The clock struck eleven; directly afterward there came a hesitating knock at her door.
“Come in! You may come in!” she called joyfully. She thought it was Ludwig.
The door opened slowly, only half-way, and the voice which began to speak was not Ludwig’s; it was the groom.
“Beg pardon, madame!” (thus he addressed the little maid).
“Is it you, Henry? What do you want? You may come in. I am still up.”
The groom entered, and closed the door behind him. He was a tall, gray-haired man, with an honest face and enormously large hands.
“What is it, Henry? Did the count send you?”
“No, madame; I only wish he were able.”
“Why? What is the matter with him?”
“I don’t know, indeed! I believe he is dying.”
“Yes, madame; my master.”
“For God’s sake, tell me what you mean!”
“He is lying on his bed, quite out of his mind. His face is flushed, his eyes gleam like hot coals, and he is talking wildly. I have never seen him in such a condition.”
“Oh, heaven! what shall we do?”
“I don’t know, madame. When any of us gets sick the count knows what to do; but he does n’t seem able to cure himself now; the contents of the medicine-chest are scattered all over the floor.”
“Is there no doctor in the village?”
“Yes, madame; the county physician.”
“Then he must be sent for.”
“I thought of that, but I did not like to venture to do so.”
“Because the count has declared that he will shoot me if I attempt to bring a stranger into his room, or into madame’s. He told me I must never admit within the castle gate a doctor, a preacher, or a woman; and I should not think of disobeying him.”
“But now that he is so ill? and you say he may die? Merciful God! Ludwig die! It cannot—must not—happen!”
“But how will madame hinder it?”
“If you will not venture to fetch the doctor, then I will go myself.”
“Oh, madame! you must not even think of doing this!”
“I think of nothing else but that he is ill unto death. I am going, and you are coming with me.”
“Holy Father! The count will kill me if I do that.”
“And if you don’t do it you will kill the count.”
“That is true, too, madame.”
“Then don’t you do anything. I shall do what is necessary. I will put on my veil, and let no one see my face.”
“But in this storm? Just listen, madame, how it thunders.”
“I am not afraid of thunder, you stupid Henry. Light a lantern, and arm yourself with a stout cudgel, while I am putting on my pattens. If Ludwig should get angry, I shall be on hand to pacify him. If only the dear Lord will spare his life! Oh, hasten, hasten, my good Henry!”
“He will shoot me dead; I know it. But let him, in God’s name! I do it at your command, madame. If madame is really determined to go herself for the doctor, then we will take the carriage.”