When the pugs had gone through their part of the program, the little maid proceeded to attire herself, a task she performed behind a tall folding screen. When she stepped forth again, she had on a gorgeous Chinese-silk wrapper, covered all over with gay-colored palms, and confined only at the waist with a heavy silk cord. Her hair was twisted into a single knot on the crown of her head.
Then she prepared breakfast for herself and her guests. The eight of them drank cold milk, and ate of the dainty little cakes which some one placed on her table every night while she slept. To-day Marie did not amuse herself with her guests, but turned over the leaves of her picture-book, thus passing the time until she should hear, after the bell had rung twice, the tap at her door.
The man who entered was surprised.
“What? We are not yet ready for the drive?” he exclaimed.
The maid threw her book aside, ran toward him, and flung her arms with childish abandon around his neck.
“We are not going to drive to-day. Dost thou not know that this is my birthday—that I alone give orders in this house to-day? To-day everything must be done as I say; and I say that we will pass the time of the drive here in my room, and that thou shalt answer several silly questions which have come into my head. And forget not that we are to ‘thou’ each other to-day. And now, congratulate me nicely. Come, let us hear it!”
The count almost imperceptibly bent his knee and his head, but spoke not one word. There are gratulations which are expressed in this manner.
“Very good! Then I am a queen for to-day, and thou art my sole subject. Sit thou here at my feet on this taboret.”
The man obeyed. Marie seated herself on the ottoman, and drew her feet underneath the wide skirt of her robe.
“Put that book away!” she commanded, when Ludwig stooped to lift from the floor the volume she had cast there. “I know every one of the four volumes by heart! Why dost not thou give me one of the books thou readest so often?”
“Because they are medical works.”
“And why dost thou read such books?”
“In order that, should any one in the castle become ill, I may be able to cure him or her without a doctor.”
“And must the person die who is ill and cannot be cured?”
“That is generally the end of a fatal illness.”
“Does it hurt to die?”
“That I am unable to tell, as I have never tried it.”
“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed the maid. “Thou canst not put me off that way! Thou knowest many things thou hast not yet tried. Thou hast read about them; thou knowest! What is death like? Is it more unpleasant than a disagreeable dream? Is the pain all over when one has died, or is there more to come afterward? If death is painful, why must we die? If it is pleasant, why must we live?”