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Percy Greg
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 490 pages of information about Across the Zodiac.
scratching had been two or three times repeated, and then half-whispered, “Shall I tell them to come in?” When I released her, there appeared to my surprise at her call, no human intruder, but one of the ambau, bearing on a tray a goblet, which, as he placed it on a table beside us, I perceived to contain a liquid rather different from any yet offered me.  The presence of these mute servants is generally no more heeded than that of our cats and dogs; but I now learnt that Martial ideas of delicacy forbid them, even as human servants would be forbidden, to intrude unannounced on conjugal privacy.  When the little creature had departed, I tasted the liquid, but its flavour was so unpleasant that I set down the vessel immediately.  Eveena, however, took it up, and drinking a part of it, with an effort to control the grimace of dislike it provoked, held it up to me again, so evidently expecting and inviting me to share it that courtesy permitted no further demur.  A second sign or look, when I set it down unemptied, induced me to finish the draught.  Regarding the matter as some trivial but indispensable ceremonial, I took no further notice of it; but, thankful for the diversion it had given to my thoughts, continued my endeavours to soothe and encourage my fair companion.  After a few minutes it seemed as if she were somewhat suddenly gaining courage and confidence.  At the same time I myself became aware of a mental effect which I promptly ascribed to the draught.  Nor was I wrong.  It contained one of those drugs which I have mentioned; so rarely used in this house that I had never before seen or tasted any of them, but given, as matter of course, on any occasion that is supposed to involve unusual agitation or make an exceptional call on nerves or spirits.  But for the influence of this cup I should still have withheld the remark which, nevertheless, I had resolved to make as soon as I could hope to do so without annoying or alarming Eveena.

“Are you afraid of me?” I asked somewhat abruptly.  The question may have startled her, but I was more startled by the answer.

“Of course,” she said in a tone which would have been absolutely matter of fact, except that the doubt evidently surprised her.  “Ought I not to be so?  But what made you ask?  And what had I done to displease you, just before they sent us the ’courage cup’?”

“I did not mean to show anything like displeasure,” I replied.  “But I was thinking then, and I may tell you now, that you remind me not of the women of my own Earth, but of petted children suddenly transferred to a harsh school.  You speak and look like such a child, as if you expected each moment at least to be severely scolded, if not beaten, without knowing your fault.”

“Not yet,” she murmured, with a smile which seemed to me more painful than tears would have been.  “But please don’t speak as if I should fear anything so much as being scolded by you.  We have a saying that ‘the hand may bruise the skin, the tongue can break the heart.’”

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