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- The Bride of the Nile, Volume 2. - 10/11 -
all my heart."
As she spoke, she went up to the Arab and held out her hand; he took it, but lightly, however, and quickly released it, saying:
"I do not find it hard to forgive. But I find it impossible, here or anywhere, to let so much as a grain of dust rest on my bright good name. I shall follow up this affair, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left.--And now, one question: Is the dog that guarded the tablinum a watchful, savage beast?"
"How savage he is he unfortunately proved on the person of the poor Persian slave; and his watchfulness is known to all the household," cried Orion.
"But I would beg you, worthy merchant," said Neforis, "and in the name of all present, to give us the help of your experience. I myself--wait a little wait: in spite of her long hair and her short wits a woman often has a happy idea. I, probably, was the first to come on the robber's track. It is clear that he must belong to the household since the dog did not attack him. Paula, who was so wonderfully quick in coming to the rescue of the Persian, is of course not to be thought of. . ."
Here her husband interrupted her with an angry exclamation: "Leave the girl quite out of the question wife!"
"As if I supposed her to be the thief!" retorted Neforis indignantly, and she shrugged her shoulders as Orion, in mild reproach, also cried: "Mother! consider. . . ." and the merchant asked:
"Do you mean the young girl from whom I had to take such hard words last night?--Well, then, I will stake my whole fortune on her innocence. That beautiful, passionate creature is incapable of any underhand dealings."
"Passionate!" Neforis smiled. "Her heart is as cold and as hard as the lost emerald; we have proved that by experience."
"Nevertheless," said Orion, "she is incapable of baseness."
"How zealous men can be for a pair of fine eyes!" interrupted his mother. "But I have not the most remote suspicion of her; I have something quite different in my mind. A pair of man's shoes were found lying by the wounded girl. Did you do what my lord Orion ordered, Sebek?"
"At once, Mistress," replied the steward, "and I have been expecting the captain of the watch for some time; for Psamtik. . . ."
But here he was interrupted: the officer in question, who for more than twenty years had commanded the Mukaukas' guard of honor, was shown into the room; after answering a few preliminary enquiries he began his report in a voice so loud that it hurt the governor, and his wife was obliged to request the soldier to speak more gently.
The bloodhounds and terriers had been let out after being allowed to smell at the shoes, and a couple of them had soon found their way to the side-door where Hiram had waited for Paula. There they paused, sniffing about on all sides, and had then jumped up a few steps.
"And those stairs lead to Paula's room," observed Neforis with a shrug.
"But they were on a false scent," the officer eagerly added. "The little toads might have thrown suspicion on an innocent person. The curs immediately after rushed into the stables, and ran up and down like Satan after a lost soul. The pack had soon pulled down the boy--the son of the freedman who came here from Damascus with the daughter of the great Thomas--and they went quite mad in his father's room: Heaven and earth! what a howling and barking and yelping. They poked their noses into every old rag, and now we knew where the hole in the wine-skin was.-- I am sorry for the man. He stammered horribly, but as a trainer, and in all that has to do with horses, all honor to him!--The shoes are Hiram's as surely as my eyes are in my head; but we have not caught him yet. He is across the river, for a boat is missing and where it had been lying the dogs began again. Unless the unbelievers over there give him shelter we are certain to have him."
"Then we know who is the criminal!" cried Orion, with a sigh as deep as though some great burden were lifted from his soul. Then he went on in a commanding tone--and his voice rang so fiercely that the color which had mounted to his cheeks could hardly be due to satisfaction at this last good news....
"As it is not yet two hours after noon, send all your men out to search for him and deliver him up. My father will give you a warrant, and the Arabs on the other shore will assist you. Perhaps the thief may fall into our hands even sooner and with him the emerald, unless the rogue has succeeded in hiding it or selling it." Then his voice sank, and he added in a tone of regret. It is a pity as concerns the man, we had not one in our stables who knew more about horses! Fresh proof of your maxim, mother: if you want to be well served you must buy rascals!"
"Strictly speaking," said Neforis meditatively, "Hiram is not one of our people. He was a freedman of Thomas' and came here with his daughter. Every one speaks highly of his skill in the stable; but for this robbery we might have kept him for the rest of his life still, if the girl had ever taken it into her head to leave us and to take him with her, we could not have detained him.--You may say what you will, and abuse me and mock me; I have none of what you call imagination; I see things simply as they are: but there must be some understanding between that girl and the thief."
"You are not to say another word of such monstrous nonsense!" exclaimed her husband; and he would have said more, but that at that moment the groom of the chambers announced that Gamaliel, the Jewish goldsmith, begged an audience. The man had come to give information with regard to the fate of the lost emerald.
At this statement Orion changed color, and he turned away from the merchant as the slave admitted the same Israelite who had been sitting over the fire with the head-servants. He at once plunged into his story, telling it in his peculiar light-hearted style. He was so rich that the loss he might suffer did not trouble him enough to spoil his good-humor, and so honest that it was a pleasure to him to restore the stolen property to its rightful owner. Early that morning, so he told them, Hiram the groom had been to him to offer him a wonderfully large and splendid emerald for sale. The freedman had assured him that the stone was part of the property left by the famous Thomas, his former master. It had decorated the head-stall of the horse which the hero of Damascus had last ridden, and it had come to him with the steed.
"I offered him what I thought fair," the Jew went on, "and paid him two thousand drachmae on account; the remainder he begged me to take charge of for the present. To this I agreed, but ere long a fly began to hum suspicion in my ear. Then the police rushed through the town with the bloodhounds. Good Heavens, what a barking! The creatures yelped as if they would bark my poor house down, like the trumpets round the walls of Jericho--you know. 'What is the matter now,' I asked of the dog-keepers, and behold! my suspicions about the emerald were justified; so here, my lord Governor, I have brought you the stone, and as every suckling in Memphis hears from its nurse--unless it is deaf--what a just man Mukaukas George is, you will no doubt make good to me what I advanced to that stammering scoundrel. And you will have the best of the bargain, noble Sir; for I make no demand for interest or even maintenance for the two hours during which it was mine."
"Give me the stone !" interrupted the Arab, who was annoyed by the Jew's jesting tone; he snatched the emerald from him, weighed it in his hand, put it close to his eyes, held it far off, tapped it with a small hammer that he took out of his breast-pocket, slipped it into its place in the work, examining it keenly, suspiciously, and at last with satisfaction. During all this, Orion had more than once turned pale, and the sweat broke out on his handsome, pale face. Had a miracle been wrought here? How could this gem, which was surely on its way to Alexandria, have found its way into the Jew's hands? Or could Chusar have opened the little packet and have sold the emerald to Hiram, and through him to the jeweller? He must get to the bottom of it, and while the Arab was examining the gem he went up to Gamaliel and asked him: "Are you positively certain--it is a matter of freedom or the dungeon--certain that you had this stone from Hiram the Syrian and from no one else? I mean, is the man so well-known to you that no mistake is possible?"
"God preserve us!" exclaimed the Jew drawing back a step from Orion, who was gazing at him with a sinister light in his eyes. "How can my lord doubt it? Your respected father has known me these thirty years, and do you suppose that I--I do not know the Syrian? Why, who in Memphis can stammer to compare with him? And has he not killed half my children with your wild young horses?--Half killed every one of my children I mean --half killed them, I say, with fright. They are all still alive and well, God preserve them, but none the better for your horsebreaker; for fresh air is good for children and my little Rebecca would stop indoors till he was at home again for fear of his terrifying pranks."
"Well, well!" Orion broke in. "And at what hour did he bring you the emerald for sale? Exactly. Now, recollect: when was it? You surely must remember."
"Adonai! How should I?" said the Jew. "But wait, Sir, perhaps I may be able to tell you. In this hot weather we are up before sunrise; then we said our prayers and had our morning broth; then. . . ."
"Senseless chatter!" urged Orion. But Gamaliel went on without allowing himself to be checked. "Then little Ruth jumped into my lap to pull out the white hairs that will grow under my nose and, just as the child was doing it and I cried out: 'Oh, you hurt me!' the sun fell upon the earth bank on which I was sitting."
"And at what time does it reach the bank?" cried the young man.
"Exactly two hours after sunrise," replied the Jew, "at this time of year. Do me the honor of a visit tomorrow morning; you will not regret it, for I can show you some beautiful, exquisite things--and you can watch the shadow yourself."
"Two hours after sunrise," murmured Orion to himself, and then with fresh qualms he reflected that it was fully four hours later when he had given the packet to Chusar. It was impossible to doubt the Jew's statement. The man was rich, honest and content: he did not lie. The jewel Orion had sent away and that purchased from Hiram could not in any case be identical. But how could all this be explained? It was enough to turn his brain. And not to dare to speak when mere silence was falsehood-- falsehood to his father and mother!--If only the hapless stammerer might escape! If he were caught; then--then merciful Heaven! But no; it was not to be thought of.--On, then, on; and if it came to the worst the honor of a hundred stablemen could not outweigh that of one Orion; horrible as it was, the man must be sacrificed. He would see that his life was spared and that he was soon set at liberty!
The Arab meanwhile had concluded his examination; still he was not perfectly satisfied. Orion longed to interpose; for if the merchant expressed no doubts and acknowledged the recovered gem to be the stolen
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