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- The Bride of the Nile, Volume 12. - 10/12 -
sacrilegious attempt stirred the zeal which they had proved in many a struggle, and which had only been kept under by an effort during these times of trouble: the leader of the choir dragged the old man away and took part with the bishop. Others followed his example, while several, on the contrary, sided with old Horapollo who clung tightly to Paula, preferring to die himself rather than allow her to escape his hatred and vengeance.
At this moment the clang of bells was heard from the town with a terrific and unaccountable uproar, and a young man was seen forcing his way through the throng, a naked sword in his hand, and in spite of his torn garments, his wild hair, and his blackened face, he was at once recognized as Orion. Every one made way for him, for he rushed on like a madman; as he reached the pontoon and took in at a glance what was going forward there, he sprang past the mummers with mighty leaps to the platform, pushing aside sundry groups of fighting champions; and before the principal actors were aware of his presence, he had snatched Paula from the old man's clutch, and called her by her name. She sank on his breast half-fainting with terror, surprise and unspeakable rapture, and he clasped her to him with his left arm, while the flashing sword in his right hand and his flaming looks warned all bystanders that it would be as wise to attack a lioness defending her young as to defy this desperate man, who was prepared to face death with the woman he loved.
His push had sent Horapollo tottering to some distance; and when the old man had pulled himself together, to throw himself once more on his victim, he found himself the centre of a fight. A wild troop had followed Orion and beset the struggling mob, whom they presently drove over the edge of the pontoon into the river, and with them Horapollo. Most of these saved themselves by swimming, but the old man sank, and nothing more was seen of him but his clenched fist, which rose in menace for some minutes above the waters.
Meanwhile the Vekeel had become aware of what was going forward on the platform; he leaped in fury from his seat to restore order, intending to seize Orion whom he fancied he had seen, or, if necessary to cut him down with his own hand.
But a vast multitude stopped his progress, for a fearful horde of released prisoners with Orion at their head had come rushing down to the scene of the festival yelling: "Fire! the prison is burning, the town is in flames!"
Every one who could run fled at once to Memphis to save his house, his possessions and those dear to him. Like a flock of doves scared by the scream of a hawk, like autumn leaves driven before the wind, the multitude dispersed. They hurried back to the town in wild tumult and inextricable confusion, jumping into the festal cars, cutting loose the horses from that of the goddess of health, to mount them and ride home, overthrowing everything that stood in their way and dragging back the Vekeel who was striving, sword in hand, to get to the pontoon.
The smoke and flames of the city were rising every moment, and acted like magic in spurring the flying crowd to reach their homes in time. But, before Obada had succeeded in his efforts, the pushing throng were once more brought to a standstill; horses were heard approaching. Dense masses of dust hid them and their riders; but it was certainly an armed troop that was coming clattering onwards, for flashing gleams were seen here and there through the dull clouds that shrouded them, the reflection of the sun's bright rays from polished and glittering helmets, breast- plates, and sabres.
Now they were visible even where the Vekeel was. Foremost rode the Kadi, and just as he came up with Obada he sprang from the saddle on to the wooden structure, and with a loud cry of: "Free-saved!" in which all the joy of his heart found utterance, he stretched out both his hands to Paula, who was advancing towards the shore clinging closely to Orion.
Othman did not observe the Vekeel, who was but a few paces distant. The words "Free!" "Saved!" from the supreme judge, gave the negro to understand that a pardon must have arrived for his youthful foe, and this of course implied the condemnation of his own proceedings. All his hopes were wrecked, for this meant that Omar still ruled and that the attempt on the Khaliff's life had failed. Dismissal, punishment or death must be his doom, when Amru should return. Still, he would not succumb till the instrument of his ruin had preceded him to the grave. Taking the Kadi by surprise he thrust him aside, and prepared to deal a fearful blow that should fell Orion before he himself should fall. But the captain of the body-guard, who had followed Othman, had watched his movements: Swift as lightning he rose in his saddle and swung his cimeter, which cut deep into the Vekeel's neck. With a hideous curse Obada let his arm drop, and fell struggling for his last breath at the feet of the newly united couple.
The populace afterwards declared that his blood was not red like that of other men, but black like his skin and his soul. They had good cause to curse his memory, for his villainy had reduced more than half Memphis to ashes that day, and brought the city to beggary.
He had hired two venial wretches to set fire to the prison while the festival was proceeding, with a view to suffocating Orion in his cell; but the gang were detected and all the prisoners were released in time. Thus the young man had been able to reach the scene of the ceremonial at the head of his fellow-captives. The fire, however, had gained the upper hand in the deserted town. It had spread from house to house along the sun-scorched streets, and next day nothing remained of the city of the Pyramids but the road along the shore, and a few wretched alleys. The ancient Capital of the Pharaohs was reduced to a village, and the houseless residents moved across to the eastern bank, to people as Moslems the newly-founded town of Fostat, or sought a home on Christian territory.
Among the houses that had escaped was that of Rufinus, and thither the Kadi escorted Orion and Paula. It was to serve as their prison till the return of Amru, and there they spent delightful days in the society of their friends, and there Thomas was so happy as to clasp his children to his heart once more, and bless them before he died.
A few minutes before the Kadi had reached the scene of the festival two carrier pigeons had arrived, each bearing the Arab governor's commands that the sacrifice of Paula was at any rate to be stopped, and her life spared till his return. He also reserved the right of deciding Orion's fate.
Mary and Rustem had met Amru at Berenice, on the Egyptian coast of the Red Sea. This decaying sea-port was connected with Medina by a pigeon- post, and in reply to his viceroy's enquiry with reference to the victim about to be offered by the despairing Egyptians to the Nile, Omar had sent a reply which had been immediately forwarded to the Kadi.
The burning of their town had brought new and fearful suffering on the stricken Memphites, and notwithstanding Katharina's death the Nile still did not rise. The Kadi therefore once more summoned a meeting of all the inhabitants from both sides of the river, three days after the interrupted marriage-festival. It was held under the palms by Nesptah's inn, and there he proclaimed to the multitude, Moslem and Christian, by means of the Arab herald and Egyptian interpreter, what the Khaliff commanded him to declare, namely: that God, the One, the All-merciful, scorned human sacrifice. In this firm conviction he, Omar, would beseech Allah the Compassionate, and he sent a letter which was to be cast into the river in his name.
And this letter was addressed:
"To the River of Egypt." And its contents were as follows:
"If thou, O River, flowest of thyself, then swell not; but if it be God, the One, the Compassionate, that maketh thee to flow, then we entreat the All-merciful that he will bid thee rise!"
"That which is not of God," wrote Amru in the letter which enclosed Omar's, "what shall it profit men? But all things created are by Him, and so is your noble river. The Most High will hearken to Omar's prayers and ours, and I therefore command that all of you--Moslems, Christians, and Jews, shall gather together in the Mosque on the other side of the Nile which I have built to the glory of the All-merciful, and that you there lift up your souls in one great common prayer, to the end that God may hear you and take pity on your sufferings!"
And the Kadi bid all the people to go across the Nile and they obeyed his bidding. Bishop John called on his clergy and marched at their head, leading the Christians; the priests and elders of the Jews led their people next to the Jacobites; and side by side with these the Moslems gathered in the magnificent pillared sanctuary of Amru, where the three congregations of different creeds lifted up, their hearts and eyes and voices to the pitying Father in Heaven.
And this very Mosque of Amru has more than once been the scene of the same sublime spectacle; even within the lifetime and before the eyes of the narrator of this tale have Moslems, Christians, and Jews united there in one pious prayer, which must have been acceptable indeed in the ears of the Lord.
Not long after the letter from the Khaliff Omar had been cast into the Nile, and the prayer of the united assembly had gone up to Heaven from the Mosque of Armu, a pigeon came in announcing a sudden rise in the waters at the cataracts; and after some still anxious but hopeful days of patience, the Nile swelled higher and yet higher, overflowed its banks, and gave the laborer a right to look forward to a rich harvest; and then, when a heavy storm of rain had laid the choking dust, the plague, too, disappeared.
Just when the river was beginning to rise perceptibly Amru returned; bringing in his train little Mary and Rustem, Philippus the leech and Haschim, who had joined the governor's caravan at Djidda.
In the course of their journey they received news of all that had been happening at Memphis, and when the travellers were approaching their last night-quarters, and the Pyramids were already in sight, the governor said to little Mary:
"What do you say little one? Do we not owe the Memphites the treat of a splendid marriage festival?"
"No, my lord, two," replied the child.
"How is that?" laughed Amru, "You are too young and do not count yet, and I know no other maiden in Memphis whose wedding I should care to provide for."
"But there is a man towards whom you feel most kindly, and who lives as lonely as a recluse. I should like to see him married, and at the same time as Orion and Paula. I mean our good friend Philippus."
"The physician? And is he still unwed?" asked Amru in surprise; for no Moslem of the leech's age and position could remain unmarried without exposing himself to the contempt of his fellow-believers. "He is a widower then!"
"No," replied Mary. "He has never yet found a wife to suit him; but I
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