Hypatia, by Charles Kingsley

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.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:48