THE BRIDE OF THE NILE - VOLUME 6.
THE BRIDE OF THE NILE - VOLUME 6.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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-
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
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
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