At the time of this conversation the leech Nebsecht still lingered in front of the hovel of the paraschites, and waited with growing impatience for the old man’s return.
At first he trembled for him; then he entirely forgot the danger into which he had thrown him, and only hoped for the fulfilment of his desires, and for wonderful revelations through his investigations of the human heart.
For some minutes he gave himself up to scientific considerations; but he became more and more agitated by anxiety for the paraschites, and by the exciting vicinity of Uarda.
For hours he had been alone with her, for her father and grandmother could no longer stop away from their occupations. The former must go to escort prisoners of war to Hermonthis, and the old woman, since her granddaughter had been old enough to undertake the small duties of the household, had been one of the wailing-women, who, with hair all dishevelled, accompanied the corpse on its way to the grave, weeping, and lamenting, and casting Nile-mud on their forehead and breast. Uarda still lay, when the sun was sinking, in front of the hut.
She looked weary and pale. Her long hair had come undone, and once more got entangled with the straw of her humble couch. If Nebsecht went near her to feel her pulse or to speak to her she carefully turned her face from him.
Nevertheless when the sun disappeared behind the rocks he bent over her once more, and said:
“It is growing cool; shall I carry you indoors?”
“Let me alone,” she said crossly. “I am hot, keep farther away. I am no longer ill, and could go indoors by myself if I wished; but grandmother will be here directly.”
Nebsecht rose, and sat down on a hen-coop that was some paces from Uarda, and asked stammering, “Shall I go farther off?”
“Do as you please,” she answered. “You are not kind,” he said sadly.
“You sit looking at me,” said Uarda, “I cannot bear it; and I am uneasy —for grandfather was quite different this morning from his usual self, and talked strangely about dying, and about the great price that was asked of him for curing me. Then he begged me never to forget him, and was so excited and so strange. He is so long away; I wish he were here, with me.”
And with these words Uarda began to cry silently. A nameless anxiety for the paraschites seized Nebsecht, and it struck him to the heart that he had demanded a human life in return for the mere fulfilment of a duty. He knew the law well enough, and knew that the old man would be compelled without respite or delay to empty the cup of poison if he were found guilty of the theft of a human heart.
It was dark: Uarda ceased weeping and said to the surgeon:
“Can it be possible that he has gone into the city to borrow the great sum of money that thou—or thy temple—demanded for thy medicine? But there is the princess’s golden bracelet, and half of father’s prize, and in the chest two years’ wages that grandmother had earned by wailing lie untouched. Is all that not enough?”