The Bride of the Nile by Georg Ebers
Nilus had performed his errand well, and Rufinus was forced to admit that Orion had done his part and had planned the enterprise with so much care and unselfishness that his personal assistance could be dispensed with. Under these circumstances he scarcely owed the young man a grudge for placing himself at the service of his Byzantine friends; still, his not coming to the house disturbed and vexed him, less on his own account, or that of the good cause, than for Paula's sake, for her feelings towards Orion had remained no secret to him or his wife.
Dame Joanna, indeed, felt the young man's conduct more keenly than Rufinus; she would have been glad to withhold her husband from the enterprise, whose dangers now appeared to her frightened soul tenfold greater than they were. But she knew that the Nile would flow backwards before she could dissuade him from keeping his promise to the abbess, so she forced herself to preserve at any rate outward composure.
Before Paula, Rufinus declared that Orion was fully justified and he loudly praised the young man's liberality in providing the Nile-boat and the vessel for the sea-voyage, and such admirable substitutes for himself. Pulcheria was delighted with her father's undertaking; she only longed to go with him and help him to save her dear nuns. The ship-builder had brought with him, besides his sons, three other Greeks of the orthodox confession, shipwrights like himself, who were out of work in consequence of the low ebb of the Nile, which had greatly restricted the navigation. Hence they were glad to put a hand to such a good work, especially as it would be profitable, too, for Orion had provided the old man with ample funds.
As the evening grew cooler after sundown Paula had got better. She did not, indeed, know what to think of Orion's refusal to start. First she was grieved, then she rejoiced; for it certainly preserved him from great perils. In the early days after his return from Constantinople she had heard his praise of the senator's kindness and hospitality, in which the Mukaukas, who had pleasant memories of the capital, heartily joined. He must, of course, be glad to be able to assist those friends, of all others; and Nilus, who was respectfully devoted to her, had greeted her from Orion with peculiar warmth. He would come to-morrow, no doubt; and the oftener she repeated to herself his assertion that he had never betrayed affectionate trust, the more earnestly she felt prompted, in spite of the abbess' counsel, to abandon all hesitancy, to follow the impulse of her heart, and to be his at once in full and happy confidence.
The waning moon had not yet risen, and the night was very dark when the nuns set forth. The boat was too large to come close to the shore in the present low state of the river, and the sisters, disguised as peasant-women, had to be carried on board one by one from the convent garden. Last of all the abbess was to be lifted over the shallow water, and the old ship-builder held himself in readiness to perform this service. Joanna, Pulcheria, Perpetua, and Eudoxia, who was also zealously orthodox, were standing round as she gave Paula a parting kiss and whispered: "God bless thee, child!--All now depends on you, and you must be doubly careful to abide by your promise."
"I owe him, in the first place, friendly trust," was Paula's whispered reply, and the abbess answered: "But you owe yourself firmness and caution." Rufinus was the last; his wife and daughter clung around him still.
"Take example from that poor girl," cried the old man, clasping his wife in his arms. "As sure as man is the standard of all things, all must go well with me this time if everlasting Love is not napping. Till we meet again, best of good women!--And, if ill befalls your stupid old husband, always remember that he brought it upon himself in trying to save a quarter of a hundred innocent women from the worst misfortunes. At any rate I shall fall on the road I myself have chosen.--But why has Philippus not come to take leave of me?"
Dame Joanna burst into tears: "That-that is so hard too! What has come over him that he has deserted us, and just now of all times? Ah, husband! If you love me, take Gibbus with you on the voyage."
"Yes, master, take me," the hunchbacked gardener interposed. "The Nile will be rising again by the time we come back, and till then the flowers can die without my help. I dreamt last night that you picked a rose from the middle of my Bump. It stuck up there like the knob on the lid of a pot. There is some meaning in it and, if you leave me at home, what is the good of the rose--that is to say what good will you get out of me?"
"Well then, carry your strange flower-bed on board," said the old man laughing. "Now, are you satisfied Joanna?"
Once more he embraced her and Pulcheria and, as a tear from his wife's eyes dropped on his hand, he whispered in her ear: "You have been the rose of my life; and without you Eden--Paradise itself can have no joys."
The boat pushed out into the middle of the stream and was soon hidden by the darkness from the eyes of the women on the bank.
The convent bells were soon heard tolling after the fugitives: Paula and Pulcheria were pulling them. There was not a breath of air; not enough even to fill the small sail of the seaward-bound boat; but the rowers pulled with all their might and the vessel glided northward. The captain stood at the prow with his pole; sounding the current: his brother, no less skilled, took the helm.--The shallowness of the water made navigation very difficult, and those who knew the river best might easily run aground on unexpected shoals or newly-formed mud-drifts. The moon had scarcely risen when the boat was stranded at a short distance below Fostat, and the men had to go overboard to push it off to an accompaniment of loud singing which, as it were, welded their individual wills and efforts into one. Thus it was floated off again; but such delays were not unfrequent till they reached Letopolis, where the Nile forks, and where they hoped to steal past the toll-takers unobserved. Almost against their expectation, the large boat slipped through under the heavy mist which rises from the waters before sunrise, and the captain and crew, steering down the Phatmetic branch of the river with renewed spirit, ascribed their success to the intercession of the pious sisters.
By daylight it was easier to avoid the sand-banks; but how narrow was the water-way-at this season usually overflowing! The beds of papyrus on the banks now grew partly on dry land, and their rank green had faded to straw-color. The shifting ooze of the shore had hardened to stone, and the light west wind, which now rose and allowed of their hoisting the sail, swept clouds of white dust before it. In many cases the soil was deeply fissured and wide cracks ran across the black surface, yawning to heaven for water like thirsty throats. The water-wheels stood idle, far away from the stream, and the fields they were wont to irrigate looked like the threshing floors on which the crops they bore should be threshed out. The villages and palm-groves were shrouded in shimmering mist, quivering heat, and dazzling yellow light; and the passer-by on the raised dykes of the shore bent his head as he dragged his weary feet through the deep dust.
The sun blazed pitilessly in the cloudless sky, down on land and river, and on the fugitive nuns who had spread their white head-cloths above them for an awning and sat in dull lethargy, awaiting what might he before them.
The water-jar passed from hand to band; but the more they drank the more acute was their discomfort, and their longing for some other refreshment. At meal time the dishes were returned to the tiny cabin almost untouched. The abbess and Rufinus tried to speak comfort to them; but in the afternoon the superior herself was overpowered by the heat, and the air in the little cabin, to which she retired, was even less tolerable stuffy than on deck.
Thus passed a long day of torment, the hottest that even the men could remember; and they on the whole suffered least from it, though they toiled at the oar without ceasing and with wonderful endurance.
At length evening fell after those fearful midday hours; and as a cool breeze rose shortly before sunset to fan their moist brows, the hapless victims awoke to new energies. Their immediate torment had so crushed them that, incapable of anticipating the future, they had ceased either to fear or to hope; but now they could rejoice in thinking of the start they had gained over their pursuers. They were hungry and enjoyed their evening meal; the abbess made friends with the worthy ship-wright, and began an eager conversation with Rufinus as to Paula and Orion: Her wish that the young man should spend a time of probation did not at all please Rufinus; with such a wife as Paula, he could not fail to be at all times the noble fellow which his old friend held him to be in spite of his having remained at home.
The hump-backed gardener made the younger nuns merry with his jests, and after supper they all united in prayer.
Even the oarsmen had found new vigor and new life; and it was well that few of the Greek sisters understood Egyptian, for the more jovial of them started a song in praise of the charms of the maids they loved, which was not composed for women's ears.
The nuns chatted of those they had left behind, and many a one spoke of a happy meeting at home once more; but an elderly nun put a stop to this, saying that it was a sin to anticipate the ways of God's mercy, or, when His help was still so sorely needed, to speak as though He had already bestowed it. They could only tremble and pray, for they knew from experience that a threatening disaster never turned to a good end unless it had been expected with real dread.
Another one then began to speculate as to whether their pursuers could overtake them on foot or on horseback, and as it seemed only too probable that they could, their hearts sank again with anxiety. Ere long, however, the moon rose; the objects that loomed on the banks and were mirrored in the stream, were again clearly visible and lost their terrors.
The lower down they sailed, the denser were the thickets of papyrus on the shore. Thousands of birds were roosting there, but they were all asleep; a "dark ness that might be felt" brooded over the silent land scape. The image of the moon floated on the dark water, like a gigantic lotos-flower below the smaller, fragrant lotos-blossoms that it out-did in sheeny whiteness; the boat left a bright wake in its track, and every stroke of the oar broke the blackness of the water, which reflected the light in every drop. The moonlight played on the delicate tufts that crowned the slender papyrus-stems, filmy mist, like diaphanous brocade of violet and silver, veiled the trees; and owls that shun the day, flew from one branch to another on noiseless, rhythmic wings.
The magic of the night fell on the souls of the nuns; they ceased prattling; but when Sister Martha, the nightingale of the sisterhood, began to sing a hymn the others followed her example. The sailors' songs were hushed, and the psalms of the virgin sisters, imploring the protection of the Almighty, seemed to float round the gliding boat as softly as the light of the circling moon. For hours--and with increased zeal as the comet rose in the sky--they gave themselves up to the soothing and encouraging pleasure of singing; but one by one the voices died away and their peaceful hymn was borne down the river to the sea, by degrees more low, more weary, more dreamlike.
They sat looking in their laps, gazing in rapture up to heaven, or at the dazzling ripples and the lotos flowers on the surface. No one thought of the shore, not even the men, who had been lulled to sleep or daydreams by the nuns' singing. The pilot's eyes were riveted on the channel--and yet, as morning drew near, from time to time there was a twinkle, a flash behind the reed-beds on the eastern bank, and now and then there was a rustling and clatter there. Was it a jackal that had plunged into the dense growth to surprise a brood of water-fowl; was it a hyena trampling through the thicket?
The flashing, the rustling, the dull footfall on parched earth followed the barge all through the night like a sinister, lurid, and muttering shadow.
Suddenly the captain started and gazed eastwards.--What was that?
There was a herd of cattle feeding in a field beyond the reeds-two bulls perhaps were sharpening their horns. The river was so low, and the banks rose so high, that it was impossible to see over them. But at this moment a shrill voice spoke his name, and then the hunchback whispered in his ear:
"There--over there--it is glittering again.--I will bite off my own nose if that is not--there, again. Merciful God! I am not mistaken. Harness--and there, that is the neighing of a horse; I know the sound. The east is growing grey. By all the saints, we are pursued!"
The captain looked eastwards with every sense alert, and after a few minutes silence he said decidedly "Yes."
"Like a flight of quail for whom the fowler spreads his net," sighed the gardener; but the boatman impatiently signed to him to be quiet, and gazed cautiously on every side. Then he desired Gibbus to wake Rufinus and the shipwrights, and to hide all the nuns in the cabin.
"They will be packed as close as the dates sent to Rome in boxes," muttered the gardener, as he went to call Rufinus. "Poor souls, their saints may save them from suffocation; and as for me, on my faith, if it were not that Dame Joanna was the very best creature on two legs, and if I had not promised her to stick to the master, I would jump into the water and try the hospitality of the flamingoes and storks in the reeds! We must learn to condescend!"
While he was fulfilling his errand, the captain was exchanging a few words with his brother at the helm. There was no bridge near, and that was well. If the horsemen were indeed in pursuit of them, they must ride through the water to reach them; and scarcely three stadia lower down, the river grew wider and ran through a marshy tract of country; the only channel was near the western bank, and horsemen attempting to get to it ran the risk of foundering in the mud. If the boat could but get as far as that reach, much would be gained.
The captain urged the men to put forth all their strength, and very soon the boat was flying along under the western shore, and divided by an oozy flat from the eastern bank. Day was breaking, and the sky was tinged red as with blood--a sinister omen that this morning was destined to witness bitter strife and gaping wounds.
The seed sown by Katharina was beginning to grow. At the bishop's request the Vekeel had despatched a troop of horse in pursuit of the nuns, with orders to bring the fugitives back to Memphis and take their escort prisoners. As the boat had slipped by the toll watch unperceived, the Arabs had been obliged to divide, so as to follow down each arm of the Nile. Twelve horsemen had been told off to pursue the Phasmetic branch; for by every calculation these must suffice for the capture of a score or so of nuns, and a handful of sailors would scarcely dare to attempt to defend themselves. The Vekeel had heard nothing of the addition to the party of the ship-master and his sons.
The pursuers had set out at noon of the previous day, and had overtaken the vessel about two hours before daylight. But their leader thought it well to postpone the attack till after sunrise, lest any of the fugitives should escape. He and his men were all Arabs, and though well acquainted with the course of that branch of the river which they were to follow, they were not familiar with its peculiarities.
As soon as the morning star was invisible, the Moslems performed their devotions, and then rushed out of the papyrus-beds. Their leader, making a speaking trumpet of his hand, shouted to the boat his orders to stop. He was commissioned by the governor to bring it back to Fostat. And the fugitives seemed disposed to obey, for the boat lay to. The captain had recognized the speaker as the captain of the watch from Fostat, an inexorable man; and now, for the first time, he clearly understood the deadly peril of the enterprise. He was accustomed, no doubt, to evade the commands of his superiors, but would no more have defied them than have confronted Fate; and he at once declared that resistance was madness, and that there was no alternative but to yield. Rufinus, however, vehemently denied this; he pointed out to him that the same punishment awaited him, whether he laid down his arms or defended himself, and the old ship-wright eagerly exclaimed:
"We built this boat, and I know you of old, Setnau; You will not turn Judas--and, if you do, you know that Christian blood will be shed on this deck before we can show our teeth to those Infidels."
The captain, with all the extravagant excitability of his southern blood, beat his forehead and his breast, bemoaned himself as a betrayed and ruined man, and bewailed his wife and children. Rufinus, however, put an end to his ravings. He had consulted with the abbess, and he put it strongly to the unhappy man that he could, in any case, hope for no mercy from the unbelievers; while, on Christian ground, he would easily find a safe and comfortable refuge for himself and his family. The abbess would undertake to give them all a passage on board the ship that was awaiting her, and to set them on shore wherever he might choose.
Setnau thought of a brother living in Cyprus; still, for him it meant sacrificing his house and garden at Doomiat, where, at this very hour, fifty date-palms were ripening their fruit; it meant leaving the fine new Nile-boat by which he and his family got their living; and as he represented this to the old man, bitter tears rolled down his brown cheeks. Rufinus explained to him that, if he should succeed in saving the sisters, he might certainly claim some indemnification. He might even calculate the value of his property, and not only would he have the equivalent paid to him out of the convent treasure, now on board in heavy coffers, but a handsome gift into the bargain.
Setnau exchanged a meaning glance with his brother, who was a single man, and when it was also agreed that he, too, might embark on the sea-voyage he shook hands with Rufinus on the bargain. Then, giving himself a shake, as if he had thrown off something that cramped him, and sticking his leather cap knowingly on one side of his shaven head, he drew himself up to his full height and scornfully shouted back to the Arab--who had before now treated him and other Egyptian natives with insolent haughtiness--that if he wanted anything of him he might come and fetch it.
The Moslem's patience was long since exhausted, and at this challenge he signed to his followers and sprang first into the river; but the foremost horses soon sank so deep in the ooze that further advance was evidently impossible, and the signal to return was perforce given. In this manoeuvre a refractory horse lost his footing, and his rider was choked in the mud.
On this, the men in the boat could see the foe holding council with lively gesticulations, and the captain expressed his fears lest they should give up all hope of capturing the boat, and ride forward to Doomiat to combine with the Arab garrison to cut off their further flight. But he had not reckoned on the warlike spirit of these men, who had overcome far greater difficulties in twenty fights ere this. They were determined to seize the boat, to take its freight prisoners, and have them duly punished.
Six horsemen, among them the leader of the party, were now seen to dismount; they tied their horses up, and then proceeded to fell three tall palms with their battle-axes; the other five went off southwards. These, no doubt, were to ride round the morass, and ford the river at a favorable spot so as to attack the vessel from the west, while the others tried to reach it from the east with the aid of the palm-trunks.
On the right, or eastern shore, where the Arabs were constructing the raft, spread solid ground-fields through which lay the road to Doomiat; on the other shore, near which the boat was lying, the bog extended for a long way. An interminable jungle of papyrus, sedge, and reeds, burnt yellow by the heat of the sun and the extraordinary drought, covered almost the whole of this parched and baked wilderness; and, when a stiff morning breeze rose from the northeast, the captain was inspired with a happy thought. The five men who had ridden forward would have to force their way through the mass of scorched and dried up vegetation. If the Christians could but set fire to it, on the further side of a canal which must hinder their making a wide sweep to the north, the wind would carry it towards the enemy; and, they would be fortunate if it did not stifle them or compel them to jump into the river, where, when the flames reached the morass, they must inevitably perish.
As soon as the helmsman's keen eyes had made sure, from the mast-head, that the Arabs had forded the river at a point to the south, they set fire to several places and it roared and flared up immediately. The wind swept it southwards, and with it clouds of pale grey smoke through which the rising sun shot shafts of light. The flames writhed and darted over the baked earth like gigantic yellow and orange lizards, here shooting upwards, there creeping low. Almost colorless in the ardent daylight, they greedily consumed everything they approached, and white ashes marked their track. Their breath added to the heat of the advancing day; and though the smoke was borne southwards by the wind, a few cloudlets came over to the boat, choking the sisters and their deliverers.
A large vessel now came towards them from Doomiat and found the narrow channel barred by the other one. The captain was related to Setnau, and when Setnau shouted to him that they were engaged in a struggle with Arab robbers, his friend followed his advice, turned the boat's head with considerable difficulty, and cast anchor at the nearest village to warn other vessels southward bound not to get themselves involved in so perilous an adventure. Any that were coming north would be checked by the fire and smoke.
The six horsemen left on the eastern shore beheld the spreading blaze with rage and dismay; however, they had by this time bound the palm-trunks together, and were preparing by their aid to inflict condign punishment on the refractory Christians. These, meanwhile, had not been idle. Every man on board was armed, and one of the ship-wrights was sent on shore with a sailor, to steal through the reeds, ford the river at a point lower down and, as soon as the Arabs put out to the attack, to slaughter their horses, or--if one of them should be left to go forward on the road to Doomiat--to drag him from his steed.
The six men now laid hold of the slightly-constructed float, on which they placed their bows and quivers; they pushed it before them, and it supported them above the shallow water, while their feet only just touched the oozy bottom. They were all thorough soldiers, true sons of the desert and of their race--men whom nature seemed to have conceived as a counterpart to the eagle, the master-piece of the winged creation. Keen-eyed, strongly-knit though small-boned, bereft of every fibre of superfluous flesh on their sinewy limbs, with bold brown faces and sharply-cut features, suggesting the king of birds not merely by the aquiline nose, they had also the eagle's courage, thirst for blood, and greed of victory.
Each held on to the raft by one lean, wiry arm, carrying on the other the round bucklers on which the arrows that came whistling from the boat, fell and stuck as soon as they were within shot. They ground their white teeth with fury and nothing within ken escaped their bright hawk's eyes. They had come to fight, even if the boat had been defended by fifty Egyptian soldiers instead of carrying a score or so of sailors and artisans. Their brave hearts felt safe under their shirts of mail, and their ready, fertile brains under their brazen helmets; and they marked the dull rattle of the arrows against their metal shields with elation and contempt. To deal death was the wish of their souls; to meet it caused them no dread; for their glowing fancy painted an open Paradise where beautiful women awaited them open-armed, and brimming goblets promised to satisfy every desire.
Their keen ears heard their captain's whispered commands; when they reached the ship's side, one caught hold of the sill of the cabin window, their leader, as quick as thought, sprang on to his shoulders, and from thence on to the deck, thrusting his lance through the body of a sailor who tried to stop him with his axe. A second Arab was close at his heels; two gleaming scimitars flashed in the sun, the shrill, guttural, savage war-cry of the Moslems rent the air, and the captain fell, the first victim to their blood-thirsty fury, with a deep cut across the face and forehead; in a moment, however, a heavy spar sang through the air down on the head of the Moslem leader and laid him low. The helmsman, the brother of the fallen pilot, had wielded it with the might of the avenger.
A fearful din, increased by the shrieks and wailing of the nuns, now filled the vessel. The second Arab dealt death on all sides with the courage and strength of desperation, and three of his fellows managed to climb up the boat's side; but the last man was pushed back into the water. By this time two of the shipwrights and five sailors had fallen. Rufinus was kneeling by the captain, who was crying feebly for help, bleeding profusely, though not mortally wounded. Setnau had spoken with much anxiety of his wife and children, and Rufinus, hoping to save his life for their sakes, was binding up the wounds, which were wide and deep, when suddenly a sabre stroke came down on the back of his head and neck, and a dark stream of blood rushed forth. But he, too, was soon avenged: the old shipwright hewed down his foe with his heavy axe. On the eastern shore, meanwhile, the men charged to kill the Arabs' horses were doing their work, so as to prevent any who might escape from returning to Fostat, or riding forward to Doormat and reporting what had occurred.
On board silence now prevailed. All five Arabs were stretched on the deck, and the insatiate boatmen were dealing a finishing stroke to those who were only wounded. A sailor, who had taken refuge up a mast, could see how the other five horsemen had plunged into the bog to avoid the fire and had disappeared beneath the waters; so that none of the Moslems had escaped alive--not even that one which Fate and romance love to save as a bearer of the disastrous tidings.
By degrees the nuns ventured out on deck again.
Those who were skilled in tending the wounded gathered round them, and opened their medicine cases; as they proceeded on their voyage, under the guidance of the steersman, they had their hands full of work and the zeal they gave to it mitigated the torment of the heat.
The bodies of the five Moslems and eight Christians--among these, two of the Greek ship-wrights--were laid on the shore in groups apart, in the neighborhood of a village; in the hand of one of them the abbess placed a tablet with this inscription:
"These eight Christians met their death bravely fighting to defend a party of pious and persecuted believers. Pray for them and bury them as well as those who, in obedience to their duty and their commander, took their lives."
Rufinus, lying with his head on the gardener's knee, and sheltered from the sun under the abbess' umbrella, presently recovered his senses; looking about him he said to himself in a low voice, as he saw the captain lying by his side:
"I, too, had a wife and a dear child at home, and yet--Ah! how this aches! We may well do all we can to soothe such pain. The only reality here below is not pleasure, it is pain, vulgar, physical pain; and though my head burns and aches more than enough.--Water, a drink of water.--How comfortable I could be at this moment with my Joanna, in our shady house.--But yet, but yet--we must heal or save, it is all the same, any who need it.--A drink--wine and water, if it is to be had, worthy Mother!"
The abbess had it at hand; as she put the cup to his lips she spoke her warm and effusive thanks, and many words of comfort; then she asked him what she could do for him and his, when they should be in safety.
"Love them truly," he said gently. "Pul will certainly never be quite happy till she is in a convent. But she must not leave her mother--she must stay with her; Joanna-Joanna. . . ."
He repeated the name several times as if the sound pleased his ear and heart. Then he shuddered again and again, and muttered to himself: "Brrr!--a cold shiver runs all over me--it is of no use!--The cut in my shoulder.--It is my head that hurts worst, but the other--it is bad luck that it should have fallen on the left side. And yet, no; it is best so; for if he--if it had damaged my right shoulder I could not write, and I must--I must-before it is too late. A tablet and stylus; quick, quick! And when I have written, good mother, close the tablet and seal it--close and tight. Promise! Only one person may read it, he to whom it must go.--Gibbus, do you hear, Gibbus?--It is for Philippus the leech. Take it to him.--Your dream about a rose on your hump, if I read rightly, means that peace and joy in Heaven blossom from our misery on earth.--Yes, to Philippus. And listen my old school friend Christodorus, a leech too, lives at Doomiat. Take my body to him--mind me now? He is to pack it with sand which will preserve it, and have it buried by the side of my mother at Alexandria. Joanna and the child--they can come and visit me there. I have not much to leave; whatever that may cost. . . ."
"That is my affair, or the convent's," cried the abbess.
"Matters are not so bad as that," said the old man smiling. "I can pay for my own share of the business; your revenue belongs to the poor, noble Mother.--You will find more than enough in this wallet, good Gibbus. But now, quick, make haste--the tablets."
When he had one in his hand, and a stylus for writing with, he thought for some time, and then wrote with trembling fingers, though exerting all his strength. How acutely he was suffering could be seen in his drawn mouth and sad eyes, but he would not allow himself to be interrupted, often as the abbess and the gardener entreated him to lay aside the stylus. At last, with a deep sigh of relief, he closed the tablets, handed them to the abbess, and said:
"There! Close it fast.--To Philippus the physician; into his own hand: You hear, Gibbus?"
Here he fainted; but after they had bathed his forehead and wounds he came to himself, and softly murmured: "I was dreaming of Joanna and the poor child. They brought me a comic mask. What can that mean? That I have been a fool all my life for thinking of other folks' troubles and forgetting myself and my own family? No, no, no! As surely as man is the standard of all things--if it were so, then, then folly would be truth and right.--I, I--my desire--the aim to which my life was devoted. . . ."
He paused; then he suddenly raised himself, looked up with a bright light in his eyes, and cried aloud with joy: "O Thou, most merciful Saviour! Yes, yes--I see it all now. I thank thee--All that I strove for and lived for, Thou, my Redeemer who art Love itself--Ah how good, how comforting to think of that!--It is for this that Thou grantest me to die!"
Again he lost consciousness; his head grew very hot, his breath came hoarsely and his parched lips, though frequently moistened by careful hands, could only murmur the names of those he loved best, and among them that of Paula.
At about five hours after noon he fell back on the hunchback's knees; he had ceased to suffer. A happy smile lighted up his features, and in death the old man's calm face looked like that of a child.
The gardener felt as though he had lost his own father, and his lively tongue remained speechless till he entered Doormat with the rescued sisters, and proceeded to carry out his master's last orders. The abbess' ship took the wounded captain Setnau on board, with his wife, his children, his brother the steersman, and the surviving ship-wrights.
At the very hour when Rufinus closed his eyes, the town-watch of Memphis, led by Bishop Plotinus, appeared to claim the Melchite convent of St. Cecilia, and all the possessions of the sisterhood, in the name of the patriarch and the Jacobite church. Next morning the bishop set out for Upper Egypt to make his report to the prelate.