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Title: The Bride of the Nile — Complete
Author: Ebers, Georg
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE BRIDE OF THE NILE

By Georg Ebers


Translated from the German by Clara Bell



PREFACE.

The “Bride of the Nile” needs no preface. For the professional student I
may observe that I have relied on the authority of de Goeje in adhering
to my own original opinion that the word Mukaukas is not to be regarded
as a name but as a title, since the Arab writers to which I have made
reference apply it to the responsible representatives of the Byzantine
Emperor in antagonism to the Moslem power. I was unfortunately unable to
make further use of Karabacek’s researches as to the Mukaukas.

I shall not be held justified in placing the ancient Horus Apollo
(Horapollo) in the seventh century after Christ by any one who
regards the author of the Hieroglyphica as identical with the Egyptian
philosopher of the same name who, according to Suidas, lived under
Theodosius, and to whom Stephanus of Byzantium refers, writing so
early as at the end of the fifth century. But the lexicographer Suidas
enumerates the works of Horapollo, the philologer and commentator
on Greek poetry, without naming the Hieroglyphica, which is the only
treatise alluded to by Stephanus. Besides, all the other ancient writers
who mention Horapollo at all leave us quite free to suppose that there
may have been two sages of the same name--as does C. Leemans, who is
most intimately versed in the Hieroglyphica--and the second certainly
cannot have lived earlier than the VIIth century, since an accurate
knowledge of hieroglyphic writing must have been lost far more
completely in his time than we can suppose possible in the IVth century.
It must be remembered that we still possess well-executed hieroglyphic
inscriptions dating from the time of Decius, 250 years after Christ.
Thus the Egyptian commentator on Greek poetry could hardly have needed a
translator, whereas the Hieroglyphica seems to have been first rendered
into Greek by Philippus. The combination by which the author called
in Egyptian Horus (the son of Isis) is supposed to have been born in
Philae, where the cultus of the Egyptian heathen was longest practised,
and where some familiarity with hieroglyphics must have been preserved
to a late date, takes into due account the real state of affairs at the
period I have selected for my story.

                       GEORG EBERS.
   October 1st, 1886.



BOOK 1.



CHAPTER I.

Half a lustrum had elapsed since Egypt had become subject to the
youthful power of the Arabs, which had risen with such unexampled vigor
and rapidity. It had fallen an easy prey, cheaply bought, into the
hands of a small, well-captained troop of Moslem warriors; and the fair
province, which so lately had been a jewel of the Byzantine Empire and
the most faithful foster-mother to Christianity, now owned the sway of
the Khalif Omar and saw the Crescent raised by the side of the Cross.

It was long since a hotter season had afflicted the land; and the Nile,
whose rising had been watched for on the Night of Dropping--the 17th of
June--with the usual festive preparations, had cheated the hopes of the
Egyptians, and instead of rising had shrunk narrower and still narrower
in its bed.--It was in this time of sore anxiety, on the 10th of July,
A.D. 643, that a caravan from the North reached Memphis.

It was but a small one; but its appearance in the decayed and deserted
city of the Pyramids--which had grown only lengthwise, like a huge
reed-leaf, since its breadth was confined between the Nile and the
Libyan Hills--attracted the gaze of the passers-by, though in former
years a Memphite would scarcely have thought it worth while to turn his
head to gaze at an interminable pile of wagons loaded with merchandise,
an imposing train of vehicles drawn by oxen, the flashing maniples of
the imperial cavalry, or an endless procession wending its way down the
five miles of high street.

The merchant who, riding a dromedary of the choicest breed, conducted
this caravan, was a lean Moslem of mature age, robed in soft silk. A
vast turban covered his small head and cast a shadow over his delicate
and venerable features.

The Egyptian guide who rode on a brisk little ass by his side, looked
up frequently and with evident pleasure at the merchant’s face--not in
itself a handsome one with its hollow cheeks, meagre beard and large
aquiline nose--for it was lighted up by a pair of bright eyes, full
of attractive thoughtfulness and genuine kindness. But that this
fragile-looking man, in whose benevolent countenance grief and
infirmities had graven many a furrow, could not only command but compel
submission was legible alike in his thin, firmly-closed lips and in the
zeal with which his following of truculent and bearded fighting men,
armed to the teeth, obeyed his slightest sign.

His Egyptian attendant, the head of the Hermeneutai--the guild of the
Dragomans of that period--was a swarthy and surly native of Memphis;
whenever he accidentally came too close to the fierce-looking riders of
the dromedaries he shrunk his shoulders as if he expected a blow or a
push, while he poured out question and answer to the Merchant Haschim,
the owner of the caravan, without timidity and with the voluble
garrulity of his tribe.

“You seem very much at home here in Memphis,” he observed, when the old
man had expressed his surprise at the decadence and melancholy change in
the city.

“Thirty years ago,” replied the merchant, “my business often brought me
hither. How many houses are now empty and in ruins where formerly only
heavy coin could secure admittance! Ruins on all sides!--Who has so
cruelly mutilated that fine church? My fellow-believers left every
Christian fane untouched--that I know from our chief Amru himself.”

“It was the principal church of the Melchites, the Emperor’s minions,”
 cried the guide, as if that were ample explanation of the fact. The
merchant, however, did not take it so.

“Well,” he said, “and what is there so dreadful in their creed?”

“What?” said the Egyptian, and his eye flashed wrathfully. “What?--They
dismember the divine person of the Saviour and attribute to it two
distinct natures. And then!--All the Greeks settled here, and encouraged
by the protection of the emperor, treated us, the owners of the land,
like slaves, till your nation came to put an end to their oppression.
They drove us by force into their churches, and every true-born Egyptian
was punished as a rebel and a leper. They mocked at us and persecuted us
for our faith in the one divine nature of our Lord.”

“And so,” interrupted the merchant, “as soon as we drove out the
Greeks you behaved more unmercifully to them and their sanctuaries than
we--whom you scorn as infidels--did to you!”

“Mercy?--for them!” cried the Egyptian indignantly, as he cast an evil
eye on the demolished edifice. “They have reaped what they sowed; and
now every one in Egypt who does not believe in your One God--blessed be
the Saviour!--confesses the one sole nature of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You drove out the Melchite rabble, and then it was our part to demolish
the temples of their wretched Saviour, who lost His divine Unity at the
synod of Chalcedon--damnation wait upon it!”

“But still the Melchites are fellow-believers with you--they are
Christians,” said the merchant.

“Christians?” echoed the guide with a contemptuous shrug. “They may
regard themselves as Christians; but I, with every one else great and
small in this land, am of opinion that they have no right whatever to
call themselves our fellow-believers and Christians. They all are
and shall be for ever accursed with their hundreds--nay thousands of
devilish heresies, by which they degrade our God and Redeemer to the
level of that idol on the stone pillar. Half a cow and half a man! Why,
what rational being, I ask you, could pray to such a mongrel thing? We
Jacobites or Monophysites or whatever they choose to call us will not
yield a jot or tittle of the divine nature of our Lord and Saviour; and
if the old faith must die out, I will turn Moslem and be converted
to your One Omnipotent God; for before I confess the heresies of the
Melchites I will be hewn in pieces, and my wife and children with me.
Who knows what may be coming to pass? And there are many advantages in
going over to your side: for the power is in your hands, and long may
you keep it! We have got to be ruled by strangers; and who would not
rather pay small tribute to the wise and healthy Khalif at Medina than
a heavy one to the sickly imperial brood of Melchites at Constantinople.
The Mukaukas George, to be sure, is not a bad sort of man, and as he so
soon gave up all idea of resisting you he was no doubt of my opinion.
Regarding you as just and pious folks, as our next neighbors, and
perhaps even of our own race and blood, he preferred you--my brother
told me so--to those Byzantine heretics, flayers of men and thirsting
for blood, but yet, the Mukaukas is as good a Christian as breathes.”

The Arab had listened attentively and with a subtle smile to the
Memphite, whose duties as guide now compelled him to break off. The
Egyptian made the whole caravan turn down an alley that led into a
street running parallel to the river, where a few fine houses still
stood in the midst of their gardens. When men and beasts were making
their way along a better pavement the merchant observed: “I knew the
father of the man you were speaking of, very well. He was wealthy
and virtuous; of his son too I hear nothing but good. But is he
still allowed to bear the title of governor, or, what did you call
him?--Mukaukas?”

“Certainly, Master,” said the guide. “There is no older family than his
in all Egypt, and if old Menas was rich the Mukaukas is richer, both
by inheritance and by his wife’s dower. Nor could we wish for a more
sensible or a juster governor! He keeps his eye on his underlings too;
still, business is not done now as briskly as formerly, for though he
is not much older than I am--and I am not yet sixty--he is always ailing
and has not been seen out of the house for months. Even when your chief
wants to see him he comes over to this side of the river. It is a pity
with such a man as he; and who was it that broke down his stalwart
strength? Why, those Melchite dogs; you may ask all along the Nile, long
as it is, who was at the bottom of any misfortune, and you will always
get the same answer: Wherever the Melchite or the Greek sets foot the
grass refuses to grow.”

“But the Mukaukas, the emperor’s representative... the Arab began. The
Egyptian broke in however:

“He, you think, must be safe from them? They did not certainly injure
his person; but they did worse, for when the Melchites rose up against
our party--it was at Alexandria, and the late Greek patriarch Cyrus
had a finger in that pie--they killed his two sons, two fine, splendid
men--killed them like dogs; and it crushed him completely.”

“Poor man!” sighed the Arab. “And has he no child left?”

“Oh, yes. One son, and the widow of his eldest. She went into a convent
after her husband’s death, but she left her child, her little Mary--she
must be ten years old now--to live with her grandparents.”

“That is well,” said the old man, “that will bring some sunshine into
the house.”

“No doubt, Master. And just lately they have had some cause for
rejoicing. The only surviving son--Orion is his name--came home only the
day before yesterday from Constantinople where he has been for a long
time. There was a to-do! Half the city went crazy. Thousands went out to
meet him, as though he were the Saviour; they erected triumphal arches,
even folks of my creed--no one thought of hanging back. One and all
wanted to see the son of the great Mukaukas, and the women of course
were first and foremost!”

“You speak, however,” said the Arab, “as though the returning hero were
not worthy of so much honor.”

“That is as folks think,” replied the Egyptian shrugging his shoulders.
“At any rate he is the only son of the greatest man in the land.”

“But he does not promise to be like the old man?”

“Oh, yes, indeed,” said the guide. “My brother, a priest, and the head
of one of our great schools, was his tutor, and he never met such a
clever head as Orion’s, he tells me. He learnt everything without any
trouble and at the same time worked as hard as a poor man’s son. We may
expect him to win fame and honor--so Marcus says--for his parents and
for the city of Memphis: but for my part, I can see the shady side, and
I tell you the women will turn his head and bring him to a bad end. He
is handsome, taller even than the old man in his best days, and he knows
how to make the most of himself when he meets a pretty face--and pretty
faces are always to be met in his path...”

“And the young rascal takes what he finds!” said the Moslem laughing.
“If that is all you are alarmed at I am glad for the youth. He is young
and such things are allowable.”

“Nay, Sir, even my brother--he lives now in Alexandria, and is blind and
foolish enough still in all that concerns his former pupil--and even
he thinks this is a dangerous rock ahead. If he does not change in this
respect he will wander further and further from the law of the Lord,
and imperil his soul, for dangers surround him on all sides like roaring
lions. The noble gifts of a handsome and engaging person will lead him
to his ruin; and though I do not desire it, I suspect....”

“You look on the dark side and judge hardly,” replied the old man. “The
young....”

“Even the young, or at least the Christian young, ought to control
themselves, though I, if any one, am inclined to make the utmost
allowance for the handsome lad--nay, and I may confess: when he smiles
at me I feel at once as if I had met with some good-luck; and there are
a thousand other men in Memphis who feel the same, and still more the
women you may be sure--but many a one has shed bitter tears on his
account for all that.--But, by all the saints!--Talk of the wolf and you
see his tail! Look, there he is!--Halt! Stop a minute, you men; it is
worth while, Sir, to tarry a moment.”

“Is that his fine quadriga in front of the high garden gate yonder?”

“Those are the Pannonian horses he brought with him, as swift as
lightning and as.... But look! Ah, now they have disappeared behind the
hedge; but you, high up on your dromedary, must be able to see them. The
little maid by his side is the widow Susannah’s daughter. This garden
and the beautiful mansion behind the trees belong to her.”

“A very handsome property!” said the Arab.

“I should think so indeed!” replied the Memphite. “The garden goes down
to the Nile, and then, what care is taken of it!”

“Was it not here that Philommon the corn-merchant lived formerly?” asked
the old man, as though some memories were coming back to him.

“To be sure. He was Susannah’s husband and must have been a man of fifty
when he first wooed her. The little girl is their only child and the
richest heiress in the whole province; but she is not altogether grown
up though she is sixteen years old--an old man’s child, you understand,
but a pretty, merry creature, a laughing dove in human form, and so
quick and lively. Her own people call her the little water-wagtail.”

“Good!--Good and very appropriate,” said the merchant well pleased. “She
is small too, a child rather than a maiden; but the graceful, gladsome
creature takes my fancy. And the governor’s son--what is his name?”

“Orion, Sir,” replied the guide.

“And by my beard,” said the old man smiling. “You have not over-praised
him, man! Such a youth as this Orion is not to be seen every day. What
a tall fellow, and how becoming are those brown curls. Such as he are
spoilt to begin with by their mothers, and then all the other women
follow suit. And he has a frank, shrewd face with something behind it.
If only he had left his purple coat and gold frippery in Constantinople!
Such finery is out of place in this dismal ruinous city.”

While he was yet speaking the Memphite urged his ass forward, but the
Arab held him back, for his attention was riveted by what was taking
place within the enclosure. He saw handsome Orion place a small white
dog, a silky creature of great beauty that evidently belonged to him--in
the little maiden’s arms saw her kiss it and then put a blade of grass
round its neck as if to measure its size. The old man watched them as,
both laughing gaily, they looked into each other’s eyes and presently
bid each other farewell. The girl stood on tiptoe in front of some rare
shrub to reach two exquisite purple flowers that blossomed at the top,
hastily plucked them and offered them to him with a deep blush; she
pushed away the hand he had put out to support her as she stretched
up for the flowers with a saucy slap; and a bright glance of happiness
lighted up her sweet face as the young man kissed the place her fingers
had hit, and then pressed the flowers to his lips. The old man looked on
with sympathetic pleasure, as though it roused the sweetest memories in
his mind; and his kind eyes shone as Orion, no less mischievously happy
than the young girl, whispered something in her ear; she drew the long
stem of grass out of her waist-belt to administer immediate and condign
punishment withal, struck it across his face, and then fled over
grass-plot and flower-bed, as swift as a roe, without heeding his
repeated shouts of “Katharina! bewitching, big damsel, Katharina!” till
she reached the house.

It was a charming little interlude. Old Haschim was still pondering it
in his memory with much satisfaction when he and his caravan had gone
some distance further. He felt obliged to Orion for this pretty scene,
and when he heard the young man’s quadriga approaching at an easy trot
behind him, he turned round to gaze. But the Arab’s face had lost its
contentment by the time the four Pannonians and the chariot, overlaid
with silver ornamentation and forming, with its driver, a picture of
rare beauty and in perfect taste, had slowly driven past, to fly on
like the wind as soon as the road was clear, and to vanish presently
in clouds of dust. There was something of melancholy in his voice as he
desired his young camel-driver to pick up the flowers, which now lay in
the dust of the road, and to bring them to him. He himself had observed
the handsome youth as, with a glance and a gesture of annoyance with
himself, he flung the innocent gift on the hot, sandy highway.

“Your brother is right,” cried the old man to the Memphite. “Women are
indeed the rock ahead in this young fellow’s life--and he in theirs, I
fear! Poor little girl!”

“The little water-wagtail do you mean? Oh! with her it may perhaps turn
to real earnest. The two mothers have settled the matter already. They
are both rolling in gold, and where doves nest doves resort.--Thank God,
the sun is low down over the Pyramids! Let your people rest at the
large inn yonder; the host is an honest man and lacks nothing, not even
shade!”

“So far as the beasts and drivers are concerned,” said the merchant,
“they may stop here. But I, and the leader of the caravan, and some of
my men will only take some refreshment, and then you must guide us to
the governor; I have to speak with him. It is growing late...”

“That does not matter,” said the Egyptian. “The Mukaukas prefers to
see strangers after sundown on such a scorching day. If you have any
dealings with him I am the very man for you. You have only to make
play with a gold piece and I can obtain you an audience at once through
Sebek, the house-steward he is my cousin. While you are resting here
I will ride on to the governor’s palace and bring you word as to how
matters stand.”



CHAPTER II.

The caravansary into which Haschim and his following now turned off
stood on a plot of rising ground surrounded by palm-trees. Before the
destruction of the heathen sanctuaries it had been a temple of Imhotep,
the Egyptian Esculapius, the beneficient god of healing, who had had
his places of special worship even in the city of the dead. It was half
relined, half buried in desert sand when an enterprising inn-keeper had
bought the elegant structure with the adjacent grove for a very moderate
sum. Since then it had passed to various owners, a large wooden building
for the accommodation of travellers had been added to the massive
edifice, and among the palm-trees, which extended as far as the
ill-repaired quay, stables were erected and plots of ground fenced in
for beasts of all kinds. The whole place looked like a cattle-fair, and
indeed it was a great resort of the butchers and horse-dealers of the
town, who came there to purchase. The palm-grove, being one of the
few remaining close to the city, also served the Memphites as a
pleasure-ground where they could “sniff fresh air” and treat themselves
in a pleasant shade. ‘Tables and seats had been set out close to the
river, and there were boats on hire in mine host’s little creek; and
those who took their pleasure in coming thither by water were glad to
put in and refresh themselves under the palms of Nesptah.

Two rows of houses had formerly divided this rendezvous for the sober
and the reckless from the highroad, but they had long since been pulled
down and laid level with the ground by successive landlords. Even now
some hundreds of laborers might be seen, in spite of the scorching heat,
toiling under Arab overseers to demolish a vast ruin of the date of the
Ptolemies and transporting the huge blocks of limestone and marble, and
the numberless columns which once had supported the roof of the temple
of Zeus, to the eastern shore of the Nile-loading them on to trucks
drawn by oxen which hauled them down to the quay to cross the river in
flat-bottomed boats.

Amru, the Khaliff’s general and representative, was there building his
new capital. For this the temples of the old gods were used as quarries,
and they supplied not only finely-squared blocks of the most durable
stone, but also myriads of Greek columns of every order, which had only
to be ferried over and set up again on the other shore; for the Arabs
disdained nothing in the way of materials, and made indiscriminate use
of blocks and pillars in their own sanctuaries, whether they took them
from heathen temples or Christian churches.

The walls of the temple of Imhotep had originally been completely
covered with pictures of the gods, and hieroglyphic inscriptions; but
the smoke of reeking hearths had long since blackened them, fanatical
hands had never been wanting to deface them, and in many places they had
been lime-washed and scrawled with Christian symbols or very unchristian
mottoes, in Greek and the spoken dialect of the Egyptians. The Arab
and his men took their meal in what had been the great hall of the
temple--none of them drinking wine excepting the captain of the caravan,
who was no Moslem but belonged to the Parsee sect of the Masdakites.

When the old merchant, sitting at a table by himself, had satisfied his
hunger, he called this chief and desired him to load the bale containing
the hanging on a litter between the two largest baggage camels, and to
fasten it securely but so that it could easily be removed.

“It is done,” replied the Persian, as he wiped his thick moustache--he
was a magnificent man as tall and stalwart as an oak, with light flowing
hair like a lion’s mane.

“So much the better,” said Haschim. “Then come out with me.” And he led
the way to the palmgrove.

The sun had sunk to rest behind the pyramids, the Necropolis, and the
Libyan hills; the eastern sky, and the bare limestone rock of Babylon on
the opposite shore were shining with hues of indescribable diversity and
beauty. It seemed as though every variety of rose reared by the skilled
gardeners of Arsinoe or Naukratis had yielded its hues, from golden buff
to crimson and the deepest wine-tinted violet, to shed their magic glow
on the plains, the peaks and gorges of the hills, with the swiftness of
thought.

The old man’s heart beat high as he gazed at the scene; he drew a deep
breath, and laying his slender hand on the Persian’s mighty arm he said:
“Your prophet, Masdak, taught that it was God’s will that no one should
think himself more or less chosen than another, and that there should be
neither rich nor poor on earth, but that every possession should belong
to all in common. Well, look around you here as I do. The man who has
not seen this has seen nothing. There is no fairer scene here below and
to whom does it belong? To poor simple Salech yonder, whom we allowed to
tramp half naked at our camels’ heels out of pity.--It is his as much
as it is yours or mine or the Khaliff’s. God has given us all an equal
share in the glory of his works, as your prophet would have it. How much
beauty is the common possession of our race! Let us be thankful for it,
Rustem, for indeed it is no small matter.--But as to property, such as
man may win or lose, that is quite a different matter. We all start on
the same race-course, and what you Masdakites ask is that lead should
be tied to the feet of the swift so that no one should outstrip another;
but that would be.... Well, well! Let us feast our eyes now on the
marvellous beauty before us. Look: What just now was the purple of this
flower is now deep ruby red; what before was a violet gleam now is the
richest amethyst. Do you see the golden fringe to those clouds? It is
like a setting.--And all this is ours--is yours and mine--so long as we
have eyes and heart to enjoy and be uplifted by it!”

The Masdakite laughed, a fresh, sonorous laugh, and said: “Yes, Master,
for those who see as you see. The colors are bright no doubt over the
sky and the hills, and we do not often see such a red as that at home in
my country; but of what use is all that magic show? You see rubies and
amethysts--but as for me! The gems in your hanging stand for something
more than that shining show. I mean no harm, Master, but I would give
all the sunsets that ever glowed on earth for your bales and never
repent of the bargain!” He laughed more heartily than before and added:
“But you, worthy Father, would think twice before you signed it.--As to
what we Masdakites hope for, our time is not yet come.”

“And suppose it were, and that the hanging were yours?”

“I should sell it and add the price to my savings, and go home and buy
some land, and take a pretty wife, and breed camels and horses.”

“And next day would come the poorer men who had laid nothing by, and
had made no bargain over hangings and sunsets; and they would ask for
a share of your land, and a camel and a foal each, and you would not
be able ever to see a sunset again but must wander about the world, and
your pretty wife with you to help you share everything with others.--Let
us abide by the old order, my Rustem, and may the Most High preserve you
your good heart, for you have but a foolish and crotchety head.”

The big man bent over his master and gratefully kissed his arm; at this
moment the guide rejoined them, but with a long face for he had promised
more than he could perform. The Mukaukas George had set out--a quite
unheard of event--for an excursion on the river in his barge, with
his son and the ladies of the house just as he was hoping to secure an
audience for the Arab. Orion’s return--the steward had explained--had
made the old man quite young again. Haschim must now wait till the
morrow, and he, the guide, would counsel him to pass the night in the
city at an inn kept by one Moschion, where he would be well cared for.

But the merchant preferred to remain where he was. He did not care
about the delay, more particularly as he wished to consult an Egyptian
physician with regard to an old standing complaint he suffered from,
and there was no more skilful or learned leech in the whole land, the
Egyptian guide assured him, than the famous Philip of Memphis. The
situation here, outside the town, was very pleasant, and from the
river’s bank he might observe the comet which had been visible for some
nights past--a portent of evil no doubt. The natives of the city
had been paralysed with terror; that indeed was evident even here in
Nesptah’s caravansary, for usually as the evening grew cool, the tables
and benches under the palms were crowded with guests; but who would care
to think of enjoyment in those days of dread?

So he remounted his ass to fetch the physician, while old Haschim,
leaning on the Masdakite’s arm, betook himself to a bench by the river.
There he sat gazing thoughtfully at the starry sky, and his companion
dreamed of home and of buying a meadow, even without the price of the
gorgeous hanging, of building a house, and of choosing a pretty little
wife to manage it. Should she be fair or dark? He would rather she
should be fair.

But his castle in the air was shattered at this point, for an object was
approaching across the Nile which attracted his attention, and which he
pointed out to his chief. The stream lay before them like a broad belt
of black and silver brocade. The waxing moon was mirrored in the almost
unruffled surface and where a ripple curled it the tiny crest glittered
like white flame. Bats swooped to and fro in the gloom from the city of
the dead to the river, and flitted above it like shadows blown about by
the wind. A few lateen sails moved like pale, gigantic birds over the
dark waters; but now from the north--and from the city--a larger mass
came towards the palm-grove with bright, gleaming eyes of light.

“A fine boat,--the governor’s no doubt,” said the merchant, as it slowly
came towards the grove from the middle of the stream. At the same
time the clatter of hoofs became audible from the road behind the inn.
Haschim turned round and was aware of torchbearers running ahead of a
chariot.

“The sick man has come so far by water,” said the Arab, “and now, he is
to be driven home.--Strange! this is the second time to-day that I have
met his much-talked-of son!”

The governor’s pleasure-barge was nearing the palm-grove. It was a large
and handsome boat, built of cedar-wood and richly gilt, with an image
of John, the patron-saint of the family, for a figure-head. The nimbus
round the head was a crown of lamps, and large lanterns shone both at
the bows and stern of the vessel. The Mukaukas George was reclining
under an awning, his wife Neforis by his side. Opposite to them sat
their son and a tall young girl, at whose feet a child of ten sat on the
ground, leaning her pretty head against her knees. An older Greek woman,
the child’s governess, had a place by the side of a very tall man, on an
ottoman beyond the verge of the awning. This man was Philip the leech.
The cheerful sound of the lute accompanied the barge, and the performer
was the returned wanderer Orion, who touched the strings with skill and
deep feeling.

It was altogether a pleasing scene--a fair picture of a wealthy and
united family. But who was the damsel sitting by Orion’s side? He was
devoting his whole attention to her; as he struck the strings with
deeper emphasis his eyes sought hers, and it seemed as though he were
playing for her alone. Nor did she appear unworthy of such homage, for
when the barge ran into the little haven and Haschim could distinguish
her features he was startled by her noble and purely Greek beauty.

A few handsomely-dressed slaves, who must have come with the vehicle by
the road, now went on board the boat to carry their invalid lord to his
chariot; and it then became apparent that the seat in which he reclined
was provided with arms by which it could be lifted and moved. A burly
negro took this at the back, but just as another was stooping to lift it
in front Orion pushed him away and took his place, raised the couch with
his father on it, and carried him across the landing-stage between the
deck and the shore, past Haschim to the chariot. The young man did the
work of bearer with cheerful ease, and looked affectionately at his
father while he shouted to the ladies--for only his mother and the
physician accompanied the invalid after carefully wrapping him in
shawls--to get out of the barge and wait for him. Then he went forward,
lighted by the torches which were carried before them.

“Poor man!” thought the merchant as he looked after the Mukaukas. “But
to a man who has such a son to carry him the saddest and hardest lot
floats by like a cloud before the wind.”

He was now ready to forgive Orion even the rejected flowers; and when
the young girl stepped on shore, the child clinging fondly to her arm,
he confessed to himself that Dame Susannah’s little daughter would find
it hard indeed to hold her own by the side of this tall and royal vision
of beauty. What a form was this maiden’s, and what princely bearing;
and how sweet and engaging the voice in which she named some of the
constellations to her little companion, and pointed out the comet which
was just rising!

Haschim was sitting in shadow; he could see without being seen, and
note all that took place on the bench, which was lighted by one of the
barge’s lanterns. The unexpected entertainment gave him pleasure, for
everything that affected the governor’s son roused his sympathy and
interest. The idea of forming an opinion of this remarkable young man
smiled on his fancy, and the sight of the beautiful girl who sat on the
bench yonder warmed his old heart. The child must certainly be Mary, the
governor’s granddaughter.

Then the chariot started off, clattering away down the road, and in a
few minutes Orion came back to the rest of the party.

Alas! Poor little heiress of Susannah’s wealth! How different was his
demeanor to this beautiful damsel from his treatment of that little
thing! His eyes rested on her face in rapture, his speech failed him now
and again as he addressed her, and what he said must be sometimes grave
and captivating and sometimes witty, for not she alone but the little
maid’s governess listened to him eagerly, and when the fair one laughed
it was in particularly sweet, clear tones. There was something so
lofty in her mien that this frank expression of contentment was almost
startling; like a breath of perfume from some gorgeous flower which
seems created to rejoice the eye only. And she, to whom all that Orion
had to say was addressed, listened to him not only with deep attention,
but in a way which showed the merchant that she cared even more for
the speaker than for what he was so eager in expressing. If this maiden
wedded the governor’s son, they would indeed be a pair! Taus, the
innkeeper’s wife, now came out, a buxom and vigorous Egyptian woman of
middle age, carrying some of the puffs for which she was famous, and
which she had just made with her own hands. She also served them with
milk, grapes and other fruit, her eyes sparkling with delight and
gratified ambition; for the son of the great Mukaukas, the pride of the
city, who in former years had often been her visitor, and not only for
the sake of her cakes, in water parties with his gay companions--mostly
Greek officers who now were all dead and gone or exiles from the
country--now did her the honor to come here so soon after his return.
Her facile tongue knew no pause as she told him that she and her husband
had gone forth with the rest to welcome him at the triumphal arch near
Menes’ Gate, and Emau with them, and the little one. Yes, Emau was
married now, and had called her first child Orion. And when the young
man asked Dame Taus whether Emau was as charming as ever and as like her
mother as she used to be, she shook her finger at him and asked in her
turn, as she pointed towards the young lady, whether the fickle bird at
whose departure so many had sighed, was to be caged at last, and whether
yon fair lady....

But Orion cut her short, saying that he was still his own master though
he already felt the noose round his neck; and the fair lady blushed even
more deeply than at the good woman’s first question. He however soon
got over his awkwardness and gaily declared that the worthy Taus’ little
daughter was one of the prettiest girls in Memphis, and had had quite as
many admirers as her excellent mother’s puff-pastry. Taus was to greet
her kindly from him.

The landlady departed, much touched and flattered; Orion took up his
lute, and while the ladies refreshed themselves he did the maiden’s
bidding and sang the song by Alcaeus which she asked for, in a rich
though subdued voice to the lute, playing it like a master. The young
girl’s eyes were fixed on his lips, and again, he seemed to be making
music for her alone. When it was time to start homewards, and the ladies
returned to the barge, he went up to the inn to pay the reckoning. As
he presently returned alone the Arab saw him pick up a handkerchief that
the young lady had left on the table, and hastily press it to his lips
as he went towards the barge.

The gorgeous red blossoms had fared worse in the morning. The young
man’s heart was given to that maiden on the water. She could not be his
sister; what then was the connection between them?

The merchant soon gained this information, for the guide on his return
could give it him. She was Paula, the daughter of Thomas, the famous
Greek general who had defended the city of Damascus so long and so
bravely against the armies of Islam. She was Mukaukas George’s niece,
but her fortune was small; she was a poor relation of the family, and
after her father’s disappearance--for his body had never been
found--she had been received into the governor’s house out of pity
and charity--she, a Melchite! The interpreter had little to say in her
favor, by reason of her sect; and though he could find no flaw in
her beauty, he insisted on it that she was proud and ungracious, and
incapable of winning any man’s love; only the child, little Mary--she,
to be sure, was very fond of her. It was no secret that even her uncle’s
wife, worthy Neforis, did not care for her haughty niece and only
suffered her to please the invalid. And what business had a Melchite
at Memphis, under the roof of a good Jacobite? Every word the dragoman
spoke breathed the scorn which a mean and narrow-minded man is always
ready to heap on those who share the kindness of his own benefactors.

But this beautiful and lofty-looking daughter of a great man had
conquered the merchant’s old heart, and his opinion of her was quite
unmoved by the Memphite’s strictures. It was ere long confirmed indeed,
for Philip, the leech whom the guide had been to find, and whose
dignified personality inspired the Arab with confidence, was a daily
visitor to the governor, and he spoke of Paula as one of the most
perfect creatures that Heaven had ever formed in a happy hour. But the
Almighty seemed to have forgotten to care for his own masterpiece; for
years her life had been indeed a sad one.

The physician could promise the old man some mitigation of his
sufferings, and they liked each other so well that they parted the best
of friends, and not till a late hour.



CHAPTER III.

The Mukaukas’ barge, urged forward by powerful rowers, made its way
smoothly down the river. On board there was whispering, and now and
again singing. Little Mary had dropped asleep on Paula’s shoulder; the
Greek duenna gazed sometimes at the comet which filled her with terrors,
sometimes at Orion, whose handsome face had bewitched her mature heart,
and sometimes at the young girl whom she was ill-pleased to see thus
preferred by this favorite of the gods. It was a deliciously warm, still
night, and the moon, which makes the ocean swell and flow, stirs the
tide of feeling to rise in the human breast.

Whatever Paula asked for Orion sang, as though nothing was unknown to
him that had ever sounded on a Greek lute; and the longer they went on
the clearer and richer his voice grew, the more melting and seductive
its expression, and the more urgently it appealed to the young girl’s
heart. Paula gave herself up to the sweet enchantment, and when he laid
down the lute and asked in low tones if his native land was not lovely
on such a night as this, or which song she liked best, and whether she
had any idea of what it had been to him to find her in his parents’
house, she yielded to the charm and answered him in whispers like his
own.

Under the dense foliage of the sleeping garden he pressed her hand to
his lips, and she, tremulous, let him have his way.--Bitter, bitter
years lay behind her. The physician had spoken only too truly. The
hardest blows of fate had brought her--the proud daughter of a noble
father--to a course of cruel humiliations. The life of a friendless
though not penniless relation, taken into a wealthy house out of
charity, had proved a thorny path to tread, but now-since the day before
yesterday--all was changed. Orion had come. His home and the city had
held high festival on his return, as at some gift of Fortune, in
which she too had a goodly share. He had met her, not as the dependent
relative, but as a beautiful and high-born woman. There was sunshine in
his presence which warmed her very heart, and made her raise her head
once more like a flower that is brought out under the open sky after
long privation of light and air. His bright spirit and gladness of
life refreshed her heart and brain; the respect he paid her revived her
crushed self-confidence and filled her soul with fervent gratitude. Ah!
and how delightful it was to feel that she might be grateful, devotedly
grateful.--And then, then this evening had been hers, the sweetest, most
blessed that she had known for years. He had reminded her of what she
had almost forgotten: that she was still young, that she was
still lovely, that she had a right to be happy, to enchant and be
enchanted--perhaps even to love and to be loved.

Her hand was still conscious of his burning kiss as she entered the
cool room where the Lady Neforis sat awaiting the return of the party,
turning her spinning-wheel by the couch of her invalid husband who
always went to rest at late hours. It was with an overflowing heart that
Paula raised her uncle’s hand to her lips--Orion’s father, might she not
say HER Orion’s?--Then she kissed her aunt--his mother, and it was
long since she had done so--as she and little Mary bid her good-night.
Neforis accepted the kiss coolly but with some surprise, and looked
up enquiringly at the girl and at her son. No doubt she thought many
things, but deemed it prudent to give them no utterance for the present.
She allowed the girl to retire as though nothing unusual had occurred,
superintended the servants who came to carry her husband into his
bedroom, gave him the white globule which was to secure him sleep, and
with indefatigable patience turned and moved his pillows till his
couch was to his mind. Not till then, nor till she was satisfied that a
servant was keeping watch in the adjoining room, did she leave him; and
then--for there was danger in delay--she went to seek her son.

This tall, large and rather too portly woman had been in her youth
a slender and elegant girl; a graceful creature though her calm and
expressionless features had never been strikingly beautiful. Age had
altered them but little; her face was now that of a good-looking, plump,
easy-going matron, which had lost its freshness through long and devoted
attendance on the sick man. Her birth and position gave her confidence
and self-reliance, but there was nothing gracious or captivating in
her individuality. The joys and woes of others were not hers; still she
could be moved and stirred by them, even to self-denial, and was very
capable of feeling quite a passionate interest for others; only, those
others must be her own immediate belongings and no one else. Thus a more
devoted and anxious wife, or a more loving mother would have been hard
to find; but, if we compare her faculty for loving with a star, its rays
were too short to reach further than to those nearest to her, and these
regarded it as an exceptional state of grace to be included within the
narrow circle of those beloved by her somewhat grudging soul.

She knocked at Orion’s sitting-room, and he hailed her late visit with
surprise and pleasure. She had come to speak of a matter of importance,
and had done so promptly, for her son’s and Paula’s conduct just now
urged her to lose no time. Something was going on between these two
and her husband’s niece was far outside the narrow limits of her loving
kindness.

This, she began by saying, would not allow her to sleep. She had but one
heart’s desire and his father shared it: Orion must know full well what
she meant; she had spoken to him about it only yesterday. His father had
received him with warm affection, had paid his debts unhesitatingly and
without a word of reproach, and now it was his part to turn over a new
leaf: to break with his former reckless life and set up a home of his
own. The bride, as he knew, was chosen for him. “Susannah was here just
now,” she said. “You scapegrace, she confessed that you had quite turned
her Katharina’s little head this morning.”

“I am sorry for it,” he interrupted in a tone of annoyance. “These ways
with women have grown upon me as a habit; but I have done with them
henceforth. They are unworthy of me now, and I feel, my dear Mother....”

“That life is beginning in earnest,” Neforis threw in. “The wish which
brings me to you now entirely accords with that. You know what it is,
and I cannot imagine what you can have to say against it. In short, you
must let me settle the matter to-morrow with Dame Susannah. You are sure
of her daughter’s affection, she is the richest heiress in the country,
well brought up, and as I said before, she has quite lost her little
heart to you.”

“And she had better have kept it!” said Orion with a laugh.

Then his mother waxed wroth and exclaimed: “I must beg you to reserve
your mirth for a more fitting season and for laughable things. I am very
much in earnest when I say: The girl is a sweet, good little creature
and will be a faithful and loving wife to you, under God. Or have
you left your heart in Constantinople? Has the Senator Justinus’ fair
relation.--But nonsense! You can hardly suppose that that volatile Greek
girl....”

Orion clasped her in his arms, and said tenderly, “No, dearest mother,
no. Constantinople lies far, far behind me, in grey mist beyond the
farthest Thule; and here, close here, under my father’s roof, I have
found something far more lovely and more perfect than has ever been
beheld by the dwellers on the Bosphorus. That little girl is no
match for a son of our stalwart and broad-shouldered race. Our future
generations must still tower proudly above the common herd in every
respect; I want no plaything for a wife, but a woman, such as you
yourself were in youth--tall, dignified and handsome. My heart goes
forth to no gold-crested wren but to a really royal maiden.--Of what use
to waste words! Paula, the noble daughter of a glorious father, is my
choice. It came upon me just now like a revelation; I ask your blessing
on my union with her!”

So far had Neforis allowed her son to speak. He had frankly and
boldly uttered what she had indeed feared to hear. And so long she had
succeeded in keeping silence!--But now her patience gave way. Trembling
with anger she abruptly broke in, exclaiming, as her face grew crimson:

“No more, no more! Heaven grant that this which I have been compelled
to hear may be no more than a fleeting and foolish whim! Have you
quite forgotten who and what we are? Have you forgotten that those were
Melchites who slew your two dear brothers--our two noble sons? Of what
account are we among the orthodox Greeks? While among the Egyptians and
all who confess the saving doctrine of Eutyches, among the Monophysites
we are the chief, and we will remain so, and close our ears and hearts
against all heretics and their superstitions. What! A grandson of
Menas, the brother of two martyrs for our glorious faith, married to
a Melchite! The mere idea is sacrilege, is blasphemy; I can give it no
milder name! I and your father will die childless before we consent! And
it is for the love of this woman, whose heart is so cold that I shiver
only to think of it--for this waif and stray, who has nothing but her
ragged pride and the mere scrapings of a lost fortune, which never could
compare with ours--for this thankless creature, who can hardly bring
herself to bid me, your mother, such a civil good-morning--by Heaven it
is the truth--as I can say to a slave--for her that I, that your parents
are to be bereft of their son, the only child that a gracious Providence
has left to be their joy and comfort? No, no, never! Far be it from me!
You, Orion, my heart’s darling, you have been a wilful fellow all your
life, but you cannot have such a perverse heart as to bring your old
mother, who has kept you in her heart these four and twenty years, in
sorrow to the grave and embitter your father’s few remaining days--for
his hours are numbered!--And all for the sake of this cold beauty, whom
you have seen for a few hours these last two days. You cannot have
the heart to do this, my heart’s treasure, no, you cannot!--But if
you should in some accursed hour, I tell you--and I have been a tender
mother to you all your life-but as surely as God shall be my stay and
your father’s in our last hour, I will tear all love for you out of my
heart like a poisonous weed--I will, though that heart should break!”

Orion put his arms round the excited woman, who lead freed herself from
his embrace, laid his hand lightly on her lips and kissed her eyes,
whispering in her ear:

“I have not the heart indeed, and could scarcely find it.” Then, taking
both her hands, he looked straight into her face.

“Brrr!” he exclaimed, “your daredevil son was never so much frightened
in his life as by your threats. What dreadful words are these--and even
worse were at the tip of your tongue! Mother--Mother Neforis! Your name
means kindness, but you can be cruel, bitterly cruel!”

Still he drew her fondly to him, and kissed her hair and brow and cheeks
with eager haste, in a vehemence of feeling which came over him like a
revulsion after the shock he had gone through; and when they parted
he had given her leave to negotiate for little Katharina’s hand on his
behalf, and she had promised in return that it should be not on the
morrow but the day after at soonest. This delay seemed to him a sort
of victory and when he found himself alone and reflected on what he had
done in yielding to his mother, though his heart bled from the wounds of
which he himself knew not the depth, he rejoiced that he had not bound
Paula by any closer tie. His eyes had indeed told her much, but the word
“Love” had not passed his lips--and yet that was what it came to.--But
surely a cousin might be allowed to kiss the hand of a lovely relation.
She was a desirable woman--ah, how desirable!--and must ever be: but
to quarrel with his parents for the sake of a girl, were she Aphrodite
herself, or one of the Muses or the Graces--that was impossible! There
were thousands of pretty women in the world, but only one mother; and
how often had his heart beat high and won another heart, taken all it
had to give, and then easily and quickly recovered its balance.

This time however, it seemed more deeply hit than on former occasions;
even the lovely Persian slave for whose sake he had committed the
wildest follies while yet scarcely more than a school-boy--even the
bewitching Heliodora at Constantinople for whom he still had a tender
thought, had not agitated him so strongly. It was hard to give up this
Paula; but there was no help for it. To-morrow he must do his best to
establish their intercourse on a friendly and fraternal footing; for he
could have no hope that she would be content to accept his love only,
like the gentle Heliodora, who was quite her equal in birth. Life would
have been fair, unutterably fair, with this splendid creature by his
side! If only he could take her to the Capital he felt sure that all the
world would stand still to turn round and gaze at her. And if she loved
him--if she met him open-armed.... Oh, why had spiteful fate made her
a Melchite? But then, alas, alas! There must surely be something wrong
with her nature and temper; would she not otherwise have been able in
two years to gain the love, instead of the dislike, of his excellent and
fond mother?--Well, after all, it was best so; but Paula’s image haunted
him nevertheless and spoilt his sleep, and his longing for her was not
to be stilled.

Neforis, meanwhile, did not return at once to her husband but went to
find Paula. This business must be settled on all sides and at once.
If she could have believed that her victory would give the invalid
unqualified pleasure she would have hastened to him with the good news,
for she knew no higher joy than to procure him a moment’s happiness; but
the Mukaukas had agreed to her choice very reluctantly. Katharina
seemed to him too small and childish for his noble son, whose mental
superiority had been revealed to him unmistakably and undeniably, in
many long discussions since his return, to the delight of his father’s
heart. “The water-wagtail,” though he wished her every happiness, did
not satisfy him for Orion. To him, the father, Paula would have been
a well-beloved daughter-in-law, and he had often found pleasure in
picturing her by Orion’s side. But she was a Melchite; he knew too how
ill-affected his wife was towards her, so he kept his wish locked in
his own breast in order not to vex the faithful companion who lived,
thought, and felt for him alone; and Dame Neforis knew or guessed all
this, and said to herself that it would cost him his night’s rest if he
were to be told at once what a concession Orion had made.

With Paula it was different. The sooner she learnt that she had nothing
to expect from their son, the better for her.

That very morning she and Orion had greeted each other like a couple
of lovers and just now they had parted like a promised bride and
bridegroom. She would not again be witness to such vexatious doings;
so she went to the young girl’s room and confided to her with much
satisfaction the happy prospects her son had promised them,--only Paula
must say nothing about it till the day after to-morrow.

The moment she entered the room Paula inferred from her beaming
expression that she had something to say unpleasant to herself, so she
preserved due composure. Her face wore a look of unmoved indifference
while she submitted to the overflow of a too-happy mother’s heart; and
she wished the betrothed couple joy: but she did so with a smile that
infuriated Neforis.

She was not on the whole spiteful; but face to face with this girl, her
nature was transformed, and she rather liked the idea of showing her,
once more in her life, that in her place humility would beseem her. All
this she said to herself as she quitted Paula’s room; but perhaps this
woman, who had much that was good in her, might have felt some ruth, if
in the course of the next few hours she could but have looked into the
heart of the orphan entrusted to her protection. Only once did Paula
sob aloud; then she indignantly dried her tears, and sat for a long time
gazing at the floor, shaking her pretty head again and again as though
something unheard-of and incredible had befallen her.

At last, with a bitter sigh, she went to bed; and while she vainly
strove for sleep, and for strength to pray and be silently resigned,
Time seemed to her a wild-beast chase, Fate a relentless hunter, and the
quarry he was pursuing was herself.



CHAPTER IV.

On the following evening Haschim, the merchant, came to the governor’s
house with a small part of his caravan. A stranger might have taken
the mansion for the home of a wealthy country-gentleman rather than the
official residence of a high official; for at this hour, after sunset,
large herds of beasts and sheep were being driven into the vast
court-yard behind the house, surrounded on three sides by out-buildings;
half a hundred horses of choice breed came, tied in couples, from
the watering-place; and in a well-sanded paddock enclosed by hurdles,
slaves, brown and black, were bringing fodder to a large troop of
camels.

The house itself was well-fitted by its unusually palatial size and
antique splendor to be the residence of the emperor’s viceroy, and the
Mukaukas, to whom it all belonged, had in fact held the office for a
long time. After the conquest of the country by the Arabs they had left
him in possession, and at the present date he managed the affairs of
his Egyptian fellow-countrymen, no more in the name of the emperor at
Byzantium, but under the authority of the Khaliff at Medina and his
great general, Amru. The Moslem conquerors had found him a ready and
judicious mediator; while his fellow-Christians and country-men obeyed
him as being the noblest and wealthiest of their race and the descendant
of ancestors who had enjoyed high distinction even under the Pharaohs.

Only the governor’s residence was Greek--or rather Alexandrian-in style;
the court-yards and out-buildings on the contrary, looked as though
they belonged to some Oriental magnate-to some Erpaha (or prince of a
province) as the Mukaukas’ forefathers had been called, a rank which
commanded respect both at court and among the populace.

The dragoman had not told the merchant too much beforehand of the
governor’s possessions: he had vast estates, in both Upper and Lower
Egypt, tilled by thousands of slaves under numerous overseers. Here in
Memphis was the centre of administration of his property, and besides
the offices for his private affairs were those he needed as a state
official.

Well-kept quays, and the wide road running along the harbor side,
divided his large domain from the river, and a street ran along the wall
which enclosed it on the north. On this side was the great gate, always
wide open by day, by which servants or persons on business-errands
made their entrance; the other gate, a handsome portal with Corinthian
columns opening from the Nile-quay, was that by which the waterparty had
returned the evening before. This was kept closed, and only opened
for the family, or for guests and distinguished visitors. There was
a guardhouse at the north gate with a small detachment of Egyptian
soldiers, who were entrusted with the protection of the Mukaukas’
person.

As soon as the refreshing evening breeze came up from the river after
the heat of the day there was a stir in the great court-yard. Men, women
and girls came trooping out of the retainers’ dwellings to breathe the
cooler air. Waiting-maids and slaves dipped for water into enormous
earthen vessels and carried it away in graceful jars; the free-men of
the household rested in groups after the fatigues of the day, chatting,
playing and singing. From the slaves’ quarters in another court-yard
came confused sounds of singing hymns, with the shrill tones of the
double pipe and duller noise of the tabor--an invitation to dance;
scolding and laughter; the jubilant shouts of a girl led out to dance,
and the shrieks of a victim to the overseer’s rod.

The servant’s gateway, still hung with flowers and wreaths in honor of
Orion’s recent return, was wide open for the coming and going of the
accountants and scribes, or of such citizens as came very willingly to
pay an evening call on their friends in the governor’s household; for
there were always some officials near the Mukaukas’ person who knew more
than other folks of the latest events in Church and State.

Ere long a considerable number of men had assembled to sit under the
deep wooden porch of the head-steward’s dwelling, all taking eager part
in the conversation, which they would have found very enjoyable even
without the beer which their host offered them in honor of the great
event of his young lord’s return; for what was ever dearer to Egyptians
than a brisk exchange of talk, at the same time heaping ridicule or
scorn on their unapproachable superiors in rank, and on all they deem
enemies to their creed or their country.

Many a trenchant word and many a witty jest must have been uttered this
evening, for hearty laughter and loud applause were incessant in the
head steward’s porch; the captain of the guard at the gate cast envious
and impatient glances at the merry band, which he would gladly have
joined; but he could not yet leave his post. The messengers’ horses were
standing saddled while their riders awaited their orders, there were
supplicants and traders to be admitted or turned away, and there were
still a number of persons lingering in the large vestibule of the
governor’s palace and craving to speak with him, for it was well known
in Memphis that during the hot season the ailing Mukaukas granted
audience only in the evening.

The Egyptians had not yet acquired full confidence in the Arab
government, and every one tried to avoid being handed over to its
representative; for none of its officials could be so wise or so just
as their old Mukaukas. How the suffering man found strength and time to
keep an eye on everything, it was hard to imagine; but the fact remained
that he himself looked into every decision. At the same time no one
could be sure of his affairs being settled out of hand unless he could
get at the governor himself.

Business hours were now over; the anxiety caused both by the delay in
the rising of the Nile and by the advent of the comet had filled the
waiting-rooms with more petitioners than usual. Deputations from town
and village magistrates had been admitted in parties; supplicants on
private business had gone in one by one; and most of them had come forth
content, or at any rate well advised. Only one man still lingered,--a
countryman whose case had long been awaiting settlement--in the hope
that a gift to the great man’s doorkeeper, of a few drachmae out of his
poverty might at length secure him the fruit of his long patience--when
the chamberlain, bidding him return on the morrow, officiously flung
open the high doors that led to the Mukaukas’ apartments, to admit the
Arab merchant, in consideration of Haschim’s gold piece which had come
to him through his cousin the dragoman. Haschim, however, had observed
the countryman, and insisted on his being shown in first. This was done,
and a few minutes later the peasant came out satisfied, and gratefully
kissed the Arab’s hand.

Then the chamberlain led the old merchant, and the men who followed him
with a heavy bale, into a magnificent anteroom to wait; and his patience
was put to a severe test before his name was called and he could show
the governor his merchandise.

The Mukaukas, in fact, after signifying by a speechless nod that he
would presently receive the merchant--who came well recommended--had
retired to recreate himself, and was now engaged in a game of draughts,
heedless of those whom he kept waiting. He reclined on a divan covered
with a sleek lioness’ skin, while his young antagonist sat opposite on
a low stool, The doors of the room, facing the Nile, where he received
petitioners were left half open to admit the fresher but still warm
evening-air. The green velarium or awning, which during the day had
screened off the sun’s rays where the middle of the ceiling was open to
the sky, was now rolled back, and the moon and stars looked down into
the room. It was well adapted to its purpose as a refuge from the
heat of the summer day, for the walls were lined with cool, colored
earthenware tiles, the floor was a brightly-tinted mosaic of patterns
on a ground of gold glass, and in the circular central ornament of this
artistic pavement stood the real source of freshness: a basin, two
man’s length across, of brown porphyry flecked with white, from which
a fountain leaped, filling the surrounding air with misty spray. A few
stools, couches and small tables, all of cool-looking metal, formed the
sole furniture of this lofty apartment which was brilliantly lighted by
numerous lamps.

A light air blew in through the open roof and doors, made the lamps
flicker, and played with Paula’s brown hair as she sat absorbed, as
it seemed, in the game. Orion, who stood behind her, had several times
endeavored to attract her attention, but in vain. He now eagerly offered
his services to fetch her a handkerchief to preserve her from a chill;
this, however, she shortly and decidedly declined, though the breeze
came up damp from the river and she had more than once drawn her peplos
more closely across her bosom.

The young man set his teeth at this fresh repulse. He did not know that
his mother had told Paula what he had yesterday agreed to, and could
not account for the girl’s altered behavior. All day she had treated him
with icy coldness, had scarcely answered his questions with a distant
“Yes,” or “No;” and to him, the spoilt favorite of women, this conduct
had become more and more intolerable. Yes, his mother had judged her
rightly: she allowed herself to be swayed in a most extraordinary
manner by her moods; and now even he was to feel the insolence of
her haughtiness, of which he had as yet seen nothing. This repellent
coldness bordered on rudeness and he had no mind to submit to it for
long. It was with deep vexation that he watched every turn of her hand,
every movement of her body, and the varying expression of her face; and
the more the image of this proud maiden sank into his heart the more
lovely and perfect he thought her, and the greater grew his desire to
see her smile once more, to see her again as sweetly womanly as she
had been but yesterday. Now she was like nothing so much as a splendid
marble statue, though he knew indeed that it had a soul--and what a
glorious task it would be to free this fair being from herself, as
it were, from the foolish tempers that enslaved her, to show her--by
severity if need should be--what best beseems a woman, a maiden.

He became more and more exclusively absorbed in watching the young girl,
as his mother--who was sitting with Dame Susannah on a couch at some
little distance from the players--observed with growing annoyance, and
she tried to divert his attention by questions and small errands, so as
to give his evident excitement a fresh direction.

Who could have thought, yesterday morning, that her darling would so
soon cause her fresh vexation and anxiety.

He had come home just such a man as she and his father could have
wished: independent and experienced in the ways of the great world. In
the Capital he had, no doubt, enjoyed all that seems pleasant in the
eyes of a wealthy youth, but in spite of that he had remained fresh
and open-hearted even to the smallest things; and this was what most
rejoiced his father. In him there was no trace of the satiety, the
blunted faculty for enjoyment, which fell like a blight on so many men
of his age and rank. He could still play as merrily with little Mary,
still take as much pleasure in a rare flower or a fine horse, as before
his departure. At the same time he had gained keen insight into the
political situation of the time, into the state of the empire and the
court, into administration, and the innovations in church matters; it
was a joy to his father to hear him discourse; and he assured his wife
that he had learnt a great deal from the boy, that Orion was on the high
road to be a great statesman and was already quite capable of taking his
father’s place.

When Neforis confessed how large a sum in debts Orion had left in
Constantinople the old man put his hand in his purse with a sort of
pride, delighted to find that his sole remaining heir knew how to
spend the immense wealth which to him was now a burden rather than a
pleasure--to make good use of it, as he himself had done in his day, and
display a magnificence of which the lustre was reflected on him and on
his name.

“With him, at any rate,” said the old man, “one gets something for the
money. His horses cost a great deal but he knows how to win with them;
his entertainments swallow up a pretty sum, but they gain him respect
wherever he goes. He brought me a letter from the Senator Justinus, and
the worthy man tells me what a leading part he plays among the gilded
youth of the Capital. All this is not to be had for nothing, and it will
be cheap in the end. What need we care about a hundred talents more or
less! And there is something magnanimous in the lad that has given him
the spirit to feel that.”

And it was not a hale old grey-beard who spoke thus, but a broken man,
whose only joy it was to lavish on his son the riches which he had long
been incapable of enjoying. The high-spirited and gifted youth, scarcely
more than a boy in years, whom he had sent to the Capital with no small
misgivings, must have led a far less lawless life than might have been
expected; of this the ruddy tinge in his sunburnt cheeks was ample
guarantee, the vigorous solidity of his muscles, and the thick waves
of his hair, which was artificially curled and fell in a fringe, as was
then the fashion, over his high brow, giving him a certain resemblance
to the portraits of Antinous, the handsomest youth in the time of
the Emperor Hadrian. Even his mother owned that he looked like health
itself, and no member of the Imperial family could be more richly,
carefully and fashionably dressed than her darling. But even in the
humblest garb he would have been a handsome--a splendid youth, and
his mother’s pride! When he left home there was still a smack of the
provincial about him; but now every kind of awkwardness had vanished,
and wherever he might go--even in the Capital, he was certain to be one
of the first to attract observation and approval.

And what had he not known in his city experience? The events of half a
century had followed each other with intoxicating rapidity in the course
of the thirty months he had spent there. The greater the excitement, the
greater the pleasure was the watchword of his time; and though he had
rioted and revelled on the shores of the Bosphorus if ever man did,
still the pleasures of feasting and of love, or of racing with his own
victorious horses--all of which he had enjoyed there to the full--were
as child’s play compared with the nervous tension to which he had been
strung by the appalling events he had witnessed on all sides. How
petty was the excitement of an Alexandrian horse-race! Whether Timon
or Ptolemy or he himself should win--what did it matter? It was a fine
thing no doubt to carry off the crown in the circus at Byzantium, but
there were other and soul-stirring crises there beyond those which were
bound up with horses or chariots. There a throne was the prize, and
might cost the blood and life of thousands!--What did a man bring home
from the churches in the Nile valley? But if he crossed the threshold of
St. Sophia’s in Constantinople he often might have his blood curdled,
or bring home--what matter?--bleeding wounds, or even be carried home--a
corpse.

Three times had he seen the throne change masters. An emperor and an
empress had been stripped of the purple and mutilated before his eyes.

Aye, then and there he had had real and intense excitement to thrill
him to the marrow and quick. As for the rest! Well, yes, he had had more
trivial pleasures too. He had not been received as other Egyptians were:
half-educated philosophers--who called themselves Sages and assumed
a mystic and pompously solemn demeanor, Astrologers, Rhetoricians,
poverty-stricken but witty and venemous satirists, physicians making
a display of the learning of their forefathers, fanatical
theologians--always ready to avail themselves of other weapons than
reason and dogma in their bitter contests over articles of faith,
hermits and recluses--as foul in mind as they were dirty in their
persons, corn-merchants and usurers with whom it was dangerous to
conclude a bargain without witnesses. Orion was none of these. As
the handsome, genial, and original-minded son of the rich and noble
Governor, Mukaukas George, he was welcomed as a sort of ambassador;
whatever the golden youth of the city allowed themselves was permitted
to him. His purse was as well lined as theirs, his health and vigor far
more enduring; and his horses had beaten theirs in three races, though
he drove them himself and did not trust them to paid charioteers. The
“rich Egyptian,” the “New Antinous,” “handsome Orion,” as he was called,
could never be spared from feast or entertainment. He was a welcome
guest at the first houses in the city, and in the palace and the villa
of the Senator Justinus, an old friend of his father, he was as much at
home as a son of the house.

It was under his roof, and the auspices of his kindhearted wife Martina,
that he made acquaintance with the fair Heliodora, the widow of a nephew
of the Senator; and the whole city had been set talking of the tender
intimacy Orion had formed with the beautiful young woman whose rigid
virtue had hitherto been a subject of admiration no less than her fair
hair and the big jewels with which she loved to set off her simple
but costly dress. And many a fair Byzantine had striven for the young
Egyptian’s good graces before Heliodora had driven them all out of the
field. Still, she had not yet succeeded in enslaving Orion deeply and
permanently; and when, last evening, he had assured his mother that she
was not mistress of his heart he spoke truly.

His conduct in the Capital had not certainly been exemplary, but he had
never run wild, and had enjoyed the respect not only of his companions
in pleasure, but of grave and venerable men whom he had met in the house
of Justinus, and who sang the praises of his intelligence and eagerness
to learn. As a boy he had been a diligent scholar, and here he let no
opportunity slip. Not least had he cultivated his musical talents in the
Imperial city, and had acquired a rare mastery in singing and playing
the lute.

He would gladly have remained some time longer at the Capital, but at
last the place grew too hot to hold him-mainly on his father’s account.
The conviction that George had largely contributed to the disaffection
of Egypt for the Byzantine Empire and had played into the hands of the
irresistible and detested upstart Arabs, had found increasing acceptance
in the highest circles, especially since Cyrus--the deposed and now
deceased Patriarch of Alexandria--had retired to Constantinople. Orion’s
capture was in fact already decided on, when the Senator Justinus and
some other friends had hinted a warning which he had acted on just in
time.

His father’s line of conduct had placed him in great peril; but he owed
him no grudge for it--indeed, he most deeply approved of it. A thousand
times had he witnessed the contempt heaped on the Egyptians by the
Greeks, and the loathing and hatred of the Orthodox for the Monophysite
creed of his fellow-countrymen.

He had with difficulty controlled his wrath as he had listened again
and again to the abuse and scorn poured out on his country and people by
gentle and simple, laymen and priests, even in his presence; regarding
him no doubt as one of themselves--a Greek in whose eyes everything
“Barbarian” was as odious and as contemptible as in their own.

But the blood of his race flowed in the veins of the “new Antinous” who
could sing Greek songs so well and with so pure an accent; every insult
to his people was stamped deep in his heart, every sneer at his faith
revived his memory of the day when the Melchites had slain his two
brothers. And these bloody deeds, these innumerable acts of oppression
by which the Greek; had provoked and offended the schismatic Egyptian
and hunted them to death, were now avenged by his father. It lifted up
his heart and made him proud to think of it. He showed his secret soul
to the old man who was as much surprised as delighted at what he found
there; for he had feared that Orion might not be able wholly to escape
the powerful influences of Greek beguilements;--nay, he had often felt
anxious lest his own son might disapprove of his having surrendered to
the Arab conquerors the province entrusted to his rule, and concluded a
peace with them.

The Mukaukas now felt himself as one with Orion, and from time to time
looked tenderly up at him from the draught-board. Neforis was doing her
best to entertain the mother of her son’s future bride, and divert her
attention from his strange demeanor. She seemed indeed to be successful,
for Dame Susannah agreed to everything she said; but she betrayed the
fact that she was keeping a sharp watch by suddenly asking: “Does your
husband’s lofty niece not think us worthy of a single word?”

“Oh no!” said Neforis bitterly. “I only hope she may soon find some
other people to whom she can behave more graciously. You may depend upon
it I will put no obstacle in her way.”

Then she brought the conversation round to Katharina, and the widow told
her that her brother-in-law, Chrysippus, was now in Memphis with his two
little daughters. They were to go away on the morrow, so the young girl
had been obliged to devote herself to them: “And so the poor child is
sitting there at this minute,” she lamented, “and must keep those two
little chatter-boxes quiet while she is longing to be here instead.”

Orion quite understood these last words; he asked after the young girl,
and then added gaily:

“She promised me a collar yesterday for my little white keepsake from
Constantinople. Fie! Mary, you should not tease the poor little beast.”

“No, let the dog go,” added the widow, addressing the governor’s little
granddaughter, who was trying to make the recalcitrant dog kiss her
doll. “But you know, Orion, this tiny creature is really too delicate
for such a big man as you are! You should give him to some pretty young
lady and then he would fulfil his destiny! And Katharina is embroidering
him a collar; I ought not to tell her little secret, but it is to have
gold stars on a blue ground.”

“Because Orion is a star,” cried the little girl. “So she is working
nothing but Orions.”

“But fortunately there is but one star of my name,” observed he. “Pray
tell her that Dame Susa.”

The child clapped her hands. “He does not choose to have any other star
near him!” she exclaimed.

The widow broke in: “Little simpleton! I know people who cannot even
bear to have a likeness traced between themselves and any one else.--But
this you must permit, Orion--you were quite right just now, Neforis; his
mouth and brow might have been taken from his father’s face.”

The remark was quite accurate; and yet it would have been hard to
imagine two men more unlike than the bright youth full of vitality, and
the languid old man on the couch, to whom even the small exertion of
moving the men was an effort. The Mukaukas might once have been like his
son, but in some long past time. Thin grey locks now only covered one
half of his bald head, and of his eyes, which, thirty years since, had
sparkled perhaps as keenly as Orion’s, there was usually nothing, or
very little to be seen; for the heavy lids always drooped over them as
though they had lost the power to open, and this gave his handsome but
deathly-pale face a somewhat owl-like look. It was not morose, however;
on the contrary the mingled lines of suffering and of benevolent
kindliness resulted in an expression only of melancholy. The mouth
and flabby cheeks were as motionless as though they were dead. Grief,
anxiety and alarms seemed to have passed over them with a paralysing
hand and had left their trace there. He looked like a man weary unto
death, and still living only because fate had denied him the grace to
die. Indeed, he had often been taken for dead by his family when he had
dipped too freely into a certain little blood-stone box to take too many
of the white opium-pills, one of which he placed between his colorless
lips at long intervals, even during his game of draughts.

He lifted each piece slowly, like a sleeper with his eyes half shut; and
yet his opponent could not hold her own against his wary tactics and was
defeated by him now for the third time, though her uncle himself called
her a good player. It was easy to read in her high, smooth brow and
dark-blue eyes with their direct gaze, that she could think clearly
and decisively, and also feel deeply. But she seemed wilful too, and
contradictory--at any rate to-day; for when Orion pointed out some move
to her she rarely took his advice, but with set lips, pushed the piece
according to her own, rarely wiser, judgment. It was quite plain that
she was refractory under the guidance of this--especially of this
counsellor.

The bystanders could not fail to see the girl’s repellent manner and
Orion’s eager attempts to propitiate her; and for this reason Neforis
was glad when, just as her husband had finished the third game, and
had pushed the men together on the board with the back of his hand,
his chamberlain reminded him that the Arab was without, awaiting his
pleasure with growing impatience. The Mukaukas answered only by a sign,
drew his long caftan of the finest wool closer around him, and pointed
to the doors and the open roof. The rest of the party had long felt the
chill of the damp night air that blew through the room from the river,
but knowing that the father suffered more from heat than from anything,
they had all willingly endured the draught. Now, however, Orion called
the slaves, and before the strangers were admitted the doors were closed
and the roof covered.

Paula rose; the governor lay motionless and kept his eyes apparently
closed; he must, however, have seen what was going forward through an
imperceptible slit, for he turned first to Paula and then to the other
women saying: “Is it not strange?--Most old folks, like children,
seek the sun, and love to sit, as the others play, in its heat. While
I--something that happened to me years ago--you know;--and it seemed to
freeze my blood. Now it never gets warm, and I feel the contrast between
the coolness in here and the heat outside most acutely, almost as a
pain. The older we grow the more ready we are to abandon to the young
the things we ourselves used most to enjoy. The only thing which we old
folks do not willingly relinquish is personal comfort, and I thank you
for enduring annoyances so patiently for the sake of securing mine.--It
is a terrific summer! You, Paula, from the heights of Lebanon, know what
ice is. How often have I wished that I could have a bed of snow. To feel
myself one with that fresh, still coldness would be all I wish for! The
cold air which you dread does me good. But the warmth of youth rebels
against everything that is cool.”

This was the first long sentence the Mukaukas had uttered since the
beginning of the game. Orion listened respectfully to the end, but then
he said with a laugh: “But there are some young people who seem to take
pleasure in being cool and icy--for what cause God alone knows!”

As he spoke he looked the girl at whom the words were aimed, full in
the face; but she turned silently and proudly away, and an angry shade
passed over her lovely features.



CHAPTER V.

When the Arab was at last admitted to the governor’s presence his
attendants unfolded a hanging before him. The giant Masdakite did the
chief share of the work; but as soon as the Mukaukas caught sight of the
big man, with his bushy, mane-like hair, and a dagger and a battle-axe
stuck through his belt, he cried out:

“Away, away with him! That man--those weapons--I will not look at the
hanging till he is gone.”

His hands were trembling, and the merchant at once desired his faithful
Rustem, the most harmless of mortals, to quit the room. The governor,
whose sensitive nerves had been liable to such attacks of panic ever
since an exiled Greek had once attempted to murder him, now soon
recovered his composure, and looked with great admiration at the hanging
round which the family were standing. They all confessed they had never
seen anything like it, and the vivacious Dame Susannah proposed to send
for her daughter and her visitors; but it was already late, and her
house was so far from the governor’s that she gave that up. The father
and son had already heard of this marvellous piece of work, which had
formed part of the plunder taken by the Arab conquerors of the Persian
Empire at the sack of the “White Tower”--the royal palace of Madam, the
capital of the Sassanidze. They knew that it had been originally 300
ells long and 60 ells wide, and had heard with indignation that the
Khaliff Omar, who always lived and dressed and ate like the chief of a
caravan, and looked down with contempt on all such objects of luxury,
had cut this inestimable treasure of art into pieces and divided it
among the Companions of the Prophet.

Haschim explained to them that this particular fragment had been the
share of the booty allotted to Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law. Haschim
himself had seen the work before its dismemberment at Madain, where it
hung on the wall of the magnificent throne-room, and subsequently, at
Medina.

His audience eagerly requested him to describe the other portions; he,
however, seemed somewhat uneasy, looking down at his bare feet which
were standing on the mosaic pavement, damp from the fountain; for, after
the manner of his nation, he had left his shoes in the outer room. The
governor had noticed the old man’s gestures as he repeatedly put
his hand to his mouth, and while his wife, Orion, and the widow were
besieging the merchant with questions, he whispered a few words to
one of the slaves. The man vanished, and returned bringing in, by his
master’s orders, a long strip of carpet which he laid in front of the
Arab’s brown and strong but delicately-formed feet.

A wonderful change came over the merchant’s whole being as this was
done. He drew himself up with a dignity which none of those present
had suspected in the man who had so humbly entered the room and so
diligently praised his wares; an expression of satisfaction overspread
his calm, mild features, a sweet smile parted his lips, and his kind
eyes sparkled through tears like those of a child unexpectedly pleased.
Then he bowed before the Mukaukas, touching his brow, lips and breast
with the finger-tips of the right hand to express: “All my thoughts,
words and feelings are devoted to you,”--while he said: “Thanks, Son of
Menas. That was the act of Moslem.”

“Of a Christian!” cried Orion hastily. But his father shook his head
gently, and said, slowly and impressively: “Only of a man.”

“Of a man,” repeated the merchant, and then he added thoughtfully: “Of a
man! Yes, that is the highest mark so long as we are what we ought to be
The image of the one God. Who is more compassionate than He? And every
mother’s son who is likewise compassionate, is like him.”

“Another Christian rule, thou strange Moslem!” said Orion interrupting
him.

“And yet,” said Haschim, with tranquil dignity, “it corresponds word
for word with the teaching of the Best of men--our Prophet. I am one of
those who knew him here on earth. His brother’s smallest pain filled
his soft heart with friendly sympathy; his law insists on charity, even
towards the shrub by the wayside; he pronounces it mortal sin to injure
it, and every Moslem must obey him. Compassion for all is the command
of the Prophet....” Here the Arab was suddenly and roughly interrupted;
Paula, who, till now, had been leaning against a pilaster, contemplating
the hanging and silently listening to the conversation, hastily stepped
nearer to the old man, and with flaming cheeks and flashing eyes pointed
at him wrathfully, while she exclaimed in a trembling voice-heedless
alike of the astonished and indignant bystanders, and of the little dog
which flew at the Arab, barking furiously:

“You--you, the followers of the false prophet--you, the companions of
the bloodhound Khalid--you and Charity! I know you! I know what you did
in Syria. With these eyes have I seen you, and your bloodthirsty women,
and the foam on your raging lips. Here I stand to bear witness against
you and I cast it in your teeth: You broke faith in Damascus, and the
victims of your treachery--defenceless women and tender infants as well
as men--you killed with the sword or strangled with your hands. You--you
the Apostle of Compassion?--have you ever heard of Abyla? You, the
friend of your Prophet--I ask you what did you, who so tenderly spare
the tree by the wayside, do to the innocent folk of Abyla, whom you
fell upon like wolves in a sheepfold? You--you and Compassionate!” The
vehement girl, to whom no one had ever shown any pity, and on whose
soul the word had fallen like a mockery, who for long hours had been
suffering suppressed and torturing misery, felt it a relief to give free
vent to the anguish of her soul; she ended with a hard laugh, and waved
her hand round her head as though to disperse a swarm of gadflies.

What a woman!

Orion’s gaze was fixed on her in horror--but in enchantment. Yes, his
mother had judged her rightly. No gentle, tender-hearted woman laughed
like that; but she was grand, splendid, wonderful in her wrath. She
reminded him of the picture of the goddess of vengeance, by Apelles,
which he had seen in Constantinople. His mother shrugged her shoulders
and cast a meaning glance at the widow, and even his father was startled
at the sight. He knew what had roused her; still he felt that he could
not permit this, and he recalled the excited girl to her senses by
speaking her name, half-reproachfully and half-regretfully, at first
quite gently but then louder and more severely.

She started like a sleep-walker suddenly awaked from her trance, passed
her hand over her eyes, and said, as she bowed her head before the
governor:

“Forgive me, Uncle, I am sorry for what has occurred--but it was
too much for me. You know what my past has been, and when I am
reminded--when I must listen to the praises even of the wretches to whom
my father and brother....”

A loud sob interrupted her; little Mary was clinging to her and weeping.
Orion could hardly keep himself from hastening to her and clasping her
in his arms. Ah, how well her woman’s weakness became the noble girl!
How strongly it drew him to her!

But Paula soon recovered from it; even while the governor was soothing
her with kind words she mastered her violent agitation, and said gently,
though her tears still quietly flowed: “Let me go to my room, I beg....”

“Good-night, then, child,” said the Mukaukas affectionately, and Paula
turned towards the door with a silent greeting to the rest of the party;
but the Moslem detained her and said:

“I know who you are, noble daughter of Thomas, and I have heard that
your brother was the bridegroom who had come to Abyla to solemnize his
marriage with the daughter of the prefect of Tripolis. Alas, alas! I
myself was there with my merchandise at the fair, when a maddened horde
of my fellow-believers fell upon the peaceful town. Poor child, poor
child! Your father was the greatest and most redoubtable of our foes.
Whether still on earth or in heaven he yet, no doubt honors our sword
as we honor his. But your brother, whom we sent to his grave as a
bridegroom--he cursed us with his dying breath. You have inherited his
rancor; and when it surges up against me, a Moslem, I can do no more
than bow my head and do penance for the guilt of those whose blood runs
in my veins and whose faith I confess. I have nothing to plead--no,
noble maiden, nothing that can excuse the deed of Abyla. There--there
alone it was the fate of my grey hairs to be ashamed of my
fellow-Moslems--believe me, maiden, it was grievous to me. War, and
the memory of many friends slain and of wealth lightly plundered had
unchained men’s passion; and where passion’s pinions wave, whether in
the struggle for mine and thine or for other possessions, ever since the
days of Cain and Abel, it is always and everywhere the same.”

Paula, who till now had stood motionless in front of the old man, shook
her head and said bitterly:

“But all this will not give me back my father and brother. You yourself
look like a kind-hearted man; but for the future--if you are as just as
you are kind--find out to whom you are speaking before you talk of the
compassion of the Moslems!”

She once more bowed good-night and left the room. Orion followed her;
come what might he must see her. But he returned a few minutes after,
breathing hard and with his teeth set. He had taken her hand, had tried
to tell her all a loving heart could find to say; but how sharply, how
icily had he been repulsed, with what an air of intolerable scorn had
she turned her back upon him! And now that he was in their midst again
he scarcely heard his father express his regrets that so painful a scene
should have occurred under his roof, while the Arab said that he could
quite understand why the daughter of Thomas should have been betrayed to
anger: the massacre of Abyla was quite inexcusable.

“But then,” the old man went on, “in what war do not such things take
place? Even the Christian is not always master of himself: you
yourself I know, lost two promising sons--and who were the murderers?
Christians--your own fellow-believers...”

“The bitterest foes of my beliefs,” said the governor slowly, and every
syllable was a calm and dignified reproof to the Moslem for supposing
that the creed of those who had killed his sons could be his. As
he spoke he opened his eyes wide with the look of those hard,
opaquely-glittering stones which his ancestors had been wont to set for
eyes in their portrait statues. But he suddenly closed them again and
said indifferently:

“At what price do you value your hanging? I have a fancy to buy it. Name
your lowest terms: I cannot bear to bargain.”

“I had thought of asking five hundred thousand drachmae,” said the
dealer. “Four hundred thousand drachmae, and it is yours.”

The governor’s wife clasped her hands at such a sum and made warning
signals to her husband, shaking her head disapprovingly, when Orion,
making a great effort to show that he too took an interest in this
important transaction, said: “It may be worth three hundred thousand.”

“Four hundred thousand,” repeated the merchant coolly. “Your father
wished to know the lowest price, and I am asking no more than is
right. The rubies and garnets in these grapes, the pearls in the myrtle
blossoms, the turquoises in the forget-me-nots, the diamonds hanging
as dew on the grass, the emeralds which give brilliancy to the green
leaves--this one especially, which is an immense stone--alone are worth
more.”

“Then why do you not cut them out of the tissue?” asked Neforis.

“Because I cannot bear to destroy this noble work,” replied the Arab. “I
will sell it as it is or not at all.” At these words the Mukaukas
nodded to his son, heedless of the disapprobation his wife persisted in
expressing, asked for a tablet which lay near the chessboard, and on it
wrote a few words.

“We are agreed,” he said to the merchant. “The treasurer, Nilus, will
hand you the payment to-morrow morning on presenting this order.”

A fresh emotion now took possession of Orion, and crying: “Splendid!
Splendid!” he rushed up to his father and excitedly kissed his hand.
Then, turning to his mother, whose eyes were full of tears of vexation,
he put his hand under her chin, kissed her brow, and exclaimed with
triumphant satisfaction: “This is how we and the emperor do business!
When the father is the most liberal of men the son is apt to look small.
Meaning no harm, worthy merchant! As far as the hanging is concerned,
it may be more precious than all the treasures of Croesus; but you have
something yet to give us into the bargain before you load your camels
with our gold: Tell us what the whole work was like before it was
divided.”

The Moslem, who had placed the precious tablet in his girdle, at once
obeyed this request.

“You know how enormous were its length and breadth,” he began. “The hall
it decorated could hold several thousand guests, besides space for
a hundred body guards to stand on each side of the throne. As many
weavers, embroiderers and jewellers as there are days in the year
worked on it, they say, for the years of a man’s life. The woven picture
represented paradise as the Persians imagine it--full of green trees,
flowers and fruits. Here you can still see a fragment of the sparkling
fountain which, when seen from a distance, with its sprinkling of
diamonds, sapphires and emeralds, looked like living water. Here the
pearls represent the foam on a wave. These leaves, cut across here,
belonged to a rose-bush which grew by the fountain of Eden before the
evil of the first rain fell on the world.

“Originally all roses were white, but as the limbs of the first woman
shone with more dazzling whiteness they blushed for shame, and since
then there are crimson as well as white roses. So the Persians say.”

“And this--our piece?” asked Orion.

“This,” replied the merchant, with a pleasant glance at the young man,
“was the very middle of the hanging. On the left you see the judgment
at the bridge of Chinvat. The damned were not represented, but only the
winged, Fravashi, Genii who, as the Persians believe, dwell one with
each mortal as his guardian angel through life, united to him but
separable. They were depicted in stormy pursuit of the damned--the
miscreant followers of Angramainjus, the evil Spirit, of whom you must
imagine a vast multitude fleeing before them. The souls in bliss, the
pure and faithful servants of the Persian divinity Auramazda, enter with
songs of triumph into the flower-decked pleasure-garden, while at their
feet the spirits were shown of those who were neither altogether cursed
nor altogether blessed, vanishing in humble silence into a dusky grove.
The pure enjoyed the gifts of paradise in peace and contentment.--All
this was explained to me by a priest of the Fire-worshippers. Here, you
see, is a huge bunch of grapes which one of the happy ones is about to
pluck; the hand is uninjured--the arm unfortunately is cut through; but
here is a splendid fragment of the wreath of fruit and flowers which
framed the whole. That emerald forming a bud--how much do you think it
is worth?”

“A magnificent stone!” cried Orion. “Even Heliodora has nothing to equal
it.--Well, father, what do you say is its value?”

“Great, very great,” replied the Mukaukas. “And yet the whole
unmutilated work would be too small an offering for Him to whom I
propose to offer it.”

“To the great general, Amru?” asked Orion.

“No child,” said the governor decidedly. “To the great, indivisible and
divine Person of Jesus Christ and his Church.”

Orion looked down greatly disappointed; the idea of seeing this splendid
gem hidden away in a reliquary in some dim cupboard did not please him:
He could have found a much more gratifying use for it.

Neither his father nor his mother observed his dissatisfaction, for
Neforis had rushed up to her husband’s couch, and fallen on her knees
by his side, covering his cold, slender hand with kisses, as joyful as
though this determination had relieved her of a heavy burden of dread:
“Our souls, our souls, George! For such a gift--only wait--you will be
forgiven all, and recover your lost peace!”

The governor shrugged his shoulders and said nothing; the hanging was
rolled up and locked into the tablinum by Orion; then the Mukaukas bid
the chamberlain show the Arab and his followers to quarters for the
night.



CHAPTER VI.

Pangs of soul and doubtings of conscience had, in fact, prompted the
governor to purchase the hanging and he therefore might have been glad
if it had cost him still dearer. The greater the gift the better founded
his hope of grace and favor from the recipient! And he had grounds
for being uneasy and for asking himself whether he had acted rightly.
Revenge was no Christian virtue, but to let the evil done to him by the
Melchites go unpunished when the opportunity offered for crushing them
was more than he could bring himself to. Nay, what father whose two
bright young sons had been murdered, but would have done as he did? That
fearful blow had struck him in a vital spot. Since that day he had
felt himself slowly dying; and that sense of weakness, those desperate
tremors, the discomforts and suffering which blighted every hour of his
life, were also to be set down to the account of the Melchite tyrants.

His waning powers had indeed only been kept up by his original vigor and
his burning thirst for revenge, and fate had allowed him to quench it
in a way which, as time went on, seemed too absolute to his peace-loving
nature. Though not indeed by his act, still with his complicity he
saw the Byzantine Empire bereft of the rich province which Caesar had
entrusted to his rule, saw the Greeks and everything that bore the name
of Melchite driven out of Egypt with ignominy--though he would gladly
have prevented it--in many places slain like dogs by the furious
populace who hailed the Moslems as their deliverers.

Thus all the evil he had invoked on the murderers of his children and
the oppressors and torturers of his people had come upon them; his
revenge was complete. But, in the midst of his satisfaction at this
strange fulfilment of the fervent wish of years, his conscience had
lifted up its voice; new, and hitherto unknown terrors had come upon
him. He lacked the strength of mind to be a hero or a reformer. Too
great an event had been wrought through his agency, too fearful a doom
visited on thousands of men! The Christian Faith--to him the highest
consideration--had been too greatly imperilled by his act, for the
thought that he had caused all this to be calmly endurable. The
responsibility proved too heavy for his shoulders; and whenever he
repeated to himself that it was not he who had invited the Arabs into
the land, and that he must have been crushed in the attempt to repel
them, he could hear voices all round him denouncing him as the man
who had surrendered his native land to them, and he fancied himself
environed by dangers--believing those who spoke to him of assassins sent
forth by the Byzantines to kill him.--But even more appalling, was
his dread of the wrath of Heaven against the man who had betrayed a
Christian country to the Infidels. Even his consciousness of having
been, all his life long, a right-minded, just man could not fortify
him against this terror; there was but one thing which could raise his
quelled spirit: the white pillules which had long been as indispensable
to him as air and water. The kind-hearted old bishop of Memphis,
Plotinus, and his clergy had forgiveness for all; the Patriarch
Benjamin, on the contrary, had treated him as a reprobate sentenced to
eternal damnation, though at the time of this prelate’s exile in the
desert he had hailed the Arabs as their deliverers from the tyranny
of the Melchites, and though George had principally contributed to his
recall and reinstatement, and had therefore counted on his support. And,
although the Mukaukas could clearly see through the secondary motives
which influenced the Patriarch, he nevertheless believed that Benjamin’s
office as Shepherd of souls gave him power to close the Gates of Heaven
against any sheep in his flock.

The more firmly the Arabs took root in his land, the wiser their rule,
and the more numerous the Egyptian converts from the Cross to the
Crescent, the greater he deemed his guilt; and when, after the
accomplishment of his work of vengeance--his double treason as the
Greeks called it--instead of the wrath of God, everything fell to
his lot which men call happiness and the favors of fortune, the
superstitious man feared lest this was the wages of the Devil, into
whose clutches his hasty compact with the Moslems had driven so many
Christian souls.

He had unexpectedly fallen heir to two vast estates, and his excavators
in the Necropolis had found more gold in the old heathen tombs than all
the others put together. The Moslem Khaliff and his viceroy had left
him in office and shown him friendship and respect; the bulaites--[Town
councillors]--of the town had given him the cognomen of “the Just”
 by acclamation of the whole municipality; his lands had never yielded
greater revenues; he received letters from his son’s widow in her
convent full of happiness over the new and higher aims in life that she
had found; his grandchild, her daughter, was a creature whose bright
and lovely blossoming was a joy even to strangers; his son’s frequent
epistles from Constantinople assured him that he was making progress in
all respects; and he did not forget his parents; for he was never weary
of reporting to them, of his own free impulse, every pleasure he enjoyed
and every success he won.

Thus even in a foreign land he had lived with the father and mother who
to him were all that was noblest and dearest.

And Paula! Though his wife could not feel warmly towards her the old man
regarded her presence in the house as a happy dispensation to which he
owed many a pleasant hour, not only over the draughts-board.

All these things might indeed be the wages of Satan; but if indeed it
were so, he--George the Mukaukas--would show the Evil One that he was
no servant of his, but devoted to the Saviour in whose mercy he trusted.
With what fervent gratitude to the Almighty was his soul filled for
the return of such a son! Every impulse of his being urged him to give
expression to this feeling; his terrors and gratitude alike prompted
him to spend so vast a sum in order to dedicate a matchless gift to the
Church of Christ. He viewed himself as a prisoner of war whose ransom
has just been paid, as he handed to the merchant the tablet with the
order for the money; and when he was carried to bed, and his wife was
not yet weary of thanking him for his pious intention, he felt happier
and more light-hearted than he had done for many years. Generally he
could hear Paula walking up and down her room which was over his; for
she went late to rest, and in the silence of the night would indulge
in sweet and painful memories. How many loved ones a cruel fate had
snatched from her! Father, brother, her nearest relations and friends;
all at once, by the hand of the Moslems to whom he had abandoned her
native land almost without resistance.

“I do not hear Paula to-night,” he remarked, glancing up as though he
missed something. “The poor child has no doubt gone to bed early after
what passed.”

“Leave her alone!” said Neforis who did not like to be interrupted in
her jubilant effusiveness, and she shrugged her shoulders angrily. “How
she behaved herself again! We have heard a great deal too much about
charity, and though I do not want to boast of my own I am very ready to
exercise it--indeed, it is no more than my duty to show every kindness
to a destitute relation of yours. But this girl! She tries me too far,
and after all I am no more than human. I can have no pleasure in her
presence; if she comes into the room I feel as though misfortune had
crossed the threshold. Besides!--You never see such things; but Orion
thinks of her a great deal more than is good. I only wish she had been
safe out of the house!”

“Neforis!” her husband said in mild reproach; and he would have reproved
her more sharply but that since he had become a slave to opium he had
lost all power of asserting himself vigorously whether in small matters
or great.

Ere long the Mukaukas had fallen into an uneasy sleep; but he opened his
eyes more frequently than usual. He missed the light footfall overhead
to which he had been accustomed for these two years past; but she who
was wont to pace the floor above half the night through had not gone
to rest as he supposed. After the events of the evening she had indeed
retired to her room with tingling cheeks and burning eyes; but the
slave-girls, who paid little attention to a guest who was no more than
endured and looked on askance by their mistress, had neglected to open
her window-shutters after sundown, as she had requested, and the room
was oppressively sultry and airless. The wooden shutters felt hot to the
touch, so did the linen sheets over the wool mattrasses. The water in
her jug, and even the handkerchief she took up were warm. To an Egyptian
all this would have been a matter of course; but the native of Damascus
had always passed the summer in her father’s country house on the
heights of Lebanon, in cool and lucent shade, and the all-pervading heat
of the past day had been to her intolerable.

Outside it was pleasant now; so without much reflection she pushed open
the shutter, wrapped a long, dark-hued kerchief about her head and
stole down the steep steps and out through a little side door into the
court-yard.

There she drew a deep breath and spread out her arms longingly, as
though she would fain fly far, far from thence; but then she dropped
them again and looked about her. It was not the want of fresh air alone
that had brought her out; no, what she most craved for was to open her
oppressed and rebellious heart to another; and here, in the servants’
quarters, there were two souls, one of which knew, understood and loved
her, while the other was as devoted to her as a faithful dog, and did
errands for her which were to be kept hidden from the governor’s house
and its inhabitants.

The first was her nurse who had accompanied her to Egypt; the other was
a freed slave, her father’s head groom, who had escorted the women with
his son, a lad, giving them shelter when, after the massacre of Abyla,
they had ventured out of their hiding-place, and after lurking for some
time in the valley of Lebanon, had found no better issue than to fly
to Egypt and put themselves under the protection of the Mukaukas, whose
sister had been Paula’s father’s first wife. She herself was the child
of his second marriage with a Syrian of high rank, a relation of the
Emperor Heraclius, who had died, quite young, shortly after Paula’s
birth.

Both these servants had been parted from her. Perpetua, the nurse, had
been found useful by the governor’s wife, who soon discovered that size
was particularly skilled in weaving and who had made her superintendent
of the slave-girls employed at the loom; the old woman had willingly
undertaken the duties though she herself was free-born, for her first
point in life was to remain near her beloved foster-child. Hiram
too, the groom, and his son had found their place among the Mukaukas’
household; in the first instance to take charge of the five horses
from her father’s stable which had brought the fugitives to Egypt, but
afterwards--for the governor was not slow to discern his skill in
such matters--as a leech for all sorts of beasts, and as an adviser is
purchasing horses.

Paula wanted to speak with them both, and she knew exactly where to find
them; but she could not get to them without exposing herself to much
that was unpleasant, for the governor’s free retainers and their
friends, not to mention the guard of soldiers who, now that the gates
were closed, were still sitting in parties to gossip; they would
certainly not break up for some time yet, since the slaves were only now
bringing out the soldiers’ supper.

The clatter in the court-yard was unceasing, for every one who was free
to come out was enjoying the coolness of the night. Among them there
were no slaves; these had been sent to their quarters when the gates
were shut; but even in their dwellings voices were still audible.

With a beating heart Paula tried to see and hear all that came within
the ken of her keen eyes and ears. The growing moon lighted up half the
enclosure, the rest, so far as the shadow fell, lay in darkness. But in
the middle of a large semi-circle of free servants a fire was blazing,
throwing a fitful light on their brown faces; and now and again, as
fresh pine-cones were thrown in, it flared up and illuminated even the
darker half of the space before her. This added to her trepidation;
she had to cross the court-yard, as she hoped, unseen; for innocent and
natural as her proceedings were, she knew that her uncle’s wife would
put a wrong construction on her nocturnal expedition.

At first Neforis had begged her husband to assist Paula in her search
for her father, of whose death no one had any positive assurance. But
his wife’s urgency had not been needed: the Mukaukas, of his own free
will, had for a whole year done everything in his power to learn the
truth as to the lost man’s end, from Christian or Moslem, till, many
months since, Neforis had declared that any further exertions in the
matter were mere folly, and her weak-willed husband had soon been
brought to share her views and give up the search for the missing hero.
He had secured for Paula, not without some personal sacrifice, much
of her father’s property, had sold the landed estates to advantage,
collected outstanding debts wherever it was still possible, and was
anxious to lay before her a statement of what he had recovered for her.
But she knew that her interests were safe in his hands and was satisfied
to learn that, though she was not rich in the eyes of this Egyptian
Croesus, she was possessed of a considerable fortune. When once and
again she had asked for a portion of it to prosecute her search, the
Mukaukas at once caused it to be paid to her; but the third time he
refused, with the best intentions but quite firmly, to yield to her
wishes. He said he was her Kyrios and natural guardian, and explained
that it was his duty to hinder her from dissipating a fortune which
she might some day find a boon or indeed indispensable, in pursuit of a
phantom--for that was what this search had long since become.

   [Kyrios: The woman’s legal proxy, who represented her in courts of
   justice. His presence gave her equal rights with a man in the eyes
   of the Law.]

The money she had already spent he had replaced out of his own coffers.

This, she felt, was a noble action; still she urged him again and
again to grant her wish, but always in vain. He laid his hand with
firm determination on the wealth in his charge and would not allow her
another solidus for the sole and dearest aim of her life.

She seemed to submit; but her purpose of spending her all to recover any
trace of her lost parent never wavered in her determined soul. She had
sold a string of pearls, and for the price, her faithful Hiram had been
able first to make a long journey himself and then to send out a number
of messengers into various lands. By this time one at least might very
well have reached home with some news, and she must see the freed-man.

But how could she get to him undetected? For some minutes she stood
watching and listening for a favorable moment for crossing the
court-yard. Suddenly a blaze lighted up a face--it was Hiram’s.

At this moment the merry semi-circle laughed loudly as with one voice;
she hastily made up her mind--drew her kerchief closer over her face,
ran quickly along the darker half of the quadrangle and, stooping low,
hurried across the moonlight towards the slaves’ quarters.

At the entrance she paused; her heart throbbed violently. Had she been
observed? No.--There was not a cry, not a following footstep--every dog
knew her; the soldiers who were commonly on guard here had quitted their
posts and were sitting with their comrades round the fire.

The long building to the left was the weaving shop and her nurse
Perpetua lived there, in the upper story. But even here she must be
cautious, for the governor’s wife often came out to give her orders to
the workwomen, and to see and criticise the produce of the hundred looms
which were always in motion, early and late. If she should be seen, one
of the weavers might only too probably betray the fact of her nocturnal
visit. They had not yet gone to rest, for loud laughter fell upon her
ear from the large sheds, open on all sides, which stood over the dyers’
vats. This class of the governor’s people were also enjoying the cool
night after the fierce heat of the day, and the girls too had lighted a
fire.

Paula must pass them in full moonshine--but not just yet; and she
crouched close to the straw thatch which stretched over the huge clay
water-jars placed here for the slave-girls to get drink from. It cast
a dark triangular shadow on the dusty ground that gleamed in the
moonlight, and thus screened her from the gaze of the girls, while she
could hear and see what was going on in the sheds.

The dreadful day of torture ending in a harsh discord was at end; and
behind it she looked back on a few blissful hours full of the promise
of new happiness;--beyond these lay a long period of humiliation, the
sequel of a terrible disaster. How bright and sunny had her childhood
been, how delightful her early youth! For long years of her life she
had waked every morning to new joys, and gone to rest every evening
with sincere and fervent thanksgivings, that had welled from her soul
as freely and naturally as perfume from a rose. How often had she shaken
her head in perplexed unbelief when she heard life spoken of as a vale
of sorrows, and the lot of man bewailed as lamentable. Now she knew
better; and in many a lonely hour, in many a sleepless night, she had
asked herself whether He could, indeed, be a kind and fatherly-loving
God who could let a child be born and grow up, and fill its soul
with every hope, and then bereave it of everything that was dear and
desirable--even of hope.

But the hapless girl had been piously brought up; she could still
believe and pray; and lately it had seemed as though Heaven would grant
that for which her tender heart most longed: the love of a beloved and
love-worthy man. And now--now?

There she stood with an inconsolable sense of
bereavement--empty-hearted; and if she had been miserable before Orion’s
return, now she was far more so; for whereas she had then been lonely
she was now defrauded--she, the daughter of Thomas, the relation and
inmate of the wealthiest house in the country; and close to her, from
the rough hewn, dirty dyers’ sheds such clear and happy laughter rang
out from a troop of wretched slave wenches, always liable to the blows
of the overseer’s rod, that she could not help listening and turning
to look at the girls on whom such an overflow of high spirits and
light-heartedness was bestowed.

A large party had collected under the wide palm-thatched roof of the
dyeing shed-pretty and ugly, brown and fair, tall and short; some
upright and some bent by toil at the loom from early youth, but all
young; not one more than eighteen years old. Slaves were capital,
bearing interest in the form of work and of children. Every slave girl
was married to a slave as soon as she was old enough. Girls and married
women alike were employed in the weaving shop, but the married ones
slept in separate quarters with their husbands and children, while
the maids passed the night in large sleeping-barracks adjoining the
worksheds. They were now enjoying the evening respite and had gathered
in two groups. One party were watching an Egyptian girl who was
scribbling sketches on a tablet; the others were amusing themselves with
a simple game. This consisted in each one in turn flinging her shoe over
her head. If it flew beyond a chalk-line to which she turned her back
she was destined soon to marry the man she loved; if it fell between
her and the mark she must yet have patience, or would be united to a
companion she did not care for.

The girl who was drawing, and round whom at least twenty others were
crowded, was a designer of patterns for weaving; she had too the gift
which had characterized her heathen ancestors, of representing faces
in profile, with a few simple lines, in such a way that, though often
comically distorted, they were easily recognizable. She was executing
these works of art on a wax tablet with a copper stylus, and the others
were to guess for whom they were meant.

One girl only sat by herself by the furthest post of the shed, and gazed
silently into her lap.

Paula looked on and could understand everything that was going forward,
though no coherent sentence was uttered and there was nothing to be
heard but laughter--loud, hearty, irresistible mirth. When a girl threw
the shoe far enough the youthful crowd laughed with all their might,
each one shouting the name of some one who was to marry her successful
companion; if the shoe fell within the line they laughed even louder
than before, and called out the names of all the oldest and dirtiest
slaves. A dusky Syrian had failed to hit the mark, but she boldly seized
the chalk and drew a fresh line between herself and the shoe so that
it lay beyond, at any rate; and their merriment reached a climax when a
number of them rushed up to wipe out the new line, a saucy, crisp-haired
Nubian tossed the shoe in the air and caught it again, while the rest
could not cease for delight in such a good joke and cried every name
they could think of as that of the lover for whom their companion had so
boldly seized a spoke in Fortune’s wheel.

Some spirit of mirth seemed to have taken up his quarters in the
draughty shed; the group round the sketcher was not less noisy than the
other. If a likeness was recognized they were all triumphant, if not
they cried the names of this or that one for whom it might be intended.
A storm of applause greeted a successful caricature of the severest of
the overseers. All who saw it held their sides for laughing, and great
was the uproar when one of the girls snatched away the tablet and the
rest fell upon her to scuffle for it.

Paula had watched all this at first with distant amazement, shaking
her head. How could they find so much pleasure in such folly, in such
senseless amusements? When she was but a little child even she, of
course, could laugh at nothing, and these grown-up girls, in their
ignorance and the narrow limitations of their minds, were they not one
and all children still? The walls of the governor’s house enclosed their
world, they never looked beyond the present moment--just like children;
and so, like children, they could laugh.

“Fate,” thought she, “at this moment indemnifies them for the misfortune
of their birth and for a thousand days of misery, and presently they
will go tired and happy to bed. I could envy these poor creatures! If it
were permissible I would join them and be a child again.”

The comic portrait of the overseer was by this time finished, and a
short, stout wench burst into a fit of uproarious and unquenchable
laughter before any of the rest. It came so naturally, too, from the
very depths of her plump little body that Paula, who had certainly not
come hither to be gay, suddenly caught the infection and had to laugh
whether she would or no. Sorrow and anxiety were suddenly forgotten,
thought and calculation were far from her; for some minutes she felt
nothing but that she, too, was laughing heartily, irrepressibly, like
the young healthful human creature that she was. Ah, how good it was
thus to forget herself for once! She did not put this into words, but
she felt it, and she laughed afresh when the girl who had been
sitting apart joined the others, and exclaimed something which was
unintelligible to Paula, but which gave a new impetus to their mirth.

The tall slight form of this maiden was now standing by the fire. Paula
had never seen her before and yet she was by far the handsomest of them
all; but she did not look happy and perhaps was in some pain, for she
had a handkerchief over her head which was tied at the top over the
thick fair hair as though she had the toothache. As she looked at her
Paula recovered herself, and as soon as she began to think merriment was
at an end. The slave-girls were not of this mind; but their laughter
was less innocent and frank than it had been; for it had found an object
which they would have done better to pass by.

The girl with the handkerchief over her head was a slave too, but she
had only lately come into the weaving-sheds after being employed for a
long time at needle work under two old women, widows of slaves. She had
been brought as an infant from Persia to Alexandria with her mother, by
the troops of Heraclius, after the conquest of Chosroes II.; and they
had been bought together for the Mukaukas. When her little one was but
thirteen the mother died under the yoke to which she was not born; the
child was a sweet little girl with a skin as white as the swan and thick
golden hair, which now shone with strange splendor in the firelight.
Orion had remarked her before his journey, and fascinated by the beauty
of the Persian girl, had wished to have her for his own. Servants and
officials, in unscrupulous collusion, had managed to transport her to a
country-house belonging to the Mukaukas on the other side of the Nile,
and there Orion had been able to visit her undisturbed as often as
fancy prompted him. The slave-girl, scarcely yet sixteen, ignorant and
unprotected, had not dared nor desired to resist her master’s handsome
son, and when Orion had set out for Constantinople--heedless and weary
already of the girl who had nothing to give him but her beauty--Dame
Neforis found out her connection with her son and ordered the head
overseer to take care that the unhappy girl should not “ply her
seductive arts” any more. The man had carried out her instructions by
condemning the fair Persian, according to an ancient custom, to have her
ears cut off. After this cruel punishment the mutilated beauty sank into
a state of melancholy madness, and although the exorcists of the Church
and other thaumaturgists had vainly endeavored to expel the demon of
madness, she remained as before: a gentle, good-humored creature, quiet
and diligent at her work, under the women who had charge of her, and
now in the common work-shop. It was only when she was idle that her
craziness became evident, and of this the other girls took advantage for
their own amusement.

They now led Mandane to the fire, and with farcical reverence requested
her to be seated on her throne--an empty color cask, for she suffered
under the strange permanent delusion that she was the wife of the
Mukaukas George. They laughingly did her homage, craved some favor or
made enquiries as to her husband’s health and the state of her affairs.
Hitherto a decent instinct of reserve had kept these poor ignorant
creatures from mentioning Orion’s name in her presence, but now a
woolly-headed negress, a lean, spiteful hussy, went up to her, and said
with a horrible grimace:

“Oh, mistress, and where is your little son Orion?” The crazy girl did
not seem startled by the question; she replied very gravely: “I have
married him to the emperor’s daughter at Constantinople.”

“Hey day! A splendid match!” exclaimed the black girl. “Did you know
that the young lord was here again? He has brought home his grand wife
to you no doubt, and we shall see purple and crowns in these parts!”

These words brought a deep flush into the poor creature’s face. She
anxiously pressed her hands on the bandage that covered her ears and
said: “Really Has he really come home?”

“Only quite lately,” said another and more good-natured girl, to soothe
her.

“Do not believe her!” cried the negress. “And if you want to know the
latest news of him: Last night he was out boating on the Nile with the
tall Syrian. My brother, the boatman, was among the rowers; and he went
on finely with the lady I can tell you, finely....”

“My husband, the great Mukaukas?” asked Mandane, trying to collect her
ideas.

“No. Your son Orion, who married the emperor’s daughter,” laughed the
negress.

The crazy girl stood up, looked about with a restless glance, and
then, as though she had not fully understood what had been said to her,
repeated: “Orion? Handsome Orion?”

“Aye, your sweet son, Orion!” they all shouted, as loud as though she
were deaf. Then the usually placable girl, holding her hand over her
ear, with the other hit her tormentor such a smack on her thick lips
that it resounded, while she shrieked out loud, in shrill tones:

“My son, did you say? My son Orion?--As if you did not know! Why, he was
my lover; yes, he himself said he was, and that was why they came and
bound me and cut my ears.--But you know it. But I do not love him--I
could, I might wish, I....” She clenched her fists, and gnashed her
white teeth, and went on with panting breath:

“Where is he?--You will not tell me? Wait a bit--only wait. Oh, I am
sharp enough, I know you have him here.--Where is be? Orion, Orion,
where are you?”

She sprang away, ran through the sheds and lifted the lids of all the
color-vats, stooping low to look down into each as if she expected to
find him there, while the others roared with laughter.

Most of her companions giggled at this witless behavior; but some, who
felt it somewhat uncanny and whom the unhappy girl’s bitter cry
had struck painfully, drew apart and had already organized some new
amusement, when a neat little woman appeared on the scene, clapping her
plump hands and exclaiming:

“Enough of laughter--now, to bed, you swarm of bees. The night is
over too soon in the morning, and the looms must be rattling again by
sunrise. One this way and one that, just like mice when the cat appears.
Will you make haste, you night-birds? Come, will you make haste?”

The girls had learnt to obey, and they hurried past the matron to their
sleeping-quarters. Perpetua, a woman scarcely past fifty, whose face
wore a pleasant expression of mingled shrewdness and kindness, stood
pricking up her ears and listening; she heard from the water-shed a
peculiar low, long-drawn Wheeuh!--a signal with which she was familiar
as that by which the prefect Thomas had been wont to call together his
scattered household from the garden of his villa on Mount Lebanon. It
was now Paula who gave the whistle to attract her nurse’s attention.

Perpetua shook her head anxiously. What could have brought her beloved
child to see her at so late an hour? Something serious must have
occurred, and with characteristic presence of mind she called out, to
show that she had heard Paula’s signal: “Now, make haste. Will you be
quick? Wheeuh! girls--wheeuh! Hurry, hurry!”

She followed the last of the slave-girls into the sleeping-room, and
when she had assured herself that they were all there but the crazy
Persian she enquired where she was. They had all seen her a few minutes
ago in the shed; so she bid them good-night and left them, letting it be
understood that she was about to seek the missing girl.



CHAPTER VII.

Paula went into her nurse’s room, and Perpetua, after a short and vain
search for the crazy girl, abandoned her to her fate, not without some
small scruples of conscience.

A beautifully-polished copper lamp hung from the ceiling and the little
room exactly suited its mistress both were neat and clean, trim and
spruce, simple and yet nice. Snowy transparent curtains enclosed the
bed as a protection against the mosquitoes, a crucifix of delicate
workmanship hung above the head of the couch, and the seats were covered
with good cloth of various colors, fag-ends from the looms. Pretty straw
mats lay on the floor, and pots of plants, filling the little room with
fragrance, stood on the window-sill and in a corner of the room where a
clay statuette of the Good Shepherd looked down on a praying-desk.

The door had scarcely closed behind them when Perpetua exclaimed: “But
child, how you frightened me! At so late an hour!”

“I felt I must come,” said Paula. “I could contain myself no longer.”

“What, tears?” sighed the woman, and her own bright little eyes twinkled
through moisture. “Poor soul, what has happened now?”

She went up to the young girl to stroke her hair, but Paula rushed into
her arms, clung passionately round her neck, and burst into loud and
bitter weeping. The little matron let her weep for a while; then she
released herself, and wiped away her own tears and those of her tall
darling, which had fallen on her smooth grey hair. She took Paula’s chin
in a firm hand and turned her face towards her own, saying tenderly but
decidedly: “There, that is enough. You might cry and welcome, for
it eases the heart, but that it is so late. Is it the old story:
home-sickness, annoyances, and so forth, or is there anything new?”

“Alas, indeed!” replied the girl. She pressed her handkerchief in
her hands as she went on with excited vehemence: “I am in the last
extremity, I can bear it no longer, I cannot--I cannot! I am no longer
a child, and when in the evening you dread the night and in the morning
dread the day which must be so wretched, so utterly unendurable....”

“Then you listen to reason, my darling, and say to yourself that of two
evils it is wise to choose the lesser. You must hear me say once more
what I have so often represented to you before now: If we renounce our
city of refuge here and venture out into the wide world again, what
shall we find that will be an improvement?”

“Perhaps nothing but a hovel by a well under a couple of palm-trees;
that would satisfy me, if I only had you and could be free--free from
every one else!”

“What is this; what does this mean?” muttered the elder woman shaking
her head. “You were quite content only the day before yesterday.
Something must have....”

“Yes, must have happened and has,” interrupted the girl almost beside
herself. “My uncle’s son.--You were there when he arrived--and
I thought, even I firmly believed that he was worthy of such a
reception.--I--I--pity me, for I... You do not know what influence that
man exercises over hearts.--And I--I believed his eyes, his words, his
songs and--yes, I must confess all--even his kisses on this hand! But it
was all false, all--a lie, a cruel sport with a weak, simple heart, or
even worse--more insulting still! In short, while he was doing all in
his power to entrap me--even the slaves in the barge observed it--he was
in the very act--I heard it from Dame Neforis, who is only too glad when
she can hurt me--in the very act of suing for the hand of that little
doll--you know her--little Katharina. She is his betrothed; and yet
the shameless wretch dares to carry on his game with me; he has the
face....”

Again Paula sobbed aloud; but the older woman did not know how to help
in the matter and could only mutter to herself: “Bad, bad--what, this
too!--Merciful Heaven!...” But she presently recovered herself and said
firmly: “This is indeed a new and terrible misfortune; but we have known
worse--much, much worse! So hold up your head, and whatever liking you
may have in your heart for the traitor, tear it out and trample on it.
Your pride will help you; and if you have only just found out what my
lord Orion is, you may thank God that things had gone no further between
you!” Then she repeated to Paula all that she knew of Orion’s misconduct
to the frenzied Mandane, and as Paula gave strong utterance to her
indignation, she went on:

“Yes, child, he is a man to break hearts and ruin happiness, and perhaps
it was my duty to warn you against him; but as he is not a bad man in
other things--he saved the brother of Hathor the designer--you know
her--from drowning, at the risk of his own life--and as I hoped you
might be on friendly terms with him at least, on his return home, I
refrained.... And besides, old fool that I am, I fancied your proud
heart wore a breastplate of mail, and after all it is only a foolish
girl’s heart like any other, and now in its twenty-first year has given
its love to a man for the first time.”

But Paula interrupted her: “I love the traitor no more! No, I hate him,
hate him beyond words! And the rest of them! I loathe them all!”

“Alas! that it should be so!” sighed the nurse. “Your lot is no doubt a
hard one. He--Orion--of course is out of the question; but I often ask
myself whether you might not mend matters with the others. If you had
not made it too hard for them, child, they must have loved you; they
could not have helped it; but ever since you have been in the house you
have only felt miserable and wished that they would let you go your own
way, and they--well they have done so; and now you find it ill to bear
the lot you chose for yourself. It is so indeed, child, you need not
contradict me. This once we will put the matter plainly: Who can hope
to win love that gives none, but turns away morosely from his
fellow-creatures? If each of us could make his neighbors after his own
pattern--then indeed! But life requires us to take them just as we find
them, and you, sweetheart, have never let this sink into your mind!”

“Well, I am what I am!”

“No doubt, and among the good you are the best--but which of them all
can guess that? Every one to some extent plays a part. And you! What
wonder if they never see in you anything but that you are unhappy? God
knows it is ten thousand times a pity that you should be! But who can
take pleasure in always seeing a gloomy face?”

“I have never uttered a single word of complaint of my troubles to any
one of them!” cried Paula, drawing herself up proudly.

“That is just the difficulty,” replied Perpetua. “They took you in, and
thought it gave them a claim on your person and also on your sorrows.
Perhaps they longed to comfort you; for, believe me, child, there is
a secret pleasure in doing so. Any one who is able to show us sympathy
feels that it does him more good than it does us. I know life! Has it
never occurred to you that you are perhaps depriving your relations
in the great house of a pleasure, perhaps even doing them an injury by
locking up your heart from them? Your grief is the best side of you, and
of that you do indeed allow them to catch a glimpse; but where the pain
is you carefully conceal. Every good man longs to heal a wound when he
sees it, but your whole demeanor cries out: ‘Stay where you are, and
leave me in peace.’--If only you were good to your uncle!”

“But I am, and I have felt prompted a hundred times to confide in
him--but then...”

“Well--then?”

“Only look at him, Betta; see how he lies as cold as marble, rigid and
apathetic, half dead and half alive. At first the words often rose to my
lips...”

“And now?”

“Now all the worst is so long past; I feel I have forfeited the right to
complain to him of all that weighs me down.”

“Hm,” said Perpetua who had no answer ready. “But take heart, my child.
Orion has at any rate learnt how far he may venture. You can hold your
head high enough and look cool enough. Bear all that cannot be mended,
and if an inward voice does not deceive me, he whom we seek...”

“That was what brought me here. Are none of our messengers returned
yet?”

“Yes, the little Nabathaean is come,” replied her nurse with some
hesitation, “and he indeed--but for God’s sake, child, form no vain
hopes! Hiram came to me soon after sun-down...”

“Betta!” screamed the girl, clinging to her nurse’s arm. “What has he
heard, what news does he bring?”

“Nothing, nothing! How you rush at conclusions! What he found out
is next to nothing. I had only a minute to speak to Hiram. To-morrow
morning he is to bring the man to me. The only thing he told me...”

“By Christ’s Wounds! What was it?”

“He said that the messenger had heard of an elderly recluse, who had
formerly been a great warrior.”

“My father, my father!” cried Paula. “Hiram is sitting by the fire with
the others. Fetch him here at once--at once; I command you, Perpetua, do
you hear? Oh best, dearest Betta! Come with me; we will go to him.”

“Patience, sweetheart, a little patience!” urged the nurse. “Ah, poor
dear soul, it will turn out to be nothing again; and if we again follow
up a false clue it will only lead to fresh disappointment.”

“Never mind: you are to come with me.”

“To all the servants round the fire, and at this time of night? I should
think so indeed!--But do you wait here, child. I know how it can be
managed.

“I will wake Hiram’s Joseph. He sleeps in the stable yonder--and then
he will fetch his father. Ah! what impatience! What a stormy, passionate
little heart it is! If I do not do your bidding, I shall have you awake
all night, and wandering about to-morrow as if in a dream.--There, be
quiet, be quiet, I am going.”

As she spoke she wrapped her kerchief round her head and hurried out;
Paula fell on her knees before the crucifix over the bed, and prayed
fervently till her nurse returned, Soon after she heard a man’s steps on
the stairs and Hiram came in.

He was a powerful man of about fifty, with a pair of honest blue eyes in
his plain face. Any one looking at his broad chest would conclude that
when he spoke it would be in a deep bass voice; but Hiram had stammered
from his infancy; and from constant companionship with horses he had
accustomed himself to make a variety of strange, inarticulate noises in
a high, shrill voice. Besides, he was always unwilling to speak. When
he found himself face to face with the daughter of his master and
benefactor, he knelt at her feet, looked up at her with faithful,
dog-like eyes full of affection, and kissed first her dress, and then
her hand which she held out to him. Paula kindly but decidedly cut
short the expressions of delight at seeing her again which he painfully
stammered out; and when he at length began to tell his story his words
came far too slowly for her impatience.

He told her that the Nabathaean who had brought the rumor that had
excited her hopes, was not unwilling to follow up the trace he had
found, but he would not wait beyond noon the next day and had tried to
bid for high terms.

“He shall have them--as much as he wants!” cried Paula. “But Hiram
entreated her, more by looks and vague cries than by articulate words,
not to hope for too much. Dusare the Nabathaean--Perpetua now took up
the tale--had heard of a recluse, living at Raithu on the Red Sea, who
had been a great warrior, by birth a Greek, and who for two years
had been leading a life of penance in great seclusion among the pious
brethren on the sacred Mount of Sinai. The messenger had not been able
to learn what his name in the world had been, but among the hermits he
was known as Paulus.”

“Paulus!” interrupted the girl with panting breath. “A name that must
remind him of my mother and of me, yes, of me! And he, the hero of
Damascus, who was called Thomas in the world, believing that I was dead,
has no doubt dedicated himself to the service of God and of Christ, and
has taken the name of Paulus, as Saul, the other man of Damascus did
after his con version,--exactly like him! Oh! Betta, Hiram, you will
see: it is he, it must be! How can you doubt it?”

The Syrian shook his head doubtfully and gave vent to a long-drawn
whistle, and Perpetua clasped her hands exclaiming distressfully: “Did
I not say so? She takes the fire lighted by shepherds at night to warm
their hands for the rising sun--the rattle of chariots for the thunders
of the Almighty!--Why, how many thousands have called themselves Paulus!
By all the Saints, child, I beseech you keep quiet, and do not try to
weave a holiday-robe out of airy mist! Be prepared for the worst; then
you are armed against failure and preserve your right to hope! Tell her,
tell her, Hiram, what else the messenger said; it is nothing positive;
everything is as uncertain as dust in the breeze.”

The freedman then explained that this Nabathaean was a trustworthy man,
far better skilled in such errands than himself, for he understood both
Syriac and Egyptian, Greek and Aramaic; and nevertheless he had failed
to find out anything more about this hermit Paulus at Tor, where
the monks of the monastery of the Transfiguration had a colony.
Subsequently, however, on the sea voyage to Holzum, he had been informed
by some monks that there was a second Sinai. The monastery there--but
here Perpetua again was the speaker, for the hapless stammerer’s
brow was beaded with sweat--the monastery at the foot of the peaked,
heaven-kissing mountain, had been closed in consequence of the heresies
of its inhabitants; but in the gorges of these great heights there
were still many recluses, some in a small Coenobium, some in Lauras and
separate caves, and among these perchance Paulus might be found. This
clue seemed a good one and she and Hiram had already made up their minds
to follow it up; but the warrior monk was very possibly a stranger,
and they had thought it would be cruel to expose her to so keen a
disappointment.

Here Paula interrupted her, crying in joyful excitement:

“And why should not something besides disappointment be my portion for
once? How could you have the heart to deprive me of the hope on which my
poor heart still feeds?--But I will not be robbed of it. Your Paulus
of Sinai is my lost father. I feel it, I know it! If I had not sold my
pearls, the Nabathaean.... But as it is. When can you start, my good
Hiram?”

“Not before a fort--a fortnight at--at--at--soonest,” said the man. “I
am in the governor’s service now, and the day after to-morrow is the
great horse-fair at Niku. The young master wants some stallions bought
and there are our foals to....”

“I will implore my uncle to-morrow, to spare you,” cried Paula. “I will
go on my knees to him.”

“He will not let him go,” said the nurse. “Sebek the steward told him
all about it from me before the hour of audience and tried to have Hiram
released.”

“And he said...?”

“The lady Neforis said it was all a mere will-o’-the-wisp, and my lord
agreed with her. Then your uncle forbade Sebek to betray the matter to
you, and sent word to me that he would possibly send Hiram to Sinai
when the horse-fair was over. So take patience, sweetheart. What are two
weeks, or at most three--and then....”

“But I shall die before then!” cried Paula. “The Nabathaean, you say, is
here and willing to go.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“Then we will secure him,” said Paula resolutely. Perpetua, however, who
must have discussed the matter fully with her fellow-countryman, shook
her head mournfully and said: “He asks too much for us!”

She then explained that the man, being such a good linguist, had already
been offered an engagement to conduct a caravan to Ctesiphon. This
would be a year’s pay to him, and he was not inclined to break off his
negotiations with the merchant Hanno and search the deserts of Arabia
Petraea for less than two thousand drachmae.

“Two thousand drachmae!” echoed Paula, looking down in distress
and confusion; but she presently looked up and exclaimed with angry
determination: “How dare they keep from me that which is my own? If my
uncle refuses what I have to ask, and will ask, then the inevitable must
happen, though for his sake it will grieve me; I must put my affairs in
the hands of the judges.”

“The judges?” Perpetua smiled. “But you cannot lay a complaint without
your kyrios, and your uncle is yours. Besides: before they have settled
the matter the messenger may have been to Ctesiphon and back, far as it
is.”

Again her nurse entreated her to have patience till the horse-fair
should be over. Paula fixed her eyes on the ground. She seemed quite
crushed; but Perpetua started violently and Hiram drew back a step when
she suddenly broke out in a loud, joyful cry of “Father in Heaven, I
have what we need!”

“How, child, what?” asked the nurse, pressing her hand to her heart. But
Paula vouchsafed no information; she turned quickly to the Syrian:

“Is the outer court-yard clear yet? Are the people gone?” she asked.

The reply was in the affirmative. The freed servants had retired when
Hiram left them. The officials would not break up for some time yet, but
there was less difficulty in passing them.

“Very good,” said the girl. “Then you, Hiram, lead the way and wait for
me by the little side door. I will give you something in my room
which will pay the Nabathaean’s charges ten times over. Do not look so
horrified, Betta. I will give him the large emerald out of my mother’s
necklace.” The woman clasped her hands, and cried out in dismay and
warning.

“Child, child! That splendid gem! an heirloom in the family--that stone
which came to you from the saintly Emperor Theodosius--to sell that of
all things! Nay-to throw it away; not to rescue your father either,
but merely--yes child, for that is the truth, merely because you lack
patience to wait two little weeks!”

“That is hard, that is unjust, Betta,” Paula broke in reprovingly. “It
will be a question of a month, and we all know how much depends on
the messenger. Do you forget how highly Hiram spoke of this very man’s
intelligence? And besides--must I, the younger, remind you?--What is the
life of man? An instant may decide his life or death; and my father is
an old man, scarred from many wounds even before the siege. It may make
just the difference between our meeting, or never meeting again.”

“Yes, yes,” said the old woman in subdued tones, “perhaps you are right,
and if I...” But Paula stopped her mouth with a kiss, and then desired
Hiram to carry the gem, the first thing in the morning, to Gamaliel the
Jew, a wealthy and honest man, and not to sell it for less than twelve
thousand drachmae. If the goldsmith could not pay so much for it at
once, he might be satisfied to bring away the two thousand drachmae for
the messenger, and fetch the remainder at another season.

The Syrian led the way, and when, after a long leave-taking, she quitted
her nurse’s pleasant little room, Hiram had done her bidding and was
waiting for her at the little side door.



CHAPTER VIII.

As Hiram had supposed, the better class of the household were still
sitting with their friends, and they had been joined by the guide and
by the Arab merchant’s head man: Rustem the Masdakite, as well as his
secretary and interpreter.

With the exception only of Gamaliel the Jewish goldsmith, and the Arab’s
followers, the whole of the party were Christians; and it had gone
against the grain to admit the Moslems into their circle--the Jew had
for years been a welcome member of the society. However, they had done
so, and not without marked civility; for their lord had desired that
the strangers should be made welcome, and they might expect to hear much
that was new from wanderers from such a distance. In this, to be sure,
they were disappointed, for the dragoman was taciturn and the Masdakite
could speak no Egyptian, and Greek very ill. So, after various futile
attempts to make the new-comers talk, they paid no further heed to them,
and Orion’s secretary became the chief speaker. He had already told them
yesterday much that was fresh and interesting about the Imperial court;
to-day he entered into fuller details of the brilliant life his young
lord had led at Constantinople, whither he had accompanied him. He
described the three races he had won in the Circus with his own horses;
gave a lively picture of his forcing his way with only five followers
through a raging mob of rioters, from the palace to the church of St.
Sophia; and then enlarged on Orion’s successes among the beauties of the
Capital.

“The queen of them all,” he went on in boastful accents, “was
Heliodora--no flute-player nor anything of that kind; no indeed, but
a rich, elegant, and virtuous patrician lady, the widow of Flavianus,
nephew to Justinus the senator, and a relation of the Emperor. All
Constantinople was at her feet, the great Gratian himself sought to win
her, but of course, in vain. There is no palace to compare with hers in
all Egypt, not even in Alexandria. The governor’s residence here--for
I think nothing of mere size--is a peasant’s hut--a wretched barn by
comparison! I will tell you another time what that casket of treasures
is like. Its door was besieged day and night by slaves and freedmen
bringing her offerings of flowers and fruit, rare gifts, and tender
verses written on perfumed, rose-colored silk; but her favors were not
to be purchased till she met Orion. Would you believe it: from the first
time she saw him in Justinus’ villa she fell desperately in love with
him; it was all over with her; she was his as completely as the ring on
my finger is mine!”

And in his vanity he showed his hearers a gold ring, with a gem of some
value, which he owed to the liberality of his young master. “From that
day forth,” he eagerly went on, “the names of Orion and Heliodora were
in every mouth, and how often have I seen men quite beside themselves
over the beauty of this divine pair. In the Circus, in the theatre, or
sailing about the Bosphorus--they were to be seen everywhere together;
and through the hideous, bloody struggle for the throne they lived in a
Paradise of their own. He often took her out in his chariot; or she took
him in hers.”

“Such a woman has horses too?” asked the head groom contemptuously.

“A woman!” cried the secretary. “A lady of rank!--She has none but
bright chestnuts; large horses of Armenian breed, and small, swift
beasts from the island of Sardinia, which fly on with the chariot, four
abreast, like hunted foxes. Her horses are always decked with flowers
and ribbons fluttering from the gold harness, and the grooms know how
to drive them too!--Well, every one thought that our young lord and the
handsome widow would marry; and it was a terrible blow to the hapless
Heliodora when nothing came of it--she looks like a saint and is as soft
as a kitten. I was by when they parted, and she shed such bitter tears
it was pitiable to see. Still, she could not be angry with her idol,
poor, gentle, tender kitten. She even gave him her lap-dog for a
keepsake--that little silky thing you have seen here. And take my word
for it, that was a true love-token, for her heart was as much set on
that little beast as if it had been her favorite child. And he felt the
parting too, felt it deeply; however, I am his confidential secretary,
and it would never do for me to tell tales out of school. He clasped the
little dog to his heart as he bid her farewell, and he promised her to
send some keepsake in return which should show her how precious her love
had been--and it will be no trifle, that any one may swear who knows
my master. You, Gamaliel, I daresay he has been to you about it by this
time.”

The man thus addressed--the same to whom Hiram was to offer Paula’s
emerald--was a rich Alexandrian of a happy turn of mind; as soon as the
incursion of the Saracens had made Alexandria an unsafe residence, so
that the majority of his fellow Israelites had fled from the great port,
he had found his way to Memphis, where he could count on the protection
of his patron, the Mukaukas George.

He shook his grizzled curls at this question, but he presently whispered
in the secretary’s ear. “We have the very thing he wants. You bring me
the cow and you shall have a calf--and a calf with twelve legs too. Is
it a bargain?”

“Twelve per cent on the profits? Done!” replied the secretary in the
same tone, with a sly smile of intelligence.

When, by-and-bye, an accountant asked him why Orion had not brought home
this fair dame, the bearer too of a noble name, to his parents as their
daughter-in-law, he replied that, being a Greek, she was of course a
Melchite. Those present asked no better reason; as soon as the question
of creed was raised the conversation, as usual in these convivial
evenings, became a squabble over dogmatic differences; in the course of
it a legal official ventured to opine that if the case had been that of
a less personage than a son of the Mukaukas--for whom it was, of
course, out of the question--of a mere Jacobite citizen and his Melchite
sweetheart, for instance, some compromise might have been effected. They
need only have made up their minds each, respectively, to subscribe to
the Monothelitic doctrine--though, he, for his part, could have nothing
to say to anything of the kind; it was warmly upheld by the Imperial
court, and by Cyrus, the deceased patriarch of Alexandria, and was based
on the assumption that there were indeed two natures in Christ, but both
under the control of one and the same will. By this dogma there were
in the Saviour two persons no doubt; still it asserted His unity in a
certain qualified sense, and this was the most important point.

Such an heretical proposition was of course loudly disapproved of by the
assembled Jacobites; differences of opinion were more and more strongly
asserted, and a calm interchange of views turned to a riotous quarrel
which threatened to end in actual violence.

This discussion was already beginning when Paula succeeded in slipping
unseen across the court-yard.

She silently beckoned to Hiram to follow her; he cautiously took off
his shoes, pushed them under the steep servants’ stairs, and in a few
minutes was standing in the young girl’s room. Paula at once opened a
chest, and took out a costly and beautifully-wrought necklace set with
pearls. This she handed to the Syrian, desiring him to wrench from
its setting a large emerald which hung from the middle. The freedman’s
strong hand, with the aid of a knife, quickly and easily did the work;
and he stood weighing the gem, as it lay freed from the gold hemisphere
that had held it, larger than a walnut, shining and sparkling on his
palm, while Paula repeated the instructions she had already given him in
her nurse’s room.

The faithful soul had no sooner left his beloved mistress than she
proceeded to unplait her long thick hair, smiling the while with happy
hope; but she had not yet begun to undress when she heard a knock. She
started, flew to the door and hastily bolted it, while she enquired:

“Who is there?”--preparing herself for the worst. “Hiram,” was the
whispered reply. She opened the door, and he told her that meanwhile the
side door had been locked, and that he knew no other way out from the
great rambling house whither he rarely had occasion to come.

What was to be done? He could not wait till the door was opened again,
for he must carry out her commission quite early in the morning, and if
he were caught and locked up for only half the day the Nabathaean would
take some other engagement.

With swift decision she twisted up her hair, threw a handkerchief over
her head, and said: “Then come with me; the moon is still up; it would
not be safe to carry a lamp. I will lead the way and you must keep
behind me If only the kitchen is empty, we can reach the Viridarium
unseen. If the upper servants are still sitting in the court-yard the
great door will be open, for several of them sleep in the house. At any
rate you must go through the vestibule; you cannot miss your way out
of the viridarium. But stay! Beki generally lies in front of the
tablinum--the fierce dog from Herrionthis in Thebais; and he does not
know you, for he never goes out of the house, but he will obey me.

“When I lift my hand, hang back a little. He is quite quiet with his
masters, and does not hurt a stranger if they are by. Now, we must not
utter another word.--If we are discovered, I will confess the truth; if
you alone are seen, you can say--well, say you were waiting for Orion,
to speak to him very early about the horse-fair at Niku.”

“A horse was off--off--offered me for sale this very day.”

“Good, very good; then you lingered in the vestibule to speak of
that--to ask the master about it before he should go out. It must be
daylight in a few hours.--Now, come.”

Paula went down the stairs with a sure and rapid step. At the bottom
Hiram again took off his shoes, holding them in his hand, so as to lose
no time in following his mistress. They went on in silence through the
darkness till they reached the kitchen. Here Paula turned and said to
the Syrian:

“If there is any one here, I will say I came to fetch some water; if
there is no one I will cough and you can follow. At any rate I will
leave the door open, and then you will hear what happens. If I am
obliged to return, do you hurry on before me back by the way we came. In
that case I will return to my room where you must wait outside till
the side door is opened again, and if you are found there leave the
explanation to me.--Shrink back, quite into that corner.”

She softly opened the door into the kitchen; the roof was open to the
light of the declining moon and myriad stars. The room was quite empty:
only a cat lay on a bench by the wide hearth, and a few bats flitted
to and fro on noiseless wings; a few live coals still glowed among the
ashes under the spits, like the eyes of lurking beasts of prey. Paula
coughed gently, and immediately heard Hiram’s step behind her; then,
with a beating heart and agonizing fears, she proceeded on her way.
First down a few steps, then through a dark passage, where the bats in
their unswerving flight shot by close to her head. At last they had
to cross the large, open dining-hall. This led into the viridarium, a
spacious quadrangle, paved at the edges and planted in the middle, where
a fountain played; round this square the Governor’s residence was built.
All was still and peaceful in this secluded space, vaulted over by the
high heavens whose deep blue was thickly dotted with stars. The moon
would soon be hidden behind the top of the cornice which crowned the
roof of the building. The large-leaved plants in the middle of the
quadrangle threw strange, ghostly shadows on the dewy grass-plot; the
water in the fountain splashed more loudly than by day, but with a
soothing, monotonous gurgle, broken now and then by a sudden short
pause. The marble pillars gleamed as white as snow, and filmy mists,
which were beginning to rise from the damp lawn, floated languidly
hither and thither on the soft night breeze, like ghosts veiled in
flowing crape. Moths flitted noiselessly round and over the clumps of
bushes, and the whole quiet and restful enclosure was full of sweetness
from the Lotos flowers in the marble basin, from the blossoms of the
luxuriant shrubs and the succulent tropical herbs at their feet. At any
other time it would have been a joy to pause and look round, only to
breathe and let the silent magic of the night exert its spell; but
Paula’s soul was closed against these charms. The sequestered silence
lent a threatening accent to the furious wrangling in the court-yard,
which was audible even here in bursts of uproar; and it was with an
anxious heart that she observed that everything was not in its usual
order; for her sharp eyes could discern no one, nothing, at the entrance
to the tablinum, which was usually guarded by an armed sentinel or by
the watch-dog; and surely--yes, she was not mistaken--the bronze doors
were open, and the moon shone on the bright metal of one half which
stood ajar.

She stopped, and Hiram behind her did the same. They both listened with
such tension that the veins in their foreheads swelled; but from the
tablinum, which was hardly thirty paces from them, came only very faint
and intermittent sounds, indistinct in character and drowned by the
tumult without.

A few long and anxious minutes, and then the half-closed door was
suddenly opened and a man came forth. Paula’s heart stood still, but
she did not for an instant lose her keenness of vision; she at once and
positively recognized the man who came out of the tablinum as Orion
and none other, and the big, long-haired dog too came out and past him,
sniffed the air and then, with a loud bark, rushed on the two watchers.
Trembling and with clenched teeth, but still mistress of herself, she
let him come close to her, and then, calling him by his name: “Beki” in
low, caressing tones, as soon as he recognized her, she laid her hand on
his shaggy head to scratch his ears, as he loved it done.

Paula and her companion were standing behind a column in the deepest
shadow. Thus Orion could not see her, and the dog’s loud bark had
prevented his hearing her coaxing call; so when Beki was quiet and stood
still, Orion whistled to him. The obedient and watchful beast, ran
back, wagging his tail; and his master, greeting him as “a stupid old
cat-hunter,” let him spring over his arm, hugged the creature and then
pushed him off again in play. Then he closed the door and went into the
apartments leading to the courtyard.

“But he must come back this way to go to his own rooms,” said Paula to
her companion with a sigh of relief. “We must wait. But now we must not
lose a minute. Come over to the door of the tablinum. The dog will know
me now and will not bark again.” They hastened on, and when they had
reached the door, which lay in shadow within a deep doorway, Paula asked
her companion: “Did you see who the man was who came out?”

“My lord Orion,” said Hiram. “He was co--co--coming home from the town
when I preceded you across the yard.”

“Indeed?” she said with apparent indifference, and as she leaned against
the cold metal door-panels she looked back into the garden and thought
she was now free to return. She would describe to the freedman the way
he must now go--it was quite simple; but she had not had time to do so
when, from a room dividing the viridarium from the vestibule she heard
first a woman’s shrill voice; then the deeper tones of a man; and hardly
had they exchanged a few sentences, when every sound was lost in the
furious barking of the hound, and immediately after a loud shriek of
pain from a woman fell upon her ear, and the noise of a heavy object
falling to the ground.

What had happened? It must be something portentous and terrible; of that
there could be no doubt; and ere long Paula’s fears were justified. Out
from the room where the scene had taken place rushed Orion, and with him
the dog, across the grass-plot which was usually respected and cherished
as holy ground, towards the side of the house facing the river, which
was where he and all the family had their rooms.

“Now!” cried Paula, quickly leading the way.

She flew in breathless haste through the first room and into the
unguarded hall; but she had not reached the middle of it when she gave a
scream, for before her in the moonlight, lay a body, motionless, at full
length, on the hard, marble floor.

“Run, Hiram, fly!” she cried to her companion. “The door is
ajar--open--I can see it is.”

She fell on her knees by the side of the lifeless form, raised the head,
and saw--the beautiful, deathlike face of the crazy Persian slave. She
felt her hand wet with the blood that had soaked the hapless girl’s
thick, fair hair, and she shuddered; but she resisted her impulse of
horror and loathing, and perceiving some dark stains on the torn peplos
she pulled it aside and saw that the white bosom was bleeding from deep
wounds made in the tender flesh by the cruel fangs of the hound.

Paula’s heart thrilled with indignation, grief and pity. He--he whom
she had only yesterday held to be the epitome of every manly
perfection--Orion, was guilty of so foul a deed! He, of whose
unflinching, dauntless courage she had heard so much, had fled like a
coward, and had left the victim to her fate--twice a victim to him!

But something must be done besides lamenting and raging, and wondering
how in one human soul there could be room for so much that was noble and
fine with so much that was shameful and cruel. She must save the girl,
she must seek help, for Mandane’s bosom still faintly rose and fell
under Paula’s tremulous fingers.

The freedman’s brave heart would not allow him to fly to leave her with
the injured girl; he flung his shoes on the floor, raised the senseless
form, and propped it against one of the columns that stood round the
hall. It was not till his mistress had repeated her orders that he
hurried away. Paula watched him depart; as soon as she heard the
heavy door of the atrium close upon him, heedless of her own
suspicious-looking position, she shouted for help, so loudly that her
cries rang through the nocturnal silence of the house, and in a few
minutes, from this side and that, a slave, a maid, a clerk, a cook, a
watchman, came hurrying in.

Foremost of all--so soon indeed that he must have been on his way when
he heard her cry--came Orion. He wore a light night-dress, intended, so
she said to herself, to give the wretch the appearance of having sprung
out of bed. But was this indeed he? Was this man with a flushed face,
staring eyes, disordered hair and hoarse voice, that favorite of fortune
whose happy nature, easy demeanor, sunny gaze and enchanting song had
bewitched her soul? His hand shook as he came close to her and the
injured slave; and how forced and embarrassed was his enquiry as to what
had happened; how scared he looked as he asked her what had brought her
into this part of the house at such an hour.

She made no reply; but when his mother repeated the question soon after,
in a sharp voice, she--she who had never in her life told a lie--said
with hasty decision: “I could not sleep, and the bark of the dog and a
cry for help brought me here.”

“I call that having sharp ears!” retorted Neforis with an incredulous
shrug. “For the future, at any rate, under similar circumstances
you need not be so prompt. How long, pray, have young girls trusted
themselves alone when murder is cried?”

“If you had but armed yourself, fair daughter of heroes!” added Orion;
but he had no sooner spoken than he bitterly regretted it. What a glance
Paula cast at him! It was more than she could bear to hear him address
her in jest, almost in mockery: him of all men, and at this moment for
the first time--and to be thus reminded of her father! She answered
proudly and with cutting sharpness: “I leave weapons to fighting men and
murderers!”

“To fighting men, and murderers!” repeated Orion, pretending not to
understand the point of her words. He forced a smile; but then, feeling
that he must make some defence, he added bitterly: “Really, that sounds
like the utterance of a feeble-hearted damsel! But let me beg you to
come closer and be calm. These pitiable gashes on the poor creature’s
shoulder--I care more about her than you do, take my word for it--were
inflicted by a four-footed assassin, whose weapons were given by nature.
Yes, that is what happened. Rough old Beki keeps watch at the door of
the tablinum. What brought the poor child here I know not, but he caught
scent of her and pulled her down.”

“Or nothing of the kind!” interrupted Neforis, picking up a pair of
man’s shoes which lay on the ground by the sufferer.

Orion turned as pale as death and hastily took the shoes from his
mother’s hand; he would have liked to fling them up and away through the
open roof. How came they here? Whose were they? Who had been here this
night? Before going into the tablinum he had locked the outer door on
that side, and had returned subsequently to open it again for the people
in the court-yard. It was not till after he had done this that the crazy
girl had rushed upon him; she must have been lurking somewhere about
when he first went through the atrium but had not then found courage
enough to place herself in his way. When she had thrown herself upon
him, the dog had pulled her down before he could prevent it: he would
certainly have sprung past her and have come to the rescue but that he
must thus have betrayed his visit to the tablinum.

It had required all his presence of mind to hurry to his room, fling on
his night garments, and rush back to the scene of disaster. When Paula
had first called for help he was already on his way, and with what
feelings! Never had he felt so bewildered, so confused, so deeply
dissatisfied with himself; for the first time in his life, as he stood
face to face with Paula, he dared not look straight into the eyes of his
fellow-man.

And now these shoes! The owner must have come there with the crazy girl,
and if he had seen him in the tablinum and betrayed what he was doing
there, how could he ever again appear in his parents’ presence? He had
looked upon it as a good joke, but now it had turned to bitter earnest.
At any cost he must and would prevent his nocturnal doings from becoming
known! Some new wrong-doing-nay, the worst was preferable to a stain on
his honor.--Whose could the shoes be? He suddenly held them up on high,
crying with a loud voice: “Do these shoes belong to any of you, you
people? To the gate-keeper perhaps?”

When all were silent, and the porter denied the ownership, he stood
thinking; then he added with a defiant glare, and in a husky voice:
“Then some one who had broken into the house has been startled and
dropped them. Our house-stamp is here on the leather: they were made in
our work-shop, and they still smell of the stable-here, Sebek, you
can convince yourself. Take them into your keeping, man; and tomorrow
morning we will see who has left this suspicious offering in our
vestibule.--You were the first to reach the spot, fair Paula. Did you
see a man about?”

“Yes,” she replied with a hostile and challenging stare.

“And which way did he go?”

“He fled across the viridarium like a coward, running across the
poor, well-kept grass-plot to save time, and vanished upstairs in the
dwelling-rooms.”

Orion ground his teeth, and a mad hatred surged up in him of this
mystery in woman’s form in whose power, as it seemed, his ruin lay, and
whose eyes mashed with revenge and the desire to undo him. What was
she plotting against him? Was there a being on earth who would dare to
accuse him, the spoilt favorite of great and small...? And her look had
meant more than aversion, it had expressed contempt.... How dare she
look so at him? Who in the wide world had a right to accuse him of
anything that could justify such a feeling? Never, never had he met with
enmity like this, least of all from a girl. He longed to annihilate the
high-handed, cold-hearted, ungrateful creature who could humble him so
outrageously after he had allowed her to see that his heart was hers,
and who could make him quail--a man whose courage had been proved a
hundred times. He had to exercise his utmost self-control not to forget
that she was a woman.--What had happened? What demon had been playing
tricks on him--What had so completely altered him within this half-hour
that his whole being seemed subverted even to himself, and that any one
dared to treat him so?

His mother at once observed the terrible change that came over her son’s
face when Paula declared that a man had fled towards the dwelling-rooms;
but she accounted for it in her own way, and exclaimed in genuine alarm:
“Towards the Nile-wing, the rooms where your father sleeps? Merciful
Heaven! suppose they have planned an attack there! Run--fly, Sebek.

“Go across with some armed men! Search the whole house from top to
bottom! Perhaps you will catch the rascal--he had trodden down the
grass--you must find him--you must not let him escape.”

The steward hurried off, but Paula begged the head gardener, who had
come in with the rest, to compare the foot-prints of the fugitive, which
must yet be visible on the damp grass, with the shoes; her heart
beat wildly, and again she tried to catch the young man’s eye. Orion,
however, started forward and went into the viridarium, saying as he
went: “That is my concern.”

But he was ashamed of himself, and felt as if something tight was
throttling him. In his own eyes he appeared like a thief caught in the
act, a traitor, a contemptible rascal; and he began to perceive that he
was indeed no longer what he had been before he had committed that fatal
deed in the tablinum.

Paula breathed hard as she watched him go out. Had he sunk so low as to
falsify the evidence, and to declare that the groom’s broad sole fitted
the tracks of his small and shapely feet? She hated him, and yet she
could have found it in her heart to pray that this, at least, he might
not do; and when he came back and said in some confusion that he could
not be sure, that the shoes did not seem exactly to fit the foot-marks,
she drew a breath of relief and turned again to the wounded girl and the
physician, who, had now made his appearance. Before Neforis followed her
example she drew Orion aside and anxiously asked him what ailed him, he
looked so pale and upset. He only said with some hesitation: “That poor
girl’s fate...” and he pointed to the Persian slave.--“It troubles me.”

“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.”



CHAPTER IX.

“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.

Yesterday evening, after the buying of the hanging, he had yielded to
his mother’s request that he should escort the widow Susannah home. At
her house he had met her husband’s brother, a jovial old fellow named
Chrysippus; and when the conversation turned on the tapestry, and the
Mukaukas’ purpose of dedicating this work of art with all the gems
worked into it, to the Church, the old man had clasped his hands, fully
sharing Orion’s disapproval, and had exclaimed laughing “What, you
the son, and is not even a part of the precious stones to fall to your
share? Why Katharina? Just a little diamond, a tiny opal might well
add to the earthly happiness of the young, though the old must lay up
treasure in heaven.--Do not be a fool! The Church’s maw is full enough,
and really a mouthful is your due.”

And then they drank a good deal of fine wine, till at last the older man
had accompanied Orion home, to stretch his limbs in the cool night air.
A litter was carried behind him for him to return in, and all the way
he had continued to persuade the youth to induce his father not to fling
the whole treasure into the jaws of the Church, but to spare him a few
stones at least for a more pleasing use. They had laughed over it a good
deal, and Orion in his heart had thought Chrysippus very right, and
had remembered Heliodora, and her love of large, handsome gems, and the
keepsake he owed her. But that neither his father nor his mother would
remove a single stone, and that the whole hanging would be dedicated,
was beyond a doubt; at the same time, some of this superfluous splendor
was in fact his due as their son, and a prettier gift to Heliodora than
the large emerald could not be imagined. Yes--and she should have it!
How delighted she would be! He even thought of the chief idea for the
verses to accompany the gift.

He had the key of the tablinum, in which the work was lying, about his
person; and when, on his return, he found the servants still sitting
round the fire, he shut the door of the out-buildings while a feeling
came over him which he remembered having experienced last on occasions
when he and his brothers had robbed a forbidden fruit-tree. He was
on the point of giving up his mad project; and when, in the tablinum
itself, a horrible inward tremor again came over him he had actually
turned to retreat--but he remembered old Chrysippus and his prompts.
To turn and fly now would be cowardice. Heliodora must have the large
emerald, and with his verses; his father might give away all the rest as
he pleased. When he was kneeling in front of the work with his knife in
his hand, that sickening terror had come over him for the third time; if
the large emerald had not come off into his hand at the first effort he
would certainly have rolled the bale up again and have left the tablinum
clean-handed. But the evil demon had been at his elbow, had thrust
the gem into his hand, as it were, so that two cuts with the knife had
sufficed to displace it from its setting. It rolled into his hand and he
felt its noble weight; he cast aside all care, and had thought no more
with anything but pleasure of this splendid trick, which he would relate
to-morrow to old Chrysippus--of course under seal of secrecy.

But now, in the sober light of day, how different did this mad, rash
deed appear; how heavily had he already been punished; what consequences
might it not entail? His hatred of Paula grew every minute: she had
certainly seen all that had happened and would not hesitate to betray
him--that she had shown last night. War, as it were, was declared
between them, and he vowed to himself, with fire in his eyes, that he
would not shirk it! At the same time he could not deny that she had
never looked handsomer than when she stood, with hair half undone,
confronting him--threatening him. “It is to be love or hate between
us.” he muttered to himself. “No half-measures: and she has chosen hate!
Good! Hitherto I have only had to fight against men; but this bold,
hard, and scornful maiden, who rejects every gentle feeling, is no
despicable foe. She has me at bay. If she does her worst by me I will
return it in kind!--And who is the owner of the shoes? I have taken all
possible means to find him. Shameful, shameful! that I cannot hold up
my head to look boldly at my own face in the glass. Heliodora is a sweet
creature, an angel of kindness. She loved me truly; but this--this--Ah;
even for her, this is too great a sacrifice!”

He pressed his hand to his brow and flung himself on a divan. He might
well be weary, for he had not closed his eyes for more than thirty hours
and had already done much business that morning. He had given orders to
Sebek the house-steward and to the captain of the Egyptian guard to hunt
out the owner of the sandals by the aid of the dogs, and to cast him
into prison; next he had of his own accord--since his father generally
did not fall asleep till the morning and had not yet left his
room--tried to pacify the Arab merchant with regard to the mishap that
had befallen his head man under the governor’s roof; but with small
success.

Finally the young man had indulged his desire to compose a few lines
addressed to the fair Heliodora--for there was no form of physical or
mental effort to which he was not trained. He had not lost the idea that
had occurred to him yesterday before his theft in the tablinum, and
to put it into verse was in his present mood an easy task. He wrote as
follows:

   “‘Like liketh like’ saith the saw; and like to like is but fitting.
   Yet, in the hardest of gems thy soft nature rejoices?
   Nay, but if noble and rare, if its beauty is priceless,
   Then, Heliodora, the stone is like thee--akin to thy beauty.
   Thus let this emerald please thee;--and know that the fire
   That fills it with light burns more fierce in the heart of thy
                              Friend.”

He penned the lines rapidly; and as he did so he felt, he knew not why,
an excited thrill, as though every word he threw off was a blow aimed
at Paula. Last night he had intended to send the costly jewel to
the handsome widow in a suitable setting; but now it would be madly
imprudent to order such a thing. He must send it away at once; he had
hastened to pack it up with the verses, with his own hand, and entrusted
it to Chusar, a horsedealer’s groom from Constantinople, who had
brought his Pannonian steeds to Memphis. He had himself seen off this
trustworthy messenger, who could speak no Egyptian and very little
Greek, and when his horse was lost to sight in the dust of the road
leading to Alexandria he had returned home in a calmer mood. Ships were
constantly putting to sea from that port for Constantinople, and Chusar
was enjoined to sail by the first that should be leaving. At least the
odious deed should not have been committed in vain; and yet he would
have given a year of his life if now he could but know that it had never
been done.

“Impossible!” and “Curse it!” were the words he had most frequently
repeated in the course of his retrospect during the past night and
morning. How he had had to rush and hurry under the broiling sun! and
the sense of being compelled to do so for mere concealment’s sake seemed
to him--who had never in his life before done anything that he could not
justify in the eyes of honest men--so humiliating, that it brought the
sweat to his burning brow. He--Orion--to dread discovery as a thief! It
was inconceivable, and he was afraid, positively afraid for the first
time since his boyhood. His fortunate star, which in the Capital
had shone on him so brightly and benevolently, seemed to have proved
faithless in this ruinous hole! What had that Persian girl taken into
her crazy head that she must rush upon him like some furious beast
of prey? He had been bound to her once, no doubt, by a transient
passion--and what youth of his age was blind to the charms of a pretty
slave-girl? She had been a lovely child, and it was a vexation, nay a
grief to him, that she should have been so shamefully punished. If she
should recover, and he could have prayed that she might, it would of
course be his part to provide for her--of course. To be just, he could
not but confess that she indeed had good reason to hate him: but Paula?
He had shown her nothing but kindness and yet how unhesitatingly, how
openly she had displayed her enmity. He could see her now with the
name “murderer” on her quivering lips; the word had stung him like a
lance-thrust. What a hideous, degrading and unjust accusation lay in
that exclamation! Should he submit to it unrevenged?

Was she as innocent as she was haughty and cold? What was she doing in
the viridarium at midnight?--For she must have been there before that
ill-starred dog flew at Mandane. An assignation with the owner of the
shoes his mother had found was out of the question, for they belonged to
some man about the stables. Love, thought he, for a wonder had nothing
to do with it; but as he came in he had noticed a man crossing the
court-yard who looked like Paula’s freedman, Hiram the trainer. Probably
she had arranged a meeting with her stammering friend in order--in
order?--Well, there was but one thing that seemed likely: She
was plotting to fly from his parents’ house and needed this man’s
assistance.

He had seen within a few hours of his return that his mother did not
make life sweet to the girl, and yet his father had very possibly
opposed her wish to seek another home. But why should she avoid and hate
him? In that expedition on the river and on their way home he could have
sworn that she loved him, and the remembrance of those hours brought her
near to him again, and wiped out his schemes of vengeance against her,
of punishment to be visited on her. Then he thought of little Katharina
whom his mother intended him to marry, and at the thought he laughed
softly to himself. In the Imperial gardens at Constantinople he had once
seen a strange Indian bird, with a tiny body and head and an immensely
long tail, shining like silver and mother of pearl. This was Katharina!
She herself a mere nothing; but then her tail! vast estates and immense
sums of money; and this--this was all his mother saw. But did he need
more than he had? How rich his father must be to spend so large a sum on
an offering to the Church as heedlessly as men give alms to a beggar.

Katharina--and Paula!

Yes, the little girl was a bright, brisk creature; but then Thomas’
daughter--what power there was in her eye, what majesty in her gait,
how--how--how enchanting her--her voice could be--her voice....

He was asleep, worn out by heat and fatigue; and in a dream he saw Paula
lying on a couch strewn with roses while all about her sounded wonderful
heart-ensnaring music; and the couch was not solid but blue water,
gently moving: he went towards her and suddenly a large black
eagle swooped down on him, flapped his wings in his face and when,
half-blinded, he put his hand to his eyes the bird pecked the roses as a
hen picks millet and barley. Then he was angry, rushed at the eagle, and
tried to clutch him with his hands; but his feet seemed rooted to the
ground, and the more he struggled to move freely the more firmly he was
dragged backwards. He fought like a madman against the hindering force,
and suddenly it released him. He was still under this impression when
he woke, streaming with perspiration, and opened his eyes. By his couch
stood his mother who had laid her hand on his feet to rouse him.

She looked pale and anxious and begged him to come quickly to his father
who was much disturbed, and wished to speak with him. Then she hurried
away.

While he hastily arranged his hair and had his shoes clasped he felt
vexed that, under the influence of that foolish dream, and still
half asleep, he had let his mother go before ascertaining what the
circumstances were that had given rise to his father’s anxiety. Had it
anything to do with the incidents of the past night? No.--If he had been
suspected his mother would have told him and warned him. It must refer
to something else. Perhaps the old merchant’s stalwart headman had died
of his wounds, and his father wished to send him--Orion--across the Nile
to the Arab viceroy to obtain forgiveness for the murder of a Moslem,
actually within the precincts of the governor’s house. This fatal blow
might indeed entail serious consequences; however, the matter might very
likely be quite other than this.

When he left his room the brooding heat that filled the house struck
him as peculiarly oppressive, and a painful feeling, closely resembling
shame, stole over him as he crossed the viridarium, and glanced at the
grass from which--thanks to Paula’s ill-meant warning--he had carefully
brushed away his foot-marks before daybreak. How cowardly, how base,
it all was The best of all in life: honor, self-respect, the proud
consciousness of being an honest man--all staked and all lost for
nothing at all! He could have slapped his own face or cried aloud like
a child that has broken its most treasured toy. But of what use was all
this? What was done could not be undone; and now he must keep his wits
about him so as to remain, in the eyes of others at least, what he had
always been, low as he had fallen in his own.

It was scorchingly hot in the enclosed garden-plot, surrounded by
buildings, and open to the sun; not a human creature was in sight;
the house seemed dead. The gaudy flag-staffs and trellis-work, and the
pillars of the verandah, which had all been newly painted in honor of
his return and were still wreathed with garlands, exhaled a smell, to
him quite sickening, of melting resin, drying varnish and faded flowers.
Though there was no breath of air the atmosphere quivered, as it seemed
from the fierce rays of the sun, which were reflected like arrows from
everything around him. The butterflies and dragonflies appeared to Orion
to move their wings more languidly as they hovered over the plants and
flowers, the very fountain danced up more lazily and not so high as
usual: everything about him was hot, sweltering, oppressive; and the man
who had always been so independent and looked up to, who for years had
been free to career through life uncontrolled, and guarded by every good
Genius now felt trammelled, hemmed in and harassed.

In his father’s cool fountain-room he could breathe more freely; but
only for a moment. The blood faded from his cheeks, and he had to make a
strong effort to greet his father calmly and in his usual manner; for in
front of the divan where the governor commonly reclined, lay the Persian
hanging, and close by stood his mother and the Arab merchant. Sebek, the
steward awaited his master’s orders, in the background in the attitude
of humility which was torture to his old back, but in which he was never
required to remain: Orion now signed to him to stand up:

The Arab’s mild features wore a look of extreme gravity, and deep
vexation could be read in his kindly eyes. As the young man entered he
bowed slightly; they had already met that morning. The Mukaukas, who was
lying deathly pale with colorless lips, scarcely opened his eyes at his
son’s greeting. It might have been thought that a bier was waiting in
the next room and that the mourners had assembled here.

The piece of work was only half unrolled, but Orion at once saw the spot
whence its crowning glory was now missing--the large emerald which, as
he alone could know, was on its way to Constantinople. His theft had
been discovered. How fearful, how fatal might the issue be!

“Courage, courage!” he said to himself. “Only preserve your presence
of mind. What profit is life with loss of honor? Keep your eyes open;
everything depends on that, Orion!”

He succeeded in hastily collecting his thoughts, and exclaimed in a
voice which lacked little of its usual eager cheerfulness:

“How dismal you all look! It is indeed a terrible disaster that the dog
should have handled the poor girl so roughly, and that our people should
have behaved so outrageously; but, as I told you this morning, worthy
Merchant, the guilty parties shall pay for it with their lives. My
father, I am sure, will agree that you should deal with them according
to your pleasure, and our leech Philippus, in spite of his youth, is
a perfect Hippocrates I can assure you! He will patch up the fine
fellow--your head-man I mean, and as to any question of compensation, my
father--well, you know he is no haggler.”

“I beg you not to add insult to the injury that I have suffered under
your roof,” interrupted Haschim. “No amount of money can buy off my
wrath over the spilt blood of a friend--and Rustem was my friend--a free
and valiant youth. As to the punishment of the guilty: on that I insist.
Blood cries for blood. That is our creed; and though yours, to be sure,
enjoins the contrary, so far as I know you act by the same rule as we.
All honor to your physician; but it goes to my heart, and raises my
gall to see such things take place in the house of the man to whom
the Khaliff has confided the weal or woe of Egyptian Christians. Your
boasted tolerance has led to the death of an honest though humble man
in a time of perfect peace--or at least maimed him for life. As to your
honesty, it would seem...”

“Who dares impugn it?” cried Orion.

“I, young man,” replied the merchant with the calm dignity of age.
“I, who sold this piece of work last evening, and find it this morning
robbed of its most precious ornament.”

“The great emerald has been cut from the hanging during the night.” Dame
Neforis explained. “You yourself went with the man who carried it to the
tablinum and saw it laid there.”

“And in the very cloth in which your people had wrapped it,” added
Orion. “Our good old Sebek there was with me. Who fetched away the bale
this morning; who brought it here and opened it?”

“Happily for us,” said the Arab, “it was your lady mother herself, with
that man--your steward if I mistake not--and your own slaves.”

“Why was it not left where it was?” asked Orion, giving vent to the
annoyance which at this moment he really felt.

“Because I had assured your father, and with good reason, that the
beauty of this splendid work and of the gems that decorate it show to
much greater advantage by daylight and in the sunshine than under the
lamps and torches.”

“And besides, your father wished to see his new purchase once more,”
 Neforis broke in, “and to ask the merchant how the gems might be removed
without injury to the work itself. So I went to the tablinum myself with
Sebek.”

“But I had the key!” cried Orion putting his hand into the breast of his
robe.

“That I had forgotten,” replied his mother. “But unfortunately we did
not need it. The tablinum was open.”

“I locked it yesterday; you saw me do it, Sebek...”

“So I told the mistress,” replied the steward. “I perfectly recollect
hearing the snap of the strong lock.”

Orion shrugged his shoulders, and his mother went on:

“But the bronze doors must have been opened during the night with a
false key, or by some other means; for part of the hanging had been
pulled out of the wrapper, and when we looked closely we saw that the
large emerald had been wrenched out of the setting.”

“Shameful!” exclaimed Orion.

“Disgraceful!” added the governor, vehemently starting up. He had
fallen a prey to fearful unrest and horror: he thought that his Lord and
Saviour, to whom he had dedicated the precious jewel, regarded him as so
sinful and worthless that He would not accept the gift at his hands. But
perhaps it was only Satan striving to hinder him from approaching the
Most High with so noble an offering. At any rate, human cunning had been
at work, so he said with stern resolution:

“The matter shall be enquired into, and in the name of Jesus Christ,
to whom the stone already belongs, I will never rest nor cease till the
criminal is in my hands.”

“And in the name of Allah and the Prophet,” added the Arab, “I will
aid thee, if I have to appeal for help to the great chief Amru, the
Khaliff’s representative in this country.--A word was spoken here just
now that I cannot and will not forget. And the tone you have chosen to
adopt, young man, seems to spring from the same fount: the old fox, you
think, put a false gem of impossible size into the hanging, and has had
it stolen that his fraud may not be detected when a jeweller examines
the work by daylight. This is too much! I am an honest man, Sirs, and I
am fain to add a rich one; and the man who tries to cast a stain on the
character I have borne through a long life shall learn, to his ruing,
that old Haschim has greater and more powerful friends to back him than
you may care to meet!”

As he uttered this threat the merchant’s eyes glistened through tears;
it grieved him to be unjustly suspected and to be forced to express
himself so hardly to the Mukaukas for whom he felt both reverence and
pity. It was clear from the tone of his speech that he was in fact a
determined and a powerful personage, and Orion interrupted him with the
eager enquiry: “Who has dared to think so basely of you?”

“Your own mother, I regret to say,” replied the Moslem sadly, with an
oriental shrug of distress and annoyance--his shoulders up to his ears.

“Forget it, I beg of you,” said the governor. “God knows women have
softer hearts than men, and yet they more readily incline to think evil
of their fellow-creatures, and particularly of the enemies of their
faith. On the other hand they are more sensitive to kindness. A woman’s
hair is long and her wits short, says the saw.”

“You have plenty to say against us women!” retorted Neforis. “But
scold away--scold if it is a comfort to you!” But she added, while she
affectionately turned her husband’s pillows and gave him another of
his white pillules: “I will submit to the worst to-day for I am in the
wrong. I have already asked your pardon, worthy Haschim, and I do so
again, with all my heart.”

As she spoke, she went up to the Arab and held out her hand; he took it,
but lightly, however, and quickly released it, saying:

“I do not find it hard to forgive. But I find it impossible, here or
anywhere, to let so much as a grain of dust rest on my bright good name.
I shall follow up this affair, turning neither to the right hand nor to
the left.--And now, one question: Is the dog that guarded the tablinum a
watchful, savage beast?”

“How savage he is he unfortunately proved on the person of the poor
Persian slave; and his watchfulness is known to all the household,”
 cried Orion.

“But I would beg you, worthy merchant,” said Neforis, “and in the name
of all present, to give us the help of your experience. I myself--wait a
little wait: in spite of her long hair and her short wits a woman often
has a happy idea. I, probably, was the first to come on the robber’s
track. It is clear that he must belong to the household since the dog
did not attack him. Paula, who was so wonderfully quick in coming to the
rescue of the Persian, is of course not to be thought of...”

Here her husband interrupted her with an angry exclamation: “Leave the
girl quite out of the question wife!”

“As if I supposed her to be the thief!” retorted Neforis indignantly,
and she shrugged her shoulders as Orion, in mild reproach, also cried:
“Mother! consider...” and the merchant asked:

“Do you mean the young girl from whom I had to take such hard words last
night?--Well, then, I will stake my whole fortune on her innocence. That
beautiful, passionate creature is incapable of any underhand dealings.”

“Passionate!” Neforis smiled. “Her heart is as cold and as hard as the
lost emerald; we have proved that by experience.”

“Nevertheless,” said Orion, “she is incapable of baseness.”

“How zealous men can be for a pair of fine eyes!” interrupted his
mother. “But I have not the most remote suspicion of her; I have
something quite different in my mind. A pair of man’s shoes were found
lying by the wounded girl. Did you do what my lord Orion ordered,
Sebek?”

“At once, Mistress,” replied the steward, “and I have been expecting the
captain of the watch for some time; for Psamtik....”

But here he was interrupted: the officer in question, who for more than
twenty years had commanded the Mukaukas’ guard of honor, was shown
into the room; after answering a few preliminary enquiries he began his
report in a voice so loud that it hurt the governor, and his wife was
obliged to request the soldier to speak more gently.

The bloodhounds and terriers had been let out after being allowed to
smell at the shoes, and a couple of them had soon found their way to the
side-door where Hiram had waited for Paula. There they paused, sniffing
about on all sides, and had then jumped up a few steps.

“And those stairs lead to Paula’s room,” observed Neforis with a shrug.

“But they were on a false scent,” the officer eagerly added. “The
little toads might have thrown suspicion on an innocent person. The
curs immediately after rushed into the stables, and ran up and down like
Satan after a lost soul. The pack had soon pulled down the boy--the son
of the freedman who came here from Damascus with the daughter of the
great Thomas--and they went quite mad in his father’s room: Heaven and
earth! what a howling and barking and yelping. They poked their noses
into every old rag, and now we knew where the hole in the wine-skin
was.--I am sorry for the man. He stammered horribly, but as a trainer,
and in all that has to do with horses, all honor to him!--The shoes are
Hiram’s as surely as my eyes are in my head; but we have not caught him
yet. He is across the river, for a boat is missing and where it had been
lying the dogs began again. Unless the unbelievers over there give him
shelter we are certain to have him.”

“Then we know who is the criminal!” cried Orion, with a sigh as deep as
though some great burden were lifted from his soul. Then he went on in a
commanding tone--and his voice rang so fiercely that the color which had
mounted to his cheeks could hardly be due to satisfaction at this last
good news....

“As it is not yet two hours after noon, send all your men out to search
for him and deliver him up. My father will give you a warrant, and the
Arabs on the other shore will assist you. Perhaps the thief may fall
into our hands even sooner and with him the emerald, unless the rogue
has succeeded in hiding it or selling it.” Then his voice sank, and he
added in a tone of regret. “It is a pity as concerns the man, we had
not one in our stables who knew more about horses! Fresh proof of your
maxim, mother: if you want to be well served you must buy rascals!”

“Strictly speaking,” said Neforis meditatively, “Hiram is not one of our
people. He was a freedman of Thomas’ and came here with his daughter.
Every one speaks highly of his skill in the stable; but for this robbery
we might have kept him for the rest of his life still, if the girl had
ever taken it into her head to leave us and to take him with her, we
could not have detained him.--You may say what you will, and abuse me
and mock me; I have none of what you call imagination; I see things
simply as they are: but there must be some understanding between that
girl and the thief.”

“You are not to say another word of such monstrous nonsense!” exclaimed
her husband; and he would have said more, but that at that moment the
groom of the chambers announced that Gamaliel, the Jewish goldsmith,
begged an audience. The man had come to give information with regard to
the fate of the lost emerald.

At this statement Orion changed color, and he turned away from the
merchant as the slave admitted the same Israelite who had been sitting
over the fire with the head-servants. He at once plunged into his story,
telling it in his peculiar light-hearted style. He was so rich that the
loss he might suffer did not trouble him enough to spoil his good-humor,
and so honest that it was a pleasure to him to restore the stolen
property to its rightful owner. Early that morning, so he told them,
Hiram the groom had been to him to offer him a wonderfully large and
splendid emerald for sale. The freedman had assured him that the stone
was part of the property left by the famous Thomas, his former master.
It had decorated the head-stall of the horse which the hero of Damascus
had last ridden, and it had come to him with the steed.

“I offered him what I thought fair,” the Jew went on, “and paid him two
thousand drachmae on account; the remainder he begged me to take charge
of for the present. To this I agreed, but ere long a fly began to hum
suspicion in my ear. Then the police rushed through the town with the
bloodhounds. Good Heavens, what a barking! The creatures yelped as if
they would bark my poor house down, like the trumpets round the walls of
Jericho--you know. ‘What is the matter now,’ I asked of the dog-keepers,
and behold! my suspicions about the emerald were justified; so here, my
lord Governor, I have brought you the stone, and as every suckling
in Memphis hears from its nurse--unless it is deaf--what a just man
Mukaukas George is, you will no doubt make good to me what I advanced
to that stammering scoundrel. And you will have the best of the bargain,
noble Sir; for I make no demand for interest or even maintenance for the
two hours during which it was mine.”

“Give me the stone!” interrupted the Arab, who was annoyed by the Jew’s
jesting tone; he snatched the emerald from him, weighed it in his hand,
put it close to his eyes, held it far off, tapped it with a small hammer
that he took out of his breast-pocket, slipped it into its place in the
work, examining it keenly, suspiciously, and at last with satisfaction.
During all this, Orion had more than once turned pale, and the sweat
broke out on his handsome, pale face. Had a miracle been wrought here?
How could this gem, which was surely on its way to Alexandria, have
found its way into the Jew’s hands? Or could Chusar have opened the
little packet and have sold the emerald to Hiram, and through him to
the jeweller? He must get to the bottom of it, and while the Arab
was examining the gem he went up to Gamaliel and asked him: “Are you
positively certain--it is a matter of freedom or the dungeon--certain
that you had this stone from Hiram the Syrian and from no one else? I
mean, is the man so well-known to you that no mistake is possible?”

“God preserve us!” exclaimed the Jew drawing back a step from Orion, who
was gazing at him with a sinister light in his eyes. “How can my lord
doubt it? Your respected father has known me these thirty years, and do
you suppose that I--I do not know the Syrian? Why, who in Memphis can
stammer to compare with him? And has he not killed half my children
with your wild young horses?--Half killed every one of my children I
mean--half killed them, I say, with fright. They are all still alive and
well, God preserve them, but none the better for your horsebreaker; for
fresh air is good for children and my little Rebecca would stop indoors
till he was at home again for fear of his terrifying pranks.”

“Well, well!” Orion broke in. “And at what hour did he bring you the
emerald for sale? Exactly. Now, recollect: when was it? You surely must
remember.”

“Adonai! How should I?” said the Jew. “But wait, Sir, perhaps I may be
able to tell you. In this hot weather we are up before sunrise; then we
said our prayers and had our morning broth; then....”

“Senseless chatter!” urged Orion. But Gamaliel went on without allowing
himself to be checked. “Then little Ruth jumped into my lap to pull out
the white hairs that will grow under my nose and, just as the child was
doing it and I cried out: ‘Oh, you hurt me!’ the sun fell upon the earth
bank on which I was sitting.”

“And at what time does it reach the bank?” cried the young man.

“Exactly two hours after sunrise,” replied the Jew, “at this time of
year. Do me the honor of a visit tomorrow morning; you will not regret
it, for I can show you some beautiful, exquisite things--and you can
watch the shadow yourself.”

“Two hours after sunrise,” murmured Orion to himself, and then with
fresh qualms he reflected that it was fully four hours later when he
had given the packet to Chusar. It was impossible to doubt the Jew’s
statement. The man was rich, honest and content: he did not lie. The
jewel Orion had sent away and that purchased from Hiram could not in any
case be identical. But how could all this be explained? It was enough
to turn his brain. And not to dare to speak when mere silence was
falsehood--falsehood to his father and mother!--If only the hapless
stammerer might escape! If he were caught; then--then merciful Heaven!
But no; it was not to be thought of.--On, then, on; and if it came to
the worst the honor of a hundred stablemen could not outweigh that of
one Orion; horrible as it was, the man must be sacrificed. He would see
that his life was spared and that he was soon set at liberty!

The Arab meanwhile had concluded his examination; still he was not
perfectly satisfied. Orion longed to interpose; for if the merchant
expressed no doubts and acknowledged the recovered gem to be the stolen
one, much would be gained; so he turned to him again and said: “May I
ask you to show me the emerald once more? It is quite impossible, do you
think, that a second should be found to match it?”

“That is too much to assert,” said the Arab gravely. “This stone
resembles that on the hanging to a hair; and yet it has a little
inequality which I do not remember noticing on it. It is true I had
never seen it out of the setting, and this little boss may have been
turned towards the stuff, and yet, and yet.--Tell me, goldsmith, did the
thief give you the emerald bare--unset?”

“As bare as Adam and Eve before they ate the apple,” said the Jew.

“That is a pity--a great pity!--And still I fancy that the stone in
the work was a trifle longer. In such a case it is almost folly and
perversity to doubt, and yet I feel--and yet I ask myself: Is this
really the stone that formed that bud?”

“But Heaven bless us!” cried Orion, “the twin of such an unique gem
would surely not drop from the skies and at the same moment into one and
the same house. Let us be glad that the lost sheep has come back to us.
Now, I will lock it into this iron casket, Father, and as soon as the
robber is caught you send for me: do you understand, Psamtik?” He nodded
to his parents, offered his hand to the Arab, and that in a way which
could not fail to satisfy any one, so that even the old man was won
over; and then he left the room.

The merchant’s honor was saved; still his conscientious soul was
disturbed by a doubt that he could not away with. He was about to take
leave but the Mukaukas was so buried in pillows, and kept his eyes
so closely shut, that no one could detect whether he were sleeping
or waking; so the Arab, not wishing to disturb him, withdrew without
speaking.



CHAPTER X.

After the great excitement of the night Paula had thrown herself on her
bed with throbbing pulses. Sleep would not come to her, and so at rather
more than two hours after sunrise she went to the window to close the
shutters. As she did so she looked out, and she saw Hiram leap into a
boat and push the light bark from the shore. She dared neither signal
nor call to him; but when the faithful soul had reached open water he
looked back at her window, recognized her in her white morning dress
and flourished the oar high in the air. This could only mean that he
had fulfilled his commission and sold her jewel. Now he was going to the
other side to engage the Nabathaean.

When she had closed the shutters and darkened the room she again lay
down. Youth asserted its rights the weary girl fell into deep, dreamless
slumbers.

When she woke, with the heat drops on her forehead, the sun was nearly
at the meridian, only an hour till the Ariston would be served, the
Greek breakfast, the first meal in the morning, which the family eat
together as they also did the principal meal later in the clay. She had
never yet failed to appear, and her absence would excite remark.

The governor’s household, like that of every Egyptian of rank, was
conducted more on the Greek than the Egyptian plan; and this was the
case not merely as regarded the meals but in many other things, and
especially the language spoken. From the Mukaukas himself down to the
youngest member of the family, all spoke Greek among themselves, and
Coptic, the old native dialect, only to the servants. Nay, many borrowed
and foreign words had already crept into use in the Coptic.

The governor’s granddaughter, pretty little Mary, had learnt to speak
Greek fluently and correctly before she spoke Coptic, but when Paula
had first arrived she could not as yet write the beautiful language
of Greece with due accuracy. Paula loved children; she longed for some
occupation, and she had therefore volunteered to instruct the little
girl in the art. At first her hosts had seemed pleased that she should
render this service, but ere long the relation between the Lady Neforis
and her husband’s niece had taken the unpleasant aspect which it was
destined to retain. She had put a stop to the lessons, and the reason
she had assigned for this insulting step was that Paula had dictated to
her pupil long sentences out of her Orthodox Greek prayerbook. This, it
was true, she had done; but without the smallest concealment; and the
passages she had chosen had contained nothing but what must elevate the
soul of every Christian, of whatever confession.

The child had wept bitterly over her grandmother’s fiat, though Paula
had always taken the lessons quite seriously, for Mary loved her older
companion with all the enthusiasm of a half-grown girl--as a child
of ten really is in Egypt; her passionate little heart worshipped the
beautiful maiden who was in every respect so far above her, and Paula’s
arms had opened wide to embrace the child who brought sunshine into the
gloomy, chill atmosphere she breathed in her uncle’s house. But
Neforis regarded the child’s ardent love for her Melchite relation as
exaggerated and morbid, imperilling perhaps her religious faith; and she
fancied that under Paula’s influence Mary had transferred her affections
from her to the younger woman with added warmth. Nor was this idea
wholly fanciful; the child’s strong sense of justice could not bear to
see her friend misunderstood and slighted, often simply and entirely
misjudged and hardly blamed, so Mary felt it her duty, as far as in her
lay, to make up for her grandmother’s delinquencies in regard to the
guest who in the child’s eyes was perfection.

But Neforis was not the woman to put up with this demeanor in a child.
Mary was her granddaughter, the only child of her lost son, and no one
should come between them. So she forbid the little girl to go to Paula’s
room without an express message, and when a Greek teacher was engaged
for her, her instructions were that she should keep her pupil as much
as possible out of the Syrian damsel’s way. All this only fanned the
child’s vehement affection; and tenderly as her grandmother would
sometimes caress her--while Mary on her part never failed in dutiful
obedience--neither of them ever felt a true and steady warmth of heart
towards the other; and for this Paula was no doubt to blame, though
against her will and by her mere existence.

Often, indeed, and by a hundred covert hints Dame Neforis gave Paula to
understand that she it was who had alienated her grandchild; there
was nothing for it but to keep the child for whom she yearned, at a
distance, and only rarely reveal to her the abundance of her love. At
last her life was so full of grievance that she was hardly able to be
innocent with the innocent--a child with the child; Mary was not slow to
note this, and ascribed Paula’s altered manner to the suffering caused
by her grandmother’s severity.

Mary’s most frequent opportunities of speaking to her friend were
just before meals; for at that time no one was watching her, and her
grandmother had not forbidden her calling Paula to table. A visit to
her room was the child’s greatest delight--partly because it was
forbidden--but no less because Paula, up in her own room, was quite
different from what she seemed with the others, and because they could
there look at each other and kiss without interference, and say what
ever they pleased. There Mary could tell her as much as she dared of the
events in their little circle, but the lively and sometimes hoydenish
little girl was often withheld from confessing a misdemeanor, or even
an inoffensive piece of childishness, by sheer admiration for one who to
her appeared nobler, greater and loftier than other beings.

Just as Paula had finished putting up her hair, Mary, who would rush
like a whirlwind even into her grandmother’s presence, knocked humbly
at the door. She did not fly into Paula’s arms as she did into those of
Susannah or her daughter Katharina, but only kissed her white arm with
fervent devotion, and colored with happiness when Paula bent down to
her, pressed her lips to her brow and hair, and wiped her wet, glowing
cheeks. Then she took Mary’s head fondly between her hands and said:

“What is wrong with you, madcap?”

In fact the sweet little face was crimson, and her eyes swelled as if
she had been crying violently.

“It is so fearfully hot,” said Mary. “Eudoxia”--her Greek
governess--“says that Egypt in summer is a fiery furnace, a hell upon
earth. She is quite ill with the heat, and lies like a fish on the sand;
the only good thing about it is...”

“That she lets you run off and gives you no lessons?”

Mary nodded, but as no lecture followed the confession she put her head
on one side and looked up into Paula’s face with large roguish eyes.

“And yet you have been crying!--a great girl like you?”

“I--I crying?”

“Yes, crying. I can see it in your eyes. Now confess: what has
happened?”

“You will not scold me?”

“Certainly not.”

“Well then. At first it was fun, such fun you cannot think, and I do not
mind the heat; but when the great hunt had gone by I wanted to go to
my grand mother and I was not allowed. Do you know, something very
particular had been going on in the fountain-room; and as they all
came out again I crept behind Orion into the tablinum--there are such
wonderful things there, and I wanted just to frighten him a little; we
have often played games together before. At first he did not see me,
and as he was bending over the hanging, from which the gem was stolen--I
believe he was counting the stones in the faded old thing--I just jumped
on to his shoulder, and he was so frightened--I can tell you, awfully
frightened! And he turned upon me like a fighting-cock and--and he gave
me a box on the ear; such a slap, it is burning now--and all sorts of
colors danced before my eyes. He always used to be so nice and kind to
me, and to you, too, and so I used to be fond of him--he is my uncle
too--but a box on the ears, a slap such as the cook might give to the
turnspit--I am too big for that; that I will certainly not put up with
it! Since my last birthday all the slaves and upper servants, too, have
had to treat me as a lady and to bow down to me! And now!--it was just
here.--How dare he?” She began to cry again and sobbed out: “But that
was not all. He locked me into the dark tablinum and left--left me....”
 her tears flowed faster and faster, “left me sitting there! It was so
horrible; and I might have been there now if I had not found a gold
plate; I seized my great-grandfather--I mean the silver image of Menas,
and hammered on it, and screamed Fire! Then Sebek heard me and fetched
Orion, and he let me out, and made such a fuss over me and kissed me.
But what is the good of that; my grandfather will be angry, for in my
terror I beat his father’s nose quite flat on the plate.”

Paula had listened, now amused and now grave, to the little girl’s
story; when she ceased, she once more wiped her eyes and said:

“Your uncle is a man, and you must not play with him as if he were a
child like yourself. The reminder you got was rather a hard one, no
doubt, but Orion tried to make up for it.--But the great hunt, what was
that?”

At this question Mary’s eyes suddenly sparkled again. In an instant all
her woes were forgotten, even her ancestor’s flattened nose, and with a
merry, hearty laugh she exclaimed:

“Oh! you should have seen it! You would have been amused too. They
wanted to catch the bad man who cut the emerald out of the hanging. He
had left his shoes and they had held them under the dogs’ noses and
then off they went! First they rushed here to the stairs; then to the
stables, then to the lodgings of one of the horse-trainers, and I kept
close behind, after the terriers and the other dogs. Then they stopped
to consider and at last they all ran out at the gate towards the town. I
ought not to have gone beyond the court-yard, but--do not be cross
with me--it was such fun!--Out they went, along Hapi Street, across the
square, and at last into the Goldsmith’s Street, and there the whole
pack plunged into Gamaliel’s shop--the Jew who is always so merry. While
he was talking to the others his wife gave me some apricot tartlets; we
do not have such good ones at home.”

“And did they find the man?” asked Paula, who had changed color
repeatedly during the child’s story.

“I do not know,” said Mary sadly. “They were not chasing any one in
particular. The dogs kept their noses to the ground, and we ran after
them.”

“And only to catch a man, who certainly had nothing whatever to do with
the theft.--Reflect a little, Mary. The shoes gave the dogs the scent
and they were set on to seize the man who had worn them, but whom no
judge had examined. The shoes were found in the hall; perhaps he had
dropped them by accident, or some one else may have carried them there.
Now think of yourself in the place of an innocent man, a Christian
like ourselves, hunted with a pack of dogs like a wild beast. Is it not
frightful? No good heart should laugh at such a thing!”

Paula spoke with such impressive gravity and deep sorrow, and her whole
manner betrayed such great and genuine distress that the child looked
tip at her anxiously, with tearful eyes, threw herself against her, and
hiding her face in Paula’s dress exclaimed: “I did not know that they
were hunting a poor man, and if it makes you so sad, I wish I had not
been there! But is it really and truly so bad? You are so often unhappy
when we others laugh!” She gazed into Paula’s face with wide, wondering
eyes through her tears, and Paula clasped her to her, kissed her fondly,
and replied with melancholy sweetness:

“I would gladly be as gay as you, but I have gone through so much to
sadden me. Laugh and be merry to your heart’s content; I am glad you
should. But with regard to the poor hunted man, I fear he is my father’s
freedman, the most faithful, honest soul! Did your exciting hunt drive
any one out of the goldsmith’s shop?”

Mary shook her head; then she asked:

“Is it Hiram, the stammerer, the trainer, that they are hunting?”

“I fear it is.”

“Yes, yes,” said the child. “Stay--oh, dear! it will grieve you again,
but I think--I think they said--the shoes belonged--but I did
not attend. However, they were talking of a groom--a freedman--a
stammerer....”

“Then they certainly are hunting down an innocent man,” cried Paula
with a deep sigh; and she sat down again in front of her toilet-table to
finish dressing. Her hands still moved mechanically, but she was lost in
thought; she answered the child vaguely, and let her rummage in her open
trunk till Mary pulled out the necklace that had been bereft of its gem,
and hung it round her neck. Just then there was a knock at the door and
Katharina, the widow Susannah’s little daughter, came into the room.
The young girl, to whom the governor’s wife wished to marry her tall son
scarcely reached to Paula’s shoulder, but she was plump and pleasant to
look upon; as neat as if she had just been taken out of a box, with a
fresh, merry lovable little face. When she laughed she showed a gleaming
row of small teeth, set rather wide apart, but as white as snow; and
her bright eyes beamed on the world as gladly as though they had nothing
that was not pleasing to look for, innocent mischief to dream of. She
too, tried to win Paula’s favor; but with none of Mary’s devoted and
unvarying enthusiasm. Often, to be sure, she would devote herself to
Paula with such stormy vehemence that the elder girl was forced to be
repellent; then, on the other hand, if she fancied her self slighted,
or treated more coolly than Mary, she would turn her back on Paula with
sulky jealousy, temper and pouting. It always was in Paula’s power to
put an end to the “Water-wagtails tantrums”--which generally had their
comic side--by a kind word or kiss; but without some such advances
Katharina was quite capable of indulging her humors to the utmost.

On the present occasion she flew into Paula’s arm, and when her friend
begged, more quietly than usual that she would allow her first to finish
dressing, she turned away without any display of touchiness and took
the necklace from Mary’s hand to put it on herself. It was of fine
workmanship, set with pearls, and took her fancy greatly; only the
empty medallion from which Hiram had removed the emerald with his knife
spoiled the whole effect. Still, it was a princely jewel, and when she
had also taken from the chest a large fan of ostrich feathers she showed
off to her play-fellow, with droll, stiff dignity, how the empress and
princesses at Court curtsied and bowed graciously to their inferiors. At
this they both laughed a great deal. When Paula had finished her toilet
and proceeded to take the necklace off Katharina, the empty setting,
which Hiram’s knife had bent, caught in the thin tissue of her dress.
Mary disengaged it, and Paula tossed the jewel back into the trunk.

While she was locking the box she asked Katharina whether she had met
Orion.

“Orion!” repeated the younger girl, in a tone which implied that
she alone had the right to enquire about him. “Yes, we came upstairs
together; he went to see the wounded man. Have you anything to say to
him?”

She crimsoned as she spoke and looked suspiciously at Paula, who simply
replied: “Perhaps,” and then added, as she hung the ribbon with the key
round her neck: “Now, you little girls, it is breakfast time; I am not
going down to-day.”

“Oh, dear!” cried Mary disappointed, “my grandfather is ailing and
grandmother will stay with him; so if you do not come I shall have to
sit alone with Eudoxia; for Katharina’s chariot is waiting and she must
go home at once. Oh! do come. Just to please me; you do not know how
odious Eudoxia can be when it is so hot.”

“Yes, do go down,” urged Katharina. “What will you do up hereby
yourself? And this evening mother and I will come again.”

“Very well,” said Paula. “But first I must go to see the invalids.”

“May I go with you?” asked the Water wagtail, coaxingly stroking Paula’s
arm. But Mary clapped her hands, exclaiming:

“She only wants to go to Orion--she is so fond of him....”

Katharina put her hand over the child’s mouth, but Paula, with quickened
breath, explained that she had very serious matters to discuss with
Orion; so Katharina, turning her back on her with a hasty gesture
of defiance, sulkily went down stairs, while Mary slipped down the
bannister rail. Not many days since, Katharina, who was but just
sixteen, would gladly have followed her example.

Paula meanwhile knocked at the first of the sickrooms and entered it as
softly as the door was opened by a nursing-sister from the convent of
St. Katharine. Orion, whom she was seeking, had been there, but had just
left.

In this first room lay the leader of the caravan; in that beyond was the
crazy Persian. In a sitting-room adjoining the first room, which,
being intended for guests of distinction, was furnished with royal
magnificence, sat two men in earnest conversation: the Arab merchant and
Philippus the physician, a young man of little more than thirty, tall
and bony, in a dress of clean but very coarse stuff without any kind
of adornment. He had a shrewd, pale face, out of which a pair of
bright black eyes shone benevolently but with keen vivacity. His large
cheek-bones were much too prominent; the lower part of his face was
small, ugly and, as it were, compressed, while his high broad forehead
crowned the whole and stamped it as that of a thinker, as a fine cupola
may crown an insignificant and homely structure.

This man, devoid of charm, though his strongly-characterized
individuality made it difficult to overlook him even in the midst of a
distinguished circle, had been conversing eagerly with the Arab, who,
in the course of their two-days’ acquaintance, had inspired him with a
regard which was fully reciprocated. At last Orion had been the theme of
their discourse, and the physician, a restless toiler who could not like
any man whose life was one of idle enjoyment, though he did full justice
to his brilliant gifts and well-applied studies, had judged him far more
hardly than the older man. To the leech all forms of human life were
sacred, and in his eyes everything that could injure the body or soul of
a man was worthy of destruction. He knew all that Orion had brought upon
the hapless Mandane, and how lightly he had trifled with the hearts of
other women; in his eyes this made him a mischievous and criminal member
of society. He regarded life as an obligation to be discharged by work
alone, of whatever kind, if only it were a benefit to society as a
whole. And such youths as Orion not only did not recognize this, but
used the whole and the parts also for base and selfish ends. The old
Moslem, on the contrary, viewed life as a dream whose fairest portion,
the time of youth, each one should enjoy with alert senses, and only
take care that at the waking which must come with death he might hope to
find admission into Paradise. How little could man do against the iron
force of fate! That could not be forefended by hard work; there was
nothing for it but to take up a right attitude, and to confront and meet
it with dignity. The bark of Orion’s existence lacked ballast; in fine
weather it drifted wherever the breeze carried it, He himself had taken
care to equip it well; and if only the chances of life should freight it
heavily--very heavily, and fling it on the rocks, then Orion might show
who and what he was; he, Haschim, firmly believed that his character
would prove itself admirable. It was in the hour of shipwreck that a man
showed his worth.

Here the physician interrupted him to prove that it was not Fate, as
imagined by Moslems, but man himself who guided the bark of life--but at
this moment Paula looked into the room, and he broke off. The merchant
bowed profoundly, Philippus respectfully, but with more embarrassment
than might have been expected from the general confidence of his manner.
For some years he had been a daily visitor in the governor’s house, and
after carefully ignoring Paula on her first arrival, since Dame Neforis
had taken to treating her so coolly he drew her out whenever he had the
opportunity. Her conversations with him had now become dear and even
necessary to her, though at first his dry, cutting tone had displeased
her, and he had often driven her into a corner in a way that was hard
to bear. They kept her mind alert in a circle which never busied itself
with anything but the trivial details of family life in the decayed
city, or with dogmatic polemics--for the Mukaukas seldom or never took
part in the gossip of the women.

The leech never talked of daily events, but expressed his views as to
other and graver subjects in life, or in books with which they were both
familiar; and he had the art of eliciting replies from her which he met
with wit and acumen. By degrees she had become accustomed to his bold
mode of thought, sometimes, it is true, too recklessly expressed; and
the gifted girl now preferred a discussion with him to any other form of
conversation, recognizing that a childlike and supremely unselfish soul
animated this thoughtful reservoir of all knowledge. Almost everything
she did displeased her uncle’s wife, and so, of course, did her familiar
intercourse with this man, whose appearance certainly had in it nothing
to attract a young girl.--The physician to a family of rank was there to
keep its members in good health, and it was unbecoming in one of them
to converse with him on intimate terms as an equal. She reproached
Paula--whose pride she was constantly blaming--for her unseemly
condescension to Philippus; but what chiefly annoyed her was that Paula
took up many a half-hour which otherwise Philippus would have devoted
to her husband; and in him and his health her life and thoughts were
centred.

The Arab at once recognized his foe of the previous evening; but they
soon came to a friendly understanding--Paula confessing her folly in
holding a single and kindly-disposed man answerable for the crimes of a
whole nation. Haschim replied that a right-minded spirit always came
to a just conclusion at last; and then the conversation turned on her
father, and the physician explained to the Arab that she was resolved
never to weary of seeking the missing man.

“Nay, it is the sole aim and end of my life,” cried the girl.

“A great mistake, in my opinion,” said the leech. But the merchant
differed: there were things, he said, too precious to be given up for
lost, even when the hope of finding them seemed as feeble and thin as a
rotten reed.

“That is what I feel!” cried Paula. “And how can you think differently,
Philip? Have I not heard from your own lips that you never give up all
hope of a sick man till death has put an end to it? Well, and I cling to
mine--more than ever now, and I feel that I am right. My last thought,
my last coin shall be spent in the search for my father, even without my
uncle and his wife, and in spite of their prohibition.”

“But in such a task a young girl can hardly do without a man’s succor,”
 said the merchant. “I wander a great deal about the world, I speak with
many foreigners from distant lands, and if you will do me the honor,
pray regard me as your coadjutor, and allow me to help you in seeking
for the lost hero.”

“Thanks--I fervently thank you!” cried Paula, grasping the Moslem’s hand
with hearty pleasure. “Wherever you go bear my lost father in mind; I am
but a poor, lonely girl, but if you find him...”

“Then you will know that even among the Moslems there are men...”

“Men who are ready to show compassion and to succor friendless women!”
 interrupted Paula.

“And with good success, by the blessing of the Almighty,” replied the
Arab. “As soon as I find a clue you shall hear from me; now, however,
I must go across the Nile to see Amru the great general; I go in all
confidence for I know that my poor, brave Rustem is in good hands,
friend Philippus. My first enquiries shall be made in Fostat, rely upon
that, my daughter.”

“I do indeed,” said Paula with pleased emotion. “When shall we meet
again?”

“To-morrow, or the morning after at latest.”

The young girl went up to him and whispered: “We have just heard of a
clue; indeed, I hope my messenger is already on his way. Have you time
to hear about it now?”

“I ought long since to have been on the other shore; so not to-day, but
to-morrow I hope.” The Arab shook hands with her and the physician, and
hastily took his leave.

Paula stood still, thinking. Then it struck her that Hiram was now on
the further side of the Nile, within the jurisdiction of the Arab ruler,
and that the merchant could perhaps intercede for him, if she were to
tell him all she knew. She felt the fullest confidence in the old man,
whose kind and sympathetic face was still visible to her mind’s eye,
and without paying any further heed to the physician she went quickly
towards the door of the sick-room. A crucifix hung close by, and the nun
had fallen on her knees before it, praying for her infidel patient, and
beseeching the Good Shepherd to have mercy on the sheep that was not
of His fold. Paula did not venture to disturb the worshipper, who was
kneeling just in the narrow passage; so some minutes elapsed before the
leech, observing her uneasiness, came out of the larger room, touched
the nun on the shoulder, and said in a low voice of genuine kindness:

“One moment, good Sister. Your pious intercession will be heard--but
this damsel is in haste.” The nun rose at once and made way, sending a
wrathful glance after Paula as she hurried down the stairs.

At the door of the court-yard she looked out and about for the Arab, but
in vain. Then she enquired of a slave who told her that the merchant’s
horse had waited for him at the gate a long time, that he had just come
galloping out, and by this time must have reached the bridge of boats
which connected Memphis with the island of Rodah and, beyond the island,
with the fort of Babylon and the new town of Fostat.



CHAPTER XI.

Paula went up-stairs again, distressed and vexed with herself. Was it
the heat that had enervated her and robbed her of the presence of mind
she usually had at her command? She herself could not understand how it
was that she had not at once taken advantage of the opportunity to plead
to Haschim for her faithful retainer. The merchant might have interested
himself for Hiram.

The slave at the gate had told her that he had not yet been taken; the
time to intercede, then, had not yet come. But she was resolved to do
so, to draw the wrath of her relations down on herself, and, if need
should be, to relate all she had seen in the course of the night, to
save her devoted servant. It was no less than her duty: still, before
humiliating Orion so deeply she would warn him. The thought of charging
him with so shameful a deed pained her like the need for inflicting an
injury on herself. She hated him, but she would rather have broken the
most precious work of art than have branded him--him whose image still
reigned in her heart, supremely glorious and attractive.

Instead of following Mary to breakfast, or offering herself as usual to
play draughts with her uncle, she went back to the sick-room. To meet
Neforis or Orion at this moment would have been painful, indeed odious
to her. It was long since she had felt so weary and oppressed. A
conversation with the physician might perhaps prove refreshing; after
the various agitations of the last few hours she longed for something,
be it what it might, that should revive her spirits and give a fresh
turn to her thoughts.

In the Masdakite’s room the Sister coldly asked her what she wanted, and
who had given her leave to assist in tending the sufferers. The leech,
who at that moment was moistening the bandage on the wounded man’s head,
at this turned to the nun and informed her decidedly that he desired the
young girl’s assistance in attending on both his patients. Then he led
the way sitting-room, saying in subdued into the adjoining tones:

“For the present all is well. Let us rest here a little while.”

She sat down on a divan, and he on a seat opposite, and Philippus began:

“You were seeking handsome Orion just now, but you must....”

“What?” she asked gravely. “And I would have you to know that the son
of the house is no more to me than his mother is. Your phrase ‘Handsome
Orion’ seems to imply something that I do not again wish to hear. But I
must speak to him, and soon, in reference to an important matter.”

“To what, then, do I owe the pleasure of seeing you here again? To
confess the truth I did not hope for your return.”

“And why not?”

“Excuse me from answering. No one likes to hear unpleasant things. If
one of my profession thinks any one is not well....”

“If that is meant for me,” replied the girl, “all I can tell you is that
the one thing on which I still can pride myself is my health. Say what
you will--the very worst for aught I care. I want something to-day to
rouse me from lethargy, even if it should make me angry.”

“Very well then,” replied the leech, “though I am plunging into deep
waters!--As to health, as it is commonly understood, a fish might envy
you; but the higher health--health of mind: that I fear you cannot boast
of.”

“This is a serious beginning,” said Paula. “Your reproof would seem to
imply that I have done you or some one else a wrong.”

“If only you had!” exclaimed he. “No, you have not sinned against us in
any way.--‘I am as I am’ is what you think of yourself; and what do you
care for others?”

“That must depend on whom you mean by ‘others!’”

“Nothing less than all and each of those with whom you live--here, in
this house, in this town, in this world. To you they are mere air--or
less; for the air is a tangible thing that can fill a ship’s sails and
drive it against the stream, whose varying nature can bring comfort or
suffering to your body.”

“My world is within!” said Paula, laying her hand on her heart.

“Very true. And all creation may find room there; for what cannot the
human heart, as it is called, contain! The more we require it to take
and keep, the more ready it is to hold it. It is unsafe to let the
lock rust; for, if once it has grown stiff, when we want to open it
no pulling and wrenching will avail. And besides--but I do not want to
grieve you.--You have a habit of only looking backwards....”

“And what that is pleasurable lies before me? Your blame is harsh and at
the same time unjust.--Indeed, and how can you tell which way I look?”

“Because I have watched you with the eye of a friend. In truth, Paula,
you have forgotten how to look around and forward. The life which lies
behind you and which you have lost is all your world. I once showed
you on a fragmentary papyrus that belonged to my foster father, Horus
Apollo, a heathen demon represented as going forwards, while his head
was turned on his neck so that the face and eyes looked behind him.”

“I remember it perfectly.”

“Well, you have long been just like him. ‘All things move,’ says
Heraclitus, so you are forced to float onwards with the great stream;
or, to vary the image, you must walk forwards on the high-road of life
towards the common goal; but your eye is fixed on what lies behind you,
feasting on the prospect of a handsome and wealthy home, kindness and
tenderness, noble and loving faces, and a happy, but alas! long-lost
existence. All the same, on you must go.--What must the result be?”

“I must stumble, you think, and fall?”

The physician’s reproof had hit Paula all the harder because she could
not conceal from herself that there was much truth in it. She had come
hither on purpose to find encouragement, and these accusations troubled
even her sense of high health. Why should she submit to be taken to task
like a school-girl by this man, himself still young? If this went on she
would let him hear.... But he was speaking again, and his reply calmed
her, and strengthened her conviction that he was a true and well-meaning
friend.

“Not that perhaps,” he said, “because--well, because nature has blessed
you with perfect balance, and you go forward in full self-possession as
becomes the daughter of a hero. We must not forget that it is of your
soul that I am speaking; and that maintains its innate dignity of
feeling among so much that is petty and mean.”

“Then why need I fear to look back when it gives me so much comfort?”
 she eagerly enquired, as she gazed in his face with fresh spirit.

“Because it may easily lead you to tread on other people’s feet! That
hurts them; then they are annoyed, and they get accustomed to think
grudgingly of you--you who are more lovable than they are.”

“But quite unjustly; for I am not conscious of ever having intentionally
grieved or hurt any one in my whole life.”

“I know that; but you have done so unintentionally a thousand times.”

“Then it would be better I should quit them altogether.”

“No, and a thousand times no! The man who avoids his kind and lives in
solitude fancies he is doing some great thing and raising himself above
the level of the existence he despises. But look a little closer: it is
self-interest and egoism which drive him into the cave and the cloister.
In any case he neglects his highest duty towards humanity--or let us
say merely towards the society he belongs to--in order to win what he
believes to be his own salvation. Society is a great body, and every
individual should regard himself as a member of it, bound to serve and
succor it, and even, when necessary, to make sacrifices for it.
The greatest are not too great. But those who crave isolation,--you
yourself--nay, hear me out, for I may never again risk the danger of
incurring your wrath--desire to be a body apart. What Paula has known
and possessed, she keeps locked in the treasure-house of her memory
under bolt and key; What Paula is, she feels she still must be--and for
whom? Again, for that same Paula. She has suffered great sorrow and on
that her soul lives; but this is evil nourishment, unwholesome and bad
for her.”

She was about to rise; but he bent forward, with a zealous conviction
that he must not allow himself to be interrupted, and lightly touched
her arm as though to prevent her quitting her seat, while he went on
unhesitatingly:

“You feed on your old sorrows! Well and good. Many a time have I seen
that trial can elevate the soul. It can teach a brave heart to feel the
woes of others more deeply; it can rouse a desire to assuage the griefs
of others with beautiful self-devotion. Those who have known pain and
affliction enjoy ease and pleasure with double satisfaction; sufferers
learn to be grateful for even the smaller joys of life. But you?--I
have long striven for courage to tell you so--you derive no benefit from
suffering because you lock it up in your breast--as if a man were to
enclose some precious seed in a silver trinket to carry about with him.
It should be sown in the earth, to sprout and bear fruit! However, I do
not blame you; I only wish to advise you as a true and devoted friend.
Learn to feel yourself a member of the body to which your destiny has
bound you for the present, whether you like it or not. Try to contribute
to it all that your capacities allow you achieve. You will find that you
can do something for it; the casket will open, and to your surprise
and delight you will perceive that the seed dropped into the soil will
germinate, that flowers will open and fruit will form of which you may
make bread, or extract from it a balm for yourself or for others! Then
you will leave the dead to bury the dead, as the Bible has it, and
dedicate to the living those great powers and gracious gifts which an
illustrious father and a noble mother--nay, and a long succession of
distinguished ancestors, have bequeathed to a descendant worthy of them.
Then you will recover that which you have lost: the joy in existence
which we ought both to feel and to diffuse, because it brings with it
an obligation which it which is only granted to us once to fulfil. Kind
fate has fitted you above a hundred thousand others for being loved;
and if you do not forget the gratitude you owe for that, hearts will
be turned to you, though now they shun the tree which has beset itself
intentionally with thorns, and which lets its branches droop like the
weeping-willows by the Nile. Thus you will lead a new and beautiful
life, receiving and giving joy. The isolated and charmless existence you
drag through here, to the satisfaction of none and least of all to your
own, you can transform to one of fruition and satisfaction--breathing
and moving healthily and beneficently in the light of day. It lies
in your power. When you came up here to give your care to these poor
injured creatures, you took the first step in the new path I desire to
show you, to true happiness. I did not expect you, and I am thankful
that you have come; for I know that as you entered that door you may
have started on the road to renewed happiness, if you have the will to
walk in it.--Thank God! That is said and over!”

The leech rose and wiped his forehead, looking uneasily at Paula who
had remained seated; her breath came fast, and she was more confused and
undecided than he had ever seen her. She clasped her hand over her brow,
and gazed, speechless, into her lap as though she wished to smother some
pain.

The young physician beat his arms together, like a laborer in the winter
when his hands are frozen, and exclaimed with distressful emotion: “Yes,
I have spoken, and I cannot regret having done so; but what I foresaw
has come to pass: The greatest happiness that ever sweetened my daily
life is gone out of it! To love Plato is a noble rule, but greater than
Plato is the truth; and yet, those who preach it must be prepared to
find that truth scares away friends from the unpleasing vicinity of its
ill-starred Apostles!”

At this Paula rose, and following the impulse of her generous heart,
offered the leech her hand in all sincerity; he grasped it in both his,
pressing it so tightly that it almost hurt her, and his eyes glistened
with moisture as he exclaimed: “That is as I hoped; that is splendid,
that is noble! Let me but be your brother, high-souled maiden!--Now,
come. That poor, crazy, lovely girl will heal of her death-wound under
your hands if under any!”

“I will come!” she replied heartily; and there was something healthy and
cheerful in her manner as they entered the sick-room; but her expression
suddenly changed, and she asked pensively:

“And supposing we restore the unhappy girl--what good will she get by
it?”

“She will breathe and see the sunshine,” replied the leech; “she will
be grateful to you, and finally she will contribute what she can to the
whole body. She will be alive in short, she will live. For life--feel
it, understand it as I do--life is the best thing we have.” Paula gazed
with astonishment in the man’s unlovely but enthusiastic face. How
radiantly joyful!

No one could have called it ugly at this moment, or have said that it
lacked charm.

He believed what he had asserted with such fervent feeling, though it
was in contradiction to a view he had held only yesterday and often
defended: that life in itself was misery to all who could not grasp it
of their own strength, and make something of it worth making. At this
moment he really felt that it was the best gift.

Paula went forward, and his eyes followed her, as the gaze of the pious
pilgrim is fixed on the holy image he has travelled to see, over seas
and mountains, with bruised feet.

They went up to the sick girl’s bed. The nun drew back, making her own
reflections on the physician’s altered mien, and his childlike, beaming
contentment, as he explained to Paula what particular peril threatened
the sufferer, and by what treatment he hoped to save her; how to make
the bandages and give the medicines, and how necessary it was to accept
the poor crazy girl’s fancies and treat them as rational ideas so long
as the fever lasted.

At last he was forced to go and attend to other patients. Paula remained
sitting at the head of the bed and gazing at the face of the sufferer.

How fair it was! And Orion had snatched this rose in the bud, and
trodden it under foot! She had, no doubt, felt for him what Paula
herself felt. And now? Did she feel nothing but hatred of him, or could
her heart, in spite of her indignation and scorn, not altogether cast
off the spell that had once bound it?

What weakness was this! She was, she must, she would be his foe!

Her thoughts went back to the idle and futile life that she had led for
so many years. The physician had hit the mark; and he had been too
easy rather than severe. Yes, she would begin to make good use of
her powers--but how, in what way, here and among these people? How
transfigured poor Philippus had seemed when she had given him her hand;
with what energy had he poured forth his words.

“And how false,” she mused, “is the saying that the body is the mirror
of the soul! If it were so, Philippus would have the face of Orion, and
Orion that of Philippus.” But could Orion’s heart be wholly reprobate?
Nay, that was impossible; her every impulse resisted the belief. She
must either love him or hate him, there was no third alternative; but as
yet the two passions were struggling within her in a way that was quite
intolerable.

The physician had spoken of being a brother to her, and she could not
help smiling at the idea. She could, she thought, live very happily and
calmly with him, with her nurse Betta, and with the learned old friend
who shared his home, and of whom he had often talked to her; she could
join him in his studies, help him in his calling, and discuss many
things well worth knowing. Such a life, she told herself, would be
a thousand times preferable to this, with Neforis. In him she had
certainly found a friend; and her glad recognition of the fact was the
first step towards the fulfilment of his promise, since it showed that
her heart was still ready to go forth to the kindness of another.

Amid these meditations, however, her anxiety for Hiram constantly
recurred to her, and it was clear to her mind that, if she and Orion
should come to extremities, she could no longer dwell under the
governor’s roof. Often she had longed for nothing so fervently as to be
able to quit it; but to-day it filled her with dread, for parting from
her uncle necessarily involved parting from his son. She hated him;
still, to lose sight of him altogether would be very hard to bear. To go
with Philippus and live with him as his sister would never do; nay, it
struck her as something inconceivable, strangely incongruous.

Meanwhile she listened to Mandane’s breathing and treated her in
obedience to the leech’s orders, longing for his return; presently
however, not he but the nun came to the bed-side, laid her hand on the
girl’s forehead, and without paying any heed to Paula, whispered kindly:
“That is right child, sleep away; have a nice long sleep. So long as she
can be kept quiet; if only she goes on like this!--Her head is cooler.
Philippus will certainly say there is scarcely any fever. Thank God, the
worst danger is over!”

“Oh, how glad I am!” cried Paula, and she spoke with such warmth and
sincerity that the nun gave her a friendly nod and left the sick girl to
her care, quite satisfied.

It was long since Paula had felt so happy. She fancied that her presence
had had a good affect on the sufferer, that Mandane had already been
brought by her nursing to the threshold of a new life. Paula, who
but just now had regarded herself as a persecuted victim of Fate, now
breathed more freely in the belief that she too might bring joy to some
one. She looked into Mandane’s more than pretty face with real joy and
tenderness, laid the bandage which had slipped aside gently over her
ears, and breathed a soft kiss on her long silken lashes.

She rapidly grew in favor with the shrewd nun; when the hour for prayer
came round, the sister included in her petitions--Paula--the orphan
under a stranger’s roof, the Greek girl born, by the inscrutable decrees
of God, outside the pale of her saving creed. At length Philippus
returned; he was rejoiced at his new friend’s brightened aspect, and
declared that Mandane had, under her care, got past the first and worst
danger, and might be expected to recover, slowly indeed, but completely.

After Paula had renewed the compress--and he intentionally left her to
do it unaided, he said encouragingly:

“How quickly you have learnt your business.--Now, the patient is asleep
again; the Sister will keep watch, and for the present we can be of no
use to the girl; sleep is the best nourishment she can have. But with
us--or at any rate with me, it is different. We have still two hours to
wait for the next meal: my breakfast is standing untouched, and yours
no doubt fared the same; so be my guest. They always send up enough to
satisfy six bargemen.”

Paula liked the proposal, for she had long been hungry. The nun was
desired to hasten to fetch some more plates, of drinking-vessels there
was no lack--and soon the new allies were seated face to face, each at
a small table. He carved the duck and the roast quails, put the salad
before her and some steaming artichokes, which the nun had brought up
at the request of the cook whose only son the physician had saved; he
invited her attention to the little pies, the fruits and cakes which
were laid ready, and played the part of butler; and then, while they
heartily enjoyed the meal, they carried on a lively conversation.

Paula for the first time asked Philippus to tell her something of his
early youth; he began with an account of his present mode of life, as a
partner in the home of the singular old priest of Isis, Horus Apollo,
a diligent student; he described his strenuous activity by day and his
quiet studies by night, and gave everything such an amusing aspect that
often she could not help laughing. But presently he was sad, as he told
her how at an early age he had lost his father and mother, and was
left to depend solely on himself and on a very small fortune, having no
relations; for his father had been a grammarian, invited to Alexandria
from Athens, who had been forced to make a road for himself through
life, which had lain before him like an overgrown jungle of papyrus
and reeds. Every hour of his life was devoted to his work, for a rough,
outspoken Goliath, such as he, never could find it easy to meet with
helpful patrons. He had managed to live by teaching in the high schools
of Alexandria, Athens, and Caesarea, and by preparing medicines from
choice herbs--drinking water instead of wine, eating bread and fruit
instead of quails and pies; and he had made a friend of many a good man,
but never yet of a woman--it would be difficult with such a face as his!

“Then I am the first?” said Paula, who felt deep respect for the man who
had made his way by his own energy to the eminent position which he
had long held, not merely in Memphis, but among Egyptian physicians
generally.

He nodded, and with such a blissful smile that she felt as though a
sunbeam had shone into her very soul. He noticed this at once, raised
his goblet, and drank to her, exclaiming with a flush on his cheek:

“The joy that comes to others early has come to me late; but then the
woman I call my friend is matchless!”

“Well, it is to be hoped she may not prove to be so wicked as you just
now described her.--If only our alliance is not fated to end soon and
abruptly.”

“Ah!” cried the physician, “every drop of blood in my veins....”

“You would be ready to shed it for me,” Paula broke in, with a pathetic
gesture, borrowed from a great tragedian she had seen at the theatre in
Damascus. “But never fear: it will not be a matter of life and death--at
worst they will but turn me out of the house and of Memphis.”

“You?” cried Philippus startled, “but who would dare to do so?”

“They who still regard me as a stranger.--You described the case
admirably. If they have their way, my dear new friend, our fate will be
like that of the learned Dionysius of Cyrene.”

“Of Cyrene?”

“Yes. It was my father who told me the story. When Dionysius sent his
son to the High School at Athens, he sat down to write a treatise for
him on all the things a student should do and avoid. He devoted himself
to the task with the utmost diligence; but when, at the end of four
years, he could write on the last leaf of the roll. ‘Here this book hath
a happy ending,’ the young man whose studies it was intended to guide
came home to Cyrene, a finished scholar.”

“And we have struck up a friendship...?”

“And made a treaty of alliance, only to be parted ere long.”

Philippus struck his fist vehemently on the little table in front of his
couch and exclaimed: “That I will find means to prevent!--But now, tell
me in confidence, what has last happened between you and the family
down-stairs?”

“You will know quite soon enough.”

“Whichever of them fancies that you can be turned out of doors
without more ado and there will be an end between us, may find himself
mistaken!” cried the physician with an angry sparkle in his eyes. “I
have a right to put in a word in this house. It has not nearly come to
that yet, and what is more, it never shall. You shall quit it certainly;
but of your own free will, and holding your head high....”

As he spoke the door of the outer room was hastily opened and the next
instant Orion was standing before them, looking with great surprise at
the pair who had just finished their meal. He said coldly:

“I am disturbing you, I see.”

“Not in the least,” replied the leech; and the young man, perceiving
what bad taste it would be and how much out of place to give expression
to his jealous annoyance, said, with a smile: “If only it had been
granted to a third person to join in this symposium!”

“We found each other all-sufficient company,” answered Philippus.

“A man who could believe in all the doctrines of the Church as readily
as in that statement would be assured of salvation,” laughed Orion. “I
am no spoilsport, respected friends; but I deeply regret that I must,
on the present occasion, disturb your happiness. The matter in
question....” And he felt he might now abandon the jesting tone which so
little answered to his mood, “is a serious one. In the first instance it
concerns your freedman, my fair foe.”

“Has Hiram come back?” asked Paula, feeling herself turn pale.

“They have brought him in,” replied Orion. “My father at once summoned
the court of judges. Justice has a swift foot here with us; I am sorry
for the man, but I cannot prevent its taking its course. I must beg of
you to appear at the examination when you are called.”

“The whole truth shall be told!” said Paula sternly and firmly.

“Of course,” replied Orion. Then turning to the physician, he added: “I
would request you, worthy Esculapius, to leave me and my cousin together
for a few minutes. I want to give her a word of counsel which will
certainly be to her advantage.”

Philippus glanced enquiringly at the girl; she said with clear decision:
“You and I can have no secrets. What I may hear, Philippus too may
know.”

Orion, with a shrug, turned to leave the room:

On the threshold he paused, exclaiming with some excitement and genuine
distress:

“If you will not listen to me for your own sake, do so at least,
whatever ill-feeling you may bear me, because I implore you not to
refuse me this favor. It is a matter of life or death to one human
being, of joy or misery to another. Do not refuse me.--I ask nothing
unreasonable, Philippus. Do as I entreat you and leave us for a moment
alone.”

Again the physician’s eyes consulted the young girl’s; this time she
said: “Go!” and he immediately quitted the room.

Orion closed the door.

“What have I done, Paula,” he began with panting breath, “that since
yesterday you have shunned me like a leper--that you are doing your
utmost to bring me to ruin?”

“I mean to plead for the life of a trusty servant; nothing more,” she
said indifferently.

“At the risk of disgracing me!” he retorted bitterly.

“At that risk, no doubt, if you are indeed so base as to throw your own
guilt on the shoulders of an honest man.”

“Then you watched me last night?”

“The merest chance led me to see you come out of the tablinum....”

“I do not ask you now what took you there so late,” he interrupted, “for
it revolts me to think anything of you but the best, the highest.--But
you? What have you experienced at my hands but friendship--nay, for
concealment or dissimulation is here folly--but what a lover...?”

“A lover!” cried Paula indignantly. “A lover? Dare you utter the word,
when you have offered your heart and hand to another--you....”

“Who told you so?” asked Orion gloomily.

“Your own mother.”

“That is it; so that is it?” cried the young man, clasping his hands
convulsively. “Now I begin to see, now I understand. But stay. For if
it is indeed that which has roused you to hate me and persecute me, you
must love me, Paula--you do love me, and then, noblest and sweetest....”
 He held out his hand; but she struck it aside, exclaiming in a tremulous
voice:

“Be under no delusion. I am not one of the feeble lambs whom you have
beguiled by the misuse of your gifts and advantages; and who then are
eager to kiss your hands. I am the daughter of Thomas; and another
woman’s betrothed, who craves my embraces on the way to his wedding,
will learn to his rueing that there are women who scorn his disgraceful
suit and can avenge the insult intended them. Go--go to your judges!
You, a false witness, may accuse Hiram, but I will proclaim you, you the
son of this house, as the thief! We shall see which they believe.”

“Me!” cried Orion, and his eyes flashed as wrathfully and vindictively
as her own. “The son of the Mukaukas! Oh, that you were not a woman!
I would force you to your knees and compel you to crave my pardon. How
dare you point your finger at a man whose life has hitherto been as
spotless as your own white raiment? Yes, I did go to the tablinum--I
did tear the emerald from the hanging; but I did it in a fit of
recklessness, and in the knowledge that what is my father’s is mine. I
threw away the gem to gratify a mere fancy, a transient whim. Cursed be
the hour when I did it!--Not on account of the deed itself, but of the
consequences it may entail through your mad hatred. Jealousy, petty,
unworthy jealousy is at the bottom of it! And of whom are you jealous?”

“Of no one; not even of your betrothed, Katharina,” replied Paula with
forced composure. “What are you to me that, to spare you humiliation,
I should risk the life of the most honest soul living? I have said: The
judges shall decide between you.”

“No, they shall not!” stormed Orion. “At least, not as you intend!
Beware, beware, I say, of driving me to extremities! I still see in you
the woman I loved; I still offer you what lies within my power: to let
everything end for the best for you....”

“For me! Then I, too, am to suffer for your guilt?”

“Did you hear the barking of hounds just now?”

“I heard dogs yelping.”

“Very well.--Your freedman has been brought in, the pack got on his
scent and have now been let into the house close to the tablinum. The
dogs would not stir beyond the threshold and on the white marble step,
towards the right-hand side, the print of a man’s foot was found in
the dust. It is a peculiar one, for instead of five toes there are but
three. Your Hiram was fetched in, and he was found to have the same
number of toes as the mark on the marble, neither more nor less. A horse
trod on his foot, in your father’s stable, and two of his toes had to
be cut off: we got this out of the stammering wretch with some
difficulty.--On the other side of the door-way there was a smaller
print, but though the dogs paid no heed to that I examined it, and
assured myself--how, I need not tell you--that it was you who had stood
there. He, who has no business whatever in the house, must have made his
way last night into the tablinum, our treasury. Now, put yourself in the
judges’ place. How can such facts be outweighed by the mere word of a
girl who, as every one knows, is on anything rather than good terms with
my mother, and who will leave no stone unturned to save her servant.”

“Infamous!” cried Paula. “Hiram did not steal the gem, as you must know
who stole it. The emerald he sold was my property; and were those stones
really so much alike that even the seller...”

“Yes, indeed. He could not tell one from the other. Evil spirits have
been at work all through, devilish, malignant demons. It would be enough
to turn one’s brain, if life were not so full of enigmas! You yourself
are the greatest.--Did you give the Syrian your emerald to sell in order
to fly from this house with the money?--You are silent? Then I am
right. What can my father be to you--you do not love my mother--and the
son!--Paula, Paula, you are perhaps doing him an injustice--you hate
him, and it is a pleasure to you to injure him.”

“I do not wish to hurt you or any one,” replied the girl. “And you have
guessed wrongly. Your father refused me the means of seeking mine.”

“And you wanted to procure money to search for one who is long since
dead!--Even my mother admits that you speak the truth; if she is right,
and you really take no pleasure in doing me a mischief, listen to me,
follow my advice, and grant my prayer! I do not ask any great matter.”

“Speak on then.”

“Do you know what a man’s honor is to him? Need I tell you that I am a
lost and despised man if I am found guilty of this act of the maddest
folly by the judges of my own house? It may cost my father his life
if he hears that the word ‘guilty’ is pronounced on me; and I--I--what
would become of me I cannot foresee!--I--oh God, oh God, preserve me
from frenzy!--But I must be calm; time presses.... How different it is
for your servant; he seems ready even now to take the guilt on himself,
for, whatever he is asked, he still keeps silence. Do you do the same;
and if the judges insist on knowing what you had to do with the Syrian
last night--for the dogs traced the scent to your staircase--hazard
a conjecture that the faithful fellow stole the emerald in order to
gratify your desire to search for your father, his beloved master. If
you can make up your mind to so great a sacrifice--oh, that I should
have to ask it of you!--I swear to you by all I hold sacred, by yourself
and by my father’s head, I will set Hiram free within three days,
unbeaten and unhurt, and magnificently indemnified; and I will myself
help him on the way whither he may desire to go, or you to send him,
in search of your father.--Be silent; remain neutral in the background;
that is all I ask, and I will keep my word--that, at any rate, you do
not doubt?” She had listened to him with bated breath; she pitied him
deeply as he stood there, a suppliant in bitter anguish of soul, a
criminal who still could not understand that he was one, and who relied
on the confidence that, only yesterday, he still had had the right to
exact from all the world. He appeared before her like a fine proud tree
struck by lightning, whose riven trunk, trembling to its fall, must be
crushed to the earth by the first storm, unless the gardener props it
up. She longed to be able to forget all he had brought upon her and to
grasp his hand in friendly consolation; but her deeply aggrieved pride
helped her to preserve the cold and repellent manner she had so far
succeeded in assuming.

With much hesitation and reserve she consented to be silent as long as
he kept his promise. It was for his father’s sake, rather than his own,
that she would so far become his accomplice: at the same time everything
else was at an end between them, and she should bless the hour which
might see her severed from him and his for ever.

The end of her speech was in a strangely hard and repellent tone; she
felt she must adopt it to disguise how deeply she was touched by his
unhappiness and by the extinction of the sunshine in him which had once
warmed her own heart too with bliss. To him it seemed that an icy rigor
breathed in her words--bitter contempt and hostile revulsion. He had
some difficulty in keeping himself from breaking out again in violent
wrath. He was almost sorry that he had trusted her with his secret and
begged her for mercy, instead of leaving things to run their course, and
if it had come to the worst, dragging her to perdition with him. Sooner
would he forfeit honor and peace than humble himself again before this
pitiless and cold-hearted foe. At this moment he really hated her, and
only wished it were possible to fight her, to break her pride, to see
her vanquished and crying for quarter at his feet. It was with a great
effort--with tingling cheeks and constrained utterance that he said:

“Severance from you is indeed best for us all.--Be ready: the judges
will send for you soon.”

“Very well,” she replied. “I will be silent; you have only to provide
for the Syrian’s safety. You have given me your word.”

“And so long as you keep yours I will keep mine. Or else...” the words
would come from his quivering lips--“or else war to the knife!”

“War to the knife!” she echoed with flashing eyes. “But one thing more.
I have proof that the emerald which Hiram sold belonged to me. By all
the saints--proof!”

“So much the better for you,” he said. “Woe to us both, if you force me
to forget that you are a woman!”

And he left the room with a rapid step.



CHAPTER XII.

Orion went down stairs scowling and clenching his fists. His heart ached
to bursting.

What had he done, what had befallen him? That a woman should dare to
treat him so!--a woman whom he had deigned to love--the loveliest and
noblest of women; but at the same time the haughtiest, most vengeful,
and most hateful.

He had once read this maxim: “When a man has committed a base action, if
only one other knows of it he carries the death-warrant of his peace in
the bosom of his garment.” He felt the full weight of this sentence; and
the other--the one who knew--was Paula, the woman of all others whom he
most wished should look up to him. But yesterday it had been a vision of
heaven on earth to dream of holding her in his arms and calling her his;
now he had but one wish: that he could humble and punish her. Oh, that
his hands should be tied, that he should be dependent on her mercy like
a condemned criminal! It was inconceivable--intolerable!

But she should be taught to know him. He had passed through life
hitherto as white as a swan; if this luckless hour and this woman made
him appear as a vulture, it was not his fault, it was hers. She should
soon see which was the stronger of the two. He would punish her in every
way in which a woman can be punished, even if the way to it led
through crime and misery! He was not afraid that the leech bad won her
affections, for he knew, with strange certainty that, in spite of the
hostility she displayed, her heart was his and his alone. “The gold coin
called love,” said he to himself, “has two faces: tender devotion and
bitter aversion; just now she is showing me the latter. But, however
different the image and superscription may be on the two sides, if you
ring it, it always gives out the same tone; and I can hear it even in
her most insulting words.”

When the family met at table he made Paula’s excuses; he himself ate
only a few mouthfuls, for the judges had assembled some time since and
were waiting for him.

The right of life and death had been placed in the hands of the
ancestors of the Mukaukas, powerful princes of provinces; they had
certainly wielded it even in the dynasty of Psammitichus, whose power
had been put to a terrible end by Cambyses the Persian. And still the
Uraeus snake--the asp whose bite caused almost instant death, reared its
head as the time-honored emblem of this privilege, by the side of St.
George the Dragon-slayer, over the palaces of the Mukaukas at Memphis,
and at Lykopolis in Upper Egypt. And in both these places the head
of the family retained the right of arbitrary judgment and capital
punishment over the retainers of his house and the inhabitants of
the district he governed, after Justinian first, and then the Emperor
Heraclius, had confirmed them in their old prerogative. The chivalrous
St. George was placed between the snakes so as to replace a heathen
symbol by a Christian one. Formerly indeed the knight himself had had
the head of a sparrow-hawk: that is to say of the god Horus, who had
overthrown the evil-spirit, Seth-Typhon, to avenge his father; but about
two centuries since the heathen crocodile-destroyer had been transformed
into the Christian conqueror of the dragon.

After the Arab conquest the Moslems had left all ancient customs and
rights undisturbed, including those of the Mukaukas.

The court which assembled to sit in judgment on all cases concerning
the adherents of the house consisted of the higher officials of the
governor’s establishment. The Mukaukas himself was president, and his
grown-up son was his natural deputy. During Orion’s absence, Nilus, the
head of the exchequer, a shrewd and judicious Egyptian, had generally
represented his invalid master; but on the present occasion Orion was
appointed to take his place, and to preside over the assembly.

The governor’s son hastened to his father’s bedroom to beg him to
lend him his ring as a token of the authority transferred to him; the
Mukaukas had willingly allowed him to take it off his finger, and had
enjoined him to exercise relentless severity. Generally he inclined to
leniency; but breaking into a house was punishable with death, and in
this instance it was but right to show no mercy, out of deference to the
Arab merchant. But Orion, mindful of his covenant with Paula, begged his
father to give him full discretion. The old Moslem was a just man, who
would agree to a mitigated sentence under the circumstances; besides,
the culprit was not in strict fact a member of the household, but in the
service of a relation.

The Mukaukas applauded his son’s moderation and judgment. If only he had
been in rather better health he himself would have had the pleasure of
being present at the sitting, to see him fulfil for the first time so
important a function, worthy of his birth and position.

Orion kissed his father’s hand with heart-felt but melancholy emotion,
for this praise from the man he so truly loved was a keen pleasure; and
yet he felt that it was of ill-omen that his duties as judge, of which
he knew the sacred solemnity, should be thus--thus begun.

It was in a softened mood, sunk in thought as to how he could best save
Hiram and leave Paula’s name altogether out of the matter, that he went
to the hall of justice; and there he found the nurse Perpetua in eager
discussion with Nilus.

The old woman was quite beside herself. In the clatter of her loom she
had heard nothing of what had been going on till a few minutes ago; now
she was ready to swear to the luckless Hiram’s innocence. The stone he
had sold had belonged to his young mistress, and thank God there was no
lack of evidence of the fact; the setting of the emerald was lying
safe and sound in Paula’s trunk. Happily she had had an opportunity of
speaking to her; and that she, the daughter of Thomas, should be brought
before the tribunal, like a citizen’s daughter or slave-girl, was
unheard of, shameful!

At this Orion roughly interfered; he desired the old gate-keeper to
conduct Perpetua at once to the storeroom next to the tablinum, where
the various stuffs prepared for the use of the household were laid by,
and to keep her there under safe guard till further notice. The tone
in which he gave the order was such that even the nurse did not
remonstrate; and Nilus, for his part obeyed in silence when Orion bid
him return to his place among the judges.

Nilus went back to the judgment-hall in uneasy consternation. Never
before had he seen his young lord in this mood. As he heard the nurse’s
statement the veins had swelled in his smooth youthful forehead, his
nostrils had quivered with convulsive agitation, his voice had lost all
its sweetness, and his eyes had a sinister gleam.

Orion was now alone; he ground his teeth with rage. Paula had betrayed
him in spite of her promise, and how mean was her woman’s cunning! She
could be silent before the judges--yes. Silent in all confidence now, to
the very last; but the nurse, her mouthpiece, had already put Nilus,
the keenest and most important member of the court, in possession of
the evidence which spoke for her and against him. It was shocking,
disgraceful! Base and deliberately malicious treachery. But the end was
not yet: he still was free to act and to ward off the spiteful stroke
by a counterthrust. How it should be dealt was clear from Perpetua’s
statement; but his conscience, his instincts and long habits of
submission to what was right, good, and fitting held him back. Not only
had he never himself done a base or a mean action; he loathed it in
another, and the only thing he could do to render Paula’s perfidy
harmless was, as he could not deny, original and bold, but at the same
time detestable and shameful.

Still, he could not and he would not succumb in this struggle. Time
pressed. Long reflection was impossible; suddenly he felt carried away
by a fierce and mad longing to fight it out--he felt as he had felt on a
race-day in the hippodrome, when he had driven his own quadriga ahead of
all the rest.

Onwards, then, onwards; and if the chariot were wrecked, if the horses
were killed, if his wheels maimed his comrades overthrown in the
arena-still, onwards, onwards!

A few hasty steps brought him to the lodge of the gate-keeper, a sturdy
old man who had held his post for forty years. He had formerly been a
locksmith and it still was part of his duty to undertake the repairs of
the simple household utensils. Orion as a youth had been a beautiful and
engaging boy and a great favorite with this worthy man; he had delighted
in sitting in his little room and handing him the tools for his work.
He himself had remarkable mechanical facility and had been the old man’s
apt pupil; nay, he had made such progress as to be able to carve pretty
little boxes, prayer-book cases, and such like, and provide them with
locks, as gifts to his parents on their birth days--a festival always
kept with peculiar solemnity in Egypt, and marked by giving and
receiving presents. He understood the use of tools, and he now hastily
selected such as he needed. On the window-ledge stood a bunch of
flowers which he had ordered for Paula the day before, and which he had
forgotten to fetch this terrible morning. With this in one hand, and the
tools in the breast of his robe he hastened upstairs.

“Onwards, I must keep on!” he muttered, as he entered Paula’s room,
bolted the door inside and, kneeling before her chest, tossed the
flowers aside. If he was discovered, he would say that he had gone into
his cousin’s chamber to give her the bouquet.

“Onwards; I must go on!” was still his thought, as he unscrewed the
hinge on which the lid of the trunk moved. His hands trembled, his
breath came fast, but he did his task quickly. This was the right way
to work, for the lock was a peculiar one, and could not have been opened
without spoiling it. He raised the lid, and the first thing his hand
came upon in the chest was the necklace with the empty medallion--it
was as though some kind Genius were aiding him. The medallion hung but
slightly to the elegantly-wrought chain; to detach it and conceal it
about his person was the work of a minute.

But now the most resolute. “On, on....” was of no further avail. This
was theft: he had robbed her whom, if she only had chosen it, he was
ready to load with everything wherewith fate had so superabundantly
blessed him. No, this--this....

A singular idea suddenly flashed through his brain; a thought which
brought a smile to his lips even at this moment of frightful tension.
He acted upon it forth with: he drew out from within his under-garment a
gem that hung round his neck by a gold chain. This jewel--a masterpiece
by one of the famous Greek engravers of heathen antiquity--had been
given him in Constantinople in exchange for a team of four horses to
which his greatest friend there had taken a fancy. It was in fact of
greater price than half a dozen fine horses. Half beside himself, and as
if intoxicated, Orion followed the wild impulse to which he had yielded;
indeed, he was glad to have so precious a jewel at hand to hang in the
place of the worthless gold frame-work. It was done with a pinch; but
screwing up the hinge again was a longer task, for his hands trembled
violently--and as the moment drew near in which he meant to let Paula
feel his power, the more quickly his heart beat, and the more difficult
he found it to control his mind to calm deliberation.

After he had unbolted the door he stood like a thief spying the long
corridor of the strangers’ wing, and this increased his excitement to
a frenzy of rage with the world, and fate, and most of all with her who
had compelled him to stoop to such base conduct. But now the charioteer
had the reins and goad in his hand. Onwards now, onwards!

He flew down stairs, three steps at a time, as he had been wont when
a boy. In the anteroom he met Eudoxia, Mary’s Greek governess, who had
just brought her refractory pupil into the house, and he tossed her
the nosegay he still held in his hands; then, without heeding the
languishing glances the middle-aged damsel sent after him with her
thanks, he hastened back to the gate-keeper’s lodge where he hurriedly
disburdened himself of the locksmith’s tools.

A few minutes later he entered the judgment-hall. Nilus the treasurer
showed him to the governor’s raised seat, but an overpowering
bashfulness kept him from taking this position of honor. It was with a
burning brow, and looks so ominously dark that the assembly gazed at
him with timid astonishment, that he opened the proceedings with a few
broken sentences. He himself scarcely knew what he was saying, and heard
his own voice as vaguely as though it were the distant roar of waves.
However, he succeeded in clearly stating all that had happened: he
showed the assembly the stone which had been stolen and recovered; he
explained how the thief had been taken; he declared Paula’s freedman to
be guilty of the robbery, and called upon him to bring forward anything
he could in his own defence. But the accused could only stammer out that
he was not guilty. He was not able to defend himself, but his mistress
could no doubt give evidence that would justify him.

Orion pushed the hair from his forehead, proudly raised his aching head,
and addressed the judges:

“His mistress is a lady of rank allied to our house. Let us keep her
out of this odious affair as is but seemly. Her nurse gave Nilus some
information which may perhaps avail to save this unhappy man. We will
neglect nothing to that end; but you, who are less familiar with the
leading circumstances, must bear this in mind to guard yourselves
against being misled: This lady is much attached to the accused; she
clings to him and Perpetua as the only friends remaining to her from
her native home. Moreover, there is nothing to surprise me or you in the
fact that a noble woman, as she is, should assume the onus of another’s
crime, and place herself in a doubtful light to save a man who has
hitherto been honest and faithful. The nurse is here; shall she be
called, or have you, Nilus, heard from her everything that her mistress
can say in favor of her freedman?”

“Perpetua told me, and told you, too, my lord, certain credible facts,”
 replied the treasurer. “But I could not repeat them so exactly as she
herself, and I am of opinion that the woman should be brought before the
court.”

“Then call her,” said Orion, fixing his eyes on vacancy above the heads
of the assembly, with a look of sullen dignity.

After a long and anxious pause the old woman was brought in. Confident
in her righteous cause she came forward boldly; she blamed Hiram
somewhat sharply for keeping silence so long, and then explained that
Paula, to procure money for her search for her father, had made the
freedman take a costly emerald out of its setting in her necklace, and
that it was the sale of this gem that had involved her fellow-countryman
in this unfortunate suspicion.

The nurse’s deposition seemed to have biased the greater part of the
council in favor of the accused; but Orion did not give them time to
discuss their impressions among themselves. Hardly had Perpetua ceased
speaking, when Orion took up the emerald, which was lying on the table
before him, exclaiming excitedly, nay, angrily:

“And the stone which is recognized by the man who sold it--an expert in
gems--as being that which was taken from the hanging, and unique of its
kind, is supposed, by some miracle of nature, to have suddenly appeared
in duplicate?--Malignant spirits still wander through the world, but
would hardly dare to play their tricks in this Christian house. You all
know what ‘old women’s tales’ are; and the tale that old woman has told
us is one of the most improbable of its class. ‘Tell that to Apelles the
Jew,’ said Horace the Roman; but his fellow-Israelite, Gamaliel’--and
he turned to the jeweller who was sitting with the other witnesses will
certainly not believe it; still less I, who see through this tissue of
falsehood. The daughter of the noble Thomas has condescended to weave it
with the help of that woman--a skilled weaver, she--to spread it before
us in order to mislead us, and so to save her faithful servant from
imprisonment, from the mines, or from death. These are the facts.--Do I
err, woman, or do you still adhere to your statement?”

The nurse, who had hoped to find in Orion her mistress’ advocate, had
listened to his speech with growing horror. Her eyes flashed as she
looked at him, first with mockery and then with vehement disgust; but,
though they filled with tears at this unlooked-for attack, she preserved
her presence of mind, and declared she had spoken the truth, and nothing
but the truth, as she always did. The setting of her mistress’ emerald
would prove her statement.

Orion shrugged his shoulders, desired the woman to fetch her mistress,
whose presence was now indispensable, and called to the treasurer:

“Go with her, Nilus! And let a servant bring the trunk here that the
owner may open it in the presence of us all and before any one else
touches the contents. I should not be the right person to undertake
it since no one in this Jacobite household--hardly even one of
yourselves--has found favor in the eyes of the Melchite. She has
unfortunately a special aversion for me, so I must depute to others
every proceeding that could lead to a misunderstanding.--Conduct her
hither, Nilus; of course with the respect due to a maiden of high rank.”

While the envoy was gone Orion paced the room with swift, restless
steps, Once only he paused and addressed the judges:

“But supposing the empty setting should be found, how do you account
for the existence of two--two gems, each unique of its kind? It is
distracting. Here is a soft-hearted girl daring to mislead a serious
council of justice for the sake, for the sake of....” he stamped his
foot with rage and continued his silent march.

“He is as yet but a beginner,” thought the assembled officials as they
watched his agitation. “Otherwise how could he allow such an absurd
attempt to clear an accused thief to affect him so deeply, or disturb
his temper?”

Paula’s arrival presently put an end to Orion’s pacing the room. He
received her with a respectful bow and signed to her to be seated.
Then he bid Nilus recapitulate the results of the proceedings up to the
present stage, and what he and his colleagues supposed to be her motive
for asserting that the stolen emerald was her property. He would as far
as possible leave it to the others to question her, since she knew full
well on what terms she was with himself. Even before he had come into
the council-room she had offered her explanation of the robbery to
Nilus, through her nurse Perpetua; but it would have seemed fairer and
more friendly in his eyes--and here he raised his voice--if she had
chosen to confide to him, Orion, her plan for helping the freedman. Then
he might have been able to warn her. He could only regard this mode of
action, independently of him, as a fresh proof of her dislike, and she
must hold herself responsible for the consequences. Justice must now
take its course with inexorable rigor.

The wrathful light in his eyes showed her what she had to expect from
him, and that he was prepared to fight her to the end. She saw that he
thought that she had broken the promise she had but just now given him;
but she had not commissioned Perpetua to interfere in the matter; on the
contrary, she had desired the woman to leave it to her to produce her
evidence only in the last extremity. Orion must believe that she had
done him a wrong; still, could that make him so far forget himself as
to carry out his threats, and sacrifice an innocent man--to divert
suspicion from himself, while he branded her as a false witness? Aye,
even from that he would not shrink! His flaming glance, his abrupt
demeanor, his laboring breath, proclaimed it plainly enough.--Then let
the struggle begin! At this moment she would have died rather than have
tried to mollify him by a word of excuse. The turmoil in his whole being
vibrated through hers. She was ready to throw herself at his feet
and implore him to control himself, to guard himself against further
wrong-doing--but she maintained her proud dignity, and the eyes that met
his were not less indignant and defiant than his own.

They stood face to face like two young eagles preparing to fight, with
feathers on end, arching their pinions and stretching their necks. She,
confident of victory in the righteousness of her cause, and far more
anxious for him than for herself; he, almost blind to his own danger,
but, like a gladiator confronting his antagonist in the arena, far more
eager to conquer than to protect his own life and limb.

While Nilus explained to her what, in part, she already knew, and
repeated their suspicion that she had been tempted to make a false
declaration to save the life of her servant, whose devotion, no doubt,
to his missing master had led him to commit the robbery; she kept her
eye on Orion rather than on the speaker. At last Nilus referred to the
trunk, which had been brought from Paula’s room under her own eyes,
informing her that the assembly were ready to hear and examine into
anything she had to say in her own defence.

Orion’s agitation rose to its highest pitch. He felt that the blood
had fled from his cheeks, and his thoughts were in utter confusion. The
council, the accused, his enemy Paula--everything in the room lay before
him shrouded in a whirl of green mist. All he saw seemed to be tinted
with light emerald green. The hair, the faces, the dresses of those
present gleamed and floated in a greenish light; and not till Paula went
up to the chest with a firm, haughty step, drew out a small key, gave
it to the treasurer, and answered his speech with three words: “Open the
box!”--uttering them with cold condescension as though even this were
too much--not till then did he see clearly once more: her bright brown
hair, the fire of her blue eyes, the rose and white of her complexion,
the light dress which draped her fine figure in noble folds, and her
triumphant smile. How beautiful, how desirable was this woman! A few
minutes and she would be worsted in this contest; but the triumph had
cost him not only herself, but all that was good and pure in his soul,
and worthy of his forefathers. An inward voice cried it out to him, but
he drowned it in the shout of “Onwards,” like a chariot-driver. Yes--on;
still on towards the goal; away over ruins and stones, through blood and
dust, till she bowed her proud neck, crushed and beaten, and sued for
mercy.

The lid of the trunk flew open. Paula stooped, lifted the necklace, held
it out to the judges, pulling it straight by the two ends.... Ah! what
a terrible, heartrending cry of despair! Orion even, never, never
wished to hear the like again. Then she flung the jewel on the table,
exclaiming: “Shameful, shameful! atrocious!” she tottered backwards and
clung to her faithful Betta; for her knees were giving way, and she felt
herself in danger of sinking to the ground.

Orion sprang forward to support her, but she thrust him aside, with
a glance so full of anguish, rage and intense contempt that he stood
motionless, and clasped his hand over his heart.--And this deed, which
was to work such misery for two human beings, he had smiled in doing!
This practical joke which concealed a death-warrant--to what fearful
issues might it not lead?

Paula had sunk speechless on to a seat, and he stood staring in silence,
till a burst of laughter broke from the assembly and old Psamtik, the
captain of the guard, who had long been a member of the council of
justice, exclaimed:

“By my soul, a splendid stone! There is the heathen god Eros with his
winged sweetheart Psyche smiling in his face. Did you never read that
pretty story by Apuleius--‘The Golden Ass’ it is called? The passage is
in that. Holy Luke! how finely it is carved. The lady has taken out the
wrong necklace. Look, Gamaliel, where could your green pigeon’s egg have
found a place in that thing?” and he pointed to the gem.

“Nowhere,” said the Jew. “The noble lady...” But Orion roughly bid the
witness to be silent, and Nilus, taking up the engraved gem, examined
it closely. Then he--he the grave, just man, on whose support Paula had
confidently reckoned--went up to her and with a regretful shrug asked
her whether the other necklace with the setting of which she had spoken
was in the trunk.

The blood ran cold in her veins. This thing that had happened was as
startling as a miracle. But no! No higher Power had anything to do
with this blow. Orion believed that she had failed in her promise of
screening him by her silence, and this, this was his revenge. By what
means--how he had gone to work, was a mystery. What a trick!--and it had
succeeded! But should she take it like a patient child? No. A thousand
times no! Suddenly all her old powers of resistance came back; hatred
steeled her wavering will; and, as in fancy, he had seen himself in
the circus, driving in a race, so she pictured herself seated at the
chess-board. She felt herself playing with all her might to win; but
not, as with his father, for flowers, trifling presents or mere glory;
nay, for a very different stake Life or Death!

She would do everything, anything to conquer him; and yet, no--come what
might--not everything. Sooner would she succumb than betray him as
the thief or reveal what she had discovered in the viridarium. She had
promised to keep the secret; and she would repay the father’s kindness
by screening the son from this disgrace. How beautiful, how noble
had Orion’s image been in her heart. She would not stain it with this
disgrace in her own eyes and in those of the world. But every other
reservation must be cast far, far away, to snatch the victory from him
and to save Hiram. Every fair weapon she might use; only this treachery
she could not, might not have recourse to. He must be made to feel
that she was more magnanimous than he; that she, under all conceivable
circumstances, kept her word. That was settled; her bosom once more rose
and fell, and her eye brightened again; still it was some little time
before she could find the right words with which to begin the contest.

Orion could see the seething turmoil in her soul; he felt that she was
arming herself for resistance, and he longed to spur her on to deal
the first blow. Not a word had she uttered of surprise or anger, not a
syllable of reproach had passed her lips. What was she thinking of, what
was she plotting? The more startling and dangerous the better; the more
bravely she bore herself, the more completely in the background might
he leave the painful sense of fighting against a woman. Even heroes had
boasted of a victory over Amazons.

At last, at last!--She rose and went towards Hiram. He had been tied to
the stake to which criminals were bound, and as an imploring glance
from his honest eyes met hers, the spell that fettered her tongue was
unloosed; she suddenly understood that she had not merely to protect
herself, but to fulfil a solemn duty. With a few rapid steps she went up
to the table at which her judges sat in a semi-circle, and leaning on it
with her left hand, raised her right high in the air, exclaiming:

“You are the victims of a cruel fraud; and I of an unparalleled and
wicked trick, intended to bring me to ruin!--Look at that man at the
stake. Does he look like a robber? A more honest and faithful servant
never earned his freedom, and the gratitude Hiram owed to his master, my
father, he has discharged to the daughter for whose sake he quitted his
home, his wife and child. He followed me, an orphan, here into a strange
land.--But that matters not to you.--Still, if you will hear the truth,
the strict and whole....”

“Speak!” Orion put in; but she went on, addressing herself exclusively
to Nilus, and his peers, and ignoring him completely:

“Your president, the son of the Mukaukas, knows that, instead of the
accused, I might, if I chose, be the accuser. But I scorn it--for
love of his father, and because I am more high-minded than he. He will
understand!--With regard to this particular emerald Hiram, my freedman,
took it out of its setting last evening, under my eyes, with his knife;
other persons besides us, thank God! have seen the setting, empty, on
the chain to which it belonged. This afternoon it was still in the place
to which some criminal hand afterwards found access, and attached that
gem instead. That I have just now seen for the first time--I swear it
by Christ’s wounds. It is an exquisite work. Only a very rich man--the
richest man here, can give away such a treasure, for whatever purpose
he may have in view--to destroy an enemy let us say.--Gamaliel,” and she
turned to the Jew--“At what sum would you value that onyx?”

The Israelite asked to see the gem once more; he turned it about, and
then said with a grin: “Well, fair lady, if my black hen laid me little
things like that I would feed it on cakes from Arsinoe and oysters from
Canopus. The stone is worth a landed estate, and though I am not a rich
man, I would pay down two talents for it at any moment, even if I had to
borrow the money.”

This statement could not fail to make a great impression on the judges.
Orion, however, exclaimed: “Wonders on wonders mark this eventful day!
The prodigal generosity which had become an empty name has revived again
among us! Some lavish demon has turned a worthless plate of gold into a
costly gem.--And may I ask who it was that saw the empty setting hanging
to your chain?” Paula was in danger of forgetting even that last reserve
she had imposed on herself; she answered with trembling accents:

“Apparently your confederates or you yourself did. You, and you alone,
have any cause....”

But he would not allow her to proceed. He abruptly interrupted her,
exclaiming: “This is really too much! Oh, that you were a man! How far
your generosity reaches I have already seen. Even hatred, the bitterest
hostility....”

“They would have every right to ruin you completely!” she cried, roused
to the utmost. “And if I were to charge you with the most horrible
crime. ...”

“You yourself would be committing a crime, against me and against this
house,” he said menacingly. “Beware! Can self-delusion go so far that
you dare to appeal to me to testify to the fable you have trumped
up....”

“No. Oh, no! That would be counting on some honesty in you yet,” she
loudly broke in. “I have other witnesses: Mary, the granddaughter of the
Mukaukas,” and she tried to catch his eye.

“The child whose little heart you have won, and who follows you about
like a pet dog!” he cried.

“And besides Mary, Katharina, the widow Susannah’s daughter,” she added,
sure of her triumph, and the color mounted to her cheeks. “She is no
longer a child, but a maiden grown, as you know. I therefore demand of
you--” and she again turned to the assembly--“that you will fulfil your
functions worthily and promote justice in my behalf by calling in both
these witnesses and hearing their evidence.”

On this Orion interposed with forced composure: “As to whether a
soft-hearted child ought to be exposed to the temptation to save the
friend she absolutely worships by giving evidence before the judges, be
it what it may, only her grandparents can decide. Her tender years would
at any rate detract from the validity of her evidence, and I am averse
to involving a child of this house in this dubious affair. With regard
to Katharina, it is, on the contrary, the duty of this court to request
her presence, and I offer myself to go and fetch her.”

He resolutely resisted Paula’s attempts to interrupt him again: she
should have a patient hearing presently in the presence of her witness.
The gem no doubt had come to her from her father. But at this her
righteous indignation was again too much for her; she cried out quite
beside herself:

“No, and again no. Some reprobate scoundrel, an accomplice of
yours--yes, I repeat it--made his way into my room while I was in the
sick-room, and either forced the lock of my trunk or opened it with a
false key.”

“That can easily be proved,” said Orion. In a confident tone he desired
that the box should be placed on the table, and requested one of the
council, who understood such matters, to give his opinion. Paula knew
the man well. He was one of the most respected members of the household,
the chief mechanician whose duty it was to test and repair the
water-clocks, balances, measures and other instruments. He at once
proceeded to examine the lock and found it in perfect order, though
the key, which was of peculiar form, could certainly not have found a
substitute in any false key; and Paula was forced to admit that she had
left the trunk locked at noon and had worn the key round her neck ever
since. Orion listened to his opinion with a shrug, and before going to
seek Katharina gave orders that Paula and the nurse should be conducted
to separate rooms. To arrive at any clear decision in this matter,
it was necessary that any communication between these two should be
rendered impossible. As soon as the door was shut on them he hastened
into the garden, where he hoped to find Katharina.

The council looked after him with divided feelings. They were here
confronted by riddles that were hard to solve. No one of them felt that
he had a right to doubt the good intentions of their lord’s son, whom
they looked up to as a talented and high-minded youth. His dispute with
Paula had struck them painfully, and each one asked himself how it
was that such a favorite with women should have failed to rouse any
sentiment but that of hatred in one of the handsomest of her sex. The
marked hostility she displayed to Orion injured her cause in the eyes
of her judges, who knew only too well how unpleasant her relations were
with Neforis. It was more than audacious in her to accuse the Mukaukas’
son of having broken open her trunk; only hatred could have prompted her
to utter such a charge. Still, there was something in her demeanor which
encouraged confidence in her assertions, and if Katharina could really
testify to having seen the empty medallion on the chain there would
be no alternative but to begin the enquiry again from a fresh point of
view, and to inculpate another robber. But who could have lavished
such a treasure as this gem in exchange for mere rubbish? It was
inconceivable; Ammonius the mechanician was right when he said that a
woman full of hatred was capable of anything, even the incredible and
impossible.

Meanwhile it was growing dusk and the scorching day had turned to the
tempered heat of a glorious evening. The Mukaukas was still in his room
while his wife with Susannah and her daughter, Mary and her governess,
were enjoying the air and chatting in the open hall looking out on the
garden and the Nile. The ladies had covered their heads with gauze veils
as a protection against the mosquitoes, which were attracted in swarms
from the river by the lights, and also against the mists that rose
from the shallowing Nile; they were in the act of drinking some
cooling fruit-syrup which had just been brought in, when Orion made his
appearance.

“What has happened?” cried his mother in some anxiety, for she concluded
from his dishevelled hair and heated cheeks that the meeting had gone
anything rather than smoothly.

“Incredible things,” he replied. “Paula fought like a lioness for her
father’s freedman...”

“Simply to annoy us and put us in a difficulty,” replied Neforis.

“No, no, Mother,” replied Orion with some warmth. “But she has a will of
iron; a woman who never pauses at anything when she wants to carry her
point; and at the same time she goes to work with a keen wit that is
worthy of the greatest lawyer that I ever heard defend a cause in the
high court of the capital. Besides this her air of superiority, and her
divine beauty turn the heads of our poor household officers. It is fine
and noble, of course, to be so zealous in the cause of a servant; but
it can do no good, for the evidence against her stammering favorite is
overwhelming, and when her last plea is demolished the matter is ended.
She says that she showed a necklace to the child, and to you, charming
Katharina.”

“Showed it?” cried the young girl. “She took it away from us--did not
she, Mary?”

“Well, we had taken it without her leave,” replied the child.

“And she wants our children to appear in a court of justice to bear
witness for her highness?” asked Neforis indignantly.

“Certainly,” replied Orion. “But Mary’s evidence is of no value in law.”

“And even if it were,” replied his mother, “the child should not be
mixed up with this disgraceful business under any circumstances.”

“Because I should speak for Paula!” cried Mary, springing up in great
excitement.

“You will just hold your tongue,” her grandmother exclaimed.

“And as for Katharina,” said the widow, “I do not at all like the notion
of her offering herself to be stared at by all those gentlemen.”

“Gentlemen!” observed the girl. “Men--household officials and such like.
They may wait long enough for me!”

“You must nevertheless do their bidding, haughty rosebud,” said Orion
laughing. “For you, thank God, are no longer a child, and a court of
justice has the right of requiring the presence of every grown person
as a witness. No harm will come to you, for you are under my protection.
Come with me. We must learn every lesson in life. Resistance is vain.
Besides, all you will have to do will be to state what you have seen,
and then, if I possibly can, I will bring you back under the tender
escort of this arm, to your mother once more. You must entrust your
jewel to me to-day, Susannah, and this trustworthy witness shall tell
you afterwards how she fared under my care.”

Katharina was quite capable of reading the implied meaning of these
words, and she was not ill-pleased to be obliged to go off alone with
the governor’s handsome son, the first man for whom her little heart
had beat quicker; she sprang up eagerly; but Mary clung to her arm, and
insisted so vehemently and obstinately on being taken with them to bear
witness in Paula’s behalf, that her governess and Dame Neforis had the
greatest difficulty in reducing her to obedience and letting the pair go
off without her. Both mothers looked after them with great satisfaction,
and the governor’s wife whispered to Susannah: “Before the judges
to-day, but ere long, please God, before the altar at Church!”

To reach the hall of judgment they could go either through the house or
round it. If the more circuitous route were chosen, it lay first through
the garden; and this was the course taken by Orion. He had made a very
great effort in the presence of the ladies to remain master of the
agitation that possessed him; he saw that the battle he had begun, and
from which he, at any rate, could not and would not now retire, was
raging more and more fiercely, obliging him to drag the young creature
who must become his wife--the die was already cast--into the course of
crime he had started on.

When he had agreed with his mother that he was not to prefer his suit
for Katharina till the following day, he had hoped to prove to her in
the interval that this little thing was no wife for him; and now--oh!
Irony of Fate--he found himself compelled to the very reverse of what he
longed to do: to fight the woman he loved--Yes, still loved--as if she
were his mortal foe, and pay his court to the girl who really did not
suit him. It was maddening, but inevitable; and once more spurring
himself with the word “Onwards!” he flung himself into the
accomplishment of the unholy task of subduing the inexperienced child
at his elbow into committing even a crime for his sake. His heart was
beating wildly; but no pause, no retreat was possible: he must conquer.
“Onwards, then, onwards!”

When they had passed out of the light of the lamps into the shade he
took his young companion’s slender hand-thankful that the darkness
concealed his features--and pressed the delicate fingers to his lips.

“Oh!--Orion!” she exclaimed shyly, but she did not resist.

“I only claim my due, sunshine of my soul!” he said insinuatingly. “If
your heart beat as loud as mine, our mothers might hear them!”

“But it does!” she joyfully replied, her curly head bent on one side.

“Not as mine does,” he said with a sigh, laying her little hand on his
heart. He could do so in all confidence, for its spasmodic throbbing
threatened to suffocate him.

“Yes indeed,” she said. “It is beating...”

“So that they can hear it indoors,” he added with a forced laugh. “Do
you think your dear mother has not long since read our feelings?”

“Of course she has,” whispered Katharina. “I have rarely seen her in
such good spirits as since your return.”

“And you, you little witch?”

“I? Of course I was glad--we all were.--And your parents!”

“Nay, nay, Katharina! What you yourself felt when we met once more, that
is what I want to know.”

“Oh, let that pass! How can I describe such a thing?”

“Is that quite impossible?” he asked and clasped her arm more closely
in his own. He must win her over, and his romantic fancy helped him to
paint feelings he had never had, in glowing colors. He poured out sweet
words of love, and she was only too ready to believe them. At a sign
from him she sat down confidingly on a wooden bench in the old avenue
which led to the northern side of the house. Flowers were opening on
many of the shrubs and shedding rich, oppressive perfume. The moonlight
pierced through the solemn foliage of the sycamores, and shimmering
streaks and rings of light played in the branches, on the trunks, and on
the dark ground. The heat of the day still lingered in the leafy roofs
overhead, sultry and heavy even now; and in this alley he called her
for the first time his own, his betrothed, and enthralled her heart in
chains and bonds. Each fervent word thrilled with the wild and painful
agitation that was torturing his soul, and sounded heartfelt and
sincere. The scent of flowers, too, intoxicated her young and
inexperienced heart; she willingly offered her lips to his kisses, and
with exquisite bliss felt the first glow of youthful love returned.

She could have lingered thus with him for a lifetime; but in a few
minutes he sprang up, anxious to put an end to this tender dalliance
which was beginning to be too much even for him, and exclaimed:

“This cursed, this infernal trial! But such is the fate of man! Duty
calls, and he must return from all the bliss of Paradise to the world
again. Give me your arm, my only love, my all!”

And Katharina obeyed. Dazzled and bewildered by the extraordinary
happiness that had come to meet her, she allowed him to lead her on,
listening with suspended breath as he added: “Out of this beatitude back
to the sternest of duties!--And how odious, how immeasurably loathesome
is the case in question! How gladly would I have been a friend to Paula,
a faithful protector instead of a foe!”

As he spoke he felt the girl’s left hand clench tighter on his arm,
and this spurred him on in his guilty purpose. Katharina herself had
suggested to his mind the course he must pursue to attain his end.
He went on to influence her jealousy by praising Paula’s charm and
loftiness, excusing himself in his own eyes by persuading himself that a
lover was justified in inducing his betrothed to save his happiness and
his honor.

Still, as he uttered each flattering word, he felt that he was lowering
himself and doing a fresh injustice to Paula. He found it only too easy
to sing her praises; but as he did so with growing enthusiasm Katharina
hit him on the arm exclaiming, half in jest and half seriously vexed:

“Oh, she is a goddess! And pray do you love her or me? You had better
not make me jealous! Do you hear?”

“You little simpleton!” he said gaily; and then he added soothingly:
“She is like the cold moon, but you are the bright warming sun. Yes,
Paula!--we will leave Paula to some Olympian god, some archangel. I
rejoice in my gladsome little maiden who will enjoy life with me, and
all its pleasures!”

“That we will!” she exclaimed triumphantly; the horizon of her future
was radiant with sunshine.

“Good Heavens!” he exclaimed as if in surprise. “The lights are already
shining in that miserable hall of justice! Ah, love, love! Under that
enchantment we had forgotten the object for which we came out.--Tell me,
my darling, do you remember exactly what the necklace was like that you
and Mary were playing with this afternoon?”

“It was very finely wrought, but in the middle hung a rubbishy broken
medallion of gold.”

“You are a pretty judge of works of art! Then you overlooked the fine
engraved gem which was set in that modest gold frame?”

“Certainly not.”

“I assure you, little wise-head!”

“No, my dearest.” As she spoke she looked up saucily, as though she had
achieved some great triumph. “I know very well what gems are. My father
left a very fine collection, and my mother says that by his will they
are all to belong to my future husband.”

“Then I can set you, my jewel, in a frame of the rarest gems.”

“No, no,” she cried gaily. “Let me have a setting indeed, for I am but a
fugitive thing; but only, only in your heart.”

“That piece of goldsmith’s work is already done.--But seriously my
child; with regard to Paula’s necklace: it really was a gem, and you
must have happened to see only the back of it. That is just as you
describe it: a plain setting of gold.”

“But Orion....”

“If you love me, sweetheart, contradict me no further. In the future
I will always accept your views, but in this case your mistake might
involve us in a serious misunderstanding, by compelling me to give in
to Paula and make her my ally.--Here we are! But wait one moment
longer.--And once more, as to this gem. You see we may both be wrong--I
as much as you; but I firmly believe that I am in the right. If you make
a statement contrary to mine I shall appear before the judges as a
liar. We are now betrothed--we are but one, wholly one; what damages or
dignifies one of us humiliates or elevates the other. If you, who love
me--you, who, as it is already whispered, are soon to be the mistress of
the governor’s house--make a statement opposed to mine they are certain
to believe it. You see, your whole nature is pure kindness, but you are
still too young and innocent quite to understand all the duties of that
omnipotent love which beareth and endureth all things. If you do not
yield to me cheerfully in this case you certainly do not love me as
you ought. And what is it to ask? I require nothing of you but that
you should state before the court that you saw Paula’s necklace at noon
to-day, and that there was a gem hanging to it--a gem with Love and
Psyche engraved on it.”

“And I am to say that before all those men?” asked Katharina doubtfully.

“You must indeed, you kind little angel!” cried Orion tenderly. “And
do you think it pretty in a betrothed bride to refuse her lover’s first
request so grudgingly, suspiciously, and ungraciously? Nay, nay. If
there is the tiniest spark of love for me in your heart, if you do not
want to see me reduced to implore Paula for mercy....”

“But what is it all about? How can it matter so much to any one whether
a gem or a mere plate of gold...?”

“All that I will explain later,” he hastily replied.

“Tell me now....”

“Impossible. We have already put the patience of the judges to too
severe a test. We have not a moment to lose.”

“Very well then; but I shall die of confusion and shame if I have to
make a declaration....”

“Which is perfectly truthful, and by which you can prove to me that you
love me,” he urged.

“But it is dreadful!” she exclaimed anxiously. “At least fasten my veil
closely over my face.--All those bearded men....”

“Like the ostrich,” said Orion, laughing as he complied. “If you really
cannot agree with your... What is it you called me just now? Say it
again.”

“My dearest!” she said shyly but tenderly.

She helped Orion to fold her veil twice over her face, and did not
thrust him aside when he whispered in her ear: “Let us see if a kiss
cannot be sweet even through all that wrapping!--Now, come. It will be
all over in a few minutes.”

He led the way into the anteroom to the great hall, begged her to wait
a moment, and then went in and hastily informed the assembly that Dame
Susannah had entrusted her daughter to him only on condition that he
should escort her back again as soon as she had given her testimony.
Then Paula was brought in and he desired her to be seated.

It was with a sinking and anxious heart that Katharina had entered the
anteroom. She had screened herself from a scolding before now by trivial
subterfuges, but never had told a serious lie; and every instinct
rebelled against the demand that she should now state a direct
falsehood. But could Orion, the noblest of mankind, the idol of the
whole town, so pressingly entreat her to do anything that was wrong? Did
not love--as he had said--make it her duty to do everything that might
screen him from loss or injury? It did not seem to her to be quite as it
should be, but perhaps she did not altogether understand the matter; she
was so young and inexperienced. She hated the idea, too, that, if she
opposed her lover, he would have to come to terms with Paula. She had
no lack of self-possession, and she told herself that she might hold
her own with any girl in Memphis; still, she felt the superiority of the
handsome, tall, proud Syrian, nor could she forget how, the day before
yesterday, when Paula had been walking up and down the garden with Orion
the chief officer of Memphis had exclaimed: “What a wonderfully handsome
couple!” She herself had often thought that no more beautiful, elegant
and lovable creature than Thomas’ daughter walked the earth; she had
longed and watched for a glance or a kind word from her. But since
hearing those words a bitter feeling had possessed her soul against
Paula, and there had been much to foster it. Paula always treated her
like a child instead of a grown-up girl, as she was. Why, that very
morning, had she sought out her betrothed--for she might call him so
now--and tried to keep her away from him? And how was it that
Orion, even while declaring his love for her, had spoken more than
warmly--enthusiastically of Paula? She must be on her guard, and though
others should speak of the great good fortune that had fallen to her
lot, Paula, at any rate, would not rejoice in it, for Katharina felt and
knew that she was not indifferent to Orion. She had not another enemy
in the world, but Paula was one; her love had everything to fear from
her--and suddenly she asked herself whether the gold medallion she had
seen might not indeed have been a gem? Had she examined the necklace
closely, even for a moment? And why should she fancy she had sharper
sight than Orion with his large, splendid eyes?

He was right, as he always was. Most engraved gems were oval in form,
and the pendant which she had seen and was to give evidence about, was
undoubtedly oval. Then it was not like Orion to require a falsehood of
her. In any case it was her duty to her betrothed to preserve from evil,
and prevent him from concluding any alliance with that false Siren. She
knew what she had to say; and she was about to loosen a portion of her
veil from her face that she might look Paula steadfastly in the eyes,
when Orion came back to fetch her into the hall where the Court was
sitting. To his delight--nay almost to his astonishment--she stated with
perfect confidence that a gem had been hanging to Paula’s necklace at
noon that day; and when the onyx was shown her and she was asked if she
remembered the stone, she calmly replied:

“It may or it may not be the same; I only remember the oval gold back
to it: besides I was only allowed to have the necklace in my hands for a
very short time.”

When Nilus, the treasurer, desired her to look more closely at the
figures of Eros and Psyche to refresh her memory, she evaded it by
saying: “I do not like such heathen images: we Jacobite maidens wear
different adornments.”

At this Paula rose and stepped towards her with a look of stern reproof;
little Katharina was glad now that it had occurred to her to cover her
face with a double veil. But the utter confusion she felt under the
Syrian girl’s gaze did not last long. Paula exclaimed reproach fully:
“You speak of your faith. Like mine, it requires you to respect the
truth. Consider how much depends on your declaration; I implore you,
child...”

But the girl interrupted her rival exclaiming with much irritation and
vehement excitement:

“I am no longer a child, not even as compared with you; and I think
before I speak, as I was taught to do.”

She threw back her little head with a confident air, and said very
decidedly:

“That onyx hung to the middle of the chain.”

“How dare you, you audacious hussy!” It was Perpetua, quite unable to
contain herself, who flung the words in her face. Katharina started as
though an asp had stung her and turned round on the woman who had dared
to insult her so grossly and so boldly. She was on the verge of tears as
she looked helplessly about her for a defender; but she had not long to
wait, for Orion instantly gave orders that Perpetua should be imprisoned
for bearing false witness. Paula, however, as she had not perjured
herself, but had merely invented an impossible tale with a good motive,
was dismissed, and her chest was to be replaced in her room.

At this Paula once more stepped forth; she unhooked the onyx from the
chain and flung it towards Gamaliel, who caught it, while she exclaimed:

“I make you a present of it, Jew! Perhaps the villain who hung it to my
chain may buy it back again. The chain was given to my great-grandmother
by the saintly Theodosius, and rather than defile it by contact with
that gift from a villain, I will throw it into the Nile!--You--you,
poor, deluded judges--I cannot be wroth with you, but I pity you!--My
Hiram...” and she looked at the freedman, “is an honest soul whom
I shall remember with gratitude to my dying day; but as to that
unrighteous son of a most righteous father, that man...” and she raised
her voice, while she pointed straight at Orion’s face; but the young man
interrupted her with a loud:

“Enough!”

She tried to control herself and replied:

“I will submit. Your conscience will tell you a hundred times over what
I need not say. One last word...” She went close up to him and said in
his ear:

“I have been able to refrain from using my deadliest weapon against
you for the sake of keeping my word. Now you, if you are not the basest
wretch living, keep yours, and save Hiram.”

His only reply was an assenting nod; Paula paused on the threshold
and, turning to Katharina, she added: “You, child--for you are but a
child--with what nameless suffering will not the son of the Mukaukas
repay you for the service you have rendered him!” Then she left the
room. Her knees trembled under her as she mounted the stairs, but when
she had again taken her place by the side of the hapless, crazy girl
a merciful God granted her the relief of tears. Her friend saw her and
left her to weep undisturbed, till she herself called him and confided
to him all she had gone through in the course of this miserable day.

Orion and Katharina had lost their good spirits; they went back to the
colonnade in a dejected mood. On the way she pressed him to explain to
her why he had insisted on her making this declaration, but he put her
off till the morrow. They found Susannah alone, for his mother had been
sent for by her husband, who was suffering more than usual, and she had
taken Mary with her.

After bidding the widow good-night and escorting her to her chariot,
he returned to the hall where the Court was still sitting. There he
recapitulated the case as it now stood, and all the evidence against the
freed man. The verdict was then pronounced: Hiram was condemned to death
with but one dissentient voice that of Nilus the treasurer.

Orion ordered that the execution of the sentence should be postponed; he
did not go back into the house, however, but had his most spirited horse
saddled and rode off alone into the desert. He had won, but he felt as
though in this race he had rushed into a morass and must be choked in
it.



CHAPTER XIII.

Paula’s report of the day’s proceedings, of Orion’s behavior, and of
the results of the trial angered the leech beyond measure; he vehemently
approved the girl’s determination to quit this cave of robbers,
this house of wickedness, of treachery, of imbecile judges and false
witnesses, as soon as possible. But she had no opportunity for a quiet
conversation with him, for Philippus soon had his hands full in the care
of the sufferers.

Rustem, the Masdakite, who till now had been lying unconscious, had been
roused from his lethargy by some change of treatment, and loudly
called for his master Haschim. When the Arab did not appear, and it was
explained to him that he could not hope to see him before the morning,
the young giant sat up among his pillows, propping himself on his
arms set firmly against the couch behind him, looked about him with a
wandering gaze, and shook his big head like an aggrieved lion--but that
his thick mane of hair had been cut off--abusing the physician all the
time in his native tongue, and in a deep, rolling, bass voice that rang
through the rooms though no one understood a word. Philippus, quite
undaunted, was trying to adjust the bandage over his wound, when Rustem
suddenly flung his arms round his body and tried with all his might, and
with foaming lips, to drag him down. He clung to his antagonist, roaring
like a wild beast; even now Philippus never for an instant lost his
presence of mind but desired the nun to fetch two strong slaves. The
Sister hurried away, and Paula remained the eyewitness of a fearful
struggle. The physician had twisted his ancles round those of the
stalwart Persian, and putting forth a degree of strength which could
hardly have been looked for in a stooping student, tall and large-boned
as he was, he wrenched the Persian’s hands from his hips, pressed his
fingers between those of Rustem, forced him back on to his pillows, set
his knees against the brazen frame of the couch, and so effectually held
him down that he could not sit up again. Rustem exerted every muscle
to shake off his opponent; but the leech was the stronger, for the
Masdakite was weakened by fever and loss of blood. Paula watched this
contest between intelligent force and the animal strength of a raving
giant with a beating heart, trembling in every limb. She could not help
her friend, but she followed his every movement as she stood at the head
of the bed; and as he held down the powerful creature before whom her
frail uncle had cowered in abject terror, she could not help admiring
his manly beauty; for his eyes sparkled with unwonted fire, and the mean
chin seemed to lengthen with the frightful effort he was putting forth,
and so to be brought into proportion with his wide forehead and the rest
of his features. Her spirit quaked for him; she fancied she could
see something great and heroic in the man, in whom she had hitherto
discovered no merit but his superior intellect.

The struggle had lasted some minutes before Philip felt the man’s arms
grow limp, and he called to Paula to bring him a sheet--a rope--what
not--to bind the raving man. She flew into the next room, quite
collected; fetched her handkerchief, snatched off the silken girdle that
bound her waist, rushed back and helped the leech to tie the maniac’s
hands. She understood her friend’s least word, or a movement of his
finger; and when the slaves whom the nun had fetched came into the room,
they found Rustem with his hands firmly bound, and had only to
prevent him from leaping out of bed or throwing himself over the edge.
Philippus, quite out of breath, explained to the slaves how they were
to act, and when he opened his medicine-chest Paula noticed that his
swollen, purple fingers were trembling. She took out the phial to which
he pointed, mixed the draught according to his orders, and was not
afraid to pour it between the teeth of the raving man, forcing them open
with the help of the slaves.

The soothing medicine calmed him in a few minutes, and the leech himself
could presently wash the wound and apply a fresh dressing with the
practised aid of the Sister.

Meanwhile the crazy girl had been waked by the ravings of the Persian,
and was anxiously enquiring if the dog--the dreadful dog--was there. But
she soon allowed herself to be quieted by Paula, and she answered the
questions put to her so rationally and gently, that her nurse called the
physician who could confirm Paula in her hope that a favorable change
had taker place in her mental condition. Her words were melancholy and
mild; and when Paula remarked on this Philippus observed:

“It is on the bed of sickness that we learn to know our
fellow-creatures. The frantic girl, who perhaps fell on the son of this
house with murderous intent, now reveals her true, sweet nature. And as
for that poor fellow, he is a powerful creature, an honest one too; I
would stake my ten fingers on it!”

“What makes you so sure of that?”

“Even in his delirium he did hot once scratch or bite, but only defended
himself like a man.--Thank you, now, for your assistance. If you had
not flung the cord round his hands, the game might have ended very
differently.”

“Surely not!” exclaimed Paula decidedly. “How strong you are, Philip. I
feel quite alarmed!”

“You?” said the leech laughing. “On the contrary, you need never be
alarmed again now that you have seen by chance that your champion is no
weakling.--Pfooh! I shall be glad now of a little rest.” She offered
him her handkerchief, and while he thankfully used it to wipe his
brow--controlling with much difficulty the impulse to press it to his
lips, he added lightly:

“With such an assistant everything must go well. There is no merit in
being strong; every one can be strong who comes into the world with
healthy blood and well-knit bones, who keeps all his limbs well
exercised, as I did in my youth, and who does not destroy his
inheritance by dissipated living.--However, I still feel the struggle in
my hands; but there is some good wine in the next room yet, and two or
three cups of it will do me good.” They went together into the adjoining
room where, by this time, most of the lamps were extinguished. Paula
poured out the wine, touched the goblet with her lips, and he emptied it
at a draught; but he was not to be allowed to drink off a second, for he
had scarcely raised it, when they heard voices in the Masdakite’s room,
and Neforis came in. The governor’s careful wife had not quitted her
husband’s couch--even Rustem’s storming had not induced her to leave her
post; but when she was informed by the slaves what had been going on,
and that Paula was still up-stairs with the leech, she had come to the
strangers’ rooms as soon as her husband could spare her to speak to
Philippus, to represent to Paula what the proprieties required, and to
find out what the strange noises could be which still seemed to fill the
house--at this hour usually as silent as the grave. They proceeded from
the sick-rooms, but also from Orion, who had just come in, and from
Nilus the treasurer, who had been called by the former into his room,
though the night was fast drawing on to morning. To the governor’s wife
everything seemed ominous at the close of this terrible day, marked in
the calendar as unlucky; so she made her way up-stairs, escorted by her
husband’s night watcher, and holding in her hand a small reliquary to
which she ascribed the power of banning vile spirits.

She came into the sick-room swiftly and noiselessly, put the nun through
a strict cross-examination with the fretful sharpness of a person
disturbed in her night’s rest. Then she went into the sitting-room where
Philippus was on the point of pledging Paula in his second cup of wine,
while she stood before him with dishevelled hair and robe ungirt. All
this was an offence against good manners such as she would not suffer
in her house, and she stoutly ordered her husband’s niece to go to
bed. After all the offences that had been pardoned her this day--no,
yesterday--she exclaimed, it would have been more becoming in the girl
to examine herself in silence, in her own room, to exorcise the lying
spirits which had her in their power, and implore her Saviour for
forgiveness, than to pretend to be nursing the sick while she was
carrying on, with a young man, an orgy which, as the Sister had just
told her, had lasted since mid-day.

Paula spoke not a word, though the color changed in her face more than
once as she listened to this speech. But when Neforis finally pointed to
the door, she said, with all the cold pride she had at her command when
she was the object of unworthy suspicions:

“Your aim is easily seen through. I should scorn to reply, but that you
are the wife of the man who, till you set him against me, was glad to
call himself my friend and protector, and who is also related to me. As
usual, you attribute to me an unworthy motive. In showing me the door
of this room consecrated by suffering, you are turning me out of your
house, which you and your son--for I must say it for once--have made a
hell to me.”

“I! And my--No! this is indeed--” exclaimed the matron in panting rage.
She clasped her hands over her heaving bosom and her pale face was dyed
crimson, while her eyes flashed wrathful lightnings. “That is too much;
a thousand times too much--a thousand times--do you hear?--And I--I
condescend to answer you! We picked her up in the street, and have
treated her like a daughter, spent enormous sums on her, and now....”

This was addressed to the leech rather than to Paula; but she took up
the gauntlet and replied in a tone of unqualified scorn:

“And now I plainly declare, as a woman of full age, free to dispose of
myself, that to-morrow morning I leave this house with everything that
belongs to me, even if I should go as a beggar;--this house, where I
have been grossly insulted, where I and my faithful servant have been
falsely condemned, and where he is even now about to be murdered.”

“And where you have been dealt with far too mildly,” Neforis shrieked
at her audacious antagonist, “and preserved from sharing the fate of the
robber you smuggled into the house. To save a criminal--it is unheard
of:--you dared to accuse the son of your benefactor of being a corrupt
judge.”

“And so he is,” exclaimed Paula furious. “And what is more, he has
inveigled the child whom you destine to be his wife into bearing false
witness. More--much more could I say, but that, even if I did not
respect the mother, your husband has deserved that I should spare him.”

“Spare him-spare!” cried Neforis contemptuously. “You--you will spare
us! The accused will be merciful and spare the judge! But you shall be
made to speak;--aye, made to speak! And as to what you, a slanderer, can
say about false witness...”

“Your own granddaughter,” interrupted the leech, “will be compelled
to repeat it before all the world, noble lady, if you do not moderate
yourself.”

Neforis laughed hysterically.

“So that is the way the wind blows!” she exclaimed, quite beside
herself. “The sick-room is a temple of Bacchus and Venus; and this
disgraceful conduct is not enough, but you must conspire to heap shame
and disgrace on this righteous house and its masters.”

Then, resting her left hand which held the reliquary on her hip, she
added with hasty vehemence:

“So be it. Go away; go wherever you please! If I find you under this
roof to-morrow at noon, you thankless, wicked girl, I will have you
turned out into the streets by the guard. I hate you--for once I will
ease my poor, tormented heart--I loathe you; your very existence is
an offence to me and brings misfortune on me and on all of us; and
besides--besides, I should prefer to keep the emeralds we have left.”

This last and cruelest taunt, which she had brought out against her
better feelings, seemed to have relieved her soul of a hundred-weight of
care; she drew a deep breath, and turning to Philippus, went on far more
quietly and rationally:

“As for you, Philip, my husband needs you. You know well what we have
offered you and you know George’s liberal hand. Perhaps you will think
better of it, and will learn to perceive...”

“I!...” said the leech with a lofty smile. “Do you really know me so
little? Your husband, I am ready to admit, stands high in my esteem, and
when he wants me he will no doubt send for me. But never again will I
cross this threshold uninvited, or enter a house where right is trodden
underfoot, where defenceless innocence is insulted and abandoned to
despair.

“You may stare in astonishment! Your son has desecrated his
father’s judgment-seat, and the blood of guiltless Hiram is on his
head.--You--well, you may still cling to your emeralds. Paula will not
touch them; she is too high-souled to tell you who it is that you would
indeed do well to lock up in the deepest dungeon-cell! What I have heard
from your lips breaks every tie that time had knit between us. I do
not demand that my friends should be wealthy, that they should have any
attractions or charm, any special gifts of mind or body; but we must
meet on common ground: that of honorable feeling. That you did not bring
into the world, or you have lost it; and from this hour I am a stranger
to you and never wish to see you again, excepting by the side of your
husband when he requires me.”

He spoke the last words with such immeasurable dignity that Neforis
was startled and bereft of all self-control. She had been treated as a
wretch worthy of utter scorn by a man beneath her in rank, but whom she
always regarded as one of the most honest, frank and pure-minded she had
ever known; a man indispensable to her husband, because he knew how to
mitigate his sufferings, and could restrain him from the abuse of his
narcotic anodyne. He was the only physician of repute, far and wide. She
was to be deprived of the services of this valuable ally, to whom little
Mary and many of the household owed their lives, by this Syrian girl;
and she herself, sure that she was a good and capable wife and mother,
was to stand there like a thing despised and avoided by every honest
man, through this evil genius of her house!

It was too much. Tortured by rage, vexation, and sincere distress, she
said in a complaining voice, while the tears started to her eyes:

“But what is the meaning of all this? You, who know me, who have seen
me ruling and caring for my family, you turn your back upon me in my
own house and point the finger at me? Have I not always been a faithful
wife, nursing my husband for years and never leaving his sick-bed,
never thinking of anything but how to ease his pain? I have lived like
a recluse from sheer sense of duty and faithful lose, while other wives,
who have less means than I, live in state and go to entertainments.--And
whose slaves are better kept and more often freed than ours? Where is
the beggar so sure of an alms as in our house, where I, and I alone,
uphold piety?--And now am I so fallen that the sun may not shine on me,
and that a worthy man like you should withdraw his friendship all in a
moment, and for the sake of this ungrateful, loveless creature--because,
because, what did you call it--because the mind is wanting in me--or
what did you call it that I must have before you...?”

“It is called feeling,” interrupted the leech, who was sorry for the
unhappy woman, in whom he knew there was much that was good. “Is the
word quite new to you, my lady Neforis?--It is born with us; but a firm
will can elevate the least noble feeling, and the best that nature can
bestow will deteriorate through self-indulgence. But, in the day of
judgment, if I am not very much mistaken, it is not our acts but our
feeling that will be weighed. It would ill-become me to blame you, but
I may be allowed to pity you, for I see the disease in your soul which,
like gangrene in the body...”

“What next!” cried Neforis.

“This disease,” the physician calmly went on--“I mean hatred, should be
far indeed from so pious a Christian. It has stolen into your heart like
a thief in the night, has eaten you up, has made bad blood, and led you
to treat this heavily-afflicted orphan as though you were to put stocks
and stones in the path of a blind man to make him fall. If, as it would
seem, my opinion still weighs with you a little, before Paula leaves
your house you will ask her pardon for the hatred with which you have
persecuted her for years, which has now led you to add an intolerable
insult--in which you yourself do not believe--to all the rest.”

At this Paula, who had been watching the physician all through his
speech, turned to Dame Neforis, and unclasped her hands which were
lying in her lap, ready to shake hands with her uncle’s wife if she only
offered hers, though she was still fully resolved to leave the house.

A terrible storm was raging in the lady’s soul. She felt that she had
often been unkind to Paula. That a painful doubt still obscured the
question as to who had stolen the emerald she had unwillingly confessed
before she had come up here. She knew that she would be doing her
husband a great service by inducing the girl to remain, and she would
only too gladly have kept the leech in the house;--but then how deeply
had she, and her son, been humiliated by this haughty creature!

Should she humble herself to her, a woman so much younger, offer her
hand, make....

At this moment they heard the tinkle of the silver bowl, into which her
husband threw a little ball when he wanted her. His pale, suffering face
rose before her inward eye, she could hear him asking for his opponent
at draughts, she could see his sad, reproachful gaze when she told him
to-morrow that she, Neforis, had driven his niece, the daughter of the
noble Thomas, out of the house--, with a swift impulse she went towards
Paula, grasping the reliquary in her left hand and holding out her
right, and said in a low voice.

“Shake hands, girl. I often ought to have behaved differently to you;
but why have you never in the smallest thing sought my love? God is my
witness that at first I was fully disposed to regard you as a daughter,
but you--well, let it pass. I am sorry now that I should--if I have
distressed you.”

At the first words Paula had placed her hand in that of Neforis. Hers
was as cold as marble, the elder woman’s was hot and moist; it seemed as
though their hands were typical of the repugnance of their hearts.
They both felt it so, and their clasp was but a brief one. When Paula
withdrew hers, she preserved her composure better than the governor’s
wife, and said quite calmly, though her cheeks were burning:

“Then we will try to part without any ill-will, and I thank you for
having made that possible. To-morrow morning I hope I may be permitted
to take leave of my uncle in peace, for I love him; and of little Mary.”

“But you need not go now! On the contrary, I urgently request you to
stay,” Neforis eagerly put in.

“George will not let you leave. You yourself know how fond he is of
you.”

“He has often been as a father to me,” said Paula, and even her eyes
shone through tears. “I would gladly have stayed with him till the end.
Still, it is fixed--I must go.”

“And if your uncle adds his entreaties to mine?”

“It will be in vain.”

Neforis took the maiden’s hand in her own again, and tried with genuine
anxiety to persuade her,--but Paula was firm. She adhered to her
determination to leave the governor’s house in the morning.

“But where will you find a suitable house?” cried Neforis. “A residence
that will be fit for you?”

“That shall be my business,” replied the physician. “Believe me, noble
lady, it would be best for all that Paula should seek another home. But
it is to be hoped that she may decide on remaining in Memphis.”

At this Neforis exclaimed:

“Here, with us, is her natural home!--Perhaps God may turn your heart
for your uncle’s sake, and we may begin a new and happier life.” Paula’s
only reply was a shake of the head; but Neforis did not see it the metal
tinkle sounded for the third time, and it was her duty to respond to its
call.

As soon as she had left the room Paula drew a deep breath, exclaiming:

“O God! O God! How hard it was to refrain from flinging in her teeth the
crime her wicked son.... No, no; nothing should have made me do that.
But I cannot tell you how the mere sight of that woman angers me, how
light-hearted I feel since I have broken down the bridge that connected
me with this house and with Memphis.”

“With Memphis?” asked Philippus.

“Yes,” said Paula gladly. “I go away--away from hence, out of the
vicinity of this woman and her son!--Whither? Oh! back to Syria, or to
Greece--every road is the right one, if it only takes me away from this
place.”

“And I, your friend?” asked Philippus.

“I shall bear the remembrance of you in a grateful heart.”

The physician smiled, as though something had happened just as he
expected; after a moment’s reflection he said:

“And where can the Nabathaean find you, if indeed he discovers your
father in the hermit of Sinai?”

The question startled and surprised Paula, and Philippus now adduced
every argument to convince her that it was necessary that she should
remain in the City of the Pyramids. In the first place she must liberate
her nurse--in this he could promise to help her--and everything he said
was so judicious in its bearing on the circumstances that had to be
reckoned with, and the facts actual or possible, that she was astonished
at the practical good sense of this man, with whom she had generally
talked only of matters apart from this world. Finally she yielded,
chiefly for the sake of her father and Perpetua; but partly in the hope
of still enjoying his society. She would remain in Memphis, at any rate
for the present, under the roof of a friend of the physician’s--long
known to her by report--a Melchite like herself, and there await the
further development of her fate.

To be away from Orion and never, never to see him again was her
heartfelt wish. All places were the same to her where she had no fear of
meeting him. She hated him; still she knew that her heart would have no
peace so long as such a meeting was possible. Still, she longed to free
herself from a desire to see what his further career would be, which
came over her again and again with overwhelming and terrible power. For
that reason, and for that only, she longed to go far, far away, and she
was hardly satisfied by the leech’s assurance that her new protector
would be able to keep away all visitors whom she might not wish to
receive. And he himself, he added, would make it his business to stand
between her and all intruders the moment she sent for him.

They did not part till the sun was rising above the eastern hills; as
they separated Paula said:

“So this morning a new life begins for me, which I can well imagine
will, by your help, be pleasanter than that which is past.”

And Philippus replied with happy emotion: “The new life for me began
yesterday.”



CHAPTER XIV.

Between morning and noon Mary was sitting on a low cane seat under the
sycamores which yesterday had shaded Katharina’s brief young happiness;
by her side was her governess Eudoxia, under whose superintendence she
was writing out the Ten Commandments from a Greek catechism.

The teacher had been lulled to sleep by the increasing heat and the
pervading scent of flowers, and her pupil had ceased to write. Her eyes,
red with tears, were fixed on the shells with which the path was strewn,
and she was using her long ruler, at first to stir them about, and
then to write the words: “Paula,” and “Paula, Mary’s darling,” in large
capital letters. Now and again a butterfly, following the motion of
the rod, brought a smile to her pretty little face from which the dark
spirit “Trouble” had not wholly succeeded in banishing gladness. Still,
her heart was heavy. Everything around her, in the garden and in the
house, was still; for her grandfather’s state had become seriously worse
at sunrise, and every sound must be hushed. Mary was thinking of the
poor sufferer: what pain he had to bear, and how the parting from Paula
would grieve him, when Katharina came towards her down the path.

The young girl did little credit to-day to her nickname of “the
water-wagtail;” her little feet shuffled through the shelly gravel, her
head hung wearily, and when one of the myriad insects, that were busy
in the morning sunshine, came within her reach she beat it away angrily
with her fan. As she came up to Mary she greeted her with the usual “All
hail!” but the child only nodded in response, and half turning her back
went on with her inscription.

Katharina, however, paid no heed to this cool reception, but said in
sympathetic tones:

“Your poor grandfather is not so well, I hear?” Mary shrugged her
shoulders.

“They say he is very dangerously ill. I saw Philippus himself.”

“Indeed?” said Mary without looking up, and she went on writing.

“Orion is with him,” Katharina went on. “And Paula is really going
away?”

The child nodded dumbly, and her eyes again filled with tears.

Katharina now observed how sad the little girl was looking, and that
she intentionally refused to answer her. At any other time she would not
have troubled herself about this, but to-day this taciturnity provoked
her, nay it really worried her; she stood straight in front of Mary, who
was still indefatigably busy with the ruler, and said loudly and with
some irritation:

“I have fallen into disgrace with you, it would seem, since yesterday.
Every one to his liking; but I will not put up with such bad manners, I
can tell you!”

The last words were spoken loud enough to wake Eudoxia, who heard them,
and drawing herself up with dignity she said severely:

“Is that the way to behave to a kind and welcome visitor, Mary?”

“I do not see one,” retorted the child with a determined pout.

“But I do,” cried the governess. “You are behaving like a little
barbarian, not like a little girl who has been taught Greek manners.
Katharina is no longer a child, though she is still often kind enough to
play with you. Go to her at once and beg her pardon for being so rude.”

“I!” exclaimed Mary, and her tone conveyed the most positive refusal to
obey this behest. She sprang to her feet, and with flashing eyes, she
cried: “We are not Greeks, neither she nor I, and I can tell you once
for all that she is not my kind and welcome visitor, nor my friend any
more! We have nothing, nothing whatever to do with each other any more!”

“Are you gone mad?” cried Eudoxia, and her long face assumed a
threatening expression, while she rose from her easy-chair in spite of
the increasing heat, intending to capture her pupil and compel her to
apologize; but Mary was more nimble than the middle-aged damsel and fled
down the alley towards the river, as nimble as a gazelle.

Eudoxia began to run after her; but the heat was soon too much for
her, and when she stopped, exhausted and panting, she perceived that
Katharina, worthy once more of her name of “water-wagtail,” had flown
past her and was chasing the little girl at a pace that she shuddered to
contemplate. Mary soon saw that no one but Katharina was in pursuit; she
moderated her pace, and awaited her cast-off friend under the shade of
a tall shrub. In a moment Katharina was facing her; with a heightened
color she seized both her hands and exclaimed passionately:

“What was it you said? You--you--If I did not know what a wrong-headed
little simpleton you were, I could....”

“You could accuse me falsely!--But now, leave go of my hands or I will
bite you. And as Katharina, at this threat, released her she went on
vehemently.

“Oh! I know you now--since yesterday! And I tell you, once for all, I
say thank you for nothing for such friends. You ought to sink into the
earth for shame of the sin you have committed. I am only ten years old,
but rather than have done such a thing I would have let myself be shut
up in that hot hole with poor, innocent Perpetua, or I would have let
myself be killed, as you want poor, honest Hiram to be! Oh, shame!”

Katharina’s crimson cheeks bad turned pale at this address and, as she
had no answer ready, she could only toss her head and say, with as much
pride and dignity as she could assume:

“What can a child like you know about things that puzzle the heads of
grown-up people?”

“Grown-up people!” laughed Mary, who was not three inches shorter than
her antagonist. “You must be a great deal taller before I call you grown
up! In two years time, you will scarcely be up to my eyes.” At this the
irascible Egyptian fired up; she gave the child a slap in the face with
the palm of her hand. Mary only stood still as if petrified, and after
gazing at the ground for a minute or two without a cry, she turned her
back on her companion and silently went back into the shaded walk.

Katharina watched her with tears in her eyes. She felt that Mary was
justified in disapproving of what she had done the day before; for she
herself had been unable to sleep and had become more and more convinced
that she had acted wrongly, nay, unpardonably. And now again she had
done an inexcusable thing. She felt that she had deeply hurt the child’s
feelings, and this sincerely grieved her. She followed Mary in silence,
at some little distance, like a maid-servant. She longed to hold her
back by her dress, to say something kind to her, nay, to ask her pardon.
As they drew near to the spot where the governess had dropped into her
chair again, a hapless victim to the heat of Egypt, Katharina called
Mary by her name, and when the child paid no heed, laid her hand on
her shoulder, saying in gentle entreaty: “Forgive me for having so far
forgotten myself. But how can I help being so little? You know very well
when any one laughs at me for it....”

“You get angry and slap!” retorted the child, walking on. “Yesterday,
perhaps, I might have laughed over a box on the ear--it is not the
first--or have given it to you back again; but to-day!--Just now,” and
she shuddered involuntarily, “just now I felt as if some black slave
had laid his dirty hand on my cheek. You are not what you were. You walk
quite differently, and you look--depend upon it you do not look as nice
and as bright as you used, and I know why: You did a very bad thing last
evening.”

“But dear pet,” said the other, “you must not be so hard. Perhaps I did
not really tell the judges everything I knew, but Orion, who loves me
so, and whose wife I am to be....”

“He led you into sin!--Yes; and he was always merry and kind till
yesterday; but since--Oh, that unlucky day!”

Here she was interrupted by Eudoxia, who poured out a flood of
reproaches and finally desired her to resume her task. The child obeyed
unresistingly; but she had scarcely settled to her wax tablets again
when Katharina was by her side, whispering to her that Orion would
certainly not have asserted anything that he did not believe to be true,
and that she had really been in doubt as to whether a gem with a gold
back, or a mere gold frame-work, had been hanging to Paula’s chain. At
this Mary turned sharply and quickly upon her, looked her straight in
the eyes and exclaimed--but in Egyptian that the governess might not
understand, for she had disdained to learn a single word of it:

“A rubbishy gold frame with a broken edge was hanging to the chain, and,
what is more, it caught in your dress. Why, I can see it now! And, when
you bore witness that it was a gem, you told a lie--Look here; here are
the laws which God Almighty himself gave on the sacred Mount of Sinai,
and there it stands written: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against
thy neighbor.’ And those who do, the priest told me, are guilty of
mortal sin, for which there is no forgiveness on earth or in Heaven,
unless after bitter repentance and our Saviour’s special mercy. So it is
written; and you could actually declare before the judges a thing that
was false, and that you knew would bring others to ruin?”

The young criminal looked down in shame and confusion, and answered
hesitatingly:

“Orion asserted it so positively and clearly, and then--I do not know
what came over me--but I was so angry, so--I could have murdered her!”

“Whom?” asked Mary in surprise. “You know very well: Paula.”

“Paula!” said Mary, and her large eyes again filled with tears. “Is it
possible? Did you not love her as much as I do? Have not you often and
often clung about her like a bur?”

“Yes, yes, very true. But before the judges she was so intolerably
proud, and then.--But believe me, Mary you really and truly cannot
understand anything of all this.”

“Can I not?” asked the child folding her arms.

“Why do you think me so stupid?”

“You are in love with Orion--and he is a man whom few can match, over
head and ears in love; and because Paula looks like a queen by the side
of you, and is so much handsomer and taller than you are, and Orion,
till yesterday--I could see it all--cared a thousand times more for her
than for you, you were jealous and envious of her. Oh, I know all about
it.--And I know that all the women fall in love with him, and that
Mandaile had her ears cut off on his account, and that it was a lady
who loved him in Constantinople that gave him the little white dog. The
slave-girls tell me what they hear and what I like.--And after all, you
may well be jealous of Paula, for if she only made a point of it, how
soon Orion would make up his mind never to look at you again! She is the
handsomest and the wisest and the best girl in the whole world, and why
should she not be proud? The false witness you bore will cost poor Hiram
his life: but the merciful Saviour may forgive you at last. It is your
affair, and no concern of mine; but when Paula is forced to leave the
house and all through you, so that I shall never, never, never see her
any more--I cannot forget it, and I do not think I ever shall; but I
will pray God to make me.”

She burst into loud sobs, and the governess had started up to put an end
to a dialogue which she could not understand, and which was therefore
vexatious and provoking, when the water-wagtail fell on her knees before
the little girl, threw her arms round her, and bursting into tears,
exclaimed:

“Mary--darling little Mary forgive me.

   [The German has the diminutive ‘Mariechen’. To this Dr. Ebers
   appends this note. “An ignorant critic took exception to the use of
   the diminutive form of names (as for instance ‘Irenchen’, little
   Irene) in ‘The Sisters,’ as an anachronism. It is nevertheless a
   fact that the Greeks settled in Egypt were so fond of using the
   diminutive form of woman’s names that they preferred them, even in
   the tax-rolls. This form was common in Attic Greek.]

Oh, if you could but know what I endured before I came out here! Forgive
me, Mary; be my sweet, dear little Mary once more. Indeed and indeed
you are much better than I am. Merciful Saviour, what possessed me
last evening? And all through him, through the man no one can help
loving--through Orion!--And would you believe it: I do not even know
why he led me into this sin. But I must try to care for him no more, to
forget him entirely, although, although,--only think, he called me
his betrothed; but now that he has betrayed me into sin, can I dare to
become his wife? It has given me no peace all night. I love him, yes I
love him, you cannot think how dearly; still, I cannot be his! Sooner
will I go into a convent, or drown myself in the Nile!--And I will say
all this to my mother, this very day.”

The Greek governess had looked on in astonishment, for it was indeed
strange to see the young girl kneeling in front of the child. She
listened to her eager flow of unintelligible words, wondering whether
she could ever teach her pupil--with her grandmother’s help if need
should be--to cultivate a more sedate and Greek demeanor.

At this juncture Paula came down the path. Some slaves followed her,
carrying several boxes and bundles and a large litter, all making their
way to the Nile, where a boat was waiting to ferry her up the river to
her new home.

As she lingered unobserved, her eye rested on the touching picture of
the two young things clasped in each other’s arms, and she overheard
the last words of the gentle little creature who had done her such cruel
wrong. She could only guess at what had occurred, but she did not like
to be a listener, so she called Mary; and when the child started up
and flew to throw her arms round her neck with vehement and devoted
tenderness, she covered her little face and hair with kisses. Then she
freed herself from the little girl’s embrace, and said, with tearful
eyes:

“Good-bye, my darling! In a few minutes I shall no longer belong here;
another and a strange home must be mine. Love me always, and do not
forget me, and be quite sure of one thing: you have no truer friend on
earth than I am.”

At this, fresh tears flowed; the child implored her not to go away, not
to leave her; but Paula could but refuse, though she was touched and
astonished to find that she had reaped so rich a harvest of love, here
where she had sown so little. Then she gave her hand at parting to the
governess, and when she turned to Katharina, to bid farewell, hard as it
was, to the murderer of her happiness, the young girl fell at her feet
bathed in tears of repentance, covered her knees and hands with kisses,
and confessed herself guilty of a terrible sin. Paula, however, would
not allow her to finish; she lifted her up, kissed her forehead, and
said that she quite understood how she had been led into it, and that
she, like Mary, would try to forgive her.

Standing by the governor’s many-oared barge, to which the young girls
now escorted her, she found Orion. Twice already this morning he had
tried in vain to get speech with her, and he looked pale and agitated.
He had a splendid bunch of flowers in his hand; he bestowed a hasty
greeting on Mary and his betrothed, and did not heed the fact that
Katharina returned it hesitatingly and without a word.

He went close up to Paula, told her in a low voice that Hiram was safe,
and implored her, as she hoped to be forgiven for her own sins, to grant
him a few minutes. When she rejected his prayer with a silent shrug,
and went on towards the boat he put out his hand to help her, but she
intentionally overlooked it and gave her hand to the physician. At this
he sprang after her into the barge, saying in her ear in a tremulous
whisper:

“A wretch, a miserable man entreats your mercy. I was mad yesterday. I
love you, I love you--how deeply!--you will see!”

“Enough,” she broke in firmly, and she stood up in the swaying boat.
Philippus supported her, and Orion, laying the flowers in her lap, cried
so that all could hear: “Your departure will sorely distress my father.
He is so ill that we did not dare allow you to take leave of him. If you
have anything to say to him...”

“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.



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:

“That is where her heart is. May she ever have her God before her eyes!
That cannot but be the best thing for a woman. Still, among such as we
are, we must hold to the rule: Every man for his fellowman on earth, in
the name of the merciful Lord!--Can our wise and reasonable Father in
Heaven desire that brother should neglect brother, or--as in our case--a
child forsake its parents?”

“Certainly not,” replied Paula. “For my own part, nothing keeps me from
taking the veil but my hope of finding my long-lost father; I, like your
Pulcheria, have often longed for the peace of the cloister. How piously
rapt your daughter stands there! What a sweet and touching sight!--In my
heart all was dark and desolate; but here, among you all, it is already
beginning to feel lighter, and here, if anywhere, I shall recover what I
lost in my other home.--Happy child! Could you not fancy, as she stands
there in the evening light, that the pure devotion which fills her soul,
radiated from her? If I were not afraid of disturbing her, and if I were
worthy, how gladly would I join my prayers to hers!”

“You have a part in them as it is,” replied the old man with a smile.
“At this moment St. Cecilia appears to her under the guise of your
features. We will ask her--you will see.”

“No, leave her alone!” entreated Paula with a blush, and she led Rufinus
away to the other end of the garden.

They soon reached a spot where a high hedge of thorny shrubs parted the
old man’s plot from that of Susannah. Rufinus here pricked up his ears
and then angrily exclaimed:

“As sure as I long to be quit of this lumber, they are cutting my hedge
again! Only last evening I caught one of the slaves just as he was going
to work on the branches; but how could I get at the black rascal through
the thorns? It was to make a peep-hole for curious eyes, or for spies,
for the Patriarch knows how to make use of a petticoat; but I will
be even with them! Do you go on, pray, as if you had seen and heard
nothing; I will fetch my whip.”

The old man hurried away, and Paula was about to obey him; but scarcely
had he disappeared when she heard herself called in a shrill girl’s
voice through a gap in the hedge, and looking round, she spied a pretty
face between the boughs which had yesterday been forced asunder by a
man’s hands--like a picture wreathed with greenery.

Even in the twilight she recognized it at once, and when Katharina
put her curly head forward, and said in a beseeching tone: “May I get
through, and will you listen to me?” she gladly signified her consent.

The water-wagtail, heedless of Paula’s hand held out to help her,
slipped through the gap so nimbly that it was evident that she had not
long ceased surmounting such obstacles in her games with Mary. As swift
as the wind she came down on her feet, holding out her arms to rush at
Paula; but she suddenly let them fall in visible hesitancy, and drew
back a step. Paula, however, saw her embarrassment; she drew the girl to
her, kissed her forehead, and gaily exclaimed:

“Trespassing! And why could you not come in by the gate? Here comes my
host with his hippopotamus thong.--Stop, stop, good Rufinus, for the
breach effected in your flowery wall was intended against me and not
against you. There stands the hostile power, and I should be greatly
surprised if you did not recognize her as a neighbor?”

“Recognize her?” said the old man, whose wrath was quickly appeased. “Do
we know each other, fair damsel--yes or no? It is an open question.”

“Of course!” cried Katharina, “I have seen you a hundred times from the
gnat-tower.”

“You have had less pleasure than I should have had, if I had been so
happy as to see you.--We came across each other about a year ago. I was
then so happy as to find you in my large peach-tree, which to this day
takes the liberty of growing over your garden-plot.”

“I was but a child then,” laughed Katharina, who very well remembered
how the old man, whose handsome white head she had always particularly
admired, had spied her out among the boughs of his peach-tree and had
advised her, with a good-natured nod, to enjoy herself there.

“A child!” repeated Rufinus. “And now we are quite grown up and do not
care to climb so high, but creep humbly through our neighbor’s hedge.”

“Then you really are strangers?” cried Paula in surprise. “And have you
never met Pulcheria, Katharina?”

“Pul?--oh, how glad I should have been to call her!” said Katharina. “I
have been on the point of it a hundred times; for her mere appearance
makes one fall in love with her,--but my mother....”

“Well, and what has your mother got to say against her neighbors?” asked
Rufinus. “I believe we are peaceable folks who do no one any harm.”

“No, no, God forbid! But my mother has her own way of viewing things;
you and she are strangers still, and as you are so rarely to be seen in
church....”

“She naturally takes us for the ungodly. Tell her that she is mistaken,
and if you are Paula’s friend and you come to see her--but prettily,
through the gate, and not through the hedge, for it will be closely
twined again by to-morrow morning--if you come here, I say, you will
find that we have a great deal to do and a great many creatures to nurse
and care for--poor human creatures some of them, and some with fur or
feathers, just as it comes; and man serves his Maker if he only makes
life easier to the beings that come in his way; for He loves them all.
Tell that to your mother, little wagtail, and come again very often.”

“Thank you very much. But let me ask you, if I may, where you heard that
odious nickname? I hate it.”

“From the same person who told you the secret that my Pulcheria is
called Pul!” said Rufinus; he laughed and bowed and left the two girls
together.

“What a dear old man!” cried Katharina. “Oh, I know quite well how he
spends his Days! And his pretty wife and Pul--I know them all. How often
I have watched them--I will show you the place one day! I can see over
the whole garden, only not what goes on near the convent on the other
side of the house, or beyond those trees. You know my mother; if she
once dislikes any one.... But Pul, you understand, would be such a
friend for me!”

“Of course she would,” replied Paula. “And a girl of your age must chose
older companions than little Mary.”

“Oh, you shall not say a word against her!” cried Katharina eagerly.
“She is only ten years old, but many a grown-up person is not so upright
or so capable as I have found her during these last few miserable days.”

“Poor child!” said Paula stroking her hair.

At this a bitter sob broke suddenly and passionately from Katharina; she
tried with all her might to suppress it, but could not succeed. Her fit
of weeping was so violent that she could not utter a word, till Paula
had led her to a bench under a spreading sycamore, had induced her with
gentle force to sit down by her side, clasping her in her arms like a
suffering child, and speaking to her words of comfort and encouragement.

Birds without number were going to rest in the dense branches overhead,
owls and bats had begun their nocturnal raids, the sky put on its
spangled glory of gold and silver stars, from the western end of the
town came the jackals’ bark as they left their lurking-places among the
ruined houses and stole out in search of prey, the heavy dew, falling
through the mild air silently covered the leaves, the grass, and the
flowers; the garden was more powerfully fragrant now than during the
day-time, and Paula felt that it was high time to take refuge from the
mists that came up from the shallow stream. But still she lingered while
the little maiden poured out all that weighed upon her, all she repented
of, believing she could never atone for it; and then all she had gone
through, thinking it must break her heart, and all she still had to live
down and drive out of her mind.

She told Paula how Orion had wooed her, how much she loved him, how
her heart had been tortured by jealousy of her, Paula, and how she had
allowed herself to be led away into bearing false witness before the
judges. And then she went on to say it was Mary who had first opened her
eyes to the abyss by which she was standing. In the afternoon after the
death of the Mukaukas she had gone with her mother to the governor’s
house to join in her friends’ lamentations. She had at once asked after
Mary, but had not been allowed to see her, for she was still in bed and
very feverish. She was then on her way to the cool hall when she heard
her mother’s voice--not in grief, but angry and vehement--so, thinking
it would be more becoming to keep out of the way, she wandered off
into the pillared vestibule opening towards the Nile. She would not for
worlds have met Orion, and was terribly afraid she might do so, but as
she went out, for it was still quite light, there she found him--and in
what a state! He was sitting all in a heap, dressed in black, with his
head buried in his hands. He had not observed her presence; but she
pitied him deeply, for though it was very hot he was trembling in every
limb, and his strong frame shuddered repeatedly. She had therefore
spoken to him, begging him to be comforted, at which he had started to
his feet in dismay, and had pushed his unkempt hair back from his face,
looking so pale, so desperate, that she had been quite terrified and
could not manage to bring out the consoling words she had ready. For
some time neither of them had uttered a syllable, but at length he
had pulled himself together as if for some great deed, he came slowly
towards her and laid his hands on her shoulders with a solemn dignity
which no one certainly had ever before seen in him. He stood gazing into
her face--his eyes were red with much weeping--and he sighed from his
very heart the two words: “Unhappy Child!”--She could hear them still
sounding in her ears.

And he was altered: from head to foot quite different, like a stranger.
His voice, even, sounded changed and deeper than usual as he went on:

“Child, child! Perhaps I have given much pain in my life without knowing
it; but you have certainly suffered most through me, for I have made
you, an innocent, trusting creature, my accomplice in crime. The great
sin we both committed has been visited on me alone, but the punishment
is a hundred--a thousand times too heavy!”

“And with this,” Katharina went on, “he covered his face with his hands,
threw himself on the couch again, and groaned and sighed. Then he sprang
up once more, crying out so loud and passionately that I felt as if I
must die of grief and pity: ‘Forgive me if you can! Forgive me, wholly,
freely. I want it--you must, you must! I was going to run up to him
and throw my arms round him and forgive him everything, his trouble
distressed me so much; but he gravely pushed me away--not roughly
or sternly, and he said that there was an end of all love-making and
betrothal between us--that I was young, and that I should be able to
forget him. He would still be a true friend to me and to my mother, and
the more we required of him the more gladly would he serve us.

“I was about to answer him, but he hastily interrupted me and said
firmly and decisively: ‘Lovable as you are, I cannot love you as you
deserve; for it is my duty to tell you, I have another and a greater
love in my heart--my first and my last; and though once in my life I
have proved myself a wretch, still, it was but once; and I would rather
endure your anger, and hurt both you and myself now, than continue
this unrighteous tie and cheat you and others.’--At this I was greatly
startled, and asked: ‘Paula?’ However, he did not answer, but bent over
me and touched my forehead with his lips, just as my father often kissed
me, and then went quickly out into the garden.

“Just then my mother came up, as red as a poppy and panting for breath:
she took me by the hand without a word, dragged me into the chariot
after her, and then cried out quite beside herself--she could not even
shed a tear for rage: ‘What insolence! what unheard-of behavior--How can
I find the heart to tell you, poor sacrificed lamb...’”

“And she would have gone on, but that I would not let her finish; I told
her at once that I knew all, and happily I was able to keep quite calm.
I had some bad hours at home; and when Nilus came to us yesterday, after
the opening of the will, and brought me the pretty little gold box with
turquoises and pearls that I have always admired, and told me that the
good Mukaukas had written with his own hand, in his last will, that
it was to be given to me I his bright little ‘Katharina,’ my mother
insisted on my not taking it and sent it back to Neforis, though I
begged and prayed to keep it. And of course I shall never go to that
house again; indeed my mother talks of quitting Memphis altogether and
settling in Constantinople or some other city under Christian rule.
‘Then our nice, pretty house must be given up, and our dear, lovely
garden be sold to the peasant folk, my mother says. It was just the same
a year and a half ago with Memnon’s palace. His garden was turned into a
corn-field, and the splendid ground-floor rooms, with their mosaics and
pictures, are now dirty stables for cows and sheep, and pigs are fed in
the rooms that belonged to Hathor and Dorothea. Good Heavens! And they
were my clearest friends! And I am never to play with Mary any more; and
mother has not a kind word for any living soul, hardly even for me, and
my old nurse is as deaf as a mole! Am I not a really miserable, lonely
creature? And if you, even you, will have nothing to say to me, who is
there in all Memphis whom I can trust in? But you will not be so cruel,
will you? And it will not be for long, for my mother really means to go
away. You are older than I am, of course, and much graver and wiser....”

“I will be kind to you, child; but try to make friends with Pulcheria!”

“Gladly, gladly. But then my mother! I should get on very well by myself
if it were not... Well, you yourself heard what Orion said to me, that
time in the avenue. He surely loved me a little! What sweet, tender
names he gave me then. Oh God! no man can speak like that to any one
he is not fond of!--And he is rich himself; it cannot have been only my
fortune that bewitched him. And does he look like a man who would allow
himself to be parted from a girl by his mother, whether he would or no?”

“He was always fond of me I think; but then, afterwards, he remembered
what a high position he had to fill and regarded me as too little and
too childish. Oh, how many tears I have shed over being so absurdly
little! A Water-wagtail--that is what I shall always be. Your old host
called me so; and if a man like Orion feels that he must have a stately
wife I can hardly blame him. That other one whom he thinks he loves
better than he does me is tall and beautiful and majestic--like you; and
I have always told myself that his future wife ought to look like you.
It is all over between him and me, and I will submit humbly; but at the
same time I cannot help thinking that when he came home he thought me
pretty and attractive, and had a real fancy and liking for me. Yes,
it was so, it certainly was so!--But then he saw that other one, and
I cannot compare with her. She is indeed the woman he wants,--and that
other, Paula, is yourself. Yes, indeed, you yourself; an inner voice
tells me so. And I tell you truly, you may quite believe me: it is a
pain no doubt, but I can be glad of it too. I should hate any mere girl
to whom he held out his hand--but, if you are that other--and if you are
his wife...”

“Nonsense,” exclaimed Paula decidedly. “Consider what you are saying.
When Orion tempted you to perjure yourself, did he behave as my friend
or as my foe, my bitterest and most implacable enemy?”

“Before the judges, to be sure...” replied the girl looking down
thoughtfully. But she soon looked up again, fixed her eyes on Paula’s
face with a sparkling, determined glance, and frankly and unhesitatingly
exclaimed: “And you?--In spite of it all he is so handsome, so clever,
so manly. You can hardly help it--you love him!”

Paula withdrew her arm, which had been round Katharina, and answered
candidly.

“Until to-day, at the funeral, I hated and abominated him; but there,
by his father’s tomb, he struck me as a new man, and I found it easy to
forgive him in my heart.”

“Then you mean to say that you do not love him?” urged Katharina,
clasping her friend’s round arm with her slender fingers.

Paula started to feel how icy cold her hand was. The moon was up, the
stars rose higher and higher, so, simply saying: “Come away,” she rose.
“It must be within an hour of midnight,” she added. “Your mother will be
anxious about you.”

“Only an hour of midnight!” repeated the girl in alarm. “Good Heavens, I
shall have a scolding! She is still playing draughts with the Bishop,
no doubt, as she does every evening. Good-bye then for the present. The
shortest way is through the hedge again.”

“No,” said Paula firmly, “you are no longer a child; you are grown up,
and must feel it and show it. You are not to creep through the bushes,
but to go home by the gate. Rufinus and I will go with you and explain
to your mother...”

“No, no!” cried Katharina in terror. “She is as angry with you as she is
with them. Only yesterday she forbid...”

“Forbid you to come to me?” asked Paula. “Does she believe...”

“That it was for your sake that Orion.... Yes, she is only too glad to
lay all the blame on you. But now that I have talked to you I.... Look,
do you see that light? It is in her sitting-room.”

And, before Paula could prevent her, she ran to the hedge and slipped
through the gap as nimbly as a weasel.

Paula looked after her with mingled feelings, and then went back to the
house, and to bed. Katharina’s story kept her awake for a long time, and
the suspicion--nay almost the conviction--that it was herself, indeed,
who had aroused that “great love” in Orion’s heart gave her no rest. If
it were she? There, under her hand was the instrument of revenge on the
miscreant; she could make him taste of all the bitterness he had brewed
for her aching spirit. But which of them would the punishment hurt most
sorely: him or herself? Had not the little girl’s confidences revealed
a world of rapture to her and her longing heart? No, no. It would be too
humiliating to allow the same hand that had smitten her so ruthlessly to
uplift her to heaven; it would be treason against herself.

Slumber overtook her in the midst of these conflicting feelings and
thoughts, and towards morning she had a dream which, even by daylight,
haunted her and made her shudder.

She saw Orion coming towards her, as pale as death, robed in mourning,
pacing slowly on a coal-black horse; she had not the strength to fly,
and without speaking to her or looking at her, he lifted her high in the
air like a child, and placed her in front of him on the horse. She put
forth all her strength to get free and dismount, but he clasped her with
both arms like iron clamps and quelled her efforts. Life itself would
not have seemed too great a price for escape from this constraint; but,
the more wildly she fought, the more closely she was held by the silent
and pitiless horseman. At their feet flowed the swirling river, but
Orion did not seem to notice it, and without moving his lips, he coolly
guided the steed towards the water. Beside herself now with horror and
dread, she implored him to turn away; but he did not heed her, and went
on unmoved into the midst of the stream. Her terror increased to an
agonizing pitch as the horse bore her deeper and deeper into the water;
of her own free will she threw her arms round the rider’s neck; his
paleness vanished, his cheeks gained a ruddy hue, his lips sought hers
in a kiss; and, in the midst of the very anguish of death, she felt a
thrill of rapture that she had never known before. She could have gone
on thus for ever, even to destruction; and, in fact, they were still
sinking--she felt the water rising breast high, but she cared not. Not
a word had either of them spoken. Suddenly she felt urged to break the
silence, and as if she could not help it she asked: “Am I the other?” At
this the waves surged down on them from all sides; a whirlpool dragged
away the horse, spinning him round, and with him Orion and herself, a
shrill blast swept past them, and then the current and the waves, the
roaring of the whirlpool, the howling of the storm--all at once and
together, as with one voice, louder than all else and filling her ears,
shouted: “Thou!”--Only Orion remained speechless. An eddy caught the
horse and sucked him under, a wave carried her away from him, she was
sinking, sinking, and stretched out her arms with longing.--A cold
dew stood on her brow as she slept, and the nurse, waking her from her
uneasy dream, shook her head as she said:

“Why, child? What ails you? You have been calling Orion again and again,
at first in terror and then so tenderly.--Yes, believe me, tenderly.”



CHAPTER XX.

In the neat rooms which Rufinus’ wife had made ready for her sick guests
perfect peace reigned, and it was noon. A soft twilight fell through the
thick green curtains which mitigated the sunshine, and the nurses had
lately cleared away after the morning meal. Paula was moistening the
bandage on the Masdakite’s head, and Pulcheria was busy in the adjoining
room with Mandane, who obeyed the physician’s instructions with
intelligent submission and showed no signs of insanity.

Paula was still spellbound by her past dream. She was possessed by such
unrest that, quite against her wont, she could not long remain quiet,
and when Pulcheria came to her to tell her this or that, she listened
with so little attention and sympathy that the humble-minded girl,
fearing to disturb her, withdrew to her patient’s bed-side and waited
quietly till her new divinity called her.

In fact, it was not without reason that Paula gave herself up to a
certain anxiety; for, if she was not mistaken, Orion must necessarily
present himself to hand over to her the remainder of her fortune; and
though even yesterday, on her way from the cemetery, she had said to
herself that she must and would refuse to meet him, the excitement
produced by Katharina’s story and her subsequent dream had confirmed her
in her determination.

Perpetua awaited Orion’s visit on the ground-floor, charged to announce
him to Rufinus and not to her mistress. The old man had willingly
undertaken to receive the money as her representative; for Philippus had
not concealed from her that he had acquainted him with the circumstances
under which Paula had quitted the governor’s house, describing Orion as
a man whom she had good reason for desiring to avoid.

By about two hours after noon Paula’s restlessness had increased so much
that now and then she wandered out of the sick-room, which looked over
the garden, to watch the Nile-quay from the window of the anteroom; for
he might arrive by either way. She never thought of the security of her
property; but the question arose in her mind as to whether it were not
actually a breach of duty to avoid the agitation it would cost her to
meet her cousin face to face. On this point no one could advise her,
not even Perpetua; her own mother could hardly have understood all her
feelings on such an occasion. She scarcely knew herself indeed; for
hitherto she had never failed, even in the most difficult cases, to know
at once and without long reflection, what to do and to leave undone,
what under special circumstances was right or wrong. But now she felt
herself a yielding reed, a leaf tossed hither and thither; and every
time she set her teeth and clenched her hands, determined to think
calmly and to reason out the “for” and “against,” her mind wandered
away again, while the memory of her dream, of Orion as he stood by his
father’s grave--of Katharina’s tale of “the other,” and the fearful
punishment which he had to suffer, nay indeed, certainly had
suffered--came and went in her mind like the flocks of birds over the
Nile, whose dipping and soaring had often passed like a fluttering veil
between her eye and some object on the further shore.

It was three hours past noon, and she had returned to the sick-room,
when she thought that she heard hoofs in the garden and hurried to the
window once more. Her heart had not beat more wildly when the dog
had flown at her and Hiram that fateful night, than it did now as she
hearkened to the approach of a horseman, still hidden from her gaze by
the shrubs. It must be Orion--but why did he not dismount? No, it could
not be he; his tall figure would have overtopped the shrubbery which was
of low growth.

She did not know her host’s friends; it was one of them very likely. Now
the horse had turned the corner; now it was coming up the path from the
front gate; now Rufinus had gone forth to meet the visitor--and it was
not Orion, but his secretary, a much smaller man, who slipped off a mule
that she at once recognized, threw the reins to a lad, handed something
to the old man, and then dropped on to a bench to yawn and stretch his
legs.

Then she saw Rufinus come towards the house. Had Orion charged this
messenger to bring her her possessions? She thought this somewhat
insulting, and her blood boiled with wrath. But there could be no
question here of a surrender of property; for what her host was holding
in his hand was nothing heavy, but a quite small object; probably, nay,
certainly a roll of papyrus. He was coming up the narrow stairs, so she
ran out to meet him, blushing as though she were doing something wrong.
The old man observed this and said, as he handed her the scroll:

“You need not be frightened, daughter of a hero. The young lord is not
here himself, he prefers, it would seem, to treat with you by letter;
and it is best so for both parties.”

Paula nodded agreement; she took the roll, and then, while she tore the
silken tie from the seal, she turned her back on the old man; for
she felt that the blood had faded from her face, and her hands were
trembling.

“The messenger awaits an answer,” remarked Rufinus, before she began to
read it. “I shall be below and at your service.” He left; Paula returned
to the sick-room, and leaning against the frame of the casement, read as
follows, with eager agitation:

“Orion, the son of George the Mukaukas who sleeps in the Lord, to his
cousin the daughter of the noble Thomas of Damascus, greeting.

“I have destroyed several letters that I had written to you before this
one.” Paula shrugged her shoulders incredulously. “I hope I may succeed
better this time in saying what I feel to be indispensable for your
welfare and my own. I have both to crave a favor and offer counsel.”

“Counsel! he!” thought the girl with a scornful curl of the lips, as she
went on. “May the memory of the man who loved you as his daughter, and
who on his death-bed wished for nothing so much as to see you--averse as
he was to your creed--and bless you as his daughter indeed, as his son’s
wife,--may the remembrance of that just man so far prevail over your
indignant and outraged soul that these words from the most wretched man
on earth, for that am I, Paula, may not be left unread. Grant me the
last favor I have to ask of you--I demand it in my father’s name.”

“Demand!” repeated the damsel; her cheeks flamed, her eye sparkled
angrily, and her hands clutched the opposite sides of the letter as
though to tear it across. But the next words: “Do not fear,” checked
her hasty impulse--she smoothed out the papyrus and read on with growing
excitement:

“Do not fear that I shall address you as a lover--as the man for whom
there is but one woman on earth. And that one can only be she whom I
have so deeply injured, whom I fought with as frantic, relentless, and
cruel weapons as ever I used against a foe of my own sex.”

“But one,” murmured the girl; she passed her hand across her brow, and a
faint smile of happy pride dwelt on her lips as she went on:

“I shall love you as long as breath animates this crushed and wretched
heart.”

Again the letter was in danger of destruction, but again it escaped
unharmed, and Paula’s expression became one of calm and tender pleasure
as she read to the end of Orion’s clearly written epistle:

“I am fully conscious that I have forfeited your esteem, nay even all
good feeling towards me, by my own fault; and that, unless divine love
works some miracle in your heart, I have sacrificed all joy on earth.
You are revenged; for it was for your sake--understand that--for your
sake alone, that my beloved and dying father withdrew the blessings he
had heaped on my remorseful head, and in wrath that was only too just
at the recreant who had desecrated the judgment-seat of his ancestors,
turned that blessing to a curse.”

Paula turned pale as she read. This then was what Katharina had meant.
This was what had so changed his appearance, and perhaps, too, his whole
inward being. And this, this bore the stamp of truth, this could not be
a lie--it was for her sake that a father’s curse had blighted his only
son! How had it all happened? Had Philippus failed to observe it, or had
he held his peace out of respect for the secrets of another?--Poor man,
poor young man! She must see him, must speak to him. She could not
have a moment’s ease till she knew how it was that her uncle, a tender
father.--But she must go on, quickly to the end:

“I come to you only as what I am: a heart-broken man, too young to give
myself over for lost, and at the same time determined to make use of
all that remains to me of the steadfast will, the talents, and the
self-respect of my forefathers to render me worthy of them, and I
implore you to grant me a brief interview. Not a word, not a look shall
betray the passion within and which threatens to destroy me.

“You must on no account fail to read what follows, since it is of no
small real importance even to you. In the first place restitution must
be made to you of all of your inheritance which the deceased was able
to rescue and to add to by his fatherly stewardship. In these agitated
times it will be a matter of some difficulty to invest this capital
safely and to good advantage. Consider: just as the Arabs drove out the
Byzantines, the Byzantines might drive them out again in their turn. The
Persians, though stricken to the earth, the Avars, or some other people
whose very name is as yet unknown to history, may succeed our present
rulers, who, only ten years since, were regarded as a mere handful
of unsettled camel-drivers, caravan-leaders, and poverty-stricken
desert-tribes. The safety of your fortune would be less difficult to
provide for if, as was formerly the case here, we could entrust it to
the merchants of Alexandria. But one great house after another is being
ruined there, and all security is at an end. As to hiding or burying
your possessions, as most Egyptians do in these hard times, it is
impossible, for the same reason as prevents our depositing it on
interest in the state land-register. You must be able to get it at the
shortest notice; since you might at some time wish to quit Egypt in
haste with all your possessions.

“These are matters with which a woman cannot be familiar. I would
therefore propose that you should leave the arrangement of them to
us men; to Philippus, the physician, Rufinus, your host--who is, I am
assured, an honest man--and to our experienced and trustworthy treasurer
Nilus, whom you know as an incorruptible judge.

“I propose that the business should be settled tomorrow in the house of
Rufinus. You can be present or not, as you please. If we men agree in
our ideas I beg you--I beseech you to grant me an interview apart. It
will last but a few minutes, and the only subject of discussion will be
a matter--an exchange by which you will recover something you value and
have lost, and grant me I hope, if not your esteem, at any rate a
word of forgiveness. I need it sorely, believe me, Paula; it is as
indispensable to me as the breath of life, if I am to succeed in the
work I have begun on myself. If you have prevailed on yourself to read
through this letter, simply answer ‘Yes’ by my messenger, to relieve me
from torturing uncertainty. If you do not--which God forefend for both
our sakes, Nilus shall this very day carry to you all that belongs
to you. But, if you have read these lines, I will make my appearance
to-morrow, at two hours after noon, with Nilus to explain to the others
the arrangement of which I have spoken. God be with you and infuse some
ruth into your proud and noble soul!”

Paula drew a deep breath as the hand holding this momentous epistle
dropped by her side; she stood for some time by the window, lost in
grave meditation. Then calling Pulcheria, she begged her to tend her
patient, too, for a short time. The girl looked up at her with rapt
admiration in her clear eyes, and asked sympathetically why she was so
pale; Paula kissed her lips and eyes, and saying affectionately: “Good,
happy child!” she retired to her own room on the opposite side of the
house. There she once more read through the letter.

Oh yes; this was Orion as she had known him after his return till the
evening of that never-to-be-forgotten water-party. He was, indeed, a
poet; nature herself had made it so easy to him to seduce unguarded
souls into a belief in him! And yet no! This letter was honestly meant.
Philippus knew men well; Orion really had a heart, a warm heart. Not the
most reckless of criminals could mock at the curse hurled at him by
a beloved father in his last moments. And, as she once more read the
sentence in which he told her that it was his crime as an unjust judge
towards her that had turned the dying man’s blessing to a curse, she
shuddered and reflected that their relative attitude was now reversed,
and that he had suffered more and worse through her than she had through
him. His pale face, as she had seen it in the Necropolis, came back
vividly to her mind, and if he could have stood before her at this
moment she would have flown to him, have offered him a compassionate
hand, and have assured him that the woes she had brought upon him filled
her with the deepest and sincerest pity.

That morning she had asked the Masdakite whether he had besought Heaven
to grant him a speedy recovery, and the man replied that Persians never
prayed for any particular blessing, but only for “that which was good;”
 for that none but the Omnipotent knew what was good for mortals. How
wise! For in this instance might not the most terrible blow that could
fall on a son--his father’s curse--prove a blessing? It was undoubtedly
that curse which had led him to look into his soul and to start on
this new path. She saw him treading it, she longed to believe in his
conversion--and she did believe in it. In this letter he spoke of his
love; he even asked her hand. Only yesterday this would have roused her
wrath; to-day she could forgive him; for she could forgive anything to
this unhappy soul--to the man on whom she had brought such deep anguish.
Her heart could now beat high in the hope of seeing him again; nay, it
even seemed to her that the youth, whose return had been hailed with
such welcome and who had so powerfully attracted her, had only now grown
and ripened to full and perfect manhood through his sin, his penitence,
and his suffering.

And how noble a task it would be to assist him in seeking the right way,
and in becoming what he aspired to be!

The prudent care he had given to her worldly welfare merited her
gratitude. What could he mean by the “exchange” he proposed? The “great
love” of which he had spoken to Katharina was legible in every line of
his letter, and any woman can forgive any man--were he a sinner, and a
scarecrow into the bargain--for his audacity in loving her. Oh! that he
might but set his heart on her--for hers, it was vain to deny it, was
strongly drawn to him. Still she would not call it Love that stirred
within her; it could only be the holy impulse to point out to him the
highest goal of life and smooth the path for him. The pale horseman who
had clutched her in her dream should not drag her away; no, she would
joyfully lift him up to the highest pinnacle attainable by a brave and
noble man.

So her thoughts ran, and her cheeks flushed as, with swift decision, she
opened her trunk, took out papyrus, writing implements and a seal, and
seated herself at a little desk which Rufinus had placed for her in the
window, to write her answer.

At this a sudden fervent longing for Orion came over her. She made a
great effort to shake it off; still, she felt that in writing to him it
was impossible that she should find the right words, and as she replaced
the papyrus in the chest and looked at the seal a strange thing happened
to her; for the device on her father’s well-known ring: a star above two
crossed swords--perchance the star of Orion--caught her eye, with
the motto in Greek: “The immortal gods have set sweat before virtue,”
 meaning that the man who aims at being virtuous must grudge neither
sweat nor toil.

She closed her trunk with a pleased smile, for the motto round the star
was, she felt, of good augury. At the same time she resolved to speak
to Orion, taking these words, which her forefathers had adopted from
old Hesiod, as her text. She hastened down stairs, crossed the garden,
passing by Rufinus, his wife and the physician, awoke the secretary who
had long since dropped asleep, and enjoined him to say: “Yes” to his
master, as he expected. However, before the messenger had mounted his
mule, she begged him to wait yet a few minutes and returned to the two
men; for she had forgotten in her eagerness to speak to them of Orion’s
plans. They were both willing to meet him at the hour proposed and,
while Philippus went to tell the messenger that they would expect his
master on the next day, the old man looked at Paula with undisguised
satisfaction and said:

“We were fearing lest the news from the governor’s house should have
spoilt your happy mood, but, thank God, you look as if you had just come
from a refreshing bath.--What do you say, Joanna? Twenty years ago such
an inmate here would have made you jealous? Or was there never a place
for such evil passions in your dove-like soul?”

“Nonsense!” laughed the matron. “How can I tell how many fair beings you
have gazed after, wanderer that you are in all the wide world far away?”

“Well, old woman, but as sure as man is the standard of all things,
nowhere that I have carried my staff, have I met with a goddess like
this!”

“I certainly have not either, living here like a snail in its shell,”
 said Dame Joanna, fixing her bright eyes on Paula with fervent
admiration.



CHAPTER XXI.

That evening Rufinus was sitting in the garden with his wife and
daughter and their friend Philippus. Paula, too, was there, and from
time to time she stroked Pulcheria’s silky golden hair, for the girl had
seated herself at her feet, leaning her head against Paula’s knee.

The moon was full, and it was so light out of doors that they could see
each other plainly, so Rufinus’ proposition that they should remain to
watch an eclipse which was to take place an hour before midnight found
all the more ready acceptance because the air was pleasant. The men
had been discussing the expected phenomenon, lamenting that the Church
should still lend itself to the superstitions of the populace by
regarding it as of evil omen, and organizing a penitential procession
for the occasion to implore God to avert all ill. Rufinus declared that
it was blasphemy against the Almighty to interpret events happening in
the course of eternal law and calculable beforehand, as a threatening
sign from Him; as though man’s deserts had any connection with the
courses of the sun and moon. The Bishop and all the priests of the
province were to head the procession, and thus a simple natural
phenomenon was forced in the minds of the people into a significance it
did not possess.

“And if the little comet which my old foster father discovered last week
continues to increase,” added the physician, “so that its tail spreads
over a portion of the sky, the panic will reach its highest pitch; I can
see already that they will behave like mad creatures.”

“But a comet really does portend war, drought, plague, and famine,” said
Pulcheria, with full conviction; and Paula added:

“So I have always believed.”

“But very wrongly,” replied the leech. “There are a thousand reasons
to the contrary; and it is a crime to confirm the mob in such a
superstition. It fills them with grief and alarms; and, would you
believe it--such anguish of mind, especially when the Nile is so low
and there is more sickness than usual, gives rise to numberless forms of
disease? We shall have our hands full, Rufinus.”

“I am yours to command,” replied the old man. “But at the same time,
if the tailed wanderer must do some mischief, I would rather it should
break folks’ arms and legs than turn their brains.”

“What a wish!” exclaimed Paula. “But you often say things--and I see
things about you too--which seem to me extraordinary. Yesterday you
promised....”

“To explain to you why I gather about me so many of God’s creatures who
have to struggle under the burden of life as cripples, or with injured
limbs.”

“Just so,” replied Paula. “Nothing can be more truly merciful than to
render life bearable to such hapless beings....”

“But still, you think,” interrupted the eager old man, “that this noble
motive alone would hardly account for the old oddity’s riding his hobby
so hard.--Well, you are right. From my earliest youth the structure of
the bones in man and beast has captivated me exceedingly; and just as
collectors of horns, when once they have a complete series of every
variety of stag, roe, and gazelle, set to work with fresh zeal to find
deformed or monstrous growths, so I have found pleasure in studying
every kind of malformation and injury in the bones of men and beasts.”

“And to remedy them,” added Philippus. “It has been his passion from
childhood.

“And the passion has grown upon me since I broke my own hip bone
and know what it means,” the old man went on. “With the help of my
fellow-student there, from a mere dilettante I became a practised
surgeon; and, what is more, I am one of those who serve Esculapius at
my own expense. However, there are accessory reasons for which I have
chosen such strange companions: deformed slaves are cheap and besides
that, certain investigations afford me inestimable and peculiar
satisfaction. But this cannot interest a young girl.”

“Indeed it does!” cried Paula. “So far as I have understood Philippus
when he explains some details of natural history....”

“Stay,” laughed Rufinus, “our friend will take good care not to explain
this. He regards it as folly, and all he will admit is that no surgeon
or student could wish for better, more willing, or more amusing
house-mates than my cripples.”

“They are grateful to you,” cried Paula.

“Grateful?” asked the old man. “That is true sometimes, no doubt; still,
gratitude is a tribute on which no wise man ever reckons. Now I have
told you enough; for the sake of Philippus we will let the rest pass.”

“No, no,” said Paula putting up entreating hands, and Rufinus answered
gaily:

“Who can refuse you anything? I will cut it short, but you must pay good
heed.--Well then Man is the standard of all things. Do you understand
that?”

“Yes, I often hear you say so. Things you mean are only what they seem
to us.”

“To us, you say, because we--you and I and the rest of us here--are
sound in body and mind. And we must regard all things--being God’s
handiwork--as by nature sound and normal. Thus we are justified in
requiring that man, who gives the standard for them shall, first and
foremost, himself be sound and normal. Can a carpenter measure straight
planks properly with a crooked or sloping rod?”

“Certainly not.”

“Then you will understand how I came to ask myself: ‘Do sickly,
crippled, and deformed men measure things by a different standard to
that of sound men? And might it not be a useful task to investigate how
their estimates differ from ours?’”

“And have your researches among your cripples led to any results?”

“To many important ones,” the old man declared; but Philippus
interrupted him with a loud: “Oho!” adding that his friend was in
too great a hurry to deduce laws from individual cases. Many of his
observations were, no doubt, of considerable interest.... Here Rufinus
broke in with some vehemence, and the discussion would have become a
dispute if Paula had not intervened by requesting her zealous host to
give her the results, at any rate, of his studies.

“I find,” said Rufinus very confidently, as he stroked down his long
beard, “that they are not merely shrewd because their faculties are
early sharpened to make up by mental qualifications for what they lack
in physical advantages; they are also witty, like AEesop the fabulist
and Besa the Egyptian god, who, as I have been told by our old friend
Horus, from whom we derive all our Egyptian lore, presided among those
heathen over festivity, jesting, and wit, and also over the toilet
of women. This shows the subtle observation of the ancients; for the
hunchback whose body is bent, applies a crooked standard to things
in general. His keen insight often enables him to measure life as
the majority of men do, that is by a straight rule; but in some happy
moments when he yields to natural impulse he makes the straight crooked
and the crooked straight; and this gives rise to wit, which only
consists in looking at things obliquely and--setting them askew as it
were. You have only to talk to my hump-backed gardener Gibbus, or listen
to what he says. When he is sitting with the rest of our people in an
evening, they all laugh as soon as he opens his mouth.--And why? Because
his conformation makes him utter nothing but paradoxes.--You know what
they are?”

“Certainly.”

“And you, Pul?”

“No, Father.”

“You are too straight-nay, and so is your simple soul, to know what the
thing is! Well, listen then: It would be a paradox, for instance, if
I were to say to the Bishop as he marches past in procession: ‘You are
godless out of sheer piety;’ or if I were to say to Paula, by way of
excuse for all the flattery which I and your mother offered her just
now: ‘Our incense was nauseous for very sweetness.’--These paradoxes,
when examined, are truths in a crooked form, and so they best suit the
deformed. Do you understand?”

“Certainly,” said Paula.

“And you, Pul?”

“I am not quite sure. I should be better pleased to be simply told: ‘We
ought not to have made such flattering speeches; they may vex a young
girl.’”

“Very good, my straightforward child,” laughed her father. “But look,
there is the man! Here, good Gibbus--come here!--Now, just consider:
supposing you had flattered some one so grossly that you had offended
him instead of pleasing him: How would you explain the state of affairs
in telling me of it?”

The gardener, a short, square man, with a huge hump but a clever face
and good features, reflected a minute and then replied: “I wanted to
make an ass smell at some roses and I put thistles under his nose.”

“Capital!” cried Paula; and as Gibbus turned away, laughing to himself,
the physician said:

“One might almost envy the man his hump. But yet, fair Paula, I think
we have some straight-limbed folks who can make use of such crooked
phrases, too, when occasion serves.”

But Rufinus spoke before Paula could reply, referring her to his Essay
on the deformed in soul and body; and then he went on vehemently:

“I call you all to witness, does not Baste, the lame woman, restrict her
views to the lower aspect of things, to the surface of the earth indeed?
She has one leg much shorter than the other, and it is only with much
pains that we have contrived that it should carry her. To limp along
at all she is forced always to look down at the ground, and what is the
consequence? She can never tell you what is hanging to a tree, and
about three weeks since I asked her under a clear sky and a waning moon
whether the moon had been shining the evening before and she could not
tell me, though she had been sitting out of doors with the others
till quite late, evening after evening. I have noticed, too, that she
scarcely recognizes men who are rather tall, though she may have seen
them three or four times. Her standard has fallen short-like her leg.
Now, am I right or wrong?”

“In this instance you are right,” replied Philippus, “still, I know some
lame people...”

And again words ran high between the friends; Pulcheria, however, put an
end to the discussion this time, by exclaiming enthusiastically:

“Baste is the best and most good-natured soul in the whole house!”

“Because she looks into her own heart,” replied Rufinus. “She knows
herself; and, because she knows how painful pain is, she treats others
tenderly. Do you remember, Philippus, how we disputed after that
anatomical lecture we heard together at Caesarea?”

“Perfectly well,” said the leech, “and later life has but confirmed the
opinion I then held. There is no less true or less just saying than the
Latin motto: ‘Mens sana in corpore sano,’ as it is generally interpreted
to mean that a healthy soul is only to be found in a healthy body. As
the expression of a wish it may pass, but I have often felt inclined to
doubt even that. It has been my lot to meet with a strength of mind,
a hopefulness, and a thankfulness for the smallest mercies in the
sickliest bodies, and at the same time a delicacy of feeling, a wise
reserve, and an undeviating devotion to lofty things such as I have
never seen in a healthy frame. The body is but the tenement of the soul,
and just as we find righteous men and sinners, wise men and fools, alike
in the palace and the hovel--nay, and often see truer worth in a cottage
than in the splendid mansions of the great--so we may discover noble
souls both in the ugly and the fair, in the healthy and the infirm, and
most frequently, perhaps, in the least vigorous. We should be careful
how we go about repeating such false axioms, for they can only do harm
to those who have a heavy burthen to bear through life as it is. In my
opinion a hunchback’s thoughts are as straightforward as an athlete’s;
or do you imagine that if a mother were to place her new-born children
in a spiral chamber and let them grow up in it, they could not tend
upwards as all men do by nature?”

“Your comparison limps,” cried Rufinus, “and needs setting to rights. If
we are not to find ourselves in open antagonism....”

“You must keep the peace,” Joanna put in addressing her husband; and
before Rufinus could retort, Paula had asked him with frank simplicity:

“How old are you, my worthy host?”

“Your arrival at my house blessed the second day of my seventieth year,”
 replied Rufinus with a courteous bow. His wife shook her finger at him,
exclaiming:

“I wonder whether you have not a secret hump? Such fine phrases...”

“He is catching the style from his cripples,” said Paula laughing at
him. “But now it is your turn, friend Philippus. Your exposition was
worthy of an antique sage, and it struck me--for the sake of Rufinus
here I will not say convinced me. I respect you--and yet I should like
to know how old....”

“I shall soon be thirty-one,” said Philippus, anticipating her question.

“That is an honest answer,” observed Dame Joanna. “At your age many a
man clings to his twenties.”

“Why?” asked Pulcheria.

“Well,” said her mother, “only because there are some girls who think a
man of thirty too old to be attractive.”

“Stupid creatures,” answered Pulcheria. “Let them find me a young
man who is more lovable than my father; and if Philippus--yes you,
Philippus--were ten or twenty years over nine and twenty, would that
make you less clever or kind?”

“Not less ugly, at any rate,” said the physician. Pulcheria laughed, but
with some annoyance, as though she had herself been the object of the
remark. “You are not a bit ugly!” she exclaimed. “Any one who says so
has no eyes. And you will hear nothing said of you but that you are a
tall, fine man!”

As the warm-hearted girl thus spoke, defending her friend against
himself, Paula stroked her golden hair and added to the physician:

“Pulcheria’s father is so far right that she, at any rate, measures men
by a true and straight standard. Note that, Philippus!--But do not take
my questioning ill.--I cannot help wondering how a man of one and thirty
and one of seventy should have been studying in the high schools at the
same time? The moon will not be eclipsed for a long time yet--how bright
and clear it is!--So you, Rufinus, who have wandered so far through the
wide world, if you would do me a great pleasure, will tell us something
of your past life and how you came to settle in Memphis.”

“His history?” cried Joanna. “If he were to tell it, in all its details
from beginning to end, the night would wane and breakfast would get
cold. He has had as many adventures as travelled Odysseus. But tell us
something husband; you know there is nothing we should like better.”

“I must be off to my duties,” said the leech, and when he had taken
a friendly leave of the others and bidden farewell to Paula with less
effusiveness than of late, Rufinus began his story.

“I was born in Alexandria, where, at that time, commerce and industry
still flourished. My father was an armorer; above two hundred slaves and
free laborers were employed in his work-shops. He required the finest
metal, and commonly procured it by way of Massilia from Britain. On one
occasion he himself went to that remote island in a friend’s ship, and
he there met my mother. Her ruddy gold hair, which Pul has inherited,
seems to have bewitched him and, as the handsome foreigner pleased her
well--for men like my father are hard to match nowadays--she turned
Christian for his sake and came home with him. They neither of them ever
regretted it; for though she was a quiet woman, and to her dying day
spoke Greek like a foreigner, the old man often said she was his best
counsellor. At the same time she was so soft-hearted, that she could
not bear that any living creature should suffer, and though she looked
keenly after everything at the hearth and loom, she could never see
a fowl, a goose, or a pig slaughtered. And I have inherited her
weakness--shall I say ‘alas!’ or ‘thank God?’

“I had two elder brothers who both had to help my father, and who
were to carry on the business. When I was ten years old my calling was
decided on. My mother would have liked to make a priest of me and at
that time I should have consented joyfully; but my father would not
agree, and as we had an uncle who was making a great deal of money as
a Rhetor, my father accepted a proposal from him that I should devote
myself to that career. So I went from one teacher to another and made
good progress in the schools.

“Till my twentieth year I continued to live with my parents, and during
my many hours of leisure I was free to do or leave undone whatever I had
a fancy for; and this was always something medical, if that is not too
big a word. I was but a lad of twelve when this fancy first took me, and
that through pure accident. Of course I was fond of wandering about the
workshops, and there they kept a magpie, a quaint little bird, which my
mother had fed out of compassion. It could say ‘Blockhead,’ and call
my name and a few other words, and it seemed to like the noise, for it
always would fly off to where the smiths were hammering and filing their
loudest, and whenever it perched close to one of the anvils there were
sure to be mirthful faces over the shaping and scraping and polishing.
For many years its sociable ways made it a favorite; but one day it got
caught in a vice and its left leg was broken. Poor little creature!”

The old man stooped to wipe his eyes unseen, but he went on without
pausing:

“It fell on its back and looked at me so pathetically that I snatched
the tongs out of the bellows-man’s hand--for he was going to put an end
to its sufferings in all kindness--and, picking it up gently, I made up
my mind I would cure it. Then I carried the bird into my own room, and
to keep it quiet that it might not hurt itself, I tied it down to a
frame that I contrived, straightened its little leg, warmed the injured
bone by sucking it, and strapped it to little wooden splints. And behold
it really set: the bird got quite well and fluttered about the workshops
again as sound as before, and whenever it saw me it would perch upon my
shoulder and peck very gently at my hair with its sharp beak.

“From that moment I could have found it in me to break the legs of every
hen in the yard, that I might set them again; but I thought of something
better. I went to the barbers and told them that if any one had a bird,
a dog, or a cat, with a broken limb, he might bring it to me, and that
I was prepared to cure all these injuries gratis; they might tell all
their customers. The very next day I had a patient brought me: a black
hound, with tan spots over his eyes, whose leg had been smashed by a
badly-aimed spear: I can see him now! Others followed; feathered or
four-footed sufferers; and this was the beginning of my surgical career.
The invalid birds on the trees I still owe to my old allies the barbers.
I only occasionally take beasts in hand. The lame children, whom you
saw in the garden, come to me from poor parents who cannot afford a
surgeon’s aid. The merry, curly-headed boy who brought you a rose just
now is to go home again in a few days.--But to return to the story of my
youth.

“The more serious events which gave my life this particular bias
occurred in my twentieth year, when I had already left even the high
school behind me; nor was I fully carried away by their influence till
after my uncle had procured me several opportunities of proving my
proficiency in my calling. I may say without vanity that my speeches won
approval; but I was revolted by the pompous, flowery bombast, without
which I should have been hissed down, and though my parents rejoiced
when I went home from Niku, Arsmoe, or some other little provincial
town, with laurel-wreaths and gold pieces, to myself I always seemed
an impostor. Still, for my father’s sake, I dared not give up my
profession, although I hated more and more the task of praising people
to the skies whom I neither loved nor respected, and of shedding tears
of pathos while all the time I was minded to laugh.

“I had plenty of time to myself, and as I did not lack courage and held
stoutly to our Greek confession, I was always to be found where there
was any stir or contention between the various sects. They generally
passed off with nothing worse than bruises and scratches, but now and
then swords were drawn. On one occasion thousands came forth to meet
thousands, and the Prefect called out the troops--all Greeks--to restore
order by force. A massacre ensued in which thousands were killed. I
could not describe it! Such scenes were not rare, and the fury and greed
of the mob were often directed against the Jews by the machinations of
the creatures of the archbishop and the government. The things I saw
there were so horrible, so shocking, that the tongue refuses to tell
them; but one poor Jewess, whose husband the wretches--our fellow
Christians--killed, and then pillaged the house, I have never forgotten!
A soldier dragged her down by her hair, while a ruffian snatched the
child from her breast and, holding it by its feet, dashed its skull
against the wall before her eyes--as you might slash a wet cloth against
a pillar to dry it--I shall never forget that handsome young mother and
her child; they come before me in my dreams at night even now.

“All these things I saw; and I shuddered to behold God’s creatures,
beings endowed with reason, persecuting their fellows, plunging them
into misery, tearing them limb from limb--and why? Merciful Saviour,
why? For sheer hatred--as sure as man is the standard for all
things--merely carried away by a hideous impulse to spite their neighbor
for not thinking as they do--nay, simply for not being themselves--to
hurt him, insult him, work him woe. And these fanatics, these armies
who raised the standard of ruthlessness, of extermination, of
bloodthirstiness, were Christians, were baptized in the name of Him who
bids us forgive our enemies, who enlarged the borders of love from the
home and the city and the state to include all mankind; who raised the
adulteress from the dust, who took children into his arms, and would
have more joy over a sinner who repents than over ninety and nine just
persons!--Blood, blood, was what they craved; and did not the doctrine
of Him whose followers they boastfully called themselves grow out of the
blood of Him who shed it for all men alike,--just as that lotos flower
grows out of the clear water in the marble tank? And it was the highest
guardians and keepers of this teaching of mercy, who goaded on the
fury of the mob: Patriarchs, bishops, priests and deacons--instead of
pointing to the picture of the Shepherd who tenderly carries the lost
sheep and brings it home to the fold.

“My own times seemed to me the worst that had ever been; aye, and--as
surely as man is the standard of all things--so they are! for love is
turned to hatred, mercy to implacable hardheartedness. The thrones not
only of the temporal but of the spiritual rulers, are dripping with
the blood of their fellow-men. Emperors and bishops set the example;
subjects and churchmen follow it. The great, the leading men of the
struggle are copied by the small, by the peaceful candidates for
spiritual benefices. All that I saw as a man, in the open streets, I had
already seen as a boy both in the low and high schools. Every doctrine
has its adherents; the man who casts in his lot with Cneius is hated by
Caius, who forthwith speaks and writes to no other end than to vex and
put down Cneius, and give him pain. Each for his part strives his
utmost to find out faults in his neighbor and to put him in the pillory,
particularly if his antagonist is held the greater man, or is likely
to overtop him. Listen to the girls at the well, to the women at the
spindle; no one is sure of applause who cannot tell some evil of the
other men or women. Who cares to listen to his neighbor’s praises? The
man who hears that his brother is happy at once envies him! Hatred,
hatred everywhere! Everywhere the will, the desire, the passion for
bringing grief and ruin on others rather than to help them, raise them
and heal them!

“That is the spirit of my time; and everything within me revolted
against it with sacred wrath. I vowed in my heart that I would live and
act differently; that my sole aim should be to succor the unfortunate,
to help the wretched, to open my arms to those who had fallen into
unmerited contumely, to set the crooked straight for my neighbor, to
mend what was broken, to pour in balm, to heal and to save!

“And, thank God! it has been vouchsafed to me in some degree to keep
this vow; and though, later, some whims and a passionate curiosity got
mixed up with my zeal, still, never have I lost sight of the great task
of which I have spoken, since my father’s death and since my uncle also
left me his large fortune. Then I had done with the Rhetor’s art, and
travelled east and west to seek the land where love unites men’s hearts
and where hatred is only a disease; but as sure as man is the standard
of all things, to this day all my endeavors to find it have been in
vain. Meanwhile I have kept my own house on such a footing that it has
become a stronghold of love; in its atmosphere hatred cannot grow, but
is nipped in the germ.

“In spite of this I am no saint. I have committed many a folly, many an
injustice; and much of my goods and gold, which I should perhaps have
done better to save for my family, has slipped through my fingers,
though in the execution, no doubt, of what I deemed the highest duties.
Would you believe it, Paula?--Forgive an old man for such fatherly
familiarity with the daughter of Thomas;--hardly five years after my
marriage with this good wife, not long after we had lost our only son, I
left her and our little daughter, Pul there, for more than two years, to
follow the Emperor Heraclius of my own free will to the war against the
Persians who had done me no harm--not, indeed, as a soldier, but as a
surgeon eager for experience. To confess the truth I was quite as eager
to see and treat fractures and wounds and injuries in great numbers,
as I was to exercise benevolence. I came home with a broken hip-bone,
tolerably patched up, and again, a few years later, I could not keep
still in one place. The bird of passage must need drag wife and child
from the peace of hearth and homestead, and take them to where he could
go to the high school. A husband, a father, and already grey-headed,
I was a singular exception among the youths who sat listening to the
lectures and explanations of their teachers; but as sure as man is the
standard of all things, they none of them outdid me in diligence and
zeal, though many a one was greatly my superior in gifts and intellect,
and among them the foremost was our friend Philippus. Thus it came
about, noble Paula, that the old man and the youth in his prime were
fellow-students; but to this day the senior gladly bows down to his
young brother in learning and feeling. To straighten, to comfort, and
to heal: this is the aim of his life too. And even I, an old man, who
started long before Philippus on the same career, often long to call
myself his disciple.”

Here Rufinus paused and rose; Paula, too, got up, grasped his hand
warmly, and said:

“If I were a man, I would join you! But Philippus has told me that even
a woman may be allowed to work with the same purpose.--And now let me
beg of you never to call me anything but Paula--you will not refuse me
this favor. I never thought I could be so happy again as I am with you;
here my heart is free and whole. Dame Joanna, do you be my mother! I
have lost the best of fathers, and till I find him again, you, Rufinus,
must fill his place!”

“Gladly, gladly!” cried the old man; he clasped both her hands and went
on vivaciously: “And in return I ask you to be an elder sister to Pul.
Make that timid little thing such a maiden as you are yourself.--But
look, children, look up quickly; it is beginning!--Typhon, in the form
of a boar, is swallowing the eye of Horns: so the heathen of old in this
country used to believe when the moon suffered an eclipse. See how the
shadow is covering the bright disk. When the ancients saw this happening
they used to make a noise, shaking the sistrum with its metal rings,
drumming and trumpeting, shouting and yelling, to scare off the evil one
and drive him away. It may be about four hundred years since that last
took place, but to this day--draw your kerchiefs more closely round
your heads and come with me to the river--to this day Christians degrade
themselves by similar rites. Wherever I have been in Christian lands, I
have always witnessed the same scenes: our holy faith has, to be sure,
demolished the religions of the heathen; but their superstitions have
survived, and have forced their way through rifts and chinks into our
ceremonial. They are marching round now, with the bishop at their head,
and you can hear the loud wailing of the women, and the cries of
the men, drowning the chant of the priests. Only listen! They are as
passionate and agonized in their entreaty as though old Typhon were even
now about to swallow the moon, and the greatest catastrophe was hanging
over the world. Aye, as surely as man is the standard of all things,
those terrified beings are diseased in mind; and how are we to forgive
those who dare to scare Christians; yes, Christian souls, with the
traditions of heathen folly, and to blind their inward vision?”



CHAPTER XXII.

Up to within a few days Katharina had still been a dependent and docile
child, who had made it a point of honor to obey instantly, not only her
mother’s lightest word, but Dame Neforis, too; and, since her own Greek
instructress had been dismissed, even the acid Eudoxia. She had never
concealed from her mother, or the worthy teacher whom she had truly
loved, the smallest breach of rules, the least naughtiness or wilful act
of which she had been guilty; nay, she had never been able to rest till
she had poured out a confession, before evening prayer, of all that
her little heart told her was not perfectly right, to some one whom
she loved, and obtained full forgiveness. Night after night the
“Water-wagtail” had gone to sleep with a conscience as clear and as
white as the breast of her whitest dove, and the worst sin she had ever
committed during the day was some forbidden scramble, some dainty or,
more frequently, some rude and angry word.

But a change had first come over her after Orion’s kiss in the
intoxicating perfume of the flowering trees; and almost every hour since
had roused her to new hopes and new views. It had never before occurred
to her to criticise or judge her mother; now she was constantly doing
so. The way in which Susannah had cut herself off from her neighbors in
the governor’s house, to her daughter seemed perverse and in bad taste;
and the bitterly vindictive attacks on her old friends, which were
constantly on Susannah’s lips, aggrieved the girl, and finally set her
in opposition to her mother, whose judgment had hitherto seemed to her
infallible. Thus, when the governor’s house was closed against her,
there was no one in whom she cared to confide, for a barrier stood
between her and Paula, and she was painfully conscious of its height
each time the wish to pass it recurred to her mind. Paula was certainly
“that other” of whom Orion had spoken; when she had stolen away to see
her in the evening after the funeral, she had been prompted less by a
burning wish to pour out her heart to a sympathizing hearer, than by
torturing curiosity mingled with jealousy. She had crept through the
hedge with a strangely-mixed feeling of tender longing and sullen
hatred; when they had met in the garden she had at first given herself
up to the full delight of being free to speak, and of finding a listener
in a woman so much her superior; but Paula’s reserved replies to her
bold questioning had revived her feelings of envy and grudge. Any one
who did not hate Orion must, she was convinced, love him.

Were they not perhaps already pledged to each other! Very likely Paula
had thought of her as merely a credulous child, and so had concealed the
fact!

This “very likely” was torture to her, and she was determined to try, at
any rate, to settle the doubt. She had an ally at her command; this
was her foster-brother, the son of her deaf old nurse; she knew that
he would blindly obey all her wishes--nay, to please her, would throw
himself to the crocodiles in the Nile. Anubis had been her comrade in
all her childish sports, till at the age of fourteen, after learning to
read and write, her mother had obtained an appointment for him in the
governor’s household, as an assistant to be further trained by the
treasurer Nilus. Dame Susannah intended to find him employment at
a future date on her estates, or at Memphis, the centre of their
administration, as he might prove himself capable. The lad was still
living with his mother under the rich widow’s roof, and only spent his
working days at the governor’s house, he was industrious and clever
during office hours, though between whiles he busied himself with things
altogether foreign to his future calling. At Katharina’s request he
had opened a communication between the two houses by means of
carrier-pigeons, and many missives were thus despatched with little
gossip, invitations, excuses, and the like, from Katharina to Mary and
back again. Anubis took great pleasure in the pretty creatures, and by
the permission of his superiors a dovecote was erected on the roof of
the treasurer’s house. Mary was now lying ill, and their intercourse
was at an end; still, the well-trained messengers need not be idle, and
Katharina had begun to use them for a very different purpose.

Orion’s envoy had been detained a long time at Rufinus’ door the day
before; and she had since learnt from Anubis, who was acquainted with
all that took place in Nilus’ office, that Paula’s moneys were to be
delivered over to her very shortly, and in all probability by Orion
himself. They must then have an interview, and perhaps she might succeed
in overhearing it. She knew well how this could be managed; the only
thing was to be on the spot at the right moment.

On the morning after the full-moon, at two hours and a half before noon,
the little boy whose task it was to feed the feathered messengers in
their dove-cote brought her a written scrap, on which Anubis informed
her that Orion was about to set out; but he was not very warmly
welcomed, for the hour did not suit her at all. Early in the morning
Bishop Plotinus had come to inform Susannah that Benjamin, Patriarch of
Alexandria, was visiting Amru on the opposite shore, and would presently
honor Memphis with his presence. He proposed to remain one day; he had
begged to have no formal reception, and had left it to the bishop to
find suitable quarters for himself and his escort, as he did not wish
to put up at the governor’s house. The vain widow had at once pressingly
urged her readiness to receive the illustrious guest under her roof: The
prelate’s presence must bring a blessing on the house, and she thought,
too, that she might turn it to advantage for several ends she just now
happened to have in view.

A handsome reception must be prepared; there were but a few hours to
spare, and even before the bishop had left her, she had begun to call
the servants together and give them orders. The whole house must be
turned upside down; some of the kitchen staff were hurried off into the
town to make purchases, others bustled round the fire; the gardeners
plundered the beds and bushes to weave wreaths and nosegays for
decorations; from cellar to roof half a hundred of slaves, white, brown
and black, were toiling with all their might, for each believed that,
by rendering a service to the Patriarch, he might count on the special
favor of Heaven, while their unresting mistress never ceased screaming
out her orders as to what she wished done.

Susannah, who as a girl had been the eldest of a numerous and not
wealthy family, and had been obliged to put her own hand to things,
quite forgot now that she was a woman of position and fortune whom it
ill-beseemed to do her own household work; she was here, there, and
everywhere, and had an eye on all--excepting indeed her own daughter;
but she was the petted darling of the house, brought up to Greek
refinement, whose help in such arduous labors was not to be thought of;
indeed, she would only have been in the way.

When the bishop had taken his leave Katharina was merely desired to be
ready in her best attire, with a nosegay in her hand, to receive the
Patriarch under the awning spread outside the entrance. More than this
the widow did not require of her, and as the girl flew up the stairs
to her room she was thinking: “Orion will be coming directly: it still
wants fully two hours of noon, and if he stays there half an hour that
will be more than enough. I shall have time then to change my dress, but
I will put my new sandals on at once as a precaution; nurse and the
maid must wait for me in my room. They must have everything ready for my
return--perhaps he and Paula may have much to say to each other. He
will not get off without a lecture, unless she has already found an
opportunity elsewhere of expressing her indignation.”

A few minutes later she had sprung to the top of a mound of earth
covered with turf, which she had some time since ordered to be thrown up
close behind the hedge through which she had yesterday made her way. Her
little feet were shod with handsome gold sandals set with sapphires, and
she seated herself on a low bench with a satisfied smile, as though to
assist at a theatrical performance. Some broad-leaved shrubs, placed
behind this place of ambush, screened her to some extent from the heat
of the sun, and as she sat watching and listening in this lurking place,
which she was not using for the first time, her heart began to beat
more quickly; indeed, in her excitement she quite forgot some sweetmeats
which she had brought to wile away the time and had poured into a large
leaf in her lap.

Happily she had not long to wait; Orion arrived in his mother’s
four-wheeled covered chariot. By the side of the driver sat a servant,
and a slave was perched on the step to the door on each side of the
vehicle. It was followed by a few idlers, men and women, and a crowd of
half-naked children. But they got nothing by their curiosity, for
the carruca did not draw up in the road, but was driven into Rufinus’
garden, and the trees and shrubs hid it from the gaze of the expectant
mob, which presently dispersed.

Orion got out at the principal door of the house, followed by the
treasurer; and while the old man welcomed the son of the Mukaukas, Nilus
superintended the transfer of a considerable number of heavy sacks to
their host’s private room.

Nothing of all this had seemed noteworthy to Katharina but the quantity
and size of the bags--full, no doubt, of gold--and the man, whom alone
she cared to see. Never had she thought Orion so handsome; the long,
flowing mourning robe, which he had flung over his shoulder in rich
folds, added to the height of his stately form; his abundant hair, not
curled but waving naturally, set off his face which, pale and grave as
it was, both touched and attracted her ir resistibly. The thought that
this splendid creature had once courted her, loved her, kissed her--that
he had once been hers, and that she had lost him to another, was a pang
like physical agony, mounting from her heart to her brain.

After Orion had vanished indoors, she still seemed to see him; and when
she thrust his image from her fancy, forced to remind herself that he
was now standing face to face with that other, and was looking at Paula
as, a few days since, he had looked at her, the anguish of her soul was
doubled. And was Paula only half as happy as she had been in that hour
of supreme bliss? Ah! how her heart ached! She longed to leap over the
hedge--she could have rushed into the house and flung herself between
Paula and Orion.

Still, there she sat; restless but without moving; wholly under the
dominion of evil thoughts, among which a good one rarely and timidly
intruded, with her eyes fixed on Rufinus’ dwelling. It stood in the
broad sunshine as silent as death, as if all were sleeping. In the
garden, too, all was motionless but the thin jet of water, which danced
up from the marble tank with a soft and fitful, but monotonous tinkle,
while butterflies, dragonflies, bees, and beetles, whose hum she could
not hear, seemed to circle round the flowers without a sound. The birds
must be asleep, for not one was to be seen or broke the oppressive
stillness by a chirp or a twitter. The chariot at the door might have
been spellbound; the driver had dismounted, and he, with the other
slaves, had stretched himself in the narrow strips of shade cast by the
pillars of the verandah; their chins buried in their breasts, they spoke
not a word. The horses alone were stirring-flicking off the flies
with their flowing tails, or turning to bite the burning stings they
inflicted. This now and then lifted the pole, and as the chariot
crunched backwards a few inches, the charioteer growled out a sleepy
“Brrr.”

Katharina had laid a large leaf on her head for protection against the
sun; she did not dare use a parasol or a hat for fear of being seen. The
shade cast by the shrubs was but scanty, the noontide heat was torment;
still, though minute followed minute and one-quarter of an hour after
another crept by at a snail’s pace, she was far too much excited to be
sleepy. She needed no dial to tell her the time; she knew exactly how
late it was as one shadow stole to this point and another to that, and,
by risking the danger to her eyes of glancing up at the sun, she could
make doubly sure.

It was now within three-quarters of an hour of noon, and in that house
all was as still as before; the Patriarch, however, might be expected
to be punctual, and she had done nothing towards dressing but putting
on those gilt sandals. This brought her to swift decision she hurried
to her room, desired the maid not to dress her hair, contenting herself
with pinning a few roses into its natural curls. Then, in fierce haste,
she made her throw on her sea-green dress of bombyx silk edged with fine
embroidery, and fasten her peplos with the first pins that came to hand;
and when the snap of her bracelet of costly sapphires broke, as she
herself was fastening it, she flung it back among her other trinkets as
she might have tossed an unripe apple back upon a heap. She slipped
her little hand into a gold spiral which curled round half her arm, and
gathered up the rest of her jewels, to put them on out of doors as she
sat watching. The waiting-woman was ordered to come for her at noon
with the flowers for the Patriarch, and, in a quarter of an hour after
leaving her lurking place, she was back there again. Just in time;--for
while she was putting on the trinkets Nilus came out, followed by some
slaves with several leather bags which they replaced in the chariot.
Then the treasurer stepped in and with him Philippus, and the vehicle
drove away.

“So Paula has entrusted her property to Orion again,” thought Katharina.
“They are one again; and henceforth there will be endless going and
coming between the governor’s house and that of Rufinus. A very pretty
game!--But wait, only wait.” And she set her little white teeth; but she
retained enough self-possession to mark all that took place.

During her absence indoors Orion’s black horse had been brought into the
garden; a groom on horseback was leading him, and as she watched their
movements she muttered to herself with a smile of scorn: “At any rate he
is not going to carry her home with him at once.”

A few minutes passed in silence, and at last Paula came out, and close
behind her, almost by her side, walked Orion.

His cheeks were no longer pale, far from it, no more than Katharina’s
were; they were crimson! How bright his eyes were, how radiant with
satisfaction and gladness!--She only wished she were a viper to sting
them both in the heel!--At the same time Paula had lost none of her
proud and noble dignity--and he? He gazed at his companion like a rapt
soul; she fancied she could see the folds of his mourning cloak rising
and falling with the beating of his heart. Paula, too, was in mourning.
Of course. They were one; his sorrow must be hers, although she had fled
from his father’s house as though it were a prison. And of course this
virtuous beauty knew full well that nothing became her better than dark
colors! In manner, gait and height this pair looked like two superior
beings, destined for each other by Fate; Katharina herself could not but
confess it.

Some spiteful demon--a friendly one, she thought--led them past her,
so close that her sharp ears could catch every word they said as they
slowly walked on, or now and then stood still, dogged by the agile
water-wagtail, who stole along parallel with them on the other side of
the hedge.

“I have so much to thank you for,” were the first words she caught from
Orion, “that I am shy of asking you yet another favor; but this one
indeed concerns yourself. You know how deep a blow was struck me by
little Mary’s childish hand; still, the impulse that prompted her had
its rise in her honest, upright feeling and her idolizing love of you.”

“And you would like me to take charge of her?” asked Paula. “Such a wish
is of course granted beforehand--only....”

“Only?” repeated Orion.

“Only you must send her here; for you know that I will never enter your
doors again.”

“Alas that it should be so!--But the child has been very ill and can
hardly leave the house at present; and--since I must own it--my mother
avoids her in a way which distresses the child, who is over-excited as
it is, and fills her with new terrors.”

“How can Neforis treat her little favorite so?”

“Remember,” said Orion, “what my father has been to my poor mother. She
is now completely crushed: and, when she sees the little girl, that last
scene of her unhappy husband’s life is brought back to her, with all
that came upon my father and me, beyond a doubt through Mary. She looks
on the poor little thing as the bane of the family?”

“Then she must come away,” said Paula much touched. “Send her to us.
Kind and comforting souls dwell under Rufinus’ roof.”

“I thank you warmly. I will entreat my mother most urgently....”

“Do so,” interrupted Paula. “Have you ever seen Pulcheria, the daughter
of my worthy host?”

“Yes.--A singularly lovable creature!”

“She will soon take Mary into her faithful heart--”

“And our poor little girl needs a friend, now that Susannah has
forbidden her daughter to visit at our house.”

The conversation now turned on the two girls, of whom they spoke as
sweet children, both much to be pitied; and, when Orion observed that
his niece was old for her tender years, Paula replied with a slight
accent of reproach: “But Katharina, too, has ripened much during the
last few days; the lively child has become a sober girl; her recent
experience is a heavy burden on her light heart.”

“But, if I know her at all, it will soon be cast off,” replied Orion.
“She is a sweet, happy little creature; and, of all the dreadful things
I did on that day of horrors, the most dreadful perhaps was the woe I
wrought for her. There is no excuse possible, and yet it was solely
to gratify my mother’s darling wish that I consented to marry
Katharina.--However, enough of that.--Henceforth I must march through
life with large strides, and she to whom love gives courage to become my
wife, must be able to keep pace with me.”

Katharina could only just hear these last words. The speakers now turned
down the path, sparsely shaded from the midday sun by a few trees, which
led to the tank in the centre of the garden, and they went further and
further from her.

She heard no more--still, she knew enough and could supply the rest. The
object of her ambush was gained: she knew now with perfect certainty
who was “the other.” And how they had spoken of her! Not as a deserted
bride, whose rights had been trodden in the dust, but as a child who is
dismissed from the room as soon as it begins to be in the way. But she
thought she could see through that couple and knew why they had spoken
of her thus. Paula, of course, must prevent any new tie from being
formed between herself and Orion; and as for Orion, common prudence
required that he should mention her--her, whom he had but lately
loaded with tenderness--as a mere child, to protect himself against the
jealousy of that austere “other” one. That he had loved her, at any
rate that evening under the trees, she obstinately maintained in her own
mind; to that conviction she must cling desperately, or lose her last
foothold. Her whole being was a prey to a frightful turmoil of feeling.
Her hands shook; her mouth was parched as by the midday heat; she knew
that there were withered leaves between her feet and the sandals she
wore, that twigs had got caught in her hair; but she could not care and
when the pair were screened from her by the denser shrubs she flew back
to her raised seat-from which she could again discover them. At this
moment she would have given all she held best and dearest, to be the
thing it vexed her so much to be called: a water-wagtail, or some other
bird.

It must be very near noon if not already past; she dusted her sandals
and tidied her curly hair, picking out the dry leaves and not noticing
that at the same time a rose fell out on the ground. Only her hands were
busy; her eyes were elsewhere, and suddenly they brightened again,
for the couple on which she kept them fixed were coming back, straight
towards the hedge, and she would soon be able again to hear what they
were saying.



CHAPTER XXIII.

Orion and Paula had had much to talk about, since the young man had
arrived. The discussion over the safe keeping of the girl’s money had
been tedious. Finally, her counsellors had decided to entrust half of
it to Gamaliel the jeweller and his brother, who carried on a large
business in Constantinople. He happened to be in Memphis, and they
had both declared themselves willing each to take half of the sum in
question and use it at interest. They would be equally responsible for
its security, so that each should make good the whole of the property
in their hands in case of the other stopping payment. Nilus undertook
to procure legal sanction and the necessary sixteen witnesses to this
transaction.

The other half of her fortune was, by the advice of Philippus, to be
placed in the hands of a brother of Haschim’s, the Arab merchant, who
had a large business as money changer in Fostat, the new town on
the further shore, in which the merchant himself was a partner. This
investment had the advantage of being perfectly safe, at any rate so
long as the Arabs ruled the land.

After all this was settled Nilus departed with that half of the money
which Orion was to hand over to the keeping of the Moslem money changer
on the following morning.

Paula, though she had taken no part in the men’s discussion, had
been present throughout, and had expressed her grateful consent. The
clearness, gravity, and decision which Orion had displayed had not
escaped her notice; and though the treasurer’s shrewd remarks, briefly
and modestly made, had in every case proved final, it was Orion’s
reasoning and explanations that had most come home to her, for it
seemed to her that he was always prompted by loftier, wider, and more
statesmanlike considerations than the others.

When this was over she and Orion were left together, and neither she
nor the young man had been able to escape a few moments of anxious
heart-beating.

It was not till the governor’s son had summoned up his courage and,
sinking on his knees, was imploring her pardon, that she recovered some
firmness and reminded him of the letter he had sent her. But her heart
drew her to him almost irresistibly, and in order not to yield to its
urgent prompts, she hastily enquired what he had meant by the exchange
he had written about.

At this he went up to her with downcast eyes, drew a small box out
of the breast of his robe, and took out the emerald with the damaged
setting. He held them towards her with a beseeching gesture, exclaiming,
with all the peculiar sweetness of his deep voice:

“It is your property! Take it and give me in return your confidence,
your forgiveness.”

She drew back a little, looking first at him and then at the stone and
its setting--surprised, pleased, and deeply moved, with a bright light
in her eyes. The young man found it impossible to utter a single word,
only holding the jewel and the broken setting closer to her, and yet
closer, like some poor man who makes bold to offer the best he has to a
wealthy superior, though conscious that it is all too humble a gift to
find favor.

And Paula was not long undecided; she took the proffered gem and feasted
her glistening eyes with glad thankfulness on her recovered treasure.

Two days ago she had thought of it as defiled and desecrated; it had
gratified her pride to fancy that she had cast the precious jewel at the
feet, as it were, of Neforis and her son, never to see it again. So hard
is it to forego the right of hating those who have basely brought grief
into our lives and anguish to our souls!--and yet Paula, who would not
have yielded this right at any price a short time since, now waived
it of her own free will--nay, thrust it from her like some tormenting
incubus which choked her pulses and kept her from breathing freely. In
this gem she saw once more a cherished memorial of her lost mother, the
honorable gift of a great monarch to her forefathers; and she was happy
to possess it once more. But it was not this that gave life to the warm,
sunny glow of happiness which thrilled through her, or occasioned its
quick and delightful growth; for her eye did not linger on the large and
glittering stone, but rested spellbound on the poor gold frame which had
once held it, and which had cost her such hours of anguish. This broken
and worthless thing, it is true, was powerful to justify her in the
opinions of her judges and her enemies; with this in her hand she would
easily confute her accusers. Still, it was not that which so greatly
consoled her. The physician’s remark, that there was no greater joy than
the discovery that we have been deceived in thinking ill of another,
recurred to her mind; and she had once loved the man who now stood
before her open to every good influence, deeply moved in her presence;
and her judgment of him had been a hundred, a thousand times too hard.
Only a noble soul could confidently expect magnanimity from a foe and
he, he had put himself defenceless into the power of her who had been
mortally stricken by the most fateful, and perhaps the only disgraceful
act of his life. In giving up this gold frame Orion also gave himself
up; with this talisman in her possession she stood before him as
irresistible Fate. And now, as she looked up at him and met his large
eyes, full of life and intellect but sparkling through tears of violent
agitation, she felt absolutely certain that this favorite of Fortune,
though he had indeed sinned deeply and disastrously, was capable of
the highest and greatest aims if he had a friend to show him what life
required of him and were but ready to follow such guidance. And such a
friend she would be to him!

She, like Orion, could not for some time speak; but he, at last, was
unable to contain himself; he hastened towards her and pressed her hand
to his lips with fervent gratitude, while she--she had to submit; nay,
she would have been incapable of resisting him if, as in her dream, he
had clasped her in his arms, to his heart. His burning lips had rested
fervently on her hand, but it was only for an instant that she abandoned
herself to the violent agitation that mastered her. Then with a great
effort her instinct and determination to do right enabled her to control
it; she pushed him from her decisively but not ungently, and then, with
some emotion and an arch sweetness which he had never before seen in
her, and which charmed him even more than her noble and lofty pride, she
said, threatening him with her finger.

“Take care, Orion! Now I have the stone and the setting; yes, that very
setting. Beware of the consequences, rash man!”

“Not at all. Say rather: Fool, who at last has succeeded in doing
something rational,” he replied joyfully. “What I have brought you is
not a gift; it is your own. To you it can be neither more nor less than
it was before; but to me it has gained inestimably in value since it
places my honor, perhaps my life even, in your keeping; I am in your
power as completely as the humblest slave in the palace is in that of
the Emperor. Keep the gem, and use it and this fateful gold trifle till
the day shall come when my weal and woe are one with yours.”

“For your dead father’s sake,” she answered, coloring deeply, “your weal
lies already very near my heart. Am not I, who brought upon you your
father’s curse, bound indeed to help you to free yourself from the
burden of it? And it may perhaps be in my power to do so, Orion, if you
do not scorn to listen to the counsels of an ignorant girl?”

“Speak,” he cried; but she did not reply immediately. She only begged
him to come into the garden with her; the close atmosphere of the room
had become intolerable to both, and when they got out and Katharina
had first caught sight of them their flushed cheeks had not escaped her
watchful eye.

In the open air, a scarcely perceptible breath from the river moderated
the noontide heat, and then Paula found courage to tell him what
Philippus had called his apprehension in life. It was not new to him;
indeed it fully answered to the principles he had laid down for the
future. He accepted it gratefully: “Life is a function, a ministry, a
duty!” the words were a motto, a precept that should aid him in carrying
out his plans.

“And the device,” he exclaimed, “will be doubly precious to me as having
come from your lips.--But I no longer need its warning. The wisest and
most practical axioms of conduct never made any man the better. Who does
not bring a stock of them with him when he quits school for the world
at large? Precepts are of no use unless, in the voyage of life, a manly
will holds the rudder. I have called on mine, and it will steer me to
the goal, for a bright guiding star lights the pilot on his way. You
know that star; it is....”

“It is what you call your love,” she interposed, with a deep
blush.--“Your love for me, and I will trust it.”

“You will!” he cried passionately. “You allow me to hope....”

“Yes, yes, hope!” she again broke in, “but meanwhile....”

“Meanwhile,” he said, “‘do not press me further,’ ought to end your
sentence. Oh! I quite understand you; and until I feel that you have
good reason once more to respect the maniac who lost you by his own
fault, I, who fought you like your most deadly foe, will not even speak
the final word. I will silence my longing, I will try....”

“You will try to show me--nay, you will show me--that in you, my foe and
persecutor, I have gained my dearest friend!--And now to quite another
matter. We know how we stand towards each other and can count on each
other with glad and perfect confidence, thanking the Almighty for having
opened out a new life to us. To Him we will this day....”

“Offer praise and thanksgiving,” Orion joyfully put in.

And here began the conversation relating to little Mary which Katharina
had overheard.

They had gone out of hearing again when Orion explained to Paula that
all arrangements for the little girl must be postponed till the morrow,
as he had business now with Amru, on the other shore of the Nile.
He decisively confuted her fears lest he should allow himself to be
perverted by the Moslems to their faith; for though he ardently desired
to let the Patriarch feel that he had no mind to submit patiently to the
affront to his deceased father, he clung too firmly to his creed, and
knew too well what was due to the memory of the dead, and to Paula
herself, ever to take this extreme step. He spoke in glowing terms as he
described how, for the future, he purposed to devote his best powers to
his hapless and oppressed country, whether it were in the service of the
Khaliff or in some other way; and she eagerly entered into his schemes,
quite carried away by his noble enthusiasm, and acknowledging to
herself with silent rapture the superiority of his mind and the soaring
loftiness of his soul.

When, presently, they began talking again of the past she asked him
quite frankly, but in a low voice and without looking up, what had
become of the emerald he had taken from the Persian hanging. He turned
pale at this, looked at the ground, and hesitatingly replied that he had
sent it to Constantinople--“to have it set--set in an ornament--worthy
of her whom--whom he....”

But here he broke off, stamped angrily with his foot, and looking
straight into the girl’s eyes exclaimed:

“A pack of lies, foul and unworthy lies!--I have been truthful by nature
all my life; but does it not seem as though that accursed day forced me
to some base action every time it is even mentioned? Yes, Paula; the gem
is really on its way to Byzantium. But the stolen gift was never meant
for you, but for a fair, gentle creature, in nothing blameworthy, who
gave me her heart. To me she was never anything but a pretty plaything;
still, there were moments when I believed--poor soul!--I first learnt
what love meant through you, how great and how sacred it is!--Now you
know all; this, indeed, is the truth!”

They walked on again, and Katharina, who had not been able to gather
the whole of this explanation, could plainly hear Paula’s reply in warm,
glad accents:

“Yes, that is the truth, I feel. And henceforth that horrible day is
blotted out, erased from your life and mine; and whatever you tell me in
the future I shall believe.”

And the listener heard the young man answer in a tremulous voice:

“And you shall never be deceived in me. Now I must leave you; and I go,
in spite of my griefs, a happy man, entitled to rejoice anew. O Paula,
what do I not owe to you! And when we next meet you will receive me,
will you not, as you did that evening on the river after my return?”

“Yes, indeed; and with even more glad confidence,” replied Paula,
holding out her hand with a lovely graciousness that came from her
heart; he pressed it a moment to his lips, and then sprang on to his
horse and rode off at a round trot, his slave following him.

“Katharina, child, Katharina!” was shouted from Susannah’s house in
a woman’s high-pitched voice. The water-wagtail started up, hastily
smoothing her hair and casting an evil glance at her rival, “the other,”
 the supplanter who had basely betrayed her under the sycamores; she
clenched her little fist as she saw Paula watching Orion’s retreating
form with beaming eyes. Paula went back into the house, happy and
walking on air, while the other poor, deeply-wounded child burst into
violent weeping at the first hasty words from her mother, who was not at
all satisfied with the disorder of her dress; and she ended by declaring
with defiant audacity that she would not present the flowers to the
patriarch, and would remain in her own room, for she was dying of
headache.--And so she did.



CHAPTER XXIV.

In the course of the afternoon Orion paid his visit to the Arab
governor. He crossed the bridge of boats on his finest horse.

Only two years since, the land where the new town of Fostat was now
growing up under the old citadel of Babylon had been fields and gardens;
but at Amru’s word it had started into being as by a miracle; house
after house already lined the streets, the docks were full of ships and
barges, the market was alive with dealers, and on a spot where, during
the siege of the fortress, a sutler’s booth had stood, a long colonnade
marked out the site of a new mosque.

There was little to be seen here now of native Egyptian life; it looked
as though some magician had transported a part of Medina itself to the
shores of the Nile. Men and beasts, dwellings and shops, though they
had adopted much of what they had found in this ancient land of culture,
still bore the stamp of their origin; and wherever Orion’s eye fell
on one of his fellow-countrymen, he was a laborer or a scribe in the
service of the conquerors who had so quickly made themselves at home.

Before his departure for Constantinople one of his father’s palm-groves
had occupied the spot where Amru’s residence now stood opposite the
half-finished mosque. Where, now, thousands of Moslems, some on foot,
some on richly caparisoned steeds, were passing to and fro, turbaned and
robed after the manner of their tribe, with such adornment as they had
stolen or adopted from intercourse with splendor-loving nations, and
where long trains of camels dragged quarried stones to the building, in
former times only an occasional ox-cart with creaking wheels was to be
seen, an Egyptian riding an ass or a bare-backed nag, and now and then a
few insolent Greek soldiers. On all sides he heard the sharper and more
emphatic accent of the sons of the desert instead of the language of his
forefathers and their Greek conquerors. Without the aid of the servant
who rode at his side he could not have made himself understood on the
soil of his native land.

He soon reached Amru’s house and was there informed by an Egyptian
secretary that his master was gone out hunting and would receive him,
not in the town, but at the citadel. There, on a pleasant site on
the limestone hills which rose behind the fortress of Babylon and the
newly-founded city, stood some fine buildings, originally planned as a
residence for the Prefect; and thither Amru had transported his wives,
children, and favorite horses, preferring it, with very good reason, to
the palace in the town, where he transacted business, and where the new
mosque intercepted the view of the Nile, while this eminence commanded a
wide prospect.

The sun was near setting when Orion reached the spot, but the general
had not yet come in from the chase, and the gate-keeper requested that
he would wait.

Orion was accustomed to be treated in his own country as the heir of the
greatest man in it; the color mounted to his brow and his Egyptian heart
revolted at having to bend his pride and swallow his wrath before an
Arab. He was one of the subject race, and the thought that one word
from his lips would suffice to secure his reception in the ranks of the
rulers forced itself suddenly on his mind; but he repressed it with all
his might, and silently allowed himself to be conducted to a terrace
screened by a vine-covered trellis from the heat of the sun.

He sat down on one of the marble seats by the parapet of this hanging
garden and looked westward. He knew the scene well, it was the
playground of his childhood and youth; hundreds of times the picture had
spread before him, and yet it affected him to-day as it had never
done before. Was there on earth--he asked himself--a more fertile and
luxuriant land? Had not even the Greek poets sung of the Nile as
the most venerable of rivers? Had not great Caesar himself been so
fascinated by the idea of discovering its source that to that end--so he
had declared--he would have thought the dominion of the world well lost?
On the produce of those wide fields the weal and woe of the mightiest
cities of the earth had been dependent for centuries; nay, imperial Rome
and sovereign Constantinople had quaked with fears of famine, when a bad
harvest here had disappointed the hopes of the husbandman.

And was there anywhere a more industrious nation of laborers, had there
ever been, before them, a thriftier or a more skilful race? When he
looked back on the fate and deeds of nations, on the remotest horizon
where the thread of history was scarcely perceptible, that same gigantic
Sphinx was there--the first and earliest monument of human joy in
creative art--those Pyramids which still proudly stood in undiminished
and inaccessible majesty beyond the Nile, beyond the ruined capital of
his forefathers, at the foot of the Libyan range. He was the son of the
men who had raised these imperishable works, and in his veins perchance
there still might flow a drop of the blood of those Pharaohs who had
sought eternal rest in these vast tombs, and whose greater progeny, had
overrun half the world with their armies, and had exacted tribute and
submission. He, who had often felt flattered at being praised for the
purity of his Greek--pure not merely for his time: an age of bastard
tongues--and for the engaging Hellenism of his person, here and now had
an impulse of pride of his Egyptian origin. He drew a deep breath, as he
gazed at the sinking sun; it seemed to lend intentional significance to
the rich beauty of his home as its magical glory transmuted the fields,
the stream, and the palm-groves, the roofs of the city, and even the
barren desert-range and the Pyramids to burning gold. It was fast going
to rest behind the Libyan chain. The bare, colorless limestone sparkled
like translucent crystal; the glowing sphere looked as though it
were melting into the very heart of the mountains behind which it
was vanishing, while its rays, shooting upwards like millions of gold
threads, bound his native valley to heaven--the dwelling of the Divine
Power who had blessed it above all other lands.

To free this beautiful spot of earth and its children from their
oppressors--to restore to them the might and greatness which had once
been theirs--to snatch down the crescent from the tents and buildings
which lay below him and plant the cross which from his infancy he
had held sacred--to lead enthusiastic troops of Egyptians against the
Moslems--to quell their arrogance and drive them back to the East like
Sesostris, the hero of history and legend--this was a task worthy of the
grandson of Menas, of the son of George the great and just Mukaukas.

Paula would not oppose such an enterprise; his excited imagination
pictured her indeed as a second Zenobia by his side, ready for any great
achievement, fit to aid him and to rule.

Fully possessed by this dream of the future, he had long ceased to gaze
at the glories of the sunset and was sitting with eyes fixed on the
ground. Suddenly his soaring visions were interrupted by men’s voices
coming up from the street just below the terrace. He looked over and
perceived at its foot about a score of Egyptian laborers; free men,
with no degrading tokens of slavery, making their way along, evidently
against their will and yet in sullen obedience, with no thought of
resistance or evasion, though only a single Arab held them under
control.

The sight fell on his excited mood like rain on a smouldering fire, like
hail on sprouting seed. His eye, which a moment ago had sparkled
with enthusiasm, looked down with contempt and disappointment on the
miserable creatures of whose race he came. A line of bitter scorn curled
his lip, for this troop of voluntary slaves were beneath his anger--all
the more so as he more vividly pictured to himself what his people
had once been and what they were now. He did not think of all this
precisely, but as dusk fell, one scene after another from his own
experience rose before his mind’s eye--occasions on which the Egyptians
had behaved ignominiously, and had proved that they were unworthy of
freedom and inured to bow in servitude. Just as one Arab was now able to
reduce a host of his fellow-countrymen to subjection, so formerly three
Greeks had held them in bondage. He had known numberless instances of
almost glad submission on the part of freeborn Egyptians--peasants,
village magnates, and officials, even on his father’s estates and farms.
In Alexandria and Memphis the sons of the soil had willingly borne
the foreign yoke, allowing themselves to be thrust into the shade and
humbled by Greeks, as though they were of a baser species and origin,
so long only as their religious tenets and the subtleties of their creed
remained untouched. Then he had seen them rise and shed their blood, yet
even then only with loud outcries and a promising display of enthusiasm.
But their first defeat had been fatal and it had required only a small
number of trained soldiers to rout them.

To make any attempt against a bold and powerful invader as the leader of
such a race would be madness; there was no choice but to rule his people
in the service of the enemy and so exert his best energies to make their
lot more endurable. His father’s wiser and more experienced judgment
had decided that the better course was to serve his people as mediator
between them and the Arabs rather than to attempt futile resistance at
the head of Byzantine troops.

“Wretched and degenerate brood!” he muttered wrathfully, and he began to
consider whether he should not quit the spot and show the arrogant Arab
that one Egyptian, at any rate, still had spirit enough to resent his
contempt, or whether he should yet wait for the sake of the good cause,
and swallow down his indignation. No! he, the son of the Mukaukas, could
not--ought not to brook such treatment. Rather would he lose his life as
a rebel, or wander an exile through the world and seek far from home a
wider field for deeds of prowess, than put his free neck under the feet
of the foe.

But his reflections were disturbed by the sound of footsteps, and
looking round he saw the gleam of lanterns moving to and fro on the
terrace, turned directly on him. These must be Amru’s servants come to
conduct him to their master, who, as he supposed, would now do him the
honor to receive him--tired out with hunting, no doubt, and stretched
on his divan while he imperiously informed his guest, as if he were some
freed slave, what his wishes were.

But the steps were not those of a messenger. The great general himself
had come to welcome him; the lantern-bearers were not to show the way
to Amru’s couch, but to guide Amru to the “son of his dear departed
friend.” The haughty Vicar of the Khaliffs was the most cordial host,
prompted by hospitality to make his guest’s brief stay beneath his roof
as pleasant as possible, and giving him the right hand of welcome.

He apologized for his prolonged absence in very intelligible Greek,
having learnt it in his youth as a caravan-leader to Alexandria; he
expressed his regret at having left Orion to wait so long, blamed his
servants for not inviting him indoors and for neglecting to offer him
refreshment. As they crossed the garden-terrace he laid his hand on the
youth’s shoulder, explained to him that the lion he had been pursuing,
though wounded by one of his arrows, had got away, and added that he
hoped to make good his loss by the conquest of a nobler quarry than the
beast of prey.

There was nothing for it but that the young man should return courtesy
for courtesy; nor did he find it difficult. The Arab’s fine pleasant
voice, full of sincere cordiality, and the simple distinction and
dignity of his manner appealed to Orion, flattered him, gave him
confidence, and attracted him to the older man who was, besides, a
valiant hero.

In his brightly-lighted room hung with costly Persian tapestry, Amru
invited his guest to share his simple hunter’s supper after the Arab
fashion; so Orion placed himself on one side of the divan while the
Governor and his Vekeel--[Deputy]--Obada--a Goliath with a perfectly
black moorish face squatted rather than sat on the other, after the
manner of his people.

Amru informed his guest that the black giant knew no Greek, and he only
now and then threw in a few words which the general interpreted to Orion
when he thought fit; but the negro’s remarks were not more pleasing to
the young Egyptian than his manner and appearance.

Obada had in his childhood been a slave and had worked his way up to his
present high position by his own exertions; his whole attention seemed
centred in the food before him, which he swallowed noisily and greedily,
and yet that he was able to follow the conversation very well, in spite
of his ignorance of Greek, his remarks sufficiently proved. Whenever he
looked up from the dishes, which were placed in the midst on low
tables, to put in a word, he rolled his big eyes so that only the whites
remained visible; but when he turned them on Orion, their small,
black pupils transfixed him with a keen and, as the young man thought,
exceedingly sinister glare.

The presence of this man oppressed him; he had heard of his base origin,
which to Orion’s lofty ideas rendered him contemptible, of his fierce
valor, and remarkable shrewdness; and though he did not understand what
Obada said, more than once there was something in the man’s tone that
brought the blood into his face and made him set his teeth. The more
kindly and delightful the effect of the Arab’s speech and manner,
the more irritating and repulsive was his subordinate; and Orion was
conscious that he would have expressed himself more freely, and have
replied more candidly to many questions, if he had been alone with Amru.

At first his host made enquiries as to his residence in Constantinople
and asked much about his father; and he seemed to take great interest in
all he heard till Obada interrupted Orion, in the midst of a sentence,
with an enquiry addressed to his superior. Amru hastily answered him in
Arabic and soon after gave a fresh turn to the conversation.

The Vekeel had asked why Amru allowed that Egyptian boy to chatter so
much before settling the matter about which he had sent for him, and
his master had replied that a man is best entertained when he has most
opportunity given him for hearing himself talk; that moreover the young
man was well-informed, and that all he had to say was interesting and
important.

The Moslems drank nothing; Orion was served with capital wine, but he
took very little, and at length Amru began to speak of his father’s
funeral, alluding to the Patriarch’s hostility, and adding that he
had talked with him that morning and had been surprised at the marked
antagonism he had confessed towards his deceased fellow-believer,
who seemed formerly to have been his friend. Then Orion spoke out; he
explained fully what the reasons were that had moved the Patriarch to
display such conspicuous and far-reaching animosity towards his
father. All that Benjamin cared for was to stand clear in the eyes of
Christendom of the reproach of having abandoned a Christian land to
conquerors who were what Christians termed “infidels” and his aim at
present was to put his father forward as the man wholly and solely
responsible for the supremacy of the Moslems in the land.

“True, true; I understand,” Amru put in, and when the young man went on
to tell him that the final breach between the Patriarch and the Mukaukas
George had been about the convent of St. Cecilia, whose rights the
prelate had tried to abrogate by an illegal interpretation of certain
ancient and perfectly clear documents; the Arab exchanged rapid glances
with the Vekeel and then broke in:

“And you? Are you disposed to submit patiently to the blow struck at you
and at your parent’s worthy memory by this restless old man, who hates
you as he did your father before you?”

“Certainly not,” replied the youth proudly.

“That is right!” cried the general. “That is what I expected of you; but
tell me now, with what weapons you, a Christian, propose to defy this
shrewd and powerful man, in whose hands--as I know full well--you have
placed the weal and woe, not of your souls alone....”

“I do not know yet,” replied Orion, and as he met a glance of scorn from
the Vekeel, he looked down.

At this Amru rose, went closer to him, and said “And you will seek them
in vain, my young friend; nor, if you found them, could you use them.
It is easier to hit a woman, an eel, a soaring bird, than these supple,
weak, unarmed, robed creatures, who have love and peace on their tongues
and use their physical helplessness as a defence, aiming invisible but
poisoned darts at those they hate--at you first and foremost, Son of the
Mukaukas; I know it and I advise you: Be on your guard! If indeed manly
revenge for this slight on your father’s memory is dear to your heart
you can easily procure it--but only on one condition.”

“Show it me!” cried Orion with flaming eyes. “Become one of us.”

“That is what I came here for. My brain and my arm from this day forth
are at the service of the rulers of my country: yourself and our common
master the Khaliff.”

“Ya Salaam--that is well!” cried Amru, laying his hand on Orion’s
shoulder. “There is but one God, and yours is ours, too, for there is
none other but He! you will not have to sacrifice much in becoming a
Moslem, for we, too, count your lord Jesus as one of the prophets; and
even you must confess that the last and greatest of them is Mohammed,
the true prophet of God. Every man must acknowledge our lord Mohammed,
who does not wilfully shut his eyes to the events which have come about
under his government and in his name. Your own father admitted...”

“My father?”

“He was forced to admit that we are more zealous, more earnest, more
deeply possessed by our faith than you, his own fellow-believers.”

“I know it.”

“And when I told him that I had given orders that the desk for the
reader of the Koran in our new mosque should be discarded, because when
he stepped up to it he was uplifted above the other worshippers, the
weary Mukaukas was quite agitated with satisfaction and uttered a
loud cry of approbation. We Moslems--for that was what my commands
implied--must all be equal in the presence of God, the Eternal, the
Almighty, the All-merciful; their leader in prayer must not be raised
above them, even by a head; the teaching of the Prophet points the road
to Paradise, to all alike, we need no earthly guide to show us the way.
It is our faith, our righteousness, our good deeds that open or close
the gates of heaven; not a key in the hand of a priest. When you are one
of us, no Benjamin can embitter your happiness on earth, no Patriarch
can abrogate your claims and your father’s to eternal bliss. You have
chosen well, boy! Your hand, my convert to the true faith!”

And he held out his hand to Orion with glad excitement. But the young
man did not take it; he drew back a little and said rather uneasily:

“Do not misunderstand me, great Captain. Here is my hand, and I can know
no greater honor than that of grasping yours, of wielding my sword under
your command, of wearing it out in your service and in that of my lord
the Khaliff; but I cannot be untrue to my faith.”

“Then be crushed by Benjamin--you and all your people!” cried Armu,
disappointed and angry. He waved his hand with a gesture of disgust and
dismissal, and then turned to the Vekeel with a shrug, to answer the
man’s scornful exclamation.

Orion looked at them in dumb indecision; but he quickly collected
himself, and said in a tone of modest but urgent entreaty:

“Nay; hear me and do not reject my petition. It could only be to my
advantage to go over to you; and yet I can resist so great a temptation;
but for that very reason I shall keep faith with you as I do to my
religion.”

“Until the priests compel you to break it,” interrupted the Arab
roughly.

“No, no!” cried Orion. “I know that Benjamin is my foe; but I have lost
a beloved parent, and I believe in a meeting beyond the grave.”

“So do I,” replied the Moslem. “And there is but one Paradise and one
Hell, as there is but one God.”

“What gives you this conviction?”

“My faith.”

“Then forgive me if I cling to mine, and hope to see my father once more
in that Heaven....”

“The heaven to which, as you fools believe, no souls but your own are
admitted! But supposing that it is open only to the immortal spirit
of Moslems and closed against Christians?--What do you know of that
Paradise? I know your sacred Scriptures--Is it described in them? But
the All-merciful allowed our Prophet to look in, and what he saw he
has described as though the Most High himself had guided his reed. The
Moslem knows what Heaven has to offer him,--but you? Your Hell, you do
know; your priests are more readier to curse than to bless. If one of
you deviates by one hair’s breadth from their teaching they thrust
him out forthwith to the abode of the damned.--Me and mine, the Greek
Christians, and--take my word for it boy--first and foremost you and
your father!”

“If only I were sure of finding him there!” cried Orion striking his
breast. “I really should not fear to follow him. I must meet him, must
see him again, were it in Hell itself!”

At these words the Vekeel burst into loud laughter, and when Amru
reproved him sharply the negro retorted and a vehement dialogue ensued.

Obada’s contumely had roused Orion’s wrath; he was longing, burning
to reduce this insolent antagonist to silence. However, he contained
himself by a supreme effort of will, till Amru turned to him once more
and said in a reserved tone, but not unkindly:

“This clear-sighted man has mentioned a suspicion which I myself had
already felt. A worldly-minded young Christian of your rank is not so
ready to give up earthly joys and happiness for the doubtful bliss of
your Paradise and when you do so and are prepared to forego all that
a man holds most dear: Honor, temporal possessions, a wide field of
action, and revenge on your enemies, to meet the spirit of the departed
once more after death, there must be some special reason in the
background. Try to compose yourself, and believe my assurances that I
like you and that you will find in me a zealous protector and a discreet
friend if you will but tell me candidly and fully what are the motives
of your conduct. I myself really desire that our interview should be
fruitful of advantages on both sides. So put your trust in a man so much
your senior and your father’s friend, and speak.”

“On no consideration in the presence of that man!” said Orion in a
tremulous voice. “Though he is supposed not to understand Greek, he
follows every word I say with malicious watchfulness; he dared to laugh
at me, he...”

“He is as discreet as he is brave, and my Vekeel,” interrupted Amru
reprovingly. “If you join us you will have to obey him; and remember
this, young man. I sent for you to impose conditions on you, not to
have them dictated to me. I grant you an audience as the ruler of this
country, as the Vicar of Omar, your Khaliff and mine.”

“Then I entreat you to dismiss me, for in the presence of that man my
heart and lips are sealed; I feel that he is my enemy.”

“Beware of his becoming so!” cried the governor, while Obada shrugged
his shoulders scornfully.

Orion understood this gesture, and although he again succeeded in
keeping cool he felt that he could no longer be sure of himself; he
bowed low, without paying any heed to the Vekeel, and begged Amru to
excuse him for the present.

Amru, who had not failed to observe Obada’s demeanor and who keenly
sympathized with what was going on in the young man’s mind, did not
detain him; but his manner changed once more; he again became the
pressing host and invited his guest, as it was growing late, to pass
the night under his roof. Orion politely declined, and when at length
he quitted the room--without deigning even to look at the Negro--Amru
accompanied him into the anteroom. There he grasped the young man’s
hand, and said in a low voice full of sincere and fatherly interest:

“Beware of the Negro; you let him perceive that you saw through him--it
was brave but rash. For my part I honestly wish you well.”

“I believe it, I know it,” replied Orion, on whose perturbed soul the
noble Arab’s warm, deep accents fell like balm. “And now we are alone I
will gladly confide in you. I, my Lord, I--my father--you knew him. In
cruel wrath, before he closed his eyes, he withdrew his blessing from
his only son.”

The memory of the most fearful hour of his life choked his voice for a
moment, but he soon went on: “One single act of criminal folly roused
his anger; but afterwards, in grief and penitence, I thought over my
whole life, and I saw how useless it had been; and now, when I came
hither with a heart full of glad expectancy to place all I have to offer
of mind and gifts at your disposal, I did so, my Lord, because I long
to achieve great and noble, and difficult or, if it might be, impossible
deeds--to be active, to be doing...”

Here he was interrupted by Amru, who said, laying his sinewy arm across
the youth’s shoulders:

“And because you long to let the spirit of your dead father, that
righteous man, see that a heedless act of youthful recklessness has not
made you unworthy of his blessing; because you hope by valiant deeds to
compel his wrath to turn to approval, his scorn to esteem...”

“Yes, yes, that is the thing, the very thing!” Orion broke in with fiery
enthusiasm; but the Arab eagerly signed to him to lower his voice, as
though to cheat some listener, and whispered hastily, but with warm
kindliness:

“And I, I will help you in this praiseworthy endeavor. Oh, how much
you remind me of the son of my heart who, like you, erred, and who was
permitted to atone for all, for more than all by dying like a hero for
his faith on the field of battle!--Count on me, and let your purpose
become deed. In me you have found a friend.--Now, go. You shall hear
from me before long. But, once more: Do not provoke the Negro; beware of
him; and the next time you meet him subdue your pride and make as though
you had never seen him before.”

He looked sadly at Orion, as though the sight of him revived some loved
image in his mind, kissed his brow, and as soon as the youth had left
the anteroom he hastily drew open the curtain that hung across the door
into the dining-room.--A few steps behind it stood the Vekeel, who was
arranging the straps of his sword-belt.

“Listener!” exclaimed the Arab with intense scorn, “you, a man of gifts,
a man of deeds! A hero in battle and in council; lion, serpent, and toad
in one! When will you cast out of your soul all that is contemptible
and base? Be what you have made yourself, not what you were; do not
constantly remind the man who helped you to rise that you were born of a
slave!”

“My Lord!” began the Moor, and the whites of his rolling eyes were
ominously conspicuous in his black face. But Amru took the words out of
his mouth and went on in stern and determined reproof:

“You behaved to that noble youth like an idiot, like a buffoon at a
fair, like a madman.”

“To Hell with him!” cried Obada, “I hate the gilded upstart.”

“Envious wretch! Do not provoke him! Times change, and the day may come
when you will have reason to fear him.”

“Him?” shrieked the other. “I could crush the puppet like a fly! And he
shall live to know it.”

“Your turn first and then his!” said Amru. “To us he is the more
important of the two--yes, he, the up start, the puppet. Do you hear? Do
you understand? If you touch a hair of his head, it will cost you your
nose and ears! Never for an hour forget that you live--and ought not to
live--only so long as two pairs of lips are sealed. You know whose. That
clever head remains on your shoulders only as long as they choose. Cling
to it, man; you have only one to lose! It was necessary, my lord Vekeel,
to remind you of that once more!”

The Negro groaned like a wounded beast and sullenly panted out: “This
is the reward of past services; these are the thanks of Moslem to
Moslem!--And all for the sake of a Christian dog.”

“You have had thanks, and more than are your due,” replied Amru more
calmly. “You know what you pledged yourself to before I raised you to be
my Vekeel for the sake of your brains and your sword, and what I had to
overlook before I did so--not on your behalf, but for the great cause
of Islam. And, if you wish to remain where you are, you will do well to
sacrifice your wild ambition. If you cannot, I will send you back to
the army, and to-day rather than to-morrow; and if you carry it with
too high a hand you will find yourself at Medina in fetters, with your
death-warrant stuck in your girdle.”

The Negro again groaned sullenly; but his master was not to be checked.

“Why should you hate this youth? Why, a child could see through it! In
the son and heir of George you see the future Mukaukas, while you are
cherishing the insane wish to become the Mukaukas yourself.”

“And why should such a wish be insane?” cried the other in a harsh
voice. “Putting you out of the question, who is there here that is
shrewder or stronger than I?”

“No Moslem, perhaps. But neither you nor any other true believer will
succeed to the dead man’s office, but an Egyptian and a Christian.
Prudence requires it, and the Khaliff commands it.”

“And does he also command that this curled ape shall be left in
possession of his millions?”

“So that is what you covet, you greedy curmudgeon--that is it? Do not
all the crimes you have committed out of avarice weigh upon you heavily
enough? Gold, and yet more gold--that is the end, the foul end, of all
your desires. A fat morsel, no doubt: the Mukaukas’ estates, his talents
of gold, his gems, slaves, and horses; I admit that. But thank God the
All-merciful, we are not thieves and robbers!”

“And who was it that dug out the hidden millions from beneath the
reservoir of Peter the Egyptian, and who made him bite the dust?”

“I--I. But--as you know--only to send the money to Medina. Peter had
hidden it before we killed him. The Mukaukas and his son have declared
all their possessions to the uttermost dinar and hide of land; they have
faithfully paid the taxes, and consequently their property belongs to
them as our swords, our horses, our wives belong to you or me. What
will not your grasping spirit lead you to!--Take your hand from your
dagger!--Not a copper coin from them shall fall into your hungry maw, so
help me God! Do not again cast an evil eye on the Mukaukas’ son! Do
not try my patience too far, man, or else--Hold your head tight on your
shoulders or you will have to seek it at your feet; and what I say
I mean!--Now, good-night! To-morrow morning in the divan you are to
explain your scheme for the new distribution of the land; it will not
suit me in any way, and I shall have other projects to propose for
discussion.”

With this the Arab turned his back on the Vekeel; but no sooner had the
door closed on him than Obada clenched his fist in fury at his lord
and master, who had hitherto said nothing of his having had purloined a
portion of the consignment of gold which Amru had charged him to escort
to Medina. Then he rushed up and down the room, snorting and foaming
till slaves came in to clear the tables.



CHAPTER XXV.

Orion made his way home under the moonlit and starry night. He held his
head high, and not since that evening on the water with Paula had he
felt so glad or so hopeful. On the other side of the bridge he did not
at once turn his horse’s head homewards; the fresh night air was so
delightful, his heart beat so high that he shrunk from the oppression
of a room. Full of renewed life, freed from a burden as it were, he made
his way at a round pace to the house that held his beloved, picturing
to himself how gladly she would welcome the news that he had found Amru
ready to encourage him in his projects, indeed, to be a fatherly friend.

The Arab general, whose lofty character, intellect, and rectitude his
father had esteemed highly, had impressed him, too, as the ideal of
noble manliness, and as he compared him with the highest officials and
warriors he had met at the Court of Byzantium he could not help smiling.
By the side of this dignified, but impetuous and warm-hearted man they
appeared like the old, rigid idols of his ancestors in comparison with
the freely-wrought works of Greek art. He could bless the memory of
his father for having freed the land from that degenerate race. Now,
he felt, that lost parent, whose image lived in his soul, was satisfied
with him, and this gave him a sense of happiness which he meant to
cling to and enhance by every thought and deed in the future. “Life is a
function, a ministry, and a duty!” this watchword, which had been given
him by those beloved lips, should keep him in the new path; and soon he
hoped to feel sure of himself, to be able to look back on such deeds of
valor as would give him a right in his own judgment to unite his lot to
that of this noblest of women.

Full of such thoughts as these, he made his way to the house of Rufinus.
The windows of the corner room on the upper floor were lighted up; two
of these windows looked out on the river and the quay. He did not know
which rooms were Paula’s, but he looked up at the late-burning light
with a vague feeling that it must be hers; a female figure which now
appeared framed in the opening, showed him that he was not mistaken; it
was that of Perpetua. The sound of hoofs had roused her curiosity, but
she did not seem to recognize him in the dim starlight.

He slowly rode past, and when he presently turned back and again
looked up, in the hope this time of seeing Paula, the place was vacant:
however, he perceived a tall dark shadow moving across from one side of
the room to the other, which could not be that of the nurse nor of her
slender mistress. It must indeed be that of a remarkably big man, and
stopping to gaze with anxious and unpleasant apprehension, he plainly
recognized Philippus.

It was past midnight. How could he account for his being with Paula at
this hour?--Was she ill?--Was this room hers after all?--Was it merely
by chance that the nurse was in Rufinus’ room with the physician.

No. The woman whom he could now see pass across the window and go
straight up to the man, with outstretched hands, was Paula and none
other. Isis heart was already beating fast, and now a suspicion grew
strong in him which his vanity had hitherto held in check, though he had
often seen the friendly relations that subsisted between Paula and the
leech.--Perhaps it was a warmer feeling than friendship and guileless
trust, which had led her so unreservedly to claim this man’s protection
and service. Could he have won Paula’s heart--Paula’s love?

Was it conceivable!--But why not?

What was there against Philippus but his homely face and humble birth?
And how many a woman had he not seen set her heart on quite other
things! The physician was not more than five years his senior; and
recalling the expression in his eyes as he looked at Paula only that
morning Orion felt more and more uneasy.

Philippus loved Paula.--A trifling incident suddenly occurred to
his mind which made him certain on that point; he had only too much
experience in such matters. Yesterday, it had struck him that ever
since his father’s death--that was ever since Paula’s change of
residence--Philippus dressed more carefully than had been his wont. “Now
this,” thought he, “is a change that does not come over so serious a man
unless it is caused by love.”

A mingled torment of pain and rage shot through him as he again saw the
tall shadow cross the window. For the first time in his life he felt the
pangs of jealousy, which he had so often laughed at in his friends; but
was it not absurd to allow it to torture him; was he not sure, since
that morning’s meeting, quite sure of Paula? And Philippus! Even if he,
Orion, must retire into the background before a higher judge, in the
eyes of a woman he surely had the advantage!--But in spite of all this
it troubled him to know that the physician was with Paula at such an
hour; he angrily pulled his horse’s head round, and it was a pleasure
to him to feel the fiery creature, unused as it was to such rough
treatment, turn restive at it now. By the time he had gone a hundred
steps from those windows with their cursed glare, the horse was
displaying all the temper and vice that had been taken out of him as a
foal. Orion had to fight a pitched battle with his steed, and it was a
relief to him to exercise his power with curb and knee. In vain did
the creature dance round and round; in vain did he rear and plunge; the
steady rider was his master; and it was not till he had brought him to
quietness and submission that Orion drew breath and looked about him
while he patted the horse’s smooth neck.

Close at hand, behind a low hedge, spread the thick, dark groves of
Susannah’s garden and between them the back of the house was visible,
being more brilliantly lighted than even Paula’s rooms. Three of the
windows showed lights; two were rather dim, however, the result probably
of one lamp only.

All this could not matter to him; nevertheless he remained gazing at the
roof of the colonnade which went round the house below the upper floor;
for, on the terrace it formed, leaning against a window-frame, stood a
small figure with her head thrust so far forth to listen that the light
shone through the curls that framed it. Katharina was trying to overhear
a dialogue between the Patriarch Benjamin--whose bearded and
apostolic head Orion could clearly recognize--and the priest John,
an insignificant looking little man, of whom, however, the deceased
Mukaukas had testified that he was far superior to old Plotinus the
Bishop in intellect and energy.

The young man could easily have watched Katharina’s every movement,
but he did not think it worth while. Nevertheless, as he rode on, the
water-wagtail’s little figure dwelt in his mind; not alone, however, for
that of Paula immediately rose by her side; and the smaller Katharina’s
seemed, the more ample and noble did the other appear. Every word he
had heard that day from Paula’s lips rushed to his remembrance, and the
vivid and lovely memory drove out all care. That woman, who only a few
hours since, had declared herself ready, with him, to hope all things,
to believe all things, and to accept his protection--that lordly maiden
whom he had been glad to bid fix her eye, with him, on the goal of
his future efforts, whose pure gaze could restrain his passion and
impetuosity as by a charm, and who yet granted him the right to strive
to possess her--that proud daughter of heroes, whom even his father
would have clasped to his heart as a daughter--was it possible that
she should betray him like some pleasure-seeking city beauty? Could she
forget her dignity as a woman?--No! and a thousand times no. To doubt
her was to insult her--was to wrong her and himself.

The physician loved her; but it certainly was not any warmer feeling
than friendship on her part that made her receive him at this late hour.
The shame would be his own, if he ever again allowed such base suspicion
to find place in his soul!

He breathed a deep sigh of relief. And when his servant, who had
lingered to pay the toll at the bridge, came up with him, Orion
dismounted and desired him to lead his horse home, for he himself wished
to return on foot, alone with his thoughts. He walked meditatively and
slowly under the sycamores, but he had not gone far when, on the other
side of the deserted road, he heard some one overtaking him with long,
quick strides. He recognized the leech Philippus at a glance and was
glad, for this proved to him how senseless and unjust his doubts had
been, and how little ground he had for regarding the physician as a
rival; for indeed this man did not look like a happy lover. He hurried
on with his head bent, as though under a heavy burthen, and clasped
his hand to his forehead with a gesture of despair. No, this nocturnal
wanderer had left no hour of bliss behind him; and if his demeanor was
calculated to rouse any feeling it was not envy, but pity.

Philippus did not heed Orion; absorbed in himself, he strode on, moaning
dully, as if in pain. For a few minutes he disappeared into a house
whence came loud cries of suffering, and when he came out again, he
walked on, shaking his head now and then, as a man who sees many things
happen which his understanding fails to account for.

The end of his walk was a large, palatial building. The stucco had
fallen off in places, and in the upper story the windows had been broken
away till their open ings were a world too wide. In former times this
house had accommodated the State officers of Finance for the province,
and the ground-floor rooms had been suitably and comfortably fitted
up for the Ideologos--the supreme controller of this department, who
usually resided at Alexandria, but who often spent some weeks at Memphis
when on a tour of inspection. But the Arabians had transferred the
management of the finances of the whole country to the new capital of
Fostat on the other shore of the river, and that of the monetary
affairs of the decaying city had been incorporated with the treasurer’s
department of the Mukaukas’ household. The senate of the city had found
the expense of this huge building too heavy, and had been well content
to let the lower rooms to Philippus and his Egyptian friend, Horapollo.

The two men occupied different rooms, but the same slaves attended to
their common housekeeping and also waited on the physician’s assistant,
a modest and well-informed Alexandrian.

When Philippus entered his old friend’s lofty and spacious study
he found him still up, sitting before a great number of rolls of
manuscript, and so absorbed in his work that he did not notice his
late-coming comrade till the leech bid him good-evening. His only reply
was an unintelligible murmur, for some minutes longer the old man was
lost in study; at last, however, he looked up at Philippus, impatiently
tossing an ivory ruler-which he had been using to open and smooth the
papyrus on to the table; and at the same moment a dark bundle under it
began to move--this was the old man’s slave who had long been sleeping
there.

Three lamps on the writing-table threw a bright light on the old man and
his surroundings, while the physician, who had thrown himself on a couch
in a corner of the large room, remained in the dark.

What startled the midnight student was his housemate’s unwonted silence;
it disturbed him as the cessation of the clatter of the wheel disturbs a
man who lives in a mill. He looked at his friend with surprised enquiry,
but Philippus was dumb, and the old man turned once more to his rolls of
manuscript. But he had lost the necessary concentration; his brown hand,
in which the blue veins stood out like cords, fidgeted with the scrolls
and the ivory rule, and his sunken lips, which had before been firmly
closed, were now twitching restlessly.

The man’s whole aspect was singular and not altogether pleasing: his
lean brown figure was bent with age, his thoroughly Egyptian face, with
broad cheekbones and outstanding ears, was seamed and wrinkled
like oak-bark; his scalp was bare of its last hair, and his face
clean-shaved, but for a few tufts of grey hair by way of beard,
sprouting from the deep furrows on his cheeks and chin, like reeds from
the narrow bed of a brook; the razor could not reach them there, and
they gave him an untidy and uncared-for appearance. His dress answered
to his face--if indeed that could be called dress which consisted of
a linen apron and a white kerchief thrown over his shoulders after
sundown. Still, no one meeting him in the road could have taken him for
a beggar; for his linen was fine and as white as snow, and his keen,
far-seeing eyes, above which, exactly in the middle, his bristly
eyebrows grew strangely long and thick, shone and sparkled with clear
intelligence, firm self-reliance, and a repellent severity which would
no more have become an intending mendicant than the resolute and often
scornful expression which played about his lips. There was nothing
amiable, nothing prepossessing, nothing soft in this man’s face; and
those who knew what his life had been could not wonder that the years
had failed to sweeten his abrupt and contradictory acerbity or to
transmute them into that kindly forbearance which old men, remembering
how often they have stumbled and how many they have seen fall, sometimes
find pleasure in practising.

He had been born, eighty years before, in the lovely island of Philae,
beyond the cataract in the district of the temple of Isis, and under the
shadow of the only Egyptian sanctuary in which the heathen cultus was
kept up, and that publicly, as late as in his youth. Since Theodosius
the Great, one emperor and one Praefectus Augustalis after another had
sent foot-soldiers and cavalry above the falls to put an end to idolatry
in the beautiful isle; but they had always been routed or destroyed by
the brave Blemmyes who haunted the desert between the Nile and the Red
Sea. These restless nomad tribes acknowledged the Isis of Philae as
their tutelary goddess, and, by a very ancient agreement, the image
of their patroness was carried every year by her priests in a solemn
procession to the Blemmyes, and then remained for a few weeks in their
keeping. Horapollo’s father was the last of the horoscope readers, and
his grandfather had been the last high-priest of the Isis of Philae. His
childhood had been passed on the island but then a Byzantine legion
had succeeded in beating the Blemmyes, in investing the island, and
in plundering and closing the temple. The priests of Isis escaped the
imperial raid and Horapollo had spent all his early years with his
father, his grandfather, and two younger sisters, in constant peril and
flight. His youthful spirit was unremittingly fed with hatred of the
persecutors, the cruel contemners and exterminators of the faith of his
forefathers; and this hatred rose to irreconcilable bitterness after
the massacre at Antioch where the imperial soldiery fell upon all his
family, and his grandfather and two innocent sisters were murdered.
These horrors were committed at the instigation of the Bishop, who
denounced the Egyptian strangers as idolaters, and to whom the Roman
prefect, a proud and haughty patrician, had readily lent the support of
an armed force. It was owing to the narrowest chance--or, as the old man
would have it, to the interposition of great Isis, that his father had
been so happy as to get away with him and the treasures he had brought
from the temple at Philae. Thus they had means to enable them to travel
farther under an assumed name, and they finally settled in Alexandria.
Here the persecuted youth changed his name, Horus, to its Greek
equivalent, and henceforth he was known at home and in the schools as
Apollo. He was highly gifted by nature, and availed himself with the
utmost zeal of the means of learning that abounded in Alexandria; he
labored indefatigably and dug deep into every field of Greek science,
gaining, under his father’s guidance, all the knowledge of Egyptian
horoscopy, which was not wholly lost even at this late period.

In the midst of the contentious Christian sects of the capital, both
father and son remained heathen and worshippers of Isis; and when the
old priest died at an advanced age, Horapollo moved to Memphis where he
led the quiet and secluded life of a student, mingling only now and
then with the astronomers, astrologers, and calendar-makers at the
observatory, or visiting the alchemists’ laboratories, where, even in
Christian Egypt, they still devoted themselves to attempts to transmute
the baser into the noble metals. Alchemists and star-readers alike soon
detected the old man’s superior knowledge, and in spite of his acrid and
often offensively-repellent demeanor, took counsel of him on difficult
questions. His fame had even reached the Arabs, and, when it was
necessary to find the exact direction towards Mecca for the prayer niche
in Amru’s new mosque, he was appealed to, and his decision was final.

Philippus had, some years since, been called to the old man’s bedside
in sickness, and being then a beginner and in no great request, he had
given the best of his time and powers to the case. Horapollo had
been much attracted by the young physician’s wide culture and earnest
studiousness; he had conceived a warm liking for him, the warmest
perhaps that he had ever felt for any fellow-human since the death of
his own family. At last the elder took the younger man into his heart
with such overflowing affection, that it seemed as though his spirit
longed to make up now for the stint of love it had hitherto shown. No
father could have clung to his son with more fervent devotion, and when
a relapse once more brought him to death’s door he took Philippus wholly
into his confidence, unrolled before his eyes the scroll of his inner
and outer life from its beginnings, and made him his heir on condition
that he should abide by him to the end.

Philippus, who, from the first, had felt a sympathetic attraction to
this venerable and talented man, agreed to the bargain; and when
he subsequently became associated with the old man in his studies,
assisting him from time to time, Horapollo desired that he would help
him to complete a work he hoped to finish before he died. It was a
treatise on hieroglyphic writing, and was to interpret the various signs
so far as was still possible, and make them intelligible to posterity.

The old man disliked writing anything but Egyptian, using Greek
unwillingly and clumsily, so he entrusted to his young friend the task
of rendering his explanations into that language. Thus the two men--so
different in age and character, but so closely allied in intellectual
aims--led a joint existence which was both pleasant and helpful to both,
in spite of the various eccentricities, the harshness and severity of
the elder.

Horapollo lived after the manner of the early Egyptian priests,
subjecting himself to much ablution and shaving; eating little but
bread, vegetables, and poultry, and abstaining from pulse and the flesh
of all beasts--not merely of the prohibited animal, swine; wearing
nothing but pure linen clothing, and setting apart certain hours for
the recitation of those heathen forms of prayer whose magic power was to
compel the gods to grant the desires of those who thus appealed to them.

And if the old man had given his full confidence to Philippus, the
leech, on his part, had no secrets from him; or, if he withheld
anything, Horapollo, with wonderful acumen, was at once aware of it.
Philippus had often spoken of Paula to his parental friend, describing
her charms with all the fervor of a lover, but the old man was already
prejudiced against her, if only as the daughter of a patrician and a
prefect. All who bore these titles were to him objects of hatred, for
a patrician and a prefect had been guilty of the blood of those he had
held most dear. The Governor of Antioch, to be sure, had acted only
under the orders of the bishop; but old Horapollo, and his father before
him, from the first had chosen to throw all the blame on the prefect,
for it afforded some satisfaction to the descendant of an ancestral race
of priests to be able to vent all his wrathful spite on any one rather
than on the minister of a god--be that god who or what he might.

So when Philippus praised Paula’s dignified grandeur, her superior
elegance, the height of her stature or the loftiness of her mind, the
old man would bound up exclaiming: “Of course--of course!--Beware boy,
beware! You are disguising haughtiness, conceit, and arrogance under
noble names. The word ‘patrician’ includes everything we can conceive of
as most insolent and inhuman; and those apes in purple who disgrace the
Imperial throne pick out the worst of them, the most cold-hearted
and covetous, to make prefects of them. And as they are, so are their
children! Everything which they in their vainglory regard as ‘beneath
them’ they tread into the dust--and we--you and I, all who labor with
their hands in the service of the state--we, in their dull eyes,
are beneath them. Mark me, boy! To-day the governor’s daughter, the
patrician maiden, can smile at you because she needs you; tomorrow she
will cast you aside as I push away the old panther-skin which keeps my
feet warm in winter, as soon as the March days come!”

Nor was his aversion less for the son of the Mukaukas, whom, however,
he had never seen; when the leech had confessed to him how deep a grudge
against Orion dwelt in the heart of Paula, old Horapollo had chuckled
scornfully, and he exclaimed, as though he could read hearts and look
into the future--: “They snap at each other now, and in a day or two
they will kiss again! Hatred and love are the opposite ends of the same
rod; and how easily it is reversed!--Those two!--Like in blood is like
in kind;--such people attract each other as the lodestone tends towards
the iron and the iron towards the lodestone!”

But these and similar admonitions had produced little effect on the
physician’s sentiments; even Paula’s repulse of his ardent appeal after
she had moved to the house of Rufinus had failed to extinguish his
hope of winning her at last. This very morning, in the course of the
discussion as to the stewardship of her fortune, Paula had been
ready and glad to accept him as her Kyrios--her legal protector and
representative; but he now thought that he could perceive by various
signs that his venerable friend was right: that the rod had been
reversed, and that aversion had been transformed to love in the girl’s
heart. The anguish of this discovery was hard to bear. And yet Paula had
never shown him such hearty warmth of manner, never had she spoken to
him in a voice so soft and so full of feeling, as this evening in the
garden. More cheerful and talkative than usual, she had constantly
turned to address him, while he had felt his pain and torment of mind
gradually eased, till in him too, sentiment had blossomed anew, and his
intellectual power had expanded. Never--so he believed--had he expressed
his thoughts better or more brilliantly than in that hour. Nor had she
withheld her approval; she had heartily agreed with his views; and
when, half an hour before midnight, he had gone with her to visit
his patients, rapturous hopes had sprung once more in his breast.
Ecstatically happy, like a man intoxicated, he had, by her own desire,
accompanied her into her sitting-room, and then--and there....

Poor, disappointed man, sitting on the divan in a dark corner of the
spacious room! In his soul hitherto the intellect had alone made itself
heard, the voice of the heart had never been listened to.

How he had found his way home he never knew. All he remembered was
that, in the course of duty, he had gone into the house of a man whose
wife--the mother of several children--he had left at noon in a dying
state; that he had seen her a corpse, surrounded by loud but sincere
mourners; that he had gone on his way, weighed down by their grief and
his own, and that he had entered his friend’s rooms rather than his
own, to feel safe from himself. Life had no charm, no value for him now;
still, he felt ashamed to think that a woman could thus divert him from
the fairest aims of life, that he could allow her to destroy the peace
of mind he needed to enable him to carry out his calling in the spirit
of his friend Rufinus. He knew his house-mate well and felt that he
would only pour vitriol into his wounds, but it was best so. The old
man had already often tried to bring down Paula’s image from its high
pedestal in his soul, but always in vain; and even now he should not
succeed. He would mar nothing, scatter nothing to the winds, tread
nothing in the dust but the burning passion, the fevered longing
for her, which had fired his blood ever since that night when he had
vanquished the raving Masdakite. That old sage by the table, on whose
stern, cold features the light fell so brightly, was the very man to
accomplish such a work of destruction, and Philippus awaited his first
words as a wounded man watches the surgeon heating the iron with which
to cauterize the sore.

Poor disappointed wretch, sorely in need of a healing hand!

He lay back on the divan, and saw how his friend leaned over his scroll
as if listening, and fidgeted up and down in his arm-chair.

It was clear that Horapollo was uneasy at Philippus’ long silence, and
his pointed eyebrows, raised high on his brow, plainly showed that he
was drawing his own conclusions from it--no doubt the right ones. The
peace must soon be broken, and Philippus awaited the attack. He was
prepared for the worst; but how could he bring himself to make his
torturer’s task easy for him. Thus many minutes slipped away; while
the leech was waiting for the old man to speak, Horapollo waited for
Philippus. However, the impatience and curiosity of the elder were
stronger than the young man’s craving for comfort; he suddenly laid down
the roll of manuscript, impatiently snatched up the ivory stick which he
had thrown aside, set his heavy seat at an angle with a shove of amazing
vigor for his age, turned full on Philippus, and asked him, in a loud
voice, pointing his ruler at him as if threatening him with it:

“So the play is out. A tragedy, of course!”

“Hardly, since I am still alive,” replied the other.

“But there is inward bleeding, and the wound is painful,” retorted the
old man. Then, after a short pause, he went on: “Those who will not
listen must feel! The fox was warned of the trap, but the bait was too
tempting! Yesterday there would still have been time to pull his foot
out of the spring, if only he had sincerely desired it; he knew the
hunter’s guile. Now the foe is down on the victim; he has not spared his
weapons, and there lies the prey dumb with pain and ignominy, cursing
his own folly.--You seem inclined for silence this evening. Shall I tell
you just how it all came about?”

“I know only too well,” said Philippus.

“While I, to be sure, can only imagine it!” growled the old man. “So
long as that patrician hussy needed the poor beast of burthen she could
pet it and throw barley and dates to it. Now she is rolling in gold and
living under a sheltering roof, and hey presto, the discarded protector
is sent to the right about in no time. This mistress of the hearts of
our weak and bondage-loving sex raises this rich Adonis to fill the
place of the hapless, overgrown leech, just as the sky lets the sun rise
when the pale moon sinks behind the hills. If that is not the fact give
me the lie!”

“I only wish I could,” sighed Philippus. “You have seen rightly,
wonderfully rightly--and yet, as wrongly as possible.”

“Dark indeed!” said the old man quietly. “But I can see even in the
dark. The facts are certain, though you are still so blinded as not
to see their first cause. However, I am satisfied to know that your
delusion has come to so abrupt, and in my opinion so happy, an end. To
its cause--a woman, as usual--I am perfectly indifferent. Why should I
needlessly ascribe to her any worse sin than she had committed? If only
for your sake I will avoid doing so, for an honorable soul clings to
those whom it sees maligned. Still, it seems to me that it is for you
to speak, not for me. I should know you for a philosopher, without such
persistent silence; and as for myself, I am not altogether bereft of
curiosity, in spite of my eighty years.”

At this Philippus hastily rose and pacing the room while he spoke, or
pausing occasionally in front of the old man, he poured out with glowing
cheeks and eager gestures, the history of his hopes and sufferings--how
Paula had filled him with fresh confidence, and had invited him to her
rooms--only to show him her whole heart; she had been strongly moved,
surprised at herself, but unable and unwilling to conceal from him the
happiness that had come into her life. She had spoken to him, her best
friend, as a burthened soul pours itself out to a priest: had confessed
all that she had felt since the funeral of the deceased Mukaukas, and
said that she felt convinced now that Orion had come to a right mind
again after his great sin.

“And that there, was so much joy over him in heaven,” interrupted
Horapollo, “that she really could not delay doing her cast-off lover the
honor of inviting his sympathy!”

“On the contrary. It was with the utmost effort that she uttered all
her heart prompted her to tell; she had nothing to look for from me but
mockery, warning, and reproach, and yet she opened her heart to me.”

“But why? To what end?” shrieked the old man. “Shall I tell you. Because
a man who is a friend must still be half a lover, and a woman cannot
bear to give up even a quarter of one.”

“Not so!” exclaimed Philippus, indignantly interrupting him. “It was
because she esteems and values me,--because she regards me as a brother,
and--I am not a vain man--and could not bear--those were her very
words--to cheat me of my affection for even an hour! It was noble,
it was generous, worthy of her! And though every fibre of my nature
rebelled I found myself compelled to admire her sincerity, her
true friendship, her disregard of her own feelings, and her womanly
tenderness!--Nay, do not interrupt me again, do not laugh at me. It is
no small matter for a proud girl, conscious of her own dignity, to lay
bare her heart’s weakness to a man who, as she knows, loves her, as she
did just now to me. She called me her benefactor and said she would be
a sister to me; and whatever motive you--who hate her out of a habit of
prejudice without really knowing her--may choose to ascribe her conduct
to, I--I believe in her, and understand her.

“Could I refuse to grasp the hand she held out to me as she entreated
me with tears in her eyes to be still her friend, her protector, and her
Kyrios! And yet, and yet!--Where shall I find resolution enough to
ask of her who excites me to the height of passion no more than a kind
glance, a clasp of the hand, an intelligent interest in what I say? How
am I to preserve self-control, calmness, patience, when I see her in the
arms of that handsome young demi-god whom I scorned only yesterday as a
worthless scoundrel? What ice may cool the fire of this burning heart?
What spear can transfix the dragon of passion which rages here? I have
lived almost half my life without ever feeling or yearning for the love
of which the poets sing. I have never known anything of such feelings
but through the pangs of some friend whose weakness had roused my pity;
and now, when love has come upon me so late with all its irresistible
force--has subjugated me, cast me into bondage--how shall I, how can I
get free?

“My faithful friend, you who call me your son, whom I am glad to hear
speak to me as ‘boy,’ and ‘child,’ who have taken the place of the
father I lost so young--there is but one issue: I must leave you and
this city--flee from her neighborhood--seek a new home far from her with
whom I could have been as happy as the Saints in bliss, and who has made
me more wretched than the damned in everlasting fire. Away, away! I will
go--I must go unless you, who can do so much, can teach me to kill this
passion or to transmute it into calm, brotherly regard.”

He stood still, close in front of the old man and hid his face in his
hands. At his favorite’s concluding words, Horapollo had started to his
feet with all the vigor of youth; he now snatched his hand down from his
face, and exclaimed in a voice hoarse with indignation and the deepest
concern:

“And you can say that in earnest? Can a sensible man like you have sunk
so deep in folly? Is it not enough that your own peace of mind should
have been sacrificed, flung at the feet of this--what can I call
her?--Do you understand at last why I warned you against the Patrician
brood?--The faith, gratitude, and love of a good man!--What does she
care for them? Unhook the whiting; away with him in the dust! Here comes
a fine large fish who perhaps may swallow the bait!--Do you want to
ruin, for her sake, and the sake of that rascally son of the governor,
the comfort and happiness of an old man’s last years when he has become
accustomed to love you, who so well deserve it, as his own son? Will
you--an energetic student, you--a man of powerful intellect, zealous
in your duty, and in favor with the gods--will you pine like a deserted
maiden or spring from the Leucadian rock like love-sick Sappho in the
play while the spectators shake with laughter? You must stay, Boy, you
must stay; and I will show you how a man must deal with a passion that
dishonors him.”

“Show me,” replied Philippus in a dull voice. “I ask no more. Do you
suppose that I am not myself ashamed of my own weakness? It ill beseems
me of all men, formed by fate for anything rather than to be a sighing
and rapturous lover. I will struggle with it, wrestle with it with all
the strength that is in me; but here, in Memphis, close to her and as
her Kyrios, I should be forced every day to see her, and day after day
be exposed to fresh and humiliating defeat! Here, constantly near her
and with her, the struggle must wear me out--I should perish, body and
soul. The same place, the same city, cannot hold her and me.”

“Then she must make way for you,” croaked Horus. Philippus raised his
bowed head and asked, in some surprise and with stern reproof:

“What do you mean by that?”

“Nothing,” replied the other airily. He shrugged his shoulders and went
on more gently: “Memphis has greater need of you than of the patrician
hussy.” Then he shook himself as if he were cold, struck his breast and
added: “All is turmoil here within; I can neither help nor advise you.
Day must soon be dawning in the east; we will try to sleep. A knot can
often be untied by daylight which by lamplight seems inextricable, and
perhaps on my sleepless couch the goddess may reveal to me the way I
have promised to show you. A little more lightness of heart would do
neither of us any harm.--Try to forget your own griefs in those of
others; you see enough of them every day. To wish you a good night would
probably be waste of words, but I may wish you a soothing one, You may
count on my aid; but you will not let me, a poor old man, hear another
word about flight and departure and the like, will you? No, no. I know
you better, Philippus--you will never treat your lonely old friend so!”

These were the tenderest words that the leech had ever heard from the
old man’s lips, and it comforted him when Horapollo pressed him to his
heart in a hasty embrace. He thought no more of the hint that it was
Paula’s part to make room for him. But the old man had spoken in all
seriousness, for, no sooner was he alone than he petulantly flung down
the ivory ruler on the table, and murmured, at first angrily and then
scornfully, his eyes sparkling the while:

“For this true heart, and to preserve myself and the world from losing
such a man, I would send a dozen such born hussies to Amentis--[The
Nether world of the ancient Egyptians.]--Hey, hey! My beauty! So this
noble leech is not good enough for the like of us; he may be tossed away
like a date-stone that we spit out? Well, every one to his taste;
but how would it be if old Horapollo taught us his value? Wait a bit,
wait!--With a definite aim before my eyes I have never yet failed to
find my way--in the realm of science, of course; but what is life--the
life of the sage but applied knowledge? And why should not old
Horapollo, for once before he dies, try what his brains can contrive to
achieve in the busy world of outside human existence? Pleasant as you
may think it to be in Memphis with your lover, fair heart-breaker,
you will have to make way for the plaything you have so lightly tossed
aside! Aye, you certainly will, depend upon that my beauty, depend upon
that!--Here, Anubis!”

He gave the slave, who had fallen asleep again under the table, a
kick with his bare foot, and while Anubis lighted his master to his
sleeping-room, and helped him in his long and elaborate ablutions,
Horapollo never ceased muttering broken sentences and curses, or
laughing maliciously to himself.



BOOK 2.



CHAPTER I.

If Philippus found no sleep that night, neither did Orion. He no longer
doubted Paula, but his heart was full of longing to hear her say once
more that she loved him and him alone, and the yearning kept him awake.
He sprang from his bed at the first glimmer of dawn, glad that the
night was past, and started to cross the Nile in order to place half
of Paula’s fortune in the hands of Salech, the brother of Haschim the
merchant.

In Memphis all was still silent, and all he saw in the old town struck
him as strangely worn-out, torpid, and decayed; it seemed only fit to be
left to ruin, while on the other side of the river, in the new town of
Fostat, on all hands busy, eager, new-born vitality met his eyes.

He involuntarily compared the old capital of the Pharaohs to a
time-eaten mummy, and Amru’s new city to a vigorous youth. Here every
one was astir and in brisk activity. The money-changer, who had risen,
like all Moslems, to perform his morning prayer, “as soon as a white
thread could be distinguished from a black one,” was already busy with
his rolls of gold and silver coin; and how quick, clear, and decisive
the Arab was in concluding his bargain with Orion and with Nilus, who
had accompanied him!

Whichever way the young man turned, bright and flashing eyes met his
gaze, energetic, resolute, and enterprising faces; no bowed heads, no
dull, brooding looks, no gloomy resignation like those in his native
town on the other shore. Here, in Fostat, his blood flowed more swiftly;
there, existence was an oppressive burden. Everything attracted him to
the Arabs!

The changer’s shop, like all those in the Sook or Bazaar of Fostat,
consisted of a wooden stall in which he sat with his assistants. On the
side open to the street he transacted business with his customers, who,
when the affair promised to be lengthy, were invited by the Arab to seat
themselves with him on his little platform.

Orion and Nilus had accepted such an invitation, and it happened that,
while they sat in treaty with Salech, visible to the passers-by, the
Vekeel Obada, who had so deeply stirred the wrath of the governor’s son
on the previous evening, came by, close to him. To Orion’s amazement he
greeted him with great amiability, and he, remembering Amru’s warning,
responded, though not without an effort, to his hated foe’s civility.
When Obada passed the stall a second and a third time, Orion felt that
he was watching him; however, it was quite possible that the Vekeel
might also have business with the money-changer and be waiting only for
the conclusion of his.

At any rate Orion ere long forgot the incident, for matters of more
pressing importance claimed his attention at home.

As often happens, the death of one man had changed everything in his
house so utterly as to make it unlike the same; though his removal had
made it neither richer nor poorer, and though his secluded presence of
late had scarcely had an appreciable influence. The rooms formerly
so full of life now seemed dead. Petitioners and suppliants no longer
crowded the anteroom, and all visits of condolence had, according to
the ancient custom, been received on the day after the funeral. The Lady
Neforis had ceased fussing and bustling, the clatter of her keys and
her scolding were no longer to be heard; she sat apart, either in her
sleeping-room or the cool hall with the fountain which had been her
husband’s favorite room, excepting when she was at church whither she
went twice every day. She returned from thence with the same weary,
abstracted expression that she took there, and any one seeing her lying
on the divan which her husband had formerly occupied, idly absorbed in
gloomy thought, would hardly have recognized her as the same woman who
had but lately been so active and managing. She did not exactly mourn or
bewail her loss; indeed, she had no tears for her grief, as though she
had shed them all, once for all, during the night after his death and
burial. But she could not attain to that state of sadness made sacred
by memories with which consoling angels so often mingle some drops of
sweetness, after the first anguish is overpast. She felt--she knew--that
with her husband a portion of her own being had been riven from her, but
she could not yet perceive that this last portion was nothing less than
the very foundations of her whole moral and social being.

Her father and her husband’s father had been the two leading men in
Memphis, nay, in all Egypt. She had given her hand and a heart full of
love to the son of Menas, a proud and happy woman. It was as one with
her, and not by himself alone, that he had risen to the highest dignity
attainable by a native Egyptian, and she had done everything that lay
in her power to uphold him in a position which many envied him, and in
filling it with dignity and effect. After many years of rare happiness
their grief at the loss of their murdered sons only bound the attached
couple more closely, and when her husband had fallen into bad health she
had gladly shared his seclusion, had devoted herself entirely to caring
for him, and divided all the doubts and anxieties which came upon him
from his political action. The consciousness of being not merely much
but everything to him, was her pride and her joy. Her dislike of Paula
had its rise, in the first instance, in the discovery that she, his
wife, was no longer indispensable to the sufferer when he had his fair
young niece’s company. And now?

At night, after long lying awake, when she woke from a snatch of uneasy
sleep, she involuntarily listened for the faint panting breath, but no
heart now throbbed by her side; and when she quitted her lonely couch at
dawn the coming day lay before her as a desert and treeless solitude. By
night, as by day, she constantly tried to call up the image of the dead,
but whenever her small imaginative power had succeeded in doing so--not
unfrequently at first--she had seen him as in the last moments of his
life, a curse on his only son on his trembling lips. This horrible
impression deprived her of the last consolation of the mourner: a
beautiful memory, while it destroyed her proud and glad satisfaction in
her only child. The youth, who had till now been her soul’s idol, was
stigmatized and branded in her eyes. She might not ignore the burden
laid on Orion by that most just man; instead of taking him to her heart
with double tenderness and softening or healing the fearful punishment
inflicted by his father, she could only pity him. When Orion came to see
her she would stroke his waving hair and, as she desired not to wound
him and make him even more unhappy than he must be already, she neither
blamed nor admonished him, and never reminded him of his father’s curse.
And how beggared was that frugal heart, accustomed to spend all its
store of love on so few objects--nay, chiefly on one alone who was now
no more!

The happy voices of the children had always given her pleasure, so
long as they did not disturb her suffering husband; now, they too were
silent. She had withdrawn the sunshine of her narrow affection from her
only grandchild, who had hitherto held a place in it, for little Mary
had had a share in the horrors that had come upon her and Orion in her
husband’s last moments. Indeed, the bereaved woman’s excited fancy had
firmly conceived the mad notion that the child was the evil genius of
the house and the tool of Satan.

Neforis had, however, enjoyed some hours of greater ease during the last
two days. In the misery of wakefulness which was beginning to torture
her like an acute pain, she had suddenly recollected what relief from
sleeplessness her husband had been wont to find in the opium pillules,
and a box of the medicine, only just opened, was at hand. And was not
she, too, suffering unutterable wretchedness? Why should she neglect
the remedy which had so greatly mitigated her husband’s distress? It was
said to have a bad effect after long and frequent use, and she had often
checked the Mukaukas in taking it too freely; but could her sufferings
be greater? Would she not, indeed, be thankful to the drug if it should
shorten her miserable existence?

So she took the familiar remedy, at first hesitatingly and then more
freely; and on the second day again, with real pleasure and happy
expectancy, for it had not merely procured her a good night but had
brought her joy in the morning: The dead had appeared to her, and for
the first time not in the act of cursing, but as a young and happy man.

No one in the house knew what comfort the widow had had recourse to; the
physician and her son had been glad yesterday to find her more composed.

When Orion returned home, after concluding his business with the
money-changer at Fostat, he had to make his way through a crowd of
people, and found the court-yard full of men, and the guards and
servants in the greatest excitement. No less a personage than the
Patriarch had arrived on a visit, and was now in conference with
Neforis. Sebek, the steward, informed Orion that he had asked for him,
and that his mother wished that he should immediately join them and pay
his respects to the very reverend Father.

“She wished it?” asked the young man, as he tossed his riding-hat to a
slave, and he stood hesitating.

He was too much a son of his time, and the Church and her ministers had
exercised too marked influence on his education, for the great prelate’s
visit to be regarded otherwise than as a high honor. At the same time
he could not forget the insult done to his father’s vanes, nor the Arab
general’s warning to be on his guard against Benjamin’s enmity; and
perhaps, he said to himself, it might be better to avoid a meeting with
the powerful priest than to expose himself to the danger of losing his
self-control and finding fresh food for his wrath.

However, he had in fact no choice, for the patriarch just now came out
of the fountain-hall into the viridarium. The old man’s tall figure was
not bent, his snowy hair flowed in abundance round his proud head, and a
white beard fell in soft waves far down his breast. His fine eyes rested
on the young man with a keen glance, and though he had last seen Orion
as a boy he recognized him at once as the master of the house. While
Orion bowed low before him, the patriarch, in his deep, rich voice,
addressed him with cheerful dignity.

“All hail, son of my never-to-be-forgotten friend! The child I remember,
has, I see, grown to a fine man. I have devoted a short time to the
mother, and now I must say what is needful to the son.”

“In my father’s study,” Orion said to the steward; and he led the way
with the ceremonious politeness of a chamberlain of the imperial court.

The patriarch, as he followed him, signed to his escort to remain
behind, and as soon as the door was closed upon them, he went up to
Orion and exclaimed: “Again I greet you! This, then, is the descendant
of the great Menas, the son of Mukaukas George, the adored ruler of my
flock at Memphis, who held the first place among the gilded youth of
Constantinople in their gay whirl! A strange achievement for an Egyptian
and a Christian! But first of all, child, first give me your hand!” He
held out his right hand and Orion accepted it, but not without reserve,
for he had suspected a scornful ring in the patriarch’s address, and he
could not help asking himself whether this man honestly meant so well
by him, that he could address him thus paternally as “child” in all
sincerity of heart? To refuse his hand was, however, impossible; still,
he found courage to reply:

“I can but obey your desire, holy Father; but, at the same time, I do
not know whether it becomes the son to grasp the hand of the foe who was
not to be appeased even by Death, the reconciler--who grossly insulted
the father, the noblest of men, and, in him, the son too, at the grave
itself.”

The patriarch shook his head with a supercilious smile, and a hot thrill
shot through Orion as Benjamin laid his hand on his shoulder and said
with grave kindness:

“A Christian does not find it hard to forgive a sinner, an antagonist,
an enemy; and it is a joy to me to pardon the son who feels himself
injured through his lost father, blind and foolish as his indignation
may be. Your wrath can no more affect me, Child, than the Almighty in
Heaven, and it would not even be blameworthy, but that--and of this
we must speak presently--but that--well, I will be frank with you at
once--but that your manner clearly and unmistakably betrays what you
lack to make you a true Christian, and such a man as he must be who
fills so conspicuous a position in this land governed by infidels. You
know what I mean?”

The prelate let his hand slip from the young man’s shoulder, looking
enquiringly in his face; and when Orion, finding no reply ready, drew
back a step or two, the old man went on with growing excitement:

“It is humility, pious and submissive faith, that I find you lack, my
friend. Who, indeed, am I? But as the Vicar, the representative of Him
before whom we all are as worms in the dust, I must insist that every
man who calls himself a Christian, a Jacobite, shall submit to my will
and orders, without hesitation or doubt, as obediently and unresistingly
as though salvation or woe had fallen on him from above. What would
become of us, if individuals were to take upon themselves to defy me and
walk in their own way? In one miserable generation, and with the death
of the elders who had grown up as true Christians, the doctrine of the
Saviour would be extinct on the shores of the Nile, the crescent would
rise in the place of the Cross, and our cry would go up to Heaven for so
many lost souls. Learn, haughty youth, to bow humbly and submissively
to the will of the Most High and of His vicar on earth, and let me show
you, from your demeanor to myself especially, how far your own judgment
is to be relied on. You regard me as your father’s enemy?”

“Yes,” said Orion firmly.

“And I loved him as a brother!” replied the patriarch in a softer voice.
“How gladly would I have heaped his bier with palm branches of peace,
such as the Church alone can grow, wet with my own tears!”

“And yet,” cried Orion, “you denied to him, whom you call your friend,
what the Church does not refuse to thieves and murderers, if only they
desire forgiveness and have received absolution from a priest;
and that....”

“And that your father did!” interrupted the old man. “Peace be to him!
He is now, no doubt, gazing on the glory of the Lord. And nevertheless
I could forbid the priesthood here showing him honor at the grave.--Why?
For what urgent reason was such a prohibition spoken by a friend against
a friend?”

“Because you wished to brand him, in the eyes of the world, as the man
who lent his support to the unbelievers and helped them to victory,”
 said Orion gloomily.

“How well the boy can read the thoughts of men!” exclaimed the prelate,
looking at the young man with approbation in which, however, there was
some irony and annoyance. “Very good. We will assume that my object
was to show the Christians of Memphis what fate awaits the man,
who surrenders his country to the enemy and walks hand-in-hand with
unbelievers? And may I not possibly have been right?”

“Do you suppose my father invited the Arabs?” interrupted the young man.

“No, Child,” replied the patriarch, “the enemy came of his own free
will.”

“And you,” Orion went on, “after the Greeks had driven you into exile,
prophesied from the desert that they would come and overthrow the
Melchites, the Greek enemies of our faith, drive them out of the
country.”

“It was revealed to me by the Lord!” replied the old man, bowing his
head reverently. “And yet other things were shown to me while I dwelt
a devout ascetic, mortifying my flesh under the scorching sun of the
desert. Beware my son, beware! Heed my warning, lest it should be
fulfilled and the house of Menas vanish like clouds swept before the
wind.--Your father, I know, regarded my prophecy as advice given by me
to receive the infidels as the instrument of the Almighty and to support
them in driving the Melchite oppressors out of the land.”

“Your prophecy,” replied Orion, “had, no doubt, a marked effect on my
father; and when the cause of the emperor and the Greeks was lost,
your opinion that the Melchites were unbelievers as much as the sons
of Islam, was of infinite comfort to him. For he, if any one--as you
know--had good reason to hate the sectarians who killed his two sons in
their prime. What followed, he did to rescue his and your unfortunate
brethren and dependants from destruction. Here, here in this desk,
lies his answer to the emperor’s accusations, as given to the Greek
deputation who had speech of him in this very room. He wrote it down as
soon as they had left him. Will you hear it?”

“I can guess its purport.”

“No, no!” cried the excited youth; he hastily opened his father’s desk,
laid his hand at once on the wax tablet, and exclaimed: “This was his
reply!” And he proceeded to read:

“These Arabs, few as they are, are stronger and more powerful than we
with all our numbers. One man of them is equal to a hundred of us, for
they rush on death and love it better than life. Each of them presses
to the front in battle, and they have no longing to return home and
to their families. For every Christian they kill they look for a great
reward in Heaven, and they say that the gates of Paradise open at once
for those who fall in the fight. They have not a wish in this world
beyond the satisfaction of their barest need of food and clothing. We,
on the contrary, love life and dread death;--how can we stand against
them? I tell you that I will not break the peace I have concluded with
the Arabs. ...”

“And what is the upshot of all this reply?” interrupted the patriarch
shrugging his shoulders.

“That my father found himself compelled to conclude a peace, and
that--but read on.--That as a wise man he was forced to ally himself
with the foe.”

“The foe to whom he yielded more readily and paid much greater honor
than became him as a Christian!--Does not this discourse convey the idea
that the joys of Paradise solely and exclusively await our damned and
blood-thirsty oppressors?--And the Moslem Paradise! What is it but a
gulf of iniquity, in which they are to wallow in sensual delight? The
false prophet invented it to tempt his followers to force his lying
creed, by might of arms and in mad contempt of death, on nation after
nation. Our Lord, the Word made flesh, came down on earth to win hearts
and souls by the persuasive power of the living truth, one and eternal,
which emanates from Him as light proceeds from the sun; this Mohammed,
on the contrary, is a sword made flesh! For me, then, there is no choice
but to submit to superior strength; but I can still hate and loathe
their accursed and soul-destroying superstition.--And so I do, and so I
shall, to the last throb of this old heart, which only longs for rest,
the sooner the better....

“But you? And your father? Verily, verily, the man who, even for an
instant, ceases to hate unbelief or false doctrine has sinned for his
whole life on this side of the grave and beyond it; sinned against
the only true and saving faith and its divine Founder. Blasphemous and
flattering praise of the piety and moderation of our foes, the very
antichrist incarnate, who kill both body and soul.--With these your
father fouled his heart and tongue...”

“Fouled?” cried Orion and the blood tingled in his cheeks. “He kept his
heart and tongue alike pure and honorable; never did a false word pass
his lips. Justice, justice to all, even to his enemies, was the ruling
principle, the guiding clue of his blameless life; and the noblest of
the heathen Greeks admired the man who could so far triumph over himself
as to recognize what was fine and good in a foe.”

“And they were right,” replied the patriarch, “for they were not yet
acquainted with truth. In a worldly sense, even now, each of us may aim
at such magnanimity; but the man who forgives those who tamper with
the sacred truth, which is the bread, meat, and wine of the Christian’s
soul, sins against that truth; and, if he is a leader of men, he draws
on those who look up to him, and who are only too ready to follow his
example, into everlasting fire. Where your father ought to have been a
recalcitrant though conquered enemy, he became an ally; nay, so far as
the leader of the infidels was concerned, a friend--how many tears it
cost me! And our hapless people were forced to see this attitude
of their chief, and imitated it.--Forgive their seducer, Merciful
God!--forming their conduct on his. Thousands fell away from our saving
faith and went over to those, who in their eyes could not be reprobate,
could not be damned, since they saw them dwelling and working
hand-in-hand with their wise and righteous leader; and it was simply and
solely to warn his misguided people that I did not hesitate to wound my
own heart, to raise the voice of reproof at the grave of a dear friend,
and to refuse the honor and blessing of which his just and virtuous life
rendered him more worthy than thousands of others. I have spoken, and
now your foolish anger must be appeased; now you will grasp the hand
held out to you by the shepherd of the souls entrusted to him with an
easy and willing heart.”

And again he offered his hand to Orion, who, however, again took it
doubtfully, and instead of looking the prelate in the face, cast down
his eyes in gloomy bewilderment. The patriarch appeared not to observe
the young man’s repulsion and clasped his hand warmly. Then he changed
the subject, speaking of the grieving widow, of the decadence of
Memphis, of Orion’s plans for the future, and finally of the gems
dedicated to the Church by the deceased Mukaukas. The dialogue had taken
a calm, conversational tone; the patriarch was sitting in the dead man’s
arm-chair, and there was nothing forced or unnatural in his asking,
in the course of discussing the jewels, what had become of the great
emerald.

Orion replied, in the same tone, that this stone was not, strictly
speaking, any part of his father’s gift; but Benjamin expressed an
opposite opinion.

All the tortures Orion had endured since that luckless deed in the
tablinum revived in his soul during this discussion; however, it was
some small relief to him to perceive, that neither his mother nor Dame
Susannah seemed to have told the patriarch the guilt he had incurred
by reason of that gem. Susannah, of course, had said nothing of the
incident in order to avoid speaking of her daughter’s false evidence;
still, this miserable business might easily have come to the ears of the
stern old man, and to the guilty youth no sacrifice seemed too great to
smother any enquiry for the ill-fated jewel. He unhesitatingly explained
that the emerald had disappeared, but that he was quite ready to make
good its value. Benjamin might fix his own estimate, and name any sum he
wished for some benevolent purpose, and he, Orion, was ready to pay it
to him on the spot.

The prelate, however, calmly persisted in his demand, enjoined Orion to
have a diligent search made for the gem, and declared that he regarded
it as the property of the Church. He added that, when his patience was
at an end, he should positively insist on its surrender and bring every
means at his disposal into play to procure it.

Orion had no choice but to say that he would prosecute his search for
the lost stone; but his acquiescence was sullen, as that of a man who
accedes to an unreasonable demand.

At first the patriarch took this coolly; but presently, when he rose to
take leave, his demeanor changed; he said, with stern solemnity:

“I know you now, Son of Mukaukas George, and I end as I began: The
humility of the Christian is far from you, you are ignorant of the
power and dignity of our Faith, you do not even know the vast love that
animates it, and the fervent longing to lead the straying sinner back to
the path of salvation.--Your admirable mother has told me, with tears in
her eyes, of the abyss over which you are standing. It is your desire
to bind yourself for life to a heretic, a Melchite--and there is another
thing which fills her pious mother’s heart with fears, which tortures it
as she thinks of you and your eternal welfare. She promised to confide
this to my ear in church, and I shall find leisure to consider of it on
my return home; but at any rate, and be it what it may, it cannot more
greatly imperil your soul than marriage with a Melchite.

“On what have you set your heart? On the mere joys of earth! You sue for
the hand of an unbeliever, the daughter of an unbelieving heretic;
you go over to Fostat--nay, hear me out--and place your brain and your
strong arm at the service of the infidels--it is but yesterday; but I,
I, the shepherd of my flock, will not suffer that he who is the highest
in rank, the richest in possessions, the most powerful by the mere
dignity of his name, shall pervert thousands of the Jacobite brethren. I
have the will and the power too, to close the sluice gates against such
a disaster. Obey me, or you shall rue it with tears of blood.”

The prelate paused, expecting to see Orion fall on his knees before
him; but the young man did nothing of the kind. He stood looking at him,
open-eyed and agitated, but undecided, and Benjamin went on with added
vehemence:

“I came to you to lift up my voice in protest, and I desire, I require,
I command you: sever all ties with the enemies of your nation and of
your faith, cast out your love for the Melchite Siren, who will seduce
your immortal part to inevitable perdition....”

Till this Orion had listened with bowed head and in silence to the
diatribe which the patriarch had hurled at him like a curse; but at this
point his whole being rose in revolt, all self-control forsook him, and
he interrupted the speaker in loud tones:

“Never, never, never will I do such a thing! Insult me as you will. What
I am, I will still be: a faithful son of the Church to which my fathers
belonged, and for which my brothers died. In all humility I acknowledge
Jesus Christ as my Lord. I believe in him, believe in the God-made-man
who died to save us, and who brought love into the world, and I will
remain unpersuaded and faithful to my own love. Never will I forsake her
who has been to me like a messenger from God, like a good angel to teach
me how to lay hold on what is earnest and noble in life-her whom my
father, too, held dear. Power, indeed, is yours. Demand of me anything
reasonable, and within my attainment, and I will try to force myself to
obedience; but I never can and never will be faithless to her, to prove
my faith to you; and as to the Arabs....”

“Enough!” exclaimed the prelate. “I am on my way to Upper Egypt. Make
your choice by my return. I give you till then to come to a right mind,
to think the matter over; and it is quite deliberately that I bid you to
forget the Melchite. That you, of all men, should marry a heretic would
be an abomination not to be borne. With regard to your alliance with the
Arabs, and whether it becomes you--being what you are--to take service
with them, we will discuss it at a future day. If, by the time I return,
you have thought better of the matter as regards your marriage--and you
are free to choose any Jacobite maiden--then I will speak to you in a
different tone. I will then offer you my friendship and support; instead
of the Church’s curse I will pronounce her blessing on you--the pardon
and grace of the Almighty, a smooth path to eternity and peace, and the
prospect of giving new joy to the aching heart of your sorrowing mother.
My last word is that you must and shall give up the woman from whom you
can look for nothing but perdition.”

“I cannot, and shall not, and I never will!” replied Orion firmly.

“Then I can, and shall, and will make you feel how heavily the curse
falls which, in the last resort, I shall not hesitate to pronounce upon
you!”

“It is in your power,” said Orion. “But if you proceed to extremities
with me, you will drive me to seek the blessing for which my soul
thirsts more ardently than you, my lord, can imagine, and the salvation
I crave, with her whom you hold reprobate, and on the further side of
the Nile.”

“I dare you!” cried the patriarch, quitting the room with a resolute
step and flaming cheeks.



CHAPTER II.

Orion was alone in the spacious room, feeling as though the whole world
were sinking into nothingness after the rack of storm and tempest.
At first he was merely conscious of having gone through a fearful
experience, which threatened to fling him far outside the sphere of
everything he was wont to reverence and hold sacred. For love and honor
of his guardian angel he had declared war to the patriarch, and that
man’s power was as great as his stature. Still, the image of Paula rose
high and supreme above that of the terrible old man, in Orion’s fancy,
and his father, as it seemed to him, was like an ally in the battle he
was destined to wage in his own strength.

The young man’s vivid imagination and excellent memory recapitulated
every word the prelate had uttered. The domineering old man, overflowing
with bigoted zeal, had played with him as a cat with a mouse. He had
tried to search his soul and sift him to the bottom before he attacked
the subject with which he ought to have begun, and concerning which
he was fully informed when he offered him his hand that first time--as
cheerfully, too, as though he had no serious grievance seething in
his soul. Orion resolved that he would cling fast to his faith without
Benjamin’s interposition, and not allow his hold on the two other
Christian graces, Hope and Love, to be weakened by his influence.

By some miracle his mother had not yet told the prelate of his father’s
curse, in spite of the anguish of her aching heart; and what a weapon
would not that have been in Benjamin’s hand. It was with the deepest
pity that he thought of that poor, grief-stricken woman, and the idea
flashed through his mind that the patriarch might have gone back to his
mother to accuse him and to urge her to further revelations.

Many minutes had passed since the patriarch had left him; Orion had
allowed his illustrious guest to depart unescorted, and this could
not fail to excite surprise. Such a breach of good manners, of the
uncodified laws of society, struck Orion, the son of a noble and ancient
house, who had drunk in his regard for them as it were with his mother’s
milk, as an indignity to himself; and to repair it he started
up, hastily smoothing down his tumbled hair, and hurried into the
viridarium. His fears were confirmed, for the patriarch’s following were
standing in the fountain-hall close to the exit; his mother, too, was
there and Benjamin was in the act of departure.

The old man accepted his offered escort with dignified affability, as if
nothing but what was pleasant had passed between him and Orion. As they
crossed the viridarium he asked his young host what was the name of some
rare flower, and counselled him to take care that shade-giving trees
were planted in abundance on his various estates. In the outer hall, on
either side of the door, was a statue: Truth and justice, two fine works
by Aristeas of Alexandria, who flourished in the time of the Emperor
Hadrian. Justice held the scales and sword, Truth was gazing into her
mirror. As the patriarch approached them, he said to the priest who
walked by his side: “Still here!” Then, standing still, he said, partly
to Orion and partly to his companion:

“Your father, I see, neglected my suggestion that these heathen images
had no place in any Christian house, and least of all in one attached,
as this is, to a public function. We, no doubt, know the meaning of the
symbols they bear; but how easily might the ordinary man, waiting here,
mistake the figure with the mirror for Vanity and that with the scales
Venality: ‘Pay us what we ask,’ she might be saying, ‘or else your life
is a forfeit,’--so the sword would imply.”

He smiled and walked on, but added airily to Orion:

“When I come again--you know--I shall be pleased if my eye is no longer
offended by these mementos of an extinct idolatry.”

“Truth and justice!” replied Orion in a constrained voice. “They have
dwelt on this spot and ruled in this house for nearly five hundred
years.”

“It would look better, and be more suitable,” retorted the patriarch,
“if you could say that of Him to whom alone the place of honor is due
in a Christian house; in His presence every virtue flourishes of itself.
The Christian should proscribe every image from his dwelling; at the
door of his heart only should he raise an image on the one hand of Faith
and on the other of Humility.”

By this time they had reached the court-yard, where Susannah’s chariot
was waiting. Orion helped the prelate into it, and when Benjamin offered
him his hand to kiss, in the presence of several hundred slaves and
servants, all on their knees, the young man lightly touched it with
his lips. He stood bowed low in reverence so long as the holy father
remained visible, in the attitude of blessing the crowd from the open
side of the chariot; then he hurried away to join his mother.

He expected to find her exhausted by the excitement of the patriarch’s
visit; but, in fact, she was more composed than he had seen her yet
since his father’s death. Her eyes indeed, commonly so sober in their
expression, were bright with a kind of rapture which puzzled Orion. Had
she been thinking of his father? Could the patriarch have succeeded in
inspiring her pious fervor to such a pitch, that it had carried her, so
to speak, out of herself?

She was dressed to go to church, and after expressing her delight at the
honor done to herself and her whole household by the prelate’s visit,
she invited Orion to accompany her. Though he had proposed devoting the
next few hours to a different purpose, the dutiful son at once acceded
to this wish; he helped her into her chariot, bid the driver go slowly,
and seated himself by her side.

As they drove along he asked her what she had told the patriarch, and
her replies might have reassured him but that she filled him with grave
anxiety on fresh grounds. Her mind seemed to have suffered under the
stress of grief. It was usually so clear, so judicious, so reasonable;
and now all she said was incoherent and not more than half intelligible.
Still, one thing he distinctly understood: that she had not confided to
the patriarch the fact of his father’s curse. The prelate must certainly
have censured the conduct of the deceased to her also and that had
sealed her lips. She complained to her son that Benjamin had never
understood her lost husband, and that she had felt compelled to repress
her desire to disclose everything to him. Nowhere but in church, in the
very presence of the Redeemer, could she bring herself to allow him to
read her heart as it were an open book. A voice had warned her that in
the house of God alone, could she find salvation for herself and her
son; that voice she heard day and night, and much as it pained her to
grieve him he must hear it now--: That voice never ceased to enjoin her
to tear asunder his connection with the Melchite maiden. Last evening
it had seemed to her that it was her eldest son, who had died for the
Jacobite faith, that was speaking to her. The voice had sounded like
his, and it had warned her that the ancient house of Menas must perish,
if a Melchite should taint the pure blood of their race. And Benjamin
had confirmed her fears; he had come back to her on purpose to beseech
her to oppose Orion’s sinful affection for Thomas’ daughter with the
utmost maternal authority, and, as the patriarch expressed the same
desire as the voice, it must be from God and she must obey it.

Her old grudge against Paula had revived, and her very tones betrayed
that it grew stronger with every word she spoke which had any reference
to the girl.

At this Orion begged her to be calm, reminding her of the promise she
had made him by his father’s deathbed; and just as his mother was about
to reply in a tone of pitiful recrimination, the chariot stopped at the
door of the church. He did everything in his power to soothe her;
his gentle and tender tones comforted her, and she nodded to him more
happily, following him into the sanctuary.

Beyond the narthex--the vestibule of the church, where three penitents
were flaying their backs with scourges by the side of a small marble
fountain, and in full view of the crowd--they were forced to part,
as the women were divided from the men by a screen of finely-carved
woodwork.

As Neforis went to her place, she shook her bowed head: she was
meditating on the choice offered her by Orion, of yielding to the
patriarch’s commands or to her son’s wishes. How gladly would she have
seen her son in bright spirits again. But Benjamin had threatened her
with the loss of all the joys of Heaven, if she should agree to Orion’s
alliance with the heretic--and the joys of Heaven to her meant a
meeting, a recognition, for which she would willingly have sacrificed
her son and everything else that was dear to her heart.

Orion assisted at the service in the place reserved for the men of his
family, close to the hekel, or holy of holies, where the altar stood
and the priests performed their functions. A partition, covered with
ill-wrought images and a few gilt ornaments, divided it from the main
body of the church, and the whole edifice produced an impression that
was neither splendid nor particularly edifying. The basilica, which had
once been richly decorated, had been plundered by the Melchites in a
fight between them and the Jacobites, and the impoverished city had
not been in a position to restore the venerable church to anything
approaching its original splendor. Orion looked round him; but could see
nothing calculated to raise his devotion.

The congregation were required to stand all through the service; and
as it often was a very long business, not the women only, behind the
screen, but many of the men supported themselves like cripples on
crutches. How unpleasing, too, were the tones of the Egyptian chant,
accompanied by the frequent clang of a metal cymbal and mingled with the
babble of chattering men and women, checked only when the talk became a
quarrel, by a priest who loudly and vehemently shouted for silence from
the hekel.

Generally the chanted liturgy constituted the whole function, unless the
Lord’s Supper was administered; but in these anxious times, for above
a week past, a priest or a monk preached a daily sermon. This began a
short while after the young man had taken his place, and it was with
painful feelings that he recognized, in the hollow-eyed and ragged monk
who mounted the pulpit, a priest whom he had seen more than once drunk
to imbecility, in Nesptah’s tavern, And the revolting creature, who thus
flaunted his dirty, dishevelled person even in the pulpit, thundered
down on the trembling congregation declarations that the delay in
the rising of the Nile was the consequence of their sins, and God’s
punishment for their evil deeds. Instead of comforting the terrified
souls, or encouraging their faith and bidding them hope for better
times, he set before them in burning words the punishment that awaited
their wicked despondency.

God Almighty was plaguing them and the land with great heat; but this
was like the cool north wind at Advent-tide, as compared with the
fierceness of the furnace of hell which Satan was making hot for them.
The scorching sun on earth at any rate gave them daylight, but the
flames of hell shed no light, that the terrors might never cease of
those whom the devil’s myrmidons drove over the narrow bridge leading to
his horrible realm, goading them with spears and pitchforks, with heavy
cudgelling or gnawing of their flesh. In the anguish of death, and the
crush by the way, mothers trod down their infants and fathers their
daughters; and when the damned reached the spiked threshold of hell
itself, a hideous and poisoned vapor rose up to meet them, choking
them, and yet giving them renewed strength to feel fresh torments with
increased keenness of every sense. Then the devil’s shrieks of anguish,
which shake the vault of hell, came thundering on their ears; with
hideous yells he snatched at them from the grate on which he lay,
crushed and squeezed them in his iron jaws like a bunch of grapes, and
swallowed them into his fiery maw; or else they were hung up by their
tongues by attendant friends in Satan’s fiery furnace, or dragged
alternately through ice and flames, and finally beaten to pieces on
the anvil of hell, or throttled and wrung with ropes and cloths.--As
compared with the torments they would suffer there, every present
anxiety was as the kiss of a lover. Mothers would hear the brain
seething in their infants’ skulls....

At this point of the monk’s grewsome discourse, Orion turned away with a
shudder. The curse with which the patriarch had threatened him recurred
to his mind; he could have fancied that the hot, stuffy, incense-laden
air of the church was full of flapping daws and hideous bats. Deadly
horror crept over him; but then, suddenly, the rebound came of youthful
vigor, longing for freedom and joy in living; a voice within cried out:
“Away with coercion and chains! Winged spirit, use your pinions! Down
with the god of terrors! He is not that Heavenly Father whose love
embraces mankind. Forward, leap up and be free! Trusting in your
own strength, guided by your own will, go boldly forth into the open
sunshine of life! Be free, be free!--Still, be not like a slave who is
no sooner cut adrift and left to himself than he falls a slave again to
his own senses. No; but striving unceasingly and of your own free will,
in the sweat of your brow, to reach the high goal, to work out to its
fulfilment and fruition everything that is best in your soul and mind.
Yes--life is a ministry.... I, like the disciples of the Stoa, will
strive after all that is known as virtue, with no other end in view than
to practise it for its own sake, because it is fair and gives unmixed
joys. I will rely on myself to seek the truth--and do what I feel to
be right and good; this, henceforth, shall be the lofty aim of my
existence. To the two chief desires of my heart--: atonement to my
father and union with Paula, I here add a third: the attainment of the
loftiest goal that I may reach, by valiant striving to get as near to it
as my strength will allow. The road thither is by Work; the guiding star
I must keep before me that I may not go astray is my Love!”

His cheeks were burning, and with a deep breath he looked about him as
though to find an adversary with whom he might measure his strength. The
horrible sermon was ended and the words of the chanting crowd fell on
his ear. “Lord, reward me not according to mine iniquities!” The load of
his own sin fell on his heart again, and his dying father’s curse;
his proud head drooped on his breast, and he said to himself that his
burthen was too heavy for him to venture on the bold flight for which he
had but now spread his wings. The ban was not yet lifted; he was not yet
redeemed from its crushing weight. But the mere word “redeemed” brought
to his mind the image of Him who took on Himself the sins of the world;
and the more deeply he contemplated the nature of the Saviour whom he
had loved from his childhood, the more surely he felt that it would
be doing no violence to the freedom of his own will, but rather be the
fulfilment of a long-felt desire, if he were to tell Jesus simply all
that oppressed him; that his love for Him, his faith in Him, had a
saving power even for his soul. He lifted up his eyes and heart to
Him, and to Him, as to a trusted friend, confided all that troubled and
hindered him and besought His aid.

In loving Him, he and Paula were one, he knew, though they had not the
same idea of His nature.

Orion, as he meditated, thought out the points on which her views
deviated from his own: she believed that the divine and the human
natures were distinct in the person of Christ. And as he reflected on
this creed, till now so horrible in his eyes, he felt that the unique
individuality of the Saviour, shedding forth love and truth, came home
to him more closely when he pictured Him perfect and spotless, yet
feeling as a man; walking among men with all their joy in life in
His heart, alive to every pang and sorrow which can torture mortals,
rejoicing with them, and taking upon Himself unspeakable humiliation,
suffering, and death, with a stricken, bleeding, and yet self-devoting
heart, for pure love of the wretched race to which He could stoop from
His glory. Yes, this Christ could be his Redeemer too. The Almighty Lord
had become his perfect and most loving friend, his glorious, but lenient
and tender brother, to whom he could gladly give his whole heart, who
understood everything, who was ready to forgive everything--even all
that was seething in his aching heart which longed for purification--and
all because He once had suffered as a man suffers.

For the first time he, the Jacobite, dared to confess so much to
himself; and not solely for Paula’s sake. A violent clanging on a
cracked metal plate roused him from his meditations by its harsh clamor;
the sacrament of the Last Supper was about to be administered: the
invariable conclusion of the Jacobite service. The bishop came forth
from behind the screen of the inner sanctuary, poured some wine into a
silver cup and crumbled into it two little cakes stamped with the Coptic
cross. Of this mixture he first partook, and then gave it in a spoon
to each member of the congregation who came up to receive it. Orion
approached after two elders of the Church. Finally the priest rinsed
out the cup, and drained the very washings, that no drop of the saving
liquid should be lost.

How high had Orion’s heart throbbed when, as a youth, he had been
admitted for the first time to this most sacred of all Christian
privileges! He was instructed in its deep and glorious symbolism, and
had often felt the purifying, saving, and refreshing effect of the
sacrament, strengthening him in all goodness, when he had partaken of it
with his parents and brothers. Hand-in-hand, they had gone home feeling
as if newly robed in body and soul and more closely bound together than
before. And to-day, insensible as he was to the repulsiveness of the
forms of worship of his confession he felt as though the bread and
wine--the Flesh and Blood of the Saviour--had sealed the bond he had
silently entered into with himself; as though the Lord had put forth
an invisible hand to remove the guilt and the curse that crushed him
so sorely. Deep devotion fell on his soul: his future life, he thought,
should bring him nearer to God than ever before, and be spent in loving,
and in the more earnest, full, and laborious exercise of the gifts
Heaven had bestowed on him.



CHAPTER III.

Orion had dreaded the drive home with his mother, but after complaining
to him of Susannah’s conduct in having made a startling display of her
vexation in the women’s place behind the screen, she had leaned on him
and fallen fast asleep. Her head was on her son’s shoulder when they
reached home, and Orion’s anxiety for the mother he truly loved was
enhanced when he found it difficult to rouse her. He felt her stagger
like a drunken creature, and he led her not into the fountain-room but
to her bed-chamber, where she only begged to lie down; and hardly had
she done so when she was again overcome by sleep.

Orion now made his way to Gamaliel the jeweller, to purchase from him a
very large and costly diamond, plainly set, and the Israelite’s brother
undertook to deliver it to the fair widow at Constantinople, who
was known to him as one of his customers. Orion, in the jeweller’s
sitting-room, wrote a letter to his former mistress, in which he begged
her in the most urgent manner to accept the diamond, and in exchange
to return to him the emerald by a swift and trustworthy messenger, whom
Simeon the goldsmith would provide with everything needful.

After all this he went home hungry and weary, to the late midday meal
which he shared, as for many days past, with no one but Eudoxia, Mary’s
governess. The little girl was not yet allowed to leave her room, and of
this, for one reason, her instructress was glad, for a dinner alone with
the handsome youth brought extreme gratification to her mature heart.
How considerate was the wealthy and noble heir in desiring the slaves to
offer every dish to her first, how kind in listening to her stories of
her young days and of the illustrious houses in which she had formerly
given lessons! She would have died for him; but, as no opportunity
offered for such a sacrifice, at any rate she never omitted to point
out to him the most delicate morsels, and to supply his room with fresh
flowers.

Besides this, however, she had devoted herself with the most admirable
unselfishness to her pupil, since the child had been ill and her
grandmother had turned against her, noticing, too, that Orion took a
tender and quite fatherly interest in his little niece. This morning
the young man had not had time to enquire for Mary, and Eudoxia’s report
that she seemed even more excited than on the day before disturbed him
so greatly, that he rose from table, in spite of Eudoxia’s protest,
without waiting till the end of the meal, to visit the little invalid.

It was with genuine anxiety that he mounted the stairs. His heart was
heavy over many things, and as he went towards the child’s room he said
to himself with a melancholy smile, that he, who had contemned many a
distinguished man and many a courted fair one at Constantinople because
they had fallen short of his lofty standard, had here no one but this
child who would be sure to understand him. Some minutes elapsed before
his knock was answered with the request to ‘come in,’ and he heard a
hasty bustle within. He found Mary lying, as the physician had ordered,
on a couch by the window, which was wide open and well-shaded; her couch
was surrounded by flowering plants and, on a little table in front of
her, were two large nosegays, one fading, the other quite fresh and
particularly beautiful.

How sadly the child had changed in these few days. The soft round cheeks
had disappeared, and the pretty little face had sunk into nothingness by
comparison with the wonderful, large eyes, which had gained in size and
brilliancy. Yesterday she had been free from fever and very pale, but
to-day her cheeks were crimson, and a twitching of her lips and of her
right shoulder, which had come on since the scene at the grandfather’s
deathbed, was so incessant that Orion sat down by her side in some
alarm.

“Has your grandmother been to see you?” was his first question, but the
answer was a mournful shake of her head.

The blossoming plants were his own gift and so was the fading nosegay;
the other, fresher one had not come from him, so he enquired who was the
giver, and was not a little astonished to see his favorite’s confusion
and agitation at the question. There must be something special connected
with the posey, that was very evident, and the young man, who did not
wish to excite her sensitive nerves unnecessarily, but could not recall
his words, was wishing he had never spoken them, when the discovery of
a feather fan cut the knot of his difficulty; he took it up, exclaiming:
“Hey--what have we here?”

A deeper flush dyed Mary’s cheek, and raising her large eyes imploringly
to his face, she laid a finger on her lips. He nodded, as understanding
her, and said in a low voice:

“Katharina has been here? Susannah’s gardener ties up flowers like that.
The fan--when I knocked--she is here still perhaps?”

He had guessed rightly; Mary pointed dumbly to the door of the adjoining
room.

“But, in Heaven’s name, child,” Orion went on, in an undertone, “what
does she want here?”

“She came by stealth, in the boat,” whispered the child. “She sent
Anubis from the treasurer’s office to ask me if she might not come, she
could not do without me any longer, and she never did me any harm and so
I said yes--and then, when I knew it was your knock, whisk--off she went
into the bedroom.”

“And if your grandmother were to come across her?”

“Then--well, then I do not know what would become of me! But oh! Orion,
if you only knew how--how....” Two big tears rolled down her cheeks
and Orion understood her; he stroked her hair lovingly and said in a
whisper, glancing now and again at the door of the next room.

“But I came up on purpose to tell you something more about Paula. She
sends you her love, and she invites you to go to her and stay with her,
always. But you must keep it quite a secret and tell no one, not even
Eudoxia and Katharina; for I do not know myself how we can contrive to
get your grandmother’s consent. At any rate we must set to work very
prudently and cautiously, do you understand? I have only taken you into
our confidence that you may look forward to it and have something to be
glad of at night, when you are such a silly little thing as to keep
your eyes open like the hares, instead of sleeping like a good child. If
things go well, you may be with Paula to-morrow perhaps--think of that!
I had quite given up all hope of managing it at all; but now, just
now--is it not odd--just within these two minutes I suddenly said to
myself: ‘It will come all right!’--So it must be done somehow.”

A flood of tears streamed down Mary’s burning cheeks but, freely as they
flowed, she did not sob and her bosom did not heave. Nor did she speak,
but such pure and fervent gratitude and joy shone from her glistening
eyes that Orion felt his own grow moist. He was glad to find some way
of concealing his emotion when Mary seized his hand and, pressing a long
kiss on it, wetted it with her tears.

“See!” he exclaimed. “All wet! as if I had just taken it out of the
fountain.”

But he said no more, for the bedroom door was suddenly thrown open and
Eudoxia’s high, thin voice was heard saying:

“But why make any fuss? Mary will be enchanted! Here, Child, here is
your long-lost friend! Such a surprise!” And the water-wagtail, pushed
forward by no gentle hand, appeared within the doorway. Eudoxia was as
radiant as though she had achieved some heroic deed; but she drew back
a little when she found that Orion was still in the room. The divided
couple stood face to face. What was done could not be undone; but,
though he greeted her with only a calm bow, and she fluttered her fan
with abrupt little jerks to conceal her embarrassment, nothing took
place which could surprise the bystander; indeed, Katharina’s pretty
features assumed a defiant expression when he enquired how the little
white dog was, and she coldly replied that she had had him chained up in
the poultry-yard, for that the patriarch, who was their guest, could not
endure dogs.

“He honors a good many men with the same sentiments,” replied Orion, but
Katharina retorted, readily enough.

“When they deserve it.”

The dialogue went on in this key for some few minutes; but the young man
was not in the humor either to take the young girl’s pert stings or
to repay her in the same coin; he rose to go but, before he could take
leave, Katharina, observing from the window how low the sun was, cried:
“Mercy on me! how late it is--I must be off; I must not be absent at
supper time. My boat is lying close to yours in the fishing-cove. I only
hope the gate of the treasurer’s house is still open.”

Orion, too, looked at the sun and then remarked: “To-day is Sanutius.”

“I know,” said Katharina. “That is why Anubis was free at noon.”

“And for the same reason,” added Orion, “there is not a soul at work now
in the office.”

This was awkward. Not for worlds would she have been seen in the house;
and knowing, as she did from her games with Mary, every nook and corner
of it, she began to consider her position. Her delicate features assumed
a sinister expression quite new to Orion, which both displeased him and
roused his anxiety--not for himself but for Mary, who could certainly
get no good from such a companion as this. These visits must not be
repeated very often; he would not allude to the subject in the child’s
presence, but Katharina should at once have a hint. She could not
get out of the place without his assistance; so he intruded on her
meditations to inform her that he had the key of the office about him.
Then he went to see if the hall were empty, and led her at once to the
treasurer’s office through the various passages which connected it with
the main buildings. The office at this hour was as lonely as the grave,
and when Orion found himself standing with her, close to the door which
opened on the road to the harbor, and had already raised the key to
unlock it, he paused and for the first time broke the silence they had
both preserved during their unpleasant walk, saying:

“What brought you to see Mary, Katharina? Tell me honestly.” Her heart,
which had been beating high since she had found herself alone with him
in the silent and deserted house, began to throb wildly; a great terror,
she knew not of what, came over her.

“She had come to the house for several reasons, but one had outweighed
all the rest: Mary must be told that her young uncle and Paula were
betrothed; for she knew by experience that the child could keep nothing
of importance from her grandmother, and that Neforis had no love for
Paula was an open secret. As yet she certainly could know nothing of
her son’s formal suit, but if once she were informed of it she would
do everything in her power--of this Katharina had not a doubt--to keep
Orion and Paula apart. So the girl had told Mary that it was already
reported that they were a betrothed and happy pair, and that she herself
had watched them making love in her neighbor’s garden. To her great
annoyance, however, Mary took this all very coolly and without any
special excitement.

“So, when Orion enquired of his companion what had brought her to the
governor’s house, she could only reply that she longed so desperately to
see little Mary.

“Of course,” said Orion. “But I must beg of you not to yield again to
your affectionate impulse. Your mother makes a public display of her
grudge against mine, and her ill-feeling will only be increased if she
is told that we are encouraging you to disregard her wishes. Perhaps you
may, ere long, have opportunities of seeing Mary more frequently; but,
if that should be the case, I must especially request you not to talk
of things that may agitate her. You have seen for yourself how excitable
she is and how fragile she looks. Her little heart, her too precocious
brain and feelings must have rest, must not be stirred and goaded by
fresh incitements such as you are in a position to apply. The patriarch
is my enemy, the enemy of our house, and you--I do not say it to offend
you--you overheard what he was saying last night, and probably gathered
much important information, some of which may concern me and my family.”

Katharina stood looking at her companion, as pale as death. He knew that
she had played the listener, and when, and where! The shock it gave her,
and the almost unendurable pang of feeling herself lowered in his eyes,
quite dazed her. She felt bewildered, offended, menaced; however, she
retained enough presence of mind to reply in a moment to her antagonist:

“Do not be alarmed! I will come no more. I should not have come at all,
if I could have foreseen...”

“That you would meet me?”

“Perhaps.--But do not flatter yourself too much on that account!--As
to my listening.... Well, yes; I was standing at the window. Inside the
room I could only half hear, and who does not want to hear what great
men have to say to each other? And, excepting your father, I have met
none such in Memphis since Memnon left the city. We women have inherited
some curiosity from our mother Eve; but we rarely indulge it so far
as to hunt for a necklace in our neighbor’s trunk! I have no luck as a
criminal, my dear Orion. Twice have I deserved the name. Thanks to the
generous and liberal use you made of my inexperience I sinned--sinned
so deeply that it has ruined my whole life; and now, again, in a more
venial way; but I was caught out, you see, in both cases.”

“Your taunts are merited,” said Orion sadly. “And yet, Child, we may
both thank Providence, which did not leave us to wander long on the
wrong road. Once already I have besought your forgiveness, and I do so
now again. That does not satisfy you I see--and I can hardly blame you.
Perhaps you will be better pleased, when I assure you once more that no
sin was ever more bitterly or cruelly punished than mine has been.”

“Indeed!” said Katharina with a drawl; then, with a flutter of her fan,
she went on airily: “And yet you look anything rather than crushed;
and have even succeeded in winning ‘the other’--Paula, if I am not
mistaken.”

“That will do!” said Orion decisively, and he raised the key to
the lock. Katharina, however, placed herself in his way, raised a
threatening finger, and exclaimed:

“So I should think!--Now I am certain. However, you are right with your
insolent ‘That will do!’ I do not care a rush for your love affairs;
still, there is one thing I should like to know, which concerns myself
alone; how could you see over our garden hedge? Anubis is scarcely a
head shorter than you are....”

“And you made him try?” interrupted Orion, who could not forbear
smiling, perceiving that his honestly meant gravity was thrown away on
Katharina. “Notwithstanding such a praiseworthy experiment, I may beg
you to note for future cases that what is true of him is not true of
every one, and that, besides foot-passengers, a tall man sometimes
mounts a tall horse?”

“It was you, then, who rode by last night?”

“And who could not resist glancing up at your window.”

At these words she drew back in surprise, and her eyes lighted up, but
only for an instant; then, clenching the feathers of her fan in both
hands, she sharply asked:

“Is that in mockery?”

“Certainly not,” said Orion coolly; “for though you have reason enough
to be angry with me....”

“I, at any rate, have, so far given you none,” she petulantly broke
in. “No, I have not. It is I, and I alone, who have been insulted and
ill-used; you must confess that you owe me some amends, and that I have
a right to ask them.”

“Do so,” replied he. “I am yours to command.” She looked him straight in
the face.

“First of all,” she began, “have you told any one else that I was...”

“That you were listening? No--not a living soul.”

“And will you promise never to betray me?”

“Willingly. Now, what is the ‘secondly’ to this ‘first of all?’”

But there was no immediate answer; the water-wagtail evidently found it
difficult. However, she presently said, with downcast eyes:

“I want.... You will think me a greater fool than I am... nevertheless,
yes, I will ask you, though it will involve me in fresh humiliation.--I
want to know the truth; and if there is anything you hold sacred, before
I ask, you must swear by what is holiest to answer me, not as if I were
a silly girl, but as if I were the Supreme judge at the last day.--Do
you hear?”

“This is very solemn,” said Orion. “And you must allow me to observe
that there are some questions which do not concern us alone, and if
yours is such....”

“No, no,” replied Katharina, “what I mean concerns you and me alone.”

“Then I see no reason for refusing,” he said. “Still, I may ask you a
favor in return. It seems to me no less important than it did to you, to
know what a great man like the patriarch finds to talk about, and since
I place myself at your commands....”

“I thought,” said the girl with a smile, “that your first object would
be to discharge some small portion of your debt to me; however, I expect
no excessive magnanimity, and the little I heard is soon told. It cannot
matter much to you either--so I will agree to your wishes, and you, in
return, must promise....”

“To speak the whole truth.”

“As truly as you hope for forgiveness of your sins?”

“As truly as that.”

“That is well.”

“And what is it that you want to know?”

At this she shook her head, exclaiming uneasily:

“Nay, nay, not yet. It cannot be done so lightly. First let me speak;
and then open the door, and if I want to fly let me go without saying
or asking me another word.--Give me that chair; I must sit down.” And
in fact she seemed to need it; for some minutes she had looked very
pale and exhausted, and her hands trembled as she drew her handkerchief
across her face.

When she was seated she began her story; and while her words flowed on
quickly but without expression, as though she spoke mechanically, Orion
listened with eager interest, for what she had to tell struck him as
highly significant and important.

He had been watched by the patriarch’s orders. By midnight Benjamin
had already been informed of Orion’s visit to Fostat, and to the Arab
general. Nothing, however, had been said about it beyond a fear lest he
had gone thither with a view to abjuring the faith of his fathers and
going over to the Infidels. Far more important were the facts
Orion gathered as to the prelate’s negotiations with the Khaliff’s
representative. Amru had urged a reduction of the number of convents and
of the monks and nuns who lived on the bequests and gifts of the pious,
busied in all kinds of handiwork according to the rule of Pachomius, and
enabled, by the fact of their living at free quarters, to produce almost
all the necessaries of life, from the mats on the floors to the shoes
worn by the citizens, at a much lower price than the independent
artisans, whether in town or country. The great majority of these poor
creatures were already ruined by such competition, and Amru, seeing the
Arab leather-workers, weavers, ropemakers, and the rest, threatened with
the same fate, had determined to set himself firmly to restrict all this
monastic work. The patriarch had resisted stoutly and held out long,
but at last he had been forced to sacrifice almost half the convents for
monks and nuns.

But nothing had been conceded without an equivalent; for Benjamin was
well aware of the immense difficulties which he, as chief of the Church,
could put in the way of the new government of the country. So it was
left to him to designate which convents should be suppressed, and he
had, of course, begun by laying hands on the few remaining Melchite
retreats, among them the Convent of St. Cecilia, next to the house of
Rufinus. This establishment was now to be closed within three days and
to become the property of the Jacobite Church; but it was to be done
quite quietly, for there was no small fear that now, when the delayed
rising of the river was causing a fever of anxiety in all minds, the
impoverished populace of the town might rise in defence of the wealthy
sisterhood to whom they were beholden for much benevolence and kind
care.

Opposition from the town-senate was also to be looked for, since the
deceased Mukaukas had pronounced this measure unjust and detrimental
to the common welfare. The evicted orthodox nuns were to be taken into
various Jacobite convents as lay sisters similar cases had already
been known; but the abbess, whose superior intellect, high rank, and
far-reaching influence might, if she were left free to act, easily rouse
the prelates of the East to oppose Benjamin, was to be conveyed to a
remote convent in Ethiopia, whence no flight or return was possible.

Katharina’s report took but few minutes, and she gave it with apparent
indifference; what could the suppression of an orthodox cloister, and
the dispersion of its heretic sisterhood, matter to her, or to Orion,
whose brothers had fallen victims to Melchite fanaticism? Orion did not
betray his deep interest in all he heard, and when at length Katharina
rose and pointed feebly to the door, all she said, as though she were
vexed at having wasted so much time, was: “That, on the whole, is all.”

“All?” asked Orion unlocking the door.

“Certainly, all,” she repeated uneasily. “What I meant to ask--whether
I ever know it or not--it does not matter.--It would be better
perhaps-yes, that is all.--Let me go.”

But he did not obey her.

“Ask,” he said kindly. “I will answer you gladly.”

“Gladly?” she retorted, with an incredulous shrug. “In point of fact
you ought to feel uncomfortable whenever you see me; but things do not
always turn out as they ought, in Memphis or in the world; for what do
you men care what becomes of a poor girl like me? Do not imagine that
I mean to reproach you; God forbid! I do not even owe you a grudge. If
anyone can live such a thing down I can. Do not you think so? Everything
is admirably arranged for me; I cannot fail to do well. I am very rich,
and not ugly, and I shall have a hundred suitors yet. Oh, I am a most
enviable creature! I have had one lover already, and the next will be
more faithful, at any rate, and not throw me over so ruthlessly as the
first.--Do not you think so?”

“I hope so,” said Oriole gravely. “Bitter as the cup is that you offer
me to drink...”

“Well?”

“I can only repeat that I must even drink it, since the fault was mine.
Nothing would so truly gladden me as to be able to atone in some degree
for my sin against you.”

“Oh dear no!” she scornfully threw in. “Our hopes shall not be fixed so
high as that! All is at an end between us, and if you ever were anything
to me, you are nothing to me now--absolutely nothing. One hour in the
past we had in common; it was short indeed, but to me--would you believe
it?--a very great matter. It aged the young creature, whom you, but
yesterday, still regarded as a mere child--that much I know--with
amazing rapidity; aye, and made a worse woman of her than you can
fancy.”

“That indeed would grieve me to the bottom of my soul,” replied Orion.
“There is, I know, no excuse for my conduct. Still, as you yourself
know, our mothers’ wish in the first instance...”

“Destined us for each other, you would say. Quite true!--And it was
all to please Dame Neforis that you put your arms round me, under the
acacias, and called me your own, your all, your darling, your rose-bud?
Was that--and this is exactly what I want to ask you, what I insist
on knowing--was that all a lie--or did you, at any rate, in that brief
moment, under the trees, love me with all your heart--love me as now you
love--I cannot name her--that other?--The truth, Orion, the whole truth,
on your oath!”

She had raised her voice and her eyes glowed with the excitement of
passion; and now, when she ceased speaking, their sparkling, glistening
enquiry plainly and unreservedly confessed that her heart still was his,
that she counted on his high-mindedness and expected him to say “yes.”
 Her round arm lay closely pressed to her bosom, as though to keep its
wild heaving within bounds. Her delicate face had lost its pallor and
seemed bathed in a glow, now tender and now crimson. Her little mouth,
which but now had uttered such bitter words, was parted in a smile as
if ready to bestow a sweet reward for the consoling, saving answer,
for which her whole being yearned, and her eager eyes, shining through
tears, did not cease to entreat him so pathetically, so passionately!
How bewitching an image of helpless, love-sick, beseeching youth and
grace.

“As you love that other,--on your oath.”--The words still rang in the
young man’s ear. All that was soft in his soul urged him to make good
the evil he had brought upon this fair, hapless young creature; but
those very words gave him strength to remain steadfast; and though
he felt himself appealed to for comfort and compassion, he could only
stretch out imploring hands, as though praying for help, and say:

“Ah Katharina, and you are as lovely, as charming now, as you were then;
but--much as you attracted me, the great love that fills a life can come
but once.... Forget what happened afterwards.... Put your question in
another form, alter it a little, and ask me again--or let me assure
you.”

But he had no time to say more; for, before he could atop her, she had
slipped past him and flown away like some swift wild thing into the road
and down to the fishing cove.



CHAPTER IV.

Orion stood alone gazing sadly after her. Was this his father’s
curse--that all who loved him must reap pain and grief in return?

He shivered; still, his youthful energy and powers of resistance
were strong enough to give him speedy mastery over these torturing
reflections. What opportunities lay before him of proving his prowess!
Even while Katharina was telling her story, the brave and strenuous
youth had set himself the problem of rescuing the cloistered sisters.
The greater the danger its solution might involve him in, the more
impossible it seemed at first sight, the more gladly, in his present
mood, would he undertake it. He stepped out into the road and closed the
door behind him with a feeling of combative energy.

It was growing dusk. Philippus must now be with Mary and, with the
leech’s aid, he was resolved to get the child away from his mother’s
house. Not till he felt that she was safe with Paula in Rufinus’ house,
could he be free to attempt the enterprise which floated before his
eyes. On the stairs he shouted to a slave:

“My chariot with the Persian trotting horse!” and a few minutes after
he entered the little girl’s room at the same time with a slave girl who
carried in a lamp. Neither Mary nor the physician observed him at first,
and he heard her say to Philippus, who sat holding her wrist between his
fingers.

“What is the matter with you this evening? Good heavens, how pale and
melancholy you look!” The lamplight fell full on his face. “Look here, I
have just made such a smart little man out of wax...”

She hoped to amuse the friend who was always so kind to her with this
comical work of art; but, as she leaned forward to reach it, she caught
sight of her uncle and exclaimed: “Philippus comes here to cure me, but
he looks as if he wanted a draught himself. Take care, or you will have
to drink that bitter brown stuff you sent yesterday; then you will
know for once how nasty it can be.” Though the child’s exclamation was
well-meant, neither of the men took any notice of it. They stood face
to face in utter silence and with only a formal greeting; for Orion,
without Mary’s remark, had been struck by the change that had come over
the physician since yesterday. Ignoring Orion’s presence, he asked the
child a few brief questions, begged Eudoxia to persevere in the same
course of treatment, and then hastily bid a general farewell to all
present; Orion, however, did not respond, but said, with an affectionate
glance at the little patient: “One word with you presently.”

This made Philippus turn to look at Mary and, as the eyes of the rivals
met, they knew that on one subject at any rate they thought and felt
alike. The leech already knew how tenderly the young man had taken to
Mary, and he followed him into the room which Orion now occupied, and
which, as Philippus was aware, had formerly been Paula’s.

“In the cause of duty,” he said to himself again and again, to keep
himself calm and enable him to gather at least the general sense of
what the handsome young fellow opposite to him was saying in his rich,
pleasant voice, and urging as a request with more warmth than the
leech had given him credit for. Philippus, of course, had heard of the
grandmother’s lamentable revulsion of feeling against her grandchild,
and he thought Orion’s wish to remove the little girl fully justified.
But, on learning that she was to be placed under Paula’s care, he seemed
startled, and gazed at the floor in such sullen gloom that the other
easily guessed what was going on in his mind. In fact, the physician
suspected that the child was to serve merely as an excuse for the more
frequent meetings of the lovers. Unable to bury this apprehension in his
own breast he started to his feet, and was about to put it into words,
when Orion took the words out of his mouth, saying modestly but frankly,
with downcast eyes:

“I speak only for the child’s--for Mary’s sake. By my father’s soul....”

But Philippus shook his head dismally, went up to his rival, and
murmured dully:

“For the sake of that child I am capable of doing or enduring a great
deal. She could not be better cared for than with Rufinus and Paula;
but if I could suppose,” and he raised his voice, while his eyes took a
sinister and threatening expression, “if I could suppose that her sacred
and suffering innocence were merely an excuse....”

“No, no,” said Orion urgently. “Again, on my sacred word, I assure you
that I have no aim in view but the child’s safety; and, as we have said
so much, I will not stick at a word more or less! Rufinus’ house is open
to you day and night, and I, if all turns out as I expect, shall ere
long be far from hence--from Memphis--from Paula. There is mischief
brewing--I dare say no more--an act of treachery; and I will try to
prevent it at the risk of my life. You, every one, shall no longer
have a right to think me capable of things which are as repulsive to
my nature as to yours. You and I, if I mistake not, strive for the same
prize, and so far are rivals; but why should the child therefor suffer?
Forget it in her presence, and that forgetting will, as you well know,
enhance your merit in her--her eyes.”

“My merit?” retorted the other scornfully. “Merit is not in the balance;
nothing but the gifts of blind Fortune--a nose, a chin, an eye, anything
in short--a crime as much as a deed of heroism--that happens to make a
deep impression on the wax of a girl’s soft heart. But curse me,” and he
shouted the words at Orion as if he were beside himself, “if I know how
we came to talk of such things! Has my folly gone running through the
streets, bare-bosomed, to display itself to the world at large? How do
you know what my feelings are? She, perhaps, has laughed with you at her
ridiculous lover?--Well, no matter. You know already, or will know by
to-morrow, which of us has won the cock-fight. You have only to look at
me! What woman ever broke her heart for such a Thersites-face. Good-luck
to the winner, and the other one--well, since it must be so, farewell
till to-morrow.”

He hastily made his way towards the door; Orion, however, detained him,
imploring him to set aside his ill-feeling--at any rate for the present;
assured him that Paula had not betrayed what his feelings were; that,
on the contrary, he himself, seeing him with her so late on the previous
night, had been consumed by jealousy, and entreated him to vent his
wrath on him in abusive words, if that could ease his heart, only, by
all that was good, not to withdraw his succor from that poor, innocent
child.

The physician’s humane heart was not proof against his prayer; and
when at length he prepared to depart, in the joyful and yet painful
conviction that his happier rival had become more worthy of the prize,
he had agreed that he would impress on Neforis, whose mind he suspected
to be slightly affected, that the air of the governor’s residence did
not suit Mary, and that she should place her in the care of a physician
outside the town.

As soon as Philippus had quitted the house, Orion went to see Rufinus,
who, on his briefly assuring him that he had come on grave and important
business, begged him to accompany him to his private room. The young
man, however, detained him till he had made all clear with the women as
to the reception of little Mary.

“By degrees all the inhabitants of the residence will be transplanted
into our garden!” exclaimed Rufinus. “Well, I have no objection; and
you, old woman, what do you say to it?”

“I have none certainly,” replied his wife. “Besides, neither you nor I
have to decide in this case: the child is to be Paula’s guest.”

“I only wish she were here already,” said Paula, “for who can say
whether your mother, Orion--the air here is perilously Melchite.”

“Leave Philippus and me to settle that.--You should have seen how
pleased Mary was.”

Then, drawing Paula aside, he hastily added:

“Have I not hoped too much? Is your heart mine? Come what may, can I
count on you--on your love--?”

“Yes, Yes!” The words rushed up from the very bottom of her heart, and
Orion, with a sigh of relief, followed the old man, glad and comforted.

The study was lighted up, and there, without mentioning Katharina, he
told Rufinus of the patriarch’s scheme for dispersing the nuns of St.
Cecilia. What could he care for these Melchite sisters? But, since that
consoling hour in the church, he felt as though it were his duty to
stand forth for all that was right, and to do battle against everything
that was base. Besides, he knew how warmly and steadfastly his father
had taken the part of this very convent against the patriarch. Finally,
he had heard how strongly his beloved was attached to this retreat and
its superior, so he prepared himself gleefully to come forth a new man
of deeds, and show his prowess.

The old man listened with growing surprise and horror, and when Orion
had finished his story he rose, helplessly wringing his hands. Orion
spoke to him encouragingly, and told him that he had come, not merely
to give the terrible news, but to hold council with him as to how
the innocent victims might be rescued. At this the grey-headed
philanthropist and wanderer pricked up his ears; and as an old war
horse, though harnessed to the plough, when he hears the trumpet sound
lifts his head and arches his neck as proudly and nobly as of yore
under his glittering trappings, so Rufinus drew himself up, his old
eyes sparkled, and he exclaimed with all the enthusiasm and eagerness of
youth:

“Very good, very good; I am with you; not merely as an adviser; no,
no. Head, and hand, and foot, from crown to heel! And as for you, young
man--as for you! I always saw the stuff that was in you in spite--in
spite.--But, as surely as man is the standard of all things, those
who reach the stronghold of virtue by a winding road are often better
citizens than those who are born in it.--It is growing late, but
evensong will not yet have begun and I shall still be able to see the
abbess. Have you any plan to propose?”

“Yes; the day after to-morrow at this hour....”

“And why not to-morrow?” interrupted the ardent old man.

“Because I have preparations to make which cannot be done in twelve
hours of daylight.”

“Good! Good!”

“The day after to-morrow at dusk, a large barge--not one of ours--will
be lying by the bank at the foot of the convent garden. I will escort
the sisters as far as Doomiat on the Lake. I will send on a mounted
messenger to-night, and I will charter a ship for the fugitives by the
help of my cousin Columella, the greatest ship-owner of that town. That
will take them over seas wherever the abbess may command.”

“Capital, splendid!” cried Rufinus enthusiastically. He took up his
hat and stick, and the radiant expression of his face changed to a very
grave one. He went up to the young man with solemn dignity, looked at
him with fatherly kindliness, and said:

“I know what woes befell your house through those of our confession,
the fellow-believers of these whom you propose to protect with so much
prudence and courage; and that, young man, is noble, nay, is truly
great. I find in you--you who were described to me as a man of the world
and not over-precise--for the first time that which I have sought in
vain for many years and in many lands, among the pious and virtuous: the
spirit of willing self-sacrifice to save an enemy of a different creed
from pressing peril.--But you are young, Orion, and I am old. You
triumph in the action only, I foresee the consequences. Do you know what
lies before you, if it should be discovered that you have covered the
escape of the prey whom the patriarch already sees in his net? Have you
considered that Benjamin, the most implacable and most powerful hater
among the Jacobites, will pursue you as his mortal foe with all the
fearful means at his command?”

“I have considered it,” replied Orion.

Rufinus laid his left hand on the young man’s shoulder, and his right
hand on his head, saying, “Then take with you, to begin with, an old
man’s--a father’s blessing.”

“Yes, a father’s,” repeated Orion softly. A happy thrill ran through his
body and soul, and he fell on the old man’s neck deeply moved.

For a minute they stood clasped in each other’s arms; then Rufinus freed
himself, and set out to seek the abbess. Orion returned to the women,
whose curiosity had been roused to a high pitch by seeing Rufinus
disappear through the gate leading to the convent-garden. Dame Joanna
could not sit still for excitement, and Pulcheria answered at random
when Orion and Paula, who had an infinity of things to say or whisper to
each other, now and then tried to draw her into the conversation.
Once she sighed deeply, and when her friend asked her: “What ails you,
Child?” she answered anxiously:

“Something serious must be going forward, I feel it. If only Philippus
were here!”

“But we are all safe and well, thank God!” observed Orion, and she
quickly replied:

“Yes indeed, the Lord be praised!” But she thought to herself:

“You think he is of no use but to heal the sick; but it is only when he
is here that everything goes right and happens for the best!”

Still, all felt that there was something unusual and ominous in the
air, and when the old man presently returned his face confirmed their
suspicions. He laid aside his hat and staff in speechless gravity; then
he put his arm affectionately round his wife and said:

“You will need all your courage and self-command once more, as you have
often done before, good wife; I have taken upon myself a serious duty.”

Joanna had turned very pale, and while she clung to her husband and
begged him to speak and not to torture her with suspense, her frail
figure was trembling, and bitter tears ran down her cheeks. She could
guess that her husband was once more going away from her and their
child, in the service and for the benefit of others, and she knew full
well that she could not prevent it. If she could, she never would have
had the heart to interfere: for she always understood him, and felt with
him that something to take him out of the narrow circle of home-life was
indispensable to his happiness.

He read her thoughts, and they gave him pain; but he was not to be
diverted from his purpose. The man who would try to heal every suffering
brute was accustomed to see those whom he loved best grieve on his
account. Marriage, he would say, ought not to hinder a man in following
his soul’s vocation; and he was fond of using this high-sounding name to
justify himself in his own and his wife’s eyes, in doing things to which
he was prompted only by restlessness and unsatisfied energy. Without
this he would, no doubt, have done his best for the imperilled
sisterhood, but it added to his enjoyment of the grand and dangerous
rescue.

The wretched fate of the hapless nuns, and the thought of losing them
as near neighbors, grieved the women deeply, and the men saw many tears
flow; at the same time they had the satisfaction of finding them all
three firmly and equally determined to venture all, and to bid these
whom they loved venture all, to hinder the success of a deed which
filled them with horror and disgust.

Joanna spoke not a word of demur when Rufinus said that he intended to
accompany the fugitives; and when, with beaming looks, he went on
to praise Orion’s foresight and keen decisiveness, Paula flew to him
proudly and gladly, holding out both her hands. As for the young man, he
felt as though wings were growing from his shoulders, and this fateful
evening was one of the happiest of his life.

The superior had agreed to his scheme, and in some details had improved
upon it. Two lay sisters and one nun should remain behind. The two
former were to attend to the sick in the infirmary, to ring the bell and
chant the services as usual, that the escape of the rest might not be
suspected; and Joanna, Paula, and Pulcheria, were to assist them.

When, at a late hour, Orion was about to leave, Rufinus asked whether,
under these circumstances, it would be well to bring Mary to his
house; he himself doubted it. Joanna was of his opinion; Paula, on the
contrary, said that she believed it would be better to let the child run
the risk of a remote danger--hardly to be called danger, than to leave
her to pine away body and soul in her old home. Pulcheria supported her,
but the two girls were forced to yield to the decision of the elders.



CHAPTER V.

After that interview with Orion, Philippus hurried off through the
town, paying so little heed to the people he met and to the processions
besieging Heaven with loud psalms to let the Nile at last begin to rise,
that he ran up against more than one passer-by, and had many a word of
abuse shouted after him. He went into two or three houses, and neither
his patients nor their attendants could recognize, in this abrupt and
hasty visitor, the physician and friend who was usually so sympathetic
to the sufferer: who would speak with a cordiality that brought new life
to his heart, who would toss the children in the air, kiss one and nod
merrily to another. To-day their elders even felt shy and anxious in
his presence. For the first time he found the duty he loved a wearisome
burthen; the sick man was a tormenting spirit in league with the world
against his peace of mind. What possessed him, that he should feel such
love of his fellow-men as to deprive himself of all comfort in life and
of his night’s rest for their sake? Rufinus was right. In these times
each man lived solely to spite his neighbor, and he who could be most
brazenly selfish, looking neither to the right hand nor to the left, was
the most certain to get on in life. Fool that he was to let other folks’
woes destroy his peace and hinder him in his scientific advancement!

Tormented by such bitter thoughts as these, he went into a neat little
house by the harbor where a worthy pilot lay dying, surrounded by his
wife and children; and there, at once, he was himself again, putting
forth all his knowledge and heartfelt kindliness, quitting the scene
with a bleeding heart and an empty purse; but no sooner was he out of
doors than his former mood closed in upon him with double gloom. The
case was plain: Even with the fixed determination not to sacrifice
himself for others he could not help doing it; the impulse was too
strong for him. He could no more help suffering with the sufferer,
and giving the best he had to give with no hope of a return, than the
drunkard can help drinking. He was made to be plundered; it was his
fate!

With a drooping head he returned to his old friend’s work-room.
Horapollo was sitting, just as he had sat the night before, at his
writing-table with his scrolls and his three lamps, a slave below,
snoring while he awaited his master’s pleasure.

The leech’s pretty Greek greeting “Rejoice!” sounded rather like “May
you choke!” as he flung aside his upper garment; and to the old man’s
answer and anxious exclamation: “How badly you look, Philip!” he
answered crossly: “Like a man who deserves a kick rather than a welcome;
a booby who has submitted to have his nose pulled; a cur who has licked
the hand of the lout who has thrashed him!”

He threw himself on the divan and told Horapollo all that had passed
between him and Orion. “And the maddest part of it all,” he ended, “is
that I almost like the man; that he really seems to me to be on the high
road to become a capital fellow; and that I no longer feel inclined to
pitch him into a lime-kiln at the mere thought of his putting out a hand
to Paula. At the same time,” and he started to his feet, “even if I help
him to bring the poor little girl away from that demented old hag, I
cannot and will not continue to be her physician. There are plenty of
quacks about in this corpse of a town, and they may find one of them.

“You will continue to treat the child,” interrupted the old man quietly.

“To have my heart daily flogged with nettles!” exclaimed the leech,
going towards Horapollo with wild gesticulations. “And do you believe
that I have any desire to meet that young fellow’s sweetheart day after
day, often twice a day, that the barb may be twisted round and round in
my bleeding wound?”

“I expect a quite different result from your frequent meeting,” said the
other. “You will get accustomed to see her under the aspect which alone
she can hence forth bear to you: that of a handsome girl--there are
thousands such in Egypt,--and the betrothed of another.”

“Certainly, if my heart were like a hunting-dog that lies down the
moment it is bid,” said Philippus with a scornful laugh. “The end of
it is that I must go away, away from Memphis--away from this miserable
world for all I care! I?--Recover my peace of mind within reach of her?
Alas, for my blissful, lost peace!”

“And why not? To every man a thing is only as he conceives of it. Only
listen to me: I had finished a treatise on the old and new Calendars,
and my master desired me to deliver a lecture on it in the Museum--if
the school of pedants in Alexandria now deserves the name; but I did
not wish to do so because I knew that the presence of such a large and
learned audience would embarrass me. But my master advised me to imagine
that my hearers were not men, but mere cabbages. This gave me new light;
I took his advice, got over my shyness, and my speech flowed like oil.”

“A very good story,” said Philippus, “but I do not see....”

“The moral of it for you,” interrupted the old man, “is that you must
regard the supremely adorable lady of your love as one among a dozen
others--I will not say as a cabbage--as one with whom your heart has
no more concern. Put a little strength of will into it, and you will
succeed.”

“If a heart were a cipher, and if passion were calendar-making!...”
 retorted Philippus. “You are a very wise man, and your manuscripts and
tables have stood like walls between you and passion.”

“Who can tell?” said Horapollo. “But at any rate, it never should have
had such power over me as to make me embitter the few remaining days
under the sun yet granted to my father and friend for the sake of a
woman who scorned my devotion. Will you promise me to talk no more
nonsense about flying from Memphis, or anything of the kind?”

“Teach me first to measure my strength of will.”

“Will you try, at any rate?”

“Yes, for your sake.”

“Will you promise to continue your treatment of that poor little girl,
whom I love dearly in spite of her forbears?”

“As long as I can endure the daily meeting with her--you know...”

“That, then, is a bargain.--Now, come and let us translate a few more
chapters.”

The friends sat at work together till a late hour, and when the old man
was alone again he reflected: “So long as he can be of use to the child
he will not go away, and by that time I shall have dug a pit for that
damned siren.”

       .........................

Orion had his hands full of work for the next morning. Before it was
light he sent off two trustworthy messengers to Doomiat, giving each of
them a letter with instructions that a sailing vessel should be held
in readiness for the fugitives. One was to start three hours after the
other, so that the business in hand should not fail if either of them
should come to grief.

He then went out; first to the harbor, where he succeeded in hiring a
large, good Nile-boat from Doomiat, whose captain, a trustworthy and
experienced man, promised to keep their agreement a secret and to be
prepared to start by noon next day. Next, after taking council with
himself, he went to the treasurer’s office, and there, with the
assistance of Nilus, made his will, to be ratified and signed next
morning in the presence of a notary and witnesses. His mother, little
Mary, and Paula were to inherit the bulk of his property. He also
bequeathed a considerable sum as a legacy to the hospitals and orphan
asylums, as well as to the Church, to the end that they might pray
for his soul; and a legacy to Nilus “as the most just judge of his
household.” Eudoxia, Mary’s Greek governess, was not forgotten; and
finally he commanded that all his house-slaves should be liberated, and
to the end that they might not suffer from want he bequeathed to them
one of his largest estates in Upper Egypt, where they might settle and
labor for their common good. He increased the handsome sums already
devised by his father to the freedmen of his family.

This business occupied several hours. Nilus, who wrote while Orion
dictated, giving the document a legal form, was deeply touched by
the young man’s fore thought and kindness; for in truth, since his
desecration of the judgment-seat, he had given him up for a lost soul.

By Orion’s orders this will was to be opened after four weeks, in case
he should not have returned from a journey on which he proposed starting
on the morrow, and this injunction revealed to the faithful steward, who
had grown grey in the service, that the last scion of the house
expected to run considerable risk; however, he was too modest to ask any
questions, and his master did not take him into his confidence.

When, after all this, the two men went back into the anteroom, Anubis,
the young clerk and Katharina’s ally, was standing there. Nilus took no
notice of him, and while he, with tearful eyes, stooped to kiss the hand
Orion held out to him as he bid him come to take leave of him once
more next evening, Anubis, who had withdrawn respectfully to a little
distance, keeping his ears open, however, officiously opened the heavy
iron-plated door.

Orion was exhausted and hungry; he enquired for his mother, and hearing
that she had gone to lie down, he went into the dining-room to get some
food. Although breakfast had but just been served, Eudoxia was awaiting
him with evident impatience. Her heart was bursting with a great piece
of news, and as Orion entered, greeting her, she cried out:

“Have you heard? Do you know?” Then she began, encouraged by his curt
negative, to pour out to him how that Neforis, by the desire of the
physician who had lately been to see her, had decided on sending her,
Eudoxia, away with her granddaughter to enjoy better air under the roof
of a friend of the leech’s; they were to go this very day, or to-morrow
at latest.

Orion was disagreeably startled by this intelligence. He had not
expected that Philippus would come so early, and he himself had been the
first to promote a scheme which now no longer seemed advisable.

“How very provoking!” he muttered between his teeth, as a slave offered
him a roast fowl and asparagus.

“Is it not? And perhaps we shall have to go quite far into the country,”
 said the Greek, with a languishing look, as she drew one of the long
stems between her teeth.

The words and the glance made Orion feel as if he grudged the old
fool the good food she was eating, and his voice was not particularly
ingratiating as he replied that town and country were all the same, the
only point was which would be best for the child. When he went on to say
that he was quitting home next evening, Eudoxia cried out, let a
stick of asparagus drop in her lap, and said despairingly: “Oh, then
everything is at an end!”

He, however, interposed reproachfully: “On the contrary, then your duty
begins; you must devote yourself wholly and exclusively to the child.
You know that her own grandmother is averse to her. Give her your best
affection, as you have already begun to do, be a mother to her; and if
you really are my well-wisher, show it in that way. For my part you will
find me grateful, and not in words alone. Go tomorrow to the treasurer’s
office; Nilus will give you the only thing by which I can at present
prove my gratitude. Do your best to cherish the child; I have taken care
to provide for your old age.”

He rose, cutting short the Greek’s profuse expressions of thanks, and
betook himself to his mother. She was still in her room; however, he now
sent word that he had come to see her, and she was ready to admit him,
having expected that he would come even sooner.

She was reclining, half-sitting, on a divan in her cool and shady
bedroom, and she at once told her son of her determination to follow the
physician’s advice and entrust the little girl to his friend. She spoke
in a tone of sleepy indifference; but as soon as Orion opposed her and
begged her to keep Mary at home, she grew more lively, and looking him
wrathfully in the face exclaimed: “Can you wish that? How can you ask
me?” and she went on in repining lamentation:

“Everything is changed nowadays. Old age no longer forgets; it is youth
that has a short memory. Your head has long been full of other things,
but I--I still remember who it was that made my lost dear one’s last
hours on earth a hell, even in view of the gates of Heaven!” Her breast
heaved with feeble, tearless sobs--a short, convulsive gasping, and
Orion did not dare contravene her wishes. He sought to soothe her
with loving words and, when she recovered herself, he told her that he
proposed to leave her for a short time to look after his estates, as
the law required, and this information gladdened her greatly. To be
alone--solitary and unobserved now seemed delightful. Those white pills
did more for her, raised her spirits better, than any human society.
They brought her dreams, sleeping or waking; dreams a thousand times
more delightful than her real, desolate existence. To give herself up to
memory, to pray, to dream, to picture herself in the other world among
her beloved dead--and besides that to eat and drink, which she was
always ready to do very freely--this was all she asked henceforth of
life on earth.

When, to her further questions, Orion replied that he was going first
to the Delta, she expressed her regret, since, if he had gone to Upper
Egypt, he might have visited his sister-in-law, Mary’s mother, in her
convent. She sat up as she spoke, passed her hand across her forehead,
and pointed to a little table near the head of the couch, on which, by
the side of a cup with fruit syrup, phials, boxes, and other objects,
lay a writing-tablet and a letter-scroll. This she took up and handed to
Orion, saying:

“A letter from your sister-in-law. It came last evening and I began
to read it; but the first words are a complaint of your father, and
that--you know, just before going to sleep--I could not read any more;
I could not bear it! And to-day; first there was church, and then the
physician came with his request about the child; I have not yet found
courage to read the rest of it.--What can any letter bring to me but
evil! Do you know at all whence anything pleasant could come to me? But
now: read me the letter. Not that part again about your father; that I
will keep till presently for myself alone.”

Orion undid the roll, and with quivering lips glanced over the nun’s
accusations against his father. The wildest fanaticism breathed in
every line of this epistle from the martyr’s widow. She had found in the
cloister all she sought: she lived now, she said, in God alone and in
the Divine Saviour. She thought of her child, even, only as an alien,
one of God’s young creatures for whom it was a joy to pray. At the same
time it was her duty to care for the little one’s soul, and if it were
not too hard for her grandmother to part from her, she longed to see
Mary once more. She had lately been chosen abbess of her convent--and
no one could prevent her taking possession of the child; but she feared
lest an overwhelming natural affection might drag her back to the carnal
world, which she had for ever renounced, so she would have Mary brought
up in a neighboring nunnery, and led to Heavenly joys, not to earthly
misery--to be the wife of no sinful husband, but a pure bride of Christ.

Orion shuddered as he read and, when he laid the letter down, his mother
exclaimed:

“Perhaps she is right, perhaps it is already ordained that the child
should be sent to the convent, and not to the leech’s friend, and
started on the only path that leads to Heaven without danger or
hindrance!”

But Orion said to himself that he would make it his duty to guard the
happy-hearted child from this fate, and he begged his mother to consider
that the first important point was to restore the little girl to health.
He now saw that she had been right. His father had always obeyed the
prescriptions of Philippus, and for that reason, if for no other, it
would be her duty to act by his advice.

Neforis, who for some time had been casting longing eyes at a small box
by her side, did not contradict him; and in the course of the afternoon
Orion conducted little Mary and her governess to the house of Rufinus,
who, notwithstanding the doubts he had expressed the day before, made
them heartily welcome.

When Mary was lying in her bed, close by the side of Paula’s, the child
threw her arms round the young girl’s neck as she leaned over her, and
laying her head on her bosom, felt herself in soft and warm security.
There, as one released from prison and bondage, she wept out her woes,
pouring all the grief of her deeply wounded child’s heart into that of
her friend.

Paula, however, heard Orion’s voice, and she longed to go down to her
lover, whom she had greeted but briefly on his arrival; still, she
could not bear to snatch the child from her bosom, to disturb her in her
newly-found happiness and leave her at this very moment! And yet, she
must--she must see him! Every impulse urged her towards him and, when
Pulcheria came into the room, she placed Mary’s hand in hers and said:
“There, now make friends and stay together like good children till I
come back again and have something nice to tell you. You are fond of
Orion, little one, my story shall be all about him.”

“He was obliged to go,” said Pulcheria, interrupting her. “Here is his
message on this tablet. He was almost dying of impatience, and when he
could wait no longer he wrote this for you.”

Paula took the tablet, with a cry of regret, and carried it to her room
to read. He had longed for their meeting as eagerly as herself, but at
last he could wait no longer. How differently--so he wrote--had he hoped
to end this day which must be devoted to the rescue of her friends.

Why, oh why had she allowed herself to be detained here? Why had she not
flown to him, at least for a few moments, to thank him for his kindness
and faithfulness, and to hear him confess publicly and aloud what he had
but murmured in her ear the day before? She returned to the little girl,
anxious and dissatisfied with herself.

Orion had in fact postponed his departure till the last moment; he
thought it necessary to give Amru due notice of his journey and of his
rupture with the patriarch. Of all the motives which could prompt him to
aid the nuns, revenge was that which the Arab could best understand.



CHAPTER VI.

As Orion rode across the bridge of boats to Fostat, the gladness that
had inspired him died away. Could not--ought not Paula to have spared
him a small part of the time she had devoted to the child? He had been
left to make the most of a kind grasp of the hand and a grateful look of
welcome. Would she not have flown to meet him, if the love of which she
had assured him yesterday were as fervent, as ardent as his own? Was
the proud spirit of this girl, who, as his mother said, was cold and
unapproachable, incapable of passionate, self-forgetting devotion? Was
there no way of lighting up in her the sacred fire which burnt in him?
He was tormented by many doubts and a bitter feeling of disappointment,
and a crowd of suspicions forced themselves upon him, which would never
have troubled him if only he had seen her once more, had heard her happy
words of love, and felt his lips consecrated by his mistress’ first
kiss.

He was out of spirits, indeed out of temper, as he entered the Arab
general’s dwelling. In the anteroom he was met by rejected petitioners,
and he said to himself, with a bitter smile, that he had just been sent
about his business in the same unsatisfied mood--yes, sent about his
business--and by whom?

He was announced, and his spirits rose a little when he was at once
admitted and led past many, who were left waiting, into the Arab
governor’s presence-chamber. He was received with paternal warmth; and,
when Amru heard that Orion and the patriarch had come to high words, he
jumped up and holding out both his hands exclaimed:

“My right hand on that, my friend; come over to Islam, and with my left
I will appoint you your father’s successor, in the Khaliff’s name,
in spite of your youth. Away with hesitation! Clasp hands; at once,
quickly! I cannot bear to quit Egypt and know that there is no governor
at Memphis!”

The blood tingled in the young man’s veins. His father’s successor!
He, the new Mukaukas! How it flattered his ambition, what a way to all
activity it opened out to him! It dazzled his vision, and moved him
strongly to grasp the right hand which his generous patron still held
out to him. But suddenly his excited fancy showed him the image of the
Redeemer with whom he had entered into a silent covenant in the church,
sadly averting his gentle face. At this he remembered what he had vowed;
at this he forgot all his grievance against Paula; he took the general’s
hand, indeed, but only to raise it to his lips as he thanked him with
all his heart. But then he implored him, with earnest, pleading urgency,
not to be wroth with him if he remained firm and clung to the faith of
his father and his ancestors. And Amru was not wroth, though it was with
none of the hearty interest with which he had at first welcomed him,
that he hastily warned Orion to be on his guard against the prelate,
since, so long as he remained a Christian, he had no power to protect
him against Benjamin.

When Orion went on to tell him that he was intending to travel for a
short time, and had, in fact, come to take leave of him, the Arab was
much annoyed. He, too, he said, must be going away and was starting
within two days for Medina.

“And in casting my eye on you,” he went on, “in spite of your youth, to
fill your father’s place, I took care to find a task for you which would
enable you to prove that I had not put too great confidence in you.
But, if you persist in your own opinions, I cannot possibly entrust so
important a post as the governorship of Memphis to a Christian so
young as you are; with the youthful Moslem I might have ventured on
it.--However, I will not deprive you of the enterprise which I had
intended for you. If you succeed in it, it will be a good thing for
yourself, and I can, I believe, turn it to the benefit of the whole
province--for what could take me from hence at this time, when my
presence is so needful for a hundred incomplete projects, but my anxiety
for the good of this country--in which I am but an alien, while you
must love it as your native soil, the home of your race?--I am going to
Medina because the Khaliff, in this letter, complains that I send too
small a revenue into the treasury from so rich a land as Egypt. And yet
not a single dinar of your taxes finds its way into my own coffers. I
keep a hundred and fifty thousand laborers at work to restore the canals
and waterworks which my predecessors, the blood-sucking Byzantines,
neglected so disgracefully and left to fall to ruin--I build, and plan,
and sow seed for posterity to reap. All this costs money. It swallows up
the lion’s share of the revenue. And I am making the journey, not merely
to purge myself from reproach, but to obtain Omar’s permission for the
future to exact no extortionate payments, but to consider only the true
weal of the province. I am most unwilling to go, for a thousand reasons;
and you, young man, if you care for your native land, ought.... Do you
really love it and wish it well?”

“With all my soul!” cried Orion.

“Well then, at this time, if by any possibility you can arrange it so,
you ought to remain at home, and devote yourself heart and soul to the
task I have to propose to you. I hate postponements. Ride straight at
the foe, and do not canter up and down till you tire the horses! that is
my principle, and not in battle only. Take the moral to heart!--And you
will have no time to waste; what I require is no light matter: It is
that you should endeavor to sketch a new division of the districts,
drawing on your own knowledge of the country and its inhabitants,
and using the records and lists in the archives of your ancient
government-offices, of which your father has told me; you must have
special regard to the financial condition of each district. That the old
mode of levying taxes is unsatisfactory we find every day; you will have
ample room for improvements in every respect. Overthrow the existing
arrangements, if you consider it necessary. Other men have attempted
to redistribute the divisions and devise new modes of collecting the
revenue. The best scheme will have the preference; and you seem to me
to be the man to win the prize, and, with it, a wide and noble field of
work in the future. It is not a mere sense of tedium, or a longing
for the pleasures of the capital to which you are accustomed, that are
tempting you to quit Memphis the melancholy....”

“No, indeed, my Lord,” Orion assured him. “The duty I have in view does
not even profit me, and if I had not given my word I would throw myself,
heart and soul, into so grand a task, no later than to-morrow. That you
should expect me to solve so hard a problem is the most precious incense
ever offered me. If it is only to be worthy of your confidence, I
will return as soon as possible and put forth my utmost powers of
intelligence and prudence, of endurance and patriotism. I have
always been a diligent student; and it would be a shame indeed, if
my experiences as a youth could hinder the man from outdoing the
school-boy.”

“That is right, well said!” replied Amru, holding out his hand. “Do your
best, and you shall have ample opportunity of proving your powers.--Take
my warnings to heart as regards the patriarch and the black Vekeel. I
unfortunately have no one who could fill his place except the worthy
Kadi Othman; but he is no soldier, and he cannot be spared from his
post. Keep out of Obada’s way, return soon, and may the All-merciful
protect you....”

When Orion had recrossed the bridge on his way home, he saw a
gaily-dressed Nile-boat, such as now but rarely stopped at Memphis,
lying at anchor in the dock, and on the road he met two litters followed
by beasts of burden and a train of servants. The whole party had a
brilliant and wealthy appearance, and at any other time would have
roused his curiosity; but to-day he merely wondered for a moment who
these new-comers might be, and then continued to meditate on the task
proposed to him by Amru. From the bottom of his heart he cursed the hour
in which he had pledged himself to take the part of these strangers;
for after such long idleness he longed to be able to prove his powers.
Suddenly, and as if by a miracle, he saw the way opened before him which
he had himself hoped to tread, and now he was fettered and held back
from an enterprise which he felt he could carry out with success
and benefit to his country, while it attracted him as with a hundred
lode-stones.

Next morning, when his will had been duly signed and witnessed, he
called the treasurer for an interview alone with him. He had made up his
mind that one person, at least, must be informed of the enterprise he
had planned, and that one could be no other than Nilus. So he begged him
to accompany him to the impluvium of his private residence; and several
office scribes who were present heard the invitation given. They did
not, however, allow themselves to be disturbed in their work; the
youngest only--a handsome lad of sixteen, an olive-complexioned
Egyptian, with keen, eager black eyes, who had listened sharply to
every word spoken by the treasurer and his master, quietly rose from his
squatting posture as soon as they had quitted the office, and, stole,
unobserved into the anteroom. From thence he flew up the ladder-like
steps which led to the dovecote of which he had the care, sprang on
to the roof of the lower story, and crept flat on his face till he was
close to the edge of the large square opening which gave light and air
to the impluvium below. With a swift movement of the hand he pushed
back the awning which shaded it at midday, and listened intently to the
dialogue that went on below.

This listener was Anubis, the water-wagtail’s foster-brother; and
he seemed to be in no way behind his beloved mistress in the art of
listening; for no one could prick up his ears more sharply than Anubis.
He knew, too, what was to be his reward for exposing himself on a roof
to the shafts of the pitiless African sun, for Katharina, his adored
play-fellow and the mistress of his ardent boy’s heart, had promised him
a sweet kiss, if only he would bring her back some more exact news as to
Orion’s perilous journey. Anubis had told her, the evening before, all
he had heard in the anteroom to the office, but such general information
had not satisfied her. She must see clearly before her, must know
exactly what was going on, and she was not mistaken when she imagined
that the reward she had promised the lad would spur him to the utmost.

Anubis had not indeed expected to gain his end so soon, boldly as he
dared to hope; scarcely had he pushed aside the awning, when Orion began
to explain to Nilus all his plan and purpose.

When he had finished speaking, the boy did not wait to hear Nilus reply.
Intoxicated with his success, and the prospect of a guerdon which to him
included all the bliss of heaven, he crept back to the dovecote. But
he could not go back by the way by which he had come; for if one of the
older scribes should meet him in the anteroom, he would be condemned to
return to his work. He therefore wriggled along the ridge of the roof
towards the fishing-cove, got over it, and laid hold of a gutter pipe,
intending to slip down it; unfortunately it was old and rotten-rain was
rare in Memphis--and hardly had he trusted his body after his hands when
the lead gave way. The rash youth fell with the clattering fragments of
the gutter from a height of four men; a heavy thump on the pavement was
followed by a loud cry, and in a few minutes all the officials had
heard that poor Anubis, nimble as he was, had fallen from the roof while
attending to his pets, and had broken his leg.

The two men in the impluvium were not informed of the accident till some
time later, for strict orders had been given that they were not to be
disturbed.

Nilus had received his young master’s communication with growing
amazement, indignation, and horror. When Orion ended, the treasurer put
forth all the eloquence of a faithful heart, anxious for the safety of
the body and soul of the youth he loved, to dissuade him from a deed of
daring which could bring him nothing but misapprehension, disaster, and
persecution. Nilus was with all his soul a Jacobite; and the idea that
his young master was about to risk everything for a party of Melchite
nuns, and draw down upon himself the wrath and maledictions of the
patriarch, was more than he could bear.

His faithful friend’s warnings and entreaties did not leave Orion
unmoved; but he clung to his determination, representing to Nilus that
he had pledged his word to Rufinus, and could not now draw back, though
he had already lost all his pleasure in the enterprise. But it went
against him to leave the brave old man to face the danger alone--indeed,
it was out of the question.

Genuine anxiety is fertile in expedient; Orion had scarcely done
speaking, when Nilus had a proposal to make which seemed well calculated
to dispel the youth’s last objections. Melampus, the chief shipbuilder,
was a Greek and a zealous Melchite, though he no longer dared to confess
his creed openly. He and his sons, two bold and sturdy ships carpenters,
had often given proof of their daring, and Nilus had no doubt that they
would be more than willing to share in an expedition which had for its
object the rescue of so many pious fellow-believers. They might take
Orion’s place, and would be far more helpful to the old man than Orion
himself.

Orion so far approved of this suggestion as to promise himself good aid
from the brave artisans, who were well known to him; and he was willing
to take them with him, though he would not give up his own share in the
business.

Nilus, though he adhered firmly to his objections, was at last
reduced to silence. However, Orion went with his anxious friend to the
ship-yard; the old ship-builder, a kind-hearted giant, was as ready and
glad to undertake the rescue of the Sisters as if each one was his own
mother. It would be a real treat to the youngsters to have a hand in
such a job,--and he was right, for when they were taken into confidence
one flourished his hatchet with enthusiasm, and the tether struck his
horny fist against his left palm as gleefully as though he were bidden
to a dance.

Orion took boat at once with the three men, and was rowed to the
house of Rufinus, to whom he introduced them; the old man was entirely
satisfied.

Orion remained with him after dismissing them. He had promised last
evening to breakfast with him, and the meal was waiting. Paula had gone,
about an hour since, to the convent, and Joanna expected her to return
at any moment. They began without her, however; the various dishes were
carried away, the meal was nearly ended-still she had not returned.
Orion, who had at first been able to conceal his disappointment, was
now so uneasy that his host could with difficulty extract brief and
inadvertent replies to his repeated questions. Rufinus himself was
anxious; but just as he rose to go in search of her, Pulcheria, who was
at the window, saw her coming, and joyfully exclaiming: “There she is!”
 ran out.

But now again minute after minute passed, a quarter of an hour grew to
half an hour, and still Orion was waiting in vain. Glad expectation
had long since turned to impatience, impatience to a feeling of injured
dignity, and this to annoyance and bitter vexation, when at last
Pulcheria came back instead of Paula, and begged him from Paula to join
her in the garden.

She had been detained too long at the convent. The terrible rumor had
scared the pious sisters out of their wonted peace and put them all into
confusion, like smoke blown into a bee-hive. The first thing was to pack
their most valuable possessions; and although Orion had expressly said
only a small number of cases and bags could be taken on board, one was
for dragging her prayer-desk, another a large picture of some saint, a
third a copper fish-kettle, and the fourth, fifth, and sixth the great
reliquary with the bones of Ammonius the Martyr, to which the chapel
owed its reputation for peculiar sanctity. To reduce this excess
of baggage, the abbess had been obliged to exert all her energy and
authority, and many a sister retired weeping over some dear but too
bulky treasure.

The superior had therefore been unable to devote herself to Paula till
this portable property had been under review. Then the damsel had
been admitted to her parlor, a room furnished with rich and elegant
simplicity, and there she had been allowed to pour out her whole heart
to warm and sympathetic ears.

Any one who could have seen these two together might have thought that
this was a daughter in grief seeking counsel on her mother’s breast.
In her youth the grey-haired abbess must have been very like Thomas’
daughter; but the lofty and yet graceful mien of the younger woman had
changed in the matron to majestic and condescending dignity, and it was
impossible to guess from her defiantly set mouth that it had once been
the chief charm of her face.

As she listened to the girl’s outpourings the expression of her calm
eyes changed frequently; when her soul was fired by fanatical zeal
they could gleam brightly; but now she was listening to a variety of
experiences, for Paula regarded this interview as a solemn confession,
and concealed nothing from the friend who was both mother and
priest-neither of what had happened to her in external circumstances,
nor of what had moved her heart and mind ever since she had first
entered the house of the Mtikaukas. Not a corner of her soul did she
leave unsearched; she neither concealed nor palliated anything; and
when she described her lover’s strenuous efforts to apprehend the whole
seriousness of life, her love and enthusiasm fairly carried her away,
making his image shine all the more brightly by comparison with the
brief, but dark shadow, that had fallen upon it. When Paula had at last
ended her confession, the superior had remained silent for some time;
then drawing the girl to her, she had affectionately asked her:

“And now? Now, tell me truly, does not the passion that has such
wonderful power over you prompt and urge your inmost soul to yield--to
fly to the embrace of the man you love--to give all up for him and say:
‘Here I am--I am yours! Call a priest to bless our union!--Is it not
so--am I not right?’”

Paula, deeply blushing, bowed assent; but the old woman drew her head on
to her motherly bosom, and went on thoughtfully:

“I saw him drive past in his quadriga, and was reminded of many a noble
statue of the heathen Greeks. Beauty, rank, wealth, aye--and talents and
intellect--all that could ruin the heart of a Paula are his, and she--I
see it plainly--will give it to him gladly.”

And again the maiden bowed her head. The abbess sighed, and went on as
though she had with difficulty succeeded in submitting to the inevitable
“Then all warning would be in vain.--Still, he is not of our confession,
he....”

“But how highly he esteems it!” cried Paula. “That he proves by risking
his freedom and life for you and your household.”

“Say rather for you whom he loves,” replied the other. “But putting that
out of the question, it pains me deeply to think of Thomas’ daughter
as the wife of a Jacobite. You will not, I know, give him up; and the
Father of Love often leads true love to good ends by wonderful ways,
even though they are ways of error, passing through pitfalls and
abysses.”

Paula fell on her neck to kiss her gratefully: but the abbess could only
allow the girl a few minutes to enjoy her happiness. She desired her
to sit down by her side, and holding Paula’s hand in both her own, she
spoke to her in a tone of calm deliberation. She and her sisterhood, she
began by saying, were deeply indebted to Orion. She had no dearer
wish than that Paula should find the greatest earthly happiness in her
marriage; still, it was her part to tender advice, and she dared not
blind herself to the dangers which threatened this happiness. She
herself had a long life behind her of varied experience, in which she
had seen hundreds of young men who had been given up as lost sinners
by father and mother--lost to the Church and to all goodness--and among
these many a one, like Saul, had had his journey to Damascus. A turning
point had come to them, and the outcast sons had become excellent and
pious men.

Paula, as she listened, had drawn closer to the speaker, and her eyes
beamed with joy; but the elder woman shook her head, and her gaze grew
more devout and rapt, as she went on with deep solemnity:

“But then, my child, in all of these Grace had done its perfect work;
the miracle was accomplished which we term regeneration. They were still
the same men in the flesh and in the elements of their sensible nature,
but their relation to the world and to life was altogether new. All that
they had formerly thought desirable they could now hate; what they had
deemed important was now worthless, and the worthless precious in their
eyes; whereas they once referred everything to their own desires, they
now referred all to God and His will. Their impulses were the same as of
old, but they kept them within bounds by a never-sleeping consciousness
that they led, not to joys, but to everlasting punishment. These
regenerate souls learned to contemn the world, and instead of gazing
down at the dust their eyes were fixed upwards on Heaven. If either of
them tottered, his whole ‘new man’ prompted him to recover his balance
before he fell to the ground.--But Orion! Your lover? His guilt seems
to have passed over him; he hopes for reunion with God from a more
meritorious life in the world. Not only is his nature unaltered, but his
attitude with regard to life and to the joys it offers to the children
of this world. Earthly love is spurring him on to strive for what is
noble and great and he earnestly seeks to attain it; but he will fall
over every stone that the devil casts in his path, and find it hard to
pick himself up again, for misfortune has not led him to the new birth
or the new life in God. Just such men have I seen, numbers of times,
relapsing into the sins they had escaped from. Before we can entirely
trust a man who has once--though but once-wandered so far from God’s
ways, while Grace has not yet worked effectually in him, we shall do
well to watch his dealings and course for more than a few short days. If
you still feel that you must follow the dictates of your heart, at any
rate do not fly into your lover’s open arms, do not abandon to him the
pure sanctuary of your body and soul, do not be wholly his till he has
been fully put to the proof.”

“But I believe in him entirely!” cried Paula, with a flood of tears.

“You believe because you love him,” replied the abbess.

“And because he deserves it.”

“And how long has he deserved it?”

“Was he not a splendid man before his fall?”

“And so was many a murderer. Most criminals become outcasts from society
in a single moment.”

“But society still accepts Orion.”

“Because he is the son of the Mukaukas.”

“And because he wins all hearts!”

“Even that of the Almighty?”

“Oh! Mother, Mother! why do you measure him by the standard of your own
sanctified soul? How few are the elect who find a share of the grace of
which you speak!”

“But those who have sinned like him must strive for it.”

“And he does so, Mother, in his way.”

“It is the wrong way; wrong for those who have sinned as he has. All he
strives for is worldly happiness.”

“No, no. He is firm in his faith in God and the Saviour. He is not a
liar.”

“And yet he thinks he may escape the penalty?”

“And does not the Lord pardon true repentance?--He has repented; and how
bitterly, how fearfully he has suffered!”

“Say rather that he has felt the stripes that his own sin brought upon
him.--There are more to come; and how will he take them? Temptation
lurks in every path, and how will he avoid it? As your mother, indeed
it is my duty to warn you: Keep your passion and yourself still under
control; continue to watch him, and grant him nothing--not the smallest
favor, as you are a maiden, before he...”

“Till when; how long am I to be so basely on my guard?” sobbed Paula.
“Is that love which trusts not and is not ready to share the lot even of
the backslider?”

“Yes, child, yes,” interrupted the old woman. “To suffer all things, to
endure all things, is the duty of true love, and therefore of yours; but
you must not allow the most indissoluble of all bonds to unite you to
him till the back-slider has learnt to walk firmly. Follow him step by
step, hold him up with faithful care, never despair of him if he seems
other than what you had hoped. Make it your duty, pious soul, to render
him worthy of grace--but do not be in a hurry to speak the final yes--do
not say it yet.”

Paula yielded, though unwillingly, to this last word of counsel; but, in
fact, Orion’s fault had filled the abbess with deep distrust. So great
a sinner, under the blight, too, of a father’s curse, ought, in her
opinion, to have retired from the world and besieged Heaven for grace
and a new birth, instead of seeking joys, such as she thought none but
the most blameless--and, those of her own confession--could deserve,
in union with so exceptional a creature as her beloved Paula. Indeed,
having herself found peace for her soul only in the cloister, after
a stormy and worldly youth, she would gladly have received the noble
daughter of her old friend as the Bride of Christ within those walls,
to be, perhaps, her successor as Mother Superior. She longed that
her darling should be spared the sufferings she had known through the
ruthlessness of faithless men; so she would not abate a jot of the tenor
of her advice, or cease to impress on Paula, firmly though lovingly, the
necessity of following it. At last Paula took leave of her, bound by a
promise not to pledge herself irrevocably to Orion till his return from
Doomiat, and till the abbess had informed her by letter what opinion she
had formed of him in the course of their flight.

The high-spirited girl had not shed so many tears, as in the course of
this interview, since the fatal affair at Abyla where she had lost her
father and brother; it was with a tear-stained face and aching head that
she had made her way back, under the scorching mid-day sun, to Rufinus’
house, where she sought her old nurse. Betta had earnestly entreated her
to lie down, and when Paula refused to hear of it she persuaded her at
any rate to bathe her head with water as cold as was procurable in this
terrific heat, and to have her hair carefully rearranged by her skilful
hand; for this had been her mother’s favorite remedy against headache.
When, at length, Paula and her lover stood face to face, in a shady spot
in the garden, they both looked embarrassed and estranged. He was pale,
and gazed at her with some annoyance; and her red eyes and knit brows,
for her brain was throbbing with piercing pain, did not tend to improve
his mood. It was her part to explain and excuse herself; and as he did
not at once address her after they had exchanged greetings, she said in
a low tone of urgent entreaty:

“Forgive me for coming so late. How long you must have been waiting!
But parting from my best friend, my second mother, agitated me so
painfully--it was so unspeakably sad.--I did not know how to hold up
my head, it ached so when I came home, and now--oh, I had hoped that we
might meet to-day so differently!”

“But even yesterday you had no time to spare for me,” he retorted
sullenly, “and this morning--you were present when Rufinus invited
me--this morning!--I am not exacting, and to you, good God! How could
I be?--But have we not to part, to bid each other farewell--perhaps for
ever? Why should you have given up so much time and strength to your
friend, that so scanty a remnant is left for the lover? That is an
unfair division.”

“How could I deny it?” she said with melancholy entreaty. “You are
indeed very right; but I could not leave the child last evening, as soon
as she came, and while she was weeping out all her sorrows; and if you
only knew how surprised and grieved I was--how my heart ached when,
instead of finding you, your note....”

“I was obliged to go to Amru,” interrupted Orion. “This undertaking
compels me to leave much behind, and I am no longer the freest of
the free, as I used to be. During this dreadful breakfast I have been
sitting on thorns. But let all that pass. I came hither with a heart
high with hope--and now?--You see, Paula, this enterprise tears me in
two in more ways than you can imagine, puts me into a more critical
position, and weighs more on my mind than you can think or know--I will
explain it all to you at another time--and to bear it all, to keep up
the spirit and happy energy that I need, I must be secure of the one
thing for which I could take far greater toil and danger as mere child’s
play; I must know....”

“You must know,” she interposed, “whether my heart is fully and wholly
open to your love....”

“And whether,” he added, with growing ardor, “in spite of the bitter
suffering that weighs on my wretched soul, I may hope to be happier than
the saints in bliss. O Paula, adored and only woman, may I....”

“You may,” she said clearly and fervently. “I love you, Orion, and shall
never, never cease to love you with my whole soul.”

He flew to her side, clasped both her hands as if beside himself,
snatched them to his lips regardless of the nearness of the house,
whence ten pairs of eyes might have seen him, and covered them with
burning kisses, till she drew them from him with the entreaty: “No, no;
forbear, I entreat you. No--not now.”

“Yes, now, at this very moment--or, if not, when?” he asked vehemently.
“But here, in this garden--you are right, this is no place for two human
beings so happy as we are. Come with me; come into the house and lead
the way to a spot where we may be unseen and unheard, alone with each
other and our happiness.”

“No, no, no!” she hastily put in, pressing her hand to her aching brow.
“Come with me to the bench under the sycamore; it is shady there, and
you can tell me everything, and hear once more how entirely love has
taken possession of me.”

He looked in her face, surprised and disappointed; but she turned
towards the sycamore and sat down beneath it. He slowly followed her.
She signed to him to take a seat by her side, but he stood up in front
of her, saying sadly and despondently.

“Always the same--always calm and cold. Is this fair, Paula? Is this
the overwhelming love of which you spoke? Is this your response to the
yearning cry of a passionately ardent heart? Is this all that love can
grant to love--that a betrothed owes to her lover on the very eve of
parting?”

At this she looked up at him, deeply distressed, and said in
pathetically urgent entreaty: “O Orion, Orion! Have I not told you, can
you not see and feel how much I love you? You must know and feel it; and
if you do, be content, I entreat. You, whom alone I love, be satisfied
to know that this heart is yours, that your Paula--your own Paula, for
that indeed I am--will think of nothing, care for nothing, pray and
entreat Heaven for nothing but you, yes you, my own, my all.”

“Then come, come with me,” he insisted, “and grant your betrothed the
rights that are his due.

“Nay, not my betrothed--not yet,” she besought him, with all the
fervor of her tortured soul. “In my veins too the blood flows warm with
yearning. Gladly would I fly to your arms and lay my head against yours,
but not to-day can I become your betrothed, not yet; I cannot, I dare
not!”

“And why not? Tell me, at any rate, why not,” he cried indignantly,
clenching his fist to his breast. “Why will you not be my bride, if
indeed it is true that you love me? Why have you invented this new and
intolerable torment?”

“Because prudence tells me,” she replied in a low, hurried voice, while
her bosom heaved painfully, as though she were afraid to hear her own
words; “because I see that the time is not yet come. Ah, Orion! you have
not yet learnt to bridle the desires and cravings that burn within you;
you have forgotten all too quickly what is past--what a mountain we had
to cross before we succeeded in finding each other, before I--for I must
say it, my dear one--before I could look you in the face without anger
and aversion. A strange and mysterious ordering has brought it about;
and you, too, have honestly done your best that everything should be
changed, that what was white should now be black, that the chill north
wind should turn to a hot southerly one. Thus poison turns to healing,
and a curse to a blessing. In this foolish heart of mine passionate
hatred has given way to no less fervent love. Still, I cannot yet be
your bride, your wife. Call it cowardice, call it selfish caution, what
you will. I call it prudence, and applaud it; though it cost my poor
eyes a thousand bitter tears before my heart and brain could consent to
be guided by the warning voice. Of one thing you may be fully assured:
my heart will never be another’s, come what may--it is yours with my
whole soul!--But I will not be your bride till I can say to you
with glad confidence, as well as with passionate love: ‘You have
conquered--take me, I am yours!’ Then you shall feel and confess that
Paula’s love is not less vehement, less ardent.... O God! Orion, learn
to know and understand me. You must--for my sake and your own, you
must!--My head, merciful Heaven, my head!”

She bowed her face and clasped her hands to her burning brow; Orion,
pale and shivering, laid his hand on her shoulder, and said in a harsh,
forced voice that had lost all its music: “The Esoterics impose severe
trials on their disciples before they admit them into the mysteries.
And we are in Egypt--but the difference is a wide one when the rule is
applied to love. How ever, all this is not from yourself. What you call
prudence is the voice of that nun!”

“It is the voice of reason,” replied Paula softly. “The yearning of my
heart had overpowered it, and I owe to my friend....”

“What do you owe her?” cried the young man furiously indignant. “You
should curse her, rather, for doing you so ill a turn, as I do at this
moment. What does she know of me? Has she ever heard a word from my
lips? If that despotic and casuistic recluse could have known what my
heart and soul are like, she would have advised you differently. Even
as a childs’ confidence and love alone could influence me. Whatever my
faults might be, I never was false to kindness and trust.--And, so far
as you are concerned--you who are prudence and reason in person--blest
in your love, I should have cared only for your approbation. If I could
have overcome the last of your scruples, I should indeed have been proud
and happy!--I would have brought the sun and stars down from the sky
for you, and have laughed temptation to scorn!--But as it is--instead
of being raised I am lowered, a laughing-stock even in my own eyes. One
with you, I could have led the way on wings to the realms of light where
Perfection holds sway!--But as it is? What a task lies before me!--To
heat your frigid love to flaming point by good deeds, as though they
were olive-logs. A pretty task for a man--to put himself to the proof
before the woman he loves! It is a hideous and insulting torture which I
will not submit to, against which my whole inner man revolts, and which
you will and must forego--if indeed it is true that you love me!”

“I love you, oh! I love you,” she cried, beside herself, and seizing his
hands. “Perhaps you are right. I--my God what shall I do? Only do not
ask me yet, to speak the final yes or no. I cannot control myself to the
feeblest thought. You see, you see, how I am suffering!”

“Yes, I see it,” he replied, looking compassionately at her pale face
and drawn brow. “And if it must be so, I say: till this evening then.
Try to rest now, and take care of yourself.--But then....”

“Then, during the voyage, the flight, repeat to the abbess all you
have just said to me. She is a noble woman, and she, too, will learn to
understand and to love you, I am sure. She will retract the word I
know....”

“What word?”

“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.



CHAPTER VII.

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:

“Only think, my lord! Here is a messenger come from the inn kept by
Sostratus with this tablet for you.--It is open, so I read it. Only
think! it is hardly credible! The Senator Justinus is here with his
wife, the noble Martina--here in Memphis, and they beg you to visit them
at once to speak of matters of importance. They came last night, the
messenger tells me, and now--what joy! Think of all the hospitality
you enjoyed in their house. Can we leave them in an inn? So long as
hospitality endures, it would be a crime!”

“Impossible, quite impossible!” cried Orion, who had cast aside the
lute, and was now reading the letter himself. “It is true indeed! his
own handwriting. And that immovable pair are in Egypt--in Memphis! By
Zeus!”--for this was still the favorite oath of the golden youth of
Alexandria and Constantinople, even in these Christian times.--“By Zeus,
I ought to receive them here like princes!--Wait!--of course you
must tell the messenger that I am coming at once--have the four new
Pannonians harnessed to the silver-plated chariot. I must go to my
mother; but there is time enough for that. Desire Sebek to have the
guest-chambers prepared for distinguished guests--those sick people are
out of them, thank God! Take my present room for them too; I will go
back to the old one. Of course they have a numerous suite. Set twenty
or thirty slaves to work. Everything must be ready in two hours at
furthest. The two sitting-rooms are particularly handsome, but
where anything is lacking, place everything in the house at Sebek’s
command.--Justinus in Egypt!--But make haste, man! Nay, stay! One thing
more. Carry these maps and scrolls--no; they are too heavy for you.
Desire a slave to fetch them, and take them to Rufinus; he must keep
them till I come. Tell him I meant to use them on the way--he knows.”

The secretary rushed off; Orion performed a rapid toilet and had his
mourning dress rearranged in fresh folds; then he went to his mother.
She had often heard of the cordial reception that her son, and her
husband, too, in former days, had met with in the senator’s house, and
she took it quite as a matter of course that the strangers’ rooms,
and among them that which had been Paula’s, should be prepared for the
travellers; all she asked was that it should be explained that she was
suffering, so that she might not have to trouble herself to entertain
them.

She advised Orion to put off his journey and to devote himself to his
friends; but he explained that even their arrival must not delay him.
He had entire confidence in Sebek and the upper housekeeper, and the
emperor himself would remit the duties of hostess to a sick woman. Once,
at any rate, she would surely allow the illustrious guests to pay their
respects to her,--but even this Neforis refused It would be quite enough
if her visitors received messages and greetings daily in her name, with
offerings of choice fruit and flowers, and on the last day some costly
gift. Orion thought this proposal quite worthy of them both, and
presently drove off behind his Pannonians to the hostelry.

By the harbor he met the captain of the boat he had hired; to him he
held up two fingers, and the boatman signified by repeated nodding that
he had understood the meaning of this signal: “Be ready at two hours
before midnight.”

The sight of this weather-beaten pilot, and the prospect of making
some return to his noble friends for all their kindness, cheered Orion
greatly; and though he regretted being obliged to leave these guests of
all others, the perils that lay before him reasserted their charm. He
could surely win over the abbess in the course of the voyage, and Paula
might be brought to reason, perhaps, this very evening. Justinus and his
wife were Melchites, and he knew that both these friends--for whom he
had a particular regard--would be enchanted with his scheme if he took
them into his confidence.

The inn kept by Sostratus, a large, square building surrounding a
spacious court-yard, was the best and most frequented in the town. The
eastern side faced the road and the river, and contained the best rooms,
in which, on the previous night, the senator had established himself
with his wife and servants. The clatter of the quadriga drew Justinus
to the window; as soon as he recognized Orion he waved a table-napkin to
him, shouting a hearty “Welcome!” and then retired into the room again.

“Here he is!” he cried to his wife, who was lying on a couch in the
lightest permissible attire, and sipping fruit-syrup from time to time
to moisten her dry lips, while a boy fanned her for coolness.

“That is well indeed!” she exclaimed, and desired her maid to be quick,
very quick, and fetch her a wrap, but to be sure it was a thin one.
Then, turning to a very lovely young woman who had started to her feet
at Justinus’ first exclamation, she asked:

“Would you rather that he should find you here, my darling, or shall we
see him first, and tell him that we have brought you with us?”

“That will be best,” answered the other in a sweet voice, and she sighed
softly before she added: “What will he not think of me? We may grow
older, but folly--folly...”

“Grows with years?” laughed the matron. “Or do you think it
decreases?--But here he is.”

The younger woman hurried away by a side door, behind which she
disappeared. Martina looked after her, and pointing that way to direct
her husband’s glance, she observed: “She has left herself a chink. Good
God! Fancy being in love in such heat as this; what a hideous thought!”

At this moment the door was opened, and the heartiest greetings ensued.
It was evident that the meeting was as great a pleasure to the elderly
pair as to the young man. Justinus embraced him warmly, while the matron
cried out: “And a kiss for me too!” And when the youth immediately and
heartily gave it, she exclaimed with a groan:

“O man, and child of man, great Sesostris! How did your famous ancestor
ever achieve heroic deeds under such a sun as this? For my part I am
fast disappearing, melting away like butter; but what will a man not do
for love’s sake?--Syra, Syra; for God’s sake bring me something, however
small, that looks like a garment! How rational is the fashion of the
people of Africa whom we met with on our journey. If they have three
fingers’ breadth of cloth about them, they consider themselves elegantly
dressed.--But come, sit down--there, at my feet. A seat, Argos, and some
wine, and water in a damp clay pitcher, and cool like the last.
Husband, the boy seems to me handsomer than ever. But dear God! he is in
mourning, and how becoming it is! Poor boy, poor boy! Yes, we heard in
Alexandria.”

She wiped first her eyes and then her damp brow, and her husband added
his expressions of sympathy at the death of the Mukaukas.

They were a genial and comfortable couple, Justinus and his wife
Martina. Two beings who felt perfectly secure in their vast inherited
wealth, and who, both being of noble birth, never need make any display
of dignity, because they were sure of it in the eyes of high and low
alike. They had asserted their right to remain natural and human under
the formalities of the most elaborately ceremonious society; those who
did not like the easy tone adopted by them in their house might stay
away. He, devoid of ambition, a senator in virtue of his possessions and
his name, never caring to make any use of his adventitious dignity but
that of procuring good appointments for his favorite clients, or good
places for his family on any festive occasion, was a hospitable soul;
the good friend of all his friends, whose motto was “live and let live.”
 Martina, with a heart as good as gold, had never made any pretensions to
beauty, but had nevertheless been much courted. This worthy couple had
for many years thought that nothing could be more delightful than a
residence in the capital, or at their beautiful villa on the Bosphorus,
scorning to follow the example of other rich and fashionable folks, and
go to take baths or make journeys. It was enough for them to be able
to make others happy under their roof; and there was never any lack of
visitors, just because those who were weary of bending their backs
at the Byzantine Court, found this unceremonious circle particularly
restful.

Martina was especially fond of having young people about her, and
Heliodora, the widow of her nephew, had found comfort with her in her
trouble; it was in her house that Orion and Heliodora had met. The young
widow was a great favorite with the old couple, but higher in their
esteem even than she, had been the younger brother of her deceased
husband. He was to have been their heir; but they had mourned his death
now two years; for news had reached them that Narses, who had served in
the Imperial army as tribune of cavalry, had fallen in battle against
the infidels. No one, however, had ever brought a more exact report of
his death; and at last their indefatigable enquiries had resulted in
their learning that he had been taken prisoner by the Saracens and
carried into slavery in Arabia. This report received confirmation
through the efforts of Orion and his deceased father. Within a few hours
of the young Egyptian’s departure, they received a letter from the youth
they had given up for lost, written in trembling characters, in which he
implored them to effect his deliverance through Amru, the Arab governor
of Egypt. The old people had set forth at once on their pilgrimage, and
Heliodora had done her part in urging them to this step. Her passion for
Orion, to whom, for more than a year, her gentle heart had been wholly
devoted, had increased every hour since his departure. She had not
concealed it from Martina, who thought it no less than her duty to stand
by the poor lovesick child; for Heliodora had nursed her husband, the
senator’s nephew, to the end, with touching fidelity and care; and
besides, Martina had given the young Egyptian--with whom she was “quite
in love herself”--every opportunity of paying his addresses to the young
widow.

They were a pair that seemed made for each other, and Martina delighted
in match-making. But in this case, though hearts had met, hands had
not, and finally it had been a real grief to Martina to hear Orion and
Heliodora called--and with good reason--a pair of lovers.

Once she had appealed in her genial way to the young man’s conscience,
and he had replied that his father, who was a Jacobite, would never
consent to his union with a woman of any other confession. At that time
she had found little to answer; but she had often thought if only she
could make the Mukaukas acquainted with Heliodora, he, whom she had
known in the capital as a young and handsome admirer of every charming
woman, would certainly capitulate.

Her favorite niece had indeed every grace that a father’s heart could
desire to attract the son. She was of good family, the widow of a man of
rank, rich, but just two and twenty, and beautiful enough to bewitch
old or young. A sweeter and gentler soul Martina had never known. Those
large dewy eyes-imploring eyes, she called them--might soften a stone,
and her fair waving hair was as soft as her nature. Add to this her
full, supple figure--and how perfectly she dressed, how exquisitely she
sang and struck the lute! It was not for nothing that she was courted by
every youth of rank in Constantinople--and if the old Mukaukas could
but hear her laugh! There was not a sound on earth more clear, more glad
than Heliodora’s laugh. She was not indeed remarkable for intellect, but
no one could call her a simpleton, and your very clever women were not
to every man’s taste.

So, when they were to travel to Egypt, Martina took it for granted that
Heliodora must go with them, and that the flirtation which had made
her favorite the talk of the town must, in Memphis, become courtship in
earnest. Then, when she heard at Alexandria that the Mukaukas was lately
dead, she regarded the game as won. Now they were in Memphis, Orion was
sitting before her, and the young man had invited her and her following
of above twenty persons to stay in his house. It was a foregone
conclusion that the travellers were to accept this bidding as prescribed
by the laws of hospitality, and preparations for the move were
immediately set on foot.

Justinus meanwhile explained what had brought them to Egypt, and begged
Orion’s assistance. The young man had known the senator’s nephew well as
one of the most brilliant and amiable youths of the capital, and he was
sincerely distressed to be forced to inform his friends that Amru, who
could easily have procured the release of Narses, was to start within
two days for Medina, while he himself was compelled to set out on a
journey that very evening, at an hour he could not name.

He saw how greatly this firmly-expressed determination agitated and
disturbed the old couple, and the senator’s urgency led him to tell
them, under the pledge of strict secrecy, what business it was that took
him away and what a perilous enterprise he had before him.

He began his story confident of his orthodox guests’ sympathy; but to
his amazement they both disapproved of the undertaking, and not, as
they declared, on his account only or for the sake of the help they had
counted on.

The senator reminded him that he was the natural chief of the Egyptian
population in Memphis, and that, by such a scheme, he was undermining
his influence with those whose leader he was by right and duty as his
father’s son. His ambition ought to make him aim at this leadership; and
instead of offering such a rebuff to the patriarch, it was his part to
work with him--whose power he greatly underrated--so as to make life
tolerable to their fellow-Christians in a land ruled by Moslems.

Paula’s name was not once mentioned; but Orion thought of her and
remained firm, though not without an inward struggle.

At the same time, to prove to his friends how sincerely he desired to
please them, he proposed that he and Justinus should immediately cross
the Nile to lay his application before the Khaliff’s vicar. A glance at
the sky showed him that it wanted still an hour and a half of sunset.
His swift horses would not need more than that time for the journey,
and during their absence the rest of the party could move from the inn.
Carts for the baggage were already in waiting below, and chariots
had been ordered to follow and convey his beloved guests to their new
quarters.

The senator agreed to this proposal, and as the two men went off Martina
called after Orion.

“My senator must talk to you on the road, and if you can be brought to
reason you will find your reward waiting for you! Do not be saving of
your talents of gold, old man, till the general has promised to procure
the lad’s release.--And listen to me, Orion; give up your mad scheme.”

The sun had not wholly disappeared behind the Libyan range when
the snorting Pannonians, all flecked with foam, drove back into the
court-yard of the governor’s residence. The two men had unfortunately
gained nothing; for Amru was absent, reviewing the troops between
Heliopolis and Onix, and was not expected home till night or even next
morning. The party had removed from the inn and the senator’s white
slaves were already mixing with the black and brown ones of the
establishment.

Martina was delighted with her new quarters, and with the beautiful
flowers--most of them new to her--with which the invalid mistress of
the house had had the two great reception-rooms garnished in token
of welcome; but the failure of Justinus’ visit to Fostat fell like
hoar-frost on her happy mood.

Orion, she asserted, ought to regard this stroke of ill-luck as a
judgment from God. It was the will of Heaven that he should give up
his enterprise and be content to make due preparations for a noble
work which could be carried through without him, in order to accomplish
another, out of friendship, which urgently needed his help. However, he
again expressed his regret that in spite of everything he must adhere to
his purpose; and when Martina asked him: “What, even if my reward is one
that would especially delight you?” he nodded regretfully. “Yes, even
then.”

So she merely added, “Well, we shall see,” and went on impressively:
“Every one has some peculiarity which stamps his individuality and
becomes him well: in you it is amiability, my son. Such obstinacy does
not suit you; it is quite foreign to you, and is the very opposite to
what I call amiability. Be yourself, even in this instance.”

“That is to say weak and yielding, especially when a kind woman....”

“When old friends ask it,” she hastily put in; but almost before she had
finished she turned to her husband, exclaiming: “Good Heavens! come to
the window. Did you ever see such a glorious mingling of purple and gold
in the sky? It is as though the old pyramids and the whole land of Egypt
were in flames. But now, great Sesostris,”--the name she gave to Orion
when she was in a good humor with him, “it is time that you should see
what I have brought you. In the first place this trinket,” and she gave
him a costly bracelet of old Greek workmanship set with precious stones,
“and then--nay, no Thanks--and then--Well the object is rather large,
and besides--come with me.”

As she spoke she went from the reception-room into the anteroom, led the
way to the door of the room which had once been Paula’s, and then his
own, opened it a little way, peeped in, and then pushed Orion forward,
saying hastily: “There--do you see--there it is!”

By the window stood Heliodora. The bright radiance of the sinking sun
bathed her slender but round and graceful form, her “imploring” eyes
looked up at him with rapturous delight, and her white arms folded
across her bosom gave her the aspect of a saint, waiting with humble
longing for some miracle, in expectation of unutterable joys.

Martina’s eyes, too, were fixed on Orion; she saw how pale he turned at
seeing the young widow, she saw him start as though suddenly overcome by
some emotion--what, she could not guess--and shrink back from the sunlit
vision in the window. These were effects which the worthy matron had not
anticipated.

Never off the stage, thought she, had she seen a man so stricken by
love; for she could not suspect that to him it was as though a gulf had
suddenly yawned at his feet.

With a swiftness which no one could have looked for from her heavy and
bulky figure, Martina hastily returned to her husband, and even at the
door exclaimed: “It is all right, all has gone well! At the sight of her
he seemed thunderstruck! Mark my words: we shall have a wedding here by
the Nile.”

“My blessing on it,” replied Justinus. “But, wedding or no wedding, all
I care is that she should persuade that fine young fellow to give up
his crazy scheme. I saw how even the brown rascals in the Arab’s service
bowed down before him; and he will persuade the general, if any one can,
to do all in his power for Narses. He must not and shall not go! You
impressed it strongly on Heliodora....”

“That she should keep him?” laughed the matron. “I tell you, she will
nail him down if need be.”

“So much the better,” replied her husband. “But, wife, folks might say
that it was not quite seemly in you to force them together. Properly
speaking, you are as it were her female mentor, the motherly patroness.”

“Good Heavens!” exclaimed Martina. “At home they invited no witnesses
to look on at their meetings. The poor love-lorn souls must at any rate
have a chance of speaking to each other and rejoicing that they have
met once more. I will step in presently, and be the anxious, motherly
friend. Tine, Tine! And if it does not end in a wedding, I will make a
pilgrimage to St. Agatha, barefoot.”

“And I with only one shoe!” the senator declared, “for, everything in
reason--but the talk about Dora was at last beyond all bounds. It was no
longer possible to have them both together under the same roof. And you
yourself--no, seriously; go in to them.”

“Directly, directly.--But first look out of this window once more. Oh,
what a sun!--there, now it is too late. Only two minutes ago the
whole heaven was of the hue of my red Syrian cloak; and now it is all
dark!--The house and garden are beautiful, and everything is old and
handsome; just what I should have expected in the home of the rich
Mukaukas.”

“And I too,” replied Justinus. “But now, go. If they have come to an
understanding, Dora may certainly congratulate herself.”

“I should think so! But she need not be ashamed even of her villa, and
they must spend every summer there, I will manage that. If that poor,
dear fellow Narses does not escape with his life--for two years of
slavery are a serious matter--then I should be able....”

“To alter your will? Not a bad idea; but there is no hurry for that; and
now, you really must go.”

“Yes, yes, in a minute. Surely I may have time to speak.--I, for my
part, know of no one whom I would sooner put in the place of Narses....”

“Than Orion and Heliodora? Certainly, I have no objection; but now....”

“Well, perhaps it is wicked to think of a man who may still be alive as
numbered with the dead.--At any rate the poor boy cannot go back to his
legion....”

“On no consideration. But, Martina....”

“To-morrow morning Orion must urge our case on the Arab....”

“If he does not go away.”

“Will you bet that she fails to keep him.”

“I should be a fool for my pains,” laughed Justinus. “Do you ever pay
me when I win?--But now, joking apart, you must go and see what they are
about.”

And this time she obeyed. She would have won her bet; for Orion, who had
remained unmoved by his sister-in-law’s letter, by the warning voice
of the faith of his childhood, by the faithful council of his honest
servant Nilus, or by the senator’s convincing arguments--had yielded to
Heliodora’s sweet blandishments.

How ardently had her loving heart flamed up, when she saw him so deeply
agitated at the sight of her! With what touching devotion had she sunk
into his arms; how humbly-half faint with sweet sorrow and sweeter
ecstasy--had she fallen at his feet, and clasped his knees, and
entreated him, with eyes full of tears of adoring rapture, not to leave
to-day, to wait only till tomorrow, and then, if he would, to tread her
in the dust. Now--now when she had just found him again after being worn
out with pining and longing-to part now, to see him rush on an uncertain
fate--it would kill her, it would certainly be her death! And when he
still had tried to resist she had rushed into his arms, had stopped his
lips with burning kisses, and whispered in his ear all the flattering
words of love he once had held so dear.

Why had he never seriously tried to win her, why had he so soon
forgotten her? Because she, who could assert her dignity firmly enough
with others, had abandoned herself to him unresistingly after a few
meetings, as if befooled by some magician’s spell. The precious spoil
so easily won had soon lost its value in his eyes. But to-day the fire
which had died out blazed up again. Yes, this was the love he craved, he
must have! To be loved with entire and utter devotion, with a heart
that thought only of him and not of itself, that asked only for love in
return for love, that did not fence itself round with caution and invoke
the aid of others for protection against him. This lovely creature, all
passion, who had taken upon herself to endure the contumely of society,
and pain and grief for his sake, knowing too that he had abandoned her,
and would never make her his wife before God and men--she indeed knew
what it was to love; and he who was so often inclined to despair of
himself felt his heart uplifted at the thought that he was so precious
in her eyes, nay--he would own it--so idolized.

And how sweet, how purely womanly she was! Those imploring eyes--which
he had grown quite sick of in Constantinople, for they were as full of
pathetic entreaty when she merely begged him to hold her cloak for
her as when she appealed to his heart of hearts not to leave her--that
entrancing play of glances which had first bewitched him, came to him
to-day as something new and worked the old spell.

In this moment of tender reunion he had promised her at any rate to
consider whether he could not release himself from the pledge by which
he was bound; but hardly had he spoken the words when the memory of
Paula revived in his mind, and an inward voice cried out to him that
she was a being of nobler mould than this yielding, weak woman, abject
before him--that she symbolized his upward struggle, Heliodora his
perdition.

At length he was able to tear himself from her embrace; and at the first
step out of this intoxication into real life again he looked about like
one roused from sleep, feeling as though it were by some mocking sport
of the devil himself that Paula’s room should have been the scene of
this meeting and of his weakness.

An enquiry from Heliodora, as to the fate of the little white dog that
she had given him as a remembrance, recalled to his mind that luckless
emerald which was to have been his return offering or antidoron. He
evasively replied that, remembering her love of rare gems, he had sent
her a remarkably fine stone about which he had a good deal to say;
and she gave such childlike and charming expression to her delight
and gratitude, and took such skilful advantage of his pleasure in her
clinging tenderness, to convince him of the necessity for remaining at
home, that he himself began to believe in it, and gave way. The more
this conclusion suited his own wishes the easier it became to
find reasons for it: old Rufinus really did not need him; and if
he--Orion--had cause to be ashamed of his vacillation, on the other
hand he could comfort himself by reflecting that it would be unkind and
ungrateful to his good friends to leave them in the lurch just when he
could be of use to them. One pair of protecting arms more or less could
not matter to the nuns, while the captive Narses might very probably
perish before he could be rescued without his interest with the Arab
general.

It was high time to decide one way or the other.--Well, no; he ought not
to go away to-day!

That was settled!

Rufinus must at once be informed of his change of purpose. To sit down
and write at such a moment he felt was impossible: Nilus should go and
speak in his name; and he knew how gladly and zealously he would perform
such an errand.

Heliodora clapped her hands, and just as Martina knocked at the door
the pair came out into the anteroom: She, radiant with happiness, and
so graceful in her fashionable, costly, and well-chosen garb, so
royal-looking in spite of her no more than middle height, that even in
the capital she would have excited the admiration of the men and the
envy of the women: He, content, but with a thoughtful smile on his lips.

He had not yet closed the door when in the anteroom he perceived two
female figures, who had come in while Martina was knocking at her
niece’s door. These were Katharina and her waiting-maid.

Anubis had been brought to these rooms after his fall from the roof,
and notwithstanding the preparations that had been made for illustrious
guests Philippus could not be persuaded to allow his patient, for whom
perfect quiet was indispensable, to be moved to the lower floor.

The listener who had been so severely punished had with him his mother,
Katharina’s old nurse; the water-wagtail, with her maid, had accompanied
her to see the lad, for she was very anxious to assure herself whether
her foster-brother, before his tumble, had succeeded in hearing
anything; but the poor fellow was so weak and his pain so severe that
she had not the heart to torment him with questions. However, her
Samaritan’s visit brought her some reward, for to meet Orion coming out
of Paula’s room with so beautiful and elegant a woman was a thing worth
opening her eyes to see. She would have walked from home hither twice
over only to see the clothes and jewels of this heaven sent stranger.
Such a being rarely strayed to Memphis,--and might not this radiant and
beautiful creature be “the other” after all, and not Paula? Might not
Orion have been trifling with her rival as he had already trifled with
her? They must have had a rapturous meeting in that room; every feature
of the fair beauty’s saint-like face betrayed the fact. Oh, that Orion!
She would have liked to throttle him; and yet she was glad to think that
there was another besides herself--and she so elegant and lovely--whom
he had betrayed.

“He will stay!” Heliodora exclaimed as she came out of the room; and
Martina held out her hand to the young man, with a fervent: “God bless
you for that!”

She was delighted to see how happy her niece looked but the lively
old woman’s eyes were everywhere at once, and when she caught sight of
Katharina who had stood still with curiosity, she turned to her with a
friendly nod and said to Orion:

“Your sister? Or the little niece of whom you used to speak?”

Orion called Katharina and introduced her to his guests, and the girl
explained what had brought her hither; in such a sweet and pathetic
manner--for she was sincerely fond of her foster-brother and
play-fellow--that she quite charmed Martina and Heliodora, and the
younger woman expressed a hope that they might see her often. Indeed,
when she was gone, Martina exclaimed: “A charming little thing! As fresh
and bright as a newly-fledged bird, so brisk and pretty too--and how
nicely she prattles!”

“And the richest heiress in Memphis into the bargain,” added Orion.
But, noticing that on this Heliodora cast down her eyes with a troubled
expression, he went on with a laugh: “Our mothers destined us to marry
each other, but we are too ill-matched in size, and not exactly made for
a pair in other ways.”

Then, taking leave of them, he went to Nilus and informed him of his
decision. His request that the treasurer would make his excuses to
Rufinus, carry his greetings to Thomas’ daughter, and make the most
of his reasons for remaining behind, sent the good man almost beside
himself for joy; and he so far forgot his modest reserve as to embrace
Orion as a son.

The young host sat with his visitors till nearly midnight: and when,
on the following morning, Martina first greeted her niece--who looked
peacefully happy though somewhat tired--she was able to tell her that
the two men had already gone across the Nile, and, she hoped, settled
everything with the Arab governor. Great was her disappointment when
presently Justinus and Orion came back to say that Amru, instead of
returning to Fostat from the review at Heliopolis, had gone straight
to Alexandria. He had engagements there for a few days, and would then
start for Medina.

The senator saw nothing for it but to follow him up, and Orion
volunteered to accompany him.

A faint attempt on Heliodora’s part to detain him met with a decisive,
nay, stern refusal. This journey was indeed sheer flight from his own
weakness and from the beautiful creature who could never be anything to
him.

Early in the day he had found time to write to Paula; but he had cast
aside more than one unfinished letter before he could find the right
words. He told her that he loved her and her alone; and as his stylus
marked the wax he felt, with horror of himself, that in fact his heart
was Paula’s, and his determination ripened to put an end once for all to
his connection with Heliodora, and not allow himself to see Paula again
till he had forever cut the tie that bound him to the young widow.

The two women went out to see the travellers start, and as they returned
to the house, hanging their heads like defeated warriors, in the
vestibule they met Katharina and her maid. Martina wanted to detain the
little girl, and to persuade her to go up to their rooms with them; but
Katharina refused, and appeared to be in a great hurry. She had just
come from seeing Anubis, who was in less pain to-day, and who had done
his best to tell her what he had overheard. That the flight was to be
northwards he was certain; but he had either misunderstood or forgotten
the name of the place whither the sisters were bound.

His mother and the nurse were dismissed from the room, and then the
water-wagtail in her gratitude had bent over him, had raised his pretty
face a little, and had given him two such sweet kisses that the poor boy
had been quite uneasy. But, when he was alone with his mother once more,
he had felt happier and happier, and the remembrance of the transient
rapture he had known had alleviated the pain he was suffering on
Katharina’s account.

Katharina, meanwhile, did not go home at once to her mother; on the
contrary, she went straight off to the Bishop of Memphis, to whom
she divulged all she had learnt with regard to the inhabitants of the
convent and the intended rescue. The gentle Plotinus even had been
roused to great wrath, and no sooner had she left him than he set out
for Fostat to invoke the help of Amru, and--finding him absent--of his
Vekeel to enable him to pursue the fugitive Melchite sisters.

When the water-wagtail was at home again and alone in her room, she said
to herself, with calm satisfaction, that she had now contrived something
which would spoil several days for Orion and for Paula, and that might
prove even fatal, so far as she was concerned.



CHAPTER VIII.

Nilus had performed his errand well, and Rufinus was forced to admit
that Orion had done his part and had planned the enterprise with so much
care and unselfishness that his personal assistance could be dispensed
with. Under these circumstances he scarcely owed the young man a grudge
for placing himself at the service of his Byzantine friends; still,
his not coming to the house disturbed and vexed him, less on his own
account, or that of the good cause, than for Paula’s sake, for her
feelings towards Orion had remained no secret to him or his wife.

Dame Joanna, indeed, felt the young man’s conduct more keenly than
Rufinus; she would have been glad to withhold her husband from the
enterprise, whose dangers now appeared to her frightened soul tenfold
greater than they were. But she knew that the Nile would flow backwards
before she could dissuade him from keeping his promise to the abbess, so
she forced herself to preserve at any rate outward composure.

Before Paula, Rufinus declared that Orion was fully justified and he
loudly praised the young man’s liberality in providing the Nile-boat
and the vessel for the sea-voyage, and such admirable substitutes for
himself. Pulcheria was delighted with her father’s undertaking; she
only longed to go with him and help him to save her dear nuns. The
ship-builder had brought with him, besides his sons, three other Greeks
of the orthodox confession, shipwrights like himself, who were out
of work in consequence of the low ebb of the Nile, which had greatly
restricted the navigation. Hence they were glad to put a hand to such
a good work, especially as it would be profitable, too, for Orion had
provided the old man with ample funds.

As the evening grew cooler after sundown Paula had got better. She did
not, indeed, know what to think of Orion’s refusal to start. First she
was grieved, then she rejoiced; for it certainly preserved him from
great perils. In the early days after his return from Constantinople she
had heard his praise of the senator’s kindness and hospitality, in which
the Mukaukas, who had pleasant memories of the capital, heartily joined.
He must, of course, be glad to be able to assist those friends, of all
others; and Nilus, who was respectfully devoted to her, had greeted her
from Orion with peculiar warmth. He would come to-morrow, no doubt;
and the oftener she repeated to herself his assertion that he had never
betrayed affectionate trust, the more earnestly she felt prompted, in
spite of the abbess’ counsel, to abandon all hesitancy, to follow
the impulse of her heart, and to be his at once in full and happy
confidence.

The waning moon had not yet risen, and the night was very dark when the
nuns set forth. The boat was too large to come close to the shore in
the present low state of the river, and the sisters, disguised as
peasant-women, had to be carried on board one by one from the convent
garden. Last of all the abbess was to be lifted over the shallow water,
and the old ship-builder held himself in readiness to perform this
service. Joanna, Pulcheria, Perpetua, and Eudoxia, who was also
zealously orthodox, were standing round as she gave Paula a parting kiss
and whispered: “God bless thee, child!--All now depends on you, and you
must be doubly careful to abide by your promise.”

“I owe him, in the first place, friendly trust,” was Paula’s whispered
reply, and the abbess answered: “But you owe yourself firmness and
caution.” Rufinus was the last; his wife and daughter clung around him
still.

“Take example from that poor girl,” cried the old man, clasping his wife
in his arms. “As sure as man is the standard of all things, all must go
well with me this time if everlasting Love is not napping. Till we meet
again, best of good women!--And, if ill befalls your stupid old husband,
always remember that he brought it upon himself in trying to save a
quarter of a hundred innocent women from the worst misfortunes. At
any rate I shall fall on the road I myself have chosen.--But why has
Philippus not come to take leave of me?”

Dame Joanna burst into tears: “That-that is so hard too! What has
come over him that he has deserted us, and just now of all times? Ah,
husband! If you love me, take Gibbus with you on the voyage.”

“Yes, master, take me,” the hunchbacked gardener interposed. “The Nile
will be rising again by the time we come back, and till then the flowers
can die without my help. I dreamt last night that you picked a rose from
the middle of my Bump. It stuck up there like the knob on the lid of a
pot. There is some meaning in it and, if you leave me at home, what is
the good of the rose--that is to say what good will you get out of me?”

“Well then, carry your strange flower-bed on board,” said the old man
laughing. “Now, are you satisfied Joanna?”

Once more he embraced her and Pulcheria and, as a tear from his wife’s
eyes dropped on his hand, he whispered in her ear: “You have been the
rose of my life; and without you Eden--Paradise itself can have no
joys.”

The boat pushed out into the middle of the stream and was soon hidden by
the darkness from the eyes of the women on the bank.

The convent bells were soon heard tolling after the fugitives: Paula and
Pulcheria were pulling them. There was not a breath of air; not enough
even to fill the small sail of the seaward-bound boat; but the rowers
pulled with all their might and the vessel glided northward. The captain
stood at the prow with his pole; sounding the current: his brother,
no less skilled, took the helm.--The shallowness of the water made
navigation very difficult, and those who knew the river best might
easily run aground on unexpected shoals or newly-formed mud-drifts. The
moon had scarcely risen when the boat was stranded at a short distance
below Fostat, and the men had to go overboard to push it off to an
accompaniment of loud singing which, as it were, welded their individual
wills and efforts into one. Thus it was floated off again; but such
delays were not unfrequent till they reached Letopolis, where the Nile
forks, and where they hoped to steal past the toll-takers unobserved.
Almost against their expectation, the large boat slipped through under
the heavy mist which rises from the waters before sunrise, and the
captain and crew, steering down the Phatmetic branch of the river with
renewed spirit, ascribed their success to the intercession of the pious
sisters.

By daylight it was easier to avoid the sand-banks; but how narrow was
the water-way-at this season usually overflowing! The beds of papyrus on
the banks now grew partly on dry land, and their rank green had faded to
straw-color. The shifting ooze of the shore had hardened to stone, and
the light west wind, which now rose and allowed of their hoisting the
sail, swept clouds of white dust before it. In many cases the soil was
deeply fissured and wide cracks ran across the black surface, yawning to
heaven for water like thirsty throats. The water-wheels stood idle, far
away from the stream, and the fields they were wont to irrigate looked
like the threshing floors on which the crops they bore should be
threshed out. The villages and palm-groves were shrouded in shimmering
mist, quivering heat, and dazzling yellow light; and the passer-by on
the raised dykes of the shore bent his head as he dragged his weary feet
through the deep dust.

The sun blazed pitilessly in the cloudless sky, down on land and river,
and on the fugitive nuns who had spread their white head-cloths above
them for an awning and sat in dull lethargy, awaiting what might he
before them.

The water-jar passed from hand to band; but the more they drank the
more acute was their discomfort, and their longing for some other
refreshment. At meal time the dishes were returned to the tiny cabin
almost untouched. The abbess and Rufinus tried to speak comfort to them;
but in the afternoon the superior herself was overpowered by the heat,
and the air in the little cabin, to which she retired, was even less
tolerable stuffy than on deck.

Thus passed a long day of torment, the hottest that even the men could
remember; and they on the whole suffered least from it, though they
toiled at the oar without ceasing and with wonderful endurance.

At length evening fell after those fearful midday hours; and as a cool
breeze rose shortly before sunset to fan their moist brows, the hapless
victims awoke to new energies. Their immediate torment had so crushed
them that, incapable of anticipating the future, they had ceased either
to fear or to hope; but now they could rejoice in thinking of the start
they had gained over their pursuers. They were hungry and enjoyed their
evening meal; the abbess made friends with the worthy ship-wright, and
began an eager conversation with Rufinus as to Paula and Orion: Her
wish that the young man should spend a time of probation did not at all
please Rufinus; with such a wife as Paula, he could not fail to be at
all times the noble fellow which his old friend held him to be in spite
of his having remained at home.

The hump-backed gardener made the younger nuns merry with his jests, and
after supper they all united in prayer.

Even the oarsmen had found new vigor and new life; and it was well that
few of the Greek sisters understood Egyptian, for the more jovial of
them started a song in praise of the charms of the maids they loved,
which was not composed for women’s ears.

The nuns chatted of those they had left behind, and many a one spoke
of a happy meeting at home once more; but an elderly nun put a stop to
this, saying that it was a sin to anticipate the ways of God’s mercy,
or, when His help was still so sorely needed, to speak as though He had
already bestowed it. They could only tremble and pray, for they knew
from experience that a threatening disaster never turned to a good end
unless it had been expected with real dread.

Another one then began to speculate as to whether their pursuers
could overtake them on foot or on horseback, and as it seemed only too
probable that they could, their hearts sank again with anxiety. Ere
long, however, the moon rose; the objects that loomed on the banks and
were mirrored in the stream, were again clearly visible and lost their
terrors.

The lower down they sailed, the denser were the thickets of papyrus on
the shore. Thousands of birds were roosting there, but they were all
asleep; a “dark ness that might be felt” brooded over the silent land
scape. The image of the moon floated on the dark water, like a gigantic
lotos-flower below the smaller, fragrant lotos-blossoms that it out-did
in sheeny whiteness; the boat left a bright wake in its track, and every
stroke of the oar broke the blackness of the water, which reflected the
light in every drop. The moonlight played on the delicate tufts that
crowned the slender papyrus-stems, filmy mist, like diaphanous brocade
of violet and silver, veiled the trees; and owls that shun the day, flew
from one branch to another on noiseless, rhythmic wings.

The magic of the night fell on the souls of the nuns; they ceased
prattling; but when Sister Martha, the nightingale of the sisterhood,
began to sing a hymn the others followed her example. The sailors’
songs were hushed, and the psalms of the virgin sisters, imploring the
protection of the Almighty, seemed to float round the gliding boat as
softly as the light of the circling moon. For hours--and with increased
zeal as the comet rose in the sky--they gave themselves up to the
soothing and encouraging pleasure of singing; but one by one the voices
died away and their peaceful hymn was borne down the river to the sea,
by degrees more low, more weary, more dreamlike.

They sat looking in their laps, gazing in rapture up to heaven, or
at the dazzling ripples and the lotos flowers on the surface. No one
thought of the shore, not even the men, who had been lulled to sleep
or daydreams by the nuns’ singing. The pilot’s eyes were riveted on the
channel--and yet, as morning drew near, from time to time there was a
twinkle, a flash behind the reed-beds on the eastern bank, and now and
then there was a rustling and clatter there. Was it a jackal that had
plunged into the dense growth to surprise a brood of water-fowl; was it
a hyena trampling through the thicket?

The flashing, the rustling, the dull footfall on parched earth followed
the barge all through the night like a sinister, lurid, and muttering
shadow.

Suddenly the captain started and gazed eastwards.--What was that?

There was a herd of cattle feeding in a field beyond the reeds-two bulls
perhaps were sharpening their horns. The river was so low, and the
banks rose so high, that it was impossible to see over them. But at this
moment a shrill voice spoke his name, and then the hunchback whispered
in his ear:

“There--over there--it is glittering again.--I will bite off my own
nose if that is not--there, again. Merciful God! I am not mistaken.
Harness--and there, that is the neighing of a horse; I know the sound.
The east is growing grey. By all the saints, we are pursued!”

The captain looked eastwards with every sense alert, and after a few
minutes silence he said decidedly “Yes.”

“Like a flight of quail for whom the fowler spreads his net,” sighed
the gardener; but the boatman impatiently signed to him to be quiet, and
gazed cautiously on every side. Then he desired Gibbus to wake Rufinus
and the shipwrights, and to hide all the nuns in the cabin.

“They will be packed as close as the dates sent to Rome in boxes,”
 muttered the gardener, as he went to call Rufinus. “Poor souls, their
saints may save them from suffocation; and as for me, on my faith, if it
were not that Dame Joanna was the very best creature on two legs, and
if I had not promised her to stick to the master, I would jump into the
water and try the hospitality of the flamingoes and storks in the reeds!
We must learn to condescend!”

While he was fulfilling his errand, the captain was exchanging a few
words with his brother at the helm. There was no bridge near, and that
was well. If the horsemen were indeed in pursuit of them, they must ride
through the water to reach them; and scarcely three stadia lower down,
the river grew wider and ran through a marshy tract of country; the only
channel was near the western bank, and horsemen attempting to get to it
ran the risk of foundering in the mud. If the boat could but get as far
as that reach, much would be gained.

The captain urged the men to put forth all their strength, and very soon
the boat was flying along under the western shore, and divided by an
oozy flat from the eastern bank. Day was breaking, and the sky was
tinged red as with blood--a sinister omen that this morning was destined
to witness bitter strife and gaping wounds.

The seed sown by Katharina was beginning to grow. At the bishop’s
request the Vekeel had despatched a troop of horse in pursuit of the
nuns, with orders to bring the fugitives back to Memphis and take their
escort prisoners. As the boat had slipped by the toll watch unperceived,
the Arabs had been obliged to divide, so as to follow down each arm
of the Nile. Twelve horsemen had been told off to pursue the Phasmetic
branch; for by every calculation these must suffice for the capture of
a score or so of nuns, and a handful of sailors would scarcely dare
to attempt to defend themselves. The Vekeel had heard nothing of the
addition to the party of the ship-master and his sons.

The pursuers had set out at noon of the previous day, and had overtaken
the vessel about two hours before daylight. But their leader thought
it well to postpone the attack till after sunrise, lest any of the
fugitives should escape. He and his men were all Arabs, and though well
acquainted with the course of that branch of the river which they were
to follow, they were not familiar with its peculiarities.

As soon as the morning star was invisible, the Moslems performed their
devotions, and then rushed out of the papyrus-beds. Their leader, making
a speaking trumpet of his hand, shouted to the boat his orders to stop.
He was commissioned by the governor to bring it back to Fostat. And the
fugitives seemed disposed to obey, for the boat lay to. The captain
had recognized the speaker as the captain of the watch from Fostat, an
inexorable man; and now, for the first time, he clearly understood the
deadly peril of the enterprise. He was accustomed, no doubt, to evade
the commands of his superiors, but would no more have defied them
than have confronted Fate; and he at once declared that resistance
was madness, and that there was no alternative but to yield. Rufinus,
however, vehemently denied this; he pointed out to him that the same
punishment awaited him, whether he laid down his arms or defended
himself, and the old ship-wright eagerly exclaimed:

“We built this boat, and I know you of old, Setnau; You will not turn
Judas--and, if you do, you know that Christian blood will be shed on
this deck before we can show our teeth to those Infidels.”

The captain, with all the extravagant excitability of his southern
blood, beat his forehead and his breast, bemoaned himself as a betrayed
and ruined man, and bewailed his wife and children. Rufinus, however,
put an end to his ravings. He had consulted with the abbess, and he put
it strongly to the unhappy man that he could, in any case, hope for no
mercy from the unbelievers; while, on Christian ground, he would easily
find a safe and comfortable refuge for himself and his family. The
abbess would undertake to give them all a passage on board the ship that
was awaiting her, and to set them on shore wherever he might choose.

Setnau thought of a brother living in Cyprus; still, for him it meant
sacrificing his house and garden at Doomiat, where, at this very hour,
fifty date-palms were ripening their fruit; it meant leaving the fine
new Nile-boat by which he and his family got their living; and as he
represented this to the old man, bitter tears rolled down his brown
cheeks. Rufinus explained to him that, if he should succeed in saving
the sisters, he might certainly claim some indemnification. He might
even calculate the value of his property, and not only would he have
the equivalent paid to him out of the convent treasure, now on board in
heavy coffers, but a handsome gift into the bargain.

Setnau exchanged a meaning glance with his brother, who was a single
man, and when it was also agreed that he, too, might embark on the
sea-voyage he shook hands with Rufinus on the bargain. Then, giving
himself a shake, as if he had thrown off something that cramped him, and
sticking his leather cap knowingly on one side of his shaven head, he
drew himself up to his full height and scornfully shouted back to the
Arab--who had before now treated him and other Egyptian natives with
insolent haughtiness--that if he wanted anything of him he might come
and fetch it.

The Moslem’s patience was long since exhausted, and at this challenge
he signed to his followers and sprang first into the river; but the
foremost horses soon sank so deep in the ooze that further advance was
evidently impossible, and the signal to return was perforce given. In
this manoeuvre a refractory horse lost his footing, and his rider was
choked in the mud.

On this, the men in the boat could see the foe holding council with
lively gesticulations, and the captain expressed his fears lest they
should give up all hope of capturing the boat, and ride forward to
Doomiat to combine with the Arab garrison to cut off their further
flight. But he had not reckoned on the warlike spirit of these men, who
had overcome far greater difficulties in twenty fights ere this. They
were determined to seize the boat, to take its freight prisoners, and
have them duly punished.

Six horsemen, among them the leader of the party, were now seen to
dismount; they tied their horses up, and then proceeded to fell three
tall palms with their battle-axes; the other five went off southwards.
These, no doubt, were to ride round the morass, and ford the river at
a favorable spot so as to attack the vessel from the west, while the
others tried to reach it from the east with the aid of the palm-trunks.

On the right, or eastern shore, where the Arabs were constructing the
raft, spread solid ground-fields through which lay the road to Doomiat;
on the other shore, near which the boat was lying, the bog extended for
a long way. An interminable jungle of papyrus, sedge, and reeds, burnt
yellow by the heat of the sun and the extraordinary drought, covered
almost the whole of this parched and baked wilderness; and, when a stiff
morning breeze rose from the northeast, the captain was inspired with a
happy thought. The five men who had ridden forward would have to force
their way through the mass of scorched and dried up vegetation. If the
Christians could but set fire to it, on the further side of a canal
which must hinder their making a wide sweep to the north, the wind would
carry it towards the enemy; and, they would be fortunate if it did
not stifle them or compel them to jump into the river, where, when the
flames reached the morass, they must inevitably perish.

As soon as the helmsman’s keen eyes had made sure, from the mast-head,
that the Arabs had forded the river at a point to the south, they set
fire to several places and it roared and flared up immediately. The wind
swept it southwards, and with it clouds of pale grey smoke through which
the rising sun shot shafts of light. The flames writhed and darted over
the baked earth like gigantic yellow and orange lizards, here shooting
upwards, there creeping low. Almost colorless in the ardent daylight,
they greedily consumed everything they approached, and white ashes
marked their track. Their breath added to the heat of the advancing day;
and though the smoke was borne southwards by the wind, a few cloudlets
came over to the boat, choking the sisters and their deliverers.

A large vessel now came towards them from Doomiat and found the narrow
channel barred by the other one. The captain was related to Setnau, and
when Setnau shouted to him that they were engaged in a struggle with
Arab robbers, his friend followed his advice, turned the boat’s head
with considerable difficulty, and cast anchor at the nearest village to
warn other vessels southward bound not to get themselves involved in so
perilous an adventure. Any that were coming north would be checked by
the fire and smoke.

The six horsemen left on the eastern shore beheld the spreading
blaze with rage and dismay; however, they had by this time bound the
palm-trunks together, and were preparing by their aid to inflict condign
punishment on the refractory Christians. These, meanwhile, had not been
idle. Every man on board was armed, and one of the ship-wrights was sent
on shore with a sailor, to steal through the reeds, ford the river at
a point lower down and, as soon as the Arabs put out to the attack, to
slaughter their horses, or--if one of them should be left to go forward
on the road to Doomiat--to drag him from his steed.

The six men now laid hold of the slightly-constructed float, on which
they placed their bows and quivers; they pushed it before them, and
it supported them above the shallow water, while their feet only just
touched the oozy bottom. They were all thorough soldiers, true sons of
the desert and of their race--men whom nature seemed to have conceived
as a counterpart to the eagle, the master-piece of the winged creation.
Keen-eyed, strongly-knit though small-boned, bereft of every fibre
of superfluous flesh on their sinewy limbs, with bold brown faces and
sharply-cut features, suggesting the king of birds not merely by the
aquiline nose, they had also the eagle’s courage, thirst for blood, and
greed of victory.

Each held on to the raft by one lean, wiry arm, carrying on the other
the round bucklers on which the arrows that came whistling from the
boat, fell and stuck as soon as they were within shot. They ground their
white teeth with fury and nothing within ken escaped their bright hawk’s
eyes. They had come to fight, even if the boat had been defended by
fifty Egyptian soldiers instead of carrying a score or so of sailors and
artisans. Their brave hearts felt safe under their shirts of mail, and
their ready, fertile brains under their brazen helmets; and they marked
the dull rattle of the arrows against their metal shields with elation
and contempt. To deal death was the wish of their souls; to meet it
caused them no dread; for their glowing fancy painted an open Paradise
where beautiful women awaited them open-armed, and brimming goblets
promised to satisfy every desire.

Their keen ears heard their captain’s whispered commands; when they
reached the ship’s side, one caught hold of the sill of the cabin
window, their leader, as quick as thought, sprang on to his shoulders,
and from thence on to the deck, thrusting his lance through the body of
a sailor who tried to stop him with his axe. A second Arab was close
at his heels; two gleaming scimitars flashed in the sun, the shrill,
guttural, savage war-cry of the Moslems rent the air, and the captain
fell, the first victim to their blood-thirsty fury, with a deep cut
across the face and forehead; in a moment, however, a heavy spar sang
through the air down on the head of the Moslem leader and laid him low.
The helmsman, the brother of the fallen pilot, had wielded it with the
might of the avenger.

A fearful din, increased by the shrieks and wailing of the nuns, now
filled the vessel. The second Arab dealt death on all sides with the
courage and strength of desperation, and three of his fellows managed
to climb up the boat’s side; but the last man was pushed back into the
water. By this time two of the shipwrights and five sailors had fallen.
Rufinus was kneeling by the captain, who was crying feebly for help,
bleeding profusely, though not mortally wounded. Setnau had spoken with
much anxiety of his wife and children, and Rufinus, hoping to save his
life for their sakes, was binding up the wounds, which were wide and
deep, when suddenly a sabre stroke came down on the back of his head
and neck, and a dark stream of blood rushed forth. But he, too, was soon
avenged: the old shipwright hewed down his foe with his heavy axe. On
the eastern shore, meanwhile, the men charged to kill the Arabs’ horses
were doing their work, so as to prevent any who might escape from
returning to Fostat, or riding forward to Doormat and reporting what had
occurred.

On board silence now prevailed. All five Arabs were stretched on the
deck, and the insatiate boatmen were dealing a finishing stroke to those
who were only wounded. A sailor, who had taken refuge up a mast, could
see how the other five horsemen had plunged into the bog to avoid the
fire and had disappeared beneath the waters; so that none of the Moslems
had escaped alive--not even that one which Fate and romance love to save
as a bearer of the disastrous tidings.

By degrees the nuns ventured out on deck again.

Those who were skilled in tending the wounded gathered round them, and
opened their medicine cases; as they proceeded on their voyage, under
the guidance of the steersman, they had their hands full of work and the
zeal they gave to it mitigated the torment of the heat.

The bodies of the five Moslems and eight Christians--among these, two of
the Greek ship-wrights--were laid on the shore in groups apart, in the
neighborhood of a village; in the hand of one of them the abbess placed
a tablet with this inscription:

“These eight Christians met their death bravely fighting to defend a
party of pious and persecuted believers. Pray for them and bury them as
well as those who, in obedience to their duty and their commander, took
their lives.”

Rufinus, lying with his head on the gardener’s knee, and sheltered from
the sun under the abbess’ umbrella, presently recovered his senses;
looking about him he said to himself in a low voice, as he saw the
captain lying by his side:

“I, too, had a wife and a dear child at home, and yet--Ah! how this
aches! We may well do all we can to soothe such pain. The only reality
here below is not pleasure, it is pain, vulgar, physical pain; and
though my head burns and aches more than enough.--Water, a drink of
water.--How comfortable I could be at this moment with my Joanna, in
our shady house.--But yet, but yet--we must heal or save, it is all the
same, any who need it.--A drink--wine and water, if it is to be had,
worthy Mother!”

The abbess had it at hand; as she put the cup to his lips she spoke her
warm and effusive thanks, and many words of comfort; then she asked him
what she could do for him and his, when they should be in safety.

“Love them truly,” he said gently. “Pul will certainly never be quite
happy till she is in a convent. But she must not leave her mother--she
must stay with her; Joanna-Joanna....”

He repeated the name several times as if the sound pleased his ear
and heart. Then he shuddered again and again, and muttered to himself:
“Brrr!--a cold shiver runs all over me--it is of no use!--The cut in my
shoulder.--It is my head that hurts worst, but the other--it is bad luck
that it should have fallen on the left side. And yet, no; it is best so;
for if he--if it had damaged my right shoulder I could not write, and I
must--I must-before it is too late. A tablet and stylus; quick,
quick! And when I have written, good mother, close the tablet and seal
it--close and tight. Promise! Only one person may read it, he to whom it
must go.--Gibbus, do you hear, Gibbus?--It is for Philippus the leech.
Take it to him.--Your dream about a rose on your hump, if I read
rightly, means that peace and joy in Heaven blossom from our misery on
earth.--Yes, to Philippus. And listen my old school friend Christodorus,
a leech too, lives at Doomiat. Take my body to him--mind me now? He is
to pack it with sand which will preserve it, and have it buried by the
side of my mother at Alexandria. Joanna and the child--they can come and
visit me there. I have not much to leave; whatever that may cost....”

“That is my affair, or the convent’s,” cried the abbess.

“Matters are not so bad as that,” said the old man smiling. “I can pay
for my own share of the business; your revenue belongs to the poor,
noble Mother.--You will find more than enough in this wallet, good
Gibbus. But now, quick, make haste--the tablets.”

When he had one in his hand, and a stylus for writing with, he thought
for some time, and then wrote with trembling fingers, though exerting
all his strength. How acutely he was suffering could be seen in
his drawn mouth and sad eyes, but he would not allow himself to be
interrupted, often as the abbess and the gardener entreated him to lay
aside the stylus. At last, with a deep sigh of relief, he closed the
tablets, handed them to the abbess, and said:

“There! Close it fast.--To Philippus the physician; into his own hand:
You hear, Gibbus?”

Here he fainted; but after they had bathed his forehead and wounds he
came to himself, and softly murmured: “I was dreaming of Joanna and the
poor child. They brought me a comic mask. What can that mean? That I
have been a fool all my life for thinking of other folks’ troubles and
forgetting myself and my own family? No, no, no! As surely as man is the
standard of all things--if it were so, then, then folly would be truth
and right.--I, I--my desire--the aim to which my life was devoted....”

He paused; then he suddenly raised himself, looked up with a bright
light in his eyes, and cried aloud with joy: “O Thou, most merciful
Saviour! Yes, yes--I see it all now. I thank thee--All that I strove for
and lived for, Thou, my Redeemer who art Love itself--Ah how good, how
comforting to think of that!--It is for this that Thou grantest me to
die!”

Again he lost consciousness; his head grew very hot, his breath came
hoarsely and his parched lips, though frequently moistened by careful
hands, could only murmur the names of those he loved best, and among
them that of Paula.

At about five hours after noon he fell back on the hunchback’s knees;
he had ceased to suffer. A happy smile lighted up his features, and in
death the old man’s calm face looked like that of a child.

The gardener felt as though he had lost his own father, and his lively
tongue remained speechless till he entered Doormat with the rescued
sisters, and proceeded to carry out his master’s last orders. The
abbess’ ship took the wounded captain Setnau on board, with his wife,
his children, his brother the steersman, and the surviving ship-wrights.

At the very hour when Rufinus closed his eyes, the town-watch of
Memphis, led by Bishop Plotinus, appeared to claim the Melchite convent
of St. Cecilia, and all the possessions of the sisterhood, in the name
of the patriarch and the Jacobite church. Next morning the bishop set
out for Upper Egypt to make his report to the prelate.



CHAPTER IX.

Philippus started up from the divan on which he had been reclining at
breakfast with his old friend. Before Horapollo was a half-empty plate;
he had swallowed his meal less rapidly than his companion, and looked
disapprovingly at the leech, who drank off his wine and water as he
stood, whereas he generally would sit and enjoy it as he talked to the
old man of matters light or grave. To the elder this was always the
pleasantest hour of the day; but now Philippus would hardly allow
himself more than just time enough to eat, even at their principal
evening meal.

Indeed, not he alone, but every physician in the city, had as much as he
could do with the utmost exertion. Nearly three weeks had elapsed
since the attack on the nuns, and the fearful heat had still gone on
in creasing. The river, instead of rising had sunk lower and lower;
the carrier-pigeons from Ethiopia, looked for day by day with growing
anxiety and excitement, brought no news of a rising stream even in the
upper Nile, and the shallow, stagnant and evil-smelling waters by the
banks began to be injurious, nay, fatal, to the health of the whole
population.

Close to the shore, especially, the water had a reddish tinge, and the
usually sweet, pure fluid in the canals was full of strange vegetable
growths and other foreign bodies putrid and undrinkable. The common
people usually shirked the trouble of filtering it, and it was among
them that the greater number died of a mortal and infectious pestilence,
till then unknown. The number of victims swelled daily, and the approach
of the comet kept pace with the growing misery of the town. Every one
connected it with the intense heat of the season, with the delay in the
inundation, and the appearance of the sickness; and the leech and his
friend often argued about these matters, for Philippus would not admit
that the meteor had any influence on human affairs, while Horapollo
believed that it had, and supported his view by a long series of
examples.

His antagonist would not accept them and asked for arguments; at the
same time he, like every one else, felt the influence of a vague dread
of some imminent and terrible disaster hanging over the earth and
humanity at large.

And, just as every heart in Memphis felt oppressed by such forebodings,
and by the weight of a calamity, which indeed no longer threatened them
but had actually come upon them, so the roads, the gardens, the palms
and sycamores by the way-side were covered by thick layers of dingy,
choking dust. The hedges of tamarisk and shrubs looked like decaying
walls of colorless, unburnt mud-bricks; even in the high-roads the
wayfarer walked in the midst of dense white clouds raised by his feet,
and if a chariot, or a horseman galloped down the scorching street,
fine, grey sand at once filled the air, compelling the foot-passengers
to shut their eyes and lips.

The town was so silent, so empty, so deserted! No one came out of doors
unless under pressure of business or piety. Every house was a furnace,
and even a bath brought no refreshment, for the water had long since
ceased to be cold. A disease had also attacked the ripening dates as
they hung; they dropped off in thousands from the heavy clusters under
the beautiful bending crown of leaves; and now for two days hundreds
of dead fish had been left on the banks. Even the scaly natives of the
river were plague-stricken; and the physician explained to his friend
that this brought the inhabitants a fresh danger; for who could clear
the shores of the dead fish?--And, in such heat, how soon they would
become putrid!

The old man did not conceal from himself that it was hard, cruelly hard,
for the physician to follow his calling conscientiously at such a time;
but he knew his friend; he had seen him during months of pestilence two
years since--always brisk, decisive and gay, indeed inspired to greater
effort by the greater demands on him. What had so completely altered
him, had poisoned and vexed his soul as with a malignant spell? It was
not the almost superhuman sacrifices required by his duties;--it came
of the unfortunate infatuation of his heart, of which he could not rid
himself.

Philippus had kept his promise. He went every day to the house of
Rufinus, and every day he saw Paula; but, as a murdered body bleeds
afresh in the presence of the assassin, so every day the old pain
revived when he was forced to meet her and speak with her. The only cure
for this particular sufferer was to remove the cause of his pain: that
is to say, to take Paula away out of his path; and this the old man made
his care and duty.

Little Mary and the other patients under Rufinus’ roof were on the way
to recovery; still there was much to cast gloomy shadows over this happy
termination. Joanna and Pulcheria were very anxious as to the fate
of Rufinus. No news had been received of him or of the sisters, and
Philippus was the vessel into which the forsaken wife and Pulcheria--who
looked up to him as to a kind, faithful, and all-powerful protecting
spirit-poured all their sorrows, cares, and fears. Their forebodings
were aggravated by the fact that three times Arab officials had come
to the house to enquire about the master and his continued absence. All
that the women told them was written down, and Dame Joanna, whose lips
had never yet uttered a lie, had found herself forced to give a false
clue by saying that her husband had gone to Alexandria on business,
and might perhaps have to proceed to Syria.--What could these enquiries
forebode? Did they not indicate that Rufinus’ complicity in the rescue
of the nuns was known at Fostat?

The authorities there were, in fact, better informed than the women
could suspect. But they kept their knowledge a secret, for it would
never do to let the oppressed people know that a handful of Egyptians
had succeeded in defeating a party of Arab soldiers; so the Memphites
heard no more than a dark rumor of what had occurred.

Philippus had known nothing of the old man’s purpose till he had gone
too far to be dissuaded; and it was misery to him now to reflect that
his dear old friend, and his whole household, might come to ruin for
the sake of the sisterhood who were nothing to them; for he had received
private information that there had been a skirmish between the Moslems
and the deliverers of the nuns, which had cost the lives of several
combatants on both sides.

And Paula! If only he could have seen her happy--But she was pale;
and that which robbed the young girl--healthy as she was in mind and
body--of her proud, frank, independent bearing was not the heat, which
tormented all creation, but a secret, devouring sorrow; and this sorrow
was the work of one alone--of him on whom she had set her heart, and who
made, ah! what a return, for the royal gift of her love.

Philippus had frequent business at the governor’s residence, and a
fortnight since he had plainly perceived what it was that had brought
Neforis into this strange state. She was taking the opium that her
husband had had, taking it in excessive quantities; and she could easily
procure more through some other physician. However, her piteous prayer
that Philippus would not abandon her to her fate had prevailed to induce
him to continue to see her, in the hope of possibly restricting her use
of the drug.

The senator’s wife, Martina, also required his visits to the palace. She
was not actually ill, but she suffered cruelly from the heat, and she
had always been wont to see her worthy old house-physician every day,
to hear all the latest gossip, and complain of her little ailments when
anything went wrong with her usually sound health. Philippus was indeed
too much overburdened to chatter, but his professional advice was good
and helped her to endure the fires of this pitiless sky. She liked this
incisive, shrewd, plain-spoken man--often indeed sharp and abrupt in
his freedom--and he appreciated her bright, natural ways. Now and then
Martina even succeeded in winning a smile from “Hermes Trismegistus,”
 who was “generally as solemn as though there was no such thing on earth
as a jest,” and in spurring him to a rejoinder which showed that this
dolorous being had a particularly keen and ready wit.

Heliodora attracted him but little. There was, to be sure, an
unmistakable likeness in her “imploring eyes” to those of Pulcheria; but
the girl’s spoke fervent yearning for the grace and love of God, while
the widow’s expressed an eager desire for the admiration of the men she
preferred. She was a graceful creature beyond all question, but such
softness, which never even attempted to assert a purpose or an opinion,
did not commend itself to his determined nature; it annoyed him, when he
had contradicted her, to hear her repeat his last statement and take his
side, as if she were ashamed of her own silliness. Her society, indeed,
did not seem to satisfy the clever older woman, who at home, was
accustomed to a succession of visitors, and to whom the word “evening”
 was synonymous with lively conversation and a large gathering. She spoke
of the leech’s visits as the oasis in the Egyptian desert, and little
Katharina even she regarded as a Godsend.

The water-wagtail was her daily visitant, and the girl’s gay and
often spiteful gossip helped to beguile her during this terrific heat.
Katharina’s mother made no difficulties; for Heliodora had gone to
see her in all her magnificence, and had offered her and her daughter
hospitality, some day, at Constantinople. They were very likely going
thither; at any rate they would not remain in Memphis, and then it
would be a piece of good fortune to be introduced to the society of the
capital by such people as their new acquaintances.

Martina thus heard a great deal about Paula; and though it was all
adverse and colored to her prejudice she would have liked to see the
daughter of the great and famous Thomas whom she had known; besides,
after all she had heard, she could fear nothing from Paula for her
niece: uncommonly handsome, but haughty, repellent, unamiable, and--like
Heliodora herself--of the orthodox sect.--What could tempt “great
Sesostris” to give her the preference?

Katharina herself proposed to Martina to make them acquainted; but
nothing would have induced Dame Martina to go out of her rooms,
protected to the utmost from the torrid sunshine, so she left it to
Heliodora to pay the visit and give her a report of the hero’s daughter.
Heliodora had devoted herself heart and soul to the little heiress, and
humored her on many points.

This was carried out. Katharina actually had the audacity to bring the
rivals together, even after she had reported to each all she knew of
Orion’s position with regard to the other. It was exquisite sport;
still, in one respect it did not fulfil her intentions, for Paula gave
no sign of suffering the agonies of jealousy which Katharina had hoped
to excite in her. Heliodora, on the other hand, came home depressed and
uneasy; Paula had received her coldly and with polite formality, and the
young widow had remained fully aware that so remarkable a woman might
well cast her own image in Orion’s heart into the shade, or supplant it
altogether.

Like a wounded man who, in spite of the anguish, cannot resist touching
the wound to assure himself of its state, Heliodora went constantly to
see Katharina in order to watch her rival from the garden or to be taken
to call on her, though she was always very coldly received.

At first Katharina had pitied the young woman whose superior in
intelligence she knew herself to be; but a certain incident had
extinguished this feeling; she now simply hated her, and pricked
her with needle-thrusts whenever she had a chance. Paula seemed
invulnerable; but there was not a pang which Katharina would not gladly
have given her to whom she owed the deepest humiliation her young life
had ever known. How was it that Paula failed to regard Heliodora as a
rival? She had reflected that, if Orion had really returned the widow’s
passion, he could not have borne so long a separation. It was on purpose
to avoid Heliodora, and to remain faithful to what he was and must
always be to Paula, that he had gone with the senator, far from Memphis.
Heliodora--her instinct assured her--was the poor, forsaken woman with
whom he had trifled at Byzantium, and for whom he had committed that
fatal theft of the emerald. If Fate would but bring him home to her, and
if she then yielded all he asked--all her own soul urged her to grant,
then she would be the sole mistress and queen of his heart--she must be,
she was sure of it! And though, even as she thought of it, she bowed
her head in care, it was not from fear of losing him; it was only her
anxiety about her father, her good old friend, Rufinus, and his family,
whom she had made so entirely her own.

This was the state of affairs this morning, when to his old friend’s
vexation, Philippus had so hastily and silently drunk off his
after-breakfast draught; just as he set down the cup, the black
door-keeper announced that a hump-backed man wished to see his master at
once on important business.

“Important business!” repeated the leech. “Give me four more legs in
addition to my own two, or a machine to make time longer than it is, and
then I will take new patients-otherwise no! Tell the fellow....”

“No, not sick....” interrupted the negro. “Come long way. Gardener to
Greek man Rufinus.”

Philippus started: he could guess what this messenger had to say, and
his heart sank with dread as he desired that he might be shown in.

A glance at Gibbus told him what he had rightly feared. The poor fellow
was hardly recognizable. He was coated with dust from head to foot, and
this made him look like a grey-haired old man; his sandals hung to his
feet in strips; the sweat, pouring down his cheeks, had made gutters as
it were in the dust on his face, and his tears, as the physician held
out his hand to him, washed out other channels.

In reply to the leech’s anxious, long drawn “Dead?” he nodded silently;
and when Philippus, clasping his hands to his temples, cried out: “Dead!
My poor old Rufinus dead! But how, in Heaven’s name, did it happen?
Speak, man, speak!”--Gibbus pointed to the old philosopher and said:
“Come out then, with me, Master. No third person....”

Philippus, however, gave him to understand that Horapollo was his second
self; and the hunch-back went on to tell him what he had seen, and
how his beloved master had met his end. Horapollo sat listening in
astonishment, shaking his head disapprovingly, while the physician
muttered curses. But the bearer of evil tidings was not interrupted, and
it was not till he had ended that Philippus, with bowed head and tearful
eyes, said:

“Poor, faithful old man; to think that he should die thus--he who leaves
behind him all that is best in life, while I--I....” And he groaned
aloud. The old man glanced at him with reproachful displeasure.

While the leech broke the seals of the tablets, which the abbess had
carefully closed, and began to read the contents, Horapollo asked the
gardener: “And the nuns? Did they all escape?”

“Yes, Master! on the morning after we reached Doomiat, a trireme took
them all out to sea.”

And the old man grumbled to himself: “The working bees killed and the
Drones saved!”

Gibbus, however, contradicted him, praising the laborious and useful
life of the sisters, in whose care he himself had once been.

Meanwhile Philippus had read his friend’s last letter. Greatly disturbed
by it he turned hither and thither, paced the room with long steps, and
finally paused in front of the gardener, exclaiming: “And what next? Who
is to tell them the news?”

“You,” replied Gibbus, raising his hands in entreaty.

“I-oh, of course, I!” growled the physician. “Whatever is difficult,
painful, intolerable, falls on my shoulders as a matter of course! But
I cannot--ought not--I will not do it. Had I any part or lot in devising
this mad expedition? You observe, Father?--What he, the simpleton,
brewed, I--I again am to drink. Fate has settled that!”

“It is hard, it is hard, child!” replied the old man. “Still, it is your
duty. Only consider--if that man, as he stands before us now, were to
appear before the women....”

But Philippus broke in: “No, no, that would not do! And you,
Gibbus--this very day there has been an Arab again to see Joanna; and
if they were to suspect that you had been with your master--for you look
strangely.--No, man; your devotion merits a better reward. They shall
not catch you. I release you from your service to the widow, and
we--what do you say, Father?--we will keep him here.”

“Right, very right,” said Horapollo. “The Nile must some day rise
again. Stay with us; I have long had a fancy to eat vegetables of my own
growing.”

But Gibbus firmly declined the offer, saying he wished to return to his
old mistress. When the physician again pointed out to him how great a
danger he was running into, and the old man desired to know his reasons,
the hunch-back exclaimed:

“I promised my master to stay with the women; and now, while in all
the household I am the only free man, shall I leave them unprotected
to secure my own miserable life? Sooner would I see a scimitar at my
throat. When my head is off the rascals are welcome to all that is
left.”

The words came hollow and broken from his parched tongue, and as he
spoke the faithful fellow’s face changed. Even under the dust he turned
pale, and Philippus had to support him, for his feet refused their
office. His long tramp through the torrid heat had exhausted his
strength; but a draught of wine soon brought him to himself again and
Horapollo ordered the slave to lead him to the kitchen and desire the
cook to take the best care of him.

As soon as the friends were alone, the elder observed:

“That worthy, foolhardy, old child who is now dead, seems to have left
you some strange request. I could see that as you were reading.”

“There--take it!” replied Philippus; and again he walked up and down the
room, while Horapollo took the letter. Both faces of the tablets were
covered with irregular, up-and-down lines of writing to the following
effect:

   “Rufinus, in view of death, to his beloved Philippus:

   “One shivering fit after another comes over me; I shall certainly
   die to-day. I must make haste. Writing is difficult. If only I
   can say what is most pressing.--First: Joanna and the poor child.
   Be everything you can be to them. Protect them as their guardian,
   Kyrios, and friend. They have enough to live on and something still
   to spare for others. My brother Leonax manages the property, and he
   is honest. Joanna knows all about it.--Tell her and the poor child
   that I send them ten thousand blessings--and to Joanna endless
   thanks for all her goodness.--And to you, my friend: heed the old
   man’s words. Rid your heart of Paula. She is not for you: you
   know, young Orion. But as to yourself: Those who were born in high
   places rarely suit us, who have dragged ourselves up from below to a
   better position. Be her friend; that she deserves--but let that be
   all. Do not live alone, a wife brings all that is best into a man’s
   life; it is she who weaves sweet dreams into his dull sleep. You
   know nothing of all this as yet; and your worthy old friend--to whom
   my greetings--has held aloof from it all his life....

   “For your private eye: it is a dying man who speaks thus. You must
   know that my poor child, our Pul, regards you as the most perfect of
   men and esteems you above all others. You know her and Joanna.
   Bear witness to your friend that no evil word ever passed the lips
   of either of them. Far be it from me to advise you, who bear the
   image of another woman in your heart,--to say: marry the child, she
   is the wife for you. But this much to you both--Father and son--I
   do advise you to live with the mother and daughter as true and
   friendly house-mates. You will none of you repent doing so. This
   is a dying man’s word. I can write no more. You are the women’s
   guardian, Philip, a faithful one I know. A common aim makes men
   grow alike. You and I, for many a year.--Take good care of them for
   me; I entreat you--good care.”

The last words were separated and written all astray; the old man could
hardly make them out. He now sat looking, as Phillipus had done before,
sorely puzzled and undecided over this strange document.

“Well?” asked the leech at last.

“Aye-well?” repeated the other with a shrug. Then both again were
silent; till Horapollo rose, and taking his staff, also paced the room
while he murmured, half to himself and half to his younger friend “They
are two quiet, reasonable women. There are not many of that sort, I
fancy. How the little one helped me up from the low seat in the garden!”
 It was a reminiscence that made him chuckle to himself; he stopped
Philippus, who was pacing at his side, by lightly patting his arm,
exclaiming with unwonted vivacity: “A man should be ready to try
everything--the care of women even, before he steps into the grave. And
is it a fact that neither of them is a scold or a chatter-box?”

“It is indeed.”

“And what ‘if’ or ‘but’ remains behind?” asked the old man. “Let us
be reckless for once, brother! If the whole business were not so
diabolically serious, it would be quite laughable. The young one for
me and the old one for you in our leisure hours, my son; better washed
linen; clothes without holes in them; no dust on our books; a pleasant
‘Rejoice’ every morning, or at meal-times;--only look at the fruit on
that dish! No better than the oats they strew before horses. At the old
man’s everything was as nice as it used to be in my own home at
Philae: Supper a little work of art, a feast for the eye as well as the
appetite! Pulcheria seems to understand all that as well as my poor dead
sister did. And then, when I want to rise, such a kind, pretty little
hand to help one up! I have long hated this dwelling. Lime and dust
fall from the ceiling in my bedroom, and here there are wide gaps in the
flooring-I stumbled over one yesterday--and our niggardly landlords, the
officials, say that if we want anything repaired we may do it ourselves,
that they have no money left for such things. Now, under that worthy old
man’s roof everything was in the best order.” The philosopher chuckled
aloud and rubbed his hands as he went on: “Supposing we kick over the
traces for once, Philip. Supposing we were to carry out our friend’s
dying wish? Merciful Isis! It would certainly be a good action, and
I have not many to boast of. But cautiously--what do you say? We can
always throw it up at a month’s notice.”

Then he grew grave again, shook his head, and said meditatively: “No,
no; such plans only disturb one’s peace of mind. A pleasant vision! But
scarcely feasible.”

“Not for the present, at any rate,” replied the leech.

“So long as Paula’s fate remains undecided, I beg you to let the matter
rest.”

The old man muttered a curse on her; then he said with a vicious, sharp
flash in his eyes: “That patrician viper! Every where in everything--she
spoils it all! But wait a while! I fancy she will soon be removed from
our path, and then.... No, even now, at the present time, I will not
allow that we should be deprived of what would embellish life, of doing
a thing which may turn the scale in my favor in the day of judgment. The
wishes of a dying man are sacred: So our fathers held it; and they were
right. The old man’s will must be done! Yes, yes, yes. It is settled.
As soon as that hindrance is removed, we will keep house with the two
women. I have said; and I mean it.”

At this point the gardener came in again, and the old man called out to
him:

“Listen, man. We shall live together after all; you shall hear more of
this later. Stay with my people till sundown, but you must keep your own
counsel, for they are all listeners and blabs. The physician here will
now take the melancholy tidings to the unfortunate widow, and then you
can talk it all over with her at night. Nothing startling must take
place at the house there; and with regard to your master, even his death
must remain a secret from every one but us and his family.”

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.



CHAPTER X.

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.

The woman’s business was evidently a paying one; the interior of her
house was conspicuously superior to the wretched hovels which surrounded
it, in the poorest and most squalid part of the town. Outside, indeed,
it differed little from its neighbors; in fact; it was intentionally
neglected, to mislead the authorities, for witchcraft and the practice
of magic arts were under the penalty of death. But the fittings of
the roofless centre-chamber in which she was wont to perform her
incantations and divinations argued no small outlay. On the walls were
hangings with occult figures; the pillars were painted with weird
and grewsome pictures; crucibles and cauldrons of various sizes were
simmering over braziers on little altars; on the shelves and tables
stood cups, phials, and vases, a wheel on which a wryneck hopped up
and down, wax images of men and women--some with needles through their
hearts, a cage full of bats, and glass jars containing spiders, frogs,
leeches, beetles, scorpions, centipedes and other foul creatures; and
lengthways down the room was stretched a short rope walk, used in a
Thracian form of magic. Perfumes and pungent vapors filled the air, and
from behind a curtain which hid the performers came a monotonous music
of children’s voices, bells, and dull drumming.

Medea, so the wise woman was called, though scarcely past five and
forty, harmonized in appearance with this strange habitation, full as it
was of objects calculated to rouse repulsion, dread, and amazement. Her
face was pale, and her extraordinary height was increased by a mass of
coal-black hair, curled high over a comb at the very top of her head.

At the end of the first visit paid her by the two young women, who had
taken her by surprise, so that several things were lacking which on the
second occasion proved to be very effective in the exercise of her art,
she had made Heliodora promise to return in three days’ time. The young
widow had kept her word, and had made her appearance punctually with
Katharina.

To be in Egypt, the land of sorcery and the magic arts, without putting
them to the test, was impossible. Even Martina allowed this, though she
did not care for such things for herself. She was content with her lot;
and if any change for the worse were in prospect she would rather not be
tormented beforehand by a wise prophet; nor was it better to be deluded
by a foolish one. Happiness as of Heaven itself she no longer craved;
it would only have disturbed her peace. But she was the last person to
think ill of the young, whose life still lay before them, if they longed
to look into futurity.

The fair widow and her companion crossed the sorceress’ threshold in
some trepidation, and Katharina was the more agitated of the two; for
this afternoon she had seen Philippus leave the house of Rufinus, and
not long after some Arab officials had called there. Paula had come into
the garden shortly before sundown, her eyes red with weeping; and when,
soon after, Pulcheria and her mother had joined her there, Paula had
thrown herself on Joanna’s neck, sobbing so bitterly that the mother
and daughter--“whose tears were near her eyes”--had both followed her
example. Something serious had occurred; but when she had gone to the
house to pick up further information, old Betta, who was particularly
snappish with her, had refused her admission quite rudely.

Then, on their way hither, she and Heliodora had had a painful
adventure; the chariot, lent by Neforis to convey them as far as the
edge of the necropolis, was stopped on the way by a troop of Arab horse,
and they were subjected to a catechism by the leader.

So they entered the house of “Medea of the curls,” as the common people
called the witch, with uneasy and throbbing hearts; they were received,
however, with such servile politeness that they soon recovered
themselves, and even the timid Heliodora began to breathe freely again.
The sorceress knew this time who Katharina was, and paid more respectful
attention to the daughter of the wealthy widow.

The young crescent moon had risen, a circumstance which Medea declared
enabled her to see more clearly into the future than she could do at
the time of the Luna-negers as she called the moonless night. Her inward
vision had been held in typhornian darkness at the time of their first
visit, by the influence of some hostile power. She had felt this as soon
as they had quitted her, but to-day she saw clearer. Her mind’s eye was
as clear as a silver mirror, she had purified it by three days’ fasting
and not a mote could escape her sight.--“Help, ye children of Horapollo!
Help, Hapi and Ye three holy ones!”

“Oh, my beauties, my beauties!” she went on enthusiastically. “Hundreds
of great dames have proved my art, but such splendid fortunes I never
before saw crowding round any two heads as round yours. Do you hear
how the cauldrons of fortune are seething? The very lids lift! Amazing,
amazing.”

She stretched out her hand towards the vessels as though conjuring them
and said solemnly: “Abundance of happiness; brimming over, brimming
over! Bursting storehouses! Zefa-oo Metramao. Return, return, to the
right levels, the right heights, the right depth, the right measure!
Your Elle Mei-Measurer, Leveller, require them, Techuti, require them,
double Ibis!”

She made them both sit down on elegant seats in front of the boiling
pots, tied the “thread of Anubis” round the ring-finger of each, asked
in a low whisper between muttered words of incantation for a hair of
each, and after placing the hairs both in one cauldron she cried out
with wild vehemence, as though the weal or woe of her two visitors were
involved in the smallest omission:

“Press the finger with the thread of Anubis on your heart; fix your
eyes on the cauldron and the steam which rises to the spirits above, the
spirits of light, the great One on high!”

The two women obeyed the sorceress’ directions with beating hearts,
while she began spinning round on her toes with dizzy rapidity; her
curls flew out, and the magic wand in her extended hand described a
large and beautiful curve. Suddenly, and as if stricken by terror, she
stopped her whirl, and at the same instant the lamps went out and
the only light was from the stars and the twinkling coals under the
cauldrons. The low music died away, and a fresh strong perfume welled
out from behind the curtain.

Medea fell on her knees, lifted up her hands to Heaven, threw her head
so far back that her whole face was turned up to the sky and her eyes
gazed straight up at the stars-an attitude only possible to so supple a
spine. In this torturing attitude she sang one invocation after another,
to the zenith of the blue vault over their heads, in a clear voice of
fervent appeal. Her body was thrown forward, her mass of hair no longer
stood up but was turned towards the two young women, who every moment
expected that the supplicant would be suffocated by the blood mounting
to her head, and fall backwards; but she sang and sang, while her white
teeth glittered in the starlight that fell straight upon her face.
Presently, in the midst of the torrent of demoniacal names and magic
formulas that she sang and warbled out, a piteous and terrifying sound
came from behind the curtain as of two persons gasping, sighing,
and moaning: one voice seemed to be that of a man oppressed by great
anguish; the other was the half-suffocated wailing of a suffering child.
This soon became louder, and at length a voice said in Egyptian: “Water,
a drink of water.”

The woman started to her feet, exclaiming: “It is the cry of the poor
and oppressed who have been robbed to enrich those who have too much
already; the lament of those whom Fate has plundered to heap you with
wealth enough for hundreds.” As she spoke these words, in Greek and
with much unction, she turned to the curtain and added solemnly, but in
Egyptian: “Give drink to the thirsty; the happy ones will spare him
a drop from their overflow. Give the white drink to the wailing
child-spirit, that he may be soothed and quenched.--Play, music, and
drown the lamentations of the spirits in sorrow.”

Then, turning to Heliodora’s kettle she said sternly, as if in obedience
to some higher power:

“Seven gold pieces to complete the work,”--and while the young widow
drew out her purse the sorceress lighted the lamps, singing as she did
so and as she dropped the coin into the boiling fluid: “Pure, bright
gold! Sunlight buried in a mine! Holy Seven. Shashef, Shashef! Holy
Seven, marry and mingle--melt together!”

When this was done she poured out of the cauldron a steaming fluid as
black as ink, into a shallow saucer, called Heliodora to her side, and
told her what she could see in the mirror of its surface.

It was all fair, and gave none but delightful replies to the widow’s
questioning. And all the sorceress said tended to confirm the young
woman’s confidence in her magic art; she described Orion as exactly as
though she saw him indeed in the surface of the ink, and said he was
travelling with an older man. And lo! he was returning already; in the
bright mirror she could see Heliodora clasped in her lover’s arms; and
now--it was like a picture: A stranger--not the bishop of Memphis--laid
her hand in his and blessed their union before the altar in a vast and
magnificent cathedral.

Katharina, who had been chilled with apprehensions and a thrill of awe,
as she listened to Medea’s song, listened to every word with anxious
attention; what Medea said--how she described Orion--that was more
wonderful than anything else, beyond all she had believed possible. And
the cathedral in which the lovers were to be united was the church of
St. Sophia at Constantinople, of which she had heard so much.

A tight grip seemed to clutch her heart; still, eagerly as she
listened to Medea’s words, her sharp ears heard the doleful gasping and
whimpering behind the hanging; and this distressed and dismayed her; her
breath came short, and a deep, torturing sense of misfortune possessed
her wholly. The wailing child-spirit within, a portion of whose joys
Medea said had been allotted to her--nay, she had not robbed him,
certainly not--for who could be more wretched than she? It was only that
beautiful, languishing young creature who was so lavishly endowed by
Fortune with gifts enough and to spare for others without number. Oh!
if she could but have snatched them from her one after another, from the
splendid ruby she was wearing to-day, to Orion’s love!

She was pale and tremulous as she rose at the call of the sorceress,
after she also had offered seven gold pieces. She would gladly have
purchased annihilating curses to destroy her happier rival.

The black liquid in the saucer began to stir, and a sharply smelling
vapor rose from it; the witch blew this aside, and as soon as the murky
fluid was a little cool, and the surface was smooth and mirror-like,
she asked Katharina what she most desired to know. But the answer was
checked on her lips; a fearful thundering and roaring suddenly made
the house shake; Medea dropped the saucer with a piercing shriek, the
contents splashed up, and warm, sticky drops fell on the girl’s arms and
dress. She was quite overcome with the startling horror, and Heliodora,
who could herself scarcely stand, had to support her, for she tottered
and would have fallen.

The sorceress had vanished; a half-grown lad, a young man, and a very
tall Egyptian girl in scanty attire were rushing about the room. They
flew hither and thither, throwing all the vessels they could lay hands
on into an opening in the floor from which they had lifted a trap-door;
pouring water on the braziers and extinguishing the lights, while they
drove the two strangers into a corner of the hall, rating and abusing
them. Then the lads clambered like cats up to the opening in the roof,
and sprang off and away.

A shrill whistle rang through the house, and in moment Medea burst into
the room again, clutched the two trembling women by the shoulders, and
exclaimed: “For Christ’s sake, be merciful! My life is at stake Sorcery
is punishable by death. I have done my best for you. You came here--that
is what you must say--out of charity to nurse the sick.” She pushed them
both behind the hanging whence they still heard feeble groans, into a
low, stuffy room, and the over-grown girl slipped in behind them.

Here, on miserable couches, lay an old man shivering, and showing dark
spots on his bare breast and face: and a child of five, whose crimson
cheeks were burning with fever.

Heliodora felt as if she must suffocate in the plague stricken, heavy
atmosphere, and Katharina clung to her helplessly; but the soothsayer
pulled her away, saying: “Each to one bed: you to the child, and
you--the old man.”

Involuntarily they obeyed the woman who was panting with fright. The
water-wagtail, who never in her life thought of a sick person, turned
very sick and looked away from the sufferer; but the your widow, who had
spent many and many a night by the death-bed of a man she had loved, and
who, tender-hearted, had often tended her sick slaves with her own hand,
looked compassionately into the pretty, pain-stricken face of the child,
and wiped the dews from his clammy brow.

Katharina shuddered; but her attention was presently attracted to
something fresh; from the other side of the house came a clatter of
weapons, the door was pushed open, and the physician Philippus walked
into the room. He desired the night-watch, who were with him, to wait
outside. He had come by the command of the police authorities, to whose
ears information had been brought that there were persons sick of the
plague in the house of Medea, and that she, nevertheless, continued to
receive visitors. It had long been decided that she must be taken in the
act of sorcery, and warning had that day been given that she expected
illustrious company in the evening. The watch were to find her
red-handed, so to speak; the leech was to prove whether her house was
indeed plague-stricken; and in either case the senate wished to have the
sorceress safe in prison and at their mercy, though even Philippus had
not been taken into their confidence.

The visitors he had come upon were the last he had expected to
find here. He looked at them with a disapproving shake of the head,
interrupted the woman’s voluble asseverations that these noble ladies
had come, out of Christian charity, to comfort and help the sick, with
a rough exclamation: “A pack of lies!” and at once led the coerced sick
nurses out of the house. He then represented to them the fearful risk
to which their folly had exposed them, and insisted very positively
on their returning home and, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour,
taking a bath and putting on fresh garments.

With trembling knees they found their way back to the chariot; but
even before it could start Heliodora had broken down in tears, while
Katharina, throwing herself back on the cushions, thought, as she
glanced at her weeping companion: “This is the beginning of the
wonderful happiness she was promised! It is to be hoped it may
continue!”

It seemed indeed as though Katharina’s guardian spirit had overheard
this amiable wish; for, as the chariot drove past the guard-house into
the court-yard of the governor’s house, it was stopped by armed men with
brown, warlike faces, and they had to wait some minutes till an Arab
officer appeared to enquire who they were, and what they wanted. This
they explained in fear and trembling, and they then learnt that the
Arab government had that very evening taken possession of the residence.
Orion was accused of serious crimes, and his guests were to depart on
the following day.

Katharina, who was known to the interpreter, was allowed to go with
Heliodora to the senator’s wife; she might also use the chariot to
return home in, and if she pleased, take the Byzantines with her, for
the palace would be in the hands of the soldiery for the next few days.

The two young women held council. Katharina pressed her friend to come
at once to her mother’s house, for she felt certain that they were
plague-stricken, and how could they procure a bath in a house full of
soldiers? Heliodora could not and must not remain with Martina in this
condition, and the senator’s wife could follow her next day. Her mother,
she added, would be delighted to welcome so dear a guest.

The widow was passive, and when Martina had gladly consented to accept
the invitation of her “delivering angel,” the chariot carried them to
Susannah’s house. The widow had long been in bed, firmly convinced that
her daughter was asleep and dreaming in her own pretty room.

Katharina would not have her disturbed, and the bath-room was so far
from Susannah’s apartment that she slept on quietly while Katharina and
her guest purified themselves.



CHAPTER XI.

The inhabitants of the governor’s residence passed a fearful night.
Martina asked herself what sin she had committed that she, of all
people, should be picked out to witness such a disaster.

And where were her schemes of marriage now? Any movement in such heat
was indeed scarcely endurable; but she would have moved from one part
of the house to another a dozen times, and allowed herself to be tossed
hither and thither like a ball, if it could have enabled her to save her
dear “great Sesostris” from such hideous peril. And at the bottom of all
this was, no doubt, this wild, senseless business of the nuns.

And these Arabs! They simply helped themselves to whatever they fancied,
and were, of course, in a position to strip the son of the great
Mukaukas of all he possessed and reduce him to beggary. A pretty
business this!

Heliodora, to be sure, had enough for both, and she and her husband
would not forget them in their will; but there was more than this in the
balance now: it was a matter of life and death.

A cold shudder ran through her at the thought; and her fears were only
too well founded: the black Arab who had come to parley with her, and
had finally allowed her to remain under this roof till next day, had
told her as much through the interpreter. A fearful, horrible, nameless
catastrophe! And that she should be in the midst of it and have to see
it all!

Then her husband, her poor Justinus! How hard this would fall on him!
She could not cease weeping; and before she fell asleep she prayed
fervently indeed, to the saints and the dear Mother of God, that they
would bring all to a happy issue. She closed her eyes on the thought:
“What a misfortune!” and she woke to it again early in the morning.

She, however, had known nothing of the worst horrors of that fatal
night.

A troop of Arab soldiers had crossed the Nile at nightfall, some on
foot or on horseback and some in boats, led by Obada the Vekeel, and
had invested the governor’s residence. When they had fully assured
themselves that Orion was indeed absent they took Nilus prisoner. It
was then Obada’s business to inform the Mukaukas’ widow of what had
happened, and to tell her that she must quit the house next day. This
must be done, because he had views of his own as to what was to become
of the venerable house of the oldest family in the country.

Neforis was still up, and when the interpreter was announced as Obada’s
forerunner, she was in the fountain-room. He found her a good deal
excited; for, although she was incapable of any consecutive train of
thought and, when her mind was required to exert itself, her ideas only
came like lightning-flashes through her brain, she had observed that
something unusual was going on. Sebek and her maid had evaded her
enquiries, and would say no more than that Amru’s representative
had come to speak with the young master. It seemed to be something
important, perhaps some false accusation.

The interpreter now explained that Orion himself was accused of having
planned and aided an enterprise which had cost the lives of twelve Arab
soldiers; and, as she knew, any injury inflicted even on a single Moslem
by an Egyptian was punished by death and the confiscation of his goods.
Besides this, her son was accused of a robbery.

At the close of this communication, to which Neforis listened with a
vacant stare, horrified and at last almost crushed, the interpreter
begged that she would grant the Vekeel an audience.

“Not just yet--give me a few minutes,” said the widow, bringing out
the words with difficulty: first she must have recourse to her secret
specific. When she had done so, she expressed her readiness to
see Obada. Her son’s swarthy foe was anxious to appear a mild and
magnanimous man in her eyes, so it was with flattering servility and
many smirking grins that he communicated to her the necessity for her
quitting the house in which she had passed the longest and happiest half
of her life, and no later than next day.

To his announcement that her private fortune would remain untouched, and
that she would be at liberty to reside in Memphis or to go to her own
house in Alexandria, she indifferently replied that “she should see.”

She then enquired whether the Arabs had yet succeeded in capturing her
son.

“Not actually,” replied the Vekeel. “But we know where he is hiding,
and by to-morrow or the next day we shall lay hands on the unhappy young
man.”

But, as he spoke, the widow detected a malicious gleam in his eyes to
which, so far, he had tried to give a sympathetic expression, and she
went on with a slight shake of the bead: “Then it is a case of life and
death?”

“Compose yourself, noble lady,” was the reply. “Of death alone.”

Neforis looked up to heaven and for some minutes did not speak; then she
asked:

“And who has accused him of robbery?” “The head of his own Church....”

“Benjamin?” she murmured with a peculiar smile. Only yesterday she had
made her will in favor of the patriarch and the Church. “If Benjamin
could see that,” said she to herself, “he would change his views of you
and your people, and have prayers constantly said for us.”

As she spoke no more the Vekeel sat looking at her inquisitively and
somewhat at a loss, till at length she rose, and with no little dignity
dismissed him, remarking that now their business was at an end and she
had nothing further to say to him.

This closed the interview; and as the Vekeel quitted the fountain-room
he muttered to himself: “What a woman! Either she is possessed and her
brain is crazed, or she is of a rarely heroic pattern.”

Neforis was supported to her own room; when she was in bed she desired
her maid to bring a small box out of her chest and place it on the
little table containing medicines by the bead of the couch.

As soon as she was alone she took out two letters which George had
written to her before their marriage, and a poem which Orion had once
addressed to her; she tried to read them, but the words danced before
her eyes, and she was forced to lay them aside. She took up a little
packet containing hair cut from the heads of her sons after death, and
a lock of her husband’s. She gazed on these dear memorials with rapt
tenderness, and now the poppy juice began to take effect: the images of
those departed ones rose clear in her mind, and she was as near to them
as though they were standing in living actuality by her side.

Still holding the curls in her hand, she looked up into vacancy, trying
to apprehend clearly what had occurred within the last few hours and
what lay before her: She must leave this room, this ample couch, this
house--all, in short, that was bound up with the dearest memories of
those she had loved. She was to be forced to this--but did it beseem
her to submit to this Negro, this stranger in the house where she was
mistress? She shook her head with a scornful smile; then opening a glass
phial, which was still half-full of opium pillules, she placed a few on
her tongue and again gazed sky-wards.--Another face now looked down on
her; she saw the husband from whom not even death could divide her, and
at his feet their two murdered sons. Presently Orion seemed to rise
out of the clouds, as a diver comes up from the water, and make for
the shore of the island on which George and the other two seemed to be
standing. His father opened his arms to receive him and clasped him to
his heart, while she herself--or was it only her wraith--went to the
others, who hurried forward to greet her tenderly; and then her husband,
too, met her, and she found rest on his bosom.

For hours, and long before the incursion of the Arabs, she had been
feeling half stunned and her mind clouded; but now a delicious,
slumberous lethargy came over her, to which her whole being urged her
to yield. But every time her eyes closed, the thought of the morrow shot
through her brain, and finally, with a great effort, she sat up, took
some water--which was always close at hand--shook into it the remaining
pillules in the bottle, and drank it off to the very last drop.

Her hand was steady; the happy smile on her lips, and the eager
expression of her eyes, might have led a spectator to believe that she
was thirsty and had mixed herself a refreshing draught. She had no look
of a desperate creature laying violent hands on her own life; she
felt no hesitancy, no fear of death, no burthen of the guilt she was
incurring--nothing but ecstatic weariness and hope; blissful hope of a
life without end, united to those she loved.

Hardly had she swallowed the deadly draught when she shivered with a
sudden chill. Raising herself a little she called her maid, who was
sitting up in the adjoining room; and as the woman looked alarmed at
her mistress’s fixed stare, she stammered out: “A priest--quick--I am
dying.”

The woman flew off to the viridarium to call Sebek, who was standing in
front of the tablinum with the Vekeel; she told him what had happened,
and the Negro gave him leave to obey his dying mistress, escorting him
as far as the gate. Just outside, the steward met a deacon who had
been giving the blessing of the Church to a poor creature dying of the
pestilence, and in a few minutes they were standing by the widow’s bed.

The locks of her sons’ hair lay by her side; her hands were folded over
a crucifix; but her eyes, which had been fixed on the features of the
Saviour, had wandered from it and again gazed up to Heaven.

The priest spoke her name, but she mistook him for her son and murmured
in loving accents:

“Orion, poor, poor child! And you, Mary, my darling, my sweet little
pet! Your father--yes, dear boy, only come with me.--Your father is
kind again and forgives you. All those I loved are together now, and no
one--Who can part us? Husband--George, listen...”

The priest performed his office, but she paid no heed, still staring
upwards; her smiling lips continued to move, but no articulate sound
came from them. At last they were still, her eyelids fell, her hands
dropped the crucifix, a slight shiver ran through her limbs, which then
relaxed, and she opened her mouth as though to draw a deeper breath.
But it closed no more, and when the faithful steward pressed her lips
together her face was rigid and her heart had ceased to beat.

The honest man sobbed aloud; when he carried the melancholy news to the
Vekeel, Obada growled out a curse, and said to a subaltern officer who
was super-intending the loading of his camels with the treasures from
the tablinum:

“I meant to have treated that cursed old woman with conspicuous
generosity, and now she has played me this trick; and in Medina they
will lay her death at my door, unless...”

But here he broke off; and as he once more watched the loading of the
camels, he only thought to himself: “In playing for such high stake’s,
a few gold pieces more or less do not count. A few more heads must fall
yet--the handsome Egyptian first and foremost.--If the conspirators at
Medina only play their part! The fall of Omar means that of Amru, and
that will set everything right.”



CHAPTER XII.

Katharina slept little and rose very early, as was her habit, while
Heliodora was glad to sleep away the morning hours. In this scorching
season they were, to be sure, the pleasantest of the twenty-four, and
the water-wagtail usually found them so; but to-day, though a splendid
Indian flower had bloomed for the first time, and the head gardener
pointed it out to her with just pride, she could not enjoy it and be
glad. It might perish for aught she cared, and the whole world with it!

There was no one stirring yet in the next garden, but the tall leech
Philippus might be seen coming along the road to pay a visit to the
women.

A few swift steps carried her to the gate, whence she called him. She
must entreat him to say nothing of her last night’s expedition; but
before she had time to prefer her request he had paused to tell her that
the widow of the Mukaukas, overcome by alarm and horror, had followed
her husband to the next world.

There had been a time when Katharina had been devoted to Neforis,
regarding her as a second mother; when the governor’s residence
had seemed to her the epitome of all that was great, venerable, and
illustrious; and when she had been proud and happy to be allowed to run
in and out, and to be loved like a child of the family. The tears that
started to her eyes were sincere, and it was a relief to her, too, to
lay aside the gay and defiantly happy mien which she wore as a mask,
while all in her soul was dark, wild, and desperate.

The physician understood her grief; he readily promised not to betray
her to any one, and did not blame her, though he again pointed out the
danger she had incurred and earnestly insisted that every article of
clothing, which she or Heliodora had worn, must be destroyed. The subtle
germ of the malady, he said, clung to everything; every fragment of
stuff which had been touched by the plague-stricken was especially
fitted to carry the infection and disseminate the disease. She
listened to him in deep alarm, but she could satisfy him on this point;
everything she or her companion had worn had been burnt in the bath-room
furnace.

The physician went on; and she, heedless of the growing heat, wandered
restlessly about the grounds. Her heart beat with short, quick, painful
jerks; an invisible burthen weighed upon her and prevented her breathing
freely. A host of torturing thoughts haunted her unbidden; they were not
to be exorcised, and added to her misery: Neforis dead; the residence in
the hands of the Arabs; Orion bereft of his possessions and held guilty
of a capital crime.

And the peaceful house beyond the hedge--what trouble was hanging over
its white-haired master and his guileless wife and daughter? A storm
was gathering, she could see it approaching--and beyond it, like another
murky, death-dealing thunder-cloud, was the pestilence, the fearful
pestilence.

And it was she, a fragile, feeble girl--a volatile water-wagtail--who
had brought all these terrors down on them, who had opened the
sluice-gates through which ruin was now beginning to pour in on all
around her. She could see the flood surging, swelling--saw it lapping
round her own house, her own feet; drops of sweat bedewed her forehead
and hands from terror at the mere thought. And yet, and yet!--If she had
really had the power to bind calamity in the clouds, to turn the tide
back into its channel, she would not have done so! The uttermost that
she longed for, as the fruit of the seed she had sown and which she
longed to see ripen, had not yet come to pass--and to see that she would
endure anything, even death and parting from this deceitful, burning,
unlovely world.

Death awaited Orion; and before it overtook him he should know who had
sharpened the sword. Perhaps he might escape with his life; but the
Arab would not disgorge what he once had seized, and if that young
and splendid Croesus should come out of prison alive, but a beggar,
then--then.... And as for Paula! As for Heliodora! For once her little
hand had wrenched the thunderbolts from Zeus’ eagle, and she would find
one for them!

The sense of her terrible power, to which more than one victim had
already fallen, intoxicated her. She would drive Orion--Orion who had
betrayed her--into utter ruin and misery; she would see him a beggar at
her feet!--And this it was that gave her courage to do her worst; this,
and this alone. What she would do then, she herself knew not; that lay
as yet in the womb of the Future. She might take a fancy to do something
kind, compassionate, and tender.

By the time she went into the house again her fears and depression had
vanished; revived energy possessed her soul, and the little eavesdropper
and tale-bearer had become in this short hour a purposeful and terrible
woman, ready for any crime.

“Poor little lamb!” thought Philippus, as he went into Rufinus’ garden.
“That miserable man may have brought pangs enough to her little heart!”

His old friend’s garden-plot was deserted. Under the sycamore, however,
he perceived the figures of a very tall young man and a pretty woman,
delicate, fair-haired, and rather pale. The big young fellow was holding
a skein of wool on his huge, outstretched hands; the girl was winding
it on to a ball. These were Rustem the Masdakite and Mandane, both now
recovered from their injuries; the girl, indeed, had been restored to
the new life of a calm and understanding mind. Philippus had watched
over this wonderful resuscitation with intense interest and care. He
ascribed it, in the first instance, to the great loss of blood from the
wound in her head; and secondly, to the fresh air and perfect nursing
she had had. All that was now needful was to protect her against
agitation and violent emotions. In the Masdakite she had found a friend
and a submissive adorer; and Philippus could rejoice as he looked at the
couple, for his skill had indeed brought him nothing but credit.

His greeting to them was cheery and hearty, and in answer to his
enquiry: “How are you getting on?” Rustem replied, “As lively as a fish
in water,” adding, as he pointed to Mandane, “and I can say the same for
my fellow-countrywoman.”

“You are agreed then?” said the leech, and she nodded eager assent.

At this Philippus shook his finger at the man, exclaiming: “Do not get
too tightly entangled here, my friend. Who knows how soon Haschim may
call you away.”

Then, turning his back on the convalescents, he murmured to himself:
“Here again is something to cheer us in the midst of all this
trouble-these two, and little Mary.”

Rufinus, before starting on his journey, had sent back all the crippled
children he had had in his care to their various parents; thus the
anteroom was empty.

The women apparently were at breakfast in the dining-room. No, he was
mistaken; it was yet too early, and Pulcheria was still busy laying the
table. She did not notice him as he went in, for she was busy arranging
grapes, figs, pomegranates and sycamore-figs, a fruit resembling
mulberries in flavor which grow in clusters from the trunk of the
tree-between leaves, which the drought and heat of the past weeks had
turned almost yellow. The tempting heap was fast rising in an elegant
many-hued hemisphere; but her thoughts were not in her occupation, for
tears were coursing each other down her cheeks.

“Those tears are for her father,” thought the leech as he watched her
from the threshold. “Poor child!”--How often he had heard his old friend
call her so!

And till now he had never thought of her but as a child; but to-day he
must look at her with different eyes--her own father had enjoined it.
And in fact he gazed at her as though he beheld a miracle.

What had come over little Pulcheria?--How was it that he had never
noticed it before?--It was a well-grown maiden that he saw, moving
round, snowwhite arms; and he could have sworn that she had only thin,
childish arms, for she had thrown them round his neck many a time when
she had ridden up and down the garden on his back, calling him her fine
horse.

How long ago was that? Ten years! She was now seventeen!

And how slender, and delicate, and white her hands were--those hands for
which her mother had often scolded her when, after building castles of
sand, she had sat down to table unwashed.

Now she was laying the grapes round the pomegranates, and he remembered
how Horapollo, only yesterday, had praised her dainty skill.

The windows were well screened, but a few sunbeams forced their way into
the room and fell on her red-gold hair. Even the fair Boeotians, whom he
had admired in his student-days at Athens, had no such glorious crown of
hair. That she had a sweet and pretty face he had always known; but now,
as she raised her eyes and first observed him, meeting his gaze with
maidenly embarrassment and sweet surprise, and yet with perfect welcome,
he felt himself color and he had to pause a moment to collect himself
before he could respond with something more than an ordinary greeting to
hers. The dialogue that flashed through his mind in that instant began
with sentences full of meaning. But all he said was:

“Yes, here I am,” which really did not deserve the hearty reply:

“Thank God for that!” nor the bewitching embarrassment of the
explanation that ensued: “on my mother’s account.”

Again he blushed; he, the man who had long since forgotten his youthful
shyness. He asked after Dame Joanna, and how she was bearing her
trouble, and then he said gravely: “I was the bearer of bad news
yesterday, and to-day again I have come like a bird of ill-omen.”

“You?” she said with a smile, and the simple word conveyed so sweet a
doubt of his capacity for bringing evil that he could not help saying to
himself that his friend, in leaving this child, this girl, to his
care, had bequeathed to him the best gift that one mortal can devise
to another: a dear, trustful, innocent daughter--or no, a younger
sister--as pure, as engaging, and as lovable as only the child of such
parents could be.

While he stood telling her of what had happened at the governor’s house,
he noted how deeply, for Paula’s and Mary’s sake, she took to heart the
widow’s death, though Neforis had been nothing to her; and he decided
that he would at once make Pulcheria’s mother acquainted with her dead
husband’s wishes.

All this did not supplant his old passion for Paula; far from it--that
tortured him still as deeply and hotly as ever. But at the same time he
was conscious of its evil influence; he knew that by cherishing it he
was doing himself harm--nay a real injury since it was not returned.
He knew that within reach of Paula, and condemned to live with her, he
could never recover his peace, but must suffer constant pangs. It was
only away from her, and yet under the same roof with Joanna and her
daughter, that he could ever hope to be a contented and happy man; but
he dared not put this thought into words.

Pulcheria detected that he had something in reserve, and feared lest he
should know of some new impending woe; however, on this head he could
reassure her, telling her that, on the contrary, he had something in
his mind which, so far at least as he was concerned, was a source of
pleasure. Her grieved and anxious spirit could indeed hardly believe
him; and he begged her not to lose all hope in better days, asking her
if she had true and entire trust in him.

She warmly replied that he must surely feel that she did; and now, as
the others came into the room, she nodded to her mother, whom she had
already seen quite early, and offering him her hand shook his heartily.
This had been a restful interval; but the sight of Paula, and the news
he had to give her, threw him back into his old depressed and miserable
mood.

Little Mary, whose cheeks had recovered their roses and who looked quite
well again, threw her arms round Paula’s neck as she heard the evil
tidings; but Paula herself was calmer than he had expected. She turned
very pale at the first shock, but soon she could listen to him with
composure, and presently quite recovered her usual demeanor. Philippus,
as he watched her, had to control himself sternly, and as soon as
possible he took his leave.

It was as though he had been fated once more to see with agonizing
clearness what he had lost in her; she walked through life as though
borne up by lofty feeling, and a thoughtful radiance lent her noble
features a bewitching charm which grieved while it enchanted him.

Orion a prisoner, and all his possessions confiscated! The thought had
horrified her for a little while; but then it had come to her that this
was just as it should be--that what had at first looked like a dreadful
disaster had been sent to enable her love to cast off its husks, to
appear in all its loftiness and purity, and to give it, by the help of
the All-merciful, its true consecration.

She did not fear for his life, for he had told her and written to her
that Amru had been paternal in his kindness; and all that had occurred
was, she was sure, the work of the Vekeel, of whose odious and cruel
character he had given her a horrible picture that day when Rufinus had
gone to warn the abbess.

When Philippus had left his friends, he sighed deeply. How different
he had found these women from what he had expected. Yes, his old friend
knew men well!

From trifling details he had succeeded in forming a more accurate idea
of Pulcheria than the leech himself had gained in years of intimacy.
Horapollo had foreseen, too, that the danger which threatened the
Mukaukas’ son would fan Paula’s passions like a fresh breeze; and
Joanna, frail, ailing Joanna! she had behaved heroically under the loss
of the companion with whom she had lived for so many years in faithful
love. He could not help comparing her with the wretched Neforis; what
was it that enabled one to bear the equal loss with so much more
dignity than the other? Nothing but the presence of the tender-hearted
Pulcheria, who shared her sorrow with such beautiful resignation,
such ready and complete sympathy. This the governor’s widow had wholly
lacked; and how happy were they who could call such a heart their own!
He walked through the garden with his head bent, and looking neither to
the right hand nor the left.

The Masdakite, who was still sitting with Mandane under the sycamore,
as indifferent to the torrid heat as she was, looked after him, and said
with a sigh as he pointed to him:

“There he goes. This is the first time he ever said a rude word to you
or to me: or did you not understand?”

“Oh yes,” said she in a low voice, looking down at her needlework.

They talked in Persian, for she had not forgotten the language which her
mother had spoken till her dying day.

Life is sometimes as strange as a fairy-tale; and the accident was
indeed wonderful which had brought these two beings, of all others, at
the same time to the sick room. His distant home was also hers, and he
even knew her uncle--her father’s brother--and her father’s sad history.

When the Greek army had taken possession of the province where they
had lived, the men had fled into the woods with their flocks and herds,
while the women and children took refuge in the fortress which defended
the main road. This had not long held out against the Byzantines, and
the women, among them Mandane with her mother, had been handed over to
the soldiers as precious booty. Her father had then joined the troops to
rescue the women, but he and his comrades had only lost their lives in
the attempt. To this day the valiant man’s end was a tale told in his
native place, and his property and valuable rose gardens now belonged to
his younger brother. So the two convalescents had plenty to talk about.

It was curious to note how clearly the memories of her childhood were
stamped on Mandane’s mind.

She had laid her wounded head on the pillow of sickness with a darkened
brain, and the new pain had lifted the veil from her mind as a storm
clears the oppressive atmosphere of a sultry summer’s day. She loved to
linger now among the scenes of her childhood--the time when she had
a mother.--Or she would talk of the present; all between was like a
night-sky black, and only lighted up by an awful comet and shining
stars. That comet was Orion. All she had enjoyed with him and suffered
through him she consigned to the period of her craziness; she had taught
herself to regard it all as part of the madness to which she had been
a victim. Her nature was not capable of cherishing hatred and she could
feel no animosity towards the Mukaukas’ son. She thought of him as of
one who, without evil intent, had done her great wrong; one whom she
might not even remember without running into peril.

“Then you mean to say,” the Masdakite began once more, “that you would
really miss me if Haschim sent for me?”

“Yes indeed, Rustem; I should be very sorry.”

“Oh!” said the other, passing his hand over his big head, on which
the dense mane of hair which had been shaved off was beginning to grow
again. “Well then, Mandane, in that case--I wanted to say it yesterday,
but I could not get it out.--Tell me: why would you be sorry if I were
to leave you?”

“Because--well, no one can have all their reasons ready; because you
have always been kind to me; and because you came from my country, and
talk Persian with me as my mother used.”

“Is that all?” said the man slowly, and he rubbed his forehead.

“No, no. Because--if once you go away, you will not be here.”

“Aye that is it; that is just the thing. And if you would be sorry for
that, then you must have liked being here--with me.”

“And why not? It has been very nice,” said the girl blushing and trying
not to meet his eyes.

“That it has--and that it is!” cried Rustem, striking his palm with the
other huge fist. “And that is why I must have it out; that is why, if we
have any sense, we two need never part.”

“But your master is sure to want you,” said she with growing confusion,
“and we cannot always remain a burthen on the kind folks here. I shall
not work at the loom again; but as I am now free, and have the scroll
that proves it, I must soon look about for some employment. And a
strong, healthy fellow like you cannot always be nursing yourself.”

“Nursing myself!” and he laughed gaily. “I will earn money, and enough
for three!”

“By your camels always, up and down the country?”

“I have done with that,” said he with a grin. “We will go back to our
own country; there I will buy a good piece of pasture land, for my
eldest brother has our little estate, and you may ask Haschim whether I
understand camel-breeding.”

“But Rustem, consider.”

“Consider! Think this, and think that! Where there’s a will there’s a
way. That is the upshot of it all. And if you mean to say that before
you buy you must have money, and that the best may come to grief, all
I can tell you is.... Can you read? No? nor I; but here in my pocket
I have my accounts in the master’s own hand. Eleven thousand, three
hundred and sixty drachmae were due to me for wages the last time we
reckoned: all the profit the master had set down to my credit since
I led his caravan. He has kept almost all of it for me; for food was
allowed, and there was almost always a bit of stuff for a garment to
be found among the bales, and I never was a sot. Eleven thousand, three
hundred and sixty drachmae! Hey, little one, that is the figure. And now
what do you say? Can we buy something with that? Yes or no?”

He looked at her triumphantly, and she eagerly replied: “Yes, yes
indeed; and in our country I think something worth having.”

“And we--you and I--we will begin a quite new life. I was seventeen when
I first set out with my master, and I was twenty-six last midsummer. How
many years wandering does that make?”

They both thought this over for some time; then Mandane said doubtfully

“If I am not mistaken it is eight.”

“I believe it is nine,” he exclaimed. “Let us see. Here, give me your
little paw! There, I begin with seventeen, that is where I started.
First your little-finger--what a mite of a thing, and then the rest.” He
took her right hand and counted off her fingers till he ended with the
last finger of the left. The result puzzled him; he shook his head,
saying: “There are ten fingers on both hands, sure enough, and yet it
cannot be ten years; it is nine at most I know.”

He began the counting, which he liked uncommonly, all over again; but
with the same result. Mandane said it was but nine, she had counted it
up herself; and he agreed, and declared that her little fingers must be
bewitched. And this game would have gone on still longer but that she
remembered that the seventeen must not be included at all, and that he
ought to begin with eighteen. Rustem could not immediately take this in,
and even when he admitted it he did not release her hand, but went on
with gay resolution:

“And you see, my girl, I mean to keep this little hand--you may pull it
away if you choose--but it is mine, and the pretty little maid, and all
that belongs to it. And I will take you and both your hands, bewitched
fingers and all, home with me. There they may weave and stitch as much
as you like; but as man and wife no one shall part us, and we will lead
a life such a life! The joys of Paradise shall be no better than a rap
on the skull with an olive-wood log in comparison!”

He tried to take her hand again, but she drew it away, saying in deep
confusion and without looking up: “No, Rustem. I was afraid yesterday
that it would come to this; but it can never, never be. I am
grateful--oh! so grateful; but no, it cannot be, and that must be the
end of it. I can never be your wife. Rustem.”

“No?” he asked with a scowl, and the veins swelled in his low forehead.
“Then you have been making a fool of me!--as to the gratitude you talk
of....”

He stood up in hot excitement; she laid her hand on his arm, drew him
down on to the seat again, and ventured to steal an imploring look into
his eyes, which never could long flash with anger. Then she said:

“How you break out! I shall really and truly be very grieved to part
from you; cannot you see that I am fond of you? But indeed, indeed it
will never do, I--oh! if only I might go back, home, and with you. Yes,
with you, as your wife. What a proud and happy thought! And how gladly
would I work for us both--for I am very handy and hard-working, but...”

“But?” he repeated, and he put his big, sun-burnt face close to hers,
looking as if he could break her in pieces.

“But it cannot be, for your sake; it must not be, positively, certainly.
I will not make you so bad a return for all your kindness. What! have
you forgotten what I was, what I am? You, as a freeman, will soon have
a nice little estate at home, and may command respect and reverence from
all; but how different it would be if you had a wife like me at your
heels--if only from the fact that I was once a slave.”

“That is the history of it all!” he interrupted, and his brow cleared.
“That is what is troubling your dear little soul! But do you not know
who and what I am? Have I not told you what a Masdakite is?

   [Eutychius, Bishop of Alexandria thus describes the communistic
   doctrine of Masdak: “God has given to men on earth that which is of
   the earth to the end that it may be divided equally among them, and
   that no more falls to the lot of one than another. And if one hath
   more than is seemly of money or wives or slaves or movable goods, we
   will take it from him to the end that he and the rest may be equal.”]

We Masdakites believe, nay, we know, that all men are born equal, and
that this mad-cap world would be a better place if there were neither
masters nor servants; however, as things are, so they must remain. The
great Lord of Heaven will suffer it yet for a season; but sooner or
later, perhaps very soon, everything will be quite different, and it is
our business to make ready for the day of equality. Then Paradise will
return on earth; there will be none greater or less than another, but we
shall all walk hand-in-hand and stand by each other on an equal footing.
Then shall war and misery cease; for all that is fair and good on earth
belongs to all men in common; and then all men shall be as willing to
give and to help others, as they now are to seize and to oppress.--We
have no marriage bond like other people; but when a man loves a woman
he says, ‘Will you be mine?’ and if her heart consents she follows him
home; and one may quit the other if love grows cold. Still, no married
couple, whether Christian or Parsee, ever clung together more faithfully
than my parents or my grandparents; and we will do the same to the end,
for our love will bind us firmly together with strong cords that will
last longer than our lives.--So now you know the doctrine of our master
Masdak; my father and grandfather both followed it, and I was taught
it by my mother when I was a little child. All in our village were
Masdakites; and there was not a slave in the place; the land belonged to
all in common and was tilled by all, and the harvest was equally
shared. However, they no longer receive strangers, and I must seek for
fellow-believers elsewhere. Still, a Masdakite I shall always remain;
and, if I were to take a slave for my wife, I should only be acting on
the precepts of the master and helping them on. But as for you, the
case does not apply to you, for you are the child of a brave freeman,
respected in all the land; our people will regard you as a prisoner of
war, not as a slave. They will look up to me as your deliverer. And if I
had found you, just as you are, the meanest of slaves and keeping pigs,
I would have put my hand in my wallet at once and have bought your
freedom and have carried you off home as my wife--and no Masdakite who
saw you would ever blame me. Now you know all about it, and there, I
hope, is an end of your coyness and mincing.”

Mandane, however, still would not yield; she looked at him with eyes
that entreated his pity, and pointed to her cropped ears.

Rustem shrugged his shoulders with a laugh. “Of course, that too, into
the bargain; You will not let me off any part of it! If it had been your
eyes now, you would not have been able to see, and no countryman can do
with a blind wife, so I should leave you where you are. But you, little
one, have hearing as sharp as a bird’s? And what bird--pretty little
things--did you ever see with ears, unless it were a bat or a nasty
owl?--That is all nonsense. Besides, who can see what you have lost now
that Pulcheria has brought your hair down so prettily? And do not you
remember the head-dress our women wear? You might have ears as long as
a hare’s, and what good would it do you?--no one could see them. Just as
you are, a lily grown like a cypress, you are ten times sweeter to look
at than the prettiest girl there, if she had three or even four ears.
A girl with three ears! Only think, Mandane, where could the third ear
grow?”

How heartily he laughed, and how glad he was to have hit on this jest
and have turned off a subject which might so well be painful to her! But
his mirth failed of its effect, and only brought a silent smile to her
lips. Even this died quickly away, and in its place there came such a
sad, pathetic expression, as she hung her pretty head, that he
could neither carry on the joke nor reproach her sharply. He said
compassionately, with a little shake of the head:

“But you must not look like that, my pigeon: I cannot bear it. What is
it that is weighing on your little soul? Courage, courage, sweetheart,
and make a clean breast of it!--But no! Do not speak. I can spare
you that! I know, poor little darling--it is that old story of the
governor’s son.”

She nodded, and her eyes filled with tears; and he, with a loud sigh,
exclaimed: “I thought as much, I was right, poor child!”

He took her hand, and went on bravely:

“Yes, that has given me some bad hours, too, and a great deal to think
about; in fact, I came very near to leaving you alone and spoiling my
own happiness and yours too. But I came to my senses before it was
too late. Not on account of what Dame Joanna said the day before
yesterday--though what she says must be true, and she told me that
all--you know what--was at an end. No; my own sense told me this time;
for I said to myself: Such a motherless, helpless little thing, a slave,
too, and as pretty as the angels, her master’s son took a fancy to her,
how could she defend herself? And how cruelly the poor little soul was
punished!--Yes, little one, you may well weep! Why, my own eyes are full
of tears. Well, so it had to be and so it was. You and I and the Lord
Almighty and the Hosts of Heaven--who can do anything against us?--So
you see that even a poor fool like me can understand how it all came
about; and I do not accuse you, nor have I anything to forgive. It was
just a dreadful misfortune. But it has come to a good end, thank God I
and I can forget it entirely and for ever, if only you can say: ‘It is
all over and done with and buried like the dead!’”

Before he could hinder her, she snatched his hand, to her lips with
passionate affection and sobbed out:

“You are so good! Oh! Rustem, there is not another man on earth so good
as you are, and my mother will bless you for it. Do what you will with
me! And I declare to you, once for all that all that is past and gone,
and only to think of it gives me horror. And it was exactly as you say:
my mother dead, no one to warn me or protect me,--I was hardly sixteen,
a simple, ignorant creature, and he called me, and it all came over me
like a dream in my sleep; and when I awoke....”

“There we are,” he interrupted and he tried to laugh as he wiped his
eyes. “Both laid up with holes in our heads.--And when I am in my
own country I always think the prettiest time is just when the hard
winter-frost is over, and the snow melted, and all the flowers in the
valleys rush into bloom--and so I feel now, my little girl. Everything
will be well now, we shall be so wonderfully happy. The day before
yesterday, do you know, I still was not quite clear about it all. Your
trouble gave me no peace, and it went against the grain-well, you can
understand. But then, later, when I was lying in my room and the moon
shone down on my bed...” and a rapt expression came into his face
that strangely beautified his harsh features, “I could not help asking
myself: ‘Although the moon went down into the sea this morning, does
that prevent its shining as brightly as ever to-night, and bringing a
cooler breeze?’ And if a human soul has gone under in the same way, may
it not rise up again, bright and shining, when it has bathed and rested?
And such a heart--of course every man would like to have its love all
to himself, but it may have enough to give more than once. For, as I
remembered, my mother, though she loved me dearly, when another child
came and yet another gave them the best she had to give; and I was none
the worse when she had my youngest sister at the breast, nor was she
when I was petted and kissed. And it must be just the same with you.
Thought I to myself: though she once loved another man, she may still
have a good share left for me!”

“Yes, indeed, Rustem!” she exclaimed, looking tearfully but gratefully
into his eyes. “All that is in me of love and tenderness is for you--for
you only.”

At this he joyfully exclaimed:

“All, that is indeed good hearing! That will do for me; that is what I
call a good morning’s work! I sat down under this tree a vagabond and
a wanderer, and I get up a future land-holder, with the sweetest little
wife in the world to keep house for me.”

They sat a long time under the shady foliage; he craved no more than to
gaze at her and, when he put the old questions asked by all lovers, to
be answered with lips and eyes, or merely a speechless nod. Her hands no
longer plied the needle, and the pair would have smiled in pity on
any one who should have complained of the intolerable heat of this
scorching, parching forenoon. A pair of turtle doves over their heads
were less indifferent to the sun’s rays than they, for the birds had
closed their eyes, and the head of the mother bird was resting languidly
against the dark collar round her mate’s neck.



CHAPTER XIII.

The Vekeel, like the Persian lovers, did not allow the heat of the day
to interfere with his plans. He regarded the governor’s house as
his own; all he found there aroused, not merely his avarice, but his
interest. His first object was to find some document which might justify
his proceedings against Orion and the sequestration of his estates, in
the eyes of the authorities at Medina.

Great schemes were brewing there; if the conspiracy against the Khaliff
Omar should succeed, he had little to fear; and the greater the sum he
could ere long forward to the new sovereign, the more surely he could
count on his patronage--a sum exceeding, if possible, the largest which
his predecessor had ever cast into the Khaliff’s treasury.

He went from room to room with the curiosity and avidity of a child,
touching everything, testing the softness of the pillows, peeping into
scrolls which he did not understand, tossing them aside, smelling at the
perfumes in the dead woman’s rooms, and the medicines she had used. He
showed his teeth with delight when he found in her trunks some costly
jewels and gold coins, stuck the finest of her diamond rings on his
finger, already covered with gems, and then eagerly searched every
corner of the rooms which Orion had occupied.

His interpreter, who could read Greek, had to translate every document
he found that did not contain verses. While he listened, he clawed and
strummed on the young man’s lyre and poured out the scented oil which
Orion had been wont to use to smear it over his beard. In front of the
bright silver mirror he could not cease from making faces.

To his great disgust he could find nothing among the hundred objects
and trifles that lay about to justify suspicion, till, just as he was
leaving the room, he noticed in a basket near the writing-table some
discarded tablets. He at once pointed them out to the interpreter
and, though there was but little to read on the Diptychon,--[Double
writing-tablets, which folded together]--it seemed important to the
negro for it ran as follows:

“Orion, the son of George, to Paula the daughter of Thomas!

“You have heard already that it is now impossible for me to assist in
the rescue of the nuns. But do not misunderstand me. Your noble, and
only too well-founded desire to lend succor to your fellow-believers
would have sufficed...”

From this point the words written on the wax were carefully effaced, and
hardly a letter was decipherable; indeed, there were so few lines that
it seemed as though the letter had never been ended-which was the fact.

Though it gave the Vekeel no inculpating evidence against Orion it
pointed to his connection with the guilty parties: Paula, doubtless, had
been concerned in the scheme which had cost the lives of so many brave
Moslems. The negro had learnt, through the money-changer at Fostat,
that she was on terms of close intimacy with the Mukaukas’ son and had
entrusted her property to his stewardship. They must both be accused as
accomplices in the deed, and the document proved Orion’s knowledge of
it, at any rate.

Plotinus, the bishop, at whose instigation the fugitives had been
chased, could fill up what the damsel might choose to conceal.

He had started to follow the patriarch immediately after the pursuers
had set out, and had only returned from Upper Egypt early on the
previous day. On his arrival he had forwarded to the Vekeel two
indictments brought against Orion by the prelate: the first relating
to the evasion of the nuns; the other to the embezzlement of a costly
emerald; the rightful property of the church. These accusations were
what had encouraged the Negro to confiscate the young man’s estate,
particularly as the bitter tone of the patriarch’s document sufficiently
proved that in him he had found an ally.

Paula must next be placed in safe custody, and he had no doubt whatever
that her statement would incriminate Orion in some degree. He would
gladly have cross-examined her at once, but he had other matters in hand
to-day.

The longest part of his task was ransacking the treasurer’s office;
Nilus himself had to conduct the search. Everything which he pointed out
as a legal document, title-deed, contract for purchase or sale, revenue
account or the like, was at once placed in oxcarts or on camels, with
the large sums of gold and silver coin, and carried across the river
under a strong escort. All the more antique deeds and the family
archives, the Vekeel left untouched. He was indeed an indefatigable
man, for although these details kept him busy the whole day, he allowed
himself no rest nor did he once ask for the refreshment of food or a
cooling draught. As the day went on he enquired again and again for the
bishop, with increasing impatience and irritation. It would have been
his part to wait on the patriarch, but who was Plotinus? Thin-skinned,
like all up-starts in authority, he took the bishop’s delay as an act of
personal contumely. But the shepherd of the flock at Memphis was not a
haughty prelate, but a very humble and pious minister. His superior, the
patriarch, had entrusted him with an important mission to Amru or his
lieutenant, and yet he could let the Vekeel wait in vain, and not even
send him a message of explanation; in the afternoon, however, his old
housekeeper dispatched the acolyte who was attached to his person to
seek Philippus. Her master, a hale and vigorous man, had gone to bed
by broad day-light a few hours after his return home, and had not again
left it. He was hot and thirsty, and did not seem fully conscious of
where he was or of what was happening.

Plotinus had always maintained that prayer was the Christian’s best
medicine; still, as his poor body had become alarmingly heated the old
woman ventured to send for the physician; but the messenger came back
saying that Philippus was absent on a journey. This was in fact the
case: He had quitted Memphis in obedience to a letter from Haschim. The
merchant’s unfortunate son was not getting better. There seemed to be
an injury to some internal organ, which threatened his life. The anxious
father besought the leech, in whom he had the greatest confidence, to
hasten to Djidda, there to examine the sufferer and undertake the case.
At the same time he desired that Rustem should join him as soon as his
health would permit.

This letter--which ended with greetings to Paula, for whose father he
was making diligent search--agitated Philippus greatly. How could he
leave Memphis at a time of such famine and sickness?--And Dame Joanna
and her daughter!

On the other hand he was much drawn to get away on Paula’s
account--away, far away; and then how gladly would he do his best
to save that fine old man’s son. In spite of all this he would have
remained, but that his old friend, quite unexpectedly, took Haschim’s
side of the question and implored him to make the journey. He would make
it his business and his pleasure to take charge of the women in Rufinus’
house; Philip’s assistant could fill his place at the bedside of many
of the sick, and the rest could die without him. Had not he himself said
that there was no remedy for the disease? Again, Philip had said not
long since that there could be no peace for him within reach of Paula:
here was a favorable opportunity for escape without attracting remark,
and at the same time for doing a work of the truest charity.

So Philippus had yielded, and had started on his journey with very mixed
feelings.

Horapollo did not devote any particular attention to his personal
comfort; but in one respect he took especial care of himself. He had
great difficulty in walking and, as he loved to breathe the fresh air at
sundown, and sometimes to study the stars at a late hour, he kept an ass
of the best and finest breed. He did not hesitate to pay a high price
for such a beast if it really answered his requirements; that is to say
if it were strong, surefooted, gentle, and light-colored. His father and
grandfather, priests of Isis, had always ridden white asses, and so he
would do the same.

During the last few sultry weeks he had rarely gone out of doors, and
to-day he waited till the hour before sunset before starting to keep his
promise.

Robed in snowy-white linen, with new sandals on his feet, freshly
shaven, and protected from the sun’s rays by a crisply curled, flowing
wig, after the manner of his fathers, as well as by an umbrella, he
mounted his beautiful white ass in the conviction that he had done
his best for his outer man, and set forth, followed by his black slave
trotting on foot.

It was not yet dark when he stopped at the house of Rufinus. His heart
had not beat so high for many a day.

“I feel as if I had come courting,” said he, laughing at himself. “Well,
and I really am come to propose an alliance for the rest of my life!
Still, curiosity, one would think, might be shed with the hair and the
teeth!” However, it still clung to him, and he could not deny to himself
that he was very curious as to the person whom he hated, though he had
never seen her, simply because she was the daughter of a patrician and a
prefect, and had made his Philippus miserable. As he was dismounting,
a graceful young girl and an older woman, in very costly though simple
dresses, came through the garden. These must be the water-wagtail, and
Orion’s Byzantine guest.--How annoying! So many women at once!

Their presence here could only embarrass and disturb him--a lonely
student unused to the society of women. However, there was no help for
it; and the new-comers were not so bad after all.

Katharina was a very attractive, pretty little mouse, and even without
her millions much too good for the libertine Orion. The matron, who had
a kind, pleasant face, was exactly what Philippus had described her. But
then--and this spoilt all--in their presence he must not allude to the
death of Rufinus, so that he could not mention his proposed arrangement.
He had swallowed all that dust, and borne that heat for nothing, and
to-morrow he must ignominiously go through it all again!

The first people he met were a handsome young couple: Rustem and
Mandane. There could be no doubt as to their identity; so he went up to
them and gave Rustem the merchant’s message, offering in Philip’s name
to advance the money for the journey. But the Masdakite patted his
sleeve, in which he carried a good round sum in gold pieces, and
exclaimed cheerily:

“It is all here, and enough for two travellers to the East.--My little
wife, by your leave; the time has come, little pigeon! Off we go,
homeward bound!”

The huge fellow shouted it out in his deep voice with such effervescent
contentment, and the pretty girl, as she looked up at him, was so glad,
so much in love, and so grateful, that it quite cheered the old man; and
he, who read an omen in every incident, accepted this meeting as of
good augury at his first entering the house which was probably to be his
home.

His visit went on as well as it had begun, for he was welcomed very
warmly both by the widow and daughter of Rufinus. Pulcheria at once
pushed forward her father’s arm-chair and placed a pillow behind his
back, and she did it so quietly, so simply, and so amiably that it
warmed his old heart, and he said to himself that it would be almost
too much of a good thing to have such care given him every day and every
hour.

He could not forbear from a kindly jest with the young girl over her
attentions, and Martina at once entered into the joke. She had seen
him coming on his fine ass; she praised the steed, and then refused to
believe that the rider was past eighty. His news of Philip’s departure
was regretted by all, and he was delighted to perceive that Pulcheria
seemed startled and presently shrank into the background. What a sweet,
pure, kind face the child had--and pretty withal; she must and should be
his little daughter; and all the while he was talking, or listening to
Katharina’s small jokes and a friendly catechism from Martina and Dame
Joanna, in his mind’s eye he saw Philippus and that dear little creature
as man and wife, surrounded by pretty children playing all about him.

He had come to comfort and to condole, and lo! he was having as pleasant
an hour as he had known in a long time.

He and the other visitors had been received in the vindarium, which was
now brightly lighted up, and now and then he glanced at the doors which
opened on this, the centre of the house, trying to imagine what the
different rooms should by-and-bye be used for.

But he heard a light step behind him; Martina rose, the water-wagtail
hurried to meet the new-comer, and there appeared on the scene the tall
figure of a girl dressed in mourning-robes. She greeted the matron with
distinguished dignity, cast a cordial glance of sympathetic intelligence
to Joanna and Pulcheria, and when the mistress of the house told her
who the old man was, she went up to him and held out her hand--a cool,
slender hand, as white as marble; the true patrician hand.

Yes, she was beautiful, wonderfully beautiful! He could hardly remember
ever to have seen her equal. A spotless masterpiece of the Creator’s
hand, made like some unapproachable goddess, to command the worship of
subject adorers; however, she must renounce all hope of his, for those
marble features, all the whiter by contrast with her black dress, had no
attraction for him. No warming glow shone in those proud eyes; and under
that lordly bosom beat no loving or lovable heart; he shivered at the
touch of her fingers, and her presence, he thought, had a chilling and
paralyzing influence on all the party.

This was, in fact, the case.

Paula had been sent for to see the senator’s wife and Katharina.
Martina, thought she, had come out of mere curiosity, and she had a
preconceived dislike to any one connected with Heliodora. She had lost
her confidence in the water-wagtail, for only two days ago the acolyte
in personal attendance on the bishop--and whose child Rufinus had cured
of a lame foot--had been to the house to warn Joanna against the girl.
Katharina, he told her, had a short while since betrayed to Plotinus
some important secret relating to her husband, and the bishop had
immediately gone over to Fostat. It was hard to believe such a thing
of any friend, still, the girl who, by her own confession, had been so
ready to play the part of spy in the neighboring garden, was the only
person who would have told the prelate what plan was in hand for the
rescue of the sisters. The acolyte’s positive statement, indeed, left no
room for doubt.

It was not in Paula’s nature to think ill of others; but in this case
her candid spirit, incapable of falsehood, would not suffer her to be
anything but cool to the child; the more effusively Katharina clung to
her, the more icily Paula repelled her.

The old man saw this, and he concluded that this mien and demeanor
were natural to Paula at all times patrician haughtiness, cold-hearted
selfishness, the insolent and boundless pride of the race he
loathed--noble by birth alone--stood before him incarnate. He hated the
whole class, and he hated this specimen of the class; and his aversion
increased tenfold as he remembered what woe this cold siren had wrought
for the son of his affections and might bring on him if she should
thwart his favorite project. Sooner would he end his days in loneliness,
parted even from Philippus, than share his home, his table, and his
daily life with this woman, who could repel the sincerely-meant caresses
of that pretty, childlike, simple little Katharina with such frigid and
supercilious haughtiness. The mere sight of her at meals would embitter
every mouthful; only to hear her domineering tones in the next room
would spoil his pleasure in working; the touch of her cold hand as she
bid him good-night would destroy his night’s rest!

Here and now her presence was more than he could bear. It was an offense
to him, a challenge; and if ever he had wished to clear her out of his
path and the physician’s--by force, if need should be--the idea wholly
possessed him now.

Irritated and provoked, he took leave of all the others, carefully
avoiding a glance even at Paula, though, after he rose, she went up to
him on purpose to say a few pleasant words, and to assure him how highly
she esteemed his adopted son.

Pulcheria escorted him through the garden and he promised her to return
on the morrow, or the day after, and then she must take care that he
found her and her mother alone, for he had no fancy to allow Paula to
thrust her pride and airs under his nose a second time.

He angrily rejected Pulcheria’s attempts to take her friend’s part, and
he trotted home again, mumbling curses between his old lips.

Martina, meanwhile, had made friends with Paula in her genial, frank
way. She had met her parents in time past in Constantinople and spoke of
them with heart-felt warmth. This broke the ice between them, and
when Martina spoke of Orion--her ‘great Sesostris’--of the regard
and popularity he had enjoyed in Constantinople, and then, with due
recognition and sympathy, of his misfortune, Paula felt drawn towards
her indeed. Her reserve vanished entirely, and the conversation
between the new acquaintances became more and more eager, intimate, and
delightful.

When they parted both felt that they could only gain by further
intercourse. Paula was called away at the very moment of leave-taking,
and left the room with warm expressions intended only for the matron:
“Not good-bye--we must meet again. But of course it is my part, as
the younger, to go to you!” And she was no sooner gone than Martina
exclaimed:

“What a lovely creature! The worthy daughter of a noble father! And her
mother! O dame Joanna! A sweeter being has rarely graced this miserable
world; she was born to die young, she was only made to bloom and fade!”
 Then, turning to Katharina, she went on: with kindly reproof. “Evil
tongues gave me a very false idea of this girl. ‘A silver kernel in
a golden shell,’ says the proverb, but in this case both alike are of
gold.--Between you two--good God!--But I know what has blinded your
clear eyes, poor little kitten. After all, we all see things as we
wish to see them. I would lay a wager, dame Joanna, that you are of my
opinion in thinking the fair Paula a perfectly noble creature. Aye, a
noble creature; it is an expressive word and God knows! How seldom is
it a true one? It is one I am little apt to use, but I know no other for
such as she is, and on her it is not ill-bestowed.”

“Indeed it is not!” answered Joanna with warm assent; but Martina
sighed, for she was thinking to herself! “Poor Heliodora! I cannot but
confess that Paula is the only match for my ‘great Sesostris.’ But what
in Heaven’s name will become of that poor, unfortunate, love-sick little
woman?”

All this flashed through her quick brain while Katharina was trying to
justify herself, and asserting that she fully recognised Paula’s great
qualities, but that she was proud, fearfully proud--she had given
Martina herself some evidence of that.

At this Pulcheria interposed in zealous defense of her friend. She,
however, had hardly begun to speak when she, too, was interrupted,
for men’s voices were heard in loud discussion in the vestibule, and
Perpetua suddenly rushed in with a terrified face, exclaiming, heedless
of the strangers: “Oh Dame Joanna! Here is another, dreadful misfortune!
Those Arab devils have come again, with an interpreter and a writer.
And they have been sent--Merciful Saviour, is it possible?--they have
brought a warrant to take away my poor dear child, to take her to
prison--to drag her all through the city on foot and throw her into
prison.”

The faithful soul sobbed aloud and covered her face with her hands.
Terror fell upon them all; Joanna left the viridarium in speechless
dismay, and Martina exclaimed:

“What a horrible, vile country! Good God, they are even falling on us
women. Children, children--give me a seat, I feel quite ill.--In prison!
that beautiful, matchless creature dragged through the streets to
prison. If the warrant is all right she must go--she must! Not an angel
from heaven could save her. But that she should be marched through
the town, that noble and splendid creature, as if she were a common
thief--it is not to be borne. So much as one woman can do for another
at any rate shall be done, so long as I am here to stand on two
feet!--Katharina, child, do not you understand? Why do you stand gaping
at me as if I were a feathered ape? What do your fat horses eat oats
for? What, you do not understand me yet? Be off at once, this minute,
and have the horses put in the large closed chariot in which I came
here, and bring it to the door.--Ah! At last you see daylight; now, take
to your heels and fly!”

And she clapped her hands as if she were driving hens off a garden-bed;
Katharina had no alternative but to obey.

Martina then felt for her purse, and when she had found it she added
confidently:

“Thank God! I can talk to these villains! This is a language,” and
she clinked the gold pieces, intelligible to all. “Come, where are the
rascals?”

The universal tongue had the desired effect. The chief of the guard
allowed it to persuade him to convey Paula to prison in the chariot,
and to promise that she should find decent accommodation there, while he
also granted old Betta the leave she insisted on with floods of tears,
to share the girl’s captivity.

Paula maintained her dignity and composure under this unexpected shock.
Only when it came to taking leave of Pulcheria and Mary, who clung to
her in frantic grief and begged to go with her and Betta to prison, she
could not restrain her tears.

The scribe had informed her that she was charged dy Bishop Plotinus with
having plotted the escape and flight of the nuns, and Joanna’s knees
trembled under her when Paula whispered in her ear:

“Beware of Katharina! No one else could have betrayed us; if she
has also revealed what Rufinus did for the sisters we must deny it,
positively and unflinchingly. Fear nothing: they will get not a word
out of me.” Then she added aloud: “I need not beg you to remember me
lovingly; thanks to you both--the warmest, deepest thanks for all....
You, Pul....” And she clasped the mother and daughter to her bosom,
while Mary, clinging to her, hid her little face in her skirts, weeping
bitterly.... “You, Dame Joanna, took me in, a forlorn creature, and made
me happy till Fate fell on us all--you know, ah! you know too well.--The
kindness you have shown to me show now to my little Mary. And there
is one thing more--here comes the interpreter again!--A moment yet, I
beg!--If the messenger should return and bring news of my father or, my
God! my God!--my father himself, let me know, or bring him to me!--Or,
if I am dead by the time he comes, tell him that to find him, to see him
once more, was my heart’s dearest wish. And beg my father,” she breathed
the words into Joanna’s ear, “to love Orion as a son. And tell them both
that I loved them to the last, deeply, perfectly, beyond words!” Then
she added aloud as: she kissed each on her eyes and lips: “I love you
and shall always love you--you, Joanna, and you, my Pulcheria, and you,
Mary, my sweet, precious darling.”

At this the water-wagtail humed forward with outstretched arms, but Dame
Joanna put out a significantly warning hand; and they who were one in
heart clasped each other in a last embrace as though they were indeed
but one and no stranger could have any part in it.

Once more Katharina tried to approach Paula; but Martina, whose eyes
filled with tears as she looked on the parting, held her back by the
shoulder and whispered:

“Do not disturb them, child. Such hearts spontaneously attract those for
whom they yearn. I, old as I am, would gladly be worthy to be called.”

The interpreter now sternly insisted on starting. The three women
parted; but still the little girl held tightly to Paula, even when she
went up to the matron and kissed her with a natural impulse. Martina
took her head between her hands, kissed her fondly, and said in a voice
she could scarcely control: “God protect and keep you, child! I thank
Him for having brought us together. A soul so pure and clear as yours is
not to be found in the capital, but we still know how to be friends to
our friends--at any rate I and my husband do--and if Heaven but grants
me the opportunity you shall prove it. You never need feel alone in the
world; never, so long as Justinus and his wife are still in it. Remember
that, child; I mean it in solemn earnest.”

With this, she again embraced Paula, who as she went out to enter the
chariot also bestowed a farewell kiss on Eudoxia and Mandane, for they,
too, stood modestly weeping in the background; then she gave her hand to
the hump-backed gardener, and to the Masdakite, down whose cheeks tears
were rolling. At this moment Katharina stood in her path, seized her arm
in mortified excitement, and said insistently:

“And have you not a word for me?”

Paula freed herself from her clutch and said in a low voice: “I thank
you for lending me the chariot. As you know, it is taking me to prison,
and I fear it is your perfidy that has brought me to this. If I am
wrong, forgive me--if I am right, your punishment will hardly be lighter
than my fate. You are still young, Katharina; try to grow better.”

And with this she stepped into the chariot with old Betta, and the last
she saw was little Mary who threw herself sobbing into Joanna’s arms.



CHAPTER XIV.

Susannah had never particularly cared for Paula, but her fate shocked
her and moved her to pity. She must at once enquire whether it was not
possible to send her some better food than the ordinary prison-fare.
That was but Christian charity, and her daughter seemed to take her
friend’s misfortune much to heart. When she and Martina returned home
she looked so cast down and distracted that no stranger now would ever
have dreamed of comparing her with a brisk little bird.

Once more a poisoned arrow had struck her. Till now she had been wicked
only in her own eyes; now she was wicked in the eyes of another. Paula
knew it was she who had betrayed her. The traitoress had been met by
treachery. The woman she hated had a right to regard her as spiteful and
malignant, and for this she hated her more than ever.

Till now she had nowhere failed to find an affectionate greeting and
welcome; and to-day how coldly she had been repulsed--and not by Paula
alone, but also by Martina, who no doubt had noticed something, and
whose dry reserve had been quite intolerable to the girl.

It was all the old bishop’s fault; he had not kept his promise that her
tale-bearing should remain as secret as a confession. Indeed, he must
have deliberately revealed it, for no one but herself knew of the facts.
Perhaps he had even mentioned her name to the Arabs; in that case she
would have to bear witness before the judges, and then in what light
would she appear to Orion, to her mother, to Joanna and Martina?

She had not failed to understand that old Rufinus must have perished
in the expedition, and she was truly grieved. His wife and daughter
had always been kind neighbors to her; and she would not have willingly
brought sorrow on them. If she were called up to give evidence it might
go hard with them, and she wished no harm to any one but those who had
cheated her out of Orion’s love. This idea of standing before a court of
justice was the worst of all; this must be warded off at any cost.

Where could Bishop Plotinus be? He had returned to Memphis the day
before, and yet he had not been to see her mother, to whom he usually
paid a daily visit. This absence seemed to her ominous. Everything
depended on her reminding the old man of his promise as soon as
possible; for if at the trial next morning--which of course, he
must attend--he should happen to mention her name, the guards, the
interpreter, and the scribe would invade her home too and then-horror!
She had given evidence once already, and could never again go through
all that had ensued.

But how was she to get at the bishop in the course of the night or early
to-morrow at latest?

The chariot had not yet returned, and if--it still wanted two hours of
midnight; yes--it must be done.

She began talking to her mother of the prelate’s absence; Susannah, too,
was uneasy about it, particularly since she had heard that the old man
had come home ill and that his servant had been out and about in search
of a physician. Katharina promptly proposed to go and see him: the
horses were still in harness, her nurse could accompany her. She really
must go and learn how her venerable friend was going on.

Susannah thought this very sweet; still, she said it was very late for
such a visit; however, her spoilt child had said that she “must” and the
answer was a foregone conclusion. Dame Susannah gave way; the nurse was
sent for, and as soon as the chariot came round Katharina flung her arms
round her mother’s neck, promising her not to stay long, and in a few
minutes the chariot stopped at the door of the bishop’s palace. She bid
the nurse wait for her and went alone into the vast, rambling house.

The spacious hall, lighted feebly by a single lamp, was silent and
deserted, even the door-keeper had left his post; however, she was
familiar with every step and turning, and went on through the impluvium
into the library where, at this hour, the bishop was wont to be found.
But it was dark, and her gentle call met with no reply. In the next
room, to which she timidly felt her way, a slave lay snoring; beside
him were a wine jar and a hand-lamp. The sight somewhat reassured her.
Beyond was the bishop’s bedroom, which she had never been into. A dim
light gleamed through the open door and she heard a low moaning and
gasping. She called the house-keeper by name once, twice; no answer. The
sleeping slave did not stir; but a familiar voice addressed her from the
bedroom, groaning rather than saying:

“Who is there? Is he come? Have you found him at last?”

The whole household had fled in fear of the pestilence; even the
acolyte, who had indeed a wife and children. The housekeeper had been
forced to leave the master to seek the physician, who had already been
there once, and the last remaining slave, a faithful, goodhearted,
heedless sot, had been left in charge; but he had brought a jar of wine
up from the unguarded cellar, had soon emptied it, and then, overcome by
drink and the heat of the night, he had fallen asleep.

Katharina at once spoke her name and the old man answered her, saying
kindly, but with difficulty: “Ah, it is you, you, my child!”

She took up the lamp and went close to the sick man. He put out his lean
arm to welcome her; but, as her approach brought the light near to him
he covered his eyes, crying out distressfully: “No, no; that hurts. Take
away the lamp.”

Katharina set it down on a low chest behind the head of the bed; then
she went up to the sufferer, gave him her mother’s message, and asked
him how he was and why he was left alone. He could only give incoherent
answers which he gasped out with great difficulty, bidding her go close
to him for he could not hear her distinctly. He was very ill, he told
her--dying. It was good of her to have come for she had always been his
pet, his dear, good little girl.

“And it was a happy impulse that brought you,” he added, “to receive an
old man’s blessing. I give it you with my whole heart.”

As he spoke he put forth his hand and she, following an instinctive
prompting, fell on her knees by the side of the couch.

He laid his burning right hand on her head and murmured some words of
blessing; she, however, scarcely heeded them, for his hand felt like
lead and its heat oppressed and distressed her dreadfully. It was
a sincere grief to her to see this true old friend of her childhood
suffering thus--perhaps indeed dying; at the same time she did not
forget what had brought her here--still, she dared not disturb him
in this act of love. He gave her his blessing--that was kind; but his
mutterings did not come to an end, the weight of the hot hand on her
head grew heavier and heavier, and at last became intolerable. She
felt quite dazed, but with an effort she collected her senses and then
perceived that the old man had wandered off from the usual formulas of
blessing and was murmuring disconnected and inarticulate words.

At this she raised the terrible, fevered hand, laid it on the bed, and
was about to ask him whether he had betrayed her to Benjamin, and if he
had mentioned her name, when--Merciful God! there on his cheeks were the
same livid spots that she had noticed on those of the plague stricken
man in Medea’s house. With a cry of horror she sprang up, snatched at
the lamp, held it over the sufferer, heedless of his cries of anguish,
looked into his face, and pulled away the weary hands with which he
tried to screen his eyes from the light. Then, having convinced herself
that she was not mistaken, she fled from room to room out into the hall.

Here she was met by the housekeeper, who took the lamp out of her hand
and was about to question her; but Katharina only screamed:

“The plague is in the house! Lock the doors!” and then rushed away, past
the leech who was coming in. With one bound she was in the chariot, and
as the horses started she wailed out to the nurse:

“The plague--they have the plague. Plotinus has taken the plague!”

The terrified woman tried to soothe her, assuring her that she must be
mistaken for such hellish fiends did not dare come near so holy a man.
But the girl vouchsafed no reply, merely desiring her to have a bath
made ready for her as soon as they should reach home.

She felt utterly shattered; on the spot where the old man’s
plague-stricken hand had rested she was conscious of a heavy, hateful
pressure, and when the chariot at length drove into their own garden
something warm and heavy-something she could not shake off, still seemed
to weigh on her brain.

The windows were all dark excepting one on the ground-floor, where a
light was still visible in the room inhabited by Heliodora. A diabolical
thought flashed through her over-excited and restless mind; without
looking to the right hand or the left she obeyed the impulse and went
forward, just as she was, into her friend’s sitting-room and then,
lifting a curtain, on into the bedroom. Heliodora was lying on her
couch, still suffering from a headache which had prevented her going to
visit their neighbors; at first she did not notice the late visitor who
stood by her side and bid her good evening.

A single lamp shed a dim light in the spacious room, and the young girl
had never thought their guest so lovely as she looked in that twilight.
A night wrapper of the thinnest material only half hid her beautiful
limbs. Round her flowing, fair hair, floated the subtle, hardly
perceptible perfume which always pervaded this favorite of fortune. Two
heavy plaits lay like sheeny snakes over her bosom and the white sheet.
Her face was turned upwards and was exquisitely calm and sweet; and as
she lay motionless and smiled up at Katharina, she looked like an angel
wearied in well-doing.

No man could resist the charms of this woman, and Orion had succumbed.
By her side was a lute, from which she brought the softest and most
soothing tones, and thus added to the witchery of her appearance.

Katharina’s whole being was in wild revolt; she did not know how she
was able to return Heliodora’s greeting, and to ask her how she could
possibly play the lute with a headache.

“Just gliding my fingers over the strings calms and refreshes my blood,”
 she replied pleasantly. “But you, child, look as if you were suffering
far worse than I.--Did you come home in the chariot that drove up just
now?”

“Yes,” replied Katharina. “I have been to see our dear old bishop. He is
very ill, dying; he will soon be taken from us. Oh, what a fearful
day! First Orion’s mother, then Paula, and now this to crown all! Oh,
Heliodora, Heliodora!”

She fell on her knees by the bed and pressed her face against her
pitying friend’s bosom. Heliodora saw the tears which had risen with
unaffected feeling to the girl’s eyes; her tender soul was full of
sympathy with the sorrow of such a gladsome young creature, who had
already had so much to suffer, and she leaned over the child, kissing
her affectionately on the brow, and murmuring words of consolation.
Katharina clung to her closely, and pointing to the top of her head
where that burning hand had pressed it, she said: “There, kiss there:
there is where the pain is worst!--Ah, that is nice, that does me good.”

And, as the tender-hearted Heliodora’s fresh lips rested on the
plague-tainted hair, Katharina closed her eyes and felt as a gladiator
might who hitherto has only tried his weapons on the practising
ground, and now for the first time uses them in the arena to pierce his
opponent’s heart. She had a vision of herself as some one else,
taller and stronger than she was; aye, as Death itself, the destroyer,
breathing herself into her victim’s breast.

These feelings entirely possessed her as she knelt on the soft carpet,
and she did not notice that another woman was crossing it noiselessly
to her comforter’s bed-side, with a glance of intelligence at Heliodora.
Just as she exclaimed: “Another kiss there-it burns so dreadfully,”
 she felt two hands on her temples and two lips, not Heliodora’s, were
pressed on her head.

She looked up in astonishment and saw the smiling face of her mother,
who had come after her to ask how the bishop was, and who wished to take
her share in soothing the pain of her darling.

How well her little surprise had succeeded!

But what came over the child? She started to her feet as if lightning
had struck her, as if an asp had stung her, looked horror-stricken into
her mother’s eyes, and then, as Susannah was on the point of clasping
the little head to her bosom once more to kiss the aching, the
cursed spot, Katharina pushed her away, flew, distracted, through the
sitting-room into the vestibule, and down the narrow steps leading to
the bathroom.

Her mother looked after her, shaking her head in bewilderment. Then
she turned to Heliodora with a shrug, and said, as the tears filled her
eyes:

“Poor, poor little thing! Too many troubles have come upon her at once.
Her life till lately was like a long, sunny day, and now the hail is
pelting her from all sides at once. She has bad news of the bishop, I
fear.”

“He is dying, she said,” replied the young widow with feeling.

“Our best and truest friend,” sobbed Susannah. “It is, it really is too
much. I often think that I must myself succumb, and as for her--hardly
more than a child!--And with what resignation she bears the heaviest
sorrows!--You, Heliodora, are far from knowing what she has gone
through; but you have no doubt seen how her only thought is to seem
bright, so as to cheer my heart. Not a sigh, not a complaint has passed
her lips. She submits like a saint to everything, without a murmur. But,
now that her clear old friend is stricken, she has lost her self-control
for the first time. She knows all that Plotinus has been to me.” And
she broke down into fresh sobbing. When she was a little calmer, she
apologised for her weakness and bid her fair guest good night.

Katharina, meanwhile, was taking a bath.

A bathroom was an indispensable adjunct to every wealthy Graeco-Egyptian
house, and her father had taken particular pains with its construction.
It consisted of two chambers, one for men and one for women; both fitted
with equal splendor.

White marble, yellow alabaster, purple porphyry on all sides; while the
pavement was of fine Byzantine mosaic on a gold ground. There were no
statues, as in the baths of the heathen; the walls were decorated with
bible texts in gold letters, and above the divan, which was covered
with a giraffe skin, there was a crucifix. On the middle panel of the
coffered ceiling was inscribed defiantly, in the Coptic language
the first axiom of the Jacobite creed: “We believe in the single,
indivisible nature of Christ Jesus.” And below this hung silver lamps.

The large bath had been filled immediately for Katharina, as the
furnace was heated every evening for the ladies of the house. As she was
undressing, her maid showed her a diseased date. The head gardener, had
brought it to her, for he had that afternoon, discovered that his palms,
too, had been attacked. But the woman soon regretted her loquacity, for
when she went on to say that Anchhor, the worthy shoemaker who, only the
day before yesterday, had brought home her pretty new sandals, had died
of the plague, Katharina scolded her sharply and bid her be silent. But
as the maid knelt before her to unfasten her sandals, Katharina herself
took up the story again, asking her whether the shoemaker’s pretty young
wife had also been attacked. The girl said that she was still alive, but
that the old mother-in-law and all the children had been shut into
the house, and even the shutters barred as soon as the corpse had been
brought out. The authorities had ordered that this should be done in
every case, so that the pestilence might not pervade the streets or
be disseminated among the healthy. Food and drink were handed to the
captives through a wicket in the door. Such regulations, she added,
seemed particularly well-considered and wise. But she would have done
better to keep her opinions to herself, for before she had done speaking
Katharina gave her an angry push with her foot. Then she desired her not
to be sparing with the ‘smegma’,--[A material like soap, but used in a
soft state.]--and to wash her hair as thoroughly as possible.

This was done; and Katharina herself rubbed her hands and arms with
passionate diligence. Then she had water poured over her head again
and again, till, when she desired the maid to desist, she had to lean
breathless and almost exhausted against the marble.

But in spite of smegma and water she still felt the pressure of the
burning hand on top of her head, and her heart seemed oppressed by some
invisible load of lead.

Her mother! oh, her mother! She had kissed her there, where the plague
had actually touched her, and in fancy she could hear her gasping and
begging for a drink of water like the dying wretches to whom her fate
had led her. And then--then came the servants of the senate and shut her
into the pestilential house with the sick; she saw the pest in mortal
form, a cruel and malignant witch; behind her, tall and threatening,
stood her inexorable companion Death, reaching out a bony hand and
clutching her mother, and then all who were in the house with her, and
last of all, herself.

Her arms dropped by her side: powerful and terrible as she had felt
herself this morning, she was now crushed by a sense of miserable and
impotent weakness. Her defiance had been addressed to a mortal, a frail,
tender woman; and God and Fate had put her in the front of the battle
instead of Heliodora. She shuddered at the thought.

As she went up from the bath-room, her mother met her in the hall and
said:

“What, still here, Child? How you startled me! And is it true? Is
Plotinus really ill of a complaint akin to the plague?”

“Worse than that, mother,” she replied sadly. “He has the plague; and
I remembered that a bath is the right thing when one has been in a
plague-stricken house; you, too, have kissed and touched me. Pray have
the fire lighted again, late as it is, and take a bath too.”

“But, Child,” Susannah began with a laugh; but Katharina gave her no
peace till she yielded, and promised to bathe in the men’s room, which
had not been used at all since the appearance of the epidemic. When
Dame Susannah found herself alone she smiled to herself in silent
thankfulness, and in the bath again she lifted up her heart and hands
in prayer for her only child, the loving daughter who cared for her so
tenderly.

Katharina went to her own room, after ascertaining that the clothes she
had worn this evening had been sacrificed in the bath-furnace.

It was past midnight, but still she bid the maid sit up, and she did not
go to bed. She could not have found rest there. She was tempted to go
out on the balcony, and she sat down there on a rocking chair. The night
was sultry and still. Every house, every tree, every wall seemed to
radiate the heat it had absorbed during the day. Along the quay came a
long procession of pilgrims; this was followed by a funeral train and
soon after came another--both so shrouded in clouds of dust that the
torches of the followers looked like coals glimmering under ashes.
Several who had died of the pestilence, and whom it had been impossible
to bury by day, were being borne to the grave together. One of these
funerals, so she vaguely fancied, was Heliodora’s; the other her own
perhaps--or her mother’s--and she shivered at the thought. The long
train wandered on under its shroud of dust, and stood still when it
reached the Necropolis; then the sledge with the bier came back empty on
red hot runners--but she was not one of the mourners--she was imprisoned
in the pestiferous house. Then, when she was freed again--she saw it all
quite clearly--two heads had been cut off in the courtyard of the Hall
of justice: Orion’s and Paula’s--and she was left alone, quite alone and
forlorn. Her mother was lying by her father’s side under the sand in the
cemetery, and who was there to care for her, to be troubled about her,
to protect her? She was alone in the world like a tree without roots,
like a leaf blown out to sea, like an unfledged bird that has fallen out
of the nest.

Then, for the first time since that evening when she had borne false
witness, her memory reverted to all she had been taught at school and
in the church of the torments of hell, and she pictured the abode of
the damned, and the scorching, seething Lake of fire in which murderers,
heretics, false witnesses....

What was that?

Had hell indeed yawned, and were the flames soaring up to the sky
through the riven shell of the earth? Had the firmament opened to pour
living fire and black fumes on the northern part of the city?

She started up in dismay, her eyes fixed on the terrible sight. The
whole sky seemed to be in flames; a fiery furnace, with dense smoke and
myriads of shooting sparks, filled the whole space between earth and
heaven. A devouring conflagration was apparently about to annihilate
the town, the river, the starry vault itself; the metal heralds which
usually called the faithful to church lifted up their voices; the quiet
road at her feet suddenly swarmed with thousands of people; shrieks,
yells and frantic commands came up from below, and in the
confusion of tongues she could distinguish the words “Governor’s
Palace”--“Arabs”--“Mukaukas”--“Orion”--“fire”--“Put it out”--“Save it.”

At this moment the old head-gardener called up to her from the
lotos-tank: “The palace is in flames! And in this drought--God
All-merciful save the town!”

Her knees gave way; she put out her hands with a faint cry to feel for
some support, and two arms were thrown about her-the arms which she so
lately had pushed away: her mother’s: that mother who had bent over her
only child and inhaled death in a kiss on her plague-tainted hair.



CHAPTER XV.

The governor’s palace, the pride and glory of Memphis, the magnificent
home of the oldest and noblest family of the land--the last house that
had given birth to a race of native Egyptians held worthy, even by the
Greeks, to represent the emperor and uphold the highest dignity in the
world--the very citadel of native life, lay in ashes; and just as a
giant of the woods crushes and destroys in its fall many plants of
humbler growth, so the burning of the great house destroyed hundreds of
smaller dwellings.

This night’s work had torn the mast and rudder, and many a plank
besides, from that foundering vessel, the town of Memphis. It seemed
indeed a miracle that had saved the whole from being reduced to cinders;
and for this, next to God’s providence, they might thank the black
incendiary himself and his Arabs. The crime was committed with cool and
shrewd foresight, and carried through to the end. During his visitation
throughout the rambling buildings Obada had looked out for spots that
might suit his purpose, and two hours after sunset he had lighted fire
after fire with his own hand, in secret and undetected. The troops he
intended to employ later were waiting under arms at Fostat, and when
the fire broke out, first in the treasury and afterwards in three other
places in the palace, they were immediately marched across and very
judiciously employed.

All that was precious in this ancient home of a wealthy race, was
conveyed to a place of safety, even the numerous fine horses in the
stables; and the title-deeds of the estate, slaves, and so forth were
already secured at Fostat; still, the flames consumed vast quantities
of treasures that could never be replaced. Beautiful works of art,
manuscripts and books such as were only preserved here, old and splendid
plants from every zone, vessels and woven stuffs that had been the
delight of connoisseurs--all perished in heaps. But the incendiary
regretted none of them, for all possibility of proving how much that was
precious had fallen into his hands was buried under their ashes.

The worst that could happen to him now was to be deposed from office
for his too audacious proceedings. Of all the towns he had seen in the
course of the triumphant incursions of Islam none had attracted him so
greatly as Damascus, and he now had the means of spending the latter
half of his life there in luxurious enjoyment.

At the same time it was desirable to rescue as much as possible from the
flames; for it would have given his enemies a fatal hold upon him, if
the famous old city of Memphis should perish by his neglect. And he was
a man to give battle to the awful element.

Not another building fell a prey to it on the Nile quay; but a light
southerly breeze carried burning fragments to the northwest, and several
houses in the poorer quarter on the edge of the desert caught fire.
Thither the larger portion of those who could combat the flames and
rescue the inhabitants were at once directed; and here, as at the
palace, he acted on the principle of sacrificing whatever could not be
saved entire. Thus a whole quarter of the town was destroyed, hundreds
of beggared families lost all they possessed; and yet he, whose ruthless
avarice had cast so many into misery, was admired and lauded; for he was
everywhere at once: now by the river and now by the desert, always where
the danger was greatest, and where the presence of the leader was most
needed. Here he was seen in the very midst of the fire, there he swung
the axe with his own hand; now, mounted on horseback, he rode down the
line where the dry grass was to be torn up by the roots and soaked with
water; now, on foot, he directed the scanty jet from the pipes or, with
Herculean strength, flung back into the flames a beam which had fallen
beyond the limits he had set. His shrill voice sounded, as his huge
height towered, above all others; every eye was fixed on his black face
and flashing eyes and teeth, while his example carried away all his
followers to imitate it. His shouts of command made the scene of the
fire like a battle-field; the Moslems, so ably led, regardless of life
as they were and ready to strain and exert their strength to the utmost,
wrought wonders in the name of their God and His Prophet.

The Egyptians, too, did their best; but they felt themselves impotent by
comparison with what these Arabs did, and they hardly felt anything but
the disgrace of being over-mastered by them.

The light shone far across the country; even he whose splendid
inheritance was feeding the flames perceived, between midnight and dawn,
a glow on the distant western horizon which he was unable to account
for.

He had been riding towards it for about half an hour when the caravan
halted at the last station but one, on the high road between Kolzum and
Babylon.

   [Suez, and the Greek citadel near which Amru founded Fostat and
   Cairo subsequently grew up.]

A considerable troop of horse soldiers dismounted at the same time, but
Orion had not summoned these to protect him; on the contrary, he was
in their charge and they were taking him, a prisoner, to Fostat. He had
quitted the chariot in which he had set out and had been made to mount a
dromedary; two horsemen armed to the teeth rode constantly at his side.
His fellow-travellers were allowed to remain in their chariot.

At the inn which they had now reached Justinus got out and desired his
companion, a pale-faced man who sat sunk into a heap, to do the same;
but with a weary shake of the head he declined to move.

“Are you in pain, Narses?” asked Justinus affectionately, and Narses
briefly replied in a husky voice: “All over,” and settled himself
against the cushion at the back of the chariot. He even refused
the refreshments brought out to him by the Senator’s servant and
interpreter. He seemed sunk in apathy and to crave nothing but peace.

This was the senator’s nephew.

With Orion’s help, and armed with letters of protection and
recommendation from Amru, the senator had gained his purpose. He had
ransomed Narses, but not before the wretched man had toiled for some
time as a prisoner, first at the canal on the line of the old one
constructed by the Pharaohs, which was being restored under the Khaliff
Omar, to secure the speediest way of transporting grain from Egypt to
Arabia and afterwards in the rock-bound harbor of Aila. On the burning
shores of the Red Sea, under the fearful sun of those latitudes, Narses
was condemned to drag blocks of stone; many days had elapsed before
his uncle could trace him--and in what a state did Justinus find him at
last!

A week before he could reach him, the ex-officer of cavalry had laid
himself down in the wretched sheds for the sick provided for the
laborers; his back still bore the scars of the blows by which the
overseer had spurred the waning strength of his exhausted and suffering
victim. The fine young soldier was a wreck, broken alike in heart
and body and sunk in melancholy. Justinus had hoped to take him home
jubilant to Martina, and he had only this ruin to show her, doomed to
the grave.

The senator was glad, nevertheless, to have saved this much at any rate.
The sight of the sufferer touched him deeply, and the less Narses would
take or give, the more thankful was Justinus when he gave the faintest
sign of reviving interest.

In the course of this journey by land and water--and latterly as sharing
the senator’s care of his nephew--Orion had become very dear to his
old friend; and at the risk of incurring his displeasure he had even
confessed the reasons that had prompted him to leave Memphis.

He never could cease to feel that everything good or lofty in himself
was Paula’s alone; that her love ennobled and strengthened him; that to
desert her was to abandon himself. His trifling with Heliodora could but
divert him from the high aim he had set before himself. This aim he kept
constantly in view; his spirit hungered for peaceful days in which he
might act on the resolution he had formed in church and fulfil the task
set before him by the Arab governor.

The knowledge that he had inherited an enormous fortune now afforded
him no joy, for he was forced to confess to himself that but for this
superabundant wealth he might have been a very different man; and
more than once a vehement wish came over him to fling away all his
possessions and wrestle for peace of mind and the esteem of the best men
by his own unaided powers.

The senator had taken his confession as it was meant: if Thomas’
daughter was indeed what Orion described her there could be but small
hope for his beautiful favorite. He and Martina must e’en make their way
home again with two adopted dear ones, and it must be the care of the
old folks to comfort the young ones instead of the young succoring the
old as was natural. And in spite of everything Orion had won on his
affections, for every day, every hour he was struck by some new quality,
some greater trait than he had looked for in the young man.

Torches were flaring in the inn-yard where, under a palm-thatched roof
supported on poles and covering a square space in the middle, benches
stood for the guests to rest. Here Justinus and Orion again met for a
few minutes’ conversation.

His warders were also seated near them; they did not let Orion out of
their sight even while they ate their meal of mutton, bread, onions, and
dates. The senator’s servants brought some food from the chariot, and
just as Justinus and Orion had begun their attack on it, a tall man
came into the yard and made his way to the benches. This was Philippus,
pausing on his road to Djidda. He had learnt, even before coming in,
whom he would find here, a prisoner; and the Arabs, to whom the leech
was known, allowed him to join the pair, though at the same time they
came a little nearer, and their leader understood Greek.

Philippus was anything rather than cordially disposed towards Orion;
still, he knew what peril hung over the youth, and how sad a loss he had
suffered. His conscience bid him do all he could to prove helpful in the
trial that awaited him in the matter of the expedition in which Rufinus
had perished. He was the bearer, too, of sad news which the Arabs must
necessarily hear. Orion was indeed furious when he heard of the seizure
and occupation of the governor’s residence; still, he believed that Amru
would insist on restitution; but on hearing of his mother’s death he
broke down completely. Even the Arabs, seeing the strong man shaken with
sobs and learning the cause of his grief, respectfully withdrew; for
the anguish of a son at the loss of his mother was sacred in their eyes.
They regard the man who mourns for one he loves as stricken by the
hand of the Almighty and hallowed by his touch and treat him with the
reverence of pious awe.

Orion had not observed their absence, but Philippus at once took
advantage of it to tell him, as briefly as possible, all that related
to the escape of the nuns. He himself knew not yet of the burning of the
palace, or of Paula’s imprisonment; but he could tell the senator where
he would find his wife and niece. So by the time he was bidden to mount
and start once more Orion was informed of all that had happened.

It was with a drooping head, and sunk in melancholy thought that he rode
on his way.

As for the residence!--whether the Arabs gave it back to him or not,
what did he care?--but his mother, his mother! All she had been to him
from his earliest years rose before his mind; in the deep woe of this
parting he forgot the imminent danger and the dungeon that awaited him,
and the intolerable insult to his rights; nay, even the image of the
woman he loved paled by the side of that of the beloved dead. Perhaps he
might not even gain permission to bury her!

The way lay through a parched tract of rocky desert, and the further
they went the more intense was that wonderful flush in the west, till
day broke behind the travellers and the glory of the sunrise quenched
the vividness of its glow.

Another scorching day! The rocks by the wayside still threw long shadows
on the sandy desert-road, when a party of Arab horsemen came from Fostat
to meet the travellers, shouting the latest news to the prisoner’s
escort. It was evidently important; but Orion did not understand a word
of what they said. Evil tidings fly fast, however; while the men were
talking together, the dragoman rode up to him and told him that his
home was burnt to the ground and half Memphis still in flames. Then
came other newsbearers, on horseback and on dromedaries; and they met
chariots and files of camels loaded with corn and Egyptian merchandise;
and each and all shouted to the Arab escort reports of what was going on
in Memphis, hoping to be the first to tell the homeward bound party.

How many times did Orion hear the story--and each time that a traveller
began with: “Have you heard?” pointing westward, the wounds the first
news had inflicted bled anew.

What lay beneath that mass of ashes? How much had the flames consumed
that never could be replaced! Much that he had silently wished were
possible had in fact been fulfilled--and so soon! Where now was the
burthen of great wealth which had hung about his heels and hindered his
running freely? And yet he did not, even now, feel free; the way was not
yet open before him; he secretly mourned over the ruined house of his
fathers and the wrecked home; a miserable sense of insecurity weighed
him down. No father--no mother-no parental roof! For years he had been,
in fact, perfectly independent, and yet he felt now like a pilot whose
boat had lost its rudder.

Before him lay a prison, and the closing act of the great tragedy of
which he himself had been the hero. Fate had fallen on his house, had
marked it for destruction as erewhile that of Tantalus. It lay in ashes,
and the victims were already many: two brothers, father, mother--and,
far away from home, Rufinus too.

But whose was the guilt?

It was not his ancestors who had sinned; it could only be his own
that had called down this ruin. But was there then such a power as the
Destiny of the ancients--inexorable, iron Fate? Had he not repented and
suffered, been reconciled to his Redeemer, and prepared himself to fight
the hard fight? Perhaps he was indeed to be the hero of a tragedy; then
he would show that it was not the blind Inevitable, but what a man can
make of himself, and what he can do by the aid of the God of might,
which determines his fate. If he must still succumb, it should only be
after a valiant struggle and defense. He would battle fearlessly against
every foe, would press onward in the path he had laid down for himself.
His heart beat high once more; he felt as though he could see his
father’s example as a guiding star in the sky, so that he must be true
to that whether to live or to die. And when he turned his eye earthwards
again, still, even there, he had that which made it seem worth the cost
of enduring the pangs of living and the brunt of the hardest battle:
Paula and her love.

The nearer he approached Fostat, the more ardently his heart swelled
with longing. Heaven must grant him to see her once more, once more to
clasp her in his arms, before--the end!

It seemed to him that what he had gone through in these few hours must
have removed and set aside everything that could part them. Now, he
felt, he had strength to remain worthy of her; if Heliodora were to come
in his way again he would now certainly, positively, regard and treat
her only as a sister.

He was conducted at once to the house of the Kadi; but this official was
at the Divan--the council, which his arch-foe, that black monster Obada,
had called together.

After the labors of the past night the Negro had allowed himself only a
few hours rest, and then had met the council, where he had not been slow
to discover that he had as many enemies as there were members present.

His most determined opponents were the Kadi Othman, the head of the
Courts of justice and administration, and Khalid the governor of the
exchequer. Neither of them hesitated to express his opinion; and indeed,
no one present at this meeting would have suspected for a moment that
most of the members had, in their peaceful youth, guarded flocks as
shepherds on the mountains, led caravans across the desert, or managed
some small trade. In the contests of tribe against tribe they had found
opportunities for practice in the use of weapons, and for steeling their
courage; but where had they learnt to choose their words with so much
care, and emphasize them with gestures of such natural grace that any
Greek orator would have admired them? It was only when the indignant
orator “thundered and lightened” and was carried away by the heat of
passion that he forgot his dignified moderation, and then how grandly
voice, eye, and action helped each other! And never, even under the
highest excitement, was purity of language overlooked. These men, of
whom very few could read and write, had at their command all the most
effective verses of their poets having thousands of lines stored in
their minds.

The discussion to-day dealt with the social aspects of an ancient
civilization, unknown but a few years since to the warlike children of
the desert, and yet how ably had the four overseers of public buildings
the comptrollers of the markets, of the irrigation works, and of the
mills, achieved their ends. These bright and untarnished spirits were
equal to the hardest task and capable of carrying it through with
energy, acumen, and success.

And the sons of these men who had passed through no school were already
well-fitted and invited to give new splendor to cities in their
decline, and new life to the learning of the countries they had subdued.
Everything in this council revealed talent, vitality, and ardor; and
Obada, who had been a slave, found it by no means easy to uphold his
pre-eminence among these assertive scions of free and respectable
families.

The Kadi spoke frankly and fearlessly against his recent proceedings,
declaring in the name of every member of the Divan, that they disclaimed
all responsibility for what had been done, and that it rested on the
Vekeel alone. Obada was very ready to accept it; and he announced with
such fiery eloquence his determination to give shelter at Fostat to the
natives whom the conflagration had left roofless, he was so fair-spoken,
and he had shown his great qualities in so clear a light during the past
night, that they agreed to postpone their attainder and await the reply
from Medina to the complaints they had forwarded. Discipline, indeed,
required that they should submit; and many a man who would have flown
to meet death on the field as a bride, quailed before the terrible
adventurer who would not shrink from the most hideous deeds.

Obada had won by hard fighting. No one could prove a theft against him
of so much as a single drachma; but he nevertheless had to take many a
rough word, and with one consent the assembly refused him the deference
justly due to the governor’s representative.

Bitterly indignant, he remained till the very last in the
council-chamber, no one staying with him, not even his own subalterns,
to speak a soothing word in praise of the power and eloquence of
his address, while the same cursed wretches would, under similar
circumstances, have buzzed round Amru like swarming bees, and have
escorted him home like curs wagging their tails. He ascribed the
contumely and opposition he met with to their prejudice, as haughty,
free-born men against his birth, and not to any fault of his own, and
yet he looked down on them all, feeling himself the superior of each by
himself; if the blow in Medina were successful, he would pick out his
victims, and then....

His dreams of vengeance were abruptly broken by a messenger, covered
with dust from head to foot; he brought good news: Orion was taken and
safely bestowed in the Kadi’s house.

“And why not in mine?” asked Obada in peremptory tones. “Who is the
governor’s representative here. Othman or I? Take the prisoner to my
house.”

And he forthwith went home. But instead of the prisoner there presently
appeared before him an official of the Kadi’s household, who informed
him, from his master, that as the Khaliff had constituted Othman supreme
judge in Egypt this matter was in his hands; if Obada wished to see the
prisoner he might go to the Kadi’s residence, or visit him later in the
town prison of Memphis, whither Orion would presently be transferred.

He rushed off, raging, to his enemy’s house, but his stormy fury was met
by the placidity of a calm and judicial mind. Othman was a man between
forty and fifty years old, but his soft, black beard was already turning
grey; his noble dark face bore the stamp of a lofty, high-bred soul,
and a keen but temperate spirit shone in his eyes. There was something
serene and clear in his whole person; he was a man to bear the burthen
of life’s vicissitudes with dignity, while he had set himself the task
of saving others from them so far as in him lay.

The patriarch’s complaints had come also to the Kadi’s knowledge, and
he, too, was minded to exact retribution for the massacre of the Moslem
soldiers; but the punishment should fall on none but the guilty. He
would have been sorry to believe that Orion was one of them, for he had
esteemed his father as a brave man and a just judge, and had taken many
a word of good advice from the experienced Egyptian.

The scene between him and the infuriated Vekeel was a painful one even
for the attendants who stood round; and Orion, who heard Obada’s
raging from the adjoining room, could gather from it some idea of the
relentless hatred with which his negro enemy would persecute him.

However, as after the wildest storm the sea ebbs in ripples so even this
tempest came to a more peaceful conclusion. The Kadi represented to the
Vekeel what an unheard-of thing it would be, and in what a disgraceful
light it would set Moslem justice if one of the noblest families in
the country--to whose head, too, the cause of Islam owed so much--were
robbed of its possessions on mere suspicion. To this the Vekeel replied
that there were definite accusations brought by the head of the native
Church, and that nothing had been robbed, but merely confiscated and
placed in security. As to what Allah had thought fit to destroy by fire,
no one could be held answerable for that. There was no “mere suspicion”
 in the case, for he himself had in his possession a document which amply
proved that Paula, Orion’s beloved, had been the instigator of the crime
which had cost the lives of twelve of the true believers.--The girl
herself had been taken into custody yesterday. He would cross-examine
her himself, too, in spite of all the Kadis in the world; for though
Othman might choose to let any number of Moslems be murdered by these
dogs of Christians he, Obada, would not overlook it; and if he did, by
tomorrow morning the thousand Egyptians who were digging the canal would
have killed with their shovels the three Moslems who kept guard over
them.

At this, Othman assured the Vekeel that he was no less anxious to punish
the miscreants, but that he must first make sure of their identity,
and that, in accordance with the law, justly and without fear of man or
blind hatred, with due caution and justice. He, as judge, was no less
averse to letting off the guilty than he was to punishing the innocent;
so the enquiry must be allowed to proceed quietly. If Obada wished to
examine Paula he, the Kadi, had no objection; to preside over the court
and to direct the trial was his business, and that he would not abdicate
even for the Khaliff himself so long as Omar thought him worthy to hold
his office.

To all this Obada had no choice but to agree, though with an ill-grace;
and as the Vekeel wished to see Orion, the young man was called in. The
huge negro looked at him from head to foot like a slave he proposed
to buy; and, when Othman went to the door and so could not see him, he
could not resist the malicious impulse: he glanced significantly at the
prisoner, and drew his forefinger sharply and quickly across his
black throat as though to divide the head from the trunk. Then he
contemptuously turned his back on the youth.



CHAPTER XVI.

In the course of the afternoon the Vekeel rode across to the prison in
Memphis. He expected to find the bishop there, but instead he was met
with the news that Plotinus was dead of the pestilence.

This was a malignant stroke of fate; for with the bishop perished the
witness who could have betrayed to him the scheme plotted for the rescue
of the nuns.--But no! The patriarch, too, no doubt, knew all.

Still, of what use was that at this moment? He had no time to lose, and
Benjamin could hardly be expected to return within three weeks.

Obada had met Paula’s father in the battle-field by Damascus, and it had
often roused his ire to know that this hero’s name was held famous even
among the Moslems. His envious soul grudged even to the greatest that
pure honor which friend and foe alike are ready to pay; he did
not believe in it, and regarded the man to whom it was given as a
time-serving hypocrite.

And as he hated the father so he did the daughter, though he had never
seen her. Orion’s fate was sealed in his mind; and before his death he
should suffer more acutely through the execution of Paula, whether
she denied or owned her guilt. He might perhaps succeed in making her
confess, so he desired that she should at once be brought into the
judge’s council-room; but he failed completely in his attempt, though
he promised her, through the interpreter, the greatest leniency if she
admitted her guilt and threatened her with an agonizing death if she
refused to do so. His prisoner, indeed, was not at all what he had
expected, and the calm pride with which she denied every accusation
greatly impressed the upstart slave. At first he tried to supplement the
interpreter by shouting words of broken Greek, or intimidating her by
glaring looks whose efficacy he had often proved on his subordinates
but without the least success; and then he had her informed that he
possessed a document which placed her guilt beyond doubt. Even this did
not shake her; she only begged to see it. He replied that she would
know all about it soon enough, and he accompanied the interpreter’s
repetition of the answer with threatening gestures.

He had met with shrewd and influential women among his own people;
he had seen brave ones go forth to battle, and share the perils of a
religious war, with even wilder and more blood-thirsty defiance of death
than the soldiers themselves; but these had all been wives and mothers,
and whenever he had seen them break out of the domestic circle, beyond
which no maiden could ever venture, it was because they were under
the dominion of some passionate impulse and a burning partisanship for
husband or son, family or tribe. The women of his nation lived for the
most part in modest retirement, and none but those who were carried away
by some violent emotion infringed the custom.

But this girl! There she stood, immovably calm, like a warrior at the
head of his tribe. There was something in her mien that quelled him, and
at the same time roused to the utmost his desire to make her feel his
power and to crush her pride. She was as much taller than the women of
his nation as he was taller than any other captain in the Moslem army;
prompted by curiosity, he went close up to her to measure her height by
his own, and passed his hand through the air from his swarthy throat to
touch the crown of her head; and the depth of loathing with which she
shrank from him did not escape his notice. The blood mounted to his
head; he desired the interpreter to inform her that she was to hope for
no mercy, and inwardly devoted her to a cruel death.

Pale, but prepared to meet the worst, Paula returned to the squalid room
she occupied with her faithful Betta.

Her arrival at the prison had been terrible. The guards had seemed
disposed to place her in a room filled with a number of male and female
criminals, whence the rattle of their chains and a frantic uproar of
coarse voices met her ear; however, the interpreter and the captain of
the town-watch had taken charge of her, prompted by Martina’s promise
of a handsome reward if they could go to her next morning with a report
that Paula had been decently accommodated.

The warder’s mother-in-law, too, had taken her under her protection.
This woman was the inn-keeper’s wife from the riverside inn of Nesptah,
and she at once recognized Paula as the handsome damsel who had
refreshed herself there after the evening on the river with Orion, and
whom she had supposed to be his betrothed. She happened to be visiting
her daughter, the keeper’s wife, and induced her to do what she could to
be agreeable to Paula. So she and Betta were lodged in a separate cell,
and her gold coin proved acceptable to the man, who did his utmost to
mitigate her lot. Indeed, Pulcheria had even been allowed to visit her
and to bring her the last roses that the drought had left in the garden.

Susannah had carried out her purpose of sending her food and fruit;
but they remained in the outer room, and the messenger was desired to
explain that no more were to be sent, for that she was supplied with all
she needed.

Confident in her sense of innocence, she had looked forward calmly
to her fate building her hopes on the much lauded justice of the Arab
judges. But it was not they, it would seem, who were to decide it,
but that black monster Orion’s foe; crushed by the sense of impotence
against the arbitrary despotism of the ruthless villain, whose victim
she must be, she sat sunk in gloomy apathy, and hardly heard the old
nurse’s words of encouragement.

She did not fear death; but to die without having seen her father once
more, without saying and proving to Orion that she was his alone, wholly
his and for ever--that was too hard to bear.

While she was wringing her hands, in a state verging on despair, the man
who had ruined the happiness, the peace, and the fortunes of so many
of his fellow-creatures was cantering through the streets of Memphis,
mounted on the finest horse in Orion’s stable, and firmly determined
to make his defiant prisoner feel his power. When he reached the great
market-place in the quarter known as Ta-anch he was forced to bring his
steed to a quieter pace, for in front of the Curia--the senatehouse--an
immense gathering of people had collected. The Vekeel forced his way
through them with cruel indifference. He knew what they wanted and
paid no heed to them. The hapless crowd had for some time past met here
daily, demanding from the authorities some succor in their fearful need.
Processions and pilgrimages had had no result yesterday, so to-day they
besieged the Curia. But could the senate make the Nile rise, or stay
the pestilence, or prevent the dates dropping from the palm-trees? Could
they help, when Heaven denied its aid?

These were the questions which the authorities had already put at least
ten times to the shrieking multitude from the balcony of the town hall,
and each time the crowd had yelled in reply: “Yes--yes. You must!--it
is your duty; you take the taxes, and you are put there to take care of
us!”

Even yesterday the distracted creatures had been wholly unmanageable
and had thrown stones at the building: to-day, after the fearful
conflagration and the death of their bishop, they had assembled in vast
numbers, more furious and more desperate than ever. The senators sat
trembling on their antique seats of gilt ivory, the relics of departed
splendor imitated from those of the Roman senators, looking at each
other and shrugging their shoulders while they listened to a letter
which had just reached them from the hadi. This document required them,
in conformity with Obada’s determination, to make known to the populace,
by public proclamation and declaration, that any citizen whose house had
been destroyed by the fire of the past night would be granted ground and
building materials without payment, at Fostat across the Nile, where he
might found a new home provided he would settle there and embrace Islam.

This degrading offer must be announced: no discussion or recalcitrancy
could help that.

And what could they, for their part, do for the complaining crowd?

The plague was snatching them away; the vegetables, which constituted
half their food at this season, were dried up; the river, their
palatable and refreshing drink, was poisoned; the dates, their chief
luxury, ripened only to be rejected with loathing. Then there was the
comet in the sky, no hope of a harvest--even of a single ear, for months
to come. The bishop dead, all confidence lost in the intercessions of
the Church, God’s mercy extinct as it would seem, withdrawn from the
land under infidel rule!

And they on whose help the populace counted,--poor, weak men,
councillors of no counsel, liable from hour to hour to be called to
follow those who had succumbed to the plague, and who had but just
quitted their vacant seats in obedience to the fateful word.

Yesterday each one had felt convinced that their necessity and misery
had reached its height, and yet in the course of the night it had
redoubled for many. Their self-dependence was exhausted; but there still
was one sage in the city who might perhaps find some new way, suggest
some new means of saving the people from despair.

Stones were again flying down through the open roof, and the members of
the council started up from their ivory seats and sought shelter
behind the marble piers and columns. A wild turmoil came up from the
market-place to the terror-stricken Fathers of the city, and the mob was
hammering with fists and clubs on the heavy doors of the Curia. Happily
they were plated with bronze and fastened with strong iron bolts, but
they might fly open at any moment and then the furious mob would storm
into the hall.

But what was that?

For a moment the roar and yelling ceased, and then began again, but in a
much milder form. Instead of frenzied curses and imprecations shouts
now rose of “Hail, hail!” mixed with appeals: “Help us, save us, give
us council. Long live the sage!” “Help us with your magic, Father!” “You
know the secrets and the wisdom of the ancients!” “Save us, Save us!
Show those money-bags, those cheats in the Curia the way to help us!”

At this the president of the town-council ventured forth from his refuge
behind the statue of Trajan--the only image that the priesthood had
spared--and to climb a ladder which was used for lighting the hanging
lamps, so as to peep out of the high window.

He saw an old man in shining white linen robes, riding on a fine white
ass through the crowd which reverently made way for him. The lictors of
the town marched before him with their fasces, on to which they had tied
palm branches in token of a friendly embassy. Looking further he could
see that behind the old man came a slave, besides the one who drove his
ass, carrying a quantity of manuscript scrolls. This raised his hopes,
for the scrolls looked very old and yellow, and no doubt contained a
store of wisdom; nay, probably magic formulas and effectual charms.

With a loud exclamation of “Here he comes!” the senator descended the
ladder; in a few minutes the door was opened with a rattling of iron
bolts, and it was with a sigh of relief that they saw the old man come
in and none attempt to follow him.

When Horapollo entered the council-chamber he found the senators sitting
on their ivory chairs with as much dignified calm as though the meeting
had been uninterrupted; but at a sign from the president they all rose
to receive the old man, and he returned their greeting with reserve, as
homage due to him. He also accepted the raised seat, which the president
quitted in his honor while he himself took one of the ordinary chairs at
his side.

The negotiation began at once, and was not disturbed b