Uarda by Georg Ebers
During this conversation two men had been busily occupied, in front of the paraschites' hut, in driving piles into the earth, and stretching a torn linen cloth upon them.
One of them, old Pinem, whom we have seen tending his grandchild, requested the other from time to time to consider the sick girl and to work less noisily.
After they had finished their simple task, and spread a couch of fresh straw under the awning, they too sat down on the earth, and looked at the hut before which the surgeon Nebsecht was sitting waiting till the sleeping girl should wake.
"Who is that?" asked the leech of the old man, pointing to his young companion, a tall sunburnt soldier with a bushy red beard.
"My son," replied the paraschites, "who is just returned from Syria."
"Uarda's father?" asked Nebsecht.
The soldier nodded assent, and said with a rough voice, but not without cordiality.
"No one could guess it by looking at us--she is so white and rosy. Her mother was a foreigner, and she has turned out as delicate as she was. I am afraid to touch her with my little finger--and there comes a chariot over the brittle doll, and does not quite crush her, for she is still alive."
"Without the help of this holy father," said the paraschites, approaching the surgeon, and kissing his robe, "you would never have seen her alive again. May the Gods reward thee for what thou hast done for its poor folks!"
"And we can pay too," cried the soldier, slapping a full purse that hung at his gridle. "We have taken plunder in Syria, and I will buy a calf, and give it to thy temple."
"Offer a beast of dough, rather."
replied Nebsecht, "and if you wish to show yourself grateful to me, give the money to your father, so that he may feed and nurse your child in accordance with my instructions."
"Hm," murmured the soldier; he took the purse from his girdle, flourished it in his hand, and said, as he handed it to the paraschites:
"I should have liked to drink it! but take it, father, for the child and my mother."
While the old man hesitatingly put out his hand for the rich gift, the soldier recollected himself and said, opening the purse:
"Let me take out a few rings, for to-day I cannot go dry. I have two or three comrades lodging in the red Tavern. That is right. There,--take the rest of the rubbish."
Nebsecht nodded approvingly at the soldier, and he, as his father gratefully kissed the surgeon's hand, exclaimed:
"Make the little one sound, holy father! It, is all over with gifts and offerings, for I have nothing left; but there are two iron fists and a breast like the wall of a fortress. If at any time thou dost want help, call me, and I will protect thee against twenty enemies. Thou hast saved my child--good! Life for life. I sign myself thy blood-ally--there."
With these words he drew his poniard out of his girdle. He scratched his arm, and let a few drops of his blood run down on a stone at the feet of Nebsecht--"Look," he said. "There is my bond, Kaschta has signed himself thine, and thou canst dispose of my life as of thine own. What I have said, I have said."
"I am a man of peace," Nebsecht stammered, "And my white robe protects me. But I believe our patient is awake."
The physician rose, and entered the hut.
Uarda's pretty head lay on her grandmother's lap, and her large blue eyes turned contentedly on the priest.
"She might get up and go out into the air," said the old woman. "She has slept long and soundly." The surgeon examined her pulse, and her wound, on which green leaves were laid.
"Excellent," he said; "who gave you this healing herb?"
The old woman shuddered, and hesitated; but Uarda said fearlessly; "Old Hekt, who lives over there in the black cave."
"The witch!" muttered Nebsecht. "But we will let the leaves remain; if they do good, it is no matter where they came from."
"Hekt tasted the drops thou didst give her," said the old woman, "and agreed that they were good."
"Then we are satisfied with each other," answered Nebsecht, with a smile of amusement. "We will carry you now into the open air, little maid; for the air in here is as heavy as lead, and your damaged lung requires lighter nourishment."
"Yes, let me go out," said the girl. "It is well that thou hast not brought back the other with thee, who tormented me with his vows."
"You mean blind Teta," said Nebsecht, "he will not come again; but the young priest who soothed your father, when he repulsed the princess, will visit you. He is kindly disposed, and you should--you should--"
"Pentaur will come?" said the girl eagerly.
"Before midday. But how do you know his name?"
"I know him," said Uarda decidedly.
The surgeon looked at her surprised.
"You must not talk any more," he said, "for your cheeks are glowing, and the fever may return. We have arranged a tent for you, and now we will carry you into the open air."
"Not yet," said the girl. "Grandmother, do my hair for me, it is so heavy."
With these words she endeavored to part her mass of long reddish-brown hair with her slender hands, and to free it from the straws that had got entangled in it.
"Lie still," said the surgeon, in a warning voice.
"But it is so heavy," said the sick girl, smiling and showing Nebsecht her abundant wealth of golden hair as if it were a fatiguing burden. "Come, grandmother, and help me."
The old woman leaned over the child, and combed her long locks carefully with a coarse comb made of grey horn, gently disengaged the straws from the golden tangle, and at last laid two thick long plaits on her granddaughter's shoulders.
Nebsecht knew that every movement of the wounded girl might do mischief, and his impulse was to stop the old woman's proceedings, but his tongue seemed spell-bound. Surprised, motionless, and with crimson cheeks, he stood opposite the girl, and his eyes followed every movement of her hands with anxious observation.
She did not notice him.
When the old woman laid down the comb Uarda drew a long breath.
"Grandmother," she said, "give me the mirror." The old woman brought a shard of dimly glazed, baked clay. The girl turned to the light, contemplated the undefined reflection for a moment, and said:
"I have not seen a flower for so long, grandmother."
"Wait, child," she replied; she took from a jug the rose, which the princess had laid on the bosom of her grandchild, and offered it to her. Before Uarda could take it, the withered petals fell, and dropped upon her. The surgeon stooped, gathered them up, and put them into the child's hand.
"How good you are!" she said; "I am called Uarda--like this flower--and I love roses and the fresh air. Will you carry me out now?"
Nebsecht called the paraschites, who came into the hut with his son, and they carried the girl out into the air, and laid her under the humble tent they had contrived for her. The soldier's knees trembled while he held the light burden of his daughter's weight in his strong hands, and he sighed when he laid her down on the mat.
"How blue the sky is!" cried Uarda. "Ah! grandfather has watered my pomegranate, I thought so! and there come my doves! give me some corn in my hand, grandmother. How pleased they are."
The graceful birds, with black rings round their reddish-grey necks, flew confidingly to her, and took the corn that she playfully laid between her lips.
Nebsecht looked on with astonishment at this pretty play. He felt as if a new world had opened to him, and some new sense, hitherto unknown to him, had been revealed to him within his breast. He silently sat down in front of the but, and drew the picture of a rose on the sand with a reed-stem that he picked up.
Perfect stillness was around him; the doves even had flown up, and settled on the roof. Presently the dog barked, steps approached; Uarda lifted herself up and said:
"Grandmother, it is the priest Pentaur."
"Who told you?" asked the old woman.
"I know it," answered the girl decidedly, and in a few moments a sonorous voice cried: "Good day to you. How is your invalid?"
Pentaur was soon standing by Uarda; pleased to hear Nebsecht's good report, and with the sweet face of the girl. He had some flowers in his hand, that a happy maiden had laid on the altar of the Goddess Hathor, which he had served since the previous day, and he gave them to the sick girl, who took them with a blush, and held them between her clasped hands.
"The great Goddess whom I serve sends you these," said Pentaur, "and they will bring you healing. Continue to resemble them. You are pure and fair like them, and your course henceforth may be like theirs. As the sun gives life to the grey horizon, so you bring joy to this dark but. Preserve your innocence, and wherever you go you will bring love, as flowers spring in every spot that is trodden by the golden foot of Hathor.
May her blessing rest upon you!"
He had spoken the last words half to the old couple and half to Uarda, and was already turning to depart when, behind a heap of dried reeds that lay close to the awning over the girl, the bitter cry of a child was heard, and a little boy came forward who held, as high as he could reach, a little cake, of which the dog, who seemed to know him well, had snatched half.
"How do you come here, Scherau?" the paraschites asked the weeping boy; the unfortunate child that Hekt was bringing up as a dwarf.
"I wanted," sobbed the little one, "to bring the cake to Uarda. She is ill--I had so much--"
"Poor child," said the paraschites, stroking the boy's hair; "there-give it to Uarda."
Scherau went up to the sick girl, knelt down by her, and whispered with streaming eyes:
"Take it! It is good, and very sweet, and if I get another cake, and Hekt will let me out, I will bring it to you.
"Thank you, good little Scherau," said Uarda, kissing the child. Then she turned to Pentaur and said:
"For weeks he has had nothing but papyrus-pith, and lotus-bread, and now he brings me the cake which grandmother gave old Hekt yesterday."
The child blushed all over, and stammered:
"It is only half--but I did not touch it. Your dog bit out this piece, and this."
He touched the honey with the tip of his finger, and put it to his lips. "I was a long time behind the reeds there, for I did not like to come out because of the strangers there." He pointed to Nebsecht and Pentaur. "But now I must go home," he cried.
The child was going, but Pentaur stopped him, seized him, lifted him up in his arms and kissed him; saying, as he turned to Nebsecht:
"They were wise, who represented Horus--the symbol of the triumph of good over evil and of purity over the impure--in the form of a child. Bless you, my little friend; be good, and always give away what you have to make others happy. It will not make your house rich--but it will your heart!"
Scherau clung to the priest, and involuntarily raised his little hand to stroke Pentaur's cheek. An unknown tenderness had filled his little heart, and he felt as if he must throw his arms round the poet's neck and cry upon his breast.
But Pentaur set him down on the ground, and he trotted down into the valley. There he paused. The sun was high in the heavens, and he must return to the witch's cave and his board, but he would so much like to go a little farther--only as far as to the king's tomb, which was quite near.
Close by the door of this tomb was a thatch of palm-branches, and under this the sculptor Batau, a very aged man, was accustomed to rest. The old man was deaf, but he passed for the best artist of his time, and with justice; he had designed the beautiful pictures and hieroglyphic inscriptions in Seti's splendid buildings at Abydos and Thebes, as well as in the tomb of that prince, and he was now working at the decoration of the walls in the grave of Rameses.
Scherau had often crept close up to him, and thoughtfully watched him at work, and then tried himself to make animal and human figures out of a bit of clay.
One day the old man had observed him.
The sculptor had silently taken his humble attempt out of his hand, and had returned it to him with a smile of encouragement.
From that time a peculiar tie had sprung up between the two. Scherau would venture to sit down by the sculptor, and try to imitate his finished images. Not a word was exchanged between them, but often the deaf old man would destroy the boy's works, often on the contrary improve them with a touch of his own hand, and not seldom nod at him to encourage him.
When he staid away the old man missed his pupil, and Scherau's happiest hours were those which he passed at his side.
He was not forbidden to take some clay home with him. There, when the old woman's back was turned, he moulded a variety of images which he destroyed as soon as they were finished.
While he lay on his rack his hands were left free, and he tried to reproduce the various forms which lived in his imagination, he forgot the present in his artistic attempts, and his bitter lot acquired a flavor of the sweetest enjoyment.
But to-day it was too late; he must give up his visit to the tomb of Rameses.
Once more he looked back at the hut, and then hurried into the dark cave.