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- Homo Sum, Volume 4. - 6/9 -
blows, and that day I could not venture to defend myself because-- because--But that is no concern of yours. You must subdue your curiosity for a few days longer, and then it may easily happen that the man whose very aspect makes you feel dirty--the bat, the toad--"
"Let that pass now," cried Polykarp. "Perhaps the excitement which the sight of you stirred up in my bruised and wounded heart, led me to use unseemly language. Now, indeed, I see that your matted hair sits round a well featured countenance. Forgive my violent and unjust attack. I was beside myself, and I opened my whole soul to you, and now that you know how it is with me, once more I ask you, where is Sirona?"
Polykarp looked Paulus in the face with anxious and urgent entreaty, pointing to the dog as much as to say, "You must know, for here is the evidence."
The Alexandrian hesitated to answer; he glanced by chance at the entrance of the cave, and seeing the gleam of Sirona's white robe behind the palm- branches, he said to himself that if Polykarp lingered much longer, he could not fail to discover her--a consummation to be avoided.
There were many reasons which might have made him resolve to stand in the way of a meeting between the lady and the young man, but not one of them occurred to him, and though he did not even dream that a feeling akin to jealousy had begun to influence him, still he was conscious that it was his lively repugnance to seeing the two sink into each other's arms before his very eyes, that prompted him to turn shortly round, to take up the body of the little dog, and to say to the enquirer:
"It is true, I do know where she is hiding, and when the time comes you shall know it too. Now I must bury the animal, and if you will you can help me."
Without waiting for any objection on Polykarp's part, he hurried from stone to stone up to the plateau on the precipitous edge of which he had first seen Sirona. The younger man followed him breathlessly, and only joined him when he had already begun to dig out the earth with his hands at the foot of a cliff. Polykarp was now standing close to the anchorite, and repeated his question with vehement eagerness, but Paulus did not look up from his work, and only said, digging faster and faster:
"Come to this place again to-morrow, and then it may perhaps be possible that I should tell you."
"You think to put me off with that," cried the lad. "Then you are mistaken in me, and if you cheat me with your honest-sounding words, I will--"
But he did not end his threat, for a clear longing cry distinctly broke the silence of the deserted mountain: "Polykarp--Polykarp." It sounded nearer and nearer, and the words had a magic effect on him for whose ear they were intended.
With his head erect and trembling in every limb, the young man listened eagerly. Then he cried out, "It is her voice! I am coming, Sirona, I am coming." And without paying any heed to the anchorite, he was on the point of hurrying off to meet her. But Paulus placed himself close in front of him, and said sternly: "You stay here."
"Out of my way," shouted Polykarp beside himself. "She is calling to me out of the hole where you are keeping her--you slanderer--you cowardly liar! Out of the way I say! You will not? Then defend yourself, you hideous toad, or I will tread you down, if my foot does not fear to be soiled with your poison."
Up to this moment Paulus had stood before the young man with out-spread arms, motionless, but immovable as an oak-tree; now Polykarp first hit him. This blow shattered the anchorite's patience, and, no longer master of himself, he exclaimed, "You shall answer to me for this!" and before a third and fourth call had come from Sirona's lips, he had grasped the artist's slender body, and with a mighty swing he flung him backwards over his own broad and powerful shoulders on to the stony ground.
After this mad act he stood over his victim with out-stretched legs, folded arms, and rolling eyes, as if rooted to the earth. He waited till Polykarp had picked himself up, and, without looking round, but pressing his hands to the back of his head, had tottered away like a drunken man.
Paulus looked after him till he disappeared over the cliff at the edge of the level ground; but he did not see how Polykarp fell senseless to the ground with a stifled cry, not far from the very spring whence his enemy had fetched the water to refresh Sirona's parched lips.
"She will attract the attention of Damianus or Salathiel or one of the others up there," thought Paulus as he heard Sirona's call once more, and, following her voice, he went hastily and excitedly down the mountainside.
"We shall have peace for to-day at any rate from that audacious fellow," muttered he to himself, "and perhaps to-morrow too, for his blue bruises will be a greeting from me. But how difficult it is to forget what we have once known! The grip, with which I flung him, I learned--how long ago?--from the chief-gymnast at Delphi. My marrow is not yet quite dried up, and that I will prove to the boy with these fists, if he comes back with three or four of the same mettle."
But Paulus had not long to indulge in such wild thoughts, for on the way to the cave he met Sirona. "Where is Polykarp?" she called out from afar.
"I have sent him home," he answered. "And he obeyed you?" she asked again.
"I gave him striking reasons for doing so," he replied quickly.
"But he will return?"
"He has learned enough up here for to-day. We have now to think of your journey to Alexandria."
"But it seems to me," replied Sirona, blushing, "that I am safely hidden in your cave, and just now you yourself said--"
"I warned you against the dangers of the expedition," interrupted Paulus. "But since that it has occurred to me that I know of a shelter, and of a safe protector for you. There, we are at home again. Now go into the cave, for very probably some one may have heard you calling, and if other anchorites were to discover you here, they would compel me to take you back to your husband."
"I will go directly," sighed Sirona, "but first explain to me--for I heard all that you said to each other--" and she colored, "how it happened that Phoebicius took Hermas' sheepskin for yours, and why you let him beat you without giving any explanation."
"Because my back is even broader than that great fellow's," replied the Alexandrian quickly. "I will tell you all about it in some quiet hour, perhaps on our journey to Klysma. Now go into the cave, or you may spoil everything. I know too what you lack most since you heard the fair words of the senator's son."
"Well--what?" asked Sirona.
"A mirror!" laughed Paulus.
"How much you are mistaken!" said Sirona; and she thought to herself, "The woman that Polykarp looks at as he does at me, does not need a mirror."
An old Jewish merchant lived in the fishing-town on the western declivity of the mountain; he shipped the charcoal for Egypt, which was made in the valleys of the peninsula by burning the sajal acacia, and he had formerly supplied fuel for the drying-room of the papyrus-factory of Paulus' father. He now had a business connection with his brother, and Paulus himself had had dealings with him. He was prudent and wealthy, and whenever he met the anchorite, he blamed him for his flight from the world, and implored him to put his hospitality to the test, and to command his resources and means as if they were his own.
This man was now to find a boat, and to provide the means of flight for Sirona. The longer Paulus thought it over, the more indispensable it seemed to him that he should himself accompany the Gaulish lady to Alexandria, and in his own person find her a safe shelter. He knew that he was free to dispose of his brother's enormous fortune-half of which in fact was his--as though it were all his own, and he began to rejoice in his possessions for the first time for many years. Soon he was occupied in thinking of the furnishing of the house, which he intended to assign to the fair Sirona. At first he thought of a simple citizen's dwelling, but by degrees he began to picture the house intended for her as fitted with shining gold, white and colored marble, many-colored Syrian carpets, nay even with vain works of the heathen, with statues, and a luxurious bath. In increasing unrest he wandered from rock to rock, and many times as he went up and down he paused in front of the cave where Sirona was. Once he saw her light robe, and its conspicuous gleam led him to the reflection, that it would be imprudent to conduct her to the humble fishing-village in that dress. If he meant to conceal her traces from the search of Phoebicius and Polykarp, he must first provide her with a simple dress, and a veil that should hide her shining hair and fair face, which even in the capital could find no match.
The Amalekite, from whom he had twice bought some goat's-milk for her, lived in a but which Paulus could easily reach. He still possessed a few drachmas, and with these he could purchase what he needed from the wife and daughter of the goatherd. Although the sky was now covered with mist and a hot sweltering south-wind had risen, he prepared to start at once. The sun was no longer visible though its scorching heat could be felt, but Paulus paid no heed to this sign of an approaching storm.
Hastily, and with so little attention that he confused one object with another in the little store-cellar, he laid some bread, a knife, and some dates in front of the entrance to the cave, called out to his guest that he should soon return, and hurried at a rapid pace up the mountain.
Sirona answered him with a gentle word of farewell, and did not even look round after him, for she was glad to be alone, and so soon as the sound of his step had died away she gave herself up once more to the overwhelming torrent of new and deep feelings which had flooded her soul ever since she had heard Polykarp's ardent hymn of love.
Paulus, in the last few hours, was Menander again, but the lonely woman in the cavern--the cause of this transformation--the wife of Phoebicius, had undergone an even greater change than he. She was still Sirona, and yet not Sirona.
When the anchorite had commanded her to retire into the cave she had
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