“Thank you, but I don’t care to drive to-day,” she said.
“Riding out in a carriage does not benefit me.”
“When did you discover this?”
“Some time ago.”
Ludwig looked at her in astonishment. What was the meaning of this? Could she know that some one else had occupied her place in the carriage yesterday?
“And will you not go with me to-morrow?”
“If you will allow me, I shall stay at home.”
“Is anything the matter with you, Marie?”
“Nothing. I don’t like the jolting of the carriage.”
“Then I shall sell the horses.”
“It might be well to do so—if you don’t want them for your own use. I shall take my exercise in the garden.”
“And in the winter?”
“Then I will promenade in the court, and make snow images, as the farmers’ children do.”
And the end of the matter was that Ludwig sold the horses, and Marie’s outdoor exercises were restricted to the garden. Moreover, she studied and wrote all day long.
When she went into the garden, Josef, the gardener’s boy, was sent elsewhere so long as she chose to remain among the flowers.
One afternoon Josef had been sent, as usual, to perform some task in the park while Marie promenaded in the garden. He was busily engaged raking together the fallen leaves, when Marie suddenly appeared by his side, and said breathlessly:
“Please take this letter.”
The youth, who was speechless with astonishment and confusion at sight of the lady he had been forbidden to look at, slowly extended his hand to comply with her request when Count Vavel, who had swiftly approached, unseen by either the youth or Marie, with one hand seized the letter, and with the other sent Josef flying across the sward so rapidly that he fell head over heels into some shrubbery.
Then the count thrust the letter into his pocket, and without a word drew the young girl’s hand through his arm, and walked swiftly with her into the castle. The count conducted his charge into the library. He had not yet spoken a word. His face was startlingly pale with anger and terror.
When they two were alone within the four walls of the library, he said, fixing a reproachful glance on her:
“You were going to send a letter to some one?”
The young girl calmly returned his glance, but did not open her lips.
“To whom are you writing, Marie?”
Marie smiled sadly, and drooped her head.
Vavel then drew the letter from his pocket, and read the address:
“To our beautiful and kind-hearted neighbor.”
The count looked up in surprise.
“You are writing to Baroness Landsknechtsschild!” he exclaimed, not without some confusion.
“I did not know her name; that is why I addressed it so.”
Vavel turned the letter in his hands, and saw that the seal had been stamped with the crest which was familiar to all the world.