“My word, given to her, that I would not be yours. . . .”
“Till I had gone through the Esoteric tests?” exclaimed Orion with an angry shrug. “Now go,—go and lie down. This hour, which should have been the sweetest of our lives, a stranger has embittered and darkened. You are not sure of yourself—nor I of myself. Anything more that we could say now and here would lead to no good issue for either you or me. Go and rest; sleep off your pain, and I—I will try to forget.—If you could but see the turmoil in my soul!—But farewell till our next, more friendly—I hardly dare trust myself to say our happier meeting.”
He hastily turned away, but she called after him in sad lament: “Orion do not forget—Orion, you know that I love you.”
But he did not hear; he buried on with his head bowed over his breast, down to the road, without reentering Rufinus’ house.
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: