For a long while he stood in the street outside the theatre, too much maddened to determine on any course of action; and, ere he had recovered his self-possession, the crowd began to pour from every outlet, and filling the street, swept him away in its stream.
Then, as he heard his sister’s name, in every tone of pity, contempt, and horror, mingle with their angry exclamations, he awoke from his dream, and, bursting through the mob, made straight for Pelagia’s house.
It was fast closed; and his repeated knocks at the gate brought only, after long waiting, a surly negro face to a little wicket.
He asked eagerly and instinctively for Pelagia; of course she had not yet returned. For Wulf he was not within. And then he took his station close to the gateway, while his heart beat loud with hope and dread.
At last the Goths appeared, forcing their way through the mob in a close column. There were no litters with them. Where, then, were Pelagia and her girls? Where, too, was the hated figure of the Amal? and Wulf, and Smid? The men came on, led by Goderic and Agilmund, with folded arms, knitted brows, downcast eyes: a stern disgust, not unmingled with shame, on every countenance, told Philammon afresh of his sister’s infamy.
Goderic passed him close, and Philammon summoned up courage to ask for Wulf. . . . Pelagia he had not courage to name.
‘Out, Greek hound! we have seen enough of your accursed race to-day! What? are you trying to follow us in?’ And the young man’s sword flashed from its sheath so swiftly, that Philammon had but just time enough to spring back into the street, and wait there, in an agony of disappointment and anxiety, as the gates slid together again, and the house was as silent as before.
For a miserable hour he waited, while the mob thickened instead of flowing away, and the scattered groups of chatterers began to form themselves into masses, and parade the streets with shouts of ‘Down with the heathen!’ ‘Down with the idolaters!’ ‘Vengeance on all blaspheming harlots!’
At last the steady tramp of legionaries, and in the midst of the glittering lines of armed men — oh, joy! — a string of litters!
He sprang forward, and called Pelagia’s name again and again. Once he fancied he heard an answer: but the soldiers thrust him back.
‘She is safe here, young fool, and has seen and been seen quite enough to-day already. Back!’
‘Let me speak to her!’
‘That is her business. Ours is now to see her home safe.’
‘Let me go in with you, I beseech!’
‘If you want to go in, knock for yourself when we are gone. If you have any business in the house, they will open to you, I suppose. Out, you interfering puppy!’
And a blow of the spear-butt in his chest sent him rolling back into the middle of the street, while the soldiers, having delivered up their charge, returned with the same stolid indifference. In vain Philammon, returning, knocked at the gate. Curses and threats from the negro were all the answer which he received; and at last, wearied into desperation, he wandered away, up one street and down another, struggling in vain to form some plan of action for himself, until the sun was set.
Wearily he went homewards at last. Once the thought of Miriam crossed his mind. It was a disgusting alternative to ask help of her, the very author of his sister’s shame: but yet she at least could obtain for him a sight of Pelagia; she had promised as much. But then — the condition which she had appended to her help! To see his sister, and yet to leave her as she was! — Horrible contradiction! But could he not employ Miriam for his own ends? — outwit her? — deceive her? — for it came to that. The temptation was intense: but it lasted only a moment. Could he defile so pure a cause by falsehood? And hurrying past the Jewess’s door, hardly daring to look at it, lest the temptation should return, he darted upstairs to his own little chamber, hastily flung open the door, and stopped short in astonishment.
A woman, covered from head to foot in a large dark veil, stood in the centre of the chamber.
‘Who are you? This is no place for you!’ cried he, after a minute’s pause. She replied only by a shudder and a sob. . . . He caught sight, beneath the folds of the veil, of a too well-known saffron shawl, and springing upon her like the lion on the lamb, clasped to his bosom his sister.
The veil fell from her beautiful forehead. She gazed into his eyes one moment with a look of terrified inquiry, and saw nothing there but love. . . . And clinging heart to heart, brother and sister mingled holy kisses, and strained nearer and nearer still, as if to satisfy their last lingering doubts of each other’s kin.
Many a minute passed in silent joy. . . . Philammon dare not speak; he dare not ask her what brought her thither — dare not wake her to recollect the frightful present by questions of the past, of his long forgotten parents, their home, her history. . . . And, after all, was it not enough for him that he held her at last? — her, there by her own will — the lost lamb returned to him? — and their tears mingled as their cheeks were pressed together.
At last she spoke.
‘I ought to have known you — I believe I did know you from the first day! When they mentioned your likeness to me, my heart leapt up within me; and a voice whispered. . . . but I would not hear it! I was ashamed — ashamed to acknowledge my brother, for whom I had sought and longed for years. . . . ashamed to think that I had a brother. . . . Ah, God! and ought I not to be ashamed?’
And she broke from him again, and threw herself on the floor.
‘Trample upon me; curse me! — anything but part me from him!’
Philammon had not the heart to answer her; but he made an involuntary gesture of sorrowful dissent.
‘No! Call me what I am! — what he called me just now! — but do not take me away! Strike me, as he struck me! — anything but parting!’
‘Struck you? The curse of God be on him!’
‘Ah, do not curse him! — not him! It was not a blow, indeed! — only a push — a touch — and it was my fault — all mine. I angered him — I upbraided him; — I was mad. . . . Oh, why did he deceive me? Why did he let me dance? — command me to dance?’
‘He said that we must not break our words. He would not hear me, when I told him that we could deny having promised. I said that promises made over the wine need never be kept. Who ever heard of keeping them? And Orestes was drunk, too. But he said that I might teach a Goth to be what I liked, except a liar. . . . Was not that a strange speech?. . . . And Wulf bade him be strong, and blest him for it.’
‘He was right,’ sobbed Philammon.
‘Then I thought he would love me for obeying him, though I loathed it! — Oh, God, how I loathed it!. . . . But how could I fancy that he did not like my doing it? Who ever heard of any one doing of their own will what they did not like?’
Philammon sobbed again, as the poor civilised savage artlessly opened to him all her moral darkness. What could he say?. . . . he knew what to say. The disease was so utterly patent, that any of Cyril’s school-children could have supplied the remedy. But how to speak it? — how to tell her, before all things, as he longed to do, that there was no hope of her marrying the Amal, and, therefore, no peace for her till she left him.
‘Then you did hate the — the —’ said he, at last, catching at some gleam of light.
‘Hate it? Do I not belong, body and soul, to him? — him only?. . . . And yet. . . . Oh, I must tell you all! When I and the girls began to practise, all the old feelings came back — the love of being admired, and applauded, and cheered; and dancing is so delicious! — so delicious to feel that you are doing anything beautiful perfectly, and better than every one else!. . . . And he saw that I liked it, and despised me for it. . . . And, deceitful! — he little guessed how much of the pains which I took were taken to please him, to do my best before him, to win admiration, only that I might take it home and throw it all at his beloved feet, and make the world say once more, “She has all Alexandria to worship her, and yet she cares for that one Goth more than for —” But he deceived me, true man that he is! He wished to enjoy my smiles to the last moment, and then to cast me off, when I had once given him an excuse. . . . Too cowardly to upbraid me, he let me ruin myself, to save him the trouble of ruining me. Oh, men, men! all alike! They love us for their own sakes, and we love them for love’s sake. We live by love, we die for love, and yet we never find it, but only selfishness dressed up in love’s mask. . . . And then we take up with that, poor, fond, self-blinded creatures that we are! — and in spite of the poisoned hearts around us, persuade ourselves that our latest asp’s egg, at least, will hatch into a dove, and that though all men are faithless, our own tyrant can never change, for he is more than man!’
‘But he has deceived you! You have found out your mistake. Leave him, then, as he deserves!’
Pelagia looked up, with something of a tender smile. ‘Poor darling! Little do you know of love!’
Philammon, utterly bewildered by this newest and strangest phase of human passion, could only gasp out —
‘But do you not love me, too, my sister?’
‘Do I not love you? But not as I love him! Oh, hush, hush! — you cannot understand yet!’ And Pelagia hid her face in her hands, while convulsive shudderings ran through every limb. . . .
‘I must do it! I must! I will dare every thing, stoop to everything for love’s sake! Go to her! — to the wise woman! — to Hypatia! She loves you! I know that she loves you! She will hear you, though she will not me!’
‘Hypatia? Do you know that she was sitting there unmoved at — in the theatre?’
‘She was forced! Orestes compelled her! Miriam told me so. And I saw it in her face. As I passed beneath her, I looked up; and she was as pale as ivory, trembling in every limb. There was a dark hollow round her eyes — she had been weeping, I saw. And I sneered in my mad self-conceit, and said, “She looks as if she was going to be crucified, not married!”. But now, now! — Oh, go to her! Tell her that I will give her all I have — jewels, money, dresses, house! Tell her that I— I— entreat her pardon, that I will crawl to her feet myself and ask it, if she requires! — Only let her teach me — teach me to be wise and good, and honoured, and respected, as she is! Ask her to tell a poor broken-hearted woman her secret. She can make old Wulf, and him, and Orestes even, and the magistrates, respect her. . . . Ask her to teach me how to be like her, and to make him respect me again, and I will give her all — all!’
Philammon hesitated. Something within warned him, as the Daemon used to warn Socrates, that his errand would be bootless. He thought of the theatre, and of that firm, compressed lip; and forgot the hollow eye of misery which accompanied it, in his wrath against his lately-worshipped idol.
‘Oh, go! go! I tell you it was against her will. She felt for me — I saw it — Oh, God! when I did not feel for myself! And I hated her, because she seemed to despise me in my fool’s triumph! She cannot despise me now in my misery. . . . Go! Go! or you will drive me to the agony of going myself.’
There was but one thing to be done.
‘You will wait, then, here? You will not leave me again?’
‘Yes. But you must be quick! If he finds out that I am away, he may fancy. . . . Ah, heaven! let him kill me, but never let him be jealous of me! Go now! this moment! Take this as an earnest — the cestus which I wore there. Horrid thing! I hate the sight of it! But I brought it with me on purpose, or I would have thrown it into the canal. There; say it is an earnest — only an earnest — of what I will give her!’
In ten minutes more Philammon was in Hypatia’s hall. The household seemed full of terror and disturbance; the hall was full of soldiers. At last Hypatia’s favourite maid passed, and knew him. Her mistress could not speak with any one. Where was Theon, then? He, too, had shut himself up. Never mind. Philammon must, would speak with him. And he pleaded so passionately and so sweetly, that the soft-hearted damsel, unable to resist so handsome a suppliant, undertook his errand, and led him up to the library, where Theon, pale as death, was pacing to and fro, apparently half beside himself with terror.
Philammon’s breathless message fell at first upon unheeding ears.
‘A new pupil, sir! Is this a time for pupils; when my house, my daughter’s life, is not safe? Wretch that I am! And have I led her into the snare? I, with my vain ambition and covetousness! Oh, my child! my child! my one treasure! Oh, the double curse which will light upon me, if —’
‘She asks for but one interview.’
‘With my daughter, sir? Pelagia! Will you insult me? Do you suppose, even if her own pity should so far tempt her to degrade herself, that I could allow her so to contaminate her purity?’
‘Your terror, sir, excuses your rudeness.’
‘Rudeness, sir? the rudeness lies in your intruding on us at such a moment!’
‘Then this, perhaps, may, in your eyes at least, excuse me in my turn.’ And Philammon held out the cestus. ‘You are a better judge of its value than I. But I am commissioned to say, that it is only an earnest of what she will give willingly and at once, even to the half of her wealth, for the honour of becoming your daughter’s pupil.’ And he laid the jewelled girdle on the table.
The old man halted in his walk. The emeralds and pearls shone like the galaxy. He looked at them; and walked on again more slowly. . . . What might be their value? What might it not be? At least, they would pay all his debts. . . . And after hovering to and fro for another minute before the bait, he turned to Philammon.
‘If you would promise to mention the thing to no one —’
‘I will promise.’
‘And in case my daughter, as I have a right to expect, shall refuse —’
‘Let her keep the jewels. Their owner has learnt, thank God, to despise and hate them! Let her keep the jewels — and my curse! For God do so to me, and more also, if I ever see her face again!’
The old man had not heard the latter part of Philammon’s speech. He had seized his bait as greedily as a crocodile, and hurried off with it into Hypatia’s chamber, while Philammon stood expectant; possessed with a new and fearful doubt. ‘Degrade herself!’ ‘Contaminate her purity!’ If that notion were to be the fruit of all her philosophy? If selfishness, pride, Pharisaism, were all its outcome? Why — had they not been its outcome already? When had he seen her helping, even pitying, the poor, the outcast? When had he heard from her one word of real sympathy for the sorrowing; for the sinful?. . . . He was still lost in thought when Theon re-entered, bringing a letter.
‘From Hypatia to her well-beloved pupil.
‘I pity you — how should I not? And more. I thank you for this your request, for it shows me that my unwilling presence at the hideous pageant of to-day has not alienated from me a soul of which I had cherished the noblest hopes, for which I had sketched out the loftiest destiny. But how shall I say it? Ask yourself whether a change — apparently impossible — must not take place in her for whom you plead, before she and I can meet. I am not so inhuman as to blame you for having asked me; I do not even blame her for being what she is. She does but follow her nature; who can be angry with her, if destiny have informed so fair an animal with a too gross and earthly spirit? Why weep over her? Dust she is, and unto dust she will return: while you, to whom a more divine spark was allotted at your birth, must rise, and unrepining, leave below you one only connected with you by the unreal and fleeting bonds of fleshly kin.’
Philammon crushed the letter together in his hand, and strode from the house without a word. The philosopher had no gospel, then, for the harlot! No word for the sinner, the degraded! Destiny forsooth! She was to follow her destiny, and be base, miserable, self-condemned. She was to crush the voice of conscience and reason, as often as it awoke within her, and compel herself to believe that she was bound to be that which she knew herself bound not to be. She was to shut her eyes to that present palpable misery which was preaching to her, with the voice of God Himself, that the wages of sin are death. Dust she was, and unto dust she will return! Oh, glorious hope for her, for him, who felt as if an eternity of bliss would be worthless, if it parted him from his new-found treasure! Dust she was, and unto dust she must return!
Hapless Hypatia! If she must needs misapply, after the fashion of her school, a text or two here and there from the Hebrew Scriptures, what suicidal fantasy set her on quoting that one? For now, upon Philammon’s memory flashed up in letters of light, old words forgotten for months — and ere he was aware, he found himself repeating aloud and passionately, ‘I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,’. . . . and then clear and fair arose before him the vision of the God-man, as He lay at meat in the Pharisee’s house; and of her who washed His feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. . . . And from the depths of his agonised heart arose the prayer, ‘Blessed Magdalene, intercede for her?’
So high he could rise, but not beyond. For the notion of that God-man was receding fast to more and more awful abysmal heights, in the minds of a generation who were forgetting His love in His power, and practically losing sight of His humanity in their eager doctrinal assertion of His Divinity. And Philammon’s heart re-echoed the spirit of his age, when he felt that for an apostate like himself it were presumptuous to entreat for any light or help from the fountain-head itself. He who had denied his Lord, he who had voluntarily cut himself off from the communion of the Catholic Church — how could he restore himself? How could he appease the wrath of Him who died on the cross, save by years of bitter supplication and self-punishment?. . . .
‘Fool! Vain and ambitious fool that I have been! For this I threw away the faith of my childhood! For this I listened to words at which I shuddered; crushed down my own doubts and disgusts; tried to persuade myself that I could reconcile them with Christianity — that I could make a lie fit into the truth! For this I puffed myself up in the vain hope of becoming not as other men are — superior, forsooth, to my kind! It was not enough for me to be a man made in the image of God: but I must needs become a god myself, knowing good and evil. — And here is the end! I call upon my fine philosophy to help me once, in one real practical human struggle, and it folds its arms and sits serene and silent, smiling upon my misery! Oh! fool, fool, thou art filled with the fruit of thy own devices! Back to the old faith! Home again, then wanderer! And yet how home? Are not the gates shut against me? Perhaps against her too. . . . What if she, like me, were a baptized Christian?’
Terrible and all but hopeless that thought flashed across him, as in the first revulsion of his conscience he plunged utterly and implicitly back again into the faith of his childhood, and all the dark and cruel theories popular in his day rose up before him in all their terrors. In the innocent simplicity of the Laura he had never felt their force; but he felt them now. If Pelagia were a baptized woman, what was before her but unceasing penance? Before her, as before him, a life of cold and hunger, groans and tears, loneliness and hideous soul-sickening uncertainty. Life was a dungeon for them both henceforth. Be it so! There was nothing else to believe in. No other rock of hope in earth or heaven. That at least promised a possibility of forgiveness, of amendment, of virtue, of reward — ay, of everlasting bliss and glory; and even if she missed of that, better for her the cell in the desert than a life of self-contented impurity! If that latter were her destiny, as Hypatia said, she should at least die fighting against it, defying it, cursing it! Better virtue with hell, than sin with heaven! And Hypatia had not even promised her a heaven. The resurrection of the flesh was too carnal a notion for her refined and lofty creed. And so, his four months’ dream swept away in a moment, he hurried back to his chamber, with one fixed thought before him — the desert; a cell for Pelagia; another for himself. There they would repent, and pray, and mourn out life side by side, if perhaps God would have mercy upon their souls. Yet — perhaps, she might not have been baptized after all. And then she was safe. Like other converts from Paganism, she might become a catechumen, and go on to baptism, where the mystic water would wash away in a moment all the past, and she would begin life afresh, in the spotless robes of innocence. Yet he had been baptized, he knew from Arsenius, before he left Athens; and she was older than he. It was all but impossible yet he would hope; and breathless with anxiety and excitement, he ran up the narrow stairs and found Miriam standing outside, her hand upon the bolt, apparently inclined to dispute his passage.
‘Is she still within?’
‘What if she be?’
‘Let me pass into my own room.’
‘Yours? Who has been paying the rent for you, these four months past? You! What can you say to her? What can you do for her? Young pedant, you must be in love yourself before you can help poor creatures who are in love!’
But Philammon pushed past her so fiercely, that the old woman was forced to give way, and with a sinister smile she followed him into the chamber.
Pelagia sprang towards her brother.
‘Will she? — will she see me?’
‘Let us talk no more of her, my beloved,’ said Philammon, laying his hands gently on her trembling shoulders, and looking earnestly into her eyes. . . . ‘Better that we two should work out our deliverance for ourselves, without the help of strangers. You can trust me?’
‘You? And can you help me? Will you teach me?’
‘Yes, but not here. . . . We must escape — Nay, hear me, one moment! dearest sister, hear me! Are you so happy here that you can conceive of no better place? And — and, oh, God! that it may not be true after all! — but is there not a hell hereafter?’
Pelagia covered her face with her hands —‘The old monk warned me of it!’
‘Oh, take his warning. . . . ’ And Philammon was bursting forth with some such words about the lake of fire and brimstone as he had been accustomed to hear from Pambo and Arsenius, when Pelagia interrupted him — ‘Oh, Miriam! Is it true? Is it possible? What will become of me?’ almost shrieked the poor child.
‘What if it were true? — Let him tell you how he will save you from it,’ answered Miriam quietly.
‘Will not the Gospel save her from it — unbelieving Jew? Do not contradict me! I can save her.’
‘If she does what?’
‘Can she not repent? Can she not mortify these base affections? Can she not be forgiven? Oh, my Pelagia! forgive me for having dreamed one moment that I could make you a philosopher, when you may be a saint of God, a —’
He stopped short suddenly, as the thought about baptism flashed across him, and in a faltering voice asked, ‘Are you baptized?’
‘Baptized?’ asked she, hardly understanding the term.
‘Yes — by the bishop — in the church.’
‘Ah,’ she said, ‘I remember now. . . . When I was four or five years odd. . . . A tank, and women undressing. . . . And I was bathed too, and an old man dipped my head under the water three times. . . . I have forgotten what it all meant — it was so long ago. I wore a white dress, I know, afterwards.’
Philammon recoiled with a groan.
‘Unhappy child! May God have mercy on you!’
‘Will He not forgive me, then? You have forgiven me. He? — He must be more good even than you. — Why not?’
‘He forgave you then, freely, when you were baptized: and there is no second pardon unless —
‘Unless I leave my love!’ shrieked Pelagia.
‘When the Lord forgave the blessed Magdalene freely, and told her that her faith had saved her — did she live on in sin, or even in the pleasures of this world? No! though God had forgiven her, she could not forgive herself. She fled forth into the desert, and there, naked and barefoot, clothed only with her hair, and feeding on the herb of the field, she stayed fasting and praying till her dying day, never seeing the face of man, but visited and comforted by angels and archangels. And if she, she who never fell again, needed that long penance to work out her own salvation — oh, Pelagia, what will not God require of you, who have broken your baptismal vows, and defiled the white robes, which the tears of penance only can wash clean once more?’
‘But I did not know! I did not ask to be baptized! Cruel, cruel parents, to bring me to it! And God! Oh, why did He forgive me so soon? And to go into the deserts! I dare not! I cannot! See me, how dedicate and tender I am! I should die of hunger and cold! I should go mad with fear and loneliness! Oh! brother, brother, is this the Gospel of the Christians? I came to you to be taught how to be wise, and good, and respected, and you tell me that all I can do is to live this horrible life of torture here, on the chance of escaping torture forever! And how do I know that I shall escape it? How do I know that I shall make myself miserable enough? How do I know that He will forgive me after all? Is this true, Miriam? Tell me, or I shall go mad!’
‘Yes,’ said Miriam, with a quiet sneer. ‘This is the gospel and good news of salvation, according to the doctrine of the Nazarenes.’
‘I will go with you!’ cried Philammon. ‘I will go! I will never leave you! I have my own sins to wash away! — Happy for me if I ever do it! — And I will build you a cell near mine, and kind men will teach us, and the will pray together night and morning, for ourselves and for each other, and weep out our weary lives together —’
‘Better end them here, at once!’ said Pelagia, with a gesture of despair, and dashed herself down on the floor.
Philammon was about to lift her up, when Miriam caught him by the arm, and in a hurried whisper —‘Are you mad? Will you ruin your own purpose? Why did you tell her this? Why did you not wait — give her hope — time to collect herself — time to wean herself from her lover, instead of terrifying and disgusting her at the outset, as you have done? Have you a man’s heart in you? No word of comfort for that poor creature, nothing but hell, hell, hell — See to your own chance of hell first! It is greater than you fancy!’
‘It cannot be greater than I fancy!’
‘Then see to it. For her, poor darling! — why, even we Jews, who know that all you Gentiles are doomed to Gehenna alike, have some sort of hope for such a poor untaught creature as that.’
‘And why is she untaught? Wretch that you are. You have had the training of her! You brought her up to sin and shame! You drove from her recollection the faith in which she was baptized!’
‘So much the better for her, if the recollection of it is to make her no happier than it does already. Better to wake unexpectedly in Gehenna when you die, than to endure over and above the dread of it here. And as for leaving her untaught, on your own showing she has been taught too much already. Wiser it would be in you to curse your parents for having had her baptized, than me for giving her ten years’ pleasure before she goes to the pit of Tophet. Come now, don’t be angry with me. The old Jewess is your friend, revile her as you will. She shall marry this Goth.’
‘An Arian heretic!’
‘She shall convert him and make a Catholic of him, if you like. At all events, if you wish to win her, you must win her my way. You have had your chance, and spoiled it. Let me have mine. Pelagia, darling! Up, and be a woman! We will find a philtre downstairs to give that ungrateful man, that shall make him more mad about you, before a day is over, than ever you were about him.’
‘No!’ said Pelagia, looking up. ‘No love-potions! No poisons!’
‘Poisons, little fool! Do you doubt the old woman’s skill? Do you think I shall make him lose his wits, as Callisphyra did to her lover last year, because she would trust to old Megaera’s drugs, instead of coming to me!’
‘No! No drugs; no magic! He must love me really, or not at all! He must love me for myself, because I am worth loving, because he honours, worships me, or let me die. I, whose boast was, even when I was basest, that I never needed such mean tricks, but conquered like Aphrodite, a queen in my own right! I have been my own love-charm: when I cease to be that, let me die!’
‘One as mad as the other!’ cried Miriam, in utter perplexity. ‘Hist! what is that tramp upon the stairs?’
At this moment heavy footsteps were heard ascending the stairs. . . . All three stopped aghast: Philammon, because he thought the visitors were monks in search of him; Miriam, because she thought they were Orestes’s guards in search of her; and Pelagia, from vague dread of anything and everything. . . .
‘Have you an inner room?’ asked the Jewess.
The old woman set her lips firmly, and drew her dagger. Pelagia wrapped her face in her cloak, and stood trembling, bowed down, as if expecting another blow. The door opened, and in walked, neither monks nor guard, but Wulf and Smid.
‘Heyday, young monk!’ cried the latter worthy, with a loud laugh —‘Veils here, too, eh? At your old trade, my worthy portress of hell-gate? Well, walk out now; we have a little business with this young gentleman.’
And slipping past the unsuspecting Goths, Pelagia and Miriam hurried downstairs.
‘The young one, at least, seems a little ashamed of her errand. . . . Now, Wulf, speak low; and I will see that no one is listening at the door.’
Philammon faced his unexpected visitors with a look of angry inquiry. What right had they, or any man, to intrude at such a moment on his misery and disgrace?. . . . But he was disarmed the next instant by old Wulf, who advanced to him, and looking him fully in the face with an expression which there was no mistaking, held out his broad, brown hand.
Philammon grasped it, and then covering his face with his hands, burst into tears.
‘You did right. You are a brave boy. If you had died, no man need have been ashamed to die your death.’
‘You were there, then?’ sobbed Philammon.
‘And what is more,’ said Smid, as the poor boy writhed at the admission, ‘we were mightily minded, some of us, to have leapt down to you and cut you a passage out. One man, at least, whom I know of, felt his old blood as hot for the minute as a four-year-old’s. The foul curs! And to hoot her, after all! Oh that I may have one good hour’s hewing at them before I die!’
‘And you shall!’ said Wulf. ‘Boy, you wish to get this sister of yours into your power?’
‘It is hopeless — hopeless! She will never leave her — the Amal.’
‘Are you so sure of that?’
‘She told me so with her own lips not ten minutes ago. That was she who went out as you entered!’
A curse of astonishment and regret burst from Smid. . . .
‘Had I but known her! By the soul of my fathers, she should have found that it was easier to come here than to go home again!’
‘Hush, Smid! Better as it is. Boy, if I put her into your power, dare you carry her off?’
Philammon hesitated one moment.
‘What I dare you know already. But it would be an unlawful thing, surely, to use violence.’
‘Settle your philosopher’s doubts for yourself. I have made my offer. I should have thought that a man in his senses could give but one answer, much more a mad monk.’
‘You forget the money matters, prince,’ said Smid, with a smile.
‘I do not. But I don’t think the boy so mean as to hesitate on that account.’
‘He may as well know, however, that we promise to send all her trumpery after her, even to the Amal’s presents. As for the house, we won’t trouble her to lend it us longer than we can help. We intend shortly to move into more extensive premises, and open business on a grander scale, as the shopkeepers say — eh, prince?’
‘Her money? — That money? God forgive her!’ answered Philammon. ‘Do you fancy me base enough to touch it? But I am resolved. Tell me what to do, and I will do it.’
‘You know the lane which runs down to the canal, under the left wall of the house?’
‘And a door in the corner tower, close to the landing-place?’ ‘I do.’
‘Be there, with a dozen stout monks, to-morrow, an hour after sundown, and take what we give you. After that, the concern is yours, not ours.’
‘Monks?’ said Philammon. ‘I am at open feud with the whole order.’
‘Make friends with them, then,’ shortly suggested Smid.
Philammon writhed inwardly. ‘It makes no difference to you, I presume, whom I bring?’
‘No more than it does whether or not you pitch her into the canal, and put a hurdle over her when you have got her,’ answered Smid; ‘which is what a Goth would do, if he were in your place.’
‘Do not vex the poor lad, friend. If he thinks he can mend her instead of punishing her, in Freya’s name, let him try. You will be there, then? And mind, I like you. I liked you when you faced that great river-hog. I like you better now than ever; for you have spoken to-day like a Sagaman, and dared like a hero. Therefore mind; if you do not bring a good guard to-morrow night, your life will not be safe. The whole city is out in the streets; and Odin alone knows what will be done, and who will be alive, eight-and-forty hours hence. Mind you! — The mob may do strange things, and they may see still stranger things done. If you once find yourself safe back here, stay where you are, if you value her life or your own. And — if you are wise, let the men whom you bring with you be monks, though it cost your proud stomach —’
‘That’s not fair, prince! You are telling too much!’ interrupted Smid, while Philammon gulped down the said proud stomach, and answered, ‘Be it so!’
‘I have won my bet, Smid,’ said the old man, chuckling, as the two tramped out into the street, to the surprise and fear of all the neighbours, while the children clapped their hands, and the street dogs felt it their duty to bark lustily at the strange figures of their unwonted visitors.
‘No play, no pay, Wulf. We shall see to-morrow.’
‘I knew that he would stand the trial! I knew he was right at heart!’
‘At all events, there is no fear of his ill-using the poor thing, if he loves her well enough to go down on his knees to his sworn foes for her.’
‘I don’t know that,’ answered Wulf, with a shake of the head. ‘These monks, I hear, fancy that their God likes them the better the more miserable they are: so, perhaps they may fancy that he will like them all the more, the more miserable they make other people. However, it’s no concern of ours.’
‘We have quite enough of our own to see to just now. But mind, no play, no pay.’
‘Of course not. How the streets are filling! We shall not be able to see the guards to-night, if this mob thickens much more.’
‘We shall have enough to do to hold our own, perhaps. Do you hear what they are crying there? “Down with all heathens! Down with barbarians!” That means us, you know.’
‘Do you fancy no one understands Greek but yourself? Let them come. . . . It may give us an excuse. . . . And we can hold the house a week.’
‘But how can we get speech of the guards?’
‘We will slip round by water. And, after all, deeds will win them better than talk. They will be forced to fight on the same side as we, and most probably be glad of our help; for if the mob attacks any one, it will begin with the Prefect.’
‘And then — Curse their shouting! Let the soldiers once find our Amal at their head, and they will be ready to go with him a mile, where they meant to go a yard.’
‘The Goths will, and the Markmen, and those Dacians, and Thracians, or whatever the Romans call them. But I hardly trust the Huns.’
‘The curse of heaven on their pudding faces and pigs’ eyes! There will be no love lost between us. But there are not twenty of them scattered in different troops; one of us can thrash three of them; and they will be sure to side with the winning party. Besides, plunder, plunder, comrade! When did you know a Hun turn back from that, even if he were only on the scent of a lump of tallow?’
‘As for the Gauls and Latins,’. . . . went on Wulf meditatively, ‘they belong to any man who can pay them.’. . . .
‘Which we can do, like all wise generals, one penny out of our own pocket, and nine out of the enemy’s. And the Amal is staunch?’
‘Staunch as his own hounds, now there is something to be done on the spot. His heart was in the right place after all. I knew it all along. But he could never in his life see four-and-twenty hours before him. Even now if that Pelagia gets him under her spell again, he may throw down his sword, and fall as fast asleep as ever.’
‘Never fear; we have settled her destiny for her, as far as that is concerned. Look at the mob before the door! We must get in by the postern-gate.’
‘Get in by the sewer, like a rat! I go my own way. Draw, old hammer and tongs! or run away!’
‘Not this time.’ And sword in hand, the two marched into the heart of the crowd, who gave way before them like a flock of sheep.
‘They know their intended shepherds already,’ said Smid. But at that moment the crowd, seeing them about to enter the house, raised a yell of ‘Goths! Heathens! Barbarians!’ and a rush from behind took place.
‘If you will have it, then!’ said Wulf. And the two long bright blades flashed round and round their heads, redder and redder every time they swung aloft. . . . The old men never even checked their steady walk, and knocking at the gate, went in, leaving more than one lifeless corpse at the entrance.
‘We have put the coal in the thatch, now, with a vengeance,’ said Smid, as they wiped their swords inside.
‘We have. Get me out a boat and half a dozen men, and I and Goderic will go round by the canal to the palace, and settle a thing or two with the guards.’
‘Why should not the Amal go, and offer our help himself to the Prefect?’
‘What? Would you have him after that turn against the hound? For troth and honour’s sake, he must keep quiet in the matter.’
‘He will have no objection to keep quiet — trust him for that! But don’t forget Sagaman Moneybag, the best of all orators,’ called Smid laughingly after him, as he went off to man the boat.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10