The Bride of the Nile by Georg Ebers
Paula went up-stairs again, distressed and vexed with herself. Was it the heat that had enervated her and robbed her of the presence of mind she usually had at her command? She herself could not understand how it was that she had not at once taken advantage of the opportunity to plead to Haschim for her faithful retainer. The merchant might have interested himself for Hiram.
The slave at the gate had told her that he had not yet been taken; the time to intercede, then, had not yet come. But she was resolved to do so, to draw the wrath of her relations down on herself, and, if need should be, to relate all she had seen in the course of the night, to save her devoted servant. It was no less than her duty: still, before humiliating Orion so deeply she would warn him. The thought of charging him with so shameful a deed pained her like the need for inflicting an injury on herself. She hated him, but she would rather have broken the most precious work of art than have branded him--him whose image still reigned in her heart, supremely glorious and attractive.
Instead of following Mary to breakfast, or offering herself as usual to play draughts with her uncle, she went back to the sick-room. To meet Neforis or Orion at this moment would have been painful, indeed odious to her. It was long since she had felt so weary and oppressed. A conversation with the physician might perhaps prove refreshing; after the various agitations of the last few hours she longed for something, be it what it might, that should revive her spirits and give a fresh turn to her thoughts.
In the Masdakite's room the Sister coldly asked her what she wanted, and who had given her leave to assist in tending the sufferers. The leech, who at that moment was moistening the bandage on the wounded man's head, at this turned to the nun and informed her decidedly that he desired the young girl's assistance in attending on both his patients. Then he led the way sitting-room, saying in subdued into the adjoining tones:
"For the present all is well. Let us rest here a little while."
She sat down on a divan, and he on a seat opposite, and Philippus began:
"You were seeking handsome Orion just now, but you must. . . ."
"What?" she asked gravely. "And I would have you to know that the son of the house is no more to me than his mother is. Your phrase 'Handsome Orion' seems to imply something that I do not again wish to hear. But I must speak to him, and soon, in reference to an important matter."
"To what, then, do I owe the pleasure of seeing you here again? To confess the truth I did not hope for your return."
"And why not?"
"Excuse me from answering. No one likes to hear unpleasant things. If one of my profession thinks any one is not well. . . ."
"If that is meant for me," replied the girl, "all I can tell you is that the one thing on which I still can pride myself is my health. Say what you will--the very worst for aught I care. I want something to-day to rouse me from lethargy, even if it should make me angry."
"Very well then," replied the leech, "though I am plunging into deep waters!--As to health, as it is commonly understood, a fish might envy you; but the higher health--health of mind: that I fear you cannot boast of."
"This is a serious beginning," said Paula. "Your reproof would seem to imply that I have done you or some one else a wrong."
"If only you had!" exclaimed he. "No, you have not sinned against us in any way.--'I am as I am' is what you think of yourself; and what do you care for others?"
"That must depend on whom you mean by 'others!'"
"Nothing less than all and each of those with whom you live--here, in this house, in this town, in this world. To you they are mere air--or less; for the air is a tangible thing that can fill a ship's sails and drive it against the stream, whose varying nature can bring comfort or suffering to your body."
"My world is within!" said Paula, laying her hand on her heart.
"Very true. And all creation may find room there; for what cannot the human heart, as it is called, contain! The more we require it to take and keep, the more ready it is to hold it. It is unsafe to let the lock rust; for, if once it has grown stiff, when we want to open it no pulling and wrenching will avail. And besides--but I do not want to grieve you.--You have a habit of only looking backwards. . . ."
"And what that is pleasurable lies before me? Your blame is harsh and at the same time unjust.--Indeed, and how can you tell which way I look?"
"Because I have watched you with the eye of a friend. In truth, Paula, you have forgotten how to look around and forward. The life which lies behind you and which you have lost is all your world. I once showed you on a fragmentary papyrus that belonged to my foster father, Horus Apollo, a heathen demon represented as going forwards, while his head was turned on his neck so that the face and eyes looked behind him."
"I remember it perfectly."
Well, you have long been just like him. 'All things move,' says Heraclitus, so you are forced to float onwards with the great stream; or, to vary the image, you must walk forwards on the high-road of life towards the common goal; but your eye is fixed on what lies behind you, feasting on the prospect of a handsome and wealthy home, kindness and tenderness, noble and loving faces, and a happy, but alas! long-lost existence. All the same, on you must go.--What must the result be?"
"I must stumble, you think, and fall?"
The physician's reproof had hit Paula all the harder because she could not conceal from herself that there was much truth in it. She had come hither on purpose to find encouragement, and these accusations troubled even her sense of high health. Why should she submit to be taken to task like a school-girl by this man, himself still young? If this went on she would let him hear. . . . But he was speaking again, and his reply calmed her, and strengthened her conviction that he was a true and well-meaning friend.
"Not that perhaps," he said, "because--well, because nature has blessed you with perfect balance, and you go forward in full self-possession as becomes the daughter of a hero. We must not forget that it is of your soul that I am speaking; and that maintains its innate dignity of feeling among so much that is petty and mean."
"Then why need I fear to look back when it gives me so much comfort?" she eagerly enquired, as she gazed in his face with fresh spirit.
"Because it may easily lead you to tread on other people's feet! That hurts them; then they are annoyed, and they get accustomed to think grudgingly of you--you who are more lovable than they are."
"But quite unjustly; for I am not conscious of ever having intentionally grieved or hurt any one in my whole life."
"I know that; but you have done so unintentionally a thousand times."
"Then it would be better I should quit them altogether."
"No, and a thousand times no! The man who avoids his kind and lives in solitude fancies he is doing some great thing and raising himself above the level of the existence he despises. But look a little closer: it is self-interest and egoism which drive him into the cave and the cloister. In any case he neglects his highest duty towards humanity--or let us say merely towards the society he belongs to--in order to win what he believes to be his own salvation. Society is a great body, and every individual should regard himself as a member of it, bound to serve and succor it, and even, when necessary, to make sacrifices for it. The greatest are not too great. But those who crave isolation,--you yourself--nay, hear me out, for I may never again risk the danger of incurring your wrath--desire to be a body apart. What Paula has known and possessed, she keeps locked in the treasure-house of her memory under bolt and key; What Paula is, she feels she still must be--and for whom? Again, for that same Paula. She has suffered great sorrow and on that her soul lives; but this is evil nourishment, unwholesome and bad for her."
She was about to rise; but he bent forward, with a zealous conviction that he must not allow himself to be interrupted, and lightly touched her arm as though to prevent her quitting her seat, while he went on unhesitatingly:
"You feed on your old sorrows! Well and good. Many a time have I seen that trial can elevate the soul. It can teach a brave heart to feel the woes of others more deeply; it can rouse a desire to assuage the griefs of others with beautiful self-devotion. Those who have known pain and affliction enjoy ease and pleasure with double satisfaction; sufferers learn to be grateful for even the smaller joys of life. But you?--I have long striven for courage to tell you so--you derive no benefit from suffering because you lock it up in your breast--as if a man were to enclose some precious seed in a silver trinket to carry about with him. It should be sown in the earth, to sprout and bear fruit! However, I do not blame you; I only wish to advise you as a true and devoted friend. Learn to feel yourself a member of the body to which your destiny has bound you for the present, whether you like it or not. Try to contribute to it all that your capacities allow you achieve. You will find that you can do something for it; the casket will open, and to your surprise and delight you will perceive that the seed dropped into the soil will germinate, that flowers will open and fruit will form of which you may make bread, or extract from it a balm for yourself or for others! Then you will leave the dead to bury the dead, as the Bible has it, and dedicate to the living those great powers and gracious gifts which an illustrious father and a noble mother--nay, and a long succession of distinguished ancestors, have bequeathed to a descendant worthy of them. Then you will recover that which you have lost: the joy in existence which we ought both to feel and to diffuse, because it brings with it an obligation which it which is only granted to us once to fulfil. Kind fate has fitted you above a hundred thousand others for being loved; and if you do not forget the gratitude you owe for that, hearts will be turned to you, though now they shun the tree which has beset itself intentionally with thorns, and which lets its branches droop like the weeping-willows by the Nile. Thus you will lead a new and beautiful life, receiving and giving joy. The isolated and charmless existence you drag through here, to the satisfaction of none and least of all to your own, you can transform to one of fruition and satisfaction--breathing and moving healthily and beneficently in the light of day. It lies in your power. When you came up here to give your care to these poor injured creatures, you took the first step in the new path I desire to show you, to true happiness. I did not expect you, and I am thankful that you have come; for I know that as you entered that door you may have started on the road to renewed happiness, if you have the will to walk in it.--Thank God! That is said and over!"
The leech rose and wiped his forehead, looking uneasily at Paula who had remained seated; her breath came fast, and she was more confused and undecided than he had ever seen her. She clasped her hand over her brow, and gazed, speechless, into her lap as though she wished to smother some pain.
The young physician beat his arms together, like a laborer in the winter when his hands are frozen, and exclaimed with distressful emotion: "Yes, I have spoken, and I cannot regret having done so; but what I foresaw has come to pass: The greatest happiness that ever sweetened my daily life is gone out of it! To love Plato is a noble rule, but greater than Plato is the truth; and yet, those who preach it must be prepared to find that truth scares away friends from the unpleasing vicinity of its ill-starred Apostles!"
At this Paula rose, and following the impulse of her generous heart, offered the leech her hand in all sincerity; he grasped it in both his, pressing it so tightly that it almost hurt her, and his eyes glistened with moisture as he exclaimed: "That is as I hoped; that is splendid, that is noble! Let me but be your brother, high-souled maiden!--Now, come. That poor, crazy, lovely girl will heal of her death-wound under your hands if under any!"
"I will come!" she replied heartily; and there was something healthy and cheerful in her manner as they entered the sick-room; but her expression suddenly changed, and she asked pensively:
"And supposing we restore the unhappy girl--what good will she get by it?"
"She will breathe and see the sunshine," replied the leech; "she will be grateful to you, and finally she will contribute what she can to the whole body. She will be alive in short, she will live. For life--feel it, understand it as I do--life is the best thing we have." Paula gazed with astonishment in the man's unlovely but enthusiastic face. How radiantly joyful!
No one could have called it ugly at this moment, or have said that it lacked charm.
He believed what he had asserted with such fervent feeling, though it was in contradiction to a view he had held only yesterday and often defended: that life in itself was misery to all who could not grasp it of their own strength, and make something of it worth making. At this moment he really felt that it was the best gift.
Paula went forward, and his eyes followed her, as the gaze of the pious pilgrim is fixed on the holy image he has travelled to see, over seas and mountains, with bruised feet.
They went up to the sick girl's bed. The nun drew back, making her own reflections on the physician's altered mien, and his childlike, beaming contentment, as he explained to Paula what particular peril threatened the sufferer, and by what treatment he hoped to save her; how to make the bandages and give the medicines, and how necessary it was to accept the poor crazy girl's fancies and treat them as rational ideas so long as the fever lasted.
At last he was forced to go and attend to other patients. Paula remained sitting at the head of the bed and gazing at the face of the sufferer.
How fair it was! And Orion had snatched this rose in the bud, and trodden it under foot! She had, no doubt, felt for him what Paula herself felt. And now? Did she feel nothing but hatred of him, or could her heart, in spite of her indignation and scorn, not altogether cast off the spell that had once bound it?
What weakness was this! She was, she must, she would be his foe!
Her thoughts went back to the idle and futile life that she had led for so many years. The physician had hit the mark; and he had been too easy rather than severe. Yes, she would begin to make good use of her powers--but how, in what way, here and among these people? How transfigured poor Philippus had seemed when she had given him her hand; with what energy had he poured forth his words.
"And how false," she mused, "is the saying that the body is the mirror of the soul! If it were so, Philippus would have the face of Orion, and Orion that of Philippus." But could Orion's heart be wholly reprobate? Nay, that was impossible; her every impulse resisted the belief. She must either love him or hate him, there was no third alternative; but as yet the two passions were struggling within her in a way that was quite intolerable.
The physician had spoken of being a brother to her, and she could not help smiling at the idea. She could, she thought, live very happily and calmly with him, with her nurse Betta, and with the learned old friend who shared his home, and of whom he had often talked to her; she could join him in his studies, help him in his calling, and discuss many things well worth knowing. Such a life, she told herself, would be a thousand times preferable to this, with Neforis. In him she had certainly found a friend; and her glad recognition of the fact was the first step towards the fulfilment of his promise, since it showed that her heart was still ready to go forth to the kindness of another.
Amid these meditations, however, her anxiety for Hiram constantly recurred to her, and it was clear to her mind that, if she and Orion should come to extremities, she could no longer dwell under the governor's roof. Often she had longed for nothing so fervently as to be able to quit it; but to-day it filled her with dread, for parting from her uncle necessarily involved parting from his son. She hated him; still, to lose sight of him altogether would be very hard to bear. To go with Philippus and live with him as his sister would never do; nay, it struck her as something inconceivable, strangely incongruous.
Meanwhile she listened to Mandane's breathing and treated her in obedience to the leech's orders, longing for his return; presently however, not he but the nun came to the bed-side, laid her hand on the girl's forehead, and without paying any heed to Paula, whispered kindly: "That is right child, sleep away; have a nice long sleep. So long as she can be kept quiet; if only she goes on like this!--Her head is cooler. Philippus will certainly say there is scarcely any fever. Thank God, the worst danger is over!"
"Oh, how glad I am!" cried Paula, and she spoke with such warmth and sincerity that the nun gave her a friendly nod and left the sick girl to her care, quite satisfied.
It was long since Paula had felt so happy. She fancied that her presence had had a good affect on the sufferer, that Mandane had already been brought by her nursing to the threshold of a new life. Paula, who but just now had regarded herself as a persecuted victim of Fate, now breathed more freely in the belief that she too might bring joy to some one. She looked into Mandane's more than pretty face with real joy and tenderness, laid the bandage which had slipped aside gently over her ears, and breathed a soft kiss on her long silken lashes.
She rapidly grew in favor with the shrewd nun; when the hour for prayer came round, the sister included in her petitions--Paula--the orphan under a stranger's roof, the Greek girl born, by the inscrutable decrees of God, outside the pale of her saving creed. At length Philippus returned; he was rejoiced at his new friend's brightened aspect, and declared that Mandane had, under her care, got past the first and worst danger, and might be expected to recover, slowly indeed, but completely.
After Paula had renewed the compress--and he intentionally left her to do it unaided, he said encouragingly:
"How quickly you have learnt your business.--Now, the patient is asleep again; the Sister will keep watch, and for the present we can be of no use to the girl; sleep is the best nourishment she can have. But with us--or at any rate with me, it is different. We have still two hours to wait for the next meal: my breakfast is standing untouched, and yours no doubt fared the same; so be my guest. They always send up enough to satisfy six bargemen."
Paula liked the proposal, for she had long been hungry. The nun was desired to hasten to fetch some more plates, of drinking-vessels there was no lack--and soon the new allies were seated face to face, each at a small table. He carved the duck and the roast quails, put the salad before her and some steaming artichokes, which the nun had brought up at the request of the cook whose only son the physician had saved; he invited her attention to the little pies, the fruits and cakes which were laid ready, and played the part of butler; and then, while they heartily enjoyed the meal, they carried on a lively conversation.
Paula for the first time asked Philippus to tell her something of his early youth; he began with an account of his present mode of life, as a partner in the home of the singular old priest of Isis, Horus Apollo, a diligent student; he described his strenuous activity by day and his quiet studies by night, and gave everything such an amusing aspect that often she could not help laughing. But presently he was sad, as he told her how at an early age he had lost his father and mother, and was left to depend solely on himself and on a very small fortune, having no relations; for his father had been a grammarian, invited to Alexandria from Athens, who had been forced to make a road for himself through life, which had lain before him like an overgrown jungle of papyrus and reeds. Every hour of his life was devoted to his work, for a rough, outspoken Goliath, such as he, never could find it easy to meet with helpful patrons. He had managed to live by teaching in the high schools of Alexandria, Athens, and Caesarea, and by preparing medicines from choice herbs--drinking water instead of wine, eating bread and fruit instead of quails and pies; and he had made a friend of many a good man, but never yet of a woman--it would be difficult with such a face as his!
"Then I am the first?" said Paula, who felt deep respect for the man who had made his way by his own energy to the eminent position which he had long held, not merely in Memphis, but among Egyptian physicians generally.
He nodded, and with such a blissful smile that she felt as though a sunbeam had shone into her very soul. He noticed this at once, raised his goblet, and drank to her, exclaiming with a flush on his cheek:
"The joy that comes to others early has come to me late; but then the woman I call my friend is matchless!"
"Well, it is to be hoped she may not prove to be so wicked as you just now described her.--If only our alliance is not fated to end soon and abruptly."
"Ah!" cried the physician, "every drop of blood in my veins. . . ."
"You would be ready to shed it for me," Paula broke in, with a pathetic gesture, borrowed from a great tragedian she had seen at the theatre in Damascus. "But never fear: it will not be a matter of life and death--at worst they will but turn me out of the house and of Memphis."
"You?" cried Philippus startled, "but who would dare to do so?"
"They who still regard me as a stranger.--You described the case admirably. If they have their way, my dear new friend, our fate will be like that of the learned Dionysius of Cyrene."
"Yes. It was my father who told me the story. When Dionysius sent his son to the High School at Athens, he sat down to write a treatise for him on all the things a student should do and avoid. He devoted himself to the task with the utmost diligence; but when, at the end of four years, he could write on the last leaf of the roll. 'Here this book hath a happy ending,' the young man whose studies it was intended to guide came home to Cyrene, a finished scholar."
"And we have struck up a friendship . . . ?"
"And made a treaty of alliance, only to be parted ere long."
Philippus struck his fist vehemently on the little table in front of his couch and exclaimed: "That I will find means to prevent!--But now, tell me in confidence, what has last happened between you and the family down-stairs?"
"You will know quite soon enough."
"Whichever of them fancies that you can be turned out of doors without more ado and there will be an end between us, may find himself mistaken!" cried the physician with an angry sparkle in his eyes. "I have a right to put in a word in this house. It has not nearly come to that yet, and what is more, it never shall. You shall quit it certainly; but of your own free will, and holding your head high. . . ."
As he spoke the door of the outer room was hastily opened and the next instant Orion was standing before them, looking with great surprise at the pair who had just finished their meal. He said coldly:
"I am disturbing you, I see."
"Not in the least," replied the leech; and the young man, perceiving what bad taste it would be and how much out of place to give expression to his jealous annoyance, said, with a smile: "If only it had been granted to a third person to join in this symposium!"
"We found each other all-sufficient company," answered Philippus.
"A man who could believe in all the doctrines of the Church as readily as in that statement would be assured of salvation," laughed Orion. "I am no spoilsport, respected friends; but I deeply regret that I must, on the present occasion, disturb your happiness. The matter in question. . . ." And he felt he might now abandon the jesting tone which so little answered to his mood, "is a serious one. In the first instance it concerns your freedman, my fair foe."
"Has Hiram come back?" asked Paula, feeling herself turn pale.
"They have brought him in," replied Orion. "My father at once summoned the court of judges. Justice has a swift foot here with us; I am sorry for the man, but I cannot prevent its taking its course. I must beg of you to appear at the examination when you are called."
"The whole truth shall be told!" said Paula sternly and firmly.
"Of course," replied Orion. Then turning to the physician, he added: "I would request you, worthy Esculapius, to leave me and my cousin together for a few minutes. I want to give her a word of counsel which will certainly be to her advantage."
Philippus glanced enquiringly at the girl; she said with clear decision: "You and I can have no secrets. What I may hear, Philippus too may know."
Orion, with a shrug, turned to leave the room:
On the threshold he paused, exclaiming with some excitement and genuine distress:
"If you will not listen to me for your own sake, do so at least, whatever ill-feeling you may bear me, because I implore you not to refuse me this favor. It is a matter of life or death to one human being, of joy or misery to another. Do not refuse me.--I ask nothing unreasonable, Philippus. Do as I entreat you and leave us for a moment alone."
Again the physician's eyes consulted the young girl's; this time she said: "Go!" and he immediately quitted the room.
Orion closed the door.
"What have I done, Paula," he began with panting breath, "that since yesterday you have shunned me like a leper--that you are doing your utmost to bring me to ruin?"
"I mean to plead for the life of a trusty servant; nothing more," she said indifferently.
"At the risk of disgracing me!" he retorted bitterly.
"At that risk, no doubt, if you are indeed so base as to throw your own guilt on the shoulders of an honest man."
"Then you watched me last night?"
"The merest chance led me to see you come out of the tablinum. . . ."
"I do not ask you now what took you there so late," he interrupted, "for it revolts me to think anything of you but the best, the highest.--But you? What have you experienced at my hands but friendship--nay, for concealment or dissimulation is here folly--but what a lover . . .?"
"A lover!" cried Paula indignantly. "A lover? Dare you utter the word, when you have offered your heart and hand to another--you. . . ."
"Who told you so?" asked Orion gloomily.
"Your own mother."
"That is it; so that is it?" cried the young man, clasping his hands convulsively. "Now I begin to see, now I understand. But stay. For if it is indeed that which has roused you to hate me and persecute me, you must love me, Paula--you do love me, and then, noblest and sweetest. . . ." He held out his hand; but she struck it aside, exclaiming in a tremulous voice:
"Be under no delusion. I am not one of the feeble lambs whom you have beguiled by the misuse of your gifts and advantages; and who then are eager to kiss your hands. I am the daughter of Thomas; and another woman's betrothed, who craves my embraces on the way to his wedding, will learn to his rueing that there are women who scorn his disgraceful suit and can avenge the insult intended them. Go--go to your judges! You, a false witness, may accuse Hiram, but I will proclaim you, you the son of this house, as the thief! We shall see which they believe."
"Me!" cried Orion, and his eyes flashed as wrathfully and vindictively as her own. "The son of the Mukaukas! Oh, that you were not a woman! I would force you to your knees and compel you to crave my pardon. How dare you point your finger at a man whose life has hitherto been as spotless as your own white raiment? Yes, I did go to the tablinum--I did tear the emerald from the hanging; but I did it in a fit of recklessness, and in the knowledge that what is my father's is mine. I threw away the gem to gratify a mere fancy, a transient whim. Cursed be the hour when I did it!--Not on account of the deed itself, but of the consequences it may entail through your mad hatred. Jealousy, petty, unworthy jealousy is at the bottom of it! And of whom are you jealous?"
"Of no one; not even of your betrothed, Katharina," replied Paula with forced composure. "What are you to me that, to spare you humiliation, I should risk the life of the most honest soul living? I have said: The judges shall decide between you."
"No, they shall not!" stormed Orion. "At least, not as you intend! Beware, beware, I say, of driving me to extremities! I still see in you the woman I loved; I still offer you what lies within my power: to let everything end for the best for you. . . ."
"For me! Then I, too, am to suffer for your guilt?"
"Did you hear the barking of hounds just now?"
"I heard dogs yelping."
"Very well.--Your freedman has been brought in, the pack got on his scent and have now been let into the house close to the tablinum. The dogs would not stir beyond the threshold and on the white marble step, towards the right-hand side, the print of a man's foot was found in the dust. It is a peculiar one, for instead of five toes there are but three. Your Hiram was fetched in, and he was found to have the same number of toes as the mark on the marble, neither more nor less. A horse trod on his foot, in your father's stable, and two of his toes had to be cut off: we got this out of the stammering wretch with some difficulty.--On the other side of the door-way there was a smaller print, but though the dogs paid no heed to that I examined it, and assured myself--how, I need not tell you--that it was you who had stood there. He, who has no business whatever in the house, must have made his way last night into the tablinum, our treasury. Now, put yourself in the judges' place. How can such facts be outweighed by the mere word of a girl who, as every one knows, is on anything rather than good terms with my mother, and who will leave no stone unturned to save her servant."
"Infamous!" cried Paula. "Hiram did not steal the gem, as you must know who stole it. The emerald he sold was my property; and were those stones really so much alike that even the seller. . ."
"Yes, indeed. He could not tell one from the other. Evil spirits have been at work all through, devilish, malignant demons. It would be enough to turn one's brain, if life were not so full of enigmas! You yourself are the greatest.--Did you give the Syrian your emerald to sell in order to fly from this house with the money?--You are silent? Then I am right. What can my father be to you--you do not love my mother--and the son!--Paula, Paula, you are perhaps doing him an injustice--you hate him, and it is a pleasure to you to injure him."
"I do not wish to hurt you or any one," replied the girl. "And you have guessed wrongly. Your father refused me the means of seeking mine."
"And you wanted to procure money to search for one who is long since dead!--Even my mother admits that you speak the truth; if she is right, and you really take no pleasure in doing me a mischief, listen to me, follow my advice, and grant my prayer! I do not ask any great matter."
"Speak on then."
"Do you know what a man's honor is to him? Need I tell you that I am a lost and despised man if I am found guilty of this act of the maddest folly by the judges of my own house? It may cost my father his life if he hears that the word 'guilty' is pronounced on me; and I--I--what would become of me I cannot foresee!--I--oh God, oh God, preserve me from frenzy!--But I must be calm; time presses. . . . How different it is for your servant; he seems ready even now to take the guilt on himself, for, whatever he is asked, he still keeps silence. Do you do the same; and if the judges insist on knowing what you had to do with the Syrian last night--for the dogs traced the scent to your staircase--hazard a conjecture that the faithful fellow stole the emerald in order to gratify your desire to search for your father, his beloved master. If you can make up your mind to so great a sacrifice--oh, that I should have to ask it of you!--I swear to you by all I hold sacred, by yourself and by my father's head, I will set Hiram free within three days, unbeaten and unhurt, and magnificently indemnified; and I will myself help him on the way whither he may desire to go, or you to send him, in search of your father.--Be silent; remain neutral in the background; that is all I ask, and I will keep my word--that, at any rate, you do not doubt?" She had listened to him with bated breath; she pitied him deeply as he stood there, a suppliant in bitter anguish of soul, a criminal who still could not understand that he was one, and who relied on the confidence that, only yesterday, he still had had the right to exact from all the world. He appeared before her like a fine proud tree struck by lightning, whose riven trunk, trembling to its fall, must be crushed to the earth by the first storm, unless the gardener props it up. She longed to be able to forget all he had brought upon her and to grasp his hand in friendly consolation; but her deeply aggrieved pride helped her to preserve the cold and repellent manner she had so far succeeded in assuming.
With much hesitation and reserve she consented to be silent as long as he kept his promise. It was for his father's sake, rather than his own, that she would so far become his accomplice: at the same time everything else was at an end between them, and she should bless the hour which might see her severed from him and his for ever.
The end of her speech was in a strangely hard and repellent tone; she felt she must adopt it to disguise how deeply she was touched by his unhappiness and by the extinction of the sunshine in him which had once warmed her own heart too with bliss. To him it seemed that an icy rigor breathed in her words--bitter contempt and hostile revulsion. He had some difficulty in keeping himself from breaking out again in violent wrath. He was almost sorry that he had trusted her with his secret and begged her for mercy, instead of leaving things to run their course, and if it had come to the worst, dragging her to perdition with him. Sooner would he forfeit honor and peace than humble himself again before this pitiless and cold-hearted foe. At this moment he really hated her, and only wished it were possible to fight her, to break her pride, to see her vanquished and crying for quarter at his feet. It was with a great effort--with tingling cheeks and constrained utterance that he said:
"Severance from you is indeed best for us all.--Be ready: the judges will send for you soon."
"Very well," she replied. "I will be silent; you have only to provide for the Syrian's safety. You have given me your word."
"And so long as you keep yours I will keep mine. Or else. . ." the words would come from his quivering lips--"or else war to the knife!"
"War to the knife!" she echoed with flashing eyes. "But one thing more. I have proof that the emerald which Hiram sold belonged to me. By all the saints--proof!"
"So much the better for you," he said. "Woe to us both, if you force me to forget that you are a woman!"
And he left the room with a rapid step.