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Gathering Clouds: A Tale of the Days of St. Chrysostom
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CHAPTER XXXII

THREE YOUTHS SAVE CONSTANTINOPLE

Now there was found in that city a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no one remembered that same poor man.

Eccl. ix. 15.

After these events it really seems as if Gaïnas, to use a modern expression, had completely lost his head, or, to give the view of it taken by himself and his contemporaries, as if a demon had begun to trouble him; for his conduct became aimless and uncertain. Discontent, revenge, ambition, and evil counsels destroyed in him all capacity for wise and generous policy. Contact with the elements of a corrupting civilisation had deadened in him the savage virtues of his race, and gave nothing better to restore his moral balance.

He and Tribigild carried their armies across the Bosporus into Europe, so that Constantinople found herself overshadowed by a host of 30,000 men, of whom the vast majority were Gruthongs and other tribes of Ostrogoths. The city had nothing to oppose to them at the moment but the insignificant handful of Palace troops who were responsible for the immediate safety of the Emperor. The gates, the barracks, the walls were all in the hands of barbarians, whose allegiance was wavering, and whose ultimate objects were uncertain. The year 400 opened with the worst and darkest omens of misery and fear.

For the dominance of the Goths had rendered it necessary to fill the high office of Prætorian Præfect, from which Aurelian had been expelled, by the elevation of Typhos, his wicked and unnatural brother. And Typhos inaugurated a reign of terror more intolerable than that of Eutropius had ever been. He oppressed the provinces with frightful taxes; he sold the governorships to the highest bidder. Civil office could be purchased by the worst of reprobates, if they had enough of base skill or of ill-gotten gold to flatter or bribe the dissolute wife of the new Minister. Almost every independent voice was silenced. Synesius, with faithful friendship, did his utmost to support the cause of his friend Aurelian, and had even publicly pleaded in the presence of his brother. The only result was that Synesius himself was now kept under close surveillance, and was refused permission to return to his native Cyrene. Often in those bad days he sought the counsel of Chrysostom, and, though they were men of widely different sympathies, they had many an interesting discussion. But for the time being the Patriarch was personally powerless. The Empress, finding that she could not make him her tool, was already beginning to turn against him.

Indeed, the times were very dark. ’Everything,’ said Chrysostom in a sermon delivered at this time, ’is full of fright, danger, mistrust, trembling and despair; no one trusts another, everyone is terrified of his neighbour; no friend seems sure, no brother trustworthy. The civil war raging in the midst of our society pervades not only all open, but all secret, relations. Everywhere are countless treacheries and dark concealments. Under the sheepskins are hidden a thousand wolves, so that we almost feel more confidence in the midst of open enemies than of semblable friends. They who greeted us yesterday with profound respect, and kissed our hands, to-day have flung away the guise of their masks, and have not only assumed the guise of enemies, but of our bitterest accusers.’

So Gaïnas overshadowed the miserable city from without; and Typhos and his wife, and Eudoxia and her Court, caballed within; and the Arians, aided by barbarians and false Romans, resumed the high hopes which they once had had of winning back the East to the creed of the Council of Rimini.

As for Tribigild, we hear no more of him. He went glimmering back into the night whence he had emerged. He died about this time, suddenly, and not without suspicious circumstances.

But now Gaïnas was goaded to show his ascendancy by demanding from Arcadius the cession of one of the churches of Constantinople for the exclusive possession of the Arians. The only church at present assigned to them was outside the walls. ‘It is not reasonable,’ said Gaïnas to the Emperor, ‘it is an insult to my dignity, that I, the commander-in-chief of the forces of the East, and now the Consul-designate, should be forced to steal out of the city to worship outside the walls.’

The Emperor, as usual, drifted impotently between ‘I would’ and ‘I dare not.’ He hated to say ‘Yes,’ yet how could he venture in the presence of superior force to say ’No’? Chrysostom, hearing of the Goth’s requisition, went to the Palace, and told Arcadius that under no circumstances must he comply with the demand; at whatever cost, he must peremptorily refuse. The helpless sovereign clutched at any straw. ’This,’ said he to Gaïnas, ‘is a religious question. The Patriarch desires to discuss it with you in person. Meet him at the Palace in my presence to-morrow.’

Gaïnas was nothing loth. Strange to say, he prided himself on being an irresistible theologian. In earlier days he had maintained a lively controversy with the far-famed Egyptian eremite, St. Nilus, in which the Goth boasted, perhaps seriously imagined, that he had won the victory in argument in favour of the Arian as against the Catholic creed. He came to the Palace with some of the leading clergy of the Arian party, and Chrysostom came with some of his bishops. The interview did not, however, take the form of a theological controversy, for, in truth, Gaïnas felt himself quelled and dominated by the saintly dignity and fearlessness of the Archbishop. His genius felt rebuked in that holy presence, and he cowered before John as the birds cower and lie low when the eagle is in the air. He did not venture to cross swords with the eloquent Patriarch in questions of faith and dogmatic definition, but, taking an entirely different ground, he said:

‘I demand a church—one church only—for myself and my fellow-Arians. Is it just that I should be refused a church in the city I defend?’

‘Refused a church?’ said Chrysostom. ‘Every church alike in the city is freely open to you.’

‘But the opinions they represent are not mine.’

‘Is the Catholic Church to alter her opinions to suit you? Is she to cancel the canons at which her assembled Bishops and Fathers, headed by such men as Athanasius and St. Gregory of Nazianzus, deliberately arrived in the Œcumenical Councils of Nicæa and Constantinople? Are creeds to be abandoned and betrayed under the terror of armed forces?’

‘I have been treated,’ said Gaïnas, ‘with injustice and ingratitude. Am I not the protector of the East? Did I not help the Emperor Theodosius to defeat the usurper Maximus at the great battle of Siscia, and the usurper Eugenius at the great battle of the Frigidus?’

‘Treated with ingratitude, Gaïnas?’ said Chrysostom. ’You amaze me. Surely your services have been not only amply, but superabundantly, rewarded. You came over the Danube a fugitive Goth. You came in hunger, you came in rags, you came a suppliant for our mercy, you came in when the Huns were driving you before them like drift on the sea-wave. Were you not received into the pity and the Empire? Consider what you now are, and what you then were. You are standing here in the Palace, splendid in your armour, in the Consular ornaments and Magister Militum of the forces of the East talking face to face to the Emperor, and almost daring to address him on equal terms.’

‘I have the right to demand what I wish,’ said Gaïnas, sullenly.

‘How the right? Where is your solemn oath of allegiance to Theodosius? Where your fidelity?’

‘I can demand what I choose.’

‘Yes, if you are false to your allegiance; but the Emperor cannot grant your petition. The laws of God transcend the law of man. Emperor, you will refuse, will you not? Better to lose empire, better to lose life than to be untrue to the Lord who bought you, Whose you are, and Whom you serve.’

At such high and dauntless words Arcadius plucked up his courage, ’You see, chieftain,’ he said, ‘that your request is impossible. I dare not grant anything against the rights and privileges of the Church of God.’

Gaïnas was angry, but he was also abashed.

‘Then it is useless for me to stay here any longer,’ he said, rudely turning away. “But it may be you will live to rue this day.’

‘Do you threaten?’ asked Chrysostom sternly. ‘Nay, Gaïnas, let your better mind, your better heart, prevail. Listen not to evil counsellors. Seek not thus madly your own ends. The path of duty is the path also of safety, of happiness, and of glory.’

Gaïnas looked at him almost with a look of appeal. He humbled himself so far as to kiss his hand. He would fain, but he dared not, have asked his blessing. But they never met face to face again.

When the chief left the Palace he strode with great strides through the city, back to his house, full of sullenness, of fury, of mad plans, which chased each other through his brain. Now his better self won the victory, and he determined to abandon wild dreams of universal dominance, and become a true soldier of the Empire in the East, as Stilico was in the West; and his two boys did their utmost to encourage this mood. But then, again, the sinister shadow of Typhos would fall over him, and his mind became as that of a demon.

It was this mood which, unhappily, prevailed. Two desperate plans suggested themselves to him, one after the other. One was to plunder the treasures of the goldsmiths and bankers, whose massive plate and uncounted stores, displayed in their bazaars and offices, excited the mad cupidity of the worst of his barbarian followers; the other, to fire the Palace, and rifle its purple chambers of their jewels and hoards of gold—and so, in either case, to break openly with the Roman Empire, and with all civilisation, and fight his way to some independent kingdom of his own.

Both plans were odious to Thorismund, his eldest son. Though he was so young, he exercised a strong and wholesome influence over his father, which might have saved him from utter ruin, if it had not been counteracted by the intrigues of his mother, who was wholly in league with Typhos and his wife. Thorismund could have no scruple in endeavouring to defeat designs which he regarded as wicked, dishonourable, and disastrous; for his views were also the views of the best, wisest, and least barbarous of the Gothic chieftains, and of all those Goths who, though they were Arians, were sincere in their adherence to the morals of the Gospel. They held a secret council, and empowered Thorismund to use every legitimate endeavour to prevent the accomplishment of the marauding treachery, which could not but bring on them immediate ruin and ultimate destruction. They saw that Gaïnas had miscalculated his power and influence, and that, as Roman troops were being gradually called into the city by the order of Arcadius, their wisest as well as their worthiest policy would be to keep the Gothic army on the footing which had existed previous to the revolt of Tribigild.

To Thorismund, therefore, the noblest leaders entrusted the task of saving Gaïnas and the whole body of the Goths from ultimate ruin by any means in his power. In deepest secrecy he sought his friend Philip, told of the nefarious plots which were being concocted, and asked his advice how best to counteract them without any open catastrophe.

‘Think not, Philip,’ he said, ‘that in seeking you I am acting as a traitor to my father, or to my own people. My father is not himself. I have often heard him groaning in his room, and murmuring that his soul is in the possession of an evil demon. I think that the bad Typhos must have bewitched him. Several of the greatest of our allied chiefs, and his own officials, have authorised me to save him if I can from this dire infatuation. To reveal the existence of these plans to the Court or to the people would be to betray this city to flames and massacre. You must not tell any great man, you must not even tell John the Patriarch. The peril must be averted by secret means.’

‘Let me think,’ said Philip; and then, when a plan suggested itself to his quick intelligence, he asked: ‘Tell me two things only, and I will, God helping me, save your father from this madness, and save the Goths, and this city, and the Empire. First, May I tell my two friends, David and Eutyches, whom you know and love? next, Are the days fixed for these attempts?’

‘I trust your friends as I trust you,’ said Thorismund; ’you are innocent; you fear God; He is with you. One day is fixed for both designs—it is three days hence. The banks and bazaars are to be pillaged in the morning, the Palace to be attacked and fired that night. Be wise; be secret.’

‘Wise as Solomon,’ said Philip, smiling to reassure him; ’secret as death!’

The young Goth departed, and Philip called David and Eutyches to council. ‘Now, first,’ he said, ‘keeping this peril utterly secret from the world in general, how are we to save the vast treasure of the banks from robbery?’

David gave his counsel. ‘There, are,’ he said, ‘fourteen districts of the city, and there are rich shops and banks in only six of them. Let us each undertake two districts. Let us ask him for a day’s holiday, as there is no immediately pressing correspondence. Then let us each take two districts, and go round in disguise—for that is essential—to the banks, ask for a private interview with the head of each, hand him an unsigned letter of warning, and be off.’

‘Disguise!’ asked Eutyches; ‘how can we manage that?’

‘Easily,’ said David; ‘my father, with the help of Miriam and her servants, will easily supply us, and we can steal out at early morning, or at dusk, or, perhaps better still, at the noonday siesta.’

‘Good!’ said Philip. ‘I will write a letter, and we will all make copies of it.’

He wrote: ‘Be warned! Guard your offices, and remove your treasures for a week to a safe place. Brigands abroad! Keep this profoundly secret, or all is lost.—A Friend.’

They carried out their plan that very evening and the next morning. It was entirely successful. Every banker and merchant took the hint, and kept his own counsel. People vainly wondered why the city looked so much less glittering and gay. The Goths noticed it, too, and saw that their very loosely guarded secret had got wind. It did not surprise them; but the intended attack on the Palace had only been announced to few, and remained unsuspected.

Philip and his friends had not seen how this tremendous peril was to be averted. The suggestion came from Eutyches.

‘The Goths,’ he said, ‘are given over to superstition. Their terrors of the supernatural are easily excited, and men are always cowards when they are engaged in nefarious deeds. There are no troops to hold the Palace, if they choose to assault it. Could they not in some way be terrified from it?’

‘Excellent! excellent, my Eutyches!’ cried Philip. ’You are a very Daniel. Just now the Goths are in such a state of tremor that the sound of a shaken leaf would make them fly; that sword-shaped comet, that has seemed to be rushing eastward from the constellation Cepheus, has frightened us all; but to them it has seemed a terrific omen. And I have heard them talking of a dozen other portents, especially of an armed colossal vision of the Archangel Michael, towering over the city and waving them northward. At this very moment they think that the powers of Heaven are declaring against them.’

‘But we can’t get into the Palace,’ said David; ‘and who could trust that mass of corrupt officials and pampered slaves?’

‘I know two thoroughly good men in the Palace intimately,’ said Philip. ’Amantius is a true Christian, and he has been my warm friend ever since I travelled with him from Antioch, when they entrapped the Patriarch. Briso is also indebted to me, for when he got hit on the head by a stone by one of the Arian processionists, and might have been trampled under foot, it was I who dragged him out of danger, and conducted him home. Both are chamberlains of the Empress.’

‘Capital!’ said Eutyches. ‘Then the servants of Arcadius himself need know nothing about it. Now, mark—the only places the Goths can attack are either the wall of the Palace opposite the Hippodrome, at the Royal Gate, or the short, high wall at the back of the Imperial Gardens, towards the Bosporus. Station a few ghosts or angels at both, and the Palace will be saved.’

‘Ghosts and angels indeed!’ said Philip, pulling his hair. ‘Did you ever hear such a midnight conspirator, David? He will be trying some of his ghosts or angels on us next.’

‘Well, it is surely fair, is it not?’ said Eutyches. ‘Did not Onias, the High Priest, frighten Heliodorus out of the Temple at Jerusalem by two youths with scourges, whom the robber took for an angelic vision?’

Onias?’ said Philip. ‘Oh, you heretic! Who told you it was Onias? It was two real angels. Do you think all ghosts and angels are of your sort?’

‘Never mind his chaff, Eutyches,’ said David. ‘Your suggestion is a brilliant one. If the Palace is saved, it will be you who have saved it.’

‘All right, you conspiring Onias,’ said Philip. ‘Now I am off for a secret interview with Amantius and Briso.’

The tact, quickness, and consummate good-sense of the young Antiochene made him an admirable manager of practical business. Knowing that Amantius was experienced and altogether trustworthy, and that no time was to be lost, he first pledged the Chamberlain to secrecy by a solemn oath, and then told him of the contemplated attack, concealing only the name of Gaïnas, and speaking of a loose raid of undisciplined barbarians. He pointed out that if once a riot or tumult arose, the consequence might be incalculably disastrous, and that if the Goths rose in a body, nothing could prevent the sack and burning of the Palace.

Amantius literally trembled in his shoes, and said, ’Surely it is my plain duty to tell the Emperor at once.’

‘Nay,’ said Philip, you have pledged yourself by oath not to do so; and if you do, you will precipitate the ruin which can now be averted.’

‘Who told you of this?’ asked Amantius. ‘What do you suggest?’

‘Your Dignity must not ask who told me,’ said Philip; ’but you know me, and I am sure that you can and do trust me perfectly.’

‘I do,’ said Amantius heartily; ‘but what can be done?’

‘Do not laugh, sir,’ said Philip; ‘but the Goths are children of superstition, and I am convinced that by a very little contrivance, and at no cost, they may be simply frightened from the Palace.’

‘I am not skilful, I fear, at masquerades,’ said Amantius.

‘Will your Dignity ask the almoner Briso to come and consult with us?’

‘Yes,’ said Amantius gladly. ‘He is much younger than I, and will help us in this very quaint manner of averting an awful peril much better than I can.’

Briso came. He had plenty of shrewdness and humour, and it was settled that Amantius should leave all details to him and Philip, only procuring permission for the free admittance of himself and his two friends to the walk which ran along under the immediate summit of the Palace wall. Briso suggested to Philip that they might utilise the abundant skill of some of the acrobats of the theatre—not, of course, letting them into the secret, but only telling them that a silent masquerade was being got up by some of the Palace servants, and that they were simply to follow Philip’s directions. Leave was obtained for a little private scene and frolic for a few of Briso’s friends: Mirrors, hidden lights, white robes, stilts, and other scenic stage properties were kept in readiness, and by midnight all was ready. Of course the Goths did not approach en masse. They crept noiselessly, in small groups, with muffled tread, from various quarters; and as the earliest comers glanced upwards at the Palace, they saw strange effects. There were all sorts of mysterious flashes of fire. Gigantic figures robed in white gleamed out for a moment and faded away. Beings of strange aspect, angels or demons they knew not which, were moving to and fro. A terror seized the barbarians. They hurried back to the contingents whom they had left under arms in their camp. They infected them with their own mysterious and horror-stricken dread. The shuddering soldiers declared that nothing should induce them to brave such awful visitants. The streets and Forum sank into the wonted midnight silence. The mad designs of Typhos and Gaïnas had failed, and the three youths who sat in the antechamber of Chrysostom, unknown to all but one or two, had saved the Emperor from assassination, the Palace from fire, the city from pillage and slaughter, the Empire itself from disastrous wars.

But though the facts were unknown, it soon leaked out from a multitude of sources that, by merest accident, Constantinople had escaped an overwhelming peril from the hands of the Goths; and it became more and more imperative to deliver the East from the forked lightning which now flashed with lurid and scarcely intermittent flames across the whole horizon.

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