The priest performed his office, but she paid no heed, still staring upwards; her smiling lips continued to move, but no articulate sound came from them. At last they were still, her eyelids fell, her hands dropped the crucifix, a slight shiver ran through her limbs, which then relaxed, and she opened her mouth as though to draw a deeper breath. But it closed no more, and when the faithful steward pressed her lips together her face was rigid and her heart had ceased to beat.
The honest man sobbed aloud; when he carried the melancholy news to the Vekeel, Obada growled out a curse, and said to a subaltern officer who was super-intending the loading of his camels with the treasures from the tablinum:
“I meant to have treated that cursed old woman with conspicuous generosity, and now she has played me this trick; and in Medina they will lay her death at my door, unless. . .”
But here he broke off; and as he once more watched the loading of the camels, he only thought to himself: “In playing for such high stake’s, a few gold pieces more or less do not count. A few more heads must fall yet—the handsome Egyptian first and foremost.—If the conspirators at Medina only play their part! The fall of Omar means that of Amru, and that will set everything right.”
Katharina slept little and rose very early, as was her habit, while Heliodora was glad to sleep away the morning hours. In this scorching season they were, to be sure, the pleasantest of the twenty-four, and the water-wagtail usually found them so; but to-day, though a splendid Indian flower had bloomed for the first time, and the head gardener pointed it out to her with just pride, she could not enjoy it and be glad. It might perish for aught she cared, and the whole world with it!
There was no one stirring yet in the next garden, but the tall leech Philippus might be seen coming along the road to pay a visit to the women.
A few swift steps carried her to the gate, whence she called him. She must entreat him to say nothing of her last night’s expedition; but before she had time to prefer her request he had paused to tell her that the widow of the Mukaukas, overcome by alarm and horror, had followed her husband to the next world.
There had been a time when Katharina had been devoted to Neforis, regarding her as a second mother; when the governor’s residence had seemed to her the epitome of all that was great, venerable, and illustrious; and when she had been proud and happy to be allowed to run in and out, and to be loved like a child of the family. The tears that started to her eyes were sincere, and it was a relief to her, too, to lay aside the gay and defiantly happy mien which she wore as a mask, while all in her soul was dark, wild, and desperate.