THE BRIDE OF THE NILE - VOLUME 9.
THE BRIDE OF THE NILE - VOLUME 9.
Philippus started up from the divan on which he had been reclining at
breakfast with his old friend. Before Horapollo was a half-empty plate;
he had swallowed his meal less rapidly than his companion and looked
disapprovingly at the leech who drank off his wine and water as he
stood whereas he generally would sit and enjoy it as he talked to the
old man of matters light or grave. To the elder this was always the
pleasantest hour of the day; but now Philippus would hardly allow himself
more than just time enough to eat even at their principal evening meal.
Indeed not he alone but every physician in the city had as much as he
could do with the utmost exertion. Nearly three weeks had elapsed since
the attack on the nuns and the fearful heat had still gone on in
creasing. The river instead of rising had sunk lower and lower; the
carrier-pigeons from Ethiopia looked for day by day with growing anxiety
and excitement brought no news of a rising stream even in the upper
Nile and the shallow stagnant and evil-smelling waters by the banks
began to be injurious nay fatal to the health of the whole population.
Close to the shore especially the water had a reddish tinge and the
usually sweet pure fluid in the canals was full of strange vegetable
growths and other foreign bodies putrid and undrinkable. The common
people usually shirked the trouble of filtering it and it was among them
that the greater number died of a mortal and infectious pestilence till
then unknown. The number of victims swelled daily and the approach of
the comet kept pace with the growing misery of the town. Every one
connected it with the intense heat of the season with the delay in the
inundation and the appearance of the sickness; and the leech and his
friend often argued about these matters for Philippus would not admit
that the meteor had any influence on human affairs while Horapollo
believed that it had and supported his view by a long series of
His antagonist would not accept them and asked for arguments; at the same
time he like every one else felt the influence of a vague dread of some
imminent and terrible disaster hanging over the earth and humanity at
And just as every heart in Memphis felt oppressed by such forebodings
and by the weight of a calamity which indeed no longer threatened them
but had actually come upon them so the roads the gardens the palms and
sycamores by the way-side were covered by thick layers of dingy choking
dust. The hedges of tamarisk and shrubs looked like decaying walls of
colorless unburnt mud-bricks; even in the high-roads the wayfarer walked
in the midst of dense white clouds raised by his feet and if a chariot
or a horseman galloped down the scorching street fine grey sand at once
filled the air compelling the foot-passengers to shut their eyes and
The town was so silent so empty so deserted! No one came out of doors
unless under pressure of business or piety. Every house was a furnace
and even a bath brought no refreshment for the water had long since
ceased to be cold. A disease had also attacked the ripening dates as
they hung; they dropped off in thousands from the heavy clusters under
the beautiful bending crown of leaves; and now for two days hundreds of
dead fish had been left on the banks. Even the scaly natives of the
river were plague-stricken; and the physician explained to his friend
that this brought the inhabitants a fresh danger; for who could clear the
shores of the dead fish?--And in such heat how soon they would become
The old man did not conceal from himself that it was hard cruelly hard
for the physician to follow his calling conscientiously at such a time;
but he knew his friend; he had seen him during months of pestilence two
years since--always brisk decisive and gay indeed inspired to greater
effort by the greater demands on him. What had so completely altered
him had poisoned and vexed his soul as with a malignant spell? It was
not the almost superhuman sacrifices required by his duties;--it came of
the unfortunate infatuation of his heart of which he could not rid
Philippus had kept his promise. He went every day to the house of
Rufinus and every day he saw Paula; but as a murdered body bleeds
afresh in the presence of the assassin so every day the old pain revived
when he was forced to meet her and speak with her. The only cure for
this particular sufferer was to remove the cause of his pain: that is to
say to take Paula away out of his path; and this the old man made his
care and duty.
Little Mary and the other patients under Rufinus' roof were on the way to
recovery; still there was much to cast gloomy shadows over this happy
termination. Joanna and Pulcheria were very anxious as to the fate of
Rufinus. No news had been received of him or of the sisters and
Philippus was the vessel into which the forsaken wife and Pulcheria--
who looked up to him as to a kind faithful and all-powerful protecting
spirit-poured all their sorrows cares and fears. Their forebodings
were aggravated by the fact that three times Arab officials had come to
the house to enquire about the master and his continued absence. All
that the women told them was written down and Dame Joanna whose lips
had never yet uttered a lie had found herself forced to give a false
clue by saying that her husband had gone to Alexandria on business and
might perhaps have to proceed to Syria.--What could these enquiries
forebode? Did they not indicate that Rufinus' complicity in the rescue
of the nuns was known at Fostat?
The authorities there were in fact better informed than the women
could suspect. But they kept their knowledge a secret for it would
never do to let the oppressed people know that a handful of Egyptians
had succeeded in defeating a party of Arab soldiers; so the Memphites
heard no more than a dark rumor of what had occurred.
Philippus had known nothing of the old man's purpose till he had gone too
far to be dissuaded; and it was misery to him now to reflect that his
dear old friend and his whole household might come to ruin for the sake
of the sisterhood who were nothing to them; for he had received private
information that there had been a skirmish between the Moslems and the
deliverers of the nuns which had cost the lives of several combatants on
And Paula! If only he could have seen her happy--But she was pale; and
that which robbed the young girl--healthy as she was in mind and body--
of her proud frank independent bearing was not the heat which
tormented all creation but a secret devouring sorrow; and this sorrow
was the work of one alone--of him on whom she had set her heart and who
made ah! what a return for the royal gift of her love.
Philippus had frequent business at the governor's residence and a
fortnight since he had plainly perceived what it was that had brought
Neforis into this strange state. She was taking the opium that her
husband had had taking it in excessive quantities; and she could easily
procure more through some other physician. However her piteous prayer
that Philippus would not abandon her to her fate had prevailed to induce
him to continue to see her in the hope of possibly restricting her use
of the drug.
The senator's wife Martina also required his visits to the palace. She
was not actually ill but she suffered cruelly from the heat and she had
always been wont to see her worthy old house-physician every day to hear
all the latest gossip and complain of her little ailments when anything
went wrong with her usually sound health. Philippus was indeed too much
overburdened to chatter but his professional advice was good and helped
her to endure the fires of this pitiless sky. She liked this incisive
shrewd plain-spoken man--often indeed sharp and abrupt in his freedom--
and he appreciated her bright natural ways. Now and then Martina even
succeeded in winning a smile from "Hermes Trismegistus" who was
"generally as solemn as though there was no such thing on earth as a
jest" and in spurring him to a rejoinder which showed that this dolorous
being had a particularly keen and ready wit.
Heliodora attracted him but little. There was to be sure an
unmistakable likeness in her "imploring eves" to those of Pulcheria; but
the girl's spoke fervent yearning for the grace and love of God while
the widow's expressed an eager desire for the admiration of the men she
preferred. She was a graceful creature beyond all question but such
softness which never even attempted to assert a purpose or an opinion
did not commend itself to his determined nature; it annoyed him when
he had contradicted her to hear her repeat his last statement and take
his side as if she were ashamed of her own silliness. Her society
indeed did not seem to satisfy the clever older woman who at home was
accustomed to a succession of visitors and to whom the word "evening"
was synomynous with lively conversation and a large gathering. She spoke
of the leech's visits as the oasis in the Egyptian desert and little
Katharina even she regarded as a Godsend.
The water-wagtail was her daily visitant and the girl's gay and often
spiteful gossip helped to beguile her during this terrific heat.
Katharina's mother made no difficulties; for Heliodora had gone to see
her in all her magnificence and had offered her and her daughter
hospitality some day at Constantinople. They were very likely going
thither; at any rate they would not remain in Memphis and then it would
be a piece of good fortune to be introduced to the society of the capital
by such people as their new acquaintances.
Martina thus heard a great deal about Paula; and though it was all
adverse and colored to her prejudice she would have liked to see the
daughter of the great and famous Thomas whom she had known; besides
after all she had heard she could fear nothing from Paula for her niece:
uncommonly handsome but haughty repellent unamiable and--like
Heliodora herself--of the orthodox sect.--What could tempt "great
Sesostris" to give her the preference?
Katharina herself proposed to Martina to make them acquainted; but
nothing would have induced Dame Martina to go out of her rooms protected
to the utmost from the torrid sunshine so she left it to Heliodora to
pay the visit and give her a report of the hero's daughter. Heliodora
had devoted herself heart and soul to the little heiress and humored her
on many points.
This was carried out. Katharina actually had the audacity to bring the
rivals together even after she had reported to each all she knew of
Orion's position with regard to the other. It was exquisite sport;
still in one respect it did not fulfil her intentions for Paula gave
no sign of suffering the agonies of jealousy which Katharina had hoped
to excite in her. Heliodora on the other hand came home depressed and
uneasy; Paula had received her coldly and with polite formality and the
young widow had remained fully aware that so remarkable a woman might
well cast her own image in Orion's heart into the shade or supplant it
Like a wounded man who in spite of the anguish cannot resist touching
the wound to assure himself of its state Heliodora went constantly to
see Katharina in order to watch her rival from the garden or to be taken
to call on her though she was always very coldly received.
At first Katharina had pitied the young woman whose superior in
intelligence she knew herself to be; but a certain incident had
extinguished this feeling; she now simply hated her and pricked her with
needle-thrusts whenever she had a chance. Paula seemed invulnerable;
but there was not a pang which Katharina would not gladly have given her
to whom she owed the deepest humiliation her young life had ever known.
How was it that Paula failed to regard Heliodora as a rival? She had
reflected that if Orion had really returned the widow's passion he
could not have borne so long a separation. It was on purpose to avoid
Heliodora and to remain faithful to what he was and must always be to
Paula that he had gone with the senator far from Memphis. Heliodora--
her instinct assured her--was the poor forsaken woman with whom he had
trifled at Byzantium and for whom he had committed that fatal theft of
the emerald. If Fate would but bring him home to her and if she then
yielded all he asked--all her own soul urged her to grant then she would
be the sole mistress and queen of his heart--she must be she was sure of
it! And though even as she thought of it she bowed her head in care
it was not from fear of losing him; it was only her anxiety about her
father her good old friend Rufinus and his family whom she had made
so entirely her own.
This was the state of affairs this morning when to his old friend's
vexation Philippus had so hastily and silently drunk off his after-
breakfast draught; just as he set down the cup the black door-keeper
announced that a hump-backed man wished to see his master at once on
"Important business!" repeated the leech. "Give me four more legs in
addition to my own two or a machine to make time longer than it is and
then I will take new patients-otherwise no! Tell the fellow. . . ."
"No not sick. . . ." interrupted the negro. "Come long way.
Gardener to Greek man Rufinus."
Philippus started: he could guess what this messenger had to say and his
heart sank with dread as he desired that he might be shown in.
A glance at Gibbus told him what he had rightly feared. The poor fellow
was hardly recognizable. He was coated with dust from head to foot and
this made him look like a grey-haired old man; his sandals hung to his
feet in strips; the sweat pouring down his cheeks had made gutters as
it were in the dust on his face and his tears as the physician held out
his hand to him washed out other channels.
In reply to the leech's anxious long drawn "Dead?" he nodded silently;
and when Philippus clasping his hands to his temples cried out: "Dead!
My poor old Rufinus dead! But how in Heaven's name did it happen?
Speak man speak!"--Gibbus pointed to the old philosopher and said:
"Come out then with me Master. No third person. . . ."
Philippus however gave him to understand that Horapollo was his second
self; and the hunch-back went on to tell him what he had seen and how
his beloved master had met his end. Horapollo sat listening in
astonishment shaking his head disapprovingly while the physician
muttered curses. But the bearer of evil tidings was not interrupted
and it was not till he had ended that Philippus with bowed head and
tearful eyes said:
"Poor faithful old man; to think that he should die thus--he who leaves
behind him all that is best in life while I--I. . . ." And he
groaned aloud. The old man glanced at him with reproachful displeasure.
While the leech broke the seals of the tablets which the abbess had
carefully closed and began to read the contents Horapollo asked the
gardener: "And the nuns? Did they all escape?"
"Yes Master! on the morning after we reached Doomiat a trireme took
them all out to sea."
And the old man grumbled to himself: "The working bees killed and the
Gibbus however contradicted him praising the laborious and useful life
of the sisters in whose care he himself had once been.
Meanwhile Philippus had read his friend's last letter. Greatly disturbed
by it he turned hither and thither paced the room with long steps and
finally paused in front of the gardener exclaiming: "And what next? Who
is to tell them the news?"
"You" replied Gibbus raising his hands in entreaty.
"I-oh of course I!" growled the physician. "Whatever is difficult
painful intolerable falls on my shoulders as a matter of course! But I
cannot--ought not--I will not do it. Had I any part or lot in devising
this mad expedition? You observe Father?--What he the simpleton
brewed I--I again am to drink. Fate has settled that!"
"It is hard it is hard child!" replied the old man. "Still it is
your duty. Only consider--if that man as he stands before us now were
to appear before the women...."
But Philippus broke in: "No no that would not do! And you Gibbus--
this very day there has been an Arab again to see Joanna; and if they
were to suspect that you had been with your master--for you look
strangely.--No man; your devotion merits a better reward. They shall
not catch you. I release you from your service to the widow and we--
what do you say Father?--we will keep him here."
"Right very right" said Horapollo. "The Nile must some day rise again.
Stay with us; I have long had a fancy to eat vegetables of my own
But Gibbus firmly declined the offer saying he wished to return to his
old mistress. When the physician again pointed out to him how great a
danger he was running into and the old man desired to know his reasons
the hunch-back exclaimed:
"I promised my master to stay with the women; and now while in all the
household I am the only free man shall I leave them unprotected to
secure my own miserable life? Sooner would I see a scimitar at my
throat. When my head is off the rascals are welcome to all that is
The words came hollow and broken from his parched tongue and as he spoke
the faithful fellow's face changed. Even under the dust he turned pale
and Philippus had to support him for his feet refused their office. His
long tramp through the torrid heat had exhausted his strength; but a
draught of wine soon brought him to himself again and Horapollo ordered
the slave to lead him to the kitchen and desire the cook to take the best
care of him.
As soon as the friends were alone the elder observed:
"That worthy foolhardy old child who is now dead seems to have left
you some strange request. I could see that as you were reading."
"There--take it!" replied Philippus; and again he walked up and down
the room while Horapollo took the letter. Both faces of the tablets
were covered with irregular up-and-down lines of writing to the
"Rufinus in view of death to his beloved Philippus:
"One shivering fit after another comes over me; I shall certainly
die to-day. I must make haste. Writing is difficult. If only I
can say what is most pressing.--First: Joanna and the poor child.
Be everything you can be to them. Protect them as their guardian
Kyrios and friend. They have enough to live on and something still
to spare for others. My brother Leonax manages the property and he
is honest. Joanna knows all about it.--Tell her and the poor child
that I send them ten thousand blessings--and to Joanna endless
thanks for all her goodness.--And to you my friend: heed the old
man's words. Rid your heart of Paula. She is not for you: you
know young Orion. But as to yourself: Those who were born in high
places rarely suit us who have dragged ourselves up from below to a
better position. Be her friend; that she deserves--but let that be
all. Do not live alone a wife brings all that is best into a man's
life; it is she who weaves sweet dreams into his dull sleep. You
know nothing of all this as yet; and your worthy old friend--to whom
my greetings--has held aloof from it all his life....
"For your private eye: it is a dying man who speaks thus. You must
know that my poor child our Pul regards you as the most perfect of
men and esteems you above all others. You know her and Joanna.
Bear witness to your friend that no evil word ever passed the lips
of either of them. Far be it from me to advise you who bear the
image of another woman in your heart--to say: marry the child she
is the wife for you. But this much to you both--Father and son--I
do advise you to live with the mother and daughter as true and
friendly house-mates. You will none of you repent doing so. This
is a dying man's word. I can write no more. You are the women's
guardian Philip a faithful one I know. A common aim makes men
grow alike. You and I for many a year.--Take good care of them for
me; I entreat you--good care."
The last words were separated and written all astray; the old man could
hardly make them out. He now sat looking as Phillipus had done before
sorely puzzled and undecided over this strange document.
"Well?" asked the leech at last.
"Aye-well?" repeated the other with a shrug. Then both again were
silent; till Horapollo rose and taking his staff also paced the room
while he murmured half to himself and half to his younger friend "They
are two quiet reasonable women. There are not many of that sort I
fancy. How the little one helped me up from the low seat in the garden!"
It was a reminiscence that made him chuckle to himself; he stopped
Philippus who was pacing at his side by lightly patting his arm
exclaiming with unwonted vivacity: "A man should be ready to try
everything--the care of women even before he steps into the grave.
And is it a fact that neither of them is a scold or a chatter-box?"
"It is indeed."
"And what 'if' or 'but' remains behind?" asked the old man. "Let
us be reckless for once brother! If the whole business were not so
diabolically serious it would be quite laughable. The young one for me
and the old one for you in our leisure hours my son; better washed
linen; clothes without holes in them; no dust on our books; a pleasant
'Rejoice' every morning or at meal-times;--only look at the fruit on
that dish! No better than the oats they strew before horses. At the old
man's everything was as nice as it used to be in my own home at Philae:
Supper a little work of art a feast for the eye as well as the appetite!
Pulcheria seems to understand all that as well as my poor dead sister
did. And then when I want to rise such a kind pretty little hand to
help one up! I have long hated this dwelling. Lime and dust fall from
the ceiling in my bedroom and here there are wide gaps in the flooring-
I stumbled over one yesterday--and our niggardly landlords the
officials say that if we want anything repaired we may do it ourselves
that they have no money left for such things. Now under that worthy old
man's roof everything was in the best order." The philosopher chuckled
aloud and rubbed his hands as he went on: "Supposing we kick over the
traces for once Philip. Supposing we were to carry out our friend's
dying wish? Merciful Isis! It would certainly be a good action and I
have not many to boast of. But cautiously--what do you say? We can
always throw it up at a month's notice."
Then he grew grave again shook his head and said meditatively: "No no;
such plans only disturb one's peace of mind. A pleasant vision! But
"Not for the present at any rate" replied the leech.
"So long as Paula's fate remains undecided I beg you to let the matter
The old man muttered a curse on her; then he said with a vicious sharp
flash in his eyes: "That patrician viper! Every where in everything--she
spoils it all! But wait a while! I fancy she will soon be removed from
our path and then... No even now at the present time I will not
allow that we should be deprived of what would embellish life of doing a
thing which may turn the scale in my favor in the day of judgment. The
wishes of a dying man are sacred: So our fathers held it; and they were
right. The old man's will must be done! Yes yes yes. It is settled.
As soon as that hindrance is removed we will keep house with the two
women. I have said; and I mean it."
At this point the gardener came in again and the old man called out to
"Listen man. We shall live together after all; you shall hear more of
this later. Stay with my people till sundown but you must keep your own
counsel for they are all listeners and blabs. The physician here will
now take the melancholy tidings to the unfortunate widow and then you
can talk it all over with her at night. Nothing startling must take