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- Hypatia - 30/97 -
limbs and determined faces warned him that against such odds the struggle would be desperate.
'Let me leave this court in safety! God knows whether I am a heretic; and to Him I commit my cause! The holy patriarch shall know of your iniquity. I will not trouble you; I give you leave to call me heretic, or heathen, if you will, if I cross this threshold till Cyril himself sends for me back to shame you.'
And he turned, and forced his way to the gate, amid a yell of derision which brought every drop of, blood in his body into his cheeks. Twice, as he went down the vaulted passage, a rush was made on him from behind, but the soberer of his persecutors checked it. Yet he could not leave them, young and hot-headed as he was, without one last word, and on the threshold he turned.
'You! who call yourselves the disciples of the Lord, and are more like the demoniacs who abode day and night in the tombs, crying and cutting themselves with stones--'
In an instant they rushed upon him; and, luckily for him, rushed also into the arms of a party of ecclesiastics, who were hurrying inwards from the street, with faces of blank terror.
'He has refused!' shouted the foremost. He declares war against the Church of God!'
'Oh, my friends,' panted the archdeacon, 'we are escaped like the bird out of the snare of the fowler. The tyrant kept us waiting two hours at his palace-gates, and then sent lictors out upon us, with rods and axes, telling us that they were the only message which he had for robbers and rioters.'
'Back to the patriarch!' and the whole mob streamed in again, leaving Philammon alone in the street--and in the world.
He strode on in his wrath some hundred yards or more before he asked himself that question. And when he asked it, he found himself in no humour to answer it. He was adrift, and blown out of harbour upon a shoreless sea, in utter darkness; all heaven and earth were nothing to him. He was alone in the blindness of anger.
Gradually one fixed idea, as a light-tower, began to glimmer through the storm .... To see Hypatia, and convert her. He had the patriarch's leave for that. That must be right. That would justify him--bring him back, perhaps, in a triumph more glorious than any Caesar's, leading captive, in the fetters of the Gospel, the Queen of Heathendom. Yes, there was that left, for which to live.
His passion cooled down gradually as he wandered on in the fading evening light, up one street and down another, till he had utterly lost his way. What matter? He should find that lecture-room to- morrow at least. At last he found himself in a broad avenue, which he seemed to know. Was that the Sun-gate in the distance? He sauntered carelessly down it, and found himself at last on the great Esplanade, whither the little porter had taken him three days before. He was close then to the Museum, and to her house. Destiny had led him, unconsciously, towards the scene of his enterprise. It was a good omen; he would go thither at once. He might sleep upon her doorstep as well as upon any other. Perhaps he might catch a glimpse of her going out or coming in, even at that late hour. It might be well to accustom himself to the sight of her. There would be the less chance of his being abashed to-morrow before those sorceress eyes. And moreover, to tell the truth, his self- dependence, and his self-will too, crushed, or rather laid to sleep, by the discipline of the Laura, had started into wild life, and gave him a mysterious pleasure, which he had not felt since he was a disobedient little boy, of doing what he chose, right or wrong, simply because he chose it. Such moments come to every free-willed creature. Happy are those who have not, like poor Philammon, been kept by a hotbed cultivation from knowing how to face them? But he had yet to learn, or rather his tutors had to learn, that the sure path toward willing obedience and manful self-restraint, lies not through slavery, but through liberty.
He was not certain which was Hypatia's house; but the door of the Museum he could not forget. So there he sat himself down under the garden wall, soothed by the cool night, and the holy silence, and the rich perfume of the thousand foreign flowers which filled the air with enervating balm. There he sat and watched, and watched, and watched in vain for some glimpse of his one object. Which of the houses was hers? Which was the window of her chamber! Did it look into the street? What business had his fancy with woman's chambers? .... But that one open window, with the lamp burning bright inside--he could not help looking up to it--he could not help fancying--hoping. He even moved a few yards to see better the bright interior of the room. High up as it was, he could still discern shelves of books--pictures on the walls. Was that a voice? Yes! a woman's voice--reading aloud in metre--was plainly distinguishable in the dead stillness of the night, which did not even awaken a whisper in the trees above his head. He stood, spellbound by curiosity.
Suddenly the voice ceased, and a woman's figure came forward to the window, and stood motionless, gazing upward at the spangled star- world overhead, and seeming to drink in the glory, and the silence, and the rich perfume .... Could it be she? Every pulse in his body throbbed madly .... Could it be? What was she doing? He could not distinguish the features; but the full blaze of the eastern moon showed him an upturned brow, between a golden stream of glittering tresses which hid her whole figure, except the white hands clasped upon her bosom .... Was she praying? were these her midnight sorceries? ....
And still his heart throbbed and throbbed, till he almost fancied she must hear its noisy beat--and still she stood motionless, gazing upon the sky, like some exquisite chryselephantine statue, all ivory and gold. And behind her, round the bright room within, painting, books, a whole world of unknown science and beauty .... and she the priestess of it all....inviting him to learn of her and be wise! It was a temptation! He would flee from it!--Fool that he was!--and it might not be she after all!
He made some sudden movement. She looked down, saw him, and shutting the blind, vanished for the night. In vain, now that the temptation had departed, he sat and waited for its reappearance, half cursing himself for having broken the spell. But the chamber was dark and silent henceforth; and Philammon, wearied out, found himself soon wandering back to the Laura in quiet dreams, beneath the balmy, semi-tropic night.
CHAPTER X: THE INTERVIEW
Philammon was aroused from his slumbers at sunrise the next morning by the attendants who came in to sweep out the lecture-rooms, and wandered, disconsolately enough, up and down the street; longing for, and yet dreading, the three weary hours to be over which must pass before he would be admitted to Hypatia. But he had tasted no food since noon the day before: he had but three hours' sleep the previous night, and had been working, running, and fighting for two whole days without a moment's peace of body or mind. Sick with hunger and fatigue, and aching from head to foot with his hard night's rest on the granite-flags, he felt as unable as man could well do to collect his thoughts or brace his nerves for the coming interview. How to get food he could not guess; but having two hands, he might at least earn a coin by carrying a load; so he went down to the Esplanade in search of work. Of that, alas! there was none. So he sat down upon the parapet of the quay, and watched the shoals of sardines which played in and out over the marble steps below, and wondered at the strange crabs and sea-locusts which crawled up and down the face of the masonry, a few feet below the surface, scrambling for bits of offal, and making occasional fruitless dashes at the nimble little silver arrows which played round them. And at last his whole soul, too tired to think of anything else, became absorbed in a mighty struggle between two great crabs, who held on stoutly, each by a claw, to his respective bunch of seaweed, while with the others they tugged, one at the head and the other at the tail of a dead fish. Which would conquer? .... Ay, which? And for five minutes Philammon was alone in the world with the two struggling heroes .... Might not they be emblematic? Might not the upper one typify Cyril?--the lower one Hypatia?--and the dead fish between, himself? .... But at last the deadlock was suddenly ended--the fish parted in the middle; and the typical Hypatia and Cyril, losing hold of their respective seaweeds by the jerk, tumbled down, each with its half-fish, and vanished head over heels into the blue depths in so undignified a manner, that Philammon burst into a shout of laughter.
'What's the joke?' asked a well-known voice behind him; and a hand patted him familiarly on the back. He looked round, and saw the little porter, his head crowned with a full basket of figs, grapes, and water-melons, on which the poor youth cast a longing eye. 'Well, my young friend, and why are you not at church? Look at all the saints pouring into the Caesareum there, behind you.'
Philammon answered sulkily enough something inarticulate.
'Ho, ho! Quarrelled with the successor of the Apostles already? Has my prophecy come true, and the strong meat of pious riot and plunder proved too highly spiced for your young palate? Eh?'
Poor Philammon! Angry with himself for feeling that the porter was right; shrinking from the notion of exposing the failings of his fellow-Christians; shrinking still more from making such a jackanapes his confidant: and yet yearning in his loneliness to open his heart to some one, he dropped out, hint by hint, word by word, the events of the past evening, and finished by a request to be put in the way of earning his breakfast.
'Earning your breakfast! Shall the favourite of the gods--shall the guest of Hypatia--earn his breakfast, while I have an obol to share with him? Base thought! Youth! I have wronged you. Unphilosophically I allowed, yesterday morning, envy to ruffle the ocean of my intellect. We are now friends and brothers, in hatred to the monastic tribe.'
'I do not hate them, I tell you,' said Philammon. 'But these Nitrian savages--'
'Are the perfect examples of monkery, and you hate them; and therefore, all greaters containing the less, you hate all less monastic monks--I have not heard logic lectures in vain. Now, up! The sea woos our dusty limbs: Nereids and Tritons, charging no cruel coin, call us to Nature's baths. At home a mighty sheat-fish smokes upon the festive board; beer crowns the horn, and onions deck the
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