Count Vavel had made his fair neighbor at the manor the object of study. He had ample time for the task; he had nothing else to do. And, as he was debarred from making direct inquiries concerning her, or from hearing the current gossip of the neighborhood, he learned only that about her which his telescope revealed; and from this, with the aid of his imagination, he formed a conclusion—and an erroneous one, very probably.
His neighbor lived in strict seclusion, and was a man-hater. But, for all that, she was neither a nun nor an Amazon. She was a true woman, neither inconsolably melancholy nor wantonly merry. She proved herself an excellent housewife. She rose betimes mornings, sent her workmen about their various tasks, saw that everything was properly attended to. Very often she rode on horseback, or drove in a light wagon, to look about her estate. She had arranged an extensive dairy, and paid daily visits to her stables. She did not seem aware that an attentive observer constantly watched her with his telescope from the tower of the Nameless Castle. So, at least, it might be assumed; for the lady very often assisted in the labor of the garden, when, in transplanting tulip bulbs, she would so soil her pretty white hands to the wrists with black mold that it would be quite distressing to see them. Certainly this was sufficient proof that her labor was without design.
And, what was more to the purpose, she acted as if perfectly unaware of the fact that a lady lived in the Nameless Castle who possibly might be the wife of her tenant. Common courtesy and the conventional usages of society demanded that the lady who took up a residence anywhere should call on the ladies of the neighborhood—if only to leave a card with the servant at the door. The baroness had omitted this ceremony, which proved that she either did not know of Marie’s hiding-place, or that she possessed enough delicacy of feeling to understand that it would be inconvenient to the one concerned were she to take any notice of the circumstance. Either reason was satisfactory to Count Vavel.
But a woman without curiosity!
Meanwhile the count had learned something about her which might be of some use to Marie.
He had received, during the winter, a letter from the young law student with whom he had become acquainted on the occasion of the vice-palatine’s unpleasant visit to the castle. The young man wrote to say that he had passed his examination, and that when he should receive the necessary authority from the count he would be ready to proceed to the business they had talked about.
The count replied that a renewal of his lease was not necessary. The new owner of the castle having neglected to serve a notice to quit within the proper time, the old contracts were still valid. Therefore, it was only necessary to secure the naturalization documents, and to purchase a plot of ground on the shore of the lake. The young lawyer arranged these matters satisfactorily, and the count had nothing further to do than to appoint an absentium ablegatus to the Diet, and to take possession of his new purchase, which lay adjacent to the Nameless Castle.