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- Hypatia - 40/97 -
'Ah, but--man is fallen .... Well--and the flea is not. So much better he than the man; for he is what he was intended to be, and so fulfils the very definition of virtue. which no one can say of us of the red-ochre vein. And even if the old myth be true, and the man only fell, because he was set to do higher work than the flea, what does that prove--but that he could not do it?
'But his arts and his sciences? .... Apage! The very sound of those grown-children's rattles turns me sick .... One conceited ass in a generation increasing labour and sorrow, and dying after all even as the fool dies, and ten million brutes and slaves, just where their fore-fathers were, and where their children will be after them, to the end of the farce .... The thing that has been, it is that which shall be; and there is no new thing under the sun....
'And as for your palaces, and cities, and temples .... look at this Campagna, and judge. Flea-bites go down after a while--and so do they. What are they but the bumps which we human fleas make in the old earth's skin?. Make them? We only cause them, as fleas cause flea-bites .... What are all the works of man, but a sort of cutaneous disorder in this unhealthy earth-hide, and we a race of larger fleas, running about among its fur, which we call trees? Why should not the earth be an animal? How do I know it is not? Because it is too big? Bah! What is big, and what is little? Because it has not the shape of one? .... Look into a fisherman's net, and see what forms are there! Because it does not speak? .... Perhaps it has nothing to say, being too busy. Perhaps it can talk no more sense than we .... In both cases it shows its wisdom by holding its tongue. Because it moves in one necessary direction? .... How do I know that it does? How can I tell that it is not flirting with all the seven spheres at once, at this moment? But if it does--so much the wiser of it, if that be the best direction for it. Oh, what a base satire on ourselves and our notions of the fair and fitting, to say that a thing cannot be alive and rational, just because it goes steadily on upon its own road, instead of skipping and scrambling fantastically up and down without method or order, like us and the fleas, from the cradle to the grave! Besides, if you grant, with the rest of the world, that fleas are less noble than we, because they are our parasites, then you are bound to grant that we are less noble than the earth, because we are its parasites. .... Positively, it looks more probable than anything I have seen for many a day .... And, by the bye, why should not earthquakes, and floods, and pestilences, be only just so many ways which the cunning old brute earth has of scratching herself when the human fleas and their palace and city bites get too troublesome?'
At a turn of the road he was aroused from this profitable meditation by a shriek, the shrillness of which told him that it was a woman's. He looked up, and saw close to him, among the smouldering ruins of a farmhouse, two ruffians driving before them a young girl, with her hands tied behind her, while the poor creature was looking back piteously after something among the ruins, and struggling in vain, bound as she was, to escape from her captors and return.
'Conduct unjustifiable in any fleas,--eh, Bran? How do I know that, though? Why should it not be a piece of excellent fortune for her, if she had but the equanimity to see it? Why--what will happen to her? She will betaken to Rome, and sold as a slave .... And in spite of a few discomforts in the transfer, and the prejudice which some persons have against standing an hour on the catasta to be handled from head to foot in the minimum of clothing, she will most probably end in being far better housed, fed, bedizened, and pampered to her heart's desire, than ninety-nine out of a hundred of her sister fleas .... till she begins to grow old .... which she must do in any case....And if she have not contrived to wheedle her master out of her liberty, and to make tip a pretty little purse of savings, by that time--why, it is her own fault. Eh, Bran?'
But Bran by no means agreed with his view of the case; for after watching the two ruffians, with her head stuck on one side, for a minute or two, she suddenly and silently, after the manner of mastiffs, sprang upon them, and dragged one to the ground.
'Oh! that is the "fit and beautiful," in this case, as they say in Alexandria, is it? Well--I obey. You are at least a more practical teacher than ever Hypatia was. Heaven grant that there may be no more of them in the ruins!'
And rushing on the second plunderer, he laid him dead with a blow of his dagger, and then turned to the first, whom Bran was holding down by the throat.
'Mercy, mercy!' shrieked the wretch. 'Life! only life!'
'There was a fellow half a mile back begging me to kill him: with which of you two am I to agree?--for you can't both be right.'
'Life! Only life!'
'A carnal appetite, which man must learn to conquer,' said Raphael, as he raised the poniard. .... In a moment it was over, and Bran and he rose--Where was the girl? She had rushed back to the ruins, whither Raphael followed her; while Bran ran to the puppies, which he had laid upon a stone, and commenced her maternal cares.
'What do you want, my poor girl?' asked he in Latin. 'I will not hurt you.'
'My father! My father!'
He untied her bruised and swollen wrists; and without stopping to thank him, she ran to a heap of fallen stones and beams, and began digging wildly with all her little strength, breathlessly calling 'Father!'
'Such is the gratitude of flea to flea! What is there, now, in the mere fact of being accustomed to call another person father, and not master, or slave, which should produce such passion as that? .... Brute habit! .... What services can the said man render, or have rendered, which make him worth--Here is Bran! .... What do you think of that, my female philosopher?'
Bran sat down and watched too. The poor girl's tender hands were bleeding from the stones, while her golden tresses rolled down over her eyes, and entangled in her impatient fingers; but still she worked frantically. Bran seemed suddenly to comprehend the case, rushed to the rescue, and began digging too, with all her might.
Raphael rose with a shrug, and joined in the work. ...............
'Hang these brute instincts! They make one very hot. What was that?'
A feeble moan rose from under the stones. A human limb was uncovered. The girl threw herself on the place, shrieking her father's name. Raphael put her gently back and exerting his whole strength, drew out of the ruins a stalwart elderly man, in the dress of an officer of high rank.
He still breathed. The girl lifted up his head and covered him with wild kisses. Raphael looked round for water; found a spring and a broken sherd, and bathed the wounded man's temples till he opened his eyes and showed signs of returning life.
The girl still sat by him, fondling her recovered treasure, and bathing the grizzled face in holy tears.
'It is no business of mine,' said Raphael. 'Come, Bran!'
The girl sprang up, threw herself at his feet, kissed his hands, called him her saviour, her deliverer, sent by God.
'Not in the least, my child. You must thank my teacher the dog, not me.'
And she took him at his word, and threw her soft arms round Bran's Deck; and Bran understood it, and wagged her tail, and licked the gentle face lovingly.
'Intolerably absurd, all this!' said Raphael. 'I must be going, Bran.'
'You will not leave us? You surely will not leave an old man to die here?'
'Why not? What better thing could happen to him?'
'Nothing,' murmured the officer, who had not spoken before.
'Ah, God! he is my father!'
'He is my father!'
'You must save him! You shall, I say!' And she seized Raphael's arm in the imperiousness of her passion.
He shrugged his shoulders: but felt, he knew not why, marvellously inclined to obey her.
'I may as well do this as anything else, having nothing else to do. Whither now, sir?'
'Whither you will. Our troops are disgraced, our eagles taken. We are your prisoners by right of war. We follow you.'
'Oh, my fortune! A new responsibility! Why cannot I stir, without live animals, from fleas upward, attaching. themselves to me? Is it not enough to have nine blind puppies at my back, and an old brute at my heels, who will persist in saving my life, that I must be burdened over and above with a respectable elderly rebel and his daughter? Why am I not allowed by fate to care for nobody but myself? Sir, I give you both your freedom. The world is wide enough for us all. I really ask no ransom.'
'You seem philosophically disposed, my friend.'
'I? Heaven forbid! I have gone right through that slough, and come out sheer on the other side. For sweeping the last lingering taint of it out of me, I have to thank, not sulphur and exorcisms, but your soldiers and their morning's work. Philosophy is superfluous in a world where all are fools.'
'Do you include yourself under that title?'
'Most certainly, my best sir. Don't fancy that I make any
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