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when he might have been their conqueror, their king. Foolish woman, who cannot see that your love has been his bane, his ruin! He, who ought by now to have been sitting upon the throne of the Ptolemies, the lord of all south of the Mediterranean--as he shall be still!'
Pelagia looked tip at him wide-eyed, as if her mind was taking in slowly some vast new thought, under the weight of which it reeled already. Then she rose slowly.
'And he might be Emperor of Africa.'
'And be shall be; but not--'
'Not with me!' she almost shrieked. 'No! not with wretched, ignorant, polluted me! I see--oh God, I see it all! And this is why you want him to marry her--her--'
She could not utter the dreaded name.
Wulf could not trust himself to speak; but he bowed his head in acquiescence. ...............
'Yes--I will go--up into the desert--with Philammon--and you shall never hear of me again. And I will be a nun, and pray for him, that he may be a great king, and conquer all the world. You will tell him why I went away, will you not? Yes, I will go,--now, at once--'
She turned away hurriedly, as if to act upon her promise, and then she sprang again to Wulf with a sudden shudder.
'I cannot, Wulf!--I cannot leave him! I shall go mad if I do! Do not be angry;--I will promise anything--take any oath you like, if you will only let me stay here. Only as a slave--as anything--if I may but look at him sometimes. No--not even that--but to be tinder the same roof with him, only--Oh, let me be but a slave in the kitchen! I will make over all I have to him--to you--to any one! And you shall tell him that I am gone--dead, if you will.--Only let me stay! And I will wear rags, and grind in the mill .... Even that will be delicious, to know that he is eating the bread which I have made! And if I ever dare speak to him--even to come near hint--let the steward hang me up by the wrists, and whip me, like the slave which I deserve to be! ....And then shall I soon grow old and ugly with grief, and--there will be no more danger then, dear Wulf, will there, from this accursed face of mine? Only promise me that, and-- There he is calling you! Don't let him come in and see me!--I cannot bear it! Go to him, quick, and tell him all.--No, don't tell him yet....'
And she sank down again on the floor, as Wulf went out murmuring to himself--
'Poor child! poor child! well for thee this clay if thou wert dead, and at the bottom of Hela!'
And Pelagia heard what he said.
Gradually, amid sobs and tears, and stormy confusion of impossible hopes and projects, those words took root in her mind, and spread, till they filled her whole heart and brain.
'Well for me if I were dead?'
And she rose slowly.
'Well for me if I were dead? And why not? Then it would indeed be all settled. There would be no more danger from poor little Pelagia then....'
She went slowly, firmly, proudly, into the well-known chamber .... She threw herself upon the bed, and covered the pillow with kisses. Her eye fell on the Amal's sword, which hung across the bed's-head, after the custom of Gothic warriors. She seized it, and took it down, shuddering.
'Yes! .... Let it be with this, if it must be. And it must be. I cannot bear it! Anything but shame! To have fancied all my life-- vain fool that I was!--that every one loved and admired me, and to find that they were despising me, hating me, all along! Those students at the lecture-room door told me I was despised. The old monk told me so--Fool that I was! I forgot it next day!--For he--he loved me still!--All--how could I believe them, till his own lips had said it? .... Intolerable! .... And yet women as bad as I am have been honoured--when they were dead. What was that song which I used to sing about Epicharis, who hung herself in the litter, and Leaina, who bit out her tongue, lest the torture should drive them to betray their lovers? There used to be a statue of Leaina, they say, at Athens,--a lioness without a tongue .... And whenever I sang the song, the theatre used to rise, and shout, and call them noble and blessed .... I never could tell why then; but I know now!--I know now! Perhaps they may call me noble, after all. At least, they may say "She was a--a--but she dare die for the man she loved!" .... Ay, but God despises me too, and elates me. He will send me to eternal fire. Philammon said so--though he was my brother. The old monk said so--though he wept as he said it .... The flames of hell for ever! Oh, not for ever! Great, dreadful God! Not for ever! Indeed, I did not know! No one taught me about right and wrong, and I never knew that I had been baptized--Indeed, I never knew! And it was so pleasant--so pleasant to be happy, and praised, and loved, and to see happy faces round me. How could I help it? The birds there who are singing in the darling, beloved court--they do what they like, and Thou art not angry with them for being happy! And Thou wilt not be more cruel to me than to them, great God--for what did I know more than they? Thou hast made the beautiful sunshine, and the pleasant, pleasant world, and the flowers, and the birds--Thou wilt not send me to burn for ever and ever? Will not a hundred years be punishment enough-or a thousand? Oh God! is not this punishment enough already,--to have to leave him, just as just as I am beginning to long to be good, and to be worthy of him? .... Oh, have mercy--mercy--mercy--and let me go after I have been punished enough! Why may I not turn into a bird, or even a worm, and come back again out of that horrible place, to see the sun shine, and the flowers grow once more? Oh, am I not punishing myself already? Will not this help to atone? .... Yes--I will die!--and perhaps so God may pity me!'
And with trembling hands she drew the sword from its sheath and covered the blade with kisses.
'Yes--on this sword--with which he won his battles. That is right-- his to the last! How keen and cold it looks! Will it be very painful? .... No--I will not try the point, or my heart might fail me. I will fall on it at once: let it hurt me as it may, it will be too late to draw back then. And after all it is his sword--It will not have the heart to torture me much. And yet he struck me himself this morning!'
And at that thought, a long wild cry of misery broke from her lips, and rang through the house. Hurriedly she fastened the sword upright to the foot of the bed, and tore open her tunic .... 'Here --under this widowed bosom, where his head will never lie again! There are footsteps in the passage! Quick, Pelagia! Now--'
And she threw up her arms wildly, in act to fall....
'It is his step! And he will find me, and never know that it is for him I die!'
The Amal tried the door. It was fast. With a single blow he burst it open, and demanded--
'What was that shriek? What is the meaning of this? Pelagia!'
Pelagia, like a child caught playing with a forbidden toy, hid her face in her hands and cowered down.
'What is it?' cried he, lifting her.
But she burst from his arms.
'No, no!--never more! I am not worthy of you! Let me die, wretch that I am! I can only drag you down. You must be a king. You must marry her--the wise woman!'
'Hypatia! She is dead!'
'Dead?' shrieked Pelagia.
'Murdered, an hour ago, by those Christian devils.'
Pelagia put her hands over her eyes, and burst into tears. Were they of pity or of joy? ....She did not ask herself; and we will not ask her.
'Where is my sword? Soul of Odin! Why is it fastened here?'
'I was going to--Do not be angry! .... They told me that I had better die, and--
The Amal stood thunderstruck for a moment.
'Oh, do not strike me again! Send me to the mill. Kill me now with your own hand! Anything but another blow!'
'A blow?--Noble woman!'cried the Amal, clasping her in his arms.
The storm was past; and Pelagia had been nestling to that beloved heart, cooing like a happy dove, for many a minute before the Amal aroused himself and her....
'Now!--quick! We have not a moment to lose. Up to the tower, where you will be safe; and then to show these curs what comes of snarling round the wild wolves' den!'
CHAPTER XXIX: NEMESIS
And was the Amal's news true, then?
Philammon saw Raphael rush across the street into the Museum gardens. His last words had been a command to stay where he was; and the boy obeyed him. The black porter who let Raphael out told him somewhat insolently, that his mistress would see no one, and receive no messages: but he had made up his mind: complained of the sun, quietly ensconced himself behind a buttress, and sat coiled up on the pavement, ready for a desperate spring. The slave stared at him: but he was accustomed to the vagaries of philosophers; and thanking the gods that he was not born in that station of life,
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