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- The Bride of the Nile, Volume 9. - 2/9 -
still, in one respect it did not fulfil her intentions, for Paula gave no sign of suffering the agonies of jealousy which Katharina had hoped to excite in her. Heliodora, on the other hand, came home depressed and uneasy; Paula had received her coldly and with polite formality, and the young widow had remained fully aware that so remarkable a woman might well cast her own image in Orion's heart into the shade, or supplant it altogether.
Like a wounded man who, in spite of the anguish, cannot resist touching the wound to assure himself of its state, Heliodora went constantly to see Katharina in order to watch her rival from the garden or to be taken to call on her, though she was always very coldly received.
At first Katharina had pitied the young woman whose superior in intelligence she knew herself to be; but a certain incident had extinguished this feeling; she now simply hated her, and pricked her with needle-thrusts whenever she had a chance. Paula seemed invulnerable; but there was not a pang which Katharina would not gladly have given her to whom she owed the deepest humiliation her young life had ever known. How was it that Paula failed to regard Heliodora as a rival? She had reflected that, if Orion had really returned the widow's passion, he could not have borne so long a separation. It was on purpose to avoid Heliodora, and to remain faithful to what he was and must always be to Paula, that he had gone with the senator, far from Memphis. Heliodora-- her instinct assured her--was the poor, forsaken woman with whom he had trifled at Byzantium, and for whom he had committed that fatal theft of the emerald. If Fate would but bring him home to her, and if she then yielded all he asked--all her own soul urged her to grant, then she would be the sole mistress and queen of his heart--she must be, she was sure of it! And though, even as she thought of it, she bowed her head in care, it was not from fear of losing him; it was only her anxiety about her father, her good old friend, Rufinus, and his family, whom she had made so entirely her own.
This was the state of affairs this morning, when to his old friend's vexation, Philippus had so hastily and silently drunk off his after- breakfast draught; just as he set down the cup, the black door-keeper announced that a hump-backed man wished to see his master at once on important business.
"Important business!" repeated the leech. "Give me four more legs in addition to my own two, or a machine to make time longer than it is, and then I will take new patients-otherwise no! Tell the fellow. . . ."
"No, not sick. . . ." interrupted the negro. "Come long way. Gardener to Greek man Rufinus."
Philippus started: he could guess what this messenger had to say, and his heart sank with dread as he desired that he might be shown in.
A glance at Gibbus told him what he had rightly feared. The poor fellow was hardly recognizable. He was coated with dust from head to foot, and this made him look like a grey-haired old man; his sandals hung to his feet in strips; the sweat, pouring down his cheeks, had made gutters as it were in the dust on his face, and his tears, as the physician held out his hand to him, washed out other channels.
In reply to the leech's anxious, long drawn "Dead?" he nodded silently; and when Philippus, clasping his hands to his temples, cried out: "Dead! My poor old Rufinus dead! But how, in Heaven's name, did it happen? Speak, man, speak!"--Gibbus pointed to the old philosopher and said: "Come out then, with me, Master. No third person. . . ."
Philippus, however, gave him to understand that Horapollo was his second self; and the hunch-back went on to tell him what he had seen, and how his beloved master had met his end. Horapollo sat listening in astonishment, shaking his head disapprovingly, while the physician muttered curses. But the bearer of evil tidings was not interrupted, and it was not till he had ended that Philippus, with bowed head and tearful eyes, said:
"Poor, faithful old man; to think that he should die thus--he who leaves behind him all that is best in life, while I--I. . . ." And he groaned aloud. The old man glanced at him with reproachful displeasure.
While the leech broke the seals of the tablets, which the abbess had carefully closed, and began to read the contents, Horapollo asked the gardener: "And the nuns? Did they all escape?"
"Yes, Master! on the morning after we reached Doomiat, a trireme took them all out to sea."
And the old man grumbled to himself: "The working bees killed and the Drones saved!"
Gibbus, however, contradicted him, praising the laborious and useful life of the sisters, in whose care he himself had once been.
Meanwhile Philippus had read his friend's last letter. Greatly disturbed by it he turned hither and thither, paced the room with long steps, and finally paused in front of the gardener, exclaiming: "And what next? Who is to tell them the news?"
"You," replied Gibbus, raising his hands in entreaty.
"I-oh, of course, I!" growled the physician. "Whatever is difficult, painful, intolerable, falls on my shoulders as a matter of course! But I cannot--ought not--I will not do it. Had I any part or lot in devising this mad expedition? You observe, Father?--What he, the simpleton, brewed, I--I again am to drink. Fate has settled that!"
"It is hard, it is hard, child!" replied the old man. "Still, it is your duty. Only consider--if that man, as he stands before us now, were to appear before the women...."
But Philippus broke in: "No, no, that would not do! And you, Gibbus-- this very day there has been an Arab again to see Joanna; and if they were to suspect that you had been with your master--for you look strangely.--No, man; your devotion merits a better reward. They shall not catch you. I release you from your service to the widow, and we-- what do you say, Father?--we will keep him here."
"Right, very right," said Horapollo. "The Nile must some day rise again. Stay with us; I have long had a fancy to eat vegetables of my own growing."
But Gibbus firmly declined the offer, saying he wished to return to his old mistress. When the physician again pointed out to him how great a danger he was running into, and the old man desired to know his reasons, the hunch-back exclaimed:
"I promised my master to stay with the women; and now, while in all the household I am the only free man, shall I leave them unprotected to secure my own miserable life? Sooner would I see a scimitar at my throat. When my head is off the rascals are welcome to all that is left."
The words came hollow and broken from his parched tongue, and as he spoke the faithful fellow's face changed. Even under the dust he turned pale, and Philippus had to support him, for his feet refused their office. His long tramp through the torrid heat had exhausted his strength; but a draught of wine soon brought him to himself again and Horapollo ordered the slave to lead him to the kitchen and desire the cook to take the best care of him.
As soon as the friends were alone, the elder observed:
"That worthy, foolhardy, old child who is now dead, seems to have left you some strange request. I could see that as you were reading."
"There--take it!" replied Philippus; and again he walked up and down the room, while Horapollo took the letter. Both faces of the tablets were covered with irregular, up-and-down lines of writing to the following effect:
"Rufinus, in view of death, to his beloved Philippus:
"One shivering fit after another comes over me; I shall certainly die to-day. I must make haste. Writing is difficult. If only I can say what is most pressing.--First: Joanna and the poor child. Be everything you can be to them. Protect them as their guardian, Kyrios, and friend. They have enough to live on and something still to spare for others. My brother Leonax manages the property, and he is honest. Joanna knows all about it.--Tell her and the poor child that I send them ten thousand blessings--and to Joanna endless thanks for all her goodness.--And to you, my friend: heed the old man's words. Rid your heart of Paula. She is not for you: you know, young Orion. But as to yourself: Those who were born in high places rarely suit us, who have dragged ourselves up from below to a better position. Be her friend; that she deserves--but let that be all. Do not live alone, a wife brings all that is best into a man's life; it is she who weaves sweet dreams into his dull sleep. You know nothing of all this as yet; and your worthy old friend--to whom my greetings--has held aloof from it all his life....
"For your private eye: it is a dying man who speaks thus. You must know that my poor child, our Pul, regards you as the most perfect of men and esteems you above all others. You know her and Joanna. Bear witness to your friend that no evil word ever passed the lips of either of them. Far be it from me to advise you, who bear the image of another woman in your heart,--to say: marry the child, she is the wife for you. But this much to you both--Father and son--I do advise you to live with the mother and daughter as true and friendly house-mates. You will none of you repent doing so. This is a dying man's word. I can write no more. You are the women's guardian, Philip, a faithful one I know. A common aim makes men grow alike. You and I, for many a year.--Take good care of them for me; I entreat you--good care."
The last words were separated and written all astray; the old man could hardly make them out. He now sat looking, as Phillipus had done before, sorely puzzled and undecided over this strange document.
"Well?" asked the leech at last.
"Aye-well?" repeated the other with a shrug. Then both again were silent; till Horapollo rose, and taking his staff, also paced the room while he murmured, half to himself and half to his younger friend "They are two quiet, reasonable women. There are not many of that sort, I fancy. How the little one helped me up from the low seat in the garden!" It was a reminiscence that made him chuckle to himself; he stopped Philippus, who was pacing at his side, by lightly patting his arm, exclaiming with unwonted vivacity: "A man should be ready to try everything--the care of women even, before he steps into the grave. And is it a fact that neither of them is a scold or a chatter-box?"
"It is indeed."
"And what 'if' or 'but' remains behind?" asked the old man. "Let us be reckless for once, brother! If the whole business were not so
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