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   Chapter 12 LOVE UNTO DEATH.

Mohammed Ali and His House By L. Muhlbach Characters: 12094

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

ON the afternoon of this fearful day, all was again restored to quiet in the streets of Cairo. The terror-stricken inhabitants had again ventured forth from their houses, and were standing in groups, discussing in subdued voices the events of the day. But they ceased conversing when they now saw the cadi approaching on horseback, and in advance of him the public crier. In the cadi's name he proclaimed to the people a general amnesty for all past offences: "The new viceroy is to enter the city on the morrow. Let the city put on festive attire, and let a hearty welcome be extended him. Remove from the streets and houses all traces of conflict and bloodshed. Bury your dead, and care for your wounded, ye wives of the Mameluke beys and the kachefs. Do your duty, ye women and ye servants."

These orders of the cadi were proclaimed throughout the entire city by the crier.

But now the veiled women come out into the streets with their servants, and, in obedience to the prophet's injunctions, seek the wounded and suffering, take them to their houses, and care for them tenderly.

Many of the dead and wounded lie in front of Bardissi's palace-men who had stood faithfully by their master, and fallen bravely in the discharge of duty.

A number of women approach this place. Veiled like the rest is she who precedes the others; yet her royal bearing, and the deference shown her by the servants and Mamelukes who accompany her, proclaim her to be Sitta Nefysseh. She is performing her woman's duty of seeking out and caring for the wounded. She stoops down over the bodies that lie stretched out on the earth, and suddenly a cry escapes her lips-a single cry; she then beckons to the servants, who have followed them with stretchers, for the transport of the unfortunate. She gazes in mute horror at the Mameluke bey who lies there, weltering in his blood, a fearful wound on his forehead, that almost renders his features irrecognizable. She, however, distinguishes her lover, and commands her servants to place him on the stretcher. With her own hands she binds up his wound, and covers his countenance with the white cloths handed her by her women. She then orders her servants to carry the Mameluke bey to her house, and directs her women to continue their search for the wounded.

She walks beside the stretcher on which the wounded man lies. He does not move; he lies there insensible, unconscious of what is taking place.

Perhaps Sitta Nefysseh is only conveying a corpse to her house!

She has him carried up into the second story of her house. There he is laid on a mat, and with tender hands Sitta Nefysseh herself adjusts the cushions and pillows. The servants bring to his couch, in silver bowls, water and the healing ointment which Sitta Nefysseh had prepared with her own hands. With gentle touch she wipes the blood from his countenance, washes out the wound, and applies to it the ointment.

She neither weeps nor laments. Her lips are mute, and her eyes shed nq tsars. Is this a time to weep, when Youssouf Bey is suffering and needs her care and attention? No, at such a time a woman must be strong. She will have time enough for tears and lamentation in her after-life.

The fearful gash on his forehead bears silent evidence of this. She has often seen similar wounds, and bound them up herself.

She well knows that Youssouf Bey is wounded unto death-that there is no hope of recovery: Yet she does not weep. With Allah all is possible, and he may be gracious. A miracle may occur; Youssouf's youthful vigor and his heroic nature may yet vanquish Death. Perhaps her love may preserve him. Grant, merciful Allah, that it be so!

Her women now come with other injured Mamelukes, who are placed on the mats Sitta Nefysseh had caused to be spread out for them in the adjoining room.

Sitta Nefysseh forbids any one to enter the room where Youssouf lies.

"He needs repose," said she, stepping into the adjoining room to see that the other wounded were being well cared for. "Youssouf Bey needs repose. Be still, move noiselessly, and do not disturb his sleep! It may be the sleep of death. Be still, close the doors and draw the curtains, that no noise may reach him!"

It is perfectly quiet in the room where Youssouf Bey lies. Sitta Nefysseh kneels beside him. Her hands folded in silent prayer, her eyes fastened on his countenance, she bends over him and breathes her warm, glowing breath through his cold lips, to give him of her life, and bathes his cold brow with her warm tears.

Sitta Nefysseh's prayerful, tearful entreaties are heard. Youssouf Bey awakens from his death-like slumber. Love has recalled the spirit to the body. Love opens his eyes and permits him to see and recognize her who is bowed over him, regarding him with loving tenderness.

"Is it you, Sitta Nefysseh? Am I already dead, and is it a divine being that looks at me with your eyes?"

"No, my Youssouf, you live and are with me on earth!"

"Oh, it is impossible-impossible! Only a sweet illusion," whispers he, with quivering lips; his eyes close, and he falls back heavily.

But she bends over him, strokes his brow and cheek with gentle touch, and calls him loving names.

"You live," murmurs she, "oh, feel that you live, dear Youssouf,

Feel it in this kiss!"

A soft tremor courses through his entire being, and his eyes open.

Yes, he lives! He is not dead! This is Nefysseh's victory over death, this is the result of the impassioned kiss impressed on the lips of her beloved.

"And is it possible, Nefysseh, you are indeed with me, and my dreams of love and bliss are realized? You with me! What can have happened? Why this wondrous change?"

He raises his hand to his forehead and touches the wound, and then he knows what has taken place; he feels it in the burning pain of his wound.

"Oh, we are lost-all lost! Tell me, Nefysseh, must I die?"

"No, you shall not die; you shall live, Youssouf, live for me."

"For thee? Oh, tell me, Nefysseh, do you, then, love me?"


he bends over him, clasps him in her arms, and lays her cheek against his.

"You ask, Youssouf? Do you not know? I have long loved, perhaps I loved you even while Mourad still lived! But I wished to know nothing of it, and I knew nothing of it. I refused to listen to the voices that whispered in my heart. And yet so blissful, so heavenly, to look at you, Youssouf, and read in your eyes the secret of your love. Yet my lips were silent, for, as Mourad's wife, I wished to remain unblamable. You loved me, and I wished to remain free from blame for your sake, too."

The tears that pour from her eyes fall upon his face-a heavenly dew that gives him new strength, new happiness.

"Speak on, Sitta Nefysseh, oh, speak on! What I hear is music! Let me hear this music and be happy! Oh, speak on, Nefysseh!"

"What shall I say, Youssouf? The whole meaning of my words is still, I love you, and have long loved you! When Mourad, my husband, died, I vowed over his dead body that I would remain true to him beyond the grave. Do you know why I wished to raise this barrier between us? I could not allow the youth to sacrifice his life for me in the blossom of his age. And, moreover, oh, fool that I was, I fancied the wide abyss that separated Mourad Bey's widow from his kachef Youssouf could never be crossed! I was proud, Youssouf, and proud for you, also! I did not wish to give any one occasion to say: 'Kachef Youssouf marries Mourad's widow for her possessions-for her wealth. She is too old for him to love her. He can only have married her for her wealth and her name.' Thus they might have spoken of the youth, of the hero I loved and adored, and for whom I would gladly have sacrificed my life."

"And to whom you were yet so cruel, Sitta Nefysseh; to whom you caused so much suffering! For I have suffered, Sitta Nefysseh. It was my heaven to be in your presence, to see you. I adored you, and yet you refused to listen to me. But let me be silent. Speak on, oh, speak on of my happiness! Tell me again that you love me, Nefysseh; I cannot believe it-it cannot be!"

"And yet it is so, Youssouf, and long have I loved you. You know not of the long, sleepless nights I have passed in my solitary chamber, my hands folded in prayer to Allah for strength and firmness. You know not how often, in the still night, I have stretched out my arms toward you, and pronounced your name with passionate longing, entreating the welis to bear you to me in their gentle arms. Yet, with the day came cold, calm reason, exhorting Mourad's widow to be firm and proud. And, alas! I was firm. You knew not what it cost me. Then, Youssouf, a new period came. The beys Bardissi and L'Elfi addressed me, covetous not only of the possession of the woman, but also of her wealth. From that hour I knew that danger threatened you, for the Mameluke beys are fierce and cruel; and, if they had known of my affection for you, my beloved, you would have been lost. This I knew, and therefore was I cold and indifferent in my manner to you. You called me unfeeling and cruel when I sent you away to battle. I was afraid it might excite suspicion if I kept you back at such a time; and then, too, I was satisfied you would make for yourself a name, which you have done, my beloved. You returned. You came with a new declaration of love, which Nefysseh rejected, because Bardissi had been with her in the self-same hour, and had renewed his addresses, and because he would never forgive you if I chose you instead of himself. And now this fearful disaster has overtaken us all! Treachery has stained our streets with blood! The Mameluke beys have left the city in wild flight! You, Youssouf Bey, have, however, remained here, and now I may tell you all, avow all that I feel and have endured and suffered in secret. I may tell you that I love you, and Allah will be merciful and gracious, Youssouf. We are united in love. The seal has fallen from my lips, and they dare proclaim what I feel. Oh, my Youssouf, there is a bright future in store for us; you will recover, and be strong and happy!"

"I am already well," murmured he. "All is well with me, Sitta Nefysseh, for you love me, and in your love I shall regain health and strength."

His lips cease to speak, and a tremor courses through his whole being.

"Youssouf!" cries she, in tones of anguish-"Youssouf! Oh, stay with me, do not leave me!"

In response to her call, he opens his eyes and gives her a tender look.

"Yes, Sitta Nefysseh, I shall remain with you throughout all time, throughout eternity, for love is eternal."

His lips are hushed, but his eyes still gaze up at her, for a moment, with the lustre of life; then they grow dim and cold, and slowly the veil of death sinks down over his countenance. The lips that but now spoke the words, "I love you," are hushed forever!

Bowed down over him, her eyes axed intently on the features from which the last traces of life are vanishing, she sees the kiss that Death has imprinted on his lips; and the last smile slowly fade from his countenance.

And again she neither weeps nor laments; she only tears the veil from her head with a wild, despairing movement, and lays it over the countenance of her beloved dead.

"Sleep, Youssouf, sleep beneath my veil! You are dead, and my happiness dies with you-I shall be a living monument to your memory! I shall live in poverty and solitude, Youssouf, and the treasures which you buried for me beneath the earth shall remain there, a subterranean monument to my love. They shall never see the light of day! You have buried my treasures, and I will bury my greatest, holiest treasure-you, Youssouf Bey; and with you Sitta Nefysseh buries her youth, her love, and her grandeur, to be henceforth only a poor widow, who lives in solitary retirement, a prey to sorrow. Sleep, Youssouf Bey! You will awake with me above, to an eternal life-sleep, Youssouf!"

She lifts the veil once more, and kisses the forehead, now cold as marble; she then replaces it softly, and leaves the room.

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