Then she made her way home, at first weeping silently with bowed head, but afterwards tearless, upright, and with a confident step. She was in unusually good spirits, her heart beat higher than it had done for years; she felt uplifted by the sense of relief from a burthensome duty, and of freedom to act independently on the dictates of her own intelligence. She would assert herself, she would show the others that she had acted rightly; and when at supper-time Mary was missing, and had not returned even at bed-time, there was much to do to soothe and comfort them, and much misconstruction to endure; but she took it all patiently, and it was a consolation to her to bear such annoyance for her little favorite.
Next morning, when she had delivered Mary’s letter to Dame Joanna, her love and endurance were put to still severer proof; indeed, the meek-tempered widow allowed herself to be carried away to such an outbreak as hitherto would undoubtedly have led Eudoxia to request her dismissal, with sharp recrimination; but she took it all calmly.
It was not till noon-day—when the bishop made his appearance to carry the child off to the convent, and was highly wrathful at Mary’s disappearance, threatening the widow, and declaring that he would search the whole country through for the little girl and find her at last, that Eudoxia felt that the moment of her triumph had come. She quietly allowed the bishop to depart, and then only did she send her last and best shaft at Joanna by informing her that she had in fact encouraged the child in her exploit on purpose to save her from the cloister. Her newly-found motherly feeling made her eloquent, and with a result that she had almost ceased to hope for: the warm-hearted little woman, who had hurt her with such cruel words, threw her arms round Eudoxia’s tall, meagre figure, put up her face to kiss her, called her a brave, clever girl, and begged her forgiveness for all she had said and done the day before.
So, when the Greek went to bed, she felt as if her life had turned backwards and she had grown more like the happy young creature she had once been with her sisters in her parents’ house.
Paula now understood what hung over her. It is Bishop John who had told her, as gently as he could, and with every assurance that he still clung to the hope that he could stop the hideous heathen abomination; but even without this she would certainly have known what was impending, for large crowds of people gathered every day under the prisonwalls, and loud cries reached her, demanding to see the “Bride of the Nile.”
Now and again shouts of “Hail!” came up to her; but when the demented creatures had shrieked themselves hoarse, and in vain, they would abuse her vilely. The cry for the “Bride” never ceased from morning till night, and the head warder of the prison was glad that the bishop had relieved him of the task of explaining to Paula the meaning of the fateful word, whose significance she had repeatedly asked him.