light bright mist, an endless network of glittering
films, coming, going, uniting, resolving themselves, was above her
and around her.... Was she in the body or out of the body?....
...............

The network faded into an abyss of still clear light.... A still warm
atmosphere was around her, thrilling through and through her .... She
breathed the light, and floated in it, as a mote in the mid-day beam....
And still her will held firm. ...............

Far away, miles, and aeons, and abysses away, through the interminable
depths of glory, a dark and shadowy spot. It neared and grew.... A dark
globe, ringed with rainbows.... What might it be? She dared not hope....
It came nearer, nearer, nearer, touched her.... The centre quivered,
flickered, took form--a face. A god’s? No--Pelagia’s.

Beautiful, sad, craving, reproachful, indignant, awful.... Hypatia could
bear no more: and sprang to her feet with a shriek, to experience in
its full bitterness the fearful revulsion of the mystic, when the human
reason and will which he has spurned reassert their God-given rights;
and after the intoxication of the imagination, come its prostration and
collapse.

And this, then, was the answer of the gods! The phantom of her whom
she had despised, exposed, spurned from her! ‘No, not their answer--the
answer of my own soul! Fool that I have been! I have been exerting my
will most while I pretended to resign it most! I have been the slave
of every mental desire, while I tried to trample on them! What if that
network of light, that blaze, that globe of darkness, have been, like
the face of Pelagia, the phantoms of my own imagination--ay, even of
my own senses? What if I have mistaken for Deity my own self? What if I
have been my own light, my own abyss?.... Am I not my own abyss, my own
light--my own darkness?’ And she smiled bitterly as she said it, and
throwing herself again upon the couch, buried her head in her hands,
exhausted equally in body and in mind.

At last she rose, and sat, careless of her dishevelled locks, gazing
out into vacancy. ‘Oh for a sign, for a token! Oh for the golden days of
which the poets sang, when gods walked among men, fought by their side
as friends! And yet.... are these old stories credible, pious, even
modest? Does not my heart revolt from them? Who has shared more than I
in Plato’s contempt for the foul deeds, the degrading transformations,
which Homer imputes to the gods of Greece? Must I believe them now? Must
I stoop to think that gods, who live in a region above all sense, will
deign to make themselves palpable to those senses of ours which are
whole aeons of existence below them? Degrade themselves to the base
accidents of matter? Yes! That, rather than nothing!.... Be it even so.
Better, better, better, to believe that Ares fled shrieking and wounded
from a mortal man--better to believe in Zeus’s adulteries and Hermes’s
thefts--than to believe that gods have never spoken face to face with
men! Let me think, lest I go mad, that beings from that unseen world for
which I hunger have appeared, and held communion with mankind, such
as no reason or sense could doubt--even though those beings were more
capricious and baser than ourselves! Is there, after all, an unseen
world? Oh for a sign, a sign!’

Haggard and dizzy, she wandered into her ‘chamber of the gods’; a
collection of antiquities, which she kept there rather as matters of
taste than of worship. All around her they looked out into vacancy with
their white soulless eyeballs, their dead motionless beauty, those cold
dreams of the buried generations. Oh that they could speak, and set her
heart at rest! At the lower end of the room stood a Pallas, completely
armed with aegis, spear, and helmet; a gem of Athenian sculpture, which
she had bought from some merchants after the sack of Athens by the
Goths. There it stood severely fair; but the right hand, alas! was gone;
and there the maimed arm remained extended, as if in sad mockery of the
faith of which the body remained, while the power was dead and vanished.

She gazed long and passionately on the image of her favourite goddess,
the ideal to which she had longed for years to assimilate herself;
till--was it a dream? was it a frolic of the dying sunlight? or did
those lips really bend themselves into a smile?

Impossible! No, not impossible. Had not, only a few years before, the
image of Hecate smiled on a philosopher? Were there not stories of
moving images, and winking pictures, and all the material miracles by
which a dying faith strives desperately--not to deceive others--but to
persuade itself of its own sanity? It had been--it might be--it was--!

No! there the lips were, as they had been from the beginning, closed
upon each other in that stony self-collected calm, which was only not a
sneer. The wonder, if it was one, had passed: and now--did her eyes play
her false, or were the snakes round that Medusa’s head upon the shield
all writhing, grinning, glaring at her with stony eyes, longing to
stiffen her with terror into their own likeness?

No! that, too, passed. Would that even it had stayed, for it would
have been a sign of life! She looked up at the face once more: but in
vain--the stone was stone; and ere she was aware, she found herself
clasping passionately the knees of the marble.

‘Athene! Pallas! Adored! Ever Virgin! Absolute reason, springing
unbegotten from the nameless One! Hear me! Athene! Have mercy on me!
Speak, if it be to curse me! Thou who alone wieldest the lightnings
of thy father, wield them to strike me dead, if thou wilt; only do
something!--something to prove thine own existence--something to make
me sure that anything exists beside this gross miserable matter, and my
miserable soul. I stand alone in the centre of the universe! I fall and
sicken down the abyss of ignorance, and doubt, and boundless blank
and darkness! Oh, have mercy! I know that thou art not this! Thou art
everywhere and in all things! But I know that this is a form which
pleases thee, which symbolises thy nobleness! T know that thou hast
deigned to speak to those who--Oh! what do I know? Nothing! nothing!
nothing!

And she clung there, bedewing with scalding tears the cold feet of the
image, while there was neither sign, nor voice, nor any that answered.

On a sudden she was startled by a rustling near; and, looking round, saw
close behind her the old Jewess.

‘Cry aloud!’ hissed the hag, in a tone of bitter scorn; ‘cry aloud, for
she is a goddess. Either she is talking, or pursuing, or she is on a
journey; or perhaps she has grown old, as we all shall do some day, my
pretty lady, and is too cross and lazy to stir. What! her naughty doll
will not speak to her, will it not? or even open its eyes, because the
wires are grown rusty? Well, we will find a new doll for her, if she
chooses.’

‘Begone, hag! What do you mean by intruding here?’ said Hypatia,
springing up; but the old woman went on coolly--

‘Why not try the fair young gentleman over there?’ pointing to a copy
of the Apollo which we call Belvedere--‘What is his name? Old maids are
always cross and jealous, you know. But he--he could not be cruel to
such a sweet face as that. Try the fair young lad! Or, perhaps, if you
are bashful, the old Jewess might try him for you?’

These last words were spoken with so marked a significance, that
Hypatia, in spite of her disgust, found herself asking the hag what
she meant. She made no answer for a few seconds, but remained looking
steadily into her eyes with a glance of fire, before which even the
proud Hypatia, as she had done once before, quailed utterly, so deep was
the understanding, so dogged the purpose, so fearless the power, which
burned within those withered and shrunken sockets.

‘Shall the old witch call him up, the fair young Apollo, with the
beauty-bloom upon his chin? He shall come! He shall come! I warrant him
he must come, civilly enough, when old Miriam’s finger is once held up.’

‘To you? Apollo, the god of light, obey a Jewess?’

‘A Jewess? And you a Greek?’ almost yelled the old woman. ‘And who
are you who ask? And who are your gods, your heroes, your devils,
you children of yesterday, compared with us? You, who were a set of
half-naked savages squabbling about the siege of Troy, when our
Solomon, amid splendours such as Rome and Constantinople never saw, was
controlling demons and ghosts, angels and archangels, principalities and
powers, by the ineffable name? What science have you that you have not
stolen from the Egyptians and Chaldees? And what had the Egyptians which
Moses did not teach them? And what have the Chaldees which Daniel did
not teach them? What does the world know but from us, the fathers
and the masters of magic--us, the lords of the inner secrets of the
universe! Come, you Greek baby--as the priests in Egypt said of your
forefathers, always children, craving for a new toy, and throwing it
away next day--come to the fountainhead of all your paltry wisdom! Name
what you will see, and you shall see it!’

Hypatia was cowed; for of one thing there was no doubt,--that the woman
utterly believed her own words; and that was a state of mind of which
she had seen so little, that it was no wonder if it acted on her with
that overpowering sympathetic force, with which it generally does, and
perhaps ought to, act on the human heart. Besides, her school had always
looked to the ancient nations of the East for the primeval founts of
inspiration, the mysterious lore of mightier races long gone by. Might
she not have found it now?

The Jewess saw her advantage in a moment, and ran on, without giving her
time to answer--

‘What sort shall it be, then? By glass and water, or by the moonlight
on the wall, or by the sieve, or by the meal? By the cymbals, or by the
stars? By the table of the twenty-four elements, by which the Empire
was promised to Theodosius the Great, or by the sacred counters of the
Assyrians, or by the sapphire of the Hecatic sphere? Shall I threaten,
as the Egyptian priests used to do, to tear Osiris again in pieces, or
to divulge the mysteries of Isis? I could do so, if I chose; for I know
them all and more. Or shall I use the ineffable name on Solomon’s seal,
which we alone, of all the nations of the earth, know? No; it would be a
pity to waste that upon a heathen. It shall be by the sacred wafer. Look
here!--here they are, the wonder-working atomies! Eat no food this day,
except one of these every three hours, and come to me to-night at the
house of your porter, Eudaimon, bringing with you the black agate; and
then--why then, what you have the heart to see, you shall see!’

Hypatia took the wafers, hesitating--

‘But what are they?’

‘And you profess to explain Homer? Whom did I hear the other morning
lecturing away so glibly on the nepenthe which Helen gave the heroes, to
fill them with the spirit of joy and love; how it was an allegory of
the inward inspiration which flows from spiritual beauty, and all
that?--pretty enough, fair lady; but the question still remains, what
was it? and I say it was this. Take it and try; and then confess, that
while you can talk about Helen, I can act her; and know a little more
about Homer than you do, after all.’

‘I cannot believe you! Give me some sign of your power, or how can I
trust you?’

‘A sign?--A sign? Kneel down then there, with your face toward the
north; you are over tall for the poor old cripple.’

‘I? I never knelt to human being.’

‘Then consider that you kneel to the handsome idol there, if you
will--but kneel!’

And, constrained by that glittering eye, Hypatia knelt before her.

‘Have you faith? Have you desire? Will you submit? Will you obey?
Self-will and pride see nothing, know nothing. If you do not give up
yourself, neither God nor devil will care to approach. Do you submit?’

‘I do! I do!’ cried poor Hypatia, in an agony of curiosity and
self-distrust, while she felt her eye quailing and her limbs loosening
more and more every moment under that intolerable fascination.

The old woman drew from her bosom a crystal, and placed the point
against Hypatia’s breast. A cold shiver ran through her.... The witch
waved her hands mysteriously round her head, muttering from time to
time, ‘Down! down, proud spirit!’ and then placed the tips of her skinny
fingers on the victim’s forehead. Gradually her eyelids became heavy;
again and again she tried to raise them, and dropped them again
before those fixed glaring eyes...., and in another moment she lost
consciousness....

When she awoke, she was kneeling in a distant part of the room, with
dishevelled hair and garments. What was it so cold that she was clasping
in her arms? The feet of the Apollo! The hag stood by her, chuckling to
herself and clapping her hands.

‘How came I here? What have I been doing?’

‘Saying such pretty things!--paying the fair youth there such
compliments, as he will not be rude enough to forget in his visit
to-night. A charming prophetic trance you have had! Ah ha! you are not
the only woman who is wiser asleep than awake! Well, you will make a
very pretty Cassandra-or a Clytia, if you have the sense.... It lies
with you, my fair lady. Are you satisfied now? Will you have any more
signs? Shall the old Jewess blast those blue eyes blind to show that she
knows more than the heathen?’

‘Oh, I believe you--I believe,’ cried the poor exhausted maiden. ‘I will
come; and yet--’

‘Ah! yes! You had better settle first how he shall appear.’

‘As he wills!--let him only come! only let me know that he is a god.
Abamnon said that gods appeared in a clear, steady, unbearable light,
amid a choir of all the lesser deities, archangels, principalities, and
heroes, who derive their life from them.’

‘Abamnon was an old fool, then. Do you think young Phoebus ran after
Daphne with such a mob at his heels? or that Jove, when he swam up to
Leda, headed a whole Nile-flock of ducks, and plover, and curlews? No,
he shall come alone--to you alone; and then you may choose for yourself
between Cassandra and Clytia.... Farewell. Do not forget your wafers,
or the agate either, and talk with no one between now and sunset. And
then--my pretty lady!’

And laughing to herself, the old hag glided from the room.

Hypatia sat trembling with shame and dread. She, as a disciple of the
more purely spiritualistic school of Porphyry, had always looked with
aversion, with all but contempt, on those theurgic arts which were so
much lauded and employed by Iamblicus, Abamnon, and those who clung
lovingly to the old priestly rites of Egypt and Chaldaea. They had
seemed to her vulgar toys, tricks of legerdemain, suited only for the
wonder of the mob.... She began to think of them with more favour now.
How did she know that the vulgar did not require signs and wonders to
make them believe?.... How, indeed? for did she not want such herself?
And she opened Abamnon’s famous letter to Porphyry, and read earnestly
over, for the twentieth time, his subtle justification of magic, and
felt it to be unanswerable. Magic? What was not magical? The whole
universe, from the planets over her head to the meanest pebble at her
feet, was utterly mysterious, ineffable, miraculous, influencing and
influenced by affinities and repulsions as unexpected, as unfathomable,
as those which, as Abamnon said, drew the gods towards those sounds,
those objects, which, either in form, or colour, or chemical properties,
were symbolic of, or akin to, themselves. What wonder in it, after
all? Was not love and hatred, sympathy and antipathy, the law of the
universe? Philosophers, when they gave mechanical explanations of
natural phenomena, came no nearer to the real solution of them. The
mysterious ‘Why?’ remained untouched.... All their analyses could only
darken with big words the plain fact that the water hated the oil
with which it refused to mix, the lime loved the acid which it eagerly
received into itself, and, like a lover, grew warm with the rapture of
affection. Why not? What right had we to deny sensation, emotion, to
them, any more than to ourselves? Was not the same universal spirit
stirring in them as in us? And was it not by virtue of that spirit that
we thought, and felt, and loved?--Then why not they, as well as we?
If the one spirit permeated all things, if its all-energising presence
linked the flower with the crystal as well as with the demon and the
god, must it not link together also the two extremes of the great chain
of being? bind even the nameless One itself to the smallest creature
which bore its creative impress? What greater miracle in the attraction
of a god or an angel, by material incense, symbols, and spells, than
in the attraction of one soul to another by the material sounds of the
human voice? Was the affinity between spirit and matter implied in that,
more miraculous than the affinity between the soul and the body?--than
the retention of that soul within that body by the breathing of material
air, the eating of material food? Or even, if the physicists were right,
and the soul were but a material product or energy of the nerves, and
the sole law of the universe the laws of matter, then was not magic
even more probable, more rational? Was it not fair by every analogy
to suppose that there might be other, higher beings than ourselves,
obedient to those laws, and therefore possible to be attracted, even as
human beings were, by the baits of material sights and sounds?.... If
spirit pervaded all things, then was magic probable; if nothing but
matter had existence, magic was morally certain. All that remained in
either case was the test of experience.... And had not that test been
applied in every age, and asserted to succeed? What more rational, more
philosophic action than to try herself those methods and ceremonies
which she was assured on every hand had never failed but through the
ignorance or unfitness of the neophyte?.... Abamnon must be right....
She dared not think him wrong; for if this last hope failed, what was
there left but to eat and drink, for to-morrow we die?



CHAPTER XXVI: MIRIAM’S PLOT


He who has worshipped a woman, even against his will and conscience,
knows well how storm may follow storm, and earthquake earthquake, before
his idol be utterly overthrown. And so Philammon found that evening,
as he sat pondering over the strange chances of the day; for, as he
pondered, his old feelings towards Hypatia began, in spite of the
struggles of his conscience and reason, to revive within him. Not only
pure love of her great loveliness, the righteous instinct which bids us
welcome and honour beauty, whether in man or woman, as something of
real worth--divine, heavenly, ay, though we know not how, in a most deep
sense eternal; which makes our reason give the lie to all merely logical
and sentimental maunderings of moralists about ‘the fleeting hues of
this our painted clay’; telling men, as the old Hebrew Scriptures tell
them, that physical beauty is the deepest of all spiritual symbols;
and that though beauty without discretion be the jewel of gold in the
swine’s snout, yet the jewel of gold it is still, the sacrament of an
inward beauty, which ought to be, perhaps hereafter may be, fulfilled
in spirit and in truth. Not only this, which whispered to him--and
who shall say that the whisper was of the earth, or of the lower
world?--‘She is too beautiful to be utterly evil’; but the very defect
in her creed which he had just discovered, drew him towards her again.
She had no Gospel for the Magdalene, because she was a Pagan.... That,
then, was the fault of her Paganism, not of herself. She felt for
Pelagia, but even if she had not, was not that, too, the fault of her
Paganism? And for that Paganism who was to be blamed? She?.... Was
he the man to affirm that? Had he not seen scandals, stupidities,
brutalities, enough to shake even his faith, educated a Christian? How
much more excuse for her, more delicate, more acute, more lofty than he;
the child, too of a heathen father? Her perfections, were they not
her own?--her defects, those of her circumstances?.... And had she not
welcomed him, guarded him, taught him, honoured him?.... Could he turn
against her? above all now in her distress--perhaps her danger? Was he
not bound to her, if by nothing else, by gratitude? Was not he, of all
men, bound to believe that all she required to make her perfect was
conversion to the true faith?.... And that first dream of converting her
arose almost as bright as ever.... Then he was checked by the thought
of his first utter failure.... At least, if he could not convert her, he
could love her, pray for her.... No, he could not even do that; for to
whom could he pray? He had to repent, to be forgiven, to humble himself
by penitence, perhaps for years, ere he could hope to be heard even for
himself, much less for another.... And so backwards and forwards swayed
his hope and purpose, till he was roused from his meditation by the
voice of the little porter summoning him to his evening meal; and
recollecting, for the first time, that he had tasted no food that day,
he went down, half-unwillingly, and ate.

But as he, the porter, and his negro wife were sitting silently and
sadly enough together, Miriam came in, apparently in high good humour,
and lingered a moment on her way to her own apartments upstairs.

‘Eh? At supper? And nothing but lentils and water-melons, when the
flesh-pots of Egypt have been famous any time these two thousand years.
Ah! but times are changed since then!.... You have worn out the old
Hebrew hints, you miserable Gentiles, you, and got a Caesar instead of
a Joseph! Hist, you hussies!’ cried she to the girls upstairs, clapping
her hands loudly. ‘Here! bring us down one of those roast chickens,
and a bottle of the wine of wines--the wine with the green seal, you
careless daughters of Midian, you, with your wits running on the men,
I’ll warrant, every minute I’ve been out of the house! Ah, you’ll smart
for it some day--you’ll smart for it some day, you daughters of Adam’s
first wife!’

Down came, by the hands of one of the Syrian slave-girls, the fowl and
the wine.

‘There, now; we’ll all sup together. Wine, that maketh glad the heart of
man!--Youth, you were a monk once, so you have read all about that, eh?
and about the best wine which goes down sweetly, causing the lips of
them that are asleep to speak. And rare wine it was, I warrant, which
the blessed Solomon had in his little country cellar up there in
Lebanon. We’ll try if this is not a very fair substitute for it, though.
Come, my little man-monkey, drink, and forget your sorrow! You shall
be temple-sweeper to Beelzebub yet, I promise you. Look at it there,
creaming and curdling, the darling! purring like a cat at the very
thought of touching human lips! As sweet as honey, as strong as fire, as
clear as amber! Drink, ye children of Gehenna; and make good use of the
little time that is left you between this and the unquenchable fire!’

And tossing a cup of it down her own throat, as if it had been water,
she watched her companions with a meaning look, as they drank.

The little porter followed her example gallantly. Philammon looked, and
longed, and sipped blushingly and bashfully, and tried to fancy that he
did not care for it; and sipped again, being willing enough to forget
his sorrow also for a moment; the negress refused with fear and
trembling--‘She had a vow on her.’

‘Satan possess you and your vow! Drink, you coal out of Tophet! Do you
think it is poisoned? You, the only creature in the world that I should
not enjoy ill-using, because every one else ill-uses you already without
my help! Drink, I say, or I’ll turn you pea-green from head to foot!’


The negress put the cup to her lips, and contrived, for her own reasons,
to spill the contents unobserved.

‘A very fine lecture that of the Lady Hypatia’s the other morning, on
Helen’s nepenthe,’ quoth the little porter, growing philosophic as
the wine-fumes rose. ‘Such a power of extracting the cold water of
philosophy out of the bottomless pit of Mythus, I never did hear. Did
you ever, my Philammonidion?’

‘Aha! she and I were talking about that half an hour ago,’ said Miriam.

‘What! have you seen her?’ asked Philammon, with a flutter of the heart.

‘If you mean, did she mention you,--why, then, yes!’

‘How?--how?’

‘Talked of a young Phoebus Apollo--without mentioning names, certainly,
but in the most sensible, and practical, and hopeful way--the wisest
speech that I have heard from her this twelvemonth.’

Philammon blushed scarlet.

‘And that,’ thought he, in spite of what passed this morning!--Why’ what
is the matter with our host?’

‘He has taken Solomon’s advice, and forgotten his sorrow.’

And so, indeed, he had; for he was sleeping sweetly, with open
lack-lustre eyes, and a maudlin smile at the ceiling; while the negress,
with her head fallen on her chest, seemed equally unconscious of their
presence.

‘We’ll see,’ quoth Miriam; and taking up the lamp, she held the flame
unceremoniously to the arm of each of them; but neither winced nor
stirred.

‘Surely your wine is not drugged?’ said Philammon, in trepidation.

‘Why not? What has made them beasts, may make us angels. You seem none
the less lively for it! Do I?’

‘But drugged wine?’

‘Why not? The same who made wine made poppy-juice. Both will make man
happy. Why not use both?’

‘It is poison!’

‘It is the nepenthe, as I told Hypatia, whereof she was twaddling
mysticism this morning. Drink, child, drink! I have no mind to put
you to sleep to-night! I want to make a man of you, or rather, to see
whether you are one!’

And she drained another cup, and then went on, half talking to herself--

‘Ay, it is poison; and music is poison; and woman is poison, according
to the new creed, Pagan and Christian; and wine will be poison, and
meat will be poison, some day; and we shall have a world full of mad
Nebuchadnezzars, eating grass like oxen. It is poisonous, and brutal,
and devilish, to be a man, and not a monk, and an eunuch, and a dry
branch. You are all in the same lie, Christians and philosophers, Cyril
and Hypatia! Don’t interrupt me, but drink, young fool!--Ay, and the
only man who keeps his manhood, the only man who is not ashamed to be
what God has made him, is your Jew. You will find yourselves in want
of him after all, some day, you besotted Gentiles, to bring you back
to common sense and common manhood.--In want of him and his grand old
books, which you despise while you make idols of them, about Abraham,
and Jacob, and Moses, and David, and Solomon, whom you call saints, you
miserable hypocrites, though they did what you are too dainty to do,
and had their wives and their children, and thanked God for a beautiful
woman, as Adam did before them, and their sons do after them--Drink, I
say--and believed that God had really made the world, and not the devil,
and had given them the lordship over it, as you will find out to your
cost some day.’

Philammon heard, and could not answer; and on she rambled.

‘And music, too? Our priests were not afraid of sackbut and psaltery,
dulcimer and trumpet, in the house of the Lord; for they knew who had
given them the cunning to make them. Our prophets were not afraid of
calling for music, when they wished to prophesy, and letting it soften
and raise their souls, and open and quicken them till they saw into the
inner harmony of things, and beheld the future in the present; for they
knew who made the melody and harmony, and made them the outward symbols
of the inward song which runs through sun and stars, storm and tempest,
fulfilling his word--in that these sham philosophers the heathen are
wiser than those Christian monks. Try it!--try it! Come with me! Leave
these sleepers here, and come to my rooms. You long to be as wise as
Solomon. Then get at wisdom as Solomon did, and give your heart first to
know folly and madness.... You have read the Book of the Preacher?’

Poor Philammon! He was no longer master of himself. The arguments--the
wine--the terrible spell of the old woman’s voice and eye, and the
strong overpowering will which showed out through them, dragged him
along in spite of himself. As if in a dream, he followed her up the
stairs.

‘There, throw away that stupid, ugly, shapeless philosopher’s cloak.
So! You have on the white tunic I gave you? And now you look as a human
being should. And you have been to the baths to-day? Well--you have the
comfort of feeling now like other people, and having that alabaster skin
as white as it was created, instead of being tanned like a brute’s hide.
Drink, I say! Ay--what was that face, that figure, made for? Bring a
mirror here, hussy! There, look in that and judge for yourself? Were
those lips rounded for nothing? Why were those eyes set in your head,
and made to sparkle bright as jewels, sweet as mountain honey? Why were
those curls laid ready for soft fingers to twine themselves among
them, and look all the whiter among the glossy black knots? Judge for
yourself!’

Alas! poor Philammon!

‘And after all,’ thought he, ‘is it not true, as well as pleasant?’

‘Sing to the poor boy, girls!--sing to him! and teach him for the first
time in his little ignorant life, the old road to inspiration!’

One of the slave-girls sat down on the divan, and took up a double
flute; while the other rose, and accompanying the plaintive dreamy air
with a slow dance, and delicate twinklings of her silver armlets and
anklets, and the sistrum which she held aloft, she floated gracefully
round and round the floor and sang--

Why were we born but for bliss? Why are we ripe, but to fall? Dream
not that duty can bar thee from beauty, Like water and sunshine, the
heirloom of all.

Lips were made only to kiss; Hands were made only to toy; Eyes were made
only to lure on the lonely, The longing, the loving, and drown them in
joy!

Alas, for poor Philammon! And yet no! The very poison brought with it
its own anti-dote; and, shaking off by one strong effort of will the
spell of the music and the wine, he sprang to his feet....

‘Never! If love means no more than that--if it is to be a mere delicate
self-indulgence, worse than the brute’s, because it requires the
prostration of nobler faculties, and a selfishness the more huge in
proportion to the greatness of the soul which is crushed inward by
it--then I will have none of it! I have had my dream--yes! but it was
of one who should be at once my teacher and my pupil, my debtor and my
queen--who should lean on me, and yet support me--supply my defects,
although with lesser light, as the old moon fills up the circle of the
new--labour with me side by side in some great work--rising with me for
ever as I rose: and this is the base substitute! Never!’

Whether or not this was unconsciously forced into words by the vehemence
of his passion, or whether the old Jewess heard, or pretended to hear, a
footstep coming up the stair, she at all events sprang instantly to her
feet.

‘Hist! Silence, girls! I hear a visitor. What mad maiden has come to beg
a love-charm of the poor old witch at this time of night? Or have the
Christian bloodhounds tracked the old lioness of Judah to her den at
last? We’ll see!’

And she drew a dagger from her girdle, and stepped boldly to the door.
As she went out she turned--

‘So! my brave young Apollo! You do not admire simple woman? You must
have something more learned and intellectual and spiritual, and so
forth. I wonder whether Eve, when she came to Adam in the garden,
brought with her a certificate of proficiency in the seven sciences?
Well, well--like must after like. Perhaps we shall be able to suit you
after all. Vanish, daughters of Midian!’

The girls vanished accordingly, whispering and laughing; and Philammon
found himself alone. Although he was somewhat soothed by the old woman’s
last speech, yet a sense of terror, of danger, of coming temptation,
kept him standing sternly on his feet, looking warily round the chamber,
lest a fresh siren should emerge from behind some curtain or heap of
pillows.

On one side of the room he perceived a doorway, filled by a curtain of
gauze, from behind which came the sound of whispering voices. His fear,
growing with the general excitement of his mind, rose into anger as he
began to suspect some snare; and he faced round towards the curtain, and
stood like a wild beast at bay, ready, with uplifted arm, for all evil
spirits, male or female.

‘And he will show himself? How shall I accost him?’ whispered a
well-known voice--could it be Hypatia’s? And then the guttural Hebrew
accent of the old woman answered-- ‘As you spoke of him this morning--’

‘Oh! I will tell him all, and he must--he must have mercy! But he?--so
awful, so glorious!--’

What the answer was, he could not hear but the next moment a sweet
heavy scent, as of narcotic gums, filled the room--mutterings of
incantations--and then a blaze of light, in which the curtain vanished,
and disclosed to his astonished eyes, enveloped in a glory of luminous
smoke, the hag standing by a tripod, and, kneeling by her, Hypatia
herself, robed in pure white, glittering with diamonds and gold, her
lips parted, her head thrown back, her arms stretched out in an agony of
expectation.

In an instant, before he had time to stir, she had sprung through the
blaze, and was kneeling at his feet.

‘Phoebus! beautiful, glorious, ever young! Hear me! only a moment! only
this once!’

Her drapery had caught fire from the tripod, but she did not heed it.
Philammon instinctively clasped her in his arms, and crushed it out, as
she cried--

‘Have mercy on me! Tell me the secret! I will obey thee! I have no
self--I am thy slave! Kill me, if thou wilt: but speak!’

The blaze sank into a soft, warm, mellow gleam, and beyond it what
appeared?

The negro-woman, with one finger upon her lips, as with an imploring,
all but despairing look, she held up to him her little crucifix.

He saw it. What thoughts flashed through him, like the lightning bolt,
at that blessed sign of infinite self-sacrifice, I say not; let those
who know it judge for themselves. But in another instant he had spurned
from him the poor deluded maiden, whose idolatrous ecstasies he saw
instantly were not meant for himself, and rushed desperately across the
room, looking for an outlet.

He found a door in the darkness--a room-a window--and in another moment
he had leapt twenty feet into the street, rolled over, bruised and
bleeding, rose again like an Antaeus, with new strength, and darted off
towards the archbishop’s house.

And poor Hypatia lay half senseless on the floor, with the Jewess
watching her bitter tears--not merely of disappointment, but of utter
shame. For as Philammon fled she had recognised those well-known
features; and the veil was lifted from her eyes, and the hope and the
self-respect of Theon’s daughter were gone for ever.

Her righteous wrath was too deep for upbraidings. Slowly she rose;
returned into the inner room; wrapped her cloak deliberately around her;
and went silently away, with one look at the Jewess of solemn scorn and
defiance.

‘Ah! I can afford a few sulky looks to-night!’ said the old woman to
herself, with a smile, as she picked up from the floor the prize for
which she had been plotting so long--Raphael’s half of the black agate.

‘I wonder whether she will miss it! Perhaps she will have no fancy for
its company any longer, now that she has discovered what over-palpable
archangels appear when she rubs it. But if she does try to recover
it.... why--let her try her strength with mine--or, rather, with a
Christian mob.’

And then, drawing from her bosom the other half of the talisman, she
fitted the two pieces together again and again, fingering them over, and
poring upon them with tear-brimming eyes, till she had satisfied herself
that the fracture still fitted exactly; while she murmured to herself
from time to time--‘Oh, that he were here! Oh, that he would return
now--now! It may be too late to-morrow! Stay--I will go and consult the
teraph; it may know where he is....’

And she departed to her incantations; while Hypatia threw herself upon
her bed at home, and filled the chamber with a long, low wailing, as
of a child in pain, until the dreary dawn broke on her shame and her
despair. And then she rose, and rousing herself for one great effort,
calmly prepared a last oration, in which she intended to bid farewell
for ever to Alexandria and to the schools.

Philammon meanwhile was striding desperately up the main street which
led towards the Serapeium. But he was not destined to arrive there as
soon as he had hoped to do. For ere he had gone half a mile, behold a
crowd advancing towards him blocking up the whole street.

The mass seemed endless. Thousands of torches flared above their heads,
and from the heart of the procession rose a solemn chant, in which
Philammon soon recognised a well-known Catholic hymn. He was half minded
to turn up some by-street, and escape meeting them. But on attempting
to do so, he found every avenue which he tried similarly blocked up by a
tributary stream of people; and, almost ere he was aware, was entangled
in the vanguard of the great column.

‘Let me pass!’ cried he in a voice of entreaty.

‘Pass, thou heathen?’

In vain he protested his Christianity.

‘Origenist, Donatist, heretic! Whither should a good Catholic be going
to-night, save to the Caesareum?’

‘My friends, my friends, I have no business at the Caesareum!’ cried he,
in utter despair. ‘I am on my way to seek a private interview with the
patriarch, on matters of importance.’

‘Oh, liar! who pretends to be known to the patriarch, and yet is
ignorant that this night he visits at the Caesareum the most sacred
corpse of the martyr Ammonius!’

‘What! Is Cyril with you?’

‘He and all his clergy.’

‘Better so; better in public,’ said Philammon to himself; and, turning,
he joined the crowd.

Onward, with chant and dirge, they swept out through the Sun-gate, upon
the harbour esplanade, and wheeled to the right along the quay, while
the torchlight bathed in a red glare the great front of the Caesareum,
and the tall obelisks before it, and the masts of the thousand ships
which lay in the harbour on their left; and last, but not least, before
the huge dim mass of the palace which bounded the esplanade in front,
a long line of glittering helmets and cuirasses, behind a barrier of
cables which stretched from the shore to the corner of the museum.

There was a sudden halt; a low ominous growl; and then the mob pressed
onward from behind, surged up almost to the barrier. The soldiers
dropped the points of their lances, and stood firm. Again the mob
recoiled; again surged forward. Fierce cries arose; some of the boldest
stooped to pick up stones: but, luckily, the pavement was too firm for
them....Another moment, and the whole soldiery of Alexandria would have
been fighting for life and death against fifty thousand Christians....

But Cyril had not forgotten his generalship. Reckless as that night’s
events proved him to be about arousing the passions of his subjects, he
was yet far too wary to risk the odium and the danger of a night attack,
which, even if successful, would have cost the lives of hundreds. He
knew well enough the numbers and the courage of the enemy, and the
certainty that, in case of a collision, no quarter would be given or
accepted on either side.... Beside, if a battle must take place--and
that, of course, must happen sooner or later--it must not happen in his
presence and under his sanction. He was in the right now, and Orestes in
the wrong; and in the right he would keep--at least till his express
to Byzantium should have returned, and Orestes was either proscribed
or superseded. So looking forward to some such chance as this, the wary
prelate had schooled his aides-de-camp, the deacons of the city, and
went on his way up the steps of the Caesareum, knowing that they could
be trusted to keep the peace outside.

And they did their work well. Before a blow had been struck, or even an
insult passed on either side, they had burst through the front rank
of the mob, and by stout threats of excommunication, enjoined not only
peace, but absolute silence until the sacred ceremony which was about to
take place should be completed; and enforced their commands by marching
up and down like sentries between the hostile ranks for the next
weary two hours, till the very soldiers broke out into expressions of
admiration, and the tribune of the cohort, who ad no great objection,
but also no great wish, fight, paid them a high-flown compliment on
their laudable endeavours to maintain public order, and received the
somewhat ambiguous reply, that the ‘weapons of their warfare were not
carnal, that they wrestled not against flesh and blood, but against
principalities and powers,’.... an answer which the tribune, being now
somewhat sleepy, thought it best to leave unexplained.

In the meanwhile, there had passed up the steps of the Temple a gorgeous
line of priests, among whom glittered, more gorgeous than all, the
stately figure of the pontiff. They were followed close by thousands of
monks, not only from Alexandria and Nitria, but from all the adjoining
towns and monasteries. And as Philammon, unable for some half hour more
to force his way into the church, watched their endless stream, he could
well believe the boast which he had so often heard in Alexandria, that
one half of the population of Egypt was at that moment in ‘religious
orders.’

After the monks, the laity began to enter but even then so vast was the
crowd, and so dense the crush upon the steps, that before he could force
his way into the church, Cyril’s sermon had begun. ...............

--‘What went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Nay, such
are in kings’ palaces, and in the palaces of prefects who would needs
be emperors, and cast away the Lord’s bonds from them--of whom it is
written, that He that sitteth in the heavens laugheth them to scorn, and
taketh the wicked in their own snare, and maketh the devices of princes
of none effect. Ay, in king’s palaces, and in theatres too, where the
rich of this world, poor in faith, deny their covenant, and defile their
baptismal robes that they may do honour to the devourers of the earth.
Woe to them who think that they may partake of the cup of the Lord
and the cup of devils. Woe to them who will praise with the same mouth
Aphrodite the fiend, and her of whom it is written that He was born of
a pure Virgin. Let such be excommunicate from the cup of the Lord, and
from the congregation of the Lord, till they have purged away their sins
by penance and by almsgiving. But for you, ye poor of this world, rich
in faith, you whom the rich despise, hale before the judgment seats, and
blaspheme that holy name whereby ye are called--what went ye out into
the wilderness to see? A prophet?--Ay, and more than a prophet--a
martyr! More than a prophet, more than a king, more than a prefect whose
theatre was the sands of the desert, whose throne was the cross, whose
crown was bestowed, not by heathen philosophers and daughters of
Satan, deceiving men with the works of their fathers, but by angels and
archangels; a crown of glory, the victor’s laurel, which grows for ever
in the paradise of the highest heaven. Call him no more Ammonius, call
him Thaumasius, wonderful! Wonderful in his poverty, wonderful in his
zeal, wonderful in his faith, wonderful in his fortitude, wonderful
in his death, most wonderful in the manner of that death. Oh thrice
blessed, who has merited the honour of the cross itself! What can
follow, but that one so honoured in the flesh should also be honoured
in the life which he now lives, and that from the virtue of these
thrice-holy limbs the leper should be cleansed, the dumb should speak,
the very dead be raised? Yes; it were impiety to doubt it. Consecrated
by the cross, this flesh shall not only rest in hope but work in power.
Approach, and be healed! Approach, and see the glory of the saints, the
glory of the poor. Approach, and learn that that which man despises,
God hath highly esteemed; that that which man rejects, God accepts; that
that which man punishes, God rewards. Approach, and see how God hath
chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and the
weak things of this world to confound the strong. Man abhors the cross:
The Son of God condescended to endure it! Man tramples on the poor: The
Son of God hath not where to lay His head. Man passes by the sick as
useless: The Son of God chooses them to be partakers of His sufferings,
that the glory of God may be made manifest in them. Man curses the
publican, while he employs him to fill his coffers with the plunder of
the poor: The Son of God calls him from the receipt of custom to be an
apostle, higher than the kings of the earth. Man casts away the harlot
like a faded flower, when he has tempted her to become the slave of sin
for a season; and the Son of God calls her, the defiled, the despised,
the forsaken, to Himself, accepts her tears, blesses her offering, and
declares that her sins are forgiven, for she hath loved much; while to
whom little is forgiven the same loveth little....’

Philammon heard no more. With the passionate and impulsive nature of
a Greek fanatic, he burst forward through the crowd, towards the steps
which led to the choir, and above which, in front of the altar, stood
the corpse of Ammonius, enclosed in a coffin of glass, beneath a
gorgeous canopy; and never stopping till he found himself in front of
Cyril’s pulpit, he threw himself upon his face upon the pavement, spread
out his arms in the form of a cross, and lay silent and motionless
before the feet of the multitude.

There was a sudden whisper and rustle in the congregation: but Cyril,
after a moment’s pause, went on--

‘Man, in his pride and self-sufficiency, despises humiliation, and
penance, and the broken and the contrite heart; and tells thee that only
as long as thou doest well unto thyself will he speak well of thee: the
Son of God says that he that humbleth himself, even as this our penitent
brother, he it is who shall be exalted. He it is of whom it is written
that his father saw him afar off, and ran to meet him, and bade put the
best robe on him, and a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet, and
make merry and be glad with the choir of angels who rejoice over one
sinner that repenteth. Arise, my son, whoso-ever thou art; and go in
peace for this night, remembering that he who said, “My belly cleaveth
unto the pavement,” hath also said, “Rejoice not against me, Satan, mine
enemy, for when I fall I shall arise!”’

A thunder-clap of applause, surely as pardonable as any an Alexandrian
church ever heard, followed this dexterous, and yet most righteous,
turn of the patriarch’s oratory: but Philammon raised himself slowly
and fearfully to his knees, and blushing scarlet endured the gaze of ten
thousand eyes.

Suddenly, from beside the pulpit, an old man sprang forward, and clasped
him round the neck. It was Arsenius.

‘My son! my son!’ sobbed he, almost aloud.

‘Slave, as well as son, if you will!’ whispered Philammon. ‘One boon
from the patriarch; and then home to the Laura for ever!’

‘Oh, twice-blest night,’ rolled on above the deep rich voice of Cyril,
‘which beholds at once the coronation of a martyr and the conversion
of a sinner; which increases at the same time the ranks of the church
triumphant, and of the church militant; and pierces celestial essences
with a twofold rapture of thanksgiving, as they welcome on high a
victorious, and on earth a repentant, brother!’

And at a sign from Cyril, Peter the Reader stepped forward, and led
away, gently enough, the two weepers, who were welcomed as they passed
by the blessings, and prayers, and tears even of those fierce fanatics
of Nitria. Nay, Peter himself, as he turned to leave them together in
the sacristy, held out his hand to Philammon.

‘I ask your forgiveness,’ said the poor boy, who plunged eagerly and
with a sort of delight into any and every self-abasement.

‘And I accord it,’ quoth Peter; and returned to the church, looking, and
probably feeling, in a far more pleasant mood than usual.



CHAPTER XXVII: THE PRODIGAL’S RETURN


About ten o’clock the next morning, as Hypatia, worn out with sleepless
sorrow, was trying to arrange her thoughts for the farewell lecture, her
favourite maid announced that a messenger from Synesius waited below. A
letter from Synesius? A gleam of hope flashed across her mind. From him,
surely, might come something of comfort, of advice. Ah! if he only knew
how sorely she was bested!

‘Let him send up his letter.’

‘He refuses to deliver it to any one but yourself. And I think,’--added
the damsel, who had, to tell the truth, at that moment in her purse
a substantial reason for so thinking--‘I think it might be worth your
ladyship’s while to see him.’

Hypatia shook her head impatiently.

‘He seems to know you well, madam, though he refuses to tell his name:
but he bade me put you in mind of a black agate--I cannot tell what
he meant--of a black agate, and a spirit which was to appear when you
rubbed it.’

Hypatia turned pale as death. Was it Philammon again? She felt for the
talisman--it was gone! She must have lost it last night in
Miriam’s chamber. Now she saw the true purpose of the old hag’s
plot--....deceived, tricked, doubly tricked! And what new plot was this?

‘Tell him to leave the letter, and begone.... My father? What? Who is
this? Who are you bringing to me at such a moment?’

And as she spoke, Theon ushered into the chamber no other than Raphael
Aben-Ezra, and then retired.

He advanced slowly towards her, and falling on one knee, placed in her
hand Synesius’s letter.

Hypatia trembled from head to foot at the unexpected apparition....
Well; at least he could know nothing of last night and its disgrace.
But not daring to look him in the face, she took the letter and opened
it.... If she had hoped for comfort from it, her hope was not realised.

‘Synesius to the Philosopher:

‘Even if Fortune cannot take from me all things, yet what she can take
she will. And yet of two things, at least, she shall not rob me--to
prefer that which is best, and to succour the oppressed. Heaven forbid
that she should overpower my judgment, as well as the rest of me!
Therefore I do hate injustice; for that I can do: and my will is to stop
it; but the power to do so is among the things of which she has bereaved
me-before, too, she bereaved me of my children....

‘“Once, in old times, Milesian men were strong.”

And there was a time when I, too, was a comfort to my friends, and
when you used to call me a blessing to every one except myself, as I
squandered for the benefit of others the favour with which the great
regarded me.... My hands they were--then.... But now I am left desolate
of all: unless you have any power. For you and virtue I count among
those good things, of which none can deprive me. But you always have
power, and will have it, surely, now--using it as nobly as you do.

‘As for Nicaeus and Philolaus, two noble youths, and kinsmen of my
own, let it be the business of all who honour you, both private men and
magistrates, to see that they return possessors of their just rights.’
[Footnote: An authentic letter of Synesius to Hypatia.]

‘Of all who honour me!’ said she, with a bitter sigh: and then looked up
quickly at Raphael, as if fearful of having betrayed herself. She turned
deadly pale. In his eyes was a look of solemn pity, which told her that
he knew--not all?--surely not all?

‘Have you seen the--Miriam?’ gasped she, rushing desperately at that
which she most dreaded.

‘Not yet. I arrived but one hour ago; and Hypatia’s welfare is still
more important to me than my own.’

‘My welfare? It is gone!’

‘So much the better. I never found mine till I lost it.’

‘What do you mean?’

Raphael lingered, yet without withdrawing his gaze, as if he had
something of importance to say, which he longed and yet feared to utter.
At last--

‘At least, you will confess that I am better drest than when we met
last. I have returned, you see, like a certain demoniac of Gadara, about
whom we used to argue, clothed--and perhaps also in my right mind....
God knows!’

‘Raphael! are you come here to mock me? You know--you cannot have
been here an hour without knowing--that but yesterday I dreamed of
being’--and she drooped her eyes--‘an empress; that to-day I am ruined;
to-morrow, perhaps, proscribed. Have you no speech for me but your old
sarcasms and ambiguities?’

Raphael stood silent and motionless.

‘Why do you not speak? What is the meaning of this sad, earnest look, so
different from your former self?.... You have something strange to tell
me!’

‘I have,’ said he, speaking very slowly. ‘What--what would Hypatia
answer if, after all, Aben-Ezra said like the dying Julian, “The
Galilean has conquered”?’

‘Julian never said it! It is a monkish calumny.’

‘But I say it.’

‘Impossible!’

‘I say it!’

‘As your dying speech? The true Raphael Aben-Ezra, then, lives no more!’

‘But he may be born again.’

‘And die to philosophy, that he may be born again into barbaric
superstition! Oh worthy metempsychosis! Farewell, sir!’ And she rose to
go.

‘Hear me!--hear me patiently this once, noble, beloved Hypatia! One
more sneer of yours, and I may become again the same case-hardened fiend
which you knew me of old--to all, at least, but you. Oh, do not think
me ungrateful, forgetful! What do I not owe to you, whose pure and lofty
words alone kept smouldering in me the dim remembrance that there was
a Right, a Truth, an unseen world of spirits, after whose pattern man
should aspire to live?’

She paused, and listened in wonder. What faith had she of her own? She
would at least hear what he had found....

‘Hypatia, I am older than you--wiser than you, if wisdom be the fruit of
the tree of knowledge. You know but one side of the medal, Hypatia,
and the fairer; I have seen its reverse as well as its obverse. Through
every form of human thought, of human action, of human sin and folly,
have I been wandering for years, and found no rest--as little in wisdom
as in folly, in spiritual dreams as in sensual brutality. I could not
rest in your Platonism--I will tell you why hereafter. I went on to
Stoicism, Epicurism, Cynicism, Scepticism, and in that lowest deep I
found a lower depth, when I became sceptical of Scepticism itself.’

‘There is a lower deep still,’ thought Hypatia to herself, as she
recollected last night’s magic; but she did not speak.

‘Then in utter abasement, I confessed myself lower than the brutes, who
had a law, and obeyed it, while I was my own lawless God, devil,
harpy, whirlwind.... I needed even my own dog to awaken in me the brute
consciousness of my own existence, or of anything without myself. I took
her, the dog, for my teacher, and obeyed her, for she was wiser than
I. And she led me back--the poor dumb beast--like a God-sent and
God-obeying angel, to human nature, to mercy, to self-sacrifice, to
belief, to worship--to pure and wedded love.’

Hypatia started.... And in the struggle to hide her own bewilderment,
answered almost without knowing it--

‘Wedded love?.... Wedded love? Is that, then, the paltry bait by which
Raphael Aben-Ezra has been tempted to desert philosophy?’

‘Thank Heaven!’ said Raphael to himself. ‘She does not care for me,
then! If she had, pride would have kept her from that sneer.’ Yes, my
dear lady,’ answered he aloud, ‘to desert philosophy, to search after
wisdom; because wisdom itself had sought for me, and found me. But,
indeed, I had hoped that you would have approved of my following your
example for once in my life, and resolving, like you, to enter into the
estate of wedlock.’

‘Do not sneer at me!’ cried she, in her turn, looking up at him with
shame and horror, which made him repent of uttering the words. ‘If you
do not know--you will soon, too soon! Never mention that hateful dream
to me, if you wish to have speech of me more!’

A pang of remorse shot through Raphael’s heart. Who but he himself had
plotted that evil marriage? But she gave him no opportunity of answering
her, and went on hurriedly--

‘Speak to me rather about yourself. What is this strange and sudden
betrothal? What has it to do with Christianity? I had thought that it
was rather by the glories of celibacy--gross and superstitious as their
notions of it are--that the Galileans tempted their converts.’

‘So had I, my dearest lady,’ answered he, as, glad to turn the subject
for a moment, and perhaps a little nettled by her contemptuous tone, he
resumed something of his old arch and careless manner. ‘But--there is
no accounting for man’s agreeable inconsistencies--one morning I found
myself, to my astonishment, seized by two bishops, and betrothed,
whether I chose or not, to a young lady who but a few days before had
been destined for a nunnery.’

‘Two bishops?’

‘I speak simple truth. The one was Synesius of course;--that most
incoherent and most benevolent of busybodies chose to betray me behind
my back:-but I will not trouble you with that part of my story. The real
wonder is that the other episcopal match-maker was Augustine of Hippo
himself!’

‘Anything to bribe a convert,’ said Hypatia contemptuously.

‘I assure you, no. He informed me, and her also, openly and uncivilly
enough, that he thought us very much to be pitied for so great a
fall.... But as we neither of us seemed to have any call for the higher
life of celibacy, he could not press it on us.... We should have trouble
in the flesh. But if we married we had not sinned. To which I answered
that my humility was quite content to sit in the very lowest ranks, with
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.... He replied by an encomium on virginity, in
which I seemed to hear again the voice of Hypatia herself.’

‘And sneered at it inwardly, as you used to sneer at me.’

‘Really I was in no sneering mood at that moment; and whatsoever I
may have felt inclined to reply, he was kind enough to say for me and
himself the next minute.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘He went on, to my utter astonishment, by such a eulogium on wedlock as
I never heard from Jew or heathen, and ended by advice to young married
folk so thoroughly excellent and to the point, that I could not help
telling him, when he stopped; what a pity I thought it that he had
not himself married, and made some good woman happy by putting his own
recipes into practice.... And at that, Hypatia, I saw an expression on
his face which made me wish for the moment that I had bitten out this
impudent tongue of mine, before I so rashly touched some deep old
wound.... That man has wept bitter tears ere now, be sure of it.... But
he turned the conversation instantly, like a well-bred gentleman as he
is, by saying, with the sweetest smile, that though he had made it a
solemn rule never to be a party to making up any marriage, yet in our
case Heaven had so plainly pointed us out for each other, etc. etc.,
that he could not refuse himself the pleasure.... and ended by a
blessing as kindly as ever came from the lips of man.’

‘You seem wonderfully taken with the sophist of Hippo,’ said Hypatia
impatiently; ‘and forget, perhaps, that his opinions, especially when,
as you confess, they are utterly inconsistent with themselves, are not
quite as important to me as they seem to have become to you.’

‘Whether he be consistent or not about marriage,’ said Raphael, somewhat
proudly, ‘I care little. I went to him to tell me, not about the
relation of the sexes, on which point I am probably as good a judge as
he--but about God and on that subject he told me enough to bring me back
to Alexandria, that I might undo, if possible, somewhat of the wrong
which I have done to Hypatia.’

‘What wrong have you done me?.... You are silent? Be sure, at least,
that whatsoever it may be, you will not wipe it out by trying to make a
proselyte of me!’

‘Be not too sure of that. I have found too great a treasure not to wish
to share it with Theon’s daughter.’

‘A treasure?’ said she, half scornfully.

‘Yes, indeed. You recollect my last words, when we parted there below a
few months ago?’

Hypatia was silent. One terrible possibility at which he had hinted
flashed across her memory for the first time since;.... but she spurned
proudly from her the heaven-sent warning.

‘I told you that, like Diogenes, I went forth to seek a man. Did I not
promise you, that when I had found one you should be the first to hear
of him? And I have found a man.’

Hypatia waved her beautiful hand. ‘I know whom you would say.... that
crucified one. Be it so. I want not a man, but a god.’

‘What sort of a god, Hypatia? A god made up of our own intellectual
notions, or rather of negations of them--of infinity and eternity,
and invisibility, and impassibility--and why not of immortality, too,
Hypatia? For I recollect we used to agree that it was a carnal degrading
of the Supreme One to predicate of Him so merely human a thing as
virtue.’

Hypatia was silent.

‘Now I have always had a sort of fancy that what we wanted, as the
first predicate of our Absolute One, was that He was to be not merely an
infinite God--whatever that meant, which I suspect we did not always see
quite clearly--or an eternal one--or an omnipotent one--or even merely a
one God at all; none of which predicates, I fear, did we understand more
clearly than the first: but that he must be a righteous God:--or
rather, as we used sometimes to say that He was to have no
predicate--Righteousness itself. And all along, I could not help
remembering that my old sacred Hebrew books told me of such a one; and
feeling that they might have something to tell me which--’

‘Which I did not tell you! And this, then, caused your air of reserve,
and of sly superiority over the woman whom you mocked by calling her
your pupil! I little suspected you of so truly Jewish a jealousy! Why,
oh why, did you not tell me this?’

‘Because I was a beast, Hypatia; and had all but forgotten what this
righteousness was like; and was afraid to find out lest it should
condemn me. Because I was a devil, Hypatia; and hated righteousness, and
neither wished to see you righteous, nor God righteous either, because
then you would both have been unlike myself. God be merciful to me a
sinner!’

She looked up in his face. The man was changed as if by miracle--and yet
not changed. There was the same gallant consciousness of power, the same
subtle and humorous twinkle in those strong ripe Jewish features and
those glittering eyes; and yet every line in his face was softened,
sweetened; the mask of sneering faineance was gone--imploring tenderness
and earnestness beamed from his whole countenance. The chrysalis case
had fallen off, and disclosed the butterfly within. She sat looking
at him, and passed her hand across her eyes, as if to try whether the
apparition would not vanish. He, the subtle!--he, the mocker!--he, the
Lucian of Alexandria!--he whose depth and power had awed her, even in
his most polluted days.... And this was the end of him....

‘It is a freak of cowardly superstition.... Those Christians have been
frightening him about his sins and their Tartarus.’

She looked again into his bright, clear, fearless face, and was ashamed
of her own calumny. And this was the end of him--of Synesius--of
Augustine--of learned and unlearned, Goth and Roman .... The great flood
would have its way, then.... Could she alone fight against it?

She could! Would she submit?--She? Her will should stand firm, her
reason free, to the last--to the death if need be.... And yet last
night!--last night!

At last she spoke, without looking up.

‘And what if you have found a man in that crucified one? Have you found
in him a God also?’

‘Does Hypatia recollect Glaucon’s definition of the perfectly righteous
man?.... How, without being guilty of one unrighteous act, he must
labour his life long under the imputation of being utterly unrighteous,
in order that his disinterestedness may be thoroughly tested, and by
proceeding in such a course, arrive inevitably, as Glaucon says, not
only in Athens of old, or in Judaea of old, but, as you yourself will
agree, in Christian Alexandria at this moment, at--do you remember,
Hypatia?--bonds, and the scourge, and lastly, at the cross itself.... If
Plato’s idea of the righteous man be a crucified one, why may not mine
also? If, as we both--and old Bishop Clemens, too--as good a Platonist
as we, remember--and Augustine himself, would agree, Plato in speaking
those strange words, spoke not of himself, but by the Spirit of God,
why should not others have spoken by the same Spirit when they spoke the
same words?’

‘A crucified man.... Yes. But a crucified God, Raphael! I shudder at the
blasphemy.’

‘So do my poor dear fellow-countrymen. Are they the more righteous in
their daily doings, Hypatia, on account of their fancied reverence for
the glory of One who probably knows best how to preserve and manifest
His own glory? But you assent to the definition? Take care!’ said he,
with one of his arch smiles, ‘I have been fighting with Augustine, and
have become of late a terrible dialectician. Do you assent to it?’

‘Of course--it is Plato’s.’

‘But do you assent merely because it is written in the book called
Plato’s, or because your reason tells you that it is true?.... You
will not tell me. Tell me this, then, at least. Is not the perfectly
righteous man the highest specimen of men?’

‘Surely,’ said she half carelessly: but not unwilling, like a
philosopher and a Greek, as a matter of course, to embark in anything
like a word-battle, and to shut out sadder thoughts for a moment.

‘Then must not the Autanthropos, the archetypal and ideal man, who is
more perfect than any individual specimen, be perfectly righteous also?’

‘Yes.’

‘Suppose, then, for the sake of one of those pleasant old games of
ours, an argument, that he wished to manifest his righteousness to
the world.... The only method for him, according to Plato, would be
Glaucon’s, of calumny and persecution, the scourge and the cross?’

‘What words are these, Raphael? Material scourges and crosses for an
eternal and spiritual idea?’

‘Did you ever yet, Hypatia, consider at leisure what the archetype of
man might be like?’

Hypatia started, as at a new thought, and confessed--as every
Neo--Platonist would have done--that she had never done so.

‘And yet our master, Plato, bade us believe that there was a substantial
archetype of each thing, from a flower to a nation, eternal in the
heavens. Perhaps we have not been faithful Platonists enough heretofore,
my dearest tutor. Perhaps, being philosophers, and somewhat of Pharisees
to boot, we began all our lucubrations as we did our prayers, by
thanking God that we were not as other men were; and so misread another
passage in the _Republic_, which we used in pleasant old days to be fond
of quoting.’

‘What was that?’ asked Hypatia, who became more and more interested
every moment.

‘That philosophers were men.’

‘Are you mocking me? Plato defines the philosopher as the man who
seeks after the objects of knowledge, while others seek after those of
opinion.’

‘And most truly. But what if, in our eagerness to assert that wherein
the philosopher differed from other men, we had overlooked that in which
he resembled other men; and so forgot that, after all, man was a genus
whereof the philosopher was only a species?’

Hypatia sighed.

‘Do you not think, then, that as the greater contains the less, and the
archetype of the genus that of the species, we should have been wiser if
we had speculated a little more on the archetype of man as man,
before we meddled with a part of that archetype,--the archetype of the
philosopher?.... Certainly it would have been the easier course, for
there are more men than philosophers, Hypatia; and every man is a real
man, and a fair subject for examination, while every philosopher is not
a real philosopher--our friends the Academics, for instance, and even a
Neo-Platonist or two whom we know? You seem impatient. Shall I cease?’

‘You mistook the cause of my impatience,’ answered she, looking up at
him with her great sad eyes. ‘Go on.’

‘Now--for I am going to be terribly scholastic--is it not the very
definition of man, that he is, alone of all known things, a spirit
temporarily united to an animal body?’

‘Enchanted in it, as in a dungeon, rather,’ said she sighing.

‘Be it so if you will. But--must we not say that the archetype--the very
man--that if he is the archetype, he too will be, or must have been,
once at least, temporarily enchanted into an animal body?.... You
are silent. I will not press you.... Only ask you to consider at your
leisure whether Plato may not justify somewhat from the charge of
absurdity the fisherman of Galilee, where he said that He in whose
image man is made was made flesh, and dwelt with him bodily there by the
lake-side at Tiberias, and that he beheld His Glory, the glory as of the
only-begotten of the Father.’

‘That last question is a very different one. God made flesh! My reason
revolts at it.’

‘Old Homer’s reason did not.’

Hypatia started, for she recollected her yesterday’s cravings after
those old, palpable, and human deities. And--‘Go on,’ she cried eagerly.

‘Tell me, then--This archetype of man, if it exists anywhere, it must
exist eternally in the mind of God? At least, Plato would have so said?’

‘Yes.’

‘And derive its existence immediately from Him?’

‘Yes.’

‘But a man is one willing person, unlike to all others.’

‘Yes.’

‘Then this archetype must be such.’

‘I suppose so.’

‘But possessing the faculties and properties of all men in their highest
perfection.’

‘Of course.’

‘How sweetly and obediently my late teacher becomes my pupil!’

Hypatia looked at him with her eyes full of tears.

‘I never taught you anything, Raphael.’

‘You taught me most, beloved lady, when you least thought of it. But
tell me one thing more. Is it not the property of every man to be a
son? For you can conceive of a man as not being a father, but not as not
being a son.’

‘Be it so.’

‘Then this archetype must be a son also.’

‘Whose son, Raphael?’

‘Why not of “Zeus, father of gods and men”? For we agreed that it--we
will call it he, now, having agreed that it is a person--could owe its
existence to none but God Himself.’

‘And what then?’ said Hypatia, fixing those glorious eyes full on his
face, in an agony of doubt, but yet, as Raphael declared to his dying
day, of hope and joy.

‘Well, Hypatia, and must not a son be of the same species as his father?
“Eagles,” says the poet, “do not beget doves.” Is the word son anything
but an empty and false metaphor, unless the son be the perfect and equal
likeness of his father?’

‘Heroes beget sons worse than themselves, says the poet.’

‘We are not talking now of men as they are, whom Homer’s Zeus calls the
most wretched of all the beasts of the field; we are talking--are we
not?--of a perfect and archetypal Son, and a perfect and archetypal
Father, in a perfect and eternal world, wherein is neither growth,
decay, nor change; and of a perfect and archetypal generation, of which
the only definition can be, that like begets its perfect like?....
You are silent. Be so, Hypatia.... We have gone up too far into the
abysses....

And so they both were silent for a while. And Raphael thought solemn
thoughts about Victoria, and about ancient signs of Isaiah’s, which were
to him none the less prophecies concerning The Man whom he had found,
because he prayed and trusted that the same signs might be repeated to
himself, and a child given to him also, as a token that, in spite of all
his baseness, ‘God was with him.’

But he was a Jew, and a man: Hypatia was a Greek, and a woman--and for
that matter, so were the men of her school. To her, the relations
and duties of common humanity shone with none of the awful and divine
meaning which they did in the eyes of the converted Jew, awakened for
the first time in his life to know the meaning of his own scriptures,
and become an Israelite indeed. And Raphael’s dialectic, too, though it
might silence her, could not convince her. Her creed, like those of her
fellow-philosophers, was one of the fancy and the religious sentiment,
rather than of the reason and the moral sense. All the brilliant
cloud-world in which she had revelled for years,--cosmogonies,
emanations, affinities, symbolisms, hierarchies, abysses, eternities,
and the rest of it--though she could not rest in them, not even believe
in, them--though they had vanished into thin air at her most utter
need,--yet--they were too pretty to be lost sight of for ever; and,
struggling against the growing conviction of her reason, she answered at
last--

‘And you would have me give up, as you seem to have done, the sublime,
the beautiful, the heavenly, for a dry and barren chain of dialectic--in
which, for aught I know,--for after all, Raphael, I cannot cope with
you--I am a woman--a weak woman!’

And she covered her face with her hands.

‘For aught you know, what?’ asked Raphael gently.

‘You may have made the worse appear the better reason.’

‘So said Aristophanes of Socrates. But hear me once more, beloved
Hypatia. You refuse to give up the beautiful, the sublime, the heavenly?
What if Raphael Aben-Ezra, at least, had never found them till now?
Recollect what I said just now--what if our old Beautiful, and Sublime,
and Heavenly, had been the sheerest materialism, notions spun by our own
brains out of the impressions of pleasant things, and high things, and
low things, and awful things, which we had seen with our bodily eyes?
What if I had discovered that the spiritual is not the intellectual, but
the moral; and that the spiritual world is not, as we used to make it,
a world of our own intellectual abstractions, or of our own physical
emotions, religious or other, but a world of righteous or unrighteous
persons? What if I had discovered that one law of the spiritual
world, in which all others were contained, was righteousness; and that
disharmony with that law, which we called unspirituality, was not being
vulgar, or clumsy, or ill-taught, or unimaginative, or dull, but simply
being unrighteous? What if I had discovered that righteousness, and it
alone, was the beautiful righteousness, the sublime, the heavenly, the
Godlike--ay, God Himself? And what if it had dawned on me, as by a great
sunrise, what that righteousness was like? What if I had seen a human
being, a woman, too, a young weak girl, showing forth the glory and the
beauty of God? Showing me that the beautiful was to mingle unshrinking,
for duty’s sake, with all that is most foul and loathsome; that
the sublime was to stoop to the most menial offices, the most
outwardly-degrading self-denials; that to be heavenly was to know that
the commonest relations, the most vulgar duties, of earth, were God’s
commands, and only to be performed aright by the help of the same spirit
by which He rules the Universe; that righteousness was to love, to help,
to suffer for--if need be, to die for--those who, in themselves, seem
fitted to arouse no feelings except indignation and disgust? What if,
for the first time, I trust not for the last time, in my life, I saw
this vision; and at the sight of it my eyes were opened, and I knew it
for the likeness and the glory of God? What if I, a Platonist, like John
of Galilee, and Paul of Tarsus, yet, like them, a Hebrew of the Hebrews,
had confessed to myself--If the creature can love thus, how much more
its archetype? If weak woman can endure thus, how much more a Son of
God? If for the good of others, man has strength to sacrifice himself in
part, God will have strength to sacrifice Himself utterly. If He has not
done it, He will do it: or He will be less beautiful, less sublime, less
heavenly, less righteous than my poor conception of Him, ay, than this
weak playful girl! Why should I not believe those who tell me that
He has done it already? What if their evidence be, after all, only
probability? I do not want mathematical demonstration to prove to me
that when a child was in danger his father saved him--neither do I here.
My reason, my heart, every faculty of me, except this stupid sensuous
experience, which I find deceiving me every moment, which cannot even
prove to me my own existence, accepts that story of Calvary as the most
natural, most probable, most necessary of earthly events, assuming only
that God is a righteous Person, and not some dream of an all-pervading
necessary spirit-nonsense which, in its very terms, confesses its own
materialism.’

Hypatia answered with a forced smile.

‘Raphael Aben-Ezra has deserted the method of the severe dialectician
for that of the eloquent lover.’

‘Not altogether,’ said he, smiling in return. ‘For suppose that I had
said to myself, We Platonists agree that the sight of God is the highest
good.’

Hypatia once more shuddered at last night’s recollections.

‘And if He be righteous, and righteousness be--as I know it to
be--identical with love, then He will desire that highest good for men
far more than they can desire it for themselves.... Then He will desire
to show Himself and His own righteousness to them.... Will you make
answer, dearest Hypatia, or shall I?....or does your silence give
consent? At least let me go on to say this, that if God do desire to
show His righteousness to men, His only perfect method, according to
Plato, will be that of calumny, persecution, the scourge, and the cross,
that so He, like Glaucon’s righteous man, may remain for ever free from
any suspicion of selfish interest, or weakness of endurance.... Am I
deserting the dialectic method now, Hypatia?.... You are still silent?
You will not hear me, I see.... At some future day, the philosopher may
condescend to lend a kinder ear to the words of her greatest debtor ....
Or, rather, she may condescend to hear, in her own heart, the voice of
that Archetypal Man, who has been loving her, guiding her, heaping her
with every perfection of body and of mind, inspiring her with all pure
and noble longings, and only asks of her to listen to her own reason,
her own philosophy, when they proclaim Him as the giver of them, and to
impart them freely and humbly, as He has imparted them to her, to the
poor, and the brutish, and the sinful, whom He loves as well as He loves
her.... Farewell!’

‘Stay!’ said she, springing up: ‘whither are you going?’

‘To do a little good before I die, having done much evil. To farm,
plant, and build, and rescue a little corner of Ormuzd’s earth, as the
Persians would say, out of the dominion of Ahriman. To fight Ausurian
robbers, feed Thracian mercenaries, save a few widows from starvation,
and a few orphans from slavery.... Perhaps to leave behind me a son of
David’s line, who will be a better Jew, because a better Christian,
than his father.... We shall have trouble in the flesh, Augustine tells
us.... But, as I answered him, I really have had so little thereof
yet, that my fair share may probably be rather a useful education than
otherwise. Farewell!’

‘Stay!’ said she. ‘Come again!--again! And her.... Bring her.... I must
see her! She must be noble, indeed, to be worthy of you.’

‘She is many a hundred miles away.’

‘Ah! Perhaps she might have taught something to me--me, the philosopher!
You need not have feared me.... I have no heart to make converts
now.... Oh, Raphael Aben-Ezra, why break the bruised reed? My plans are
scattered to the winds, my pupils worthless, my fair name tarnished, my
conscience heavy with the thought of my own cruelty.... If you do not
know all, you will know it but too soon .... My last hope, Synesius,
implores for himself the hope which I need from him....And, over and
above it all.... You!.... Et tu, Brute! Why not fold my mantle round me,
like Julius of old, and die!’

Raphael stood looking sadly at her, as her whole face sank into utter
prostration. ...............

‘Yes--come.... The Galilaean.... If He conquers strong men, can the weak
maid resist Him? Come soon.... This afternoon.... My heart is breaking
fast.’

‘At the eighth hour this afternoon?’

‘Yes.... At noon I lecture.... take my farewell, rather, for ever of
the schools....Gods! What have I to say?.... And tell me about Him of
Nazareth. Farewell!’

‘Farewell, beloved lady! At the ninth hour, you shall hear of Him of
Nazareth.’

Why did his own words sound to him strangely pregnant, all but ominous?
He almost fancied that not he, but some third person had spoken them.
He kissed Hypatia’s hand, it was as cold as ice; and his heart, too, in
spite of all his bliss, felt cold and heavy, as he left the room.

As he went down the steps into the street, a young man sprang from
behind one of the pillars, and seized his arm.

‘Aha! my young Coryphaeus of pious plunderers! What do you want with
me?’

Philammon, for it was he, looked at him an instant, and recognised him.

‘Save her! for the love of God, save her!’

‘Whom?’

‘Hypatia!’

‘How long has her salvation been important to you, my good friend?’

‘For God’s sake,’ said Philammon, ‘go back and warn her! She will hear
you--you are rich--you used to be her friend--I know you--I have heard
of you.... Oh, if you ever cared for her--if you ever felt for her a
thousandth part of what I feel--go in and warn her not to stir from
home!’

‘I must hear more of this,’ said Raphael, who saw that the boy was in
earnest. ‘Come in with me, and speak to her father.’

‘No! not in that house! Never in that house again! Do not ask me why:
but go yourself. She will not hear me. Did you--did you prevent her from
listening?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I have been here--ages! I sent a note in by her maid, and she returned
no answer.’

Raphael recollected then, for the first time, a note which he had seen
brought to her during the conversation.

‘I saw her receive a note. She tossed it away. Tell me your story. If
there is reason in it, I will bear your message myself. Of what is she
to be warned?’

‘Of a plot--I know that there is a plot--against her among the monks
and Parabolani. As I lay in bed this morning in Arsenius’s room--they
thought I was asleep--’

‘Arsenius? Has that venerable fanatic, then, gone the way of all
monastic flesh, and turned persecutor?’

‘God forbid! I heard him beseeching Peter the Reader to refrain from
something, I cannot tell what; but I caught her name.... I heard Peter
say, “She that hindereth will hinder till she be taken out of the way.”
 And when he went out into the passage I heard him say to another, “That
thou doest, do quickly!....”’

‘These are slender grounds, my friend.’

‘Ah, you do not know of what those men are capable!’

‘Do I not? Where did you and I meet last?’

Philammon blushed and burst forth again. ‘That was enough for me. I know
the hatred which they bear her, the crimes which they attribute to
her. Her house would have been attacked last night had it not been for
Cyril.... And I knew Peter’s tone. He spoke too gently and softly not to
mean something devilish. I watched all the morning for an opportunity of
escape, and here I am!--Will you take my message, or see her--’

‘What?’

‘God only knows, and the devil whom they worship instead of God.’

Raphael hurried back into the house--‘Could he see Hypatia?’ She had
shut herself up in her private room, strictly commanding that no visitor
should be admitted.... ‘Where was Theon, then?’ He had gone out by the
canal gate half an hour before, with a bundle of mathematical papers
under his arm, no one knew whither.... ‘Imbecile old idiot!’ and he
hastily wrote on his tablet-- ‘Do not despise the young monk’s warning.
I believe him to speak the truth. As you love yourself and your father,
Hypatia, stir not out to-day.’

He bribed a maid to take the message upstairs; and passed his time in
the hall in warning the servants. But they would not believe him. It was
true the shops were shut in some quarters, and the Museum gardens empty;
people were a little frightened after yesterday. But Cyril, they had
heard for certain, had threatened excommunication only last night to any
Christian who broke the peace; and there had not been a monk to be seen
in the streets the whole morning. And as for any harm happening to their
mistress--impossible! ‘The very wild beasts would not tear her,’ said
the huge negro porter, ‘if she was thrown into the amphitheatre.’

--Whereat a maid boxed his ears for talking of such a thing; and then,
by way of mending it, declared that she knew for certain that her
mistress could turn aside the lightning, and call legions of spirits to
fight for her with a nod.... What was to be done with such idolaters?
And yet who could help liking them the better for it?

At last the answer came down, in the old graceful, studied,
self-conscious handwriting.

‘It is a strange way of persuading me to your new faith, to bid me
beware, on the very first day of your preaching, of the wickedness of
those who believe it. I thank you: but your affection for me makes you
timorous. I dread nothing. They will not dare. Did they dare now, they
would have dared long ago. As for that youth--to obey or to believe his
word, even to seem aware of his existence, were shame to me henceforth.
Because he is insolent enough to warn me therefore I will go. Fear not
for me. You would not wish me, for the first time in my life, to fear
for myself. I must follow my destiny. I must speak the words which
I have to speak. Above all, I must let no Christian say, that the
philosopher dared less than the fanatic. If my Gods are Gods, then will
they protect me: and if not, let your God prove His rule as seems to Him
good.’

Raphael tore the letter to fragments.... The guards, at least, were not
gone mad like the rest of the world. It wanted half an hour of the time
of her lecture. In the interval he might summon force enough to crush
all Alexandria. And turning suddenly, he darted out of the room and out
of the house.

‘Quem Deus vult perdere-!’ cried he to Philammon, with a gesture of
grief. ‘Stay here and stop her!--make a last appeal! Drag the horses’
heads down, if you can! I will be back in ten minutes.’ And he ran off
for the nearest gate of the Museum gardens.

On the other side of the gardens lay the courtyard of the palace. There
were gates in plenty communicating between them. If he could but see
Orestes, even alarm the guard in time!....

And he hurried through the walks and alcoves, now deserted by the
fearful citizens, to the nearest gate. It was fast, and barricaded
firmly on the outside.

Terrified, he ran on to the next; it was barred also. He saw the reason
in a moment, and maddened as he saw it. The guards, careless about the
Museum, or reasonably fearing no danger from the Alexandrian populace to
the glory and wonder of their city, or perhaps wishing wisely enough
to concentrate their forces in the narrowest space, had contented
themselves with cutting off all communication with the gardens, and so
converting the lofty partition-wall into the outer enceinte of their
marble citadel. At all events, the doors leading from the Museum itself
might be open. He knew them every one, every hall, passage, statue,
picture, almost every book in that vast treasure-house of ancient
civilisation. He found an entrance; hurried through well-known corridors
to a postern through which he and Orestes had lounged a hundred times,
their lips full of bad words, their hearts of worse thoughts, gathered
in those records of the fair wickedness of old.... It was fast. He beat
upon it but no one answered. He rushed on and tried another. No one
answered there. Another--still silence and despair!.... He rushed
upstairs, hoping that from the windows above he might be able to call to
the guard. The prudent soldiers had locked and barricaded the entrances
to the upper floors of the whole right wing, lest the palace court
should be commanded from thence. Whither now? Back--and whither then?
Back, round endless galleries, vaulted halls, staircases, doorways, some
fast, some open, up and down, trying this way and that, losing himself
at whiles in that enormous silent labyrinth. And his breath failed him,
his throat was parched, his face burned as with the simoom wind, his
legs were trembling under him. His presence of mind, usually so perfect,
failed him utterly. He was baffled, netted; there was a spell upon him.
Was it a dream? Was it all one of those hideous nightmares of endless
pillars beyond pillars, stairs above stairs, rooms within rooms,
changing, shifting, lengthening out for ever and for ever before the
dreamer, narrowing, closing in on him, choking him? Was it a dream? Was
he doomed to wander for ever and for ever in some palace of the dead, to
expiate the sin which he had learnt and done therein? His brain, for the
first time in his life, began to reel. He could recollect nothing but
that something dreadful was to happen--and that he had to prevent it,
and could not.... Where was he now? In a little by-chamber.... He had
talked with her there a hundred times, looking out over the Pharos and
the blue Mediterranean.... What was that roar below? A sea of weltering
yelling heads, thousands on thousands, down to the very beach; and from
their innumerable throats one mighty war-cry--‘God, and the mother
of God!’ Cyril’s hounds were loose.... He reeled from the window, and
darted frantically away again.... whither, he knew not, and never knew
until his dying day.

And Philammon?.... Sufficient for the chapter, as for the day, is the
evil thereof.



CHAPTER XXVIII: WOMAN’S LOVE


Pelagia had passed that night alone in sleepless sorrow, which was not
diminished by her finding herself the next morning palpably a prisoner
in her own house. Her girls told her that they had orders--they would
not say from whom--to prevent her leaving her own apartments. And though
some of them made the announcement with sighs and tears of condolence,
yet more than one, she could see, was well inclined to make her feel
that her power was over, and that there were others besides herself who
might aspire to the honour of reigning favourite.

What matter to her? Whispers, sneers, and saucy answers fell on her ear
unheeded. She had one idol, and she had lost it; one power, and it had
failed her. In the heaven above, and in the earth beneath, was neither
peace, nor help, nor hope; nothing but black, blank, stupid terror and
despair. The little weak infant soul, which had just awakened in her,
had been crushed and stunned in its very birth-hour; and instinctively
she crept away to the roof of the tower where her apartments were, to
sit and weep alone.

There she sat, hour after hour, beneath the shade of the large windsail,
which served in all Alexandrian houses the double purpose of a shelter
from the sun and a ventilator for the rooms below; and her eye roved
carelessly over that endless sea of roofs and towers, and masts, and
glittering canals, and gliding boats; but she saw none of them--nothing
but one beloved face, lost, lost for ever.

At last a low whistle roused her from her dream. She looked up.
Across the narrow lane, from one of the embrasures of the opposite
house-parapet bright eyes were peering at her. She moved angrily to
escape them.

The whistle was repeated, and a head rose cautiously above the
parapet.... It was Miriam’s. Casting a careful look around, Pelagia went
forward. What could the old woman want with her?

Miriam made interrogative signs, which Pelagia understood as asking her
whether she was alone; and the moment that an answer in the negative was
returned, Miriam rose, tossed over to her feet a letter weighted with a
pebble, and then vanished again.

‘I have watched here all day! They refused me admittance below. Beware
of Wulf, of every one. Do not stir from your chamber. There is a plot
to carry you off to-night, and give you up to your brother the monk; you
are betrayed; be brave!’

Pelagia read it with blanching cheek and staring eyes; and took, at
least, the last part of Miriam’s advice. For walking down the stair, she
passed proudly through her own rooms, and commanding back the girls who
would have stayed her, with a voice and gesture at which they quailed,
went straight down, the letter in her hand, to the apartment where the
Amal usually spent his mid-day hours.

As she approached the door, she heard loud voices within.... His!--yes;
but Wulf’s also. Her heart failed her, and she stopped a moment to
listen.... She heard Hypatia’s name; and mad with curiosity, crouched
down at the lock, and hearkened to every word.

‘She will not accept me, Wulf.’

‘If she will not, she shall go farther and fare worse. Besides, I tell
you, she is hard run. It is her last chance, and she will jump at it.
The Christians are mad with her; if a storm blows up, her life is not
worth--that!’

‘It is a pity that we have not brought her hither already.’

‘It is; but we could not. We must not break with Orestes till the palace
is in our hands.’

‘And will it ever be in our hands, friend?’

‘Certain. We were round at every picquet last night, and the very notion
of an Amal’s heading them made them so eager, that we had to bribe them
to be quiet rather than to rise.’

‘Odin! I wish I were among them now!’

‘Wait till the city rises. If the day pass over without a riot, I know
nothing. The treasure is all on board, is it not?’

‘Yes, and the galleys ready. I have been working like a horse at them
all the morning, as you would let me do nothing else. And Goderic will
not be back from the palace, you say, till nightfall!’

‘If we are attacked first, we are to throw up a fire signal to him, and
he is to come off hither with what Goths he can muster. If the palace is
attacked first, he is to give us the signal, and we are to pack up and
row round thither. And in the meanwhile he is to make that hound of a
Greek prefect as drunk as he can.’

‘The Greek will see him under the table. He has drugs, I know, as all
these Roman rascals have, to sober him when he likes; and then he
sets to work and drinks again. Send off old Smid, and let him beat the
armourer if he can.’

‘A very good thought!’ said Wulf, and came out instantly for the purpose
of putting it in practice.

Pelagia had just time to retreat into an adjoining doorway: but she had
heard enough; and as Wulf passed, she sprang to him and caught him by
the arm.

‘Oh, come in hither! Speak to me one moment; for mercy’s sake speak
to me!’ and she drew him, half against his will, into the chamber, and
throwing herself at his feet, broke out into a childlike wail.

Wulf stood silent, utterly discomfited by this unexpected submission,
where he had expected petulant and artful resistance. He almost felt
guilty and ashamed, as he looked down into that beautiful imploring
face, convulsed with simple sorrow, as of a child for a broken toy.....
At last she spoke.

‘Oh, what have I done-what have I done? Why must you take him from me?
What have I done but love him, honour him, worship him? I know you love
him; and I love you for it.--I do indeed! But you--what is your love
to mine? Oh, I would die for him--be torn in pieces for him--now, this
moment!....

Wulf was silent.

‘What have I done but love him? What could I wish but to make him
happy? I was rich enough, praised, and petted;.... and then he came,....
glorious as he is, like a god among men--among apes rather--and I
worshipped him: was I wrong in that? I gave up all for him: was I wrong
in that? I gave him myself: what could I do more? He condescended to
like me--he the hero! Could I help submitting? I loved him: could I help
loving him? Did I wrong him in that? Cruel, cruel Wulf!....’

Wulf was forced to be stern, or he would have melted at once.

‘And what was your love worth to him? What has it done for him? It has
made him a sot, an idler, a laughing-stock to these Greek dogs, when he
might have been their conqueror, their king. Foolish woman, who cannot
see that your love has been his bane, his ruin! He, who ought by now
to have been sitting upon the throne of the Ptolemies, the lord of all
south of the Mediterranean--as he shall be still!’

Pelagia looked tip at him wide-eyed, as if her mind was taking in slowly
some vast new thought, under the weight of which it reeled already. Then
she rose slowly.

‘And he might be Emperor of Africa.’

‘And he shall be; but not--’

‘Not with me!’ she almost shrieked. ‘No! not with wretched, ignorant,
polluted me! I see--oh God, I see it all! And this is why you want him
to marry her--her--’

She could not utter the dreaded name.

Wulf could not trust himself to speak; but he bowed his head in
acquiescence. ...............

‘Yes--I will go--up into the desert--with Philammon--and you shall never
hear of me again. And I will be a nun, and pray for him, that he may be
a great king, and conquer all the world. You will tell him why I went
away, will you not? Yes, I will go,--now, at once--’

She turned away hurriedly, as if to act upon her promise, and then she
sprang again to Wulf with a sudden shudder.

‘I cannot, Wulf!--I cannot leave him! I shall go mad if I do! Do not
be angry;--I will promise anything--take any oath you like, if you will
only let me stay here. Only as a slave--as anything--if I may but look
at him sometimes. No--not even that--but to be tinder the same roof with
him, only--Oh, let me be but a slave in the kitchen! I will make over
all I have to him--to you--to any one! And you shall tell him that I am
gone--dead, if you will.--Only let me stay! And I will wear rags, and
grind in the mill.... Even that will be delicious, to know that he
is eating the bread which I have made! And if I ever dare speak to
him--even to come near hint--let the steward hang me up by the wrists,
and whip me, like the slave which I deserve to be!... And then shall
I soon grow old and ugly with grief, and--there will be no more danger
then, dear Wulf, will there, from this accursed face of mine? Only
promise me that, and--There he is calling you! Don’t let him come in
and see me!--I cannot bear it! Go to him, quick, and tell him all.--No,
don’t tell him yet....’

And she sank down again on the floor, as Wulf went out murmuring to
himself--

‘Poor child! poor child! well for thee this clay if thou wert dead, and
at the bottom of Hela!’

And Pelagia heard what he said.

Gradually, amid sobs and tears, and stormy confusion of impossible hopes
and projects, those words took root in her mind, and spread, till they
filled her whole heart and brain.

‘Well for me if I were dead?’

And she rose slowly.

‘Well for me if I were dead? And why not? Then it would indeed be
all settled. There would be no more danger from poor little Pelagia
then....’

She went slowly, firmly, proudly, into the well-known chamber.... She
threw herself upon the bed, and covered the pillow with kisses. Her eye
fell on the Amal’s sword, which hung across the bed’s-head, after the
custom of Gothic warriors. She seized it, and took it down, shuddering.

‘Yes!.... Let it be with this, if it must be. And it must be. I cannot
bear it! Anything but shame! To have fancied all my life--vain fool that
I was!--that every one loved and admired me, and to find that they were
despising me, hating me, all along! Those students at the lecture-room
door told me I was despised. The old monk told me so--Fool that I was!
I forgot it next day!--For he--he loved me still!--All--how could I
believe them, till his own lips had said it?.... Intolerable!.... And
yet women as bad as I am have been honoured--when they were dead. What
was that song which I used to sing about Epicharis, who hung herself in
the litter, and Leaina, who bit out her tongue, lest the torture should
drive them to betray their lovers? There used to be a statue of Leaina,
they say, at Athens,--a lioness without a tongue.... And whenever I sang
the song, the theatre used to rise, and shout, and call them noble and
blessed.... I never could tell why then; but I know now!--I know now!
Perhaps they may call me noble, after all. At least, they may say “She
was a--a--but she dare die for the man she loved!”.... Ay, but God
despises me too, and elates me. He will send me to eternal fire.
Philammon said so--though he was my brother. The old monk said
so--though he wept as he said it.... The flames of hell for ever! Oh,
not for ever! Great, dreadful God! Not for ever! Indeed, I did not know!
No one taught me about right and wrong, and I never knew that I had been
baptized--Indeed, I never knew! And it was so pleasant--so pleasant to
be happy, and praised, and loved, and to see happy faces round me. How
could I help it? The birds there who are singing in the darling, beloved
court--they do what they like, and Thou art not angry with them for
being happy! And Thou wilt not be more cruel to me than to them, great
God--for what did I know more than they? Thou hast made the beautiful
sunshine, and the pleasant, pleasant world, and the flowers, and the
birds--Thou wilt not send me to burn for ever and ever? Will not a
hundred years be punishment enough-or a thousand? Oh God! is not this
punishment enough already,--to have to leave him, just as just as I
am beginning to long to be good, and to be worthy of him?.... Oh, have
mercy--mercy--mercy--and let me go after I have been punished enough!
Why may I not turn into a bird, or even a worm, and come back again out
of that horrible place, to see the sun shine, and the flowers grow
once more? Oh, am I not punishing myself already? Will not this help to
atone?.... Yes--I will die!--and perhaps so God may pity me!’

And with trembling hands she drew the sword from its sheath and covered
the blade with kisses.

‘Yes--on this sword--with which he won his battles. That is right--his
to the last! How keen and cold it looks! Will it be very painful?....
No--I will not try the point, or my heart might fail me. I will fall on
it at once: let it hurt me as it may, it will be too late to draw back
then. And after all it is his sword--It will not have the heart to
torture me much. And yet he struck me himself this morning!’

And at that thought, a long wild cry of misery broke from her lips, and
rang through the house. Hurriedly she fastened the sword upright to the
foot of the bed, and tore open her tunic.... ‘Here--under this widowed
bosom, where his head will never lie again! There are footsteps in the
passage! Quick, Pelagia! Now--’

And she threw up her arms wildly, in act to fall....

‘It is his step! And he will find me, and never know that it is for him
I die!’

The Amal tried the door. It was fast. With a single blow he burst it
open, and demanded--

‘What was that shriek? What is the meaning of this? Pelagia!’

Pelagia, like a child caught playing with a forbidden toy, hid her face
in her hands and cowered down.

‘What is it?’ cried he, lifting her.

But she burst from his arms.

‘No, no!--never more! I am not worthy of you! Let me die, wretch that
I am! I can only drag you down. You must be a king. You must marry
her--the wise woman!’

‘Hypatia! She is dead!’

‘Dead?’ shrieked Pelagia.

‘Murdered, an hour ago, by those Christian devils.’

Pelagia put her hands over her eyes, and burst into tears. Were they of
pity or of joy?... She did not ask herself; and we will not ask her.

‘Where is my sword? Soul of Odin! Why is it fastened here?’

‘I was going to--Do not be angry!.... They told me that I had better
die, and--

The Amal stood thunderstruck for a moment.

‘Oh, do not strike me again! Send me to the mill. Kill me now with your
own hand! Anything but another blow!’

‘A blow?--Noble woman!’ cried the Amal, clasping her in his arms.

The storm was past; and Pelagia had been nestling to that beloved heart,
cooing like a happy dove, for many a minute before the Amal aroused
himself and her....

‘Now!--quick! We have not a moment to lose. Up to the tower, where you
will be safe; and then to show these curs what comes of snarling round
the wild wolves’ den!’



CHAPTER XXIX: NEMESIS


And was the Amal’s news true, then?

Philammon saw Raphael rush across the street into the Museum gardens.
His last words had been a command to stay where he was; and the boy
obeyed him. The black porter who let Raphael out told him somewhat
insolently, that his mistress would see no one, and receive no messages:
but he had made up his mind: complained of the sun, quietly ensconced
himself behind a buttress, and sat coiled up on the pavement, ready for
a desperate spring. The slave stared at him: but he was accustomed to
the vagaries of philosophers; and thanking the gods that he was not born
in that station of life, retired to his porter’s cell, and forgot the
whole matter.

There Philammon awaited a full half-hour. It seemed to him hours, days,
years. And yet Raphael did not return: and yet no guards appeared. Was
the strange Jew a traitor? Impossible!--his face had shown a desperate
earnestness of terror as intense as Philammon’s own.... Yet why did he
not return?

Perhaps he had found out that the streets were clear; their mutual fears
groundless.... What meant that black knot of men some two hundred yards
off, hanging about the mouth of the side street, just opposite the
door which led to her lecture-room? He moved to watch them: they had
vanished. He lay down again and waited.... There they were again. It was
a suspicious post. That street ran along the back of the Caesareum, a
favourite haunt of monks, communicating by innumerable entries and back
buildings with the great Church itself.... And yet, why should there
not be a knot of monks there? What more common in every street of
Alexandria? He tried to laugh away his own fears. And yet they ripened,
by the very intensity of thinking on them, into certainty. He knew that
something terrible was at hand. More than once he looked out from his
hiding-place--the knot of men were still there;.... it seemed to have
increased, to draw nearer. If they found him, what would they not
suspect? What did he care? He would die for her, if it came to that--not
that it could come to that: but still he must speak to her--he must warn
her. Passenger after passenger, carriage after carriage passed along the
street: student after student entered the lecture-room; but he never saw
them, not though they passed him close. The sun rose higher and higher,
and turned his whole blaze upon the corner where Philammon crouched,
till the pavement scorched like hot iron, and his eyes were dazzled by
the blinding glare: but he never heeded it. His whole heart, and sense,
and sight, were riveted upon that well-known door, expecting it to
open....

At last a curricle, glittering with silver, rattled round the corner
and stopped opposite him. She must becoming now. The crowd had vanished.
Perhaps it was, after all, a fancy of his own. No; there they were,
peeping round the corner, close to the lecture-room--the hell-hounds! A
slave brought out an embroidered cushion--and then Hypatia herself
came forth, looking more glorious than ever; her lips set in a sad firm
smile; her eyes uplifted, inquiring, eager, and yet gentle, dimmed by
some great inward awe, as if her soul was far away aloft, and face to
face with God.

In a moment he sprang up to her, caught her robe convulsively, threw
himself on his knees before her--

‘Stop! Stay! You are going to destruction!’

Calmly she looked down upon him.

‘Accomplice of witches! Would you make of Theon’s daughter a traitor
like yourself?’

He sprang up, stepped back, and stood stupefied with shame and
despair....

She believed him guilty, then!.... It was the will of God!

The plumes of the horses were waving far down the street before he
recovered himself, and rushed after her, shouting he knew not what.

It was too late! A dark wave of men rushed from the ambuscade, surged
up round the car.... swept forward.... she had disappeared! and as
Philammon followed breathless, the horses galloped past him madly
homeward with the empty carriage.

Whither were they dragging her? To the Caesareum, the Church of God
Himself? Impossible! Why thither of all places of the earth? Why did the
mob, increasing momentarily by hundreds, pour down upon the beach, and
return brandishing flints, shells, fragments of pottery?

She was upon the church steps before he caught them up, invisible among
the crowd; but he could track her by the fragments of her dress.

Where were her gay pupils now? Alas! they had barricaded themselves
shamefully in the Museum, at the first rush which swept her from the
door of the lecture-room. Cowards! he would save her!

And he struggled in vain to pierce the dense mass of Parabolani and
monks, who, mingled with the fishwives and dock-workers, leaped and
yelled around their victim. But what he could not do another and a
weaker did--even the little porter. Furiously--no one knew how or
whence--he burst up as if from the ground in the thickest of the crowd,
with knife, teeth, and nails, like a venomous wild-cat, tearing his way
towards his idol. Alas! he was torn down himself, rolled over the steps,
and lay there half dead in an agony of weeping, as Philammon sprang up
past him into the church.

Yes. On into the church itself! Into the cool dim shadow, with its
fretted pillars, and lowering domes, and candles, and incense, and
blazing altar, and great pictures looking from the walls athwart the
gorgeous gloom. And right in front, above the altar, the colossal Christ
watching unmoved from off the wall, His right hand raised to give a
blessing--or a curse?

On, up the nave, fresh shreds of her dress strewing the holy
pavement--up the chancel steps themselves--up to the altar--right
underneath the great still Christ: and there even those hell-hounds
paused.

She shook herself free from her tormentors, and springing back, rose for
one moment to her full height, naked, snow-white against the dusky mass
around--shame and indignation in those wide clear eyes, but not a stain
of fear. With one hand she clasped her golden locks around her; the
other long white arm was stretched upward toward the great still Christ
appealing--and who dare say in vain?--from man to God. Her lips were
opened to speak: but the words that should have come from them reached
God’s ear alone; for in an instant Peter struck her down, the dark
mass closed over her again.... and then wail on wail, long, wild,
ear-piercing, rang along the vaulted roofs, and thrilled like the
trumpet of avenging angels through Philammon’s ears.

Crushed against a pillar, unable to move in the dense mass, he pressed
his hands over his ears. He could not shut out those shrieks! When would
they end? What in the name of the God of mercy were they doing? Tearing
her piecemeal? Yes, and worse than that. And still the shrieks rang
on, and still the great Christ looked down on Philammon with that calm,
intolerable eye, and would not turn away. And over His head was written
in the rainbow, ‘I am the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever!’ The
same as He was in Judea of old, Philammon? Then what are these, and in
whose temple? And he covered his face with his hands, and longed to die.

It was over. The shrieks had died away into moans; the moans to silence.
How long had he been there? An hour, or an eternity? Thank God it was
over! For her sake--but for theirs? But they thought not of that as a
new cry rose through the dome.

‘To the Cinaron! Burn the bones to ashes! Scatter them into the sea!’
And the mob poured past him again....

He turned to flee: but, once outside the church, he sank exhausted, and
lay upon the steps, watching with stupid horror the glaring of the
fire, and the mob who leaped and yelled like demons round their Moloch
sacrifice.

A hand grasped his arm; he looked up; it was the porter.

‘And this, young butcher, is the Catholic and apostolic Church?’

‘No! Eudaimon, it is the church of the devils of hell!’ And gathering
himself up, he sat upon the steps and buried his head within his hands.
He would have given life itself for the power of weeping: but his eyes
and brain were hot and dry as the desert.

Eudaimon looked at him a while. The shock had sobered the poor fop for
once.

‘I did what I could to die with her!’ said he.

‘I did what I could to save her!’ answered Philammon.

‘I know it. Forgive the words which I just spoke. Did we not both love
her?’

And the little wretch sat down by Philammon’s side, and as the blood
dripped from his wounds upon the pavement, broke out into a bitter agony
of human tears.

There are times when the very intensity of our misery is a boon, and
kindly stuns us till we are unable to torture ourselves by thought. And
so it was with Philammon then. He sat there, he knew not how long.

‘She is with the gods,’ said Eudaimon at last.

‘She is with the God of gods,’ answered Philammon: and they both were
silent again.

Suddenly a commanding voice aroused them.

They looked up, and saw before them Raphael Aben-Ezra.

He was pale as death, but calm as death. One look into his face told
them that he knew all.

‘Young monk,’ he said, between his closed teeth, ‘you seem to have loved
her?’

Philammon looked up, but could not speak.

‘Then arise, and flee for your life into the farthest corner of the
desert, ere the doom of Sodom and Gomorrha fall upon this accursed city.
Have you father, mother, brother, sister,--ay, cat, dog, or bird for
which you care, within its walls?’

Philammon started; for he recollected Pelagia.... That evening, so Cyril
had promised, twenty trusty monks were to have gone with him to seize
her.

‘You have? Then take them with you, and escape, and remember Lot’s wife.
Eudaimon, come with me. You must lead me to your house, to the lodging
of Miriam the Jewess. Do not deny! I know that she is there. For the
sake of her who is gone I will hold you harmless, ay, reward you richly,
if you prove faithful. Rise!’

Eudaimon, who knew Raphael’s face well, rose and led the way trembling;
and Philammon was left alone.

They never met again. But Philammon knew that he had been in the
presence of a stronger man than himself, and of one who hated even more
bitterly than he himself that deed at which the very sun, it seemed,
ought to have veiled his face. And his words, ‘Arise, and flee for thy
life,’ uttered as they were with the stern self-command and writhing lip
of compressed agony, rang through his ears like the trump of doom. Yes,
he would flee. He had gone forth to see the world, and he had seen it.
Arsenius was in the right after all. Home to the desert! But first he
would go himself, alone, to Pelagia, and implore her once more to flee
with him. Beast, fool, that he had been to try to win her by force--by
the help of such as these! God’s kingdom was not a kingdom of fanatics
yelling for a doctrine, but of willing, loving, obedient hearts. If he
could not win her heart, her will, he would go alone, and die praying
for her.

He sprang from the steps of the Caesareum, and turned up the street of
the Museum. Alas! it was one roaring sea of heads! They were sacking
Theon’s house--the house of so many memories! Perhaps the poor old man
too had perished! Still--his sister! He must save her and flee. And he
turned up a side street and tried to make his way onward.

Alas again! the whole of the dock-quarter was up and out. Every street
poured its tide of furious fanatics into the main river; and ere he
could reach Pelagia’s house the sun was set, and close behind him,
echoed by ten thousand voices, was the cry of ‘Down with all heathens!
Root out all Arian Goths! Down with idolatrous wantons! Down with
Pelagia Aphrodite!’

He hurried down the alley, to the tower door, where Wulf had promised
to meet him. It was half open, and in the dusk he could see a figure
standing in the doorway. He sprang up the steps, and found, not Wulf,
but Miriam.

‘Let me pass!’

‘Wherefore?’

He made no answer, and tried to push past her.

‘Fool, fool, fool!’ whispered the hag, holding the door against him with
all her strength. ‘Where are your fellow-kidnappers? Where are your band
of monks?’

Philammon started back. How had she discovered his plan?

‘Ay--where are they? Besotted boy! Have you not seen enough of monkery
this afternoon, that you must try still to make that poor girl even such
a one as yourselves? Ay, you may root out your own human natures if you
will, and make yourselves devils in trying to become angels: but woman
she is, and woman she shall live or die!’

‘Let me pass!’ cried Philammon furiously.

‘Raise your voice--and I raise mine: and then your life is not worth a
moment’s purchase. Fool, do you think I speak as a Jewess? I speak as
a woman--as a nun! I was a nun once, madman--the iron entered into my
soul!--God do so to me, and more also, if it ever enter into another
soul while I can prevent it! You shall not have her! I will strangle her
with my own hand first!’ And turning from him, she darted up the winding
stair.

He followed: but the intense passion of the old hag hurled her onward
with the strength and speed of a young Maenad. Once Philammon was
near passing her. But he recollected that he did not know his way, and
contented himself with keeping close behind, and making the fugitive his
guide.

Stair after stair, he fled upward, till she turned suddenly into a
chamber door. Philammon paused. A few feet above him the open sky showed
at the stair-head. They were close then to the roof! One moment more,
and the hag darted out of the room again, and turned to flee upward
still. Philammon caught her by the arm, hurled her back into the empty
chamber, shut the door upon her; and with a few bounds gained the roof,
and met Pelagia face to face.

‘Come!’ gasped he breathlessly. ‘Now is the moment! Come, while they are
all below!’ and he seized her hand.

But Pelagia only recoiled.

‘No, no,’ whispered she in answer, ‘I cannot, cannot--he has forgiven me
all, all! and I am his for ever! And now, just as he is in danger, when
he may be wounded--ah, heaven! would you have me do anything so base as
to desert him?’

‘Pelagia, Pelagia, darling sister!’ cried Philammon, in an agonised
voice, ‘think of the doom of sin! Think of the pains of hell!’

‘I have thought of them this day: and I do not believe you! No--I do
not! God is not so cruel as you say! And if He were:--to lose my love,
that is hell! Let me burn hereafter, if I do but keep him now!’

Philammon stood stupefied and shuddering. All his own early doubts
flashed across him like a thunderbolt, when in the temple-cave he had
seen those painted ladies at their revels, and shuddered, and asked
himself, were they burning for ever and ever?

‘Come!’ gasped he once again; and throwing himself on his knees before
her, covered her hands with kisses, wildly entreating: but in vain.

‘What is this?’ thundered a voice; not Miriam’s, but the Amal’s. He was
unarmed but he rushed straight upon Philammon.

‘Do not harm him!’ shrieked Pelagia; ‘he is my brother--my brother of
whom I told you!’

‘What does he here?’ cried the Amal, who instantly divined the truth.

Pelagia was silent.

‘I wish to deliver my sister, a Christian, from the sinful embraces of
an Arian heretic; and deliver her I will, or die!’

‘An Arian?’ laughed the Amal. ‘Say a heathen at once, and tell the
truth, young fool! Will you go with him, Pelagia, and turn nun in the
sand-heaps?’

Pelagia sprang towards her lover: Philammon caught her by the arm for
one last despairing appeal: and in a moment, neither knew how, the Goth
and the Greek were locked in deadly struggle, while Pelagia stood in
silent horror, knowing that a call for help would bring instant death to
her brother.

It was over in a few seconds. The Goth lifted Philammon like a baby in
his arms, and bearing him to the parapet, attempted to hurl him into the
canal below. But the active Greek had wound himself like a snake around
him, and held him by the throat with the strength of despair. Twice they
rolled and tottered on the parapet; and twice recoiled. A third fearful
lunge--the earthen wall gave way; and down to the dark depths, locked in
each other’s arms, fell Goth and Greek.

Pelagia rushed to the brink, and gazed downward into the gloom, dumb and
dry-eyed with horror. Twice they turned over together in mid-air.... The
foot of the tower, as was usual in Egypt, sloped outwards towards the
water. They must strike upon that--and then! ....It seemed an eternity
ere they touched the masonry.... The Amal was undermost.... She saw his
fair floating locks dash against the cruel stone. His grasp suddenly
loosened, his limbs collapsed; two distinct plunges broke the dark
sullen water; and then all was still but the awakened ripple, lapping
angrily against the wall.

Pelagia gazed down one moment more, and then, with a shriek which rang
along roof and river, she turned, and fled down the stairs and out into
the night.

Five minutes afterwards, Philammon, dripping, bruised, and bleeding, was
crawling up the water-steps at the lower end of the lane. A woman rushed
from the postern door, and stood on the quay edge, gazing with clasped
hands into the canal. The moon fell full on her face. It was Pelagia.
She saw him, knew him, and recoiled.

‘Sister!--my sister! Forgive me!’

‘Murderer!’ she shrieked, and dashing aside his outspread hands, fled
wildly up the passage.

The way was blocked with bales of merchandise: but the dancer bounded
over them like a deer; while Philammon, half stunned by his fall, and
blinded by his dripping locks, stumbled, fell, and lay, unable to rise.
She held on for a few yards towards the torch-lit mob, which was surging
and roaring in the main street above, then turned suddenly into a side
alley, and vanished; while Philammon lay groaning upon the pavement,
without a purpose or a hope upon earth.

Five minutes more, and Wulf was gazing over the broken parapet, at the
head of twenty terrified spectators, male and female, whom Pelagia’s
shriek had summoned.

He alone suspected that Philammon had been there; and shuddering at the
thought of what might have happened, he kept his secret.

But all knew that Pelagia had been on the tower; all had seen the Amal
go up thither. Where were they now? And why was the little postern gate
found open, and shut only just in time to prevent the entrance of the
mob?

Wulf stood, revolving in a brain but too well practised in such cases,
all possible contingencies of death and horror. At last--

‘A rope and a light, Smid!’ he almost whispered.

They were brought, and Wulf, resisting all the entreaties of the younger
men to allow them to go on the perilous search, lowered himself through
the breach.

He was about two-thirds down, when he shook the rope, and called in a
stifled voice, to those above--

‘Haul up. I have seen enough.’

Breathless with curiosity and fear, they hauled him up. He stood among
them for a few moments, silent, as if stunned by the weight of some
enormous woe.

‘Is he dead?’

‘Odin has taken his son home, wolves of the Goths!’ And he held out
his right hand to the awe-struck ring, and burst into an agony of
weeping.... A clotted tress of long fair hair lay in his palm.

It was snatched; handed from man to man.... One after another recognised
the beloved golden locks. And then, to the utter astonishment of the
girls who stood round, the great simple hearts, too brave to be ashamed
of tears, broke out and wailed like children .... Their Amal! Their
heavenly man! Odin’s own son, their joy and pride, and glory! Their
‘Kingdom of heaven,’ as his name declared him, who was all that each
wished to be, and more, and yet belonged to them, bone of their bone,
flesh of their flesh! Ah, it is bitter to all true human hearts to be
robbed of their ideal, even though that ideal be that of a mere wild
bull, and soulless gladiator....

At last Smid spoke--

‘Heroes, this is Odin’s doom; and the All-father is just. Had we
listened to Prince Wulf four months ago, this had never been. We have
been cowards and sluggards, and Odin is angry with his children. Let us
swear to be Prince Wulf’s men and follow him to-morrow where he will!’

Wulf grasped his outstretched hand lovingly-- ‘No, Smid, son of Troll!
These words are not yours to speak. Agilmund son of Cniva, Goderic son
of Ermenric, you are Balts, and to you the succession appertains. Draw
lots here, which of you shall be our chieftain.’

‘No! no! Wulf!’ cried both the youths at once. ‘You are the hero! you
are the Sagaman! We are not worthy; we have been cowards and sluggards,
like the rest. Wolves of the Goths, follow the Wolf, even though he lead
you to the land of the giants!’

A roar of applause followed.

‘Lift him on the shield,’ cried Goderic, tearing off his buckler. ‘Lift
him on the shield! Hail, Wulf king! Wulf, king of Egypt!’

And the rest of the Goths, attracted by the noise, rushed up the
tower-stairs in time to join in the mighty shout of ‘Wulf, king of
Egypt!’--as careless of the vast multitude which yelled and surged
without, as boys are of the snow against the window-pane.

‘No!’ said Wulf solemnly, as he stood on the uplifted shield. ‘If I be
indeed your king, and ye my men, wolves of the Goths, to-morrow we will
go forth of this place, hated of Odin, rank with the innocent blood of
the Alruna maid. Back to Adolf; back to our own people! Will you go?’

‘Back to Adolf!’ shouted the men.

‘You will not leave us to be murdered?’ cried one of the girls. ‘The mob
are breaking the gates already!’

‘Silence, silly one! Men--we have one thing to do. The Amal must not go
to the Valhalla without fair attendance.’

‘Not the poor girls?’ said Agilmund, who took for granted that Wulf
would wish to celebrate the Amal’s funeral in true Gothic fashion by a
slaughter of slaves.

‘No.... One of them I saw behave this very afternoon worthy of a Vala.
And they, too--they may make heroes’ wives after all, yet .... Women are
better than I fancied, even the worst of them. No. Go down, heroes, and
throw the gates open; and call in the Greek hounds to the funeral supper
of a son of Odin.’

‘Throw the gates open?’

‘Yes. Goderic, take a dozen men, and be ready in the east hall.
Agilmund, go with a dozen to the west side of the court--there in the
kitchen; and wait till you hear my war-cry. Smid and the rest of you,
come with me through the stables close to the gate--as silent as Hela.’

And they went down--to meet, full on the stairs below, old Miriam.

Breathless and exhausted by her exertion, she had fallen heavily before
Philammon’s strong arm; and lying half stunned for a while, recovered
just in time to meet her doom.

She knew that it was come, and faced it like herself.

‘Take the witch!’ said Wulf slowly--‘Take the corrupter of heroes--the
cause of all our sorrows!’

Miriam looked at him with a quiet smile.

‘The witch is accustomed long ago to hear fools lay on her the
consequences of their own lust and laziness.’

‘Hew her down, Smid, son of Troll, that she may pass the Amal’s soul and
gladden it on her way to Niflheim.’

Smid did it: but so terrible were the eyes which glared upon him from
those sunken sockets, that his sight was dazzled. The axe turned aside,
and struck her shoulder. She reeled, but did not fall.

‘It is enough,’ she said quietly.

‘The accursed Grendel’s daughter numbed my arm!’ said Smid. ‘Let her go!
No man shall say that I struck a woman twice.’

‘Nidhogg waits for her, soon or late,’ answered Wulf.

And Miriam, coolly folding her shawl around her, turned and walked
steadily down the stair; while all men breathed more freely, as if
delivered from some accursed and supernatural spell.

‘And now,’ said Wulf, ‘to your posts, and vengeance!’

The mob had weltered and howled ineffectually around the house for some
half-hour. But the lofty walls, opening on the street only by a few
narrow windows in the higher stories, rendered it an impregnable
fortress. Suddenly, the iron gates were drawn back, disclosing to
the front rank the court, glaring empty and silent and ghastly in the
moonlight. For an instant they recoiled, with a vague horror, and dread
of treachery: but the mass behind pressed them onward, and in swept
the murderers of Hypatia, till the court was full of choking wretches,
surging against the walls and pillars in aimless fury. And then, from
under the archway on each side, rushed a body of tall armed men, driving
back all incomers more; the gates slid together again upon their grooves
and the wild beasts of Alexandria were trapped at last.

And then began a murder grim and great. From three different doors
issued a line of Goths, whose helmets and mail-shirts made them
invulnerable to the clumsy weapons of the mob, and began hewing their
way right through the living mass, helpless from their close-packed
array. True, they were but as one to ten; but what are ten curs before
one lion?.... And the moon rose higher and higher, staring down ghastly
and unmoved upon that doomed court of the furies, and still the bills
and swords hewed on and on, and the Goths drew the corpses, as they
found room, towards a dark pile in the midst, where old Wulf sat upon
a heap of slain, singing the praises of the Amal and the glories of
Valhalla, while the shrieks of his lute rose shrill above the shrieks of
the flying and the wounded, and its wild waltz-time danced and rollicked
on swifter and swifter as the old singer maddened, in awful mockery of
the terror and agony around.

And so, by men and purposes which recked not of her, as is the wont of
Providence, was the blood of Hypatia avenged in part that night. In part
only. For Peter the Reader, and his especial associates, were safe in
sanctuary at the Caesareum, clinging to the altar. Terrified at the
storm which they had raised, and fearing the consequences of an attack
upon the palace, they had left the mob to run riot at its will; and
escaped the swords of the Goths to be reserved for the more awful
punishment of impunity.



CHAPTER XXX: EVERY MAN TO HIS OWN PLACE


It was near midnight. Raphael had been sitting some three hours in
Miriam’s inner chamber, waiting in vain for her return. To recover, if
possible, his ancestral wealth; to convey it, without a day’s delay, to
Cyrene; and, if possible, to persuade the poor old Jewess to accompany
him, and there to soothe, to guide, perhaps to convert her, was his next
purpose:--at all events, with or without his wealth, to flee from that
accursed city. And he counted impatiently the slow hours and minutes
which detained him in an atmosphere which seemed reeking with innocent
blood, black with the lowering curse of an avenging God. More than once,
unable to bear the thought, he rose to depart, and leave his wealth
behind: but he was checked again by the thought of his own past
life. How had he added his own sin to the great heap of Alexandrian
wickedness! How had he tempted others, pampered others in evil! Good
God! how had he not only done evil with all his might, but had pleasure
in those who did the same! And now, now he was reaping the fruit of his
own devices. For years past, merely to please his lust of power, his
misanthropic scorn, he had been malting that wicked Orestes wickeder
than he was even by his own base will and nature; and his puppet had
avenged itself upon him! He, he had prompted him to ask Hypatia’s
hand.... He had laid, half in sport, half in envy of her excellence,
that foul plot against the only human being whom he loved.... and he had
destroyed her! He, and not Peter, was the murderer of Hypatia! True,
he had never meant her death.... No; but had he not meant for her worse
than death? He had never foreseen.... No; but only because he did not
choose to foresee. He had chosen to be a god; to kill and to make alive
by his own will and law; and behold, he had become a devil by that very
act. Who can--and who dare, even if he could--withdraw the sacred veil
from those bitter agonies of inward shame and self-reproach, made all
the more intense by his clear and undoubting knowledge that he was
forgiven? What dread of punishment, what blank despair, could have
pierced that great heart so deeply as did the thought that the God whom
he had hated and defied had returned him good for evil, and rewarded him
not according to his iniquities? That discovery, as Ezekiel of old had
warned his forefathers, filled up the cup of his self-loathing.... To
have found at last the hated and dreaded name of God: and found that
it was Love!.... To possess Victoria, a living, human likeness, however
imperfect, of that God; and to possess in her a home, a duty, a purpose,
a fresh clear life of righteous labour, perhaps of final victory....
That was his punishment; that was the brand of Cain upon his forehead;
and he felt it greater than he could bear.

But at least there was one thing to be done. Where he had sinned, there
he must make amends; not as a propitiation, not even as a restitution;
but simply as a confession of the truth which he had found. And as his
purpose shaped itself, he longed and prayed that Miriam might return,
and make it possible.

And Miriam did return. He heard her pass slowly through the outer room,
learn from the girls who was within, order them out of the apartments,
close the outer door upon them; at last she entered, and said quietly--

‘Welcome! I have expected you. You could not surprise old Miriam. The
teraph told me last night that you would be here....’

Did she see the smile of incredulity upon Raphael’s face, or was it some
sudden pang of conscience which made her cry out--

‘.... No! I did not! I never expected you! I am a liar, a miserable old
liar, who cannot speak the truth, even if I try! Only look kind! Smile
at me, Raphael!--Raphael come back at last to his poor, miserable,
villainous old mother! Smile on me but once, my beautiful, my son! my
son!’

And springing to him, she clasped him in her arms.

‘Your son?’

‘Yes, my son! Safe at last! Mine at last! I can prove it now! The son of
my womb, though not the son of my vows!’ And she laughed hysterically.
‘My child, my heir, for whom I have toiled and hoarded for
three-and-thirty years! Quick! here are my keys. In that cabinet are all
my papers--all I have is yours. Your jewels are safe--buried with mine.
The negro-woman, Eudaimon’s wife, knows where. I made her swear secrecy
upon her little wooden idol, and, Christian as she is, she has been
honest. Make her rich for life. She hid your poor old mother, and
kept her safe to see her boy come home. But give nothing to her little
husband: he is a bad fellow, and beats her.--Go, quick! take your
riches, and away!.... No; stay one moment just one little moment--that
the poor old wretch may feast her eyes with the sight of her darling
once more before she dies!’

‘Before you die? Your son? God of my fathers, what is the meaning of
all this, Miriam? This morning I was the son of Ezra the merchant of
Antioch!’

‘His son and heir, his son and heir! He knew all at last. We told him on
his death-bed! I swear that we told him, and he adopted you!’

‘We! Who?’

‘His wife and I. He craved for a child, the old miser, and we gave
him one--a better one than ever came of his family. But he loved you,
accepted you, though he did know all. He was afraid of being laughed at
after he was dead--afraid of having it known that he was childless, the
old dotard! No--he was right--true Jew in that, after all!’

‘Who was my father, then?’ interrupted Raphael, in utter bewilderment.

The old woman laughed a laugh so long and wild, that Raphael shuddered.

‘Sit down at your mother’s feet. Sit down.... just to please the poor
old thing! Even if you do not believe her, just play at being her child,
her darling, for a minute before she dies; and she will tell you all....
perhaps there is time yet!’

And he sat down.... ‘What if this incarnation of all wickedness were
really my mother?.... And yet--why should I shrink thus proudly from the
notion? Am I so pure myself as to deserve a purer source?’.... And
the old woman laid her hand fondly on his head, and her skinny fingers
played with his soft locks, as she spoke hurriedly and thick.

‘Of the house of Jesse, of the seed of Solomon; not a rabbi from Babylon
to Rome dare deny that! A king’s daughter I am, and a king’s heart I
had, and have, like Solomon’s own, my son!.... A kingly heart.... It
made me dread and scorn to be a slave, a plaything, a soul-less doll,
such as Jewish women are condemned to be by their tyrants, the men. I
craved for wisdom, renown, power--power--power! and my nation refused
them to me; because, forsooth, I was a woman! So I left them. I went
to the Christian priests.... They gave me what I asked.... They gave
me more.... They pampered my woman’s vanity, my pride, my self-will, my
scorn of wedded bondage, and bade me be a saint, the judge of angels and
archangels, the bride of God! Liars! liars! And so--if you laugh, you
kill me, Raphael--and so Miriam, the daughter of Jonathan--Miriam, of
the house of David--Miriam, the descendant of Ruth and Rachab, of Rachel
and Sara, became a Christian nun, and shut herself up to see visions,
and dream dreams, and fattened her own mad self-conceit upon the impious
fancy that she was the spouse of the Nazarene, Joshua Bar-Joseph, whom
she called Jehovah Ishi--Silence! If you stop me a moment, it may be
too late. I hear them calling me already; and I made them promise not to
take me before I had told all to my son--the son of my shame!’

‘Who calls you?’ asked Raphael; but after one strong shudder she ran on,
unheeding--

‘But they lied, lied, lied! I found them out that day.... Do not look
up at me, and I will tell you all. There was a riot--a fight between
the Christian devils and the Heathen devils--and the convent was sacked,
Raphael, my son!--Sacked!.... Then I found out their blasphemy.... Oh
God! I shrieked to Him, Raphael! I called on Him to rend His heavens and
come down--to pour out His thunderbolts upon them--to cleave the earth
and devour them--to save the wretched helpless girl who adored Him,
who had given up father, mother, kinsfolk, wealth, the light of heaven,
womanhood itself, for Him--who worshipped, meditated over Him, dreamed
of Him night and day .... And, Raphael, He did not hear me.... He did
not hear me! .... did not hear the!.... And then I knew it all for a
lie! a lie!’

‘And you knew it for what it is!’ cried Raphael through his sobs, as he
thought of Victoria, and felt every vein burning with righteous wrath.

--‘There was no mistaking that test, was there?.... For nine months I
was mad. And then your voice, my baby, my joy, my pride that brought me
to myself once more! And I shook off the dust of my feet against those
Galilean priests, and went back to my own nation, where God had set me
from the beginning. I made them--the Rabbis, my father, my kin--I made
them all receive me. They could not stand before my eye. I can stake
people do what I will, Raphael! I could--I could make you emperor now,
if I had but time left! I went back. I palmed you off on Ezra as his
son, I and his wife, and made him believe that you had been born to him
while he was in Byzantium .... And then--to live for you! And I did live
for you. For you I travelled from India to Britain, seeking wealth. For
you I toiled, hoarded, lied, intrigued, won money by every means, no
matter how base--for was it not for you? And I have conquered! You are
the richest Jew south of the Mediterranean, you, my son! And you deserve
your wealth. You have your mother’s soul in you, my boy! I watched
you, gloried in you--in your cunning, your daring, your learning, your
contempt for these Gentile hounds. You felt the royal blood of Solomon
within you! You felt that you were a young lion of Judah, and they the
jackals who followed to feed upon your leavings! And now, now! Your only
danger is past! The cunning woman is gone--the sorceress who tried to
take my young lion in her pitfall, and has fallen into the midst of it
herself; and he is safe, and returned to take the nations for a prey,
and grind their bones to powder, as it is written, “He couched like a
lion, he lay down like a lioness’s whelp, and who dare rouse him up?”’

‘Stop!’ said Raphael, ‘I must speak! Mother! I must! As you love me, as
you expect me to love you, answer! Had you a hand in her death? Speak!’

‘Did I not tell you that I was no more a Christian? Had I remained
one--who can tell what I might not have done? All I, the Jewess, dare
do was--Fool that I am! I have forgotten all this time the proof--the
proof--’

‘I need no proof, mother. Your words are enough,’ said Raphael, as
he clasped her hand between his own, and pressed it to his burning
forehead. But the old woman hurried on ‘See! See the black agate which
you gave her in your madness!’

‘How did you obtain that?’

‘I stole it--stole it, my son; as thieves steal, and are crucified for
stealing. What was the chance of the cross to a mother yearning for
her child?--to a mother who put round her baby’s neck, three-and-thirty
black years ago, that broken agate, and kept the other half next her own
heart by day and night? See! See how they fit! Look, and believe your
poor old sinful mother! Look, I say!’ and she thrust the talisman into
his hands.

‘Now, let me die! I vowed never to tell this secret but to you: never
to tell it to you, until the night I died. Farewell, my son! Kiss me but
once--once, my child, my joy! Oh, this makes up for all! Makes up even
for that day, the last on which I ever dreamed myself the bride of the
Nazarene!’

Raphael felt that he must speak, now or never. Though it cost him the
loss of all his wealth, and a mother’s curse, he must speak. And not
daring to look up, he said gently--

‘Men have lied to you about Him, mother: but has He ever lied to you
about Himself? He did not lie to me when He sent me out into the world
to find a man, and sent me back again to you with the good news that The
Man is born into the world.’

But to his astonishment, instead of the burst of bigoted indignation
which he had expected, Miriam answered in a low, confused, abstracted
voice--

‘And did He send you hither? Well--that was more like what I used to
fancy Him....A grand thought it is after all--a Jew the king of heaven
and earth!.... Well--I shall know soon.... I loved Him once,.... and
perhaps....perhaps....’

Why did her head drop heavily upon his shoulder? He turned--a dark
stream of blood was flowing from her lips! He sprang to his feet. The
girls rushed in. They tore open her shawl, and saw the ghastly wound,
which she had hidden with such iron resolution to the last. But it was
too late. Miriam the daughter of Solomon was gone to her own place.
...............

Early the next morning, Raphael was standing in Cyril’s anteroom,
awaiting an audience. There were loud voices within; and after a while a
tribune--whom he knew well hurried out, muttering curses--

‘What brings you here, friend?’ said Raphael.

‘The scoundrel will not give them up,’ answered he, in an undertone.

‘Give up whom?’

‘The murderers. They are in sanctuary now at the Caesareum. Orestes sent
me to demand them: and this fellow defies him openly!’ And the tribune
hurried out.

Raphael, sickened with disgust, half-turned to follow him: but his
better angel conquered, and he obeyed the summons of the deacon who
ushered him in.

Cyril was walking up and down, according to his custom, with great
strides. When he saw who was his visitor, he stopped short with a look
of fierce inquiry. Raphael entered on business at once, with a cold calm
voice.

‘You know me, doubtless; and you know what I was. I am now a Christian
catechumen. I come to make such restitution as I can for certain past
ill-deeds done in this city. You will find among these papers the
trust-deeds for such a yearly sum of money as will enable you to hire
a house of refuge for a hundred fallen women, and give such dowries to
thirty of them yearly as will enable them to find suitable husbands. I
have set down every detail of my plan. On its exact fulfilment depends
the continuance of my gift.’

Cyril took the document eagerly, and was breaking out with some
commonplace about pious benevolence, when the Jew stopped him.

‘Your Holiness’s compliments are unnecessary. It is to your office, not
to yourself, that this business relates.’

Cyril, whose conscience was ill enough at ease that morning, felt
abashed before Raphael’s dry and quiet manner, which bespoke, as he well
knew, reproof more severe than all open upbraidings. So looking down,
not without something like a blush, he ran his eye hastily over the
paper; and then said, in his blandest tone-- ‘My brother will forgive me
for remarking, that while I acknowledge his perfect right to dispose
of his charities as he will, it is somewhat startling to me, as
Metropolitan of Egypt to find not only the Abbot Isidore of Pelusium,
but the secular Defender of the Plebs, a civil officer, implicated, too,
in the late conspiracy, associated with me as co-trustees.’

‘I have taken the advice of more than one Christian bishop on the
matter. I acknowledge your authority by my presence here. If the
Scriptures say rightly, the civil magistrates are as much God’s
ministers as you; and I am therefore bound to acknowledge their
authority also. I should have preferred associating the Prefect with you
in the trust: but as your dissensions with the present occupant of that
post might have crippled my scheme, I have named the Defender of the
Plebs, and have already put into his hands a copy of this document.
Another copy has been sent to Isidore, who is empowered to receive all
moneys from my Jewish bankers in Pelusium.’

‘You doubt, then, either my ability or my honesty?’ said Cyril, who was
becoming somewhat nettled.

‘If your Holiness dislikes my offer, it is easy to omit your name in the
deed. One word more. If you deliver up to justice the murderers of my
friend Hypatia, I double my bequest on the spot.’

Cyril burst out instantly--

‘Thy money perish with thee! Do you presume to bribe me into delivering
up my children to the tyrant?’

‘I offer to give you the means of showing more mercy, provided that you
will first do simple justice.’

‘Justice?’ cried Cyril. ‘Justice? If it be just that Peter should die,
sir, see first whether it was not just that Hypatia should die. Not that
I compassed it. As I live, I would have given my own right hand that
this had not happened! But now that it is done--let those who talk of
justice look first in which scale of the balance it lies! Do you fancy,
sir, that the people do not know their enemies from their friends? Do
you fancy that they are to sit with folded hands, while a pedant makes
common cause with a profligate, to drag them back again into the very
black gulf of outer darkness, ignorance, brutal lust, grinding slavery,
from which the Son of God died to free them, from which they are
painfully and slowly struggling upward to the light of day? You, sir, if
you be a Christian catechumen, should know for yourself what would
have been the fate of Alexandria had the devil’s plot of two days since
succeeded. What if the people struck too fiercely? They struck in the
right place. What if they have given the reins to passions fit only
for heathens? Recollect the centuries of heathendom which bred those
passions in them, and blame not my teaching, but the teaching of their
forefathers. That very Peter.... What if he have for once given place to
the devil, and avenged where he should have forgiven? Has he no memories
which may excuse him for fancying, in a just paroxysm of dread, that
idolatry and falsehood must be crushed at any risk?--He who counts back
for now three hundred years, in persecution after persecution, martyrs,
sir! martyrs--if you know what that word implies--of his own blood and
kin; who, when he was but a seven years’ boy, saw his own father made a
sightless cripple to this day, and his elder sister, a consecrated nun,
devoured alive by swine in the open streets, at the hands of those who
supported the very philosophy, the very gods, which Hypatia attempted
yesterday to restore. God shall judge such a man; not I, nor you!’

‘Let God judge him, then, by delivering him to God’s minister.’

‘God’s minister? That heathen and apostate Prefect? When he has expiated
his apostasy by penance, and returned publicly to the bosom of the
Church, it will be time enough to obey him: till then he is the minister
of none but the devil. And no ecclesiastic shall suffer at the tribunal
of an infidel. Holy Writ forbids us to go to law before the unjust.--Let
the world say of me what it will. I defy it and its rulers. I have to
establish the kingdom of God in this city, and do it I will, knowing
that other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is
Christ.’

‘Wherefore you proceed to lay it afresh. A curious method of proving
that it is laid already.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Cyril angrily.

‘Simply that God’s kingdom, if it exist at all, must be a sort of
kingdom, considering Who is The King of it, which would have established
itself without your help some time since; probably, indeed, if the
Scriptures of my Jewish forefathers are to be believed, before the
foundation of the world; and that your business was to believe that God
was King of Alexandria, and had put the Roman law there to crucify
all murderers, ecclesiastics included, and that crucified they must be
accordingly, as high as Haman himself.’

‘I will hear no more of this, sir! I am responsible to God alone, and
not to you: let it be enough that by virtue of the authority committed
to me, I shall cut off these men from the Church of God, by solemn
excommunication, for three years to come.’

‘They are not cut off, then, it seems, as yet?’

‘I tell you, sir, that I shall cut them off! Do you come here to doubt
my word?’

‘Not in the least, most august sir. But I should have fancied that,
according to my carnal notions of God’s Kingdom and The Church, they had
cut off themselves most effectually already, from the moment when they
cast away the Spirit of God, and took to themselves the spirit of
murder and cruelty; and that all which your most just and laudable
excommunication could effect, would be to inform the public of that
fact. However, farewell! My money shall be forthcoming in due time; and
that is the most important matter between us at this moment. As for your
client Peter and his fellows, perhaps the most fearful punishment which
can befall them, is to go on as they have begun. I only hope that you
will not follow in the same direction.’

‘I?’ cried Cyril, trembling with rage.

‘Really I wish your Holiness well when I say so. If my notions seem to
you somewhat secular, yours--forgive me--seem to the somewhat atheistic;
and I advise you honestly to take care lest while you are busy trying
to establish God’s kingdom, you forget what it is like, by shutting your
eyes to those of its laws which are established already. I have no doubt
that with your Holiness’s great powers you will succeed in establishing
something. My only dread is, that when it is established, you should
discover to your horror that it is the devil’s kingdom and not God’s.’

And without waiting for an answer, Raphael bowed himself out of the
august presence, and sailing for Berenice that very day, with Eudaimon
and his negro wife, went to his own place; there to labour and to
succour, a sad and stern, and yet a loving and a much-loved man, for
many a year to come.

And now we will leave Alexandria also, and taking a forward leap of some
twenty years, see how all other persons mentioned in this history went,
likewise, each to his own place. ...............

A little more than twenty years after, the wisest and holiest man in the
East was writing of Cyril, just deceased--

‘His death made those who survived him joyful; but it grieved most
probably the dead; and there is cause to fear, lest, finding his
presence too troublesome, they should send him back to us.... May it
come to pass, by your prayers, that he may obtain mercy and forgiveness,
that the immeasurable grace of God may prevail over his wickedness!....’

So wrote Theodoret in days when men had not yet intercalated into Holy
Writ that line of an obscure modern hymn, which proclaims to man the
good news that ‘There is no repentance in the grave.’ Let that be as it
may, Cyril has gone to his own place. What that place is in history is
but too well known. What it is in the sight of Him unto whom all live
for ever, is no concern of ours. May He whose mercy is over all His
works, have mercy upon all, whether orthodox or unorthodox, Papist or
Protestant, who, like Cyril, begin by lying for the cause of truth; and
setting off upon that evil road, arrive surely, with the Scribes and
Pharisees of old, sooner or later at their own place!

True, he and his monks had conquered; but Hypatia did not die unavenged.
In the hour of that unrighteous victory, the Church of Alexandria
received a deadly wound. It had admitted and sanctioned those habits of
doing evil that good may come, of pious intrigue, and at last of open
persecution, which are certain to creep in wheresoever men attempt to
set up a merely religious empire, independent of human relationships and
civil laws; to ‘establish,’ in short, a ‘theocracy,’ and by that very
act confess their secret disbelief that God is ruling already. And the
Egyptian Church grew, year by year, more lawless and inhuman. Freed from
enemies without, and from the union which fear compels, it turned its
ferocity inward, to prey on its own vitals, and to tear itself in pieces
by a voluntary suicide, with mutual anathemas and exclusions, till it
ended as a mere chaos of idolatrous sects, persecuting each other for
metaphysical propositions, which, true or false, were equally heretical
in their mouths, because they used them only as watch-words of division.
Orthodox or unorthodox, they knew not God, for they knew neither
righteousness, nor love, nor peace.... They ‘hated their brethren, and
walked on still in darkness, not knowing whither they were going’....
till Amrou and his Mohammedans appeared; and whether they discovered the
fact or not, they went to their own place....

Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small;
Though He stands and waits with patience, with exactness grinds He all--

And so found, in due time, the philosophers as well as the ecclesiastics
of Alexandria.

Twenty years after Hypatia’s death, philosophy was flickering down
to the very socket. Hypatia’s murder was its death-blow. In language
tremendous and unmistakable, philosophers had been informed that mankind
had done with them; that they had been weighed in the balances, and
found wanting; that if they had no better Gospel than that to preach,
they must make way for those who had. And they did make way. We hear
little or nothing of them or their wisdom henceforth, except at Athens,
where Proclus, Marinus, Isidore, and others kept up ‘the golden chain of
the Platonic succession,’ and descended deeper and deeper, one after the
other, into the realms of confusion--confusion of the material with
the spiritual, of the subject with the object, the moral with the
intellectual; self-consistent in one thing only,--namely, in their
exclusive Pharisaism utterly unable to proclaim any good news for man
as man, or even to conceive of the possibility of such, and gradually
looking with more and more complacency on all superstitious which
did not involve that one idea, which alone they stated,--namely,
the Incarnation; craving after signs and wonders, dabbling in magic,
astrology, and barbarian fetichisms; bemoaning the fallen age, and
barking querulously at every form of human thought except their own;
writing pompous biographies, full of bad Greek, worse taste, and still
worse miracles....

--That last drear mood Of envious sloth, and proud decrepitude; No
faith, no art, no king, no priest, no God; While round the freezing
founts of life in snarling ring, Crouch’d on the bareworn sod, Babbling
about the unreturning spring, And whining for dead gods, who cannot
save, The toothless systems shiver to their grave.

The last scene of their tragedy was not without a touch of pathos
.... In the year 629, Justinian finally closed, by imperial edict, the
schools of Athens. They had nothing more to tell the world, but what the
world had yawned over a thousand times before: why should they break
the blessed silence by any more such noises? The philosophers felt so
themselves. They had no mind to be martyrs, for they had nothing for
which to testify. They had no message for mankind, and mankind no
interest for them. All that was left for them was to take care of their
own souls; and fancying that they saw something like Plato’s ideal
republic in the pure monotheism of the Guebres, their philosophic
emperor the Khozroo, and his holy caste of magi, seven of them set
off to Persia, to forget the hateful existence of Christianity in
that realised ideal. Alas for the facts! The purest monotheism, they
discovered, was perfectly compatible with bigotry and ferocity, luxury
and tyranny, serails and bowstrings, incestuous marriages and corpses
exposed to the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air; and in
reasonable fear for their own necks, the last seven Sages of Greece
returned home weary-hearted, into the Christian Empire from which they
had fled, fully contented with the permission, which the Khozroo had
obtained for them from Justinian, to hold their peace, and die among
decent people. So among decent people they died, leaving behind them, as
their last legacy to mankind, Simplicius’s Commentaries on Epictetus’s
_Enchiridion_, an essay on the art of egotism, by obeying which,
whosoever list may become as perfect a Pharisee as ever darkened the
earth of God. Peace be to their ashes!.... They are gone to their own
place................

Wulf, too, had gone to his own place, wheresoever that may be. He died
in Spain, full of years and honours, at the court of Adolf and Placidia,
having resigned his sovereignty into the hands of his lawful chieftain,
and having lived long enough to see Goderic and his younger companions
in arms settled with their Alexandrian brides upon the sunny slopes from
which they had expelled the Vandals and the Suevi, to be the ancestors
of ‘bluest-blooded’ Castilian nobles. Wulf died, as he had lived, a
heathen. Placidia, who loved him well, as she loved all righteous and
noble souls, had succeeded once in persuading him to accept baptism.
Adolf himself acted as one of his sponsors; and the old warrior was
in the act of stepping into the font, when he turned suddenly to the
bishop, and asked where were the souls of his heathen ancestors? ‘In
hell,’ replied the worthy prelate. Wulf drew back from the font, and
threw his bearskin cloak around him.... ‘He would prefer, if Adolf had
no objection, to go to his own people.’ [Footnote: A fact.] And so he
died unbaptized, and went to his own place.

Victoria was still alive and busy: but Augustine’s warning had come
true-she had found trouble in the flesh. The day of the Lord had come,
and Vandal tyrants were now the masters of the fair corn-lands of
Africa. Her father and brother were lying by the side of Raphael
Aben-Ezra, beneath the ruined walls of Hippo, slain, long years before,
in the vain attempt to deliver their country from the invading swarms.
But they had died the death of heroes: and Victoria was content. And it
was whispered, among the down-trodden Catholics, who clung to her as an
angel of mercy, that she, too, had endured strange misery and disgrace;
that her delicate limbs bore the scars of fearful tortures; that a room
in her house, into which none ever entered but herself, contained a
young boy’s grave; and that she passed long nights of prayer upon
the spot, where lay her only child, martyred by the hands of Arian
persecutors. Nay, some of the few who, having dared to face that fearful
storm, had survived its fury, asserted that she herself, amid her own
shame and agony, had cheered the shrinking boy on to his glorious death.
But though she had found trouble in the flesh, her spirit knew none.
Clear-eyed and joyful as when she walked by her father’s side on the
field of Ostia, she went to and fro among the victims of Vandal rapine
and persecution, spending upon the maimed, the sick, the ruined, the
small remnants of her former wealth, and winning, by her purity and her
piety, the reverence and favour even of the barbarian conquerors. She
had her work to do, and she did it, and was content; and, in good time,
she also went to her own place.

Abbot Pambo, as well as Arsenius, had been dead several years; the
abbot’s place was filled, by his own dying command, by a hermit from the
neighbouring deserts, who had made himself famous for many miles round,
by his extraordinary austerities, his ceaseless prayers, his loving
wisdom, and, it was rumoured, by various cures which could only be
attributed to miraculous powers. While still in the prime of his
manhood, he was dragged, against his own entreaties, from a lofty cranny
of the cliffs to reside over the Laura of Scetis, and ordained a deacon
at the advice of Pambo, by the bishop of the diocese, who, three years
afterwards, took on himself to command him to enter the priesthood. The
elder monks considered it an indignity to be ruled by so young a man:
but the monastery throve and grew rapidly under his government. His
sweetness, patience, and humility, and above all, his marvellous
understanding of the doubts and temptations of his own generation, soon
drew around him all whose sensitiveness or waywardness had made them
unmanageable in the neighbouring monasteries. As to David in the
mountains, so to him, every one who was discontented, and every one
who was oppressed, gathered themselves. The neighbouring abbots were
at first inclined to shrink from him, as one who ate and drank with
publicans and sinners: but they held their peace, when they saw
those whom they had driven out as reprobates labouring peacefully and
cheerfully under Philammon. The elder generation of Scetis, too, saw,
with some horror, the new influx of sinners: but their abbot had but
one answer to their remonstrances--‘Those who are whole need not a
physician, but those who are sick.’

Never was the young abbot heard to speak harshly of any human being.
‘When thou halt tried in vain for seven years,’ he used to say, ‘to
convert a sinner, then only wilt thou have a right to suspect him of
being a worse man than thyself.’ That there is a seed of good in all
men, a Divine Word and Spirit striving with all men, a gospel and good
news which would turn the hearts of all men, if abbots and priests could
but preach it aright, was his favourite doctrine, and one which he used
to defend, when, at rare intervals, he allowed himself to discuss
any subject from the writings of his favourite theologian, Clement
of Alexandria. Above all, he stopped, by stern rebuke, any attempt to
revile either heretics or heathens. ‘On the Catholic Church alone,’ he
used to say, ‘lies the blame of all heresy and unbelief: for if she were
but for one day that which she ought to be, the world would be converted
before nightfall.’ To one class of sins, indeed, he was inexorable--all
but ferocious; to the sins, namely, of religious persons. In proportion
to any man’s reputation for orthodoxy and sanctity, Philammon’s judgment
of him was stern and pitiless. More than once events proved him to
have been unjust: when he saw himself to be so, none could confess his
mistake more frankly, or humiliate himself for it more bitterly: but
from his rule he never swerved; and the Pharisees of the Nile dreaded
and avoided him, as much as the publicans and sinners loved and followed
him.

One thing only in his conduct gave some handle for scandal, among the
just persons who needed no repentance. It was well known that in his
most solemn devotions, on those long nights of unceasing prayer and
self-discipline, which won him a reputation for superhuman sanctity,
there mingled always with his prayers the names of two women. And, when
some worthy elder, taking courage from his years, dared to hint kindly
to him that such conduct caused some scandal to the weaker brethren,
‘It is true,’ answered he; ‘tell my brethren that I pray nightly for two
women both of them young; both of them beautiful; both of them beloved
by me more than I love my own soul; and tell them, moreover, that one
of the two was a harlot, and the other a heathen.’ The old monk laid his
hand on his mouth, and retired.

The remainder of his history it seems better to extract from an
unpublished fragment of the _Hagiologia Nilotica_ of Graidiocolosyrtus
Tabenniticus, the greater part of which valuable work was destroyed at
the taking of Alexandria under Amrou, A. D. 640.

‘Now when the said abbot had ruled the monastery of Scetis seven years
with uncommon prudence, resplendent in virtue and in miracles, it befell
that one morning he was late for the Divine office. Whereon a certain
ancient brother, who was also a deacon, being sent to ascertain the
cause of so unwonted a defection, found the holy man extended upon the
floor of his cell, like Balaam in the flesh, though far differing from
him in the spirit, having fallen into a trance, but having his eyes
open. Who, not daring to arouse him, sat by him until the hour of noon,
judging rightly that something from heaven had befallen him. And at that
hour, the saint arising without astonishment, said, “Brother, make ready
for me the divine elements, that I may consecrate them.” And he asking
the reason wherefore, the saint replied, “That I may partake thereof
with all my brethren, ere I depart hence. For know assuredly that,
within the seventh day, I shall migrate to the celestial mansions. For
this night stood by me in a dream, those two women, whom I love, and for
whom I pray; the one clothed in a white, the other in a ruby-coloured
garment, and holding each other by the hand; who said to me, ‘That life
after death is not such a one as you fancy; come, therefore, and behold
with us what it is like.’” Troubled at which words, the deacon went
forth yet on account not only of holy obedience, but also of the
sanctity of the blessed abbot, did not hesitate to prepare according
to his command the divine elements: which the abbot having consecrated,
distributed among his brethren, reserving only a portion of the most
holy bread and wine; and then, having bestowed on them all the kiss of
peace, he took the paten and chalice in his hands, and went forth from
the monastery towards the desert; whom the whole fraternity followed
weeping, as knowing that they should see his face no more. But he,
having arrived at the foot of a certain mountain, stopped, and blessing
them, commanded them that they should follow him no farther, and
dismissed them with these words: “As ye have been loved, so love. As ye
have been judged, so judge. As ye have been forgiven, so forgive.”
 And so ascending, was taken away from their eyes. Now they, returning
astonished, watched three days with prayer and fasting: but at last
the eldest brother, being ashamed, like Elisha before the entreaties of
Elijah’s disciples, sent two of the young men to seek their master.

‘To whom befell a thing noteworthy and full of miracles. For ascending
the same mountain where they had left the abbot, they met with a certain
Moorish people, not averse to the Christianity, who declared that
certain days before a priest had passed by them, bearing a paten and
chalice, and blessing them in silence, proceeded across the desert in
the direction of the cave of the holy Amma.

‘And they inquiring who this Amma might be, the Moors answered that
some twenty years ago there had arrived in those mountains a woman more
beautiful than had ever before been seen in that region, dressed in
rich garments; who, after a short sojourn among their tribe, having
distributed among them the jewels which she wore, had embraced the
eremitic life, and sojourned upon the highest peak of a neighbouring
mountain; till, her garments failing her, she became invisible to
mankind, saving to a few women of the tribe, who went up from time to
time to carry her offerings of fruit and meal, and to ask the blessing
of her prayers. To whom she rarely appeared, veiled down to her feet in
black hair of exceeding length and splendour.

‘Hearing these things, the two brethren doubted for awhile: but at last,
determining to proceed, arrived at sunset upon the summit of the said
mountain.

‘Where, behold a great miracle. For above an open grave, freshly dug in
the sand, a cloud of vultures and obscene birds hovered, whom two lions,
fiercely contending, drove away with their talons, as if from some
sacred deposit therein enshrined. Towards whom the two brethren,
fortifying themselves with the sign of the holy cross, ascended.
Whereupon the lions, as having fulfilled the term of their guardianship,
retired; and left to the brethren a sight which they beheld with
astonishment, and not without tears.

‘For in the open grave lay the body of Philammon the abbot: and by his
side, wrapped in his cloak, the corpse of a woman of exceeding beauty,
such as the Moors had described. Whom embracing straitly, as a brother
a sister, and joining his lips to hers, he had rendered up his soul
to God; not without bestowing on her, as it seemed, the most holy
sacrament; for by the grave-side stood the paten and the chalice emptied
of their divine contents.

‘Having beheld which things awhile in silence, they considered that
the right understanding of such matters pertained to the judgment seat
above, and was unnecessary to be comprehended by men consecrated to God.
Whereon, filling in the grave with all haste, they returned weeping
to the Laura, and declared to them the strange things which they had
beheld, and whereof I the writer, having collected these facts from
sacrosanct and most trustworthy mouths, can only say that wisdom is
justified of all her children.

‘Now, before they returned, one of the brethren searching the cave
wherein the holy woman dwelt, found there neither food, furniture, nor
other matters; saving one bracelet of gold, of large size and strange
workmanship, engraven with foreign characters, which no one could
decipher. The which bracelet, being taken home to the Laura of Scetis,
and there dedicated in the chapel to the memory of the holy Amma, proved
beyond all doubt the sanctity of its former possessor, by the miracles
which its virtue worked; the fame whereof spreading abroad throughout
the whole Thebaid, drew innumerable crowds of suppliants to that holy
relic. But it came to pass, after the Vandalic persecution wherewith
Huneric and Genseric the king devastated Africa, and enriched the
Catholic Church with innumerable martyrs, that certain wandering
barbarians of the Vandalic race, imbued with the Arian pravity, and made
insolent by success, boiled over from the parts of Mauritania into
the Thebaid region. Who plundering and burning all monasteries, and
insulting the consecrated virgins, at last arrived even at the monastery
of Scetis, where they not only, according to their impious custom,
defiled the altar, and carried off the sacred vessels, but also bore
away that most holy relic, the chief glory of the Laura,--namely, the
bracelet of the holy Amma, impiously pretending that it had belonged
to a warrior of their tribe, and thus expounded the writing thereon
engraven--

‘For Amalric Amal’s Son Smid Troll’s Son Made Me.

Wherein whether they spoke truth or not, yet their sacrilege did not
remain unpunished; for attempting to return homeward toward the sea by
way of the Nile, they were set upon while weighed down with wine and
sleep, by the country people, and to a man miserably destroyed. But the
pious folk, restoring the holy gold to its pristine sanctuary, were
not unrewarded: for since that day it grows glorious with ever fresh
miracles--as of blind restored to sight, paralytics to strength,
demoniacs to sanity--to the honour of the orthodox Catholic Church, and
of its ever-blessed saints.’ ...............

So be it. Pelagia and Philammon, like the rest, went to their own place;
to the only place where such in such days could find rest; to the desert
and the hermit’s cell, and then forward into that fairy land of legend
and miracle, wherein all saintly lives were destined to be enveloped for
many a century thenceforth.

And now, readers, farewell. I have shown you New Foes under an old
face--your own likenesses in toga and tunic, instead of coat and bonnet.
One word before we part. The same devil who tempted these old Egyptians
tempts you. The same God who would have saved these old Egyptians if
they had willed, will save you, if you will. Their sins are yours,
their errors yours, their doom yours, their deliverance yours. There is
nothing new under the sun. The thing which has been, it is that which
shall be. Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone,
whether at Hypatia or Pelagia, Miriam or Raphael, Cyril or Philammon.

THE END





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