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- Hypatia - 50/97 -
'If he be a Roman citizen, let him come and make his claim at the tribune to-morrow, in legal form. But I would have you remember, ancient sir, that I shall require you to prove your citizenship before we proceed to the question of purchase.'
'The law does not demand that,' quoth Peter.
'Knock that fellow down, apparitor!' Whereat Peter vanished, and an ominous growl rose from the mob of monks.
'What am I to do, most noble sir?' said Philammon.
'Whatever you like, till the third hour to-morrow--if you are fool enough to appear at the tribune. If you will take my advice' you will knock down these fellows right and left, and run for your life.' And Orestes drove on.
Philammon saw that it was his only chance, and did so; and in another minute he found himself rushing headlong into the archway of Pelagia's house, with a dozen monks at his heels. As luck would have it, the outer gates, at which the Goths had just entered, were still open; but the inner ones which led into the court beyond were fast. He tried them, but in vain. There was an open door in the wall on his right: he rushed through it, into a long range of stables, and into the arms of Wulf and Smid, who were unsaddling and feeding, like true warriors, their own horses.
'Souls of my fathers!' shouted Smid, 'here's our young monk come back! What brings you here head over heels in this way, young curly-pate?'
'Save me from those wretches!' pointing to the monks, who were peeping into the doorway.
Wulf seemed to understand it all in a moment; for, snatching up a heavy whip, he rushed at the foe, and with a few tremendous strokes cleared the doorway, and shut-to the door.
Philammon was going to explain and thank, but Smid stopped his mouth.
'Never mind, young one, you are our guest now. Come in, and you shall be as welcome as ever. See what comes of running away from us at first.'
'You do not seem to have benefited much by leaving me for the monks,' said old Wulf. 'Come in by the inner door. Smid! go and turn those monks out of the gateway.'
But the mob, after battering the door for a few minutes, had yielded to the agonised entreaties of Peter, who assured them that if those incarnate fiends once broke out upon them, they would not leave a Christian alive in Alexandria. So it was agreed to leave a few to watch for Philammon's coming out; and the rest, balked of their prey, turned the tide of their wrath against the Prefect, and rejoined the mass of their party, who were still hanging round his chariot, ready for mischief.
In vain the hapless shepherd of the people attempted to drive on. The apparitors were frightened and hung back; and without their help it was impossible to force the horses through the mass of tossing arms and beards in front. The matter was evidently growing serious.
'The bitterest ruffians in all Nitria, your Excellency,' whispered one of the guards, with a pale face; 'and two hundred of them at the least. The very same set, I will be sworn, who nearly murdered Dioscuros.'
'If you will not allow me to proceed, my holy brethren,' said Orestes, trying to look collected, 'perhaps it will not be contrary to the canons of the Church if I turn back. Leave the horses' heads alone. Why, in God's name, what do you want?'
'Do you fancy we have forgotten Hieracas?' cried a voice from the rear; and at that name, yell upon yell arose, till the mob, gaining courage from its own noise, burst out into open threats. 'Revenge for the blessed martyr Hieracas!' 'Revenge for the wrongs of the Church!' 'Down with the friend of Heathens, Jews, and Barbarians!' 'Down with the favourite of Hypatia!' 'Tyrant!' 'Butcher!' And the last epithet so smote the delicate fancy of the crowd, that a general cry arose of 'Kill the butcher!' and one furious monk attempted to clamber into the chariot. An apparitor tore him down, and was dragged to the ground in his turn. The monks closed in. The guards, finding the enemy number ten to their one, threw down their weapons in a panic, and vanished; and in another minute the hopes of Hypatia and the gods would have been lost for ever, and Alexandria robbed of the blessing of being ruled by the most finished gentleman south of the Mediterranean, had it not been for unexpected succour; of which it will be time enough, considering who and what is in danger, to speak in a future chapter.
CHAPTER XVII: A STRAY GLEAM
THE last blue headland of Sardinia was fading fast on the north-west horizon, and a steady breeze bore before it innumerable ships, the wrecks of Heraclian's armament, plunging and tossing impatiently in their desperate homeward race toward the coast of Africa. Far and wide, under a sky of cloudless blue, the white sails glittered on the glittering sea, as gaily now, above their loads of shame and disappointment terror and pain, as when, but one short month before, they bore with them only wild hopes and gallant daring. Who can calculate the sum of misery in that hapless flight? .... And yet it was but one, and that one of the least known and most trivial, of the tragedies of that age of woe; one petty death-spasm among the unnumbered throes which were shaking to dissolution the Babylon of the West. Her time had come. Even as Saint John beheld her in his vision, by agony after agony, she was rotting to her well-earned doom. Tyrannising it luxuriously over all nations, she had sat upon the mystic beast--building her power on the brute animal appetites of her dupes and slaves: but she had duped herself even more than them. She was finding out by bitter lessons that it was 'to the beast', and not to her, that her vassal kings of the earth had been giving their power and strength; and the ferocity and lust which she had pampered so cunningly in them, had become her curse and her destruction .... Drunk with the blood of the saints; blinded by her own conceit and jealousy to the fact that she had been crushing and extirpating out of her empire for centuries past all which was noble, purifying, regenerative, divine, she sat impotent and doting, the prey of every fresh adventurer, the slave of her own slaves .... 'And the kings of the earth, who had sinned with her, hated the harlot, and made her desolate and naked, and devoured her flesh, and burned her with fire. For God had put into their hearts to fulfil His will, and to agree, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled.' .... Everywhere sensuality, division, hatred, treachery, cruelty, uncertainty, terror; the vials of God's wrath poured out. Where was to be the end of it all? asked every man of his neighbour, generation after generation; and received for answer only, 'It is better to die than to live.'
And yet in one ship out of that sad fleet, there was peace; peace amid shame and terror; amid the groans of the wounded, and the sighs of the starving; amid all but blank despair. The great triremes and quinqueremes rushed onward past the lagging transports, careless, in the mad race for safety, that they were leaving the greater number of their comrades defenceless in the rear of the flight; but from one little fishing-craft alone no base entreaties, no bitter execrations greeted the passing flash and roll of their mighty oars. One after another, day by day, they came rushing up out of the northern offing, each like a huge hundred-footed dragon, panting and quivering, as if with terror, at every loud pulse of its oars, hurling the wild water right and left with the mighty share of its beak, while from the bows some gorgon or chimaera, elephant or boar, stared out with brazen eyes toward the coast of Africa, as if it, too, like the human beings which it carried, was dead to every care but that of dastard flight. Past they rushed, one after another; and off the poop some shouting voice chilled all hearts for a moment, with the fearful news that the Emperor's Neapolitan fleet was in full chase .... And the soldiers on board that little vessel looked silently and steadfastly into the silent steadfast face of the old Prefect, and Victoria saw him shudder, and turn his eyes away--and stood up among the rough fighting men, like a goddess, and cried aloud that 'the Lord would protect His own'; and they believed her, and were still; till many days and many ships were passed, and the little fishing-craft, outstripped even by the transports and merchantmen, as it strained and crawled along before its single square-sail, was left alone upon the sea.
And where was Raphael Aben-Ezra?
He was sitting, with Bran's head between his knees, at the door of a temporary awning in the vessel's stern, which shielded the wounded men from sun and spray; and as he sat he could hear from within the tent the gentle voices of Victoria and her brother, as they tended the sick like ministering angels, or read to them words of divine hope and comfort-in which his homeless heart felt that he had no share....
'As I live, I would change places now with any one of those poor mangled ruffians to have that voice speaking such words to me....and to believe them.' .... And he went on perusing the manuscript which he held in his hand. ...............
'Well!' he sighed to himself after a while 'at least it is the most complimentary, not to say hopeful, view of our destinies with which I have met since I threw away my curse's belief that the seed of David was fated to conquer the whole earth, and set up a second Roman Empire at Jerusalem, only worse than the present one, in that the devils of superstition and bigotry would be added to those of tyranny and rapine.'
A hand was laid on his shoulder, and a voice asked' 'And what may this so hopeful view be?'
'Ah! my dear General!' said Raphael, looking up. 'I have a poor bill of fare whereon to exercise my culinary powers this morning. Had it not been for that shark who was so luckily deluded last night, I should have been reduced to the necessity of stewing my friend the fat decurion's big boots.'
'They would have been savoury enough, I will warrant, after they had passed under your magical hand.'
'It is a comfort, certainly, to find that after all one did learn something useful in Alexandria! So I will even go forward at once,
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