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- Homo Sum, Volume 5. - 6/10 -
his hands like the other anchorites when Agapitus stepped into their midst, and uttered a short and urgent prayer.
After the "Amen" the bishop pointed out, like a general, to each man, even to the feeble and aged, his place by the wall or behind the stones for throwing, and then cried out with a clear ringing voice that sounded above all other noise, "Show to-day that you are indeed soldiers of the Most High."
Not one rebelled, and when man by man each had placed himself at his post, he went to the precipice and looked attentively down at the fight that was raging below.
The Pharanites were now opposing the attack of the Blemmyes with success, for Phoebicius, rushing forward with his men from their ambush, had fallen upon the compact mass of the sons of the desert in flank and, spreading death and ruin, had divided them into two bodies. The well- trained and well-armed Romans seemed to have an easy task with their naked opponents, who, in a hand to hand fight, could not avail themselves of either their arrows or their spears. But the Blemmyes had learned to use their strength in frequent battles with the imperial troops, and so soon as they perceived that they were no match for their enemies in pitched battle, their leaders set up a strange shrill cry, their ranks dissolved, and they dispersed in all directions, like a heap of feathers strewn by a gust of wind.
Agapitus took the hasty disappearance of the enemy for wild flight, he sighed deeply and thankfully and turned to go down to the field of battle, and to speak consolation to his wounded fellow-Christians.
But in the castle itself he found opportunity for exercising his pious office, for before him stood the shepherdess whom he had already observed on his arrival and she said with much embarrassment, but clearly and quickly, "Old Stephanus there, my lord bishop--Hermas' father for whom I carry water-bids me ask you to come to him; for his wound has reopened and he thinks his end is near."
Agapitus immediately obeyed this call; he went with hasty steps towards the sick man, whose wound Paulus and Orion had already bound up, and greeted him with a familiarity that he was far from showing to the other penitents. He had long known the former name and the fate of Stephanus, and it was by his advice that Hermas had been obliged to join the deputation sent to Alexandria, for Agapitus was of opinion that no one ought to flee from the battle of life without having first taken some part in it.
Stephanus put out his hand to the bishop who sat down beside him, signed to the bystanders to leave them alone, and listened attentively to the feeble words of the sufferer. When he had ceased speaking, Agapitus said:
"I praise the Lord with you for having permitted your lost wife to find the ways that lead to Him, and your son will be--as you were once--a valiant man of war. Your earthly house is set in order, but are you prepared for the other, the everlasting mansion?"
"For eighteen years I have done penance, and prayed, and borne great sufferings," answered the sick man. "The world lies far behind me, and I hope I am walking in the path that leads to heaven."
"So do I hope for you and for your soul," said the bishop. "That which it is hardest to endure has fallen to your lot in this world, but have you striven to forgive those who did you the bitterest wrong, and can you pray, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive them that sin against us?' Do you remember the words, 'If ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly father will also forgive you?'"
"Not only have I pardoned Glycera," answered Stephanus, "but I have taken her again into my heart of hearts; but the man who basely seduced her, the wretch, who although I had done him a thousand benefits, betrayed me, robbed me and dishonored me, I wish him--"
"Forgive him," cried Agapitus, "as you would be forgiven."
"I have striven these eighteen years to bless my enemy," replied Stephanus, "and I will still continue to strive--"
Up to this moment the bishop had devoted his whole attention to the sick anchorite, but he was now called on all sides at once, and Gelasius, who was standing by the declivity with some other anchorites, called out to him, "Father--save us--the heathen there are climbing up the rocks."
Agapitus signed a blessing over Stephanus and then turned away from him, saying earnestly once more, "Forgive, and heaven is open to you."
Many wounded and dead lay on the plain, and the Pharanites were retreating into the ravine, for the Blemmyes had not indeed fled, but had only dispersed themselves, and then had climbed up the rocks which hemmed in the level ground and shot their arrows at their enemies from thence.
"Where are the Romans?" Agapitus eagerly enquired of Orion.
"They are withdrawing into the gorge through which the road leads up here," answered the Saite. "But look! only look at these heathen! The Lord be merciful to us! they are climbing up the cliffs like woodpeckers up a tree."
"The stones, fly to the stones!" cried Agapitus with flashing eyes to the anchorites that stood by. "What is going on behind the wall there? Do you hear? Yes that is the Roman tuba. Courage, brethren! the emperor's soldiers are guarding the weakest side of the castle. But look here at the naked figures in the cleft. Bring the blocks here; set your shoulders stoutly to it, Orion! one more push, Salathiel! There it goes, it crashes down if only it does not stick in the rift! No! thank God, it has bounded off-that was a leap! Well done--there were six enemies of the Lord destroyed at once."
"I see three more yonder," cried Orion. "Come here, Damianus, and help me."
The man he called rushed forward with several others, and the first success raised the courage of the anchorites so rapidly and wonderfully that the bishop soon found it difficult to restrain their zeal, and to persuade them to be sparing with the precious missiles.
While, under the direction of Agapitus stone after stone was hurled clattering over the steep precipice down upon the Blemmyes, Paulus sat by the sick man, looking at the ground.
"You are not helping them?" asked Stephanus. "Agapitus is right," replied the Alexandrian. "I have much to expiate, and fighting brings enjoyment. How great enjoyment I can understand by the torture it is to me to sit still. The bishop blessed you affectionately."
"I am near the goal," sighed Stephanus, "and he promises me the joys of heaven if I only forgive him who stole my wife from me. He is forgiven- yes, all is forgiven him, and may everything that he undertakes turn to good; yea, and nothing turn to evil--only feel how my heart throbs, it is rallying its strength once more before it utterly ceases to beat. When it is all over repeat to Hermas everything that I have told you, and bless him a thousand, thousand times in my name and his mother's; but never, never tell him that in an hour of weakness she ran away with that villain--that man, that miserable man I mean--whom I forgive. Give Hermas this ring, and with it the letter that you will find under the dry herbs on the couch in my cave; they will secure him a reception from his uncle, who will also procure him a place in the army, for my brother is in high favor with Caesar. Only listen how Agapitus urges on our men; they are fighting bravely there; that is the Roman tuba. Attend to me-- the maniple will occupy the castle and shoot down on the heathen from hence; when they come carry me into the tower. I am weak and would fain collect my thoughts, and pray once more that I may find strength to forgive the man not with my lips only."
Down there see--there come the Romans," cried Paulus interrupting him. "Here, up here!" he called down to the men, "The steps are more to the left."
"Here we are," answered a sharp voice. "You stay there, you people, on that projection of rock, and keep your eye on the castle. If any danger threatens call me with the trumpet. I will climb up, and from the top of the tower there I can see where the dogs come from."
During this speech Stephanus had looked down and listened; when a few minutes later the Gaul reached the wall and called out to the men inside, "Is there no one there who will give me a hand?" he turned to Paulus, saying, "Lift me up and support me--quick!"
With an agility that astonished the Alexandrian, Stephanus stood upon his feet, leaned over the wall towards the centurion--who had climbed as far as the outer foot of it, looked him in the face with eager attention, shuddered violently, and repressing his feelings with the utmost effort offered him his lean hand to help him.
"Servianus!" cried the centurion, who was greatly shocked by such a meeting and in such a place, and who, struggling painfully for composure, stared first at the old man and then at Paulus.
Not one of the three succeeded in uttering a word; but Stephanus' eyes were fixed on the Gaul's features, and the longer he looked at him the hollower grew his cheeks and the paler his lips; at the same time he still held out his hand to the other, perhaps in token of forgiveness.
So passed a long minute. Then Phoebicius recollected that he had climbed the wall in the emperor's service, and stamping with impatience at himself he took the old man's hand in a hasty grasp. But scarcely had Stephanus felt the touch of the Gaul's fingers when he started as struck by lightning, and flung himself with a hoarse cry on his enemy who was hanging on the edge of the wall.
Paulus gazed in horror at the frightful scene, and cried aloud with fervent unction, "Let him go--forgive that heaven may forgive you."
"Heaven! what is heaven, what is forgiveness!" screamed the old man. "He shall be damned." Before the Alexandrian could hinder him, the loose stone over which the enemies were wrestling in breathless combat gave way, and both were hurled into the abyss with the falling rock.
Paulus groaned from the lowest depth of his breast and murmured while the tears ran down his cheeks, "He too has fought the fight, and he too has striven in vain."
The fight was ended; the sun as it went to its rest behind the Holy Mountain had lighted many corpses of Blemmyes, and now the stars shone down on the oasis from the clear sky.
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