“I know, I know!”
I watched him narrowly, thinking I might learn something now in support of my theory, but he simply added ironically—
“The towers of Nideck are high, and slander flies too low to reach their elevation!”
“No doubt; but still it is a fact, is it not?”
“Oh yes, so it is; but after all it is only a craze, an effect of his complaint. As soon as the crisis is past all his love for mademoiselle comes back. I assure you, sir, that a lover of twenty could not be more devoted, more affectionate, than he is. That young girl is his pride and his joy. A dozen times have I seen him riding away to get a dress, or flowers, or what not, for her. He went off alone, and brought back the articles in triumph, blowing his horn. He would have entrusted so delicate a commission to no one, not even to Sperver, whom he is so fond of. Mademoiselle never dares express a wish in his hearing lest he should start off and fulfil it at once. The lord of Nideck is the worthiest master, the tenderest father, and the kindest and most upright of men. Those poachers who are for ever infesting our woods, the old Count Ludwig would have strung them up without mercy; our count winks at them; he even turns them into gamekeepers. Look at Sperver! why, if Count Ludwig was alive, Sperver’s bones would long ago have been rattling in chains; instead of which he is head huntsman at the castle.”
All my theories were now in a state of disorganisation. I laid my head between my hands and thought a long while.
Knapwurst, supposing that I was asleep, had turned to his folio again.
The grey dawn was now peeping in, and the lamp turning pale. Indistinct voices were audible in the castle.
Suddenly there was a noise of hurried steps outside. I saw some one pass before the window, the door opened abruptly, and Gideon appeared at the threshold.
Sperver’s pale face and glowing eyes announced that events were on their way. Yet he was calm, and did not seem surprised at my presence in Knapwurst’s room.
“Fritz,” he said briefly, “I am come to fetch you.” I rose without answering and followed him. Scarcely were we out of the hut when he took me by the arm and drew me on to the castle.
“Mademoiselle Odile wants to see you,” he whispered.
“What! is she ill?”
“No, she is much better, but something or other that is strange is going on. This morning about one o’clock, thinking that the count was nearly breathing his last, I went to wake the countess; with my hand on the bell my heart failed me. ‘Why should I break her heart?’ I said to myself, ’She will learn her misfortune only too soon; and then to wake her up in the middle of the night, weak and frail as she is, after such shocks, might kill her at a stroke.’ I took a few minutes to consider, and then I resolved I would take it all