"Ah! I remember now reading something about it. That is why his name seemed familiar to me."
"I thought you must have heard something about him," responded the baroness, in a peculiar tone. Then, with a sudden movement, she seized his hand and whispered:
"And you are the unknown who abducted Colonel Barthelmy's wife."
"I?" in boundless amazement ejaculated the count. Then he laughed heartily.
"Yes, you; and you are living here in seclusion with the lovely woman whose face no one is permitted to see."
Ludwig ceased laughing, and replied very seriously; "Gracious baroness, were I the person you believe me to be, I should have been glad to meet the man who compelled me to live here in seclusion. A skilful sword-thrust or a well-aimed bullet would have released me from this prison."
"And yet, everybody believes Count Vavel to be Ange Barthelmy's lover," responded the baroness.
"Do you believe it, baroness?"
"I? Perhaps—not. But Colonel Barthelmy believes it all the more firmly because you refused to see him."
"And suppose he had seen me?"
"He would have asked you to introduce him to your—family."
"Then he would have learned that I have no family."
"But you could not have refused to tell him what relation you bear to the lady at the castle."
"My answer would have been very brief had he asked the question," was the count's grim response.
"I know what men mean by a 'brief' answer; the result is usually fatal."
"And does your ladyship imagine that I fear such a result?"
"So far as courage is concerned, I should not give any one precedence to Count Vavel. A regular duel, however, requires more than courage. Colonel Barthelmy is a soldier by profession; you are a philosopher who lives amid his studies, and whose right hand is unable to hold a pen, let alone a sword or a pistol!"
Count Vavel was touched on the spot where men are most susceptible.
"Who can tell whether I have always been a studious hermit?" he demanded proudly. "Besides, might it not be that my hand is unable only when I don't want to use it?"
"That may be," retorted the lady. "But Barthelmy, who is perfectly insane on the subject of his wife's infamy, would have the advantage of you. He is suspicious of every stranger; and of all the gossip which environs you, the legend of that elopement is the mildest."
"Indeed? This is very flattering! Probably I am also said to be a counterfeiter?"
"I am not jesting, Herr Count. While Colonel Barthelmy was my guest I was able to prevent him from taking any aggressive steps toward you; this is why you did not hear from him again after his last call on you—"
"I certainly am greatly indebted to you," interrupted Count Vavel, with visible irony.
"You owe me no thanks, Herr Count. When a woman tries to prevent a quarrel between two men, she does so, believe me, out of pure self-love. The emotions which electrify your nerves torment ours. I could not have continued to live here had a tragic occurrence made the place memorable. That is why I prevented an encounter between you and the colonel; so you need not thank me. However, the evening before the regiment took its departure the colonel said to me: 'I have kept my word to you, baroness; but to-morrow I cease to be your guest. I shall take steps then to learn if the mysterious lady at the Nameless Castle be Ange Barthelmy or some one else.'"
At these words a deep flush crimsoned Count Vavel's face. "I should like to know how he proposes to settle that question?" he said, in a voice that trembled with suppressed rage.
"I will tell you. Just listen to the ridiculous plan which the man betrayed in his fury. He is quartered in the neighboring village to the edge of which you and a certain person drive every day. He is going to rise, with several friends, along the road; and when he meets your carriage, he is going to stop it, introduce himself, and demand if the lady by your side be Mme. Ange Barthelmy."
Count Vavel clenched his hands and closed his lips tightly. After a brief struggle he regained command of himself, and said quietly:
"I shall, of course, reply: 'On my word as a man of honor, this lady is not Ange Barthelmy.'"
"But if that does not satisfy him? Suppose he should insist on seeing the lady? Suppose he even attempts to lift the lady's veil?"
"Then he dies!" The count gave utterance to these words in a tone that sounded more like the growl of a lion that has the neck of his prey between his teeth.
"He is capable, in his present mood, of doing anything rash," murmured the baroness, with an expression of terror in her eyes.
"And I am capable of an equally rash act," responded the count.
"I believe it; I have heard of such courage before. But you must not forget that you do not belong to yourself; there is some one else you must think of before you risk your life."
Count Vavel started violently; he opened his lips as if to speak, but the baroness quickly raised her hand and interposed.
"I am not trying to pry into your secret, Herr Count; I am no spy—you must have seen that ere this. All I know is that there is under your protection a woman to whom you are everything, and who will have no one should she lose you."
"But what can I do?" in desperation exclaimed Count Vavel. "I cannot hide in my castle until Colonel Barthelmy leaves the neighborhood. Would you have me confess to all the world that I am a coward?"
"Let me advise you, Herr Count," with sudden resolution responded the baroness. "Turn this matter, which you look upon as a tragedy, into a capital jest. Take me to drive with you to-day instead of your—friend."
Count Vavel suddenly burst into a loud laugh—from extreme anger to unrestrained merriment.
But the baroness did not laugh with him.
"I am in earnest, Count Vavel. Now you will understand why I came here this morning." She drew her veil over her face, and asked: "Am I enough like her to take her place in the carriage?"
Count Vavel was astounded. The likeness to Marie was perfect. The gown, the hat, and veil were exactly like those Marie was wont to wear when she drove out with him. The daring suggestion, however, amazed him more than anything else.
"What! You, baroness? You would really venture to drive with me? Have you thought of the risk—the danger to yourself?"
"I have given it as much thought as did you when you risked coming to the manor with nothing but a walking-stick to battle with four thieves. One ought not stop to think of the risk when a danger is to be averted. This adventure may end as harmlessly as the other."
"And suppose the colonel should by any chance see your face? No, no, baroness; there is no comparison between my venture and this plan you propose. If I had had an encounter with those thieves I might have received a wound that would soon have healed; but your pure reputation as a woman might receive a wound that would never heal."
A bitter smile wreathed the lady's lips as she replied: "Could any wound that I might receive increase the burden on my heart?" She laughed harshly, then asked suddenly: "Perhaps you are afraid the colonel will think I am the mysterious lady of the Nameless Castle?"
Count Vavel's face reddened to the roots of his hair.
Again the lady laughed, then said apologetically: "Pardon me, but the idea amused me. But, to return to Colonel Barthelmy, he is going very shortly to Italy with his regiment; therefore, I need not care what fables he thinks of me—or repeats. The few persons whose opinion I care for will not believe him; as for the others—pah! Come, your hand on it! Let us perpetrate this joke. If I am willing to run the risk, you surely need not hesitate."
And yet he hesitated.
"Don't speak of this plan of yours as a mischievous trick, baroness," he said earnestly. "It is a great, a noble sacrifice—so great, indeed, that living woman could not perform a greater—to be willing to blush with shame while innocent. She who blushes for her love does not suffer; but to flush with shame out of friendship must be a torture like that endured by martyrs."
"Very well, then; let it be a sacrifice—as you will! I am a willing victim! I owe you a debt of gratitude; I want to pay it. Now go and order the carriage; I will wait here for you."
Every drop of blood in his body rebelled against his accepting this offer. A woman rescue a strong man from a threatened danger! And at what a risk!
"Well," a trifle impatiently exclaimed the baroness, as he still lingered, "are n't you going to fetch your cloak? I am ready for the drive."
Without another word the count turned and strode toward the castle.
Marie was satisfied with the excuse he made for not taking her with him as usual: he said he had urgent business in the neighboring village, and would have to drive there alone.
Then he ordered Henry to harness the horses to the carriage, and drive down to the gate, where he would await him.
He found the baroness waiting for him where he had left her.
"Well," she began, when he came near enough to hear her, "have you decided to take me with you?"
"Then you are going to take the lady?"
"Not? Then who is going with you?"
"These two pistols," replied the count, flinging back his cloak and revealing the weapons thrust into his pocket. "With these two companions I am going to meet the gentleman who is so determined to see the face of the veiled lady. I shall show him a lady whose face is not a subject of gossip."
The baroness uttered a cry of terror, and seized Count Vavel's hand.
"No, no; you shall not go alone. Listen. I was prepared for just such a decision on your part, so I wrote this letter. If you persist in going alone to meet the colonel, I shall hurry back to the manor, send my groom on the swiftest horse I own with this letter to Colonel Barthelmy. Read it."
She unfolded the letter she had taken from her pocket, and held it so that Count Vavel might read, without taking it in his hands:
"HERR COLONEL: You need not seek Mme. Ange Barthelmy at the Nameless Castle. The veiled lady seen in company with Count Vavel is
"B. KATHARINA LANDSKNECHTSSCHILD."
In speechless amazement Count Vavel looked down at the baroness, who calmly folded the letter and returned it to her pocket.
"Now you may go if you like," she said coolly, "and I, too, shall do as I like! The colonel will then have written proof to justify him in dragging my name in the dust!"
The count gazed long and earnestly into the lovely face turned defiantly toward him. What was said by those glowing eyes, what was expressed by those lips trembling with excitement, could not be mere sport. There is only one name for the emotion which urges a woman to risk so much for a man; and if Count Vavel guessed the name, then there was nothing for him to do but offer his arm to the lady and say:
"Come, baroness, we will go together."
When the count assisted his veiled companion into the carriage, and took his seat by her side, not even Henry could have told that it was not his young mistress from the castle who was going to drive, as usual, with her guardian.
It was with a singular feeling that Count Vavel looked at the woman beside him, to whom he was bound for one hour by the strongest, most dangerous of ties. Only for one hour! For this one hour the woman belonged to him as wholly, as entirely as the soul belongs to the living human being. And afterward? Afterward she would be no more to him than is the vanished soul to the dead human being.
The carriage had arrived at the boundary of the neighboring village, where the usual turn was made for the homeward drive, and they had not yet seen any one. Had Colonel Barthelmy's words been merely an idle threat?
Henry knew that he was not to drive beyond this point; he mechanically turned the horses' heads in the homeward direction, as he had done every day for years.
On the return drive the carriage always stopped at the edge of the forest, where a shaded path led through the dense shrubbery to a cleared space some distance from the highway. This was the spot for their daily promenade.
The count and his companion had gone but a short distance along the path when they saw coming toward them three men in uniform. They were cavalry officers. The two in the rear had on white cloaks; the one in front was without, an outer garment—merely his close-fitting uniform coal.
"That is Barthelmy," whispered the baroness, pressing the arm on which she was leaning.
The count's expression of calm indifference did not change. He walked with a firm step toward the approaching officers.
Very soon they stood face to face.
The colonel was a tall, distinguished-looking man; he carried his head well upright, and every movement spoke of haughty self-confidence and pride.
"Herr Count Vavel, I believe?" he began, halting in front of Ludwig and his companion. "Allow me to introduce myself; I am Colonel Vicomte Leon Barthelmy."
Count Vavel murmured something which gave the colonel to understand that he (the count) was very glad to learn the gentleman's name.
"I have long desired to make your acquaintance," continued the colonel (his companions had halted several paces distant). "I was so unfortunate as not to find you at home the three calls I made at your castle. Now, however, I shall take this opportunity to say to you what I wanted to say then. First, however, let me introduce my friends,"—waving his hand toward the two officers,—"Captain Kriegeisen and Lieutenant Zagodics, of Emperor Alexander's dragoons."
Count Vavel again gave utterance to his pleasure on making the acquaintance of the colonel's friends. Then he said courteously:
"In what way can I serve you, Herr Colonel?"
"In a very simple manner, Herr Count," responded the colonel. "I have had the peculiar misfortune which sometimes overtakes a married man; my wife deceived me, and ran away with her lover, whom I do not even know. As mine is not one of those phlegmatic natures which can meekly tolerate such an indignity, I am searching for the fugitives—for what purpose I fancy you can guess. For four years my quest has been fruitless; I have been unable to find a trace of the guilty pair. A lucky chance at last led me to this secluded corner of the earth, and here I learned that—but, to be brief, Herr Count, I owe it to my heart and to my honor to ask you this question: Is not this lady by your side, who is always closely veiled, Ange Barthelmy, my wife?"
"Herr Vicomte Leon de Barthelmy," calmly replied Count Vavel, "I give you my word of honor as a cavalier that this lady never was your wife."
The colonel laughed in a peculiar manner.
"Your word of honor, Herr Count, would be entirely satisfactory in all other questions save those relating to the fair sex—and to war. You will excuse me, therefore, if I take the liberty to doubt your assertion in this case, and request you to prove that my suspicions are at fault. Without this proof I will not move from this spot."
"Then I am very sorry for you, Herr Colonel," returned Count Vavel, "but I shall be compelled to leave you and your suspicions in possession of this spot."
He made as if he would pass onward; but the colonel politely but with decision barred the path.
"I must request that you wait a little longer, Herr Count," he said, his face darkening.
"And why should I?" demanded the count.
"To convince me that the lady on your arm is not my wife," was the reply, in an excited tone.
"You will have to remain unconvinced," in an equally excited tone retorted Count Vavel; and for a brief instant it was a question which of the two enraged men would strike the first blow.
The threatening scene was suddenly concluded by the baroness, who flung back her veil, exclaiming: "Here, Colonel Barthelmy, you may convince yourself that I am not your wife."
Leon Barthelmy started in amazement, and hastily laid his hand against his lips as if to repress the words which had rushed to them. Then he bowed with exaggerated courtesy, and said: "I most humbly beg your pardon, Herr Count Vavel. This lady is not Ange Barthelmy. These gentlemen are witnesses that I have asked your pardon in the proper form."
The colonel's companions, who had come hastily forward at the threatened conflict between their superior and the count, were gazing in a peculiar manner at the lady whose hospitality they had so lately enjoyed. Colonel Barthelmy also, although he bowed with elaborate courtesy before the baroness, cast upon her a glance that was full of insulting scorn.
The situation had changed so rapidly—as when a sudden flash of lightning illumines the darkness of night; and like the electric flash a light sped into Vavel's heart and illumined it with a delicious, a heavenly warmth that made it throb madly. But only for an instant. Then he realized that this woman who had dared everything for his sake had been insulted by the glance of scorn and derision.
He had now lost all control of himself. He snatched a pistol from his pocket, directed the muzzle toward Colonel Barthelmy's sneering face, and said in a voice that quivered with savage fury:
"I demand that you beg this lady's pardon."
"You do?" coolly returned the colonel, still smiling, and gazing calmly into the muzzle of the pistol.
"Yes—or I will blow out your brains!"
The two officers accompanying the colonel drew their swords. The baroness uttered a cry of terror, and flung herself on Vavel's breast.
"I presume you will allow me to inquire, first, what relation this lady bears to you?"
Colonel Barthelmy asked the question in measured tones; and without an instant's hesitation came Count Vavel's reply:
"The lady is my betrothed wife."
The sneer vanished from the colonel's lips, and the swords of his companions were returned to their scabbards.
"I hasten to apologize," said the colonel. "Accept, madame, my deepest reverence, and do not refuse to forgive the insulting scorn my ignorance caused me to express. Permit me to convince you of my sincere homage, by this salute."
He bent his head and pressed his lips to one of the lady's hands, which were clasped about Count Vavel's arm. Then, with his helmet still in his hand, he turned to Count Vavel, and added: "Are you satisfied?"
"Yes," was the curt reply.
"Then let us shake hands—without malice. Accept my sincerest congratulations. To you, baroness, I give thanks for the lesson you have taught me this morning."
He bowed once more, then stepped to one side, indicating that the way was clear.
The baroness drew her veil over her face, and, clinging tremblingly to the arm of her escort, walked by his side back to the highway, the three officers following at a respectful distance.
When they emerged from the forest they saw the three horses which had been left by the colonel and his companions in charge of the grooms. Henry must have told the gentlemen where to find his master.
With what different emotions Count Vavel returned to the castle! The dreamer in his slumbers had given utterance to words which betrayed what he had been dreaming, and he compelled the vision to abide with him even after he had wakened. He felt that he had the right to do what he had done. This woman loved him as only a woman can love; and what he had done had only been his duty, for he loved her! What he had said was no falsehood—the words had not been forced from him merely to preserve her honor; they were the truth.
Count Vavel stopped the carriage at the park gate, assisted his companion to alight, and sent Henry on to the castle with the horses.
"What have you done?" in a deeply agitated voice exclaimed the baroness, when they were alone in the park.
"I gave expression to the feeling which is in my heart."
"And do you realize what that has done?"
"What has it done?"
"It has made it impossible for us to meet again—for us ever to speak again to each other."
"I cannot see it in that light."
"You could were you to give it but a moment's serious thought. I do not ask what the mysterious lady at the castle is to you; I know, however, that you must be everything to her. Pray don't believe me cruel enough to rob her of her whole world. I cannot ask you to believe a lie—I cannot pretend that you are nothing to me. I have allowed you to look too deeply into my heart to deny my feelings. But there is something besides love in my heart! it is pride. I am too proud to take you from the woman to whom you are bound—no matter by what ties. Therefore, we must not meet again in this life; we may meet again in another world! Pray do not come any farther with me; I can easily find the way to my boat. No one at the manor knows of my absence. I must be careful to return as I came—unseen. And now, one request: Do not try to see me again. Should you do so, it will compel me to flee from the neighborhood. Adieu!"
She drew her veil closer over her face, and passed swiftly with noiseless steps through the gateway.
Ludwig Vavel stood where she had left him, and looked after her until she vanished from his sight amid the trees. Then he turned and walked slowly toward the castle.
Count Vavel did not see Marie, after his return from the drive with the baroness, until dinner. He had not ventured into her presence until then, when he fancied he had sufficiently mastered his emotions so that his countenance would not betray him. The consciousness of his disloyalty to the young girl troubled him, and he could not help but tremble when he came into her presence. It was not permitted to him to bestow his heart on any one. Did he not belong, soul and body, to this innocent creature, whom he had sworn to defend with his life?
From that hour, however, Marie's behavior toward him was changed. He could see that she strove to be attentive and obedient, but she was shy and reserved. Did she suspect the change in him? or could it be possible that she had seen the baroness driving with him? It was very late when her bell signaled that she had retired, and when Ludwig entered the outer room, as usual, he found a number of books lying about on the table. Evidently the young girl had been studying.
The next morning Ludwig came at the usual hour to conduct her to the carriage.
"Thank you, but I don't care to drive to-day," she said.
"Riding out in a carriage does not benefit me."
"When did you discover this?"
"Some time ago."
Ludwig looked at her in astonishment. What was the meaning of this? Could she know that some one else had occupied her place in the carriage yesterday?
"And will you not go with me to-morrow?"
"If you will allow me, I shall stay at home."
"Is anything the matter with you, Marie?"
"Nothing. I don't like the jolting of the carriage."
"Then I shall sell the horses."
"It might be well to do so—if you don't want them for your own use. I shall take my exercise in the garden."
"And in the winter?"
"Then I will promenade in the court, and make snow images, as the farmers' children do."
And the end of the matter was that Ludwig sold the horses, and Marie's outdoor exercises were restricted to the garden. Moreover, she studied and wrote all day long.
When she went into the garden, Josef, the gardener's boy, was sent elsewhere so long as she chose to remain among the flowers.
One afternoon Josef had been sent, as usual, to perform some task in the park while Marie promenaded in the garden. He was busily engaged raking together the fallen leaves, when Marie suddenly appeared by his side, and said breathlessly:
"Please take this letter."
The youth, who was speechless with astonishment and confusion at sight of the lady he had been forbidden to look at, slowly extended his hand to comply with her request when Count Vavel, who had swiftly approached, unseen by either the youth or Marie, with one hand seized the letter, and with the other sent Josef flying across the sward so rapidly that he fell head over heels into some shrubbery.
Then the count thrust the letter into his pocket, and without a word drew the young girl's hand through his arm, and walked swiftly with her into the castle. The count conducted his charge into the library. He had not yet spoken a word. His face was startlingly pale with anger and terror.
When they two were alone within the four walls of the library, he said, fixing a reproachful glance on her:
"You were going to send a letter to some one?"
The young girl calmly returned his glance, but did not open her lips.
"To whom are you writing, Marie?"
Marie smiled sadly, and drooped her head.
Vavel then drew the letter from his pocket, and read the address:
"To our beautiful and kind-hearted neighbor."
The count looked up in surprise.
"You are writing to Baroness Landsknechtsschild!" he exclaimed, not without some confusion.
"I did not know her name; that is why I addressed it so."
Vavel turned the letter in his hands, and saw that the seal had been stamped with the crest which was familiar to all the world.
He hurriedly crushed it into bits, and, unfolding the letter, read:
"DEAR, BEAUTIFUL, AND GOOD LADY: I want you to love my Ludwig. Make him happy. He is a good man. I am nothing at all to him.
When he had read the touching epistle, he buried his face in his hands, and a bitter sob burst from his tortured heart.
Marie looked sorrowfully at his quivering frame, and sighed heavily.
"Oh, Marie! To think you should write this! Nothing at all to me!" murmured the young man, in a choking voice.
"'Nothing at all,'" in a low tone repeated Marie.
Vavel moved swiftly to her side, and, looking down upon her with his burning eyes still filled with tears, asked in an unsteady voice:
"What do you want, Marie? Tell me what you wish me to do."
Marie softly took his hand in both her own, and said tremulously:
"I want you to give me a companion—a mother. I want some one to love,—a woman that I can love,—one who will love me and command me. I will be an obedient and dutiful daughter to such a woman. I will never grieve her, never disobey her. I am so very, very lonely!"
"And am not I, too, alone and lonely, Marie?" sadly responded Vavel.
"Yes, yes. I know that, Ludwig. It is your pale, melancholy face that oppresses me and makes me sad. Day after day I see the pale face which my cruel, curse-laden destiny has buried here with me. I know that you are unhappy, and that I am the cause of it."
"For heaven's sake, Marie! who has given you such fancies?"
"The long, weary nights! Oh, how much I have learned from the darkness! It was not merely caprice that prompted me to ask you once what death meant. Had you questioned me more fully then, I should have confessed something to you. That time, when you rescued me from death, you gave my name to Sophie Botta, who also took upon herself my fate. I don't know what became of her. If she died in my stead, may God comfort her! If she still lives, may God bless and help her to reign in my stead! But give me the name of Sophie Botta; give me the clothes of a working-girl; give me God's free world, which she enjoyed. Let me become Sophie Botta in reality, and let me wash clothes with the washerwomen at the brook. If Sophie and I exchanged lives, let the exchange become real. Let me learn what it is to live, or—let me learn what it is to die."
In speechless astonishment Count Vavel had listened to this passionate outburst. It was the first time he had ever heard the gentle girl speak so excitedly.
"Madame," he said with peculiar intonation, when she had ceased speaking, "I am now convinced that I am the guardian of the most precious treasure on this terrestrial ball. Henceforward I shall watch over you with redoubled care."
"That will be unnecessary," proudly returned the young girl. "If you wish to feel certain that I will patiently continue to abide in this Nameless Castle, then make a home here for me—bring some happiness into these rooms. If I see that you are happy I shall be content."
"Marie, Marie, the day of my perfect happiness only awaits the dawn of your own! And that yours will come I firmly believe. But don't look for it here, Marie. Don't ask for impossibilities. Marie, were my own mother, whom I worshiped, still living, I could not bring her within these walls to learn our secret."
"The woman who loves will not betray a secret."
For an instant Ludwig did not reply; then he said:
"And if it were true that some one loves me as you fancy, could I ask her to bury herself here—here where there is no intercourse with the outside world? No, no, Marie; we cannot expect any one else to become an occupant of this tomb—the gates of which will not open until the trump of deliverance sounds."
"And will it be long before that trump sounds, Ludwig?"
"I believe—nay, I know it must come very soon. The signs of the times are not deceptive. Our resurrection may be nearer than we imagine; and until then, Marie, let us endure with patience."
Marie pressed her guardian's hand, and drew a long sigh.
"Yes; we will endure—and wait," she repeated. "And now, give me back my letter."
"Why do you want it, Marie?"
"I shall keep it, and sometime send it to the proper address—when the angel of deliverance sounds his trump."
"May God hasten his coming!" fervently appended the count.
But he did not give her the letter.
* * * * *
Count Vavel now rarely ventured beyond the gate of the Nameless Castle. The weather had become stormy, and a severe frost had robbed the garden of its beauties. The very elements seemed to have combined against the dwellers in the castle. Even the lake suddenly began to extend its limits, overflowing its banks, and inundating meadows and gardens. Marie's little pleasure-garden suffered with the rest of the flooded lands, and threatened to become an unsightly swamp.
Count Vavel, knowing how Marie delighted to ramble amid her flowers, determined to protect the garden from further destruction. Laborers were easily secured. The numerous families of working-people who had been rendered homeless by the inundation besieged the castle for assistance and work, and none were turned empty-handed away. A small army was put to work to construct an embankment that would prevent further encroachment upon the garden by the water, while to Herr Mercatoris the count sent a liberal sum of money to be distributed among the sufferers by the flood.
This gift renewed the correspondence between the castle and the parsonage, which had been dropped for several months.
The pastor, in acknowledging the receipt of the money, wrote:
"The flood has made a new survey of the lake necessary, as the evil cannot be remedied until it has been determined what obstructs the outlet. Our surveyor made a calculation as to the probable cost of the work, and found that it would require an enormous sum of money—almost five thousand guilders! Where was all this money to come from? The puzzling question was answered by that angel from heaven, Baroness Landsknechtsschild. When she heard of the sufferings of the poor people who had been driven from their homes by the inundation, she offered to supply the entire sum necessary. Now, it seems, something besides the money is required for the undertaking.
"The surveyor, in order to calculate the distances which cannot be measured by the chain, needs a superior telescope, and such a glass would cost two or three thousand guilders more. As your lordship is the owner of a telescope, I take it upon myself to beg the loan of it—if your lordship can spare it to the surveyor for a short time."
The next day Count Vavel sent his telescope to the parsonage, with the message that it was a present to the surveyor. Then, that he might not be again tempted to look out upon the world and its people, the count closed the tower windows.
DEATH AND NEW LIFE IN THE NAMELESS CASTLE
Since Count Vavel had ceased to take outdoor exercise, he had renewed his fencing practice with Henry, who was also an expert swordsman.
In a room on the ground floor of the castle, whence the clashing of steel could not penetrate to Marie's apartments, the two men, master and man, would fight their friendly battles twice daily, and with such vigor that their bodies (as they wore no plastrons) were covered with scratches and bruises.
One morning the count waited in vain for Henry to make his appearance in the fencing-hall. It was long past the usual hour for their practice, and the count, becoming impatient, went in search of the old servant.
The groom's apartment was on the same floor with the kitchen, adjoining the room occupied by his wife Lisette, the cook.
The door of Henry's room which opened into the corridor was locked; the count, therefore, passed into the kitchen, where Lisette was preparing dinner.
"Where is Henry?" he asked of the unwieldy mountain of flesh, topped by a face as broad and round as the full moon.
"He is in bed," replied Lisette, without looking up from her work.
"Is he ill?"
"I believe he has had a stroke of apoplexy."
She said it with as little emotion as if she had spoken of an underdone pasty.
The count hastened through Lisette's room to Henry's bedside.
The poor fellow was lying among the pillows; his mouth and one eye were painfully distorted.
"Henry!" ejaculated the count, in a tone of alarm; "my poor Henry, you are very ill."
"Ye-es—your—lord-ship," he answered slowly, and with difficulty; "but—but—I shall soon—soon be—all right—again."
Ludwig lifted the sick man's hand from the coverlet, and felt the pulse.
"Yes, you are very ill indeed, Henry—so ill that I would not attempt to treat you. We must have a doctor."
"He—he won't come—here; he is—afraid. Besides, there is nothing—the matter with—any part of me but—but my—tongue. I can—can hardly—move—it."
"You must not die, Henry—you dare not!" in an agony of terror exclaimed Ludwig. "What would become of me—of Marie?"
"That—that is what—troubles—troubles me—most, Herr Count. Who will—take my—place? Perhaps—that old soldier—with the machine leg—"
"No! no! no! Oh, Henry, no one could take your place. You are to me what his arms are to a soldier. You are the guardian of all my thoughts—my only friend and comrade in this solitude."
The poor old servant tried to draw his distorted features into a smile.
"I am—not sorry for—myself—Herr Count; only for you two. I have earned—a rest; I have—lost everything—and have long ago—ceased to hope for—anything. I feel that—this is—the end. No doctor can—help me. I know—I am—dying." He paused to breathe heavily for several moments, then added: "There is—something—I should—like to have—before—before I—go."
"What is it, Henry?"
"I know you—will be—angry—Herr Count, but—I cannot—cannot die without—consolation."
"Consolation?" echoed Ludwig.
"Yes—the last consolation—for the—dying. I have not—confessed for—sixteen years; and the—multitude of my—sins—oppresses me. Pray—pray, Herr Count, send for—a priest."
"Impossible, Henry. Impossible!"
"I beseech you—in the name of God—let me see a priest. Have mercy—on your poor old servant, Herr Count. My soul feels—the torments of hell; I see the everlasting flames—and the sneering devils—"
"Henry, Henry," impatiently remonstrated his master, "don't be childish. You are only tormenting yourself with fancies. Does the soldier who falls in battle have time to confess his sins? Who grants him absolution?"
"Perhaps—were I in—the midst of the turmoil of battle—I should not feel this agony of mind. But here—there is so much time to think. Every sin that I have committed—rises before me like—like a troop of soldiers that—have been mustered for roll-call."
"Pray cease these idle fancies, Henry. Of what are you thinking? You want to tell a priest that you are living here under a false name—tell him that I, too, am an impostor? You would say to him: 'When the revolutionists imprisoned my royal master and his family, to behead them afterward, I clothed my own daughter in the garments belonging to my master's daughter, in order to save the royal child from death, I gave up my own child to danger, and carried my master's child to a place of safety. My own child I gave up to play the role of king's daughter, when kings and their offspring were hunted down like wild beasts; and made of the king's daughter a servant, that she might be allowed to go free. I counterfeited certificates of baptism, registers, passports, in order to save the king's daughter from her enemies. I bore false witness—committed perjury in order to hide her from her persecutors—'"
"Yes—yes," moaned the dying man, "all that have I done."
"And do you imagine that you will be allowed to breathe such a confession into a human ear?" sternly responded the count.
"I must—I must—to make my peace with God."
"Henry, if you knew God as He is you would not tremble before him. If you could realize the immeasurable greatness of His benevolence, His love, His mercy, you would not be afraid to appear before Him with the plea: 'Master, Thou sentest me forth; Thou hast summoned me to return. I came from Thee; to Thee I return. And all that which has happened to me between my going and my coming Thou knowest.'"
"Ah, yes, Herr Count, you have a great soul. It will know how to rise to its Creator. But what can my poor, ignorant little soul do when it leaves my body? It will not be able to find its way to God. I am afraid; I tremble. Oh, my sins, my sins!"
"Your sins are imaginary, Henry," almost irritably responded Count Vavel. "I swear to you, by the peace of my own soul, that the load beneath which you groan is not sin, but virtue. If it be true that human speech and thought are transmitted to the other world, and if there is a voice that questions us, and a countenance that looks upon us, then answer with confidence: 'Yes, I have transgressed many of Thy laws; but all my transgressions were committed to save one of Thy angels.'"
"Ah, yes, Herr Count, if I could talk like that; but I can't."
"And are not all your thoughts already known to Him who reads all hearts? It does not require the absolution of a priest to admit you to His paradise."
But Henry refused to be comforted; his eyes burned with the fire of terror as he moaned again and again:
"I shall be damned! I shall be damned!"
Count Vavel now lost all patience, and, forgetting himself in his anger, exclaimed:
"Henry, if you persist in your foolishness you will deserve damnation. Did not you say so yourself, when you pledged your word to me on that eventful day? Did you not say, 'The wretch who would become a traitor deserves to be damned'?"
With these words he rose and strode toward the door. But ere he reached it his feeling heart got the better of his anger. He turned and walked back to the bed, took the dying man's ice-cold hand in his, and said gently:
"My old comrade—my brave old companion in arms! we must not part in anger. Don't you trust me any more? Listen, my old friend, to what I say to you. You are going on before to arrange quarters; then I will follow. When I arrive at the gates of paradise, my first question to St. Peter will be, 'Is my good old comrade, the honest, virtuous Henry, within?' And should the sainted gatekeeper reply, 'No, he is not here; he is down below,' then I shall say to him, 'I am very much obliged to you, old fellow, for your friendliness, but a paradise from which my old friend Henry is excluded is no place for me. I am going down below to be with him.' That is what I shall say, so help me Heaven!"
The sufferer who stood on the threshold of death strove to smile. He could not return the pressure of his master's hand, but he slowly and with painful effort turned his head so that his cold lips rested against the count's hand.
"Yes—yes," he whispered, and his dim eyes brightened for an instant. "If we were down there together—you and I—we should not have to stop long there; some one with her prayers would very soon win our release."
Count Vavel suddenly beat his palm against his forehead, and exclaimed:
"I never once thought of her! Wait, my brave Henry. I will return immediately. I cannot allow you to have a priest, but I will bring an angel to your bedside."
He hastened to Marie's apartments.
"You have been weeping?" she exclaimed, looking up into his tear-stained eyes with deep concern.
"Yes, Marie; we are going to lose our poor old Henry."
"Oh, my God! How entirely alone we shall be then!"
"Will you come with me to his bedside? The sight of you will cheer his last moments."
"Yes, yes; come quickly."
A wonderful light brightened Henry's face when he saw his young mistress. She moved softly to the head of his bed, and with her delicate fingers gently stroked the cheeks of the trusty old servant.
He closed his eyes and sighed when her hand touched his face.
"Is he smiling?" whispered Marie to Ludwig, gazing with compassionate awe on the distorted countenance. Then she bent over him and said:
"Henry—my good Henry, would you like me to pray with you?"
She knelt beside the bed and in a feeling tone repeated the beautiful prayer which the good Pere Lacordaire composed for those who journey to the other world, pausing from time to time to let the dying man repeat the words after her.
Henry's tongue became heavier and heavier as he repeated, with visible effort, the soul-inspiring words.
Then Marie repeated the Lord's Prayer. Even Ludwig could not do otherwise than bend his knee upon the chair by which he stood, and bow his skeptical head, while the innocent maid and his dying servant prayed together.
When Marie rose from her knees, the painful smile had vanished from Henry's lips; his face was calm and peaceful; the distortion had disappeared from his countenance.
* * * * *
After Henry's death, life for the occupants of the Nameless Castle became still more uncomfortable. Ludwig Vavel had lost his only friend—the only one who had shared his cares and his confidences. He was obliged to hire a servant to assist Lisette, and, remembering what Henry had advised, took the old soldier with the wooden leg into the castle. For the old invalid, the change from hard labor to comfortable quarters and easy work was certainly an improvement. Instead of cutting wood all day long for a mere pittance, he had now nothing to do but brush clothes which were never dusty, polish the furniture, receive the supplies from and deliver orders to Frau Schmidt every morning, to place the newspapers on the library table, and convey the victuals from the kitchen to the dining-room.
But two weeks of this easy work and good wages, and the comforts of the castle, were all that the old soldier could endure. Then he took off his handsome livery, and begged to be allowed to return to his former life of hardship and poverty. Afterward he was heard to aver that not for the whole castle would he consent to live in it an entire year—where not one word was spoken all day long; even the cook never opened her lips. No, he could not stand it; he would rather, a hundred times over, cut wood for five groats the day.
No sooner did Baroness Katharina learn that Count Vavel was again without a man-servant than she sent to the castle Satan Laczi's son, who was then twelve years old, and a useful lad.
Two leading ideas now filled Count Vavel's entire soul.
One was an enthusiastic admiration for a high ideal, whose embodiment he believed he had found in the lovely person of his young charge. All the emotions that a man of deep and profound nature lavishes on his faithful love, his only offspring, his queen, his guardian saint, Count Ludwig now bestowed on this one woman, who endured with patience, renounced with meekness, forgave and loved with her whole heart, and who, even in her banishment, adored her native land which had repulsed and cruelly persecuted her.
The second idea encompassed all the emotions of an opposing passion: a boundless hatred for the giant who, with strides that covered kingdoms and empires, was marching over the entire eastern hemisphere, marking his every step with graves and human skeletons; an enmity toward the Titan who was using thrones as footstools, and who had made himself a god over a greater portion of Europe,
Count Vavel was not the only one who cherished a hatred of this sort; it was felt all over Europe. What was happening in those days could be learned only through the English newspapers. Liberty of speech was prohibited throughout the entire continent. Only an indiscreet correspondent would trust his secret to the post; and Ludwig Vavel only by the exercise of extreme caution could learn from his banker in Holland what was necessary for him to know. Through this medium he learned of the general discontent with the methods of the all-powerful one. He learned of the plans of the Philadelphia Club, which counted among its members renowned officers in the army of France. He heard that a number of distinguished Frenchmen had offered their services and swords to the foreign imperial army against their own hated emperor. He heard of the dissatisfied murmuring among the French people against the frightful waste of human life, the never-ending intrigues, the approaching shadows of the coalition.
All this he heard there in the Nameless Castle, while he waited for his watchword, ready when it came to reply: "Here!"
And while he waited he interested himself also in what was going on in the land in which he sojourned. He had two sources for acquiring information on this subject—Herr Mercatoris in Fertoeszeg, and the young attorney, who was now living in Pest. The count corresponded with both gentlemen,—personally he had never spoken to the pastor, and but once to his attorney,—and from their letters learned what was going on in that portion of the world in the vicinity of the Nameless Castle.
However, as there was a wide difference between the characters of his two correspondents, the count was often puzzled to which of them he should give credence. The pastor, who was a student and a philosopher, and a defender of the existing state of affairs, affirmed that there was not on the face of the globe a more contented and peace-loving folk than the Hungarians. The young lawyer, on the other hand, asserted that the existing system was all wrong; that general dissatisfaction prevailed throughout Hungary. His irony did not spare the great ones who swayed the destiny of the country. In a word, resentment against oppression, and discontent, might be read in every line of his epistles.
Count Vavel was rather inclined to believe that the younger man expressed the temper of the nation. In reality, however, it was only the discontent of a small social body, which found quite enough room for its meetings in the sleeping-chamber of one of the sympathizers. Within this circumscribed space, and amid a lively interchange of opinions, originated many a daring project that was never carried beyond the threshold of the hall of meeting.
Ludwig Vavel, on reading the young man's letters, had come to the conclusion that Hungary awaited his (Vavel's) enemy as its liberator.
The Diet, it is true, had authorized the "recruit contingent," but the recruits were not taken from those who were inspired with love for the fatherland, and who would do battle for an idea. The enlisted men were chiefly homeless wanderers. This "cannon-fodder" would go into battle without enthusiasm, would perform what was required of them like obedient machines.
Of what good would be such a crew against a host that had called into being a great national consciousness, a host that was made up of the best force of a vigorous people, a host whose every member was proud of his ensign with its eagle, and who held himself superior to every other soldier in the world?
Vavel well knew that the giant of the century could be conquered only by heroes and patriots. A hireling crew could not enter the field against him.
When a sacrifice is demanded by one's fatherland, it becomes the duty of every true patriot to offer himself as the victim.
Consequently, Herr Vice-palatine Bernat Goeroemboelyi von Dravakeresztur did not hesitate to immolate himself on the sacrificial altar when his attention was directed by his superior to Section 1 of Article II. in the laws enacted by the Diet in the year 1808. Said clause required the vice-palatine to call in person on those "high and mighty persons" who, instead of appearing with their horses at the Lustrations,—according to Section 17 of Article III.,—preferred to send the fine of fifty marks for non-attendance.
Among these absentees from the county meetings was Count Ludwig Vavel.
The Vice-palatine's task was to teach these refractories, through patriotic reasoning, to amend their ways. The sacrifice attendant upon the performance of this duty was that Herr Bernat would be obliged, during his official visit to the Nameless Castle, to abstain from smoking.
But duty is duty, and he decided to do it. He preceded his call at the castle by a letter to Count Vavel, in which he explained, with satisfaction to himself, the cause of his hasty retreat on the occasion of his former visit, and also announced his projected official attendance upon the Herr Count on the following day.
He arrived at the castle in due time; and Count Vavel, who wished to make amends for his former rudeness to so important a personage, greeted him with great cordiality.
"The Herr Count has been ill, I understand?" began Herr Bernat, when greetings had been exchanged.
"I have not been ill—at least, not to my knowledge," smilingly responded the count.
"Indeed? I fancied you must be ill because you did not attend the Lustrations, but sent the fine instead."
"May I ask if many persons attended the meeting?" asked Count Vavel.
"Quite a number of the lesser magnates were present; the more important nobles were conspicuous by their absence. I attributed this failure to appear at the Lustrations to Section I of Article III. of the militia law, which prohibits the noble militiaman from wearing gold or silver ornamentation on his uniform. This inhibition, you must know, is intended to prevent emulation in splendor of decoration among our own people, and also to restrain the rapacity of the enemy."
"Then you imagine, Herr Vice-palatine, that I do not attend the meetings because I am not permitted to wear gold buttons and cords on my coat?" smilingly queried the count.
"I confess I cannot think of any other reason, Herr Count."
"Then I will tell you the true one," rather haughtily rejoined Count Vavel, believing that his visitor was inclined to be sarcastic. "I do not attend your meetings because I look upon the entire law as a jest—mere child's play. It begins with the mental reservation, 'The Hungarian noble militia will be called into service only in case of imminent danger of an attack from a foreign enemy, and then only if the attacking army be so powerful that the regular imperial troops shall be unable to withstand it!' That the enemy is the more powerful no commander-in-chief finds out until he has been thoroughly whipped! The mission of the Hungarian noble militia, therefore, is to move into the field—untrained for service—when the regular troops find they cannot cope with a superior foe! This is utterly ridiculous! And, moreover, what sort of an organization must that be in which 'all nobles who have an income of more than three thousand guilders shall become cavalry soldiers, those having less shall become foot-soldiers'? The money-bag decides the question between cavalry and infantry! Again, 'every village selects its own trooper, and equips him.' A fine squadron they will make! And to think of sending such a crew into the field against soldiers who have won their epaulets under the baptismal fires of battle! Again, to wage war requires money first of all; and this fact has been entirely ignored by the authorities. You have no money, gentlemen; do you propose that the noble militia host shall march only so long as the supply of food in their knapsacks holds out? Are they to return home when the provisions shall have given out? Never fear, Herr Vice-palatine! when it becomes necessary to shoulder arms and march against the enemy, I shall be among the first to respond to the first call. But I have no desire to be even a spectator of a comedy, much less take part in one. But let us not discuss this farce any further. I fancy, Herr Vice-palatine, we may be able to find a more sensible subject for discussion. There is a quiet little nook in this old castle where are to be found some excellent wines, and some of the best latakia you—"
"What?" with lively interest interrupted the vice-palatine. "Latakia? Why, that is tobacco."
"Certainly—and Turkish tobacco, too, at that!" responded Count Vavel. "Come, we will retire to this nook, empty one glass after another, enjoy a smoke, and tell anecdotes without end!"
"Then you do smoke, Herr Count?"
"Certainly; but I never smoke anywhere but in the nook before mentioned, and never in the clothes I wear ordinarily."
"Aha!—that a certain person may not detect the fumes, eh?"
"You have guessed it."
"Then there is not an atom of truth in the reports malicious tongues have spread abroad about you, for I know very well that a certain lady has not the least objection to tobacco smoke. I do not refer to the Herr Count's donna who lives here in the castle—you may be sure I shall take good care not to ask any more questions about her. No; I am not talking about that one, but about the other one, who has puzzled me a good deal of late. She takes the Herr Count's part everywhere, and is always ready to defend you. Had she not assured me that I might with perfect safety venture to call here again, I should have sent my secretary to you with the Sigillum compulsorium. I tell you, Herr Count, ardent partizanship of that sort from the other donna looks a trifle suspicious!"
The count laughed, then said:
"Herr Vice-palatine, you remind me of the critic who, at the conclusion of a concert, said to a gentleman near whom he was standing: 'Who is that lady who sings so frightfully out of tune?' 'The lady is my wife.' 'Ah, I did not mean the one who sang, but the lady who accompanied her on the piano—the one who performs so execrably.' 'That lady is my sister.' 'I beg a thousand pardons! I made a mistake; it is the music, the composition, that is so horrible. I wonder who composed it?' 'I did.'"
Herr Bernat was charmed—completely vanquished. This count not only smoked: he could also relate an anecdote! Truly he was a man worth knowing—a gentleman from crown to sole.
Toward the conclusion of the excellent dinner, to which Herr Bernat did ample justice, he ventured to propose a toast:
"I cannot refrain, Herr Count, from drinking to the welfare of this castle's mistress; and since I do not know whether there be one or two, I lift a glass in each hand. Vivant!"
Without a word the count likewise raised two glasses, and drained first one, then the other, leaving not enough liquor in either to "wet his finger-nail."
By the time the meal was over Herr Bernat was in a most generous mood; and when he took leave of his agreeable host, he assured him that the occupants of the Nameless Castle might always depend on the protection and good will of the vice-palatine.
Count Vavel waited until his guest was out of sight; then he changed his clothes, and when the regular dinner-hour arrived joined Marie, as usual, in the dining-room, to enjoy with her the delicate snail-soup and other dainties.
At last war was declared; but it brought only days of increased unhappiness and discontent to the tiger imprisoned in his cage at the Nameless Castle—as if burning oil were being poured into his open wounds.
The snail-like movements of the Austrian army had put an end to the appearance of the apocalyptic destroying angel.
Ludwig Vavel waited like the tiger crouched in ambush, ready to spring forth at the sound of his watchword, and heard at last what he had least expected to hear.
The single-headed eagle had not hesitated to take possession of that which the double-headed eagle had hesitated to grasp.
Napoleon had issued his memorable call to the Hungarian people to assert their independence and choose their king from among themselves.
Count Ludwig received a copy of this proclamation still damp from the press, and at once decided that the cause to which he had sacrificed his best years was wholly lost.
He was acquainted with but a few of the people among whom he dwelt in seclusion, but he believed he knew them well enough to decide that the incendiary proclamation could have no other result than an enthusiastic and far-reaching response. All was at an end, and he might as well go to his rest!
In one of his gloomiest, most dissatisfied hours, he heard the sound of a spurred boot in the silent corridor.
It was an old acquaintance, the vice-palatine. He did not remove his hat, which was ornamented with an eagle's feather, when he entered the count's study, and ostentatiously clinked the sword in its sheath which hung at his side. A wolfskin was flung with elaborate care over his left shoulder.
"Well, Herr Count," he began in a cheery tone, "I come like the gypsy who broke into a house through the oven, and, finding the family assembled in the room, asked if they did not want to buy a flue-cleanser. At last the watchword has arrived: 'To horse, soldier! To cow, farmer.' The militia law is no longer a dead letter. We shall march, cum gentibus, to repulse the invading foe. Here is the royal order, and here is the call to the nation."
[Footnote 3: Written by Alexander Kisfalndy, by order of the palatine. A memorable document.]
Count Vavel's face at these words became suddenly transfigured—like the features of a dead man who has been restored to life. His eyes sparkled, his lips parted, his cheeks glowed with color—his whole countenance was eloquent; his tongue alone was silent.
He could not speak. He rushed toward his sword, which was hanging on the wall, tore it from its sheath, and pressed his lips to the keen blade. Then he laid it on the table, and dashed like a madman from the room—down the corridor to Marie's apartment. Without knocking, he opened the door, rushed toward the young girl, raised her in his arms as if she were a little child, and, carrying her thus, returned to his guest. "Here—here she is!" he cried breathlessly. "Behold her! Now you may look on her face—now the whole world may behold her countenance and read in it her illustrious descent. This is my idol—my goddess, for whom I have lived, for whom I would die!"
He had placed the maid on a sort of throne between the two bookcases, and alternately kissed the hem of her gown and his sword.
"Can you imagine a more glorious queen?" he demanded, in a transport of ecstasy, flinging one arm over the vice-palatine's shoulder, and pointing with the other toward the confused and blushing girl. "Is there anywhere else on earth so much love, so much goodness and purity, a glance so benevolent—all the virtues God bestows upon his favorites? Is not this the angel who has been called to destroy the Leviathan of the Apocalypse?"
The vice-palatine gazed in perplexity at the young girl, then said in a low tone:
"She is the image of the unfortunate Queen, Marie Antoinette, who looked just like that when she was a bride."
Involuntarily Marie lifted her hands and hid her face behind them. She had grown accustomed to the piercing rays of the sun, but not to the questioning glances from strange eyes.
"What—what does—this mean, Ludwig?" she stammered, in bewilderment. "I don't understand you."
Count Vavel stepped to the opposite side of the room, where a large map concealed the wall. He drew a cord, and the map rolled up, revealing a long hall-like chamber, which, large as it was, was filled to the ceiling with swords, firearms, saddles, and harness.
"I will equip a company of cavalry, and command it myself. The entire equipment, to the last cartridge, is ready here."
He conducted the vice-palatine into the arsenal, and exhibited his terrible treasures.
"Are you satisfied with my preparations for war?" he asked.
"I can only reply as did the poor little Saros farmer when his neighbor, a wealthy landowner, told him he expected to harvest two thousand yoke of wheat: 'That is not so bad.'"
"Now I intend to hold a Lustration, Herr Vice-palatine," resumed the count. "Here are weapons. Are enough men and horses to be had for the asking?"
"I might answer as did the gypsy woman when her son asked for a piece of bread: 'You are always wanting what is not to be had.'"
"Do you mean that there are no men?"
"I mean," hastily interposed Herr Bernat, "that there are enough men, and horses, too; but the treasure-chest is empty, and the Aerar has not yet sent the promised subsidy."
"What care I about the Aerar and its money!" ejaculated Count Vavel, contemptuously. "I will supply the funds necessary to equip a company—and support them, into the bargain! And if the county needs money, my purse-strings are loose! I give everything that belongs to me—and myself, too—to this cause!"
He opened, as he spoke, a large iron chest that was fastened with iron bolts to the floor.
"Here, help yourself, Herr Vice-palatine!" he added, waving his hand toward the contents of the chest. It was a more wonderful sight than the arsenal itself. Rolls of gold coin, sacks of silver, filled the chest to the brim.
Herr Bernat could only stare in speechless amazement. He made no move to obey the behest to "help himself," whereupon Count Vavel himself thrust his hands into the chest, lifted what he could hold between them of gold and silver, and filled the vice-palatine's hat, which that worthy was holding in his hand.
"But—pray—I beg of you—" remonstrated Herr Bernat, "at least, let us count it."
"You can count it when you get home," interrupted Count Vavel.
"But I must give you a receipt for it."
"A receipt?" repeated his host. "A receipt between gentlemen? A receipt for money which is given for the defense of the fatherland?"
"But I certainly cannot take all this money without something to show from whom I received it, and for what purpose. Give me at least a few words with your signature, Herr Count."
"That I will gladly do," responded the count, turning toward his desk, and coming face to face with Marie, who had descended from her throne.
"What are you going to do?" she asked, laying her hand on his arm.
"Are you going to let strangers see your writing, and perhaps betray who you are?"
"In a week the strokes from my hand will tell who I am," he replied, with double meaning.
"Oh, you are terrible!" murmured Marie, turning her face away.
"I am so for your sake, Marie."
"For my sake?" echoed the young girl, sorrowfully. "For my sake? Do you imagine that I shall take pleasure in seeing you go into battle? Suppose you should fall?"
"Have no fear on that score, Marie," returned the young man, confidently. "I shall have a guiding star to watch over me; and if there be a God in heaven—"
"Then may He take me to Himself!" interposed the young girl in a fervent tone, lifting a transfigured glance toward heaven. "And may He grant that there be not on earth one other Frenchwoman who is forced to pray for the defeat of her own nation! May He grant that there be not another woman in the world who is waiting until a pedestal is formed of her countrymen's and kinsmen's skeletons, that she may be elevated to it as an idol from which many, many of her brothers will turn with a curse! May God take me to Himself now—now, while yet my two hands are white, while yet I cherish toward my nation nothing but love and tenderness, now when I forgive and forget everything, and desire none of this world's splendor for myself!"
Ludwig Vavel was filled with admiration by this outburst from the innocent girl heart.
"Your words, Marie, only increase the brilliancy of the halo which encircles your head. They legalize the rights of my sword. I, too, adore my native land—no one more than I! I, too, bow before the infinite judge and submit my case to His wise decision. O God, Thou who protecteth France, look down and behold him who rides yonder, his horse ankle-deep in the blood of his countrymen, who looks without pity on the dying legions and says, 'It is well!' Then, O God, look Thou upon this saint here, who prays for her persecutors, and pass judgment between the two: which of the two is Thy image on earth?"
"Oh, pray understand me," in a pleading voice interposed Marie, passing her trembling fingers over Ludwig's cheek. "Not one drop of heroic blood flows in my veins. I am not the offspring of those great women who crowned with their own hands their knights to send them into battle. I dread to lose you, Ludwig; I have no one in this wide world but you. On this whole earth there is not another orphan so desolate as I am! When you go to war, and I am left here all alone, what will become of me? Who will care for me and love me then?"
Vavel gently drew the young girl to his breast.
"Marie, you said once to me: 'Give me a mother—a woman whom I can love, one that will love me.' When I leave you, Marie, I shall not leave you here without some one to care for you. I will give you a mother—a woman you will love, and who will love you in return."
A gleam of sunshine brightened the young girl's face; she flung her arms around Ludwig's neck, and laughed for very joy.
"You will really, really do this, Ludwig?" she cried happily. "You will really bring her here? or shall I go to her? Oh, I shall be so happy if you will do this for me!"
"I am in earnest," returned Ludwig, seriously. "This is no time for jesting. My superior here"—turning toward the vice-palatine—"will see that I keep the promise I made in his presence."
"That he will!" promptly assented Herr Bernat. "I am not only the vice-palatine of your county: I am also the colonel of your regiment."
"And I want you to add still another office to the two you fill so admirably: that of matrimonial emissary!" added Count Vavel. "In this patriarchal land I find that the custom still obtains of sending an emissary to the lady one desires to marry. Will you, Herr Vice-palatine and Colonel, undertake this mission for me?"
"Of all my missions this will be the most agreeable!" heartily responded Herr Bernat.
"You know to whom I would have you go," resumed the count. "It is not far from here. You know who the lady is without my repeating her name. Go to her, tell her what you have seen and heard here,—I send her my secret as a betrothal gift,—and then ask her to send me an answer to the words she heard me speak on a certain eventful occasion."
"You may trust me!" with alacrity responded Herr Bernat. "Within half an hour I shall return with a reply: Veni, vidi, vici!"
After he had shaken hands with his client, the worthy emissary remembered that it was becoming for even so important a personage as a Hungarian vice-palatine to show some respect to the distinguished young lady under Count Vavel's protection. He therefore turned toward her, brought his spurred heels together, and was on the point of making a suitable speech, accompanying it with a deep bow, when the young lady frustrated his ceremonious design by coming quickly toward him and saying in her frank, girlish manner:
"He who goes on a matrimonial mission must wear a nosegay." With these words she drew the violets from her corsage, and fastened them in Herr Bernat's buttonhole.
Hereupon the gallant vice-palatine forgot his ceremonious intentions. He seized the maid's hand, pressed it against his stiffly waxed mustache, and muttered, with a wary glance toward Count Vavel: "I am sorry this pretty little hand belongs to those messieurs Frenchmen!"
Then he quitted the room, and in descending the stairs had all he could do to transfer without dropping them the coins from his hat to the pockets of his dolman.
Marie skipped, singing joyously, into the dining-room, where the windows faced toward the neighboring manor. She did not ask if she might do so, but flung open the sash, leaned far out, and waved her handkerchief to the vice-palatine, who was driving swiftly across the causeway.
When Herr Bernat Goeroemboelyi, in his character of emissary, arrived at the manor, he proceeded at once to state his errand:
"My lovely sister Katinka, I am come a-wooing—as this nosegay on my breast indicates. I ask your hand for a brave, handsome, and young cavalier."
"Thank you very much for the honor, my dear Bernat bacsi, but I intend to remain faithful to my vow never to marry."
"Then you send me out of your house with a mitten, Katinka hugom?"
"I should prefer to detain you as a welcome guest."
"Thanks; but I cannot stop to-day. I am invited to a betrothal feast over at the Nameless Castle. The count intends to wed in a few weeks."
He had been watching, while speaking, the effect of this announcement on the lovely face before him.
Baroness Katharina, however, acted as if nothing interested her so much as the letter she was embroidering with gold thread on a red streamer for a militia flag.
"The count is in a hurry," continued Herr Bernat, "for he may have to ride at the head of a company of militia to the war in less than three weeks."
Here the cruel needle thrust its point into the fair worker's rosy finger.
Herr Bernat smiled roguishly; and said:
"Would n't you like to hear the name of the bride, my pretty sister Katinka?"
"If it is no secret," was the indifferent response.
"It is no secret for me, and I am allowed to repeat it. The charming lady Count Vavel intends to wed is—Katharina Landsknechtsschild!"
The baroness suddenly dropped her embroidery, sprang to her feet, and surveyed the smiling emissary with her brows drawn into a frown.
"It is quite true," continued Herr Bernat. "Count Vavel sent me here to beg you to answer the words he spoke to you on an eventful occasion. Do you remember them?"
The lady's countenance did not brighten as she replied:
"Yes, I remember the words; but between them and my reply there is a veil that separates the two."
"The veil has been removed."
"Ah! Then you saw the lady of the castle without her veil? Is she pretty?"
"More than pretty!"
"And who is she? What is she to Count Vavel?"
"She is not your rival, my pretty sister Katinka; she is neither wife nor betrothed to Count Vavel—nor yet his secret love."
"Then she must be his sister—or daughter."
"No; she is neither sister nor daughter."
"Then what is she? Not a servant?"
"No; she is his mistress."
"Yes, his mistress—as my queen is my mistress."
"Ah!" There was a peculiar gleam in the lovely baroness's eyes. Then she came nearer to Herr Bernat, and asked with womanly shyness: "And you believe the count—loves me?"
"That I do not know, baroness, for he did not tell me; but I think you know that he loves you. That he deserves your love I can swear! No one can become thoroughly acquainted with Count Vavel and not love him. I went to the castle to ask him to join the noble militia, and he let me see the lady about whom so much has been said. She had excellent reasons, baroness, for veiling her lovely face, for whoever had seen her mother's pictures would have recognized her at once. When Count Vavel goes into battle to help defend our fatherland, he must leave the royal maid in a mother's hands. Will you fill that office? Will you take the desolate maid to your heart? And now, Katinka hugom, give me your answer to the Count's words."
With sudden impulsiveness the baroness extended both hands to Herr Bernat, and said earnestly:
"With all my heart I consent to be Count Vavel's betrothed wife!"
"And I may fly to him with this answer?"
"Yes—on condition that you take me with you."
"What, baroness? You wish to go to the castle—now?"
"Yes, now—this very moment—in these clothes! I have no one to ask what I should or should not do, and—he needs me."
When his emissary had departed, Count Vavel began to reflect whether he had not been rather hasty. Had he done right in giving to the world his zealously guarded secret?
But there lay the royal manifesto on the table; there was no doubting that. The venture must be made now or never. If only d'Avoncourt were free! How well he would know what to do in this emergency!
He seated himself at the table to write to his friends abroad; but he could accomplish nothing; his hand trembled so that he could hardly guide the pen. And why should he tremble? Was he afraid to hear Katharina's answer? It is by no means a wise move for a man to make on the same day a declaration of war and one of love.
His meditations were interrupted by Marie, who came running into his study, laughing and clapping her hands. She snatched the pen from his fingers, and flung it on the floor.
"She is coming! She is coming!" she cried in jubilant tones.
"Who is coming?" asked Ludwig, surveying the young girl in surprise.
"Who? Why, the lady who is to be my mother—the beautiful lady from the manor."
"What nonsense, Marie! How can you give voice to such impossible nonsense?"
"But the vice-palatine would not be returning to the castle in two carriages!" persisted the maid. "Come and see them for yourself!"
She drew him from his chair to the window in the dining-room, where his own eyes convinced him of the truth of Marie's announcement.
Already the two vehicles were crossing the causeway, and the baroness's rose-colored parasol gleamed among the trees. Deeply agitated, Count Vavel hastened to meet her.
"May I come with you?" shyly begged Marie, following him.
"I beg that you will come," was the reply; and the two, guardian and ward, hand in hand, descended to the entrance-hall.
Baroness Katharina's countenance beamed with a magical charm—the result of the union of opposite emotions; as when shame and courage, timidity and daring, love and heroism, meet and are blended together in a wonderful harmony—a miracle seen only in the magic mirror of a woman's face.
While yet several paces distant, she held out her hand toward Count Vavel, and, with a charming mixture of embarrassment and candor, said:
"Yes, I am."
This was her confirmation of the words Vavel had spoken in the forest in the presence of the three dragoon officers: "She is my betrothed."
Vavel lifted the white hand to his lips. Then Katharina quickly passed onward toward Marie, who had timidly held back.
The baroness grasped the young girl's hands in both her own, and looked long and earnestly into the fair face lifted shyly toward her. Then she said:
"It was not for his sake I came so precipitately. He could have waited. They told me your heart yearned for a mother's care, and it must not be kept waiting."
After this speech the two young women embraced. Which was the first to sob, which kiss was the warmer, cannot be known; but that Marie was the happier was certain. For the first time in years she was permitted to embrace a woman and tell her she loved her. Ludwig Vavel looked with delight on the meeting between the two, and gratefully pressed the hand of his successful emissary.
When the two young women had sobbed out their hearts to each other, they began to laugh and jest. Was not the mother still a girl, like the daughter?
"You must come with me to the manor?" said Katharina, as, with arms entwined about each other, they entered the castle. "I shall not allow you to stop longer in this lonely place."
"I wish you would take me with you," responded Marie. "I shall be very obedient and dutiful. If I do anything that displeases you, you must scold me, and praise me when I do what is right."
"And I am not to be asked if I consent to this abduction of my ward?" here smilingly interposed Count Vavel.
"Why can't you come with us?" innocently inquired Marie.
The other young woman laughed merrily.
"He may come for a brief visit; later we will let him come to stay always." Then she added in a more serious tone: "Count Vavel, you may rest perfectly content that your treasure will be safe with me. My house is prepared for assault. My people are brave and well armed. There is no possible chance of another attack from robbers like that from which you delivered me."
"Ludwig delivered you from robbers?" repeated Marie, in astonishment. "When? How?"
"Then he did not tell you about his adventure? What a singular man!"
Here the vice-palatine interposed with: "What is this I hear? Robbers? I heard nothing about robbers."
"The baroness herself asked me not to speak of the affair," explained the count.
"Yes, but I did not forbid you to tell Marie, Herr Count," responded Katharina.
"'Baroness'—'Herr Count'?" repeated Marie, turning questioningly from her guardian to their fair neighbor. "Why don't you call each other by your Christian names?"
They were spared an explanation by Herr Bernat, who again observed:
"Robbers? I confess I should like to hear about this robbery?"
"I will tell you all about it," returned the baroness; "but first, I must beg the vice-palatine not to make any arrests. For," she added, with an enchanting smile, "had it not been for those valiant knights of the road I should not have become acquainted with my brave Ludwig."
"That is better!" applauded Marie, hurrying her "little mother" into the reception-room, where the wonderful story of the robbery was repeated.
And what an attentive listener was the fair young girl! Her lips were pressed tightly together; her eyes were opened to their widest extent—like those of a child who hears a wonderful fairy tale. Even the vice-palatine from time to time ejaculated:
"Darvalia!" "Beste karaffia!"—which, doubtless, were the proper terms to apply to marauding rascals.
But when the baroness came to that part of her story where Count Vavel, with his walking-stick, put to flight the four robbers, Marie's face glowed with pride. Surely there was not another brave man like her Ludwig in the whole world!
"That was our first meeting," concluded Katharina laughingly, laying her hand on that of her betrothed husband, who was leaning against the arm of her chair.
"I should like to know why you both thought it best to keep this robbery a secret?" remarked Herr Bernat.
"The real reason," explained Count Vavel, "was because the baroness did not want her protege, Satan Laczi's wife, persecuted."
"Hum! if everybody was as generous as you two, then robbery would become a lucrative business!"
"You must remember," Katharina made haste to protest, "that all this has been told to the matrimonial emissary, and not to the vice-palatine. On no account are any arrests to be made!"
"I will suggest a plan to the Herr Vice-palatine," said Count Vavel. "Grant an amnesty to the robbers; not to the four who broke into the manor,—for they are merely common thieves,—but to Satan Laczi and his comrades, who will cheerfully exchange their nefarious calling for the purifying fire of the battle-field. I myself will undertake to form them into a company of foot-soldiers."
"But how do you know that Satan Laczi and his comrades will join the army?" inquired Herr Bernat.
"Satan Laczi told me so himself—one night here in the castle. He opened all the doors and cupboards, while I was in the observatory, and waited for me in my study."
It was the ladies' turn now to exhibit the liveliest interest. Each seized a hand of the speaker, and listened attentively to his description of the robber's midnight visit to the castle.
"Good!" was Herr Bernat's comment, when the count had concluded. "An amnesty shall be granted to Satan Laczi and his crew if they will submit themselves to the Herr Count's military discipline."
The little servant, Satan Laczi, junior, interrupted the conversation. He came to announce dinner. Lisette had not needed any instructions. She knew what was expected of her when a visitor happened to be at the castle at meal-times. Besides, she wanted to show the lady from the manor what she could do. Not since the count's arrival at the Nameless Castle had there been so cheerful a meal as to-day. Marie sparkled with delight; the baroness was wit personified; and the vice-palatine bubbled over with anecdotes. When the roast appeared he raised his glass for a serious toast:
"To our beloved fatherland. Vivat! To our revered king. Vivat! To our adored queen. Vivat!"
Count Vavel promptly responded, as did also the ladies. Then the count refilled the glasses, and, raising his own above his head, cried:
"And now, another vivat to my queen! Long may she reign, and gloriously! And," he added, with sudden fierceness, "may all who are her enemies perish miserably!"
"Ludwig, for heaven's sake!" ejaculated Marie, in terror. "Look at Katharina; she is ill."
And, indeed, the baroness's lovely face was pallid as that of a corpse. Her eyes were closed; her head had fallen back against her chair.
Ludwig and Marie sprang to her side, the young girl exclaiming reproachfully:
"See how you have terrified her."
"Don't be frightened," returned Ludwig, assuringly; "it is only a passing illness, and will soon be over."
He had restored the fair woman to consciousness on another occasion; he knew, therefore, what to do now. After a few minutes the baroness opened her eyes again. She forced a smile to her lips, shivered once or twice, then whispered to Ludwig, who was bending over her with a glass of water:
"I don't need any water. We were going to drink a toast; wine is required for that ceremony."
She extended her trembling hand, clasped the stem of her glass, and, raising it, continued: "I drink to your toast, Count Vavel! And here is to my dear little daughter, my good little Marie. May God preserve her from all harm!"
"You may safely drink to Ludwig's toast," gaily assented Marie, "safely wish that the enemies of your Marie may 'perish miserably,' for she has no enemies."
"No; she has no enemies," repeated the baroness in a low tone, as she pressed the young girl closely to her breast.
A few minutes later, when Katharina had regained her usual self-command, she said:
"Marie, my dear little daughter, I know that our friend Ludwig is eager to discuss war plans with his emissary. Let us, therefore, give him the opportunity to do so, while we make our plans for quite a different sort of war!"
"What!" jestingly exclaimed Count Vavel, "my lovely betrothed speaks thus of her preparations for our wedding?"
"The task is not so easy as you imagine," retorted Katharina. "There will be a great deal to do, and I mean to take Marie with me."
"Certainly; is she not my daughter? But seriously, Ludwig, Marie must not remain here if the recruiting-flag is to wave from the tower, and if the castle is to be open to every notorious bully in the county. You gentlemen may attend to your recruits here, while Marie and I, over at the manor, arrange a fitting ensign for your company. Before we bid adieu to the castle, however, we must pay a visit to the cook. If her mistress leaves here I fancy she will not want to stop."
"Lisette was very fond of me once," observed Marie; "and there was a time when she did everything for me."
"Then she must come with us to the manor to a well-deserved rest. I can send one of my servants over here to attend to the wants of the gentlemen."
The two ladies now took leave of Count Vavel and his visitor. Marie led the way to her own apartments, where she introduced the cats and dogs to Katharina. Then she drew her into the alcove, and secretly pulled the cord at the head of the bed.
"Now you are my prisoner," she said to the baroness, who was looking about her in a startled manner. "Were I your enemy—your rival—I should not need to do anything to gratify my enmity but refuse to reveal the secret of this screen, and you would have to die here alone with me."
"Good heavens, Marie! How can you frighten me so?" exclaimed Katharina, in alarm.
"Ha, ha!" merrily laughed the young girl, "then I have really frightened you? But don't be alarmed; directly some one will come who will not let you 'perish miserably.'"
The baroness's face grew suddenly pallid; but she quickly recovered herself as Count Vavel came hastily into the outer room.
"Did you summon me, Marie?" he called, when he saw that the screen was down.
"Yes, I summoned you," replied Marie. "I want you to repeat the good-night wish you give me every night."
"But it is not night."
"No; but you will not see me again to-day, so you must wish me good night now."
Ludwig came near to the screen, and said in a low, earnest tone:
"May God give you a good night, Marie! May angels watch over you! May Heaven receive your prayers, and may you dream of happiness and freedom. Good night!"
Then he turned and walked out of the room.
"That is his daily custom," whispered Marie. Then she pressed her foot on the spring in the floor, and the screen was lifted.
Lisette had finished her tasks in the kitchen when the two ladies came to pay her a visit. She was sitting in a low, stoutly made chair which had been fashioned expressly for her huge frame, and was shuffling a pack of cards when the ladies entered.
She did not lay the cards to one side, nor did she rise from her chair when the baroness came toward her and said in a friendly tone:
"Well, Lisette, I dare say you do not know that I am your neighbor from the manor?"
"Oh, yes, I do. I used often to hear my poor old man talk about the beautiful lady over yonder, and of course you must be she."
"And do you know that I expect to be Count Vavel's wife?"
"I did not know it, your ladyship, but it is natural. A gallant gentleman and a beautiful lady—if they are thrown together then there follows either marriage or danger. A marriage is better than a danger."
"This time, Lisette, marriage and danger go hand in hand. The count is preparing for the war."
This announcement had no other effect on the impassive mountain of flesh than to make her shuffle her cards more rapidly.
"Then it is come at last!" she muttered, cutting the cards, and glancing at the under one. It was only a knave, not the queen!
"Yes," continued the baroness; "the recruiting-flag already floats from the tower of the castle, and to-morrow volunteers will begin to enroll their names."
"God help them!" again muttered the woman.
"I am going to take your young mistress home with me, Lisette," again remarked the baroness. "It would not be well to leave her here, amid the turmoil of recruiting and the clashing of weapons, would it?"
"I can't say. My business is in the kitchen; I don't know anything about matters out of it," replied Lisette, still shuffling her cards.
"But I intend to take you out of the kitchen, Lisette," returned the baroness. "I don't intend to let you work any more. You shall live with us over at the manor, in a room of your own, and, if you wish, have a little kitchen all to yourself, and a little maid to wait on you. You will come with us, will you not?"
"I thank your ladyship; but I had rather stay where I am."
"Because I should be a trouble to everybody over yonder. I am a person that suits only herself. I don't know how to win the good will of other people. I don't keep a cat or a dog, because I don't want to love anything. Besides, I have many disagreeable habits. I use snuff, and I can't agree with anybody. I am best left to myself, your ladyship."
"But what will become of you when both your master and mistress are gone from the castle?"
"I shall do what I have always done, your ladyship. The Herr Count promised that I should never want for anything to cook so long as I lived."
"Don't misunderstand me, Lisette. I did not ask how you intended to live. What I meant was, how are you going to get on when you do not see or hear any one—when you are all alone here?"
"I am not afraid to be alone. I have no money, and I don't think anybody would undertake to carry me off! I am never lonely. I can't read,—for which I thank God!—so that never bothers me. I don't like to knit; for ever since I saw those terrible women sitting around the guillotine and knitting, knitting, knitting all day long, I can't bear to see the motion of five needles. So I just amuse myself with these cards; and I don't need anything else."
"But surely your heart will grow sore when you do not see your little mistress daily?"
"Daily—daily, your ladyship? This is the second time I have laid eyes on her face in six years! There was a time when I saw her daily, hourly—when she needed me all the time. Is not that so, my little mistress? Don't you remember how I had a little son, and how he called me chere maman, and I called him mon petit garcon?"
As she spoke, she laid the cards one by one on her snowy apron. She looked intently at them for several moments, then continued:
"No; I don't need to know anything, only that she is safe. She will always be carefully guarded from all harm, and my cards will always tell me all I need know about mon petit garcon. No, your ladyship; I shall not go with you; I cannot leave the place where my poor Henry died."
"Poor Lisette! what a tender heart is yours!"
"Mine?" suddenly and with unusual energy interrupted Lisette. "Mine a tender heart? Ask this little lady here—who cannot tell a lie—if I am not the woman who has the hardest, the most unfeeling heart in all the world. Ask her that, your ladyship. Tell her, mon petit garcon," she added, turning to Marie,—"tell the lady it is as I say."
"Lisette—dear Lisette," remonstrated Marie.
"Have you ever seen me weep?" demanded the woman.
"No, Lisette; but—"
"Did I ever sigh," interrupted Lisette, "or moan, or grieve, that time when we spent many days and nights together in one room?"
"No, no; never, Lisette."
The woman turned in her chair to a chest that stood by her side, opened it, and took out a package carefully wrapped first in paper, then in a linen cloth.
When she had removed the wrappings, she held up in her hands a child's chemise and petticoat.
"What is needed to complete these, your ladyship?" she asked.
"A dear little child, I should say," answered Katharina, indulgently.
"You are right—a dear little child."
"Where is the child, Lisette?"
"That I don't know—do you understand? I—don't—know. And I don't inquire, either. Now, will you still imagine that I have a tender heart? It is years since I looked on these little garments. What did I do with the child that wore them? Whose business is it what I did with her? She was my child, and I had a right to do as I pleased with her. I was paid enough for it—an enormous price! You don't understand what I am talking about, your ladyship. Go; take mon petit garcon with you; and may God do so to you as you deal with him. Take care of him. My cards will tell me everything, and sometime, when I have turned into a hideous hobgoblin, those whom I shall haunt will remember me! And now, mon petit garcon"—turning again to Marie,—"let me kiss your hand for the last time."
Marie came close to the singular woman, bent over her, and pressed a kiss on the fat cheeks, then held her own for a return caress.
This action of the young girl seemed to please the woman. She struggled to her feet, muttering: "She is still the same. May God guard her from all harm!" Then she waddled toward Katharina, took her slender hand in her own broad palm, and added: "Take good care of my treasure, your ladyship. Up to now, I have taken the broomstick every evening, before going to bed, and thrust it under all the furniture, to see if there might not be a thief hidden somewhere. You will have to do that now. A great treasure, great care! And, your ladyship, when you shall have in your house such a little chemise and petticoat, with the little child in them, trotting after you, chattering and laughing, clasping her arms round you and kissing you, and if some one should say to you, as they said to me, 'How great a treasure would induce you to exchange this little somebody in the red petticoat for it?' and if you should say, 'I will give up the child for so much,' then, your ladyship, you too may say, as I say, that your heart is a heart of stone."
Katharina's face had grown very white. She staggered toward Marie, caught her arm, and drew her toward the door, gasping:
"Come—come—let us go. The steam—the heat of—the kitchen makes—me faint."
The fresh air of the court soon revived her.
"Let us play a trick on Ludwig," she suggested. "We will take his canoe, and cross the cove to the manor. We can send it back with a servant."
She ordered her coachman to take the carriage home; then she took Marie's hand and led her down to the lake.
They were soon in the boat. Marie, who had learned to row from Ludwig, sent the little craft gliding over the water, while Katharina held the rudder.
Very soon they were in the park belonging to the manor; and how delighted Marie was to see everything!
A herd of deer crossed their path, summoned to the feeding-place by a blast from the game-keeper's horn. The graceful animals were so tame that a hind stopped in front of the two ladies, and allowed them to rub her head and neck. Oh, how much there was to see and enjoy over here!
Katharina could hardly keep pace with the eager young girl, who would have liked to examine the entire park at once.
What a number of questions she asked! And how astonished she was when Katharina told her the large birds in the farm-yard were hens and turkeys. She had never dreamed that these creatures could be so pretty. She had never seen them before—not even a whole one served on the table, only the slices of white meat which Lisette had always cut off for her. But what delighted her more than anything else was that she might meet people, look fearlessly at them, and be stared at in return, and cordially return their friendly "God give you a good day!"
What a pleasure it was to stop the women and children, with all sorts and shapes of burdens on their heads or in their arms, and ask what they were carrying in the heavy hampers; to call to the peasant girls who were singing merrily, and ask where they had learned the pretty songs.