“You are so soft-hearted—you were as a boy!” said his mother soothingly. She had seen the moisture sparkling in his eyes; but his tears were not for the Persian, but for the mysterious something—he himself knew not what to call it—that he had forfeited in this last hour, and of which the loss gave him unspeakable pain.
But their dialogue was interrupted: the first misfortune of this luckless night had brought its attendant: the body of Rustem, the splendid and radiantly youthful Rustem, the faithful Persian leader of the caravan, was borne into the hall, senseless. He had made some satirical remark on the quarrel over creeds, and a furious Jacobite had fallen upon him with a log of wood, and dealt him a deep and perhaps mortal wound. The leech at once gave him his care, and several of the crowd of muttering and whispering men, who had made their way in out of curiosity or with a wish to be of use, now hurried hither and thither in obedience to the physician’s orders.
As soon as he saw the Masdakite’s wound he exclaimed angrily:
“A true Egyptian blow, dealt from behind!—What does this mob want here? Out with every man who does not belong to the place! The first things needed are litters. Will you, Dame Neforis, desire that two rooms may be got ready; one for that poor, gentle creature, and one for this fine fellow, though all will soon be over with him, short of a miracle.”
“To the north of the viridarium,” replied the lady, “there are two rooms at your service.”
“Not there!” cried the leech. “I must have rooms with plenty of fresh air, looking out upon the river.”
“There are none but the handsome rooms in the visitor’s quarters, where my husband’s niece has hers, Sick persons of the family have often lain there, but for such humble folk—you understand?”
“No—I am deaf,” replied the physician.
“Oh, I know that,” laughed Neforis. “But those rooms are really just refurnished for exalted guests.”
“It would be hard to find any more exalted than such as these, sick unto death,” replied Philippus. “They are nearer to God in Heaven than you are; to your advantage I believe. Here, you people! Carry these poor souls up to the guests’ rooms.”
“It is impossible, impossible, impossible!” cried Orion, jumping up from his writing-table. He thought of what he had done as a misfortune, and not as a crime; he himself hardly knew how it had all come about. Yes, there must be demons, evil, spiteful demons—and it was they who had led him to so mad a deed.