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The Freeing of the Soul or The Seven Degrees Frederick Rolfe from The Bodleian Library "I THINK that you are the most beautiful creature ever made by God:" said the bishop, looking Silvius Prosdocimus straight in the eyes. "And now I suppose that you are sick and never want to speak to me again:" he added. "No: why should I?"11 smiled the lad gravely. "There is no reason why: it is merely the stupid habit of young males of your age when someone tells them a similar truth:" bishop Septimius Scaptia declared. Silvius, and his brother Maurus, and his cousins Honoratius and Domenicus Caloprinus, and their school-friend Arrianus Maturius, had found the bishop, alone, in a bark full of documents and necessities of life, out on the lagoon between Altinum and Tauricellium, one August afternoon when they rowed out from their home in the former city to find an unfrequented and deep canal for swiinming. He was known to them by sight, of course: but they had never spoken to him, for, since Bishop Saint Ambrosius had translated the see and its treasures from Altinum to Tauricellium to avoid the last invasion by the northern Arians and Idolaters under Alaric, forty-one years previously, Altinum had been losing importance while Tauricellium was now the chief city of the Heneti, with its cathedral and numerous churches and palaces and its suburban islands of St Arianus and St Christina and St Andrea by the sea and St Felix of the Salt Marsh. The five boys disported themselves as healthy young creatures do in salt smooth water in summer, at a respectful distance from the bishop's bark. From time to time, he looked up from his manuscripts and 492 ROLFE : FREEING OF THE SOUL observed them. They were something more generous than the ragamuffin water-sprites who splash and yell near islands. They were evidently knightly at least, and pleasing to see, and though big and strong and capable, most singularly child-like and unformed. Septimius knew that they discussed him. To let them know that their bishop was harmless and not negligible even by them, he laid aside his parchments and slipped out of his dalmatic and performed a neat header from his bark's poop. They came and swam a little nearer plunging feet first as the Henetini do. When he climbed back and was dried and was taking up his documents again, Maurus Prosdocimus with the friendly audacity of fifteen swam up and hung to the gunwale of his bark. "If you and your friends are thirsty, after so much salt water, I can offer you a cup of wine,"2 said the bishop, smiling at the half-frightened half-friendly brown face with its big black and white dog's eyes. That was the beginning. The five rowed out every day, after that, and spent the afternoon larking in the water. The schools were closed till late autumn; and they seemed to have nothing else to do, no other attractions in their city. Nor3 did the long uninteresting row through the cane brakes of the interminably winding canal from Altinum to the other lagoon by Mons Aureum tire them or diminish their splendid strength and agility. Generally they found the bishop anchored there. He had visited his diocese in July; and, till October, four days out of fifteen in his see sufficed to fulfil his duties. This period he had set apart for a special study, and a spell of tranquil solitude and self-communion. His bark was an ordinary open fisher-bark with two sails, commodious enough and not too bulky to be rowed standing with the usual single poop-oar. This exercise pleased him. It was healthy and kept him young. He slept like a child at night beneath the wonderful dome of heliotrope, or of oriental amethyst, sown with enormous processions of constellations which covers the vast lagoon. Just before dawn, he rowed into the canal which bathes the parapet of his new cathedral precinct; and, indued with pontifical paludamente he celebrated the mysteries of the Unconquered Sun. Afterward, he sat high, inthroned above all in the centre of the apse, hierarchically weighted...


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