Marie Lagoutte looked at me a few moments without speaking.
“You may be sure, doctor, that after that I had no more sleep; I sat watching and ready for anything. Every moment I fancied I could hear something behind the arm-chair. I was not afraid—it was not that—but I was uneasy and restless. When morning came, very early I ran and woke Offenloch and sent him to the count. Passing down the corridor I noticed that there was no torch in the first ring, and I came down and found it near the narrow path to the Schwartzwald; there it is!”
And the good woman took from under her apron the end of a torch, which she threw upon the table.
I was confounded.
How had that man, whom I had seen the night before feeble and exhausted, been able to rise, walk, lift up and close down that heavy window? What was the meaning of that signal by night? I seemed to myself to witness this strange, mysterious scene, and my thoughts went off at once to the Black Plague. When I aroused myself from this contemplation of my own thoughts, I saw Marie Lagoutte rising and preparing to go.
“You have done quite right,” I said as I took her to the door, “to tell me of these things, and I am much obliged to you. Have you told any one else of this adventure?”
“No one, sir; such things are only to be told to the priest and the doctor.”
“Come, I see you are a very wise, sensible woman.”
These words were exchanged at the door of my tower. At this moment Sperver appeared at the end of the gallery, followed by his friend Sebalt.
“Fritz!” he shouted, “I have got news to tell you.”
“Oh, come!” thought I, “more news! This is a strange condition of things.”
Marie Lagoutte had disappeared, and the huntsman and his friend entered the tower.
On the countenance of Sperver was an expression of suppressed wrath, on that of his companion bitter irony. This worthy sportsman, whose woeful physiognomy had struck me on my first arrival at Nideck, was as thin and dry as a lath. His hunting-jacket was girded tightly about him by his belt, from which hung a hunting-knife with a horn handle; long leathern gaiters came above his knees; the horn went over his shoulder from right to left, the wide-expanded opening under his arm; on his head a wide-brimmed hat, with a heron’s plume in the buckle. His profile, coming to a point in a reddish tuft, looked not unlike a goat’s.
“Yes,” cried Sperver, “I have got strange things to tell you.”
He threw himself in a chair, seizing his head between his clenched hands, while dismal Sebalt calmly drew his horn over his head and laid it on the table.
“Now, Sebalt,” cried Gideon, “speak out.”
“The witch is hanging about the castle.”
This piece of intelligence would have failed to interest me before seeing Marie Lagoutte, but now it struck more forcibly. There certainly was some mysterious connection between the lord of Nideck and that old woman. I knew nothing of the nature of this connection, and I felt that, at whatever cost, I must know it.