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- The Bride of the Nile, Volume 11. - 9/9 -
while, as though in this night the child had developed into a woman. Then she went into the garden with her, and hardly let her out of her sight.
At breakfast Joanna and Pulcheria wondered at her singular behavior, but it did not displease them, and Marv was radiant with contentment.
The widow made no objection to allowing the child to go into the city to execute her uncle's mysterious commission. Rustem was with her; and whatever it was that made the child so happy must certainly be right and unobjectionable. Orion's maps and lists were sent to the prison early in the day, and before the child set out with her stalwart escort Gibbus had returned with the prisoner's letter to the Arab governor.
On their way it was agreed that Mary should join Rustem at dusk at the riverside inn of Nesptah. In these clays of famine and death beasts of burthen of every description were easily procurable, as well as attendants and guides; and the Masdakite, who was experienced in such matters, thought it best to purchase none but swift dromedaries and to carry only a light tent for the "little mistress!"
At the door of Gamaliel's shop Mary bid him wait; the jovial goldsmith welcomed her with genuine pleasure....
What had befallen the house of the Mukaukas! Fire had destroyed the dwelling-place of justice, like the Egyptian cities to whom the prophet had announced a similar fate a thousand years since.
Gamaliel knew in what peril Orion stood, and the fate that hung over the noble maiden who had once given him the costliest of gems, and afterwards entrusted to him a portion of her fortune.
To see any member of his patron's family alive and well rejoiced his heart. He asked Mary one sympathizing question after another, and his wife wanted to give her some of her good apricot tarts; but the little girl begged Gamaliel to grant her at once a private interview, so the jeweller led her into his little work-shop, bidding her trust him entirely, for whatever a grandchild of Mukaukas George might ask of him it was granted beforehand.
Blushing with confusion she took Orion's ring out of its wrapper, offered it to the Jew, and desired him to give her whatever was right.
She looked enquiringly into his face with her bright eyes, in full confidence that the kind-hearted man would at once pay her down gold coins and to spare; but he did not even take the ring out of her hand. He merely glanced at it, and said gravely:
"Nay, my little maid, we do not do business with children."
"But I want the money, Gamaliel," she urged. "I must have it."
"Must?" he repeated with a smile. "Well, must is a nail that drives through wood, no doubt; but if it hits iron it is apt to bend. Not that I am so hard as that; but money, money, money! And whose money do you mean, little maid? If you want money of mine to spend in bread, or in cakes, which is more likely, I will shut my eyes and put my hand boldly into my wallet; but, if I am not mistaken, you are well provided for by Rufinus the Greek, in whose house there is no lack of anything; and I have a nice round sum in my own keeping which your grandfather placed in my hands at interest two years since, with a remark that it was a legacy to you from your godmother, and the papers stand in your name; so your necessity looks very like what other folks would call ease."
"Necessity! I am in no necessity," Mary broke in. "But I want the money all the same; and if I have some of my own, and you perhaps have it there in your box, give me as much of it as I want."
"As much as you want?" laughed the jeweller. "Not so fast, little maid. Before such matters can be settled here in Egypt we must have plenty of time, and papyrus and ink, a grand law court, sixteen witnesses, a Kyrios. . ."
"Well then, buy the ring! You are such a good, kind man Gamaliel. Just to please me. Why, you yourself do not really think that I want to buy cakes!"
"No. But in these hard times, when so many are starving, a soft heart may be moved to other follies."
"No indeed! Do buy the ring; and if you will do me this favor. . ."
"Old Gamaliel will be both a rogue and a simpleton!--Have you forgotten the emerald? I bought that, and a pretty piece of business that was! I can have nothing to say to the ring, my little maid." Mary withdrew her hand, and the grief and disappointment expressed by her large, tearful eyes were so bitter and touching, that the Jew paused, and then went on seriously and heartily:
"I would sooner give my own old head to be an anvil than distress you, sweet child; and Adonai! I do not mean to say--why should I--that you should ever leave old Gamaliel without money. He has plenty, and though he is always ready to take, he is ready to give, too, when it is meet and fitting. I cannot buy the ring, to be sure, but do not be down-hearted and look me well in the face, little maid. It is much to ask, and I have handsomer things in my stores, but if you see anything in it that gives you confidence, speak out and whisper to the man of whom even your grandfather had some good opinion: 'I want so much, and what is more--how did you put it?--what is more, I must have it.'"
Mary did see something in the Jew's merry round face that inspired her with trust, and in her childlike belief in the sanctity of an oath she made a third person--a believer too, in a third form of religion--swear not to betray her secret, only marvelling that the administering of the oath, in which she had now had some practice, should be so easy. Even grown-up people will sometimes buy another's dearest secret for a light asseveration. And when she had thus ensured the Israelite's silence, she confided to him that she was charged by Orion to send out a messenger to meet Amru, that he and Paula might be reprieved in time. The goldsmith listened attentively, and even before she had ended he was busying himself with an iron chest built into the wall, and interrupted her to ask! "How much?"
She named the sum that Nilus had suggested, and hardly had she finished her story when the Jew, who kept the trick by which he opened the chest a secret even from his wife, exclaimed:
"Now, go and look out of the window, you wonder among envoys and money- borrowers, and if you see nothing in the courtyard, then fancy to yourself that a man is standing there who looks like old Gamaliel, and who puts his hand on your head and gives you a good kiss. And you may fancy him, too, as saying to himself: 'God in Heaven! if only my little daughter, my Ruth may be such another as little Mary, grandchild of the just Mukaukas!'"
And as he spoke, the vivacious but stout man, who had dropped on his knees, rose panting, left the lid of his strong box open, hurried up to the child, who had been standing at the window all the while, and bending over her from behind pressed a kiss on her curly head, saying with a laugh: "There, little pickpocket, that is my interest. But look out still, till I call you again." He nimbly trotted back on his short little legs, wiping his eyes; took from the strong box a little bag of gold, which contained rather more than the desired sum, locked the chest again, looking at Mary with a mixture of suspicion and hearty approbation; then at last he called her to him. He emptied the money-bag before her, counted out the sum she needed, put the remainder of the coins into his girdle, and handed the bag to the little girl requesting her to count his "advance", back into it, while he, with a cunning smile, quitted the room.
He presently returned and she had finished her task, but she timidly observed: "One gold piece is wanting." At this he clasped his hands over his breast and raised his eyes to Heaven exclaiming: "My God! what a child. There is the solidus, child; and you may take my word for it as a man of experience: whatever you undertake will prosper. You know what you are about; and when you are grown up and a suitor comes he will go to a good market. And now sign your name here. You are not of age, to be sure, and the receipt is worth no more than any other note scribbled with ink--however, it is according to rule."
Mary took the pen, but she first hastily glanced through what Gamaliel had written; the Jew broke out in fresh enthusiasm:
"A girl--a mere child! And she reads, and considers, and makes all sure before she will sign! God bless thee, Child!--And here come the tarts, and you can taste them before... Just Heaven! a mere child, and such important business!"
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