The prelate gave them a few minutes together; when he had blessed them both and solemnized their betrothal, he led her back to her cell. However, she had hardly time to thank him out of the fulness of her overflowing heart, when a town-watchman came to fetch him to see Susannah; her last hour was at hand, if not already past. John at once went with the messenger, and Paula drew a deep breath as she saw him depart. Then she threw herself on to her nurse’s shoulders, crying:
“Now, come what may! Nothing can divide us; not even death!”
The bishop was too late. He found the widow Susannah a corpse; standing at the head of the bed was little Katharina, as pale as death, speechless, tearless, utterly annihilated. He kindly tried to cheer her, and to speak words of comfort; but she pushed him away, tore herself from him, and before he could stop her, she had fled out of the room.
Poor child! He had seen many a loving daughter mourning for her mother, but never such grief as this. Here, thought he, were two human souls all in all to each other, and hence this overwhelming sorrow.
Katharina had escaped to her own room, had thrown herself on the couch—cowering so close that no one entering the room would have taken the undistinguishable heap for a human being, a grown up, passionately suffering girl.
It was very hot, and yet a cold shiver ran through her slender frame. Was she now attacked by the pestilence? No; it would be too merciful of Fate to take such pity on her woes.
The mother was dead, dragged to the grave by her own daughter. The disease had first shown itself on her lips; and how many times had the physician expressed his surprise at the plague having broken out in this healthy quarter of the town, and in a house kept so scrupulously clean. She knew at whose bidding the avenging angel had entered there, and whose criminal guile had trifled with him. The words “murdered your mother” haunted her, and she remembered the law of the ancients which refused to prescribe a punishment for the killing of parents, because they considered such a monstrous deed impossible.
A scornful smile curled her lip. Laws! Principles! Was there one that she had not defied? She had contemned God, meddled with magic, borne false witness, committed murder—and as to the one law with promise, which, if Philippus was right, was exactly the same in the code of her forefathers as on the tables of Moses, how had she kept that? Her own mother was no more, and by her act!
All through this frightful retrospect she had never ceased to shiver and, as this was becoming unendurable, she took to walking up and down and seeking excuses for her sinful doings: It was not her mother, but Heliodora whom she had wished to kill; why had malicious Fate. . . ?