“Come, bambina!” I expostulated, “we understand one another too well by this time for you to wrong me by all this alarm. I know that you would not have broken through the customs of your people without good reason; and you know that, even if your reason were not sufficient, I should not be hard upon the error.”
“I am sure you would not,” she said. “But this time you have to consider others, and you cannot let it be supposed that you do not know a wife’s duty, or will allow your authority to be set at naught in your own household.”
“What matter? Do you suppose I listen in the roads?” [care for gossip], I rejoined. “Household rule is a matter of the veil, and no one—not even your autocratic Prince—will venture to lift it.”
“You have not lifted it yourself yet,” she answered. “You will understand me, when you have looked at the slips you were about to make them read aloud, had I not interrupted you.”
“Bead them yourself,” I said, handing to her the papers I still held, and which, after her interposition, I had not attempted to decipher. She took them, but with a visible shudder of reluctance—not stronger than came over me before she had read three lines aloud. Had I known their purport, I doubt whether even Eveena’s persuasion and the Autocrat’s power together could have induced me to sign them. They were in very truth contracts of marriage—if marriage it can be called. The Sovereign had done me the unusual, but not wholly unprecedented, favour of selecting half a dozen of the fairest maidens of those waiting their fate in the Nurseries of his empire; had proffered on my behoof terms which satisfied their ambition, gratified their vanity, and would have induced them to accept any suitor so recommended, without the insignificant formality of a personal courtship. It had seemed to him only a gracious attention to complete my household; and he had furnished me with a bevy of wives, as I presently found he had selected a complete set of the most intelligent amlau, carvee, and tyree which he could procure. Without either the one or the other, the dwelling he had given me would have seemed equally empty or incomplete.
This mark of royal favour astounded and dismayed me more than Eveena herself. If she had entertained the wish, she would hardly have acknowledged to herself the hope, that she might remain permanently the sole partner of my home. But so sudden, speedy, and wholesale an intrusion thereon she certainly had not expected. Even in Mars, a first bride generally enjoys for some time a monopoly of her husband’s society, if she cannot be said to enchain his affection. It was hard, indeed, before the thirtieth day after her marriage, to find herself but one in a numerous family—the harder that our union had from the first been close, intimate, unrestrainedly confidential, as it can hardly be where neither expects that the tie can remain exclusive; and because she had learned