Count Vavel himself had been overwhelmed with hospitable attentions the first year of his occupancy of the Nameless Castle; but his refusals to accept the numerous invitations had been so decided that they were not repeated.
He frequently saw through his telescope the same four-horse equipages which had once stopped in front of his own gates drive into the court at the manor; and he recognized in the occupants the same jovial blades, the eligible young nobles, who had honored him with their visits. He noticed, too, that none of the visitors spent a night at the manor. Very often the baroness did not leave her room when a caller came; it may have been that she had refused to receive him on the plea of illness. During the winter Count Vavel frequently saw his fair neighbor skating on the frozen cove; while a servant propelled her companion over the ice in a chair-sledge.
On these occasions the count would admire the baroness’s graceful figure, her intrepid movements, and her beautiful face, which was flushed with the exercise and by the cutting wind.
But what pleased him most of all was that the baroness never once during her skating exercises cast an inquiring glance toward the windows of the Nameless Castle—not even when she came quite close to it.
On Christmas eve she, like Count Vavel, arranged a Christmas tree for the village children. The little ones hastened from the manor to the castle, and repeated wonderful tales of the gifts they had received from the baroness’s own hands.
Every Sunday the count saw the lady from the manor take her way to church, on foot if the roads were good; and on her homeward way he could see her distribute alms among the beggars who were ranged along either side of the road. This the count did not approve. He, too, gave plenteously to the poor, but through the village pastor, and only to those needy ones who were too modest to beg openly. The street beggars he repulsed with great harshness—with one exception. This was a one-legged man, who had lost his limb at Marengo, and who stationed himself regularly beside the cross at the end of the village. Here he would stand, leaning on his crutches, and the count, in driving past, would always drop a coin into the maimed warrior’s hat.
One day when the carriage drew near the cross, Count Vavel saw the old soldier, as usual, but without his crutches. Instead, he leaned on a walking-stick, and stood on two legs.
The count stopped the carriage, and asked: “Are not you the one-legged soldier?”
“I am, your lordship,” replied the man; “but that angel, the baroness, has had a wooden leg made for me,—I could dance with it if I wished,—so I don’t need to beg any more, for I can cut wood now, and thus earn my living. May God bless her who has done this for me!”
The count was dissatisfied with himself. This woman understood everything better than he did. He felt that she was his rival, and from this feeling sprang the desire to compete with her.