Paula went into her nurse’s room, and Perpetua, after a short and vain search for the crazy girl, abandoned her to her fate, not without some small scruples of conscience.
A beautifully-polished copper lamp hung from the ceiling and the little room exactly suited its mistress both were neat and clean, trim and spruce, simple and yet nice. Snowy transparent curtains enclosed the bed as a protection against the mosquitoes, a crucifix of delicate workmanship hung above the head of the couch, and the seats were covered with good cloth of various colors, fag-ends from the looms. Pretty straw mats lay on the floor, and pots of plants, filling the little room with fragrance, stood on the window-sill and in a corner of the room where a clay statuette of the Good Shepherd looked down on a praying-desk.
The door had scarcely closed behind them when Perpetua exclaimed: “But child, how you frightened me! At so late an hour!”
“I felt I must come,” said Paula. I could contain myself no longer.”
“What, tears?” sighed the woman, and her own bright little eyes twinkled through moisture. “Poor soul, what has happened now?”
She went up to the young girl to stroke her hair, but Paula rushed into her arms, clung passionately round her neck, and burst into loud and bitter weeping. The little matron let her weep for a while; then she released herself, and wiped away her own tears and those of her tall darling, which had fallen on her smooth grey hair. She took Paula’s chin in a firm hand and turned her face towards her own, saying tenderly but decidedly: “There, that is enough. You might cry and welcome, for it eases the heart, but that it is so late. Is it the old story: home-sickness, annoyances, and so forth, or is there anything new?”
“Alas, indeed!” replied the girl. She pressed her handkerchief in her hands as she went on with excited vehemence: “I am in the last extremity, I can bear it no longer, I cannot—I cannot! I am no longer a child, and when in the evening you dread the night and in the morning dread the day which must be so wretched, so utterly unendurable. . . .”
“Then you listen to reason, my darling, and say to yourself that of two evils it is wise to choose the lesser. You must hear me say once more what I have so often represented to you before now: If we renounce our city of refuge here and venture out into the wide world again, what shall we find that will be an improvement?”
“Perhaps nothing but a hovel by a well under a couple of palm-trees; that would satisfy me, if I only had you and could be free—free from every one else!”
“What is this; what does this mean?” muttered the elder woman shaking her head. “You were quite content only the day before yesterday. Something must have. . . .”