“Never, never, never will I do such a thing! Insult me as you will. What I am, I will still be: a faithful son of the Church to which my fathers belonged, and for which my brothers died. In all humility I acknowledge Jesus Christ as my Lord. I believe in him, believe in the God-made-man who died to save us, and who brought love into the world, and I will remain unpersuaded and faithful to my own love. Never will I forsake her who has been to me like a messenger from God, like a good angel to teach me how to lay hold on what is earnest and noble in life-her whom my father, too, held dear. Power, indeed, is yours. Demand of me anything reasonable, and within my attainment, and I will try to force myself to obedience; but I never can and never will be faithless to her, to prove my faith to you; and as to the Arabs. . . .”
“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.