“Oh no!—of course not.”
“Well, so it is with the Nidecks. They may some of them be like Hedwige, but for all that Huldine is the head of their ancestry. See the genealogical tree. Now, sir, are you satisfied?”
Then we separated—Knapwurst and I—excellent friends.
“Nevertheless,” thought I, “there is the likeness. It is not chance. What is chance? There is no such thing; it is nonsense to talk of chance. It must be something higher!”
I was following my friend Sperver, deep in thought, who had now resumed his walk down the corridor. The portrait of Hedwige, in all its artless simplicity, mingled in my mind with the face of Odile.
Suddenly Gideon stopped, and, raising my eyes, I saw that we were standing before the count’s door.
“Come in, Fritz,” he said, “and I will give the dogs a feed. When the master’s away the servants neglect their duty; I will come for you by-and-by.”
I entered, more desirous of seeing the young lady than the count her father; I was blaming myself for my remissness, but there is no controlling one’s interest and affections. I was much surprised to see in the half-light of the alcove the reclining figure of the count leaning upon his elbow and observing me with profound attention. I was so little prepared for this examination that I stood rather dispossessed of self-command.
“Come nearer, monsieur le docteur,” he said in a weak but firm voice, holding out his hand. “My faithful Sperver has often mentioned your name to me; and I was anxious to make your acquaintance.”
“Let us hope, my lord, that it will be continued under more favourable circumstances. A little patience, and we shall avert this attack.”
“I think not,” he replied. “I feel my time drawing near.”
“You are mistaken, my lord.”
“No; Nature grants us, as a last favour, to have a presentiment of our approaching end.”
“How often I have seen such presentiments falsified!” I said with a smile.
He fixed his eyes searchingly upon me, as is usual with patients expressing anxiety about their prospects. It is a difficult moment for the doctor. The moral strength of his patient depends upon the expression of the firmness of his convictions; the eye of the sufferer penetrates into the innermost soul of his consciousness; if he believes that he can discover any hint or shade of doubt, his fate is sealed; depression sets in; the secret springs that maintain the elasticity of the spirit give way, and the disorder has it all its own way.
I stood my examination firmly and successfully, and the count seemed to regain confidence; he again pressed my hand, and resigned himself calmly and confidently to my treatment.
Not until then did I perceive Mademoiselle Odile and an old lady, no doubt her governess, seated by her bedside at the other end of the alcove.