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- The Bride of the Nile, Volume 7. - 6/9 -

annoyance, however, Mary took this all very coolly and without any special excitement.

"So, when Orion enquired of his companion what had brought her to the governor's house, she could only reply that she longed so desperately to see little Mary.

"Of course," said Orion. "But I must beg of you not to yield again to your affectionate impulse. Your mother makes a public display of her grudge against mine, and her ill-feeling will only be increased if she is told that we are encouraging you to disregard her wishes. Perhaps you may, ere long, have opportunities of seeing Mary more frequently; but, if that should be the case, I must especially request you not to talk of things that may agitate her. You have seen for yourself how excitable she is and how fragile she looks. Her little heart, her too precocious brain and feelings must have rest, must not be stirred and goaded by fresh incitements such as you are in a position to apply. The patriarch is my enemy, the enemy of our house, and you--I do not say it to offend you--you overheard what he was saying last night, and probably gathered much important information, some of which may concern me and my family."

Katharina stood looking at her companion, as pale as death. He knew that she had played the listener, and when, and where! The shock it gave her, and the almost unendurable pang of feeling herself lowered in his eyes, quite dazed her. She felt bewildered, offended, menaced; however, she retained enough presence of mind to reply in a moment to her antagonist:

"Do not be alarmed! I will come no more. I should not have come at all, if I could have foreseen. . ."

"That you would meet me?"

"Perhaps.--But do not flatter yourself too much on that account!--As to my listening... Well, yes; I was standing at the window. Inside the room I could only half hear, and who does not want to hear what great men have to say to each other? And, excepting your father, I have met none such in Memphis since Memnon left the city. We women have inherited some curiosity from our mother Eve; but we rarely indulge it so far as to hunt for a necklace in our neighbor's trunk! I have no luck as a criminal, my dear Orion. Twice have I deserved the name. Thanks to the generous and liberal use you made of my inexperience I sinned--sinned so deeply that it has ruined my whole life; and now, again, in a more venial way; but I was caught out, you see, in both cases."

"Your taunts are merited," said Orion sadly. "And yet, Child, we may both thank Providence, which did not leave us to wander long on the wrong road. Once already I have besought your forgiveness, and I do so now again. That does not satisfy you I see--and I can hardly blame you. Perhaps you will be better pleased, when I assure you once more that no sin was ever more bitterly or cruelly punished than mine has been."

"Indeed!" said Katharina with a drawl; then, with a flutter of her fan, she went on airily: "And yet you look anything rather than crushed; and have even succeeded in winning 'the other'--Paula, if I am not mistaken."

"That will do!" said Orion decisively, and he raised the key to the lock. Katharina, however, placed herself in his way, raised a threatening finger, and exclaimed:

"So I should think!--Now I am certain. However, you are right with your insolent 'That will do!' I do not care a rush for your love affairs; still, there is one thing I should like to know, which concerns myself alone; how could you see over our garden hedge? Anubis is scarcely a head shorter than you are. . . ."

"And you made him try?" interrupted Orion, who could not forbear smiling, perceiving that his honestly meant gravity was thrown away on Katharina. "Notwithstanding such a praiseworthy experiment, I may beg you to note for future cases that what is true of him is not true of every one, and that, besides foot-passengers, a tall man sometimes mounts a tall horse?"

"It was you, then, who rode by last night?"

"And who could not resist glancing up at your window."

At these words she drew back in surprise, and her eyes lighted up, but only for an instant; then, clenching the feathers of her fan in both hands, she sharply asked:

"Is that in mockery?"

"Certainly not," said Orion coolly; "for though you have reason enough to be angry with me......"

"I, at any rate, have, so far given you none," she petulantly broke in. "No, I have not. It is I, and I alone, who have been insulted and ill- used; you must confess that you owe me some amends, and that I have a right to ask them."

"Do so," replied he. "I am yours to command." She looked him straight in the face.

"First of all," she began, "have you told any one else that I was. . ."

"That you were listening? No--not a living soul."

"And will you promise never to betray me?"

"Willingly. Now, what is the 'secondly' to this 'first of all?'"

But there was no immediate answer; the water-wagtail evidently found it difficult. However, she presently said, with downcast eyes:

"I want.... You will think me a greater fool than I am.... nevertheless, yes, I will ask you, though it will involve me in fresh humiliation.--I want to know the truth; and if there is anything you hold sacred, before I ask, you must swear by what is holiest to answer me, not as if I were a silly girl, but as if I were the Supreme judge at the last day.--Do you hear?"

"This is very solemn," said Orion. "And you must allow me to observe that there are some questions which do not concern us alone, and if yours is such......"

"No, no," replied Katharina, "what I mean concerns you and me alone."

"Then I see no reason for refusing," he said. "Still, I may ask you a favor in return. It seems to me no less important than it did to you, to know what a great man like the patriarch finds to talk about, and since I place myself at your commands...."

"I thought," said the girl with a smile, "that your first object would be to discharge some small portion of your debt to me; however, I expect no excessive magnanimity, and the little I heard is soon told. It cannot matter much to you either--so I will agree to your wishes, and you, in return, must promise. . . ."

"To speak the whole truth."

"As truly as you hope for forgiveness of your sins?"

"As truly as that."

"That is well."

"And what is it that you want to know?"

At this she shook her head, exclaiming uneasily:

"Nay, nay, not yet. It cannot be done so lightly. First let me speak; and then open the door, and if I want to fly let me go without saying or asking me another word.--Give me that chair; I must sit down." And in fact she seemed to need it; for some minutes she had looked very pale and exhausted, and her hands trembled as she drew her handkerchief across her face.

When she was seated she began her story; and while her words flowed on quickly but without expression, as though she spoke mechanically, Orion listened with eager interest, for what she had to tell struck him as highly significant and important.

He had been watched by the patriarch's orders. By midnight Benjamin had already been informed of Orion's visit to Fostat, and to the Arab general. Nothing, however, had been said about it beyond a fear lest he had gone thither with a view to abjuring the faith of his fathers and going over to the Infidels. Far more important were the facts Orion gathered as to the prelate's negotiations with the Khaliff's representative. Amru had urged a reduction of the number of convents and of the monks and nuns who lived on the bequests and gifts of the pious, busied in all kinds of handiwork according to the rule of Pachomius, and enabled, by the fact of their living at free quarters, to produce almost all the necessaries of life, from the mats on the floors to the shoes worn by the citizens, at a much lower price than the independent artisans, whether in town or country. The great majority of these poor creatures were already ruined by such competition, and Amru, seeing the Arab leather-workers, weavers, ropemakers, and the rest, threatened with the same fate, had determined to set himself firmly to restrict all this monastic work. The patriarch had resisted stoutly and held out long, but at last he had been forced to sacrifice almost half the convents for monks and nuns.

But nothing had been conceded without an equivalent; for Benjamin was well aware of the immense difficulties which he, as chief of the Church, could put in the way of the new government of the country. So it was left to him to designate which convents should be suppressed, and he had, of course, begun by laying hands on the few remaining Melchite retreats, among them the Convent of St. Cecilia, next to the house of Rufinus. This establishment was now to be closed within three days and to become the property of the Jacobite Church; but it was to be done quite quietly, for there was no small fear that now, when the delayed rising of the river was causing a fever of anxiety in all minds, the impoverished populace of the town might rise in defence of the wealthy sisterhood to whom they were beholden for much benevolence and kind care.

Opposition from the town-senate was also to be looked for, since the deceased Mukaukas had pronounced this measure unjust and detrimental to the common welfare. The evicted orthodox nuns were to be taken into various Jacobite convents as lay sisters similar cases had already been known; but the abbess, whose superior intellect, high rank, and far- reaching influence might, if she were left free to act, easily rouse the prelates of the East to oppose Benjamin, was to be conveyed to a remote convent in Ethiopia, whence no flight or return was possible.

Katharina's report took but few minutes, and she gave it with apparent indifference; what could the suppression of an orthodox cloister, and the dispersion of its heretic sisterhood, matter to her, or to Orion, whose brothers had fallen victims to Melchite fanaticism? Orion did not betray his deep interest in all he heard, and when at length Katharina rose and pointed feebly to the door, all she said, as though she were vexed at

The Bride of the Nile, Volume 7. - 6/9

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