The voice of the speaker changed. Something was occurring to stop the story. Sergius had succumbed to interest in it; he was listening with excited sense, yet kept his semblance of sleep.
"Hold!" the narrator repeated, in an emphatic undertone. "See what there is in knowing to choose faithful allies! My watchman was right. She comes—she is here!"
"Who is here?"
"She—the daughter of the old Indian. In the sedan to my left—look!"
Sergius, catching the reply, longed to take the direction to himself, and look, for he was comprehending vaguely. A blindfolded man can understand quite well, if he is first informed of the business in progress, or if it be something with which he is familiar; imagination seems then to take the place of eyes. A detective, having overheard the conversation between the two men, had not required sight of them; but the young monk was too recently from the cloisters of Bielo-Osero to be quick in the discernment of villanies. He knew the world abounded in crime, but he had never dealt with it personally; as yet it was a destroying wolf howling in the distance. He yearned to see if what he dimly surmised were true—if the object at the moment so attractive to his dangerous neighbors were indeed the daughter of the strange Indian he had met at the White Castle. His recollection of her was wonderfully distinct. Her face and demeanor when he assisted her from the boat had often reverted to his thought. They spoke to him so plainly of simplicity and dependence, and she seemed so pure and beautiful! And making the acknowledgment to himself, his heart took to beating quick and drum-like. He heard the shuffle and slide of the chairmen going; when they ceased a new and strange feeling came and possessed itself of his spirit, and led it out after her. Still he managed to keep his head upon his arm.
"By the saintly patron of thy father's Brotherhood, she is more than lovely! I am almost persuaded."
"Ah, I am not so mad as I was!" the conspirator replied, laughing; then he changed to seriousness, and added, like one speaking between clinched teeth—"I am resolved to go on. I will have her—come what may, I will have her! I am neither a coward nor a bungler. Thou mayst stay behind, but I have gone too far to retreat. Let us follow, and see her again—my pretty Princess!"
Perception was breaking in on Sergius. He scarcely breathed.
"Well?" was the answer.
"You were saying that a boat was launched in the cistern. Then what?"
"Of discovery? Oh, yes—the very point of my argument! A raft was found moored between four of the great pillars in the cistern, and there was a structure on it with furnished rooms. A small boat was used for going and coming."
"Come—or we will lose the sight of her."
"But what else?"
"Hooks, such as fishermen use in hunting lobsters were brought, and by dragging and fishing the missing women were brought to light—that is, their bones were brought to light. More I will tell as we go. I will not stay longer."
Sergius heard them depart, and presently he raised his head. His blood was cold with horror. He was having the awful revelation which sooner or later bursts upon every man who pursues a walk far in life.
A BYZANTINE GENTLEMAN OF THE PERIOD
Sergius kept his seat on the bench; but the charm of the glorious prospect spread out before it was gone.
Two points were swimming in his consciousness, like motes in a mist: first, there was a conspiracy afoot; next, the conspiracy was against the daughter of the Prince of India.
When at the door of the old Lavra upon the snow-bound shore of the White Lake, he bade Father Hilarion farewell and received his blessing, and the commission of an Evangel, the idea furthest from him was to signalize his arrival in Constantinople by dropping first thing into love. And to be just, the idea was now as distant from him as ever; yet he had a vision of the child-faced girl he met on the landing at the White Castle in the hands of enemies, and to almost any other person the shrinking it occasioned would have been strange, if not suspicious. His most definite feeling was that something ought to be done in her behalf.
Besides this the young monk had another incentive to action. In the colloquy overheard by him the chief speaker described himself a son of the Hegumen of the St. James'. The St. James'! His own Brotherhood! His own Hegumen! Could a wicked son have been born to that excellent man? Much easier to disbelieve the conspirator; still there were traditions of the appearance of monsters permitted for reasons clear at least to Providence. This might be an instance of the kind. Doubtless the creature carried on its countenance or person evidences of a miracle of evil. In any event there could be no harm in looking at him.
Sergius accordingly arose, and set out in pursuit of the conspirators. Could he overtake the sedan, they were quite certain to be in the vicinity, and he doubted not discovering them.
The steps of the sedan-carriers, peculiarly quick and sliding, seemed in passing the bench to have been going northwardly toward Point Demetrius. Thither he first betook himself.
In the distance, over the heads of persons going and coming, he shortly beheld the top of a chair in motion, and he followed it rapidly, fearing its occupant might quit the wall by the stairs near the stables of the Bucoleon. But when it was borne past that descent he went more leisurely, knowing it must meet him on the return.
Without making the Point, however, the chair was put about toward him. Unable to discover any one so much as suggestive of the plotters, and fearing a mistake, he peered into the front window of the painted box. A woman past the noon of life gave him back in no amiable mood the stare with which he saluted her.
There was but one explanation: he should have gone down the wall southwardly. What was to be done? Give up the chase? No, that would be to desert his little friend. And besides he had not put himself within hearing of the design against her—it was a doing of Providence. He started back on his trace.
The error but deepened his solicitude. What if the victim was then being hurried away?
At the head of the stairway by the stables he paused; as it was deserted, he continued on almost running—on past the cracked bench—past the Cleft Gate. Now, in front, he beheld the towers of the imperial residence bearing the name Julian, and he was upbraiding himself for indecision, and loading his conscience with whatever grief might happen the poor girl, when he beheld a sedan coming toward him. It was very ornate, and in the distance shone with burnishments—it was the chair—hers. By it, on the right hand, strode the gigantic negro who had so astonished him at the White Castle. He drew a long breath, and stopped. They would be bold who in daylight assailed that king of men!
And he was taking note of the fellow's barbaric finery, the solemn stateliness of his air, and the superb indifference he manifested to the stare of passers-by, when a man approached the chair on the opposite side. The curtain of the front window was raised, and through it, Sergius observed the inmate draw hastily away from the stranger, and drop a veil over her face.
Here was one of the parties for whom he was looking. Where was the other? Then the man by the left window looked back over his shoulder as if speaking, and out of the train of persons following the sedan, one stepped briskly forward, joined the intruder, and walked with him long enough to be spoken to, and reply briefly; after which he fell back and disappeared. This answered the inquiry.
Assured now of one of the conspirators in sight, the monk resolved to await the coming up. Through the front window of the carriage, which was truly a marvel of polish and glitter, the girl might recognize him; perhaps she would speak; or possibly the negro might recall him; in either event he would have an excuse for intervention.
Meantime, calmly as he could—for he was young, and warm blooded, and in all respects a good instrument to be carried away by righteous indignation—he took careful note of the stranger, who kept his place as if by warrant, occasionally addressing the shrinking maiden.
Sergius was now more curious than angry; and he cared less to know who the conspirator was than how he looked. His surprise may be imagined when, the subject of investigation having approached near enough to be perfectly observed, instead of a monster marked, like Cain, he appeared a graceful, though undersized person, with an agreeable countenance. The most unfavorable criticism he provoked was the loudness—if the word can be excused—of his dress.
A bright red cloak, hanging in ample folds from an exaggerated buckle of purple enamel on his left shoulder, draped his left side; falling open on the right, it was caught by another buckle just outside the right knee. The arrangement loosed the right arm, but was a serious hamper to walking, and made it inconvenient to get out the rapier, the handle of which was protrusively suggested through the cloak. A tunic of bright orange color, short in sleeve and skirt, covered his body. Where undraped, tight-fitting hose terminating in red shoes, flashed their elongated black and yellow stripes with stunning effect. A red cap, pointed at top, and rolled up behind, but with a long visor-like peak shading the eyes, and a white heron feather slanted in the band, brought the head into negligent harmony with the rest of the costume. The throat and left arm were bare, the latter from halfway above the elbow.
This was the monk's first view of a Byzantine gentleman of the period abroad in full dress to dazzle such of the gentler sex as he might chance to meet.
If Sergius' anticipation had been fulfilled; if, in place of the elegant, rakish-looking chevalier in florid garb, he had been confronted by an individual awry in body or hideous in feature, he would not have been confused, or stood repeating to himself, "My God, can this be a son of the Hegumen?"
That one so holy could have offspring so vicious stupefied him. The young man's sins would find him out—thus it was written—and then, what humiliation, what shame, what misery for the poor father!
Speeding his sympathy thus in advance, Sergius waited until the foremost of the sedan carriers gave him the customary cry of warning. As he stepped aside, two things occurred. The occupant of the box lifted her veil and held out a hand to him. He had barely time to observe the gesture and the countenance more childlike because of the distress it was showing, when the negro appeared on the left side of the carriage. Staying a moment to swing the javelin with which he was armed across the top of the buckler at his back, he leaped forward with the cry of an animal, and caught the gallant, one hand at the shoulder, the other at the knee. The cry and the seizure were parts of the same act. Resistance had been useless had there been no surprise. The Greek had the briefest instant to see the assailant—an instant to look up into the face blacker of the transport of rage back of it, and to cry for help. The mighty hands raised him bodily, and bore him swiftly toward the sea-front of the wall.
There were spectators near by; amongst them some men; but they were held fast by terror. No one moved but Sergius. Having seen the provocation, he alone comprehended the punishment intended.
The few steps to the wall were taken almost on the run. There, in keeping with his savage nature, the negro wished to see his victim fall, but a puff of wind blew the red cloak over his eyes, and he stopped to shake it aside. The Greek in the interval seeing the jagged rocks below, and the waves rolling in and churning themselves into foam, caught at his enemy's head, and the teeth of the gold-gilt iron crown cut his palms, bringing the blood. He writhed, and into Nilo's ears—pitiless if they had not been dead—poured screams for mercy. Then Sergius reached out, and caught him.
Nilo made no resistance. When he could free his eyes from the cloak he looked at the rescuer, who, unaware of his infirmity, was imploring him:
"As thou lovest God, and hopest mercy for thyself, do no murder!"
Now, if not so powerful as Nilo, Sergius was quite as tall; and while they stood looking at each other, their faces a little apart, the contrast between them was many sided. And one might have seen the ferocity of the black visage change first with pleased wonder; then brighten with recognition.
The Byzantine gained his feet quickly, and in his turn taken with a murderous impulse, drew his sword. Nilo, however, was quickest; the point of his javelin was magically promotive of Sergius' renewed efforts to terminate the affair. A great many persons were now present. To bring a multitude in hot assemblage, strife is generally more potential than peace, assume what voice the latter may. These rallied to Sergius' assistance; one brought the defeated youth his hat, fallen in the struggle; others helped him rearrange his dress; and congratulating him that he was alive, they took him in their midst, and carried him away. To have drawn upon such a giant! What a brave spirit the lad must possess!
It pleased Sergius to think he had saved the Byzantine. His next duty was to go to the relief of the little Princess. A dull fancy would have taught how trying the situation must have been to her; but with him the case was of a quick understanding quickened by solicitude. Taking Nilo with him, he made haste to the sedan.
If we pause here, venturing on the briefest break in the narrative, it is for the reader's sake exclusively. He will be sure to see how fair the conditions are for a romantic passage between Lael and Sergius, and we fear lest he fly his imagination too high. It is true the period was still roseate with knighterrantry; men wore armor, and did battle behind shields; women were objects of devotion; conversation between lovers was in the style of high-flown courtesy, chary on one side, energized on the other by calls on the Saints to witness vows and declarations which no Saint, however dubious his reputation, could have listened to, much less excused; yet it were not well to overlook one or two qualifications. The usages referred to were by no means prevalent amongst Christians in the East; in Constantinople they had no footing at all. The two Comneni, Isaac and Alexis, approached more nearly the Western ideal of Chivalry than any of the Byzantine warriors; if not the only genuine Knights of Byzantium, they were certainly the last of them; yet even they stood aghast at the fantastic manners of the Frankish armigerents who camped before their gates en route to the Holy Land. As a consequence, the language of ordinary address and intercourse amongst natives in the Orient was simple and less discolored by what may be called pious profanity. Their discourse was often dull and prolix, but never a composite of sacrilege and exaggeration. Only in their writings were they pedantic. From this the reader can anticipate somewhat of the meeting between Sergius and Lael. It is to be borne in mind additionally that they were both young; she a child in years; he a child in lack of worldly experience. Children cannot be other than natural.
Approaching the sedan anxiously, he found the occupant pale and faint. Nilo being close at his side, she saw them both in the same glance, and reached her hand impulsively through the window. It was a question to which the member was offered. Sergius hesitated. Then she brought her face up unveiled.
"I know you, I know you," she said, to Sergius. "Oh, I am so glad you are come! I was so scared—so scared—I will never go from home again. You will stay with me—say you will—it will be so kind of you.... I did not want Nilo to kill the man. I only wanted him driven off and made let me alone. He has followed and persecuted me day after day, often as I came out. I could not set foot in the street without his appearing. My father would have me bring Nilo along. He did not kill him, did he?"
The hand remained held out during the speech, as if asking to be taken. Meanwhile the words flowed like a torrent. The eyes were full of beseechment, and irresistibly lovely. If her speech was innocent, so was her appearance; and just as innocently, he took the hand, and held it while answering:
"He was not hurt. Friends have taken him away. Do not be afraid."
"You saved him. I saw you—my heart was standing still in my throat. Oh, I am glad he is safe! I am no longer afraid. My father will be grateful; and he is generous—he loves me nearly as much as I love him. I will go home now. Is not that best for me?"
Sergius had grown the tall man he was without having been so entreated—nay, without an adventure in the least akin to this. The hand lay in his folded lightly. He remembered once a dove flew into his cell. The window was so small it no doubt suggested to the poor creature a door to a nesting place. He remembered how he thought it a messenger from the Heaven which he never gave over thinking of and longing for, and he wanted to keep it, for afterwhile he was sure it would find a way to tell him wherewith it was charged. And he took the gentle stray in his hand, and nursed it with exceeding tenderness. There are times when it seems such a blessing that memories lie shallow and easy to stir; and now he recalled how the winged nuncio felt like the hand he was holding—it was almost as soft, and had the same magnetism of life—ay, and the same scarce perceptible tremble. To be sure it was merely for the bird's sake he kept hold of the hand, while he answered:
"Yes, I think it best, and I will go with you to your father's door."
To the carriers he said: "You will quit the wall at the grand stairs. The Princess wishes to be taken home."
The sensation of manliness incident to caring for the weak was refreshingly delightful. While the chair was passing he took place at the window. The fingers of the little hand still rested on the silken lining, like pinkish pearls. He beheld them longingly, but a restraint fell upon him. The pinkish pearls became sacred. He would have had them covered from the dust which the whisking breezes now blew up. The breezes were insolent. The sun, sinking in gold over the Marmora, ought to temper the rays it let fall on them. Long as the orb had shone, how curious that it never acquired art enough to know the things which too much of its splendor might spoil. Then too he desired to speak with Lael—to ask if she was any longer afraid—he could not. Where had his courage gone? When he caught the young Greek from Nilo, the shortest while ago, he was wholly unconscious of timidity. The change was wonderful. Nor was the awkwardness beginning to hamper his hands and feet less incomprehensible. And why the embarrassment when people paused to observe him?
Thus the party pursued on until the descent from the wall; he on the right side of the chair, and Nilo on the left. Down in the garden where they were following a walk across the terrace toward Sta. Sophia, Lael put her face to the window, and spoke to him. His eagerness lest a word were lost was remarkable. He did not mind the stooping—and from his height that was a great deal—nor care much if it subjected him to remark.
"Have you seen the Princess lately—she who lives at Therapia?" Lael asked.
"Oh, yes," he answered. "She is my little mother. I go up there often. She advises me in everything."
"It must be sweet to have such a mother," Lael said, with a smile.
"It is sweet," he returned.
"And how lovely she is, and brave and assuring," Lael added. "Why, I forgot when with her to be afraid. I forgot we were in the hands of those dreadful Turks. I kept thinking of her, and not of myself."
Sergius waited for what more she had to say.
"This afternoon a messenger came from her to my father, asking him to let me visit her."
The heart of the monk gave a jump of pleasure.
"And you will go?"
A little older and wiser, and she would have detected a certain urgency there was in the tone with which he directed the inquiry.
"I cannot say yet. I have not seen my father since the invitation was received; he has been with the Emperor; but I know how greatly he admires the Princess. I think he will consent; if so, I will go up to Therapia to-morrow."
Sergius, silently resolving to betake himself thither early next morning, replied with enthusiasm: "Have you seen the garden behind her palace?"
"Well, of course I do not know what Paradise is, but if it be according to my fancy, I should believe that garden is a piece of it."
"Oh, I know I shall be pleased with the Princess, her garden—with everything hers."
Thereupon Lael settled back in her chair, and nothing more was said till the sedan halted in front of the Prince's door. Appearing at the window there, she extended a hand to her escort. The pinkish pearls did not seem so far away as before, and they were now offered directly. He could not resist taking them.
"I want you to know how very, very grateful I am to you," she said, allowing the hand to stay in his. "My father will speak to you about the day's adventure. He will make the opportunity and early.—But—but"—
She hesitated, and a blush overspread her face.
"But what?" he said, encouragingly.
"I do not know your name, or where you reside."
"Sergius is my name."
"Yes. And being a monk, I have a cell in the Monastery of St. James of Manganese. I belong to that Brotherhood, and humbly pray God to keep me in good standing. Now having told you who I am, may I ask"—
He failed to finish the sentence. Happily she divined his wish.
"Oh," she said, "I am called Gul-Bahar by those who love me dearest, though my real name is Lael."
"By which am I to call you?"
"Good-by," she continued, passing his question, and the look of doubt which accompanied it. "Good-by—the Princess will send for me to-morrow."
When the chair was borne into the house, it seemed to Sergius the sun had rushed suddenly down, leaving a twilight over the sky. He turned homeward with more worldly matter to think of than ever before. For the first time in his life the cloister whither he was wending seemed lonesome and uncomfortable. He was accustomed to imagine it lighted and warmed by a presence out of Heaven—that presence was in danger of supersession. Occasionally, however, the girlish Princess whom he was thus taking home with him gave place to wonder if the Greek he had saved from Nilo could be a son of the saintly Hegumen; and the reflection often as it returned brought a misgiving with it; for he saw to what intrigues he might be subjected, if the claim were true, and the claimant malicious in disposition. When at last he fell asleep on his pillow of straw the vision which tarried with him was of walking with Gul-Bahar in the garden behind the Homeric palace at Therapia, and it was exceedingly pleasant.
A BYZANTINE HERETIC
While the venerable Chapel on the way up the heights of Blacherne was surrounded by the host of kneeling monastics, and the murmur of their prayers swept it round about like the sound of moaning breezes, a messenger found the Hegumen of the St. James' with the compliments of the Basileus, and a request that he come forward to a place in front of the door of the holy house. The good man obeyed; so the night long, maugre his age and infirmities, he stayed there stooped and bent, invoking blessings upon the Emperor and Empire; for he loved them both; and by his side Sergius lingered dutifully torch in hand. Twelve hours before he had engaged in the service worshipfully as his superior, nor would his thoughts have once flown from the Mystery enacting; but now—alas, for the inconstancy of youth!—now there were intervals when his mind wandered. The round white face of the Princess came again and again looking at him plainly as when in the window of the sedan on the promenade between the Bucoleon and the sea. He tried to shut it out; but often as he opened the book of prayers which he carried in common with his brethren, trying to read them away; often as he shook the torch thinking to hide them in the resinous smoke, the pretty, melting, importunate eyes reappeared, their fascination renewed and unavoidable. They seemed actually to take his efforts to get away for encouragement to return. Never on any holy occasion had he been so negligent—never had negligence on his part been so obstinate and nearly like sin.
Fortunately the night came to an end. A timid thing when first it peeped over the hills of Scutari, the day emboldened, and at length filled the East, and left of the torches alive on the opposing face of Blacherne only the sticks, the cups, and the streaming smoke. Then the great host stirred, arose, and in a time incredibly brief, silently gave itself back to the city; while the Basileus issued from his solitary vigils in the Chapel, and, in a chastened spirit doubtless, sought his couch in one of the gilded interiors up somewhere under the Tower of Isaac.
The Hegumen of the St. James', overcome by the unwonted draughts upon his scanty store of strength, not to mention the exhaustion of spirit he had undergone, was carried home in a chair. Sergius was faithful throughout. At the gate of the monastery he asked the elder's blessing.
"Depart not, my son; stay with me a little longer. Thy presence is comforting to me."
The adjuration prevailed. Truth was, Sergius wished to set out for Therapia; but banishing the face of the little Princess once more, he helped the holy man out of the chair, through the dark-stained gate, down along the passages, to his apartment, bare and penitential as that of the humblest neophyte of the Brotherhood. Having divested the superior of his robes, and, gently as he could, assisted him to lay his spent body on the narrow cot serving for couch, he then received the blessing.
"Thou art a good son, Sergius," the Hegumen said, with some cheer. "Thou dost strengthen me. I feel thou art wholly given up to the Master and His religion—nay, so dost thou look like the Master that when thou art by I fancy it is He caring for me. Thou art at liberty now. I give thee the blessing."
Sergius knelt, received the trembling hands on his bowed head, and kissed them with undissembled veneration.
"Father," he said, "I beg permission to be gone a few days."
"Thou knowest I regard the Princess Irene as my little mother. I wish to go and see her."
The Hegumen averted his eyes, and by the twitching of the fingers clasped upon his breast exposed a trouble at work in the depths of his mind.
"My son," he at length said, "I knew the father of the Princess Irene, and was his sympathizer. I led the whole Brotherhood in the final demand for his liberation from prison. When he was delivered, I rejoiced with a satisfied soul, and took credit for a large part of the good done him and his. It is not to magnify myself, or unduly publish my influence that the occurrence is recalled, but to show you how unnatural it would be were I unfriendly to his only child. So if now I say anything in the least doubtful of her, set it down to conscience, and a sense of duty to you whom I have received into the fraternity as one sent me specially by God.... The life the Princess leads and her manners are outside the sanctions of society. There is no positive wrong in a woman of her degree going about in public places unveiled, and it must be admitted she does it most modestly; yet the example is pernicious in its effect upon women who are without the high qualities which distinguish her; at the same time the habit, even as she illustrates it, wears an appearance of defiant boldness, making her a subject of indelicate remark—making her, in brief, a topic for discussion. The objection, I grant, is light, being at worst an offence against taste and custom; much more serious is her persistence in keeping up the establishment at Therapia. A husband might furnish her an excuse; but the Turk is too near a neighbor—or rather she, a single woman widely renowned for beauty, is too tempting to the brutalized unbelievers infesting the other shore of the Bosphorus. Feminine timidity is always becoming; especially is it so when honor is more concerned than life or liberty. Unmarried and unprotected, her place is in a holy house on the Islands, or here in the city, where, aside from personal safety, she can have the benefit of holy offices. Now rumor is free to accuse her of this and that, which charity in multitude and without stint is an insufficient mantle to save her from. They say she prefers guilty freedom to marriage; but no one, himself of account, believes it—the constitution of her household forbids the taint. They say she avails herself of seclusion to indulge uncanonized worship. In plain terms, my son, it is said she is a heretic."
Sergius started and threw up his hands. Not that he was surprised at the charge, for the Princess herself had repeatedly admitted it was in the air against her; but coming from the venerated chief of his Brotherhood, the statement, though a hearsay, sounded so dreadfully he was altogether unprepared for it. Knowing the consequences of heresy, he was also alarmed for her, and came near betraying himself. How interesting it would be to learn precisely and from the excellent authority before him, in what the heresy of the Princess consisted. If there was criminality in her faith, what was to be said of his own?
"Father," he remarked, calmly as possible, "I mind not the other sayings, the reports which go to the Princess' honor—they are the tarnishments which malice is always blowing on things white because they are white—but if it be not too trying to your strength, tell me more. Wherein is she a heretic?"
Again, the gaunt fingers of the Hegumen worked nervously, while his eyes averted themselves.
"How can I satisfy your laudable question, my son, and be brief?" and with the words he brought his look back, resting it on the young man's face. "Give attention, however, and I will try.... I take it you know the Creed is the test of orthodoxy, and"—he paused and searched the eyes above his wistfully—"and that it has your unfaltering belief. You know its history, I am sure—at least you know it had issue from the Council of Nicaea over which Constantine, the greatest of ail Emperors, condescended to preside in person. Never was proceeding more perfect; its perfection proved the Divine Mind in its composition; yet, sad to say, the centuries since the august Council have been fruitful of disputes more or less related to those blessed canons, and sadder still, some of the disputes continue to this day. Would to God there was no more to be said of them!"
The good man covered his face with his hands, like one who would shut out a disagreeable sight. "But it is well to inform you, my son, of the questions whose agitation has at last brought the Church down till only Heaven can save it from rupture and ruin. Oh, that I should live to make the acknowledgment—I who in my youth thought it founded on a rock eternal as Nature itself!... A plain presentation of the subject in contention may help you to a more lively understanding of the gravity and untimeliness of the Princess' departure.... First, let me ask if you know our parties by name. Verily I came near calling them factions, and that I would not willingly, since it is an opprobrious term, resort to which would be denunciatory of myself—I being one of them."
"I have heard of a Roman party and of a Greek party; but further, I am so recently come to Constantinople, it would be safer did I take information of you."
"A prudent answer, by our most excellent and holy patron!" exclaimed the Hegumen, his countenance relaxing into the semblance of a smile. "Be always as wise, and the St. James' will bless themselves that thou wert brought to us.... Attend now. The parties are Greek and Roman; though most frequently its enemies speak of the latter as azymites, which you will understand is but a nickname. I am a Romanist; the Brotherhood is all Roman; and we mind not when Scholarius, and his arch-supporter, Duke Notaras, howl azymite at us. A disputant never takes to contemptuous speeches except when he is worsted in the argument."
The moderation of the Hegumen had been thus far singularly becoming and impressive; now a fierce light gleamed in his eyes, and he cried, with a spasmodic clutch of the hands: "We are not of the forsworn! The curse of the perjured is not on our souls!"
The intensity of his superior astonished Sergius; yet he was shrewd enough to see and appreciate the disclosures of the outburst; and from that moment he was possessed of a feeling that the quarrel between the parties was hopelessly past settlement. If the man before him, worn with years, and actually laboring for the breath of life, could be so moved by contempt for the enemy, what of his co-partisans? Age is ordinarily a tamer of the passions. Here was an instance in which much contention long continued had counteracted the benign effect. As a teacher and example, how unlike this Hegumen was to Hilarion. The young man's heart warmed with a sudden yearning for the exile of the dear old Lavra whose unfailing sweetness of soul could keep the frigid wilderness upon the White Lake in summer purple the year round. Never did love of man for man look so lovely; never did it seem so comprehensive and all sufficient! The nearest passion opposition could excite in that pure and chastened nature was pity. But here! Quick as the reflection came, it was shut out. There was more to be learned. God help the heretic in the hands of this judge at this time! And with the mental exclamation Sergius waited, his interest in the definition of heresy sharpened by personal concern.
"There are five questions dividing the two parties," the Hegumen continued, when the paroxysm of hate was passed. "Listen and I will give them to you in naked form, trusting time for an opportunity to deal with them at large.... First then the Procession of the Holy Ghost. That is, does the Holy Ghost proceed from the Son, or from the Father and the Son? The Greeks say from the Son; the Romans say the Father and the Son being One, the Procession must needs be from both of them conjunctively.... Next the Nicene Creed, as originally published, did undoubtedly make the Holy Ghost proceed from the Father alone. The intent was to defend the unity of the Godhead. Subsequently the Latins, designing to cast the assertion of the identity of the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son in a form which they thought more explicit, planted in the body of the Creed the word filioque, meaning from the Son. This the Greeks declare an unwarranted addition. The Latins, on their part, deny it an addition in any proper sense; they say it is but an explanation of the principle proclaimed, and in justification trace the usage from the Fathers, Greek and Latin, and from Councils subsequent to the Nicene.... When we consider to what depths of wrangle the two themes have carried the children of God who should be brethren united in love, knowing rivalry only in zeal for the welfare of the Church, that other subjects should creep in to help widen the already dangerous breach has an appearance like a judgment of God; yet it would be dealing unfairly with you, my son, to deny the pendency of three others in particular. Of these we have first, Shall the bread in the Eucharist be leavened or unleavened? About six hundred years ago the Latins began the use of unleavened bread. The Greeks protested against the innovation, and through the centuries arguments have been bandied to and fro in good-natured freedom; but lately, within fifty years, the debate has degenerated into quarrel, and now—ah, in what terms suitable to a God-fearing servant can I speak of the temper signalizing the discussion now? Let it pass, let it pass!... We have next a schism respecting Purgatory. The Greeks deny the existence of such a state, saying there are but two places awaiting the soul after death—Heaven and Hell."
Again the Hegumen paused, arrested, as it were, by a return of vindictive passion.
"Oh, the schismatics!" he exclaimed. "Not to see in the Latin idea of a third place a mercy of God unto them especially! If only the righteous are admitted to the All Holy Father immediately upon the final separation of body and spirit; if there is no intermediate state for the purgation of such of the baptized as die sodden in their sins, what shall become of them?"
Sergius shuddered, but held his peace.
"Yet another point," the superior continued, ere the ruffle in his voice subsided—"another of which the wranglers have made the most; for as you know, my son, the Greeks, thinking themselves teachers of all things intellectual, philosophy, science, poetry, art, and especially religion, and that at a period when the Latins were in the nakedness of barbarism, are filled with pride, like empty bottles with air; and because in the light of history their pride is not unreasonable, they drop the more readily into the designs of the conspirators against the Unity of the Church—I speak now of the Primacy. As if power and final judgment were things for distribution amongst a number of equals! As if one body were better of a hundred heads! Who does not know that two wills equally authorized mean the absence of all will! Of the foundations of God Chaos alone is unorganized; and to such likeness Scholarius would reduce Christendom! God forbid! Say so, my son—let me hear you repeat it after me—God forbid:"
With an unction scarcely less fervid than his chief's, Sergius echoed the exclamation; whereupon the elder looked at him, and said, with a flush on his face, "I fear I have given rein too freely to disgust and abhorrence. Passion is never becoming in old men. Lest you misjudge me, my son, I shall take one further step in explanation; it will be for you to then justify or condemn the feeling you have witnessed in me. A deeper wound to conscience, a grosser provocation to the divine vengeance, a perfidy more impious and inexcusable you shall never overtake in this life, though you walk in it thrice the years of Noah.... There have been repeated attempts to settle the doctrinal differences to which I have referred. A little more than a hundred years ago—it was in the reign of Andronicus III.—one Barlaam, a Hegumen, like myself, was sent to Italy by the Emperor with a proposal of union; but Benedict the Pope resolutely refused to entertain the proposition, for the reason that it did not contemplate a final arrangement of the question at issue between the Churches. Was he not right?"
"In 1369, John V. Palaeologus, under heavy pressure of the Turks, renewed overtures of reconciliation, and to effectuate his purpose, he even became a Catholic. Then John VI., the late Emperor, more necessitous than his predecessor, submitted such a presentation to the Papal court that Nicolos of Cusa was despatched to Constantinople to study and report upon the possibilities of a doctrinal settlement and union. In November, 1437, the Emperor, accompanied by Joseph, the Patriarch, Besserion, Archbishop of Nicaea, and deputies empowered to represent the other Patriarchs, together with a train of learned assistants and secretaries, seven hundred in all, set out for Italy in response to the invitation of Eugenius IV, the Pope. Landing at Venice, the Basileus was escorted to Ferrara, where Eugenius received him with suitable pomp. The Council of Basle, having been adjourned to Ferrara for the better accommodation of the imperial guest, was opened there in April, 1438. But the plague broke out, and the sessions were transferred to Florence where the Council sat for three years. Dost thou follow me, my son?"
"With all my mind, Father, and thankful for thy painstaking."
"Nay, good Sergius, thy attention more than repays me.... Observe now the essentials of all the dogmatic questions I named to you as to-day serving the conspiracy against the Unity of our beloved Church were settled and accepted at the Council of Florence. The primacy of the Roman Bishop was the last to be disposed of, because distinguishable from the other differences by a certain political permeation; finally it too was reconciled in these words—bear them in memory, I pray, that you may comprehend their full import—'The Holy Apostolic See and Roman Pontiff hold the Primacy over all the world; the Roman Pontiff is the successor of Peter, Prince of Apostles, and he is the true Vicar of Christ, the head of the whole Church, the Father and Teacher of all Christians.' [Footnote: Addis and Arnold's Catholic Die. 349.] In Italy, 1439—mark you, son Sergius, but a trifle over eleven years ago—the members of the Council from the East and West, the Greeks with the Latins—Emperor, Patriarchs, Metropolitans, Deacons, and lesser dignitaries of whatever title—signed a Decree of Union which we call the Hepnoticon, and into which the above acceptances had been incorporated. I said all signed the decree—there were two who did not, Mark of Ephesus and the Bishop Stauropolis. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Joseph, died during the Council; yet the signatures of his colleagues collectively and of the Emperor perfected the Decree as to Constantinople. What sayest thou, my son? As a student of holy canons, what sayest thou?"
"I am but a student," Sergius replied; "still to my imperfect perception the Unity of the Church was certainly accomplished."
"In law, yes," said the Hegumen, with difficulty rising to a sitting posture—"yes, but it remained to make the accomplishment binding on the consciences of the signatories. Hear now what was done. A form of oath was draughted invoking the most awful maledictions on the parties who should violate the decree, and it was sworn to."
"Ay, son Sergius—sworn to by each and all of those attendant upon the Council—from Basileus down to the humblest catechumen inclusive, they took the oath, and by the taking bound their consciences under penalty of the eternal wrath of God. I spoke of certain ones forsworn, did I not?"
"And worse—I spoke of some whose souls were enduring the curse of the perjured. That was extreme—it was passion—I saw thee shudder at it, and I did not blame thee. Hear me now, and thou wilt not blame me.... They came home, the Basileus and his seven hundred followers. Scarcely were they disembarked before they were called to account. The city, assembled on the quay, demanded of them: 'What have you done with us? What of our Faith? Have you brought us the victory?' The Emperor hurried to his palace; the prelates hung their heads, and trembling and in fear answered: 'We have sold our Faith—we have betrayed the pure sacrifice—we have become Azymites.' [Footnote: Hist. de l'eglise (L'Abbe Rohrbacher), 3d ed. Vol. 22. 30. MICHEL DUCAS.] Thus spake Bessarion; thus Balsamon, Archdeacon and Guardian of the Archives; thus Gemiste of Lacedaemon; thus Antoine of Heraclius; thus spake they all, the high and the low alike, even George Scholarius, whom thou didst see marching last night first penitent of the Vigils. 'Why did you sign the Decree?' And they answered, 'We were afraid of the Franks.' Perjury to impiety—cowardice to perjury!... And now, son Sergius, it is said—all said—with one exception. Some of the Metropolitans, when they were summoned to sign the Decree, demurred, 'Without you pay us to our satisfaction we shall not sign.' The silver was counted down to them. Nay, son, look not so incredulous—I was there—I speak of what I saw. What could be expected other than that the venals would repudiate everything? And so they did, all save Metrophanes, the Syncelle, and Gregory, by grace of God the present Patriarch. If I speak with heat, dost thou blame me? If I called the recusants forsworn and perjured, thinkest thou the pure in Heaven charged my soul with a sin? Answer as thou lovest the right?"
"My Father," Sergius replied, "the denunciation of impiety cannot be sinful, else I have to unlearn all I have ever been taught; and being the chief Shepherd of an honorable Brotherhood, is it not thy duty to cry out at every appearance of wrong? That His Serenity, the Patriarch, receives thy acquittal and is notably an exception to a recusancy so universal, is comforting to me; to have to cast him out of my admiration would be grievous. But pardon me, if from fear thou wilt overlook it, I again ask thee to speak further of the heresy of the Princess Irene."
Sergius, besides standing with his back to the door of the cell, was listening to the Hegumen with an absorption of sense so entire that he was unaware of the quiet entrance of a third party, who halted after a step or two but within easy hearing.
"The request is timely—most timely," the Hegumen replied, without regarding the presence of the newcomer. "I had indeed almost forgotten the Princess.... With controversies such as I have recounted raging in the Church, like wolves in a sheepfold, comes one with new doctrines to increase the bewilderment of the flock, how is he to be met? This is what the Princess has done, and is doing."
"Still, Father, you leave me in the dark."
The Hegumen faltered, but finally said: "Apart from her religious views and novel habits, the Princess Irene is the noblest nature in Byzantium. Were we overtaken by some great calamity, I should look for her to rise by personal sacrifice into heroism. In acknowledgment of my fatherly interest in her, she has often entertained me at her palace, and spoken her mind with fearless freedom, leaving me to think her pursued by presentiments of a fatality which is to try her with terrible demands, and that she is already prepared to submit to them."
"Yes," said Sergius, with an emphatic gesture, "there are who live martyrs all their days, reserving nothing for death but to bring them their crowns."
The manner of the utterance, and the thought compelled the Hegumen's notice.
"My son," he said, presently, "thou hast a preacher's power. I wish I foreknew thy future. But I must haste or"—
"Nay, Father, permit me to help you recline again."
And with the words, Sergius helped the feeble body down.
"Thanks, my son," he received, in return, "I know thy soul is gentle."
After a rest the speech was resumed.
"Of the Princess—she is given to the Scriptures; in the reading, which else would be a praiseworthy usage, she refuses light except it proceed from her own understanding. We are accustomed when in doubt—thou knowest it to be so—to take the interpretations of the Fathers; but she insists the Son of God knew what He meant better than any whose good intentions are lacking in the inspirations of the Holy Ghost."
A gleam of pleasure flitted over the listener's countenance.
"So," the Hegumen continued, "she hath gone the length of fabricating a creed for herself, and substituting it for that which is the foundation of the Church—I mean the Creed transmitted to us from the Council of Nicaea."
"Is the substitute in writing, Father?"
"I have read it."
"Then thou canst tell me whence she drew it."
"From the Gospels word and word.... There now—I am too weak to enter into discussion—I can only allude to effects."
"Forgive another request"—Sergius spoke hastily—"Have I thy permission, to look at what she hath written?"
"Thou mayst try her with a request; but remember, my son"—the Hegumen accompanied the warning with a menacious glance—"remember proselyting is the tangible overt act in heresy which the Church cannot overlook.... To proceed. The Princess' doctrines are damnatory of the Nicene; if allowed, they would convert the Church into a stumbling-block in the way of salvation. They cannot be tolerated.... I can no more—the night was too much for me. Go, I pray, and order wine and food. To-morrow—or when thou comest again—and delay not, for I love thee greatly—we will return to the subject."
Sergius saw the dew gathering on the Hegumen's pallid forehead, and observed his failing voice. He stooped, took the wan hand from the laboring breast, and kissed it; then turning about quickly to go for the needed restoration, he found himself face to face with the young Greek whom he rescued from Nilo in the encounter on the wall.
THE ACADEMY OF EPICURUS
"I would have a word with you," the Greek said, in a low tone, as Sergius was proceeding to the door.
"But thy father is suffering, and I must make haste."
"I will accompany thee."
Sergius stopped while the young man went to the cot, removed his hat and knelt, saying, "Thy blessing, father."
The Hegumen laid a hand on the petitioner's head.
"My son, I have not seen thee for many days," he said; "yet in hope that thou hast heard me, and abandoned the associates who have been endangering thy soul and my good name, and because I love thee—God knows how well—and remember thy mother, who lived illustrating every beatitude, and died in grace, praying for thee, take thou my blessing."
With tears starting in his own eyes, Sergius doubted not the effect of the reproof upon the son; and he pitied him, and even regretted remaining to witness the outburst of penitence and grief he imagined forthcoming. The object of his sympathy took down the hand, kissed it in a matter-of-fact way, arose, and said, carelessly: "This lamentation should cease. Why can I not get you to understand, father, that there is a new Byzantium? That even in the Hippodrome nothing is as it used to be except the colors? How often have I explained to you the latest social discovery admitted now by everybody outside the religious orders, and by many within them—I mean the curative element in sin."
"Curative element in sin!" exclaimed the father.
"O God!" sighed the old man, turning his face hopelessly to the wall, "Whither are we drifting?"
He hardly heard the prodigal's farewell.
"If you wish to speak with me, stay here until I return."
This Sergius said when the two passed out of the cell. Going down the darkened passage, he glanced behind him, and saw the Greek outside the door; and when he came back with the Hegumen's breakfast, and reentered the apartment, he brushed by him still on the outside. At the cot, Sergius offered the refreshment on his knees, and in that posture waited while his superior partook of it; for he discerned how the aged heart was doubly stricken—once for the Church, deserted by so many of its children, and again for himself, forsaken by his own son.
"What happiness to me, O Sergius, wert thou of my flesh and blood!"
The expression covered every feeling evoked by the situation. Afterwhile another of the Brotherhood appeared, permitting Sergius to retire.
"I am ready to hear you now," he said, to the Greek at the door.
"Let us to your cell then."
In the cell, Sergius drew forth the one stool permitted him by the rules of the Brotherhood.
"Be seated," he said.
"No," the visitor returned, "I shall be brief. You do not know my father. The St. James' should relieve him of active duty. His years are sadly enfeebling him."
"But that would he ungrateful in them."
"Heaven knows," the prodigal continued, complainingly, "how I have labored to bring him up abreast of the time; he lives entirely in the past. But pardon me; if I heard aright, my father called you Sergius."
"That is my monastic name."
"You are not a Greek?"
"The Great Prince is my political sovereign."
"Well, I am Demedes. My father christened me Metrophanes, after the late Patriarch; but it did not please me, and I have entitled myself. And now we know each other, let us be friends."
Sergius' veil had fallen over his face, and while replacing it under the hat, he replied, "I shall strive, Demedes, to love you as I love myself."
The Greek, it should be remembered, was good featured, and of a pleasant manner; so much so, indeed, as to partially recompense him for his failure in stature; wherefore the overture was by no means repulsive.
"You may wonder at my plucking you from my father's side; you may wonder still more at my presumption in seeking to attach myself to you; but I think my reasons good.... In the first place, it is my duty to acknowledge that but for your interference yesterday the gigantic energumen by whom I was unexpectedly beset would have slain me. In fact, I had given myself up for lost. The rocks at the foot of the wall seemed springing out of the water to catch me, and break every bone in my body. You will accept my thanks, will you not?"
"The saving two fellow beings, one from murder, the other from being murdered, is not, in my opinion, an act for thanks; still, to ease you of a sense of obligation, I consent to the acknowledgment."
"It does relieve me," Demedes said, with a taking air; "and I am encouraged to go on."
He paused, and surveyed Sergius deliberately from head to foot, and the admiration he permitted to be seen, taken as a second to his continuing words, could not have been improved by a professed actor.
"Are not flesh and blood of the same significance in all of us? With youth and health superadded to a glorious physical structure, may we not always conclude a man rich in spirit and lusty impulses? Is it possible a gown and priestly hat can entirely suppress his human nature? I have heard of Anthony the Anchorite."
The idea excited his humor, and he laughed.
"I mean no irreverence," he resumed; "but you know, dear Sergius, it is with laughter as with tears, we cannot always control it.... Anthony resolved to be a Saint, but was troubled by visions of beautiful women. To escape them, he followed some children of Islam into the desert. Alas! the visions went with him. He burrowed then in a tomb—still the visions. He hid next in the cellar of an old castle—in vain—the visions found him out. He flagellated himself for eighty and nine years, every day and night of which was a battle with the visions. He left two sheepskins to as many bishops, and one haircloth shirt to two favorite disciples—they had been his armor against the visions. Finally, lest the seductive goblins should assail him in death, he bade the disciples lose him by burial in an unknown place. Sergius, my good friend"—here the Greek drew nearer, and laid a hand lightly on the monk's flowing sleeve—"I heard some of your replies to my father, and respect your genius too much to do more than ask why you should waste your youth"—
"Forbear! Go not further—no, not a word!" Sergius exclaimed. "Dost thou account the crown the Saint at last won nothing?"
Demedes did not seem in the least put out by the demonstration; possibly he expected it, and was satisfied with the hearing continued him.
"I yield to you," he said, with a smile, "and willingly since you convince me I was not mistaken in your perception.... My father is a good man. His goodness, however, but serves to make him more sensitive to opposition. The divisions of the Church give him downright suffering. I have heard him go on about them hours at a time. Probably his proneness to lamentation should be endured with respectful patience; but there is a peculiarity in it—he is blind to everything save the loss of power and influence the schisms are fated to entail upon the Church. He fights valorously in season and out for the old orthodoxies, believing that with the lapse of religion as at present organized the respectability and dominion of the holy orders will also lapse. Nay, Sergius, to say it plainly, he and the Brotherhood are fast keying themselves up to a point in fanaticism when dissent appears blackest heresy. To you, a straightforward seeker after information, it has never occurred, I suspect, to inquire how far—or rather how close—beyond that attainment lie punishments of summary infliction and most terrible in kind? Torture—the stake—holocausts in the Hippodrome—spectacles in the Cynegion—what are they to the enthused Churchmen but righteous judgments mercifully executed on wayward heretics? I tell you, monk—and as thou lovest her, heed me—I tell you the Princess Irene is in danger."
This was unexpected, and forcibly put; and thinking of the Princess, Sergius lost the calmness he had up to this time successfully kept.
"The Princess—tortured—God forbid!"
"Recollect," the Greek continued—"for you will reflect upon this—recollect I overheard the close of your interview with my father. To-morrow, or upon your return from Therapia, be it when it may, he will interrogate you with respect to whatever she may confide to you in the least relative to the Creed, which, as he states, she has prepared for herself. You stand warned. Consider also that now I have in part acquitted myself of the obligation I am under to you for my life."
The simple-mindedness of the monk, to whom the book of the world was just beginning to open, was an immense advantage to the Greek. It should not be surprising, therefore, if the former relaxed his air, and leaned a little forward to hear what was further submitted to him.
"Have you breakfasted?" the prodigal asked, in his easy manner.
"I have not."
"Ah! In concern for my father, you have neglected yourself. Well, I must not be inconsiderate. A hungry man is seldom a patient listener. Shall I break off now?"
"You have interested me, and I may be gone several days."
"Very well. I will make haste. It is but justice to the belligerents in the spiritual war to admit the zeal they have shown; Gregory the Patriarch, and his Latins, on the one side, and Scholarius and his Greeks on the other. They have occupied the pulpits alternately, each refusing presence to the other. They decline association in the Sacramental rites. In Sta. Sophia, it is the Papal mass to-day; to-morrow, it will be the Greek mass. It requires a sharp sense to detect the opposition in smell between the incense with which the parties respectively fumigate the altars of the ancient house. I suppose there is a difference. Yesterday the parabaloni came to blows over a body they were out burying, and in the struggle the bier was knocked down, and the dead spilled out. The Greeks, being the most numerous, captured the labarum of the Latins, and washed it in the mud; yet the monogram on it was identical with that on their own. Still I suppose there was a difference."
"But seriously, Sergius, there is much more of the world outside of the Church—or Churches, as you prefer—than on the inside. In the tearing each other to pieces, the militants have lost sight of the major part, and, as normally bound, it has engaged in thinking for itself. That is, the shepherd is asleep, the dogs are fighting, and the sheep, left to their individual conduct, are scattered in a hunt for fresher water and greener pasturage. Have you heard of the Academy of Epicurus?"
"I will tell you about it. But do you take the seat there. It is not within my purpose to exhaust you in this first conference."
"I am not tired."
"Well"—and the Greek smiled pleasantly—"I was regardful of myself somewhat in the suggestion. My neck is the worse of having to look up so constantly.... The youth of Byzantium, you must know, are not complaining of neglect; far from it—they esteem it a great privilege to be permitted to think in freedom. Let me give you of their conclusions. There is no God, they say, since a self-respecting God would not tolerate the strife and babble carried on in his name to the discredit of his laws. Religion, if not a deceit, is but the tinkling of brazen cymbals. A priest is a professor eking out an allowance of fine clothes and bread and wine; with respect to the multitude, he is a belled donkey leading a string of submissive camels. Of what account are Creeds except to set fools by the ears? Which—not what—which is the true Christian Faith? The Patriarch tells us, 'Verily it is this,' and Scholarius replies, 'Verily the Patriarch is a liar and a traitor to God for his false teaching'—he then tells us it is that other thing just as unintelligible. Left thus to ourselves—I acknowledge myself one of the wandering flock—flung on our own resources—we resorted to counselling each other, and agreed that a substitute for religion was a social necessity. Our first thought was to revive Paganism; worshipping many gods, we might peradventure stumble upon one really existent: whether good or bad ought not to trouble us, provided he took intelligent concern in the drift of things. To quarrel about his qualities would be a useless repetition of the folly of our elders—the folly of swimming awhile in a roaring swirl. Some one suggested how much easier and more satisfactory it is to believe in one God than in many; besides which Paganism is a fixed system intolerant of freedom. Who, it was argued, would voluntarily forego making his own gods? The privilege was too delightful. Then it was proposed that we resolve ourselves each into a God unto himself. The idea was plausible; it would at least put an end to wrangling, by giving us all an agreeable object to worship, while for mental demands and social purposes generally we could fall back on Philosophy. Had not our fathers tried Philosophy? When had society a better well being than in the halcyon ages of Plato and Pythagoras? Yet there was a term of indecision with us—or rather incubation. To what school should we attach ourselves? A copy of the Enchiridion of Epictetus fell into our hands, and after studying it faithfully, we rejected Stoicism. The Cynics were proposed; we rejected them—there was nothing admirable in Diogenes as a patron. We next passed upon Socratus. Sons of Sophroniscus had a lofty sound; still his system of moral philosophy was not acceptable, and as he believed in a creative God, his doctrine was too like a religion. Though the Delphian oracle pronounced him the wisest of mankind, we concluded to look further, and in so doing, came to Epicurus. There we stopped. His promulgations, we determined, had no application except to this life; and as they offered choice between the gratification of the senses and the practice of virtue, leaving us free to adopt either as a rule of conduct, we formally enrolled ourselves Epicureans. Then, for protection against the Church, we organized. The departure might send us to the stake, or to Tamerlane, King of the Cynegion, or, infinitely worse, to the cloisters, if we were few; but what if we took in the youths of Byzantium as an entirety? The policy was clear. We founded an Academy—the Academy of Epicurus—and lodged it handsomely in a temple; and three times every week we have a session and lectures. Our membership is already up in the thousands, selected from the best blood of the Empire; for we do not confine our proselyting to the city."
Here Sergius lifted his hand. He had heard the prodigal in silence, and it had been difficult the while to say which dominated his feeling— disgust, amazement, or pity. He was scarcely in condition to think; yet he comprehended the despairing cry of the Hegumen, Oh, my God! whither are we drifting? The possibilities of the scheme flew about him darkly, like birds in a ghastly twilight. He had studied the oppositions to religion enough to appreciate the attractive power there was for youth in the pursuit of pleasure. He knew also something of the race Epicureanism had run in the old competitions of philosophy—that it had been embraced by more of the cultivated Pagan world than the other contemporary systems together. It had been amongst the last, if not in fact the very last, of the conquests of Christianity. But here it was again; nor that merely— here it was once more a subject of organized effort. Who was responsible for the resurrection? The Church? How wicked its divisions seemed to him! Bishop fighting Bishop—the clergy distracted—altars discredited—sacred ceremonies neglected—what did it all mean, if not an interregnum of the Word? Men cannot fight Satan and each other at the same time. With such self-collection as he could command, he asked: "What have you in substitution of God and Christ?"
"A Principle," was the reply.
"Pleasure, the Purpose of this Life, and its Pursuit, an ennobled occupation."
"Pleasure to one is not pleasure to another—it is of kinds."
"Well said, O Sergius! Our kind is gratification of the senses. Few of us think of the practice of virtue, which would be dreaming in the midst of action."
"And you make the pursuit an occupation?"
"In our regard the heroic qualities of human nature are patience, courage and judgment; hence our motto—Patience, Courage, Judgment. The pursuit calls them all into exercise, ennobling the occupation."
The Greek was evidently serious. Sergius ran him over from the pointed shoes to the red feather in the conical red hat, and said in accents of pity:
"Oh, alas! Thou didst wrong in re-entitling thyself. Depravity had been better than Demedes."
The Greek lifted his brows, and shrugged his shoulders.
"In the Academy we are used to taking as well as giving," he said, wholly unembarrassed. "But, my dear Sergius, it remains for me to discharge an agreeable commission. Last night, in full session, I told of the affair on the wall. Could you have heard my description of your intervention, and the eulogium with which I accompanied it, you would not have accused me of ingratitude. The brethren were carried away; there was a tempest of applause; they voted you a hero; and, without a dissent, they directed me to inform you that the doors of the Academy were open"—
"Stop," said Sergius, with both hands up as if to avert a blow. After looking at the commissioner a moment, his eyes fiercely bright, he walked the floor of the cell twice.
"Demedes," he said, halting in front of the Greek, a reactionary pallor on his countenance, "the effort thou art making to get away from God proves how greatly He is a terror to thee. The Academy is only a multitude thou hast called together to help hide thee from Christ. Thou art an organizer of Sin—a disciple of Satan"—he was speaking not loud or threateningly, but with a force before which the other shrank visibly—"I cannot say I thank thee for the invitation on thy tongue unfinished, but I am better of not hearing it. Get thee behind me."
He turned abruptly, and started for the door.
The Greek sprang after him, and took hold of his gown.
"Sergius, dear Sergius," he said, "I did not intend to offend you. There is another thing I have to speak about. Stay!"
"Is it something different?" Sergius asked.
"Ay—as light and darkness are different."
"Be quick then."
Sergius was standing under the lintel of the door. Demedes slipped past him, and on the outside stopped.
"You are going to Therapia?" he asked.
"The Princess of India will be there. She has already set out."
"How knowest thou?"
"She is always under my eyes."
The mockery in the answer reminded Sergius of the Academy. The prodigal was designing to impress him with an illustration of the Principle it had adopted in lieu of God. The motto, he was having it thus early understood, was not an empty formula, but an inspiring symbol, like the Cross on the flag. This votary, the advertisement as much as said, was in pursuit of the little Princess—he had chosen her for his next offering to the Principle which, like another God, was insatiable of gifts, sacrifices, and honors. Such the thoughts of the monk.
"You know her?" Demedes asked.
"You believe her the daughter of the Prince of India?"
"Then you do not know her."
The Greek laughed insolently.
"The best of us, and the oldest can be at times as much obliged by information as by a present of bezants. The Academy sends you its compliments. The girl is the daughter of a booth-keeper in the bazaar—a Jew, who has no princely blood to spare a descendant—a dog of a Jew, who makes profit by lending his child to an impostor."
"Whence hadst thou this—this—"
The Greek paid no attention to the interruption.
"The Princess Irene gives a fete this afternoon. The fishermen of the Bosphorus will be there in a body. I will be there. A pleasant time to you, and a quick awakening, O Sergius!"
Demedes proceeded up the passage, but turned about, and said: "Patience, Courage, Judgment. When thou art witness to all there is in the motto. O Sergius, it may be thou wilt be more placable. I shall see to it that the doors of the Academy are kept open for thee."
The monk stood awhile under the lintel bewildered; for the introduction to wickedness is always stunning—a circumstance proving goodness to be the natural order.
A FISHERMAN'S FETE
The breakfast to which Sergius addressed himself was in strict observance of the Rules of the Brotherhood; and being plain, it was quickly despatched. Returning to his cell, he let his hair loose, and combed it with care; then rolling it into a glistening mass, he tucked it under his hat. Selecting a fresher veil next, he arranged that to fall down his back and over the left shoulder. He also swept the dark gown free of dust, and cleansing the crucifix and large black horn beads of his rosary, lingered a moment while contemplating the five sublime mysteries allotted to the third chaplet, beginning with the Resurrection of Christ and ending with the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin. In a calmness of spirit such as follows absolution, he finally sallied from the Monastery, and ere long arrived at the landing outside the Fish Market Gate on the Golden Horn. The detentions had been long; so for speed he selected a two-oared boat.
"To Therapia—by noon," he said to the rower, and, dropping into the passenger's box, surrendered himself to reflection.
The waterway by which the monk proceeded is not unfamiliar to the reader, a general idea of it having been given in the chapter devoted to the adventures of the Prince of India in his outing up the Bosphorus to the Sweet Waters of Asia. The impression there sought to be conveyed—how feebly is again regretfully admitted—was of a panorama remarkable as a composition of all the elements of scenic beauty blent together in incomparable perfection. Now, however, it failed the tribute customary from such as had happily to traverse it.
The restfulness of the swift going; the shrinking of the flood under the beating of the oars; the sky and the wooded heights, and the stretches of shore, town and palace lined; the tearing through the blue veil hanging over the retiring distances; the birds, the breezes, the ships hither coming and yonder going, and the sparkles shooting up in myriad recurrence on the breaking waves—all these pleasures of the most delicate of the receiving senses were tyrannically forbidden him.
The box in which he sat half reclining was wide enough for another passenger side by side with him, and it seemed he imagined the vacant place occupied now by Demedes, and now by Lael, and that he was speaking to them; when to the former, it was with dislike, and a disposition to avoid the touch of his red cloak, though on the sleeve ever so lightly; when to the latter, his voice would lower, his eyes soften, and the angry spots on his brow and cheeks go out—not more completely could they have disappeared had she actually exorcised them with some of the sweet confessions lovers keep for emergencies, and a touch of finger besides.
"So," he would say, Demedes for the time on the seat, "thou deniest God, and hast a plot against Christ. Shameful in the son of a good father!... What is thy Academy but defiance of the Eternal Majesty? As well curse the Holy Ghost at once, for why should he who of preference seeketh a bed with the damned he disappointed? Or is thy audacity a blasphemous trial of the endurance of forgiveness?".... Exit Demedes, enter Lael.... "The child—she is a child! By such proof as there is in innocence, and in the loveliness of blushing cheeks, and eyes which answer the Heavenly light they let in by light as Heavenly let out, she is a child! What does evil see in her to set it hungering after her? Or is there in virtue a signal to its enemies—Lo, here! A light to be blown out, lest it disperse our darkness!".... Reenter Demedes.... "Abduct her!—How?—When? To that end is it thou keepest her always under eye? The Princess Irene gives a Fisherman's Fete—the child will be there—thou wilt be there. Is this the day of the attempt? Bravos as fishermen, to seize her—boats to carry her off—the Bosphorus wide and deep, and the hills beyond a hiding-place, and in the sky over them the awful name Turk. The crime and the opportunity hand in hand! Let them prosper now, and I who have from the cradle's side despatched my soul faith in hand to lay it at Heaven's gate may never again deny a merit in the invocation of Sin virtuous as prayer".... To Lael in the seat.... "But be not afraid. I will be there also. I"... A sudden fear fell upon him. If the abduction were indeed arranged for the afternoon, to what might he not be led by an open attempt to defeat it? Bloodshed—violence! He whose every dream had been of a life in which his fellow-men might find encouragement to endure their burdens, and of walking before them an example of love and forbearance, submissive and meek that he might with the more unanswerable grace preach obedience and fraternity to them—Merciful Heaven! And he shuddered and drew the veil hastily over his face, as if, in a bloody tumult, the ideal life, so the ultimate happiness, were vanishing before his eyes. Taking the confessions of such as have been greatly tried, few men, few even of those renowned for courage and fine achievement, ever pass their critical moments of decision unassailed by alternative suggestions due to fear. Sergius heard them now. "Return to thy cell, and to thy beads, and prayer," they seemed to say. "What canst thou, a stranger in a strange land, if once the Academy of which thou wert this morning informed, becomes thy enemy? Ay, return to thy cell! Who is she for whom thou art putting thyself in the way of temptation? The daughter of a booth-keeper in the bazaar—a Jew, who hath no princely blood to spare a descendant—a dog of a Jew, who maketh profit by lending his child to an impostor."
The suggestion was powerful. In the heat of the debate, however, an almost forgotten voice reached him, reciting one of the consolations of Father Hilarion: "Temptations are for all of us; nor shall any man be free of them. The most we can hope is to be delivered from them. What vanity to think we can travel threescore and ten years from our cradles, if so long we live, without an overture of some kind from the common enemy! On the other side, what a triumph to put his blandishments by! The Great Exemplar did not fly from Satan; he stayed, and overcame him."
"Be not afraid," Sergius said, as if to Lael, and firmly, like one resolved of fear and hesitation. "I will be there also."
Then looking about him, at his left hand he beheld the village of Emirghian, bent round a mountain's base, in places actually invading the water. In face of such a view a susceptible nature must needs be very sick of soul to go blindly on. The brightly painted houses cast tremulous reflections to a vast depth in the limpid flood, and where they ceased, down immeasurably, the vivid green of the verdure on the mountain's breast suggested the beginning of the next of the seven Mohammedan earths. Above this borrowed glory he seemed afloat; and to help the impression, the sound of many voices singing joyously was borne to him. He waved his hand, and the rowers, resting from their labor, joined him in listening.
The little gulf of Stenia lies there landlocked, and out of it a boat appeared, skimming around the intervening promontory. In a mass of flowers, in a shade of garlands hanging from a low mast, its arms and shrouds wreathed with roses, the singers sat timing their song with their oars. The refrain was supported by zitheras, flutes and horns. The vessel turned northwardly when fairly out in the strait; and then another boat came round the point—and another—and another—and many others, all decorated, and filled with men, women and children making music.
Sergius' boatmen recognized the craft, deep in the water, black and long, and with graceful upturned ends.
"Fishermen!" they said.
And he rejoined: "Yes. The Princess Irene gives them a fete. Make haste. I will go with them. Fall in behind."
"Yes, yes—a good woman! Of such are the Saints!" they said, signing the cross on breast arid brow.
The singing and the gala air of the party put Sergius in his wonted spirits; and as here and there other boats fell into the line, similarly decorated, their occupants adding to the volume of the singing, by the time Therapia was sighted the good-natured, happy fishermen had given him of their floral abundance, and adopted him.
What a scene the Therapian bay presented! Boats, boats, boats—hundreds of them in motion, hundreds lining the shore, the water faithfully repeating every detail of ornature, and apparently a-quiver with pleasure. The town was gay with colors; while on the summit and sides of the opposite promontory every available point answered flaunt with flaunt. And there were song and shouting, gladsome cries of children, responses of mothers, and merriment of youth and maiden. Byzantium might be in decadence, her provinces falling away, her glory wasting; the follies of the court and emperors, the best manhood of the empire lost in cloisters and hermitages, the preference of the nobility for intrigue and diplomacy might be all working their deplorable results—nay, the results might be at hand! Still the passion of the people for fetes and holidays remained. Tastes are things of heredity. In nothing is a Byzantine of this day so nearly a classic Greek as in his delicacy and appreciation where permitted to indulge in the beautiful.
The boatmen passed through the gay entanglement of the bay slowly and skilfully, and finally discharged their passengers on the marble quay a little below the regular landing in front of the red pavilion over the entrance to the Princess' grounds. The people went in and out of the gate without hindrance; nor was there guard or policeman visible. Their amiability attested their happiness.
The men were mostly black-bearded, sunburned, large-handed, brawny fellows in breeches black and amply bagged, with red sashes and light blue jackets heavily embroidered. The legs below the knees were exposed, and the feet in sandals. White cloths covered their heads. Their eyes were bright, their movements agile, their air animated. Many of them sported amulets of shell or silver suspended by ribbons or silken cords around their bare necks. The women wore little veils secured by combs, but rather as a headdress, and for appearances. They also affected the sleeveless short jacket over a snowy chemise; and what with bright skirts bordered with worsted chenille, and sandal straps carried artfully above the ankles, they were not wanting in picturesqueness. Some of the very young amongst them justified the loveliness traditionally ascribed to the nymphs of Hellas and the fair Cycladean Isles. Much the greater number, however, were in outward seeming prematurely old, and by their looks, their voices ungovernably shrill, and the haste and energy with which they flung themselves into the amusement of the hour unconsciously affirmed that fishermen's wives are the same everywhere. One need not go far to find the frontiers of society—too frequently they are close under the favorite balcony of the king.
Something on the right cheek of the gate under the pavilion furnished an attraction to the visitors. When Sergius came up, he was detained by a press of men and women in eager discussion; and following their eyes and the pointing of their fingers, he observed a brazen plate overhead curiously inscribed. The writing was unintelligible to him as to his neighbors. It looked Turkish—or it might have been Arabic—or it might not have been writing at all. He stayed awhile listening to the conjectures advanced. Presently a gypsy approached leading a bear, which, in its turn, was drawing a lot of noisy boys. He stopped, careless of the unfriendly glances with which he was received, and at sight of the plate saluted it with a low salaam several times unctuously repeated.
"Look at the hamari there. He can tell what the thing means."
"Then ask him."
"I will. See here, thou without a religion, consort of brutes! Canst thou tell what this"—pointing to the plate—"is for? Come and look at it!"
"It is not needful for me to go nearer. I see it well enough. Neither am I without a religion. I do not merely profess belief in God—I believe in Him," the bear-keeper replied.
The fisherman took the retort and the laugh it occasioned good-humoredly, and answered: "Very well, we are even; and now perhaps thou canst tell me what I asked."
"Willingly, since thou canst be decent to a stranger.... The young Mahommed, son of Amurath, Sultan of Sultans"—the gypsy paused to salute the title—"the young Mahommed, I say, is my friend." The bystanders laughed derisively, but the man proceeded. "He has resided this long time at Magnesia, the capital of a prosperous province assigned to his governorship. There never was one of such station so civil to his people, and much learning has had a good effect upon his judgment; it has taught him that the real virtue of amusement lies in its variety. Did he listen exclusively to his doctors discoursing of philosophy, or to his professor of mathematics, or to his poets and historians, he would go mad even as they are mad; wherefore, along with his studies, he hunts with hawk and hound; he tilts and tourneys; he plays the wandering minstrel; and not seldom Joqard and I—hey, fellow, is it not so?" he gave the bear a tremendous jerk—"Joqard and I have been to audience with him in his palace."