It must be something of a pleasant nature, for as the old man spoke of it his sunken lips mumbled with satisfaction, while his sparkling eyes seemed to say to Pulcheria: “And I have something good in store for you, too, dear child.”
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Thin-skinned, like all up-starts in authority
THE BRIDE OF THE NILE
By Georg Ebers
Paula passed a fearful night in the small, frightfully hot prison-cell in which she and Betta were shut up. She could not sleep, and when once she succeeded in closing her eyes she was roused by the yells and clanking chains of the captives in the common prison and the heavy step of another sufferer who paced the room overhead, even more restless than herself.
Poor fellow-victim! Was it a tortured conscience that drove him hither and thither, or was he as innocent as she was, and was it longing, love, and anxiety that bereft him of sleep?
He was no vulgar criminal. There was no room for those in this part of the building; and at midnight, when the noise in the large hall was suddenly silenced, soft sounds of the lute came down to her from his cell, and only a master could strike the strings with such skill.
She cared nothing for the stranger; but she was grateful for his gift of music, for it diverted her thoughts from herself, and she listened with growing interest. Glad of an excuse for rising from her hard, hot bed, she sprang up and placed herself close to the one window, an opening barred with iron. But then the music ceased and a conversation began between the warder and her fellow-prisoner.
What voice was that? Did she deceive herself, or hear rightly?
Her heart stood still while she listened; and now every doubt was silenced: It was Orion, and none other, whom she heard speaking in the room above. Then the warder spoke his name; they were talking of her deceased uncle; and now, as if in obedience to some sign, they lowered their voices. She heard whispering but could not distinguish what was said. At length parting words were uttered in louder tones, the door of the cell was locked and the prisoner approached his window.
At this she pressed her face close to the heated iron bars, looked upwards, listened a moment and, as nothing was stirring, she said, first softly, and then rather louder: “Orion, Orion!”
And, from above, her name was spoken in reply. She greeted him and asked how and when he had come hither; but he interrupted her at the first words with a decisive: “Silence!” adding in a moment, “Look out!”
She listened in expectancy; the minutes crept on at a snail’s pace to a full half hour before he at last said: “Now!” And, in a few moments, she held in her hand a written scroll that he let down to her by a lutestring weighted with a scrap of wood.