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- The Bride of the Nile, Volume 4. - 4/9 -
"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,
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