With trembling knees they found their way back to the chariot; but even before it could start Heliodora had broken down in tears, while Katharina, throwing herself back on the cushions, thought, as she glanced at her weeping companion: “This is the beginning of the wonderful happiness she was promised! It is to be hoped it may continue!”
It seemed indeed as though Katharina’s guardian spirit had overheard this amiable wish; for, as the chariot drove past the guard-house into the court-yard of the governor’s house, it was stopped by armed men with brown, warlike faces, and they had to wait some minutes till an Arab officer appeared to enquire who they were, and what they wanted. This they explained in fear and trembling, and they then learnt that the Arab government had that very evening taken possession of the residence. Orion was accused of serious crimes, and his guests were to depart on the following day.
Katharina, who was known to the interpreter, was allowed to go with Heliodora to the senator’s wife; she might also use the chariot to return home in, and if she pleased, take the Byzantines with her, for the palace would be in the hands of the soldiery for the next few days.
The two young women held council. Katharina pressed her friend to come at once to her mother’s house, for she felt certain that they were plague-stricken, and how could they procure a bath in a house full of soldiers? Heliodora could not and must not remain with Martina in this condition, and the senator’s wife could follow her next day. Her mother, she added, would be delighted to welcome so dear a guest.
The widow was passive, and when Martina had gladly consented to accept the invitation of her “delivering angel,” the chariot carried them to Susannah’s house. The widow had long been in bed, firmly convinced that her daughter was asleep and dreaming in her own pretty room.
Katharina would not have her disturbed, and the bath-room was so far from Susannah’s apartment that she slept on quietly while Katharina and her guest purified themselves.
The inhabitants of the governor’s residence passed a fearful night. Martina asked herself what sin she had committed that she, of all people, should be picked out to witness such a disaster.
And where were her schemes of marriage now? Any movement in such heat was indeed scarcely endurable; but she would have moved from one part of the house to another a dozen times, and allowed herself to be tossed hither and thither like a ball, if it could have enabled her to save her dear “great Sesostris” from such hideous peril. And at the bottom of all this was, no doubt, this wild, senseless business of the nuns.
And these Arabs! They simply helped themselves to whatever they fancied, and were, of course, in a position to strip the son of the great Mukaukas of all he possessed and reduce him to beggary. A pretty business this!