She closed her trunk with a pleased smile, for the motto round the star was, she felt, of good augury. At the same time she resolved to speak to Orion, taking these words, which her forefathers had adopted from old Hesiod, as her text. She hastened down stairs, crossed the garden, passing by Rufinus, his wife and the physician, awoke the secretary who had long since dropped asleep, and enjoined him to say: “Yes” to his master, as he expected. However, before the messenger had mounted his mule, she begged him to wait yet a few minutes and returned to the two men; for she had forgotten in her eagerness to speak to them of Orion’s plans. They were both willing to meet him at the hour proposed and, while Philippus went to tell the messenger that they would expect his master on the next day, the old man looked at Paula with undisguised satisfaction and said:
“We were fearing lest the news from the governor’s house should have spoilt your happy mood, but, thank God, you look as if you had just come from a refreshing bath.—What do you say, Joanna? Twenty years ago such an inmate here would have made you jealous? Or was there never a place for such evil passions in your dove-like soul?”
“Nonsense!” laughed the matron. “How can I tell how many fair beings you have gazed after, wanderer that you are in all the wide world far away?”
“Well, old woman, but as sure as man is the standard of all things, nowhere that I have carried my staff, have I met with a goddess like this!”
“I certainly have not either, living here like a snail in its shell,” said Dame Joanna, fixing her bright eyes on Paula with fervent admiration.
That evening Rufinus was sitting in the garden with his wife and daughter and their friend Philippus. Paula, too, was there, and from time to time she stroked Pulcheria’s silky golden hair, for the girl had seated herself at her feet, leaning her head against Paula’s knee.
The moon was full, and it was so light out of doors that they could see each other plainly, so Rufinus’ proposition that they should remain to watch an eclipse which was to take place an hour before midnight found all the more ready acceptance because the air was pleasant. The men had been discussing the expected phenomenon, lamenting that the Church should still lend itself to the superstitions of the populace by regarding it as of evil omen, and organizing a penitential procession for the occasion to implore God to avert all ill. Rufinus declared that it was blasphemy against the Almighty to interpret events happening in the course of eternal law and calculable beforehand, as a threatening sign from Him; as though man’s deserts had any connection with the courses of the sun and moon. The Bishop and all the priests of the province were to head the procession, and thus a simple natural phenomenon was forced in the minds of the people into a significance it did not possess.