THE BRIDE OF THE NILE - VOLUME 12.
THE BRIDE OF THE NILE - VOLUME 12.
While Rustem to whom Mary had entrusted the jeweller's gold was making
his preparations for their journey with all the care of a practised
guide and while Mary was comforting her governess and Mandane to whom
she explained that Rustem's journey was to save Paula's life a fresh
trial was going forward in the Court of Justice.
This time Orion was the accused. He had scarcely begun to study the maps
and lists he required for his undertaking when he was bidden to appear
before his judges.
The members composing the Court were the same as yesterday. Among the
witnesses were Paula and the new bishop as well as Gamaliel who had
been sent for soon after Mary had left him.
The prosecutor accused the son of the Mukaukas of having made away in
defiance of the patriarch's injunction with a costly emerald bequeathed
to the Church by his father.
Orion had determined to conduct his own defence; he recapitulated
everything that he had told the prelate in self-justification in his
father's private room and then added that to put a speedy end to this
odious affair he was now prepared to restore the stone and he placed it
at the disposal of his judges. He handed Paula's emerald to the Kadi who
presented it to the bishop. John however did not seem satisfied; he
referred to the written testimony of the widow Susannah who had been
present when the deceased Mukaukas had designated all the jewels in the
Persian hanging as included in his gift to the Church. This was in
Orion's presence so he was still under suspicion of a fraud; and it was
difficult to determine whether the fine gem now lying on the table before
them were indeed the same to which the Church laid claim.
All this was urged with excessive vehemence and bore the stamp of a
Obedience and conviction alike prompted the zealous prelate to this
demeanor for the same carrier-pigeon which had brought from the
patriarch his appointment to the bishopric required him to insist on
Orion's punishment for he was a thorn in the flesh of the Jacobite
church a tainted sheep who might infect the rest of the flock. If the
young man should offer an emerald it was therefore to be closely
examined to see whether it were the original stone or a substitute.
On these grounds the bishop had expressed his doubts and though they
gave rise to an indignant murmur among the judges the Kadi so far
admitted the prelate's suspicions as to explain that last evening a
letter had reached him from his uncle at Djidda Haschim the merchant in
which mention was made of the emerald. His son happened to have weighed
that stone without his knowledge before he started for Egypt and
Othman had here a note of its exact weight. The Jew Gamaliel had been
desired to attend with his balances and could at once use them to
satisfy the bishop.
The jeweller immediately proceeded to do so and old Horapollo who was
an expert in such matters went close up to him and watched him
It was in feverish anxiety and more eagerly than any other bystander
that Paula and Orion kept their eyes fixed on the Jew's hands and lips;
after weighing it once he did so a second time. Old Horapollo himself
weighed it a third time with a keen eye though his hands trembled a
little; all three experiments gave the same result: this gem was heavier
by a few grains of doura than that which the merchant's son had weighed
and yet the Jew declared that there was no purer clearer or finer
emerald in the world than this.
Orion breathed more freely and the question arose among the judges as to
whether the young Arab might have failed in precision or an exchange had
in fact been effected. This was difficult to imagine since in that case
the accused would have given himself the loss and the Church the
The bishop an honest man now said that the patriarch's suspicions had
certainly led him too far in this instance and after this he spoke no
All through this enquiry the Vekeel had kept silence but the defiant
gaze assured of triumph which he fixed on Paula and Orion alternately
augured the worst.
When the prosecutor next accused the young man of complicity in the much
discussed escape of the nuns Orion again asserted his innocence pointing
out that during the fatal contest between the Arabs and the champions of
the sisters he had been with the Arab governor as Amru himself could
testify. By an act of unparalleled despotism he had been deprived of
his estates and his freedom on mere false suspicion and he put his trust
in the first instance in a just sentence from his judges and failing
that he threw himself on the protection and satisfaction of his
sovereign lord the Khaliff.
As he spoke his eyes flashed flames at the Vekeel; but the negro still
preserved his self-control and this doubled the alarm of those who
wished the youth well.
It was clear from all this that Obada felt sure that he had the noose
well around his victim's neck and why he thought so soon became
evident; for Orion had hardly finished his defence when he rose and
with a malicious grin handed to the Kadi the little tablet given him
yesterday by old Horapollo describing it as a document addressed to
Paula and desiring the Kadi to examine it. The heat had effaced much of
what had been written on the wax but most of the words could still be
deciphered. The venerable Horapollo had already made them out and was
quite ready to read to the judges all that the accused--who by his own
account was a spotless dove--had written in his innocence and
truthfulness for his fair one. He signed to the old man and helped
him as he rose with difficulty but the Kadi begged him to wait made
himself acquainted with the contents of the letter by the help of the
interpreter and when the man had with much pains fulfilled his task
he turned not to Horapollo but to Obada and asked whence this document
"From Paula's desk" replied the Vekeel. "My old friend found it there."
He pointed to Horapollo who confirmed his statement by a nod of assent.
The Kadi rose went up to the girl whose cheeks were pale with
indignation and asked whether she recognized the tablets as her
property; Paula after convincing herself replied with a flaming glance
of scorn and aversion at Horapollo: "Yes my lord. It is mine. That
base old man has taken it with atrocious meanness from among my things."
For an instant her voice failed her; then turning to the judges she
"If there is one among you to whom helplessness and innocence are sacred
and malice and cunning odious I beg him to go to Rufinus' wife over
whose threshold this man has crept like a ferret into a dovecote for no
other end but to tread hospitable kindness in the dust to rifle her home
and make use of whatever might serve his vile purpose--to go I say and
warn the lonely woman against this treacherous spy and thief."
At this the old man gasping and inarticulate raised his withered arm;
the Christian judges whispered together but at cross-purposes while the
Jew fidgeted his round little person on the bench drumming incessantly
with his fingers on his breast and trying to meet Orion's or Paula's eye
and to make her understand that he was the man who would warn Joanna.
But a thump from the Vekeel's fist that came down on his shoulder
unawares reduced him to sitting still; and while he sat rubbing the
place with subdued sounds of pain not daring to reproach the all-
powerful negro for his violence the Kadi gave the tablets to Horapollo
and bid him read the letter.
But the terrible accusation cast at him by the hated Patrician maiden
ascribing his removal to Rufinus house to a motive which in truth had
been far from his had so enraged and agitated him that his old lungs at
all times feeble refused their office. This woman had done him a fresh
wrong for he had gone to live with the widow from the kindest impulse;
only an accident had thrown this document in his way. And yet it would
not fail to be reported to Joanna in the course of the day that he had
gone to her house as a spy and there would be an end to the pleasant
life of which he had dreamed--nay even Philippus might perhaps quarrel
And all all through this woman.
He could not utter a word but as he sank back on the seat a glance so
full of hatred so dark with malignant fury fell on Paula that she
shuddered and told herself that this man was ready to die himself if
only he could drag her down too.
The interpreter now began to read Orion's letter and to translate it for
the Arabs; and while he blundered through it declaring that not a letter
could be plainly made out she recovered her self-control and before the
interpreter had done his task a gleam as of sunshine lighted up her pure
features. Some great lofty and rapturous thought must have flashed
through her brain and it was evident that she had seized it and was
feeding on it.
Orion sitting opposite to her noticed this; still he did not
understand what her beseeching gaze had to say to him what it asked of
him as she pressed her hand on her breast and looked into his eyes with
such urgent entreaty that it went to his very heart.
The interpreter ceased; but what he had read had had a great effect on
the judges. The Kadi's benevolent face expressed extreme apprehension
and the contents of the letter were indeed such as to cause it. It ran
"After waiting for you a long time in vain I must at last make up my
mind to go; and how much I still had to say to you. A written farewell."
Here a few lines were effaced and then came the--fatal and quite legible
"How far otherwise I had dreamed of ending this day which has been for
the most part spent in preparations for the flight of the Sisters; and I
have found a pleasure in doing all that lay in my power for those kind
and innocent unjustly persecuted nuns. We must hope for the best for
them; and for ourselves we must look to-morrow for an undisturbed
interview and a parting which may leave us memories on which we can live
for a long time. The noble governor Amru is among the Arabs such
another as he whom we mourn was among the Egyptians . . ." Here the
letter ended; not quite three lines were wanting to conclude it.
The Kadi held the tablets for a few minutes in his hand; then looking up
again at the assembly who were waiting in great suspense he began:
"Even if the accused was not one of those who raised their hands in
mutiny against our armed troops it is nevertheless indisputable after
what has just been read that he not only knew of the escape of the nuns
but aided them to the utmost.--When did you receive this communication
At this Paula clasped her hands tightly and replied with a slightly bent
head and her eyes fixed on the ground.
"When did I receive it?--Never; for I wrote it myself. The writing is
"Yours?" said the Kadi in amazement. "It is from me to Orion" replied
"From you to him? How then comes it in your desk?"
"In a very simple way" she explained still looking down. "After
writing the letter to my betrothed I threw it in with the other tablets
as soon as I had no need for it; for he himself came and there was no
necessity for his reading what could be better said by word of mouth."
As she spoke a peculiar smile passed over her lips and a loud murmur ran
through the room. Orion looked first at the girl and then at the Kadi in
growing bewilderment; but the Negro started up struck his fist on the
table making it shake and roared out:
"An atrocious fabrication! Which of you can allow yourself to be taken
in by a woman's guile?" Horapollo who had recovered himself by this
time laughed hoarsely and maliciously; the judges looked at each other
much puzzled; but when the Vekeel went on raging the Kadi interrupted
him and desired that Orion might speak for he had twice tried to make
himself heard. Now with scarlet cheeks and a choking utterance he
"No Othman--no no indeed my lords. Do not believe her. Not she but
I--I wrote the letter that. . . ."
But Paula broke in:
"He? Do you not feel that all he wants is to save me and so he takes my
guilt on himself? It is his generosity his love for me! Do not do not
believe him! Do not allow yourselves to be deceived by him."
"I? No it is she it is she" Orion again asserted; but before he
could say more Paula declared with a flashing glance that it was a poor
sort of love which sacrificed itself out of false generosity. And as
at the same time she again pressed her hand to her bosom with pathetic
entreaty he was suddenly silent and casting his eyes up to heaven he
sank back on the prisoners' bench deeply affected.
Paula joyfully went on:
"He has thought better of it and given up his crazy attempt to take my
guilt on himself. You see Othman you all see worthy men.--Let me
atone for what I did to help the poor nuns."
"Have your way!" shrieked the old man; but the Negro cried out:
"A hellish tissue of lies an unheard-of deception! But in spite of the
shield a woman holds before you I have my foot on your neck treacherous
wretch! Is it credible--I ask you judges--that a finished letter should
be found after weeks had elapsed in the hands of the writer and not
those of the person to whom it was addressed?"
The Kadi shrugged his shoulders and replied with calm dignity:
"Consider Obada that we are condemning this damsel on the evidence of
a letter which was found in possession not of the person to whom it was
addressed but of the writer. This document gave rise to no doubts in
your mind. The judge should mete out equal measure to all Obada."
The aptness of these words spoken in a dogmatic tone aroused the
approval of the Arabs and the Jew could not restrain himself from
exclaiming: "Capital!" but no sooner had it escaped him than he shrank
as quick as lightning out of the Vekeel's reach; and Obada hardly heard
him for he did not allow himself to be interrupted by the Kadi but went
on to explain in wrathful words what a disgrace it was to them as men
and judges to have dust cast in their eyes by a woman and allow
themselves to be molified by the arts of a pair of love-stricken fools;
and how desirable it must be in the eyes of every Moslem to guard the
security of life and bring the severest punishment on the instigator of a
sanguinary revolt against the champions of the Khaliff's power.
His eloquent and stormy address was not without effect; still the
Christians who ascribed every form of evil to the Melchite girl would
have been satisfied with her death and have been ready to forgive the son
of the Mukaukas this crime--supposing him to have committed it. And it
was after the judges had agreed that it was impossible to decide by whom
the letter on the tablet had been written and there had been a great
deal of argument on both sides that the real discussion began.
It was long before the assembly could agree and all the while Orion sat
now looking as though he had already been condemned to a cruel death and
now exchanging glances with Paula while he pressed his hand to his heart
as though to keep it from bursting. He perfectly understood her and her
magnanimity upheld him. He had indeed persuaded himself to accept her
self-sacrifice but he was fully determined that if she must die he would
follow her to the grave. "Non dolet"--[It does not hurt]--Arria cried
to her lover Paetus as she thrust the knife into her heart that she
might die before him; and the words rang in his ear; but he said to
himself that Paula would very likely be pardoned and that then he would
be free and have a whole lifetime in which to thank her.
At last--at last. The Kadi announced the verdict: It was impossible to
find Orion worthy of death and equally so to give up all belief in his
guilt; the court therefore declared itself inadequate to pronounce a
sentence and left it to be decided by the Khaliff or by his
representative in Egypt Amru. The court only went so far as to rule
that the prisoner was to be kept in close confinement so that he might
be within reach of the hand of justice if the supreme decision should be
When the Kadi said that the matter was to be referred to the Khaliff or
his representative the Vekeel cried out:
"I--I am Omar's vicar!" but a disapproving murmur from the judges as
with one voice rejected his pretensions and at a proposal of the Kadi
it was resolved that the young man should be protected against any
arbitrary attack on the part of the Vekeel by a double guard; for many
grave accusations against Obada were already on their way to Medina. The
negro quitted the court mad with rage and concocting fresh indictments
against Paula with the old man.
When Paula returned to her cell old Betta thought that she must have been
pardoned; for how glad how proud how full of spirit she entered it!
The worst peril was diverted from her lover and she and her love had
She gave herself up for lost; but whatever fate might have in store for
her life lay open before him; he would have time to prove his splendid
powers and that he would do so as she would have him do it she felt
She had not ended telling her nurse of the judges' decision when the
warder announced the Kadi. In a minute or two he made his appearance;
she expressed her thanks and he warmly assured her that he regarded the
disgrace of being perhaps a beguiled judge as a favor of Fortune; then he
turned the conversation on the real object of his visit.
In the letter he began which he had received the evening before from
his uncle Haschim there was a great deal about her. She had quite won
the old merchant's heart and the enquiries for her father which he had
set on foot....
Here she interrupted him saying: "Oh my lord; is the wish the prayer of
my life to be granted?"
"Your father the noble Thomas before whom even the Moslem bows has
been. . . ." and then Othman went on to tell her that the hero of
Damascus had in fact retired to Sinai and had been living there as a
hermit. But she must not indulge in premature rejoicing for the
messengers had found him ill consumed by disease arising from his
wounded lungs and almost at death's door. His days were numbered....
"And I I am a prisoner" groaned the girl. "Held fast helpless
robbed of all means of flying to his arms!"
He again bid her be calm and went on to tell her: in his soft composed
manner that two days since a Nabathaean had come to him and had asked
him as the chief administrator of justice in Egypt whether an old foe
of the Moslems a general who had fought in the service of the emperor
and the cross against the Khaliff and the crescent and who was now sick
weary and broken might venture on Egyptian soil without fear of being
seized by the Arab authorities; and when he Othman had learnt that this
man was no other than Thomas the hero of Damascus he had promised him
his life and freedom promised them gladly as he felt assured his
sovereign the Khaliff would desire.
So this very day her father had reached Fostat and the Kadi had received
him as a guest into his house. Thomas indeed stood on the brink of the
grave; but he was inspirited and sustained by the hope of seeing his
daughter. It had been falsely reported to him that she had perished in
the massacre at Abyla and he had already mourned her fate.
It was now his duty to fulfil the wish of a dying man and he had ordered
the prison servants to prepare the room adjoining Paula's cell with
furniture which was on the way from his house. The door between the two
would be opened for her.
"And I shall see him again have him again to live with--to close his
eyes perhaps to die with him!" cried Paula; and seizing the good man's
hand she kissed it gratefully.
The Moslem's eyes filled with tears as he bid her not to thank him but
God the All-merciful; and before the sun went down the head of the doomed
daughter was resting on the breast of the weary hero who was so near his
end though his unimpaired mind and tender heart rejoiced in their
reunion as fully and deeply as did his beloved and only child. A new and
unutterable joy came to Paula in the gloom of her prison; and that same
day the warder carried a letter from her to Orion conveying her father's
greetings; and as he read the fervent blessing he felt as though an
invisible hand had released him for ever from the curse his own father
had laid upon him. A wonderful glad sense of peace came over him with
power and pleasure in work and he gave his brains and pen no rest till
morning was growing grey.
Horapollo made his way home to his new quarters from the court of justice
with knit and gloomy brows. As he passed Susannah's garden hedge he saw
a knot of people gathered together and pointing out furtively to the
handsome residence beyond.
They like a hundred other groups he had passed hailed him with words of
welcome thanks and encouragement and as he bowed to them slightly his
eyes followed the direction of their terrified gaze and he started; above
the great garden gates hung the black tablet; a warning that looked like
a mark of disgrace crying out to the passer-by: "Avoid this threshold!
Here rages the destroying pestilence!"
The old man had a horror of everything that might remind him of death
and a cold shiver ran through him. To live so near to a focus of the
disease was most alarming and dangerous! How had it invaded this the
healthiest part of the town which the last raging epidemic had spared?
An officer of the town-council whom he called to him told him that two
slaves father and son whose duty it was to take charge of the baths in
the widow's house had been first attacked but they had been carried
quietly away in the night to the new tents for the sick; to-day however
the widow herself had fallen ill. To prevent the spread of the
infection the plot of ground was now guarded on all sides.
"Be strict be sharp; not a rat must creep out !" cried the old man as
he rode on.
He was later than he had been yesterday; supper must be ready. After a
short rest he was preparing to join the family at their meal washing and
dressing with the help of his servant when a lame slave-girl came into
his room and placed a tray covered with steaming dishes on the low table
by the divan.
What was the meaning of this? Before he could ask he was informed that
for the future the women wished to eat by themselves; he would be served