In the course of the afternoon the Vekeel rode across to the prison in Memphis. He expected to find the bishop there, but instead he was met with the news that Plotinus was dead of the pestilence.
This was a malignant stroke of fate; for with the bishop perished the witness who could have betrayed to him the scheme plotted for the rescue of the nuns.—But no! The patriarch, too, no doubt, knew all.
Still, of what use was that at this moment? He had no time to lose, and Benjamin could hardly be expected to return within three weeks.
Obada had met Paula’s father in the battle-field by Damascus, and it had often roused his ire to know that this hero’s name was held famous even among the Moslems. His envious soul grudged even to the greatest that pure honor which friend and foe alike are ready to pay; he did not believe in it, and regarded the man to whom it was given as a time-serving hypocrite.
And as he hated the father so he did the daughter, though he had never seen her. Orion’s fate was sealed in his mind; and before his death he should suffer more acutely through the execution of Paula, whether she denied or owned her guilt. He might perhaps succeed in making her confess, so he desired that she should at once be brought into the judge’s council-room; but he failed completely in his attempt, though he promised her, through the interpreter, the greatest leniency if she admitted her guilt and threatened her with an agonizing death if she refused to do so. His prisoner, indeed, was not at all what he had expected, and the calm pride with which she denied every accusation greatly impressed the upstart slave. At first he tried to supplement the interpreter by shouting words of broken Greek, or intimidating her by glaring looks whose efficacy he had often proved on his subordinates but without the least success; and then he had her informed that he possessed a document which placed her guilt beyond doubt. Even this did not shake her; she only begged to see it. He replied that she would know all about it soon enough, and he accompanied the interpreter’s repetition of the answer with threatening gestures.
He had met with shrewd and influential women among his own people; he had seen brave ones go forth to battle, and share the perils of a religious war, with even wilder and more blood-thirsty defiance of death than the soldiers themselves; but these had all been wives and mothers, and whenever he had seen them break out of the domestic circle, beyond which no maiden could ever venture, it was because they were under the dominion of some passionate impulse and a burning partisanship for husband or son, family or tribe. The women of his nation lived for the most part in modest retirement, and none but those who were carried away by some violent emotion infringed the custom.