He allowed her to talk till midnight, giving him the whole history of all she had known of joy and sorrow in the course of her young life; his keen insight searched her soul, his pious heart rose to meet the strength and courage of hers; and when he quitted her, as he walked home with the deacon, the first words with which he broke a long silence were:
“While you were asleep, God vouchsafed me an edifying hour through that heretic child of earth.”
When the door in the tall prison-wall was closed behind the women, Joanna made her way through streets still sultry under the silence of the night, Rustem following with the child.
The giant’s good heart was devoted to Mary, and he often passed his huge hand over his eyes while she told him all that the scene they had witnessed meant, and the fearful end that threatened Paula. He broke in now and again, giving utterance to his grief and wrath in strange, natural sounds; for he looked up to his beautiful sick nurse as to a superior being, and Mandane, too, had often remarked that they could never forget all that the noble maiden had done for them.
“If only,” Rustem cried at length, clenching his powerful fist, “If only I could—they should see. . . .” and the child looked up with shrewd, imploring eyes, exclaiming eagerly:
“But you could, Rustem, you could!”
“I?” asked Rustem in surprise, and he shook his head doubtfully.
“Yes, you, Rustem; you of all men. We were talking over something in the prison, and if only you were ready and willing to help us in the matter.”
“Willing!” laughed the worthy fellow striking his heart; and he went on in his strangely-broken Greek, which was, however, quite intelligible: “I would give hair and skin for the noble lady. You have only to speak out.”
The child clung to the big man with both hands and drew him to her saying: “We knew you had a grate ful heart. But you see. . .” and she interrupted herself to ask in an altered voice:
“Do you believe in a God? or stay—do you know what a sacred oath is? Can you swear solemnly? Yes, yes. . .” and drawing herself up as tall as possible she went on very seriously: “Swear by your bride Mandane—as truly as you believe that she loves you. . .”
“But, sweet soul....”
“Swear that you will never betray to a living soul what I am going to say—not even to Mother Joanna and Pulcheria; no, nor even to your Mandane, unless you find you cannot help it and she gives her sacred word....”
“What is it? You quite frighten me! What am I to swear?”
“Not to reveal what I am now going to tell you.”