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- The Bride of the Nile, Volume 4. - 6/9 -
"Well?" asked the invalid.
"She hastily quitted the house; but we parted friends, I can assure you of that; she is still in Memphis, and she spoke of you most affectionately and wished to see you, and charged me with many loving messages for you; so, if you really care to see her. . . ."
The sick man tried to nod his head, but in vain. He did not, however, insist on her being sent for, but his face wore an expression of deep melancholy and the words came faintly from his lips.
"Thomas' daughter! The noblest and loveliest of all."
"The noblest and loveliest," echoed Orion, in a voice that was tremulous with strong, deep and sincere emotion; then he begged the leech and the deaconess to leave him alone with his parents. As soon as they had left the room the young man spoke softly but urgently into his father's ear:
"You are quite right, Father," he said. "She is better and more noble, more beautiful and more highminded than any girl living. I love her, and will stake everything to win her heart. Oh, God! Oh, God! Merciful Heaven!--Are you glad, do you give your consent, Father? You dearest and best of men; I see it in your face."
"Yes, yes, yes," murmured the governor; his yellow, bloodshot eyes looked up to Heaven, and with a terrible effort he stammered out: "Blessing--my blessing, on you and Paula.--Tell her from me.... If she had confided in her old uncle, as she used to do, the freedman would never have robbed us.--She is a brave soul; how she fought for the poor fellow. I will hear more about it if my strength holds out.--Why is she not here?"
"She wished so much to bid you farewell," replied Neforis, "but you were asleep."
"Was she in such a hurry to be gone?" asked her husband with a bitter smile. "Fear about the emerald may have had something to do with it? But how could I be angry with her? Hiram acted without her knowledge, I suppose? Yes, I knew it!--Ah; that dear, sweet face! If I could but see it once more. The joy--of my eyes, and my companion at draughts! A faithful heart too; how she clung to her father! she was ready to sacrifice everything for him.--And you, you, my old.... But no--no reproaches at such a time. You, Mother--you, my Neforis, thanks, a thousand thanks for all your love and kindness. What a mystical and magic bond is that of a Christian marriage like ours? Mark that, Orion. And you, Mother: I am anxious about this. You--do not hurt the girl's feelings again. Say--say you bless this union; it will make me happier at the last.--Paula and Orion; both of them-both.--I never dared before --but what better could we wish?"
The matron clasped her hands and sobbed out:
"Anything, everything you wish! But Father, Orion, our faith!-- And then, merciful Saviour, that poor little Katharina!"
"Katharina!" repeated the sick man, and his feeble lips parted in a compassionate smile. "Our boy and the water--water--you know what I would say."
Then his eyes began to sparkle more brightly and he said in a low voice, but still eagerly, as though death were yet far from him:
"My name is George, the son of the Mukaukas; I am the great Mukaukas and our family--all fine men of a proud race; all: My father, my uncle, our lost sons, and Orion here--all palms and oaks! And shall a dwarf, a mere blade of rice be grafted on to the grand old stalwart stock? What would come of that?--Oh, ho! a miserable little brood! But Paula! The cedar of Lebanon--Paula; she would give new life to the grand old race."
"But our faith, our faith," moaned Neforis. "And you, Orion, do you even know what her feeling is towards you?"
"Yes and no. Let that rest for the present," said the youth, who was deeply moved. "Oh Father! if I only knew that your blessing. . ."
"The Faith, the Faith," interrupted the Mukaukas in a broken voice.
"I will be true to my own!" cried Orion, raising his father's hand to his lips. "But think, picture to yourself, how Paula and I would reign in this house, and how another generation would grow up in it worthy of the great Mukaukas and his ancestors!"
"I see it, I see it," murmured the sick man sinking back on his pillows, unconscious.
Philippus was immediately called in, and, with him, little Mary came weeping into the room. The physician's efforts to revive the sufferer were presently successful; again the sick man opened his eyes, and spoke more distinctly and loudly than before:
"There is a perfume of musk. It is the fragrance that heralds the Angel of Death."
After this he lay still and silent for a long time. His eyes were closed, but his brows were knit and showed that he was thinking with a painful effort. At length, with a sigh, he said, almost inaudibly: "So it was and so it is: The Greek oppressed my people with arbitrary cruelty as if we were dogs; the Moslem, too, is a stranger, but he is just. That which happened it was out of my power to prevent; and it is well, it is very well that it turned out so.--Very well," he repeated several times, and then he shivered and said with a groan:
"My feet are so cold! But never mind, never mind, I like to be cool."
The leech and the deaconess at once set to work to heat blocks of wood to warm his feet; the sick man looked up gratefully and went on: "At church, in the House of God, I have often found it deliciously cool and to-day it is the Church that eases my death-bed by her pardon. Do you, my Son, be faithful to her. No member of our house should ever be an apostate. As to the new faith--it is overspreading land after land with incredible power; ambition and covetousness are driving thousands into its fold. But we--we are faithful to Christ Jesus, we are no traitors. If I, I the Mukaukas, had consented to go over to the Khaliff I might have been a prince in purple, and have governed my own country in his name. How many have deserted to the Moslems! And the temptation will come to you, too, and their faith offers much that is attractive to the crowd. They imagine a Paradise full of unspeakably alluring joys--but we, my son-- we shall meet again in our own, shall we not?"
"Yes, yes, Father!" cried the young man. "I will remain a Christian, staunch and true. . ."
"That is right," interrupted the sick man. He was determined to forget that his son wished to marry a Melchite and went on quickly: "Paula... But no more of that. Remain faithful to your own creed--otherwise... However, child, seek your own road; you are--but you will walk in the right way, and it is because I know that, know it surely, that I can die so calmly.
"I have provided abundantly for your temporal welfare. I have been a good husband, a faithful father, have I not, O Saviour?--Have I not, Neforis? And that which is my best and surest comfort is that for many long years I have administered justice in this land, and never, never once--and Thou my Refuge and Comforter art my witness!--never once consciously or willingly have I been an unrighteous judge. Before me the poor were equal with the rich, the powerful with the helpless widow. Who would have dared..." Here he broke off; his eyes, wandering feebly round the room, fell on Mary who had sunk on her knees, opposite to Orion on the other side of the bed. The dying man, who had thus summed up the outcome of a long and busy life, ceased his reflections, and when the child saw that he was vainly trying to turn his powerless head towards her, she threw her arms round him with passionate grief; unscared by his fixed gaze or the altered hue of his beloved face, she kissed his lips and cheeks, exclaiming:
"Grandfather, dear grandfather, do not leave us; stay with us, pray, pray stay with us!"
Something faintly resembling a smile parted his parched lips, and all the tenderness with which his soul was overflowing for this sweet young bud of humanity would have found expression in his voice but that he could only mutter huskily:
"Mary, my darling! For your sake I should be glad to live a long while yet, a very long while; but the other world--I am standing already on its threshold. Good-bye--I must indeed say good-bye."
"No, no--I will pray; oh! I will pray so fervently that you may get well again!" cried the child. But he replied:
"Nay, nay. The Saviour is already taking me by the hand. Farewell, and again farewell. Did you bring Paula? I do not see her. Did you bring Paula with you, sweetheart? She--did she leave us in anger? If she only knew; ah! your Paula has treated us ill." The child's heart was still full of the horrible crime which had so revolted her truthful nature, and which had deprived her of rest all through an evening, a long night and a morning; she laid her little head close to that of the old man--her dearest and best friend. For years he had filled her father's place, and now he was dying, leaving her forever! But she could not let him depart with a false idea of the woman whom she worshipped with all the fervor of her child's heart; in a subdued voice, but with eager feeling, she said, close to his ear:
"But Grandfather, there is one thing you must know before the Saviour takes you away to be happy in Heaven. Paula told the truth, and never, never told a lie, not even for Hiram's sake. An empty gold frame hung to her necklace and no gem at all. Whatever Orion may say, I saw it myself and cannot be mistaken, as truly as I hope to see you and my poor father in heaven! And Katharina, too, thought better of it, and confessed to me just now that she had committed a great sin and had borne false witness before the judges to please her dear Orion. I do not know what Hiram had done to offend him; but on the strength of Katharina's evidence the judges condemned him to death. But Paula--you must understand that Paula had nothing, positively nothing whatever to do with the stealing of the emerald."
Orion, kneeling there, was condemned to hear every word the little girl so vehemently whispered, and each one pierced his heart like a dagger- thrust. Again and again he felt inclined to clutch at her across the bed and fling her on the ground before his father's eyes; but grief and astonishment seemed to have paralyzed his whole being; he had not even the power to interrupt her with a single word.
She had spoken, and all was told.
He clung to the couch like a shattered wretch; and when his father turned his eyes on him and gasped out: "Then the Court--our Court of justice pronounced an unrighteous sentence?" he bowed his head in contrition.
The dying man murmured even less articulately and incoherently than
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