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- The Bride of the Nile, Volume 3. - 5/11 -
"That is right child, sleep away; have a nice long sleep. So long as she can be kept quiet; if only she goes on like this!--Her head is cooler. Philippus will certainly say there is scarcely any fever. Thank God, the worst danger is over!"
"Oh, how glad I am!" cried Paula, and she spoke with such warmth and sincerity that the nun gave her a friendly nod and left the sick girl to her care, quite satisfied.
It was long since Paula had felt so happy. She fancied that her presence had had a good affect on the sufferer, that Mandane had already been brought by her nursing to the threshold of a new life. Paula, who but just now had regarded herself as a persecuted victim of Fate, now breathed more freely in the belief that she too might bring joy to some one. She looked into Mandane's more than pretty face with real joy and tenderness, laid the bandage which had slipped aside gently over her ears, and breathed a soft kiss on her long silken lashes.
She rapidly grew in favor with the shrewd nun; when the hour for prayer came round, the sister included in her petitions--Paula--the orphan under a stranger's roof, the Greek girl born, by the inscrutable decrees of God, outside the pale of her saving creed. At length Philippus returned; he was rejoiced at his new friend's brightened aspect, and declared that Mandane had, under her care, got past the first and worst danger, and might be expected to recover, slowly indeed, but completely.
After Paula had renewed the compress--and he intentionally left her to do it unaided, he said encouragingly:
"How quickly you have learnt your business.--Now, the patient is asleep again; the Sister will keep watch, and for the present we can be of no use to the girl; sleep is the best nourishment she can have. But with us--or at any rate with me, it is different. We have still two hours to wait for the next meal: my breakfast is standing untouched, and yours no doubt fared the same; so be my guest. They always send up enough to satisfy six bargemen."
Paula liked the proposal, for she had long been hungry. The nun was desired to hasten to fetch some more plates, of drinking-vessels there was no lack--and soon the new allies were seated face to face, each at a small table. He carved the duck and the roast quails, put the salad before her and some steaming artichokes, which the nun had brought up at the request of the cook whose only son the physician had saved; he invited her attention to the little pies, the fruits and cakes which were laid ready, and played the part of butler; and then, while they heartily enjoyed the meal, they carried on a lively conversation.
Paula for the first time asked Philippus to tell her something of his early youth; he began with an account of his present mode of life, as a partner in the home of the singular old priest of Isis, Horus Apollo, a diligent student; he described his strenuous activity by day and his quiet studies by night, and gave everything such an amusing aspect that often she could not help laughing. But presently he was sad, as he told her how at an early age he had lost his father and mother, and was left to depend solely on himself and on a very small fortune, having no relations; for his father had been a grammarian, invited to Alexandria from Athens, who had been forced to make a road for himself through life, which had lain before him like an overgrown jungle of papyrus and reeds. Every hour of his life was devoted to his work, for a rough, outspoken Goliath, such as he, never could find it easy to meet with helpful patrons. He had managed to live by teaching in the high schools of Alexandria, Athens, and Caesarea, and by preparing medicines from choice herbs--drinking water instead of wine, eating bread and fruit instead of quails and pies; and he had made a friend of many a good man, but never yet of a woman--it would be difficult with such a face as his!
"Then I am the first?" said Paula, who felt deep respect for the man who had made his way by his own energy to the eminent position which he had long held, not merely in Memphis, but among Egyptian physicians generally.
He nodded, and with such a blissful smile that she felt as though a sunbeam had shone into her very soul. He noticed this at once, raised his goblet, and drank to her, exclaiming with a flush on his cheek:
"The joy that comes to others early has come to me late; but then the woman I call my friend is matchless!"
"Well, it is to be hoped she may not prove to be so wicked as you just now described her.--If only our alliance is not fated to end soon and abruptly."
"Ah!" cried the physician, "every drop of blood in my veins......"
"You would be ready to shed it for me," Paula broke in, with a pathetic gesture, borrowed from a great tragedian she had seen at the theatre in Damascus. "But never fear: it will not be a matter of life and death-- at worst they will but turn me out of the house and of Memphis."
"You?" cried Philippus startled, "but who would dare to do so?"
"They who still regard me as a stranger.--You described the case admirably. If they have their way, my dear new friend, our fate will be like that of the learned Dionysius of Cyrene."
"Yes. It was my father who told me the story. When Dionysius sent his son to the High School at Athens, he sat down to write a treatise for him on all the things a student should do and avoid. He devoted himself to the task with the utmost diligence; but when, at the end of four years, he could write on the last leaf of the roll. "Here this book hath a happy ending," the young man whose studies it was intended to guide came home to Cyrene, a finished scholar."
"And we have struck up a friendship.... ?"
"And made a treaty of alliance, only to be parted ere long."
Philippus struck his fist vehemently on the little table in front of his couch and exclaimed: "That I will find means to prevent!--But now, tell me in confidence, what has last happened between you and the family down- stairs?"
"You will know quite soon enough."
"Whichever of them fancies that you can be turned out of doors without more ado and there will be an end between us, may find himself mistaken!" cried the physician with an angry sparkle in his eyes. "I have a right to put in a word in this house. It has not nearly come to that yet, and what is more, it never shall. You shall quit it certainly; but of your own free will, and holding your head high...."
As he spoke the door of the outer room was hastily opened and the next instant Orion was standing before them, looking with great surprise at the pair who had just finished their meal. He said coldly:
"I am disturbing you, I see."
"Not in the least," replied the leech; and the young man, perceiving what bad taste it would be and how much out of place to give expression to his jealous annoyance, said, with a smile: "If only it had been granted to a third person to join in this symposium!"
"We found each other all-sufficient company," answered Philippus.
"A man who could believe in all the doctrines of the Church as readily as in that statement would be assured of salvation," laughed Orion. "I am no spoilsport, respected friends; but I deeply regret that I must, on the present occasion, disturb your happiness. The matter in question......" And he felt he might now abandon the jesting tone which so little answered to his mood, "is a serious one. In the first instance it concerns your freedman, my fair foe."
"Has Hiram come back?" asked Paula, feeling herself turn pale.
"They have brought him in," replied Orion. "My father at once summoned the court of judges. Justice has a swift foot here with us; I am sorry for the man, but I cannot prevent its taking its course. I must beg of you to appear at the examination when you are called."
"The whole truth shall be told!" said Paula sternly and firmly.
"Of course," replied Orion. Then turning to the physician, he added: "I would request you, worthy Esculapius, to leave me and my cousin together for a few minutes. I want to give her a word of counsel which will certainly be to her advantage."
Philippus glanced enquiringly at the girl; she said with clear decision: "You and I can have no secrets. What I may hear, Philippus too may know."
Orion, with a shrug, turned to leave the room:
On the threshold he paused, exclaiming with some excitement and genuine distress:
"If you will not listen to me for your own sake, do so at least, whatever ill-feeling you may bear me, because I implore you not to refuse me this favor. It is a matter of life or death to one human being, of joy or misery to another. Do not refuse me.--I ask nothing unreasonable, Philippus. Do as I entreat you and leave us for a moment alone."
Again the physician's eyes consulted the young girl's; this time she said: "Go!" and he immediately quitted the room.
Orion closed the door.
"What have I done, Paula," he began with panting breath, "that since yesterday you have shunned me like a leper--that you are doing your utmost to bring me to ruin?"
"I mean to plead for the life of a trusty servant; nothing more," she said indifferently.
"At the risk of disgracing me!" he retorted bitterly.
"At that risk, no doubt, if you are indeed so base as to throw your own guilt on the shoulders of an honest man."
"Then you watched me last night?"
"The merest chance led me to see you come out of the tablinum...."
"I do not ask you now what took you there so late," he interrupted, "for it revolts me to think anything of you but the best, the highest.--But you? What have you experienced at my hands but friendship--nay, for concealment or dissimulation is here folly--but what a lover....?"
"A lover!" cried Paula indignantly. "A lover? Dare you utter the
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