The officers quartered at the manor were agreeable companions. Vicomte Leon Barthelmy was a true courtier, a brave soldier, an entertaining comrade, and a generous master. Even his enemies would have admitted that his manners were irresistible in the salon, as well as on the battle-field. Every one knew that Colonel Barthelmy was a married man—that he had a wife with whom, however, he did not live, but from whom he had not been divorced.
Susceptible feminine hearts did not risk a flirtation with the fascinating soldier, being forewarned by the canonical laws of the church, which forbade more intimate relations. There was no need to fear for so prudent and discreet a woman as the Baroness Katharina Landsknechtsschild. Her principles were very sound, and firmly grounded. She permitted no familiarities beyond a certain limit, but made no coy pretence of avoiding innocent amusements. Her affable treatment of the officers was easily explained. She had not received the gentlemen residing in the neighborhood, because they would very soon have visited the manor with a special object—they would have come as suitors for her hand. She would have been compelled to reject such offers, and would have given rise to all sorts of gossip. Moreover, these country magnates were tiresome persons; for, when they were once gathered about a gaming-table, the four ladies in a pack of cards engrossed so much of their attention that they had no thought for any of the living women about them.
The sons of Mars, on the contrary, were devoted entirely to the service of the fair sex. Many of the officers’ wives accompanied the regiment, and these helped to make up the quadrille, the mazurka, the redowa,—at that time the latest dance,—and every day saw a merry gathering of revelers.
One day there would be a series of entertaining games; another day there would be a play on a hastily improvised stage, in which the baroness herself would take a part, and win well-deserved applause by her graceful and artistic acting.
There were several skilled amateur jugglers among the merry company, who would give performances a la Bosko and Philadelphia; and others would delight the audience with the wonderful scenes of a magic lantern.
Once the baroness arranged a chase, and herself joined in the hunt after the pheasants and deer on her estate, proving herself a skilled Amazon in the saddle and in the management of her rifle. Then, the officers improvised a horse-race; and once they even got up a circus, in which all look part.
Count Vavel, in his tower, was an interested spectator of many of these amusements. There had been a time when he, too, had taken part in and enjoyed just such sports. He was a lover of the chase and of horse-racing. No one knew better than he the keen delights of a clean vault over ditches and hedges. If only he might join the merry company down yonder, he could show them some riding!