I refrained from asking her what she thought of me now. Suing for immediate pardon would have been like the applying of a lancet to a vein for blood: it would have burst forth, meaning mere words coloured by commiseration, kindness, desperate affection, anything but her soul’s survey of herself and me; and though I yearned for the comfort passion could give me, I knew the mind I was dealing with, or, rather, I knew I was dealing with a mind; and I kept my tongue silent. The talk between us was of the possible date of my recovery, the hour of her return to the palace, the writer of the unsigned letters, books we had read apart or peeped into together. She was a little quicker in speech, less meditative. My sensitive watchfulness caught no other indication of a change.
My father drove away an hour in advance of the princess to encounter the margravine.
‘By,’ said he, rehearsing his exclamation of astonishment and delight at meeting her, ’by the most miraculous piece of good fortune conceivable, dear madam. And now comes the question, since you have condescended to notice a solitary atom of your acquaintance on the public highroad, whether I am to have the honour of doubling the freight of your carriage, or you will deign to embark in mine? But the direction of the horses’ heads must be reversed, absolutely it must, if your Highness would repose in a bed to-night. Good. So. And now, at a conversational trot, we may happen to be overtaken by acquaintances.’
I had no doubt of his drawing on his rarely-abandoned seven-league boots of jargon, once so delicious to me, for the margravine’s entertainment. His lack of discernment in treating the princess to it ruined my patience.
The sisters Aennchen and Lieschen presented themselves a few minutes before his departure. Lieschen dropped at her feet.
‘My child,’ said the princess, quite maternally, ’could you be quit of your service with the Mahrlens for two weeks, think you, to do duty here?’
‘The Professor grants her six hours out of the twenty-four already,’ said I.
‘To go where?’ she asked, alarmed.
‘To come here.’
‘Here? She knows you? She did not curtsey to you.’
‘Nurses do not usually do that.’
The appearance of both girls was pitiable; but having no suspicion of the cause for it, I superadded,
‘She was here this morning.’
‘Ah! we owe her more than we were aware of.’
The princess looked on her kindly, though with suspense in the expression.
‘She told me of my approaching visitor,’ I said.
‘Oh! not told!’ Lieschen burst out.
’Did you,’—the princess questioned her, and murmured to me, ’These children cannot speak falsehoods,’ they shone miserably under the burden of uprightness ‘did you make sure that I should come?’
Lieschen thought—she supposed. But why? Why did she think and suppose? What made her anticipate the princess’s arrival? This inveterate why communicated its terrors to Aennchen, upon whom the princess turned scrutinizing eyes, saying, ‘You write of me to your sister?’