“What are you writing, Marie?”
The little maid handed him the sheet of paper. On it were the words:
“Dear Ludwig, love me.”
Map and book dropped from the count’s hands. The little maid’s frank, sincere gaze met his own. She was not ashamed of what she had written, or that she had let him read it. She thought it quite in the order of things.
“And don’t I love you?” exclaimed Ludwig, with sudden sharpness. “Don’t I love you as the fakir loves his Brahma—as the Carthusian loves his Virgin Mary? Don’t I love you quite as dearly?”
“Then don’t love me—quite so dearly,” responded Marie, rising and going to her own room, where she began to play with her cats. From that hour she would not learn anything more from Ludwig.
The young man, however, placed the slip of paper containing the words, “Dear Ludwig, love me,” among his relics.
* * * * *
Since the new mistress’s advent in the neighboring manor Count Vavel had spent more time than usual in his observatory. At first suspicion had been his motive. Now, however, there was a certain fascination in bringing near to him with his telescope the woman with whom he had exchanged only written communication. If he was so eager to behold her, why did he not go to the manor? Why did he look at her only through his telescope? She would certainly receive his visits; and what then?
This “what then?” was the fetter which bound him hand and foot, was the lock upon his lips. He must make no acquaintances. Results might follow; and what then?
The entombed man must not quit his grave. He might only seat himself at the window of his tomb, and thence look out on the beautiful, forbidden world.
What a stately appearance the lady makes as she strolls in her long white gown across the green sward over yonder! Her long golden hair falls in glittering masses from beneath her wide-rimmed straw hat. Now she stops; she seems to be looking for some one. Now her lips open; she is calling some one. Her form is quite near, but her voice stops over yonder, a thousand paces distant. The person she calls does not appear in the field of vision. Now she calls louder, and the listening ear hears the words, “Dear Ludwig!”
He starts. These words have not come from the phantom of the object-glass, but from a living being that stands by his side—Marie.
The count sprang to his feet, surprised and embarrassed, unable to say a word. Marie, however, did not wait for him to speak, but said with eager inquisitiveness:
“What are you looking at through that great pipe?”
Before Ludwig could turn the glass in another direction, the little maid had taken his seat, and was gazing, with a wilful smile on her lips, through the “great pipe.”
The smile gradually faded from her lips as she viewed the world revealed by the telescope—the beautiful woman over yonder amid her flowers, her form encircled by the nimbus of rainbow hues.