Stories Of Girls Who Have Influenced The History Of Their Times
By E. S. Brooks
In these progressive days, when so much energy and discussion are devoted to what is termed equality and the rights of woman, it is well to remember that there have been in the distant past women, and girls even, who by their actions and endeavors proved themselves the equals of the men of their time in valor, shrewdness, and ability.
This volume seeks to tell for the girls and boys of to-day the stories of some of their sisters of the long-ago,—girls who by eminent position or valiant deeds became historic even before they had passed the charming season of girlhood.
Their stories are fruitful of varying lessons, for some of these historic girls were wilful as well as courageous, and mischievous as well as tender-hearted.
But from all the lessons and from all the morals, one truth stands out most clearly—the fact that age and country, time and surroundings, make but little change in the real girl-nature, that has ever been impulsive, trusting, tender, and true, alike in the days of the Syrian Zenobia and in those of the modern American school-girl.
After all, whatever the opportunity, whatever the limitation, whatever the possibilities of this same never-changing girl-nature, no better precept can be laid down for our own bright young maidens, as none better can be deduced from the stories herewith presented, than that phrased in Kingsley's noble yet simple verse:
"Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever Do noble things, not dream them, all day long And so make life, death, and the vast forever One grand, sweet song."
Grateful acknowledgment is made by the author for the numerous expressions of interest that came to him from his girl-readers as the papers now gathered into book-form appeared from time to time in the pages of St. Nicholas. The approval of those for whom one studies and labors is the pleasantest and most enduring return.
ZENOBIA OF PALMYRA: THE GIRL OF THE SYRIAN DESERT
HELENA OF BRITAIN: THE GIRL OF THE ESSEX FELLS
PULCHERIA OF CONSTANTINOPLE: THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN HORN
CLOTILDA OF BURGUNDY: THE GIRL OF THE FRENCH VINEYARDS
WOO OF HWANG-HO: THE GIRL OF THE YELLOW RIVER
EDITH OF SCOTLAND: THE GIRL OF THE NORTHERN ABBEY
JACQUELINE OF HOLLAND: THE GIRL OF THE LAND OF FOGS
CATARINA OF VENICE: THE GIRL OF THE GRAND CANAL
THERESA OF AVILA: THE GIRL OF THE SPANISH SIERRAS
ELIZABETH OF TUDOR: THE GIRL OF THE HERTFORD MANOR
CHRISTINA OF SWEDEN: THE GIRL OF THE NORTHERN FIORDS
MA-TA-OKA OF POW-HA-TAN: THE GIRL OF THE VIRGINIA FORESTS
ZENOBIA OF PALMYRA: THE GIRL OF THE SYRIAN DESERT.
[Afterward known as "Zenobia Augusta, Queen of the East."] A.D. 250.
MANY and many miles and many days' journey toward the rising sun, over seas and mountains and deserts,—farther to the east than Rome, or Constantinople, or even Jerusalem and old Damascus,—stand the ruins of a once mighty city, scattered over a mountain-walled oasis of the great Syrian desert, thirteen hundred feet above the sea, and just across the northern border of Arabia. Look for it in your geographies. It is known as Palmyra. To-day the jackal prowls through its deserted streets and the lizard suns himself on its fallen columns, while thirty or forty miserable Arabian huts huddle together in a small corner of what was once the great court-yard of the magnificent Temple of the Sun.
And yet, sixteen centuries ago, Palmyra, or Tadmor as it was originally called, was one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Nature and art combined to make it glorious. Like a glittering mirage out of the sand-swept desert arose its palaces and temples and grandly sculptured archways. With aqueducts and monuments and gleaming porticos with countless groves of palm-trees and gardens full of verdure; with wells and fountains, market and circus; with broad streets stretching away to the city gates and lined on either side with magnificent colonnades of rose-colored marble—such was Palmyra in the year of our Lord 250, when, in the soft Syrian month of Nisan, or April, in an open portico in the great colonnade and screened from the sun by gayly colored awnings, two young people—a boy of sixteen and a girl of twelve—looked down upon the beautiful Street of the Thousand Columns, as lined with bazaars and thronged with merchants it stretched from the wonderful Temple of the Sun to the triple Gate-way of the Sepulchre, nearly a mile away.
Both were handsome and healthy—true children of old Tadmor, that glittering, fairy-like city which, Arabian legends say, was built by the genii for the great King Solomon ages and ages ago. Midway between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates, it was the meeting-place for the caravans from the east and the wagon trains from the west, and it had thus become a city of merchant princes, a wealthy commercial republic, like Florence and Venice in the middle ages—the common toll-gate for both the East and West.
But, though a tributary colony of Rome, it was so remote a dependency of that mighty mistress of the world that the yoke of vassalage was but carelessly worn and lightly felt. The great merchants and chiefs of caravans who composed its senate and directed its affairs, and whose glittering statues lined the sculptured cornice of its marble colonnades, had more power and influence than the far-off Emperor at Rome, and but small heed was paid to the slender garrison that acted as guard of honor to the strategi or special officers who held the colony for Rome and received its yearly tribute. And yet so strong a force was Rome in the world that even this free-tempered desert city had gradually become Romanized in manners as in name, so that Tadmor had become first Adrianapolis and then Palmyra. And this influence had touched even these children in the portico. For their common ancestor—a wealthy merchant of a century before—had secured honor and rank from the Emperor Septimus Severus—the man who "walled in" England, and of whom it was said that "he never performed an act of humanity or forgave a fault." Becoming, by the Emperor's grace, a Roman citizen, this merchant of Palmyra, according to a custom of the time, took the name of his royal patron as that of his own "fahdh," or family, and the father of young Odhainat in the portico, as was Odhainat himself, was known as Septimus Odaenathus, while the young girl found her Arabic name of Bath Zabbai, Latinized into that of Septima Zenobia.
But as, thinking nothing of all this, they looked lazily on the throng below, a sudden exclamation from the lad caused his companion to raise her flashing black eyes inquiringly to his face.
"What troubles you, my Odhainat?" she asked.
"There, there; look there, Bath Zabbai!" replied the boy excitedly; "coming through the Damascus arch, and we thought him to be in Emesa."
The girl's glance followed his guiding finger, but even as she looked a clear trumpet peal rose above the din of the city, while from beneath a sculptured archway that spanned a colonnaded cross-street the bright April sun gleamed down upon the standard of Rome with its eagle crest and its S. P. Q. R. design beneath. There is a second trumpet peal, and swinging into the great Street of the Thousand Columns, at the head of his light-armed legionaries, rides the centurion Rufinus, lately advanced to the rank of tribune of one of the chief Roman cohorts in Syria. His coming, as Odhainat and even the young Bath Zabbai knew, meant a stricter supervision of the city, a re-enforcement of its garrison, and the assertion of the mastership of Rome over this far eastern province on the Persian frontier.
"But why should the coming of the Roman so trouble you, my Odhainat?" she asked. "We are neither Jew nor Christian that we should fear his wrath, but free Palmyreans who bend the knee neither to Roman nor Persian masters."
"Who WILL bend the knee no longer, be it never so little, my cousin," exclaimed the lad hotly, "as this very day would have shown had not this crafty Rufinus—may great Solomon's genii dash him in the sea!—come with his cohort to mar our measures! Yet see—who cometh now?" he cried; and at once the attention of the young people was turned in the opposite direction as they saw, streaming out of the great fortress-like court-yard of the Temple of the Sun, another hurrying throng.
Then young Odhainat gave a cry of joy.
"See, Bath Zabbai; they come, they come"! he cried. "It is my father, Odhainat the esarkos,(1) with all the leaders and all the bowmen and spearmen of our fahdh armed and in readiness. This day will we fling off the Roman yoke and become the true and unconquered lords of Palmyra. And I, too, Must join them," he added.
(1) The "head man," or chief of the "fahdh," or family.
But the young girl detained him. "Wait, cousin," she said; "watch and wait. Our fahdh will scarce attempt so brave a deed to-day, with these new Roman soldiers in our gates. That were scarcely wise."
But the boy broke out again. "So; they have seen each other," he said; "both sides are pressing on!"
"True; and they will meet under this very portico," said Bath Zabbai, and moved both by interest and desire this dark-eyed Syrian girl, to whom fear was never known, standing by her cousin's side, looked down upon the tossing sea of spears and lances and glittering shields and helmets that swayed and surged in the street below.
"So, Odaenathus!" said Rufinus, the tribune, reining in his horse and speaking in harsh and commanding tones, "what meaneth this array of armed followers?"
"Are the movements of Septimus Odaenathus, the head-man, of such importance to the noble tribune that he must needs question a free merchant of Palmyra as to the number and manner of his servants?" asked Odaemathus haughtily.
"Dog of a Palmyrean; slave of a camel-driver," said the Roman angrily, "trifle not with me. Were you ten times the free merchant you claim, you should not thus reply. Free, forsooth! None are free but Romans."
"Have a care, O Rufinus," said the Palmyrean boldly, "choose wiser words if you would have peaceful ways. Palmyra brooks no such slander of her foremost men."
"And Rome brooks no such men as you, traitor," said Rufinus. "Ay, traitor, I say," he repeated, as Odaenathus started at the word. "Think not to hide your plots to overthrow the Roman power in your city and hand the rule to the base Sapor of Persia. Every thing is known to our great father the Emperor, and thus doth he reckon with traitors. Macrinus, strike!" and at his word the short Gallic sword in the ready hand of the big German foot-soldier went straight to its mark and Odaenathus, the "head-man" of Palmyra, lay dead in the Street of the Thousand Columns.
So sudden and so unexpected was the blow that the Palmyreans stood as if stunned, unable to comprehend what had happened. But the Roman was swift to act.
"Sound, trumpets! Down, pikes!" he cried, and as the trumpet peal rose loud and clear, fresh legionaries came hurrying through the Damascus arch, and the pilum(1) and spatha of Rome bore back the shields and lances of Palmyra.
(1) The pilum was the Roman pike, and the spatha the short single-edged Roman sword.
But, before the lowered pikes could fully disperse the crowd, the throng parted and through the swaying mob there burst a lithe and flying figure—a brown-skinned maid of twelve with streaming hair, loose robe, and angry, flashing eyes. Right under the lowered pikes she darted and, all flushed and panting, defiantly faced the astonished Rufinus. Close behind her came an equally excited lad who, when he saw the stricken body of his father on the marble street, flung himself weeping upon it. But Bath Zabbai's eyes flashed still more angrily:
"Assassin, murderer!" she cried; "you have slain my kinsman and Odhainat's father. How dare you; how dare you!" she repeated vehemently, and then, flushing with deeper scorn, she added: "Roman, I hate you! Would that I were a man. Then should all Palmyra know how——"
"Scourge these children home," broke in the stern Rufinus, "or fetch them by the ears to their nurses and their toys. Let the boys and girls of Palmyra beware how they mingle in the matters of their elders, or in the plots of their fathers. Men of Palmyra, you who to-day have dared to think of rebellion, look on your leader here and know how Rome deals with traitors. But, because the merchant Odaenathus bore a Roman name, and was of Roman rank—ho, soldiers! bear him to his house, and let Palmyra pay such honor as befits his name and station."
The struggling children were half led, half carried into the sculptured atrium(1) of the palace of Odaenathus which, embowered in palms and vines and wonderful Eastern plants, stood back from the marble colonnade on the Street of the Thousand Columns. And when in that same atrium the body of the dead merchant lay embalmed and draped for its "long home,"(2) there, kneeling by the stricken form of the murdered father and kinsman, and with uplifted hand, after the vindictive manner of these fierce old days of blood, Odaemathus and Zenobia swore eternal hatred to Rome.
(1) The large central "living-room" of a Roman palace.
(2) The Palmyreans built great tower-tombs, beautiful in architecture and adornment, the ruins of which still stand on the hill slopes overlooking the old city. These they called their "long homes," and you will find the word used in the same sense in Ecclesiastes xii., 5.
Hatred, boys and girls, is a very ugly as it is a very headstrong fault; but as there is a good side even to a bad habit, so there is a hatred which may rise to the heighth of a virtue. Hatred of vice IS virtue; hatred of tyranny is patriotism. It is this which has led the world from slavery to freedom, from ignorance to enlightenment, and inspired the words that have found immortality alike above the ashes of Bradshaw the regicide and of Jefferson the American. Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.
But how could a fatherless boy and girl, away off on the edge of an Arabian desert, hope to resist successfully the mighty power of Imperial Rome? The story of their lives will tell.
If there are some people who are patriots, there are others who are poltroons, and such a one was Hairan, the elder brother of young Odhainat, when, succeeding to his dead father's wealth and power, he thought less of Roman tyranny than of Roman gold.
"Revenge ourselves on their purses, my brother, and not on their pikes," he said. "'T is easier and more profitable to sap the Roman's gold than to shed the Roman's blood."
But this submission to Rome only angered Odhainat, and to such a conflict of opinion did it lead that at last Hairan drove his younger brother from the home of his fathers, and the lad, "an Esau among the Jacobs of Tadmor," so the record tells us, spent his youth amid the roving Bedaween of the Arabian deserts and the mountaineers of the Armenian hills, waiting his time.
But, though a homeless exile, the dark-eyed Bath Zabbai did not forget him. In the palace of another kinsman, Septimus Worod, the "lord of the markets," she gave herself up to careful study, and hoped for the day of Palmyra's freedom. As rich in powers of mind as in the graces of form and face, she soon became a wonderful scholar for those distant days—mistress of four languages: Coptic, Syriac, Latin, and Greek, while the fiery temper of the girl grew into the nobler ambitions of the maiden. But above all things, as became her mingled Arabic and Egyptian blood—for she could trace her ancestry back to the free chiefs of the Arabian desert, and to the dauntless Cleopatra of Egypt,—she loved the excitement of the chase, and in the plains and mountains beyond the city she learned to ride and hunt with all the skill and daring of a young Diana.
And so it came to pass that when the Emperor Valerian sent an embassy from Rome to Ctesiphon, bearing a message to the Great King, as Sapor, the Persian monarch, was called, the embassy halted in Palmyra, and Septimus Hairan, now the head-man of the city, ordered, "in the name of the senate and people of Palmyra," a grand venatio, or wild beast hunt, in the circus near the Street of the Thousand Columns, in honor of his Roman guests. And he despatched his kinsman Septimus Zabbai, the soldier, to the Armenian hills to superintend the capture and delivery of the wild game needed for the hunt. With a great following of slaves and huntsmen, Zabbai the soldier departed, and with him went his niece, Bath Zabbai, or Zenobia, now a fearless young huntress of fifteen. Space will not permit to tell of the wonders and excitement of that wild-beast hunt—a hunt in which none must be killed but all must be captured without mar or wound. Such a trapping of wolves and bears and buffaloes was there, such a setting of nets and pitfalls for the mountain lion and the Syrian leopard, while the Arab hunters beat, and drove, and shouted, or lay in wait with net and blunted lance, that it was rare sport to the fearless Zenobia, who rode her fleet Arabian horse at the very head of the chase, and, with quick eye and practised hand, helped largely to swell the trophies of the hunt. What girl of to-day, whom even the pretty little jumping-mouse of Syria would scare out of her wits, could be tempted to witness such a scene? And yet this young Palmyrean girl loved nothing better than the chase, and the records tell us that she was a "passionate hunter," and that—-she pursued with ardor the wild beasts of the desert and thought nothing of fatigue or peril.
So, through dense Armenian forests and along rugged mountain paths, down rock-strewn hill-slopes and in green, low-lying valleys, the chase swept on: and one day, in one of the pleasant glades which, half-sun and half-shadow, stretch away to the Lebanon hills, young Bath Zabbai suddenly reined in her horse in full view of one of the typical hunting scenes of those old days. A young Arabian hunter had enticed a big mountain lion into one of the strong-meshed nets of stout palm fibres, then used for such purposes. His trained leopard or cheetah had drawn the beast from his lair, and by cunning devices had led him on until the unfortunate lion was half-entrapped. Just then, with a sudden swoop, a great golden eagle dashed down upon the preoccupied cheetah, and buried his talons in the leopard's head. But the weight of his victim was more than he had bargained for; the cheetah with a quick upward dash dislodged one of the great bird's talons, and, turning as quickly, caught the disengaged leg in his sharp teeth. At that instant the lion, springing at the struggling pair, started the fastenings of the net, which, falling upon the group, held all three prisoners. The eagle and the lion thus ensnared sought to release themselves, but only ensnared themselves the more, while the cunning cheetah, versed in the knowledge of the hunter's net, crept out from beneath the meshes as his master raised them slightly, and with bleeding head crawled to him for praise and relief.
Then the girl, flushed with delight at this double capture, galloped to the spot, and in that instant she recognized in the successful hunter her cousin the exile.
"Well snared, my Odhainat," she said, as, the first exclamation of surprise over, she stood beside the brown-faced and sturdy young hunter. "The Palmyrean leopard hath bravely trapped both the Roman eagle and the Persian lion. See, is it not an omen from the gods? Face valor with valor and craft with craft, O Odhainat! Have you forgotten the vow in your father's palace full three years ago?"
Forgotten it? Not he. And then he told Bath Zabbai how in all his wanderings he had kept their vow in mind, and with that, too, her other words of counsel, "Watch and Wait." He told her that, far and wide, he was known to all the Arabs of the desert and the Armenians of the hills, and how, from sheikh to camel-boy, the tribes were ready to join with Palmyra against both Rome and Persia.
"Your time will indeed come, my Odhainat," said the fearless girl, with proud looks and ringing voice. "See, even thus our omen gives the proof," and she pointed to the net, beneath whose meshes both eagle and lion, fluttering and panting, lay wearied with their struggles, while the cheetah kept watch above them. "Now make your peace with Hairan, your brother; return to Palmyra once again, and still let us watch and wait."
Three more years passed. Valerian, Emperor of Rome, leading his legions to war with Sapor, whom men called the "Great King," had fallen a victim to the treachery and traps of the Persian monarch, and was held a miserable prisoner in the Persian capital, where, richly robed in the purple of the Roman emperors and loaded with chains, he was used by the savage Persian tyrant as a living horse-block for the sport of an equally savage court. In Palmyra, Hairan was dead, and young Odhainat, his brother, was now Septimus Odaenathus—"headman" of the city and to all appearances the firm friend of Rome.
There were great rejoicings in Palmyra when the wise Zenobia—still scarce more than a girl—and the fearless young "head-man" of the desert republic were married in the marble city of the palm-trees, and her shrewd counsels brought still greater triumphs to Odaenathus and to Palmyra.
In the great market-place or forum, Odaenathus and Zenobia awaited the return of their messengers to Sapor. For the "Great King," having killed and stuffed the captive Roman Emperor, now turned his arms against the Roman power in the east and, destroying both Antioch and Emesa, looked with an evil eye toward Palmyra. Zenobia, remembering the omen of the eagle and the lion, repeated her counsel of facing craft with craft, and letters and gifts had been sent to Sapor, asking for peace and friendship. There is a hurried entrance through the eastern gate of the city, and the messengers from the Palmyrean senate rush into the Market-place.
"Your presents to the Great King have been thrown into the river, O Odaenathus," they reported, "and thus sayeth Sapor of Persia: 'Who is this Odaenathus, that he should thus presume to write to his lord? If he would obtain mitigation of the punishment that awaits him, let him fall prostrate before the foot of our throne, with his hands bound behind his back. Unless he doeth this, he, his family, and his country shall surely perish!'"
Swift to wrath and swifter still to act, Zenobia sprang to her feet. "Face force with force, Odaenathus. Be strong and sure, and Palmyra shall yet humble the Persian."
Her advice was taken. Quickly collecting the troops of Palmyra and the Arabs and Armenian who were his allies, the fearless "head-man" fell upon the army of the haughty Persian king, defeated and despoiled it, and drove it back to Persia. As Gibbon, the historian says: "The majesty of Rome, oppressed by a Persian, was protected by an Arab of Palmyra."
For this he was covered with favors by Rome; made supreme commander in the East, and, with Zenobia as his adviser and helper, each year made Palmyra stronger and more powerful.
Here, rightly, the story of the girl Zenobia ends. A woman now, her life fills one of the most brilliant pages of history. While her husband conquered for Rome in the north, she, in his absence, governed so wisely in the south as to insure the praise of all. And when the time was ripe, and Rome, ruled by weak emperors and harassed by wild barbarians, was in dire stress, the childish vow of the boy and girl made years before found fulfilment. Palmyra was suddenly declared free from the dominion of Rome, and Odaenathus was acknowledged by senate and people as "Emperor and King of kings."
But the hand of an assassin struck down the son as it had stricken the father. Zenobia, ascending the throne of Palmyra, declared herself "Zenobia Augusta, the Empress of the East," and, after the manner of her time, extended her empire in every direction until, as the record says: "A small territory in the desert, under the government of a woman, extended its conquests over many rich countries and several states. Zenobia, lately confined to the barren plains about Palmyra, now held sway from Egypt in the south, to the Bosphorus and the Black Sea in the north."
But a new emperor ruled in Rome: Aurelian, soldier and statesman. "Rome," he said, "shall never lose a province." And then the struggle for dominion in the East began. The strength and power of Rome, directed by the Emperor himself, at last triumphed. Palmyra fell, and Zenobia, after a most heroic defence of her kingdom, was led a prisoner to Rome. Clad in magnificent robes, loaded with jewels and with heavy chains of gold, she walked, regal and undaunted still, in the great triumphal procession of her conqueror, and, disdaining to kill herself as did Cleopatra and Dido, she gave herself up to the nobler work of the education and culture of her children, and led for many years, in her villa at Tibur, the life of a noble Roman matron.
Such, in brief, is the story of Zenobia. You must read for yourselves the record of her later years, as it stands in history, if you would know more of her grandeur in her days of power, and her moral grandeur in her days of defeat.
And with Zenobia fell Palmyra. Centuries of ruin and neglect have passed over the once fairy-like city of the Syrian oasis. Her temples and colonnades, her monuments and archways and wonderful buildings are prostrate and decayed, and the site even of the glorious city has been known to the modern world only within the last century. But while time lasts and the record of heroic deeds survives, neither fallen column nor ruined arch nor all the destruction and neglect of modern barbarism can blot out the story of the life and worth of Bath Zabbai, the brave girl of the Syrian desert, whom all the world honors as the noblest woman of antiquity—Zenobia of Palmyra, the dauntless "Queen of the East."
HELENA OF BRITAIN: THE GIRL OF THE ESSEX FELLS.
(Afterward known as "St. Helena," the mother of Constantine.) A.D. 255.
Ever since that far-off day in the infancy of the world, when lands began to form and rivers to flow seaward, the little river Colne has wound its crooked way through the fertile fields of Essex eastward to the broad North Sea.
Through hill-land and through moor-land, past Moyns and Great Yeldham, past Halstead and Chappel and the walls of Colchester, turning now this way and now that until it comes to Mersea Island and the sea, the little river flows to-day even as it sped along one pleasant summer morning sixteen hundred and forty years ago, when a little British princess, only fairly in her teens, reclined in comfortable contentment in her gilded barge and floated down the river from her father's palace at Colchester to the strand at Wivanloe.
For this little girl of fourteen, Helena, the princess, was a king's daughter, and, according to all accounts, a very bright and charming girl besides—which all princesses have not been. Her father was Coel, second prince of Britain and king of that part of ancient England, which includes the present shires of Essex and of Suffolk, about the river Colne.
Not a very large kingdom this, but even as small as it was, King Coel did not hold it in undisputed sway. For he was one of the tributary princes of Britain, in the days when Roman arms, and Roman law, and Roman dress, and Roman manners, had place and power throughout England, from the Isle of Wight, to the Northern highlands, behind whose forest-crowned hills those savage natives known as the Picts—"the tattooed folk"—held possession of ancient Scotland, and defied the eagles of Rome.
The monotonous song of the rowers, keeping time with each dip of the broad-bladed oars, rose and fell in answer to the beats of the master's silver baton, and Helena too followed the measure with the tap, tap, of her sandaled foot.
Suddenly there shot out around one of the frequent turns in the river, the gleam of other oars, the high prow of a larger galley, and across the water came the oar-song of a larger company of rowers. Helena started to her feet.
"Look, Cleon," she cried, pointing, eagerly towards the approaching boat, "'t is my father's own trireme. Why this haste to return, think'st thou?"
"I cannot tell, little mistress," replied the freedman Cleon, her galley-master; "the king thy father must have urgent tidings, to make him return thus quickly to Camalodunum."
Both the girl and the galley-master spoke in Latin, for the language of the Empire was the language of those in authority or in official life even in its remotest provinces, and the galley-master did but use the name which the Roman lords of Britain had given to the prosperous city on the Colne, in which the native Prince, King Coel, had his court—the city which to-day is known under its later Saxon name of Colchester.
It was, indeed, a curious state of affairs in England. I doubt if many of my girl and boy readers, no matter how, well they may stand in their history classes, have ever thought of the England of Hereward and Ivanhoe, of Paul Dombey and Tom Brown, as a Roman land.
And yet at the time when this little Flavia Julia Helena was sailing down the river Colne, the island of Britain, in its southern section at least, was almost as Roman in manner, custom, and speech as was Rome itself.
For nearly five hundred years, from the days of Caesar the conqueror, to those of Honorius the unfortunate, was England, or Britain as it was called, a Roman province, broken only in its allegiance by the early revolts of the conquered people or by the later usurpations of ambitious and unprincipled governors.
And, at the date of our story, in the year 255 A.D., the beautiful island had so far grown out of the barbarisms of ancient Britain as to have long since forgotten the gloomy rites and open-air altars of the Druids, and all the half-savage surroundings of those stern old priests.
Everywhere Roman temples testified to the acceptance by the people of the gods of Rome, and little Helena herself each morning hung the altar of the emperor-god Claudius with garlands in the stately temple which had been built in his honor in her father's palace town, asked the protection of Cybele, "the Heavenly Virgin," and performed the rites that the Empire demanded for "the thousand gods of Rome."
Throughout the land, south of the massive wall which the great Emperor Hadrian had stretched across the island from the mouth of the Solway to the mouth of the Tyne, the people themselves who had gathered into or about the thirty growing Roman cities which the conquerors had founded and beautified, had become Roman in language, religion, dress, and ways, while the educational influences of Rome, always following the course of her conquering eagles, had planted schools and colleges throughout the land, and laid the foundation for that native learning which in later years was to make the English nation so great and powerful.
And what a mighty empire must have been that of Rome that, in those far-off days, when rapid transit was unknown, and steam and electricity both lay dormant, could have entered into the lives of two bright young maidens so many leagues removed from one another—Zenobia, the dusky Palmyrean of the East, and Helena, the fresh-faced English girl of the West.
But to such distant and widely separated confines had this power of the vast Empire extended; and to this thoughtful young princess, drifting down the winding English river, the sense of Roman supremacy and power would come again and again.
For this charming young girl—said, later, to have been the most beautiful woman of her time in England—though reared to Roman ways and Roman speech, had too well furnished a mind not to think for herself. "She spake," so says the record, "many tongues and was replete with piety." The only child of King Coel, her doting old father had given her the finest education that Rome could offer. She was, even before she grew to womanhood, so we are told, a fine musician, a marvellous worker in tapestry, in hammered brass and pottery, and was altogether as wise and wonderful a young woman as even these later centuries can show.
But, for all this grand education, she loved to hear the legends and stories of her people that in various ways would come to her ears, either as the simple tales of her British nurse, or in the wild songs of the wandering bards, or singers.
As she listened to these she thought less of those crude and barbaric ways of her ancestors that Rome had so vastly bettered than of their national independence and freedom from the galling yoke of Rome, and, as was natural, she cherished the memory of Boadicea, the warrior queen, and made a hero of the fiery young Caractacus.
It is always so, you know. Every bright young imagination is apt to find greater glories in the misty past, or grander possibilities in a still more misty future than in the too practical and prosaic present in which both duty and destiny lie. And so Helena the princess, Leaning against the soft cushions of her gilded barge, had sighed for the days of the old-time British valor and freedom, and, even as she looked off toward the approaching triareme, she was wondering how she could awake to thoughts of British glory her rather heavy-witted father, Coel the King—an hereditary prince of that ancient Britain in which he was now, alas, but a tributary prince of the all too powerful Rome.
Now, "old King Cole," as Mother Goose tells us—for young Helena's father was none other than the veritable "old King Cole" of our nursery jingle—was a "jolly old soul," and a jolly old soul is very rarely an independent or ambitious one. So long as he could have "his pipe and his bowl" not, of course, his long pipe of tobacco that all the Mother Goose artists insist upon giving him—but the reed pipe upon which his musicians played—so long, in other words, as he could live in ease and comfort, undisturbed in his enjoyment of the good things of life by his Roman over-lords, he cared for no change. Rome took the responsibility and he took things easily. But this very day, while his daughter Helena was floating down the river to meet him on the strand at Wivanloe, he was returning from an unsuccessful boar-hunt in the Essex woods, very much out of sorts—cross because he had not captured the big boar he had hoped to kill, cross because his favorite musicians had been "confiscated" by the Roman governor or propraetor at Londinium (as London was then called), and still more cross because he had that day received dispatches from Rome demanding a special and unexpected tax levy, or tribute, to meet the necessary expenses of the new Emperor Diocletian.
Something else had happened to increase his ill temper. His "jolly old soul," vexed by the numerous crosses of the day, was thrown into still greater perplexity by the arrival, just as he stood fretful and chafing on the shore at Wivanloe, of one who even now was with him on the trireme, bearing him company back to his palace at Camolodunum—Carausius the admiral.
This Carausius, the admiral, was an especially vigorous, valorous, and fiery young fellow of twenty-one. He was cousin to the Princess Helena and a prince of the blood royal of ancient Britain. Educated under the strict military system of Rome, he had risen to distinction in the naval force of the Empire, and was now the commanding officer in the northern fleet that had its central station at Gessoriacum, now Boulogne, on the northern coast of France. He had chased and scattered the German pirates who had so long ravaged the northern seas, had been named by the Emperor admiral of the north, and was the especial pride, as he was the dashing young leader, of the Roman sailors along the English Channel and the German shores.
The light barge of the princess approached the heavier boat of the king, her father. At her signal the oarsmen drew up alongside, and, scarce waiting for either boat to more than slacken speed, the nimble-footed girl sprang lightly to the deck of her father's galley. Then bidding the obedient Cleon take her own barge back to the palace, she hurried at once, and without question, like the petted only child she was, into the high-raised cabin at the stern, where beneath the Roman standards sat her father the king.
Helena entered the apartment at a most exciting moment. For there, facing her portly old father, whose clouded face bespoke his troubled mind, stood her trimly-built young cousin Carausius the admiral, bronzed with his long exposure to the sea-blasts, a handsome young viking, and, in the eyes of the hero-loving Helen, very much of a hero because of his acknowledged daring and his valorous deeds.
Neither man seemed to have noticed the sudden entrance of the girl, so deep were they in talk.
"I tell thee, uncle," the hot-headed admiral was saying, "it is beyond longer bearing. This new emperor—this Diocletian—who is he to dare to dictate to a prince of Britain? A foot-soldier of Illyria, the son of slaves, and the client of three coward emperors; an assassin, so it hath been said, who from chief of the domestics, hath become by his own cunning Emperor of Rome, And now hath he dared to accuse me—me, a free Briton and a Roman citizen as well, a prince and the son of princes, with having taken bribes from these German pirates whom I have vanquished. He hath openly said that I, Carausius the admiral, have filled mine own coffers while neglecting the revenues of the state. I will not bear it. I am a better king than he, did I but have my own just rights, and even though he be Diocletian the Emperor, he needeth to think twice before he dare accuse a prince of Britain with bribe-taking and perjury."
"True enough, good nephew," said King Coel, as the admiral strode up and down before him, angrily playing with the hilt of his short Roman sword, "true enough, and I too have little cause to love this low-born emperor. He hath taken from me both my players and my gold, when I can illy spare either from my comfort or my necessities. 'T is a sad pass for Britain. But Rome is mistress now. What may we hope to do?"
The Princess Helena sprang to her father's side, her young face flushed, her small hand raised in emphasis. "Do!" cried she, and the look of defiance flamed on her fair young face. "Do! Is it thou, my father, thou, my cousin, princes of Britain both, that ask so weak a question? O that I were a man! What did that brave enemy of our house, Cassivellaunus, do? what Caractacus? what the brave queen Boadicea? When the Roman drove them to despair they raised the standard of revolt, sounded their battle cries, and showed the Roman that British freemen could fight to the death for their country and their home. And thus should we do, without fear or question, and see here again in Britain a victorious kingdom ruled once more by British kings."
"Nay, nay, my daughter," said cautious King Coel, "your words are those of an unthinking girl. The power of Rome——"
But the Prince Carausius, as the girl's brave words rang out, gave her an admiring glance, and, crossing to where she stood, laid his hand approvingly upon her shoulder.
"The girl is right, uncle," he said, breaking in upon the king's cautious speech. "Too long have we bowed the neck to Roman tyranny. We, free princes of Britain that we are, have it even now in our power to stand once again as altogether free. The fleet is mine, the people are yours, if you will but amuse them. Our brothers are groaning under the load of Roman tribute, and are ripe to strike. Raise the cry at Camalodunum, my uncle; cry: 'Havoc and death to Rome!' My fleet shall pour its victorious sailors upon the coast; the legions, even now full of British fighters, shall flock to out united standards, and we shall rule—Emperors in the North, even as do the Roman conquerors rule Emperors in the South."
Young blood often sways and leads in council and in action, especially when older minds are over-cautious or sluggish in decision. The words of Carausius and Helena carried the day with Coel the king, already smarting under a sense of ill-treatment by his Roman over-lords.
The standard of revolt was raised in Camalodunum. The young admiral hurried back to France to make ready his fleet, while Coel the king, spurred on to action by the patriotic Helena, who saw herself another Boadicea—though, in truth, a younger and much fairer one—gathered a hasty following, won over to his cause the British-filled legion in his palace-town, and, descending upon the nearest Roman camps and stations, surprised, captured, scattered, or brought over their soldiers, and proclaimed himself free from the yoke of Rome and supreme prince of Britain.
Ambition is always selfish. Even when striving for the general good there lies, too often, beneath this noble motive the still deeper one of selfishness. Carausius the admiral, though determined upon kingly power, had no desire for a divided supremacy. He was determined to be sole emperor, or none. Crafty and unscrupulous, although brave and high-spirited, he deemed it wisest to delay his part of the compact until he should see how it fared with his uncle, the king, and then, upon his defeat, to climb to certain victory.
He therefore sent to his uncle promises instead of men, and when summoned by the Roman governor to assist in putting down the revolt, he returned loyal answers, but sent his aid to neither party.
King Coel after his first successes knew that, unaided, he could not hope to withstand the Roman force that must finally be brought against him. Though urged to constant action by his wise young daughter, he preferred to do nothing; and, satisfied with the acknowledgment of his power in and about his little kingdom on the Colne, he spent his time in his palace with the musicians that he loved so well, and the big bowl of liquor that he loved, it is to be feared, quite as dearly.
The musicians—the pipers and the harpers—sang his praises, and told of his mighty deeds, and, no doubt, their refrain was very much the same as the one that has been preserved for us in the jingle of Mother Goose:
"O, none so rare as can compare With King Cole and his fiddlers three."
But if the pleasure-loving old king was listless, young Helena was not. The misty records speak of her determined efforts, and though it is hard to understand how a girl of fifteen can do any thing toward successful generalship, much can be granted to a young lady who, if the records speak truth, was, even while a girl, "a Minerva in wisdom, and not deficient in statecraft."
So, while she advised with her father's boldest captains and strengthened so wisely the walls of ancient Colchester, or Camalodunum, that traces of her work still remain as proof of her untiring zeal, she still cherished the hope of British freedom and release from Rome. And the loving old king, deep in his pleasures, still recognized the will and wisdom of his valiant daughter, and bade his artists make in her honor a memorial that should ever speak of her valor. And this memorial, lately unearthed, and known as the Colchester Sphinx, perpetuates the lion-like qualities of a girl in her teens, who dared withstand the power of Imperial Rome.
And still no help came from her cousin, the admiral. But one day a galley speeding up the Colne brought this unsigned message to King Coel:
"To Coel, Camalodunum, Greeting:
"Save thyself. Constantius the sallow-faced, prefect of the Western praetorians, is even now on his way from Spain to crush thy revolt. Save thyself. I wait. Justice will come."
"Thou seest, O daughter," said King Coel as Helena read the craven missive, "the end cometh as I knew it would. Well, man can but die." And with this philosophic reflection the "jolly old soul" only dipped his red nose still deeper into his big bowl, and bade his musicians play their loudest and merriest.
But Helena, "not deficient in statecraft," thought for both. She would save her father, her country, and herself, and shame her disloyal cousin. Discretion is the better part of valor. Let us see how discreet a little lady was this fair young Princess Helena.
The legions came to Camalodunum. Across Gaul and over the choppy channel they came, borne by the very galleys that were to have succored the British king. Up through the mouth of Thames they sailed, and landing at Londinium, marched in close array along the broad Roman road that led straight up to the gates of Camalodunum. Before the walls of Camalodunum was pitched the Roman camp, and the British king was besieged in his own palace-town.
The Roman trumpets sounded before the gate of the beleaguered city, and the herald of the prefect, standing out from his circle of guards, cried the summons to surrender:
"Coel of Britain, traitor to the Roman people and to thy lord the Emperor, hear thou! In the name of the Senate and People of Rome, I, Constantius the prefect, charge thee to deliver up to them ere this day's sun shall set, this, their City of Camalodunum, and thine own rebel body as well. Which done they will in mercy pardon the crime of treason to the city, and will work their will and punishment only upon thee—the chief rebel. And if this be not done within the appointed time, then will the walls of this their town of Camalodunum be overthrown, and thou and all thy people be given the certain death of traitors."
King Coel heard the summons, and some spark of that very patriotism that had inspired and incited his valiant little daughter flamed in his heart. He would have returned an answer of defiance. "I can at least die with my people," he said, but young Helena interposed.
"Leave this to me, my father," she said. "As I have been the cause, so let me be the end of trouble. Say to the prefect that in three hours' time the British envoy will come to his camp with the king's answer to his summons."
The old king would have replied otherwise, but his daughter's entreaties and the counsels of his captains who knew the hopelessness of resistance, forced him to assent, and his herald made answer accordingly.
Constantius the prefect—a manly, pleasant looking young commander, called Chlorus or "the sallow," from his pale face,—sat in his tent within the Roman camp. The three hours' grace allowed had scarcely expired when his sentry announced the arrival of the envoy of Coel of Britain.
"Bid him enter," said the prefect. Then, as the curtains of his tent were drawn aside, the prefect started in surprise, for there before him stood, not the rugged form of a British fighting man, but a fair young girl, who bent her graceful head in reverent obeisance to the youthful representative of the Imperial Caesars.
"What would'st thou with me, maiden?" asked the prefect.
"I am the daughter of Coel of Britain," said the girl, "and I am come to sue for pardon and for peace."
"The Roman people have no quarrel with the girls of Britain," said the prefect. "Hath then King Coel fallen so low in state that a maiden must plead for him?"
"He hath not fallen at all, O Prefect," replied the girl proudly; "the king, my father, would withstand thy force but that I, his daughter, know the cause of this unequal strife, and seek to make terms with the victors."
The girl's fearlessness pleased the prefect, for Constantius Chlorus was a humane and gentle man, fierce enough in fight, but seeking never to needlessly wound an enemy or lose a friend.
"And what are thy terms, fair envoy of Britain?" he demanded.
"These, O Prefect," replied Helena, "If but thou wilt remove thy cohorts to Londinium, I pledge my father's faith and mine, that he will, within five days, deliver to thee as hostage for his fealty, myself and twenty children of his councillors and captains. And further, I, Helena the princess, will bind myself to deliver up to thee, with the hostages, the chief rebel in this revolt, and the one to whose counselling this strife with Rome is due."
Both the matter and the manner of the offered terms still further pleased the prefect, and he said: "Be it so, Princess." Then summoning his lieutenant, he said: "Conduct the envoy of Coel of Britain with all courtesy to the gates of the the city," and with a herald's escort the girl returned to her father.
Again the old king rebelled at the terms his daughter had made.
"I know the ways of Rome," he said. "I know what their mercy meaneth. Thou shalt never go as hostage for my faith, O daughter, nor carry out this hazardous plan."
"I have pledged my word and thine, O King," said Helena. "Surely a Briton's pledge should be as binding as a Roman's."
So she carried her point, and, in five days' time, she, with twenty of the boys and girls of Camalodunum, went as hostages to the Roman camp in London.
"Here be thy hostages, fair Princess," said Constantius the prefect as he received the children; "and this is well. But remember the rest of thy compact. Deliver to me now, according to thy promise, the chief rebel against Rome."
"She is here, O Prefect," said the intrepid girl. "I am that rebel—Helena of Britain!"
The smile upon the prefect's face changed to sudden sternness.
"Trifle not with Roman justice, girl," he said, "I demand the keeping of thy word."
"It is kept," replied the princess. "Helena of Britain is the cause and motive of this revolt against Rome. If it be rebellion for a free prince to claim his own, if it be rebellion for a prince to withstand for the sake of his people the unjust demands of the conqueror, if it be rebellion for one who loveth her father to urge that father to valiant deeds in defence of the liberties of the land over which he ruleth as king, then am I a rebel, for I have done all these, and only because of my words did the king, my father, take up arms against the might and power of Rome. I am the chief rebel. Do with me as thou wilt."
And now the prefect saw that the girl spoke the truth, and that she had indeed kept her pledge.
"Thy father and his city are pardoned," he announced after a few moments of deliberation. "Remain thou here, thou and thy companions, as hostages for Britain, until such time as I shall determine upon the punishment due to one who is so fierce a rebel against the power of Rome."
So the siege of Camalodunum was raised, and the bloodless rebellion ended. Constantius the prefect took up his residence for a while within King Coel's city, and at last returned to his command in Gaul and Spain, well pleased with the spirit of the little maiden whom, so he claimed, he still held in his power as the prisoner of Rome.
Constantius the prefect came again to Britain, and with a greater following, fully ten years after King Coel's revolt, for now, again, rebellion was afoot in the island province.
Carausius the admiral, biding his time, sought at last to carry out his scheme of sole supremacy. Sailing with his entire war-fleet to Britain, he won the legions to his side, proclaimed himself Emperor of Britain, and defied the power of Rome.
So daring and successful was his move that Rome for a time was powerless. Carausius was recognized as "associate" emperor by Rome, until such time as she should be ready to punish his rebellion, and for seven years he reigned as emperor of Britain.
But ere this came to pass, Helena the princess had gone over to Gaul, and had become the wife of Constantius the prefect,—"Since only thus," said he, "may I keep in safe custody this prisoner of Rome."
The imperial power of Carausius was but short-lived. Crafty himself, he fell a victim to the craft of others, and the sword of Allectus, his chief minister and most trusted confidant, ended his life when once again the power of Rome seemed closing about the little kingdom of Britain.
Constantius became governor of Britain, and finally caesar and emperor. But, long before that day arrived, the Princess Helena had grown into a loyal Roman wife and mother, dearly loving her little son Constantine, who, in after years, became the first and greatest Christian emperor of Rome.
She bestowed much loving care upon her native province of Britain. She became a Christian even before her renowned son had his historic vision of the flaming cross. When more than eighty years old she made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There she did many good and kindly deeds, erected temples above the Sepulchre of the Saviour, at his birthplace at Bethlehem, and on the Mount of Olives. She is said, also, to have discovered upon Calvary the cross, upon which had suffered and died the Saviour she had learned to worship.
Beloved throughout her long and useful life she was canonized after her death, and is now recognized one of the saints of the Romish church.
To-day in the city of London you may see the memorial church reared to her memory—the Church of Great St. Helena, in Bishopgate. A loving, noble, wonderful, and zealous woman, she is a type of the brave young girlhood of the long ago, and, however much of fiction there may be mingled with the fact of her life-story, she was, we may feel assured, all that the chroniclers have claimed for her—"one of the grandest women of the earlier centuries."
PULCHERIA of CONSTANTINOPLE: THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN HORN
(Afterward known as "Pulcheria Augusta, Empress of the East.") A.D. 413.
There was trouble and confusion in the imperial palace of Theodosius the Little, Emperor of the East. Now, this Theodosius was called "the Little" because, though he bore the name of his mighty grandfather, Theodosius the Great, emperor of both the East and West, he had as yet done nothing worthy any other title than that of "the Little," or "the Child." For Theodosius emperor though he was called, was only a boy of twelve, and not a very bright boy at that.
His father, Arcadius the emperor, and his mother, Eudoxia the empress, were dead; and in the great palace at Constantinople, in this year of grace, 413, Theodosius, the boy emperor, and his three sisters, Pulcheria, Marina, and Arcadia, alone were left to uphold the tottering dignity and the empty name of the once mighty Empire of the East, which their great ancestors, Constantine and Theodosius, had established and strengthened.
And now there was confusion in the imperial palace; for word came in haste from the Dacian border that Ruas, king of the Huns, sweeping down from the east, was ravaging the lands along the Upper Danube, and with his host of barbarous warriors was defeating the legions and devastating the lands of the empire.
The wise Anthemius, prefect of the east, and governor or guardian of the young emperor, was greatly disturbed by the tidings of this new invasion. Already he had repelled at great cost the first advance of these terrible Huns, and had quelled into a sort of half submission the less ferocious followers of Ulpin the Thracian; but now he knew that his armies along the Danube were in no condition to withstand the hordes of Huns, that, pouring in from distant Siberia, were following the lead of Ruas, their king, for plunder and booty, and were even now encamped scarce two hundred and fifty miles from the seven gates and the triple walls of splendid Constantinople.
Turbaned Turks, mosques and minarets, muftis and cadis, veiled eastern ladies, Mohammedains and muezzins, Arabian Nights and attar of roses, bazars, dogs, and donkeys—these, I suppose, are what Constantinople suggests whenever its name is mentioned to any girl or boy of to-day,—the capital of modern Turkey, the city of the Sublime Porte. But the greatest glory of Constantinople was away back in the early days before the time of Mohammed, or of the Crusaders, when it was the centre of the Christian religion, the chief and gorgeous capital of a Christian empire, and the residence of Christian emperors,—from the days of Constantine the conqueror to those of Justinian the law-giver and of Irene the empress. It was the metropolis of the eastern half of the great Roman Empire, and during this period of over five hundred years all the wealth and treasure of the east poured into Constantinople, while all the glories of the empire, even the treasures of old Rome itself, were drawn upon to adorn and beautify this rival city by the Golden Horn. And so in the days of Theodosius the Little, the court of Constantinople, although troubled with fear of a barbarian invasion and attack, glittered with all the gorgeousness and display of the most magnificent empire in the world.
In the great daphne, or central space of the imperial palace, the prefect Anthemius, with the young emperor, the three princesses, and their gorgeously arrayed nobles and attendants, awaited, one day, the envoys of Ruas the Hun, who sought lands and power within the limits of the empire.
They came, at last,—great, fierce-looking fellows, not at all pleasant to contemplate—big-boned broad-shouldered, flat-nosed, swarthy, and small-eyed, with war-cloaks of shaggy skins, leathern armor, wolf-crowned helmets, and barbaric decorations, and the royal children shrunk from them in terror, even as they watched them with wondering curiosity. Imperial guards, gleaming in golden armor, accompanied them, while with the envoys came also as escort a small retinue of Hunnish spearmen. And in the company of these, the Princess Pulcheria noted a lad of ten or twelve years—short, swarthy, big-headed, and flat-nosed, like his brother barbarians, but with an air of open and hostile superiority that would not be moved even by all the glow and glitter of an imperial court.
Then Eslaw, the chief of the envoys of King Ruas the Hun, made known his master's demands So much land, so much treasure, so much in the way of concession and power over the lands along the Danube, or Ruas the king would sweep down with his warriors, and lay waste the cities and lands of the empire.
"These be bold words," said Anthemius the prefect. "And what if our lord the emperor shall say thee nay?"
But ere the chief of the envoys could reply, the lad whose presence in the escort the Princess Pulcheria had noted, sprang into the circle before the throne, brandishing his long spear in hot defiance.
"Dogs and children of dogs, ye dare not say us nay!" he cried harshly. "Except we be made the friends and allies of the emperor, and are given full store of southern gold and treasure, Ruas the king shall overturn these your palaces, and make you all captives and slaves. It shall be war between you and us forever. Thus saith my spear!"
And as he spoke he dashed his long spear upon the floor, until the mosaic pavement rang again.
Boy emperor and princesses, prefect and nobles and imperial guards, sprang to their feet as the spear clashed on the pavement, and even the barbarian envoys, while they smiled grimly at their young comrade's energy, pulled him hastily back.
But ere the prefect Anthemius could sufficiently master his astonishment to reply, the young Princess Pulcheria faced the savage envoys, and pointing to the cause of the disturbance, asked calmly:
"Who is this brawling boy, and what doth he here in the palace of the emperor?"
And the boy made instant and defiant answer:
"I am Attila, the son of Mundzuk, kinsman to Ruas the king, and deadly foe to Rome."
"Good Anthemius," said the clear, calm voice of the unterrified girl, "were it not wise to tell this wild young prince from the northern forest that the great emperor hath gold for his friends, but only iron for his foes? 'T is ever better to be friend than foe. Bid, I pray, that the arras of the Hippodrome be parted, and let our guests see the might and power of our arms."
With a look of pleased surprise at this bold stroke of the Princess, the prefect clapped his hands in command, and the heavily brocaded curtain that screened the gilded columns parted as if by unseen hands, and the Hunnish envoys, with a gaze of stolid wonder, looked down upon the great Hippodrome of Constantinople.
It was a vast enclosure, spacious enough for the marshalling of an army. Around its sides ran tiers of marble seats, and all about it rose gleaming statues of marble, of bronze, of silver, and of gold—Augustus and the emperors, gods and goddesses of the old pagan days, heroes of the eastern and western empires. The bright oriental sun streamed down upon it, and as the trumpets sounded from beneath the imperial balcony, there filed into the arena the glittering troops of the empire, gorgeous in color and appointments, with lofty crests and gleaming armor, with shimmering spear-tips, prancing horses, towering elephants, and mighty engines of war and siege, with archers and spearmen, with sounding trumpets and swaying standards and, high over all, the purple labarum, woven in gold and jewels,—the sacred banner of Constantine. Marching and counter-marching, around and around, and in and out, until it seemed wellnigh endless, the martial procession passed before the eyes of the northern barbarians, watchful of every movement, eager as children to witness this royal review.
"These are but as a handful of dust amid the sands of the sea to the troops of the empire," said the prefect Anthemius, when the glittering rear-guard had passed from the Hippodrome. And the Princess Pulcheria added, "And these, O men from the north, are to help and succor the friends of the great emperor, even as they are for the terror and destruction of his foes. Bid the messengers from Ruas the king consider, good Anthemius, whether it were not wiser for their master to be the friend rather than the foe of the emperor. Ask him whether it would not be in keeping with his valor and his might to be made one of the great captains of the empire, with a yearly stipend of many pounds of gold, as the recompense of the emperor for his services and his love."
Again the prefect looked with pleasure and surprise upon this wise young girl of fifteen, who had seen so shrewdly and so well the way to the hearts of these northern barbarians, to whom gold and warlike display were as meat and drink.
"You hear the words of this wise young maid," he said. "Would it not please Ruas the king to be the friend of the emperor, a general of the empire, and the acceptor, on each recurring season of the Circensian games, of full two hundred pounds of gold as recompense for service and friendship?"
"Say, rather, three hundred pounds," said Eslaw, the chief of the envoys, "and our master may, perchance, esteem it wise and fair."
"Nay, it is not for the great emperor to chaffer with his friends," said Pulcheria, the princess. "Bid that the stipend be fixed at three hundred and fifty pounds of gold, good Anthemius, and let our guests bear to Ruas the king pledges and tokens of the emperor's friendship."
"And bid, too, that they do leave yon barbarian boy at our court as hostage of their faith," demanded young Theodosius the emperor, now speaking for the first time and making a most stupid blunder at a critical moment.
For, with a sudden start of revengeful indignation, young Attila the Hun turned to the boy emperor: "I will be no man's hostage," he cried. "Freely I came, freely will I go! Come down from thy bauble of a chair and thou and I will try, even in your circus yonder, which is the better boy, and which should rightly be hostage for faith and promise given
"How now!" exclaimed the boy emperor, altogether unused to such uncourtier-like language; "this to me!" And the hasty young Hun continued:
"Ay, this and more! I tell thee, boy, that were I Ruas the king, the grass should never grow where the hoofs of my war-horse trod; Scythia should be mine; Persia should be mine; Rome should be mine. And look you, sir emperor, the time shall surely come when the king of the Huns shall be content not with paltry tribute and needless office, but with naught but Roman treasure and Roman slaves!"
But into this torrent of words came Pulcheria's calm voice again. "Nay, good Attila, and nay, my brother and my lord," she said. "'T were not between friends and allies to talk of tribute, nor of slaves, nor yet of hostage. Freely did'st thou come and as freely shalt thou go; and let this pledge tell of friendship between Theodosius the emperor and Ruas the king." And, with a step forward, she flung her own broad chain of gold around the stout and swarthy neck of the defiant young Attila.
So, through a girl's ready tact and quiet speech, was the terror of barbarian invasion averted. Ruas the Hun rested content for years with his annual salary of three hundred and fifty pounds of gold, or over seventy thousand dollars, and his title of General of the Empire; while not for twenty years did the hot-headed young Attila make good his threat against the Roman power.
Anthemius the prefect, like the wise man he was, recognized the worth of the young Princess Pulcheria; he saw how great was her influence over her brother the emperor, and noted with astonishment and pleasure her words of wisdom and her rare common-sense.
"Rule thou in my place, O Princess!" he said, soon after this interview with the barbarian envoys. "Thou alone, of all in this broad empire, art best fitted to take lead and direction in the duties of its governing."
Pulcheria, though a wise young girl, was prudent and conscientious.
"Such high authority is not for a girl like me, good Anthemius," she replied. "Rather let me shape the ways and the growth of the emperor my brother, and teach him how best to maintain himself in a deportment befitting his high estate, so that he may become a wise and just ruler; but do thou bear sway for him until such time as he may take the guidance on himself."
"Nay, not so, Princess," the old prefect said. "She who can shape the ways of a boy may guide the will of an empire. Be thou, then, Regent and Augusta, and rule this empire as becometh the daughter of Arcadius and the granddaughter of the great Theodosius."
And as he desired, so it was decided. The Senate of the East decreed it and, in long procession, over flower-strewn pavements and through gorgeously decorated streets, with the trumpets sounding their loudest, with swaying standards, and rank upon rank of imperial troops, with great officers of the government and throngs of palace attendants, this young girl of sixteen, on the fourth day of July, in the year 414, proceeded to the Church of the Holy Apostles, and was there publicly proclaimed Pulcheria Augusta, Regent of the East, solemnly accepting the trust as a sacred and patriotic duty.
And, not many days after, before the high altar of this same Church of the Holy Apostles, Pulcheria the princess stood with her younger sisters, Arcadia and Marina, and with all the impressive ceremonial of the Eastern Church, made a solemn vow to devote their lives to the keeping of their father's heritage and the assistance of their only brother; to forswear the world and all its allurements; never to marry; and to be in all things faithful and constant to each other in this their promise and their pledge.
And they were faithful and constant. The story of those three determined young maidens, yet scarcely "in their teens," reads almost like a page from Tennyson's beautiful poem, "The Princess," with which many of my girl readers are doubtless familiar. The young regent and her sisters, with their train of attendant maidens, renounced the vanity of dress—wearing only plain and simple robes; they spent their time in making garments for the poor, and embroidered work for church decorations; and with song and prayer and frugal meals, interspersed with frequent fasts, they kept their vow to "forswear the world and its allurements," in an altogether strict and monotonous manner. Of course this style of living is no more to be recommended to healthy, hearty, fun-loving girls of fifteen than is its extreme of gayety and indulgence, but it had its effect in those bad old days of dissipation and excess, and the simplicity and soberness of this wise young girl's life in the very midst of so much power and luxury, made even the worst elements in the empire respect and honor her.
It would be interesting, did space permit, to sketch at length some of the devisings and doings of this girl regent of sixteen. "She superintended with extraordinary wisdom," says the old chronicler Sozemon, "the transactions of the Roman government," and "afforded the spectacle," says Ozanam, a later historian, "of a girlish princess of sixteen, granddaughter and sole inheritor of the genius and courage of Theodosius the Great, governing the empires of the east and west, and being proclaimed on the death of her brother, Augusta, Imperatrix, and mistress of the world!"
This last event—the death of Theodosius the Younger—occurred in the year 449, and Pulcheria ascended the golden throne of Constantinople—the first woman that ever ruled as sole empress of the Roman world.
She died July 18, 453. That same year saw the death of her youthful acquaintance, Attila the Hun, that fierce barbarian whom men had called the "Scourge of God." His mighty empire stretched from the great wall of China to the Western Alps; but, though he ravaged the lands of both eastern and western Rome, he seems to have been so managed or controlled by the wise and peaceful measures of the girl regent, that his destroying hordes never troubled the splendid city by the Golden Horn which offered so rare and tempting a booty.
It is not given to the girls of to-day to have any thing like the magnificent opportunities of the young Pulcheria. But duty in many a form faces them again and again, while not unfrequently the occasion comes for sacrifice of comfort or for devotion to a trust. To all such the example of this fair young princess of old Constantinople, who, fifteen centuries ago, saw her duty plainly and undertook it simply and without hesitation, comes to strengthen and incite; and the girl who feels herself overwhelmed by responsibility, or who is fearful of her own untried powers, may gather strength, courage, wisdom, and will from the story of this historic girl of the long ago—the wise young Regent of the East, Pulcheria of Constantinople.
CLOTILDA OF BURGANDY: THE GIRL OF THE FRENCH VINYARDS
(Afterward known as "St. Clotilda," the first Queen of France.) A.D. 485.
It was little more than fourteen hundred years ago, in the year of our Lord 485, that a little girl crouched trembling and terrified, at the feet of a pitying priest in the palace of the kings of Burgundy. There has been many a sad little maid of ten, before and since the days of the fair-haired Princess Clotilda, but surely none had greater cause for terror and tears than she. For her cruel uncle, Gundebald, waging war against his brother Chilperic, the rightful king of Burgundy, had with a band of savage followers burst into his brother's palace and, after the fierce and relentless fashion of those cruel days, had murdered King Chilperic, the father of little Clotilda, the queen, her mother, and the young princes, her brothers; and was now searching for her and her sister Sedelenda, to kill them also.
Poor Sedelenda had hidden away in some other far-off corner; but even as Clotilda hung for protection to the robe of the good stranger-priest Ugo of Rheims (whom the king, her father, had lodged in the palace, on his homeward journey from Jerusalem), the clash of steel drew nearer and nearer. Through the corridor came the rush of feet, the arras in the doorway was rudely flung aside, and the poor child's fierce pursuers, with her cruel uncle at their head, rushed into the room.
"Hollo! Here hides the game!" he cried in savage exultation. "Thrust her away, Sir Priest, or thou diest in her stead. Not one of the tyrant's brood shall live. I say it!"
"And who art thou to judge of life or death?" demanded the priest sternly, as he still shielded the trembling child.
"I am Gundebald, King of Burgundy by the grace of mine own good sword and the right of succession," was the reply. "Trifle not with me, Sir Priest, but thrust away the child. She is my lawful prize to do with as I will. Ho, Sigebert, drag her forth!"
Quick as a flash the brave priest stepped before, the cowering child, and, with one hand still resting protectingly on the girl's fair hair, he raised the other in stern and fearless protest, and boldly faced the murderous throng.
"Back, men of blood!" he cried. "Back! Nor dare to lay hand on this young maid who hath here sought sanctuary!"(1)
(1) Under the Goths and Franks the protection of churches and priests, when extended to persons in peril, was called the "right of sanctuary," and was respected even by the fiercest of pursuers.
Fierce and savage men always respect bravery in others. There was something so courageous and heroic in the act of that single priest in thus facing a ferocious and determined band, in defence of a little girl,—for girls were but slightingly regarded in those far-off days,—that it caught the savage fancy of the cruel king. And this, joined with his respect for the Church's right of sanctuary, and with the lessening of his thirst for blood, now that he had satisfied his first desire for revenge, led him to desist.
"So be it then," he said, lowering his threatening sword. "I yield her to thee, Sir Priest. Look to her welfare and thine own. Surely a girl can do no harm."
But King Gundebald and his house lived to learn how far wrong was that unguarded statement. For the very lowering of the murderous sword that thus brought life to the little Princess Clotilda meant the downfall of the kingdom of Burgundy and the rise of the great and victorious nation of France. The memories of even a little maid of ten are not easily blotted out.
Her sister, Sedelenda, had found refuge and safety in the convent of Ainay, near at hand, and there, too, Clotilda would have gone, but her uncle, the new king, said: "No, the maidens must be forever separated." He expressed a willingness, however, to have the Princess Clotilda brought up in his palace, which had been her father's, and requested the priest Ugo of Rheims to remain awhile, and look after the girl's education. In those days a king's request was a command, and the good Ugo, though stern and brave in the face of real danger, was shrewd enough to know that it was best for him to yield to the king's wishes. So he continued in the palace of the king, looking after the welfare of his little charge, until suddenly the girl took matters into her own hands, and decided his future and her own.
The kingdom of Burgundy, in the days of the Princess Clotilda, was a large tract of country now embraced by Southern France and Western Switzerland. It had been given over by the Romans to the Goths, who had invaded it in the year 413. It was a land of forest and vineyards, of fair valleys and sheltered hill-sides, and of busy cities that the fostering hand of Rome had beautified; while through its broad domain the Rhone, pure and sparkling, swept with a rapid current from Swiss lake and glacier, southward to the broad and beautiful Mediterranean. Lyons was its capital, and on the hill of Fourviere, overlooking the city below it, rose the marble palace of the Burgundian kings, near to the spot where, to-day, the ruined forum of the old Roman days is still shown to tourists.
It had been a palace for centuries. Roman governors of "Imperial Gaul" had made it their head-quarters and their home; three Roman emperors had cooed and cried as babies within its walls; and it had witnessed also many a feast and foray, and the changing fortunes of Roman, Gallic, and Burgundian conquerors and over-lords. But it was no longer "home" to the little Princess Clotilda. She thought of her father and mother, and of her brothers, the little princes with whom she had played in this very palace, as it now seemed to her, so many years ago. And the more she feared her cruel uncle, the more did she desire to go far, far away from his presence. So, after thinking the whole matter over, as little girls of ten can sometimes think, she told her good friend Ugo, the priest, of her father's youngest brother Godegesil, who ruled the dependent principality of Geneva, far up the valley of the Rhone.
"Yes, child, I know the place," said Ugo. "A fair city indeed, on the blue and beautiful Lake Lemanus, walled in by mountains, and rich in corn and vineyards."
"Then let us fly thither," said the girl. "My uncle Godegesil I know will succor us, and I shall be freed from my fears of King Gundebald."
Though it seemed at first to the good priest only a child's desire, he learned to think better of it when he saw how unhappy the poor girl was in the hated palace, and how slight were her chances for improvement. And so, one fair spring morning in the year 486, the two slipped quietly out of the palace; and by slow and cautious stages, with help from friendly priests and nuns, and frequent rides in the heavy ox-wagons that were the only means of transport other than horseback, they finally reached the old city of Geneva.
And on the journey, the good Ugo had made the road seem less weary, and the lumbering ox-wagons less jolty and painful, by telling his bright young charge of all the wonders and relics he had seen in his journeyings in the East; but especially did the girl love to hear him tell of the boy king of the Franks, Hlodo-wig, or Clovis, who lived in the priest's own boyhood home of Tournay, in far-off Belgium, and who, though so brave and daring, was still a pagan, when all the world was fast becoming Christian. And as Clotilda listened, she wished that she could turn this brave young chief away from his heathen deities, Thor and Odin, to the worship of the Christians' God; and, revolving strange fancies in her mind, she determined what she would do when she "grew up,"—as many a girl since her day has determined. But even as they reached the fair city of Geneva—then half Roman, half Gallic, in its buildings and its life—the wonderful news met them how this boy-king Clovis, sending a challenge to combat to the prefect Syagrius, the last of the Roman governors, had defeated him in a battle at Soissons, and broken forever the power of Rome in Gaul.
War, which is never any thing but terrible, was doubly so in those savage days, and the plunder of the captured cities and homesteads was the chief return for which the barbarian soldiers followed their leaders. But when the Princess Clotilda heard how, even in the midst of his burning and plundering, the young Frankish chief spared some of the fairest Christian churches, he became still more her hero; and again the desire to convert him from paganism and to revenge her father's murder took shape in her mind. For, devout and good though she was, this excellent little maiden of the year 485 was by no means the gentle-hearted girl of 1888, and, like most of the world about her, had but two desires: to become a good church-helper, and to be revenged on her enemies. Certainly, fourteen centuries of progress and education have made us more loving and less vindictive.
But now that the good priest Ugo of Rheims saw that his own home land was in trouble, he felt that there lay his duty. And Godegesil, the under-king of Geneva, feeling uneasy alike from the nearness of this boy conqueror and the possible displeasure of his brother and over-lord, King Gundebald, declined longer to shelter his niece in his palace at Geneva.
"And why may I not go with you?" the girl asked of Ugo; but the old priest knew that a conquered and plundered land was no place to which to convey a young maid for safety, and the princess, therefore, found refuge among the sisters of the church of St. Peter in Geneva. And here she passed her girlhood, as the record says, "in works of piety and charity."
So four more years went by. In the north, the boy chieftain, reaching manhood, had been raised aloft on the shields of his fair-haired and long-limbed followers, and with many a "hael!" and shout had been proclaimed "King of the Franks." In the south, the young Princess Clotilda, now nearly sixteen, had washed the feet of pilgrims, ministered to the poor, and, after the manner of her day, had proved herself a zealous church-worker in that low-roofed convent near the old church of St. Peter, high on that same hill in Geneva where to-day, hemmed in by narrow streets and tall houses, the cathedral of St. Peter, twice rebuilded since Clotilda's time, overlooks the quaint city, the beautiful lake of Geneva, and the rushing Rhone, and sees across the valley of the Arve the gray and barren rocks of the Petit Seleve and the distant snows of Mont Blanc.
One bright summer day, as the young princess passed into the hospitium, or guest-room for poor pilgrims, attached to the convent, she saw there a stranger, dressed in rags. He had the wallet and staff of a mendicant, or begging pilgrim, and, coming toward her, he asked for "charity in the name of the blessed St. Peter, whose church thou servest."
The young girl brought the pilgrim food, and then, according to the custom of the day, kneeling on the earthen floor, she began to bathe his feet. But as she did so, the pilgrim, bending forward, said in a low voice:
"Lady, I have great matters to announce to thee, if thou deign to permit me to reveal them."
Pilgrims in those days were frequently made the bearers of special messages between distant friends; but this poor young orphan princess could think of no one from whom a message to her might come, Nevertheless, she simply said: "Say on." In the same low tone the beggar continued, "Clovis, King of the Franks, sends thee greeting."
The girl looked up now, thoroughly surprised. This beggar must be a madman, she thought. But the eyes of the pilgrim looked at her reassuringly, and he said: "In token whereof, he sendeth thee this ring by me, his confidant and comitatus,(1) Aurelian of Soissons."
(1) One of the king's special body-guard, from which comes the title comp, count.
The Princess Clotilda took, as if in a dream, the ring of transparent jacinth set in solid gold, and asked quietly:
"What would the king of the Franks with me?"
"The king, my master, hath heard from the holy Bishop Remi and the good priest Ugo of thy beauty and discreetness," replied Aurelian; "and likewise of the sad condition of one who is the daughter of a royal line. He bade me use all my wit to come nigh to thee, and to say that, if it be the will of the gods, he would fain raise thee to his rank by marriage."
Those were days of swift and sudden surprises, when kings made up their minds in royal haste, and princesses were not expected to be surprised at whatever they might hear. And so we must not feel surprised to learn that all the dreams of her younger days came into the girl's mind, and that, as the record states, "she accepted the ring with great joy."
"Return promptly to thy lord," she said to the messenger, "and bid him, if he would fain unite me to him in marriage, to send messengers without delay to demand me of my uncle, King Gundebald, and let those same messengers take me away in haste, so soon as they shall have obtained permission."
For this wise young princess knew that her uncle's word was not to be long depended upon, and she feared, too, that certain advisers at her uncle's court might counsel him to do her harm before the messengers of King Clovis could have conducted her beyond the borders of Burgundy.
Aurelian, still in his pilgrim's disguise, for he feared discovery in a hostile country, hastened back to King Clovis, who, the record says, was "pleased with his success and with Clotilda's notion, and at once sent a deputation to Gundebald to demand his niece in marriage."
As Clotilda foresaw, her uncle stood in too much dread of this fierce young conqueror of the north to say him nay. And soon in the palace at Lyons, so full of terrible memories to this orphan girl, the courteous Aurelian, now no longer in beggar's rags, but gorgeous in white silk and a flowing sagum, or mantle of vermilion, publicly engaged himself, as the representative of King Clovis, to the Princess Clotilda; and, according to the curious custom of the time, cemented the engagement by giving to the young girl a sou and a denier.(1)
(1) Two pieces of old French coin, equalling about a cent and a mill in American money.
"Now deliver the princess into our hand, O king," said the messenger, "that we may take her to King Clovis, who waiteth for us even now at Chalons to conclude these nuptials."
So, almost before he knew what he was doing, King Gundebald had bidden his niece farewell; and the princess, with her escort of Frankish spears, was rumbling away in a clumsy basterne, or covered ox-wagon, toward the frontier of Burgundy.
But the slow-moving ox-wagon by no means suited the impatience of this shrewd young princess. She knew her uncle, the king of Burgundy, too well. When once he was roused to action, he was fierce and furious.
"Good Aurelian," she said at length to the king's ambassador, who rode by her side: "if that thou wouldst take me into the presence of thy lord, the king of the Franks, let me descend from this carriage, mount me on horseback, and let us speed hence as fast as we may, for never in this carriage shall I reach the presence of my lord, the king."
And none too soon was her advice acted, upon for, the counsellors of King Gundebald, noticing Clotilda's anxiety to be gone, concluded that, after all, they had made a mistake in betrothing her to King Clovis.
"Thou shouldst have remembered, my lord," they said, "that thou didst slay Clotilda's father, her mother, and the young princes, her brothers. If Clotilda become powerful, be sure she will avenge the wrong thou hast wrought her."
And forthwith the king sent off an armed band, with orders to bring back both the princess and the treasure he had sent with her as her marriage portion. But already the princess and her escort were safely across the Seine, where, in the Campania, or plain-country,—later known as the province of Champagne—she met the king of the Franks.
I am sorry to be obliged to confess that the first recorded desire of this beautiful, brave, and devout young maiden, when she found herself safely among the fierce followers of King Clovis, was a request for vengeance. But we must remember, girls and boys, that this is a story of half-savage days when, as I have already said, the desire for revenge on one's enemies was common to all.
From the midst of his skin-clad and green-robed guards and nobles, young Clovis—in a dress of "crimson and gold, and milk-white silk," and with his yellow hair coiled in a great top-knot on his uncovered head—advanced to meet his bride.
"My lord king," said Clotilda, "the bands of the king of Burgundy follow hard upon us to bear me off. Command, I pray thee, that these, my escort, scatter themselves right and left for twoscore miles, and plunder and burn the lands of the king of Burgundy."
Probably in no other way could this wise young girl of seventeen have so thoroughly pleased the fierce and warlike young king. He gladly ordered her wishes to be carried out, and the plunderers forthwith departed to carry out the royal command.
So her troubles were ended, and this prince and princess,—Hlodo-wig, or Clovis (meaning the "warrior youth"), and Hlodo-hilde, or Clotilda (meaning the "brilliant and noble maid"),—in spite of the wicked uncle Gundebald, were married at Soissons, in the year 493, and, as the fairy stories say, "lived happily together ever after."
The record of their later years has no place in this sketch of the girlhood of Clotilda; but it is one of the most interesting and dramatic of the old-time historic stories. The dream of that sad little princess in the old convent at Geneva, "to make her boy-hero a Christian, and to be revenged on the murderer of her parents," was in time fulfilled. For on Christmas-day, in the year 493, the young king and three thousand of his followers were baptized amid gorgeous ceremonial in the great church of St. Martin at Rheims.
The story of the young queen's revenge is not to be told in these pages. But, though terrible, it is only one among the many tales of vengeance that show us what fierce and cruel folk our ancestors were, in the days when passion instead of love ruled the hearts of men and women, and of boys and girls as well; and how favored are we of this nineteenth century, in all the peace and prosperity and home happiness that surround us.
But from this conversion, as also from this revenge, came the great power of Clovis and Clotilda; for, ere his death, in the year 511, he brought all the land under his sway from the Rhine to the Rhone, the ocean and the Pyrenees; he was hailed by his people with the old Roman titles of Consul and Augustus, and reigned victorious as the first king of France. Clotilda, after years of wise counsel and charitable works, upon which her determination for revenge seems to be the only stain, died long after her husband, in the year 545, and to-day, in the city of Paris, which was even then the capital of new France, the church of St. Clotilda stands as her memorial, while her marble statue may be seen by the traveller in the great palace of the Luxembourg.
A typical girl of those harsh old days of the long ago,—loving and generous toward her friends, unforgiving and revengeful to her enemies,—reared in the midst of cruelty and of charity, she did her duty according to the light given her, made France a Christian nation, and so helped on the progress of civilization. Certainly a place among the world's historic girls may rightly be accorded to this fair-haired young princess of the summer-land of France, the beautiful Clotilda of Burgundy.
WOO OF HWANG-HO.: THE GIRL OF THE YELLOW RIVER.
(Afterwards the Great Empress Woo of China.) A.D. 635.
Thomas the Nestorian had been in many lands and in the midst of many dangers, but he had never before found himself in quite so unpleasant a position as now. Six ugly Tartar horsemen with very uncomfortable-looking spears and appalling shouts, and mounted on their swift Kirghiz ponies, were charging down upon him, while neither the rushing Yellow River on the right hand, nor the steep dirt-cliffs on the left, could offer him shelter or means of escape. These dirt-cliffs, or "loess," to give them their scientific name, are remarkable banks of brownish-yellow loam, found largely in Northern and Western China, and rising sometimes to a height of a thousand feet. Their peculiar yellow tinge makes every thing look "hwang" or yellow,—and hence yellow is a favorite color among the Chinese. So, for instance, the emperor is "Hwang-ti"—the "Lord of the Yellow Land"; the imperial throne is the "Hwang-wei" or "yellow throne" of China; the great river, formerly spelled in your school geographies Hoang-ho, is "Hwang-ho," the "yellow river," etc.
These "hwang" cliffs, or dirt-cliffs, are full of caves and crevices, but the good priest could see no convenient cave, and he had therefore no alternative but to boldly face his fate, and like a brave man calmly meet what he could not avoid.
But, just as he had singled out, as his probable captor, one peculiarly unattractive-looking horseman, whose crimson sheepskin coat and long horsetail plume were streaming in the wind, and just as he had braced himself to meet the onset against the great "loess," or dirt-cliff, he felt a twitch at his black upper robe, and a low voice—a girl's, he was confident—said quickly:
"Look not before nor behind thee, good O-lopun, but trust to my word and give a backward leap."
Thomas the Nestorian had learned two valuable lessons in his much wandering about the earth,—never to appear surprised, and always to be ready to act quickly. So, knowing nothing of the possible results of his action, but feeling that it could scarcely be worse than death from Tartar spears, he leaped back, as bidden.
The next instant, he found himself flat upon his back in one of the low-ceiled cliff caves that abound in Western China, while the screen of vines that had concealed its entrance still quivered from his fall. Picking himself up and breathing a prayer of thanks for his deliverance, he peered through the leafy doorway and beheld in surprise six much astonished Tartar robbers regarding with looks of puzzled wonder a defiant little Chinese girl, who had evidently darted out of the cave as he had tumbled in. She was facing the enemy as boldly as had he, and her little almond eyes fairly danced with mischievous delight at their perplexity.
At once he recognized the child. She was Woo (the "high-spirited" or "dauntless one"), the bright young girl whom he had often noticed in the throng at his mission-house in Tung-Chow,—the little city by the Yellow River, where her father, the bannerman, held guard at the Dragon Gate.
He was about to call out to the girl to save herself, when, with a sudden swoop, the Tartar whom he had braced himself to resist, bent in his saddle and made a dash for the child. But agile little, Woo was quicker than the Tartar horseman. With a nimble turn and a sudden spring, she dodged the Tartar's hand, darted under his pony's legs, and with a shrill laugh of derision, sprang up the sharp incline, and disappeared in one of the many cliff caves before the now doubly baffled horsemen could see what had become of her.