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.