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- The Bride of the Nile, Volume 8. - 4/12 -
at the window, saw her coming, and joyfully exclaiming: "There she is!" ran out.
But now again minute after minute passed, a quarter of an hour grew to half an hour, and still Orion was waiting in vain. Glad expectation had long since turned to impatience, impatience to a feeling of injured dignity, and this to annoyance and bitter vexation, when at last Pulcheria came back instead of Paula, and begged him from Paula to join her in the garden.
She had been detained too long at the convent. The terrible rumor had scared the pious sisters out of their wonted peace and put them all into confusion, like smoke blown into a bee-hive. The first thing was to pack their most valuable possessions; and although Orion had expressly said only a small number of cases and bags could be taken on board, one was for dragging her prayer-desk, another a large picture of some saint, a third a copper fish-kettle, and the fourth, fifth, and sixth the great reliquary with the bones of Ammonius the Martyr, to which the chapel owed its reputation for peculiar sanctity. To reduce this excess of baggage, the abbess had been obliged to exert all her energy and authority, and many a sister retired weeping over some dear but too bulky treasure.
The superior had therefore been unable to devote herself to Paula till this portable property had been under review. Then the damsel had been admitted to her parlor, a room furnished with rich and elegant simplicity, and there she had been allowed to pour out her whole heart to warm and sympathetic ears.
Any one who could have seen these two together might have thought that this was a daughter in grief seeking counsel on her mother's breast. In her youth the grey-haired abbess must have been very like Thomas' daughter; but the lofty and yet graceful mien of the younger woman had changed in the matron to majestic and condescending dignity, and it was impossible to guess from her defiantly set mouth that it had once been the chief charm of her face.
As she listened to the girl's outpourings the expression of her calm eyes changed frequently; when her soul was fired by fanatical zeal they could gleam brightly; but now she was listening to a variety of experiences, for Paula regarded this interview as a solemn confession, and concealed nothing from the friend who was both mother and priest-neither of what had happened to her in external circumstances, nor of what had moved her heart and mind ever since she had first entered the house of the Mtikaukas. Not a corner of her soul did she leave unsearched; she neither concealed nor palliated anything; and when she described her lover's strenuous efforts to apprehend the whole seriousness of life, her love and enthusiasm fairly carried her away, making his image shine all the more brightly by comparison with the brief, but dark shadow, that had fallen upon it. When Paula had at last ended her confession, the superior had remained silent for some time; then drawing the girl to her, she had affectionately asked her:
"And now? Now, tell me truly, does not the passion that has such wonderful power over you prompt and urge your inmost soul to yield--to fly to the embrace of the man you love--to give all up for him and say: 'Here I am--I am yours! Call a priest to bless our union!--Is it not so--am I not right?'"
Paula, deeply blushing, bowed assent; but the old woman drew her head on to her motherly bosom, and went on thoughtfully:
"I saw him drive past in his quadriga, and was reminded of many a noble statue of the heathen Greeks. Beauty, rank, wealth, aye--and talents and intellect--all that could ruin the heart of a Paula are his, and she--I see it plainly--will give it to him gladly."
And again the maiden bowed her head. The abbess sighed, and went on as though she had with difficulty succeeded in submitting to the inevitable "Then all warning would be in vain.--Still, he is not of our confession, he...."
"But how highly he esteems it!" cried Paula. "That he proves by risking his freedom and life for you and your household."
"Say rather for you whom he loves," replied the other. "But putting that out of the question, it pains me deeply to think of Thomas' daughter as the wife of a Jacobite. You will not, I know, give him up; and the Father of Love often leads true love to good ends by wonderful ways, even though they are ways of error, passing through pitfalls and abysses."
Paula fell on her neck to kiss her gratefully: but the abbess could only allow the girl a few minutes to enjoy her happiness. She desired her to sit down by her side, and holding Paula's hand in both her own, she spoke to her in a tone of calm deliberation. She and her sisterhood, she began by saying, were deeply indebted to Orion. She had no dearer wish than that Paula should find the greatest earthly happiness in her marriage; still, it was her part to tender advice, and she dared not blind herself to the dangers which threatened this happiness. She herself had a long life behind her of varied experience, in which she had seen hundreds of young men who had been given up as lost sinners by father and mother-- lost to the Church and to all goodness--and among these many a one, like Saul, had had his journey to Damascus. A turning point had come to them, and the outcast sons had become excellent and pious men.
Paula, as she listened, had drawn closer to the speaker, and her eyes beamed with joy; but the elder woman shook her head, and her gaze grew more devout and rapt, as she went on with deep solemnity:
"But then, my child, in all of these Grace had done its perfect work; the miracle was accomplished which we term regeneration. They were still the same men in the flesh and in the elements of their sensible nature, but their relation to the world and to life was altogether new. All that they had formerly thought desirable they could now hate; what they had deemed important was now worthless, and the worthless precious in their eyes; whereas they once referred everything to their own desires, they now referred all to God and His will. Their impulses were the same as of old, but they kept them within bounds by a never-sleeping consciousness that they led, not to joys, but to everlasting punishment. These regenerate souls learned to contemn the world, and instead of gazing down at the dust their eyes were fixed upwards on Heaven. If either of them tottered, his whole 'new man' prompted him to recover his balance before he fell to the ground.--But Orion! Your lover? His guilt seems to have passed over him; he hopes for reunion with God from a more meritorious life in the world. Not only is his nature unaltered, but his attitude with regard to life and to the joys it offers to the children of this world. Earthly love is spurring him on to strive for what is noble and great and he earnestly seeks to attain it; but he will fall over every stone that the devil casts in his path, and find it hard to pick himself up again, for misfortune has not led him to the new birth or the new life in God. Just such men have I seen, numbers of times, relapsing into the sins they had escaped from. Before we can entirely trust a man who has once--though but once-wandered so far from God's ways, while Grace has not yet worked effectually in him, we shall do well to watch his dealings and course for more than a few short days. If you still feel that you must follow the dictates of your heart, at any rate do not fly into your lover's open arms, do not abandon to him the pure sanctuary of your body and soul, do not be wholly his till he has been fully put to the proof."
"But I believe in him entirely!" cried Paula, with a flood of tears.
"You believe because you love him," replied the abbess.
"And because he deserves it."
"And how long has he deserved it?"
"Was he not a splendid man before his fall?"
"And so was many a murderer. Most criminals become outcasts from society in a single moment."
"But society still accepts Orion."
"Because he is the son of the Mukaukas."
"And because he wins all hearts !"
"Even that of the Almighty?"
"Oh! Mother, Mother! why do you measure him by the standard of your own sanctified soul? How few are the elect who find a share of the grace of which you speak!"
"But those who have sinned like him must strive for it."
"And he does so, Mother, in his way."
"It is the wrong way; wrong for those who have sinned as he has. All he strives for is worldly happiness."
"No, no. He is firm in his faith in God and the Saviour. He is not a liar."
"And yet he thinks he may escape the penalty?"
"And does not the Lord pardon true repentance?--He has repented; and how bitterly, how fearfully he has suffered!"
"Say rather that he has felt the stripes that his own sin brought upon him.--There are more to come; and how will he take them? Temptation lurks in every path, and how will he avoid it? As your mother, indeed it is my duty to warn you: Keep your passion and yourself still under control; continue to watch him, and grant him nothing--not the smallest favor, as you are a maiden, before he. . ."
"Till when; how long am I to be so basely on my guard?" sobbed Paula. "Is that love which trusts not and is not ready to share the lot even of the backslider?"
"Yes, child, yes," interrupted the old woman. "To suffer all things, to endure all things, is the duty of true love, and therefore of yours; but you must not allow the most indissoluble of all bonds to unite you to him till the back-slider has learnt to walk firmly. Follow him step by step, hold him up with faithful care, never despair of him if he seems other than what you had hoped. Make it your duty, pious soul, to render him worthy of grace--but do not be in a hurry to speak the final yes--do not say it yet."
Paula yielded, though unwillingly, to this last word of counsel; but, in fact, Orion's fault had filled the abbess with deep distrust. So great a sinner, under the blight, too, of a father's curse, ought, in her opinion, to have retired from the world and besieged Heaven for grace and a new birth, instead of seeking joys, such as she thought none but the most blameless--and, those of her own confession--could deserve, in union with so exceptional a creature as her beloved Paula. Indeed, having herself found peace for her soul only in the cloister, after a stormy and worldly youth, she would gladly have received the noble daughter of her old friend as the Bride of Christ within those walls, to be, perhaps, her successor as Mother Superior. She longed that her darling should be spared the sufferings she had known through the ruthlessness of faithless
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