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one remained with his wife, who had also entered upon a religious life: the other, Theodulus, a generous youth, accompanied him to his solitude.
Here leaving them awhile, we will take a glance at some other dwellers in the desert.
At this time Mahomet's earthquake-voice had not shaken to the ground the creeds of the surrounding nations; and the Arab tribes which habited round Sinai, still adhered to their ancient faith and forms of worship. Their religion has since changed, and a creed like that of Mahomet would tend more than any the world has seen, (with the exception perhaps of that promulgated by Moses,) to change the habits of its votaries. But whether we attribute it to some recondite stagnatory influence of a semi-civilized existence, as specially exemplified in the case of the Chinese, or to some peculiar formation of the brain, or directly to the fiat of the Most High—yet such is the fact, explain it as we may, that the modes of life, and those customs of the race which are unconnected with their religion, present to a modern traveller nearly the same phases as they did to Nilus, and those of his contemporaries who have described them, though more than fourteen hundred years have since gone by.
Great indeed is the contrast between some musty, foxy, folio, bound in solemn vellum, with most portentous clasps, to prevent the escape of the learning therein contained, and bearing on its title page the " Imprimatur" of some cardinal or Romish censor of the Press, with its quaintly enigmatical initial letters, and its flattering dedication inscribed " illuttrissimo et amplissimo domino"—somebody or other, by some cowled and shaven editor, a learned brother "Societatis Jcsu," or mayhap, an erudite Benedictine of St. Maur:—strange indeed is the contrast between some such volume, crowded with contractions, and written in crabbed Alexandrine Greek, and a new, hot-pressed, post 8v". smartly "done up" in cloth, under the auspices of one of the potentates who bear rule in the Row, and which professes to be, " Notes of a Tour in the East."
Though great may be this contrast, yet if we take the musty folio from its shelf, and blow off the dust and cobwebs which have accumulated since the volume was last turned over, we shall find that the hermit's account of the mauners of the children of the desert, tallies almost exactly with that of the hero of the carpet bag.
Nilus describes the Arabs of his time as a tent-dwelling and wandering race, given neither to trade, nor to the tillage of the soil, (if soil there be, near Sinai,) but relying solely on the sword for food. Should robbery or the chase not supply their needs, it was their wont to slay a camel, whose half-raw and reeking flesh supplied for awhile the necessities of the tribe. They paid no reverence, he says, to idols, but the sole object of their worship was the morning star, which in that land of clear and cloudless skies, shines with a magnificence of splendour which is here, alas, unknown. To this bright orb, at the hour of its most brilliant glory, just before the time of sunrise, they were wont to sacrifice a captive boy, or had their forays been -unsuccessful, a white and spotless camel. Walking in slow procession three times around their victim, they chaunted a low and solemn dirge, and then before the resplendence of the planet was dimmed by the rising of the Sun they consumed by fire every vestige of the sacrifice. Such was the fierce and ruthless race, which was the terror of the peaceful anchorites near whom they dwelt.
The night of the 13th of January,* had been passed by the hermits in united devotional exercises as described above, Nilus and his son Theodulus forming part of the assembly, when "like mad dogs," as Nilus words it, a furious horde of these barbarians, uttering most frightful shouts and cries, broke in suddenly upon them. While the terrified hermits flocked together in their little chapel, the Arabs occupied themselves in pillaging their only property—the winter store of roots. This done, they rudely dragged them from their church, and stripping off their scanty garments, they arranged the more aged of the number in a file, and one after another meekly stretching forth his neck as he was ordered, the head was severed by the sword of some lusty Arab. Tired at length of slaughter, the barbarians allowed those of the survivors who had passed the prime of life, and were consequently unsaleable as slaves, to
• The precise year we are not informed of, but it must have been 390 A.D. or thereabouts.
escape up the mountain; the younger men they bound, and at last decamped, compelling their prisoners to follow on foot.
On the approach of night, Nilus, and other of the hermits who had escaped, descended from the mountain to their desolated homes, to bury the bodies of the slain.
It is difficult to imagine what must have been the feelings of the bereaved father. His son—the solace of his age, torn from his side by a band of ruthless savages, to whom the handsome figure and ingenuous countenance of Theodulus would only point him out as the fittest and earliest victim for the sacrificing knife. The thought of this, a thousandfold more horrible than mere captivity, or than that death which had just befallen others of their number, would have driven Nilus to a state of phrenzy had he not been sustained by the supports of his religion. Then again the sight of the desolated settlement, where all had been so lately happiness and peace, and from whence the psalm of praise and the voice of prayer had so recently ascended; added to this, the groans of some whose mangled bodies yet retained the lingering spark of life; the ghastly, gaping corpses strewn around. Consider this, and we need not wonder at the vehemence of the father's sorrow.
Leaving him for the present to his lamentations, (which, as in the narrative he has left us, they appear at no inconsiderable length, our readers will be glad to be spared,) we will follow the fortunes of his son Theodulus.
To several communities, similar to the one we have described, the Arabs successively directed their course, and the same narrative of plunder and of bloodshed, would, with slight variation, serve for all. Now, a father's eyes were compelled to witness his son's torture and death; now, amidst the wild sea of crags was discovered a limpid well, circled by a green oasis, and from some hermitage perched upon the mountain-side hard by, was dragged an aged anchorite, and hurled headlong into the ravine below.
Such were the scenes witnessed by Theodulus: nor were his own sufferings slight. The path, if path it could be called, where never perhaps the foot of man had trod before, lay amidst a chaos of rocks tumbled confusedly together, and he was fearfully exhausted by exertion to which he was little used, beside being parched by intolerable thirst.
At length the marauders encamped for the night. At a consultation which they then held, it was determined, that before sunrise the next morning Theodulus should be sacrificed to the planet which they worshipped. Overnight all the requisites for the sacrifice were prepared. Theodulus saw arranged duly round the altar, the sword, the wood, the incense, the libation in its bowl. The night which he thought was to be his last be spent in humble heartfelt prayer, and composed his mind not to murmur at whatever might seem good to his heavenly Father. He prayed for his own deliverance, if that were well, and he prayed moreover earnestly that his desolate parent might have support from heaven in this most bitter sorrow.
And now the hour of sacrifice drew near, the morning star reigned in the full effulgence of its glory, and a faint streak of eastern crimson foretold the rising of that sun, whose orb the victim was to behold no more.
And now it is high time—but wherefore are the priests so still—why no further preparations? Hark, now come they? No, nothing stirs—save the trembling victims—all, wearied by the toils of the day before, are buried in their slumbers. The sun darts his earliest beam over the mountain peaks of Seir—the star they worship pales before the waxing splendour —the Time of Sacrifice is over. The priests awake, but now it is too late—their God is now unseen, and impious would they deem it now to sacrifice. So strange a respite, even for a day, seemed to Theodulus a direct answer to his prayer of faith.
The Arabs, deeming perhaps that the divinity they reverenced distasted the intended offering, changed their purpose with respect to his disposal. Arriving at the village Suca they exposed him for sale as a slave, but here his life was once more in jeopardy. No purchaser could be found to offer a higher price than two gold pieces, a sum which the barbarians deemed too small. He was in consequence stripped, and being brought outside the village, they presented a naked sword to his throat, and were about to slay him, when Theodulus, with passionate entreaties, at length succeeded in moving the pity of one of the bystanders, who paid the required sum.
Elusa is a town to the south-west of the Dead Sea, about 150 miles from Sinai. By the bishop of this place he was redeemed, and into his service he entered, having assigned to his charge the care of the church.
"When Nilus and the others had discharged the last duties to the bodies of their martyred friends, they retired to Pharan (the modern Feiran), the nearest town to Sinai. Hero Nilus heard from one of the captives, who had escaped while the preparations were being made, the tidings of the intended sacrifice of his son.
When the news of this new outrage of the Arabs had spread among the inhabitants of the surrounding country, it excited great alarm. At Pharan, the town council assembled to deliberate on the best course to be adopted. This inroad was in violation of a treaty which subsisted between the inhabitants and the Arab Sheikh, who, in consideration of certain mercantile advantages, had bound himself to abstain from all such aggressions. It was determined to dispatch an embassy to the Sheikh, to demand an explanation of his conduct, and the immediate restitution of the prisoners. The ambassadors, on their return, reported the contrition of the Sheikh, and the promised liberation of the captives. Nilus and others, with an escort of soldiers, immediately started for the Arab tents.
The journey through the desert occupied twelve days, and dreadful were the hardships they suffered on the route. On the eighth day their store of water failed, and there were no means of renewing the supply. Death was their expectation, nor did it seem far distant. At length those experienced in desert travelling perceived the usual signs of water being near at hand, and they summoned their remaining strength to reach it. Nilus hastened gently on, retarded as well by his infirmities as by the fear (as he naively expresses it) of doing discredit to the gravity of his monastic profession by an unseemly haste. But, alas! his trials were not here to end, for on reaching the brow of a hill overlooking the welcome well, he perceived that it was surrounded by a detachment of these same marauding Arabs. By them he was taken prisoner, and rather roughly treated. Nilus did not, however, long remain in their hands, for a body of his own party showing themselves above the hills,