The Bride of the Nile, by Georg Ebers, v6

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The Bride of the Nile, Volume 6.
Georg Ebers
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Title: The Bride of the Nile, Volume 6.
Author: Georg Ebers
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THE BRIDE OF THE NILE
By Georg Ebers
Volume 6.
CHAPTER XXII.
Up to within a few days Katharina had still been a dependent and docile
child, who had made it a point of honor to obey instantly, not only her
mother’s lightest word, but Dame Neforis, too; and, since her own Greek
instructress had been dismissed, even the acid Eudoxia. She had never
concealed from her mother, or the worthy teacher whom she had truly
loved, the smallest breach of rules, the least naughtiness or wilful act
of which she had been guilty; nay, she had never been able to rest till
she had poured out a confession, before evening prayer, of all that her
little heart told her was not perfectly right, to some one whom she
loved, and obtained full forgiveness. Night after night the “Water-
wagtail” had gone to sleep with a conscience as clear and as white as the
breast of her whitest dove, and the worst sin she had ever committed
during the day was some forbidden scramble, some dainty or, more
frequently, some rude and angry word.
But a change had first come over her after Orion’s kiss in the
intoxicating perfume of the flowering trees; and almost every hour since
had roused her to new hopes and new views. It had never before occurred
to her to criticise or judge her mother; now she was constantly doing so.
The way in which Susannah had cut herself off from her neighbors in the
governor’s house, to her daughter seemed perverse and in bad taste; and
the bitterly vindictive attacks on her old friends, which were constantly
on Susannah’s lips, aggrieved the girl, and finally set her in opposition
to her mother, whose judgment had hitherto seemed to her infallible.
Thus, when the governor’s house was closed against her, there was no one
in whom she cared to confide, for a barrier stood between her and Paula,
and she was painfully conscious of its height each time the wish to pass
it recurred to her mind. Paula was certainly “that other” of whom Orion
had spoken; when she had stolen away to see her in the evening after the
funeral, she had been prompted less by a burning wish to pour out her
heart to a sympathizing hearer, than by torturing curiosity mingled with
jealousy. She had crept through the hedge with a strangely-mixed feeling
of tender longing and sullen hatred; when they had met in the garden she
had at first given herself up to the full delight of being free to speak,
and of finding a listener in a woman so much her superior; but Paula’s
reserved replies to her bold questioning had revived her feelings of envy
and grudge. Any one who did not hate Orion must, she was convinced, love
him.
Were they not perhaps already pledged to each other! Very likely Paula
had thought of her as merely a credulous child, and so had concealed thefact!
This “very likely” was torture to her, and she was determined to try, at
any rate, to settle the doubt. She had an ally at her command; this was
her foster-brother, the son of her deaf old nurse; she knew that he would
blindly obey all her wishes–nay, to please her, would throw himself to
the crocodiles in the Nile. Anubis had been her comrade in all her
childish sports, till at the age of fourteen, after learning to read and
write, her mother had obtained an appointment for him in the governor’s
household, as an assistant to be further trained by the treasurer Nilus.
Dame Susannah intended to find him employment at a future date on her
estates, or at Memphis, the centre of their administration, as he might
prove himself capable. The lad was still living with his mother under
the rich widow’s roof, and only spent his working days at the governor’s
house, he was industrious and clever during office hours, though between
whiles he busied himself with things altogether foreign to his future
calling. At Katharina’s request he had opened a communication between
the two houses by means of carrier-pigeons, and many missives were thus
despatched with little gossip, invitations, excuses, and the like, from
Katharina to Mary and back again. Anubis took great pleasure in the
pretty creatures, and by the permission of his superiors a dovecote was
erected on the roof of the treasurer’s house. Mary was now lying ill,
and their intercourse was at an end; still, the well-trained messengers
need not be idle, and Katharina had begun to use them for a very
different purpose.
Orion’s envoy had been detained a long time at Rufinus’ door the day
before; and she had since learnt from Anubis, who was acquainted with
all that took place in Nilus’ office, that Paula’s moneys were to be
delivered over to her very shortly, and in all probability by Orion
himself. They must then have an interview, and perhaps she might succeed
in overhearing it. She knew well how this could be managed; the only
thing was to be on the spot at the right moment.
On the morning after the full-moon, at two hours and a half before noon,
the little boy whose task it was to feed the feathered messengers in
their dove-cote brought her a written scrap, on which Anubis informed her
that Orion was about to set out; but he was not very warmly welcomed, for
the hour did not suit her at all. Early in the morning Bishop Plotinus
had come to inform Susannah that Benjamin, Patriarch of Alexandria, was
visiting Amru on the opposite shore, and would presently honor Memphis
with his presence. He proposed to remain one day; he had begged to have
no formal reception, and had left it to the bishop to find suitable
quarters for himself and his escort, as he did not wish to put up at the
governor’s house. The vain widow had at once pressingly urged her
readiness to receive the illustrious guest under her roof: The prelate’s
presence must bring a blessing on the house, and she thought, too, that
she might turn it to advantage for several ends she just now happened to
have in view.
A handsome reception must be prepared; there were but a few hours to
spare, and even before the bishop had left her, she had begun to call the
servants together and give them orders. The whole house must be turned
upside down; some of the kitchen staff were hurried off into the town to
make purchases, others bustled round the fire; the gardeners plundered
the beds and bushes to weave wreaths and nosegays for decorations; from
cellar to roof half a hundred of slaves, white, brown and black, were
toiling with all their might, for each believed that, by rendering a
service to the Patriarch, he might count on the special favor of Heaven,while their unresting mistress never ceased screaming out her orders as
to what she wished done.
Susannah, who as a girl had been the eldest of a numerous and not wealthy
family, and had been obliged to put her own hand to things, quite forgot
now that she was a woman of position and fortune whom it ill-beseemed to
do her own household work; she was here, there, and everywhere, and had
an eye on all–excepting indeed her own daughter; but she was the petted
darling of the house, brought up to Greek refinement, whose help in such
arduous labors was not to be thought of; indeed, she would only have been
in the way.
When the bishop had taken his leave Katharina was merely desired to be
ready in her best attire, with a nosegay in her hand, to receive the
Patriarch under the awning spread outside the entrance. More than this
the widow did not require of her, and as the girl flew up the stairs to
her room she was thinking: “Orion will be coming directly: it still wants
fully two hours of noon, and if he stays there half an hour that will be
more than enough. I shall have time then to change my dress, but I will
put my new sandals on at once as a precaution; nurse and the maid must
wait for me in my room. They must have everything ready for my return–
perhaps he and Paula may have much to say to each other. He will not get
off without a lecture, unless she has already found an opportunity
elsewhere of expressing her indignation.”
A few minutes later she had sprung to the top of a mound of earth covered
with turf, which she had some time since ordered to be thrown up close
behind the hedge through which she had yesterday made her way. Her
little feet were shod with handsome gold sandals set with sapphires, and
she seated herself on a low bench with a satisfied smile, as though to
assist at a theatrical performance. Some broad-leaved shrubs, placed
behind this place of ambush, screened her to some extent from the heat of
the sun, and as she sat watching and listening in this lurking place,
which she was not using for the first time, her heart began to beat more
quickly; indeed, in her excitement she quite forgot some sweetmeats which
she had brought to wile away the time and had poured into a large leaf in
her lap.
Happily she had not long to wait; Orion arrived in his mother’s four-
wheeled covered chariot. By the side of the driver sat a servant, and a
slave was perched on the step to the door on each side of the vehicle.
It was followed by a few idlers, men and women, and a crowd of half-naked
children. But they got nothing by their curiosity, for the carruca did
not draw up in the road, but was driven into Rufinus’ garden, and the
trees and shrubs hid it from the gaze of the expectant mob, which
presently dispersed.
Orion got out at the principal door of the house, followed by the
treasurer; and while the old man welcomed the son of the Mukaukas, Nilus
superintended the transfer of a considerable number of heavy sacks to
their host’s private room.
Nothing of all this had seemed noteworthy to Katharina but the quantity
and size of the bags–full, no doubt, of gold–and the man, whom alone
she cared to see. Never had she thought Orion so handsome; the long,
flowing mourning robe, which he had flung over his shoulder in rich
folds, added to the height of his stately form; his abundant hair, not
curled but waving naturally, set off his face which, pale and grave as it
was, both touched and attracted her ir resistibly. The thought that thissplendid creature had once courted her, loved her, kissed her–that he
had once been hers, and that she had lost him to another, was a pang
like physical agony, mounting from her heart to her brain.
After Orion had vanished indoors, she still seemed to see him; and when
she thrust his image from her fancy, forced to remind herself that he was
now standing face to face with that other, and was looking at Paula as,
a few days since, he had looked at her, the anguish of her soul was
doubled. And was Paula only half as happy as she had been in that hour
of supreme bliss? Ah! how her heart ached! She longed to leap over the
hedge–she could have rushed into the house and flung herself between
Paula and Orion.
Still, there she sat; restless but without moving; wholly under the
dominion of evil thoughts, among which a good one rarely and timidly
intruded, with her eyes fixed on Rufinus’ dwelling. It stood in the
broad sunshine as silent as death, as if all were sleeping. In the
garden, too, all was motionless but the thin jet of water, which danced
up from the marble tank with a soft and fitful, but monotonous tinkle,
while butterflies, dragonflies, bees, and beetles, whose hum she could
not hear, seemed to circle round the flowers without a sound. The birds
must be asleep, for not one was to be seen or broke the oppressive
stillness by a chirp or a twitter. The chariot at the door might have
been spellbound; the driver had dismounted, and he, with the other
slaves, had stretched himself in the narrow strips of shade cast by the
pillars of the verandah; their chins buried in their breasts, they spoke
not a word. The horses alone were stirring-flicking off the flies with
their flowing tails, or turning to bite the burning stings they
inflicted. This now and then lifted the pole, and as the chariot
crunched backwards a few inches, the charioteer growled out a sleepy
“Brrr.”
Katharina had laid a large leaf on her head for protection against the
sun; she did not dare use a parasol or a hat for fear of being seen. The
shade cast by the shrubs was but scanty, the noontide heat was torment;
still, though minute followed minute and one-quarter of an hour after
another crept by at a snail’s pace, she was far too much excited to be
sleepy. She needed no dial to tell her the time; she knew exactly how
late it was as one shadow stole to this point and another to that, and,
by risking the danger to her eyes of glancing up at the sun, she could
make doubly sure.
It was now within three-quarters of an hour of noon, and in that house
all was as still as before; the Patriarch, however, might be expected to
be punctual, and she had done nothing towards dressing but putting on
those gilt sandals. This brought her to swift decision she hurried to
her room, desired the maid not to dress her hair, contenting herself with
pinning a few roses into its natural curls. Then, in fierce haste, she
made her throw on her sea-green dress of bombyx silk edged with fine
embroidery, and fasten her peplos with the first pins that came to hand;
and when the snap of her bracelet of costly sapphires broke, as she
herself was fastening it, she flung it back among her other trinkets as
she might have tossed an unripe apple back upon a heap. She slipped her
little hand into a gold spiral which curled round half her arm, and
gathered up the rest of her jewels, to put them on out of doors as she
sat watching. The waiting-woman was ordered to come for her at noon with
the flowers for the Patriarch, and, in a quarter of an hour after leaving
her lurking place, she was back there again. Just in time;–for while
she was putting on the trinkets Nilus came out, followed by some slaveswith several leather bags which they replaced in the chariot. Then the
treasurer stepped in and with him Philippus, and the vehicle drove away.
“So Paula has entrusted her property to Orion again,” thought Katharina.
“They are one again; and henceforth there will be endless going and
coming between the governor’s house and that of Rufinus. A very pretty
game!–But wait, only wait.” And she set her little white teeth; but she
retained enough self-possession to mark all that took place.
During her absence indoors Orion’s black horse had been brought into the
garden; a groom on horseback was leading him, and as she watched their
movements she muttered to herself with a smile of scorn: “At any rate he
is not going to carry her home with him at once.”
A few minutes passed in silence, and at last Paula came out, and close
behind her, almost by her side, walked Orion.
His cheeks were no longer pale, far from it, no more than Katharina’s
were; they were crimson! How bright his eyes were, how radiant with
satisfaction and gladness!–She only wished she were a viper to sting
them both in the heel!–At the same time Paula had lost none of her proud
and noble dignity–and he? He gazed at his companion like a rapt soul;
she fancied she could see the folds of his mourning cloak rising and
falling with the beating of his heart. Paula, too, was in mourning. Of
course. They were one; his sorrow must be hers, although she had fled
from his father’s house as though it were a prison. And of course this
virtuous beauty knew full well that nothing became her better than dark
colors! In manner, gait and height this pair looked like two superior
beings, destined for each other by Fate; Katharina herself could not but
confess it.
Some spiteful demon–a friendly one, she thought–led them past her, so
close that her sharp ears could catch every word they said as they slowly
walked on, or now and then stood still, dogged by the agile water-
wagtail, who stole along parallel with them on the other side of the
hedge.
“I have so much to thank you for,” were the first words she caught from
Orion, “that I am shy of asking you yet another favor; but this one
indeed concerns yourself. You know how deep a blow was struck me by
little Mary’s childish hand; still, the impulse that prompted her had its
rise in her honest, upright feeling and her idolizing love of you.”
“And you would like me to take charge of her?” asked Paula. “Such a wish
is of course granted beforehand -only. . . .”
“Only?” repeated Orion.
“Only you must send her here; for you know that I will never enter your
doors again.”
“Alas that it should be so!–But the child has been very ill and can
hardly leave the house at present; and–since I must own it–my mother
avoids her in a way which distresses the child, who is over-excited as it
is, and fills her with new terrors.”
“How can Neforis treat her little favorite so?”
“Remember,” said Orion, “what my father has been to my poor mother. Sheis now completely crushed: and, when she sees the little girl, that last
scene of her unhappy husband’s life is brought back to her, with all that
came upon my father and me, beyond a doubt through Mary. She looks on
the poor little thing as the bane of the family?”
“Then she must come away,” said Paula much touched. “Send her to us.
Kind and comforting souls dwell under Rufinus’ roof.”
“I thank you warmly. I will entreat my mother most urgently. . . .”
“Do so,” interrupted Paula. “Have you ever seen Pulcheria, the daughter
of my worthy host?”
“Yes.–A singularly lovable creature!”
“She will soon take Mary into her faithful heart–”
“And our poor little girl needs a friend, now that Susannah has forbidden
her daughter to visit at our house.”
The conversation now turned on the two girls, of whom they spoke as sweet
children, both much to be pitied; and, when Orion observed that his niece
was old for her tender years, Paula replied with a slight accent of
reproach: “But Katharina, too, has ripened much during the last few days;
the lively child has become a sober girl; her recent experience is a
heavy burden on her light heart.”
“But, if I know her at all, it will soon be cast off,” replied Orion.
“She is a sweet, happy little creature; and, of all the dreadful things
I did on that day of horrors, the most dreadful perhaps was the woe I
wrought for her. There is no excuse possible, and yet it was solely to
gratify my mother’s darling wish that I consented to marry Katharina.–
However, enough of that.–Henceforth I must march through life with large
strides, and she to whom love gives courage to become my wife, must be
able to keep pace with me.”
Katharina could only just hear these last words. The speakers now turned
down the path, sparsely shaded from the midday sun by a few trees, which
led to the tank in the centre of the garden, and they went further and
further from her.
She heard no more–still, she knew enough and could supply the rest. The
object of her ambush was gained: she knew now with perfect certainty who
was “the other.” And how they had spoken of her! Not as a deserted
bride, whose rights had been trodden in the dust, but as a child who is
dismissed from the room as soon as it begins to be in the way. But she
thought she could see through that couple and knew why they had spoken of
her thus. Paula, of course, must prevent any new tie from being formed
between herself and Orion; and as for Orion, common prudence required
that he should mention her–her, whom he had but lately loaded with
tenderness–as a mere child, to protect himself against the jealousy of
that austere “other” one. That he had loved her, at any rate that
evening under the trees, she obstinately maintained in her own mind; to
that conviction she must cling desperately, or lose her last foothold.
Her whole being was a prey to a frightful turmoil of feeling. Her hands
shook; her mouth was parched as by the midday heat; she knew that there
were withered leaves between her feet and the sandals she wore, that
twigs had got caught in her hair; but she could not care and when the
pair were screened from her by the denser shrubs she flew back to herraised seat-from which she could again discover them. At this moment she
would have given all she held best and dearest, to be the thing it vexed
her so much to be called: a water-wagtail, or some other bird.
It must be very near noon if not already past; she dusted her sandals and
tidied her curly hair, picking out the dry leaves and not noticing that
at the same time a rose fell out on the ground. Only her hands were
busy; her eyes were elsewhere, and suddenly they brightened again, for
the couple on which she kept them fixed were coming back, straight
towards the hedge, and she would soon be able again to hear what they
were saying.
CHAPTER XXIII.
Orion and Paula had had much to talk about, since the young man had
arrived. The discussion over the safe keeping of the girl’s money had
been tedious. Finally, her counsellors had decided to entrust half of it
to Gamaliel the jeweller and his brother, who carried on a large business
in Constantinople. He happened to be in Memphis, and they had both
declared themselves willing each to take half of the sum in question and
use it at interest. They would be equally responsible for its security,
so that each should make good the whole of the property in their hands in
case of the other stopping payment. Nilus undertook to procure legal
sanction and the necessary sixteen witnesses to this transaction.
The other half of her fortune was, by the advice of Philippus, to be
placed in the hands of a brother of Haschim’s, the Arab merchant, who had
a large business as money changer in Fostat, the new town on the further
shore, in which the merchant himself was a partner. This investment had
the advantage of being perfectly safe, at any rate so long as the Arabs
ruled the land.
After all this was settled Nilus departed with that half of the money
which Orion was to hand over to the keeping of the Moslem money changer
on the following morning.
Paula, though she had taken no part in the men’s discussion, had been
present throughout, and had expressed her grateful consent. The
clearness, gravity, and decision which Orion had displayed had not
escaped her notice; and though the treasurer’s shrewd remarks, briefly
and modestly made, had in every case proved final, it was Orion’s
reasoning and explanations that had most come home to her, for it seemed
to her that he was always prompted by loftier, wider, and more
statesmanlike considerations than the others.
When this was over she and Orion were left together, and neither she nor
the young man had been able to escape a few moments of anxious heart-
beating.
It was not till the governor’s son had summoned up his courage and,
sinking on his knees, was imploring her pardon, that she recovered some
firmness and reminded him of the letter he had sent her. But her heart
drew her to him almost irresistibly, and in order not to yield to its
urgent prompts, she hastily enquired what he had meant by the exchange he
had written about.At this he went up to her with downcast eyes, drew a small box out of the
breast of his robe, and took out the emerald with the damaged setting.
He held them towards her with a beseeching gesture, exclaiming, with all
the peculiar sweetness of his deep voice:
“It is your property! Take it and give me in return your confidence,
your forgiveness.”
She drew back a little, looking first at him and then at the stone and
its setting–surprised, pleased, and deeply moved, with a bright light in
her eyes. The young man found it impossible to utter a single word, only
holding the jewel and the broken setting closer to her, and yet closer,
like some poor man who makes bold to offer the best he has to a wealthy
superior, though conscious that it is all too humble a gift to find
favor.
And Paula was not long undecided; she took the proffered gem and feasted
her glistening eyes with glad thankfulness on her recovered treasure.
Two days ago she had thought of it as defiled and desecrated; it had
gratified her pride to fancy that she had cast the precious jewel at the
feet, as it were, of Neforis and her son, never to see it again. So hard
is it to forego the right of hating those who have basely brought grief
into our lives and anguish to our souls!–and yet Paula, who would not
have yielded this right at any price a short time since, now waived it of
her own free will–nay, thrust it from her like some tormenting incubus
which choked her pulses and kept her from breathing freely. In this gem
she saw once more a cherished memorial of her lost mother, the honorable
gift of a great monarch to her forefathers; and she was happy to possess
it once more. But it was not this that gave life to the warm, sunny glow
of happiness which thrilled through her, or occasioned its quick and
delightful growth; for her eye did not linger on the large and glittering
stone, but rested spellbound on the poor gold frame which had once held
it, and which had cost her such hours of anguish. This broken and
worthless thing, it is true, was powerful to justify her in the opinions
of her judges and her enemies; with this in her hand she would easily
confute her accusers. Still, it was not that which so greatly consoled
her. The physician’s remark, that there was no greater joy than the
discovery that we have been deceived in thinking ill of another, recurred
to her mind; and she had once loved the man who now stood before her open
to every good influence, deeply moved in her presence; and her judgment
of him had been a hundred, a thousand times too hard. Only a noble soul
could confidently expect magnanimity from a foe and he, he had put
himself defenceless into the power of her who had been mortally stricken
by the most fateful, and perhaps the only disgraceful act of his life.
In giving up this gold frame Orion also gave himself up; with this
talisman in her possession she stood before him as irresistible Fate.
And now, as she looked up at him and met his large eyes, full of life and
intellect but sparkling through tears of violent agitation, she felt
absolutely certain that this favorite of Fortune, though he had indeed
sinned deeply and disastrously, was capable of the highest and greatest
aims if he had a friend to show him what life required of him and were
but ready to follow such guidance. And such a friend she would be to
him!
She, like Orion, could not for some time speak; but he, at last, was
unable to contain himself; he hastened towards her and pressed her hand
to his lips with fervent gratitude, while she–she had to submit; nay,
she would have been incapable of resisting him if, as in her dream, hehad clasped her in his arms, to his heart. His burning lips had rested
fervently on her hand, but it was only for an instant that she abandoned
herself to the violent agitation that mastered her. Then with a great
effort her instinct and determination to do right enabled her to control
it; she pushed him from her decisively but not ungently, and then, with
some emotion and an arch sweetness which he had never before seen in her,
and which charmed him even more than her noble and lofty pride, she said,
threatening him with her finger.
“Take care, Orion! Now I have the stone and the setting; yes, that very
setting. Beware of the consequences, rash man!”
“Not at all. Say rather: Fool, who at last has succeeded in doing
something rational,” he replied joyfully. “What I have brought you is
not a gift; it is your own. To you it can be neither more nor less than
it was before; but to me it has gained inestimably in value since it
places my honor, perhaps my life even, in your keeping; I am in your
power as completely as the humblest slave in the palace is in that of the
Emperor. Keep the gem, and use it and this fateful gold trifle till the
day shall come when my weal and woe are one with yours.”
“For your dead father’s sake,” she answered, coloring deeply, “your weal
lies already very near my heart. Am not I, who brought upon you your
father’s curse, bound indeed to help you to free yourself from the burden
of it? And it may perhaps be in my power to do so, Orion, if you do not
scorn to listen to the counsels of an ignorant girl?”
“Speak,” he cried; but she did not reply immediately. She only begged
him to come into the garden with her; the close atmosphere of the room
had become intolerable to both, and when they got out and Katharina had
first caught sight of them their flushed cheeks had not escaped her
watchful eye.
In the open air, a scarcely perceptible breath from the river moderated
the noontide heat, and then Paula found courage to tell him what
Philippus had called his apprehension in life. It was not new to him;
indeed it fully answered to the principles he had laid down for the
future. He accepted it gratefully: “Life is a function, a ministry, a
duty!” the words were a motto, a precept that should aid him in carrying
out his plans.
“And the device,” he exclaimed, “will be doubly precious to me as having
come from your lips.–But I no longer need its warning. The wisest and
most practical axioms of conduct never made any man the better. Who does
not bring a stock of them with him when he quits school for the world at
large? Precepts are of no use unless, in the voyage of life, a manly
will holds the rudder. I have called on mine, and it will steer me to
the goal, for a bright guiding star lights the pilot on his way. You
know that star; it is. . . .”
“It is what you call your love,” she interposed, with a deep blush.–Your
love for me, and I will trust it.”
“You will!” he cried passionately. “You allow me to hope. . . .”
“Yes, yes, hope!” she again broke in, “but meanwhile. . . .”
“Meanwhile,” he said, “‘do not press me further,’ ought to end your
sentence. Oh! I quite understand you; and until I feel that you havegood reason once more to respect the maniac who lost you by his own
fault, I, who fought you like your most deadly foe, will not even speak
the final word. I will silence my longing, I will try……”
“You will try to show me–nay, you will show me–that in you, my foe and
persecutor, I have gained my dearest friend!–And now to quite another
matter. We know how we stand towards each other and can count on each
other with glad and perfect confidence, thanking the Almighty for having
opened out a new life to us. To Him we will this day. . . .”
“Offer praise and thanksgiving,” Orion joyfully put in.
And here began the conversation relating to little Mary which Katharina
had overheard.
They had gone out of hearing again when Orion explained to Paula that
all arrangements for the little girl must be postponed till the morrow,
as he had business now with Amru, on the other shore of the Nile. He
decisively confuted her fears lest he should allow himself to be
perverted by the Moslems to their faith; for though he ardently desired
to let the Patriarch feel that he had no mind to submit patiently to the
affront to his deceased father, he clung too firmly to his creed, and
knew too well what was due to the memory of the dead, and to Paula
herself, ever to take this extreme step. He spoke in glowing terms as he
described how, for the future, he purposed to devote his best powers to
his hapless and oppressed country, whether it were in the service of the
Khaliff or in some other way; and she eagerly entered into his schemes,
quite carried away by his noble enthusiasm, and acknowledging to herself
with silent rapture the superiority of his mind and the soaring loftiness
of his soul.
When, presently, they began talking again of the past she asked him quite
frankly, but in a low voice and without looking up, what had become of
the emerald he had taken from the Persian hanging. He turned pale at
this, looked at the ground, and hesitatingly replied that he had sent it
to Constantinople–“to have it set–set in an ornament–worthy of her whom
–whom he. . . .”
But here he broke off, stamped angrily with his foot, and looking
straight into the girl’s eyes exclaimed:
“A pack of lies, foul and unworthy lies!–I have been truthful by nature
all my life; but does it not seem as though that accursed day forced me
to some base action every time it is even mentioned? Yes, Paula; the gem
is really on its way to Byzantium. But the stolen gift was never meant
for you, but for a fair, gentle creature, in nothing blameworthy, who
gave me her heart. To me she was never anything but a pretty plaything;
still, there were moments when I believed–poor soul!–I first learnt
what love meant through you, how great and how sacred it is!–Now you
know all; this, indeed, is the truth!”
They walked on again, and Katharina, who had not been able to gather the
whole of this explanation, could plainly hear Paula’s reply in warm, glad
accents:
“Yes, that is the truth, I feel. And henceforth that horrible day is
blotted out, erased from your life and mine; and whatever you tell me in
the future I shall believe.”And the listener heard the young man answer in a tremulous voice:
“And you shall never be deceived in me. Now I must leave you; and I go,
in spite of my griefs, a happy man, entitled to rejoice anew. O Paula,
what do I not owe to you! And when we next meet you will receive me,
will you not, as you did that evening on the river after my return?”
“Yes, indeed; and with even more glad confidence,” replied Paula,
holding out her hand with a lovely graciousness that came from her heart;
he pressed it a moment to his lips, and then sprang on to his horse and
rode off at a round trot, his slave following him.
“Katharina, child, Katharina!” was shouted from Susannah’s house in
a woman’s high-pitched voice. The water-wagtail started up, hastily
smoothing her hair and casting an evil glance at her rival, “the other,”
the supplanter who had basely betrayed her under the sycamores; she
clenched her little fist as she saw Paula watching Orion’s retreating
form with beaming eyes. Paula went back into the house, happy and
walking on air, while the other poor, deeply-wounded child burst into
violent weeping at the first hasty words from her mother, who was not at
all satisfied with the disorder of her dress; and she ended by declaring
with defiant audacity that she would not present the flowers to the
patriarch, and would remain in her own room, for she was dying of
headache.–And so she did.
CHAPTER XXIV.
In the course of the afternoon Orion paid his visit to the Arab governor.
He crossed the bridge of boats on his finest horse.
Only two years since, the land where the new town of Fostat was now
growing up under the old citadel of Babylon had been fields and gardens;
but at Amru’s word it had started into being as by a miracle; house after
house already lined the streets, the docks were full of ships and barges,
the market was alive with dealers, and on a spot where, during the siege
of the fortress, a sutler’s booth had stood, a long colonnade marked out
the site of a new mosque.
There was little to be seen here now of native Egyptian life; it looked
as though some magician had transported a part of Medina itself to the
shores of the Nile. Men and beasts, dwellings and shops, though they had
adopted much of what they had found in this ancient land of culture,
still bore the stamp of their origin; and wherever Orion’s eye fell on
one of his fellow-countrymen, he was a laborer or a scribe in the service
of the conquerors who had so quickly made themselves at home.
Before his departure for Constantinople one of his father’s palm-groves
had occupied the spot where Amru’s residence now stood opposite the half-
finished mosque. Where, now, thousands of Moslems, some on foot, some on
richly caparisoned steeds, were passing to and fro, turbaned and robed
after the manner of their tribe, with such adornment as they had stolen
or adopted from intercourse with splendor-loving nations, and where long
trains of camels dragged quarried stones to the building, in former times
only an occasional ox-cart with creaking wheels was to be seen, an
Egyptian riding an ass or a bare-backed nag, and now and then a few
insolent Greek soldiers. On all sides he heard the sharper and moreemphatic accent of the sons of the desert instead of the language of his
forefathers and their Greek conquerors. Without the aid of the servant
who rode at his side he could not have made himself understood on the
soil of his native land.
He soon reached Amru’s house and was there informed by an Egyptian
secretary that his master was gone out hunting and would receive him,
not in the town, but at the citadel. There, on a pleasant site on the
limestone hills which rose behind the fortress of Babylon and the newly-
founded city, stood some fine buildings, originally planned as a
residence for the Prefect; and thither Amru had transported his wives,
children, and favorite horses, preferring it, with very good reason, to
the palace in the town, where he transacted business, and where the new
mosque intercepted the view of the Nile, while this eminence commanded a
wide prospect.
The sun was near setting when Orion reached the spot, but the general had
not yet come in from the chase, and the gate-keeper requested that he
would wait.
Orion was accustomed to be treated in his own country as the heir of the
greatest man in it; the color mounted to his brow and his Egyptian heart
revolted at having to bend his pride and swallow his wrath before an
Arab. He was one of the subject race, and the thought that one word from
his lips would suffice to secure his reception in the ranks of the rulers
forced itself suddenly on his mind; but he repressed it with all his
might, and silently allowed himself to be conducted to a terrace screened
by a vine-covered trellis from the heat of the sun.
He sat down on one of the marble seats by the parapet of this hanging
garden and looked westward. He knew the scene well, it was the
playground of his childhood and youth; hundreds of times the picture had
spread before him, and yet it affected him to-day as it had never done
before. Was there on earth–he asked himself–a more fertile and
luxuriant land? Had not even the Greek poets sung of the Nile as the
most venerable of rivers? Had not great Caesar himself been so
fascinated by the idea of discovering its source that to that end–
so he had declared–he would have thought the dominion of the world well
lost? On the produce of those wide fields the weal and woe of the
mightiest cities of the earth had been dependent for centuries; nay,
imperial Rome and sovereign Constantinople had quaked with fears of
famine, when a bad harvest here had disappointed the hopes of the
husbandman.
And was there anywhere a more industrious nation of laborers, had there
ever been, before them, a thriftier or a more skilful race? When he
looked back on the fate and deeds of nations, on the remotest horizon
where the thread of history was scarcely perceptible, that same gigantic
Sphinx was there–the first and earliest monument of human joy in
creative art–those Pyramids which still proudly stood in undiminished
and inaccessible majesty beyond the Nile, beyond the ruined capital of
his forefathers, at the foot of the Libyan range. He was the son of the
men who had raised these imperishable works, and in his veins perchance
there still might flow a drop of the blood of those Pharaohs who had
sought eternal rest in these vast tombs, and whose greater progeny, had
overrun half the world with their armies, and had exacted tribute and
submission. He, who had often felt flattered at being praised for the
purity of his Greek–pure not merely for his time: an age of bastard
tongues–and for the engaging Hellenism of his person, here and now hadan impulse of pride of his Egyptian origin. He drew a deep breath, as he
gazed at the sinking sun; it seemed to lend intentional significance to
the rich beauty of his home as its magical glory transmuted the fields,
the stream, and the palm-groves, the roofs of the city, and even the
barren desert-range and the Pyramids to burning gold. It was fast going
to rest behind the Libyan chain. The bare, colorless limestone sparkled
like translucent crystal; the glowing sphere looked as though it were
melting into the very heart of the mountains behind which it was
vanishing, while its rays, shooting upwards like millions of gold
threads, bound his native valley to heaven–the dwelling of the
Divine Power who had blessed it above all other lands.
To free this beautiful spot of earth and its children from their
oppressors–to restore to them the might and greatness which had once
been theirs–to snatch down the crescent from the tents and buildings
which lay below him and plant the cross which from his infancy he had
held sacred–to lead enthusiastic troops of Egyptians against the
Moslems–to quell their arrogance and drive them back to the East like
Sesostris, the hero of history and legend–this was a task worthy of the
grandson of Menas, of the son of George the great and just Mukaukas.
Paula would not oppose such an enterprise; his excited imagination
pictured her indeed as a second Zenobia by his side, ready for any great
achievement, fit to aid him and to rule.
Fully possessed by this dream of the future, he had long ceased to gaze
at the glories of the sunset and was sitting with eyes fixed on the
ground. Suddenly his soaring visions were interrupted by men’s voices
coming up from the street just below the terrace. He looked over and
perceived at its foot about a score of Egyptian laborers; free men, with
no degrading tokens of slavery, making their way along, evidently against
their will and yet in sullen obedience, with no thought of resistance or
evasion, though only a single Arab held them under control.
The sight fell on his excited mood like rain on a smouldering fire, like
hail on sprouting seed. His eye, which a moment ago had sparkled with
enthusiasm, looked down with contempt and disappointment on the miserable
creatures of whose race he came. A line of bitter scorn curled his lip,
for this troop of voluntary slaves were beneath his anger–all the more
so as he more vividly pictured to himself what his people had once been
and what they were now. He did not think of all this precisely, but
as dusk fell, one scene after another from his own experience rose
before his mind’s eye–occasions on which the Egyptians had behaved
ignominiously, and had proved that they were unworthy of freedom and
inured to bow in servitude. Just as one Arab was now able to reduce a
host of his fellow-countrymen to subjection, so formerly three Greeks had
held them in bondage. He had known numberless instances of almost glad
submission on the part of freeborn Egyptians–peasants, village magnates,
and officials, even on his father’s estates and farms. In Alexandria and
Memphis the sons of the soil had willingly borne the foreign yoke,
allowing themselves to be thrust into the shade and humbled by Greeks,
as though they were of a baser species and origin, so long only as their
religious tenets and the subtleties of their creed remained untouched.
Then he had seen them rise and shed their blood, yet even then only with
loud outcries and a promising display of enthusiasm. But their first
defeat had been fatal and it had required only a small number of trained
soldiers to rout them.
To make any attempt against a bold and powerful invader as the leader ofsuch a race would be madness; there was no choice but to rule his people
in the service of the enemy and so exert his best energies to make their
lot more endurable. His father’s wiser and more experienced judgment
had decided that the better course was to serve his people as mediator
between them and the Arabs rather than to attempt futile resistance
at the head of Byzantine troops.
“Wretched and degenerate brood!” he muttered wrathfully, and he began to
consider whether he should not quit the spot and show the arrogant Arab
that one Egyptian, at any rate, still had spirit enough to resent his
contempt, or whether he should yet wait for the sake of the good cause,
and swallow down his indignation. No! he, the son of the Mukaukas, could
not–ought not to brook such treatment. Rather would he lose his life as
a rebel, or wander an exile through the world and seek far from home a
wider field for deeds of prowess, than put his free neck under the feet
of the foe.
But his reflections were disturbed by the sound of footsteps, and looking
round he saw the gleam of lanterns moving to and fro on the terrace,
turned directly on him. These must be Amru’s servants come to conduct
him to their master, who, as he supposed, would now do him the honor to
receive him–tired out with hunting, no doubt, and stretched on his divan
while he imperiously informed his guest, as if he were some freed slave,
what his wishes were.
But the steps were not those of a messenger. The great general himself
had come to welcome him; the lantern-bearers were not to show the way to
Amru’s couch, but to guide Amru to the “son of his dear departed friend.”
The haughty Vicar of the Khaliffs was the most cordial host, prompted by
hospitality to make his guest’s brief stay beneath his roof as pleasant
as possible, and giving him the right hand of welcome.
He apologized for his prolonged absence in very intelligible Greek,
having learnt it in his youth as a caravan-leader to Alexandria; he
expressed his regret at having left Orion to wait so long, blamed his
servants for not inviting him indoors and for neglecting to offer him
refreshment. As they crossed the garden-terrace he laid his hand on the
youth’s shoulder, explained to him that the lion he had been pursuing,
though wounded by one of his arrows, had got away, and added that he
hoped to make good his loss by the conquest of a nobler quarry than the
beast of prey.
There was nothing for it but that the young man should return courtesy
for courtesy; nor did he find it difficult. The Arab’s fine pleasant
voice, full of sincere cordiality, and the simple distinction and dignity
of his manner appealed to Orion, flattered him, gave him confidence, and
attracted him to the older man who was, besides, a valiant hero.
In his brightly-lighted room hung with costly Persian tapestry, Amru
invited his guest to share his simple hunter’s supper after the Arab
fashion; so Orion placed himself on one side of the divan while the
Governor and his Vekeel–[Deputy]–Obada–a Goliath with a perfectly
black moorish face squatted rather than sat on the other, after the
manner of his people.
Amru informed his guest that the black giant knew no Greek, and he only
now and then threw in a few words which the general interpreted to Orion
when he thought fit; but the negro’s remarks were not more pleasing tothe young Egyptian than his manner and appearance.
Obada had in his childhood been a slave and had worked his way up to his
present high position by his own exertions; his whole attention seemed
centred in the food before him, which he swallowed noisily and greedily,
and yet that he was able to follow the conversation very well, in spite
of his ignorance of Greek, his remarks sufficiently proved. Whenever he
looked up from the dishes, which were placed in the midst on low tables,
to put in a word, he rolled his big eyes so that only the whites remained
visible; but when he turned them on Orion, their small, black pupils
transfixed him with a keen and, as the young man thought, exceedingly
sinister glare.
The presence of this man oppressed him; he had heard of his base origin,
which to Orion’s lofty ideas rendered him contemptible, of his fierce
valor, and remarkable shrewdness; and though he did not understand what
Obada said, more than once there was something in the man’s tone that
brought the blood into his face and made him set his teeth. The more
kindly and delightful the effect of the Arab’s speech and manner, the
more irritating and repulsive was his subordinate; and Orion was
conscious that he would have expressed himself more freely, and have
replied more candidly to many questions, if he had been alone with Amru.
At first his host made enquiries as to his residence in Constantinople
and asked much about his father; and he seemed to take great interest in
all he heard till Obada interrupted Orion, in the midst of a sentence,
with an enquiry addressed to his superior. Amru hastily answered him in
Arabic and soon after gave a fresh turn to the conversation.
The Vekeel had asked why Amru allowed that Egyptian boy to chatter so
much before settling the matter about which he had sent for him, and his
master had replied that a man is best entertained when he has most
opportunity given him for hearing himself talk; that moreover the young
man was well-informed, and that all he had to say was interesting and
important.
The Moslems drank nothing; Orion was served with capital wine, but he
took very little, and at length Amru began to speak of his father’s
funeral, alluding to the Patriarch’s hostility, and adding that he had
talked with him that morning and had been surprised at the marked
antagonism he had confessed towards his deceased fellow-believer, who
seemed formerly to have been his friend. Then Orion spoke out; he
explained fully what the reasons were that had moved the Patriarch to
display such conspicuous and far-reaching animosity towards his father.
All that Benjamin cared for was to stand clear in the eyes of Christendom
of the reproach of having abandoned a Christian land to conquerors who
were what Christians termed “infidels” and his aim at present was to put
his father forward as the man wholly and solely responsible for the
supremacy of the Moslems in the land.
“True, true; I understand,” Amru put in, and when the young man went on
to tell him that the final breach between the Patriarch and the Mukaukas
George had been about the convent of St. Cecilia, whose rights the
prelate had tried to abrogate by an illegal interpretation of certain
ancient and perfectly clear documents; the Arab exchanged rapid glances
with the Vekeel and then broke in:
“And you? Are you disposed to submit patiently to the blow struck at you
and at your parent’s worthy memory by this restless old man, who hatesyou as he did your father before you?”
“Certainly not,” replied the youth proudly.
“That is right!” cried the general. “That is what I expected of you;
but tell me now, with what weapons you, a Christian, propose to defy this
shrewd and powerful man, in whose hands–as I know full well–you have
placed the weal and woe, not of your souls alone….”
“I do not know yet,” replied Orion, and as he met a glance of scorn from
the Vekeel, he looked down.
At this Amru rose, went closer to him, and said “And you will seek them
in vain, my young friend; nor, if you found them, could you use them.
It is easier to hit a woman, an eel, a soaring bird, than these supple,
weak, unarmed, robed creatures, who have love and peace on their tongues
and use their physical helplessness as a defence, aiming invisible but
poisoned darts at those they hate–at you first and foremost, Son of the
Mukaukas; I know it and I advise you: Be on your guard! If indeed manly
revenge for this slight on your father’s memory is dear to your heart you
can easily procure it–but only on one condition.”
“Show it me!” cried Orion with flaming eyes. “Become one of us.”
“That is what I came here for. My brain and my arm from this day forth
are at the service of the rulers of my country: yourself and our common
master the Khaliff.”
“Ya Salaam–that is well!” cried Amru, laying his hand on Orion’s
shoulder. “There is but one God, and yours is ours, too, for there is
none other but He! you will not have to sacrifice much in becoming a
Moslem, for we, too, count your lord Jesus as one of the prophets; and
even you must confess that the last and greatest of them is Mohammed,
the true prophet of God. Every man must acknowledge our lord Mohammed,
who does not wilfully shut his eyes to the events which have come about
under his government and in his name. Your own father admitted. . .”
“My father?”
“He was forced to admit that we are more zealous, more earnest, more
deeply possessed by our faith than you, his own fellow-believers.”
“I know it.”
“And when I told him that I had given orders that the desk for the reader
of the Koran in our new mosque should be discarded, because when he
stepped up to it he was uplifted above the other worshippers, the weary
Mukaukas was quite agitated with satisfaction and uttered a loud cry of
approbation. We Moslems–for that was what my commands implied–must all
be equal in the presence of God, the Eternal, the Almighty, the All-
merciful; their leader in prayer must not be raised above them, even by
a head; the teaching of the Prophet points the road to Paradise, to all
alike, we need no earthly guide to show us the way. It is our faith,
our righteousness, our good deeds that open or close the gates of heaven;
not a key in the hand of a priest. When you are one of us, no Benjamin
can embitter your happiness on earth, no Patriarch can abrogate your
claims and your father’s to eternal bliss. You have chosen well, boy!
Your hand, my convert to the true faith!”And he held out his hand to Orion with glad excitement. But the young
man did not take it; he drew back a little and said rather uneasily:
“Do not misunderstand me, great Captain. Here is my hand, and I can know
no greater honor than that of grasping yours, of wielding my sword under
your command, of wearing it out in your service and in that of my lord
the Khaliff; but I cannot be untrue to my faith.”
“Then be crushed by Benjamin–you and all your people!” cried Armu,
disappointed and angry. He waved his hand with a gesture of disgust
and dismissal, and then turned to the Vekeel with a shrug, to answer
the man’s scornful exclamation.
Orion looked at them in dumb indecision; but he quickly collected
himself, and said in a tone of modest but urgent entreaty:
“Nay; hear me and do not reject my petition. It could only be to my
advantage to go over to you; and yet I can resist so great a temptation;
but for that very reason I shall keep faith with you as I do to my
religion.”
“Until the priests compel you to break it,” interrupted the Arab roughly.
“No, no!” cried Orion. “I know that Benjamin is my foe; but I have lost
a beloved parent, and I believe in a meeting beyond the grave.”
“So do I,” replied the Moslem. “And there is but one Paradise and one
Hell, as there is but one God.”
“What gives you this conviction?”
“My faith.”
“Then forgive me if I cling to mine, and hope to see my father once more
in that Heaven….”
“The heaven to which, as you fools believe, no souls but your own are
admitted! But supposing that it is open only to the immortal spirit of
Moslems and closed against Christians?–What do you know of that
Paradise? I know your sacred Scriptures–Is it described in them? But
the All-merciful allowed our Prophet to look in, and what he saw he has
described as though the Most High himself had guided his reed. The
Moslem knows what Heaven has to offer him,–but you? Your Hell, you do
know; your priests are more readier to curse than to bless. If one of
you deviates by one hair’s breadth from their teaching they thrust him
out forthwith to the abode of the damned.–Me and mine, the Greek
Christians, and–take my word for it boy–first and foremost you and your
father!”
“If only I were sure of finding him there!” cried Orion striking his
breast. “I really should not fear to follow him. I must meet him, must
see him again, were it in Hell itself!”
At these words the Vekeel burst into loud laughter, and when Amru
reproved him sharply the negro retorted and a vehement dialogue ensued.
Obada’s contumely had roused Orion’s wrath; he was longing, burning to
reduce this insolent antagonist to silence. However, he contained
himself by a supreme effort of will, till Amru turned to him once moreand said in a reserved tone, but not unkindly:
“This clear-sighted man has mentioned a suspicion which I myself had
already felt. A worldly-minded young Christian of your rank is not so
ready to give up earthly joys and happiness for the doubtful bliss of
your Paradise and when you do so and are prepared to forego all that a
man holds most dear: Honor, temporal possessions, a wide field of action,
and revenge on your enemies, to meet the spirit of the departed once more
after death, there must be some special reason in the background. Try to
compose yourself, and believe my assurances that I like you and that you
will find in me a zealous protector and a discreet friend if you will
but tell me candidly and fully what are the motives of your conduct.
I myself really desire that our interview should be fruitful of
advantages on both sides. So put your trust in a man so much your
senior and your father’s friend, and speak.”
“On no consideration in the presence of that man!” said Orion in a
tremulous voice. “Though he is supposed not to understand Greek, he
follows every word I say with malicious watchfulness; he dared to laugh
at me, he. . .”
“He is as discreet as he is brave, and my Vekeel,” interrupted Amru
reprovingly. “If you join us you will have to obey him; and remember
this, young man. I sent for you to impose conditions on you, not to have
them dictated to me. I grant you an audience as the ruler of this
country, as the Vicar of Omar, your Khaliff and mine.”
“Then I entreat you to dismiss me, for in the presence of that man my
heart and lips are sealed; I feel that he is my enemy.”
“Beware of his becoming so!” cried the governor, while Obada shrugged
his shoulders scornfully.
Orion understood this gesture, and although he again succeeded in keeping
cool he felt that he could no longer be sure of himself; he bowed low,
without paying any heed to the Vekeel, and begged Amru to excuse him for
the present.
Amru, who had not failed to observe Obada’s demeanor and who keenly
sympathized with what was going on in the young man’s mind, did not
detain him; but his manner changed once more; he again became the
pressing host and invited his guest, as it was growing late, to pass the
night under his roof. Orion politely declined, and when at length he
quitted the room–without deigning even to look at the Negro–Amru
accompanied him into the anteroom. There he grasped the young man’s
hand, and said in a low voice full of sincere and fatherly interest:
“Beware of the Negro; you let him perceive that you saw through him–it
was brave but rash. For my part I honestly wish you well.”
“I believe it, I know it,” replied Orion, on whose perturbed soul the
noble Arab’s warm, deep accents fell like balm. “And now we are alone
I will gladly confide in you. I, my Lord, I–my father–you knew him.
In cruel wrath, before he closed his eyes, he withdrew his blessing from
his only son.”
The memory of the most fearful hour of his life choked his voice for a
moment, but he soon went on: “One single act of criminal folly roused his
anger; but afterwards, in grief and penitence, I thought over my wholelife, and I saw how useless it had been; and now, when I came hither with
a heart full of glad expectancy to place all I have to offer of mind and
gifts at your disposal, I did so, my Lord, because I long to achieve
great and noble, and difficult or, if it might be, impossible deeds–to
be active, to be doing. . .”
Here he was interrupted by Amru, who said, laying his sinewy arm across
the youth’s shoulders:
“And because you long to let the spirit of your dead father, that
righteous man, see that a heedless act of youthful recklessness has not
made you unworthy of his blessing; because you hope by valiant deeds to
compel his wrath to turn to approval, his scorn to esteem. . .”
“Yes, yes, that is the thing, the very thing!” Orion broke in with fiery
enthusiasm; but the Arab eagerly signed to him to lower his voice, as
though to cheat some listener, and whispered hastily, but with warm
kindliness:
“And I, I will help you in this praiseworthy endeavor. Oh, how much you
remind me of the son of my heart who, like you, erred, and who was
permitted to atone for all, for more than all by dying like a hero for
his faith on the field of battle!–Count on me, and let your purpose
become deed. In me you have found a friend.–Now, go. You shall hear
from me before long. But, once more: Do not provoke the Negro; beware of
him; and the next time you meet him subdue your pride and make as though
you had never seen him before.”
He looked sadly at Orion, as though the sight of him revived some loved
image in his mind, kissed his brow, and as soon as the youth had left the
anteroom he hastily drew open the curtain that hung across the door into
the dining-room.–A few steps behind it stood the Vekeel, who was
arranging the straps of his sword-belt.
“Listener!” exclaimed the Arab with intense scorn, “you, a man of gifts,
a man of deeds! A hero in battle and in council; lion, serpent, and toad
in one! When will you cast out of your soul all that is contemptible
and base? Be what you have made yourself, not what you were; do not
constantly remind the man who helped you to rise that you were born
of a slave!”
“My Lord!” began the Moor, and the whites of his rolling eyes were
ominously conspicuous in his black face. But Amru took the words out of
his mouth and went on in stern and determined reproof:
“You behaved to that noble youth like an idiot, like a buffoon at a fair,
like a madman.”
“To Hell with him!” cried Obada, “I hate the gilded upstart.”
“Envious wretch! Do not provoke him! Times change, and the day may come
when you will have reason to fear him.”
“Him?” shrieked the other. “I could crush the puppet like a fly! And
he shall live to know it.”
“Your turn first and then his!” said Amru. “To us he is the more
important of the two–yes, he, the up start, the puppet. Do you hear?
Do you understand? If you touch a hair of his head, it will cost youyour nose and ears! Never for an hour forget that you live–and ought
not to live–only so long as two pairs of lips are sealed. You know
whose. That clever head remains on your shoulders only as long as they
choose. Cling to it, man; you have only one to lose! It was necessary,
my lord Vekeel, to remind you of that once more!”
The Negro groaned like a wounded beast and sullenly panted out: “This is
the reward of past services; these are the thanks of Moslem to Moslem!–
And all for the sake of a Christian dog.”
“You have had thanks, and more than are your due,” replied Amru more
calmly. “You know what you pledged yourself to before I raised you to be
my Vekeel for the sake of your brains and your sword, and what I had to
overlook before I did so–not on your behalf, but for the great cause of
Islam. And, if you wish to remain where you are, you will do well to
sacrifice your wild ambition. If you cannot, I will send you back to the
army, and to-day rather than to-morrow; and if you carry it with too high
a hand you will find yourself at Medina in fetters, with your death-
warrant stuck in your girdle.”
The Negro again groaned sullenly; but his master was not to be checked.
“Why should you hate this youth? Why, a child could see through it!
In the son and heir of George you see the future Mukaukas, while you are
cherishing the insane wish to become the Mukaukas yourself.”
“And why should such a wish be insane?” cried the other in a harsh
voice. “Putting you out of the question, who is there here that is
shrewder or stronger than I?”
“No Moslem, perhaps. But neither you nor any other true believer will
succeed to the dead man’s office, but an Egyptian and a Christian.
Prudence requires it, and the Khaliff commands it.”
“And does he also command that this curled ape shall be left in
possession of his millions?”
“So that is what you covet, you greedy curmudgeon–that is it? Do not
all the crimes you have committed out of avarice weigh upon you heavily
enough? Gold, and yet more gold–that is the end, the foul end, of all
your desires. A fat morsel, no doubt: the Mukaukas’ estates, his talents
of gold, his gems, slaves, and horses; I admit that. But thank God the
All-merciful, we are not thieves and robbers!”
“And who was it that dug out the hidden millions from beneath the
reservoir of Peter the Egyptian, and who made him bite the dust?”
“I–I. But–as you know–only to send the money to Medina. Peter had
hidden it before we killed him. The Mukaukas and his son have declared
all their possessions to the uttermost dinar and hide of land; they have
faithfully paid the taxes, and consequently their property belongs to
them as our swords, our horses, our wives belong to you or me. What will
not your grasping spirit lead you to!–Take your hand from your dagger!–
Not a copper coin from them shall fall into your hungry maw, so help me
God! Do not again cast an evil eye on the Mukaukas’ son! Do not try my
patience too far, man, or else–Hold your head tight on your shoulders or
you will have to seek it at your feet; and what I say I mean!–Now, good-
night! To-morrow morning in the divan you are to explain your scheme for
the new distribution of the land; it will not suit me in any way, and Ishall have other projects to propose for discussion.”
With this the Arab turned his back on the Vekeel; but no sooner had the
door closed on him than Obada clenched his fist in fury at his lord and
master, who had hitherto said nothing of his having had purloined a
portion of the consignment of gold which Amru had charged him to escort
to Medina. Then he rushed up and down the room, snorting and foaming
till slaves came in to clear the tables.
CHAPTER XXV.
Orion made his way home under the moonlit and starry night. He held his
head high, and not since that evening on the water with Paula had he felt
so glad or so hopeful. On the other side of the bridge he did not at
once turn his horse’s head homewards; the fresh night air was so
delightful, his heart beat so high that he shrunk from the oppression of
a room. Full of renewed life, freed from a burden as it were, he made
his way at a round pace to the house that held his beloved, picturing to
himself how gladly she would welcome the news that he had found Amru
ready to encourage him in his projects, indeed, to be a fatherly friend.
The Arab general, whose lofty character, intellect, and rectitude his
father had esteemed highly, had impressed him, too, as the ideal of noble
manliness, and as he compared him with the highest officials and warriors
he had met at the Court of Byzantium he could not help smiling. By the
side of this dignified, but impetuous and warm-hearted man they appeared
like the old, rigid idols of his ancestors in comparison with the freely-
wrought works of Greek art. He could bless the memory of his father for
having freed the land from that degenerate race. Now, he felt, that lost
parent, whose image lived in his soul, was satisfied with him, and this
gave him a sense of happiness which he meant to cling to and enhance by
every thought and deed in the future. “Life is a function, a ministry,
and a duty!” this watchword, which had been given him by those beloved
lips, should keep him in the new path; and soon he hoped to feel sure of
himself, to be able to look back on such deeds of valor as would give him
a right in his own judgment to unite his lot to that of this noblest of
women.
Full of such thoughts as these, he made his way to the house of Rufinus.
The windows of the corner room on the upper floor were lighted up; two of
these windows looked out on the river and the quay. He did not know
which rooms were Paula’s, but he looked up at the late-burning light with
a vague feeling that it must be hers; a female figure which now appeared
framed m the opening, showed him that he was not mistaken; it was that of
Perpetua. The sound of hoofs had roused her curiosity, but she did not
seem to recognize him in the dim starlight.
He slowly rode past, and when he presently turned back and again looked
up, in the hope this time of seeing Paula, the place was vacant: however,
he perceived a tall dark shadow moving across from one side of the room
to the other, which could not be that of the nurse nor of her slender
mistress. It must indeed be that of a remarkably big man, and stopping
to gaze with anxious and unpleasant apprehension, he plainly recognized
Philippus.
It was past midnight. How could he account for his being with Paula atthis hour?–Was she ill?–Was this room hers after all?–Was it merely by
chance that the nurse was in Rufinus’ room with the physician.
No. The woman whom he could now see pass across the window and go
straight up to the man, with outstretched hands, was Paula and none
other. Isis heart was already beating fast, and now a suspicion grew
strong in him which his vanity had hitherto held in check, though he had
often seen the friendly relations that subsisted between Paula and the
leech.–Perhaps it was a warmer feeling than friendship and guileless
trust, which had led her so unreservedly to claim this man’s protection
and service. Could he have won Paula’s heart–Paula’s love?
Was it conceivable!–But why not?
What was there against Philippus but his homely face and humble birth?
And how many a woman had he not seen set her heart on quite other things!
The physician was not more than five years his senior; and recalling the
expression in his eyes as he looked at Paula only that morning Orion felt
more and more uneasy.
Philippus loved Paula.–A trifling incident suddenly occurred to his mind
which made him certain on that point; he had only too much experience in
such matters. Yesterday, it had struck him that ever since his father’s
death–that was ever since Paula’s change of residence–Philippus dressed
more carefully than had been his wont. “Now this,” thought he, “is a
change that does not come over so serious a man unless it is caused by
love.”
A mingled torment of pain and rage shot through him as he again saw the
tall shadow cross the window. For the first time in his life he felt the
pangs of jealousy, which he had so often laughed at in his friends; but
was it not absurd to allow it to torture him; was he not sure, since that
morning’s meeting, quite sure of Paula? And Philippus! Even if he,
Orion, must retire into the background before a higher judge, in the eyes
of a woman he surely had the advantage!–But in spite of all this it
troubled him to know that the physician was with Paula at such an hour;
he angrily pulled his horse’s head round, and it was a pleasure to him to
feel the fiery creature, unused as it was to such rough treatment, turn
restive at it now. By the time he had gone a hundred steps from those
windows with their cursed glare, the horse was displaying all the temper
and vice that had been taken out of him as a foal. Orion had to fight a
pitched battle with his steed, and it was a relief to him to exercise his
power with curb and knee. In vain did the creature dance round and
round; in vain did he rear and plunge; the steady rider was his master;
and it was not till he had brought him to quietness and submission that
Orion drew breath and looked about him while he patted the horse’s smooth
neck.
Close at hand, behind a low hedge, spread the thick, dark groves of
Susannah’s garden and between them the back of the house was visible,
being more brilliantly lighted than even Paula’s rooms. Three of the
windows showed lights; two were rather dim, however, the result probably
of one lamp only.
All this could not matter to him; nevertheless he remained gazing at the
roof of the colonnade which went round the house below the upper floor;
for, on the terrace it formed, leaning against a window-frame, stood a
small figure with her head thrust so far forth to listen that the light
shone through the curls that framed it. Katharina was trying to overheara dialogue between the Patriarch Benjamin–whose bearded and apostolic
head Orion could clearly recognize–and the priest John, an insignificant
looking little man, of whom, however, the deceased Mukaukas had testified
that he was far superior to old Plotinus the Bishop in intellect and
energy.
The young man could easily have watched Katharina’s every movement, but
he did not think it worth while. Nevertheless, as he rode on, the water-
wagtail’s little figure dwelt in his mind; not alone, however, for that
of Paula immediately rose by her side; and the smaller Katharina’s
seemed, the more ample and noble did the other appear. Every word he
had heard that day from Paula’s lips rushed to his remembrance, and
the vivid and lovely memory drove out all care. That woman, who only a
few hours since, had declared herself ready, with him, to hope all
things, to believe all things, and to accept his protection–that lordly
maiden whom he had been glad to bid fix her eye, with him, on the goal of
his future efforts, whose pure gaze could restrain his passion and
impetuosity as by a charm, and who yet granted him the right to strive to
possess her–that proud daughter of heroes, whom even his father would
have clasped to his heart as a daughter–was it possible that she should
betray him like some pleasure-seeking city beauty? Could she forget her
dignity as a woman?–No! and a thousand times no. To doubt her was to
insult her–was to wrong her and himself.
The physician loved her; but it certainly was not any warmer feeling than
friendship on her part that made her receive him at this late hour. The
shame would be his own, if he ever again allowed such base suspicion to
find place in his soul!
He breathed a deep sigh of relief. And when his servant, who had
lingered to pay the toll at the bridge, came up with him, Orion
dismounted and desired him to lead his horse home, for he himself wished
to return on foot, alone with his thoughts. He walked meditatively and
slowly under the sycamores, but he had not gone far when, on the other
side of the deserted road, he heard some one overtaking him with long,
quick strides. He recognized the leech Philippus at a glance and was
glad, for this proved to him how senseless and unjust his doubts had
been, and how little ground he had for regarding the physician as a
rival; for indeed this man did not look like a happy lover. He hurried
on with his head bent, as though under a heavy burthen, and clasped his
hand to his forehead with a gesture of despair. No, this nocturnal
wanderer had left no hour of bliss behind him; and if his demeanor was
calculated to rouse any feeling it was not envy, but pity.
Philippus did not heed Orion; absorbed in himself, he strode on, moaning
dully, as if in pain. For a few minutes he disappeared into a house
whence came loud cries of suffering, and when he came out again, he
walked on, shaking his head now and then, as a man who sees many things
happen which his understanding fails to account for.
The end of his walk was a large, palatial building. The stucco had
fallen off in places, and in the upper story the windows had been broken
away till their open ings were a world too wide. In former times this
house had accommodated the State officers of Finance for the province,
and the ground-floor rooms had been suitably and comfortably fitted up
for the Ideologos–the supreme controller of this department, who usually
resided at Alexandria, but who often spent some weeks at Memphis when on
a tour of inspection. But the Arabians had transferred the management of
the finances of the whole country to the new capital of Fostat on theother shore of the river, and that of the monetary affairs of the
decaying city had been incorporated with the treasurer’s department of
the Mukaukas’ household. The senate of the city had found the expense of
this huge building too heavy, and had been well content to let the lower
rooms to Philippus and his Egyptian friend, Horapollo.
The two men occupied different rooms, but the same slaves attended to
their common housekeeping and also waited on the physician’s assistant, a
modest and well-informed Alexandrian.
When Philippus entered his old friend’s lofty and spacious study he found
him still up, sitting before a great number of rolls of manuscript, and
so absorbed in his work that he did not notice his late-coming comrade
till the leech bid him good-evening. His only reply was an
unintelligible murmur, for some minutes longer the old man was lost in
study; at last, however, he looked up at Philippus, impatiently tossing
an ivory ruler-which he had been using to open and smooth the papyrus on
to the table; and at the same moment a dark bundle under it began to
move–this was the old man’s slave who had long been sleeping there.
Three lamps on the writing-table threw a bright light on the old man and
his surroundings, while the physician, who had thrown himself on a couch
in a corner of the large room, remained in the dark.
What startled the midnight student was his housemate’s unwonted silence;
it disturbed him as the cessation of the clatter of the wheel disturbs a
man who lives in a mill. He looked at his friend with surprised enquiry,
but Philippus was dumb, and the old man turned once more to his rolls of
manuscript. But he had lost the necessary concentration; his brown hand,
in which the blue veins stood out like cords, fidgeted with the scrolls
and the ivory rule, and his sunken lips, which had before been firmly
closed, were now twitching restlessly.
The man’s whole aspect was singular and not altogether pleasing: his lean
brown figure was bent with age, his thoroughly Egyptian face, with broad
cheekbones and outstanding ears, was seamed and wrinkled like oak-bark;
his scalp was bare of its last hair, and his face clean-shaved, but for a
few tufts of grey hair by way of beard, sprouting from the deep furrows
on his cheeks and chin, like reeds from the narrow bed of a brook; the
razor could not reach them there, and they gave him an untidy and
uncared-for appearance. His dress answered to his face–if indeed that
could be called dress which consisted of a linen apron and a white
kerchief thrown over his shoulders after sundown. Still, no one meeting
him in the road could have taken him for a beggar; for his linen was fine
and as white as snow, and his keen, far-seeing eyes, above which, exactly
in the middle, his bristly eyebrows grew strangely long and thick, shone
and sparkled with clear intelligence, firm self-reliance, and a repellent
severity which would no more have become an intending mendicant than the
resolute and often scornful expression which played about his lips.
There was nothing amiable, nothing prepossessing, nothing soft in this
man’s face; and those who knew what his life had been could not wonder
that the years had failed to sweeten his abrupt and contradictory
acerbity or to transmute them into that kindly forbearance which old men,
remembering how often they have stumbled and how many they have seen
fall, sometimes find pleasure in practising.
He had been born, eighty years before, in the lovely island of Philae,
beyond the cataract in the district of the temple of Isis, and under the
shadow of the only Egyptian sanctuary in which the heathen cultus waskept up, and that publicly, as late as in his youth. Since Theodosius
the Great, one emperor and one Praefectus Augustalis after another had
sent foot-soldiers and cavalry above the falls to put an end to idolatry
in the beautiful isle; but they had always been routed or destroyed by
the brave Blemmyes who haunted the desert between the Nile and the Red
Sea. These restless nomad tribes acknowledged the Isis of Philae as
their tutelary goddess, and, by a very ancient agreement, the image of
their patroness was carried every year by her priests in a solemn
procession to the Blemmyes, and then remained for a few weeks in their
keeping. Horapollo’s father was the last of the horoscope readers, and
his grandfather had been the last high-priest of the Isis of Philae. His
childhood had been passed on the island but then a Byzantine legion had
succeeded in beating the Blemmyes, in investing the island, and in
plundering and closing the temple. The priests of Isis escaped the
imperial raid and Horapollo had spent all his early years with his
father, his grandfather, and two younger sisters, in constant peril and
flight. His youthful spirit was unremittingly fed with hatred of the
persecutors, the cruel contemners and exterminators of the faith of his
forefathers; and this hatred rose to irreconcilable bitterness after the
massacre at Antioch where the imperial soldiery fell upon all his family,
and his grandfather and two innocent sisters were murdered. These
horrors were committed at the instigation of the Bishop, who denounced
the Egyptian strangers as idolaters, and to whom the Roman prefect, a
proud and haughty patrician, had readily lent the support of an armed
force. It was owing to the narrowest chance–or, as the old man would
have it, to the interposition of great Isis, that his father had been so
happy as to get away with him and the treasures he had brought from the
temple at Philae. Thus they had means to enable them to travel farther
under an assumed name, and they finally settled in Alexandria. Here the
persecuted youth changed his name, Horus, to its Greek equivalent, and
henceforth he was known at home and in the schools as Apollo. He was
highly gifted by nature, and availed himself with the utmost zeal of the
means of learning that abounded in Alexandria; he labored indefatigably
and dug deep into every field of Greek science, gaining, under his
father’s guidance, all the knowledge of Egyptian horoscopy, which
was not wholly lost even at this late period.
In the midst of the contentious Christian sects of the capital, both
father and son remained heathen and worshippers of Isis; and when the old
priest died at an advanced age, Horapollo moved to Memphis where he led
the quiet and secluded life of a student, mingling only now and then with
the astronomers, astrologers, and calendar-makers at the observatory, or
visiting the alchemists’ laboratories, where, even in Christian Egypt,
they still devoted themselves to attempts to transmute the baser into the
noble metals. Alchemists and star-readers alike soon detected the old
man’s superior knowledge, and in spite of his acrid and often
offensively-repellent demeanor, took counsel of him on difficult
questions. His fame had even reached the Arabs, and, when it was
necessary to find the exact direction towards Mecca for the prayer niche
in Amru’s new mosque, he was appealed to, and his decision was final.
Philippus had, some years since, been called to the old man’s bedside in
sickness, and being then a beginner and in no great request, he had given
the best of his time and powers to the case. Horapollo had been much
attracted by the young physician’s wide culture and earnest studiousness;
he had conceived a warm liking for him, the warmest perhaps that he had
ever felt for any fellow-human since the death of his own family. At
last the elder took the younger man into his heart with such overflowing
affection, that it seemed as though his spirit longed to make up now forthe stint of love it had hitherto shown. No father could have clung to
his son with more fervent devotion, and when a relapse once more brought
him to death’s door he took Philippus wholly into his confidence,
unrolled before his eyes the scroll of his inner and outer life from its
beginnings, and made him his heir on condition that he should abide by
him to the end.
Philippus, who, from the first, had felt a sympathetic attraction to
this venerable and talented man, agreed to the bargain; and when he
subsequently became associated with the old man in his studies, assisting
him from time to time, Horapollo desired that he would help him to
complete a work he hoped to finish before he died. It was a treatise on
hieroglyphic writing, and was to interpret the various signs so far as
was still possible, and make them intelligible to posterity.
Tne old man disliked writing anything but Egyptian, using Greek
unwillingly and clumsily, so he entrusted to his young friend the task
of rendering his explanations into that language. Thus the two men–
so different in age and character, but so closely allied in intellectual
aims–led a joint existence which was both pleasant and helpful to both,
in spite of the various eccentricities, the harshness and severity of the
elder.
Horapollo lived after the manner of the early Egyptian priests,
subjecting himself to much ablution and shaving; eating little but bread,
vegetables, and poultry, and abstaining from pulse and the flesh of all
beasts–not merely of the prohibited animal, swine; wearing nothing but
pure linen clothing, and setting apart certain hours for the recitation
of those heathen forms of prayer whose magic power was to compel the gods
to grant the desires of those who thus appealed to them.
And if the old man had given his full confidence to Philippus, the
leech, on his part, had no secrets from him; or, if he withheld anything,
Horapollo, with wonderful acumen, was at once aware of it. Philippus had
often spoken of Paula to his parental friend, describing her charms with
all the fervor of a lover, but the old man was already prejudiced against
her, if only as the daughter of a patrician and a prefect. All who bore
these titles were to him objects of hatred, for a patrician and a prefect
had been guilty of the blood of those he had held most dear. The
Governor of Antioch, to be sure, had acted only under the orders of the
bishop; but old Horapollo, and his father before him, from the first
had chosen to throw all the blame on the prefect, for it afforded some
satisfaction to the descendant of an ancestral race of priests to be able
to vent all his wrathful spite on any one rather than on the minister of
a god–be that god who or what he might.
So when Philippus praised Paula’s dignified grandeur, her superior
elegance, the height of her stature or the loftiness of her mind, the
old man would bound up exclaiming: “Of course–of course!–Beware boy,
beware! You are disguising haughtiness, conceit, and arrogance under
noble names. The word ‘patrician’ includes everything we can conceive of
as most insolent and inhuman; and those apes in purple who disgrace the
Imperial throne pick out the worst of them, the most cold-hearted and
covetous, to make prefects of them. And as they are, so are their
children! Everything which they in their vainglory regard as ‘beneath
them’ they tread into the dust–and we–you and I, all who labor with
their hands in the service of the state–we, in their dull eyes, are
beneath them. Mark me, boy! To-day the governor’s daughter, the
patrician maiden, can smile at you because she needs you; tomorrow shewill cast you aside as I push away the old panther-skin which keeps my
feet warm in winter, as soon as the March days come!”
Nor was his aversion less for the son of the Mukaukas, whom, however,
he had never seen; when the leech had confessed to him how deep a grudge
against Orion dwelt in the heart of Paula, old Horapollo had chuckled
scornfully, and he exclaimed, as though he could read hearts and look
into the future–: “They snap at each other now, and in a day or two they
will kiss again! Hatred and love are the opposite ends of the same rod;
and how easily it is reversed!–Those two!–Like in blood is like in
kind;–such people attract each other as the lodestone tends towards the
iron and the iron towards the lodestone!”
But these and similar admonitions had produced little effect on the
physician’s sentiments; even Paula’s repulse of his ardent appeal after
she had moved to the house of Rufinus had failed to extinguish his hope
of winning her at last. This very morning, in the course of the
discussion as to the stewardship of her fortune, Paula had been ready and
glad to accept him as her Kyrios–her legal protector and representative;
but he now thought that he could perceive by various signs that his
venerable friend was right: that the rod had been reversed, and that
aversion had been transformed to love in the girl’s heart. The anguish
of this discovery was hard to bear. And yet Paula had never shown him
such hearty warmth of manner, never had she spoken to him in a voice so
soft and so full of feeling, as this evening in the garden. More
cheerful and talkative than usual, she had constantly turned to address
him, while he had felt his pain and torment of mind gradually eased, till
in him too, sentiment had blossomed anew, and his intellectual power had
expanded. Never–so he believed–had he expressed his thoughts better or
more brilliantly than in that hour. Nor had she withheld her approval;
she had heartily agreed with his views; and when, half an hour before
midnight, he had gone with her to visit his patients, rapturous hopes
had sprung once more in his breast. Ecstatically happy, like a man
intoxicated, he had, by her own desire, accompanied her into her sitting-
room, and then–and there….
Poor, disappointed man, sitting on the divan in a dark corner of the
spacious room! In his soul hitherto the intellect had alone made itself
heard, the voice of the heart had never been listened to.
How he had found his way home he never knew. All he remembered was that,
in the course of duty, he had gone into the house of a man whose wife–
the mother of several children–he had left at noon in a dying state;
that he had seen her a corpse, surrounded by loud but sincere mourners;
that he had gone on his way, weighed down by their grief and his own, and
that he had entered his friend’s rooms rather than his own, to feel safe
from himself. Life had no charm, no value for him now; still, he felt
ashamed to think that a woman could thus divert him from the fairest aims
of life, that he could allow her to destroy the peace of mind he needed
to enable him to carry out his calling in the spirit of his friend
Rufinus. He knew his house-mate well and felt that he would only pour
vitriol into his wounds, but it was best so. The old man had already
often tried to bring down Paula’s image from its high pedestal in his
soul, but always in vain; and even now he should not succeed. He would
mar nothing, scatter nothing to the winds, tread nothing in the dust but
the burning passion, the fevered longing for her, which had fired his
blood ever since that night when he had vanquished the raving Masdakite.
That old sage by the table, on whose stern, cold features the light fell
so brightly, was the very man to accomplish such a work of destruction,and Philippus awaited his first words as a wounded man watches the
surgeon heating the iron with which to cauterize the sore.
Poor disappointed wretch, sorely in need of a healing hand!
He lay back on the divan, and saw how his friend leaned over his scroll
as if listening, and fidgeted up and down in his arm-chair.
It was clear that Horapollo was uneasy at Philippus’ long silence, and
his pointed eyebrows, raised high on his brow, plainly showed that he was
drawing his own conclusions from it–no doubt the right ones. The peace
must soon be broken, and Philippus awaited the attack. He was prepared
for the worst; but how could he bring himself to make his torturer’s task
easy for him. Thus many minutes slipped away; while the leech was
waiting for the old man to speak, Horapollo waited for Philippus.
However, the impatience and curiosity of the elder were stronger than the
young man’s craving for comfort; he suddenly laid down the roll of
manuscript, impatiently snatched up the ivory stick which he had thrown
aside, set his heavy seat at an angle with a shove of amazing vigor for
his age, turned full on Philippus, and asked him, in a loud voice,
pointing his ruler at him as if threatening him with it:
“So the play is out. A tragedy, of course!”
“Hardly, since I am still alive,” replied the other.
“But there is inward bleeding, and the wound is painful,” retorted the
old man. Then, after a short pause, he went on: “Those who will not
listen must feel! The fox was warned of the trap, but the bait was too
tempting! Yesterday there would still have been time to pull his foot
out of the spring, if only he had sincerely desired it; he knew the
hunter’s guile. Now the foe is down on the victim; he has not spared his
weapons, and there lies the prey dumb with pain and ignominy, cursing his
own folly.–You seem inclined for silence this evening. Shall I tell you
just how it all came about?”
“I know only too well,” said Philippus.
“While I, to be sure, can only imagine it!” growled the old man.
“So long as that patrician hussy needed the poor beast of burthen she
could pet it and throw barley and dates to it. Now she is rolling in
gold and living under a sheltering roof, and hey presto, the discarded
protector is sent to the right about in no time. This mistress of the
hearts of our weak and bondage-loving sex raises this rich Adonis to fill
the place of the hapless, overgrown leech, just as the sky lets the sun
rise when the pale moon sinks behind the hills. If that is not the fact
give me the lie!”
“I only wish I could,” sighed Philippus. “You have seen rightly,
wonderfully rightly–and yet, as wrongly as possible.”
“Dark indeed!” said the old man quietly. “But I can see even in the
dark. The facts are certain, though you are still so blinded as not
to see their first cause. However, I am satisfied to know that your
delusion has come to so abrupt, and in my opinion so happy, an end. To
its cause–a woman, as usual–I am perfectly indifferent. Why should I
needlessly ascribe to her any worse sin than she had committed? If only
for your sake I will avoid doing so, for an honorable soul clings to
those whom it sees maligned. Still, it seems to me that it is for you tospeak, not for me. I should know you for a philosopher, without such
persistent silence; and as for myself, I am not altogether bereft of
curiosity, in spite of my eighty years.”
At this Philippus hastily rose and pacing the room while he spoke, or
pausing occasionally in front of the old man, he poured out with glowing
cheeks and eager gestures, the history of his hopes and sufferings–how
Paula had filled him with fresh confidence, and had invited him to her
rooms–only to show him her whole heart; she had been strongly moved,
surprised at herself, but unable and unwilling to conceal from him the
happiness that had come into her life. She had spoken to him, her best
friend, as a burthened soul pours itself out to a priest: had confessed
all that she had felt since the funeral of the deceased Mukaukas, and
said that she felt convinced now that Orion had come to a right mind
again after his great sin.
“And that there, was so much joy over him in heaven,” interrupted
Horapollo, “that she really could not delay doing her cast-off lover
the honor of inviting his sympathy!”
“On the contrary. It was with the utmost effort that she uttered all
her heart prompted her to tell; she had nothing to look for from me but
mockery, warning, and reproach, and yet she opened her heart to me.”
“But why? To what end?” shrieked the old man. “Shall I tell you.
Because a man who is a friend must still be half a lover, and a woman
cannot bear to give up even a quarter of one.”
“Not so!” exclaimed Philippus, indignantly interrupting him. “It was
because she esteems and values me,–because she regards me as a brother,
and–I am not a vain man–and could not bear–those were her very words
–to cheat me of my affection for even an hour! It was noble, it was
generous, worthy of her! And though every fibre of my nature rebelled I
found myself compelled to admire her sincerity, her true friendship, her
disregard of her own feelings, and her womanly tenderness!–Nay, do not
interrupt me again, do not laugh at me. It is no small matter for a
proud girl, conscious of her own dignity, to lay bare her heart’s
weakness to a man who, as she knows, loves her, as she did just now to
me. She called me her benefactor and said she would be a sister to me;
and whatever motive you–who hate her out of a habit of prejudice without
really knowing her–may choose to ascribe her conduct to, I–I believe in
her, and understand her.
“Could I refuse to grasp the hand she held out to me as she entreated me
with tears in her eyes to be still her friend, her protector, and her
Kyrios! And yet, and yet!–Where shall I find resolution enough to ask
of her who excites me to the height of passion no more than a kind
glance, a clasp of the hand, an intelligent interest in what I say? How
am I to preserve self-control, calmness, patience, when I see her in the
arms of that handsome young demi-god whom I scorned only yesterday as a
worthless scoundrel? What ice may cool the fire of this burning heart?
What spear can transfix the dragon of passion which rages here? I have
lived almost half my life without ever feeling or yearning for the love
of which the poets sing. I have never known anything of such feelings
but through the pangs of some friend whose weakness had roused my pity;
and now, when love has come upon me so late with all its irresistible
force–has subjugated me, cast me into bondage–how shall I, how can I
get free?”My faithful friend, you who call me your son, whom I am glad to hear
speak to me as ‘boy,’ and ‘child,’ who have taken the place of the father
I lost so young–there is but one issue: I must leave you and this city–
flee from her neighborhood–seek a new home far from her with whom I
could have been as happy as the Saints in bliss, and who has made me more
wretched than the damned in everlasting fire. Away, away! I will go–I
must go unless you, who can do so much, can teach me to kill this passion
or to transmute it into calm, brotherly regard.”
He stood still, close in front of the old man and hid his face in his
hands. At his favorite’s concluding words, Horapollo had started to his
feet with all the vigor of youth; he now snatched his hand down from his
face, and exclaimed in a voice hoarse with indignation and the deepest
concern:
“And you can say that in earnest? Can a sensible man like you have sunk
so deep in folly? Is it not enough that your own peace of mind should
have been sacrificed, flung at the feet of this–what can I call her?–
Do you understand at last why I warned you against the Patrician brood?
–The faith, gratitude, and love of a good man!–What does she care for
them? Unhook the whiting; away with him in the dust! Here comes a fine
large fish who perhaps may swallow the bait!–Do you want to ruin, for
her sake, and the sake of that rascally son of the governor, the comfort
and happiness of an old man’s last years when he has become accustomed to
love you, who so well deserve it, as his own son? Will you–an energetic
student, you–a man of powerful intellect, zealous in your duty, and in
favor with the gods–will you pine like a deserted maiden or spring from
the Leucadian rock like love-sick Sappho in the play while the spectators
shake with laughter? You must stay, Boy, you must stay; and I will show
you how a man must deal with a passion that dishonors him.”
“Show me,” replied Philippus in a dull voice. “I ask no more. Do you
suppose that I am not myself ashamed of my own weakness? It ill beseems
me of all men, formed by fate for anything rather than to be a sighing
and rapturous lover. I will struggle with it, wrestle with it with all
the strength that is in me; but here, in Memphis, close to her and as her
Kyrios, I should be forced every day to see her, and day after day be
exposed to fresh and humiliating defeat! Here, constantly near her and
with her, the struggle must wear me out–I should perish, body and soul.
The same place, the same city, cannot hold her and me.”
“Then she must make way for you,” croaked Horus. Philippus raised his
bowed head and asked, in some surprise and with stern reproof:
“What do you mean by that?”
“Nothing,” replied the other airily. He shrugged his shoulders and went
on more gently: “Memphis has greater need of you than of the patrician
hussy.” Then he shook himself as if he were cold, struck his breast and
added: “All is turmoil here within; I can neither help nor advise you.
Day must soon be dawning in the east; we will try to sleep. A knot can
often be untied by daylight which by lamplight seems inextricable, and
perhaps on my sleepless couch the goddess may reveal to me the way I have
promised to show you. A little more lightness of heart would do neither
of us any harm.–Try to forget your own griefs in those of others; you
see enough of them every day. To wish you a good night would probably be
waste of words, but I may wish you a soothing one, You may count on my
aid; but you will not let me, a poor old man, hear another word about
flight and departure and the like, will you? No, no. I know you better,Philippus–you will never treat your lonely old friend so!”
These were the tenderest words that the leech had ever heard from the
old man’s lips, and it comforted him when Horapollo pressed him to his
heart in a hasty embrace. He thought no more of the hint that it was
Paula’s part to make room for him. But the old man had spoken in all
seriousness, for, no sooner was he alone than he petulantly flung down
the ivory ruler on the table, and murmured, at first angrily and then
scornfully, his eyes sparkling the while:
“For this true heart, and to preserve myself and the world from losing
such a man, I would send a dozen such born hussies to Amentis–[The
Nether world of the ancient Egyptians.]–Hey, hey! My beauty! So this
noble leech is not good enough for the like of us; he may be tossed away
like a date-stone that we spit out? Well, every one to his taste; but
how would it be if old Horapollo taught us his value? Wait a bit, wait!
–With a definite aim before my eyes I have never yet failed to find my
way–in the realm of science, of course; but what is life–the life of
the sage but applied knowledge? And why should not old Horapollo, for
once before he dies, try what his brains can contrive to achieve in the
busy world of outside human existence? Pleasant as you may think it to
be in Memphis with your lover, fair heart-breaker, you will have to make
way for the plaything you have so lightly tossed aside! Aye, you
certainly will, depend upon that my beauty, depend upon that!–Here,
Anubis!”
He gave the slave, who had fallen asleep again under the table, a kick
with his bare foot, and while Anubis lighted his master to his sleeping-
room, and helped him in his long and elaborate ablutions, Horapollo never
ceased muttering broken sentences and curses, or laughing maliciously to
himself.
ETEXT EDITOR’S BOOKMARKS:
A knot can often be untied by daylight
Hatred and love are the opposite ends of the same rod
Life is a function, a ministry, a duty
So hard is it to forego the right of hating
Those who will not listen must feel
Use their physical helplessness as a defence
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