The Bride of the Nile, by Georg Ebers, v10

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The Bride of the Nile, Volume 10.
Georg Ebers
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Title: The Bride of the Nile, Volume 10.
Author: Georg Ebers
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THE BRIDE OF THE NILE
By Georg Ebers
Volume 10.
CHAPTER XIII.
The Vekeel, like the Persian lovers, did not allow the heat of the day to
interfere with his plans. He regarded the governor’s house as his own;
all he found there aroused, not merely his avarice, but his interest.
His first object was to find some document which might justify his
proceedings against Orion and the sequestration of his estates, in the
eyes of the authorities at Medina.
Great schemes were brewing there; if the conspiracy against the Khaliff
Omar should succeed, he had little to fear; and the greater the sum he
could ere long forward to the new sovereign, the more surely he could
count on his patronage–a sum exceeding, if possible, the largest which
his predecessor had ever cast into the Khaliff’s treasury.
He went from room to room with the curiosity and avidity of a child,
touching everything, testing the softness of the pillows, peeping into
scrolls which he did not understand, tossing them aside, smelling at the
perfumes in the dead woman’s rooms, and the medicines she had used. He
showed his teeth with delight when he found in her trunks some costly
jewels and gold coins, stuck the finest of her diamond rings on his
finger, already covered with gems, and then eagerly searched every corner
of the rooms which Orion had occupied.
His interpreter, who could read Greek, had to translate every document he
found that did not contain verses. While he listened, he clawed and
strummed on the young man’s lyre and poured out the scented oil which
Orion had been wont to use to smear it over his beard. In front of the
bright silver mirror he could not cease from making faces.
To his great disgust he could find nothing among the hundred objects and
trifles that lay about to justify suspicion, till, just as he was leaving
the room, he noticed in a basket near the writing-table some discarded
tablets. He at once pointed them out to the interpreter and, though
there was but little to read on the Diptychon,–[Double writing-tablets,
which folded together]–it seemed important to the negro for it ran as
follows:
“Orion, the son of George, to Paula the daughter of Thomas!
“You have heard already that it is now impossible for me to assist in the
rescue of the nuns. But do not misunderstand me. Your noble, and onlytoo well-founded desire to lend succor to your fellow-believers would
have sufficed. . .”
From this point the words written on the wax were carefully effaced, and
hardly a letter was decipherable; indeed, there were so few lines that it
seemed as though the letter had never been ended-which was the fact.
Though it gave the Vekeel no inculpating evidence against Orion it
pointed to his connection with the guilty parties: Paula, doubtless, had
been concerned in the scheme which had cost the lives of so many brave
Moslems. The negro had learnt, through the money-changer at Fostat, that
she was on terms of close intimacy with the Mukaukas’ son and had
entrusted her property to his stewardship. They must both be accused as
accomplices in the deed, and the document proved Orion’s knowledge of it,
at any rate.
Plotinus, the bishop, at whose instigation the fugitives had been chased,
could fill up what the damsel might choose to conceal.
He had started to follow the patriarch immediately after the pursuers had
set out, and had only returned from Upper Egypt early on the previous
day. On his arrival he had forwarded to the Vekeel two indictments
brought against Orion by the prelate: the first relating to the evasion
of the nuns; the other to the embezzlement of a costly emerald; the
rightful property of the church. These accusations were what had
encouraged the Negro to confiscate the young man’s estate, particularly
as the bitter tone of the patriarch’s document sufficiently proved that
in him he had found an ally.
Paula must next be placed in safe custody, and he had no doubt whatever
that her statement would incriminate Orion in some degree. He would
gladly have cross-examined her at once, but he had other matters in hand
to-day.
The longest part of his task was ransacking the treasurer’s office; Nilus
himself had to conduct the search. Everything which he pointed out as a
legal document, title-deed, contract for purchase or sale, revenue
account or the like, was at once placed in oxcarts or on camels, with the
large sums of gold and silver coin, and carried across the river under a
strong escort. All the more antique deeds and the family archives, the
Vekeel left untouched. He was indeed an indefatigable man, for although
these details kept him busy the whole day, he allowed himself no rest nor
did he once ask for the refreshment of food or a cooling draught. As the
day went on he enquired again and again for the bishop, with increasing
impatience and irritation. It would have been his part to wait on the
patriarch, but who was Plotinus? Thin-skinned, like all up-starts in
authority, he took the bishop’s delay as an act of personal contumely.
But the shepherd of the flock at Memphis was not a haughty prelate,
but a very humble and pious minister. His superior, the patriarch, had
entrusted him with an important mission to Amru or his lieutenant, and
yet he could let the Vekeel wait in vain, and not even send him a message
of explanation; in the afternoon, however, his old housekeeper dispatched
the acolyte who was attached to his person to seek Philippus. Her
master, a hale and vigorous man, had gone to bed by broad day-light a few
hours after his return home, and had not again left it. He was hot and
thirsty, and did not seem fully conscious of where he was or of what was
happening.
Plotinus had always maintained that prayer was the Christian’s bestmedicine; still, as his poor body had become alarmingly heated the old
woman ventured to send for the physician; but the messenger came back
saying that Philippus was absent on a journey. This was in fact the
case: He had quitted Memphis in obedience to a letter from Haschim. The
merchant’s unfortunate son was not getting better. There seemed to be an
injury to some internal organ, which threatened his life. The anxious
father besought the leech, in whom he had the greatest confidence, to
hasten to Djidda, there to examine the sufferer and undertake the case.
At the same time he desired that Rustem should join him as soon as his
health would permit.
This letter–which ended with greetings to Paula, for whose father he was
making diligent search–agitated Philippus greatly. How could he leave
Memphis at a time of such famine and sickness?–And Dame Joanna and her
daughter!
On the other hand he was much drawn to get away on Paula’s account–away,
far away; and then how gladly would he do his best to save that fine old
man’s son. In spite of all this he would have remained, but that his old
friend, quite unexpectedly, took Haschim’s side of the question and
implored him to make the journey. He would make it his business and his
pleasure to take charge of the women in Rufinus’ house; Philip’s
assistant could fill his place at the bedside of many of the sick, and
the rest could die without him. Had not he himself said that there was
no remedy for the disease? Again, Philip had said not long since that
there could be no peace for him within reach of Paula: here was a
favorable opportunity for escape without attracting remark, and at the
same time for doing a work of the truest charity.
So Philippus had yielded, and had started on his journey with very mixed
feelings.
Horapollo did not devote any particular attention to his personal
comfort; but in one respect he took especial care of himself. He had
great difficulty in walking and, as he loved to breathe the fresh air at
sundown, and sometimes to study the stars at a late hour, he kept an ass
of the best and finest breed. He did not hesitate to pay a high price
for such a beast if it really answered his requirements; that is to say
if it were strong, surefooted, gentle, and light-colored. His father and
grandfather, priests of Isis, had always ridden white asses, and so he
would do the same.
During the last few sultry weeks he had rarely gone out of doors, and
to-day he waited till the hour before sunset before starting to keep his
promise.
Robed in snowy-white linen, with new sandals on his feet, freshly shaven,
and protected from the sun’s rays by a crisply curled, flowing wig, after
the manner of his fathers, as well as by an umbrella, he mounted his
beautiful white ass in the conviction that he had done his best for his
outer man, and set forth, followed by his black slave trotting on foot.
It was not yet dark when he stopped at the house of Rufinus. His heart
had not beat so high for many a day.
“I feel as if I had come courting,” said he, laughing at himself. “Well,
and I really am come to propose an alliance for the rest of my life!
Still, curiosity, one would think, might be shed with the hair and the
teeth!” However, it still clung to him, and he could not deny to himselfthat he was very curious as to the person whom he hated, though he had
never seen her, simply because she was the daughter of a patrician and a
prefect, and had made his Philippus miserable. As he was dismounting, a
graceful young girl and an older woman, in very costly though simple
dresses, came through the garden. These must be the waterwagtail, and
Orion’s Byzantine guest.–How annoying! So many women at once!
Their presence here could only embarrass and disturb him–a lonely
student unused to the society of women. However, there was no help for
it; and the new-comers were not so bad after all.
Katharina was a very attractive, pretty little mouse, and even without
her millions much too good for the libertine Orion. The matron, who had
a kind, pleasant face, was exactly what Philippus had described her. But
then–and this spoilt all–in their presence he must not allude to the
death of Rufinus, so that he could not mention his proposed arrangement.
He had swallowed all that dust, and borne that heat for nothing, and
to-morrow he must ignominiously go through it all again!
The first people he met were a handsome young couple: Rustem and Mandane.
There could be no doubt as to their identity; so he went up to them and
gave Rustem the merchant’s message, offering in Philip’s name to advance
the money for the journey. But the Masdakite patted his sleeve, in which
he carried a good round sum in gold pieces, and exclaimed cheerily:
“It is all here, and enough for two travellers to the East.–My little
wife, by your leave; the time has come, little pigeon! Off we go,
homeward bound!”
The huge fellow shouted it out in his deep voice with such effervescent
contentment, and the pretty girl, as she looked up at him, was so glad,
so much in love, and so grateful, that it quite cheered the old man; and
he, who read an omen in every incident, accepted this meeting as of good
augury at his first entering the house which was probably to be his home.
His visit went on as well as it had begun, for he was welcomed very
warmly both by the widow and daughter of Rufinus. Pulcheria at once
pushed forward her father’s arm-chair and placed a pillow behind his
back, and she did it so quietly, so simply, and so amiably that it warmed
his old heart, and he said to himself that it would be almost too much of
a good thing to have such care given him every day and every hour.
He could not forbear from a kindly jest with the young girl over her
attentions, and Martina at once entered into the joke. She had seen him
coming on his fine ass; she praised the steed, and then refused to
believe that the rider was past eighty. His news of Philip’s departure
was regretted by all, and he was delighted to perceive that Pulcheria
seemed startled and presently shrank into the background. What a sweet,
pure, kind face the child had–and pretty withal; she must and should be
his little daughter; and all the while he was talking, or listening to
Katharina’s small jokes and a friendly catechism from Martina and Dame
Joanna, in his mind’s eye he saw Philippus and that dear little creature
as man and wife, surrounded by pretty children playing all about him.
He had come to comfort and to condole, and lo! he was having as pleasant
an hour as he had known in a long time.
He and the other visitors had been received in the vindarium, which was
now brightly lighted up, and now and then he glanced at the doors whichopened on this, the centre of the house, trying to imagine what the
different rooms should by-and-bye be used for.
But he heard a light step behind him; Martina rose, the water-wagtail
hurried to meet the new-comer, and there appeared on the scene the tall
figure of a girl dressed in mourning-robes. She greeted the matron with
distinguished dignity, cast a cordial glance of sympathetic intelligence
to Joanna and Pulcheria, and when the mistress of the house told her who
the old man was, she went up to him and held out her hand–a cool,
slender hand, as white as marble; the true patrician hand.
Yes, she was beautiful, wonderfully beautiful! He could hardly remember
ever to have seen her equal. A spotless masterpiece of the Creator’s
hand, made like some unapproachable goddess, to command the worship of
subject adorers; however, she must renounce all hope of his, for those
marble features, all the whiter by contrast with her black dress, had no
attraction for him. No warming glow shone in those proud eyes; and under
that lordly bosom beat no loving or lovable heart; he shivered at the
touch of her fingers, and her presence, he thought, had a chilling and
paralyzing influence on all the party.
This was, in fact, the case.
Paula had been sent for to see the senator’s wife and Katharina.
Martina, thought she, had come out of mere curiosity, and she had a
preconceived dislike to any one connected with Heliodora. She had lost
her confidence in the water-wagtail, for only two days ago the acolyte in
personal attendance on the bishop–and whose child Rufinus had cured
of a lame foot–had been to the house to warn Joanna against the girl.
Katharina, he told her, had a short while since betrayed to Plotinus some
important secret relating to her husband, and the bishop had immediately
gone over to Fostat. It was hard to believe such a thing of any friend,
still, the girl who, by her own confession, had been so ready to play the
part of spy in the neighboring garden, was the only person who would have
told the prelate what plan was in hand for the rescue of the sisters.
The acolyte’s positive statement, indeed, left no room for doubt.
It was not in Paula’s nature to think ill of others; but in this case her
candid spirit, incapable of falsehood, would not suffer her to be
anything but cool to the child; the more effusively Katharina clung to
her, the more icily Paula repelled her.
The old man saw this, and he concluded that this mien and demeanor were
natural to Paula at all times patrician haughtiness, cold-hearted
selfishness, the insolent and boundless pride of the race he loathed–
noble by birth alone–stood before him incarnate. He hated the whole
class, and he hated this specimen of the class; and his aversion
increased tenfold as he remembered what woe this cold siren had wrought
for the son of his affections and might bring on him if she should thwart
his favorite project. Sooner would he end his days in loneliness, parted
even from Philippus, than share his home, his table, and his daily life
with this woman, who could repel the sincerely-meant caresses of that
pretty, childlike, simple little Katharina with such frigid and
supercilious haughtiness. The mere sight of her at meals would embitter
every mouthful; only to hear her domineering tones in the next room would
spoil his pleasure in working; the touch of her cold hand as she bid him
good-night would destroy his night’s rest!
Here and now her presence was more than he could bear. It was an offenseto him, a challenge; and if ever he had wished to clear her out of his
path and the physician’s–by force, if need should be–the idea wholly
possessed him now.
Irritated and provoked, he took leave of all the others, carefully
avoiding a glance even at Paula, though, after he rose, she went up to
him on purpose to say a few pleasant words, and to assure him how highly
she esteemed his adopted son.
Pulcheria escorted him through the garden and he promised her to return
on the morrow, or the day after, and then she must take care that he
found her and her mother alone, for he had no fancy to allow Paula to
thrust her pride and airs under his nose a second time.
He angrily rejected Pulcheria’s attempts to take her friend’s part, and
he trotted home again, mumbling curses between his old lips.
Martina, meanwhile, had made friends with Paula in her genial, frank way.
She had met her parents in time past in Constantinople and spoke of them
with heart-felt warmth. This broke the ice between them, and when
Martina spoke of Orion–her ‘great Sesostris’–of the regard and
popularity he had enjoyed in Constantinople, and then, with due
recognition and sympathy, of his misfortune, Paula felt drawn towards her
indeed. Her reserve vanished entirely, and the conversation between the
new acquaintances became more and more eager, intimate, and delightful.
When they parted both felt that they could only gain by further
intercourse. Paula was called away at the very moment of leave-taking,
and left the room with warm expressions intended only for the matron:
“Not good-bye–we must meet again. But of course it is my part, as the
younger, to go to you!” And she was no sooner gone than Martina
exclaimed:
“What a lovely creature! The worthy daughter of a noble father! And her
mother! O dame Joanna! A sweeter being has rarely graced this
miserable world; she was born to die young, she was only made to bloom
and fade!” Then, turning to Katharina, she went on: with kindly reproof.
“Evil tongues gave me a very false idea of this girl. ‘A silver kernel
in a golden shell,’ says the proverb, but in this case both alike are of
gold.–Between you two–good God!–But I know what has blinded your clear
eyes, poor little kitten. After all, we all see things as we wish to see
them. I would lay a wager, dame Joanna, that you are of my opinion in
thinking the fair Paula a perfectly noble creature. Aye, a noble
creature; it is an expressive word and God knows! How seldom is it a
true one? It is one I am little apt to use, but I know no other for such
as she is, and on her it is not ill-bestowed.”
“Indeed it is not!” answered Joanna with warm assent; but Martina
sighed, for she was thinking to herself! “Poor Heliodora! I cannot but
confess that Paula is the only match for my ‘great Sesostris.’ But what
in Heaven’s name will become of that poor, unfortunate, love-sick little
woman?”
All this flashed through her quick brain while Katharina was trying to
justify herself, and asserting that she fully recognised Paula’s great
qualities, but that she was proud, fearfully proud–she had given Martina
herself some evidence of that.
At this Pulcheria interposed in zealous defense of her friend. She,however, had hardly begun to speak when she, too, was interrupted, for
men’s voices were heard in loud discussion in the vestibule, and Perpetua
suddenly rushed in with a terrified face, exclaiming, heedless of the
strangers: “Oh Dame Joanna! Here is another, dreadful misfortune!
Those Arab devils have come again, with an interpreter and a writer. And
they have been sent–Merciful Saviour, is it possible?–they have brought
a warrant to take away my poor dear child, to take her to prison–to drag
her all through the city on foot and throw her into prison.”
The faithful soul sobbed aloud and covered her face with her hands.
Terror fell upon them all; Joanna left the viridarium in speechless
dismay, and Martina exclaimed:
“What a horrible, vile country! Good God, they are even falling on us
women. Children, children–give me a seat, I feel quite ill.–In prison!
that beautiful, matchless creature dragged through the streets to prison.
If the warrant is all right she must go–she must! Not an angel from
heaven could save her. But that she should be marched through the town,
that noble and splendid creature, as if she were a common thief–it is
not to be borne. So much as one woman can do for another at any rate
shall be done, so long as I am here to stand on two feet!–Katharina,
child, do not you understand? Why do you stand gaping at me
as if I were a feathered ape? What do your fat horses eat oats for?
What, you do not understand me yet? Be off at once, this minute, and
have the horses put in the large closed chariot in which I came here, and
bring it to the door.–Ah! At last you see daylight; now, take to your
heels and fly!”
And she clapped her hands as if she were driving hens off a garden-bed;
Katharina had no alternative but to obey.
Martina then felt for her purse, and when she had found it she added
confidently:
“Thank God! I can talk to these villains! This is a language,” and she
clinked the gold pieces, intelligible to all. “Come, where are the
rascals?”
The universal tongue had the desired effect. The chief of the guard
allowed it to persuade him to convey Paula to prison in the chariot, and
to promise that she should find decent accommodation there, while he also
granted old Betta the leave she insisted on with floods of tears, to
share the girl’s captivity.
Paula maintained her dignity and composure under this unexpected shock.
Only when it came to taking leave of Pulcheria and Mary, who clung to her
in frantic grief and begged to go with her and Betta to prison, she could
not restrain her tears.
The scribe had informed her that she was charged dy Bishop Plotinus with
having plotted the escape and flight of the nuns, and Joanna’s knees
trembled under her when Paula whispered in her ear:
“Beware of Katharina! No one else could have betrayed us; if she has
also revealed what Rufinus did for the sisters we must deny it,
positively and unflinchingly. Fear nothing: they will get not a word out
of me.” Then she added aloud: “I need not beg you to remember me
lovingly; thanks to you both–the warmest, deepest thanks for all….
You, Pul. . . .” And she clasped the mother and daughter to her bosom,while Mary, clinging to her, hid her little face in her skirts, weeping
bitterly. . . . “You, Dame Joanna, took me in, a forlorn creature, and
made me happy till Fate fell on us all–you know, ah! you know too well.
–The kindness you have shown to me show now to my little Mary. And
there is one thing more–here comes the interpreter again!–A moment yet,
I beg!–If the messenger should return and bring news of my father or,
my God! my God!–my father himself, let me know, or bring him to me!–Or,
if I am dead by the time he comes, tell him that to find him, to see him
once more, was my heart’s dearest wish. And beg my father,” she breathed
the words into Joanna’s ear, “to love Orion as a son. And tell them both
that I loved them to the last, deeply, perfectly, beyond words!” Then
she added aloud as: she kissed each on her eyes and lips: “I love you
and shall always love you–you, Joanna, and you, my Pulcheria, and you,
Mary, my sweet, precious darling.”
At this the water-wagtail humed forward with outstretched arms, but Dame
Joanna put out a significantly warning hand; and they who were one in
heart clasped each other in a last embrace as though they were indeed but
one and no stranger could have any part in it.
Once more Katharina tried to approach Paula; but Martina, whose eyes
filled with tears as she looked on the parting, held her back by the
shoulder and whispered:
“Do not disturb them, child. Such hearts spontaneously attract those for
whom they yearn. I, old as I am, would gladly be worthy to be called.”
The interpreter now sternly insisted on starting. The three women
parted; but still the little girl held tightly to Paula, even when she
went up to the matron and kissed her with a natural impulse. Martina
took her head between her hands, kissed her fondly, and said in a voice
she could scarcely control: “God protect and keep you, child! I thank
Him for having brought us together. A soul so pure and clear as yours is
not to be found in the capital, but we still know how to be friends to
our friends–at any rate I and my husband do–and if Heaven but grants me
the opportunity you shall prove it. You never need feel alone in the
world; never, so long as Justinus and his wife are still in it. Remember
that, child; I mean it in solemn earnest.”
With this, she again embraced Paula, who as she went out to enter the
chariot also bestowed a farewell kiss on Eudoxia and Mandane, for they,
too, stood modestly weeping in the background; then she gave her hand to
the hump-backed gardener, and to the Masdakite, down whose cheeks tears
were rolling. At this moment Katharina stood in her path, seized her arm
in mortified excitement, and said insistantly:
“And have you not a word for me?”
Paula freed herself from her clutch and said in a low voice: “I thank you
for lending me the chariot. As you know, it is taking me to prison, and
I fear it is your perfidy that has brought me to this. If I am wrong,
forgive me–if I am right, your punishment will hardly be lighter than my
fate. You are still young, Katharina; try to grow better.”
And with this she stepped into the chariot with old Betta, and the last
she saw was little Mary who threw herself sobbing into Joanna’s arms.CHAPTER XIV.
Susannah had never particularly cared for Paula, but her fate shocked her
and moved her to pity. She must at once enquire whether it was not
possible to send her some better food than the ordinary prison-fare.
That was but Christian charity, and her daughter seemed to take her
friend’s misfortune much to heart. When she and Martina returned home
she looked so cast down and distracted that no stranger now would ever
have dreamed of comparing her with a brisk little bird.
Once more a poisoned arrow had struck her. Till now she had been wicked
only in her own eyes; now she was wicked in the eyes of another. Paula
knew it was she who had betrayed her. The traitoress had been met by
treachery. The woman she hated had a right to regard her as spiteful and
malignant, and for this she hated her more than ever.
Till now she had nowhere failed to find an affectionate greeting and
welcome; and to-day how coldly she had been repulsed–and not by Paula
alone, but also by Martina, who no doubt had noticed something, and whose
dry reserve had been quite intolerable to the girl.
It was all the old bishop’s fault; he had not kept his promise that her
tale-bearing should remain as secret as a confession. Indeed, he must
have deliberately revealed it, for no one but herself knew of the facts.
Perhaps he had even mentioned her name to the Arabs; in that case she
would have to bear witness before the judges, and then in what light
would she appear to Orion, to her mother, to Joanna and Martina?
She had not failed to understand that old Rufinus must have perished in
the expedition, and she was truly grieved. His wife and daughter had
always been kind neighbors to her; and she would not have willingly
brought sorrow on them. If she were called up to give evidence it might
go hard with them, and she wished no harm to any one but those who had
cheated her out of Orion’s love. This idea of standing before a court of
justice was the worst of all; this must be warded off at any cost.
Where could Bishop Plotinus be? He had returned to Memphis the day
before, and yet he had not been to see her mother, to whom he usually
paid a daily visit. This absence seemed to her ominous. Everything
depended on her reminding the old man of his promise as soon as possible;
for if at the trial next morning–which of course, he must attend–he
should happen to mention her name, the guards, the interpreter, and the
scribe would invade her home too and then-horror! She had given evidence
once already, and could never again go through all that had ensued.
But how was she to get at the bishop in the course of the night or early
to-morrow at latest?
The chariot had not yet returned, and if–it still wanted two hours of
midnight; yes–it must be done.
She began talking to her mother of the prelate’s absence; Susannah, too,
was uneasy about it, particularly since she had heard that the old man
had come home ill and that his servant had been out and about in search
of a physician. Katharina promptly proposed to go and see him: the
horses were still in harness, her nurse could accompany her. She really
must go and learn how her venerable friend was going on.Susannah thought this very sweet; still, she said it was very late for
such a visit; however, her spoilt child had said that she “must” and the
answer was a foregone conclusion. Dame Susannah gave way; the nurse was
sent for, and as soon as the chariot came round Katharina flung her arms
round her mother’s neck, promising her not to stay long, and in a few
minutes the chariot stopped at the door of the bishop’s palace. She bid
the nurse wait for her and went alone into the vast, rambling house.
The spacious hall, lighted feebly by a single lamp, was silent and
deserted, even the door-keeper had left his post; however, she was
familiar with every step and turning, and went on through the impluvium
into the library where, at this hour, the bishop was wont to be found.
But it was dark, and her gentle call met with no reply. In the next
room, to which she timidly felt her way, a slave lay snoring; beside him
were a wine jar and a hand-lamp. The sight somewhat reassured her.
Beyond was the bishop’s bedroom, which she had never been into. A dim
light gleamed through the open door and she heard a low moaning and
gasping. She called the house-keeper by name once, twice; no answer.
The sleeping slave did not stir; but a familiar voice addressed her from
the bedroom, groaning rather than saying:
“Who is there? Is he come? Have you found him at last?”
The whole household had fled in fear of the pestilence; even the acolyte,
who had indeed a wife and children. The housekeeper had been forced to
leave the master to seek the physician, who had already been there once,
and the last remaining slave, a faithful, goodhearted, heedless sot, had
been left in charge; but he had brought a jar of wine up from the
unguarded cellar, had soon emptied it, and then, overcome by drink and
the heat of the night, he had fallen asleep.
Katharina at once spoke her name and the old man answered her, saying
kindly, but with difficulty: “Ah, it is you, you, my child!”
She took up the lamp and went close to the sick man. He put out his lean
arm to welcome her; but, as her approach brought the light near to him he
covered his eyes, crying out distressfully: “No, no; that hurts. Take
away the lamp.”
Katharina set it down on a low chest behind the head of the bed; then she
went up to the sufferer, gave him her mother’s message, and asked him how
he was and why he was left alone. He could only give incoherent answers
which he gasped out with great difficulty, bidding her go close to him
for he could not hear her distinctly. He was very ill, he told her–
dying. It was good of her to have come for she had always been his pet,
his dear, good little girl.
“And it was a happy impulse that brought you,” he added, “to receive an
old man’s blessing. I give it you with my whole heart.”
As he spoke he put forth his hand and she, following an instinctive
prompting, fell on her knees by the side of the couch.
He laid his burning right hand on her head and murmured some words of
blessing; she, however, scarcely heeded them, for his hand felt like lead
and its heat oppressed and distressed her dreadfully. It was a sincere
grief to her to see this true old friend of her childhood suffering thus
–perhaps indeed dying; at the same time she did not forget what had
brought her here–still, she dared not disturb him in this act oflove. He gave her his blessing–that was kind; but his mutterings did
not come to an end, the weight of the hot hand on her head grew heavier
and heavier, and at last became intolerable. She felt quite dazed, but
with an effort she collected her senses and then perceived that the old
man had wandered off from the usual formulas of blessing and was
murmuring disconnected and inarticulate words.
At this she raised the terrible, fevered hand, laid it on the bed, and
was about to ask him whether he had betrayed her to Benjamin, and if he
had mentioned her name, when–Merciful God! there on his cheeks were the
same livid spots that she had noticed on those of the plague stricken man
in Medea’s house. With a cry of horror she sprang up, snatched at the
lamp, held it over the sufferer, heedless of his cries of anguish, looked
into his face, and pulled away the weary hands with which he tried to
screen his eyes from the light. Then, having convinced herself that she
was not mistaken, she fled from room to room out into the hall.
Here she was met by the housekeeper, who took the lamp out of her hand
and was about to question her; but Katharina only screamed:
“The plague is in the house! Lock the doors!” and then rushed away,
past the leech who was coming in. With one bound she was in the chariot,
and as the horses started she wailed out to the nurse:
“The plague–they have the plague. Plotinus has taken the plague!”
The terrified woman tried to soothe her, assuring her that she must be
mistaken for such hellish fiends did not dare come near so holy a man.
But the girl vouchsafed no reply, merely desiring her to have a bath made
ready for her as soon as they should reach home.
She felt utterly shattered; on the spot where the old man’s plague-
stricken hand had rested she was conscious of a heavy, hateful pressure,
and when the chariot at length drove into their own garden something warm
and heavy-something she could not shake off, still seemed to weigh on her
brain.
The windows were all dark excepting one on the ground-floor, where a
light was still visible in the room inhabited by Heliodora. A diabolical
thought flashed through her over-excited and restless mind; without
looking to the right hand or the left she obeyed the impulse and went
forward, just as she was, into her friend’s sitting-room and then,
lifting a curtain, on into the bedroom. Heliodora was lying on her
couch, still suffering from a headache which had prevented her going to
visit their neighbors; at first she did not notice the late visitor who
stood by her side and bid her good evening.
A single lamp shed a dim light in the spacious room, and the young girl
had never thought their guest so lovely as she looked in that twilight.
A night wrapper of the thinnest material only half hid her beautiful
limbs. Round her flowing, fair hair, floated the subtle, hardly
perceptible perfume which always pervaded this favorite of fortune. Two
heavy plaits lay like sheeny snakes over her bosom and the white sheet.
Her face was turned upwards and was exquisitely calm and sweet; and as
she lay motionless and smiled up at Katharina, she looked like an angel
wearied in well-doing.
No man could resist the charms of this woman, and Orion had succumbed.
By her side was a lute, from which she brought the softest and mostsoothing tones, and thus added to the witchery of her appearance.
Katharina’s whole being was in wild revolt; she did not know how she was
able to return Heliodora’s greeting, and to ask her how she could
possibly play the lute with a headache.
“Just gliding my fingers over the strings calms and refreshes my blood,”
she replied pleasantly. “But you, child, look as if you were suffering
far worse than I.–Did you come home in the chariot that drove up just
now?”
“Yes,” replied Katharina. “I have been to see our dear old bishop. He
is very ill, dying; he will soon be taken from us. Oh, what a fearful
day! First Orion’s mother, then Paula, and now this to crown all! Oh,
Heliodora, Heliodora!”
She fell on her knees by the bed and pressed her face against her pitying
friend’s bosom. Heliodora saw the tears which had risen with unaffected
feeling to the girl’s eyes; her tender soul was full of sympathy with the
sorrow of such a gladsome young creature, who had already had so much to
suffer, and she leaned over the child, kissing her affectionately on the
brow, and murmuring words of consolation. Katharina clung to her
closely, and pointing to the top of her head where that burning hand had
pressed it, she said: “There, kiss there: there is where the pain is
worst!–Ah, that is nice, that does me good.”
And, as the tender-hearted Heliodora’s fresh lips rested on the plague-
tainted hair, Katharina closed her eyes and felt as a gladiator might who
hitherto has only tried his weapons on the practising ground, and now for
the first time uses them in the arena to pierce his opponent’s heart.
She had a vision of herself as some one else, taller and stronger than
she was; aye, as Death itself, the destroyer, breathing herself into her
victim’s breast.
These feelings entirely possessed her as she knelt on the soft carpet,
and she did not notice that another woman was crossing it noiselessly to
her comforter’s bed-side, with a glance of intelligence at Heliodora.
Just as she exclaimed: “Another kiss there-it burns so dreadfully,” she
felt two hands on her temples and two lips, not Heliodora’s, were pressed
on her head.
She looked up in astonishment and saw the smiling face of her mother, who
had come after her to ask how the bishop was, and who wished to take her
share in soothing the pain of her darling.
How well her little surprise had succeeded!
But what came over the child? She started to her feet as if lightning
had struck her, as if an asp had stung her, looked horror-stricken into
her mother’s eyes, and then, as Susannah was on the point of clasping the
little head to her bosom once more to kiss the aching, the cursed spot,
Katharina pushed her away, flew, distracted, through the sitting-room
into the vestibule, and down the narrow steps leading to the bathroom.
Her mother looked after her, shaking her head in bewilderment. Then she
turned to Heliodora with a shrug, and said, as the tears filled her eyes:
“Poor, poor little thing! Too many troubles have come upon her at once.
Her life till lately was like a long, sunny day, and now the hail ispelting her from all sides at once. She has bad news of the bishop, I
fear.”
“He is dying, she said,” replied the young widow with feeling.
“Our best and truest friend,” sobbed Susannah. “It is, it really
is too much. I often think that I must myself succumb, and as for her–
hardly more than a child!–And with what resignation she bears the
heaviest sorrows!–You, Heliodora, are far from knowing what she has gone
through; but you have no doubt seen how her only thought is to seem
bright, so as to cheer my heart. Not a sigh, not a complaint has passed
her lips. She submits like a saint to everything, without a murmur.
But, now that her clear old friend is stricken, she has lost her self-
control for the first time. She knows all that Plotinus has been to me.”
And she broke down into fresh sobbing. When she was a little calmer, she
apologised for her weakness and bid her fair guest good night.
Katharina, meanwhile, was taking a bath.
A bathroom was an indispensable adjunct to every wealthy Graeco-Egyptian
house, and her father had taken particular pains with its construction.
It consisted of two chambers, one for men and one for women; both fitted
with equal splendor.
White marble, yellow alabaster, purple porphyry on all sides; while the
pavement was of fine Byzantine mosaic on a gold ground. There were no
statues, as in the baths of the heathen; the walls were decorated with
bible texts in gold letters, and above the divan, which was covered with
a giraffe skin, there was a crucifix. On the middle panel of the
coffered ceiling was inscribed defiantly, in the Coptic language the
first axiom of the Jacobite creed: “We believe in the single,
indivisible nature of Christ Jesus.” And below this hung silver lamps.
The large bath had been filled immediately for Katharina, as the furnace
was heated every evening for the ladies of the house. As she was
undressing, her maid showed her a diseased date. The head gardener, had
brought it to her, for he had that afternoon, discovered that his palms,
too, had been attacked. But the woman soon regretted her loquacity, for
when she went on to say that Anchhor, the worthy shoemaker who, only the
day before yesterday, had brought home her pretty new sandals, had died
of the plague, Katharina scolded her sharply and bid her be silent. But
as the maid knelt before her to unfasten her sandals, Katharina herself
took up the story again, asking her whether the shoemaker’s pretty young
wife had also been attacked. The girl said that she was still alive, but
that the old mother-in-law and all the children had been shut into the
house, and even the shutters barred as soon as the corpse had been
brought out. The authorities had ordered that this should be done in
every case, so that the pestilence might not pervade the streets or be
disseminated among the healthy. Food and drink were handed to the
captives through a wicket in the door. Such regulations, she added,
seemed particularly well-considered and wise. But she would have done
better to keep her opinions to herself, for before she had done speaking
Katharina gave her an angry push with her foot. Then she desired her not
to be sparing with the ‘smegma’,–[A material like soap, but used in a
soft state.]–and to wash her hair as thoroughly as possible.
This was done; and Katharina herself rubbed her hands and arms with
passionate diligence. Then she had water poured over her head again and
again, till, when she desired the maid to desist, she had to leanbreathless and almost exhausted against the marble.
But in spite of smegma and water she still felt the pressure of the
burning hand on top of her head, and her heart seemed oppressed by some
invisible load of lead.
Her mother! oh, her mother! She had kissed her there, where the plague
had actually touched her, and in fancy she could hear her gasping and
begging for a drink of water like the dying wretches to whom her fate had
led her. And then–then came the servants of the senate and shut her
into the pestilential house with the sick; she saw the pest in mortal
form, a cruel and malignant witch; behind her, tall and threatening,
stood her inexorable companion Death, reaching out a bony hand and
clutching her mother, and then all who were in the house with her, and
last of all, herself.
Her arms dropped by her side: powerful and terrible as she had felt
herself this morning, she was now crushed by a sense of miserable and
impotent weakness. Her defiance had been addressed to a mortal, a frail,
tender woman; and God and Fate had put her in the front of the battle
instead of Heliodora. She shuddered at the thought.
As she went up from the bath-room, her mother met her in the hall and
said:
“What, still here, Child? How you startled me! And is it true? Is
Plotinus really ill of a complaint akin to the plague?”
“Worse than that, mother,” she replied sadly. “He has the plague; and I
remembered that a bath is the right thing when one has been in a plague-
stricken house; you, too, have kissed and touched me. Pray have the fire
lighted again, late as it is, and take a bath too.”
“But, Child,” Susannah began with a laugh; but Katharina gave her no
peace till she yielded, and promised to bathe in the men’s room, which
had not been used at all since the appearance of the epidemic.
When Dame Susannah found herself alone she smiled to herself in silent
thankfulness, and in the bath again she lifted up her heart and hands in
prayer for her only child, the loving daughter who cared for her so
tenderly.
Katharina went to her own room, after ascertaining that the clothes she
had worn this evening had been sacrificed in the bath-furnace.
It was past midnight, but still she bid the maid sit up, and she did not
go to bed. She could not have found rest there. She was tempted to go
out on the balcony, and she sat down there on a rocking chair. The night
was sultry and still. Every house, every tree, every wall seemed to
radiate the heat it had absorbed during the day. Along the quay came a
long procession of pilgrims; this was followed by a funeral train and
soon after came another–both so shrouded in clouds of dust that the
torches of the followers looked like coals glimmering under ashes.
Several who had died of the pestilence, and whom it had been impossible
to bury by day, were being borne to the grave together. One of these
funerals, so she vaguely fancied, was Heliodora’s; the other her own
perhaps–or her mother’s–and she shivered at the thought. The long
train wandered on under its shroud of dust, and stood still when it
reached the Necropolis; then the sledge with the bier came back empty on
red hot runners–but she was not one of the mourners–she was imprisonedin the pestiferous house. Then, when she was freed again–she saw it all
quite clearly–two heads had been cut off in the courtyard of the Hall of
justice: Orion’s and Paula’s–and she was left alone, quite alone and
forlorn. Her mother was lying by her father’s side under the sand in the
cemetery, and who was there to care for her, to be troubled about her, to
protect her? She was alone in the world like a tree without roots, like
a leaf blown out to sea, like an unfledged bird that has fallen out of
the nest.
Then, for the first time since that evening when she had borne false
witness, her memory reverted to all she had been taught at school and in
the church of the torments of hell, and she pictured the abode of the
damned, and the scorching, seething Lake of fire in which murderers,
heretics, false witnesses….
What was that?
Had hell indeed yawned, and were the flames soaring up to the sky through
the riven shell of the earth? Had the firmament opened to pour living
fire and black fumes on the northern part of the city?
She started up in dismay, her eyes fixed on the terrible sight. The
whole sky seemed to be in flames; a fiery furnace, with dense smoke and
myriads of shooting sparks, filled the whole space between earth and
heaven. A devouring conflagration was apparently about to annihilate the
town, the river, the starry vault itself; the metal heralds which usually
called the faithful to church lifted up their voices; the quiet road at
her feet suddenly swarmed with thousands of people; shrieks, yells and
frantic commands came up from below, and in the confusion of tongues she
could distinguish the words “Governor’s Palace”–“Arabs”–“Mukaukas”–
“Orion”– “fire”–“Put it out”–“Save it.”
At this moment the old head-gardener called up to her from the lotos-
tank: “The palace is in flames! And in this drought–God All-merciful
save the town!”
Her knees gave way; she put out her hands with a faint cry to feel for
some support, and two arms were thrown about her-the arms which she so
lately had pushed away: her mother’s: that mother who had bent over her
only child and inhaled death in a kiss on her plague-tainted hair.
CHAPTER XV.
The governor’s palace, the pride and glory of Memphis, the magnificent
home of the oldest and noblest family of the land–the last house that
had given birth to a race of native Egyptians held worthy, even by the
Greeks, to represent the emperor and uphold the highest dignity in the
world–the very citadel of native life, lay in ashes; and just as a giant
of the woods crushes and destroys in its fall many plants of humbler
growth, so the burning of the great house destroyed hundreds of smaller
dwellings.
This night’s work had torn the mast and rudder, and many a plank besides,
from that foundering vessel, the town of Memphis. It seemed indeed a
miracle that had saved the whole from being reduced to cinders; and for
this, next to God’s providence, they might thank the black incendiaryhimself and his Arabs. The crime was committed with cool and shrewd
foresight, and carried through to the end. During his visitation
throughout the rambling buildings Obada had looked out for spots that
might suit his purpose, and two hours after sunset he had lighted fire
after fire with his own hand, in secret and undetected. The troops he
intended to employ later were waiting under arms at Fostat, and when the
fire broke out, first in the treasury and afterwards in three other
places in the palace, they were immediately marched across and very
judiciously employed.
All that was precious in this ancient home of a wealthy race, was
conveyed to a place of safety, even the numerous fine horses in the
stables; and the title-deeds of the estate, slaves, and so forth were
already secured at Fostat; still, the flames consumed vast quantities of
treasures that could never be replaced. Beautiful works of art,
manuscripts and books such as were only preserved here, old and splendid
plants from every zone, vessels and woven stuffs that had been the
delight of connoisseurs–all perished in heaps. But the incendiary
regretted none of them, for all possibility of proving how much that was
precious had fallen into his hands was buried under their ashes.
The worst that could happen to him now was to be deposed from office for
his too audacious proceedings. Of all the towns he had seen in the
course of the triumphant incursions of Islam none had attracted him so
greatly as Damascus, and he now had the means of spending the latter half
of his life there in luxurious enjoyment.
At the same time it was desirable to rescue as much as possible from the
flames; for it would have given his enemies a fatal hold upon him, if the
famous old city of Memphis should perish by his neglect. And he was a
man to give battle to the awful element.
Not another building fell a prey to it on the Nile quay; but a light
southerly breeze carried burning fragments to the northwest, and several
houses in the poorer quarter on the edge of the desert caught fire.
Thither the larger portion of those who could combat the flames and
rescue the inhabitants were at once directed; and here, as at the palace,
he acted on the principle of sacrificing whatever could not be saved
entire. Thus a whole quarter of the town was destroyed, hundreds of
beggared families lost all they possessed; and yet he, whose ruthless
avarice had cast so many into misery, was admired and lauded; for he was
everywhere at once: now by the river and now by the desert, always where
the danger was greatest, and where the presence of the leader was most
needed. Here he was seen in the very midst of the fire, there he swung
the axe with his own hand; now, mounted on horseback, he rode down the
line where the dry grass was to be torn up by the roots and soaked with
water; now, on foot, he directed the scanty jet from the pipes or, with
Herculean strength, flung back into the flames a beam which had fallen
beyond the limits he had set. His shrill voice sounded, as his huge
height towered, above all others; every eye was fixed on his black face
and flashing eyes and teeth, while his example carried away all his
followers to imitate it. His shouts of command made the scene of the
fire like a battle-field; the Moslems, so ably led, regardless of life as
they were and ready to strain and exert their strength to the utmost,
wrought wonders in the name of their God and His Prophet.
The Egyptians, too, did their best; but they felt themselves impotent by
comparison with what these Arabs did, and they hardly felt anything but
the disgrace of being over-mastered by them.The light shone far across the country; even he whose splendid
inheritance was feeding the flames perceived, between midnight and dawn,
a glow on the distant western horizon which he was unable to account for.
He had been riding towards it for about half an hour when the caravan
halted at the last station but one, on the high road between Kolzum and
Babylon.
[Suez, and the Greek citadel near which Amru founded Fostat and
Cairo subsequently grew up.]
A considerable troop of horse soldiers dismounted at the same time, but
Orion had not summoned these to protect him; on the contrary, he was in
their charge and they were taking him, a prisoner, to Fostat. He had
quitted the chariot in which he had set out and had been made to mount a
dromedary; two horsemen armed to the teeth rode constantly at his side.
His fellow-travellers were allowed to remain in their chariot.
At the inn which they had now reached Justinus got out and desired his
companion, a pale-faced man who sat sunk into a heap, to do the same; but
with a weary shake of the head he declined to move.
“Are you in pain, Narses?” asked Justinus affectionately, and Narses
briefly replied in a husky voice: “All over,” and settled himself against
the cushion at the back of the chariot. He even refused the refreshments
brought out to him by the Senator’s servant and interpreter. He seemed
sunk in apathy and to crave nothing but peace.
This was the senator’s nephew.
With Orion’s help, and armed with letters of protection and
recommendation from Amru, the senator had gained his purpose. He had
ransomed Narses, but not before the wretched man had toiled for some time
as a prisoner, first at the canal on the line of the old one constructed
by the Pharaohs, which was being restored under the Khaliff Omar, to
secure the speediest way of transporting grain from Egypt to Arabia and
afterwards in the rock-bound harbor of Aila. On the burning shores of
the Red Sea, under the fearful sun of those latitudes, Narses was
condemned to drag blocks of stone; many days had elapsed before his uncle
could trace him–and in what a state did Justinus find him at last!
A week before he could reach him, the ex-officer of cavalry had laid
himself down in the wretched sheds for the sick provided for the
laborers; his back still bore the scars of the blows by which the
overseer had spurred the waning strength of his exhausted and suffering
victim. The fine young soldier was a wreck, broken alike in heart and
body and sunk in melancholy. Justinus had hoped to take him home
jubilant to Martina, and he had only this ruin to show her, doomed to the
grave.
The senator was glad, nevertheless, to have saved this much at any rate.
The sight of the sufferer touched him deeply, and the less Narses would
take or give, the more thankful was Justinus when he gave the faintest
sign of reviving interest.
In the course of this journey by land and water–and latterly as sharing
the senator’s care of his nephew–Orion had become very dear to his old
friend; and at the risk of incurring his displeasure he had evenconfessed the reasons that had prompted him to leave Memphis.
He never could cease to feel that everything good or lofty in himself was
Paula’s alone; that her love ennobled and strengthened him; that to
desert her was to abandon himself. His trifling with Heliodora could but
divert him from the high aim he had set before himself. This aim he kept
constantly in view; his spirit hungered for peaceful days in which he
might act on the resolution he had formed in church and fulfil the task
set before him by the Arab governor.
The knowledge that he had inherited an enormous fortune now afforded him
no joy, for he was forced to confess to himself that but for this
superabundant wealth he might have been a very different man; and more
than once a vehement wish came over him to fling away all his possessions
and wrestle for peace of mind and the esteem of the best men by his own
unaided powers.
The senator had taken his confession as it was meant: if Thomas’ daughter
was indeed what Orion described her there could be but small hope for his
beautiful favorite. He and Martina must e’en make their way home again
with two adopted dear ones, and it must be the care of the old folks to
comfort the young ones instead of the young succoring the old as was
natural. And in spite of everything Orion had won on his affections,
for every day, every hour he was struck by some new quality, some greater
trait than he had looked for in the young man.
Torches were flaring in the inn-yard where, under a palm-thatched roof
supported on poles and covering a square space in the middle, benches
stood for the guests to rest. Here Justinus and Orion again met for a
few minutes’ conversation.
His warders were also seated near them; they did not let Orion out of
their sight even while they ate their meal of mutton, bread, onions, and
dates. The senator’s servants brought some food from the chariot, and
just as Justinus and Orion had begun their attack on it, a tall man came
into the yard and made his way to the benches. This was Philippus,
pausing on his road to Djidda. He had learnt, even before coming in,
whom he would find here, a prisoner; and the Arabs, to whom the leech was
known, allowed him to join the pair, though at the same time they came a
little nearer, and their leader understood Greek.
Philippus was anything rather than cordially disposed towards Orion;
still, he knew what peril hung over the youth, and how sad a loss he had
suffered. His conscience bid him do all he could to prove helpful in the
trial that awaited him in the matter of the expedition in which Rufinus
had perished. He was the bearer, too, of sad news which the Arabs must
necessarily hear. Orion was indeed furious when he heard of the seizure
and occupation of the governor’s residence; still, he believed that Amru
would insist on restitution; but on hearing of his mother’s death he
broke down completely. Even the Arabs, seeing the strong man shaken with
sobs and learning the cause of his grief, respectfully withdrew; for the
anguish of a son at the loss of his mother was sacred in their eyes.
They regard the man who mourns for one he loves as stricken by the hand
of the Almighty and hallowed by his touch and treat him with the
reverence of pious awe.
Orion had not observed their absence, but Philippus at once took
advantage of it to tell him, as briefly as possible, all that related tothe escape of the nuns. He himself knew not yet of the burning of the
palace, or of Paula’s imprisonment; but he could tell the senator where
he would find his wife and niece. So by the time he was bidden to mount
and start once more Orion was informed of all that had happened.
It was with a drooping head, and sunk in melancholy thought that he rode
on his way.
As for the residence!–whether the Arabs gave it back to him or not, what
did he care?–but his mother, his mother! All she had been to him from
his earliest years rose before his mind; in the deep woe of this parting
he forgot the imminent danger and the dungeon that awaited him, and the
intolerable insult to his rights; nay, even the image of the woman he
loved paled by the side of that of the beloved dead. Perhaps he might
not even gain permission to bury her!
The way lay through a parched tract of rocky desert, and the further they
went the more intense was that wonderful flush in the west, till day
broke behind the travellers and the glory of the sunrise quenched the
vividness of its glow.
Another scorching day! The rocks by the wayside still threw long shadows
on the sandy desert-road, when a party of Arab horsemen came from Fostat
to meet the travellers, shouting the latest news to the prisoner’s
escort. It was evidently important; but Orion did not understand a word
of what they said. Evil tidings fly fast, however; while the men were
talking together, the dragoman rode up to him and told him that his home
was burnt to the ground and half Memphis still in flames. Then came
other newsbearers, on horseback and on dromedaries; and they met chariots
and files of camels loaded with corn and Egyptian merchandise; and each
and all shouted to the Arab escort reports of what was going on in
Memphis, hoping to be the first to tell the homeward bound party.
How many times did Orion hear the story–and each time that a traveller
began with: “Have you heard?” pointing westward, the wounds the first
news had inflicted bled anew.
What lay beneath that mass of ashes? How much had the flames consumed
that never could be replaced! Much that he had silently wished were
possible had in fact been fulfilled–and so soon! Where now was the
burthen of great wealth which had hung about his heels and hindered his
running freely? And yet he did not, even now, feel free; the way was not
yet open before him; he secretly mourned over the ruined house of his
fathers and the wrecked home; a miserable sense of insecurity weighed him
down. No father–no mother-no parental roof! For years he had been, in
fact, perfectly independent, and yet he felt now like a pilot whose boat
had lost its rudder.
Before him lay a prison, and the closing act of the great tragedy of
which he himself had been the hero. Fate had fallen on his house, had
marked it for destruction as erewhile that of Tantalus. It lay in ashes,
and the victims were already many: two brothers, father, mother–and, far
away from home, Rufinus too.
But whose was the guilt?
It was not his ancestors who had sinned; it could only be his own that
had called down this ruin. But was there then such a power as the
Destiny of the ancients–inexorable, iron Fate? Had he not repented andsuffered, been reconciled to his Redeemer, and prepared himself to fight
the hard fight? Perhaps he was indeed to be the hero of a tragedy; then
he would show that it was not the blind Inevitable, but what a man can
make of himself, and what he can do by the aid of the God of might, which
determines his fate. If he must still succumb, it should only be after a
valiant struggle and defense. He would battle fearlessly against every
foe, would press onward in the path he had laid down for himself. His
heart beat high once more; he felt as though he could see his father’s
example as a guiding star in the sky, so that he must be true to that
whether to live or to die. And when he turned his eye earthwards again,
still, even there, he had that which made it seem worth the cost of
enduring the pangs of living and the brunt of the hardest battle: Paula
and her love.
The nearer he approached Fostat, the more ardently his heart swelled with
longing. Heaven must grant him to see her once more, once more to clasp
her in his arms, before–the end!
It seemed to him that what he had gone through in these few hours must
have removed and set aside everything that could part them. Now, he
felt, he had strength to remain worthy of her; if Heliodora were to come
in his way again he would now certainly, positively, regard and treat her
only as a sister.
He was conducted at once to the house of the Kadi; but this official was
at the Divan–the council, which his arch-foe, that black monster Obada,
had called together.
After the labors of the past night the Negro had allowed himself only a
few hours rest, and then had met the council, where he had not been slow
to discover that he had as many enemies as there were members present.
His most determined opponents were the Kadi Othman, the head of the
Courts of justice and administration, and Khalid the governor of the
exchequer. Neither of them hesitated to express his opinion; and indeed,
no one present at this meeting would have suspected for a moment that
most of the members had, in their peaceful youth, guarded flocks as
shepherds on the mountains, led caravans across the desert, or managed
some small trade. In the contests of tribe against tribe they had found
opportunities for practice in the use of weapons, and for steeling their
courage; but where had they learnt to choose their words with so much
care, and emphasize them with gestures of such natural grace that any
Greek orator would have admired them? It was only when the indignant
orator “thundered and lightened” and was carried away by the heat of
passion that he forgot his dignified moderation, and then how grandly
voice, eye, and action helped each other! And never, even under the
highest excitement, was purity of language overlooked. These men, of
whom very few could read and write, had at their command all the most
effective verses of their poets having thousands of lines stored in their
minds.
The discussion to-day dealt with the social aspects of an ancient
civilization, unknown but a few years since to the warlike children of
the desert, and yet how ably had the four overseers of public buildings
the comptrollers of the markets, of the irrigation works, and of the
mills, achieved their ends. These bright and untarnished spirits were
equal to the hardest task and capable of carrying it through with energy,
acumen, and success.And the sons of these men who had passed through no school were already
well-fitted and invited to give new splendor to cities in their decline,
and new life to the learning of the countries they had subdued.
Everything in this council revealed talent, vitality, and ardor; and
Obada, who had been a slave, found it by no means easy to uphold his
pre-eminence among these assertive scions of free and respectable
families.
The Kadi spoke frankly and fearlessly against his recent proceedings,
declaring in the name of every member of the Divan, that they disclaimed
all responsibility for what had been done, and that it rested on the
Vekeel alone. Obada was very ready to accept it; and he announced with
such fiery eloquence his determination to give shelter at Fostat to the
natives whom the conflagration had left roofless, he was so fair-spoken,
and he had shown his great qualities in so clear a light during the past
night, that they agreed to postpone their attainder and await the reply
from Medina to the complaints they had forwarded. Discipline, indeed,
required that they should submit; and many a man who would have flown to
meet death on the field as a bride, quailed before the terrible
adventurer who would not shrink from the most hideous deeds.
Obada had won by hard fighting. No one could prove a theft against him
of so much as a single drachma; but he nevertheless had to take many a
rough word, and with one consent the assembly refused him the deference
justly due to the governor’s representative.
Bitterly indignant, he remained till the very last in the council-
chamber, no one staying with him, not even his own subalterns, to speak a
soothing word in praise of the power and eloquence of his address, while
the same cursed wretches would, under similar circumstances, have buzzed
round Amru like swarming bees, and have escorted him home like curs
wagging their tails. He ascribed the contumely and opposition he met
with to their prejudice, as haughty, free-born men against his birth, and
not to any fault of his own, and yet he looked down on them all, feeling
himself the superior of each by himself; if the blow in Medina were
successful, he would pick out his victims, and then….
His dreams of vengeance were abruptly broken by a messenger, covered with
dust from head to foot; he brought good news: Orion was taken and safely
bestowed in the Kadi’s house.
“And why not in mine?” asked Obada in peremptory tones. “Who is the
governor’s representative here. Othman or I? Take the prisoner to my
house.”
And he forthwith went home. But instead of the prisoner there presently
appeared before him an official of the Kadi’s household, who informed
him, from his master, that as the Khaliff had constituted Othman supreme
judge in Egypt this matter was in his hands; if Obada wished to see the
prisoner he might go to the Kadi’s residence, or visit him later in the
town prison of Memphis, whither Orion would presently be transferred.
He rushed off, raging, to his enemy’s house, but his stormy fury was met
by the placidity of a calm and judicial mind. Othman was a man between
forty and fifty years old, but his soft, black beard was already turning
grey; his noble dark face bore the stamp of a lofty, high-bred soul, and
a keen but temperate spirit shone in his eyes. There was something
serene and clear in his whole person; he was a man to bear the burthen of
life’s vicissitudes with dignity, while he had set himself the task ofsaving others from them so far as in him lay.
The patriarch’s complaints had come also to the Kadi’s knowledge, and he,
too, was minded to exact retribution for the massacre of the Moslem
soldiers; but the punishment should fall on none but the guilty. He
would have been sorry to believe that Orion was one of them, for he had
esteemed his father as a brave man and a just judge, and had taken many a
word of good advice from the experienced Egyptian.
The scene between him and the infuriated Vekeel was a painful one even
for the attendants who stood round; and Orion, who heard Obada’s raging
from the adjoining room, could gather from it some idea of the relentless
hatred with which his negro enemy would persecute him.
However, as after the wildest storm the sea ebbs in ripples so even this
tempest came to a more peaceful conclusion. The Kadi represented to the
Vekeel what an unheard-of thing it would be, and in what a disgraceful
light it would set Moslem justice if one of the noblest families in the
country–to whose head, too, the cause of Islam owed so much–were robbed
of its possessions on mere suspicion. To this the Vekeel replied that
there were definite accusations brought by the head of the native Church,
and that nothing had been robbed, but merely confiscated and placed in
security. As to what Allah had thought fit to destroy by fire, no one
could be held answerable for that. There was no “mere suspicion” in the
case, for he himself had in his possession a document which amply proved
that Paula, Orion’s beloved, had been the instigator of the crime which
had cost the lives of twelve of the true believers.–The girl herself had
been taken into custody yesterday. He would cross-examine her himself,
too, in spite of all the Kadis in the world; for though Othman might
choose to let any number of Moslems be murdered by these dogs of
Christians he, Obada, would not overlook it; and if he did, by tomorrow
morning the thousand Egyptians who were digging the canal would have
killed with their shovels the three Moslems who kept guard over them.
At this, Othman assured the Vekeel that he was no less anxious to punish
the miscreants, but that he must first make sure of their identity, and
that, in accordance with the law, justly and without fear of man or blind
hatred, with due caution and justice. He, as judge, was no less averse
to letting off the guilty than he was to punishing the innocent; so the
enquiry must be allowed to proceed quietly. If Obada wished to examine
Paula he, the Kadi, had no objection; to preside over the court and to
direct the trial was his business, and that he would not abdicate even
for the Khaliff himself so long as Omar thought him worthy to hold his
office.
To all this Obada had no choice but to agree, though with an ill-grace;
and as the Vekeel wished to see Orion, the young man was called in. The
huge negro looked at him from head to foot like a slave he proposed to
buy; and, when Othman went to the door and so could not see him, he could
not resist the malicious impulse: he glanced significantly at the
prisoner, and drew his forefinger sharply and quickly across his black
throat as though to divide the head from the trunk. Then he
contemptuously turned his back on the youth.
CHAPTER XVI.In the course of the afternoon the Vekeel rode across to the prison in
Memphis. He expected to find the bishop there, but instead he was met
with the news that Plotinus was dead of the pestilence.
This was a malignant stroke of fate; for with the bishop perished the
witness who could have betrayed to him the scheme plotted for the rescue
of the nuns.–But no! The patriarch, too, no doubt, knew all.
Still, of what use was that at this moment? He had no time to lose, and
Benjamin could hardly be expected to return within three weeks.
Obada had met Paula’s father in the battle-field by Damascus, and it had
often roused his ire to know that this hero’s name was held famous even
among the Moslems. His envious soul grudged even to the greatest that
pure honor which friend and foe alike are ready to pay; he did not
believe in it, and regarded the man to whom it was given as a time-
serving hypocrite.
And as he hated the father so he did the daughter, though he had never
seen her. Orion’s fate was sealed in his mind; and before his death he
should suffer more acutely through the execution of Paula, whether she
denied or owned her guilt. He might perhaps succeed in making her
confess, so he desired that she should at once be brought into the
judge’s council-room; but he failed completely in his attempt, though he
promised her, through the interpreter, the greatest leniency if she
admitted her guilt and threatened her with an agonizing death if she
refused to do so. His prisoner, indeed, was not at all what he had
expected, and the calm pride with which she denied every accusation
greatly impressed the upstart slave. At first he tried to supplement the
interpreter by shouting words of broken Greek, or intimidating her by
glaring looks whose efficacy he had often proved on his subordinates but
without the least success; and then he had her informed that he possessed
a document which placed her guilt beyond doubt. Even this did not shake
her; she only begged to see it. He replied that she would know all about
it soon enough, and he accompanied the interpreter’s repetition of the
answer with threatening gestures.
He had met with shrewd and influential women among his own people; he had
seen brave ones go forth to battle, and share the perils of a religious
war, with even wilder and more blood-thirsty defiance of death than the
soldiers themselves; but these had all been wives and mothers, and
whenever he had seen them break out of the domestic circle, beyond which
no maiden could ever venture, it was because they were under the dominion
of some passionate impulse and a burning partisanship for husband or son,
family or tribe. The women of his nation lived for the most part in
modest retirement, and none but those who were carried away by some
violent emotion infringed the custom.
But this girl! There she stood, immovably calm, like a warrior at the
head of his tribe. There was something in her mien that quelled him, and
at the same time roused to the utmost his desire to make her feel his
power and to crush her pride. She was as much taller than the women of
his nation as he was taller than any other captain in the Moslem army;
prompted by curiosity, he went close up to her to measure her height by
his own, and passed his hand through the air from his swarthy throat to
touch the crown of her head; and the depth of loathing with which she
shrank from him did not escape his notice. The blood mounted to his
head; he desired the interpreter to inform her that she was to hope for
no mercy, and inwardly devoted her to a cruel death.Pale, but prepared to meet the worst, Paula returned to the squalid room
she occupied with her faithful Betta.
Her arrival at the prison had been terrible. The guards had seemed
disposed to place her in a room filled with a number of male and female
criminals, whence the rattle of their chains and a frantic uproar of
coarse voices met her ear; however, the interpreter and the captain of
the town-watch had taken charge of her, prompted by Martina’s promise of
a handsome reward if they could go to her next morning with a report that
Paula had been decently accommodated.
The warder’s mother-in-law, too, had taken her under her protection.
This woman was the inn-keeper’s wife from the riverside inn of Nesptah,
and she at once recognized Paula as the handsome damsel who had refreshed
herself there after the evening on the river with Orion, and whom she had
supposed to be his betrothed. She happened to be visiting her daughter,
the keeper’s wife, and induced her to do what she could to be agreeable
to Paula. So she and Betta were lodged in a separate cell, and her gold
coin proved acceptable to the man, who did his utmost to mitigate her
lot. Indeed, Pulcheria had even been allowed to visit her and to bring
her the last roses that the drought had left in the garden.
Susannah had carried out her purpose of sending her food and fruit; but
they remained in the outer room, and the messenger was desired to explain
that no more were to be sent, for that she was supplied with all she
needed.
Confident in her sense of innocence, she had looked forward calmly to her
fate building her hopes on the much lauded justice of the Arab judges.
But it was not they, it would seem, who were to decide it, but that black
monster Orion’s foe; crushed by the sense of impotence against the
arbitrary despotism of the ruthless villain, whose victim she must be,
she sat sunk in gloomy apathy, and hardly heard the old nurse’s words of
encouragement.
She did not fear death; but to die without having seen her father once
more, without saying and proving to Orion that she was his alone, wholly
his and for ever–that was too hard to bear.
While she was wringing her hands, in a state verging on despair, the man
who had ruined the happiness, the peace, and the fortunes of so many of
his fellow-creatures was cantering through the streets of Memphis,
mounted on the finest horse in Orion’s stable, and firmly determined to
make his defiant prisoner feel his power. When he reached the great
market-place in the quarter known as Ta-anch he was forced to bring his
steed to a quieter pace, for in front of the Curia–the senatehouse–an
immense gathering of people had collected. The Vekeel forced his way
through them with cruel indifference. He knew what they wanted and paid
no heed to them. The hapless crowd had for some time past met here
daily, demanding from the authorities some succor in their fearful need.
Processions and pilgrimages had had no result yesterday, so to-day they
besieged the Curia. But could the senate make the Nile rise, or stay the
pestilence, or prevent the dates dropping from the palm-trees? Could
they help, when Heaven denied its aid?
These were the questions which the authorities had already put at least
ten times to the shrieking multitude from the balcony of the town hall,
and each time the crowd had yelled in reply: “Yes–yes. You must!–it isyour duty; you take the taxes, and you are put there to take care of us!”
Even yesterday the distracted creatures had been wholly unmanageable and
had thrown stones at the building: to-day, after the fearful
conflagration and the death of their bishop, they had assembled in vast
numbers, more furious and more desperate than ever. The senators sat
trembling on their antique seats of gilt ivory, the relics of departed
splendor imitated from those of the Roman senators, looking at each other
and shrugging their shoulders while they listened to a letter which had
just reached them from the hadi. This document required them, in
conformity with Obada’s determination, to make known to the populace,
by public proclamation and declaration, that any citizen whose house had
been destroyed by the fire of the past night would be granted ground and
building materials without payment, at Fostat across the Nile, where he
might found a new home provided he would settle there and embrace Islam.
This degrading offer must be announced: no discussion or recalcitrancy
could help that.
And what could they, for their part, do for the complaining crowd?
The plague was snatching them away; the vegetables, which constituted
half their food at this season, were dried up; the river, their palatable
and refreshing drink, was poisoned; the dates, their chief luxury,
ripened only to be rejected with loathing. Then there was the comet in
the sky, no hope of a harvest–even of a single ear, for months to come.
The bishop dead, all confidence lost in the intercessions of the Church,
God’s mercy extinct as it would seem, withdrawn from the land under
infidel rule!
And they on whose help the populace counted,–poor, weak men, councillors
of no counsel, liable from hour to hour to be called to follow those who
had succumbed to the plague, and who had but just quitted their vacant
seats in obedience to the fateful word.
Yesterday each one had felt convinced that their necessity and misery had
reached its height, and yet in the course of the night it had redoubled
for many. Their self-dependence was exhausted; but there still was one
sage in the city who might perhaps find some new way, suggest some new
means of saving the people from despair.
Stones were again flying down through the open roof, and the members of
the council started up from their ivory seats and sought shelter behind
the marble piers and columns. A wild turmoil came up from the market-
place to the terror-stricken Fathers of the city, and the mob was
hammering with fists and clubs on the heavy doors of the Curia. Happily
they were plated with bronze and fastened with strong iron bolts, but
they might fly open at any moment and then the furious mob would storm
into the hall.
But what was that?
For a moment the roar and yelling ceased, and then began again, but in a
much milder form. Instead of frenzied curses and imprecations shouts now
rose of “Hail, hail!” mixed with appeals: “Help us, save us, give us
council. Long live the sage!” “Help us with your magic, Father!”
“You know the secrets and the wisdom of the ancients!” “Save us, Save
us! Show those money-bags, those cheats in the Curia the way to help
us!”At this the president of the town-council ventured forth from his refuge
behind the statue of Trajan–the only image that the priesthood had
spared–and to climb a ladder which was used for lighting the hanging
lamps, so as to peep out of the high window.
He saw an old man in shining white linen robes, riding on a fine white
ass through the crowd which reverently made way for him. The lictors of
the town marched before him with their fasces, on to which they had tied
palm branches in token of a friendly embassy. Looking further he could
see that behind the old man came a slave, besides the one who drove his
ass, carrying a quantity of manuscript scrolls. This raised his hopes,
for the scrolls looked very old and yellow, and no doubt contained a
store of wisdom; nay, probably magic formulas and effectual charms.
With a loud exclamation of “Here he comes!” the senator descended the
ladder; in a few minutes the door was opened with a rattling of iron
bolts, and it was with a sigh of relief that they saw the old man come in
and none attempt to follow him.
When Horapollo entered the council-chamber he found the senators sitting
on their ivory chairs with as much dignified calm as though the meeting
had been uninterrupted; but at a sign from the president they all rose to
receive the old man, and he returned their greeting with reserve, as
homage due to him. He also accepted the raised seat, which the president
quitted in his honor while he himself took one of the ordinary chairs at
his side.
The negotiation began at once, and was not disturbed by the crowd, though
still from the market-place there came a ceaseless roar, like the
breaking of distant waves and the buzzing of thousands of swarming bees.
The sage began modestly, saying that he, in his simplicity, could not
but despair of finding any help where so many wise men had failed; he was
experienced only in the lore and mysteries of the Fathers, and he had
come thither merely to tell the council what they had considered
advisable in such cases, and to suggest that their example should be
followed.
He spoke low but fluently, and a murmur of approval followed; then, when
the president went on to speak of the low state of the Nile as the root
of all the evil, the old man interrupted him, begging them to begin by
considering the particular difficulties which they might attack by their
own efforts.
The pestilence was in possession of the city; he had just come through
the quarter that had been destroyed by the fire, and had seen above fifty
sick deprived of all care and reduced to destitution. Here something
could be done; here was a way of showing the angry populace that their
advisers and leaders were not sitting with their hands in their laps.
A councillor then proposed that the convent of St. Cecilia, or the now
deserted and dilapidated odeum should be given up to them; but Horapollo
objected explaining very clearly that such a crowd of sick in the midst
of the city would be highly dangerous to the healthy citizens. This
opinion was shared by his friend Philippus, who had indeed commended the
plan he had to propose as the only right one. Whither had their
forefathers transported, not merely their beneficent institutions,
but their vast temples and tomb-buildings which covered so much space?Always to the desert outside the town. Arrianus had even written these
verses on the gigantic sphinx near the Pyramids.
“The gods erewhile created these far-shining forms, wisely sparing the
fields and fertile corn-bearing plain.”
The moderns had forgotten thus to spare the arable land, and they had
also neglected to make good use of the desert. The dead and plague-
stricken must not be allowed to endanger the living; they must therefore
be lodged away from the town, in the Necropolis in the desert.
“But we cannot let them be under the broiling sun,” cried the president.
“Still less,” added another, “can we build a house for them in a day.”
To this Horapollo replied:
“And who would be so foolish as to ask you to do either? But there are
linen and posts to be had in Memphis. Have some large tents pitched in
the Necropolis, and all who fall sick of the pestilence removed there at
the expense of the city and tended under their shade. Appoint three or
four of your number to carry this into execution and there will be a
shelter for the roofless sick in a few hours. How many boatmen and
shipwrights are standing idle on the quays! Call them together and
in an hour they will be at work.”
This suggestion was approved. A linen-merchant present exclaimed: “I can
supply what is needed,” and another who dealt in the same wares, and
exported this famous Egyptian manufacture to remote places, also put in a
word, desiring that his house might have the order as he could sell
cheaper. This squabble might have absorbed the attention of the meeting
till it rose, and perhaps have been renewed the next day, if Horapollo’s
proposal that they should divide the commission equally had not been
hastily adopted.
The populace hailed the announcement that tents would be erected for the
sick in the desert, with applause from a thousand voices. The deputies
chosen to superintend the task set to work at once, and by night the most
destitute were safe under the first large hospital tent.
The old man settled some other important questions in the same way,
always appealing to the lore of the ancients.
At length he spoke of the chief subject, and he did so with great caution
and tact.
All the events of the last few weeks, he said, pointed to the conclusion
that Heaven was wroth with the hapless land of their fathers. As a sign
of their anger the Immortals had sent the comet, that terrible star whose
ominous splendor was increasing daily. To make the Nile rise was not in
the power of men; but the ancients–and here his audience listened with
bated breath–the ancients had been more intimately familiar with the
mysterious powers that rule the life of Nature than men in the later
times, whether priests or laymen. In those days every servant of the
Most High had been a naturalist and a student, and when Egypt had been
visited by such a calamity as that of this year, a sacrifice had been
offered–a precious victim against which all mankind, nay and all his own
feelings revolted; still, this sacrifice had never failed of its effect,
no, never. Here was the evidence–and he pointed to the manuscripts inhis lap.
The councillors had begun to be restless in their seats, and first the
president and then the others, one after another, exclaimed and asked:
“But the victim?”
“What did they sacrifice?”
“What about the victim?”
“Allow me to say no more about it till another time,” said the old man.
“What good could it do to tell you that now? The first thing is to find
the thing that is acceptable to the gods.”
“What is it?”
“Speak–do not keep us on the rack!” was shouted on all sides; but he
remained inexorable, promising only to call the council together when the
right time should come and desiring that the president would proclaim
from the balcony that Horapollo knew of a sacrifice which would cause the
Nile at last to rise. As soon as the right victim could be found, the
people should be invited to give their consent. In the time of their
forefathers it had never failed of its effect, so men, women, and
children might go home in all confidence, and await the future with new
and well-founded hopes.
And this announcement, with which the president mingled his praises of
the venerable Horapollo, had a powerful effect. The crowd hallooed with
glee, as though they had found new life. “Hail, hail !” was shouted
again and again, and it was addressed, not merely to the old man who had
promised them deliverance, but also to the Fathers of the city, who felt
as if a fearful load had fallen from their souls.
The old man’s scheme was, to be sure, not pious nor rightly Christian;
but had the power of the Church been in any way effectual? And this
having failed they must of their own accord have had recourse to means
held reprobate by the priesthood. Magic and the black arts were
genuinely Egyptian; and when faith had no power, these asserted
themselves and superstition claimed its own. Though Medea had been taken
by surprise and imprisoned, this had not been done to satisfy the law,
but with a view to secretly utilizing her occult science for the benefit
of the community. In such dire need no means were too base; and though
the old man himself was horrified at those he proposed he was sure of
public approbation if only they had the desired result. If only they
could avert the calamity the sin could be expiated, and the Almighty was
so merciful!
The bishop had a seat and voice in the council, but Fate itself had saved
them from the dilemma of having to meet his remonstrances.
When Horapollo went out into the market-place he was received with
acclamations, and as much gratitude as though he had already achieved the
deliverance of the people and country.
What had he done?–Whether the work he had set going were to fail or to
succeed he could not remain in Memphis, for in either case he would never
have peace again. But that did not daunt him; it would certainly be very
good for the two women to be removed from the perilous neighborhood ofthe Arab capital, and he was firmly determined to take them away with
him. For his dear Philip, too, nothing could be better than a
transplantion into other soil.
At the house of Rufinus he now learnt the fate that had fallen on Paula.
She was out the way, at any rate for the present; still, if she should be
released to-morrow or the day after, or even a month hence, she would be
as great a hindrance as ever. His plots against her must therefore be
carried out. His own isolation provoked him, and what a satisfaction it
would be if only he should succeed in stirring up the Egyptian Christians
to the heathen deed to which he was endeavoring to prompt them.
If Paula should be condemned to death by the Arabs, the execution of the
scheme would be greatly promoted; and now the first point was to ensure
the favor of the black Vekeel, for everything depended on his consent.
Joanna and Pulcheria thought him more good-humored and amiable than they
had ever known him; his proposal that he and Philippus should join their
household was hailed with delight even by little Mary, and the women
conducted him all over the house, supporting his steps with affectionate
care. All he saw there pleased him beyond measure. Such neatness and
comfort could only exist where there was a woman’s eye to direct and
watch over everything. The rooms on the ground floor, which had been the
master’s, should be his, and the corresponding wing on the other side
could be made ready for Philippus. The dining-room, the large ante-
chamber, and the viridarium would be common ground, and the upper story
was large enough for the women and any guests. He would move in as soon
as he had settled some business he had in hand.
It must be something of a pleasant nature, for as the old man spoke of it
his sunken lips mumbled with satisfaction, while his sparkling eyes
seemed to say to Pulcheria: “And I have something good in store for you,
too, dear child.”
ETEXT EDITOR’S BOOKMARKS:
Thin-skinned, like all up-starts in authority
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