“Is the outer court-yard clear yet? Are the people gone?” she asked.
The reply was in the affirmative. The freed servants had retired when Hiram left them. The officials would not break up for some time yet, but there was less difficulty in passing them.
“Very good,” said the girl. “Then you, Hiram, lead the way and wait for me by the little side door. I will give you something in my room which will pay the Nabathaean’s charges ten times over. Do not look so horrified, Betta. I will give him the large emerald out of my mother’s necklace.” The woman clasped her hands, and cried out in dismay and warning.
“Child, child! That splendid gem! an heirloom in the family—that stone which came to you from the saintly Emperor Theodosius—to sell that of all things! Nay-to throw it away; not to rescue your father either, but merely—yes child, for that is the truth, merely because you lack patience to wait two little weeks!”
“That is hard, that is unjust, Betta,” Paula broke in reprovingly. “It will be a question of a month, and we all know how much depends on the messenger. Do you forget how highly Hiram spoke of this very man’s intelligence? And besides—must I, the younger, remind you?—What is the life of man? An instant may decide his life or death; and my father is an old man, scarred from many wounds even before the siege. It may make just the difference between our meeting, or never meeting again.”
“Yes, yes,” said the old woman in subdued tones, “perhaps you are right, and if I. . .” But Paula stopped her mouth with a kiss, and then desired Hiram to carry the gem, the first thing in the morning, to Gamaliel the Jew, a wealthy and honest man, and not to sell it for less than twelve thousand drachmae. If the goldsmith could not pay so much for it at once, he might be satisfied to bring away the two thousand drachmae for the messenger, and fetch the remainder at another season.
The Syrian led the way, and when, after a long leave-taking, she quitted her nurse’s pleasant little room, Hiram had done her bidding and was waiting for her at the little side door.
As Hiram had supposed, the better class of the household were still sitting with their friends, and they had been joined by the guide and by the Arab merchant’s head man: Rustem the Masdakite, as well as his secretary and interpreter.
With the exception only of Gamaliel the Jewish goldsmith, and the Arab’s followers, the whole of the party were Christians; and it had gone against the grain to admit the Moslems into their circle—the Jew had for years been a welcome member of the society. However, they had done so, and not without marked civility; for their lord had desired that the strangers should be made welcome, and they might expect to hear much that was new from wanderers from such a distance.