The Bride of the Nile by Georg Ebers
When Orion reached home, wounded to the quick, he flung himself on a divan. Paula had said that her heart was his indeed, but what a cool and grudging love was this that would give nothing till it had insured its future. And how could Paula have allowed a third person to come between them, and rule her feelings and actions? She must have revealed to that third person all that had previously passed between them--and it was for this Melchite nun, his personal foe, that he was about to--it was enough to drive him mad!--But he could not withdraw; he had pledged himself to the brave old man to carry out this crazy enterprise. And in the place of the lofty, noble mistress of his whole being, his fancy pictured Paula as a tearful, vacillating, and cold-hearted woman.
There lay the maps and plans which he had desired Nilus to send in from his room for his study of the task set him by Amru; as his eye fell upon them, he struck his fist against the wall, started up, and ran like a madman up and down the room which had been sacred to her peaceful life.
There stood her lute; he had freshly strung and tuned it. To calm himself he drew it to him, took up the plectrum, and began to play. But it was a poor instrument; she had been content with this wretched thing! He flung it on the couch and took up his own, the gift of Heliodora. How sweetly, how delightfully she had been wont to play it! Even now its strings gave forth a glorious tone; by degrees he began to rejoice in his own playing, and music soothed his excitement, as it had often done before. It was grand and touching, though he several times struck the strings so violently that their loud clanging and sighing and throbbing answered each other like the wild wailing of a soul in torment.
Under this vehement usage the bridge of the lute suddenly snapped off with a dull report; and at the same instant his secretary, who had been with him at Constantinople, threw open the door in glad excitement, and began, even before he had crossed the threshold:
"Only think, my lord! Here is a messenger come from the inn kept by Sostratus with this tablet for you.--It is open, so I read it. Only think! it is hardly credible! The Senator Justinus is here with his wife, the noble Martina--here in Memphis, and they beg you to visit them at once to speak of matters of importance. They came last night, the messenger tells me, and now--what joy! Think of all the hospitality you enjoyed in their house. Can we leave them in an inn? So long as hospitality endures, it would be a crime!"
"Impossible, quite impossible!" cried Orion, who had cast aside the lute, and was now reading the letter himself. "It is true indeed! his own handwriting. And that immovable pair are in Egypt--in Memphis! By Zeus!"--for this was still the favorite oath of the golden youth of Alexandria and Constantinople, even in these Christian times.--"By Zeus, I ought to receive them here like princes!--Wait!--of course you must tell the messenger that I am coming at once--have the four new Pannonians harnessed to the silver-plated chariot. I must go to my mother; but there is time enough for that. Desire Sebek to have the guest-chambers prepared for distinguished guests--those sick people are out of them, thank God! Take my present room for them too; I will go back to the old one. Of course they have a numerous suite. Set twenty or thirty slaves to work. Everything must be ready in two hours at furthest. The two sitting-rooms are particularly handsome, but where anything is lacking, place everything in the house at Sebek's command.--Justinus in Egypt!--But make haste, man! Nay, stay! One thing more. Carry these maps and scrolls--no; they are too heavy for you. Desire a slave to fetch them, and take them to Rufinus; he must keep them till I come. Tell him I meant to use them on the way--he knows."
The secretary rushed off; Orion performed a rapid toilet and had his mourning dress rearranged in fresh folds; then he went to his mother. She had often heard of the cordial reception that her son, and her husband, too, in former days, had met with in the senator's house, and she took it quite as a matter of course that the strangers' rooms, and among them that which had been Paula's, should be prepared for the travellers; all she asked was that it should be explained that she was suffering, so that she might not have to trouble herself to entertain them.
She advised Orion to put off his journey and to devote himself to his friends; but he explained that even their arrival must not delay him. He had entire confidence in Sebek and the upper housekeeper, and the emperor himself would remit the duties of hostess to a sick woman. Once, at any rate, she would surely allow the illustrious guests to pay their respects to her,--but even this Neforis refused It would be quite enough if her visitors received messages and greetings daily in her name, with offerings of choice fruit and flowers, and on the last day some costly gift. Orion thought this proposal quite worthy of them both, and presently drove off behind his Pannonians to the hostelry.
By the harbor he met the captain of the boat he had hired; to him he held up two fingers, and the boatman signified by repeated nodding that he had understood the meaning of this signal: "Be ready at two hours before midnight."
The sight of this weather-beaten pilot, and the prospect of making some return to his noble friends for all their kindness, cheered Orion greatly; and though he regretted being obliged to leave these guests of all others, the perils that lay before him reasserted their charm. He could surely win over the abbess in the course of the voyage, and Paula might be brought to reason, perhaps, this very evening. Justinus and his wife were Melchites, and he knew that both these friends--for whom he had a particular regard--would be enchanted with his scheme if he took them into his confidence.
The inn kept by Sostratus, a large, square building surrounding a spacious court-yard, was the best and most frequented in the town. The eastern side faced the road and the river, and contained the best rooms, in which, on the previous night, the senator had established himself with his wife and servants. The clatter of the quadriga drew Justinus to the window; as soon as he recognized Orion he waved a table-napkin to him, shouting a hearty "Welcome!" and then retired into the room again.
"Here he is!" he cried to his wife, who was lying on a couch in the lightest permissible attire, and sipping fruit-syrup from time to time to moisten her dry lips, while a boy fanned her for coolness.
"That is well indeed!" she exclaimed, and desired her maid to be quick, very quick, and fetch her a wrap, but to be sure it was a thin one. Then, turning to a very lovely young woman who had started to her feet at Justinus' first exclamation, she asked:
"Would you rather that he should find you here, my darling, or shall we see him first, and tell him that we have brought you with us?"
"That will be best," answered the other in a sweet voice, and she sighed softly before she added: "What will he not think of me? We may grow older, but folly--folly. . ."
"Grows with years?" laughed the matron. "Or do you think it decreases?--But here he is."
The younger woman hurried away by a side door, behind which she disappeared. Martina looked after her, and pointing that way to direct her husband's glance, she observed: "She has left herself a chink. Good God! Fancy being in love in such heat as this; what a hideous thought!"
At this moment the door was opened, and the heartiest greetings ensued. It was evident that the meeting was as great a pleasure to the elderly pair as to the young man. Justinus embraced him warmly, while the matron cried out: "And a kiss for me too!" And when the youth immediately and heartily gave it, she exclaimed with a groan:
"O man, and child of man, great Sesostris! How did your famous ancestor ever achieve heroic deeds under such a sun as this? For my part I am fast disappearing, melting away like butter; but what will a man not do for love's sake?--Syra, Syra; for God's sake bring me something, however small, that looks like a garment! How rational is the fashion of the people of Africa whom we met with on our journey. If they have three fingers' breadth of cloth about them, they consider themselves elegantly dressed.--But come, sit down--there, at my feet. A seat, Argos, and some wine, and water in a damp clay pitcher, and cool like the last. Husband, the boy seems to me handsomer than ever. But dear God! he is in mourning, and how becoming it is! Poor boy, poor boy! Yes, we heard in Alexandria."
She wiped first her eyes and then her damp brow, and her husband added his expressions of sympathy at the death of the Mukaukas.
They were a genial and comfortable couple, Justinus and his wife Martina. Two beings who felt perfectly secure in their vast inherited wealth, and who, both being of noble birth, never need make any display of dignity, because they were sure of it in the eyes of high and low alike. They had asserted their right to remain natural and human under the formalities of the most elaborately ceremonious society; those who did not like the easy tone adopted by them in their house might stay away. He, devoid of ambition, a senator in virtue of his possessions and his name, never caring to make any use of his adventitious dignity but that of procuring good appointments for his favorite clients, or good places for his family on any festive occasion, was a hospitable soul; the good friend of all his friends, whose motto was "live and let live." Martina, with a heart as good as gold, had never made any pretensions to beauty, but had nevertheless been much courted. This worthy couple had for many years thought that nothing could be more delightful than a residence in the capital, or at their beautiful villa on the Bosphorus, scorning to follow the example of other rich and fashionable folks, and go to take baths or make journeys. It was enough for them to be able to make others happy under their roof; and there was never any lack of visitors, just because those who were weary of bending their backs at the Byzantine Court, found this unceremonious circle particularly restful.
Martina was especially fond of having young people about her, and Heliodora, the widow of her nephew, had found comfort with her in her trouble; it was in her house that Orion and Heliodora had met. The young widow was a great favorite with the old couple, but higher in their esteem even than she, had been the younger brother of her deceased husband. He was to have been their heir; but they had mourned his death now two years; for news had reached them that Narses, who had served in the Imperial army as tribune of cavalry, had fallen in battle against the infidels. No one, however, had ever brought a more exact report of his death; and at last their indefatigable enquiries had resulted in their learning that he had been taken prisoner by the Saracens and carried into slavery in Arabia. This report received confirmation through the efforts of Orion and his deceased father. Within a few hours of the young Egyptian's departure, they received a letter from the youth they had given up for lost, written in trembling characters, in which he implored them to effect his deliverance through Amru, the Arab governor of Egypt. The old people had set forth at once on their pilgrimage, and Heliodora had done her part in urging them to this step. Her passion for Orion, to whom, for more than a year, her gentle heart had been wholly devoted, had increased every hour since his departure. She had not concealed it from Martina, who thought it no less than her duty to stand by the poor lovesick child; for Heliodora had nursed her husband, the senator's nephew, to the end, with touching fidelity and care; and besides, Martina had given the young Egyptian--with whom she was "quite in love herself"--every opportunity of paying his addresses to the young widow.
They were a pair that seemed made for each other, and Martina delighted in match-making. But in this case, though hearts had met, hands had not, and finally it had been a real grief to Martina to hear Orion and Heliodora called--and with good reason--a pair of lovers.
Once she had appealed in her genial way to the young man's conscience, and he had replied that his father, who was a Jacobite, would never consent to his union with a woman of any other confession. At that time she had found little to answer; but she had often thought if only she could make the Mukaukas acquainted with Heliodora, he, whom she had known in the capital as a young and handsome admirer of every charming woman, would certainly capitulate.
Her favorite niece had indeed every grace that a father's heart could desire to attract the son. She was of good family, the widow of a man of rank, rich, but just two and twenty, and beautiful enough to bewitch old or young. A sweeter and gentler soul Martina had never known. Those large dewy eyes-imploring eyes, she called them--might soften a stone, and her fair waving hair was as soft as her nature. Add to this her full, supple figure--and how perfectly she dressed, how exquisitely she sang and struck the lute! It was not for nothing that she was courted by every youth of rank in Constantinople--and if the old Mukaukas could but hear her laugh! There was not a sound on earth more clear, more glad than Heliodora's laugh. She was not indeed remarkable for intellect, but no one could call her a simpleton, and your very clever women were not to every man's taste.
So, when they were to travel to Egypt, Martina took it for granted that Heliodora must go with them, and that the flirtation which had made her favorite the talk of the town must, in Memphis, become courtship in earnest. Then, when she heard at Alexandria that the Mukaukas was lately dead, she regarded the game as won. Now they were in Memphis, Orion was sitting before her, and the young man had invited her and her following of above twenty persons to stay in his house. It was a foregone conclusion that the travellers were to accept this bidding as prescribed by the laws of hospitality, and preparations for the move were immediately set on foot.
Justinus meanwhile explained what had brought them to Egypt, and begged Orion's assistance. The young man had known the senator's nephew well as one of the most brilliant and amiable youths of the capital, and he was sincerely distressed to be forced to inform his friends that Amru, who could easily have procured the release of Narses, was to start within two days for Medina, while he himself was compelled to set out on a journey that very evening, at an hour he could not name.
He saw how greatly this firmly-expressed determination agitated and disturbed the old couple, and the senator's urgency led him to tell them, under the pledge of strict secrecy, what business it was that took him away and what a perilous enterprise he had before him.
He began his story confident of his orthodox guests' sympathy; but to his amazement they both disapproved of the undertaking, and not, as they declared, on his account only or for the sake of the help they had counted on.
The senator reminded him that he was the natural chief of the Egyptian population in Memphis, and that, by such a scheme, he was undermining his influence with those whose leader he was by right and duty as his father's son. His ambition ought to make him aim at this leadership; and instead of offering such a rebuff to the patriarch, it was his part to work with him--whose power he greatly underrated--so as to make life tolerable to their fellow-Christians in a land ruled by Moslems.
Paula's name was not once mentioned; but Orion thought of her and remained firm, though not without an inward struggle.
At the same time, to prove to his friends how sincerely he desired to please them, he proposed that he and Justinus should immediately cross the Nile to lay his application before the Khaliff's vicar. A glance at the sky showed him that it wanted still an hour and a half of sunset. His swift horses would not need more than that time for the journey, and during their absence the rest of the party could move from the inn. Carts for the baggage were already in waiting below, and chariots had been ordered to follow and convey his beloved guests to their new quarters.
The senator agreed to this proposal, and as the two men went off Martina called after Orion.
"My senator must talk to you on the road, and if you can be brought to reason you will find your reward waiting for you! Do not be saving of your talents of gold, old man, till the general has promised to procure the lad's release.--And listen to me, Orion; give up your mad scheme."
The sun had not wholly disappeared behind the Libyan range when the snorting Pannonians, all flecked with foam, drove back into the court-yard of the governor's residence. The two men had unfortunately gained nothing; for Amru was absent, reviewing the troops between Heliopolis and Onix, and was not expected home till night or even next morning. The party had removed from the inn and the senator's white slaves were already mixing with the black and brown ones of the establishment.
Martina was delighted with her new quarters, and with the beautiful flowers--most of them new to her--with which the invalid mistress of the house had had the two great reception-rooms garnished in token of welcome; but the failure of Justinus' visit to Fostat fell like hoar-frost on her happy mood.
Orion, she asserted, ought to regard this stroke of ill-luck as a judgment from God. It was the will of Heaven that he should give up his enterprise and be content to make due preparations for a noble work which could be carried through without him, in order to accomplish another, out of friendship, which urgently needed his help. However, he again expressed his regret that in spite of everything he must adhere to his purpose; and when Martina asked him: "What, even if my reward is one that would especially delight you?" he nodded regretfully. "Yes, even then."
So she merely added, "Well, we shall see," and went on impressively: "Every one has some peculiarity which stamps his individuality and becomes him well: in you it is amiability, my son. Such obstinacy does not suit you; it is quite foreign to you, and is the very opposite to what I call amiability. Be yourself, even in this instance."
"That is to say weak and yielding, especially when a kind woman. . . ."
"When old friends ask it," she hastily put in; but almost before she had finished she turned to her husband, exclaiming: "Good Heavens! come to the window. Did you ever see such a glorious mingling of purple and gold in the sky? It is as though the old pyramids and the whole land of Egypt were in flames. But now, great Sesostris,"--the name she gave to Orion when she was in a good humor with him, "it is time that you should see what I have brought you. In the first place this trinket," and she gave him a costly bracelet of old Greek workmanship set with precious stones, "and then--nay, no Thanks--and then--Well the object is rather large, and besides--come with me."
As she spoke she went from the reception-room into the anteroom, led the way to the door of the room which had once been Paula's, and then his own, opened it a little way, peeped in, and then pushed Orion forward, saying hastily: "There--do you see--there it is!"
By the window stood Heliodora. The bright radiance of the sinking sun bathed her slender but round and graceful form, her "imploring" eyes looked up at him with rapturous delight, and her white arms folded across her bosom gave her the aspect of a saint, waiting with humble longing for some miracle, in expectation of unutterable joys.
Martina's eyes, too, were fixed on Orion; she saw how pale he turned at seeing the young widow, she saw him start as though suddenly overcome by some emotion--what, she could not guess--and shrink back from the sunlit vision in the window. These were effects which the worthy matron had not anticipated.
Never off the stage, thought she, had she seen a man so stricken by love; for she could not suspect that to him it was as though a gulf had suddenly yawned at his feet.
With a swiftness which no one could have looked for from her heavy and bulky figure, Martina hastily returned to her husband, and even at the door exclaimed: "It is all right, all has gone well! At the sight of her he seemed thunderstruck! Mark my words: we shall have a wedding here by the Nile."
"My blessing on it," replied Justinus. "But, wedding or no wedding, all I care is that she should persuade that fine young fellow to give up his crazy scheme. I saw how even the brown rascals in the Arab's service bowed down before him; and he will persuade the general, if any one can, to do all in his power for Narses. He must not and shall not go! You impressed it strongly on Heliodora. . . ."
"That she should keep him?" laughed the matron. "I tell you, she will nail him down if need be."
"So much the better," replied her husband. "But, wife, folks might say that it was not quite seemly in you to force them together. Properly speaking, you are as it were her female mentor, the motherly patroness."
"Good Heavens!" exclaimed Martina. "At home they invited no witnesses to look on at their meetings. The poor love-lorn souls must at any rate have a chance of speaking to each other and rejoicing that they have met once more. I will step in presently, and be the anxious, motherly friend. Tine, Tine! And if it does not end in a wedding, I will make a pilgrimage to St. Agatha, barefoot."
"And I with only one shoe!" the senator declared, "for, everything in reason--but the talk about Dora was at last beyond all bounds. It was no longer possible to have them both together under the same roof. And you yourself--no, seriously; go in to them."
"Directly, directly.--But first look out of this window once more. Oh, what a sun!--there, now it is too late. Only two minutes ago the whole heaven was of the hue of my red Syrian cloak; and now it is all dark!--The house and garden are beautiful, and everything is old and handsome; just what I should have expected in the home of the rich Mukaukas."
"And I too," replied Justinus. "But now, go. If they have come to an understanding, Dora may certainly congratulate herself."
"I should think so! But she need not be ashamed even of her villa, and they must spend every summer there, I will manage that. If that poor, dear fellow Narses does not escape with his life--for two years of slavery are a serious matter--then I should be able. . . ."
"To alter your will? Not a bad idea; but there is no hurry for that; and now, you really must go."
"Yes, yes, in a minute. Surely I may have time to speak.--I, for my part, know of no one whom I would sooner put in the place of Narses. . . ."
"Than Orion and Heliodora? Certainly, I have no objection; but now. . . ."
"Well, perhaps it is wicked to think of a man who may still be alive as numbered with the dead.--At any rate the poor boy cannot go back to his legion. . . ."
"On no consideration. But, Martina. . . ."
"To-morrow morning Orion must urge our case on the Arab . . . ."
"If he does not go away."
"Will you bet that she fails to keep him."
"I should be a fool for my pains," laughed Justinus. "Do you ever pay me when I win?--But now, joking apart, you must go and see what they are about."
And this time she obeyed. She would have won her bet; for Orion, who had remained unmoved by his sister-in-law's letter, by the warning voice of the faith of his childhood, by the faithful council of his honest servant Nilus, or by the senator's convincing arguments--had yielded to Heliodora's sweet blandishments.
How ardently had her loving heart flamed up, when she saw him so deeply agitated at the sight of her! With what touching devotion had she sunk into his arms; how humbly-half faint with sweet sorrow and sweeter ecstasy--had she fallen at his feet, and clasped his knees, and entreated him, with eyes full of tears of adoring rapture, not to leave to-day, to wait only till tomorrow, and then, if he would, to tread her in the dust. Now--now when she had just found him again after being worn out with pining and longing-to part now, to see him rush on an uncertain fate--it would kill her, it would certainly be her death! And when he still had tried to resist she had rushed into his arms, had stopped his lips with burning kisses, and whispered in his ear all the flattering words of love he once had held so dear.
Why had he never seriously tried to win her, why had he so soon forgotten her? Because she, who could assert her dignity firmly enough with others, had abandoned herself to him unresistingly after a few meetings, as if befooled by some magician's spell. The precious spoil so easily won had soon lost its value in his eyes. But to-day the fire which had died out blazed up again. Yes, this was the love he craved, he must have! To be loved with entire and utter devotion, with a heart that thought only of him and not of itself, that asked only for love in return for love, that did not fence itself round with caution and invoke the aid of others for protection against him. This lovely creature, all passion, who had taken upon herself to endure the contumely of society, and pain and grief for his sake, knowing too that he had abandoned her, and would never make her his wife before God and men--she indeed knew what it was to love; and he who was so often inclined to despair of himself felt his heart uplifted at the thought that he was so precious in her eyes, nay--he would own it--so idolized.
And how sweet, how purely womanly she was! Those imploring eyes--which he had grown quite sick of in Constantinople, for they were as full of pathetic entreaty when she merely begged him to hold her cloak for her as when she appealed to his heart of hearts not to leave her--that entrancing play of glances which had first bewitched him, came to him to-day as something new and worked the old spell.
In this moment of tender reunion he had promised her at any rate to consider whether he could not release himself from the pledge by which he was bound; but hardly had he spoken the words when the memory of Paula revived in his mind, and an inward voice cried out to him that she was a being of nobler mould than this yielding, weak woman, abject before him--that she symbolized his upward struggle, Heliodora his perdition.
At length he was able to tear himself from her embrace; and at the first step out of this intoxication into real life again he looked about like one roused from sleep, feeling as though it were by some mocking sport of the devil himself that Paula's room should have been the scene of this meeting and of his weakness.
An enquiry from Heliodora, as to the fate of the little white dog that she had given him as a remembrance, recalled to his mind that luckless emerald which was to have been his return offering or antidoron. He evasively replied that, remembering her love of rare gems, he had sent her a remarkably fine stone about which he had a good deal to say; and she gave such childlike and charming expression to her delight and gratitude, and took such skilful advantage of his pleasure in her clinging tenderness, to convince him of the necessity for remaining at home, that he himself began to believe in it, and gave way. The more this conclusion suited his own wishes the easier it became to find reasons for it: old Rufinus really did not need him; and if he--Orion--had cause to be ashamed of his vacillation, on the other hand he could comfort himself by reflecting that it would be unkind and ungrateful to his good friends to leave them in the lurch just when he could be of use to them. One pair of protecting arms more or less could not matter to the nuns, while the captive Narses might very probably perish before he could be rescued without his interest with the Arab general.
It was high time to decide one way or the other.--Well, no; he ought not to go away to-day!
That was settled!
Rufinus must at once be informed of his change of purpose. To sit down and write at such a moment he felt was impossible: Nilus should go and speak in his name; and he knew how gladly and zealously he would perform such an errand.
Heliodora clapped her hands, and just as Martina knocked at the door the pair came out into the anteroom: She, radiant with happiness, and so graceful in her fashionable, costly, and well-chosen garb, so royal-looking in spite of her no more than middle height, that even in the capital she would have excited the admiration of the men and the envy of the women: He, content, but with a thoughtful smile on his lips.
He had not yet closed the door when in the anteroom he perceived two female figures, who had come in while Martina was knocking at her niece's door. These were Katharina and her waiting-maid.
Anubis had been brought to these rooms after his fall from the roof, and notwithstanding the preparations that had been made for illustrious guests Philippus could not be persuaded to allow his patient, for whom perfect quiet was indispensable, to be moved to the lower floor.
The listener who had been so severely punished had with him his mother, Katharina's old nurse; the water-wagtail, with her maid, had accompanied her to see the lad, for she was very anxious to assure herself whether her foster-brother, before his tumble, had succeeded in hearing anything; but the poor fellow was so weak and his pain so severe that she had not the heart to torment him with questions. However, her Samaritan's visit brought her some reward, for to meet Orion coming out of Paula's room with so beautiful and elegant a woman was a thing worth opening her eyes. to see. She would have walked from home hither twice over only to see the clothes and jewels of this heaven sent stranger. Such a being rarely strayed to Memphis,--and might not this radiant and beautiful creature be "the other" after all, and not Paula? Might not Orion have been trifling with her rival as he had already trifled with her? They must have had a rapturous meeting in that room; every feature of the fair beauty's saint-like face betrayed the fact. Oh, that Orion! She would have liked to throttle him; and yet she was glad to think that there was another besides herself--and she so elegant and lovely--whom he had betrayed.
"He will stay!" Heliodora exclaimed as she came out of the room; and Martina held out her hand to the young man, with a fervent: "God bless you for that!"
She was delighted to see how happy her niece looked but the lively old woman's eyes were everywhere at once, and when she caught sight of Katharina who had stood still with curiosity, she turned to her with a friendly nod and said to Orion:
"Your sister? Or the little niece of whom you used to speak?"
Orion called Katharina and introduced her to his guests, and the girl explained what had brought her hither; in such a sweet and pathetic manner--for she was sincerely fond of her foster-brother and play-fellow--that she quite charmed Martina and Heliodora, and the younger woman expressed a hope that they might see her often. Indeed, when she was gone, Martina exclaimed: "A charming little thing! As fresh and bright as a newly-fledged bird, so brisk and pretty too--and how nicely she prattles!"
"And the richest heiress in Memphis into the bargain," added Orion. But, noticing that on this Heliodora cast down her eyes with a troubled expression, he went on with a laugh: "Our mothers destined us to marry each other, but we are too ill-matched in size, and not exactly made for a pair in other ways."
Then, taking leave of them, he went to Nilus and informed him of his decision. His request that the treasurer would make his excuses to Rufinus, carry his greetings to Thomas' daughter, and make the most of his reasons for remaining behind, sent the good man almost beside himself for joy; and he so far forgot his modest reserve as to embrace Orion as a son.
The young host sat with his visitors till nearly midnight: and when, on the following morning, Martina first greeted her niece--who looked peacefully happy though somewhat tired--she was able to tell her that the two men had already gone across the Nile, and, she hoped, settled everything with the Arab governor. Great was her disappointment when presently Justinus and Orion came back to say that Amru, instead of returning to Fostat from the review at Heliopolis, had gone straight to Alexandria. He had engagements there for a few days, and would then start for Medina.
The senator saw nothing for it but to follow him up, and Orion volunteered to accompany him.
A faint attempt on Heliodora's part to detain him met with a decisive, nay, stern refusal. This journey was indeed sheer flight from his own weakness and from the beautiful creature who could never be anything to him.
Early in the day he had found time to write to Paula; but he had cast aside more than one unfinished letter before he could find the right words. He told her that he loved her and her alone; and as his stylus marked the wax he felt, with horror of himself, that in fact his heart was Paula's, and his determination ripened to put an end once for all to his connection with Heliodora, and not allow himself to see Paula again till he had forever cut the tie that bound him to the young widow.
The two women went out to see the travellers start, and as they returned to the house, hanging their heads like defeated warriors, in the vestibule they met Katharina and her maid. Martina wanted to detain the little girl, and to persuade her to go up to their rooms with them; but Katharina refused, and appeared to be in a great hurry. She had just come from seeing Anubis, who was in less pain to-day, and who had done his best to tell her what he had overheard. That the flight was to be northwards he was certain; but he had either misunderstood or forgotten the name of the place whither the sisters were bound.
His mother and the nurse were dismissed from the room, and then the water-wagtail in her gratitude had bent over him, had raised his pretty face a little, and had given him two such sweet kisses that the poor boy had been quite uneasy. But, when he was alone with his mother once more, he had felt happier and happier, and the remembrance of the transient rapture he had known had alleviated the pain he was suffering on Katharina's account.
Katharina, meanwhile, did not go home at once to her mother; on the contrary, she went straight off to the Bishop of Memphis, to whom she divulged all she had learnt with regard to the inhabitants of the convent and the intended rescue. The gentle Plotinus even had been roused to great wrath, and no sooner had she left him than he set out for Fostat to invoke the help of Amru, and--finding him absent--of his Vekeel to enable him to pursue the fugitive Melchite sisters.
When the water-wagtail was at home again and alone in her room, she said to herself, with calm satisfaction, that she had now contrived something which would spoil several days for Orion and for Paula, and that might prove even fatal, so far as she was concerned.