He had sought to learn from his foreign correspondents something concerning the Baroness Katharina, but could gain no information save that which we have already heard from the county physician: disappointed love and shame at her rejection had driven the youthful baroness to this secluded neighborhood.
This reason, however, did not altogether satisfy Count Vavel. Women, especially young women, rarely quit the pleasures of the gay world because of one single disappointment.
And for Count Vavel mistrust was a duty; for the reader must, ere this, have suspected that the count and the mysterious man of the Rue Mouffetard were identical, and that Marie was none other than the child he had rescued from her enemies. Here in this land, where order prevailed, but where there were no police, he was guarding the treasure intrusted to his care, and he would continue to guard her until relieved of the duty.
But when would the relief come?
One year after another passed, and the hour he dreamed of seemed still further away. When he had accepted the responsible mission he had said to himself: “In a year we shall gain our object, and I shall be released.”
But hope had deceived him; and as the years passed onward, he began to realize how vast, how enormous, was the task he had undertaken. It was within the possibilities that he, a young man in the flower of his youth, should be able to bury himself in an unknown corner of the world, to give up all his friends, to renounce everything that made life worth living, but that he should bury with himself in his silk-lined tomb a young girl to whom he had become everything, who yet might not even dream of becoming anything to him—that was beyond human might.
More and more he realized that his old friend’s prophetic words were approaching fulfilment: “The child will grow to be a lovely woman. Already she is fond of you; she will love you then. Then what?”
“I shall look upon myself as the inhabitant of a different planet,” he had replied; and he had kept his promise.
But the little maid had not promised anything; and if, perchance, she guessed the weighty secret of her destiny, whence could she have taken the strength of mind to battle against what threatened to drive even the strong man to madness?
Ludwig was thirty-one years old, the fourth year in this house of voluntary madmen. With extreme solicitude he saw the child grow to womanhood, blessed with all the magic charms of her sex. Gladly would he have kept her a child had it been in his power. He treated her as a child—gave her dolls and the toys of a child; but this could not go on forever. Deeply concerned, Ludwig observed that Marie’s countenance became more and more melancholy, and that now it rarely expressed childlike naivete. A dreamy melancholy had settled upon it. And of what did she dream? Why was she so sad? Why did she start? Why did the blood rush to her cheeks when he came suddenly into her presence?