The gardener knew full well how much depended on his silence; Philippus tacitly agreed to the old man’s arrangement, but for the present he avoided discussing the matter with the women. When, at length he set off on his painful errand to the widow, Horapollo dismissed him saying:
“Courage, courage, my Son.—And as you pass by, just glance at our little garden;—we grieved to see the fine old palm-tree perish; but now a young and vigorous shoot is growing from the root.”
“It has been drooping since yesterday and will die away,” replied Philippus shrugging his shoulders.
But the old man exclaimed: “Water it, Gibbus! the palm-tree must be watered at once.”
“Aye, you have water at hand for that!” retorted the leech, but he added bitterly as he reached the stairs, “If it were so in all cases!”
“Patience and good purpose will always win,” murmured the old man; and when he was alone he growled on angrily: “Only be rid of that dry old palm-tree—his past life in all its relations to that patrician hussy Away with it, into the fire!—But how am I to get her? How can I manage it?”
He threw himself back in his arm-chair, rubbing his forehead with the tips of his fingers. He had come to no result when the negro requested an audience for some visitors. These were the heads of the senate of Memphis, who had come as a deputation to ask counsel of the old sage. He, if any one, would find some means of averting or, at any rate, mitigating the fearful calamity impending over the town and country, and against which prayer, sacrifice, processions, and pilgrimages had proved abortive. They were quite resolved to leave no means untried, not even if heathen magic should be the last resource.
All Katharina’s sympathy with Heliodora had died finally in the course of the past, moonless night. She had secretly accompanied her, with her maid and an old deaf and dumb stable-slave, to a soothsayer—for there still were many in Memphis, as well as magicians and alchemists; and this woman had told the young widow that her line of life led to the greatest happiness, and that even the wildest wishes of her heart would find fulfilment. What those wishes were Katharina knew only too well; the probability of their accomplishment had roused her fierce jealousy and made her hate Heliodora.
Heliodora had gone to consult the sorceress in a simple but rich dress. Her peplos was fastened on the shoulder, not by an ordinary gold pin, but by a button which betrayed her taste for fine jewels, as it consisted of a sapphire of remarkable size; this had at once caught the eye of the witch, showing her that she had to deal with a woman of rank and wealth. She had taken Katharina, who had come very plainly dressed, for her companion or poor friend, so she had promised her no more than the removal of certain hindrances, and a happy life at last, with a husband no longer young and a large family of children.