Chapter 18 A PRINCE’S PRESENT

This,” said my escort, as we dismounted, “is the residence assigned to you by the Camptâ. Besides the grounds here enclosed, he has awarded you, by a deed which will presently be placed in your hands, an estate of some ten stoltau, which you can inspect at your leisure, and which will afford you a revenue as large as is enjoyed by any save by the twelve Regents. He has endeavoured to add to this testimony of his regard by rendering your household as complete as wealth and forethought could make it. What may be wanting to your own tastes and habits you will find no difficulty in adding.”

We now entered that first and principal chamber of the mansion wherein it is customary to receive all visitors and transact all business. The hall was one of unusual size and magnificence. Here, at a table not far from the entrance, stood another official, not wearing the uniform of the Court, with several documents in his hand. As he turned to salute me, his face wore an expression of annoyance and discomfiture which not a little surprised me, till, by following his sidelong, uncomfortable glances, I perceived a veiled feminine figure, which could be no other than Eveena’s. Misreading my surprise, the official said—

It is no fault of mine, and I have not spoken except to remonstrate, as far as might be allowed, against so unusual a proceeding.”

He must have been astonished and annoyed indeed to take such notice of a stranger’s wife; and, above all, to take upon himself to comment on her conduct for good or ill. I thought it best to make no reply, and simply saluted him in form as I received the first paper handed to me, to which, by the absence of any blank space, I perceived that my signature was not required. This was indeed the document which bestowed on me the house and estate presented by the Sovereign. The next paper handed to me appeared to resemble the marriage-contract I had already signed, save that but one blank was left therein. Unable to decipher it, I was about to ask the official to read it aloud, when Eveena, who had stolen up to me unperceived, caught my arm and drew me a little way aside, indifferent to the wondering glances of the officials; who had probably never seen a woman venture uncalled into the public apartments of her husband’s house, still less interpose in any matter of business, and no doubt thought that she was taking outrageous advantage of my ignorance and inexperience.

I will scold you presently, child,” I said quickly and low. “What is it?”

Sign at once,” she whispered, “and ask no questions. Deal with me as you will afterwards. You must take what is given you now, without comment or objection, simply expressing your thanks.”

Must! Eveena?”

It is not safe to refuse or slight gifts from such a quarter,” she answered, in the same low tone. “Trust me so far; please do what I entreat of you now. I must bear your displeasure if I fail to satisfy you when we are alone.”

Her manner was so agitated and so anxious that it recalled to me at once the advice of Esmo upon the same point, though the fears which had prompted so strange an intervention were wholly incomprehensible to me. I knew her, however, by this time too well to refuse the trust she now for the first time claimed, and taking the documents one by one as if I had perfectly understood them, I wrote my name in the space left blank for it, and allowed the official to stamp the slips without a word. I then expressed briefly but earnestly my thanks both to the Autocrat and to the officials who had been the agents of his kindness. They retired, and I looked round for Eveena; but as soon as she saw that I was about to comply with her request, she had quitted the room. Alone in my own house, knowing nothing of its geography, having no notion how to summon the brute domestics—if, indeed, the dwelling were furnished with those useful creatures, without whom a Martial household would be signally incomplete—I could only look for the spring that opened the principal door. This should lead into the gallery which, as I judged, must divide the hall and the front apartments from those looking into the peristyle. Having found and pressed this spring, the door opened on a gallery longer, wider, and more elaborately ornamented than that of the only Martial mansions into which I had been hitherto admitted. Looking round in no little perplexity, I observed a niche in which stood a statue of white relieved by a scarlet background; and beside this statue, crouching and half hidden, a slight pink object, looking at first like a bundle of drapery, but which in a moment sprang up, and, catching my hand, made me aware that Eveena had been waiting for me.

I beg you,” she said with an earnestness I could not understand, “I beg you to come this way,” leading me to the right, for I had turned instinctively to the left in entering the gallery, perhaps because my room in Esmo’s house had lain in that direction. Reaching the end of the gallery, she turned into one of the inner apartments; and as the door closed behind us, I felt that she was sinking to the ground, as if the agitation she had manifested in the hall, controlled till her object was accomplished, had now overpowered her. I caught and carried her to the usual pile of cushions in the corner. The room, according to universal custom in Martial houses after sunset, was brilliantly lighted by the electric lamp in the peristyle, and throwing back her veil, I saw that she was pale to ghastliness and almost fainting. In my ignorance of my own house, I could call for no help, and employ no other restoratives than fond words and caresses. Under this treatment, nevertheless, she recovered perhaps as quickly as under any which the faculty might have prescribed. She was, still, however, much more distressed than mere consciousness of the grave solecism she had committed could explain. But I had no other clue to her trouble, and could only hope that in repudiating this she would explain its real cause.

Come, bambina!” I expostulated, “we understand one another too well by this time for you to wrong me by all this alarm. I know that you would not have broken through the customs of your people without good reason; and you know that, even if your reason were not sufficient, I should not be hard upon the error.”

I am sure you would not,” she said. “But this time you have to consider others, and you cannot let it be supposed that you do not know a wife’s duty, or will allow your authority to be set at naught in your own household.”

What matter? Do you suppose I listen in the roads?” [care for gossip], I rejoined. “Household rule is a matter of the veil, and no one—not even your autocratic Prince—will venture to lift it.”

You have not lifted it yourself yet,” she answered. “You will understand me, when you have looked at the slips you were about to make them read aloud, had I not interrupted you.”

Bead them yourself,” I said, handing to her the papers I still held, and which, after her interposition, I had not attempted to decipher. She took them, but with a visible shudder of reluctance—not stronger than came over me before she had read three lines aloud. Had I known their purport, I doubt whether even Eveena’s persuasion and the Autocrat’s power together could have induced me to sign them. They were in very truth contracts of marriage—if marriage it can be called. The Sovereign had done me the unusual, but not wholly unprecedented, favour of selecting half a dozen of the fairest maidens of those waiting their fate in the Nurseries of his empire; had proffered on my behoof terms which satisfied their ambition, gratified their vanity, and would have induced them to accept any suitor so recommended, without the insignificant formality of a personal courtship. It had seemed to him only a gracious attention to complete my household; and he had furnished me with a bevy of wives, as I presently found he had selected a complete set of the most intelligent amlau, carvee, and tyree which he could procure. Without either the one or the other, the dwelling he had given me would have seemed equally empty or incomplete.

This mark of royal favour astounded and dismayed me more than Eveena herself. If she had entertained the wish, she would hardly have acknowledged to herself the hope, that she might remain permanently the sole partner of my home. But so sudden, speedy, and wholesale an intrusion thereon she certainly had not expected. Even in Mars, a first bride generally enjoys for some time a monopoly of her husband’s society, if she cannot be said to enchain his affection. It was hard, indeed, before the thirtieth day after her marriage, to find herself but one in a numerous family—the harder that our union had from the first been close, intimate, unrestrainedly confidential, as it can hardly be where neither expects that the tie can remain exclusive; and because she had learned to realise and rest upon such love as belongs to a life in which woman, never affecting the independence of coequal partnership, has never yet sunk by reaction into a mere slave and toy. It was hard, cruelly hard, on one who had given in the first hour of marriage, and never failed to give, a love whose devotion had no limit, no reserve or qualification; a submission that was less self-sacrifice or self-suppression than the absolute surrender of self—of will, feeling, and self-interest—to the judgment and pleasure of him she loved: hard on her who had neither thought nor care for herself as apart from me.

When I understood to what I had actually committed myself, I snatched the papers from her, and might have torn them to pieces but for the gentle restraining hand she laid upon mine.

You cannot help it,” she said, the tears falling from her eyes, but with a self-command of which I could not have supposed her capable. “It seems hard on me; but it is better so. It is not that you are not content with me, not that you love me less. I can bear it better when it comes from a stranger, and is forced upon you without, and even, I think, against your will.”

The pressure of the arm that clasped her waist, and the hand that held her own, was a sufficient answer to any doubt that might be implied in her last words; and, lifting her eyes to mine, she said—

I shall always remember this. I shall always think that you were sorry not to have at least a little while longer alone with me. It is selfish to feel glad that you are pained; but your sympathy, your sharing my own feeling, comforts me as I never could have been comforted when, as must have happened sooner or later, you had found for yourself another companion.”

Child, do you mean to say there is ‘no portal to this passage;’ and that, however much against my will, I am bound to women I have never seen, and never wish to see?”

You have signed,” replied Eveena gently. “The contracts are stamped, and are in the official’s hands; and you could not attempt to break them without giving mortal offence to the Prince, who has intended you a signal favour. Besides, these girls themselves have done no wrong, and deserve no affront or unkindness from you.”

I was silent for some minutes; at first simply astounded at the calm magnanimity which was mingled with her perfect simplicity, then, pondering the possibilities of the situation—

Can we not escape?” I said at last, rather to myself than to her.

Escape!” she repeated with surprise. “And from what? The favour shown you by our Sovereign, the wealth he has bestowed, the personal interest he has taken in perfecting every detail of one of the most splendid homes ever given save to a prince—every incident of your position—make you the most envied man in this world; and you would escape from them?”

Gazing for a few moments in my face, she added—

These maidens were chosen as the loveliest in all the Nurseries of two continents; every one of them far more beautiful than I can be, even in your eyes. Pray do not, for my sake, be unkind to them or try to dislike them. What is it you would escape?”

Being false to you,” I answered, “if nothing else.”

False!” she echoed, in unaffected wonder. “What did you promise me?”

Again I was silenced by the loyal simplicity with which she followed out ideas so strange to me that their consequences, however logical, I could never anticipate; and could hardly admit to be sound, even when so directly and distinctly deduced as now from the intolerable consistency of the premises.

But,” I answered at last, “how much did you promise, Eveena? and how much more have you given?”

Nothing,” she replied, “that I did not owe. You won your right to all the love I could give before you asked for it, and since.”

We ‘drive along opposite lines,’ Madonna; but we would both give and risk much to avoid what is before us. Let me ask your father whether it be not yet possible to return to my vessel, and leave a world so uncongenial to both of us.”

You cannot!” she answered. “Try to escape—you insult the Prince; you put yourself and me, for whom you fear more, in the power of a malignant enemy. You cannot guide a balloon or a vessel, if you could get possession of one; and within a few hours after your departure was known, every road and every port would be closed to you.”

Can I not send to your father?” I said.

Probably,” she replied. “I think we shall find a telegraph in your office, if you will allow me to enter there, now there is no one to see; and it must be morning in Ecasfe.”

Familiar with the construction and arrangement of a Martial house, Eveena immediately crossed the gallery to what she called the office—the front room on the right, where the head of the house carries on his work or study. Here, above a desk attached to the wall, was one of those instruments whose manipulation was simple enough for a novice like myself.

But,” I said, “I cannot write your stylic characters; and if I used the phonic letters, a message from me would be very likely to excite the curiosity of officials who would care about no other.”

May I,” she suggested, “write your message for you, and put your purport in words that will be understood by my father alone?”

Do,” I rejoined, “but do it in my name, and I will sign it.”

Under her direction, I took the stylus or pencil and the slip of tafroo she offered me, and wrote my name at the head. After eliciting the exact purport of the message I desired to send, and meditating for some moments, she wrote and read out to me words literally translated as follows:—

The rich aviary my flower-bird thought over full. I would breathe home [air]. Health-speak.” The sense of which, as I could already understand, was—

A splendid mansion has been given us, but my flower-bird has found it too full. I wish for my native air. Prescribe.”

The brevity of the message was very characteristic of the language. Equally characteristic of the stylography was the fact that the words occupied about an inch beyond the address. Following her pencil as she pointed to the ciphers, I said—

Is not asny caré a false concord? And why have you used the past tense?”

This ill-timed pedantry, applying to Martial grammar the rules of that with which my boyhood had been painfully familiarised, provoked, amid all our trouble, Eveena’s low silver-toned laugh.

I meant it,” she answered. “My father will look at his pupil’s writing with both eyes.”

Well, you are out of reach even of the leveloo.”

She laughed again.

Asnyca-re,” she said; the changed accentuation turning the former words into the well-remembered name of my landing-place, with the interrogative syllable annexed.

This message despatched, we could only await the reply. Nestling among the cushions at my knee, her head resting on my breast, Eveena said—

And now, forgive my presumption in counselling you, and my reminding you of what is painful to both. But what to us is as the course of the clock, is strange as the stars to you. You must see—them, and must order all household arrangements; and” (glancing at a dial fixed in the wall) “the black is driving down the green.”

So much the better,” I said. “I shall have less time to speak to them, and less chance of speaking or looking my mind. And as to arrangements, those, of course, you must make.”

I! forgive me,” she answered, “that is impossible. It is for you to assign to each of us her part in the household, her chamber, her rank and duties. You forget that I hold exactly the same position with the youngest among them, and cannot presume even to suggest, much less to direct.”

I was silent, and after a pause she went on—

It is not for me to advise you; but”—

Speak your thought, now and always, Eveena. Even if I did not stand in so much need of your guidance in a new world, I never yet refused to hear counsel; and it is a wife’s right to offer it.”

Is it? We are not so taught,” she answered. “I am afraid you have rougher ground to steer over than you are aware. Alone with you, I hope I should have done nay best, remembering the lesson of the leveloo, never to give you the pain of teaching a different one. But we shall no longer be alone; and you cannot hope to manage seven as you might manage one. Moreover, these girls have neither had that first experience of your nature which made that lesson so impressive to me, nor the kindly and gentle training, under a mother’s care and a father’s mild authority, that I had enjoyed. They would not understand the control that is not enforced. They will obey when they must; and will feel that they must obey when they cannot deceive, and dare not rebel. Do not think hardly of them for this. They have known no life but that of the strict clockwork routine of a great Nursery, where no personal affection and no rule but that of force is possible.”

I understand, Madonna. Your Prince’s gift puts a man in charge of young ladies, hitherto brought up among women only, and, of course, petty, petulant, frivolous, as women left to themselves ever are! I wish you could see the ridiculous side of the matter which occurs to me, as I see the painful aspect which alone is plain to you. I can scarcely help laughing at the chance which has assigned to me the daily personal management of half-a-dozen school-girls; and school-girls who must also be wives! I don’t think you need fear that I shall deal with them as with you: as a man of sense and feeling must deal with a woman whose own instincts, affection, and judgment are sufficient for her guidance. I never saw much of girls or children. I remember no home but the Western school and the Oriental camp. I never, as soldier or envoy, was acquainted with other men’s homes. While still beardless, I have ruled bearded soldiers by a discipline whose sanctions were the death-shot and the bastinado; and when I left the camp and court, it was for colleges where a beardless face is never seen. I must look to you to teach me how discipline may be softened to suit feminine softness, and what milder sanction may replace the noose and the stick of the ferash” (Persian executioner).

I cannot believe,” Eveena answered, taking me, as usual, to the letter, “that you will ever draw the zone too tight. We say that ‘anarchy is the worst tyranny.’ Laxity which leaves us to quarrel and torment each other, tenderness which encourages disorder and disobedience till they must be put down perforce, is ultimate unkindness. I will not tell you that such indulgence will give you endless trouble, win you neither love nor respect, and probably teach its objects to laugh at you under the veil. You will care more for this—that you would find yourself forced at last to change ‘velvet hand for leathern band.’ Believe me, my—our comfort and happiness must depend on your grasping the helm at once and firmly; ruling us, and ruling with a strong hand. Otherwise your home will resemble the most miserable of all scenes of discomfort—an ungoverned school; and the most severe and arbitrary household rule is better by far than that. And—forgive me once more—but do not speak as if you would deal one measure with the left hand and another with the right. Surely you do not so misunderstand me as to think I counselled you to treat myself differently from others? ‘Just rule only can be gentle.’ If you show favouritism at first, you will find yourself driven step by step to do what you will feel to be cruel; what will pain yourself perhaps more than any one else. You may make envy and dislike bite (hold) their tongues, but you cannot prevent their stinging under the veil. Therefore, once more, you cannot let my interference pass as if none but you knew of it.”

Madonna, if I am to rule such a household, I will rule as absolutely as your autocratic Prince. I will tolerate no criticism and no questions.”

You surely forget,” she urged, “that they know my offence, and do not know—must not know—what in your judgment excuses it. Let them once learn that it is possible so to force the springs [bolts] without a sting, it will take a salt-fountain [of tears] to blot the lesson from their memory.”

What would you have, Eveena? Am I to deal unjustly that I may seem just? That course steers straight to disaster. And, had you been in fault, could, I humble you in other eyes?”

If I feel hurt by any mark of your displeasure, or humbled that it should be known to my equals in your own household,” she replied, “it is time I were deprived of the privileges that have rendered me so overweening.”

My answer was intercepted by the sound of an electric bell or miniature gong, and a slip of tafroo fell upon the desk. The first words were in that vocal character which I had mastered, and came from Esmo.

Hysterical folly,” he had said. “Mountain air might be fatal; and clear nights are dangerously cold for more than yourselves.”

What does he mean?” I asked, as I read out a formula more studiously occult than those of the Pharmacopoeia.

That I am unpardonably silly, and that you must not dream of going back to your vessel. The last words, I suppose, warn you how carefully in such a household you need to guard the secrets of the Starlight.”

Well, and what is this in the stylic writing?”

Eveena glanced over it and coloured painfully, the tears gathering in her eyes.

That,” she said, pointing to the first cipher, “is my mother’s signature.”

Then,” I said, “it is meant for you, not for me.”

Nay,” she answered. “Do you think I could take advantage of your not knowing the character?”—and she read words quite as incomprehensible to me as the writing itself.

Can a star mislead the blind? I should veil myself in crimson if I have trained a bird to snatch sugar from full hands. Must even your womanhood reverse the clasps of your childhood?”

It chimes midnight twice,” I said—a Martial phrase meaning, ‘I am as much in the dark as ever.’ “Do not translate it, carissima. I can read in your face that it is unjust—reproachful where you deserve no reproach.”

Nay, when you so wrong my mother I must tell you exactly what she means:—’Can a child of the Star take advantage of one who relies on her to explain the customs of a world unknown to him? I blush to think that my child can abuse the tenderness of one who is too eager to indulge her fancies.’

You see she is quite right. You do trust me so absolutely, you are so strangely over-kind to me, it is shameful I should vex you by fretting because you are forced to do what you might well have done at your own pleasure.”

My own, I was more than vexed; chiefly perhaps for your sake, but not by you. Where any other woman would have stung the sore by sending fresh sparks along the wire, you thought only to spare me the pain of seeing you pained. But what do the last words mean? No”—for I saw the colour deepen on her half-averted face—”better leave unread what we know to be written in error.”

But the less agreeable a supposed duty, the more resolute was Eveena to fulfil it.

They were meant to recall a saying familiar in every school and household,” she said:—

‘Sandal loosed and well-clasped zone— Childhood spares the woman grown. Change the clasps, and woman yet Pays with interest childhood’s debt.’”

This”—tightening and relaxing the clasp of her zone—”is the symbol of stricter or more indulgent household rule.” Then bending so as to avert her face, she unclasped her embroidered sandal and gave it into my hand;—”and this is what, I suppose, you would call its sanction.”

There is more to be said for the sandal than I supposed, bambina, if it have helped to make you what you are. But you may tell Zulve that its work and hers are done.”

Kneeling before her, I kissed, with more studied reverence than the sacred stone of the Caaba, the tiny foot on which I replaced its covering.

Baby as she thinks and I call you, Eveena, you are fast unteaching me the lesson which, before you were born and ever since, the women of the Earth have done their utmost to impress indelibly upon my mind—the lesson that woman is but a less lovable, more petulant, more deeply and incurably spoilt child. Your mother’s reproach is an exact inversion of the truth. No one could have acted with more utter unselfishness, more devoted kindness, more exquisite delicacy than you have shown in this miserable matter. I could not have believed that even you could have put aside your own feelings so completely, could have recognised so promptly that I was not in fault, have thought so exclusively of what was best and safe for me in the first place, and next of what was kind and just and generous to your rivals. I never thought such reasonableness and justice possible to feminine nature; and if I cannot love you more dearly, you have taught me how deeply to admire and honour you. I accept the situation, since you will have it so; be as just and considerate henceforward as you have been to-night, and trust me that it shall bring no shadow between us—shall never make you less to me than you are now.”

But it must,” she insisted. “I cannot now be other than one wife among many; and what place I hold among them is, remember, for you and you alone to fix. No rule, no custom, obliges you to give any preference in form or fact to one, merely because you chanced to marry her first.”

Such, nevertheless, did not seem to be the practice in your father’s house. Your mother was as distinctly wife and mistress as if his sole companion.”

My father,” she replied, “did not marry a second time till within my own memory; and it was natural and usual to give the first place to one so much older and more experienced. I have no such claim, and when you see my companions you may find good reason to think that I am the least fit of all to take the first place. Nor,” she added, drawing me from the room, “do I wish it. If only you will keep in your mind one little place for the memory of our visit to your vessel and your promise respecting it, I shall be more than content.”

Eveena’s humble, unconscious self-abnegation was rendering the conversation intolerably painful, and even the embarrassing situation now at hand was a welcome interruption. Eveena paused before a door opening from the gallery into one of the rooms looking on the peristyle.

You will find them there,” she said, drawing back.

Come with me, then,” I answered; and as she shrank away, I tightened my clasp of her waist and drew her forward. The door opened, and we found ourselves in presence of six veiled ladies in pink and silver, all of them, with one exception, a little taller and less slight than my bride. Eveena, with the kindness which never failed under the most painful trial or the most powerful impulses of natural feeling, extricated herself gently from my hold, took the hand of the first, and brought her up to me. The girl was evidently startled at the first sight of her new possessor, and alarmed by a figure so much larger and more powerful than any she had ever seen, exceeding probably the picture drawn by her imagination.

This,” said Eveena gently and gravely, “is Eunané, the prettiest and most accomplished scholar in her Nursery.”

As I was about to acknowledge the introduction with the same cold politeness with which I should have bowed to a strange guest on Earth, Eveena took my left hand in her own and laid it on the maiden’s veil, recalling to me at once the proprieties of the occasion and the justice she had claimed for her unoffending and unintentional rivals; but at the same time bringing back in full force a remembrance she could not have forgotten, but whose effect upon myself the ideas to which she was habituated rendered her unable to anticipate. To accept in her presence a second bride, by the same ceremonial act which had so lately asserted my claim to herself, was intensely repugnant to my feelings, and only her own self-sacrificing influence could have overcome my reluctance. My hesitation was, I fear, perceptible to Eunané; for, as I removed her veil and head-dress, her expression and a colour somewhat brighter than that of mere maiden shyness indicated disappointment or mortified pride. She was certainly very beautiful, and perhaps, had I now seen them both for the first time, I might have acquiesced in the truth of Eveena’s self-depreciation. As it was, nothing could associate with the bright intelligent face, the clear grey eyes and light brown hair, the lithe active form instinct with nervous energy, that charm which from our first acquaintance their expression of gentle kindness, and, later, the devoted affection visible in every look, had given to Eveena’s features.

It is, I suppose, hardly natural to man to feel actual unkindness towards a young and beautiful girl who has given no personal offence. Having once admitted, the justice of Eveena’s plea, and feeling that she would be more pained by the omission than by the fulfilment of the forms which courtesy and common kindness imperatively demanded, I kissed Eunané’s brow and spoke a few words to her, with as much of tenderness as I could feel or affect for Eveena’s rival, after what had passed to endear Eveena more than ever. The latter waited a little, to allow me spontaneously to perform the same ceremony with the other girls; but seeing my hesitation, she came forward again and presented severally four others—Enva (“Snow” = Blanche), Leenoo (“Rose”), Eiralé, Elfé, all more or less of the usual type of female beauty in Mars, with long full tresses varying in tinge from flax to deep gold or the lightest brown; each with features almost faultless, and with all the attraction (to me unfailing) possessed for men who have passed their youth by la beauté du Diable—the bloom of pure graceful girlhood. Eivé, the sixth of the party, standing on the right of the others, and therefore last in place according to Martial usage, was smaller and slighter than Eveena herself, and made an individual impression on my attention by a manifest timidity and agitation greater than any of the rest had evinced. As I removed her veil I was struck by the total unlikeness which her face and form presented to those I had just saluted. Her hair was so dark as by contrast to seem black; her complexion less fair than those of her companions, though as fair as that of an average Greek beauty; her eyes of deepest brown; her limbs, and especially the hands and feet, marvellously perfect in shape and colour, but in the delicacy and minuteness of their form suggesting, as did all the proportions of her tiny figure, the peculiar grace of childhood; an image in miniature of faultless physical beauty. In Eivé alone of the bevy I felt a real interest; but the interest called forth by a singularly pretty child, in whose expression the first glance discerns a character it will take long to read, rather than that commanded by the charms of earliest womanhood.

When I had completed the ceremonial round, there was a somewhat awkward silence, which Eveena at last broke by suggesting that Eunané should show us through the house, with which she had made the earliest acquaintance. This young girl readily took the lead thus assigned to her, and by some delicate manoeuvre, whose authorship I could not doubt, I found her hand in mine as we made our tour. The number of chambers was much greater than in Esmo’s dwelling, the garden of the peristyle larger and more elaborately arranged, if not more beautiful. The ambau were more numerous than even the domestic service of so large a mansion appeared to require. The birds, whose duties lay outside, were by this time asleep on their perches, and we forbore to disturb them. The central chamber of the seraglio, if I may so call it, the largest and midmost of those in the rear of the garden, devoted as of course to the ladies of the household, was especially magnificent.

When we stood in its midst, shy looks askance from all the six betrayed their secret ambition; though Eivé’s was but momentary, and so slight that I felt I might have unfairly suspected her of presumption. I left this room, however, in silence, and assigned to each, of my maiden brides, in order as they had been presented to me, the rooms on the left; and then, as we stood once more in the peristyle, having postponed all further arrangements, all distribution of household duties, to the morrow (assigning, however, to Eunané, whose native energy and forwardness had made early acquaintance with the dwelling and its dumb inhabitants, the charge of providing and preparing with their assistance our morning meal), I said, “I have let the business of the evening zyda actually encroach on midnight, and must detain you from your rest no longer. Eveena, you know, I still have need of you.”

She was standing at a little distance, next to Eunané; and the latter, with a smile half malicious, half triumphant, whispered something in her ear. There was a suppressed annoyance in Eveena’s look which provoked me to interpose. On Earth I should never have been fool enough to meddle in a woman’s quarrel. The weakest can take her own part in the warfare of taunt and innuendo, better and more venomously than could dervish, priest, or politician. But Eveena could no more lower herself to the ordinary level of feminine malice than I could have borne to hear her do so; and it was intolerable that one whose sweet humility commanded respect from myself should submit to slight or sneer from the lips and eyes of petulant girls. Eunané started as I spoke, using that accent which gives its most peremptory force to the Martial imperative. “Repeat aloud what you have chosen to say to Eveena in my presence.”

If the first to express the ill-will excited by Eveena’s evident influence, though exerted in their own behalf, it was less that Eunané surpassed her companions in malice than that they fell short of her in audacity. Her school-mates had found her their most daring leader in mischief, the least reluctant scapegoat when mischief was to be atoned. But she was cowed, partly perhaps by her first collision with masculine authority, partly, I fear, by sheer dread of physical force visibly greater than she had ever known by repute. Perhaps she was too much frightened to obey. At any rate, it was from Eveena, despite her pleading looks, that I extorted an answer. She yielded at last only to that formal imperative which her conscience would not permit her to disobey, and which for the first time I now employed in addressing her.

Eunané only repeated,” Eveena said, with a reluctance so manifest that one might have supposed her to be the offender, “a school-girl’s proverb:—

‘Ware the wrath that stands to cool: Then the sandal shows the rule.’”

The smile that had accompanied the whisper—though not so much suggestive of a woman’s malignity as of a child’s exultation in a companion’s disgrace—gave point and sting to the taunt. It is on chance, I suppose, that the effect of such things depends. Had the saying been thrown at any of Eunané’s equals, I should probably have been inclined to laugh, even if I felt it necessary to reprimand. But, angered at a hint which placed Eveena on their own level, I forgot how far the speaker’s experience and inexperience alike palliated the impertinence. That the insinuation shocked none of those around me was evident. Theirs were not the looks of women, however young and thoughtless, startled by an affront to their sex; but of children amazed at a child’s folly in provoking capricious and irresponsible power. The angry quickness with which I turned to Eunané received a double, though doubly unintentional, rebuke, equally illustrative of Martial ideas and usages. The culprit cowered like a child expecting a brutal blow. A gentle pressure on my left arm evinced the same fear in a quarter from which its expression wounded me deeply. That pressure arrested not, as was intended, my hand, but my voice; and when I spoke the frightened girl looked up in surprise at its measured tones.

Wrong, and wrong thrice over, Eunané. It is for me to teach you the bad taste of bringing into your new home the ideas and language of school. Meanwhile, in no case would you learn more of my rule than concerned your own fault. Take in exchange for your proverb the kindliest I have learned in your language:—

‘Whispered warnings reach the heart; Veil the blush and spare the smart.’

But, happily for you, your taunt had not truth enough to sting; and I can tell the story about which you are unduly curious as frankly as you please.—Let me speak now, Eveena, that I may spare the need to speak again and in another tone.—That Eveena seemed to have put us both in a false position only convinced me that she had a motive she knew would satisfy me as fully as herself. When I learned what that motive was, I was greatly surprised at her unselfishness and courage. If you threw me your veil to save me from drowning, how would you feel if my first words to you were:—’No one must think I could not swim, therefore even the household must believe you, in unveiling, guilty of an unpardonable fault’?… Answer me, Eunané.”

I should let you sink next time,” she replied, with a pretty half-dubious sauciness, showing that her worst fears at least were relieved.

Quite right; but you are less generous than Eveena. To hide how I had acted on her advice, she would have had you suppose her guilty. That you might not laugh at my authority, and ‘find a dragon in the esve’s nest,’ she would have had me treat her as guilty.”

But I deserved it. A girl has no right to break the seal in the master’s absence,” interposed Eveena, much more distressed than gratified by the vindication to which she was so well entitled.

Let your tongue sleep, Eveena. So [with a kiss] I blot your first miscalculation, Eunané. Earth [the Evening Star of Mars] light your dreams.”

It was with visible reluctance that Eveena followed me into the chamber we had last left; and she expostulated as earnestly as her obedience would permit against the fiat that assigned it to her.

Choose what room you please, then,” I said; “but understand that, so far as my will and my trust can make you, you are the mistress here.”

Well, then,” she answered, “give me the little octagon beside your own:”—the smallest and simplest, but to my taste the prettiest, room in the house. “I should like to be near you still, if I may; but, believe me, I shall not be frozen (hurt) because you think another hand better able to steer the carriage, if mine may sometimes rest in yours.”

Leading her into the room she had chosen, and having installed her among the cushions that were to form her couch, I silenced decisively her renewed protest.

Let me answer you on this point, once and for ever, Eveena. To me this seems matter of right, not of favour or fitness. But favour and fitness here go with right. I could no more endure to place another before or beside you than I could break the special bond between us, and deny the hope of which the Serpent” (laying my hand on her shoulder-clasp, which, by mere accident, was shaped into a faint resemblance to the mystic coil) “is the emblem; the hope that alone can make such love as ours endurable, or even possible, to creatures that must die. She who knelt with me before the Emerald Throne, who took with me the vows so awfully sanctioned, shall hold the first place in my home as in my heart till the Serpent’s promise be fulfilled.”

Both were silent for some time, for never could we refer to that Vision—whether an objective fact, or an impression communicated from one spirit to the other by the occult force of intense sympathy—save by such allusion; and the remembrance never failed to affect us both with a feeling too deep for words. Eveena spoke again—

I am sorry you have so bound yourself; perhaps only because you knew me first. And it shames me to receive fresh proof of your kindness to-night.”

And why, my own?”

Do not make me feel,” she said, “that—though the measured sentences you have taught me to call scolding seemed the sharpest of all penances—there is a heavier yet in the silence which withholds forgiveness.”

What have I yet to forgive, Madonna?”

But Eveena could read my feelings in spite of my words, and knew that the pain she had given was too recent to allow me to misconceive her penitence.

I ought to say, my interference. It was your right to rule as you chose, and my meddling was a far worse offence than Eunané’s malice. But it was not that you felt too deeply to reprove.”

True! Eunané hurt me a little; but I expected no such misjudgment from you. By the touch that proved your alarm I know that I gave no cause for it.”

How so?” she asked in surprise.

You laid your hand instinctively on my left arm, the one your people use. Had I made the slightest angry gesture, you would have held back my right. Had I deserved that Eveena should think so ill of me—think me capable of doing such dishonour to her presence and to my own roof, which should have protected an equal enemy from that which you feared for a helpless girl? For what you would have checked was such a blow as men deal to men who can strike back; and the hand that had given it would have been unfit to clasp man’s in friendship or woman’s in love. You yourself must have shrunk from its touch.”

She caught and held it fast to her lips.

Can I forget that it saved my life? I don’t understand you at all, but I see that I have frozen your heart. I did fancy for one moment you would strike, as passionate men and women often do strike provoking girls, perhaps forgetting your own strength; and I knew you would be miserable if you did hurt her—in that way. The next moment I was ashamed, more than you will believe, to have wronged you so. Like every man, from the head of a household to the Arch-Judge or the Camptâ, you must rule by fear. But your wrath will ‘stand to cool;’ and you will hate to make a girl cry as you would hate to send a criminal to the electric-rack, the lightning-stroke, or the vivisection-table. And, whatever you had done, do you fancy that I could shrink from you? I said, ‘If you weary of your flower-bird you must strike with the hammer;’ and if you could do so, do you think I should not feel for your hand to hold it to the last?”

Hush, Eveena! how can I bear such words? You might forgive me for any outrage to you: I doubt your easily forgetting cruelty to another. I have not a heart like yours. As I never failed a friend, so I never yet forgave a foe. Yet even I might pardon one of those girls an attempt to poison myself, and in some circumstances I might even learn to like her better afterwards. But I doubt if I could ever touch again the hand that had mixed the poison for another, though that other were my mortal enemy.”