Susannah had never particularly cared for Paula, but her fate shocked her and moved her to pity. She must at once enquire whether it was not possible to send her some better food than the ordinary prison-fare. That was but Christian charity, and her daughter seemed to take her friend’s misfortune much to heart. When she and Martina returned home she looked so cast down and distracted that no stranger now would ever have dreamed of comparing her with a brisk little bird.
Once more a poisoned arrow had struck her. Till now she had been wicked only in her own eyes; now she was wicked in the eyes of another. Paula knew it was she who had betrayed her. The traitoress had been met by treachery. The woman she hated had a right to regard her as spiteful and malignant, and for this she hated her more than ever.
Till now she had nowhere failed to find an affectionate greeting and welcome; and to-day how coldly she had been repulsed—and not by Paula alone, but also by Martina, who no doubt had noticed something, and whose dry reserve had been quite intolerable to the girl.
It was all the old bishop’s fault; he had not kept his promise that her tale-bearing should remain as secret as a confession. Indeed, he must have deliberately revealed it, for no one but herself knew of the facts. Perhaps he had even mentioned her name to the Arabs; in that case she would have to bear witness before the judges, and then in what light would she appear to Orion, to her mother, to Joanna and Martina?
She had not failed to understand that old Rufinus must have perished in the expedition, and she was truly grieved. His wife and daughter had always been kind neighbors to her; and she would not have willingly brought sorrow on them. If she were called up to give evidence it might go hard with them, and she wished no harm to any one but those who had cheated her out of Orion’s love. This idea of standing before a court of justice was the worst of all; this must be warded off at any cost.
Where could Bishop Plotinus be? He had returned to Memphis the day before, and yet he had not been to see her mother, to whom he usually paid a daily visit. This absence seemed to her ominous. Everything depended on her reminding the old man of his promise as soon as possible; for if at the trial next morning—which of course, he must attend—he should happen to mention her name, the guards, the interpreter, and the scribe would invade her home too and then-horror! She had given evidence once already, and could never again go through all that had ensued.
But how was she to get at the bishop in the course of the night or early to-morrow at latest?
The chariot had not yet returned, and if—it still wanted two hours of midnight; yes—it must be done.
She began talking to her mother of the prelate’s absence; Susannah, too, was uneasy about it, particularly since she had heard that the old man had come home ill and that his servant had been out and about in search of a physician. Katharina promptly proposed to go and see him: the horses were still in harness, her nurse could accompany her. She really must go and learn how her venerable friend was going on.