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- Homo Sum, Volume 5. - 3/10 -
to throb more rapidly in his temples, be lost all power of thought, and that which dwelt in his mind was no more than a dumb longing to reach his destination as soon as possible.
It was the third afternoon when he saw from afar the palms of Raithu, and hurried on with revived strength. Before the sun had set he had informed the anchorite, to whom Paulus had directed him, that the Alexandrian declined their call, and was minded to remain on the Holy Mountain.
Then Hermas proceeded to the little harbor, to bargain with the fishermen of the place for the boat which he needed While he was talking with an old Amalekite boatman, who, with his black-eyed sons, was arranging his nets, two riders came at a quick pace towards the bay in which a large merchant-ship lay at anchor, surrounded by little barks. The fisherman pointed to it.
"It is waiting for the caravan from Petra," he said. "There, on the dromedary, is the emperor's great warrior who commands the Romans in Pharan."
Hermas saw Phoebicius for the first time, and as he rode up towards him and the fisherman he started; if he had followed his first impulse, he would have turned and have taken to flight, but his clear eyes had met the dull and searching glance of the centurion, and, blushing at his own weakness, he stood still with his arms crossed, and proudly and defiantly awaited the Gaul who with his companion came straight up to him.
Talib had previously seen the youth by his father's side; he recognized him and asked how long he had been there, and if he had come direct from the mountain. Hermas answered him as was becoming, and understood at once that it was not he that the centurion was seeking.
Perfectly reassured and not without curiosity he looked at the new-comer, and a smile curled his lips as he observed that the lean old man, exhausted by his long and hurried ride, could scarcely hold himself on his beast, and at the same time it struck him that this pitiable old man was the husband of the blooming and youthful Sirona. Far from feeling any remorse for his intrusion into this man's house, he yielded entirely to the audacious humor with which his aspect filled him, and when Phoebicius himself asked him as to whether he had not met on his way with a fair-haired woman and a limping greyhound, he replied, repressing his laughter with difficulty:
"Aye, indeed! I did see such a woman and her dog, but I do not think it was lame."
"Where did you see her?" asked Phoebicius hastily. Hermas colored, for he was obliged to tell an untruth, and it might be that he would do Sirona an injury by giving false information. He therefore ventured to give no decided answer, but enquired, "Has the woman committed some crime that you are pursuing her?"
"A great one!" replied Talib, "she is my lord's wife, and--"
What she has done wrong concerns me alone,' said Phoebicius, sharply interrupting his companion. "I hope this fellow saw better than you who took the crying woman with a child, from Aila, for Sirona. What is your name, boy?"
"Hermas," answered the lad. "And who are you, pray?"
The Gaul's lips were parted for an angry reply, but he suppressed it and said, "I am the emperor's centurion, and I ask you, what did the woman look like whom you saw, and where did you meet her?"
The soldier's fierce looks, and his captain's words showed Hermas that the fugitive woman had nothing good to expect if she were caught, and as he was not in the least inclined to assist her pursuers he hastily replied, giving the reins to his audacity, "I at any rate did not meet the person whom you seek; the woman I saw is certainly not this man's wife, for she might very well be his granddaughter. She had gold hair, and a rosy face, and the greyhound that followed her was called Iambe."
"Where did you meet her?" shrieked the centurion.
"In the fishing-village at the foot of the mountain," replied Hermas. "She got into a boat, and away it went!"
"Towards the north?" asked the Gaul.
"I think so," replied Hermas, "but I do not know, for I was in a hurry, and could not look after her."
"Then we will try to take her in Klysma," cried Phoebicius to the Amalekite. "If only there were horses in this accursed desert!"
"It is four days' journey," said Talib considering. "And beyond Elim there is no water before the Wells of Moses. Certainly if we could get good dromedaries--"
"And if," interrupted Hermas, "it were not better that you, my lord centurion, should not go so far from the oasis. For over there they say that the Blemmyes are gathering, and I myself am going across as a spy so soon as it is dark."
Phoebicius looked down gloomily considering the matter. The news had reached him too that the sons of the desert were preparing for a new incursion, and he cried to Talib angrily but decidedly, as he turned his back upon Hermas, "You must ride alone to Klysma, and try to capture her. I cannot and will not neglect my duty for the sake of the wretched woman."
Hermas looked after him as he went away, and laughed out loud when he saw him disappear into his inn. He hired a boat from the old man for his passage across the sea for one of the gold pieces given him by Paulus, and lying down on the nets he refreshed him self by a deep sleep of some hours' duration. When the moon rose he was roused in obedience to his orders, and helped the boy who accompanied him, and who understood the management of the sails and rudder, to push the boat, which was laid up on the sand, down into the sea. Soon he was flying over the smooth and glistening waters before a light wind, and he felt as fresh and strong in spirit as a young eagle that has just left the nest, and spreads its mighty wings for the first time. He could have shouted in his new and delicious sense of freedom, and the boy at the stern shook his head in astonishment when he saw Hermas wield the oars he had entrusted to him, unskilfully it is true, but with mighty strokes.
"The wind is in our favor," he called out to the anchorite as he hauled round the sail with the rope in his hand, "we shall get on without your working so hard. You may save your strength."
"There is plenty of it, and I need not be stingy of it," answered Hermas, and he bent forward for another powerful stroke.
About half-way he took a rest, and admired the reflection of the moon in the bright mirror of the water, and he could not but think of Petrus' court-yard that had shone in the same silvery light when he had climbed up to Sirona's window. The image of the fair, whitearmed woman recurred to his mind, and a melancholy longing began to creep over him.
He sighed softly, again and yet again; but as his breast heaved for the third bitter sigh, he remembered the object of his journey and his broken fetters, and with eager arrogance he struck the oar flat on to the water so that it spurted high up, and sprinkled the boat and him with a shower of wet and twinkling diamond drops. He began to work the oars again, reflecting as he did so, that he had something better to do than to think of a woman. Indeed, he found it easy to forget Sirona completely, for in the next few days he went through every excitement of a warrior's life.
Scarcely two hours after his start from Raithu he was standing on the soil of another continent, and, after finding a hiding-place for his boat, he slipped off among the hills to watch the movements of the Blemmyes. The very first day he went up to the valley in which they were gathering; on the second, after being many times seen and pursued, he succeeded in seizing a warrior who had been sent out to reconnoitre, and in carrying him off with him; he bound him, and by heavy threats learned many things from him.
The number of their collected enemies was great, but Hermas had hopes of outstripping them, for his prisoner revealed to him the spot where their boats, drawn up on shore, lay hidden under sand and stones.
As soon as it was dusk, the anchorite in his boat went towards the place of embarkation, and when the Blemmyes, in the darkness of midnight, drew their first bark into the water, Hermas sailed off ahead of the enemy, landed in much danger below the western declivity of the mountain, and hastened up towards Sinai to warn the Pharanite watchmen on the beacon.
He gained the top of the difficult peak before sunrise, roused the lazy sentinels who had left their posts, and before they were able to mount guard, to hoist the flags or to begin to sound the brazen cymbals, he had hurried on down the valley to his father's cave.
Since his disappearance Miriam had incessantly hovered round Stephanus' dwelling, and had fetched fresh water for the old man every morning, noon and evening, even after a new nurse, who was clumsier and more peevish, had taken Paulus' place. She lived on roots, and on the bread the sick man gave her, and at night she lay down to sleep in a deep dry cleft of the rock that she had long known well. She quitted her hard bed before daybreak to refill the old man's pitcher, and to chatter to him about Hermas.
She was a willing servant to Stephanus because as often as she went to him, she could hear his son's name from his lips, and he rejoiced at her coming because she always gave him the opportunity of talking of Hermas.
For many weeks the sick man had been so accustomed to let himself be waited on that he accepted the shepherdess's good offices as a matter of course, and she never attempted to account to herself for her readiness to serve him. Stephanus would have suffered in dispensing with her, and to her, her visits to the well and her conversations with the old man had become a need, nay a necessity, for she still was ignorant whether Hermas was yet alive, or whether Phoebicius had killed him in consequence of her betrayal. Perhaps all that Stephanus told her of his son's journey of investigation was an invention of Paulus to spare the sick man, and accustom him gradually to the loss of his child; and yet she was only too willing to believe that Hermas still lived, and she quitted the neighborhood of the cave as late as possible, and filled the sick man's water-jar before the sun was up, only because she said to herself that the fugitive on his return would seek no one else so soon as his father.
She had not one really quiet moment, for if a falling stone, an approaching footstep, or the cry of a beast broke the stillness of the desert she at once hid herself, and listened with a beating heart; much less from fear of Petrus her master, from whom she had run away, than in the expectation of hearing the step of the man whom she had betrayed into the hand of his enemy, and for whom she nevertheless painfully longed day and night.
As often as she lingered by the spring she wetted her stubborn hair to
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