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?’
‘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.
‘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.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56