He, like Barbara’s father, had supposed that the Emperor’s son had entered the world only to leave it again. Barbara’s “I no longer have a child; it was taken from me,” he had interpreted in the same way as the old captain, and, from delicacy of feeling, had never again mentioned the subject in her presence.
While taking the oath, he had been prepared for the worst; but when his wife, in passionate excitement, speaking so fast that the words fair tumbled over one another, told him how she had been robbed of her boy; how his imperial father had treated him; how she had longed for him; what prayers she had uttered in his behalf; how miserable she had been in her anxiety about this child; and, now, that Dona Magdalena’s letter permitted her to cherish the highest and greatest hopes for the boy, the tall, strong man stood before her with downcast eyes, like a detected criminal, his hand gripping the edge of the top of the table which separated her from him.
Barbara saw his broad, arched chest rise and fall, and wondered why his manly features were quivering; but ere she had time to utter a single soothing word, he burst forth: “I made the vow and will be silent; but to-morrow, or in a year or two, it will be in everybody’s mouth, and then, then My good name! Honour!”
Fierce indignation overwhelmed Barbara, and, no longer able to control herself, she exclaimed: “What did it matter whether Death or his father snatched the child from me? The question is, whether you knew that I am his mother, and it was not concealed from you. Nevertheless, you came and sought me for your wife! That is what happened! And—you know this—you are as much or little dishonoured by me, the mother of the living child, as of the dead one. Out upon the honour which is harmed by gossip! What slanderous tongues say of me as a disgrace I deem the highest honour; but if you are of a different opinion, and held it when you wooed me, you would be wiser to prate less loudly of the proud word ‘honour,’ and we will separate.”
Pyramus had listened to these accusations and the threat with trembling lips. His simple but upright mind felt that she was right, so far as he was concerned, and she was more beautiful in her anger than he had seen her since the brilliant days of her youthful pride. The fear of losing her seized his poor heart, so wholly subject to her, with sudden power and, stammering an entreaty for forgiveness, he confessed that the surprise had bewildered him, and that he thought he had showed in the course of the last ten years how highly, in spite of people’s gossip, he prized her. He held out his large honest hand with a pleading look as he spoke, and she placed hers in it for a short time.
Then she went to church to collect her thoughts and relieve her overburdened heart. Boundless contempt for the man to whom she was united filled it; yet she felt that she owed him a debt of gratitude, that he was weak only through love, and that, for her children’s sake, she must continue to wear the yoke which she had taken upon herself.