Marie did as he bade her, and the metal screen unrolled, and was caught in the springs in the floor.
“Oh, how wonderful!” she exclaimed in amazement. “I am a prisoner in my own alcove.”
“Only so long as you care to remain in your prison,” returned Count Vavel. “No one can lift the screen from this side; but if you will press your foot on the little brass button in the floor at the foot of the column to your left, you will be at liberty again.”
The next instant Master Matyas’s handiwork was rolled up to the ceiling.
Marie was filled with delight and astonishment.
“There is another work of art connected with this wonderful mechanism,” said the count, after Marie had rolled and unrolled the screen several times. “The cord which releases the screen rings a bell in my room. When I hear the bell I shall know that you have retired; then I shall bring my books and papers into your room out yonder, and continue my work there. Only enough light will penetrate the screen to the alcove to prevent utter darkness. You will not need to be afraid hereafter, and perhaps the sweet, sound sleep will return to you.”
Marie did not offer to kiss her guardian for this birthday gift. She merely held out both hands, and gave his a clasp that was so close and warm that it said more than words or kisses. She waited impatiently for evening to test the working of her wonderful screen. She did not amuse herself with her cards, as usual, but went to bed at ten o’clock. At the same moment that the screen unrolled and was caught by the springs in the floor, Count Ludwig’s footsteps were heard in the corridor. In one hand he carried a two-branched candlestick, in the other his pistol-case and ink-horn. His pen was between his lips; his books and papers were held under his arm. He seated himself at a table, and resumed his studies.
Marie would have been untrue to her sex had she not watched him for several minutes through her metal screen—watched and admired the superb head, supported on one hand as he bent intently over his book, the broad brow, the classical nose, the chin and lips of an Achilles—all as motionless as if they had been molded in bronze. A true hero—a hero who battled with the most powerful demons of earth, the human passions, and conquered. From that day Marie found her old sweet sleep again.
The second day Marie’s curiosity prompted her to signal to Ludwig half an hour earlier. He heard, and came as readily at half-past nine o’clock. And then the little maid (like all indulged children) abused her privileges: she signaled at nine o’clock, and at last at eight o’clock—retiring with the birds in order to test if Ludwig would obey the signal.
He always came promptly when the falling screen summoned him.
And then Marie said to herself:
“He loves me. He loves me very much—as the fakir loves his Brahma, as the Carthusian loves his sainted Virgin. That is how he loves me!”