The Bride of the Nile, Complete, by Georg Ebers

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The Bride of the Nile, Complete
Georg Ebers
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Title: The Bride of the Nile, Complete
Author: Georg Ebers
Release Date: November 15, 2004 [EBook #5529]
Language: English
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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE BRIDE OF THE NILE, COMPLETE ***
Produced by David Widger
THE BRIDE OF THE NILE
By Georg Ebers
Volume 1.
Translated from the German by Clara Bell
PREFACE.
The “Bride of the Nile” needs no preface. For the professional student I
may observe that I have relied on the authority of de Goeje in adhering
to my own original opinion that the word Mukaukas is not to be regarded
as a name but as a title, since the Arab writers to which I have made
reference apply it to the responsible representatives of the Byzantine
Emperor in antagonism to the Moslem power. I was unfortunately unable to
make further use of Karabacek’s researches as to the Mukaukas.I shall not be held justified in placing the ancient Horus Apollo
(Horapollo) in the seventh century after Christ by any one who regards
the author of the Hieroglyphica as identical with the Egyptian
philosopher of the same name who, according to Suidas, lived under
Theodosius, and to whom Stephanus of Byzantium refers, writing so early
as at the end of the fifth century. But the lexicographer Suidas
enumerates the works of Horapollo, the philologer and commentator on
Greek poetry, without naming the Hieroglyphica, which is the only
treatise alluded to by Stephanus. Besides, all the other ancient writers
who mention Horapollo at all leave us quite free to suppose that there
may have been two sages of the same name–as does C. Leemans, who is most
intimately versed in the Hieroglyphica–and the second certainly cannot
have lived earlier than the VIIth century, since an accurate knowledge of
hieroglyphic writing must have been lost far more completely in his time
than we can suppose possible in the IVth century. It must be remembered
that we still possess well-executed hieroglyphic inscriptions dating from
the time of Decius, 250 years after Christ. Thus the Egyptian commentator
on Greek poetry could hardly have needed a translator, whereas the
Hieroglyphica seems to have been first rendered into Greek by Philippus.
The combination by which the author called in Egyptian Horus (the son of
Isis) is supposed to have been born in Philae, where the cultus of the
Egyptian heathen was longest practised, and where some familiarity with
hieroglyphics must have been preserved to a late date, takes into due
account the real state of affairs at the period I have selected for my
story.
GEORG EBERS.
October 1st, 1886.
CHAPTER I.
Half a lustrum had elapsed since Egypt had become subject to the youthful
power of the Arabs, which had risen with such unexampled vigor and
rapidity. It had fallen an easy prey, cheaply bought, into the hands of a
small, well-captained troop of Moslem warriors; and the fair province,
which so lately had been a jewel of the Byzantine Empire and the most
faithful foster-mother to Christianity, now owned the sway of the Khalif
Omar and saw the Crescent raised by the side of the Cross.
It was long since a hotter season had afflicted the land; and the Nile,
whose rising had been watched for on the Night of Dropping–the 17th of
June–with the usual festive preparations, had cheated the hopes of the
Egyptians, and instead of rising had shrunk narrower and still narrower
in its bed.–It was in this time of sore anxiety, on the 10th of July,
A.D. 643, that a caravan from the North reached Memphis.
It was but a small one; but its appearance in the decayed and deserted
city of the Pyramids–which had grown only lengthwise, like a huge
reed-leaf, since its breadth was confined between the Nile and the Libyan
Hills–attracted the gaze of the passers-by, though in former years a
Memphite would scarcely have thought it worth while to turn his head to
gaze at an interminable pile of wagons loaded with merchandise, an
imposing train of vehicles drawn by oxen, the flashing maniples of the
imperial cavalry, or an endless procession wending its way down the five
miles of high street.The merchant who, riding a dromedary of the choicest breed, conducted
this caravan, was a lean Moslem of mature age, robed in soft silk. A vast
turban covered his small head and cast a shadow over his delicate and
venerable features.
The Egyptian guide who rode on a brisk little ass by his side, looked up
frequently and with evident pleasure at the merchant’s face–not in
itself a handsome one with its hollow cheeks, meagre beard and large
aquiline nose–for it was lighted up by a pair of bright eyes, full of
attractive thoughtfulness and genuine kindness. But that this
fragile-looking man, in whose benevolent countenance grief and
infirmities had graven many a furrow, could not only command but compel
submission was legible alike in his thin, firmly-closed lips and in the
zeal with which his following of truculent and bearded fighting men,
armed to the teeth, obeyed his slightest sign.
His Egyptian attendant, the head of the Hermeneutai–the guild of the
Dragomans of that period–was a swarthy and surly native of Memphis;
whenever he accidentally came too close to the fierce-looking riders of
the dromedaries he shrunk his shoulders as if he expected a blow or a
push, while he poured out question and answer to the Merchant Haschim,
the owner of the caravan, without timidity and with the voluble garrulity
of his tribe.
“You seem very much at home here in Memphis,” he observed, when the old
man had expressed his surprise at the decadence and melancholy change in
the city.
“Thirty years ago,” replied the merchant, “my business often brought me
hither. How many houses are now empty and in ruins where formerly only
heavy coin could secure admittance! Ruins on all sides!–Who has so
cruelly mutilated that fine church? My fellow-believers left every
Christian fane untouched–that I know from our chief Amru himself.”
“It was the principal church of the Melchites, the Emperor’s minions,”
cried the guide, as if that were ample explanation of the fact. The
merchant, however, did not take it so.
“Well,” he said, “and what is there so dreadful in their creed?”
“What?” said the Egyptian, and his eye flashed wrathfully. “What?–They
dismember the divine person of the Saviour and attribute to it two
distinct natures. And then!–All the Greeks settled here, and encouraged
by the protection of the emperor, treated us, the owners of the land,
like slaves, till your nation came to put an end to their oppression.
They drove us by force into their churches, and every true-born Egyptian
was punished as a rebel and a leper. They mocked at us and persecuted us
for our faith in the one divine nature of our Lord.”
“And so,” interrupted the merchant, “as soon as we drove out the Greeks
you behaved more unmercifully to them and their sanctuaries than we–whom
you scorn as infidels–did to you!”
“Mercy?–for them!” cried the Egyptian indignantly, as he cast an evil
eye on the demolished edifice. “They have reaped what they sowed; and now
every one in Egypt who does not believe in your One God–blessed be the
Saviour!–confesses the one sole nature of our Lord Jesus Christ. You
drove out the Melchite rabble, and then it was our part to demolish the
temples of their wretched Saviour, who lost His divine Unity at the synodof Chalcedon–damnation wait upon it!”
“But still the Melchites are fellow-believers with you–they are
Christians,” said the merchant.
“Christians?” echoed the guide with a contemptuous shrug. “They may
regard themselves as Christians; but I, with every one else great and
small in this land, am of opinion that they have no right whatever to
call themselves our fellow-believers and Christians. They all are and
shall be for ever accursed with their hundreds–nay thousands of devilish
heresies, by which they degrade our God and Redeemer to the level of that
idol on the stone pillar. Half a cow and half a man! Why, what rational
being, I ask you, could pray to such a mongrel thing? We Jacobites or
Monophysites or whatever they choose to call us will not yield a jot or
tittle of the divine nature of our Lord and Saviour; and if the old faith
must die out, I will turn Moslem and be converted to your One Omnipotent
God; for before I confess the heresies of the Melchites I will be hewn in
pieces, and my wife and children with me. Who knows what may be coming to
pass? And there are many advantages in going over to your side: for the
power is in your hands, and long may you keep it! We have got to be ruled
by strangers; and who would not rather pay small tribute to the wise and
healthy Khalif at Medina than a heavy one to the sickly imperial brood of
Melchites at Constantinople. The Mukaukas George, to be sure, is not a
bad sort of man, and as he so soon gave up all idea of resisting you he
was no doubt of my opinion. Regarding you as just and pious folks, as our
next neighbors, and perhaps even of our own race and blood, he preferred
you–my brother told me so–to those Byzantine heretics, flayers of men
and thirsting for blood, but yet, the Mukaukas is as good a Christian as
breathes.”
The Arab had listened attentively and with a subtle smile to the
Memphite, whose duties as guide now compelled him to break off. The
Egyptian made the whole caravan turn down an alley that led into a street
running parallel to the river, where a few fine houses still stood in the
midst of their gardens. When men and beasts were making their way along a
better pavement the merchant observed: “I knew the father of the man you
were speaking of, very well. He was wealthy and virtuous; of his son too
I hear nothing but good. But is he still allowed to bear the title of
governor, or, what did you call him?–Mukaukas?”
“Certainly, Master,” said the guide. “There is no older family than his
in all Egypt, and if old Menas was rich the Mukaukas is richer, both by
inheritance and by his wife’s dower. Nor could we wish for a more
sensible or a juster governor! He keeps his eye on his underlings too;
still, business is not done now as briskly as formerly, for though he is
not much older than I am–and I am not yet sixty–he is always ailing and
has not been seen out of the house for months. Even when your chief wants
to see him he comes over to this side of the river. It is a pity with
such a man as he; and who was it that broke down his stalwart strength?
Why, those Melchite dogs; you may ask all along the Nile, long as it is,
who was at the bottom of any misfortune, and you will always get the same
answer: Wherever the Melchite or the Greek sets foot the grass refuses to
grow.”
“But the Mukaukas, the emperor’s representative . . . the Arab began. The
Egyptian broke in however:
“He, you think, must be safe from them? They did not certainly injure his
person; but they did worse, for when the Melchites rose up against ourparty–it was at Alexandria, and the late Greek patriarch Cyrus had a
finger in that pie–they killed his two sons, two fine, splendid
men–killed them like dogs; and it crushed him completely.”
“Poor man!” sighed the Arab. “And has he no child left?”
“Oh, yes. One son, and the widow of his eldest. She went into a convent
after her husband’s death, but she left her child, her little Mary–she
must be ten years old now–to live with her grandparents.”
“That is well,” said the old man, “that will bring some sunshine into the
house.”
“No doubt, Master. And just lately they have had some cause for
rejoicing. The only surviving son–Orion is his name–came home only the
day before yesterday from Constantinople where he has been for a long
time. There was a to-do! Half the city went crazy. Thousands went out to
meet him, as though he were the Saviour; they erected triumphal arches,
even folks of my creed–no one thought of hanging back. One and all
wanted to see the son of the great Mukaukas, and the women of course were
first and foremost!”
“You speak, however,” said the Arab, “as though the returning hero were
not worthy of so much honor.”
“That is as folks think,” replied the Egyptian shrugging his shoulders.
“At any rate he is the only son of the greatest man in the land.”
“But he does not promise to be like the old man?”
“Oh, yes, indeed,” said the guide. “My brother, a priest, and the head of
one of our great schools, was his tutor, and he never met such a clever
head as Orion’s, he tells me. He learnt everything without any trouble
and at the same time worked as hard as a poor man’s son. We may expect
him to win fame and honor–so Marcus says–for his parents and for the
city of Memphis: but for my part, I can see the shady side, and I tell
you the women will turn his head and bring him to a bad end. He is
handsome, taller even than the old man in his best days, and he knows how
to make the most of himself when he meets a pretty face–and pretty faces
are always to be met in his path . . .”
“And the young rascal takes what he finds!” said the Moslem laughing. “If
that is all you are alarmed at I am glad for the youth. He is young and
such things are allowable.”
“Nay, Sir, even my brother–he lives now in Alexandria, and is blind and
foolish enough still in all that concerns his former pupil–and even he
thinks this is a dangerous rock ahead. If he does not change in this
respect he will wander further and further from the law of the Lord, and
imperil his soul, for dangers surround him on all sides like roaring
lions. The noble gifts of a handsome and engaging person will lead him to
his ruin; and though I do not desire it, I suspect. . . .”
“You look on the dark side and judge hardly,” replied the old man. “The
young. . . .”
“Even the young, or at least the Christian young, ought to control
themselves, though I, if any one, am inclined to make the utmost
allowance for the handsome lad–nay, and I may confess: when he smiles atme I feel at once as if I had met with some good-luck; and there are a
thousand other men in Memphis who feel the same, and still more the women
you may be sure–but many a one has shed bitter tears on his account for
all that.–But, by all the saints!–Talk of the wolf and you see his
tail! Look, there he is!–Halt! Stop a minute, you men; it is worth
while, Sir, to tarry a moment.”
“Is that his fine quadriga in front of the high garden gate yonder?”
“Those are the Pannonian horses he brought with him, as swift as
lightning and as. . . . But look! Ah, now they have disappeared behind the
hedge; but you, high up on your dromedary, must be able to see them. The
little maid by his side is the widow Susannah’s daughter. This garden and
the beautiful mansion behind the trees belong to her.”
“A very handsome property!” said the Arab.
“I should think so indeed!” replied the Memphite. “The garden goes down
to the Nile, and then, what care is taken of it!”
“Was it not here that Philommon the corn-merchant lived formerly?” asked
the old man, as though some memories were coming back to him.
“To be sure. He was Susannah’s husband and must have been a man of fifty
when he first wooed her. The little girl is their only child and the
richest heiress in the whole province; but she is not altogether grown up
though she is sixteen years old–an old man’s child, you understand, but
a pretty, merry creature, a laughing dove in human form, and so quick and
lively. Her own people call her the little water-wagtail.”
“Good!–Good and very appropriate,” said the merchant well pleased. “She
is small too, a child rather than a maiden; but the graceful, gladsome
creature takes my fancy. And the governor’s son–what is his name?”
“Orion, Sir,” replied the guide.
“And by my beard,” said the old man smiling. “You have not over-praised
him, man! Such a youth as this Orion is not to be seen every day. What a
tall fellow, and how becoming are those brown curls. Such as he are
spoilt to begin with by their mothers, and then all the other women
follow suit. And he has a frank, shrewd face with something behind it. If
only he had left his purple coat and gold frippery in Constantinople!
Such finery is out of place in this dismal ruinous city.”
While he was yet speaking the Memphite urged his ass forward, but the
Arab held him back, for his attention was riveted by what was taking
place within the enclosure. He saw handsome Orion place a small white
dog, a silky creature of great beauty that evidently belonged to him–in
the little maiden’s arms saw her kiss it and then put a blade of grass
round its neck as if to measure its size. The old man watched them as,
both laughing gaily, they looked into each other’s eyes and presently bid
each other farewell. The girl stood on tiptoe in front of some rare shrub
to reach two exquisite purple flowers that blossomed at the top, hastily
plucked them and offered them to him with a deep blush; she pushed away
the hand he had put out to support her as she stretched up for the
flowers with a saucy slap; and a bright glance of happiness lighted up
her sweet face as the young man kissed the place her fingers had hit, and
then pressed the flowers to his lips. The old man looked on with
sympathetic pleasure, as though it roused the sweetest memories in hismind; and his kind eyes shone as Orion, no less mischievously happy than
the young girl, whispered something in her ear; she drew the long stem of
grass out of her waist-belt to administer immediate and condign
punishment withal, struck it across his face, and then fled over
grass-plot and flower-bed, as swift as a roe, without heeding his
repeated shouts of “Katharina! bewitching, big damsel, Katharina!” till
she reached the house.
It was a charming little interlude. Old Haschim was still pondering it in
his memory with much satisfaction when he and his caravan had gone some
distance further. He felt obliged to Orion for this pretty scene, and
when he heard the young man’s quadriga approaching at an easy trot behind
him, he turned round to gaze. But the Arab’s face had lost its
contentment by the time the four Pannonians and the chariot, overlaid
with silver ornamentation and forming, with its driver, a picture of rare
beauty and in perfect taste, had slowly driven past, to fly on like the
wind as soon as the road was clear, and to vanish presently in clouds of
dust. There was something of melancholy in his voice as he desired his
young camel-driver to pick up the flowers, which now lay in the dust of
the road, and to bring them to him. He himself had observed the handsome
youth as, with a glance and a gesture of annoyance with himself, he flung
the innocent gift on the hot, sandy highway.
“Your brother is right,” cried the old man to the Memphite. “Women are
indeed the rock ahead in this young fellow’s life–and he in theirs, I
fear! Poor little girl!”
“The little water-wagtail do you mean? Oh! with her it may perhaps turn
to real earnest. The two mothers have settled the matter already. They
are both rolling in gold, and where doves nest doves resort.–Thank God,
the sun is low down over the Pyramids! Let your people rest at the large
inn yonder; the host is an honest man and lacks nothing, not even shade!”
“So far as the beasts and drivers are concerned,” said the merchant,
“they may stop here. But I, and the leader of the caravan, and some of my
men will only take some refreshment, and then you must guide us to the
governor; I have to speak with him. It is growing late. . .”
“That does not matter,” said the Egyptian. “The Mukaukas prefers to see
strangers after sundown on such a scorching day. If you have any dealings
with him I am the very man for you. You have only to make play with a
gold piece and I can obtain you an audience at once through Sebek, the
house-steward he is my cousin. While you are resting here I will ride on
to the governor’s palace and bring you word as to how matters stand.”
CHAPTER II.
The caravansary into which Haschim and his following now turned off stood
on a plot of rising ground surrounded by palm-trees. Before the
destruction of the heathen sanctuaries it had been a temple of Imhotep,
the Egyptian Esculapius, the beneficient god of healing, who had had his
places of special worship even in the city of the dead. It was half
relined, half buried in desert sand when an enterprising inn-keeper had
bought the elegant structure with the adjacent grove for a very moderate
sum. Since then it had passed to various owners, a large wooden building
for the accommodation of travellers had been added to the massiveedifice, and among the palm-trees, which extended as far as the
ill-repaired quay, stables were erected and plots of ground fenced in for
beasts of all kinds. The whole place looked like a cattle-fair, and
indeed it was a great resort of the butchers and horse-dealers of the
town, who came there to purchase. The palm-grove, being one of the few
remaining close to the city, also served the Memphites as a
pleasure-ground where they could “sniff fresh air” and treat themselves
in a pleasant shade. ‘Tables and seats had been set out close to the
river, and there were boats on hire in mine host’s little creek; and
those who took their pleasure in coming thither by water were glad to put
in and refresh themselves under the palms of Nesptah.
Two rows of houses had formerly divided this rendezvous for the sober and
the reckless from the highroad, but they had long since been pulled down
and laid level with the ground by successive landlords. Even now some
hundreds of laborers might be seen, in spite of the scorching heat,
toiling under Arab overseers to demolish a vast ruin of the date of the
Ptolemies. and transporting the huge blocks of limestone and marble, and
the numberless columns which once had supported the roof of the temple of
Zeus, to the eastern shore of the Nile-loading them on to trucks drawn by
oxen which hauled them down to the quay to cross the river in
flat-bottomed boats.
Amru, the Khaliff’s general and representative, was there building his
new capital. For this the temples of the old gods were used as quarries,
and they supplied not only finely-squared blocks of the most durable
stone, but also myriads of Greek columns of every order, which had only
to be ferried over and set up again on the other shore; for the Arabs
disdained nothing in the way of materials, and made indiscriminate use of
blocks and pillars in their own sanctuaries, whether they took them from
heathen temples or Christian churches.
The walls of the temple of Imhotep had originally been completely covered
with pictures of the gods, and hieroglyphic inscriptions; but the smoke
of reeking hearths had long since blackened them, fanatical hands had
never been wanting to deface them, and in many places they had been
lime-washed and scrawled with Christian symbols or very unchristian
mottoes, in Greek and the spoken dialect of the Egyptians. The Arab and
his men took their meal in what had been the great hall of the
temple–none of them drinking wine excepting the captain of the caravan,
who was no Moslem but belonged to the Parsee sect of the Masdakites.
When the old merchant, sitting at a table by himself, had satisfied his
hunger, he called this chief and desired him to load the bale containing
the hanging on a litter between the two largest baggage camels, and to
fasten it securely but so that it could easily be removed.
“It is done,” replied the Persian, as he wiped his thick moustache–he
was a magnificent man as tall and stalwart as an oak, with light flowing
hair like a lion’s mane.
“So much the better,” said Haschim. “Then come out with me.” And he led
the way to the palmgrove.
The sun had sunk to rest behind the pyramids, the Necropolis, and the
Libyan hills; the eastern sky, and the bare limestone rock of Babylon on
the opposite shore were shining with hues of indescribable diversity and
beauty. It seemed as though every variety of rose reared by the skilled
gardeners of Arsinoe or Naukratis had yielded its hues, from golden buffto crimson and the deepest wine-tinted violet, to shed their magic glow
on the plains, the peaks and gorges of the hills, with the swiftness of
thought.
The old man’s heart beat high as he gazed at the scene; he drew a deep
breath, and laying his slender hand on the Persian’s mighty arm he said:
“Your prophet, Masdak, taught that it was God’s will that no one should
think himself more or less chosen than another, and that there should be
neither rich nor poor on earth, but that every possession should belong
to all in common. Well, look around you here as I do. The man who has not
seen this has seen nothing. There is no fairer scene here below and to
whom does it belong? To poor simple Salech yonder, whom we allowed to
tramp half naked at our camels’ heels out of pity.–It is his as much as
it is yours or mine or the Khaliff’s. God has given us all an equal share
in the glory of his works, as your prophet would have it. How much beauty
is the common possession of our race! Let us be thankful for it, Rustem,
for indeed it is no small matter.–But as to property, such as man may
win or lose, that is quite a different matter. We all start on the same
race-course, and what you Masdakites ask is that lead should be tied to
the feet of the swift so that no one should outstrip another; but that
would be. . . . Well, well! Let us feast our eyes now on the marvellous
beauty before us. Look: What just now was the purple of this flower is
now deep ruby red; what before was a violet gleam now is the richest
amethyst. Do you see the golden fringe to those clouds? It is like a
setting.–And all this is ours–is yours and mine–so long as we have
eyes and heart to enjoy and be uplifted by it!”
The Masdakite laughed, a fresh, sonorous laugh, and said: “Yes, Master,
for those who see as you see. The colors are bright no doubt over the sky
and the hills, and we do not often see such a red as that at home in my
country; but of what use is all that magic show? You see rubies and
amethysts–but as for me! The gems in your hanging stand for something
more than that shining show. I mean no harm, Master, but I would give all
the sunsets that ever glowed on earth for your bales and never repent of
the bargain!” He laughed more heartily than before and added: “But you,
worthy Father, would think twice before you signed it.–As to what we
Masdakites hope for, our time is not yet come.”
“And suppose it were, and that the hanging were yours?”
“I should sell it and add the price to my savings, and go home and buy
some land, and take a pretty wife, and breed camels and horses.”
“And next day would come the poorer men who had laid nothing by, and had
made no bargain over hangings and sunsets; and they would ask for a share
of your land, and a camel and a foal each, and you would not be able ever
to see a sunset again but must wander about the world, and your pretty
wife with you to help you share everything with others.–Let us abide by
the old order, my Rustem, and may the Most High preserve you your good
heart, for you have but a foolish and crotchety head.”
The big man bent over his master and gratefully kissed his arm; at this
moment the guide rejoined them, but with a long face for he had promised
more than he could perform. The Mukaukas George had set out–a quite
unheard of event–for an excursion on the river in his barge, with his
son and the ladies of the house just as he was hoping to secure an
audience for the Arab. Orion’s return–the steward had explained–had
made the old man quite young again. Haschim must now wait till the
morrow, and he, the guide, would counsel him to pass the night in thecity at an inn kept by one Moschion, where he would be well cared for.
But the merchant preferred to remain where he was. He did not care about
the delay, more particularly as he wished to consult an Egyptian
physician with regard to an old standing complaint he suffered from, and
there was no more skilful or learned leech in the whole land, the
Egyptian guide assured him, than the famous Philip of Memphis. The
situation here, outside the town, was very pleasant, and from the river’s
bank he might observe the comet which had been visible for some nights
past–a portent of evil no doubt. The natives of the city had been
paralysed with terror; that indeed was evident even here in Nesptah’s
caravansary, for usually as the evening grew cool, the tables and benches
under the palms were crowded with guests; but who would care to think of
enjoyment in those days of dread?
So he remounted his ass to fetch the physician, while old Haschim,
leaning on the Masdakite’s arm, betook himself to a bench by the river.
There he sat gazing thoughtfully at the starry sky, and his companion
dreamed of home and of buying a meadow, even without the price of the
gorgeous hanging, of building a house, and of choosing a pretty little
wife to manage it. Should she be fair or dark? He would rather she should
be fair.
But his castle in the air was shattered at this point, for an object was
approaching across the Nile which attracted his attention, and which he
pointed out to his chief. The stream lay before them like a broad belt of
black and silver brocade. The waxing moon was mirrored in the almost
unruffled surface and where a ripple curled it the tiny crest glittered
like white flame. Bats swooped to and fro in the gloom from the city of
the dead to the river, and flitted above it like shadows blown about by
the wind. A few lateen sails moved like pale, gigantic birds over the
dark waters; but now from the north–and from the city–a larger mass
came towards the palm-grove with bright, gleaming eyes of light.
“A fine boat,–the governor’s no doubt,” said the merchant, as it slowly
came towards the grove from the middle of the stream. At the same time
the clatter of hoofs became audible from the road behind the inn. Haschim
turned round and was aware of torchbearers running ahead of a chariot.
“The sick man has come so far by water,” said the Arab, “and now, he is
to be driven home.–Strange! this is the second time to-day that I have
met his much-talked-of son!”
The governor’s pleasure-barge was nearing the palm-grove. It was a large
and handsome boat, built of cedar-wood and richly gilt, with an image of
John, the patron-saint of the family, for a figure-head. The nimbus round
the head was a crown of lamps, and large lanterns shone both at the bows
and stern of the vessel. The Mukaukas George was reclining under an
awning, his wife Neforis by his side. Opposite to them sat their son and
a tall young girl, at whose feet a child of ten sat on the ground,
leaning her pretty head against her knees. An older Greek woman, the
child’s governess, had a place by the side of a very tall man, on an
ottoman beyond the verge of the awning. This man was Philip the leech.
The cheerful sound of the lute accompanied the barge, and the performer
was the returned wanderer Orion, who touched the strings with skill and
deep feeling.
It was altogether a pleasing scene–a fair picture of a wealthy and
united family. But who was the damsel sitting by Orion’s side? He wasdevoting his whole attention to her; as he struck the strings with deeper
emphasis his eyes sought hers, and it seemed as though he were playing
for her alone. Nor did she appear unworthy of such homage, for when the
barge ran into the little haven and Haschim could distinguish her
features he was startled by her noble and purely Greek beauty.
A few handsomely-dressed slaves, who must have come with the vehicle by
the road, now went on board the boat to carry their invalid lord to his
chariot; and it then became apparent that the seat in which he reclined
was provided with arms by which it could be lifted and moved. A burly
negro took this at the back, but just as another was stooping to lift it
in front Orion pushed him away and took his place, raised the couch with
his father on it, and carried him across the landing-stage between the
deck and the shore, past Haschim to the chariot. The young man did the
work of bearer with cheerful ease, and looked affectionately at his
father while he shouted to the ladies–for only his mother and the
physician accompanied the invalid after carefully wrapping him in
shawls–to get out of the barge and wait for him. Then he went forward,
lighted by the torches which were carried before them.
“Poor man!” thought the merchant as he looked after the Mukaukas. “But to
a man who has such a son to carry him the saddest and hardest lot floats
by like a cloud before the wind.”
He was now ready to forgive Orion even the rejected flowers; and when the
young girl stepped on shore, the child clinging fondly to her arm, he
confessed to himself that Dame Susannah’s little daughter would find it
hard indeed to hold her own by the side of this tall and royal vision of
beauty. What a form was this maiden’s, and what princely bearing; and how
sweet and engaging the voice in which she named some of the
constellations to her little companion, and pointed out the comet which
was just rising!
Haschim was sitting in shadow; he could see without being seen, and note
all that took place on the bench, which was lighted by one of the barge’s
lanterns. The unexpected entertainment gave him pleasure, for everything
that affected the governor’s son roused his sympathy and interest. The
idea of forming an opinion of this remarkable young man smiled on his
fancy, and the sight of the beautiful girl who sat on the bench yonder
warmed his old heart. The child must certainly be Mary, the governor’s
granddaughter.
Then the chariot started off, clattering away down the road, and in a few
minutes Orion came back to the rest of the party.
Alas! Poor little heiress of Susannah’s wealth! How different was his
demeanor to this beautiful damsel from his treatment of that little
thing! His eyes rested on her face in rapture, his speech failed him now
and again as he addressed her, and what he said must be sometimes grave
and captivating and sometimes witty, for not she alone but the little
maid’s governess listened to him eagerly, and when the fair one laughed
it was in particularly sweet, clear tones. There was something so lofty
in her mien that this frank expression of contentment was almost
startling; like a breath of perfume from some gorgeous flower which seems
created to rejoice the eye only. And she, to whom all that Orion had to
say was addressed, listened to him not only with deep attention, but in a
way which showed the merchant that she cared even more for the speaker
than for what he was so eager in expressing. If this maiden wedded the
governor’s son, they would indeed be a pair! Taus, the innkeeper’s wife,now came out, a buxom and vigorous Egyptian woman of middle age, carrying
some of the puffs for which she was famous, and which she had just made
with her own hands. She also served them with milk, grapes and other
fruit, her eyes sparkling with delight and gratified ambition; for the
son of the great Mukaukas, the pride of the city, who in former years had
often been her visitor, and not only for the sake of her cakes, in water
parties with his gay companions–mostly Greek officers who now were all
dead and gone or exiles from the country–now did her the honor to come
here so soon after his return. Her facile tongue knew no pause as she
told him that she and her husband had gone forth with the rest to welcome
him at the triumphal arch near Menes’ Gate, and Emau with them, and the
little one. Yes, Emau was married now, and had called her first child
Orion. And when the young man asked Dame Taus whether Emau was as
charming as ever and as like her mother as she used to be, she shook her
finger at him and asked in her turn, as she pointed towards the young
lady, whether the fickle bird at whose departure so many had sighed, was
to be caged at last, and whether yon fair lady. . . .
But Orion cut her short, saying that he was still his own master though
he already felt the noose round his neck; and the fair lady blushed even
more deeply than at the good woman’s first question. He however soon got
over his awkwardness and gaily declared that the worthy Taus’ little
daughter was one of the prettiest girls in Memphis, and had had quite as
many admirers as her excellent mother’s puff-pastry. Taus was to greet
her kindly from him.
The landlady departed, much touched and flattered; Orion took up his
lute, and while the ladies refreshed themselves he did the maiden’s
bidding and sang the song by Alcaeus which she asked for, in a rich
though subdued voice to the lute, playing it like a master. The young
girl’s eyes were fixed on his lips, and again, he seemed to be making
music for her alone. When it was time to start homewards, and the ladies
returned to the barge, he went up to the inn to pay the reckoning. As he
presently returned alone the Arab saw him pick up a handkerchief that the
young lady had left on the table, and hastily press it to his lips as he
went towards the barge.
The gorgeous red blossoms had fared worse in the morning. The young man’s
heart was given to that maiden on the water. She could not be his sister;
what then was the connection between them?
The merchant soon gained this information, for the guide on his return
could give it him. She was Paula, the daughter of Thomas, the famous
Greek general who had defended the city of Damascus so long and so
bravely against the armies of Islam. She was Mukaukas George’s niece, but
her fortune was small; she was a poor relation of the family, and after
her father’s disappearance–for his body had never been found–she had
been received into the governor’s house out of pity and charity–she, a
Melchite! The interpreter had little to say in her favor, by reason of
her sect; and though he could find no flaw in her beauty, he insisted on
it that she was proud and ungracious, and incapable of winning any man’s
love; only the child, little Mary–she, to be sure, was very fond of her.
It was no secret that even her uncle’s wife, worthy Neforis, did not care
for her haughty niece and only suffered her to please the invalid. And
what business had a Melchite at Memphis, under the roof of a good
Jacobite? Every word the dragoman spoke breathed the scorn which a mean
and narrow-minded man is always ready to heap on those who share the
kindness of his own benefactors.But this beautiful and lofty-looking daughter of a great man had
conquered the merchant’s old heart, and his opinion of her was quite
unmoved by the Memphite’s strictures. It was ere long confirmed indeed,
for Philip, the leech whom the guide had been to find, and whose
dignified personality inspired the Arab with confidence, was a daily
visitor to the governor, and he spoke of Paula as one of the most perfect
creatures that Heaven had ever formed in a happy hour. But the Almighty
seemed to have forgotten to care for his own masterpiece; for years her
life had been indeed a sad one.
The physician could promise the old man some mitigation of his
sufferings, and they liked each other so well that they parted the best
of friends, and not till a late hour.
CHAPTER III.
The Mukaukas’ barge, urged forward by powerful rowers, made its way
smoothly down the river. On board there was whispering, and now and again
singing. Little Mary had dropped asleep on Paula’s shoulder; the Greek
duenna gazed sometimes at the comet which filled her with terrors,
sometimes at Orion, whose handsome face had bewitched her mature heart,
and sometimes at the young girl whom she was ill-pleased to see thus
preferred by this favorite of the gods. It was a deliciously warm, still
night, and the moon, which makes the ocean swell and flow, stirs the tide
of feeling to rise in the human breast.
Whatever Paula asked for Orion sang, as though nothing was unknown to him
that had ever sounded on a Greek lute; and the longer they went on the
clearer and richer his voice grew, the more melting and seductive its
expression, and the more urgently it appealed to the young girl’s heart.
Paula gave herself up to the sweet enchantment, and when he laid down the
lute and asked in low tones if his native land was not lovely on such a
night as this, or which song she liked best, and whether she had any idea
of what it had been to him to find her in his parents’ house, she yielded
to the charm and answered him in whispers like his own.
Under the dense foliage of the sleeping garden he pressed her hand to his
lips, and she, tremulous, let him have his way.–Bitter, bitter years lay
behind her. The physician had spoken only too truly. The hardest blows of
fate had brought her–the proud daughter of a noble father–to a course
of cruel humiliations. The life of a friendless though not penniless
relation, taken into a wealthy house out of charity, had proved a thorny
path to tread, but now-since the day before yesterday–all was changed.
Orion had come. His home and the city had held high festival on his
return, as at some gift of Fortune, in which she too had a goodly share.
He had met her, not as the dependent relative, but as a beautiful and
high-born woman. There was sunshine in his presence which warmed her very
heart, and made her raise her head once more like a flower that is
brought out under the open sky after long privation of light and air. His
bright spirit and gladness of life refreshed her heart and brain; the
respect he paid her revived her crushed self-confidence and filled her
soul with fervent gratitude. Ah! and how delightful it was to feel that
she might be grateful, devotedly grateful.–And then, then this evening
had been hers, the sweetest, most blessed that she had known for years.
He had reminded her of what she had almost forgotten: that she was still
young, that she was still lovely, that she had a right to be happy, toenchant and be enchanted–perhaps even to love and to be loved.
Her hand was still conscious of his burning kiss as she entered the cool
room where the Lady Neforis sat awaiting the return of the party, turning
her spinning-wheel by the couch of her invalid husband who always went to
rest at late hours. It was with an overflowing heart that Paula raised
her uncle’s ha