“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!”