“Madam,” I said, rising, “I am ready.”
“No, sir,” she replied with much dignity, “I will not put such an affront upon you. Oaths fail to bind base men, and honour alone is a sufficient guarantee for the upright. You will keep that secret, sir, I know you will keep it, because it is your duty to do so. But I expect more than this of you, much more, and this is why I consider myself obliged to tell you all!”
She rose slowly from her seat.
“Doctor Fritz,” she resumed in a voice which made every nerve within me quiver with deep emotion, “my strength is unequal to my burden; I bend beneath it. I need a helper, a friend. Will you be that friend?”
“Madam,” I replied, rising from my seat, “I gratefully accept your offer of friendship. I cannot tell you how proud I am of your confidence; but still, allow me to unite with it one condition.”
“Pray speak, sir.”
“I mean that I will accept that title of friend with all the duties and obligations which it shall impose upon me.”
“What duties do you mean?”
“There is a mystery overhanging your family; that mystery must be discovered and solved at any cost. That Black Pest must be apprehended. We must find out where she comes from, what she is, and what she wants!”
“Oh, but that is impossible!” she said with a movement of despair.
“Who can tell that, madam? Perhaps Divine Providence may have had a design connected with me in sending Sperver to fetch me here.”
“You are right, sir. God never acts without consummate wisdom. Do whatever you think right. I give my approval in advance.”
I raised to my lips the hand which she tremblingly placed in mine, and went out full of admiration for this frail and feeble woman, who was, nevertheless, so strong in the time of trial. Is anything grander than duty nobly accomplished?
An hour after the conversation with Odile, Sperver and I were riding hard, and leaving Nideck rapidly behind us.
The huntsman, bending forward over his horse’s neck, encouraged him with voice and action.
He rode so fast that his tall Mecklemburger, her mane flying, tail outstretched, and legs extended wide, seemed almost motionless, so swiftly did she cleave the air. As for my little Ardenne pony, I think he was running right away with his rider. Lieverle accompanied us, flying alongside of us like an arrow from the bow. A whirlwind seemed to sweep us in our headlong way.