In what form was he to clothe the bad news which he was bringing to the convalescent girl? Poor child! How heavily she had to atone for her sin, and how slight was his own and every other influence upon the man, great even in his selfishness, who had had the power to render him a messenger of joy!
While the physician was approaching the little castle, she of whom he was so eagerly thinking awaited his return with feverish suspense. Yet she was obliged at this very time to devote herself to a visitor. True, he was the only person whom she would not have refused to see at this hour.
Wolf Hartschwert was with her.
His first errand after the period of severe suffering through which he had passed was to Barbara, earnestly as old Ursel had endeavoured to prevent him.
He had found her under a linden tree in the garden.
How they had met again!
Wolf, pale and emaciated, advanced toward her, leaning on a cane, while Barbara, with slightly flushed cheeks, reclined upon the pillows which Sister Hyacinthe had just arranged for her.
Her head seemed smaller, her features had become more delicate and, in spite of the straw hat which protected her from the dazzling sunshine, he perceived that her severe illness had cost her her magnificent golden hair. Still wavy, it now fell only to her neck, and gave her the appearance of a wonderfully handsome boy.
The hand she extended to him was transparently thin, and when he clasped it in his, which was only a little larger, and did not seem much stronger, and she had hoarsely whispered a friendly greeting, his eyes filled with tears. For a time both were silent. Barbara was the first to find words and, raising her large eyes beseechingly to his, said: “If you come to reproach me—But no! You look pale, as though you had only partially recovered yourself, yet kind and friendly. Perhaps you do not know that it was through my fault that all these terrible things have befallen you.”
Here a significant smile told her that he was much better informed than she supposed, and, lowering her eyes in timid embarrassment, she asked,
“Then you know who it was for whom this foolish heart——”
Here her breath failed, and while she pressed her hand upon her bosom, Wolf said softly: “If you had only trusted me before! Many things would not have happened, and much suffering might have been spared. You did wrong, Wawerl, certainly, but my guilt is the greater, and we were both punished—oh, how sorely!”
Barbara, amid low sobbing, nodded assent, but he eagerly continued: “Quijada confided everything to me, and if he—you know—now forgets all other matters in the war and the anxieties of the general, and, you need my counsel and aid, we will let what came between us he buried, and think that we are brother and sister.”