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- The Bride of the Nile, Volume 10. - 2/9 -
he carried a good round sum in gold pieces, and exclaimed cheerily:
"It is all here, and enough for two travellers to the East.--My little wife, by your leave; the time has come, little pigeon! Off we go, homeward bound!"
The huge fellow shouted it out in his deep voice with such effervescent contentment, and the pretty girl, as she looked up at him, was so glad, so much in love, and so grateful, that it quite cheered the old man; and he, who read an omen in every incident, accepted this meeting as of good augury at his first entering the house which was probably to be his home.
His visit went on as well as it had begun, for he was welcomed very warmly both by the widow and daughter of Rufinus. Pulcheria at once pushed forward her father's arm-chair and placed a pillow behind his back, and she did it so quietly, so simply, and so amiably that it warmed his old heart, and he said to himself that it would be almost too much of a good thing to have such care given him every day and every hour.
He could not forbear from a kindly jest with the young girl over her attentions, and Martina at once entered into the joke. She had seen him coming on his fine ass; she praised the steed, and then refused to believe that the rider was past eighty. His news of Philip's departure was regretted by all, and he was delighted to perceive that Pulcheria seemed startled and presently shrank into the background. What a sweet, pure, kind face the child had--and pretty withal; she must and should be his little daughter; and all the while he was talking, or listening to Katharina's small jokes and a friendly catechism from Martina and Dame Joanna, in his mind's eye he saw Philippus and that dear little creature as man and wife, surrounded by pretty children playing all about him.
He had come to comfort and to condole, and lo! he was having as pleasant an hour as he had known in a long time.
He and the other visitors had been received in the vindarium, which was now brightly lighted up, and now and then he glanced at the doors which opened on this, the centre of the house, trying to imagine what the different rooms should by-and-bye be used for.
But he heard a light step behind him; Martina rose, the water-wagtail hurried to meet the new-comer, and there appeared on the scene the tall figure of a girl dressed in mourning-robes. She greeted the matron with distinguished dignity, cast a cordial glance of sympathetic intelligence to Joanna and Pulcheria, and when the mistress of the house told her who the old man was, she went up to him and held out her hand--a cool, slender hand, as white as marble; the true patrician hand.
Yes, she was beautiful, wonderfully beautiful! He could hardly remember ever to have seen her equal. A spotless masterpiece of the Creator's hand, made like some unapproachable goddess, to command the worship of subject adorers; however, she must renounce all hope of his, for those marble features, all the whiter by contrast with her black dress, had no attraction for him. No warming glow shone in those proud eyes; and under that lordly bosom beat no loving or lovable heart; he shivered at the touch of her fingers, and her presence, he thought, had a chilling and paralyzing influence on all the party.
This was, in fact, the case.
Paula had been sent for to see the senator's wife and Katharina. Martina, thought she, had come out of mere curiosity, and she had a preconceived dislike to any one connected with Heliodora. She had lost her confidence in the water-wagtail, for only two days ago the acolyte in personal attendance on the bishop--and whose child Rufinus had cured of a lame foot--had been to the house to warn Joanna against the girl. Katharina, he told her, had a short while since betrayed to Plotinus some important secret relating to her husband, and the bishop had immediately gone over to Fostat. It was hard to believe such a thing of any friend, still, the girl who, by her own confession, had been so ready to play the part of spy in the neighboring garden, was the only person who would have told the prelate what plan was in hand for the rescue of the sisters. The acolyte's positive statement, indeed, left no room for doubt.
It was not in Paula's nature to think ill of others; but in this case her candid spirit, incapable of falsehood, would not suffer her to be anything but cool to the child; the more effusively Katharina clung to her, the more icily Paula repelled her.
The old man saw this, and he concluded that this mien and demeanor were natural to Paula at all times patrician haughtiness, cold-hearted selfishness, the insolent and boundless pride of the race he loathed-- noble by birth alone--stood before him incarnate. He hated the whole class, and he hated this specimen of the class; and his aversion increased tenfold as he remembered what woe this cold siren had wrought for the son of his affections and might bring on him if she should thwart his favorite project. Sooner would he end his days in loneliness, parted even from Philippus, than share his home, his table, and his daily life with this woman, who could repel the sincerely-meant caresses of that pretty, childlike, simple little Katharina with such frigid and supercilious haughtiness. The mere sight of her at meals would embitter every mouthful; only to hear her domineering tones in the next room would spoil his pleasure in working; the touch of her cold hand as she bid him good-night would destroy his night's rest!
Here and now her presence was more than he could bear. It was an offense to him, a challenge; and if ever he had wished to clear her out of his path and the physician's--by force, if need should be--the idea wholly possessed him now.
Irritated and provoked, he took leave of all the others, carefully avoiding a glance even at Paula, though, after he rose, she went up to him on purpose to say a few pleasant words, and to assure him how highly she esteemed his adopted son.
Pulcheria escorted him through the garden and he promised her to return on the morrow, or the day after, and then she must take care that he found her and her mother alone, for he had no fancy to allow Paula to thrust her pride and airs under his nose a second time.
He angrily rejected Pulcheria's attempts to take her friend's part, and he trotted home again, mumbling curses between his old lips.
Martina, meanwhile, had made friends with Paula in her genial, frank way. She had met her parents in time past in Constantinople and spoke of them with heart-felt warmth. This broke the ice between them, and when Martina spoke of Orion--her 'great Sesostris'--of the regard and popularity he had enjoyed in Constantinople, and then, with due recognition and sympathy, of his misfortune, Paula felt drawn towards her indeed. Her reserve vanished entirely, and the conversation between the new acquaintances became more and more eager, intimate, and delightful.
When they parted both felt that they could only gain by further intercourse. Paula was called away at the very moment of leave-taking, and left the room with warm expressions intended only for the matron: "Not good-bye--we must meet again. But of course it is my part, as the younger, to go to you!" And she was no sooner gone than Martina exclaimed:
"What a lovely creature! The worthy daughter of a noble father! And her mother! O dame Joanna! A sweeter being has rarely graced this miserable world; she was born to die young, she was only made to bloom and fade!" Then, turning to Katharina, she went on: with kindly reproof. "Evil tongues gave me a very false idea of this girl. 'A silver kernel in a golden shell,' says the proverb, but in this case both alike are of gold.--Between you two--good God!--But I know what has blinded your clear eyes, poor little kitten. After all, we all see things as we wish to see them. I would lay a wager, dame Joanna, that you are of my opinion in thinking the fair Paula a perfectly noble creature. Aye, a noble creature; it is an expressive word and God knows! How seldom is it a true one? It is one I am little apt to use, but I know no other for such as she is, and on her it is not ill-bestowed."
"Indeed it is not!" answered Joanna with warm assent; but Martina sighed, for she was thinking to herself! "Poor Heliodora! I cannot but confess that Paula is the only match for my 'great Sesostris.' But what in Heaven's name will become of that poor, unfortunate, love-sick little woman?"
All this flashed through her quick brain while Katharina was trying to justify herself, and asserting that she fully recognised Paula's great qualities, but that she was proud, fearfully proud--she had given Martina herself some evidence of that.
At this Pulcheria interposed in zealous defense of her friend. She, however, had hardly begun to speak when she, too, was interrupted, for men's voices were heard in loud discussion in the vestibule, and Perpetua suddenly rushed in with a terrified face, exclaiming, heedless of the strangers: "Oh Dame Joanna! Here is another, dreadful misfortune! Those Arab devils have come again, with an interpreter and a writer. And they have been sent--Merciful Saviour, is it possible?--they have brought a warrant to take away my poor dear child, to take her to prison--to drag her all through the city on foot and throw her into prison."
The faithful soul sobbed aloud and covered her face with her hands. Terror fell upon them all; Joanna left the viridarium in speechless dismay, and Martina exclaimed:
"What a horrible, vile country! Good God, they are even falling on us women. Children, children--give me a seat, I feel quite ill.--In prison! that beautiful, matchless creature dragged through the streets to prison. If the warrant is all right she must go--she must! Not an angel from heaven could save her. But that she should be marched through the town, that noble and splendid creature, as if she were a common thief--it is not to be borne. So much as one woman can do for another at any rate shall be done, so long as I am here to stand on two feet!--Katharina, child, do not you understand? Why do you stand gaping at me as if I were a feathered ape? What do your fat horses eat oats for? What, you do not understand me yet? Be off at once, this minute, and have the horses put in the large closed chariot in which I came here, and bring it to the door.--Ah! At last you see daylight; now, take to your heels and fly!"
And she clapped her hands as if she were driving hens off a garden-bed; Katharina had no alternative but to obey.
Martina then felt for her purse, and when she had found it she added confidently:
"Thank God! I can talk to these villains! This is a language," and she clinked the gold pieces, intelligible to all. "Come, where are the rascals?"
The universal tongue had the desired effect. The chief of the guard allowed it to persuade him to convey Paula to prison in the chariot, and to promise that she should find decent accommodation there, while he also granted old Betta the leave she insisted on with floods of tears, to share the girl's captivity.
Paula maintained her dignity and composure under this unexpected shock. Only when it came to taking leave of Pulcheria and Mary, who clung to her
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