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?’
‘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.’
‘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?’
‘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.
‘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?’
‘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?’
‘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.’
‘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.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10