“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: