Historical Miniatures
by August Strindberg
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The Emperor, in his white robe sprinkled with blood, had to return alone to his palace, while Christians and heathen alike shouted their disapprobation.

"See the butcher!" they cried; "Apostate! Renegade! Madman!"

When Julian came to his palace, he looked as though petrified; but, without changing his clothes, he sat down to the table and wrote an edict against the Christians, in which they were forbidden to study, and to fill offices of State. That was his first step.

In the evening of the same day Julian received a letter: it was from the Emperor Constantius in Byzantium, who did not acknowledge his election to the imperial throne, and threatened to bring an army against him in Gaul. This was quite unexpected, and Julian left Lutetia in order to march against his cousin. As he went towards the East, he felt as though he were going to his death. But the first throw of the dice of destiny was a lucky one for him. Constantius died on the march, and Julian was left sole Emperor. This he took for a sign that the gods were on his side, and he proceeded on his campaign feeling that he was supported by the higher powers. But it was only the last jest of his gods.

It is related that before his last march against the Persians, he wished to ascertain his destiny, and had a woman's body cut open in order to take an augury from the entrails. But that may be untrue, as is also the case with the conflicting reports of his death, which happened soon after. One thing, however, is certain; the "Galilaean" conquered Zeus, who rose no more.

It is also a fact, confirmed by Christian, Jewish, and heathen writers, that the Temple of Jerusalem was never built again, for as the foundation was about to be laid, fire broke out of the ground accompanied by an earthquake. The same earthquake also destroyed Delphi, "the centre of the earth," and the focus of the religious and political life of Greece.


With the demise of Constantine the Great, Greece, Rome, and Palestine had ceased to exist. Civilisation had passed Eastward, for Constantinople was the metropolis of Europe; and from the East, Rome, Spain, Gaul, and Germany were governed by satraps with various titles. It seemed as though the vitality of Europe had been quenched, and as though Rome had been buried, but it was only apparently so. History did not proceed in a straight line, but took circuitous paths, and therefore development seemed to be in disorder and astray. But it was not really so.

Christianity, which was about to penetrate the West, had sprung from the East, and so ancient Byzantium formed a transition stage. In Rome, which had been left to itself, for its governors dwelt in Milan and Ravenna, a new spiritual world-power was springing up, which was silently forging a new imperial crown, in order to give it to the worthiest when the time was fulfilled. The advent of this heir had already been announced by Tacitus—a new race from the North, healthy, honest, good-humoured. These were the Germans, who were to hold the Empire for a thousand years from 800 to 1815. Already, at the commencement of the fifth century, the West Goths had captured Rome, but again withdrawn; other German races had overrun Spain, Gaul, and Britain, but none of them had taken firm root in Italy. Then an entirely new race appeared upon the scene, whose origin was unknown, and the promise of possessing the land which had been given to the Germans seemed to have been revoked, for the Huns finally settled in Hungary, and exacted tribute from all the nations in the world. Round a wooden castle and a few barracks on the river Theiss, there collected a crowd of Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Germans of all kinds to do homage before a throne on which sat a savage who resembled a lump of flesh.

In the year 453 A.D. this King, after many adventures, wished to celebrate one of his numerous marriages. He had summoned the chief men of all Europe—summoned—for a King does not invite. So they came riding from North, South, East, and West.

From the west, along the bank of the Danube, just below the place where the river makes a curve at the modern Gran, came two men riding at the head of a caravan. For several days they had followed the picturesque banks of the green river, with its bulrushes and willows, and its swarms of wild duck and herons. Now they were about to leave the cool shades of the forest region, and turn eastward towards the salt desert, which stretched to the banks of the yellow Theiss.

One leader of the caravan was a well-known Roman, called Orestes; the other was Rugier, also called Edeko. He was a chief from the shores of the Baltic Sea, and had been compelled to follow Attila.

The two leaders had hitherto spoken little together, for they mistrusted each other. But as they emerged on the wide plain, which opened out as clear and bright as the surface of the sea, they seemed themselves to grow cheerful, and to lay aside all mistrust.

"Why are you going to the marriage?" asked Orestes.

"Because I cannot remain away," answered Edeko.

"Just like myself."

"And the Bride—the Burgundian did not dare to say 'no' either?"

"She? Yes, she would have dared to."

"Then she loved this savage?"

"I did not say that."

"Perhaps she hates him, then? A new Judith for this Holofernes?"

"Who knows? The Burgundians do not love the Huns since they pillaged Worms in their last raid."

"Still it is incomprehensible how he recovered from his defeat on the Catalaunian Plain."

"Everything is incomprehensible that has to do with this man, if he is a man at all."

"You are right. He is said to have succeeded his father's brother, Rua, of whom we know nothing; he has murdered his brother Bleda. For twenty years we have had him held over us like an iron rod, and yet lately, when he was before Rome, he turned back."

"But he has promised his soldiers to give them Rome some day."

"Why did he spare Rome?"

"No one knows. No one knows anything about this man, and he himself seems to be ignorant about himself. He comes from the East, he says; that is all. People say the Huns are the offspring of witches and demons in the wilderness. If anyone asks Attila what he wants, and who he is, he answers, 'The Scourge of God.' He founds no kingdom, builds no city, but rules over all kingdoms and destroys all cities."

"To return to his bride: she is called Ildico; is she then a Christian?"

"What does Attila care? He has no religion."

"He must have one if he calls himself 'the Scourge of God,' and declares that he has found the War-God's sword."

"But he is indifferent as regards forms of religion. His chief minister, Onegesius, is a Greek and a Christian."

"What an extraordinary man he is to settle down here in a salt-plain instead of taking up his abode in Byzantium or in Rome."

"That is because it resembles his far Eastern plains—the same soil, the same plants and birds; he feels at home here."

They became silent, as the sun rose and the heat increased. The low-growing tamarisk, wormwood, and soda-bushes afforded no shade. Wild fowl and larks were the only creatures that inhabited the waste. The herds of cattle, goats, and swine had disappeared, for Attila's army of half a million had eaten them up, and his horses had not left a single edible blade of grass.

At noon the caravan came suddenly to a halt, for on the eastern horizon there was visible a town with towers and pinnacles, on the other side of a blue lake. "Are we there?" asked Edeko. "Impossible; it is still twenty miles, or three days' journey."

But the city was in sight, and the caravan quickened its pace. After half an hour the town appeared no nearer, but seemed, on the contrary, to grow more distant, to dwindle in size, and to sink out of sight. After another half hour, it had disappeared, and the blue lake also.

"They can practise enchantment," said the Roman, "but that goes beyond everything."

"It is the Fata Morgana, or the mirage," explained the guide.

As the evening came on, the caravan halted in order to rest for the night.

* * * * *

On the stretch of land between Bodrog and Theiss, Attila had his standing camp, for it could not be called a town. The palace was of wood, painted in glaring colours, and resembled an enormous tent, whose style was probably borrowed from China, the land of silk. The women's house, which was set up near it, had a somewhat different form, which might have been brought by the Goths from the North, or even from Byzantium, for the house was ornamented with round wooden arches. The fittings seemed to have been stolen from all nations and lands; there were quantities of gold and silver, silk and satin curtains, Roman furniture and Grecian vessels, weapons from Gaul, and Gothic textile fabrics. It resembled a robber's abode, and such in fact it was.

Behind the palace enclosure began the camp, with its smoke-grimed tents. A vast number of horse-dealers and horse-thieves swarmed in the streets, and there were as many horses as men there. Without the camp there grazed herds of swine, sheep, goats, and cattle—living provision for this enormous horde of men, who could only devour and destroy, but could not produce anything.

Now, on the morning of Attila's wedding day, there were moving about in this camp thousands of little men with crooked legs and broad shoulders, clothed in rat-skins and with rags tied round their calves. They looked out of their tents with curiosity, when strangers who had been invited to the marriage feast came riding up from the plain.

In the first street of tents, Attila's son and successor, Ellak, met the principal guests; he bade them welcome through an interpreter, and led them into the guest-house.

"Is that a prince, and are those men?" said Orestes to Edeko.

"That is a horse-dealer, and the rest are rats," answered Edeko. "They are monsters and demons, vampires, created from dreams of intoxication. They have no faces; their eyes are holes; their voice is a rattle; their nose is that of a death's-head; and their ears are pot-handles."

"You speak truly, and it is from these half-naked savages, who have no armour and no shield, that the Roman legions have fled. They are goblins, who have been able to 'materialise' themselves."

"They will not conquer the world."

"At any rate not in this year."

Then they followed Prince Ellak, who had heard and understood every word, although he pretended not to know their language.

* * * * *

In the women's house sat Attila's favourite, Cercas, and sewed the bridal veil. Ildico, the beautiful Burgundian, stood at the window lost in thought and absent-minded. She had seen in Worms the hero before whom the world trembled, and she had really been captivated by the little man's majestic bearing. Herself fond of power, and self-willed, she had been enticed by the prospect of sharing power with the man before whom all and everything bowed; therefore she had given him her hand.

But she had had no correct comprehension of the manners and customs of the Huns, and had therefore imagined that her position as wife and Queen would be quite otherwise than it proved to be. Only this morning she had learnt that she could not appear at all at the marriage feast, nor share the throne, but would simply remain shut up with the other women in the women's house.

Cercas, the favourite, had explained all this with malicious joy to her rival, and the haughty Ildico was on the point of forming a resolution. She had no friends in the palace, and could not approach the foreign princes.

Cercas was sewing, and accompanied her work with a melancholy song from her home in the far East. Ildico seemed to have collected her thoughts: "Can you lend me a needle?" she said, "I want to sew."

Cercas gave her a needle, but it was too small; she asked for a larger one, and chose the largest of all. She hid it in her bosom, and did not sew.

At that moment there appeared in the doorway a creature so abominably ugly and of such a malicious aspect, that Ildico thought he was a demon. He was as jet-black as a negro from tropical Africa, and his head seemed to rest on his stomach, for he had no chest. He was a dwarf and humpback; his name was Hamilcar, and he was Attila's court-fool.

In those days the court-fool was generally not a wit, but a naive blockhead, who believed all that was said, and was therefore a butt for jests. He only placed a letter in Cercas' hand, and disappeared. When Cercas had read the letter, she changed colour and seemed to become a different being. Overcome with rage, she could not speak, but sang,

"The tiger follows the lion's trail."

"Ildico, you have found a friend," she said at last. "You have a friend here in the room, here at the window, here on your breast." And she threw herself on the Burgundian maiden's breast, weeping and laughing alternately. "Give me your needle—your fine beautiful needle; I will thread it. No! I will sharpen it on steel; no, I will dip it in my perfume-flask, my own special little perfume flask, and then together we will sew up the Tiger's mouth, so that he can bite no more!"

"Let me read your letter," Ildico interrupted.

"You cannot. I will tell you what it says. He, our master, woos again for the hand of the daughter of the Emperor Valens—Honoria, and this time he has vowed to burn us all;—that he calls giving us an honourable burial."

Ildico reached out her hand as an answer, "Very well, to-night. A single needle-prick will deprive the world of its ruler!"

* * * * *

Edeko and Orestes had thoroughly rested from their journey in the guest-house. At noon, when they wished to go out, they found the door bolted.

"Are we prisoners? Have we fallen into a trap?" asked the Roman.

"We have not had any food either," answered Edeko.

Then two voices were heard without: "We will strangle them; that is the simplest way."

"I think we had better set the house on fire; the tall one is strong."

"And they thought we did not understand their language."

The two prisoners, whose consciences were uneasy, were alarmed, and believed that their end was near. Then a small trap-door opened in the wall, and the fool Hamilcar showed his hideous head.

"Whether you are the devil or not," exclaimed the Roman, "answer us some questions."

"Speak, sirs," said the negro.

"Are we prisoners, or why cannot we see your King?"

Prince Ellak's head appeared at the trap-door.

"You will first see the King this evening at the feast," said the Prince, with a malicious grimace.

"Are we to fast till then?"

"We call it so, and do it always when we have a feast before us, in order to be able to eat more."

"Cannot we at any rate go out?"

"No," answered the Prince with the horse-dealerlike face. "One must conform to the custom of the country." So saying, he closed the trap-door.

"Do you think we shall get away alive?" asked Edeko.

"Who knows? Attila is composed of treachery. You do not know that once he wrote two letters, one to Dieterich, King of the West Goths, asking for an alliance against the Romans as the common enemy; and on the same day he wrote a similar letter to the Romans, in which he proposed an alliance against the West Goths. The deceit was discovered, and Attila fell between two stools."

"He seems to be immortal, otherwise he would have been killed in battle, as he always goes at the head of his army."

Until evening the travelling companions remained incarcerated. At last the door was opened, and a master of the ceremonies led them into the hall where the great feast was to take place. Here there were countless seats and tables covered with the most costly cloths and drinking vessels of gold and silver. The guests were assembled, but the two travellers saw no faces that they knew; they looked in vain for the bridegroom and the bride. As they were conducted to their places, a low murmur broke out among the guests, who talked in an undertone, and asked where the great King would show himself.

Orestes and Edeko cast their eyes over the walls and ceiling without being able to see where the wonder would happen, for the childish and cunning Huns used to amuse their guests with surprises and practical jokes.

Suddenly the whole assembly stood up. The curtain which covered the wall in the background was drawn aside, and on a platform sat a little insignificant-looking man, with a table before him and a sofa beside him. On the table stood a wooden goblet. He sat quite motionless, without even moving his eyelids. Somewhat lower than he stood his chief Minister, the Greek Onegesius. He kept his eyes unwaveringly fixed on his master, who seemed to be able to converse with him through his eyes.

Attila remained in the same attitude, his legs crossed, and his right hand on the table. He gave no greeting, neither did he answer any.

"He does not see us! He only shows himself!" whispered Orestes. "He sees well!"

Onegesius received a command from the despot's eye, and lifted his staff. A poet stepped forward with an instrument that resembled a harp and a drum combined. After he had struck the strings, and beaten the drum, he began to recite. It was a song celebrating all Attila's feats in terms of strong exaggeration, and it would have been endless, if the assembly had not taken up the refrain and struck with their short swords on the table. The poet represented Attila's defeat on the Catalaunian Plain as an honourable but indecisive battle. After the guests had for some time contemplated the insignificant-looking hero in his simple brown leather dress, they both felt the same irresistible reverence that all did who saw him.

There was something more than vanity in this self-conscious calm; this visible contempt for all and everything. He kept his side-face turned to the guests, and only his Minister could catch his eye.

When the panegyric was at an end, Attila raised his goblet, and, without drinking to anyone, sipped it. That was, however, the signal for a drinking orgy, and the wine was poured into gold and silver goblets, which had to be emptied at a draught, for Attila liked to see those around him intoxicated, while he remained sober.

After they had drunk for a while, the negro Hamilcar came forward and performed feats of jugglery. Then the great King rose, turned his back to the assembly, and laid down on the sofa. But in each of his movements there was majesty, and as he lay there thinking, his knees drawn up, his hands under his neck, and his eyes directed towards the ceiling, he was still imposing.

"But what about the bride and the marriage?" Orestes asked one of the Huns.

"We do not even mention our wives," he answered, "how, then, should we show them?"

The drinking continued, but no food was placed before the guests. At intervals the whole assembly sang, and beat upon the tables.

While the noise and excitement were at their height, the hall suddenly filled with smoke, and the building was in flames. All started up, shouted and sought to flee, but Attila's Minister struck with his staff on the table, and the assembly broke into laughter. It was a jest for the occasion, and only some waggon-loads of hay had been kindled outside. When quiet had been restored, Attila was no more to be seen, for he had left the hall by a secret door. And now began the feast, which lasted till morning.

* * * * *

When the sun rose, Orestes was still sitting and drinking with an Avar chief. The condition of the hall was indescribable, and most of the guests were dancing outside round the fire.

"This is a wedding-feast indeed!" said Orestes. "We shall not quickly forget it. But I would gladly have spoken with the wonderful man. Can one not do that?"

"No," answered the Avar; "he only speaks in case of need. 'What is the use of standing,' he asks, 'and deceiving one another?' He is a wise man, and not without traces of kindness and humanity. He allows no unnecessary bloodshed, does not avenge himself on a defeated foe, and is ready to forgive."

"Has he any religion? Does he fear death?"

"He believes on his sword and his mission, and death is for him only the door to his real home. Therefore he lives here below, as though he were a guest or traveller."

"Quite like the Christians, then?"

"It is remarkable that in Rome he received respect from Pope Leo —What's the matter now?"

Outside there was a shouting which at first seemed to issue from the palace, but soon spread itself over the camp. Half a million of men were howling, and it sounded like weeping.

The guests hurried out, and saw all the Huns dancing, cutting their faces with knives, and shouting unintelligible words. Edeko came up and pulled Orestes away through the crowds. "Attila is dead! May Jesus Christ be praised!"

"Dead? That is Ildico's doing!"

"No! she sat by the corpse, veiled and weeping."

"Yes, it is she."

"Yes, but these savages are too proud to believe that Attila could be killed by a human being!"

"How fortunate for us!" "Quick to Rome with the news. The fortune of the man who first brings it is made."

Orestes and Edeko departed the same morning. They never forgot this wedding which had brought them together.

Later on they renewed their acquaintance, under other and still more striking circumstances. For the son of Edeko was Odovacer, who defeated the son of Orestes, who was no other than the last Emperor Romulus Augustus. Strangely enough his name was Romulus, as was that of Rome's first King, and Augustus, as was that of the first Emperor. After his deposition, he closed his life with a pension of six thousand gold pieces, in a Campanian villa, which had formerly belonged to Lucullus.


Rome had become a provincial town and a dependency of Byzantium. It was governed by an Exarch in Ravenna, but often abandoned to its fate when the barbarians from the north amused themselves from time to time by raiding and pillaging it. For three hundred years no Emperor had visited Rome, and the former queen of the world lay despised in rubbish and ruin. But presently people began to collect and piece together the ruins of temples and palaces, and build churches out of them. Five hundred years after the death of Nero, an already ancient church of St. Peter stood in the middle of the tyrant's circus, where the martyrs had suffered death. There were at least seven other churches in different parts of the town, and the Bishop of Rome dwelt in the Lateran Palace, near the church of the same name. There were also convents, and on the Appian Way stood the St. Andrew's Convent, close to the Church of the Cross, which was built at the entrance to the catacombs.

About two o'clock one summer morning, all the fathers and brothers had risen, and read or sung early mass in the chancel. Afterwards the Abbot had gone into the garden in order to reflect. It was still dark, but the stars shone between the olive and orange trees, and the flowers swayed in the gentle breeze of the dawn.

The Abbot, a man of about fifty, strolled up and down in a covered arbour-walk, and every time he reached the south end he remained standing, in order to contemplate a marble tablet, erected by the side of other tablets. It stood over his future grave, which was by the side of the abbots who had already been buried. His name and the year of his birth were engraved upon the marble, while a space was left for the date of his death.

"O Lord, how long wilt Thou forget me?" he sighed, as he turned round again. After he had thus continued walking till daybreak, he sat down in an arbour, in order to write something in a book which he took out of his pocket. The noise of awaking life in the city did not disturb him—nothing disturbed the white-haired man of fifty who had already been two hours on his legs without eating anything. Church bells rang, carts rattled, and the rushing of the Tiber could be heard through all other noises. But the old man continued to write, while his wrinkled face was faintly lit up by the red of dawn. At last steps were heard on the gravel-path; a novice entered the arbour, and placed a bowl of bread and milk by the Abbot. The latter started, as though he had been recalled from far away, and exclaimed, "Leave me in peace!" The novice remained standing, frightened and troubled. Then a little bird, which had been sitting in the arbour, struck up its song. The Abbot looked up, his countenance cleared, he cast a glance on the bowl of milk which he eagerly seized, and was in the act of raising it to his mouth, but, as he noticed the youth's troubled aspect, he stopped. "Forgive my anger," he said, "but I was far away. As a penance, I do this!"

He was about to pour the milk on the ground, but in order that it might not be wasted, he poured it on the roots of a reddish-yellow lily that stood in one of the border-beds. As the novice gave no sign of going, the Abbot asked, "You wish to speak with me? Speak!"

"Holy Father."

"I am not holy; One is holy, the Lord your God in heaven! If you have a complaint, make it."

"I was a rich youth, who went and sold all that he had."

"I also did that when I was young, and then built seven convents, but have not regretted it. What have you against it? Why do you complain?"

The youth was silent.

"Is it about the food? There is a famine round us, and we must share with the poor."

"Not only that, venerable father, but the whole way of living here does not accomplish what it is intended to do."

"Say on."

"The scanty food does not subdue the flesh, for as I go about hungry the whole day, I involuntarily think only about eating—in church, during prayer, in solitude. The small amount of sleep makes me sleepy the whole day, and I go to sleep in the chancel. Desires, which I had not known before, are aroused by suppression; when I see wine, I feel a real longing to get vital warmth into my body."

"Then go and ask a brother to scourge you till you swim in your blood, then you will feel the vital warmth return."

"I have done that, but the blows only waken new desires."

"Read St. Augustine."

"I have done that. But the worst of all is the dirt. If I could bathe.

"Are you dirty? That betokens inward defilement. I never bathe, but my body is always clean. But I have noticed, as soon as my thoughts become impure, the body becomes impure! What do you think, then, will do you good? You do not wish to marry. Tertullian says marriage and fornication are the same. And St. Jerome is of opinion that it is better to burn than to marry."

"But St. Paul."

"Let St. Paul alone! But what do you want to do?"

"I cannot remain here, for I think that desires can only be extinguished by being satisfied."

"Servant of Satan! Do you not know that desires never can be satisfied? You were once with your parents. You ate as much as you liked in the morning. Well! Were you not hungry again by noon? Certainly. So you cannot really satisfy yourself by eating! Now I will tell you one thing. You are a child of the world; you don't belong here; therefore go in peace! Eat of the swine's husks which do not satisfy; but when you are sick of them, you will be welcome here again. The father's house always stands open for the prodigal son."

The youth did not go, but burst into tears.

"No," he said, "I cannot return to the world, for I hate it and it hates me, but here I perish."

The Abbot rose and embraced him. "Poor child! Such is the world, such is life; but if it is so, and if you see that it is so, the only thing left is to live it; and count it a point of honour to live till death comes and liberates us."

"No! I want to die now," sobbed the youth.

"We may not do that, my son"; the words escaped from the old man. "If you knew ... if you knew...."

But he restrained himself: "What shall we do, then? Go to Father Martin and have some food, and a glass of wine, but only one; then go and have a good long sleep. Sleep for a day or two. Then come, that I may see you. Go now—but wait a minute—you must have a dispensation from me."

He sat down and wrote something on a page which he had torn out of the book. Armed with this permission, the youth departed, looking, however, somewhat hesitatingly and abashed.

The Abbot remained sitting, but did not begin to write again. Instead of that, he commenced crumbling the bread and strewing the crumbs on the table. Immediately a little bird came and picked one up; then there followed several, who settled on the old man's hand, arms, and shoulders. A spray of vine hung from the roof of the arbour and swayed gently in the wind. Its ring-like tendrils felt about in the air for a support. The Abbot was amused, and placed his finger jestingly into one of the rings: "Come, little thing! here is your support!"

The tendril seemed to hear him, immediately curled round his finger, and formed a ring.

"Shall I get the ring?" jested the old man. "Perhaps I shall be a bishop. God deliver me!"

The Dean appeared in the door of the arbour. "Do I disturb you, brother?"

"No, not at all! I am only sitting here and playing."

"Birds and flowers! White lilies too? I have never seen such before."

"White? Just now they were reddish-yellow! Where do you see them?"


The Abbot looked down on the ground where he had poured his milk, and behold! there were only white lilies, without a single yellow one. He did not venture to speak about it, for one cannot speak of such things; but he smiled to himself, and saw a token of grace in it.

"Well, Dean, how goes it in the city?"

"The Tiber is sinking."

"God be praised; but the whole of Trastevere has been ruined by the flood. I really wish that a great flood would come and drown us all —the whole human race—and very likely it will come some day."

"Still as hopeless as ever!"

"No, not without hope, but for that world, not for this. Christ says it Himself in the Apocalypse: here is nothing on which one can build; for the best that we have enjoyed was but trouble and misery."

"Not so, brother."

"You can flourish in mud, but that I have never done. And it seems as though one were compelled to wade in it with both feet. Did I not begin in my youth to preserve my soul by withdrawing from the world? Then I was compelled to go out into it, thrust into the confusion by force. They made me Prefect of the city. I wished to live in the service of the Lord, and had to distribute eatables for the poor, procure beds for the hospitals, look after drains and water-pipes. The burden of the day's task hindered my thoughts from rising, and I sank in the swamp of material things—sank so deep that I believed I should never rise again."

"But the people blessed you."

"Hush! And I—I who had never worn a sword—had to collect soldiers and march to the field. When I was six years old Rome was pillaged by Totila the Goth, and so ravaged that only five hundred Romans remained. When I was seven years old, there came Belisarius—when I was twelve, Narses. Then I was sent as ambassador to Constantinople —I who hated travelling and publicity. All that I hate, I have been obliged to accept. Now I am tired, and would like to go to rest. I sit here and wait, for my grave to open."

"Do you remember what Virgil says in the Georgics regarding the labour of the husbandman?"

"No, I hate the heathen."

"Wait! He says these words of wisdom: 'If Zeus sends bad weather, mice and vermin, it is to stimulate the husbandman's energy, and call forth his inventive capacity.' Misfortune comes to help the world forward."

"The world goes backward towards its overthrow and its damnation. For five hundred years we have awaited the Redemption, but we have only seen one wild race come after another, to murder and pillage. Do you see any reason in all this sowing without reaping?"

"Blasphemer! Yes, I see how green harvests are ploughed up to fertilise the soil."

"Dragon's-seed and hell's harvest. No—now I go into my grave, and close the door behind me; I have a right to rest after a life so full of trouble and work."

"The bell is ringing for prime."

"Jam moesta quiesce querela."

* * * * *

The Tiber had overflowed Rome, and destroyed quite a quarter of it, but spared the convent of St. Andrew. The Abbot sat again one morning in his garden and wrote, but in such a position that he could see his grave when he looked up from his work. Deep in his writing, he did not hear what was happening around him. But he saw that the flowers in the beds began to shake like reeds, frogs jumped about at his feet, and there was a smell of dampness that was at the same time mouldy and poisonous.

He continued to write, but his eye, although intent on the passage of his pen over the paper, noticed something dark that moved on the ground, spread itself like a black carpet, and came nearer. Suddenly his feet were wet, and a deathlike chill crept up his legs. Then he awoke and understood. The Tiber had risen, and he was driven out of his last refuge. "I will not go," he cried, as the alarm-bell sounded, and the monks fled.

He went to his cell in the upper story, firmly resolved not to flee. He would not go out into the world again, but would die here. The flood which he had prayed for, had come. But he had a spiritual conflict and agony of prayer in his cell: "Lord, why dost thou punish the innocent? Why dost thou chastise Thy friends and let Thy foes flourish? For five hundred years Thou hast avenged Thyself on Thy children for the misdeeds of their fathers! If that is not enough, then destroy us all at once!"

The water rose and lapped against the walls; the garden was destroyed, and the Abbot's grave filled with water, but he remained where he was. At one time he sang hymns of praise, then he raged; then he prayed for pardon, and raged again.

After that he set himself to write at the great work which should make him immortal,—his "Magna Moralia." It was now noon, but he felt no hunger, for by practice he had learned to fast for three days together. During the afternoon, a noise at the window made him look up from his book. There lay a boat, and in it sat the novice Augustinus. The extraordinary, almost comic, aspect of things, elicited a smile from him, and, remembering his conversation with the youth, he asked through the open window, "Well, did you get the wine and good food, you glutton?" "No, venerable Father; I did not want it when I could have it, and then the temptation was over. But now I have to speak of something else. The plague has broken out, and people are dying like flies."

"The plague too! Oh Lord, how long wilt Thou altogether forget us! The plague too!"

Then he rose. "Everyone to his post! Let us do our duty! Bless the Lord, and die!" The Abbot stepped out of his window into the boat, and left his sinking ship.

* * * * *

The Tiber sank to its level again, but left behind snakes, fishes, and frogs, which died and infected the air. The people had fled to the hills; on the Palatine Hill they had made a hospital out of a church. Here the Abbot of the St. Andrew's Convent walked about, gave drink to the sick, and spoke comfort to the dying. "Why do you fear death, children?" he said. "Fear life, for that is the real death." He seemed to be quite in his element here, showed a calm, cheerful temper, and sought to decipher on the faces of the dead, "whether they were happy on the other side."

Death would have nothing to do with him. Often he went to the other hills, and walked about among the sick and dying, so that the people began to think that he was an immortal who had come down to comfort them. The older ones remembered him as Prefect, when he defended the city against the Goths, Vandals, and Longobards, and his fame continually grew.

The pestilence raged, and the number of the dead increased, so that the corpses could no longer be buried. All occupations ceased, and the peasants brought no more food into the city. There was a famine. The Abbot of the St. Andrew's Convent, Gregory, lost courage, and wanted to abandon all, "I cannot fight against God, and if it be His will that Rome perish, it is godless to wish to prevent it." In the midst of this tribulation, Pelagius II, the Bishop or Pope of Rome, as he was afterwards called, died. The people with one voice clamoured for the Abbot Gregory to succeed him. But, like King Saul and the Emperor Julian, he hid himself. He fled from the town to a hermit's grotto in the Sabine Mountains. But the people came, brought him out, and led him back to Rome, where he was consecrated as Gregory I. For thirteen years Gregory ruled over the former queen city of the world. He was Governor, for the Exarch of Ravenna existed no more, having been driven away by the Longobards. He asked help from the Emperor in Byzantium, but obtained none. He was thrown upon his own resources, and succeeded by the power of his eloquence in disarming King Agilulf, who threatened Rome.

But he was also Bishop, and as such had to govern all the churches of the West. He succeeded in bringing them to abandon Arianism and to accept a single creed, which became the universal or "catholic" confession of faith.

To the heathen of England he sent the former novice Augustine, who had quickly overcome his initiatory difficulties. The little "glutton" ended as Archbishop of Canterbury.

The former retiring and life-weary Abbot had with great effect developed the necessary strength for his duties. The high post to which he had been summoned called out his capacities. He had time for great and small things alike. He reformed the liturgy, wrote letters, composed books, arranged church music. His manner of life, however, was as simple as before. From his cell in the Lateran Palace, he ruled over souls from the Highlands of Scotland to the Pillars of Hercules. His empire was as great as the Caesars', though his legions were only pen and ink. It was the beginning of the Kingdom of Christ, but it was a spiritual empire, and Gregory was the ruler.


After the death of Gregory the Great, Christianity seemed to have conquered all Europe which was known at the time, and also Byzantium, Palestine, Egypt, and the north coast of Africa. The conqueror was about to betake himself to rest, when a quite new and unexpected event happened which threatened Christendom with destruction and heralded the arrival of a new race upon the scene. Ishmael's descendants, Abraham's illegitimate sons, who had wandered in the deserts, seeming to continue the Israelites' wandering in the wilderness, began to collect in troops and seek a Promised Land.

Six years after Gregory's death, the Prophet Muhammed, then forty years old, was "awakened." His armies spread like a conflagration, and a hundred years later, Christian Europe thought the last day had come. The countries first conquered by Christianity—Syria, Palestine, Asia Minor, Egypt, and North Africa—had fallen away and done homage to the new Antichrist. Byzantium was threatened; Sicily and Sardinia had been taken, and Italy was in danger.

From the southernmost point of Spain one could see in clear weather the coast of Africa, where the Saracens dwelt. Spain was a country which, somewhat remote from Rome, had grown and developed into one of the richest provinces, after Phoenicians and Carthaginians had laid the foundations of her civilisation. But when Rome fell into decay, Barbarians from the Baltic sea belonging to the new German races, whose advent had been foretold by Tacitus, poured into Spain, founded a kingdom or two, and now at the beginning of the eighth century, possessed the important cities Toledo and Seville.

* * * * *

In Seville, on the Guadalquivir, in the beautiful province of Andalusia, the old Jew Eleazar sat in the shop where he sold weapons, and counted his day's takings.

"Many weapons are sold in these days," was the sudden remark of a stranger who had stepped up to the counter.

Eleazar looked up, liked the appearance of the well-dressed stranger, and answered cautiously, "Yes, certainly, many are sold."

"Are you expecting war?"

"There is always war here—especially verbal warfare."

"You refer to the twenty Church Councils which have been held here. The Christians are never united."

Eleazar did not answer.

"Excuse me," continued the stranger, "but I forgot who you are, and that you would rather forget the last Council."

"No, not at all! why should I?"

"It was directed against your people."

"And my only son, who was about to marry a Christian maiden, had to give her up, since marriages with Jews were forbidden...."

"Well! and what was the end of it?"

"He could not survive it, but laid hands on himself, and, as she followed him in death, the blame was laid on us, and we lost our property and freedom."

"Eleazar!" exclaimed the stranger. "Don't you know me?"


"But when I tell you my name, you will know who I am. Julius—Count Julius...."

"Are you—Count Julius?"

"I am he, whose daughter Florinda was brought up in Toledo, and fell into the hands of King Roderick, the robber and lecher. Can I see you in your chamber? We have much to say to each other!"

Eleazar hesitated, although both, as injured fathers of lost children, had much in common. He was afraid of the Christians, who had begun to persecute the Jews. The Count understood that, but did not withdraw his proposal, for he seemed to have a special object in his visit.

"Let me into your chamber, and I will tell you, in three words, a secret that concerns us both."

Eleazar did not yield, but began to parley.

"Say one word, a single word to convince me," he asked.

"Oppas! there is one for you."

Eleazar opened his eyes, but asked for yet another one.

"Zijad's son." "Still better!" said Eleazar, "but now the last!"


Eleazar reached him his hand. "Come under my roof, eat of my bread, and drink of the sacred wine." In a moment the shop was closed, and the two elderly men sat at supper in the room behind it. They conversed eagerly.

"There are some hundreds of thousands of us Hebrews here in Spain, for when the Emperor Hadrian had destroyed Jerusalem for the last time, he sent some fifty thousand Hebrews here. That is six hundred years ago, and we have naturally increased—yes, to such a number, that ninety thousand of us could be compulsorily baptized. I, too, have been baptized, but, though they poured water on me, I have held fast the faith of my fathers, and how could I do otherwise? The Christians have not one faith, but many. The Synod held in Toledo in 589 A.D. taught, for example, that the Holy Spirit did not only proceed from the Father, but from the Son also. But the Synod of 675 A.D. declared that the Son was not only sent by the Father but by the Holy Spirit. That is nonsense, and therefore they fall away from their own doctrine.

"But instead of falling back on the Old Testament, which is the mother of the New, they plunge into unbelief and heathenism. That is the case with Archbishop Oppas himself in Toledo, who calls himself a hater of Christ, and would rather acknowledge Islam than Catholicism."

"Do you know Oppas?"

"He is our man." "You mentioned Islam; what do you think of its teaching?"

"It is our own holy faith; a single God, the Only and True One. And the Prophet is Abraham's seed, who has inherited the promise. It is true Ishmael was the son of a bond-woman, but still he was Abraham's seed!"

"But Muhammed expelled the Jews from Arabia."

"Yes, he did that; he was not perfect; but things have altered for the better. Muhammed received his first impressions from his cousin Waraka, who was of Jewish descent. At first he was friendly towards Israel; he told his followers to turn in prayer not towards the Kaaba, but towards Jerusalem. There is also a tradition that the prophet was a Jew, which may mean that he was an Arab or Ishmaelite, which is the same thing."

"You would, then, rather serve under the Half-Moon than under the Cross?"


"And Simon, whom you call Bar-coch-ba, is negotiating with the Archbishop Oppas in order to overthrow Roderick?"

"That is true."

"Good! Then I am one with you. But listen carefully to what I say: —Since our common aim is the overthrow of the West Gothic King, I have, as Governor of Ceuta on the African coast, inquired of Emir Mussa al Nazir and his principal officer, Tarik, the son of Zijad, whether they will perhaps help us in case of a claim for damages made by Ceuta and its neighbourhood. Do you think we can let the storm loose?"

Eleazar gnawed his beard. "Is it not already loose?" he asked drily.

"Have you gone further than I know?"

"What do you know?"

"You are so far as that, then? Well! It is all over with my beautiful Spain!"

"Nothing comes to an end; it only changes when its time is over. Spain had its time when it gave Emperors to Rome—Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius, Marcus Aurelius, Theodosius, who may just as likely have been Iberians and Phoenicians. Spain gave Rome learned men and poets, Seneca, Lucan, Martial, Quintilian, Pomponius, Mela, Columella. That is now five hundred years ago, and now we have had barbarism introduced by the Christian Norsemen from the Baltic. Now we might use something Oriental!"

"Do you believe on the future of Islam?"

"Yes, certainly. Mussa has sworn that he will march by Hannibal's route through Gaul and Germany to Rome, in order to turn the 'heathen and women-worshippers' to the one true God."

"You know that! Then there is no turning back."

"No! It is too late. On the 19th of July the half-moon rises over Spain, and it will continue to wax through its phases to the full moon. What follows then we know not, and have nothing to do with, for One rules—the Lord Zebaoth."

* * * * *

On the 17th of July, 711 A.D., when it had become dark, fire was kindled on the southernmost point of Spain, Punta de Europa. On the African coast, two miles distant, this was answered by a similar signal. A west wind blew from the Atlantic, and brought across the fleet of the Saracens, with five thousand men and horses.

On the Punta de Europa, afterwards called Gibraltar, high above the precipitous cliff stood long-bearded citizens, and fanned the fire and threw fuel on it. In the morning the first troops landed at the foot of the cliff, and the conquest of Spain by the Moors began. Mussa ibn Nazir came on the following day with the chief body. The King of the West Goths assembled as rapidly as possible a hundred thousand men, and, believing himself invincible, marched thither to view the victory. Clothed in silk and gold, like a Byzantine Emperor, he lay in a chariot of ivory drawn by two white mules, and followed by his attendants and the women of his harem.

For three days all went well, but on the fourth day, something unexpected happened.

Shut in between the mountains and rivers of Andalusia, his troops could hardly move, and the King had encamped on the bank of the Guadalete.

Then he saw his people pouring down like a stream from the heights —one division under Archbishop Oppas, the other under Count Julius.

Roderick, who believed that they were fleeing from the enemy, broke up his camp. He could not, however, turn round, but was forced into the stream. He tried to reach the other side by swimming, but there he was met by archers. An Amazon came galloping along the bank on a red roan, and directed her bow against the drowning man in the middle of the stream. On the one bank he saw his troops, who had halted, signal with white flags as a sign of peace to the enemy on the opposite bank. When he saw that he was betrayed, he sank, and with him the whole kingdom of the West Goths. Mussa marched at once to Toledo, before a new king could be chosen. Thereby Islam became domiciled in Spain, and remained there till 1492. The Jews, who had especially helped the Moors, were at once emancipated, and in every town of Spain a Jew was appointed governor.


EASTER, A.D. 843,

The Benedictine Convent in Seligenstadt on the Main.

To my dear wife and present sister in Christ,

Emma, from Eginhard, formerly secretary to Charles the Great, now a monk in Seligenstadt on the Main:

Passion-week is at an end, and the Resurrection days are here; spring has melted the frost; mind and memory have woken, and the past rises up again.

Yesterday, on Easter Eve, I walked in the convent garden, and thought of my vanished five and seventy years. I thought of the fine things which were said in the learned circle or academy of the Great Unforgettable, when we played with words and thoughts, like chess-players with their pieces.

"What is man?" asked our teacher, our wisest, Alcuin, whom we called Flaccus.

Angilbert, the Emperor's son-in-law, the husband of the beautiful Bertha, answered, "Man is the slave of death, a flying traveller, a guest in his own dwelling."

"Yes, truly," I said to myself, "a guest; and soon I will pack my knapsack, pay my account, and journey on."

I went along the river-bank and thought, "The same river, always the same river, but always new water; the same water never runs twice past. Such is life, such is the river of time, the heroes and events of history—the panorama of time, the years and the glory of them, all pass and perish."

I then wished to pluck the first Easter lilies to send to you, who were once my wife, and went to the gardener down by the carp-pond. Whom did I meet on the path under the ivy, this plant of eternity, which only knows of death and birth, but not the changes of the seasons? I met the last survivor of the great days, of the Emperor's Round Table, Thiodolf the Goth, now Bishop of Orleans. I cannot describe to you my joy at meeting him again, nor depict my feelings when I read in the face of the old man the whole history of our life.

It was six o'clock in the evening, and after we had sung Vespers, our fast was at an end. I had a large round table placed in the refectory, only for us two, but with twelve chairs and twelve places laid. From the Bishop's guest-room I had the largest armchair brought, and decorated it with leaves and flowers; it was that of the Emperor of blessed memory, who now rests in the cathedral at Aachen, the cathedral which I had the favour and honour of building. The other chairs I assigned to absent friends, first Alcuin, then the poet Angilbert-Homerus, the Irishman Clement, the Bavarian Leidrade, and others whom you knew, but have forgotten.

What an evening, what a night, we passed by the open garden window! We spoke naturally of the Great Unforgettable, and lived his rich and varied life again in our thoughts. We followed him against the Longobards and Saracens, against the Hungarians and other Slavs. But we did not like to linger over his thirty years' war against the Saxons, chiefly out of reverence for his memory, for he ought to have used only spiritual weapons in his campaign of conversion. Remember the Frankish King who sent our friend Anschar to the wild Swedes. He had no armed men, but only God's Holy Word. Certainly he was robbed by thieves like St. Paul, but when once he had arrived he won the King and the nobles of the country by his gentle bearing and preaching.

On the other hand, we lingered gladly in our conversation over the great Christmas Day of 800 A.D. in Rome, when the Western Roman Empire was restored, and the crown was bestowed on Germany. This had been prophesied by Tacitus, and Hermann in the Teutoburger Wald had shed his martyr's blood for it. Rome and Germany! A spiritual and a worldly kingdom! Inscrutable are the ways of the Lord!

When we drank to the strong and gentle Carolus Magnus Augustus, we both rose, Thiodolf and I, and bowed before the empty chair, as though he sat there in bodily presence. Where is he now, the departed of blessed memory—where is his great kingdom, which only his powerful spirit could hold together? What he united has now been scattered by his successors! You know, after the last treaty at Verdun, the kingdom of Karl the Great has ceased to exist; in its place we now have three—Germany, France, and Italy. Perhaps it must be so, and perhaps a single man cannot rule so great an empire. But it is sad to perceive in history that every great achievement carries within it the seeds of decay, and that the heights are always bordered by deep abysses. Brother Thiodolf brought disquieting news from France. The Saxons, who were finally overthrown with their powerful chief Widukind, have devised a terrible revenge. They have invited Danish and Swedish pirates, called Vikings, into the country. These have sailed up the Rhine, up the Seine as far as Rouen, and up the Loire. These Scandinavians are of German stock, and are therefore of kin to us Franks, but are more nearly related to the Goths, Heruli, Rugieri, and Longobards, of whom the last three are Scandinavian. Odovacer, who overthrew the Western Roman Empire, and deposed the last Emperor Romulus Augustulus, was a Rugier from the Danish island Rugen. These men from the North seem to be now about to step on the stage. Possibly they are the Gog and Magog concerning whom the Old Testament prophesied that they should come from the North. We did not end our conversation till midnight, Thiodolf and I; then we walked up and down in the garden till early mass, for we could not sleep.

Now I close this letter, dear wife, by wishing you happy days far from all the tumult of the world. I only wait for my departure, for life has lost its relish for me, since my lord and Emperor has passed into the great silence. Greet the brethren and the few who still survive from the time of the Great Emperor, and accept, dear Emma, the greeting of your dead husband, whom you will not see before the Day of Resurrection, the great Easter, when we shall all meet again. Till then, "Be of one mind, live in peace, and the God of Jove and of peace shall be with you."


In the year 998 A.D. Rome had become a German Empire and the German Emperor had become a Roman. Otto III, brought up by his Graeco-Byzantine mother Theofano, had inherited her love of the southern lands, and therefore generally occupied his palace on the Aventine, installed himself as Emperor, and cherished a plan of converting Rome into the capital of the German Empire. He was now twenty years old, ambitious, crochety, pious, and cruel.

During one of his absences, the old Roman spirit had revived, and the high-born senator Crescentius had set up himself as Tribune of the people, freed Rome from the Germans, driven away Pope Gregory V, and installed John XVI in his place. The Emperor returned quickly to Rome, took Crescentius and his Pope prisoner, and then presented the Romans with a vivid spectacle, the like of which they had not seen, though their fathers had.

The Leonine quarter, which embraced the Vatican Hill, with the oldest St. Peter's Church and a papal palace, was connected with the town by the Pons Aelius or Bridge of Hadrian. At the head of the bridge, on the right side, was the sepulchre of Hadrian, a tower-shaped building in which the Emperors up to the time of Caracalla had been buried. When the Goths took Rome, the sepulchre became a fortress, and remained so for a long time.

When the Romans woke up on that memorable morning of the year 998 A.D., they saw twelve wooden crosses erected on Hadrian's Tower terrace. Right above them was to be seen the image of the Archangel Michael, with his drawn sword, which had been erected by Gregory the Great. Many people were assembled on the Aelian Bridge to see the spectacle, and among them were a French merchant and a Gothic pilgrim who had come from the west across the Leonine quarter. The sword of the Archangel flamed in the beams of the sun, which was now high.

"What are those crosses for?" asked the pilgrim, shading his eyes.

"There are twelve! Perhaps they are intended to represent the twelve Apostles."

"No, they have finished their sufferings, and the pious Emperor does not crucify the disciples of the Lord anew."

"Yes, the Emperor! The Saxon! Neither the Goth, nor the Longobard, nor the Frank were to have Rome, but the Saxon—one of the cursed nation whom Charles the Great thought that he had extirpated. He sent ten thousand to Gaul, in order to make a present of these savages to the enemy, and he beheaded four thousand five hundred in a single day, without its costing him a sleepless night. Wonderful are the ways of the Lord!"

"The last are often the first."

"O Lord Jesus, Redeemer of the world! there is something moving on the crosses! Do you see?"

"Yes, by heaven! No, I cannot look! They are crucified men!"

Two Romans stood by the strangers: "Hermann, you are avenged," said one.

"Was Hermann a Saxon?" objected the other.

"Probably, since he lived in the Harz district."

"A thousand years ago Thusnelda passed through the streets in the triumph-train of Germanicus, and carried the unborn Thumelicus under her heart! To think that a thousand years had to pass before she was avenged!"

"A thousand years are as a day! But are not these our Roman brothers on the cross martyrs for Rome's freedom?"

"Martyrs for our cause! But this time they were wrong, because the gods so willed it."

Now there was a change in the scene. Under the tower a band of soldiers made a passage through the crowd of people. Pope John XVI came riding backwards on an ass. His ears and nose had been cut off, and his eyes had been dug out. It was a gruesome sight. A wine-bladder, waving over his head in the wind, made it worse. The people were silent, and shuddered simultaneously, for he was, after all, Christ's representative and St. Peter's successor, although no martyr.

A Sicilian stood on the bridge close to a Jew.

The Sicilian was a Muhammedan, for Sicily was then in the possession of the Saracens, and had been so for about two hundred years.

"He must be suffering for his predecessors' sins," said the Jew; "that is the Christian belief: satisfactio vicaria."

"Suffering is necessary," answered the Moslem; "and I do not grieve at such an end to the pornocracy. For a hundred years the Popes have lived like cannibals. You remember Sergius III, who lived with the harlot Theodora and her daughters. John X continued with Marozia, who with her own hand first killed her brother and then suffocated the Pope with a cushion. John XII was only nineteen when he became Pope. He took bribes, and consecrated a ten year-old boy as bishop in a stable. He committed incest, and turned the Lateran into a brothel. He played cards, drank and swore by Jupiter and Venus.... You know it well."

"Yes," answered the Jew, "the Christians live in hell since they have abandoned the one true God. The fools have, however, stolen from us the Messianic promise; but the promise to Abraham we still possess. Rome is a mad-house, Germany a slaughter-house, and France a brothel. It is a matter to rejoice at, to see how they destroy each other."

He placed himself by the balustrade of the bridge, in order to be able to see better what now followed.

Between the twelve patriots, who writhed on their crosses like worms on hooks, appeared five men dressed in red, who began to construct a platform.

"Those are the executioners—on the Emperor's grave!" said the Jew. "Against Crescentius I have nothing; he was a noble man who fought for the Roman State. But there is one Christian the less!"

"The Christians have always two ways of explaining a man's sufferings. If he is innocent, his suffering is a test, and if he is guilty, well! he deserved his fate. There he comes!"

Crescentius, the last Roman, was led forth. His head fell, and thereby Rome became German, or Germany Roman—till 1806! In the afternoon the nomination of the new Pope (for one could not call it an election) took place, and Gerbert of Auvergne was made Pope, with the title of Silvester II.

* * * * *

The Emperor sat in his palace on the Aventine, and did not venture to go out, for the Romans hated him. In the little hermitage on the slope of the hill, where his friend Adalbert of Prague, the missionary martyr recently killed by the Saxons, used to live, the Emperor shut himself up with his teacher, the new Pope, Silvester II.

The latter—a Frenchman—had studied in Cordova, where the Caliph had built a university, where Arabian philosophy, itself derived from Greece and India, was taught. In Rheims Silvester has also studied philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, and chemistry. He had been Abbot of Bobbio, Archbishop of Rheims and Ravenna, and, after protesting in many ecclesiastical assemblies against the corruption of the Papacy, had himself become Pope.

The excitement caused by the execution of Crescentius compelled him to seek refuge on the Aventine with his pupil, the Emperor. From the cell of the little convent, near Adalbert's chapel, he guided the destinies of Europe, while at leisure moments he devoted himself to his favourite sciences. For this reason he was reported to be a wizard.

One night as he sat, sunk in thought, at his table, which was covered with letters, the Emperor entered unannounced. He was a tall young man, dressed in an extraordinary garb, a dalmatica adorned with symbols from the Book of the Apocalypse, the Wild Beast and the Harlot, the Book of Seven Seals, and so on.

"Let me talk," he said; "I cannot sleep."

"What has happened, my son?"

"Letters have come—warnings—dreams."

"Tell me."

"Yes; you listen to me, but you don't believe me, when I tell you the truth, and you are afraid of all new thoughts."

"What is new under the sun? Does not St. Augustine say regarding our holy faith, 'What is called in our days Christianity, already existed since the creation of mankind to the birth of Christ. It was then that they began to call Christianity the true religion, which had already existed before. The truths taught by Christ are the same as the ancient ones, only more developed'?"

"Heretic, beware! You do not know what is taking place in the world."

"Let me hear."

"Pilgrims from many lands have been here, and tell of prodigies, visions, and wonders. In the south of France there are pestilence and famine, and human flesh has been sold in the butchers' shops; in Germany a fiery iron rod has been seen in the sky, and here in Italy these endless pilgrimages have recommenced. In Jerusalem the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been plundered, and the temple of the False Prophet erected. The whole of Christendom is trembling, for in the immoral Popes of the last century they have seen the Antichrist. Christ's ambassador is murdered; yes, my friend Adalbert was the last up there in Poland: the heathen have reconquered all Christ's conquests in Asia and Africa. The followers of the False Prophet are in Spain, Sicily, and Naples, and threaten Rome. This can mean nothing less than the Last Judgment and destruction of the world, as announced in the Apocalypse."

"So it is the old story again?"

"Story! Get thee hence Satan, for thou savourest not the things which be of God, but those which be of men."

"Do you call me Satan?"

"Yes, when you deny the Word. Is it not written in John's Apocalypse, 'And when the thousand years are accomplished, Satan will be let loose from his prison. And he shall go to deceive the nations which are in the four ends of the earth, Gog and Magog'? There you have the northern peoples who are now in England, Normandy, and Sicily. Is not Theodora the great Babylonian Harlot? Is not the deceiver Muhammed the Wild Beast?"

"Wait, my son! I might quote a verse from the same chapter: 'He who hath part in the first resurrection shall reign with Christ a thousand years.' So that the Millennium is beginning now, and cannot end forthwith."

"The old one ends, and the new begins."

"Just so! The old dark age is past, and we await Christ's second coming on earth. If you retained the hope, you would see the new era dawn."

"I do not believe a word of what you say. The last year of the thousand years is here, and now I go out in the desert to await, with fasting, prayer, and penance, the day of the Lord, and the coming of my Redeemer. I will pray for you, my father, but here our ways part, and you will see me no more."

The Emperor departed, and Silvester remained alone.

"I wait!" he said to himself, "but meanwhile I look after our worldly affairs." And he unfolded a map of the then known world. With a piece of red chalk he drew crosses and crowns, for the most part in the North. But above Jerusalem he drew a flag with a lance.

* * * * *

The year 999 approached its end, and the Christians lived in a state of deadly anxiety. In Rome and its neighbourhood, all the active business of life had ceased. The fields were not sown, but lay covered with weeds; trade was at a stand-still; the shops were closed. Those who had anything gave it away, and had difficulty in finding anyone to take it. The churches stood open day and night for three months, and each day was like Sunday. People wore their best clothes, for there was no object in keeping them, and they wished to be well dressed in order to meet the Redeemer on His arrival. Christmas had been kept with unwonted solemnity, and men lived at peace with one another. The guards of the city had nothing to do, for the fear of what was coming sufficed to maintain order. People slept with open doors, and no one dared to steal or to deceive. There was no need to do so, for everyone received what he asked for; bakers distributed bread gratis, and innkeepers allowed unlimited credit; the payment of debts was not exacted. The churches were crowded day and night; there was a ceaseless round of confessions, absolutions, masses and communions.

It was the day before New Year's Eve. Views were divided as to the nature of the coming catastrophe—whether it would come as a flood or as an earthquake. Most of the people remained outside their houses, some on the plain, others on the hills; all with their eyes directed towards heaven.

In the morning, the Plain of Mars was full of men, and a crowd formed a circle round a pile of wood. A madman stood on the pile and spoke, with a quantity of papers and parchments in his hand. He was a rich citizen who for three months had practised fasting and penance, and now, reduced to a skeleton, wished to escape the wrath to come. He had collected a large quantity of dry wood under the pretext of giving warmth to all passing beasts of burthen. Since nobody troubled about what others did, he was allowed to do as he liked.

Near the pile of wood stood the remains of an old orator's pulpit, and in that he took his stand after he had kindled the pile. "In the name of the Eternal God," he said, "so surely as I burn these bonds, will God the Lord erase my sins from His Book. For all sufferings which I have caused others, I will now suffer myself. Purifying fire, burn my wretched body with all its sins! Mounting flames, let me follow you upwards! Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" He leaped from the pulpit, and fell in the midst of the flames, where he remained on his knees with folded hands till he was suffocated.

In the Forum a man was seen working with a miner's iron bar at a rubbish-heap which should cover him: "Say to the mountains, Cover us," he sang.

From the Pons Sublicius a young couple sprang into the river, locked in an embrace which death could not loosen.

At mid-day the prisons were opened, and the prisoners were received as heroes and martyrs. They were taken to the houses of the nobility, made to sit at table, and senators and their wives washed their feet.

"We are all sinners," people said, "and have nothing to boast of. These prisoners have endured their punishment while we went about free."

Never had there been such a display of philanthropy and mercy since the early days of Christianity.

The sick in the hospitals wanted to come outside, and their beds were carried into the streets and market-places. Everyone, in fact, wanted to be in the open air, and families brought their furniture into the streets. Birds were liberated from their cages, and horses from their stables. At first the latter ran about in the town, but as they scented the fresh air and reached the town gates they galloped off to the Campagna, to seek green pasture. Many, however, remained in the town, and lay about here and there, while children clambered on their backs. The children were the only ones who felt no fear. They jumped about and played as usual, rejoicing in their freedom and the unusual aspect of things. No one wanted to restrain them, and as they did not understand what was the matter, they remained free from anxiety and went on playing.

New Year's Eve had arrived, and the universal alarm rose to a great height. Masters and servants were seen embracing each other and weeping, the former lamenting their severity—the latter, their dishonesty. Old enemies, who met each other on the street, grasped hands and led each other about like children, singing hymns of praise. It was something like the Golden Age as imagined by the Fathers of the early Church.

The air was as mild as that of a spring day, and the sky was clear till noon. Then it became overclouded. No one ate or drank, but all bathed and put on their festal attire. During the afternoon processions of priests and monks marched through the town, and sang litanies, in which the people joined. Their Kyrie Eleison, "Christ, have mercy upon us," rang all over the town. All Rome was preparing for its own judgment and execution.

There were, however, a number of unbelieving and profligate persons who expected nothing new; they had assembled themselves in the catacombs and ruins, where they celebrated Bacchanalian feasts and orgies. In the ruins of Nero's Golden House a banquet on a large scale had been arranged. In the centre on the ground there burned a fire, surrounded by tables and seats. There was abundance of victuals and wine, for which they only needed to go to the store-room and cellar. There were music, dancing, and singing, and between whiles they amused themselves by watching the bats and owls, which flitted about, scorch and singe themselves in the fire.

Their hilarity was loud, but not unforced. Here, too, philosophising and prophecy were in evidence.

"There is not going to be any Last Judgment to-day," said a young man, who looked as though he were a descendant of the Emperor Nero.

"Anyhow, if it comes, death cannot introduce us to anything worse than we have had in life."

"It has always seemed to me that we are in hell. Headaches every morning, debts and disgrace, varied by occasional imprisonments."

"The Emperor sits naked in a grotto at the foot of Soracte."

"Vides ut alta stet nive candidum, Soracte."

"As we are speaking, life the envious flits away. Enjoy the present day, nor trust the morrow!"

"And the Pope is going to hold a midnight mass—he who has no faith in it himself."

"But he must put a good face on it, and go through with it."

"I know one woman who will not go to mass to-day."

"That is the beautiful Stephania, the widow of Crescentius."

"But she watches for vengeance."

"What have these Germans to do in Rome? I wish the owner of this Golden House could rise from the dead. He was the last Roman!"

"He was a man who did not caress his enemies. He feared nothing between heaven and earth, not even the lightning. Once there was a lightning-flash in his dining-hall as he reclined at table. What do you think he said? 'To your health!' and raised his goblet."

At this moment a heated stone fell from the vaulted roof into the fire, and caused a shower of sparks. The night wind rushed through the hole thus formed, and blew the smoke into the feasters faces. At first they were amused at the occurrence, but were soon obliged to leave the vault.

"Let us go out and witness the end of the world!" cried one of the youths. They formed a procession of Bacchanals and Maenads, one in front carrying a filled wineskin. There were flute-players among them, and all carried goblets in their hands.

* * * * *

Below, in the old Basilica of St. Peter, stood the Pope before the altar, and performed in silence the midnight mass. The church was crowded, and everyone was on his knees. The silence was so deep that the rustle of the white sleeve of the officiant could be heard when he elevated the cup. But another sound was audible, which seemed to be measuring out the last moments of the Millennium. It beat like the pulse in the ear of a feverish man, and at the same rate. The door of the sacristy stood open, and the great clock which hung there ticked calmly and steadfastly, once in a second.

The Pope, who was outwardly just as calm, had probably left the door open in order to produce the utmost effect at the great moment, for his face was pale with emotion, but he did not move, and his hands did not tremble.

The mass was over, and a death-like silence ensued. The people expected the Lord's servant at the altar to speak a few words of comfort. But he said nothing; he seemed absorbed in prayer, and had stretched out his hands towards heaven.

The clock ticked, the people sighed, but nothing happened. Like children afraid of the dark, the congregation lay with their faces towards the ground, and dared not look up. A cold sweat of anxiety dropped from many brows, knees which had gone to sleep caused pain, or were numb, and felt as though they had been amputated.

Then the clock suddenly ceased ticking.

Had the works run down? Was it an omen? Was everything going to stand still, time to be at an end, and eternity begin? From the congregation rose some stifled cries, and, lifeless with terror, some bodies dropped on the stone pavement.

Then the clock began to strike—One, Two, Three, Four.... The twelfth stroke sounded, and the echoes died away. A fresh death-like silence ensued.

Then Silvester turned round, and, with the proud smile of a victor, he extended his hands in blessing. At the same moment all the bells in the tower rang out joyfully, and from the organ-loft a choir of voices began to sing, somewhat unsteadily at first, but soon firmly and clearly, "Te Deum Laudamus!"

The congregation joined in, but it was some time before they could straighten their stiffened backs, and recover from the spectacle of those who had died of fright. When the hymn was over, the people fell in each other's arms, weeping and laughing like lunatics, as they gave each other the kiss of peace.

So ended the first Millennium after the birth of Christ.

In the little castle Paterno on Mount Soracte, the Emperor had spent the Christmas week and New Year's Eve in the strictest fast and penance. But when New Year's Day was come, and nothing had happened, he returned to Rome to meet Silvester and take measures for the future. The Emperor's friend and teacher received him with a smile which was easy to interpret. But the monarch was still so much under the effect of his fit of alarm that he did not venture to be angry.

"Will you now return to earth, my son, and look after your mundane affairs?" said Silvester.

"I will, but I must first fulfil two vows which I made in the hour of need."

"Fulfil them certainly."

"I go to the grave of my friend Adalbert in Gnesen, and I must visit the funeral vault of Charles the Great in Aachen."

"Do so, but you must at the same time fulfil some commissions which I give you for the journey."

So they parted.

* * * * *

Two years had passed, when, one day in January, Pope Silvester was summoned to Paterno, the little castle on Soracte, where the Roman-German Emperor dwelt, and now lay ill.

When Silvester entered the sick-room, the Emperor sat upright, but looked troubled. "You are ill," said Silvester: "is it the soul or body?"

"I am tired."

"Already, at twenty-two years of age."

"I am despondent."

"You are despondent although you saw the world awake from its nightmare. Consider, ungrateful man, all that these two years have brought, what triumphs for Christ, who really seems to have returned. I will enumerate them: listen! Bohemia has received its Duke, who has eradicated heathenism; Austria has concentrated itself as a Danube-state the heathen Magyar has allowed himself to be baptized, and received the crown from our own hand as Stephen the First; Boleslaw in Poland has also received a crown and an archbishop; the new kingdom of Russia has accepted baptism and Vladimir the Great protects us against the Saracens, who are on the decline, and Seljuks or Turks, who are in the ascendant; Harold of Denmark and Olaf of Sweden have established Christianity in their dominions; so has Olaf Tryggveson in Norway and Iceland, in the Faroe Island, in Shetland and Greenland; and the Dane Sven Tveskgg has secured Britain for Christianity. France is under the pious Robert II, of the new race of the Capets, but also of Saxon descent like you. In Spain, the northern States Leon, Castille, Aragon, Navarre, have at last united, and protect us from the Moors in Cordova. All this in five years, and under the aegis of Rome! Is not all this the return of Christ, and do you understand now what Providence means by the Millennium? Those who are alive at the end of another thousand years will perhaps see the ripe fruits, while we have only seen the blossoms. The world is certainly not a paradise, but it is better than when we had savages in the North and East. And all kings receive the crown and the pallium from Rome. You are a ruler over the nations, my Emperor."

"I? You rule their minds, not I, and I will not rule."

"So I have heard, for you have accepted the rule of a woman."

"Who is that?"

"They say, and you know the report as well as I do, that it is the widow of Crescentius, the beautiful Stephania. Well, that is your own affair, but Solomon says,—'Beware of your enemies, but be wary with your friends.'"

The Emperor looked as though he wished to defend himself, but could not, and so the conversation was at an end.

Some days after, Otto III was dead, poisoned, so ran the report, in some way or other, by the beautiful Stephania.

A year later Silvester II died also.


Christendom had awoken to new life after the great and terrible New Year's Eve of 999. Nearly a hundred more years had passed when a ragged barefooted pilgrim wandered out of the gate of Caesarea, on the shore of the Mediterranean. This was the town from which Paul had sailed for Rome in order to spread Christianity, which had now conquered all Europe, but had not been able to maintain a hold upon its birthplace, the Land of Promise, in which Christ had lived, suffered, and been buried.

The "False Prophet" had been the last possessor of Palestine. But when his kingdom, like all others, fell to pieces, quite a new race had issued from the unknown parts of Central Asia and now the Seljuks ruled in Syria. The last Fatimide Caliphs had been very indifferent in matters of belief, and the renowned Al Asis, who had married a Christian wife and was himself a sceptic, had made his wife's brothers Patriarchs of Jerusalem and Alexandria. Everything was altered since the time when the terrible Al Hakim had persecuted Christians as well as Jews, and destroyed the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. And when the Seljuk Melikscha had at last captured the town, matters looked almost hopeless for the Christians, who still made pilgrimages to the Holy Sepulchre.

The pilgrim we spoke of above pursued his journey in a south-eastern direction, and now on the first day he saw the lovely Plain of Sharon spread out before him like a carpet or rather a sea of flowers—crocuses, narcissi, ranunculi, anemones, and especially the tall white Sharon lilies.

It was the Promised Land indeed! The whole of the morning he waded in flowers; at last he reached a village at the foot of a hill. There were waving corn-crops, climbing vines, flourishing olive and fig trees; well-fed cattle were watered at the spring, cows and goats were milked. The pilgrim, who possessed nothing in the world except his rags, asked for a bowl of milk, but obtained none. He went begging from door to door, but was hunted away. Every time that he received a refusal he seemed to be surprisingly cheerful. The fact was, he had come hither from a distant land in order to be able to realise how his Saviour had suffered, and now he was graciously allowed to experience it on the holy soil itself. He passed through the village, and found another sea of flowers outside it. He bathed his feet in a brook, and felt refreshed. But now at mid-day a wind from the sea arose, and clouds passed over the land. The violent rain beat down the fragile lilylike plants, the wind rooted them up or tore them in two, and collected them in heaps, which rolled along increasing in size as they went, and crushing other flowers in their path.

Towards evening the rain ceased, but the wind continued to blow, and the darkness came. The weary and hungry traveller prepared himself a bed with a heap of flowers which he kept in its place with some stones. After he had hollowed out the heap till it looked like an eagle's nest, he spread another pile of flowers over himself, and went to sleep, pleasantly narcotised by all the sweet scents. For several years he had tasted no wine and never been intoxicated, but this was a good substitute for it. He did not know whether he was asleep or awake; sometimes he felt as though he were rolling away like a wave; sometimes he lay still and listened to a scratching going on in his nest; there was a blowing and a roaring, a murmur in his ears and flashing before his eyes. Finally all was still; he believed he had gone to sleep, for he dreamt.

In his dream he was walking on the Mediterranean Sea; that he found quite natural, but there followed him knights on horseback, troops of armed men, whole races of people. They reached the land, they marched towards the East, and finally saw Jerusalem crowning the heights. Walls, battlements, and towers were crowded with heathen warriors, and the Christian knights halted in order to take counsel. But he, the poor pilgrim, spoke to them, and they listened to him.

"Why do you fear?" he said, "why do you fear these heathen and their walls? Look at me! I take my staff, ascend Mount Zion, strike the gate of David with my staff, and the city opens all her gates!"

He did so—in his dream, and Jerusalem was taken. It was a very simple matter; the knights and the armies honoured him, and he became governor of Jerusalem. When he awoke on the morrow, he got out of his nest, and when he looked round, he found himself before the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem. He asked himself whether the wind had blown him all that long way, or whether he had traversed it in sleep. But his dream had been so vivid, that he found everything natural and simple.

He knocked with his staff at the door. And behold! it really opened, but only by the space of a hand-breadth, and a soldier asked what he wanted.

He wished, he said, to visit the Holy Sepulchre.

He could do so, was the answer, if he paid thirty silver zecchines.

As he had not so much, the gate was again closed.

The pilgrim, however, not to be frightened, struck again with his staff, certain that he would get in. Get in he did, quickly enough, and, after he had been well thrashed, was thrown out again and fell on a rubbish-heap on which dogs hunted for bones. This reception was not encouraging, but for the pilgrim it was exactly what he had expected and wished. He had been beaten in the same city where his Master Christ had been beaten and tortured.

What an honour! What undeserved grace!

But the thirty silver pieces! Why was the price just thirty? Because it was the traitor's reward for betraying the Beloved. He would try to collect them by begging, even if it took him ten years to do so.

He exhorted himself to patience, and went southward into the valley of Hinnom or the valley of Hell, where all the rubbish of the city was thrown. There was filth and an evil smell there, but the pilgrim did not notice it, for he only sought to catch a glimpse of the walls of the Holy City. When he came to the south end of the valley, he really beheld Mount Zion with David's Sepulchre. Then he fell on his knees and praised God in song:

"Lauda Sion Salvatorem Lauda Ducem et pastorem In hymnis et canticis."

Strengthened by prayer, he went on. He knew the topography of the place well, and when he came on a piece of waste ground underneath the Hill of Evil Counsel, he knew that it was Aceldama, or the Field of the Dead, which had been purchased with the traitor's blood-money to bury strangers in. But he had no thoughts of death, for he knew that he would live till he had taken the City. On the other hand, he was hungry. How bitterly he regretted now that he had not accustomed himself in his youth, like other famous eremites, to eat grass. Weary, but not depressed, he sat down on a rubbish heap which seemed quite fresh.

As he sat there, a dog came—a mangy famished creature—and laid his head on the pilgrim's knee.

"I have nothing to give you, poor thing," said the pilgrim, and wiped the dog's eyes with the flaps of its ears, for it looked as though it had wept. But when the dog heard what the pilgrim said, it understood, for animals understood all languages merely by the tone. It then began to rummage in the rubbish heap. And behold! there lay, between two cabbage leaves, a pomegranate and a piece of white bread. The pilgrim, who was accustomed to all kinds of miracles, praised God, and ate. And when he had eaten, he thanked God the Merciful. The dog stood by the whole time, and watched him. "Ungrateful wretch that I am to have forgotten thee!" said the pilgrim; "now I will try my fortune!" He began to dig with his staff, and see! there lay a fresh bone, which he gave to the dog, his benefactor. They became friends, and kept together. They now went round the southern end of the city, and turned northward towards the Kedron. They followed the brook, having the city wall on their left and the Mount of Olives on their right. From the bottom of the valley he saw the place where the Temple had been, but no Temple was there now—only the dome of the Muhammedan mosque. Of the Holy Sepulchre there was nothing visible, for it lay within the City and was inconspicuous. He came to Gethsemane, where Christ had suffered, and he climbed the Mount of Olives, from whence he could look over Jerusalem. He did so, and wept. After he had paid his devotions in the ruins of the Church of the Resurrection, he went on northwards round the city, and came again to the Jaffa Gate, where he sat down, firmly resolved to wait till some Christian pilgrims came, for they came hither from all countries of the world. He wanted to beg from them till he had collected the thirty zecchines. So he sat through the first night without anybody coming. Towards morning the door was opened for the peasants who brought in provisions, and the bold idea occurred to him of trying to get in with them, but he was immediately detected and thrashed again. This, however, did not frighten him; he repeated the attempt every morning, though unsuccessfully. He slept on the ground, and ate from the rubbish heaps; he was jeered at by the children, beaten by the adults, and took everything quietly, convinced that some day his dream would be fulfilled. For thirty days he sat at the gate and received no money, but on the thirty-first he got up in order to take some exercise. He wandered down into the Valley of Hinnom, and his dog "Trusty" ran in front of him.

After he had walked for a while he noticed that his companion had vanished. When he called him, the dog answered by barking. The pilgrim followed the sound, and presently he saw the dog standing by a hole in the wall. There was an entrance, and, following his guide, he came without hindrance right into the town. The first thing he did was to visit the Holy Sepulchre, but it was closed. Then he remembered that there was a Patriarch of Jerusalem, who in some degree acted as a protector of the Christians. But where did he live? "Perhaps you know," he said to the dog.

The dog understood, pricked up his ears, and ran through a labyrinth of crooked streets till he stood at a little door, with a bell-cord hanging by it. The pilgrim pulled it, the door opened, and an old white-bearded man came out, reached the new-comer his hand, led him like a friend into the house, and bade him sit down. "I have waited long for you, Peter," he said. "Yes, I recognise you, for I have seen you for a year in my dreams, but I know not who you are, and whence you come. Tell me your history."

"My history! I am from Amiens in France. I am now called Peter; was formerly a soldier, followed William the Conqueror to Hastings, and took part in the invasion of England. I returned to my own country, and became a school teacher. I could, however, obtain no peace in my soul, but entered a convent. In the solitude of my cell, I reflected on what I heard from my brother monks in the chapter. It was the time when Henry IV began the conflict with Gregory VII. The Pope was right, for Europe ought to be governed from Rome, and Gregory, who wished to set up Christ's Kingdom in spirit and in truth, had united all Christian States together; he imposed tribute from Scandinavia to the Pillars of Hercules. The Emperor was a schismatic, and worked only in the interests of Germany. The matter ended at Canossa, as you know, when the Emperor had to kiss the Pope's foot. And that was right at that time, for the spiritual head is higher than the worldly one. But Canossa was not the end. Gregory, the mighty champion of the Lord, fell into the same sin as David. In the first place, he summoned the Norman Guiscard from Sicily to his aid. Guiscard came with a horde of Turks and heathen, pillaged Rome, and set it on fire. That was shameful of the Pope, who now fled with Guiscard to Salerno—which was his Canossa. But he was also still cruel enough to stir up Henry's sons against their father. Then the great Gregory died in banishment, and Rome was extinct. Rome is no more, but Jerusalem shall be. The chief city of Christendom shall be born again, and rise from its ruins."

The Patriarch had listened, and, though he smiled at first, he was finally serious. "Your faith is great, my son," he said. "But who will take the lead? Who will collect the people?"

"I," answered the Hermit—"I will open the Holy Sepulchre; I will drive out the heathen, and I will have the first Christian King of Jerusalem crowned!"

"With two empty hands?"

"With my rock-like faith."

There was silence.

"Say something, Patriarch!" resumed Peter. "Try to damp my courage if you can; confront me with objections, and rob me of confidence. You cannot! There, I will go now to Rome and speak with Urban II. But give me a letter to confirm my statements when I describe the behaviour of the heathen in the city of Christ. I ask nothing else of you; the rest I will do myself."

"Whoever you are, you shall have the letter, but rest first for a few days."

"No! I have gone three hundred and fifty miles and rested for thirty days. Give me something to eat in the kitchen, while you write the letter, and I start before sunset. When I come again, I shall not be alone, but my name will be Legion. And you will see the accomplishment of my words and your dreams, for God wills it."

* * * * *

The Hermit Peter walked a hundred and fifty miles to Piacenza, and there met Pope Urban II, who was holding a council. He received no encouragement, for the idea of a crusade was no novelty. Gregory VII had collected fifty thousand men for that purpose, but could not carry out his plan. With a true Christian spirit, the Hermit took this failure as a warning to redouble his efforts.

He went to France, preached and stirred up the people, with the result that all France was aflame with crusading fervour when Urban II came to Clermont to hold another council. Then the Crusade was determined on. Peter could not wait, but, together with Walter Pexejo and Walter von Habenichts, he collected a host which finally reached forty thousand in number, including old men, women, and children. There were no soldiers however, but only adventurers who wanted to run away, slaves who sought freedom, and malcontents who wished for change.

They followed the Rhine towards its source, and then the Danube, along whose banks the great road to the East ran. As they approached the frontier of Hungary their number had increased to sixty thousand. The King of Hungary, Kolowan, was not exactly hospitable, and not a person whom it was safe to jest with. The Crusaders received a hint that they were not very welcome, and therefore sent their only mounted men,—exactly six in number—as ambassadors to the King.

Kolowan was in Pesth, with a well-equipped army, and his country was enjoying the blessings of peace, when the envoys arrived. "What do you want?" he asked.

"We seek a free passage to Constantinople."

"How many of you are there?"

"Exactly sixty thousand."

"Although I feel honoured by the visit, I cannot entertain grasshoppers. I have heard of your wild enterprise; I know that you have no provisions with you, and that you beg and steal. Return therefore to your country, or I will treat you as enemies!"

The envoys rode back with the King's answer. But Peter would not turn back.

"Forward! forward! Crusaders and Christians!" he cried, and the whole host crossed the frontier. The Hermit rode on an ass at the head of them, and knew not what went on behind him—robbery, drunkenness, and licence.

The King learned what had happened, and rode out with all his knights. When he saw this mass of ragged rascals, drunk and savage, but all wearing the red cross, he fell in a rage and attacked them. Those who did not fly were trampled underfoot and sabred down so mercilessly, that, out of the sixty thousand, only three thousand reached Constantinople, among whom was the Hermit.

"We have sown our blood," he said; "our successors will reap."

The Emperor of Constantinople had certainly for a long time waited for help from the West against the wild Seljuks, but he had expected armed men. When he now received a rabble of three thousand beggars and vagabonds, many of them wounded, he resolved to get rid of these guests as honourably as possible. He set them in flat-bottomed boats, and shipped them across to Asia Minor. "Thence you have a straight road to Jerusalem," he said. But he did not say that the Seljuks were encamped on the opposite coast. Accordingly, the rest of them were massacred by the wild hordes near Nicasa—in the same town in which, during the early days of Christianity, so many fateful debates had taken place.

But the Hermit escaped, and returned to Constantinople, where he waited for the great army of the Crusaders. He waited a whole year, just as confident of victory and undismayed as before.

* * * * *

In the little town Tiberias, on the shore of the Lake of Gennesareth sat the old Jew Eleazar, with his family, prepared to celebrate the Passover, or the Exodus from Egypt. It was the tenth day of the month Nisan of the year 1098. The lake shone clear, and its banks were green; the oleanders were in blossom, the lilies had sprung up in the pleasant season when the earth rejoices.

It was evening; all members of the family were dressed as though for a journey, with shoes on their feet and staves in their hands. They stood round the covered table on which the roasted lamb smoked in a dish surrounded by bitter lettuce. The ancestral wine-cup was filled with wine, and white unleavened bread laid on a plate close by.

After the head of the family had washed his hands, he blessed the gifts of God, drank some wine, returned thanks, and invited the others to drink. Then he took some of the bitter herbs, and ate and gave to the others. Then he read from the book of Moses a passage concerning the significance of the feast. After that, the second cup of wine was served, and the youngest son of the house stepped forward and asked, according to the sacred custom, "What is the meaning of this feast?"

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse