So saying, without another word he turned and rode back, while the serf strode off towards the chateau. During this conversation, which the boys imperfectly understood, they had difficulty in restraining the count’s faithful retainer, who, furious at hearing the details of the plot against his master, would have leaped up to attack the speakers, had not the boys kept their restraining hands on his shoulder, and whispered in his ear, “Be quiet, for the count’s sake.”
Waiting long enough to be sure that the two men had passed not only out of sight but of the sound of their voices, the lads suffered their companion to rise, and to indulge his feelings in an explosion of deep oaths. Then, when he was a little calm, they obtained from him a repetition of the leading facts of the conversation.
The boys consulted among themselves, and agreed that it was necessary to acquaint the count with all the facts that they had discovered, and to leave him to act as seemed best according to his judgment.
They entered the house alone, telling the coachman to call in half an hour, and to say that the count had given orders that he was to see him to take instructions for the horses in the morning. Then they joined the family in the drawing-room. There all proceeded as usual.
Katinka, at her father’s request, played on the piano, and a stranger would not have dreamed of the danger which menaced the household. When the half-hour had nearly expired, Jack said to the count,—
“I have told Alexis to call upon you for orders for to-morrow. Would you mind receiving him in your study? I have a very particular reason for asking it.”
“But I have no orders to give Alexis,” the count said, surprised.
“No, sir, but he has something he particularly wishes to say to you—something really important.”
“Very well,” the court replied, smiling; “you seem to be very mysterious, but of course I will do as you wish. Is he coming soon?”
“In two or three minutes, sir, I expect him.”
“Then,” the count remarked, “I suppose I had better go at once, and learn what all this mystery is about. He isn’t coming, I hope, to break to me the news that one of my favorite horses is dead.” So saying, with a smile, he left the room. No sooner had he gone than the girls overwhelmed the midshipmen with questions, but they told them that they must not be inquisitive, that their father would, no doubt, tell them the secret in due time.
“If you will allow me, countess,” Dick said, “I will leave this door a little open, so that we may hear when Alexis goes in.” The door was placed ajar, and a few minutes later the footsteps of two men were heard coming along the corridor. Paul opened the door. “Is his Excellency here?” he asked. “Alexis wishes to see him.”
“He is in his study,” the countess answered.
The study door was heard to close, and when the sound of Paul’s feet returning along the corridor ceased Dick said, “You will excuse us, countess, we are going to join the conference.”