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- The Bride of the Nile, Volume 4. - 3/9 -
"And where can the Nabathaean find you, if indeed he discovers your father in the hermit of Sinai?"
The question startled and surprised Paula, and Philippus now adduced every argument to convince her that it was necessary that she should remain in the City of the Pyramids. In the first place she must liberate her nurse--in this he could promise to help her--and everything he said was so judicious in its bearing on the circumstances that had to be reckoned with, and the facts actual or possible, that she was astonished at the practical good sense of this man, with whom she had generally talked only of matters apart from this world. Finally she yielded, chiefly for the sake of her father and Perpetua; but partly in the hope of still enjoying his society. She would remain in Memphis, at any rate for the present, under the roof of a friend of the physician's--long known to her by report--a Melchite like herself, and there await the further development of her fate.
To be away from Orion and never, never to see him again was her heartfelt wish. All places were the same to her where she had no fear of meeting him. She hated him; still she knew that her heart would have no peace so long as such a meeting was possible. Still, she longed to free herself from a desire to see what his further career would be, which came over her again and again with overwhelming and terrible power. For that reason, and for that only, she longed to go far, far away, and she was hardly satisfied by the leech's assurance that her new protector would be able to keep away all visitors whom she might not wish to receive. And he himself, he added, would make it his business to stand between her and all intruders the moment she sent for him.
They did not part till the sun was rising above the eastern hills; as they separated Paula said:
"So this morning a new life begins for me, which I can well imagine will, by your help, be pleasanter than that which is past."
And Philippus replied with happy emotion: "The new life for me began yesterday."
Between morning and noon Mary was sitting on a low cane seat under the sycamores which yesterday had shaded Katharina's brief young happiness; by her side was her governess Eudoxia, under whose superintendence she was writing out the Ten Commandments from a Greek catechism.
The teacher had been lulled to sleep by the increasing heat and the pervading scent of flowers, and her pupil had ceased to write. Her eyes, red with tears, were fixed on the shells with which the path was strewn, and she was using her long ruler, at first to stir them about, and then to write the words: "Paula," and "Paula, Mary's darling," in large capital letters. Now and again a butterfly, following the motion of the rod, brought a smile to her pretty little face from which the dark spirit "Trouble" had not wholly succeeded in banishing gladness. Still, her heart was heavy. Everything around her, in the garden and in the house, was still; for her grandfather's state had become seriously worse at sunrise, and every sound must be hushed. Mary was thinking of the poor sufferer: what pain he had to bear, and how the parting from Paula would grieve him, when Katharina came towards her down the path.
The young girl did little credit to-day to her nickname of "the water- wagtail;" her little feet shuffled through the shelly gravel, her head hung wearily, and when one of the myriad insects, that were busy in the morning sunshine, came within her reach she beat it away angrily with her fan. As she came up to Mary she greeted her with the usual "All hail!" but the child only nodded in response, and half turning her back went on with her inscription.
Katharina, however, paid no heed to this cool reception, but said in sympathetic tones:
"Your poor grandfather is not so well, I hear?" Mary shrugged her shoulders.
"They say he is very dangerously ill. I saw Philippus himself."
"Indeed?" said Mary without looking up, and she went on writing.
"Orion is with him," Katharina went on. "And Paula is really going away?"
The child nodded dumbly, and her eyes again filled with tears.
Katharina now observed how sad the little girl was looking, and that she intentionally refused to answer her. At any other time she would not have troubled herself about this, but to-day this taciturnity provoked her, nay it really worried her; she stood straight in front of Mary, who was still indefatigably busy with the ruler, and said loudly and with some irritation:
"I have fallen into disgrace with you, it would seem, since yesterday. Every one to his liking; but I will not put up with such bad manners, I can tell you!"
The last words were spoken loud enough to wake Eudoxia, who heard them, and drawing herself up with dignity she said severely:
"Is that the way to behave to a kind and welcome visitor, Mary?"
"I do not see one," retorted the child with a determined pout.
"But I do," cried the governess. "You are behaving like a little barbarian, not like a little girl who has been taught Greek manners. Katharina is no longer a child, though she is still often kind enough to play with you. Go to her at once and beg her pardon for being so rude."
"I!" exclaimed Mary, and her tone conveyed the most positive refusal to obey this behest. She sprang to her feet, and with flashing eyes, she cried: "We are not Greeks, neither she nor I, and I can tell you once for all that she is not my kind and welcome visitor, nor my friend any more! We have nothing, nothing whatever to do with each other any more!"
"Are you gone mad?" cried Eudoxia, and her long face assumed a threatening expression, while she rose from her easy-chair in spite of the increasing heat, intending to capture her pupil and compel her to apologize; but Mary was more nimble than the middle-aged damsel and fled down the alley towards the river, as nimble as a gazelle.
Eudoxia began to run after her; but the heat was soon too much for her, and when she stopped, exhausted and panting, she perceived that Katharina, worthy once more of her name of "water-wagtail," had flown past her and was chasing the little girl at a pace that she shuddered to contemplate. Mary soon saw that no one but Katharina was in pursuit; she moderated her pace, and awaited her cast-off friend under the shade of a tall shrub. In a moment Katharina was facing her; with a heightened color she seized both her hands and exclaimed passionately:
"What was it you said? You--you-- If I did not know what a wrong-headed little simpleton you were, I could . . . ."
"You could accuse me falsely!--But now, leave go of my hands or I will bite you. And as Katharina, at this threat, released her she went on vehemently.
"Oh! I know you now--since yesterday! And I tell you, once for all, I say thank you for nothing for such friends. You ought to sink into the earth for shame of the sin you have committed. I am only ten years old, but rather than have done such a thing I would have let myself be shut up in that hot hole with poor, innocent Perpetua, or I would have let myself be killed, as you want poor, honest Hiram to be! Oh, shame!"
Katharina's crimson cheeks bad turned pale at this address and, as she had no answer ready, she could only toss her head and say, with as much pride and dignity as she could assume:
"What can a child like you know about things that puzzle the heads of grown-up people?"
"Grown-up people!" laughed Mary, who was not three inches shorter than her antagonist. "You must be a great deal taller before I call you grown up! In two years time, you will scarcely be up to my eyes." At this the irascible Egyptian fired up; she gave the child a slap in the face with the palm of her hand. Mary only stood still as if petrified, and after gazing at the ground for a minute or two without a cry, she turned her back on her companion and silently went back into the shaded walk.
Katharina watched her with tears in her eyes. She felt that Mary was justified in disapproving of what she had done the day before; for she herself had been unable to sleep and had become more and more convinced that she had acted wrongly, nay, unpardonably. And now again she had done an inexcusable thing. She felt that she had deeply hurt the child's feelings, and this sincerely grieved her. She followed Mary in silence, at some little distance, like a maid-servant. She longed to hold her back by her dress, to say something kind to her, nay, to ask her pardon. As they drew near to the spot where the governess had dropped into her chair again, a hapless victim to the heat of Egypt, Katharina called Mary by her name, and when the child paid no heed, laid her hand on her shoulder, saying in gentle entreaty: "Forgive me for having so far forgotten myself. But how can I help being so little? You know very well when any one laughs at me for it......"
"You get angry and slap!" retorted the child, walking on. "Yesterday, perhaps, I might have laughed over a box on the ear--it is not the first --or have given it to you back again; but to-day!--Just now," and she shuddered involuntarily, "just now I felt as if some black slave had laid his dirty hand on my cheek. You are not what you were. You walk quite differently, and you look--depend upon it you do not look as nice and as bright as you used, and I know why: You did a very bad thing last evening."
"But dear pet," said the other, "you must not be so hard. Perhaps I did not really tell the judges everything I knew, but Orion, who loves me so, and whose wife I am to be. . . ."
"He led you into sin!--Yes; and he was always merry and kind till yesterday; but since--Oh, that unlucky day!"
Here she was interrupted by Eudoxia, who poured out a flood of reproaches and finally desired her to resume her task. The child obeyed unresistingly; but she had scarcely settled to her wax tablets again when Katharina was by her side, whispering to her that Orion would certainly not have asserted anything that he did not believe to be true, and that she had really been in doubt as to whether a gem with a gold back, or a mere gold frame-work, had been hanging to Paula's chain. At this Mary turned sharply and quickly upon her, looked her straight in the eyes and exclaimed--but in Egyptian that the governess might not understand, for she had disdained to learn a single word of it:
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