Pearl-Maiden eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 396 pages of information about Pearl-Maiden.

Then and there Nehushta swore that as she had done by the mother she so would do by the child till the day when her labours ended.  Were it not for this child, indeed, they would have ended now, Christian though she was, since she was crushed with bitter sorrow and her heart seemed void of hope or joy.  All her days had been hard—­she who was born to great place among her own wild people far away, and snatched thence to be a slave, set apart by her race and blood from those into whose city she was sold; she who would have naught to do with base men nor become the plaything of those of higher birth; she who had turned Christian and drunk deep of the tribulations of the faith; she who had centred all her eager heart upon two beloved women, and lost them both.  All her days had been hard, and here and now, by the side of her dead mistress, she would have ended them.  But the child remained, and while it lived, she would live.  If it died, then perhaps she would die also.

Meanwhile Nehushta had no time for grief, since the babe must be fed, and within twelve hours.  Yet, as she could not bury her, and would not throw her to the sharks, she was minded to give her mistress a royal funeral after the custom of her own Libyan folk.  Here was flame, and what pyre could be grander than this great ship?

Lifting the body from its couch, Nehushta carried it to the deck and laid it by the broken mast, closing the eyes and folding the hands.  Then she loosened from about the neck those tokens of which Rachel had spoken, made some food and garments into a bundle, and, carrying the lamp with her, went into the captain’s cabin amidships.  Here a money-box was open, and in it gold and some jewels which this man had abandoned in his haste.  These she took, adding them to her own store and securing them about her.  This done she fired the cabin, and passing to the hold, broke a jar of oil and fired that also.  Then she fled back again, knelt by her dead mistress and kissed her, took the child, wrapping it warmly in a shawl, and by the ladder of rope which the sailors had used, let herself down into the quiet sea.  Its waters did not reach higher than her middle, and soon she was standing on the shore and climbing the sandhills that lay beyond.  At their summit she turned to look, and lo! yonder where the galley was, already a great pillar of fire shot up to heaven, for there was much oil in the hold and it burnt furiously.

“Farewell!” she cried, “farewell!”

Then, weeping bitterly, Nehushta walked on inland.

CHAPTER V

MIRIAM IS ENTHRONED

Presently Nehushta found herself out of sight of the sea and among cultivated land, for here were vines and fig trees grown in gardens fenced with stone walls; also patches of ripening barley and of wheat in the ear, much trodden down as though horses had been feeding there.  Beyond these gardens she came to a ridge, and saw beneath her a village of many houses of green brick, some of which seemed to have been destroyed by fire.  Into this village she walked boldly, and there the first sight that met her eyes was that of sundry dead bodies, upon which dogs were feeding.

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Pearl-Maiden from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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