“Enough!” exclaimed the prelate. “I am on my way to Upper Egypt. Make your choice by my return. I give you till then to come to a right mind, to think the matter over; and it is quite deliberately that I bid you to forget the Melchite. That you, of all men, should marry a heretic would be an abomination not to be borne. With regard to your alliance with the Arabs, and whether it becomes you—being what you are—to take service with them, we will discuss it at a future day. If, by the time I return, you have thought better of the matter as regards your marriage—and you are free to choose any Jacobite maiden—then I will speak to you in a different tone. I will then offer you my friendship and support; instead of the Church’s curse I will pronounce her blessing on you—the pardon and grace of the Almighty, a smooth path to eternity and peace, and the prospect of giving new joy to the aching heart of your sorrowing mother. My last word is that you must and shall give up the woman from whom you can look for nothing but perdition.”
“I cannot, and shall not, and I never will!” replied Orion firmly.
“Then I can, and shall, and will make you feel how heavily the curse falls which, in the last resort, I shall not hesitate to pronounce upon you!”
“It is in your power,” said Orion. “But if you proceed to extremities with me, you will drive me to seek the blessing for which my soul thirsts more ardently than you, my lord, can imagine, and the salvation I crave, with her whom you hold reprobate, and on the further side of the Nile.”
“I dare you!” cried the patriarch, quitting the room with a resolute step and flaming cheeks.
Orion was alone in the spacious room, feeling as though the whole world were sinking into nothingness after the rack of storm and tempest. At first he was merely conscious of having gone through a fearful experience, which threatened to fling him far outside the sphere of everything he was wont to reverence and hold sacred. For love and honor of his guardian angel he had declared war to the patriarch, and that man’s power was as great as his stature. Still, the image of Paula rose high and supreme above that of the terrible old man, in Orion’s fancy, and his father, as it seemed to him, was like an ally in the battle he was destined to wage in his own strength.
The young man’s vivid imagination and excellent memory recapitulated every word the prelate had uttered. The domineering old man, overflowing with bigoted zeal, had played with him as a cat with a mouse. He had tried to search his soul and sift him to the bottom before he attacked the subject with which he ought to have begun, and concerning which he was fully informed when he offered him his hand that first time— as cheerfully, too, as though he had no serious grievance seething in his soul. Orion resolved that he would cling fast to his faith without Benjamin’s interposition, and not allow his hold on the two other Christian graces, Hope and Love, to be weakened by his influence.