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A DAY IN ALEXANDRIA
In the meanwhile, Philammon, with his hosts, the Goths, had been slipping down the stream. Passing, one after another, world-old cities now dwindled to decaying towns, and numberless canal-mouths, now fast falling into ruin with the fields to which they ensured fertility, under the pressure of Roman extortion and misrule, they had entered one evening the mouth of the great canal of Alexandria, slid easily all night across the star-bespangled shadows of Lake Mareotis, and found themselves, when the next morning dawned, among the countless masts and noisy quays of the greatest seaport in the world. The motley crowd of foreigners, the hubbub of all dialects from the Crimea to Cadiz, the vast piles of merchandise, and heaps of wheat, lying unsheltered in that rainless air, the huge bulk of the corn-ships lading for Rome, whose tall sides rose story over story, like floating palaces, above the buildings of some inner dock--these sights, and a hundred more, made the young monk think that the world did not look at first sight a thing to be despised. In front of heaps of fruit, fresh from the market-boats, black groups of glossy negro slaves were basking and laughing on the quay, looking anxiously and coquettishly round in hopes of a purchaser; they evidently did not think the change from desert toil to city luxuries a change for the worse. Philammon turned away his eyes from beholding vanity; but only to meet fresh vanity wheresoever they fell. He felt crushed by the multitude of new objects, stunned by the din around; and scarcely recollected himself enough to seize the first opportunity of escaping from his dangerous companions.
'Holloa!' roared Smid the armourer, as he scrambled on to the steps of the slip; 'you are not going to run away without bidding us good- bye?'
'Stop with me, boy!' said old Wulf. 'I saved you; and you are my man.'
Philammon turned and hesitated.
'I am a monk, and God's man.'
'You can be that anywhere. I will make you a warrior.'
'The weapons of my warfare are not of flesh and blood, but prayer and fasting,' answered poor Philammon, who felt already that he should have ten times more need of the said weapons in Alexandria than ever he had had in the desert .... 'Let me go! I am not made for your life! I thank you, bless you! I will pray for you, sir! but let me go!'
'Curse the craven hound!' roared half a dozen voices. 'Why did you not let us have our will with him, Prince Wulf? You might have expected such gratitude from a monk.'
'He owes me my share of the sport,' quoth Smid. 'And here it is!' And a hatchet, thrown with practised aim, whistled right for Philammon's head--he had just time to swerve, and the weapon struck and snapped against the granite wall behind.
'Well saved!' said Wulf coolly, while the sailors and market-women above yelled murder, and the custom-house officers, and other constables and catchpolls of the harbour, rushed to the place--and retired again quietly at the thunder of the Amal from the boat's stern--
'Never mind, my good follows! we're only Goths; and on a visit to the prefect, too.'
'Only Goths, my donkey-riding friends!' echoed Smid, and at that ominous name the whole posse comitatus tried to look unconcerned, and found suddenly that their presence was absolutely required in an opposite direction.
'Let him go,' said Wulf, as he stalked up the steps. 'Let the boy go. I never set my heart on any man yet,' he growled to himself in an under voice, 'but what he disappointed me--and I must not expect more from this fellow. Come, men, ashore, and get drunk!'
Philammon, of course, now that he had leave to go, longed to stay-- at all events, he must go back and thank his hosts. He turned unwillingly to do so, as hastily as he could, and found Pelagia and her gigantic lover just entering a palanquin. With downcast eyes he approached the beautiful basilisk, and stammered out some commonplace; and she, full of smiles, turned to him at once.
'Tell us more about yourself before we part. You speak such beautiful Greek--true Athenian. It is quite delightful to hear one's own accent again. Were you ever at Athens?'
'When I was a child; I recollect--that is, I think--'
'What?' asked Pelagia eagerly.
'A great house in Athens--and a great battle there--and coming to Egypt in a ship.'
'Heavens!' said Pelagia, and paused .... 'How strange! Girls, who said he was like me?'
'I'm sure we meant no harm, if we did say it in a joke,' pouted one of the attendants.
'Like me!--you must come and see us. I have something to say to you .... You must!'
Philammon misinterpreted the intense interest of her tone, and if he did not shrink back, gave some involuntary gesture of reluctance. Pelagia laughed aloud.
'Don't be vain enough to suspect, foolish boy, but come! Do you think that I have nothing to talk about but nonsense? Come and see me. It may be better for you. I live in--' and she named a fashionable street, which Philammon, though he inwardly vowed not to accept the invitation, somehow could not help remembering.
'Do leave the wild man, and come,' growled the Amal from within the palanquin. 'You are not going to turn nun, I hope?'
'Not while the first man I ever met in the world stays in it,' answered Pelagia, as she skipped into the palanquin, taking care to show the most lovely white heel and ankle, and, like the Parthian, send a random arrow as she retreated. But the dart was lost on Philammon, who had been already hustled away by the bevy of laughing attendants, amid baskets, dressing-cases, and bird-cages, and was fain to make his escape into the Babel round, and inquire his way to the patriarch's house.
'Patriarch's house?' answered the man whom he first addressed, a little lean, swarthy fellow, with merry black eyes, who, with a basket of fruit at his feet, was sunning himself on a baulk of timber, meditatively chewing the papyrus-cane, and examining the strangers with a look of absurd sagacity. 'I know it; without a doubt I know it; all Alexandria has good reason to know it. Are you a monk?'
'Then ask your way of the monks; you won't go far without finding one.'
'But I do not even know the right direction; what is your grudge against monks, my good man?'
'Look here, my youth; you seem too ingenuous for a monk. Don't flatter yourself that it will last. If you can wear the sheepskin, and haunt the churches here for a month, without learning to lie, and slander, and clap, and hoot, and perhaps play your part in a sedition--and--murder satyric drama--why, you are a better man than I take you for. I, sir, am a Greek and a philosopher; though the whirlpool of matter may have, and indeed has, involved my ethereal spark in the body of a porter. Therefore, youth,' continued the little man, starting up upon his baulk like an excited monkey, and stretching out one oratorio paw, 'I bear a treble hatred to the monkish tribe. First, as a man and a husband; .... for as for the smiles of beauty, or otherwise,--such as I have, I have; and the monks, if they had their wicked will, would leave neither men nor women in the world. Sir, they would exterminate the human race in a single generation, by a voluntary suicide! Secondly, as a porter; for if all men turned monks, nobody would be idle, and the profession of portering would be annihilated. Thirdly, sir, as a philosopher; for as the false coin is odious to the true, so is the irrational and animal asceticism of the monk, to the logical and methodic self-restraint of one who, like your humblest of philosophers, aspires to a life according to the pure reason.'
'And pray,' asked Philammon, half laughing, 'who has been your tutor in philosophy?'
'The fountain of classic wisdom, Hypatia herself. As the ancient sage--the name is unimportant to a monk--pumped water nightly that he might study by day, so I, the guardian of cloaks and parasols, at the sacred doors of her lecture-room, imbibe celestial knowledge. From my youth I felt in me a soul above the matter-entangled herd. She revealed to me the glorious fact, that I am a spark of Divinity itself. A fallen star, I am, sir!' continued he, pensively, stroking his lean stomach--'a fallen star!--fallen, if the dignity of philosophy will allow of the simile, among the hogs of the lower world--indeed, even into the hog-bucket itself. Well, after all, I will show you the way to the Archbishop's. There is a philosophic pleasure in opening one's treasures to the modest young. Perhaps you will assist me by carrying this basket of fruit?' And the little man jumped up, put his basket on Philammon's head, and trotted off up a neighbouring street.
Philammon followed, half contemptuous, half wondering at what this philosophy might be, which could feed the self-conceit of anything so abject as his ragged little apish guide; but the novel roar and whirl of the street, the perpetual stream of busy faces, the line of curricles, palanquins, laden asses, camels, elephants, which met and passed him, and squeezed him up steps and into doorways, as they threaded their way through the great Moon-gate into the ample street beyond, drove everything from his mind but wondering curiosity, and a vague, helpless dread of that great living wilderness, more terrible than any dead wilderness of sand which he had left behind. Already he longed for the repose, the silence of the Laura--for faces which knew him and smiled upon him; but it was too late to turn back ow. His guide held on for more than a mile up the great main street, crossed in the centre of the city, at right angles, by one equally magnificent, at each end of which, miles away, appeared, dim and distant over the heads of the living stream of passengers, the yellow sand-hills of the desert; while at the end of the vista in front of them gleamed the blue harbour, through a network of countless masts.
At last they reached the quay at the opposite end of the street; and there burst on Philammon's astonished eyes a vast semicircle of blue sea, ringed with palaces and towers....He stopped involuntarily; and his little guide stopped also, and looked askance at the young monk, to watch the effect which that grand panorama should produce on him.
'There!--Behold our works! Us Greeks!--us benighted heathens! Look at it and feel yourself what you are, a very small, conceited, ignorant young person, who fancies that your new religion gives you a right to despise every one else. Did Christians make all this? Did Christians build that Pharos there on the left horn--wonder of the world? Did Christians raise that mile-long mole which runs towards the land, with its two drawbridges, connecting the two ports? Did Christians build this esplanade, or this gate of the Sun above our heads? Or that Caesareum on our right here? Look at those obelisks before it!' And he pointed upwards to those two world-famous ones, one of which still lies on its ancient site, as Cleopatra's Needle. 'Look up! look up, I say, and feel small--very small indeed! Did Christians raise them, or engrave them from base to point with the wisdom of the ancients? Did Christians build that Museum next to it, or design its statues and its frescoes--now, alas! re-echoing no more to the hummings of the Attic bee? Did they pile up out of the waves that palace beyond it, or that Exchange? or fill that Temple of Neptune with breathing brass and blushing marble? Did they build that Timonium on the point, where Antony, worsted at Actium, forgot his shame in Cleopatra's arms? Did they quarry out that island of Antirrhodus into a nest of docks, or cover those waters with the sails of every nation under heaven? Speak! Thou son of bats and moles--thou six feet of sand--thou mummy out of the cliff caverns! Can monks do works like these?'
'Other men have laboured, and we have entered into their labours,' answered Philammon, trying to seem as unconcerned as he could. He was, indeed, too utterly astonished to be angry at anything. The overwhelming vastness, multiplicity, and magnificence of the whole scene; the range of buildings, such as mother earth never, perhaps, carried on her lap before or since, the extraordinary variety of form-the pure Doric and Ionic of the earlier Ptolemies, the barbaric and confused gorgeousness of the later Roman, and here and there an imitation of the grand elephantine style of old Egypt, its gaudy colours relieving, while they deepened, the effect of its massive and simple outlines; the eternal repose of that great belt of stone contrasting with the restless ripple of the glittering harbour, and the busy sails which crowded out into the sea beyond, like white doves taking their flight into boundless space?--all dazzled, overpowered, saddened him .... This was the world .... Was it not beautiful? .... Must not the men who made all this have been--if not great .... yet .... he knew not what? Surely they had great souls and noble thoughts in them! Surely there was something godlike in being able to create such things! Not for themselves alone, too; but for a nation--for generations yet unborn .... And there was the sea .... and beyond it, nations of men innumerable .... His imagination was dizzy with thinking of them. Were they all doomed--lost? .... Had God no love for them?
At last, recovering himself, he recollected his errand, and again asked his way to the archbishop's house.
'This way, O youthful nonentity!' answered the little man, leading the way round the great front of the Caesareum, at the foot of the obelisks.
Philammon's eye fell on some new masonry in the pediment, ornamented with Christian symbols.
'How? Is this a church?'
'It is the Caesareum. It has become temporarily a church. The immortal gods have, for the time being, condescended to waive their rights; but it is the Caesareum, nevertheless. This way; down this street to the right. There,' said he, pointing to a doorway in the side of the Museum, 'is the last haunt of the Muses--the lecture- room of Hypatia, the school of my unworthiness. And here,' stopping at the door of a splendid house on the opposite side of the street, 'is the residence of that blest favourite of Athene--Neith, as the barbarians of Egypt would denominate the goddess--we men of Macedonia retain the time-honoured Grecian nomenclature .... You may put down your basket.' And he knocked at the door, and delivering the fruit to a black porter, made a polite obeisance to Philammon, and seemed on the point of taking his departure.
'But where is the archbishop's house?'
'Close to the Serapeium. You cannot miss the place: four hundred columns of marble, now ruined by Christian persecutors, stand on an eminence--'
'But how far off?'
'About three miles; near the gate of the Moon.'
'Why, was not that the gate by which we entered the city on the other side?'
'Exactly so; you will know your way back, having already traversed it.'
Philammon checked a decidedly carnal inclination to seize the little fellow by the throat, and knock his head against the wall, and contented himself by saying--
'Then do you actually mean to say, you heathen villain, that you have taken me six or seven miles out of my road?'
'Good words young man. If you do me harm, I call for help; we are close to the Jews' quarter, and there are some thousands there who will swarm out like wasps on the chance of beating a monk to death. Yet that which I have done, I have done with a good purpose. First, politically, or according to practical wisdom--in order that you, not I, might carry the basket. Next, philosophically, or according to the intuitions of the pure reason--in order that you might, by beholding the magnificence of that great civilisation which your fellows wish to destroy, learn that you are an ass, and a tortoise, and a nonentity, and so beholding yourself to be nothing, may be moved to become something.'
And he moved off.
Philammon seized him by the collar of his ragged tunic, and held him in a gripe from which the little man, though he twisted like an eel could not escape.
'Peaceably, if you will; if not, by main force. You shall go back with me, and show me every step of the way. It is a just penalty.'
'The philosopher conquers circumstances by submitting to them. I go peaceably. Indeed, the base necessities of the hog-bucket side of existence compel me of themselves back to the Moon-gate, for another early fruit job.'
So they went back together.
Now why Philammon's thoughts should have been running on the next new specimen of womankind to whom he had been introduced, though only in name, let psychologists tell, but certainly, after he had walked some half-mile in silence, he suddenly woke up, as out of many meditations, and asked--
'But who is this Hypatia, of whom you talk so much?'
'Who is Hypatia, rustic? The queen of Alexandria! In wit, Athene; Hera in majesty; in beauty, Aphrodite!'
'And who are they?' asked Philammon.
The porter stopped, surveyed him slowly from foot to head with an expression of boundless pity and contempt, and was in the act of walking off in the ecstasy of his disdain, when he was brought to suddenly by Philammon's strong arm.
'Ah!--I recollect. There is a compact .... Who is Athene? The goddess, giver of wisdom. Hera, spouse of Zeus, queen of the Celestials. Aphrodite, mother of love .... You are not expected to understand.'
Philammon did understand, however, so much as this, that Hypatia was a very unique and wonderful person in the mind of his little guide; and therefore asked the only further question by which he could as yet test any Alexandrian phenomenon--
'And is she a friend of the patriarch?'
The porter opened his eyes very wide, put his middle finger in a careful and complicated fashion between his fore and third fingers, and extending it playfully towards Philammon, performed therewith certain mysterious signals, the effect whereof being totally lost on him, the little man stopped, took another look at Philammon's stately figure, and answered--
'Of the human race in general, my young friend. The philosopher must rise above the individual, to the contemplation of the universal .... Aha!-Here is something worth seeing, and the gates are open.' And he stopped at the portal of a vast building.
'Is this the patriarch's house?'
'The patriarch's tastes are more plebeian. He lives, they say, in two dirty little rooms--knowing what is fit for him. The patriarch's house? Its antipodes, my young friend--that is, if such beings have a cosmic existence, on which point Hypatia has her doubts. This is the temple of art and beauty; the Delphic tripod of poetic inspiration; the solace of the earthworn drudge; in a word, the theatre; which your patriarch, if he could, would convert to- morrow into a--but the philosopher must not revile. Ah! I see the prefect's apparitors at the gate. He is making the polity, as we call it here; the dispositions; settling, in short, the bill of fare for the day, in compliance with the public palate. A facetious pantomime dances here on this day every week--admired by some, the Jews especially. To the more classic taste, many of his movements-- his recoil, especially--are wanting in the true antique severity-- might be called, perhaps, on the whole, indecent. Still the weary pilgrim must be amused. Let us step in and hear.'
But before Philammon could refuse, an uproar arose within, a rush outward of the mob, and inward of the prefect's apparitors.
'It is false!' shouted many voices. 'A Jewish calumny! The man is innocent!'
'There is no more sedition in him than there is in me,' roared a fat butcher, who looked as ready to fell a man as an ox. 'He was always the first and the last to clap the holy patriarch at sermon.'
'Dear tender soul,' whimpered a woman; 'and I said to him only this morning, why don't you flog my boys, Master Hierax? how can you expect them to learn if they are not flogged? And he said, he never could abide the sight of a rod, it made his back tingle so.'
'Which was plainly a prophecy!'
'And proves him innocent; for how could he prophesy if he was not one of the holy ones?'
'Monks, to the rescue! Hierax, a Christian, is taken and tortured in the theatre!' thundered a wild hermit, his beard and hair streaming about his chest and shoulders.
'Nitria! Nitria! For God and the mother of God, monks of Nitria! Down with the Jewish slanderers! Down with heathen tyrants!'--And the mob, reinforced as if by magic by hundreds from without, swept down the huge vaulted passage, carrying Philammon and the porter with them.
'My friends,' quoth the little man, trying to look philosophically calm, though he was fairly off his legs, and hanging between heaven and earth on the elbows of the bystanders, 'whence this tumult?'
'The Jews got up a cry that Hierax wanted to raise a riot. Curse them and their sabbath, they are always rioting on Saturdays about this dancer of theirs, instead of working like honest Christians!'
'And rioting on Sunday instead. Ahem! sectarian differences, which the philosopher--
The rest of the sentence disappeared with the speaker, as a sudden opening of the mob let him drop, and buried him under innumerable legs.
Philammon, furious at the notion of persecution, maddened by the cries around him, found himself bursting fiercely through the crowd, till he reached the front ranks, where tall gates of open ironwork barred all farther progress, but left a full view of the tragedy which was enacting within, where the poor innocent wretch, suspended from a gibbet, writhed and shrieked at every stroke of the hide whips of his tormentors.
In vain Philammon and the monks around him knocked and beat at the gates; they were only answered by laughter and taunts from the apparitors within, curses on the turbulent mob of Alexandria, with its patriarch, clergy, saints, and churches, and promises to each and all outside, that their turn would come next; while the piteous screams grew fainter and more faint, and at last, with a convulsive shudder, motion and suffering ceased for ever in the poor mangled body.
'They have killed him! Martyred him! Back to the archbishop! To the patriarch's house: he will avenge us!' And as the horrible news, and the watchword which followed it, passed outwards through the crowd, they wheeled round as one man, and poured through street after street towards Cyril's house; while Philammon, beside himself with horror, rage, and pity, hurried onward with them.
A tumultuous hour, or more, was passed in the street before he could gain entrance; and then he was swept, along with the mob in which he had been fast wedged, through a dark low passage, and landed breathless in a quadrangle of mean and new buildings, overhung by the four hundred stately columns of the ruined Serapeium. The grass was already growing on the ruined capitals and architraves .... Little did even its destroyers dream then, that the day would come when one only of that four hundred would be left, as 'Pompey's Pillar,' to show what the men of old could think and do.
Philammon at last escaped from the crowd, and putting the letter which he had carried in his bosom into the hands of one of the priests who was mixing with the mob, was beckoned by him into a corridor, and up a flight of stairs, and into a large, low, mean room, and there, by virtue of the world-wide freemasonry which Christianity had, for the first time on earth, established, found himself in five minutes awaiting the summons of the most powerful man south of the Mediterranean.
A curtain hung across the door of the inner chamber, through which Philammon could hear plainly the steps of some one walking up and down hurriedly and fiercely.
'They will drive me to it!' at last burst out a deep sonorous voice. 'They will drive me to it .... Their blood be on their own head! It is not enough for them to blaspheme God and His church, to have the monopoly of all the cheating, fortune-telling, usury, sorcery, and coining of the city, but they must deliver my clergy into the hands of the tyrant?'
'It was so even in the apostles' time,' suggested a softer but far more unpleasant voice.
'Then it shall be so no longer! God has given me the power to stop them; and God do so to me, and more also, if I do not use that power. To-morrow I sweep out this Augean stable of villainy, and leave not a Jew to blaspheme and cheat in Alexandria.'
'I am afraid such a judgment, however righteous, might offend his excellency.'
'His excellency! His tyranny! Why does Orestes truckle to these circumcised, but because they lend money to him and to his creatures? He would keep up a den of fiends in Alexandria if they would do as much for him! And then to play them off against me and mine, to bring religion into contempt by setting the mob together by the ears, and to end with outrages like this! Seditious! Have they not cause enough? The sooner I remove one of their temptations the better: let the other tempter beware, lest his judgment be at hand!'
'The prefect, your holiness?' asked the other voice slily.
'Who spoke of the prefect? Whosoever is a tyrant, and a murderer, and an oppressor of the poor, and a favourer of the philosophy which despises and enslaves the poor, should not he perish, though he be seven times a prefect?'
At this juncture Philammon, thinking perhaps that he had already heard too much, notified his presence by some slight noise, at which the secretary, as he seemed to be, hastily lifted the curtain, and somewhat sharply demanded his business. The names of Pambo and Arsenius, however, seemed to pacify him at once; and the trembling youth was ushered into the presence of him who in reality, though not in name, sat on the throne of the Pharaohs.
Not, indeed, in their outward pomp; the furniture of the chamber was but a grade above that of the artisan's; the dress of the great man was coarse and simple; if personal vanity peeped out anywhere, it was in the careful arrangement of the bushy beard, and of the few curling locks which the tonsure had spared. But the height and majesty of his figure, the stern and massive beauty of his features, the flashing eye, curling lip, and projecting brow--all marked him as one born to command. As the youth entered, Cyril stopped short in his walk, and looking him through and through, with a glance which burnt upon his cheeks like fire, and made him all but wish the kindly earth would open and hide him, took the letters, read them, and then began--
'Philammon. A Greek. You are said to have learned to obey. If so you have also learned to rule. Your father-abbot has transferred you to my tutelage. You are now to obey me.'
'And I will.'
'Well said. Go to that window, then, and leap into the court.'
Philammon walked to it, and opened it. The pavement was fully twenty feet below; but his business was to obey, and not take measurements. There was a flower in the vase upon the sill. He quietly removed it, and in an instant more would have leapt for life or death, when Cyril's voice thundered 'Stop!'
'The lad will pass, my Peter. I shall not be afraid now for the secrets which he may have overheard.'
Peter smiled assent, looking all the while as if he thought it a great pity that the young man had not been allowed to put talebearing out of his own power by breaking his neck.
'You wish to see the world. Perhaps you have seen something of it to-day.'
'I saw the murder--'
'Then you saw what you came hither to see; what the world is, and what justice and mercy it can deal out. You would not dislike to see God's reprisals to man's tyranny? .... Or to be a fellow-worker with God therein, if I judge rightly by your looks?'
'I would avenge that man.'
'Ah! my poor simple schoolmaster! And his fate is the portent of portents to you now! Stay awhile, till you have gone with Ezekiel into the inner chambers of the devil's temple, and you will see worse things than these--women weeping for Thammuz; bemoaning the decay of an idolatry which they themselves disbelieve--That, too, is on the list of Hercules' labour, Peter mine.'
At this moment a deacon entered .... 'Your holiness, the rabbis of the accursed nation are below, at your summons. We brought them in through the back gate, for fear of--'
'Right, right. An accident to them might have ruined us. I shall not forget you. Bring them up. Peter, take this youth, introduce him to the parabolani .... Who will be the best man for him to work under?'
'The brother Theopompus is especially sober and gentle.'
Cyril shook his head laughingly .... 'Go into the next room, my son .... No, Peter, put him under some fiery saint, some true Boanerges, who will talk him down, and work him to death, and show him the best and worst of everything. Cleitophon will be the man. Now then, let me see my engagements; five minutes for these Jews-- Orestes did not choose to frighten them: let us see whether Cyril cannot; then an hour to look over the hospital accounts; an hour for the schools; a half-hour for the reserved cases of distress; and another half-hour for myself; and then divine service. See that the boy is there. Do bring in every one in their turn, Peter mine. So much time goes in hunting for this man and that man .... and life is too short for all that. Where are these Jews?' and Cyril plunged into the latter half of his day's work with that untiring energy, self-sacrifice, and method, which commanded for him, in spite of all suspicions of his violence, ambition, and intrigue, the loving awe and implicit obedience of several hundred thousand human beings.
So Philammon went out with the parabolani, a sort of organised guild of district visitors .... And in their company he saw that afternoon the dark side of that world, whereof the harbour-panorama had been the bright one. In squalid misery, filth, profligacy, ignorance, ferocity, discontent, neglected in body, house, and soul, by the civil authorities, proving their existence only in aimless and sanguinary riots, there they starved and rotted, heap on heap, the masses of the old Greek population, close to the great food- exporting harbour of the world. Among these, fiercely perhaps, and fanatically, but still among them and for them, laboured those district visitors night and day. And so Philammon toiled away with them, carrying food and clothing, helping sick to the hospital, and dead to the burial; cleaning out the infected houses--for the fever was all but perennial in those quarters--and comforting the dying with the good news of forgiveness from above; till the larger number had to return to evening service. He, however, was kept by his superior, watching at a sick-bedside, and it was late at night before he got home, and was reported to Peter the Reader as having acquitted himself like 'a man of God,' as, indeed, without the least thought of doing anything noble or self-sacrificing, he had truly done, being a monk. And so he threw himself on a truckle-bed, in one of the many cells which opened off a long corridor, and fell fast asleep in a minute.
He was just weltering about in a dreary dream-jumble of Goths dancing with district visitors, Pelagia as an angel, with peacock's wings; Hypatia with horns and cloven feet, riding three hippopotami at once round the theatre; Cyril standing at an open window, cursing frightfully, and pelting him with flower-pots; and a similar self- sown after-crop of his day's impressions; when he was awakened by the tramp of hurried feet in the street outside, and shouts, which gradually, as he became conscious, shaped themselves into cries of 'Alexander's Church is on fire! Help, good Christians! Fire! Help!'
Whereat he sat up in his truckle-bed, tried to recollect where he was, and having with some trouble succeeded, threw on his sheepskin, and jumped up to ask the news from the deacons and monks who were hurrying along the corridor outside .... 'Yes, Alexander's church was on fire;' and down the stairs they poured, across the courtyard, and out into the street, Peter's tall figure serving as a standard and a rallying point.
As they rushed out through the gateway, Philammon, dazzled by the sudden transition from the darkness within to the blaze of moon and starlight which flooded the street, and walls, and shining roofs, hung back a moment. That hesitation probably saved his life; for in an instant he saw a dark figure spring out of the shadow, a long knife flashed across his eyes, and a priest next to him sank upon the pavement with a groan, while the assassin dashed off down the street, hotly pursued by monks and parabolani.
Philammon, who ran like a desert ostrich, had soon outstripped all but Peter, when several more dark figures sprang out of doorways and corners and joined, or seem to join, the pursuit. Suddenly, however, after running a hundred yards, they drew up opposite the mouth of a side street; the assassin stopped also. Peter, suspecting something wrong, slackened his pace, and caught Philammon's arm.
'Do you see those fellows in the shadow?'
But, before Philammon could answer, some thirty or forty men, their daggers gleaming in the moonlight, moved out into the middle of the street, and received the fugitives into their ranks. What was the meaning of it? Here was a pleasant taste of the ways of the most Christian and civilised city of the Empire!
'Well,' thought Philammon, 'I have come out to see the world, and I seem, at this rate, to be likely to see enough of it.'
Peter turned at once, and fled as quickly as he had pursued; while Philammon, considering discretion the better part of valour, followed, and they rejoined their party breathless.
'There is an armed mob at the end of the street.'
'Assassins!' 'Jews!' 'A conspiracy!' Up rose a Babel of doubtful voices. The foe appeared in sight, advancing stealthily, and the whole party took to flight, led once more by Peter, who seemed determined to make free use, in behalf of his own safety, of the long legs which nature had given him.
Philammon followed, sulkily and unwillingly, at a foot's pace; but he had not gone a dozen yards when a pitiable voice at his feet called to him--
'Help! mercy! Do not leave me here to be murdered! I am a Christian; indeed I am a Christian!'
Philammon stooped, and lifted from the ground a comely negro-woman, weeping, and shivering in a few tattered remnants of clothing.
'I ran out when they said the church was on fire,' sobbed the poor creature, 'and the Jews beat and wounded me. They tore my shawl and tunic off me before I could get away from them; and then our own people ran over me and trod me down. And now my husband will beat me, if I ever get home. Quick! up this side street, or we shall be murdered!'
The armed men, whosoever they were, were close on them. There was no time to be lost; and Philammon, assuring her that he would not desert her, hurried her up the side street which she pointed out. But the pursuers had caught sight of them, and while the mass held on up the main sight, three or four turned aside and gave chase. The poor negress could only limp along, and Philammon, unarmed, looked back, and saw the bright steel points gleaming in the moonlight, and made up his mind to die as a monk should. Nevertheless, youth is hopeful. One chance for life. He thrust the negress into a dark doorway, where her colour hid her well enough, and had just time to ensconce himself behind a pillar, when the foremost pursuer reached him. He held his breath in fearful suspense. Should he be seen? He would not die without a struggle at least. No! the fellow ran on, panting. But in a minute more, another came up, saw him suddenly, and sprang aside startled. That start saved Philammon. Quick as a cat, he leapt upon him, felled him to the earth with a single blow, tore the dagger from his hand, and sprang to his feet again just in time to strike his new weapon full into the third pursuer's face. The man put his hand to his head, and recoiled against a fellow-ruffian, who was close on his heels. Philammon, flushed with victory, took advantage of the confusion, and before the worthy pair could recover, dealt them half a dozen blows which, luckily for them, came from an unpractised hand, or the young monk might have had more than one life to answer for. As it was, they turned and limped off, cursing in an unknown tongue; and Philammon found himself triumphant and alone, with the trembling negress and the prostrate ruffian, who, stunned by the blow and the fall, lay groaning on the pavement.
It was all over in a minute .... The negress was kneeling under the gateway, pouring out her simple thanks to Heaven for this unexpected deliverance; and Philammon was about to kneel too, when a thought struck him; and coolly despoiling the Jew of his shawl and sash, he handed them over to the poor negress, considering them fairly enough as his own by right of conquest; but, lo and behold! as she was overwhelming him with thanks, a fresh mob poured into the street from the upper end, and were close on them before they were aware .... A flush of terror and despair, .... and then a burst of joy, as, by mingled moonlight and torchlight, Philammon descried priestly robes, and in the forefront of the battle--there being no apparent danger--Peter the Reader, who seemed to be anxious to prevent inquiry, by beginning to talk as fast as possible.
'Ah, boy! Safe? The saints be praised! We gave you up for dead! Whom have you here? A prisoner? And we have another. He ran right into our arms up the street, and the Lord delivered him into our hand. He must have passed you.'
'So he did,' said Philammon, dragging up his captive, 'and here is his fellow-scoundrel.' Whereon the two worthies were speedily tied together by the elbows; and the party marched on once more in search of Alexander's church, and the supposed conflagration.
Philammon looked round for the negress, but she had vanished. He was far too much ashamed of being known to have been alone with a woman to say anything about her. Yet he longed to see her again; an interest--even something like an affection--had already sprung up in his heart toward the poor simple creature whom he had delivered from death. Instead of thinking her ungrateful for not staying to tell what he had done for her, he was thankful to her for having saved his blushes, by disappearing so opportunely .... And he longed to tell her so--to know if she was hurt--to--Oh, Philammon! only four days from the Laura, and a whole regiment of women acquaintances already! True, Providence having sent into the world about as many women as men, it maybe difficult to keep out of their way altogether. Perhaps, too, Providence may have intended them to be of some use to that other sex, with whom it has so mixed them up. Don't argue, poor Philammon; Alexander's church is on fire!-forward!
And so they hurried on, a confused mass of monks and populace, with their hapless prisoners in the centre, who, hauled, cuffed, questioned, and cursed by twenty self-elected inquisitors at once, thought fit, either from Jewish obstinacy or sheer bewilderment, to give no account whatsoever of themselves.
As they turned the corner of a street, the folding-doors of a large gateway rolled open; a long line of glittering figures poured across the road, dropped their spear-butts on the pavement with a single rattle, and remained motionless. The front rank of the mob recoiled; and an awe-struck whisper ran through them .... 'The Stationaries!'
'Who are they?' asked Philammon in a whisper.
'The soldiers--the Roman soldiers,' answered a whisperer to him.
Philammon, who was among the leaders, had recoiled too--he hardly knew why--at that stern apparition. His next instinct was to press forward as close as he dared .... And these were Roman soldiers!-- the conquerors of the world!--the men whose name had thrilled him from his childhood with vague awe and admiration, dimly heard of up there in the lonely Laura .... Roman soldiers! And here he was face to face with them at last!
His curiosity received a sudden check, however, as he found his arm seized by an officer, as he took him to be, from the gold ornaments on his helmet and cuirass, who lifted his vine-stock threateningly over the young monk's head, and demanded--
'What's all this about? Why are you not quietly in your beds, you Alexandrian rascals?'
'Alexander's church is on fire,' answered Philammon, thinking the shortest answer the wisest.
'So much the better.'
'And the Jews are murdering the Christians.'
'Fight it out, then. Turn in, men, it's only a riot.'
And the steel-clad apparition suddenly flashed round, and vanished, trampling and jingling, into the dark jaws of the guardhouse-gate, while the stream, its temporary barrier removed, rushed on wilder than ever.
Philammon hurried on too with them, not without a strange feeling of disappointment. 'Only a riot!' Peter was chuckling to his brothers over their cleverness in 'having kept the prisoners in the middle, and stopped the rascals' mouths till they were past the guard- house.' 'A fine thing to boast of,' thought Philammon, 'in the face of the men who make and unmake kings and Caesars!' 'Only a riot!' He, and the corps of district visitors--whom he fancied the most august body on earth--and Alexander's church, Christians murdered by Jews, persecution of the Catholic faith, and all the rest of it, was simply, then, not worth the notice of those forty men, alone and secure in the sense of power and discipline, among tens of thousands .... He hated them, those soldiers. Was it because they were indifferent to the cause of which he was inclined to think himself a not unimportant member, on the strength of his late Samsonic defeat of Jewish persecutors? At least, he obeyed the little porter's advice, and 'felt very small indeed.'
And he felt smaller still, being young and alive to ridicule, when, at some sudden ebb or flow, wave or wavelet of the Babel sea, which weltered up and down every street, a shrill female voice informed them from an upper window, that Alexander's church was not on fire at all; that she had gone to the top of the house, as they might have gone, if they had not been fools, etc. etc.; and that it 'looked as safe and as ugly as ever'; wherewith a brickbat or two having been sent up in answer, she shut the blinds, leaving them to halt, inquire, discover gradually and piecemeal, after the method of mobs, they had been following the nature of mobs; that no one had seen the church on fire, or seen any one else who had seen the same, or even seen any light in the sky in any quarter, or knew who raised the cry; or--or--in short, Alexander's church was two miles off; if it was on fire, it was either burnt down or saved by this time; if not, the night-air was, to say the least, chilly: and, whether it was or not, there were ambuscades of Jews--Satan only knew how strong--in every street between them and it .... Might it not be better to secure their two prisoners, and then ask for further orders from the archbishop? Wherewith, after the manner of mobs, they melted off the way they came, by twos and threes, till those of a contrary opinion began to find themselves left alone, and having a strong dislike to Jewish daggers, were fain to follow the stream.
With a panic or two, a cry of 'The Jews are on us!' and a general rush in every direction (in which one or two, seeking shelter from the awful nothing in neighbouring houses, were handed over to the watch as burglars, and sent to the quarries accordingly), they reached the Serapeium, and there found, of course, a counter-mob collected to inform them that they had been taken in--that Alexander's church had never been on fire at all--that the Jews had murdered a thousand Christians at least, though three dead bodies, including the poor priest who lay in the house within, were all of the thousand who had yet been seen--and that the whole Jews' quarter was marching upon them. At which news it was considered advisable to retreat into the archbishop's house as quickly as possible, barricade the doors, and prepare for a siege--a work at which Philammon performed prodigies, tearing woodwork from the rooms, and stones from the parapets, before it struck some of the more sober- minded that it was as well to wait for some more decided demonstration of attack, before incurring so heavy a carpenter's bill of repairs.
At last the heavy tramp of footsteps was heard coming down the street, and every window was crowded in an instant with eager heads; while Peter rushed downstairs to heat the large coppers, having some experience in the defensive virtues of boiling water. The bright moon glittered on a long line of helmets and cuirasses. Thank Heaven! it was the soldiery.
'Are the Jews coming?' 'Is the city quiet?''Why did not you prevent this villainy?' 'A thousand citizens murdered while you have been snoring!'--and a volley of similar ejaculations, greeted the soldiers as they passed, and were answered by a cool--'To your perches, and sleep, you noisy chickens, or we'll set the coop on fire about your ears.'
A yell of defiance answered this polite speech, and the soldiery, who knew perfectly well that the unarmed ecclesiastics within were not to be trifled with, and had no ambition to die by coping-stones and hot water, went quietly on their way.
All danger was now past; and the cackling rose jubilant, louder than ever, and might have continued till daylight, had not a window in the courtyard been suddenly thrown open, and the awful voice of Cyril commanded silence.
'Every man sleep where he can. I shall want you at daybreak. The superiors of the parabolani are to come up to me with the two prisoners, and the men who took them.'
In a few minutes Philammon found himself, with some twenty others, in the great man's presence: he was sitting at his desk, writing, quietly, small notes on slips of paper.
'Here is the youth who helped me to pursue the murderer, and having outrun me, was attacked by the prisoners,' said Peter. 'My hands are clean from blood, I thank the Lord!'
'Three set on me with daggers,' said Philammon, apologetically, 'and I was forced to take this one's dagger away, and beat off the two others with it.'
Cyril smiled, and shook his head.
'Thou art a brave boy; but hast thou not read, "If a man smite thee on one cheek, turn to him the other"?'
'I could not run away, as Master Peter and the rest did.'
'So you ran away, eh? my worthy friend?'
'Is it not written,' asked Peter, in his blandest tone, "If they persecute you in one city, flee unto another"?'
Cyril smiled again. 'And why could not you run away, boy?'
Philammon blushed scarlet, but he dared not lie. 'There was a--a poor black woman, wounded and trodden down, and I dare not leave her, for she told me she was a Christian.'
'Right, my son, right. I shall remember this. What was her name?'
'I did not hear it.--Stay, I think she said Judith.'
'Ah! the wife of the porter who stands at the lecture-room door, which God confound! A devout woman, full of good works, and sorely ill-treated by her heathen husband. Peter, thou shalt go to her to- morrow with the physician, and see if she is in need of anything. Boy, thou hast done well. Cyril never forgets. Now bring up those Jews. Their Rabbis were with me two hours ago promising peace: and this is the way they have kept their promise. So be it. The wicked is snared in his own wickedness.'
The Jews were brought in, but kept a stubborn silence.
'Your holiness perceives,' said some one, 'that they have each of them rings of green palm-bark on their right hand.'
'A very dangerous sign! An evident conspiracy!' commented Peter.
'Ah! What does that mean, you rascals? Answer me, as you value your lives.'
'You have no business with us: we are Jews, and none of your people,' said one sulkily. 'None of my people? You have murdered my people! None of my people? Every soul in Alexandria is mine, if the kingdom of God means anything; and you shall find it out. I shall not argue with you, my good friends, anymore than I did with your Rabbis. Take these fellows away, Peter, and lock them up in the fuel-cellar, and see that they are guarded. If any man lets them go, his life shall be for the life of them.'
And the two worthies were led out.
'Now, my brothers, here are your orders. You will divide these notes among yourselves, and distribute them to trusty and godly Catholics in your districts. Wait one hour, till the city be quiet; and then start, and raise the church. I must have thirty thousand men by sunrise.'
'What for, your holiness?' asked a dozen voices.
'Read your notes. Whosoever will fight to-morrow under the banner of the Lord, shall have free plunder of the Jews' quarter, outrage and murder only forbidden. As I have said it, God do so to me, and more also, if there be a Jew left in Alexandria by to-morrow at noon. Go.'
And the staff of orderlies filed out, thanking Heaven that they had a leader so prompt and valiant, and spent the next hour over the hall fire, eating millet cakes, drinking bad beer, likening Cyril to Barak, Gideon, Samson, Jephtha, Judas Maccabeus, and all the worthies of the Old Testament, and then started on their pacific errand.
Philammon was about to follow them, when Cyril stopped him.
'Stay, my son; you are young and rash, and do not know the city. Lie down here and sleep in the anteroom. Three hours hence the sun rises, and we go forth against the enemies of the Lord.'
Philammon threw himself on the floor in a corner, and slumbered like a child, till he was awakened in the gray dawn by one of the parabolani.
'Up, boy! and see what we can do. Cyril goes down greater than Barak the son of Abinoam, not with ten, but with thirty thousand men at his feet!'
'Ay, my brothers!' said Cyril, as he passed proudly out in full pontificals, with a gorgeous retinue of priests and deacons--'the Catholic Church has her organisation, her unity, her common cause, her watchwords, such as the tyrants of the earth, in their weakness and their divisions, may envy and tremble at, but cannot imitate. Could Orestes raise, in three hours, thirty thousand men, who would die for him?'
'As we will for you!' shouted many voices.
'Say for the kingdom of God.' And he passed out.
And so ended Philammon's first day in Alexandria.
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