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The Bride of the Nile
by Georg Ebers
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"I will find another messenger," she replied sternly.

"And if he asks the reason for your sudden departure?"

"Your mother and Philippus can give him an answer."

"But he was your guardian, and your fortune, I know. . ."

"In his hands it is safe."

"And if the physician's fears should be justified?"

"Then I will demand its restitution through a new Kyrios."

"You will receive it without that! Have you no pity, no forgiveness?" For all answer she flung the flowers he had given her into the river; he leaped on shore, and regardless of the bystanders, pushed his fingers through his hair, clasping his hands to his burning brow.

The barge was pushed off, the rowers plied their oars like men; Orion gazed after it, panting with laboring breath, till a little hand grasped his, and Mary's sweet, childish voice exclaimed:

"Be comforted, uncle. I know just what is troubling you."

"What do you know?" he asked roughly.

"That you are sorry that you and Katharina should have spoken against her last evening, and against poor Hiram."

"Nonsense!" he angrily broke in. "Where is Katharina?"

"I was to tell you that she could not see you today. She loves you dearly, but she, too, is so very, very sorry."

"She may spare herself!" said the young man. "If there is anything to be sorry for it falls on me—it is crushing me to death. But what is this!—The devil's in it! What business is it of the child's? Now, be off with you this minute. Eudoxia, take this little girl to her tasks."

He took Mary's head between his hands, kissed her forehead with impetuous affection, and then pushed her towards her governess, who dutifully led her away.

When Orion found himself alone, he leaned against a tree and groaned like a wounded wild beast. His heart was full to bursting.

"Gone, gone! Thrown away, lost! The best on earth!" He laid his hands on the tree-stem and pressed his head against it till it hurt him. He did not know how to contain himself for misery and self-reproach. He felt like a man who has been drunk and has reduced his own house to ashes in his intoxication. How all this could have come to pass he now no longer knew. After his nocturnal ride he had caused Nilus the treasurer to be waked, and had charged him to liberate Hiram secretly. But it was the sight of his stricken father that first brought him completely to his sober senses. By his bed-side, death in its terrible reality had stared him in the face, and he had felt that he could not bear to see that beloved parent die till he had made his peace with Paula, won her forgiveness, brought her whom his father loved so well into his presence, and besought his blessing on her and on himself.

Twice he had hastened from the chamber of suffering to her room, to entreat her to hear him, but in vain; and now, how terrible had their parting been! She was hard, implacable, cruel; and as he recalled her person and individuality as they had struck him before their quarrel, he was forced to confess that there was something in her present behavior which was not natural to her. This inhuman severity in the beautiful woman whose affection had once been his, and who, but now, had flung his flowers into the water, had not come from her heart; it was deliberately planned to make him feel her anger. What had withheld her, under such great provocation, from betraying that she had detected him in the theft of the emerald? All was not yet lost; and he breathed more freely as he went back to the house where duty, and his anxiety for his father, required his presence. There were his flowers, floating on the stream.

"Hatred cast them there," thought he, "but before they reach the sea many blossoms will have opened which were mere hard buds when she flung them away. She can never love any man but me, I feel it, I know it. The first time we looked into each other's eyes the fate of our hearts was sealed. What she hates in me is my mad crime; what first set her against me was her righteous anger at my suit for Katharina. But that sin was but a dream in my life, which can never recur; and as for Katharina—I have sinned against her once, but I will not continue to sin through a whole, long lifetime. I have been permitted to trifle with love unpunished so often, that at last I have learnt to under-estimate its power. I could laugh as I sacrificed mine to my mother's wishes; but that, and that alone, has given rise to all these horrors. But no, all is not yet lost! Paula will listen to me; and when she sees what my inmost feelings are—when I have confessed all to her, good and evil alike—when she knows that my heart did but wander, and has returned to her who has taught me that love is no jest, but solemn earnest, swaying all mankind, she will come round—everything will come right."

A noble and rapturous light came into his face, and as he walked on, his hopes rose:

"When she is mine I know that everything good in me that I have inherited from my forefathers will blossom forth. When my mother called me to my father's bed-side, she said: 'Come, Orion, life is earnest for you and me and all our house, your father. . .' Yes, it is earnest indeed, however all this may end! To win Paula, to conciliate her, to bring her near to me, to have her by my side and do something great, something worthy of her—this is such a purpose in life as I need! With her, only with her I know I could achieve it; without her, or with that gilded toy Katharina, old age will bring me nothing but satiety, sobering and regrets—or, to call it by its Christian designation: bitter repentance. As Antaeus renewed his strength by contact with mother earth, so, father do I feel myself grow taller when I only think of her. She is salvation and honor; the other is ruin and misery in the future. My poor, dear Father, you will, you must survive this stroke to see the fulfilment of all your joyful hopes of your son. You always loved Paula; perhaps you may be the one to appease her and bring her back to me; and how dear will she be to you, and, God willing, to my mother, too, when you see her reigning by my side an ornament to this house, to this city, to this country—reigning like a queen, your son's redeeming and guardian angel!"

Uplifted, carried away by these thoughts, he had reached the viridarium. He there found Sebek the steward waiting for his young master: "My lord is asleep now," he whispered, "as the physician foretold, but his face. . . . Oh, if only we had Philippus here again!"

"Have you sent the chariot with the fast horses to the Convent of St. Cecilia?" asked Orion eagerly; and when Sebek had replied in the affirmative and vanished again indoors, the young man, overwhelmed with painful forebodings, sank on his knees near a column to which a crucifix was hung, and lifted up his hands and soul in fervent prayer.



CHAPTER XV.

The physician had installed Paula in her new home, and had introduced her to the family who were henceforth to be her protectors, and to enable her to lead a happier life.

He had but a few minutes to devote to her and her hosts; for scarcely had he taken her into the spacious rooms, gay with flowers, of which she now took possession, when he was enquired for by two messengers, both anxious to speak with him. Paula knew how critical her uncle's state was, and now, contemplating the probability of losing him, she first understood what he had been to her. Thus sorrow was her first companion in her new abode—a sorrow to which the comfort of her pretty, airy rooms added keenness.

One of the messengers was a young Arab from the other side of the river, who handed to Philippus a letter from the merchant Haschim. The old man informed him that, in consequence of a bad fall his eldest son had had, he was forced to start at once for Djiddah on the Red Sea. He begged the physician to take every care of his caravan-leader, to whom he was much attached, to remove him when he thought fit from the governor's house, and to nurse him till he was well, in some quiet retreat. He would bear in mind the commission given him by the daughter of the illustrious Thomas. He sent with this letter a purse well-filled with gold pieces.

The other messenger was to take the leech back again in the light chariot with the fast horses to the suffering Mukaukas. He at once obeyed the summons, and the steeds, which the driver did not spare, soon carried him back to the governor's house.

A glance at his patient told him that this was the beginning of the end; still, faithful to his principle of never abandoning hope till the heart of the sufferer had ceased to beat, he raised the senseless man, heedless of Orion, who was on his knees by his father's pillow, signed to the deaconess in attendance, an experienced nurse, and laid cool, wet cloths on the head and neck of the sufferer, who was stricken with apoplexy. Then he bled him.

Presently the Mukaukas wearily opened his eyes, turned uneasily from side to side, and recognizing his kneeling son and his wife, bathed in tears, he murmured, almost inarticulately, for his paralyzed tongue no longer did his will: "Two pillules, Philip!"

The physician unhesitatingly acceded to the request of the dying man, who again closed his eyes; but only to reopen them, and to say, with the same difficulty, but with perfect consciousness: "The end is at hand! The blessing of the Church—Orion, the Bishop."

The young man hastened out of the room to fetch the prelate, who was waiting in the viridarium with two deacons, an exorcist, and a sacristan bearing the sacred vessels.

The governor listened in devout composure to the service of the last sacrament, looked on at the ceremonies performed by the exorcist as, with waving of hands and pious ejaculations he banned the evil spirits and cast out from the dying man the devil that might have part in him; but he could no longer swallow the bread which, in the Jacobite rite, was administered soaked in the wine. Orion took the holy elements for him, and the dying man, with a smile, murmured to his son:

"God be with thee, my son! The Lord, it seems, denies me His precious Blood—and yet—let me try once more."

This time he succeeded in swallowing the wine and a few crumbs of bread; and the bishop Ptolimus, a gentle old man of a beautiful and dignified presence, spoke comfort to him, and asked him whether he felt that he was dying penitent and in perfect faith in the mercy of his Lord and Saviour, and whether he repented of his sins and forgave his enemies.

The sick man bowed his head with an effort and murmured:

"Even the Melchites who murdered my sons—and even the head of our Church, the Patriarch, who was only too glad to leave it to me to achieve things which he scrupled to do himself. That—that—But you, Ptolimus—a wise and worthy servant of the Lord—tell me to the best of your convictions: May I die in the belief that it was not a sin to conclude a peace with the Arab conquerors of the Greeks?—May I, even at this hour, think of the Melchites as heretics?"

The prelate drew his still upright figure to its full height, and his mild features assumed a determined—nay a stern expression as he exclaimed:

"You know the, decision pronounced by the Synod of Ephesus—the words which should be graven on the heart of every true Jacobite as on marble and brass 'May all who divide the nature of Christ—and this is what the Melchites do—be divided with the sword, be hewn in pieces and be burnt alive!'—No Head of our Church has ever hurled such a curse at the Moslems who adore the One God!"

The sufferer drew a deep breath, but he presently added with a sigh:

"But Benjamin the Patriarch, and John of Niku have tormented my soul with fears! Still, you too, Ptolimus, bear the crosier, and to you I will confess that your brethren in office, the shepherds of the Jacobite fold, have ruined my peace for hundreds of days and nights, and I have been near to cursing them. But before the night fell the Lord sent light into my soul, and I forgave them, and now, through you, I crave their pardon and their blessing. The Church has but reluctantly opened the doors to me in these last years; but what servant can be allowed to complain of the Master from whom he expects grace? So listen to me. I close my eyes as a faithful and devoted adherent of the Church, and in token thereof I will endow her to the best of my power and adorn her with rich and costly gifts; I will—but I can say no more.—Speak for me, Orion. You know—the gems—the hanging. . . ."

His son explained to the bishop what a splendid gift, in priceless jewels, the dying man intended to offer to the Church. He desired to be buried in the church of St. John at Alexandria by his father's side, and to be prayed for in front of the mortuary chapel of his ancestors in the Necropolis; he had set aside a sum of money, in his will, to pay for the prayers to be offered for his soul. The priests were well pleased to hear this, and they absolved him unconditionally and completely; then, after blessing him fervently, they quitted the room.

Philippus heaved a sigh of relief when the ecclesiastics had departed, and constantly renewed the wet compress, while the dying governor lay for a long time in silence with his eyes shut. Presently he rubbed them as though he felt revived, raised his head a little with the physician's help, and looking up, said:

"Draw the ring off my finger, Orion, and wear it worthily.—Where is little Mary, where is Paula? I should wish to bid them farewell too."

The young man and his mother exchanged uneasy glances, but Neforis collected herself at once and replied:

"We have sent for Mary; but Paula—you know she never was happy with us—and since the events of yesterday. . . ."

"Well?" asked the invalid.

"She hastily quitted the house; but we parted friends, I can assure you of that; she is still in Memphis, and she spoke of you most affectionately and wished to see you, and charged me with many loving messages for you; so, if you really care to see her. . . ."

The sick man tried to nod his head, but in vain. He did not, however, insist on her being sent for, but his face wore an expression of deep melancholy and the words came faintly from his lips.

"Thomas' daughter! The noblest and loveliest of all."

"The noblest and loveliest," echoed Orion, in a voice that was tremulous with strong, deep and sincere emotion; then he begged the leech and the deaconess to leave him alone with his parents. As soon as they had left the room the young man spoke softly but urgently into his father's ear:

"You are quite right, Father," he said. "She is better and more noble, more beautiful and more highminded than any girl living. I love her, and will stake everything to win her heart. Oh, God! Oh, God! Merciful Heaven!—Are you glad, do you give your consent, Father? You dearest and best of men; I see it in your face."

"Yes, yes, yes," murmured the governor; his yellow, bloodshot eyes looked up to Heaven, and with a terrible effort he stammered out: "Blessing—my blessing, on you and Paula.—Tell her from me. . . . If she had confided in her old uncle, as she used to do, the freedman would never have robbed us.—She is a brave soul; how she fought for the poor fellow. I will hear more about it if my strength holds out.—Why is she not here?"

"She wished so much to bid you farewell," replied Neforis, "but you were asleep."

"Was she in such a hurry to be gone?" asked her husband with a bitter smile. "Fear about the emerald may have had something to do with it? But how could I be angry with her? Hiram acted without her knowledge, I suppose? Yes, I knew it!—Ah; that dear, sweet face! If I could but see it once more. The joy—of my eyes, and my companion at draughts! A faithful heart too; how she clung to her father! she was ready to sacrifice everything for him.—And you, you, my old. . . . But no—no reproaches at such a time. You, Mother—you, my Neforis, thanks, a thousand thanks for all your love and kindness. What a mystical and magic bond is that of a Christian marriage like ours? Mark that, Orion. And you, Mother: I am anxious about this. You—do not hurt the girl's feelings again. Say—say you bless this union; it will make me happier at the last.—Paula and Orion; both of them-both.—I never dared before—but what better could we wish?"

The matron clasped her hands and sobbed out:

"Anything, everything you wish! But Father, Orion, our faith!—And then, merciful Saviour, that poor little Katharina!"

"Katharina!" repeated the sick man, and his feeble lips parted in a compassionate smile. "Our boy and the water—water—you know what I would say."

Then his eyes began to sparkle more brightly and he said in a low voice, but still eagerly, as though death were yet far from him:

"My name is George, the son of the Mukaukas; I am the great Mukaukas and our family—all fine men of a proud race; all: My father, my uncle, our lost sons, and Orion here—all palms and oaks! And shall a dwarf, a mere blade of rice be grafted on to the grand old stalwart stock? What would come of that?—Oh, ho! a miserable little brood! But Paula! The cedar of Lebanon—Paula; she would give new life to the grand old race."

"But our faith, our faith," moaned Neforis. "And you, Orion, do you even know what her feeling is towards you?"

"Yes and no. Let that rest for the present," said the youth, who was deeply moved. "Oh Father! if I only knew that your blessing. . ."

"The Faith, the Faith," interrupted the Mukaukas in a broken voice.

"I will be true to my own!" cried Orion, raising his father's hand to his lips. "But think, picture to yourself, how Paula and I would reign in this house, and how another generation would grow up in it worthy of the great Mukaukas and his ancestors!"

"I see it, I see it," murmured the sick man sinking back on his pillows, unconscious.

Philippus was immediately called in, and, with him, little Mary came weeping into the room. The physician's efforts to revive the sufferer were presently successful; again the sick man opened his eyes, and spoke more distinctly and loudly than before:

"There is a perfume of musk. It is the fragrance that heralds the Angel of Death."

After this he lay still and silent for a long time. His eyes were closed, but his brows were knit and showed that he was thinking with a painful effort. At length, with a sigh, he said, almost inaudibly: "So it was and so it is: The Greek oppressed my people with arbitrary cruelty as if we were dogs; the Moslem, too, is a stranger, but he is just. That which happened it was out of my power to prevent; and it is well, it is very well that it turned out so.—Very well," he repeated several times, and then he shivered and said with a groan:

"My feet are so cold! But never mind, never mind, I like to be cool."

The leech and the deaconess at once set to work to heat blocks of wood to warm his feet; the sick man looked up gratefully and went on: "At church, in the House of God, I have often found it deliciously cool and to-day it is the Church that eases my death-bed by her pardon. Do you, my Son, be faithful to her. No member of our house should ever be an apostate. As to the new faith—it is overspreading land after land with incredible power; ambition and covetousness are driving thousands into its fold. But we—we are faithful to Christ Jesus, we are no traitors. If I, I the Mukaukas, had consented to go over to the Khaliff I might have been a prince in purple, and have governed my own country in his name. How many have deserted to the Moslems! And the temptation will come to you, too, and their faith offers much that is attractive to the crowd. They imagine a Paradise full of unspeakably alluring joys—but we, my son—we shall meet again in our own, shall we not?"

"Yes, yes, Father!" cried the young man. "I will remain a Christian, staunch and true. . ."

"That is right," interrupted the sick man. He was determined to forget that his son wished to marry a Melchite and went on quickly: "Paula. . . . But no more of that. Remain faithful to your own creed—otherwise. . . . However, child, seek your own road; you are—but you will walk in the right way, and it is because I know that, know it surely, that I can die so calmly.

"I have provided abundantly for your temporal welfare. I have been a good husband, a faithful father, have I not, O Saviour?—Have I not, Neforis? And that which is my best and surest comfort is that for many long years I have administered justice in this land, and never, never once—and Thou my Refuge and Comforter art my witness!—never once consciously or willingly have I been an unrighteous judge. Before me the poor were equal with the rich, the powerful with the helpless widow. Who would have dared. . . ." Here he broke off; his eyes, wandering feebly round the room, fell on Mary who had sunk on her knees, opposite to Orion on the other side of the bed. The dying man, who had thus summed up the outcome of a long and busy life, ceased his reflections, and when the child saw that he was vainly trying to turn his powerless head towards her, she threw her arms round him with passionate grief; unscared by his fixed gaze or the altered hue of his beloved face, she kissed his lips and cheeks, exclaiming:

"Grandfather, dear grandfather, do not leave us; stay with us, pray, pray stay with us!"

Something faintly resembling a smile parted his parched lips, and all the tenderness with which his soul was overflowing for this sweet young bud of humanity would have found expression in his voice but that he could only mutter huskily:

"Mary, my darling! For your sake I should be glad to live a long while yet, a very long while; but the other world—I am standing already on its threshold. Good-bye—I must indeed say good-bye."

"No, no—I will pray; oh! I will pray so fervently that you may get well again!" cried the child. But he replied:

"Nay, nay. The Saviour is already taking me by the hand. Farewell, and again farewell. Did you bring Paula? I do not see her. Did you bring Paula with you, sweetheart? She—did she leave us in anger? If she only knew; ah! your Paula has treated us ill." The child's heart was still full of the horrible crime which had so revolted her truthful nature, and which had deprived her of rest all through an evening, a long night and a morning; she laid her little head close to that of the old man—her dearest and best friend. For years he had filled her father's place, and now he was dying, leaving her forever! But she could not let him depart with a false idea of the woman whom she worshipped with all the fervor of her child's heart; in a subdued voice, but with eager feeling, she said, close to his ear:

"But Grandfather, there is one thing you must know before the Saviour takes you away to be happy in Heaven. Paula told the truth, and never, never told a lie, not even for Hiram's sake. An empty gold frame hung to her necklace and no gem at all. Whatever Orion may say, I saw it myself and cannot be mistaken, as truly as I hope to see you and my poor father in heaven! And Katharina, too, thought better of it, and confessed to me just now that she had committed a great sin and had borne false witness before the judges to please her dear Orion. I do not know what Hiram had done to offend him; but on the strength of Katharina's evidence the judges condemned him to death. But Paula—you must understand that Paula had nothing, positively nothing whatever to do with the stealing of the emerald."

Orion, kneeling there, was condemned to hear every word the little girl so vehemently whispered, and each one pierced his heart like a dagger-thrust. Again and again he felt inclined to clutch at her across the bed and fling her on the ground before his father's eyes; but grief and astonishment seemed to have paralyzed his whole being; he had not even the power to interrupt her with a single word.

She had spoken, and all was told.

He clung to the couch like a shattered wretch; and when his father turned his eyes on him and gasped out: "Then the Court—our Court of justice pronounced an unrighteous sentence?" he bowed his head in contrition.

The dying man murmured even less articulately and incoherently than before: "The gem—the hanging—you, you perhaps—was it you? that emerald—I cannot. . ."

Orion helped his father in his vain efforts to utter the dreadful words. Sooner would he have died with the old man than have deceived him in such a moment; he replied humbly and in a low voice:

"Yes, Father—I took it. But as surely as I love you and my mother this, the first reckless act of my life, which has brought such horrors in its train. . . Shall be the last," he would have said; but the words "I took it," had scarcely passed his lips when his father was shaken by a violent trembling, the expression of his eyes changed fearfully, and before the son had spoken his vow to the end the unhappy father was, by a tremendous effort, sitting upright. Loud sobs of penitence broke from the young man's heaving breast, as the Mukaukas wrathfully exclaimed, in thick accents, as quickly as the heavy, paralyzed tongue would allow:

"You, you! A disgrace to our ancient and blameless Court! You?—Away with you! A thief, an unjust judge, a false witness,—and the only descendant of Menas! If only these hands were able—you—you—Go, villain!" And with this wild outcry, George, the gentle and just Mukaukas, sank back on his pillows; his bloodshot eyes were staring, fixed on vacancy; his gasping lips repeated again and again, but less and less audibly the one word "Villain;" his swollen fingers clutched at the light coverlet that lay over him; a strange, shrill wheezing came through his open mouth, and the heavy corpse of the great dignitary fell, like a falling palm-tree, into Orion's arms.

Orion started up, his eyes inflamed, his hair all dishevelled, and shook the dead man as though to compel him back to life again, to hear his oath and accept his vow, to see his tears of repentance, to pardon him and take back the name of infamy which had been his parting word to his loved and spoilt child.

In the midst of this wild outbreak the physician came back, glanced at the dead man's distorted features, laid a hand on his heart, and said with solemn regret as he led little Mary away from the couch:

"A good and just man is gone from the land of the living."

Orion cried aloud and pushed away Mary, who had stolen close to him; for, young as she was, she felt that it was she who had brought the worst woe on her uncle, and that it was her part to show him some affection.

She ran then to her grandmother; but she, too, put her aside and fell on her knees by the side of her wretched son to weep with him; to console him who was inconsolable, and in whom, a few minutes since, she had hoped to find her own best consolation; but her fond words of motherly comfort found no echo in his broken spirit.



CHAPTER XVI.

When Philippus had parted from Paula he had told her that the Mukaukas might indeed die at any moment, but that it was possible that he might yet struggle with death for weeks to come. This hope had comforted her; for she could not bear to think that the only true friend she had had in Memphis, till she had become more intimate with the physician, should quit the world forever without having heard her justification. Nothing could be more unlikely than that any one in Neforis' household—excepting her little grandchild should ever remember her with kindness; and she scarcely desired it; but she rebelled against the idea of forfeiting the respect she had earned, even in the governor's house. If her friend should succeed in prolonging her uncle's life, by a confidential interview with him she might win back his old affection and his good opinion.

Her new home she felt was but a resting-place, a tabernacle in the desert-journey of her solitary pilgrimage, and she here meant to avail herself of the information she had gathered from her Melchite dependents. Hope had now risen supreme in her heart over grief and disappointment. Orion's presence alone hung like a threatening hail-cloud over the sprouting harvest of her peace of mind. And yet, next to the necessity of waiting at Memphis for the return of her messenger, nothing tied her to the place so strongly as her interest in watching the future course of his life, at any rate from a distance. What she felt for him-and she told herself it was deep aversion-nevertheless constituted a large share of her inner life, little as she would confess it to herself.

Her new hosts had received her as a welcome guest, and they certainly did not seem to be poor. The house was spacious, and though it was old and unpretentious it was comfortable and furnished with artistic taste. The garden had amazed her by the care lavished on it; she had seen a hump-backed gardener and several children at work in it. A strange party-for every one of them, like their chief, was in some way deformed or crippled.

The plot of ground—which extended towards the river to the road-way for foot passengers, vehicles and the files of men towing the Nile-boats—was but narrow, and bounded on either side by extensive premises. Not far from the spot where it lay nearest to the river was the bridge of boats connecting Memphis with the island of Rodah. To the right was the magnificent residence—a palace indeed—belonging to Susannah; to the left was an extensive grove, where tall palms, sycamores with spreading foliage, and dense thickets of blue-green tamarisk trees cast their shade. Above this bower of splendid shrubs and ancient trees rose a long, yellow building crowned with a turret; and this too was not unknown to her, for she had often heard it spoken of in her uncle's house, and had even gone there now and then escorted by Perpetua. It was the convent of St. Cecilia, the refuge of the last nuns of the orthodox creed left in Memphis; for, though all the other sisterhoods of her confession had long since been banished, these had been allowed to remain in their old home, not only because they were famous sick-nurses, a distinction common to all the Melchite orders, but even more because the decaying municipality could not afford to sacrifice the large tax they annually paid to it. This tax was the interest on a considerable capital bequeathed to the convent by a certain wise predecessor of the Mukaukas', with the prudent proviso, ratified under the imperial seal of Theodosius II., that if the convent were at any time broken up, this endowment, with the land and buildings which it likewise owed to the generosity of the same benefactor, should become the property of the Christian emperor at that time reigning.

Mukaukas George, notwithstanding his well-founded aversion for everything Melchite, had taken good care not to press this useful Sisterhood too hardly, or to deprive his impoverished capital of its revenues only to throw them into the hands of the wealthy Moslems. The title-deed on which the Sisters relied was good; and the governor, who was a good lawyer as well as a just man, had not only left them unmolested, but in spite of his fears—during the last few years—for his own safety, had shown himself no respecter of persons by defending their rights firmly and resolutely against the powerful patriarch of the Jacobite Church. The Senate of the ancient capital naturally, approved his course, and had not merely suffered the heretic Sisterhood to remain, but had helped and encouraged it.

The Jacobite clergy of the city shut their eyes, and only opened them to watch the convent at Easter-tide; for on the Saturday before Easter, the nuns, in obedience to an agreement made before the Monophysite Schism, were required to pay a tribute of embroidered vestments to the head of the Christian Churches, with wine of the best vintages of Kochome near the Pyramid of steps, and a considerable quantity of flowers and confectionary. So the ancient coenobium of women was maintained, and though all Egypt was by this time Jacobite or Moslem, and many of the older Sisters had departed this life within the last year, no one had thought of enquiring how it was that the number of the nuns remained still the same, till the Jacobite archbishop Benjamin filled the patriarchal throne of Alexandria in the place of the Melchite Cyrus.

To Benjamin the heretical Sisters at Memphis—the hawks in a dove-cote, as he called them—were an offence, and he thought that the deed might bear a new interpretation: that as there was no longer a Christian emperor, and as the word "Christian" was used in the document, if the convent were broken up the property should pass into the hands of the only Christian magnate then existing in the country: himself, namely, and his Church. The ill-feeling which the Patriarch fostered against the Mukaukas had been aggravated to hostility by their antagonism on this matter.

A musical dirge now fell on Paula's ear from the convent chapel. Was the worthy Mother Superior dead? No, this lament must be for some other death, for the strange skirling wail of the Egyptian women came up to her corner window from the road, from the bridge, and from the boats on the river. No Jacobite of Memphis would have dared to express her grief so publicly for the death of a Melchite; and as the chorus of voices swelled, the thought struck her with a chill that it must be her uncle and friend who had closed his weary eyes in death.

It was with deep emotion and many tears that she perceived how sincerely the death of this righteous man was bewailed by all his fellow-citizens. Yes, he only, and no other Egyptian, could have called forth this great and expressive regret. The wailing women in the road were daubing the mud of the river on their foreheads and bosoms; men were standing in large groups and beating their heads and breasts with passionate gestures. On the bridge of boats the men would stop others, and from thence, too, piercing shrieks came across to her.

At last Philippus came in and confirmed her fears. The governor's death had shocked him no less than it did her, and he had to tell Paula all he knew of the dead man's last hours.

"Still, one good thing has come out of this misery," he said. "There is nothing so comforting as the discovery that we have been deceived in thinking ill of a man and of his character. This Orion, who has sinned so basely against himself and against you, is not utterly reprobate."

"Not?" interrupted Paula. "Then he has taken you in too!"

"Taken me in?" said the leech. "Hardly, I think. I have, alas! stood by many a death-bed; for I am too often sent for when Death is already beckoning the sick man away. I have met thousands of mourners in these melancholy scenes, which, I can assure you, are the very best school for training any one who desires to search the hearts of his fellow-creatures. By the bed of death, or in the mart, where everything is a question of Mine and Thine, it is easy to see how some—we for instance—are as careful to hide from the world all that is great and noble in us as others are to conceal what is petty and mean—we read men's hearts as an open page. From my observations of the dying and of those who sorrow for them, I, who am not Menander not Lucian, could draw a series of portraits which should be as truthful likenesses as though the men had turned themselves inside out before me."

"That a dying man should show himself as he really is I can well believe," replied Paula. "He need have no further care for the opinions of others; but the mourners? Why, custom requires them to assume an air of grief and to shed tears."

"Very true; regret repeats itself by the side of the dead," replied the physician. "But the chamber of the dying is like a church. Death consecrates it, and the man who stands face to face with death often drops the mask by which he cheats his fellows. There we may see faces which you would shudder to look on, but others, too, which merely to see is enough to make us regard the degenerate species to which we belong with renewed respect."

"And you found such a comforting vision in Orion,—the thief, the false witness, the corrupt judge!" exclaimed Paula, starting up in indignant astonishment.

"There! you see," laughed Philippus. "Just like a woman! A little juggling, and lo! what was only rose color is turned to purple. No. The son of the Mukaukas has not yet undergone such a dazzling change of hue; but he has a feeling and impressible heart—and I hold even that in high esteem. I have no doubt that he loved his father deeply, nay passionately; though I have ample reason to believe him capable of the very worst. So long as I was present at the scene of death the father and son were parting in all friendship and tenderness, and when the good old man's heart had ceased to beat I found Orion in a state which is only possible to have when love has lost what it held dearest."

"All acting!" Paula put in.

"But there was no audience, dear friend. Orion would not have got up such a performance for his mother and little Mary."

"But he is a poet—and a highly-gifted one too. He sings beautiful songs of his own invention to the lyre; his ecstatic and versatile mind works him up into any frame of feeling; but his soul is perverted; it is soaked in wickedness as a sponge drinks up water. He is a vessel full of beautiful gifts, but he has forfeited all that was good and noble in him—all!"

The words came in eager haste from her indignant lips. Her cheeks glowed with her vehemence, and she thought she had won over the physician; but he gravely shook his head, and said:

"Your righteous anger carries you too far. How often have you blamed me for severity and suspicions but now I have to beg you to allow me to ask your sympathy for an experience to which you would probably have raised no objection the day before yesterday:

"I have met with evil-doers of every degree. Think, for instance, how many cases of wilful poisoning I have had to investigate."

"Even Homer called Egypt the land of poison," exclaimed Paula. "And it seems almost incredible that Christianity has not altered it in the least. Kosmas, who had seen the whole earth, could nowhere find more malice, deceit, hatred, and ill-will than exist here."

"Then you see in what good schools my experience of the wickedness of men has ripened," said Philippus smiling, "and they have taught me chiefly that there is never a criminal, a sinner, or a scapegrace, however infamous he may be, however cruel or lost to virtue, in whom some good quality or other may not be discovered.—Do you remember Nechebt, the horrible woman who poisoned her two brothers and her own father? She was captured scarcely three weeks ago; and that very monster in human form could almost die of hunger and thirst for the sake of her rascally son, who is a common soldier in the imperial army; at last she took to concocting poisons, not to improve her own wretched condition, but to send the shameless wretch means for a fresh debauch. I have known a thousand similar cases, but I will only mention that of one of the wildest and blood-thirstiest of robbers, who had evaded the vigilance of the watch again and again, but at last fell into their hands—and how? Because he had heard that his old mother was ill and he longed to see the withered old woman once more and give her a kiss, since he was her own child! In the same way Orion, however reprobate we may think him, has at any rate one characteristic which we must approve of: a tender affection for his father and mother. Your sponge is not utterly steeped in wickedness; there are still some pores, some cells which resist it; and if in him, as in so many others, the heart is one of them, then I say hopefully, like Horace the Roman: 'Nil desperandum.' It would be unjust to give him up altogether for lost."

To this assurance Paula found no answer; indeed, it struck her that—if Orion had told her the truth—it was only to please his mother that he had asked Katharina to marry him, while she herself occupied his heart.—The physician, wishing to change the subject, was about to speak again of the death of the Mukaukas, when one of the crippled serving girls came to announce a woman who asked to speak with Paula. A few minutes later she was clasped in the embrace of her faithful old friend and nurse, who rejoiced as heartily, laughing and crying for sheer delight, as if no tidings of misfortune had reached her; while Paula, though so much younger, was cut to the heart, and could not shake off the spell of her grief.

Perpetua understood this and owed her no grudge for the coolness with which she met her joyful excitement.

She told Paula that she had been well treated in her hot cell, and that about half an hour since Orion himself, the young Master now, had opened the door of her prison. He had been very gracious to her, but looked so pale and sad. The overbearing young man was quite altered; his eyes, which were dim with weeping, had moved her, Perpetua, to tears. She trusted that God would forgive him for his sins against herself and Paula; he must have been possessed by some evil demon; he had not been at all like himself; for he had a kind, warm heart, and though he had been so hard and unjust yesterday to poor Hiram he had made it up to him the first thing this morning, and had not only let him out of prison but had sent him and his son home to Damascus with large gifts and two horses. Nilus had told her this. He who hoped to be forgiven by his neighbor must also be ready to forgive. The great Augustine, even, had been no model of virtue in his youth and yet he had become a shining light in the Church; and now the son of the Mukaukas would tread in his father's footsteps. He was a handsome, engaging man, who would be the joy of their hearts yet, they might be very sure. Why, he had been as grave and as solemn as a bishop to-day; perhaps he had already turned over a new leaf. He himself had put her into his mother's chariot and desired the charioteer to drive her hither: what would Paula say to that? Her things were to be given over to her to-morrow morning, and packed under her own eyes, and sent after her. Nilus, the treasurer, had come with her to deliver a message to Paula; but he had gone first to the convent.

Paula desired the old woman to go thither and fetch him; as soon as Perpetua had left the room, she exclaimed:

"There, you see, is some one who is quite of your opinion. What creatures we are! Last evening my good Betta would have thought no pit of hell too deep for our enemy, and now? To be led to a chariot by such a fine gentleman in person is no doubt flattering; and how quickly the old body has forgotten all her grievances, how soothed and satisfied she is by the gracious permission to pack her precious and cherished possessions with her own hands.—You told me once that the Jacobites had made a Saint Orion out of the pagan god Osiris, and my old Betta sees a future Saint Augustine in the governor's son. I can see that she already regards him as her tutelary patron, and when we get back to Syria, she will be begging me to join her in a pilgrimage to his shrine!"

"And you will perhaps consent," replied the physician, to whom Paula at this moment, for the first time since his heart had glowed with love for her, did not seem to be quite what a man looks for in the woman he adores. Hitherto he had seen and heard nothing that was not high-minded and worthy of her; but her last words had, been spoken with vehement and indignant irony—and in Philip's opinion irony, blame which was intended to wound and not to improve its object, was unbecoming in a noble woman. The scornful laugh, with which she had triumphantly ended her speech, had opened as it were a wide abyss between his mind and hers. He, as he freely confessed to himself, was of a coarser and humbler grain than Paula, and he was apt to be satirical oftener than was right. She had been wont to dislike this habit in him; he had been glad that she did; it answered to the ideal he had formed of what the woman he loved should be. But now she had turned satirical; and her irony was no jest of the lips. It sprang, full of passion, from her agitated soul; this it was that grieved the leech who knew human nature, and at the same time roused his apprehensions. Paula read his disapproval in his face, and felt that there was a deep significance in his words And you will perhaps consent."

"Men are vexed," thought she, "when, after they have decisively expressed an opinion, we women dare unhesitatingly to assert a different one," so, as she would on no account hurt the feelings of the friend to whom she owed so much, she said kindly:

"I do not care to enquire into the meaning of your strange prognostication. Thank God, by your kindness and care I have severed every tie that could have bound me to my poor uncle's son!—Now we will drop the subject; we have said too much about him already."

"That is quite my opinion," replied Philippus. "And, indeed, I would beg you quite to forget my 'perhaps.' I live wholly in the present and am no prophet; but I foresee, nevertheless, that Orion will make every effort, cost what it may. . . ."

"Well?"

"To approach you again, to win your forgiveness, to touch your heart, to. . . ."

"Let him dare" exclaimed Paula lifting her hand with a threatening gesture.

"And when he, gifted as he is in every way, has found his better self again and can come forward purified and worthy of the approbation of the best. . . ."

"Still I will never, never forget how he has sinned and what he brought upon me!—Do you think that I have already forgotten your conversation with Neforis? You ask nothing of your friends but honest feeling akin to your own,—and what is it that repels me from Orion but feeling? Thousands have altered their behavior, but—answer me frankly—surely not what we mean by their feeling?"

"Yes, that too," said the leech with stern gravity. "Feeling, too, may change. Or do you range yourself on the side of the Arab merchant and his fellow-Moslems, who regard man as the plaything of a blind Fate?—But our spiritual teachers tell us that the evil to which we are predestined, which is that born into the world with us, may be averted, turned and guided to good by what they call spiritual regeneration. But who that lives in the tumult of the world can ever succeed in 'killing himself' in their sense of the word, in dying while yet he lives, to be born again, a new man? The penitent's garb does not suit the stature of an Orion; however, there is for him another way of returning to the path he has lost. Fortune has hitherto offered her spoilt favorite so much pleasure, that sheer enjoyment has left him no time to think seriously on life itself; now she is showing him its graver side, she is inviting him to reflect; and if he only finds a friend to give him the counsel which my father left in a letter for me, his only child, as a youth—and if he is ready to listen, I regard him as saved."

"And that word of counsel—what is it?" asked Paula with interest.

"To put it briefly, it is this: Life is not a banquet spread by fate for our enjoyment, but a duty which we are bound to fulfil to the best of our power. Each one must test his nature and gifts, and the better he uses them for the weal and benefit of the body of which he was born a member, the higher will his inmost gladness be, the more certainly will he attain to a beautiful peace of mind, the less terrors will Death have for him. In the consciousness of having sown seed for eternity he will close his eyes like a faithful steward at the end of each day, and of the last hour vouchsafed to him on earth. If Orion recognizes this, if he submits to accept the duties imposed on him by existence, if he devotes himself to them now for the first time to the best of his powers, a day may come when I shall look up to him with respect—nay, with admiration. The shipwreck of which the Arab spoke has overtaken him. Let us see how he will save himself from the waves, and behave when he is cast on shore."

"Let us see!" repeated Paula, "and wish that he may find such an adviser! As you were speaking it struck me that it was my part.—But no, no! He has placed himself beyond the pale of the compassion which I might have felt even for an enemy after such a frightful blow. He! He can and shall never be anything to me till the end of time. I have to thank you for having found me this haven of rest. Help me now to keep out everything that can intrude itself here to disturb my peace. If Orion should ever dare, for whatever purpose, to force or steal a way into this house, I trust to you, my friend and deliverer!"

She held out her hand to Philippus, and as he took it the blood seethed in his veins with tender emotion.

"My strength, like my heart, is wholly yours!" he exclaimed ardently. "Command them, and if the devoted love of a faithful, plain-spoken man—"

"Say no more, no, no!" Paula broke in with anxious vehemence. "Let us remain closely bound together by friendship-as brother and sister."

"As brother and sister?" he dully echoed with a melancholy smile. "Aye, friendship too is a beautiful, beautiful thing. But yet—let me speak—I have dreamed of love, the tossing sea of passion; I have felt its surges here—in here; I feel them still. . . . But man, man," and he struck his forehead with his fist, "have you forgotten, like a fool, what your image is in the mirror; have you forgotten that you are an ugly, clumsy fellow, and that the gorgeous flower you long for. . . ."

Paula had shrunk back, startled by her friend's vehemence; but she now went up to him, and taking his hand with frank spirit, she said impressively:

"It is not so, Philippus, my dear, kind, only friend. The gorgeous flower you desire I can no longer give you—or any one. It is mine no longer; for when it had opened, once for all, cruel feet trod it down. Do not abuse your mirrored image; do not call yourself a clumsy fellow. The best and fairest might be proud of your love, just as you are. Am I not proud, shall I not always be proud of your friendship?"

"Friendship, friendship!" he retorted, snatching away his hand. "This burning, longing heart thirsts for other feelings! Oh, woman! I know the wretch who has trodden down the flower of flowers in your heart, and I, madman that I am, can sing his praises, can take his part; and cost what it may, I will still do so as long as you. . . . But perhaps the glorious flower may strike new roots in the soil of hatred and I, the hapless wretch who water it, may see it."

At this, Paula again took both his hands, and exclaimed in deep and painful agitation of mind:

"Say no more, I beg and entreat you. How can I live in peace here, under your protection and in constant intercourse with you, without knowing myself guilty of a breach of propriety such as the most sacred feelings of a young girl bid her avoid, if you persist in overstepping the limits which bound true and faithful friendship? I am a lonely girl and should give myself up to despair, as lost, if I could not take refuge in the belief that I can rely upon myself. Be satisfied with what I have to offer you, my friend, and may God reward you! Let us both remain worthy of the esteem which, thank Heaven! we are fully justified in feeling for each other."

The physician, deeply moved, bent his head; scarcely able to control himself, he pressed her firm white hand to his lips, while, just at this moment, Perpetua and the treasurer came into the room.

This worthy official—a perfectly commonplace man, neither tall nor short, neither old nor young, with a pale, anxious face, furrowed by work and responsibility, but shrewd and finely cut-glanced keenly at the pair, and then proceeded to lay a considerable sum in gold pieces before Paula. His young master had sent it, in obedience to his deceased father's wishes, for her immediate needs; the rest, the larger part of her fortune, with a full account, would be given over to her after the Mukaukas was buried. Nilus could, however, give her an approximate idea of the sum, and it was so considerable that Paula could not believe her ears. She now saw herself secure against external anxiety, nay, in such ease that she was justified in living at some expense.

Philippus was present throughout the interview, and it cut him to the heart. It had made him so happy to think that he was all in all to the poor orphan, and could shelter her against pressing want. He had been prepared to take upon himself the care of providing Paula with the home she had found and everything she could need; and now, as it turned out, his protege was not merely higher in rank than himself, but much richer.

He felt as though Orion's envoy had robbed him of the best joy in life. After introducing Paula to her worthy host and his family, he quitted the house of Rufinus with a very crushed aspect.

When night came Perpetua once more enjoyed the privilege of assisting her young mistress to undress; but Paula could not sleep, and when she joined her new friends next morning she told herself that here, if anywhere, was the place where she might recover her lost peace, but that she must still have a hard struggle and a long pilgrimage before she could achieve this.



ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

In whom some good quality or other may not be discovered Life is not a banquet



THE BRIDE OF THE NILE

By Georg Ebers

Volume 5.



CHAPTER XVII.

During all these hours Orion had been in the solitude of his own rooms. Next to them was little Mary's sleeping-room; he had not seen the child again since leaving his father's death-bed. He knew that she was lying there in a very feverish state, but he could not so far command himself as to enquire for her. When, now and again, he could not help thinking of her, he involuntarily clenched his fists. His soul was shaken to the foundations; desperate, beside himself, incapable of any thought but that he was the most miserable man on earth—that his father's curse had blighted him—that nothing could undo what had happened—that some cruel and inexorable power had turned his truest friend into a foe and had sundered them so completely that there was no possibility of atonement or of moving him to a word of pardon or a kindly glance—he paced the long room from end to end, flinging himself on his knees at intervals before the divan, and burying his burning face in the soft pillows. From time to time he could pray, but each time he broke off; for what Power in Heaven or on earth could unseal those closed eyes and stir that heart to beat again, that tongue to speak—could vouchsafe to him, the outcast, the one thing for which his soul thirsted and without which he thought he must die: Pardon, pardon, his father's pardon! Now and then he struck his forehead and heart like a man demented, with cries of anguish, curses and lamentations.

About midnight—it was but just twelve hours since that fearful scene, and to him it seemed like as many days—he threw himself on the couch, dressed as he was in the dark mourning garments, which he had half torn off in his rage and despair, and broke out into such loud groans that he himself was almost frightened in the silence of the night. Full of self-pity and horror at his own deep grief, he turned his face to the wall to screen his eyes from the clear, full moon, which only showed him things he did not want to see, while it hurt him.

His torture was beginning to be quite unbearable; he fancied his soul was actually wounded, riven, and torn; it had even occurred to him to seize his sharpest sword and throw himself upon it like Ajax in his fury—and like Cato—and so put a sudden end to this intolerable and overwhelming misery.

He started up for—surely it was no illusion, no mistake-the door of his room was softly opened and a white figure came in with noiseless, ghostly steps. He was a brave man, but his blood ran cold; however, in a moment he recognized his nocturnal visitor as little Mary. She came across the moonlight without speaking, but he exclaimed in a sharp tone:

"What is the meaning of this? What do you want?"

The child started and stood still in alarm, stretching out imploring hands and whispering timidly:

"I heard you lamenting. Poor, poor Orion! And it was I who brought it all on you, and so I could not stay in bed any longer—I must—I could not help. . . ." But she could say no more for sobs. Orion exclaimed:

"Very well, very well: go back to your own room and sleep. I will try not to groan so loud."

He ended his speech in a less rough tone, for he observed that the child had come to see him, though she was ill, with bare feet and only in her night-shift, and was trembling with cold, excitement, and grief. Mary, however, stood still, shook her head, and replied, still weeping though less violently:

"No, no. I shall stop here and not go away till you tell me that you—Oh, God, you never can forgive me, but still I must say it, I must."

With a sudden impulse she ran straight up to him, threw her arms round his neck, laid her head against his, and then, as he did not immediately push her away, kissed his cheeks and brow.

At this a strange feeling came over him; he himself did not know what it was, but it was as though something within him yielded and gave way, and the moisture which felt warm in his eyes and on his cheeks was not from the child's tears but his own. This lasted through many minutes of silence; but at last he took the little one's arms from about his neck, saying:

"How hot your hands and your cheeks are, poor thing! You are feverish, and the night air blows in chill—you will catch fresh cold by this mad behavior."

He had controlled his tears with difficulty, and as he spoke, in broken accents, he carefully wrapped her in the black robe he had thrown off and said kindly:

"Now, be calm, and I will try to compose myself. You did not mean any harm, and I owe you no grudge. Now go; you will not feel the draught in the anteroom with that wrap on. Go; be quick."

"No, no," she eagerly replied. "You must let me say what I have to say or I cannot sleep. You see I never thought of hurting you so dreadfully, so horribly—never, never! I was angry with you, to be sure, because—but when I spoke I really and truly did not think of you, but only of poor Paula. You do not know how good she is, and grandfather was so fond of her before you came home; and he was lying there and going to die so soon, and I knew that he believed Paula to be a thief and a liar, and it seemed to me so horrible, so unbearable to see him close his eyes with such a mistake in his mind, such an injustice!—Not for his sake, oh no! but for Paula's; so then I—Oh Orion! the Merciful Saviour is my witness, I could not help it; if I had had to die for it I could not have helped it! I should have died, if I had not spoken!"

"And perhaps it was well that you spoke," interrupted the young man, with a deep sigh. "You see, child, your lost father's miserable brother is a ruined man and it matters little about him; but Paula, who is a thousand times better than I am, has at least had justice done her; and as I love her far more dearly than your little heart can conceive of, I will gladly be friends with you again: nay, I shall be more fond of you than ever. That is nothing great or noble, for I need love—much love to make life tolerable. The best love a man may have I have forfeited, fool that I am! and now dear, good little soul, I could not bear to lose yours! So there is my hand upon it; now, give me another kiss and then go to bed and sleep."

But still Mary would not do his bidding, but only thanked him vehemently and then asked with sparkling eyes:

"Really, truly? Do you love Paula so dearly?" At this point however she suddenly checked herself. "And little Katharina. . ."

"Never mind about that," he replied with a sigh. "And learn a lesson from all this. I, you see, in an hour of recklessness did a wrong thing; to hide it I had to do further wrong, till it grew to a mountain which fell on me and crushed me. Now, I am the most miserable of men and I might perhaps have been the happiest. I have spoilt my own life by my own folly, weakness, and guilt; and I have lost Paula, who is dearer to me than all the other creatures on earth put together. Yes, Mary, if she had been mine, your poor uncle would have been the most enviable fellow in the world, and he might have been a fine fellow, too, a man of great achievements. But as it is!—Well, what is done cannot be undone! Now go to bed child; you cannot understand it all till you are older."

"Oh I understand it already and much better perhaps than you suppose," cried the ten years' old child. "And if you love Paula so much why should not she love you? You are so handsome, you can do so many things, every one likes you, and Paula would have loved you, too, if only. . . . Will you promise not to be angry with me, and may I say it?"

"Speak out, little simpleton."

"She cannot owe you any grudge when she knows how dreadfully you are suffering on her account and that you are good at heart, and only that once ever did—you know what. Before you came home, grandfather said a hundred times over what a joy you had been to him all your life through, and now, now. . . . Well, you are my uncle, and I am only a stupid little girl; still, I know that it will be just the same with you as it was with the prodigal son in the Bible. You and grandfather parted in anger. . . ."

"He cursed me," Orion put in gloomily.

"No, no! For I heard every word he said. He only spoke of your evil deed in those dreadful words and bid you go out of his sight."

"And what is the difference—Cursed or outcast?"

"Oh! a very great difference! He had good reason to be angry with you; but the prodigal son in the Bible became his father's best beloved, and he had the fatted calf slain for him and forgave him all; and so will grandfather in heaven forgive, if you are good again, as you used to be to him and to all of us. Paula will forgive you, too; I know her—you will see. Katharina loved you of course; but she, dear Heaven! She is almost as much a child as I am; and if only you are kind to her and make her some pretty present she will soon be comforted. She really deserves to be punished for bearing false witness, and her punishment cannot, at any rate, be so heavy as yours."

These words from the lips of an innocent child could not but fall like seed corn on the harrowed field of the young man's tortured soul and refresh it as with morning dew. Long after Mary had gone to rest he lay thinking them over.



CHAPTER XVIII.

The funeral rites over the body of the deceased Mukaukas were performed on the day after the morrow. Since the priesthood had forbidden the old heathen practice of mummifying the dead, and even cremation had been forbidden by the Antonines, the dead had to be interred soon after decease; only those of high rank were hastily embalmed and lay in state in some church or chapel to which they had contributed an endowment. Mukaukas George was, by his own desire, to be conveyed to Alexandria and there buried in the church of St. John by his father's side; but the carrier pigeon, by which the news of the governor's death had been sent to the Patriarch, had returned with instructions to deposit the body in the family tomb at Memphis, as there were difficulties in the way of the fulfillment of his wishes.

Such a funeral procession had not been seen there within the memory of man. Even the Moslem viceroy, the great general Amru, came over from the other side of the Nile, with his chief military and civil officers, to pay the last honors to the just and revered governor. Their brown, sinewy figures, and handsome calm faces, their golden helmets and shirts of mail, set with precious stones—trophies of the war of destruction in Persia and Syria—their magnificent horses with splendid trappings, and the authoritative dignity of their bearing made a great impression on the crowd. They arrived with slow and impressive solemnity; they returned like a cloud driven before the storm, galloping homewards from the burial-ground along the quay, and then thundering and clattering over the bridge of boats. Vivid and dazzling lightnings had flashed through the wreaths of white dust that shrouded them, as their gold armor reflected the sun. Verily, these horsemen, each of them worthy to be a prince in his pride, could find it no very hard task to subdue the mightiest realms on earth.

Men and women alike had gazed at them with trembling admiration: most of all at the heroic stature and noble dusky face of Amru, and at the son of the deceased Mukaukas, who, by the Moslem's desire, rode at his side in mourning garb on a fiery black horse.

The handsome youth, and the lordly, powerful man were a pair from whom the women were loth to turn their eyes; for both alike were of noble demeanor, both of splendid stature, both equally skilled in controlling the impatience of their steeds, both born to command. Many a Memphite was more deeply impressed by the head of the famous warrior, erect on a long and massive throat, with its sharply-chiselled aquiline nose and flashing black eyes, than by the more regular features and fine, slightly-waving locks of the governor's son—the last representative of the oldest and proudest race in all Egypt.

The Arab looked straight before him with a steady, commanding gaze; the youth, too, looked up and forwards, but turned from time to time to survey the crowd of mourners. As he caught sight of Paula, among the group of women who had joined the procession, a gleam of joy passed over his pale face, and a faint flush tinged his cheeks; his fixed outlook had knit his brows and had given his features an expression of such ominous sternness that one and another of the bystanders whispered:

"Our gay and affable young lord will make a severe ruler."

The cause of his indignation had not escaped the notice either of his noble companion or of the crowd. He alone knew as yet that the Patriarch had prohibited the removal of his father's remains to Alexandria; but every one could see that the larger portion of the priesthood of Memphis were absent from this unprecedented following. The Bishop alone marched in front of the six horses drawing the catafalque on which the costly sarcophagus was conveyed to the burying-place, in accordance with ancient custom:—Bishop Plotinus, with John, a learned and courageous priest, and a few choristers bearing a crucifix and chanting psalms.

On arriving at the Necropolis they all dismounted, and the barefooted runners in attendance on the Arabs came forward to hold the horses. By the tomb the Bishop pronounced a few warm words of eulogy, after which the thin chant of the choristers sounded trivial and meagre enough; but scarcely had they ceased when the crowd uplifted its many thousand voices, and a hymn of mourning rang out so loud and grand that this burial ground had scarcely ever heard the like. The remaining ceremonies were hasty and incomplete, since the priests who were indispensable to their performance had not made their appearance.

Amru, whose falcon eye nothing could escape, at once noted the omission and exclaimed, in so loud and inconsiderate a voice that it could be heard even at some distance.

"The dead is made to atone for what the living, in his wisdom, did for his country's good, hand-in-hand with us Moslems."

"By the Patriarch's orders," replied Orion, and his voice quavered, while the veins in his forehead swelled with rage. "But I swear, by my father's soul, that as surely as there is a just God, it shall be an evil day for Benjamin when he closes the gate of Heaven against this noblest of noble souls."

"We carry the key of ours under our own belt," replied the general, striking his deep chest, while he smiled consciously and with a kindly eye on the young man. "Come and see me on Saturday, my young friend; I have something to say to you! I shall expect you at sundown at my house over there. If I am not at home by dusk, you must wait for me."

As he spoke he twisted his hand in his horse's mane and Orion prepared to assist him to mount; but the Arab, though a man of fifty, was too quick for him. He flung himself into the saddle as lightly as a youth, and gave his followers the signal for departure.

Paula had been standing close to the entrance of the tomb with Dame Neforis, and she had heard every word of the dialogue between the two men. Pale, as she beheld him, in costly but simple, flowing, mourning robes, stricken by solemn and manly indignation, it was impossible that she should not confess that the events of the last days had had a powerful effect on the misguided youth.

When Paula had led the grief-worn but tearless widow to her chariot, and had then returned home with Perpetua, the image of the handsome and wrathful youth as he lifted his powerful arm and tightly-clenched fist and shook them in the air, still constantly haunted her. She had not failed to observe that he had seen her standing opposite to him by the open tomb and she had been able to avoid meeting his eye; but her heart had throbbed so violently that she still felt it quivering, she had not succeeded in thinking of the beloved dead with due devotion.

Orion, as yet, had neither come near her in her peaceful retreat, nor sent any messenger to deliver her belongings, and this she thought very natural; for she needed no one to tell her how many claims there must be on his time.

But though, before the funeral, she had firmly resolved to refuse to see him if he came, and had given her nurse fall powers to receive from his hand the whole of her property, after the ceremony this line of conduct no longer struck her as seemly; indeed, she considered it no more than her duty to the departed not to repel Orion if he should crave her forgiveness.

And there was another thing which she owed to her uncle. She desired to be the first to point out to Orion, from Philip's point of view, that life was a post, a duty; and then, if his heart seemed opened to this admonition, then—but no, this must be all that could pass between them—then all must be at an end, extinct, dead, like the fires in a sunken raft, like a soap-bubble that the wind has burst, like an echo that has died away—all over and utterly gone.

And as to the counsel she thought of offering to the man she had once looked up to? What right had she to give it? Did he not look like a man quite capable of planning and living his own life in his own strength? Her heart thirsted for him, every fibre of her being yearned to see him again, to hear his voice, and it was this longing, this craving to which she gave the name of duty, connecting it with the gratitude she owed to the dead.

She was so much absorbed in these reflections and doubts that she scarcely heard all the garrulous old nurse was saying as she walked by her side.

Perpetua could not be easy over such a funeral ceremony as this; so different to anything that Memphis had been wont to see. No priests, a procession on horseback, mourners riding, and among them the son even of the dead—while of old the survivors had always followed the body on foot, as was everywhere the custom! And then a mere chirping of crickets at the tomb of such illustrious dead, followed by the disorderly squalling of an immense mob—it had nearly cracked her ears! However, the citizens might be forgiven for that, since it was all in honor of their departed governor!—this thought touched even her resolute heart and brought the tears to her eyes; but it roused her wrath, too, for had she not seen quite humble folk buried in a more solemn manner and with worthier ceremonial than the great and good Mukaukas George, who had made such a magnificent gift to the Church. Oh those Jacobites! They only were capable of such ingratitude, only their heretical prelate could commit such a crime. Every one in the Convent of St. Cecilia, from the abbess down to the youngest novice, knew that the Patriarch had sent word by a carrier pigeon forbidding the Bishop to allow the priests to take part in the ceremony. Plotinus was a worthy man, and he had been highly indignant at these instructions; it was not in his power to contravene them; but at any rate he had led the procession in person, and had not forbidden John's accompanying him. Orion, however, had not looked as though he meant to brook such an insult to his father or let it pass unpunished. And whose arm was long enough to reach the Patriarch's throne if not. . . . But no, it was impossible! the mere thought of such a thing made her blood run cold. Still, still. . . . And how graciously the Moslem leader had talked with him!—Merciful Heaven! If he were to turn apostate from the holy Christian faith, like so many reprobate Egyptians, and subscribe to the wicked doctrines of the Arabian false prophet! It was a tempting creed for shameless men, allowing them to have half a dozen wives or more without regarding it as a sin. A man like Orion could afford to keep them, of course; for the abbess had said that every one knew that the great Mukaukas was a very rich man, though even the chief magistrate of the city could not fully satisfy himself concerning the enormous amount of property left. Well, well; God's ways were past finding out. Why should He smother one under heaps of gold, while He gave thousands of poor creatures too little to satisfy their hunger!

By the end of this torrent of words the two women had reached the house; and not till then was Paula clear in her own mind: Away, away with the passion which still strove for the mastery, whether it were in deed hatred or love! For she felt that she could not rightly enjoy her recovered freedom, her new and quiet happiness in the pretty home she owed to the physician's thoughtful care, till she had finally given up Orion and broken the last tie that had bound her to his house.

Could she desire anything more than what the present had to offer her? She had found a true haven of rest where she lacked for nothing that she could desire for herself after listening to the admonitions of Philip pus. Round her were good souls who felt with and for her, many occupations for which she was well-fitted, and which suited her tastes, with ample opportunities of bestowing and winning love. Then, a few steps through pleasant shades took her to the convent where she could every day attend divine service among pious companions of her own creed, as she had done in her childhood. She had longed intensely for such food for the spirit, and the abbess—who was the widow of a distinguished patrician of Constantinople and had known Paula's parents—could supply it in abundance. How gladly she talked to the girl of the goodness and the beauty of those to whom she owed her being and whom she had so early lost! She could pour out to this motherly soul all that weighed on her own, and was received by her as a beloved daughter of her old age.

And her hosts—what kind-hearted though singular folks! nay, in their way, remarkable. She had never dreamed that there could be on earth any beings at once so odd and so lovable.

First there was old Rufinus, the head of the house, a vigorous, hale old man, who, with his long silky, snow-white hair and beard, looked something like the aged St. John and something like a warrior grown grey in service. What an amiable spirit of childlike meekness he had, in spite of the rough ways he sometimes fell into. Though inclined to be contradictory in his intercourse with his fellow-men, he was merry and jocose when his views were opposed to theirs. She had never met a more contented soul or a franker disposition, and she could well understand how much it must fret and gall such a man to live on,—day after day, appearing, in one respect at any rate, different from what he really was. For he, too, belonged to her confession; but, though he sent his wife and daughter to worship in the convent chapel, he himself was compelled to profess himself a Coptic Christian, and submit to the necessity of attending a Jacobite church with all his family on certain holy days, averse as he was to its unattractive form of worship.

Rufinus possessed a sufficient fortune to secure him a comfortable maintenance; and yet he was hard at work, in his own way, from morning till night. Not that his labors brought him any revenues; on the contrary, they led to claims on his resources; every one knew that he was a man of good means, and this would have certainly involved him in persecution if the Patriarch's spies had discovered him to be a Melchite, resulting in exile and probably the confiscation of his goods. Hence it was necessary to exercise caution, and if the old man could have found a purchaser for his house and garden, in a city where there were ten times as many houses empty as occupied, he would long since have set out with all his household to seek a new home.

Most aged people of vehement spirit and not too keen intellect, adopt a saying as a stop-gap or resting-place, and he was fond of using two phrases one of which ran: "As sure as man is the standard of all things" and the other—referring to his house—"As sure as I long to be quit of this lumber." But the lumber consisted of a well-built and very spacious dwellinghouse, with a garden which had commanded a high price in earlier times on account of its situation near the river. He himself had acquired it at very small cost shortly before the Arab incursion, and—so quickly do times change—he had actually bought it from a Jacobite Christian who had been forced by the Melchite Patriarch Cyrus, then in power, to fly in haste because he had found means to convert his orthodox slaves to his confession.

It was Philippus who had persuaded his accomplished and experienced friend to come to Memphis; he had clung to him faithfully, and they assisted each other in their works.

Rufinus' wife, a frail, ailing little woman, with a small face and rather hollow cheeks, who must once have been very attractive and engaging, might have passed for his daughter; she was, in fact, twenty years younger than her husband. It was evident that she had suffered much in the course of her life, but had taken it patiently and all for the best. Her restless husband had caused her the greatest trouble and alarms, and yet she exerted herself to the utmost to make his life pleasant. She had the art of keeping every obstacle and discomfort out of his way, and guessed with wonderful instinct what would help him, comfort him, and bring him joy. The physician declared that her stooping attitude, her bent head, and the enquiring expression of her bright, black eyes were the result of her constant efforts to discover even a straw that might bring harm to Rufinus if his callous and restless foot should tread on it.

Their daughter Pulcheria, was commonly called "Pul" for short, to save time, excepting when the old man spoke of her by preference as "the poor child." There was at all times something compassionate in his attitude towards his daughter; for he rarely looked at her without asking himself what could become of this beloved child when he, who was so much older, should have closed his eyes in death and his Joanna perhaps should soon have followed him; while Pulcheria, seeing her mother take such care of her father that nothing was left for her to do, regarded herself as the most superfluous creature on earth and would have been ready at any time to lay down her life for her parents, for the abbess, for her faith, for the leech; nay, and though she had known her for no more than two days, even for Paula. However, she was a very pretty, well-grown girl, with great open blue eyes and a dreamy expression, and magnificent red-gold hair which could hardly be matched in all Egypt. Her father had long known of her desire to enter the convent as a novice and become a nursing sister; but though he had devoted his whole life to a similar impulse, he had more than once positively refused to accede to her wishes, for he must ere long be gathered to his fathers and then her mother, while she survived him, would want some one else to wear herself out for.

Just now "Pul" was longing less than usual to take the veil; for she had found in Paula a being before whom she felt small indeed, and to whom her unenvious soul, yearning and striving for the highest, could look up in satisfied and rapturous admiration. In addition to this, there were under her own roof two sufferers needing her care: Rustem, the wounded Masdakite, and the Persian girl. Neforis, who since the fearful hour of her husband's death had seemed stunned and indifferent to all the claims of daily life, living only in her memories of the departed, had been more than willing to leave to the physician the disposal of these two and their removal from her house.

In the evening after Paula's arrival Philippus had consulted with his friends as to the reception of these new guests, and the old man had interrupted him, as soon as he raised the question of pecuniary indemnification, exclaiming:

"They are all very welcome. If they have wounds, we will make them heal; if their heads are turned, we will screw them the right way round; if their souls are dark, we will light up a flame in them. If the fair Paula takes a fancy to us, she and her old woman may stay as long as it suits her and us. We made her welcome with all our hearts; but, on the other hand, you must understand that we must be free to bid her farewell—as free as she is to depart. It is impossible ever to know exactly how such grand folks will get on with humble ones, and as sure as I long to be quit of this piece of lumber I might one day take it into my head to leave it to the owls and jackals and fare forth, staff in hand.—You know me. As to indemnification—we understand each other. A full purse hangs behind the sick, and the sound one has ten times more than she needs, so they may pay. You must decide how much; only—for the women's sake, and I mean it seriously—be liberal. You know what I need Mammon for; and it would be well for Joanna if she had less need to turn over every silver piece before she spends it in the housekeeping. Besides, the lady herself will be more comfortable if she contributes to pay for the food and drink. It would ill beseem the daughter of Thomas to be down every evening under the roof of such birds of passage as we are with thanks for favors received. When each one pays his share we stand on a footing of give and take; and if either one feels any particular affection to another it is not strangled by 'thanks' or 'take it;' it is love for love's sake and a joy to both parties."

"Amen," said the leech; and Paula had been quite satisfied by her friend's arrangements.

By the next day she felt herself one of the household, though she every hour found something that could not fail to strike her as strange.



CHAPTER XIX.

When Paula had eaten with Rufinus and his family after the funeral ceremonies, she went into the garden with Pul and the old man—it had been impossible to induce Perpetua to sit at the same table with her mistress. The sun was now low, and its level beams gave added lustre to the colors of the flowers and to the sheen of the thick, metallic foliage of the south, which the drought and scorching heat had still spared. A bright-hued humped ox and an ass were turning the wheel which raised cooling waters from the Nile and poured them into a large tank from which they flowed through narrow rivulets to irrigate the beds. This toil was now very laborious, for the river had fallen to so low a level as to give cause for anxiety, even at this season of extreme ebb. Numbers of birds with ruffled feathers, with little splints on their legs, or with sadly drooping heads, were going to roost in small cages hung from the branches to protect them from cats and other beasts of prey; to each, as he went by, Rufinus spoke a kindly word, or chirruped to encourage and cheer it. Aromatic odors filled the garden, and rural silence; every object shone in golden glory, even the black back of the negro working at the water-wheel, and the white and yellow skin of the ox; while the clear voices of the choir of nuns thrilled through the convent-grove. Pul listened, turning her face to meet it, and crossing her arms over her heart. Her father pointed to her as he said to Paula:

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