THE BRIDE OF THE NILE - VOLUME 7.
THE BRIDE OF THE NILE - VOLUME 7.
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
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 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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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