In front of the altar stands a ministerial figure,—none other than Manetho, who must have taken orders,—and joins together, in holy matrimony, the yellow-bearded Thor and the dark-haired Helen. Master Hiero, his round, snub-nosed face red with fussy emotion, gives the bride away; while Salome, dressed in white and looking very pretty and lady-like, does service as bridesmaid,—such is her mistress’s whim. She seems in even better spirits than the pale bride, and her black eyes scarcely wander from the minister’s rapt countenance.
But a few hours later, when bride and groom are gone, Salome,—who, on some plausible pretext of, her own, has been allowed to remain with brother Hiero until her mistress returns from the wedding-tour,—– Salome appears in the secret chamber, where the Reverend Manetho sits with his head between his hands. We will not look too closely at this interview. There are words fierce and tender, tears and pleadings, feverish caresses, incoherent promises, distrustful bargains; and it is late before they part. Salome passes out through the great tomb-like hall, where all the lamps save one are burnt out; and the young minister remains to pursue his holy meditations alone.
We are too discreet to meddle with the honeymoon; but, passing over some eight months, behold the husband and wife returned, to plume their wings ere taking the final flight. Another strange scene attracts us here.
The dusk of a summer evening. Helen, with a more languid step and air than before marriage, saunters along a path through the trees, some distance from the house. She is clad in loose-flowing drapery, and has thrown a white shawl over her head and shoulders. Reaching a bench of rustic woodwork, she drops weariedly down upon it.
Manetho comes out all at once, and stands before her; he seems to have darkened together from the shadow of the surrounding trees. Perhaps a little startled at his so abrupt appearance, she opens her eyes with a wondering haughtiness; but, at the same time, the light pressure of the enchanted ring against her bosom feels like a dull sting, and her heart beats uncomfortably. He begins to speak in his usual tone of softest deference; he sits down by her, and now she is paler, glances anxiously up the path for her delaying husband, and the hand that lifts her handkerchief to her lips trembles a little. Is it at his words? or at their tone? or at what she sees lurking behind his dusky eyes, curdling beneath his thin, dark skin, quivering down to the tips of his long, slender fingers?
All in a moment he bursts forth, without warning, without restraint, the fire of the Egyptian sun boiling in his blood and blazing in his passion. He seizes her soft white wrist,—then her waist; he presses against his, her bosom,—what a throbbing!—her cheek to his,—how aghast! He pours hot words in torrents into her ears,—all that his fretting heart has hoarded up and brooded over these months and years! all,—sparing her not a thought, not a passionate word. She tries to repel him, to escape, to scream for help; but he looks down her eyes with his own, holds her fast, and she gasps for breath. So the serpent coils about the dove, and stamps his image upon her bewildered brain.