He sighed as though lost in thought. “Paula, she was born into the most distressing of circumstances and it weighed heavily upon her.”

I wanted to say something but I hesitated. I got the impression the old man didn’t want his train of thought interrupted.  Then, as he absent-mindedly poked the fire’s embers my brooding friend found the words he wanted to say.

“Still a child, she had never known what it was to have a full stomach, wear a new dress or to know happiness. They were very hard times for everyone.”

I smiled sympathetically. “I imagine they were,”

Pausing, my companion that evening added that there was no self-worth, no dignity to life, and no hope for Paula. “Her family was heavily in debt to the banks. Sure, her parents worked hard but to be honest a plantation slave likely lived a better life.”

I asked my friend “Was there any improvement in her situation?”

My companion brightened at my question. “Oh, yes. Something happened in Paula’s life that changed everything. At nineteen-years of age she was gifted a brooch and upon the accessory was a symbol of a sun wheel cross that changed everything for her. 

You know, son, she always wore that brooch and it really did bring Paula good fortune. From that point on the lively young woman was transformed into the loveliest creature imaginable. The cupboards in her household were always full and neither Paula nor her family owed a penny to anyone. Brimming with confidence, Paula had a great job and everything to look forward to.” 

I loved hearing the old man’s words and I told him so.

The old man’s shoulders then shrunk. “It didn’t last, son. Her success brought her enemies, jealous rivals who would do anything to ruin her, to steal what she had earned. They lied about her, called her a prostitute.”

I didn’t want to hear what he was saying but I had little choice but to listen as he told me his tale. I knew my companion that evening was telling me the truth.

“Her rivals hated Paula and they never missed an opportunity to lie about her. They constantly threatened and tried to harm the young woman.”

“It must have had a terrible effect on her,” I ventured.

The old man smiled. “Not really. Why should it?  She had much more than they had so how could they possibly harm her? She lived in a lovely home with a wonderful family. She had no health, food or work worries. Paula lived the kind of life most of us can only dream about.”

I asked my friend what had happened to destroy such an idyll. He then told me that Paula was just 25-years old when she was ambushed by her tormentors.

“She was robbed, I ventured.”

My friend muttered: “No, it was far worse than that. Paula was very badly hurt, raped repeatedly, reduced to skin and bone. Unable to save herself, she perished.  Her home was attacked and plundered, her family ~ well, who knows what happened to her family?”

“You can’t be serious,” I murmured.

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My companion shook his head from side to side and the bitterness tightened his lips. “Paula was repeatedly raped, her clothes torn and shredded, her cupboards laid bare and her prospects destroyed.

Her family was gone and the new head of the household was a stranger to her. Paula had no choice in the matter. The poor girl worked hard and much of the money she earned was given to strangers. Indeed, many guests were invited into her home to share her clothes, food and living space. Paula was even called upon to educate and look after the health needs of her uninvited boarders.”

“She accepted this,” I asked my friend.

My companion explained that Paula had little choice. “The young woman accepted her fate after her being told that before being raped and robbed she had flaunted her good fortune. She was told that her family had done wicked things and must recompense.”

“But that is nonsense and easily proven to be so,” I countered.

“Son, people believe nonsenses when they are denied alternative opinions. Besides, people prefer the comfits of their illusions to the truth.”

I was shocked on hearing my friend’s story of Paula. It occurred to me that the sympathy for the girl’s plight must have been overwhelming. The old man paused for a moment and when he spoke he chose his words carefully.

“No, on the contrary, her attackers and their accomplices, even those who had not benefited from her ruination applauded her destruction. Her assaulters accused Paula of attacking them and they claimed she had it coming to her. For years afterwards, the poor distressed girl was denied opportunity to defend herself.”

Again my friend aimlessly prodded the fire’s embers with his poker. “You know, all these years on and they still celebrate the Rape of Paula.”

“Paula, it is such a pretty name?”

“Yes, Paula! I forgot to mention that her real name was Germania.”

Europe Arise. Michael Walsh.