I called the ladies one day into the outer grounds to see a new carriage, capable, according to its arrangement, of containing from two to eight persons, and a balloon of great size and new construction which Davilo had urgently counselled me to procure, as capable of sudden use in some of those daily thickening perils, of which I could see no other sign than occasional evidence that my steps were watched and dogged. Both vehicles enlisted the interest and curiosity of Eunane and her companions. Eveena, after examining with as much attention as was due to the trouble I took to explain it, the construction of the carriage, concentrated her interest and observation upon the balloon, the sight of which evidently impressed her. When we had returned to the peristyle, and the rest had dispersed, I said—
“I see you apprehend some part of my reasons for purchasing the balloon. The carriage will take us to-morrow to Altasfe (a town some ten miles distant). ‘Shopping’ is an amusement so gratifying to all women on Earth, from the veiled favourites of an Eastern seraglio to the very unveiled dames of Western ballrooms, that I suppose the instinct must be native to the sex wherever women and trade co-exist. If you have a single feminine folly, you will enjoy this more than you will own. If you are, as they complain, absolutely faultless, you will enjoy with me the pleasure of the girls in plaguing one after another all the traders of Altasfe:” and with these words I placed in her hands a packet of the thin metallic plates constituting their currency. Her extreme and unaffected surprise was amusing to witness.
“What am I to do with this?” she inquired, counting carefully the uncounted pile, in a manner which at once dispelled my impression that her surprise was due to childish ignorance of its value.
“Whatever you please, Madonna; whatever can please you and the others.”
“But,” she remonstrated, “this is more than all our dowries for another year to come; and—forgive me for repeating what you seem purposely to forget—I cannot cast the shadow between my equals and the master. Would you so mortify me as to make me take from Eunane’s hand, for example, what should come from yours?”
“You are right, Madonna, now as always,” I owned; wincing at the name she used, invariably employed by the others, but one I never endured from her. Her looks entreated pardon for the form of the implied reproof, as I resumed the larger part of the money she held out to me, forcing back the smaller into her reluctant hands. “But what has the amount of your dowries to do with the matter? The contracts are meant, I suppose, to secure the least to which a wife has a right, not to fix her natural share in her husband’s wealth. You need not fear, Eveena; the Prince has made us rich enough to spend more than we shall care for.”