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- Hypatia - 70/97 -


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.

CHAPTER XXII: PANDEMONIUM

But where was Philammon all that week?

For the first day or two of his imprisonment he had raved like some wild beast entrapped. His new-found purpose and energy, thus suddenly dammed back and checked, boiled up in frantic rage. He tore at the bars of his prison; he rolled himself, shrieking, on the floor. He called in vain on Hypatia, on Pelagia, on Arsenius--on all but God. Pray he could not, and dare not; for to whom was he to pray? To the stars?--to the Abysses and the Eternities? ....

Alas! as Augustine said once, bitterly enough, of his own Manichaean teachers, Hypatia had taken away the living God, and given him instead the four Elements .... And in utter bewilderment and hopeless terror he implored the pity of every guard and gaoler who passed along the corridor, and conjured them, as brothers, fathers, men, to help him. Moved at once by his agony and by his exceeding beauty, the rough Thracians, who knew enough of their employer's character to have little difficulty in believing his victim to be innocent, listened to him and questioned him. But when they offered the very help which he implored, and asked him to tell his story, the poor boy's tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. How could he publish his sisters shame? And yet she was about to publish it herself! .... And instead of words, he met their condolences with fresh agonies, till they gave him up as mad; and, tired by his violence, compelled him, with blows and curses, to remain quiet; and so the week wore out, in dull and stupefied despair, which trembled on the very edge of idiocy. Night and day were alike to him. The food which was thrust in through his grate remained untasted; hour after hour, day after day, he sat upon the ground, his head buried in his hands, half-dozing from mere exhaustion of body and mind. Why should he care to stir, to eat, to live? He had but one purpose in heaven and earth: and that one purpose was impossible.

At last his cell-door grated on its hinges.

'Up, my mad youth!' cried a rough voice. 'Up, and thank the favour of the gods, and the bounty of our noble--ahem!--Prefect. To-day he gives freedom to all prisoners. And I suppose a pretty boy like you may go about your business, as well as uglier rascals!'

Philammon looked up in the gaoler's face with a dim half- comprehension of his meaning.

'Do you hear?' cried the man with a curse. 'You are free. Jump up, or I shut the door again, and your one chance is over.'

'Did she dance Venus Anadyomene?'

'She! Who?'

'My sister! Pelagia!'

'Heaven only knows what she has not danced in her time! But they say she dances to-day once more. Quick! out, or I shall not be ready in time for the sports. They begin an hour hence. Free admission into the theatre to-day for all--rogues and honest men, Christians and heathens--Curse the boy! he's as mad as ever.'

So indeed Philammon seemed; for, springing suddenly to his feet, he rushed out past the gaoler, upsetting him into the corridor, and fled wildly from the prison among the crowd of liberated ruffians, ran from the prison home, from home to the baths, from the baths to the theatre, and was soon pushing his way, regardless of etiquette, towards the lower tiers of benches, in order, he hardly knew why, to place himself as near as possible to the very sight which he dreaded and abhorred.

As fate would have it, the passage by which he had entered opened close to the Prefect's chair of state, where sat Orestes, gorgeous in his robes of office, and by him--to Philammon's surprise and horror--Hypatia herself.

More beautiful than ever, her forehead sparkling, like Juno's own, with a lofty tiara of jewels, her white Ionic robe half hidden by a crimson shawl, there sat the vestal, the philosopher. What did she there? But the boy's eager eyes, accustomed but too well to note every light and shade of feeling which crossed that face, saw in a moment how wan and haggard was its expression. She wore a look of constraint, of half-terrified self-resolve, as of a martyr: and yet not an undoubting martyr; for as Orestes turned his head at the stir of Philammon's intrusion, and flashing with anger at the sight, motioned him fiercely back, Hypatia turned too, and as her eyes met her pupil's she blushed crimson, and started, and seemed in act to motion him back also; and then, recollecting herself, whispered something to Orestes which quieted his wrath, and composed herself, or rather sank into her place again, as one who was determined to abide the worst.

A knot of gay young gentlemen, Philammon's fellow-students, pulled him down among them, with welcome and laughter; and before he could collect his thoughts, the curtain in front of the stage had fallen, and the sport began.

The scene represented a background of desert mountains, and on the stage itself, before a group of temporary huts, stood huddling together the black Libyan prisoners, some fifty men, women, and children, bedizened with gaudy feathers and girdles of tasselled leather, brandishing their spears and targets, and glaring out with white eyes on the strange scene before them, in childish awe and wonder.

Along the front of the stage a wattled battlement had been erected, while below, the hyposcenium had been painted to represent rocks, thus completing the rough imitation of a village among the Libyan hills.

Amid breathless silence, a herald advanced, and proclaimed that these were prisoners taken in arms against the Roman senate and people, and therefore worthy of immediate death: but that the Prefect, in his exceeding clemency toward them, and especial anxiety to afford the greatest possible amusement to the obedient and loyal citizens of Alexandria, had determined, instead of giving them at once to the beasts, to allow them to fight for their lives, promising to the survivors a free pardon if they acquitted themselves valiantly.

The poor wretches on the stage, when this proclamation was translated to them, set up a barbaric yell of joy, and brandished their spears and targets more fiercely than ever.

But their joy was short. The trumpets sounded the attack: a body of gladiators, equal in number to the savages, marched out from one of the two great side passages, made their obeisance to the applauding spectators, and planting their scaling-ladders against the front of the stage, mounted to the attack.

The Libyans fought like tigers; yet from the first, Hypatia, and Philammon also, could see that their promised chance of life was a mere mockery. Their light darts and naked limbs were no match for the heavy swords and complete armour of their brutal assailants, who endured carelessly a storm of blows and thrusts on heads and faces protected by visored helmets: yet so fierce was the valour of the Libyans, that even they recoiled twice, and twice the scaling- ladders were hurled down again, while more than one gladiator lay below, rolling in the death-agony.

And then burst forth the sleeping devil in the hearts of that great brutalised multitude. Yell upon yell of savage triumph, and still more savage disappointment, rang from every tier of that vast ring of seats, at each blow and parry, onslaught and repulse; and Philammon saw with horror and surprise that luxury, refinement, philosophic culture itself, were no safeguards against the infection of bloodthirstiness. Gay and delicate ladies, whom he had seen three days before simpering delight at Hypatia's heavenward aspirations, and some, too, whom he seemed to recollect in Christian churches, sprang from their seats, waved their hands and handkerchiefs, and clapped and shouted to the gladiators. For, alas! there was no doubt as to which side the favour of the spectators inclined. With taunts, jeers, applause, entreaties, the hired ruffians were urged on to their work of blood. The poor wretches heard no voice raised in their favour: nothing but contempt, hatred, eager lust of blood, glared from those thousands of pitiless eyes; and, broken-hearted, despairing, they flagged and drew back one by one. A shout of triumph greeted the gladiators as they climbed over the battlement, and gained a footing on the stage. The wretched blacks broke up, and fled wildly from corner to corner, looking vainly for an outlet....

And then began a butchery .... Some fifty men, women, and children were cooped together in that narrow space .... And yet Hypatia's countenance did not falter. Why should it? What were their numbers, beside the thousands who had perished year by year for centuries, by that and far worse deaths, in the amphitheatres of that empire, for that faith which she was vowed to re-establish. It was part of the great system; and she must endure it.


Hypatia - 70/97

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