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self with books - Dante, Shakspere, Horace. To these were occasionally
added learned folios sent from Stuttgart to Count Ludwig, who seemed to
find his greatest enjoyment in perusing works on philosophy and science.
Meanwhile the communication by letter between the count and the erudite
shepherd of souls in the village was continued.

One day Herr Mercatoris sent to the castle a brochure on which he had
proudly written, "With the compliments of the author." The booklet was
written in Latin, and was an account of the natural wonder which is, to
this day, reckoned among the numerous memorable peculiarities of Lake
Neusiedl, - a human being that lived in the water and ate live fishes.

A little boy who had lost both parents, and had no one to care for him,
had strayed into the morass of the Hansag, and, living there among the
wild animals, had become a wild animal himself, an inhabitant of the
water like the otters, a dumb creature from whose lips issued no human
sound.

The decade of years he had existed in the water had changed his skin to
a thick hide covered with a heavy growth of hair. The phenomenon would
doubtless be accepted by many as a convincing proof that the human being
was really evolved from the wild animal.

Accompanying the description was an engraved portrait of the natural
wonder.

The new owner of Fertöszeg, Baroness Katharina Landsknechtsschild, had
been told that a strange creature was frightening the village children
who bathed in the lake. She had given orders to some fishermen to catch
the monster, which they had been fortunate enough to do while fishing
for sturgeon. The boy-fish had been taken to the manor, where he had
been properly clothed, and placed in the care of a servant whose task
it was to teach the poor lad to speak, and walk upright instead of on
all fours, as had been his habit. Success had so far attended the
efforts to tame the wild boy that he would eat bread and keep on his
clothes. He had also learned to say "Ham-ham" when he wanted something
to eat; and he had been taught to turn the spit in the kitchen. The
kind-hearted baroness was sparing no pains to restore the lad to his
original condition. No one was allowed to strike or abuse him in any
way.

This brochure had a twofold effect upon the count. He became convinced
that the monster which had frightened Marie was not an assassin hired by
her enemies, not an expert diver, but a natural abnormity that had acted
innocently when he pursued the swimming maid. Second, the count could
not help but reproach himself when he remembered that _he_ would have
destroyed the irresponsible creature whom his neighbor was endeavoring
to transform again into a human being.

How much nobler was this woman's heart than his own! His fair neighbor
began to interest him.

He took the pamphlet to Marie, who shuddered when her eyes fell on the
engraving.

"The creature is really a harmless human being, Marie, and I am sorry we
became so excited over it. Our neighbor, the lovely baroness, is trying
to restore the poor lad to his original condition. Next summer you will
not need to be afraid to venture into the lake again."

The little maid gazed thoughtfully into Ludwig's eyes for several
moments; evidently she was pondering over something.

There had risen in her mind a suspicion that Ludwig himself had written
the pamphlet, and had had the monster's portrait engraved, in order to
quiet her fears and restore her confidence in the water.

"Will you take me sometime to visit the baroness?" she asked suddenly.

"And why?" inquired Ludwig, in turn, rising from his seat.

"That I, too, may see the wonderful improvement in the monster."

"No," he returned shortly, and taking up the pamphlet, he quitted the
room. "No!"

"But why 'No'?"




PART IV

SATAN LACZI


CHAPTER I


Count Vavel (thus he was addressed on his letters) had arranged an
observatory in the tower of the Nameless Castle. Here was his telescope,
by the aid of which he viewed the heavens by night, and by day observed
the doings of his fellow-men. He noticed everything that went on about
him. He peered into the neighboring farm-yards and cottages, was a
spectator of the community's disputes as well as its diversions. Of
late, the chief object of his telescopic observations during the day
were the doings at the neighboring manor. He was the "Lion-head" and the
"Council of Ten" in one person. The question was, whether the new
mistress of the manor, the unmarried baroness, should "cross the Bridge
of Sighs"? His telescope told him that this woman was young and very
fair; and it told him also that she lived a very secluded life. She
never went beyond the village, nor did she receive any visitors.

In the neighborhood of Neusiedl Lake one village was joined to another,
and these were populated by pleasure-loving and sociable families of
distinction. It was therefore a difficult matter for the well-born man
or woman who took up a residence in the neighborhood to avoid the jovial
sociability which reigned in those aristocratic circles.

Count Vavel himself had been overwhelmed with hospitable attentions the
first year of his occupancy of the Nameless Castle; but his refusals to
accept the numerous invitations had been so decided that they were not
repeated.

He frequently saw through his telescope the same four-horse equipages
which had once stopped in front of his own gates drive into the court at
the manor; and he recognized in the occupants the same jovial blades,
the eligible young nobles, who had honored him with their visits. He
noticed, too, that none of the visitors spent a night at the manor. Very
often the baroness did not leave her room when a caller came; it may
have been that she had refused to receive him on the plea of illness.
During the winter Count Vavel frequently saw his fair neighbor skating
on the frozen cove; while a servant propelled her companion over the ice
in a chair-sledge.

On these occasions the count would admire the baroness's graceful
figure, her intrepid movements, and her beautiful face, which was
flushed with the exercise and by the cutting wind.

But what pleased him most of all was that the baroness never once during
her skating exercises cast an inquiring glance toward the windows of the
Nameless Castle - not even when she came quite close to it.

On Christmas eve she, like Count Vavel, arranged a Christmas tree for
the village children. The little ones hastened from the manor to the
castle, and repeated wonderful tales of the gifts they had received from
the baroness's own hands.

Every Sunday the count saw the lady from the manor take her way to
church, on foot if the roads were good; and on her homeward way he could
see her distribute alms among the beggars who were ranged along either
side of the road. This the count did not approve. He, too, gave
plenteously to the poor, but through the village pastor, and only to
those needy ones who were too modest to beg openly. The street beggars
he repulsed with great harshness - with one exception. This was a
one-legged man, who had lost his limb at Marengo, and who stationed
himself regularly beside the cross at the end of the village. Here he
would stand, leaning on his crutches, and the count, in driving past,
would always drop a coin into the maimed warrior's hat.

One day when the carriage drew near the cross, Count Vavel saw the old
soldier, as usual, but without his crutches. Instead, he leaned on a
walking-stick, and stood on two legs.

The count stopped the carriage, and asked: "Are not you the one-legged
soldier?"

"I am, your lordship," replied the man; "but that angel, the baroness,
has had a wooden leg made for me, - I could dance with it if I
wished, - so I don't need to beg any more, for I can cut wood now, and
thus earn my living. May God bless her who has done this for me!"

The count was dissatisfied with himself. This woman understood
everything better than he did. He felt that she was his rival, and from
this feeling sprang the desire to compete with her.

An opportunity very soon offered. One day the count received from the
reverend Herr Mercatoris a gracefully worded appeal for charity. The new
owner of Fertöszeg had interested herself in the fate of the destitute
children whose fathers had gone to the war, and, in order to render
their condition more comfortable, had undertaken to found a home for
them. She had already given the necessary buildings, and had furnished
them. She now applied to the sympathies of the well-to-do residents of
the county for assistance to educate the children. In addition to food
and shelter, they required teachers. Such sums as were necessary for
this purpose must be raised by a general subscription from the
charitably inclined.

The count promptly responded to this request. He sent the pastor fifty
louis d'or. But in the letter which accompanied the gift he stipulated
that the boy whose mother was in prison should not be removed from Frau
Schmidt's care to the children's asylum.

It was quite in the order of things that the baroness should acknowledge
the munificent gift by a letter of thanks.

This missive was beautifully written. The orthography was singularly
faultless. The expressions were gracefully worded and artless; nothing
of flattery or sentimentality - merely courteous gratefulness. The letter
concluded thus:

"You will pardon me, I trust, if I add that the stipulation which you
append to your generous gift surprises me; for it means either that you
disapprove the principle of my undertaking, or you do not wish to
transfer to another the burden you have taken upon yourself. If the
latter be the reason, I am perfectly willing to agree to the
stipulation; if it be the former, then I should like very much to hear
your objection, in order that I may justify my action."

This was a challenge that could not be ignored. The count, of course,
would have to convince his fair neighbor that he was in perfect sympathy
with the principle of her philanthropic project, and he wrote
accordingly; but he added that he disapproved the prison-like system of
children's asylums, the convict-like regulations of such institutions.
_He_ thought the little ones would be better cared for, and much
happier, were they placed in private homes, to grow up as useful men and
women amid scenes and in the sphere of life to which they belonged.

The count's polemic reply was not without effect. The baroness, who had
her own views on the matter, was quite as ready to take the field, with
as many theoretic and empiric data and recognized authorities as had
been her opponent. The count one day would despatch a letter to the
manor, and Baroness Katharina would send her reply the next - each
determined not to remain the other's debtor. The count's epistles were
dictated to Marie; he added only the letter V to the signature.

This battle on paper was not without practical results. The baroness
paid daily visits to her "Children's Home"; and on mild spring days the
count very often saw her sitting on the open veranda, with her companion
and one or two maid-servants, sewing at children's garments until late
in the evening. The count, on his part, sent every day for his little
protégé, and spent several hours patiently teaching the lad, in order
that he might compete favorably with the baroness's charges. The task
was by no means an easy one, as the lad possessed a very dull brain.
This was, it must be confessed, an excellent thing for the orphans. If
the motherly care which the baroness lavished on her charges were to be
given to all destitute orphans in children's asylums, then the "convict
system" certainly was a perfect one; while, on the other hand, if a
preceptor like Count Vavel took it upon himself to instruct a forsaken
lad, then one might certainly expect a genius to evolve from the little
dullard growing up in a peasant's cottage.

Ultimately, however, the victory fell to the lady. It happened as
follows:

One day the count was again the recipient of a letter from his neighbor
at the manor (they had not yet exchanged verbal communication).

The letter ran thus:

"HERR COUNT: I dare say you know that the father of your little protégé
is no other than the notorious robber, Satan Laczi, whom it is
impossible to capture. The mother of the lad was arrested on suspicion.
She lived in the village under her own honest family name - Satan Laczi
being only a thief's appellation. As nothing could be proved against
her, the woman has been set at liberty, and has returned to the village.
Here she found every door closed against her - for who would care to
shelter the wife of a robber? At last the poor woman came to me, and
begged me to give her work. My servants are greatly excited because I
have taken her into my employ; but I am convinced that the woman is
innocent and honest. Were I to cast her adrift, she might become what
she has been accused of being - the accomplice of thieves. I know she
will conduct herself properly with me. I tell you all this because, if
you approve what I have done, you will permit the lad you have taken
under your protection to come to the manor, where he would be with his
mother. If, however, you condemn my action, you will refuse to grant my
request, and generously continue to care for the lad in your own way.
The decision I leave to you."

Count Vavel was forced to capitulate. The baroness's action - taking into
her household the woman who had been repulsed by all the world - was so
praiseworthy, so sublime, that nothing could approach it. That same day
he sent the lad with Frau Schmidt to the manor, and herewith the
correspondence between himself and the baroness ceased. There was no
further subject for argument.

And yet, Count Vavel could not help but think of this woman. Who was
she?

He had sought to learn from his foreign correspondents something
concerning the Baroness Katharina, but could gain no information save
that which we have already heard from the county physician: disappointed
love and shame at her rejection had driven the youthful baroness to this
secluded neighborhood.

This reason, however, did not altogether satisfy Count Vavel. Women,
especially young women, rarely quit the pleasures of the gay world
because of one single disappointment.

And for Count Vavel mistrust was a duty; for the reader must, ere this,
have suspected that the count and the mysterious man of the Rue
Mouffetard were identical, and that Marie was none other than the child
he had rescued from her enemies. Here in this land, where order
prevailed, but where there were no police, he was guarding the treasure
intrusted to his care, and he would continue to guard her until relieved
of the duty.

But when would the relief come?

One year after another passed, and the hour he dreamed of seemed still
further away. When he had accepted the responsible mission he had said
to himself: "In a year we shall gain our object, and I shall be
released."

But hope had deceived him; and as the years passed onward, he began to
realize how vast, how enormous, was the task he had undertaken. It was
within the possibilities that he, a young man in the flower of his
youth, should be able to bury himself in an unknown corner of the world,
to give up all his friends, to renounce everything that made life worth
living, but that he should bury with himself in his silk-lined tomb a
young girl to whom he had become everything, who yet might not even
dream of becoming anything to him - that was beyond human might.

More and more he realized that his old friend's prophetic words were
approaching fulfilment: "The child will grow to be a lovely woman.
Already she is fond of you; she will love you then. Then what?"

"I shall look upon myself as the inhabitant of a different planet," he
had replied; and he had kept his promise.

But the little maid had not promised anything; and if, perchance, she
guessed the weighty secret of her destiny, whence could she have taken
the strength of mind to battle against what threatened to drive even the
strong man to madness?

Ludwig was thirty-one years old, the fourth year in this house of
voluntary madmen. With extreme solicitude he saw the child grow to
womanhood, blessed with all the magic charms of her sex. Gladly would he
have kept her a child had it been in his power. He treated her as a
child - gave her dolls and the toys of a child; but this could not go on
forever. Deeply concerned, Ludwig observed that Marie's countenance
became more and more melancholy, and that now it rarely expressed
childlike naïveté. A dreamy melancholy had settled upon it. And of what
did she dream? Why was she so sad? Why did she start? Why did the blood
rush to her cheeks when he came suddenly into her presence?




CHAPTER II


Count Vavel had made his fair neighbor at the manor the object of study.
He had ample time for the task; he had nothing else to do. And, as he
was debarred from making direct inquiries concerning her, or from
hearing the current gossip of the neighborhood, he learned only that
about her which his telescope revealed; and from this, with the aid of
his imagination, he formed a conclusion - and an erroneous one, very
probably.

His neighbor lived in strict seclusion, and was a man-hater. But, for
all that, she was neither a nun nor an Amazon. She was a true woman,
neither inconsolably melancholy nor wantonly merry. She proved herself
an excellent housewife. She rose betimes mornings, sent her workmen
about their various tasks, saw that everything was properly attended to.
Very often she rode on horseback, or drove in a light wagon, to look
about her estate. She had arranged an extensive dairy, and paid daily
visits to her stables. She did not seem aware that an attentive observer
constantly watched her with his telescope from the tower of the Nameless
Castle. So, at least, it might be assumed; for the lady very often
assisted in the labor of the garden, when, in transplanting tulip bulbs,
she would so soil her pretty white hands to the wrists with black mold
that it would be quite distressing to see them. Certainly this was
sufficient proof that her labor was without design.

And, what was more to the purpose, she acted as if perfectly unaware of
the fact that a lady lived in the Nameless Castle who possibly might be
the wife of her tenant. Common courtesy and the conventional usages of
society demanded that the lady who took up a residence anywhere should
call on the ladies of the neighborhood - if only to leave a card with the
servant at the door. The baroness had omitted this ceremony, which
proved that she either did not know of Marie's hiding-place, or that she
possessed enough delicacy of feeling to understand that it would be
inconvenient to the one concerned were she to take any notice of the
circumstance. Either reason was satisfactory to Count Vavel.

But a woman without curiosity!

Meanwhile the count had learned something about her which might be of
some use to Marie.

He had received, during the winter, a letter from the young law student
with whom he had become acquainted on the occasion of the
vice-palatine's unpleasant visit to the castle. The young man wrote to
say that he had passed his examination, and that when he should receive
the necessary authority from the count he would be ready to proceed to
the business they had talked about.

The count replied that a renewal of his lease was not necessary. The new
owner of the castle having neglected to serve a notice to quit within
the proper time, the old contracts were still valid. Therefore, it was
only necessary to secure the naturalization documents, and to purchase a
plot of ground on the shore of the lake. The young lawyer arranged these
matters satisfactorily, and the count had nothing further to do than to
appoint an _absentium ablegatus_ to the Diet, and to take possession of
his new purchase, which lay adjacent to the Nameless Castle.

The count at once had the plot of ground inclosed with a high fence of
stout planks, engaged a gardener, and had it transformed into a
beautiful flower-garden.

Then, when the first spring blossoms began to open, he said to Marie,
one balmy, sunshiny afternoon: "Come, we will take a promenade."

He conducted the veiled maiden through the park, along the freshly
graveled path to the inclosed plot of ground.

"Here is your garden," he said, opening the gate. "Now you, too, own a
plot of ground."

Count Vavel had expected to see the little maid clap her hands with
delight, and hasten to pluck the flowers for a nosegay.

Instead, however, she clung to his arm and sighed heavily.

"Why do you sigh, Marie? Are you not pleased with your garden?"

"Yes; I think it beautiful."

"Then why do you sigh?"

"Because I cannot thank you as I wish."

"But you have already thanked me."

"That was only with words. Tell me, can any one see us here?"

"No one; we are alone."

At these words the little maid tore the veil from her face, and for the
first time in many years God's free sunlight illumined her lovely
features. What those features expressed, what those eyes flashed through
their tears, that was her gratitude.

When she had illumined the heart of her guardian with this expressive
glance, she was about to draw the veil over her face again; but Ludwig
laid a gently restraining hand on hers, and said: "Leave your face
uncovered, Marie; no one can see it here; and every day for one hour you
may walk thus here, without fear of being seen, for I shall send the
gardener elsewhere during that time."

When they were leaving the garden, Marie plucked two forget-me-nots, and
gave one of them to Ludwig. From that day she had one more pleasure: the
garden, a free sight of the sky, the warmth of the sunlight - enjoyments
hitherto denied her; but, all the same, the childlike cheerfulness faded
more and more from her countenance.

Ludwig, who was distressed to see this continued melancholy in the
child's face, searched among his pedagogic remedies for a cure for such
moods. A sixteen-year-old girl might begin the study of history. At this
age she would already become interested in descriptions of national
customs, in archaeological study, in travels. He therefore collected for
Marie's edification quite a library, and became a zealous expounder of
the various works.

In a short time, however, he became aware that his pupil was not so
studious as she had been formerly. She paid little heed to his learned
discourses, and even neglected to learn her lessons. For this he was
frequently obliged to reprove her. This was a sort of refrigerating
process. For an instructor to scold a youthful pupil is the best proof
that he is a being from a different planet!

One day the tutor was delineating with great eloquence to his
scholar - who, he imagined, was listening with special interest - the
glorious deeds of heroism performed by St. Louis, and was tracing on the
map the heroic king's memorable crusade. The scholar, however, was
writing something on a sheet of paper which lay on the table in front of
her.

"What are you writing, Marie?"

The little maid handed him the sheet of paper. On it were the words:

"Dear Ludwig, love me."

Map and book dropped from the count's hands. The little maid's frank,
sincere gaze met his own. She was not ashamed of what she had written,
or that she had let him read it. She thought it quite in the order of
things.

"And don't I love you?" exclaimed Ludwig, with sudden sharpness. "Don't
I love you as the fakir loves his Brahma - as the Carthusian loves his
Virgin Mary? Don't I love you quite as dearly?"

"Then don't love me - quite so dearly," responded Marie, rising and going
to her own room, where she began to play with her cats. From that hour
she would not learn anything more from Ludwig.

The young man, however, placed the slip of paper containing the words,
"Dear Ludwig, love me," among his relics.

* * * * *

Since the new mistress's advent in the neighboring manor Count Vavel had
spent more time than usual in his observatory. At first suspicion had
been his motive. Now, however, there was a certain fascination in
bringing near to him with his telescope the woman with whom he had
exchanged only written communication. If he was so eager to behold her,
why did he not go to the manor? Why did he look at her only through his
telescope? She would certainly receive his visits; and what then?

This "what then?" was the fetter which bound him hand and foot, was the
lock upon his lips. He must make no acquaintances. Results might follow;


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