“Henry!” ejaculated the count, in a tone of alarm; “my poor Henry, you are very ill.”
“Ye-es—your—lord-ship,” he answered slowly, and with difficulty; “but—but—I shall soon—soon be—all right—again.”
Ludwig lifted the sick man’s hand from the coverlet, and felt the pulse.
“Yes, you are very ill indeed, Henry—so ill that I would not attempt to treat you. We must have a doctor.”
“He—he won’t come—here; he is—afraid. Besides, there is nothing—the matter with—any part of me but—but my—tongue. I can—can hardly—move—it.”
“You must not die, Henry—you dare not!” in an agony of terror exclaimed Ludwig. “What would become of me—of Marie?”
“That—that is what—troubles—troubles me—most, Herr Count. Who will—take my—place? Perhaps—that old soldier—with the machine leg—”
“No! no! no! Oh, Henry, no one could take your place. You are to me what his arms are to a soldier. You are the guardian of all my thoughts—my only friend and comrade in this solitude.”
The poor old servant tried to draw his distorted features into a smile.
“I am—not sorry for—myself—Herr Count; only for you two. I have earned—a rest; I have—lost everything—and have long ago—ceased to hope for—anything. I feel that—this is—the end. No doctor can—help me. I know—I am—dying.” He paused to breathe heavily for several moments, then added: “There is—something—I should—like to have—before—before I—go.”
“What is it, Henry?”
“I know you—will be—angry—Herr Count, but—I cannot—cannot die without—consolation.”
“Consolation?” echoed Ludwig.
“Yes—the last consolation—for the—dying. I have not—confessed for—sixteen years; and the—multitude of my—sins—oppresses me. Pray—pray, Herr Count, send for—a priest.”
“Impossible, Henry. Impossible!”
“I beseech you—in the name of God—let me see a priest. Have mercy—on your poor old servant, Herr Count. My soul feels—the torments of hell; I see the everlasting flames—and the sneering devils—”
“Henry, Henry,” impatiently remonstrated his master, “don’t be childish. You are only tormenting yourself with fancies. Does the soldier who falls in battle have time to confess his sins? Who grants him absolution?”
“Perhaps—were I in—the midst of the turmoil of battle—I should not feel this agony of mind. But here—there is so much time to think. Every sin that I have committed—rises before me like—like a troop of soldiers that—have been mustered for roll-call.”