Hypatia, by Charles Kingsley

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.

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