CHAPTER XVIII — A PRINCE’S PRESENT.
“This,” said my escort, as we dismounted, “is the residence assigned to you by the Campta. Besides the grounds here enclosed, he has awarded you, by a deed which will presently be placed in your hands, an estate of some ten stoltau, which you can inspect at your leisure, and which will afford you a revenue as large as is enjoyed by any save by the twelve Regents. He has endeavoured to add to this testimony of his regard by rendering your household as complete as wealth and forethought could make it. What may be wanting to your own tastes and habits you will find no difficulty in adding.”
We now entered that first and principal chamber of the mansion wherein it is customary to receive all visitors and transact all business. The hall was one of unusual size and magnificence. Here, at a table not far from the entrance, stood another official, not wearing the uniform of the Court, with several documents in his hand. As he turned to salute me, his face wore an expression of annoyance and discomfiture which not a little surprised me, till, by following his sidelong, uncomfortable glances, I perceived a veiled feminine figure, which could be no other than Eveena’s. Misreading my surprise, the official said—
“It is no fault of mine, and I have not spoken except to remonstrate, as far as might be allowed, against so unusual a proceeding.”
He must have been astonished and annoyed indeed to take such notice of a stranger’s wife; and, above all, to take upon himself to comment on her conduct for good or ill. I thought it best to make no reply, and simply saluted him in form as I received the first paper handed to me, to which, by the absence of any blank space, I perceived that my signature was not required. This was indeed the document which bestowed on me the house and estate presented by the Sovereign. The next paper handed to me appeared to resemble the marriage-contract I had already signed, save that but one blank was left therein. Unable to decipher it, I was about to ask the official to read it aloud, when Eveena, who had stolen up to me unperceived, caught my arm and drew me a little way aside, indifferent to the wondering glances of the officials; who had probably never seen a woman venture uncalled into the public apartments of her husband’s house, still less interpose in any matter of business, and no doubt thought that she was taking outrageous advantage of my ignorance and inexperience.
“I will scold you presently, child,” I said quickly and low. “What is it?”
“Sign at once,” she whispered, “and ask no questions. Deal with me as you will afterwards. You must take what is given you now, without comment or objection, simply expressing your thanks.”
“It is not safe to refuse or slight gifts from such a quarter,” she answered, in the same low tone. “Trust me so far; please do what I entreat of you now. I must bear your displeasure if I fail to satisfy you when we are alone.”