“Then help me to prepare for death,” said Paula gloomily. “You are not a priest of my confession, but no church has a more worthy minister. If you can absolve me in the name of your Redeemer, mine will pardon me. We look at Him, it is true, with different eyes, but He is the Saviour of us both, nevertheless.” A contradictory reply struggled for utterance in the strict Jacobite’s mind, but at such a moment he felt he must repress it; he only answered:
“Speak, daughter, I am listening.”
And she poured forth all her soul, as though he had been a priest of her own creed, and his eyes grew moist as he heard this confession of a pure and loving heart, yearning for all that was highest and best. He promised her the mercy of the Redeemer, and when he had ended with “Amen,” and blessed her, he looked down at the ground for some minutes and presently said, “Follow me, Child.”
“Whither?” she asked in surprise; for she thought that her last hour had already come, and that he was about to lead her away to the place of execution, or to her watery, ever-flowing tomb; but he smiled as he replied: “No, child. To-day I have only the pleasing duty of blessing your betrothal before God; if only you will promise not to estrange your husband from the faith of his fathers—for what will not a man sacrifice to win the love of a woman.—You promise? Then I will take you to your Orion.”
He rapped on the door of the cell, and when the warder had opened it he whispered his orders; Paula followed him silently and with blushing cheeks, and in a few minutes she was clasped to her lover’s breast while, for the first time—and perhaps the last—their lips met in a kiss.
The prelate gave them a few minutes together; when he had blessed them both and solemnized their betrothal, he led her back to her cell. However, she had hardly time to thank him out of the fulness of her overflowing heart, when a town-watchman came to fetch him to see Susannah; her last hour was at hand, if not already past. John at once went with the messenger, and Paula drew a deep breath as she saw him depart. Then she threw herself on to her nurse’s shoulders, crying:
“Now, come what may! Nothing can divide us; not even death!”
The bishop was too late. He found the widow Susannah a corpse; standing at the head of the bed was little Katharina, as pale as death, speechless, tearless, utterly annihilated. He kindly tried to cheer her, and to speak words of comfort; but she pushed him away, tore herself from him, and before he could stop her, she had fled out of the room.
Poor child! He had seen many a loving daughter mourning for her mother, but never such grief as this. Here, thought he, were two human souls all in all to each other, and hence this overwhelming sorrow.
Katharina had escaped to her own room, had thrown herself on the couch —cowering so close that no one entering the room would have taken the undistinguishable heap for a human being, a grown up, passionately suffering girl.