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Title: Under a Charm, A Novel, Vol. I
Author: Werner, E., 1838-1918
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Under a Charm, A Novel, Vol. I" ***

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Transcriber's Note:
   1. Page scan source:
      http://books.google.com/books?id=bN0BAAAAQAAJ

   2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].

   3. Compare this to the American edition: "Vineta, The Phantom City,"
      by E. Werner and translated by Frances A. Shaw.



                             UNDER A CHARM.



                             UNDER A CHARM.

                                A Novel.



                        FROM THE GERMAN OF E. WERNER,
                            By CHRISTINA TYRRELL.



                          _IN THREE VOLUMES_.
                                VOL. I.



                                LONDON:
                        RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON,
                         NEW BURLINGTON STREET.
                                 1877.

                        (_All rights reserved_.)



                            PART THE FIRST.



                             UNDER A CHARM.



                               CHAPTER I.


The hot summer day was drawing to its close. The sun had already set;
but the rosy flush of evening still lingered on the horizon, casting a
radiant glow over the sea, which lay calm, scarce moved by a ripple,
reflecting the last splendour of the departing day.

Close to the shore on the outskirts of C----, the fashionable
watering-place, but at some little distance from the promenade, which
at this hour was thronged by a brilliant, many-coloured crowd of
visitors, stood a plain country house. Unpretending in appearance,
compared with the other, for the most part, far larger and grander
houses and villas of the place, it was remarkable for nothing save only
for the beauty of its situation, its windows commanding a limitless
view over the sea. Otherwise it stood there secluded, almost solitary,
and could certainly only be preferred by such guests as wished rather
to avoid, than to court, the noisy, busy life of C---- during the
bathing season.

At the open glass-door, which led out on to the balcony, stood a lady
dressed in deep mourning. She was tall and imposing of stature, and
might still pass for beautiful, although she had more than reached
life's meridian. That face, with its clear regular lines, had, it is
true, never possessed the charms of grace and loveliness; but, for that
very reason, years had taken nothing from the cold severe beauty it
still triumphantly retained. The black attire, the crape veil shading
her brow, seemed to point to some heavy, and probably recent, loss; but
one looked in vain for the trace of past tears in those eyes, for a
touch of softness in those features so indicative of energy. If sorrow
had really drawn nigh this woman, she had either not felt it very
deeply, or had already overcome its pangs.

At her side stood a gentleman, like herself, of distinguished and noble
carriage. He might, in reality, be only a few years older than his fair
neighbour; but he looked as though more than a decade lay between them,
for time had not passed by him with so light a hand. His grave face,
very full of character, with its sharp, deeply marked features, had
plainly weathered many a storm in life's journey; his thick dark hair
was here and there streaked with grey; line upon line furrowed his
brow, and there was a sombre melancholy in his eyes which communicated
itself to the man's whole countenance.

"Still nothing to be seen! They will hardly return before sunset."

"You should have sent us word of your arrival," said the lady. "We only
expected you in a few days. Besides, the boat does not come in sight
until it has rounded that wooded promontory yonder, and then in a very
few minutes it is here."

She stepped back into the room, and turned to a servant who was in the
act of carrying some travelling wraps into one of the adjoining rooms.

"Go down to the shore, Pawlick," said she, "and directly the boat comes
to land, tell my son and my niece that Count Morynski has arrived."

The servant withdrew in compliance with the order received. Count
Morynski left his post on the balcony, and came into the room, seating
himself by the lady's side.

"Forgive my impatience," he said. "The meeting with my sister ought to
suffice me for the present; but it is a whole year since I last saw my
child."

The lady smiled. "You will not see much more of the 'child.' A year
makes a great change at her age, and Wanda gives promise of beauty."

"And her mental development? In your letters you have ever expressed
yourself satisfied on that head."

"Certainly; she always outstrips her tasks. I have rather to restrain
than to stimulate her ardour. In that respect I have nothing to wish
for; but there is one point on which much is to be desired. Wanda has a
strong, a most decided will of her own, and she is disposed to assert
it passionately. I have sometimes been obliged to enforce the obedience
she was greatly inclined to refuse me."

A fleeting smile brightened the father's face, as he replied, "A
singular reproach from your lips! To have a will and to assert it under
all circumstances is a prominent trait of your character--a family
trait with us, indeed, I may say."

"Which, however, is not to be tolerated in a girl of sixteen, for there
it only shows itself as defiance and caprice," his sister interrupted
him. "I tell you beforehand, you yourself will have frequent occasion
to combat it."

It seemed as though the turn taken by the conversation were not
specially agreeable to the Count.

"I know that I could not give my child into better hands than yours,"
he said, evading the subject; "and for that reason I am doubly glad
that, though I am about to claim Wanda for myself, she will not have to
do without you altogether. I did not think you would make up your mind
to return so soon after your husband's death. I expected you would stay
in Paris, at all events until Leo had completed his studies."

The lady shook her head. "I never felt at home in Paris, in spite of
the years we spent there. The emigrant's fate is no enviable one--you
know it by experience. Prince Baratowski, indeed, could not again set
foot in his own country; but no one can prevent his widow and son from
returning, so I resolved to come without delay. Leo must be allowed to
breathe his native air once more, so that he may feel himself truly a
son of the soil. On him now rest all the hopes of our race. He is still
very young, no doubt; but he must learn to outrun his years, and to
make himself acquainted with those duties and tasks which have now
devolved on him through his father's death."

"And where do you think of taking up your abode?" asked Count Morynski.
"You know that my house is at all times ..."

"I know it," the Princess interrupted him; "but no, thanks. For me the
all-important point now is to assure Leo's future, and to give him the
means of maintaining his name and position before the world. This has
been hard enough for us of late, and now it has become a perfect
impossibility. You know our circumstances, and are aware what
sacrifices our banishment has imposed on us. Something must be done.
For my son's sake I have decided upon a step which, for myself alone, I
never would have taken. Do you guess why I chose C---- for our place of
sojourn this summer?"

"No; but I was surprised at it. Witold's estate lies within five or six
miles of this, and I thought you would rather have avoided the
neighbourhood. But perhaps you are in communication with Waldemar
again?"

"No," said the Princess, coldly. "I have not seen him since we left for
France, and since then have hardly had a line from him. During all
these years he has had no thought for his mother."

"Nor his mother for him," observed the Count, parenthetically.

"Was I to expose myself to a rebuff, to a humiliation?" asked the
Princess with some warmth. "This Witold has always been hostile to me;
he has exercised his unlimited authority as guardian in the most
offensive manner, setting me completely at nought. I am powerless as
opposed to him."

"He would hardly have ventured to cut off all intercourse between you
and Waldemar. A mother's rights are too sacred to be thus put aside,
had you but insisted on them with your usual resolution. That, however,
was never the case, to my knowledge, for--be candid, Hedwiga--you never
had any love for your eldest son."

Hedwiga made no reply to this reproach. She rested her head on her hand
in silence.

"I can understand that he does not take the first place in your heart,"
went on the Count. "He is the son of a husband whom you did not love,
who was forced upon you--the living reminder of a marriage you cannot
yet think of without bitterness. Leo is the child of your heart, of
your affections ..."

"His father never gave me cause for a word of complaint," the Princess
added, emphatically.

The Count shrugged his shoulders slightly. "You ruled Baratowski
completely; but that is not the question now. You have a plan; do you
intend to renew former, half-forgotten relations with Witold and his
ward?"

"I intend, at last, to assert those rights of which I was robbed by
Nordeck's will--that unjust will, every line of which was dictated by
hatred of me, which deprived alike the widow and the mother of her due.
Hitherto it has remained in full force; but its provisions fixed
Waldemar's majority at the age of one and twenty. He attained that age
on his last birthday, and he is now his own master. I wish to see
whether he will suffer things to go so far that his mother must seek an
asylum with her relations, while he reckons among the richest
landowners of the country, and it would cost him but a word to assure
me and his brother a suitable position and means of existence on one of
the estates."

Morynski shook his head doubtfully.

"You count upon finding natural filial affection in this son of yours.
I am afraid you are deceiving yourself. He has been severed from you
since his earliest childhood, and love for his mother will hardly have
been inculcated on him as a duty. I never saw him but as a child, when,
I own, he made the most unfavourable impression upon me. One thing I
know for certain, he was the reverse of tractable."

"I know it too," returned the Princess with equanimity. "He is his
father's son, and, like him, rough, unmanageable, and incapable of all
higher culture. Even as a boy he resembled him, trait for trait; and,
with such a guardian as Witold, education will have given the finishing
touches to Nature's work. I do not deceive myself as to Waldemar's
character; but, nevertheless, there will be a way of leading him. Minds
of an inferior order always yield in the end to intellectual
superiority. Everything depends upon making it properly felt."

"Were you able to lead his father?" asked her brother, gravely.

"You forget, Bronislaus, that I was then but a girl of seventeen,
without experience, altogether unversed in the ways of the world. I
should now be able to compass even such a character as his, and should
certainly gain an ascendancy over him. Besides this, with Waldemar, I
shall have on my side the weight of my authority as his mother. He will
bend to it."

The Count looked very incredulous at these words, spoken in a tone of
great decision. He had no time to reply, for a light, rapid step was
now heard in the anteroom. The door was flung open with impetuous
haste, and a young girl, rushing in, threw herself into the arms of
Morynski, who sprang up and clasped his daughter to his breast with
passionate tenderness.

The Princess had risen also. She did not seem quite to approve of so
stormy a greeting on the part of the young lady; she said nothing,
however, but turned to her son, who came in at that moment.

"You stayed out a long time, Leo. We have been expecting you for the
last hour."

"Forgive us, mamma. The sunset on the sea was so beautiful, we could
not bear to lose a minute of it."

With these words, Leo Baratowski went up to his mother. He was, indeed,
very young, perhaps seventeen or eighteen years of age. One look in his
face was sufficient to show that his features were modelled on those of
the Princess. The resemblance was striking, as it only can be between
mother and son; and yet the latter's fine youthful head, with its dark,
curly hair, bore quite another stamp from hers. The cold, severe
expression was wanting. Here all was fire and life; all the passion of
a glowing, and as yet unbridled, temperament blazed in the dark eyes,
and his whole appearance was such an impersonation of adolescent
strength and beauty, it was not difficult to understand the pride with
which the Princess took her son's hand to lead him to his uncle.

"Leo has no father now," she said, gravely. "I shall look to you for
help, Bronislaus, when the counsel and guidance of a man become
necessary to him in his career."

The Count embraced his nephew with heartfelt warmth, but in a far
quieter fashion than that in which he had received his daughter. The
sight of her seemed for the present to drive all else into the
background. His looks continually wandered back to the young girl, who,
in this last year during which he had been separated from her, had
almost grown to maiden's estate.

Wanda was not in the least like her father. If the likeness between Leo
and his mother were striking in the extreme, here, between father and
daughter, such resemblance was altogether wanting. The young Countess
Morynska was, indeed, like no one but herself. Her slender, graceful
figure was as yet unformed, and she had evidently not attained to her
full height. The face, too, was childlike, though her features already
justified the Princess's claim on their behalf. A rather pale face it
was, the cheeks being tinged only by faintest pink; but there was
nothing sickly in this paleness, and it in no way diminished the
impression of fresh and healthful vigour. Her luxuriant, raven-black
hair set the whiteness of her complexion in still stronger relief, and
dark dewy eyes were hid beneath the long black lashes. Wanda did indeed
give promise of beauty. As yet she had it not; but, on the other hand,
she possessed that peculiar charm which belongs to many a girlish
figure, standing on the boundary line between child and maiden hood.
There was about her a pretty blending of the child's petulance and
artlessness with the graver demeanour of the young lady, who, at every
turn, calls to mind her sixteen years; while the bloom of early youth,
of the blossom budding forth, invested her whole person with a special
grace of its own, and made her doubly charming.

When the first emotion of the meeting was over, the conversation flowed
in calmer channels. Count Morynski had drawn his daughter down on to a
seat near him, and was jestingly reproaching her for her late return.

"I knew nothing of your arrival, papa," Wanda said in self-defence;
"and, besides, I had an adventure in the forest."

"In the forest?" interrupted her aunt. "Were you not on the water, with
Leo?"

"Only coming back, aunt. We intended to sail back to the Beech Holm, as
had been agreed; but Leo declared, and persisted in it, that the way by
sea was far nearer than by the footpath through the wood. I maintained
the contrary. We argued about it for some time, and at last decided
upon each proving we were right. Leo sailed alone, and I set off
through the forest."

"And reached the Beech Holm quite safely a good half-hour after me,"
said Leo, triumphantly.

"I had lost my way," asserted the young lady, warmly; "and I should
very likely be in the forest still if I had not been put right."

"And who put you right?" asked the Count.

Wanda laughed mischievously. "A wood-demon, one of the old giants who
are said to wander about here at times. But don't ask me any more now,
papa. Leo is burning with curiosity to know all about it. He has been
teasing me with questions the whole way back, and therefore he shall
not hear a syllable."

"It is all an invention," cried Leo, laughing, "a pretext to explain
your late arrival. You would rather make up a long story than
acknowledge I was right for once."

Wanda was about to retort in the same tone, when the Princess
interfered.

"Pretext or not," said she, sharply, "this solitary walk, taken without
consulting any one, was to the last degree improper. I had given you
permission to go for a short sail in Leo's company, and I cannot
understand how he could leave you in the woods for hours, by yourself."

"But Wanda would go," said Leo, by way of excuse. "She wanted to have
our dispute about the distance settled."

"Yes, dear aunt, I _would_ go" (the young lady laid greater stress on
the word than she would have ventured to do, had her father not been
protectingly at hand), "and Leo knew very well it was useless to try
and hold me back."

Here was a fresh instance of the girl's wilfulness, requiring to be
severely dealt with.

The Princess was about to deliver a serious reprimand, when her brother
quickly interposed.

"You will allow me to take Wanda with me?" said he. "I feel rather
tired from the journey, and should like to go to my room. Good-bye for
the present." With this he rose, took his daughter's arm, and left the
room with her.

"My uncle seems in raptures at the sight of Wanda," remarked Leo, as
the two disappeared.

The Princess looked after them in silence. "He will overlook it," she
said at last, under her breath; "he will worship her with blind
adoration, such as he lavished formerly on her mother, and Wanda will
soon know her power and learn to use it. This was what I feared from a
return to her father. The very first hour shows that I was right. What
is this story about an adventure in the forest, Leo?"

Leo shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. Probably one of Wanda's
teasing jokes. She made me curious at first with all sorts of hints,
and then obstinately refused to tell me more, taking great delight in
my vexation. You know her way."

"Yes, I know her way." There was a slight frown on the Princess's brow.
"Wanda likes to play with every one and everything, to let all who come
near her feel her arbitrary humour. You should not make it so easy to
her, Leo, at least so far as you yourself are concerned."

The young Prince crimsoned to the temples. "I, mamma? Why, I am always
quarrelling with Wanda!"

"And always submitting in the end to be led by her caprices. Do not
tell me, my son--I know who invariably triumphs when a contest arises
between you two; but, for the present, this is all childishness. I
wanted to speak to you of something serious. Shut the balcony door, and
come here to me."

Leo obeyed. His face showed that he was offended, less, perhaps, by the
reproof administered to him, than by the expression 'childishness.'

The Princess, however, took not the slightest notice of his mood.

"You know," she began, "that I had been married before I bestowed my
hand on your father, and that a son of that first marriage still lives.
You know, too, that he has been reared and educated in Germany; but up
to this time you have never seen him. A meeting between you will now
take place. You are to make his acquaintance."

Leo sprang up, his eyes sparkling with eagerness and liveliest
surprise.

"My brother Waldemar?"

"Waldemar Nordeck, yes." The emphasis laid on the latter name conveyed
a perhaps unintentional, but most decided, protest against this
relationship between a Nordeck and a Baratowski. "He lives in this
neighbourhood on his guardian's estate. I have sent him word of our
presence here, and I expect he will come over one of these days."

Leo's previous ill-humour had vanished. The subject was evidently one
of the greatest interest to him. "Mamma," said he, hesitatingly, "may I
not hear something more of these sad family affairs? All I know is that
your marriage was an unhappy one, that you are at variance with
Waldemar's relations, and with his guardian. Even this I have only
learned from my uncle's allusions, and from hints dropped by old
servants of our house. I have never ventured to ask a question, either
of you or of my father. I saw that it would hurt him, and make you
angry. You both seemed anxious to banish the remembrance from your
mind."

A singularly hard expression came over the Princess's features, and the
tone of her voice was hard too, as she replied, "Certainly, old
mortifications and humiliations are best hidden from view and
forgotten, and that unhappy union was fertile in both. Do not ask me
about it now, Leo. You know the events that happened. Let that suffice
you. I neither can nor will take you, step by step, through a family
drama, of which I cannot think even now without a feeling of hatred for
the dead rising up within me. I thought to efface those three years
altogether from my life, and little dreamed that I should one day be
compelled myself to call up the memory of them."

"And what compels you?" asked Leo, quickly. "Not our return? We are
going to my uncle's, at Rakowicz, are we not?"

"No, my son, we are going to Wilicza."

"To Wilicza!" repeated Leo, in surprise. "Why, that is ... that is
Waldemar's place!"

"It would have been my dower-house, but for the will which ejected me,"
said the Princess, in a cutting tone; "now it is the property of my
son. Room will certainly be found there for his mother."

Leo started back with an impetuous gesture. "What does it mean?" he
asked, hotly. "Are you going to lower yourself before this Waldemar, to
ask a favour of him? I know that we are poor; but I would bear
anything, do without anything, rather than consent that, for my sake,
you ..."

The Princess rose suddenly. Her look and attitude were so commanding
that the boy stopped short in the midst of his passionate protest.

"Do you suppose that your mother is capable of lowering herself? Have
you so little knowledge of her? Leave to me the care of upholding my
dignity--and yours. It really is not needful that you should point out
to me the limits to which I may go. It is for me alone to judge of
them."

Leo was silent, and looked down. His mother went up to him, and took
his hand.

"Will this hot head of yours never learn to reason quietly?" said she,
more gently. "Yet calm reflection will be so necessary to it in life?
My plans with regard to Waldemar I shall carry out myself, alone. If
there be bitterness attaching to them, you, my Leo, shall feel nothing
of it. You must keep your sight unclouded, your spirit fresh and
valiant for the future which is in store for you. That is your task.
Mine is to assure you that future at any cost. Trust your mother."

With a dumb prayer for forgiveness, her son raised her hand to his
lips. She drew him to her; and, as she bent down to kiss the handsome,
animated face, it became manifest that this cold, austere woman had a
mother's heart, and that, in spite of the severity with which she
treated him, Leo was that heart's idol.



                              CHAPTER II.


"Do oblige me by leaving off those everlasting lamentations of yours,
Doctor. I tell you, there is no changing the boy. I have tried often
enough, and I have had six tutors, one after the other, to help me. We
could none of us do anything with him; you can't do anything either, so
just let him go his own way."

This speech, delivered in the most vigorous tones, was addressed by
Herr Witold, Squire of Altenhof, to the gentleman intrusted with his
ward's education. The room in which the two were seated was situated at
the end of the house of which it formed a corner. Its windows were
thrown open on account of the heat, and its whole appearance seemed to
indicate that the dwellers therein held such things as elegance and
comfort to be quite superfluous, if not absolutely harmful,
indulgences. The plain and, for the most part, antiquated furniture was
scattered here and there, without the least regard for tasteful, or
even for commodious, arrangement--pushed right and left to serve the
convenience of the moment. On the walls hung guns, sporting tackle, and
antlers in indiscriminate confusion. Wherever room for a nail had been
found, there that nail had been driven in, and the article on hand at
the time hung thereon, without the smallest consideration for the
figure it made in the place allotted to it. The bureau was loaded with
piles of house and farm accounts, together with tobacco pipes, spurs,
and half a dozen riding-whips. The newspaper lay on the carpet; for
carpet there was, in name at least, though its absence would have
proved a better ornament to the room, since it bore but too evident
traces of serving the great setter as his daily couch. Not a thing was
in the place to which it rightly belonged; but rather there where it
had last been made use of, and where it remained ready for any future
occasion. One single object in the room testified, and that in a truly
appalling manner, to the owner's artistic tastes, namely, a brilliant
hunting-piece of most intense and vivid colouring, which hung in the
place of honour over the sofa.

The Squire sat in his armchair by the window, lost in the dense clouds
of smoke which issued from his meerschaum. A man of about sixty years,
he looked relatively young, in spite of his white hair, and was
evidently in the full enjoyment of health and strength. He was of an
important presence, his height and bulk being alike considerable. There
was, perhaps, not overmuch intelligence in the ruddy face; but, on the
other hand, it wore an unmistakable air of good humour. His dress, made
up partly of indoor raiment and partly of hunting gear, was decidedly
negligent; and his whole massive person, with its powerful, deep-toned
voice, formed the strongest contrast to the lank figure of the tutor,
now standing before him.

The Doctor might be thirty or thereabouts. He was of middle height, but
his stooping attitude made him appear short of stature. His face was
not exactly unhandsome, but it wore too evident a look of sickliness,
and of the depression bred of a painful position in life, to prove
attractive. His complexion was pale and unhealthy, his brow deeply
lined, and his eyes had that abstracted, uncertain expression peculiar
to those who seldom, if ever, bring their thoughts altogether to bear
on the realities around them. His black attire was ordered with
scrupulous care; and there was an air of anxious timidity about the
man's whole being, betraying itself in his voice, as he replied in a
low tone--

"You know, Herr Witold, that I never apply to you, save in an extreme
case. This time I must call upon you to use your authority. I am at my
wits' end."

"What has Waldemar been doing now?" asked the master of the house,
impatiently. "I know he is unmanageable as well as you do, but I can't
help you in the matter. The boy got far beyond my control long ago. He
will obey no one now, not even me. He runs away from your books, and
prefers to be off with his gun, does he? Tut! I was no better at his
age. They could never ram all their learned stuff into my head. He has
no manners, has not he? Well, he does not want them. We live here among
ourselves, and when we do have a neighbourly meeting now and again, we
don't make much ceremony about it. You know that well enough, Doctor.
You always take to your heels, and escape from our shooting parties and
drinking bouts."

"But, only think," objected the tutor, "if Waldemar with his rough wild
ways were, later in life, to be thrown into another sphere; if he were
to marry ..."

"Marry!" exclaimed Witold, absolutely hurt by such a supposition. "He
will never do such a thing. What should he marry for? I have remained a
bachelor all my life, and find myself uncommonly comfortable; and poor
Nordeck would have done better to keep single. No, thank God, there is
no fear of our Waldemar! Why, he runs off at the sight of a petticoat,
and he is right."

So saying, Waldemar's guardian leaned back in his chair with an air of
much contentment. The Doctor drew a step nearer.

"But to return to the point from which we set out," said he,
hesitatingly. "You yourself admit that my pupil will no longer be
guided by me. It must therefore be high time to send him to the
University."

Herr Witold sprang up from his seat so suddenly that the tutor beat a
hasty retreat.

"Did not I think something of the sort was coming! I have, heard
nothing else from you for the last month. What should Waldemar go to
the University for? To have his head stuffed with learning by the
professors? I should think you have taken good care to do that for him
by this time. All that an honest country gentleman needs to know, he
knows. He is as great an authority about the land and the farm business
as my inspector. He keeps the people in their place far more
effectually than I can, and there is not a better man in the saddle or
in the field. He is a splendid young fellow!"

The tutor did not appear to share this enthusiastic view of his pupil's
merits. He hardly ventured to express so much in words, but summoned up
all his evidently slender stock of courage for the timid reply.

"But, sir, the heir of Wilicza requires, after all, something more than
the qualifications which go to make a good inspector or land-steward.
Some higher culture, some academical study, appear to me extremely
desirable."

"They don't appear desirable to me at all," retorted Herr Witold.
"Isn't it enough that, by-and-by, I shall have to let the boy, who is
the very apple of my eye, go from me, just because his property lies in
that cursed land of Polacks? Must I part from him now to send him to
the University against his will? I'll do nothing of the sort, I tell
you, nothing of the sort. He shall stay here until he goes to Wilicza."

With this, he puffed so savagely at his pipe that for several minutes
his face disappeared behind the clouds of smoke. The tutor sighed, and
was silent. His quiet resignation touched the tyrannical Squire.

"Don't trouble your mind any more about the University, Doctor," said
he, in quite a changed tone; "you will never persuade Waldemar to
consent to the plan as long as you live. And for yourself, too, it is
better that you should stay at Altenhof. Here you are just in the midst
of your tumuli and your Runic stones, or whatever you call the rubbish
you are after all day long. I can't understand, for my own part, what
you can see so remarkable in the old heathen lumber; but the heart of
man must take delight in something, and I am right glad you can find
any pleasure to satisfy you, for you have often a hard time of it with
Waldemar--and with me into the bargain."

The Doctor, much confused, made a deprecatory gesture. "Oh, Herr
Witold!"

"Don't put yourself out," said the other, good-naturedly. "I know that
in your secret soul you look upon our life here as a godless business,
and that you would have run away from us long ago, if it had not been
for the heathen rubbish you have grown so fond of, and which you can't
bring yourself to part from. Well, I am not such a bad fellow after
all, you know, though I do fly out in a passion occasionally; and as
you are always pottering about among the pagans, you must be just in
your element here with us. I have heard say that people in those days
had no manners at all. They used to fight and murder each other out of
pure friendship."

The historical information displayed by Herr Witold appeared to the
Doctor to have a dangerous tendency. Possibly he feared some practical
illustration of it on his own person, for he backed by almost
imperceptible degrees behind the sofa.

"Excuse me, the old Teutons ..."

"Were not cut out after your pattern, Doctor," cried the Squire with a
shout of laughter, for the man[oe]uvre had not escaped him. "I know
that much, at all events. I think, of us all, Waldemar comes the
nearest to them, so I can't make out what fault you can find with him."

"But, Herr Witold, in the nineteenth century ..." The Doctor got no
further in his dissertation, for at that moment the crack of a shot was
heard--of a shot fired close to the open window. A bullet whistled
through the room, and the great stag's antlers, which hung over the
bureau, fell down with a crash.

The Squire jumped up from his seat. "Waldemar! What does this mean? Is
the boy taking to shoot into the very rooms? Wait a moment; I'll put a
stop to that work!"

He would have hurried out, but was stopped at the entrance by a young
man, who pushed, or rather flung, open the door, letting it fall to on
its hinges again with a bang. He wore a shooting suit, and carried in
his hand the gun which had caused the late report, while at his side
stalked a great pointer. Without any sort of greeting, or of excuse for
this violent mode of making his appearance, he went up to Witold,
placed himself right before him, and asked triumphantly--

"Now, which of us was right, you or I?"

The Squire was really angry. "Is that the way to behave, shooting over
people's heads?" he cried, testily. "One is not sure of one's life with
you now. Do you want to put the Doctor and me out of the world?"

Waldemar shrugged his shoulders. "Where was the harm? I wanted to win
my wager. You declared yesterday I should not hit that nail, where the
twelve-year-old hung, from outside. There's my ball, up there."

He pointed to the wall. Witold followed the direction.

"It really is!" said he, full of admiration, and altogether appeased.
"Doctor, just look--but what is the matter with you?"

"Doctor Fabian has got another of his nervous attacks, no doubt," said
Waldemar ironically, laying aside his gun, but making no attempt to
succour his teacher, who had sunk back on the sofa, half fainting with
the fright, and was still trembling from head to foot. The good-natured
Witold raised him up, and encouraged him to the best of his ability.

"Come, come, who would think of fainting because a little powder went
off! Why, it is not worth speaking of. We had laid the wager, that is
quite true; but how was I to know the young madcap would set to work in
such a senseless fashion? Instead of calling us out, that we might look
on quietly, he makes no more ado, but takes his aim straight over our
heads. Are you better now? Ah, that's right, thank God!"

Doctor Fabian had risen, and was striving to master his emotion; but as
yet he could not quite succeed.

"You might have shot us, Waldemar," said he, with pale and trembling
lips.

"No, Doctor, I might not," answered Waldemar, in a tone the reverse of
reverential. "You and my uncle were standing to the right, and I aimed
over there to the left, at least five paces off. You know I never
miss."

"No matter, you will let it alone in future," declared Witold, with an
attempt at asserting his authority as guardian. "The deuce himself may
be playing tricks with the balls, and then there will be an accident.
Once for all, I forbid you to shoot anywhere near the house."

The young man crossed his arms defiantly. "You can forbid me, uncle, as
much as you like, but I shan't obey. I shall shoot if I choose."

He stood confronting his guardian, the very incarnation of rebellious
wilfulness. Waldemar Nordeck's whole appearance was of the true
Germanic type; no single feature of his bore evidence to the fact that
his mother had come of another race. His tall, almost gigantic, figure
towered several inches above even Witold's portly form; but his frame
lacked symmetry, every line in it was sharp and angular. His light hair
seemed in its overabundance to be quite a troublesome load on his head,
for it fell low down over his brow, whence it was tossed back every now
and then with an impatient gesture. His blue eyes had a sombre and, in
moments of excitement like the present, almost a fierce expression. His
face was decidedly plain. Here, too, the lines were sharp and unformed;
all the boy's softer contours had vanished, and were not as yet
replaced by the set features of the man. In the case of this young man,
the transition stage was so marked as to be almost repulsive; and the
uncouthness of his manners, his complete disdain of all polite forms,
did not tend to diminish the unfavourable impression created by his
appearance.

Herr Witold was evidently one of those men whose person and bearing
seem to argue an energy of which, in reality, they possess not a
particle. Instead of meeting his ward's defiant rudeness with steady
resolution, the guardian thought proper to give way.

"I told you so, Doctor; the boy won't mind me any longer," said he,
with an equanimity which showed that this was the usual outcome of such
differences, and that, whenever it should please the young gentleman to
be in earnest, the uncle would be found powerless as the tutor.

Waldemar took no further notice of either of them. He threw himself at
full length on the sofa, without the least regard to the fact that his
boots, completely soaked by a journey through the marshes, were coming
in contact with the cushions; while the pointer, who had also been in
the water, followed his master's example, and, with equal recklessness,
settled himself down comfortably on the carpet.

A rather awkward pause ensued. The Squire, grumbling to himself, tried
to light his pipe, which had gone out in the interval. Dr. Fabian had
taken refuge by the window, and, gazing out, cast a look towards heaven
which said more plainly than any words that, truly, he did consider the
way of life here to be 'a godless sort of business.'

The Squire had meanwhile been hunting for his tobacco pouch, which
was at last happily discovered on the bureau, under the spurs and
riding-whips. As he drew it out, an unopened envelope fell close by his
hand. He took it up.

"I had nearly forgotten that. Waldemar, there is a letter for you."

"For me?" asked Waldemar, indifferently, and yet with that touch of
surprise called up by an event of rare occurrence.

"Yes. There's a coronet on the seal, and a coat of arms with all sorts
of heraldic beasts. From the Princess Baratowska, I presume. It is a
long time since we have been honoured with her Highness's gracious
autograph."

Young Nordeck broke open the letter, and glanced through it. It seemed
to contain but a few lines; nevertheless, a heavy cloud gathered on the
reader's brow.

"Well, what is it?" asked Witold. "Are the conspirators still hatching
their plots in Paris? I did not look at the postmark."

"The Princess and her son are out yonder at C----," reported Waldemar.
He seemed purposely to avoid the names of mother and brother. "She
wishes to see me. I shall ride over to-morrow morning."

"You will do nothing of the kind," said the Squire. "Your princely
relatives have not troubled themselves about you for years, and they
need not begin now. We want nothing of them. Stay where you are."

"Uncle, I have had enough of being ordered about and forbidden to do
this and that!" Waldemar broke out, with such sudden vehemence that the
Squire stared at him open-mouthed. "Am I a schoolboy that I need ask
your leave at every step? Have not I the right, at one and twenty,
to decide whether I will see my mother or not? I _have_ decided, and
to-morrow morning I shall ride over to C----."

"Well, don't put yourself in a passion, and be so bearish," said
Witold, more astonished than angry at this outburst of fury, which was
quite inexplicable to him. "Go where you like, so far as I am
concerned; but I'll have nothing to do with the Polish lot--that I tell
you."

Waldemar wrapped himself in sullen silence. He took his gun, whistled
to his dog, and left the room. His guardian looked after him, and shook
his head. All at once a thought seemed to strike him. He took up the
letter, which Waldemar had carelessly left lying on the table, and read
it through. Now it was Herr Witold's turn to knit his brow and frown
more and more ominously, until at last the storm broke.

"I thought so!" he cried, thumping with his fist on the table. "It is
just like my fine madam. In six lines she stirs the boy up to rebel
against me. That is the reason he turned so cantankerous all in a
minute. Listen to this delightful letter, Doctor: 'My son,--Years have
passed, during which you have given no sign of life.'--As if she had
given us any!--'I only know through strangers that you are living at
Altenhof with your guardian. I am staying at C---- just now, and
should rejoice to see you here, and to have an opportunity of
introducing your brother to you. I know not, indeed,'--listen, Doctor,
this is where she pricks him,--'I know not, indeed, whether you will be
free to pay me this visit. I hear that, notwithstanding you have
attained your majority, you are still quite subject to your guardian's
will.'--Doctor, you are witness of how the boy tramples on us both day
after day!--'Of your readiness to come I make no doubt; but I do not
feel so sure that Herr Witold will grant his permission. I have
therefore preferred to address myself directly to you, that I may see
whether you possess sufficient strength of character to comply with
this, the first wish your mother has ever expressed to you, or whether
you _dare_ not accede even to this request of hers.'--The '_dare_' is
underlined. --'If I am right in the former supposition, I shall expect
to see you shortly. Your brother joins me in love.--Your mother.'"

Herr Witold was so exasperated that he dashed the letter to the ground.
"There's a thing for a man to read! Cleverly managed of the lady
mother, that! She knows as well as I do what a pig-headed fellow
Waldemar is, and if she had studied him for years she could not have
hit on his weak side better. The mere thought of restraint being placed
on him makes him mad. I may move heaven and earth now to keep him; he
will go just to show me he can have his own way. What do you say to the
business?"

Doctor Fabian seemed sufficiently initiated in the family affairs to
look upon the approaching meeting with alarm equal to the Squire's,
though proceeding from a far different cause.

"Dear me! dear me!" he said, anxiously. "If Waldemar goes over to
C---- and behaves in his usual rough, unmannerly fashion, if the
Princess sees him so, what will she think of him?"

"Think he has taken after his father, and not after her," was the
Squire's emphatic reply. "That is just how she ought to see Waldemar;
then it will be made evident to her that he will be no docile
instrument to serve her intrigues--for that there are intrigues on foot
again, I'd wager my head. Either the princely purse is empty--I fancy
it never was too full--or there is some neat little State conspiracy
concocting again, and Wilicza lies handy for it, being so close to the
frontier."

"But, Herr Witold," remonstrated the Doctor, "why try to widen the
unhappy breach in the family, now that the mother gives proof of a
conciliatory spirit? Would it not be better to make peace at last?"

"You don't understand, Doctor," said Witold, with a bitterness quite
unusual to him. "There is no peace to be made with that woman, unless
one surrenders one's own will, and consents to be ruled entirely by
her; it was because poor Nordeck would not do so that she led him the
life of hell at home. Now, I won't exonerate him altogether. He had
some nasty faults, and could make things hard for a woman; but all the
troubles came of his taking this Morynska for a wife. Another girl
might have led him, might perhaps have changed some things in him; but,
for such a task, a little heart would have been needed, and of that
article Madam Hedwiga never had much to show. Well, the 'degradation,'
as they call it, of her first marriage has been made good by the
second. It was only a pity that the Princess Baratowska, with her son
and spouse, could not take up her residence at Wilicza. She could never
get over that; but luckily the will drew the bolt there, and we have
taken care to bring up Waldemar in such a way that he is not likely to
undo its work by any act of folly."

"We!" exclaimed the Doctor, much shocked. "Herr Witold, I have given my
lessons conscientiously, according to my instructions. I have
unfortunately never been able to influence my pupil's mind and
character, or ..." he hesitated.

"Or he would have been different from what he is," added Witold,
laughing. "The youngster suits me as he is, in spite of his wild ways.
If you like it better, _I_ have brought him up. If the result does not
fit in with the Baratowskis' plots and plans, I shall be right glad;
and if my education and their Parisian breeding get fairly by the ears
to-morrow, I shall be still better pleased. Then we shall be quits, at
least, for that spiteful letter yonder."

With these words the Squire left the room. The Doctor stooped to pick
up the letter, which still lay on the floor. He took it up, folded it
carefully together, and said, with a profound sigh--

"And one day people will say, 'It was a Dr. Fabian who brought up the
young heir.' Oh, just Heaven!"



                              CHAPTER III.


The domain of Wilicza, to which Waldemar Nordeck was heir, was situated
in one of the eastern provinces of the country, and consisted of a vast
agglomeration of estates, whereof the central point was the old castle
Wilicza, with the lands of the same name. To tell how the late Herr
Nordeck obtained possession of this domain, and subsequently won for
himself the hand of a Countess Morynska, would be to add a fresh
chapter to that tale, so oft repeated in our days, of the fall of
ancient families, once rich and influential, and the rise of a
middle-class element which, with the wealth, acquires the power that
was formerly claimed by the nobility as their exclusive privilege.

Count Morynski and his sister were early left orphans, and lived under
the guardianship of their relations. Hedwiga was educated in a convent;
on leaving it, she found that her hand was already disposed of. This
was assuredly nothing unusual in the noble circles to which she
belonged, and the young Countess would have acquiesced unconditionally,
had her destined husband been of equal birth with herself--had he been
one of her own people; but she had been chosen as the instrument to
work out the family plans, which, at all costs, must be carried into
execution.

Some few years ago, in the neighbourhood where lay the property of most
of the Morynski family, a certain Nordeck had arisen--a German, of low
birth, but who had attained to great wealth, and had settled in that
part of the country. The condition of the province at that time made it
easy for a foreign element to graft itself on the soil, whereas, under
ordinary circumstances, every hindrance would have been opposed to it.
The after-throes of the last rebellion, which, though it had actually
broken out beyond the frontier, had awakened a fellow-feeling
throughout the German provinces, made themselves everywhere felt. Half
the nobility had fled, or were impoverished by the sacrifices they had
been eager to make in the cause of their fatherland; it was, therefore,
not difficult for Nordeck to buy up the debt-laden estates at a tithe
of their value, and, by degrees, to obtain possession of a domain which
insured him a position among the first landed proprietors of the
country.

The intruder was, it is true, wanting in breeding, and of most
unprepossessing appearance; moreover, it soon became evident that he
had neither mind nor character to recommend him. Yet his immense
property gave him a weight in the land which was but too speedily
recognised, especially as, with determined hostility to all connected
with the Polish faction, his influence was invariably thrown into the
opposite scale. This may possibly have been his revenge for the fact
that the exclusively aristocratic and Slavonic neighbourhood held him
at a distance, and treated him with unconcealed, nay, very openly
manifested contempt. Whether imprudencies had been committed on the
side of the disaffected, or whether the cunning stranger had played the
spy on his own account, suffice it to say that he gained an insight
into certain party machinations. This made him a most formidable
adversary. To secure his goodwill became a necessity of the situation.

The man must be won over at any cost, and it had long been known that
such winning over was possible. As a millionaire, he was naturally
inaccessible to bribery; his vulnerable point, therefore, was his
vanity, which made him look on an alliance with one of the old noble
Polish families with a favourable eye. Perhaps the circumstance that,
half a century before, Wilicza had been in the possession of the
Morynskis directed the choice to the granddaughter of the last
proprietor; perhaps no other house was ready to offer up a daughter or
a sister, to exact from them the obedience now demanded of the poor
dependent orphan. It flattered the rough _parvenu_ to think that the
hand of a Countess Morynska was within his grasp. A dowry was no object
to him, so he entered into the plan with great zest; and thus, at her
first entrance into the world, Hedwiga found herself face to face with
a destiny against which her whole being revolted.

Her first step was decidedly to refuse compliance; but what availed the
'no' of a girl of seventeen when opposed to a family resolve dictated
by urgent necessity? Commands and threats proving of no effect,
recourse was had to persuasion. The young relation was shown the
brilliant _rôle_ she would have to play as mistress of Wilicza, the
unlimited ascendancy she would assuredly exercise over a man to whose
level she stooped so low. Much was said of the satisfaction a Morynska
would feel on once more obtaining control over property torn from her
ancestors; much, too, of the pressing need existing of converting the
dreaded adversary into a ductile tool for the furtherance of their own
plans. It was required of her that she should hold Wilicza, and the
enormous revenues at the disposal of its master, in the interests of
her party--and where compulsion had failed, argument succeeded. The
_rôle_ of a poor relation was by no means to the young Countess's
taste. She was glowing with ambition. The heart's needs and affections
were unknown to her; and when, at sight of her, Nordeck betrayed some
fleeting spark of passion, she too believed that her dominion over him
would be unbounded. So she yielded, and the marriage took place.

But the plans, the selfish calculations of both parties were alike to
be brought to nought. His neighbours had been mistaken in their
estimate of this man. Instead of bowing to his young wife's will, he
now showed himself as lord and master, impervious to all influence,
regardless of her superior rank; his passing fancy for his bride being
soon transformed into hatred when he discovered that she only desired
to make use of him and of his fortune to serve her own ends and those
of her family. The birth of a son made no change in their relations to
each other; if anything, the gulf between husband and wife seemed to be
only widened by it. Nordeck's character was not one to inspire a woman
with esteem; and this woman displayed the contempt she felt for him in
a way that would have stung any man to fury. Fearful scenes ensued;
after one of which the young mistress of Wilicza left the castle, and
fled to her brother for protection.

Little Waldemar, then barely a year old, was left with his father.
Nordeck, enraged at his wife's flight, imperiously demanded her return.
Bronislaus did what he could to protect his sister; and the quarrel
between him and his brother-in-law might have been productive of the
worst consequences, had not death unexpectedly stepped in and loosed
the bonds of this short-lived, but most unhappy, union. Nordeck, who
was a keen and reckless sportsman, met with an accident while out
hunting. His horse fell with its rider, and the latter sustained
injuries to which he shortly after succumbed; but on his deathbed he
had strength enough, both of mind and body, to dictate a will excluding
his wife from all share alike in his fortune and in the education of
his child. Her flight from his house gave him the right so to exclude
her, and he used it unsparingly. Waldemar was entrusted to the
guardianship of an old school friend and distant connection, and the
latter was endowed with unbounded authority. The widow tried, indeed,
to resist; but the new guardian proved his friendship to the dead man
by carrying out the provisions of the will with utter disregard to her
feelings, and rejected all her claims. Already owner of Altenhof,
Witold had no intention of remaining at Wilicza, or of leaving his ward
behind him there. He took the boy with him to his own home. Nordeck's
latest instructions had been to the effect that his son was to be
entirely removed from his mother's influence and family; and these
instructions were so strictly observed that, during the years of his
minority, the young heir only paid a few flying visits to his estates,
always in the company of his guardian. All his youth was spent at
Altenhof.

As for the enormous revenues of Wilicza, of which at present no use
could be made, they were suffered to accumulate, and went to swell the
capital; so that Waldemar Nordeck, on coming of age, found himself in
possession of wealth such as but few indeed could boast.

The future lord of Wilicza's mother lived on at first in the house of
her brother, who meanwhile had also married; but she did not long
remain there. One of the Count's most intimate friends, Prince
Baratowski, fell passionately in love with the young, clever, and
beautiful widow, who, so soon as the year of her mourning was out,
bestowed her hand upon him. This second marriage was in all respects a
happy one. People said, indeed, that the Prince, though a gallant
gentleman, was not of a very energetic temperament, and that he bowed
submissively to his wife's sceptre. However this may have been, he
loved both her and the son she bore him, tenderly and devotedly.

But the happiness of this union was not long to remain untroubled. This
time, however, the storms came from without. Leo was still a child when
that revolutionary epoch arrived which set half Europe in a blaze. The
rebellion, so often quelled, broke out with renewed violence in the
Polish provinces. Morynski and Baratowski were true sons of their
fatherland. They threw themselves with ardent enthusiasm into the
struggle from which they hoped the salvation of their country and the
restoration of its greatness. The insurrection ended, as so many of its
predecessors had ended, in hopeless defeat. It was forcibly suppressed,
and on this occasion much severity was displayed towards the rebel
districts. Prince Baratowski and his brother-in-law fled to Paris,
whither their wives and children followed them. Countess Morynska, a
delicate, fragile woman, did not long endure the sojourn in a foreign
land. She died in the following year, and Bronislaus then gave his
child into his sister's charge. He himself could no longer bear to stay
in Paris, where everything reminded him of the wife he had loved so
ardently, and lost. He lived a restless, wandering life, roving from
place to place, returning every now and then to see his daughter. At
last, an amnesty being proclaimed, he was free to go back to his native
country, where, through the death of a relation, he had lately
succeeded to the estate of Rakowicz. He now settled down on his new
property. Matters stood far otherwise with Prince Baratowski, who was
excluded from the amnesty. He had been one of the leaders of the
rebellion, and had taken a prominent part in the movement. Return was
not to be thought of for him, and his wife and son shared his exile,
until his death removed all barriers, and they too became free to make
their future home where they would.



                              CHAPTER IV.


It was early in the forenoon, and the morning room of the villa in
C----, occupied by the Baratowski family, was, for the time being,
tenanted by the Princess alone. She was absorbed in the study of a
letter which she had received an hour before, and which contained an
announcement from Waldemar that he intended coming over that day, and
should follow quickly on his messenger's steps. The mother gazed as
fixedly at the missive as though from the short cold words, or from the
handwriting, she were trying to discern the character of the son who
had grown so complete a stranger to her. Since her second marriage she
had seen him but at rare intervals; and during the latter years she had
spent in France, communication between them had almost entirely ceased.
The picture she still bore fresh in mind of the boy at the age of ten
was unprepossessing enough, and the accounts she heard of the youth
coincided but too well with it. Nevertheless, it was necessary, at any
cost, to secure an influence over him; and the Princess, though she in
no way attempted to disguise from herself the difficulties in her path,
was not the woman to recoil from the task she had undertaken. She had
risen and was pacing up and down the room, musing deeply, when a quick
loud step was heard without. It halted in the anteroom. Next minute
Pawlick opened the door, and announced "Herr Waldemar Nordeck." The
visitor entered, the door closed behind him, and mother and son stood
face to face.

Waldemar came forward a few steps, and then suddenly stopped. The
Princess, in the act of going to meet him, paused in her turn. In the
very moment of their meeting a bridgeless chasm seemed to yawn open
between them; all the estrangement and enmity of former years rose up
again mighty as ever. That pause, that silence of a second, spoke more
plainly than words. It showed that the voice of natural affection was
mute in the mother's heart, as in the son's. The Princess was the first
to dissimulate that instinctive movement of reserve.

"I thank you for coming, my son," said she, and held out her hand to
him.

Waldemar drew near slowly. He just touched the offered hand, and then
let it drop. No attempt at an embrace was made on either side. The
Princess's figure, notwithstanding her dusky mourning robes, was very
beautiful and imposing as she stood there in the bright sunlight; but
it appeared to make no impression on the young man, albeit he kept his
eyes steadily fixed on her.

The mother's gaze was riveted on his face; but she sought in vain there
for any reflection of her own features, for any trace which should
recall herself. Nothing met her view but a speaking likeness to the man
she hated even in death. The father stood before her portrayed in his
son, trait for trait.

"I counted upon your visit," went on the Princess, as she sat down and,
with a slight wave of her hand, assigned to him a place at her side.

Waldemar did not move.

"Will you not be seated?" The question was put quietly, but it admitted
of no refusal, and reminded young Nordeck that he could not
conveniently remain standing during the whole of his visit. He took no
notice of her repeated gesture, however; but drew forward a chair, and
sat down opposite his mother, leaving the place at her side empty.

The demonstration was unmistakable. For one moment the Princess's lips
tightened, but otherwise her face remained unmoved. Waldemar, too, now
sat in the full daylight. He again wore his shooting clothes, which,
though on this occasion they certainly bore no marks of recent sport,
yet betrayed no special care, and were worlds apart from anything
approaching a correct equestrian costume. In his left hand, ungloved
like its fellow, he held his round hat and whip. His boots were covered
with the dust of a two hours' ride, the rider not having thought fit to
shake it off; and his very manner of sitting down showed him to be
altogether unused to drawing-room etiquette. His mother saw all this at
a glance; but she also saw the inflexible defiance with which her son
had armed himself. Her task was no easy one, she felt.

"We have grown strangers to one another, Waldemar," she began; "and on
this our first meeting, I can hardly expect to receive from you a son's
affectionate greeting. From your early childhood I have been forced to
give you into other hands. I have never been allowed to exercise a
mother's rights, to fulfil a mother's duties towards you."

"I have wanted for nothing at my uncle Witold's," replied Waldemar,
curtly; "and I have certainly been more at home there than I should
have been in Prince Baratowski's house."

He laid a bitter emphasis on the name which did not escape the
Princess.

"Prince Baratowski is dead," said she, gravely. "You are in the
presence of his widow."

Waldemar looked up, and appeared now for the first time to notice her
mourning garb. "I am sorry for it--for your sake," he answered, coldly.

His mother put the subject from her with a wave of the hand. "Let us
say no more. You never knew the Prince, and I cannot expect you to feel
any kindliness towards the man who was my husband. I do not disguise
from myself that the loss I have sustained, cruel though it has been,
has done away with the barrier which stood between, and held us apart.
You have always looked on me exclusively as the Princess Baratowska.
Perhaps now you will recall to mind that I am also your mother, and
your father's widow."

At these last words Waldemar started up so hastily that his chair was
thrown to the ground. "I think we had better not touch on that. I have
come in order to show you that I am under no restraint, that I do just
what I choose. You wished to speak to me--here I am. What is it you
want with me?"

All the young man's rough recklessness, his utter disregard of the
feelings of others, spoke in these words. The allusion to his father
had evidently stung him; but the Princess had now risen in her turn,
and was standing opposite him.

"What I want with you? I want to break through that charmed circle
which an influence hostile to me has drawn around you. I want to remind
you that it is now time for you to see things with your own eyes, to
let your own judgment have free play, instead of blindly adopting the
views which other people have forced upon you. You have been taught to
hate your mother. I have long known it. Try first whether she deserves
your hatred, and then decide for yourself. That is what I want with
you, my son, since you compel me to answer such a question."

This was said with so much quiet energy, such loftiness of look and
tone, that it could not fail to have its effect upon Waldemar. He felt
he had insulted his mother; but he felt also that the insult glanced
off from her, powerless to wound, and that appeal to his independence
had not fallen on deaf ears.

"I bear you no hatred, mother," said he. It was the first time he had
pronounced that name.

"But you have no confidence in me," she answered; "yet that is the
first thing I must ask of you. It will not be easy to you to put faith
in me, I know. From your earliest childhood the seeds of distrust have
been sown in your soul. Your guardian has done all in his power to
alienate you from me, and to bind you solely to himself. I only fear
that he, of all men, was least fitted to bring up the heir of Wilicza!"

Her eyes took a rapid survey of the young man as she spoke, and the
look completed her meaning; unfortunately Waldemar understood both look
and words, and was roused by them to a pitch of extreme irritation.

"I will not have a word said against my uncle," he exclaimed, in a
sudden outburst of anger. "He has been a second father to me; and if I
was only sent for here to listen to attacks against him, I had better
go back again at once. We shall never understand each other."

The Princess saw the mistake she had made in giving the reins to her
animosity against that detested guardian, but the thing was done. To
yield now was to compromise her whole authority. She felt that on no
account must she recede; yet everything depended on Waldemar's staying.

Suddenly help came to her from a quarter whence she least expected it.
At this critical moment a side door was opened, and Wanda, who had just
returned from a walk with her father, and had no idea that a visitor
had arrived in her absence, came into the room.

Waldemar, who had turned to leave it, stopped all at once, as though
rooted to the ground. A flame of fire seemed to shoot up into his face,
so rapid, so deep was the crimson that dyed it. The anger and defiance
which an instant before had shone in his eyes, vanished as by
enchantment; and, for a moment, he remained transfixed, with his eyes
riveted on the young Countess. The latter was about to retire, on
seeing a stranger in her aunt's company; but when the stranger turned
his face towards her, a half-uttered exclamation of surprise escaped
her also. She, however, preserved all her presence of mind; and, far
from being overtaken by any confusion, was apparently seized by a
violent temptation to laugh which it cost her much trouble to subdue.
It was too late to go back now, so she shut the door and went up to her
aunt.

"My son, Waldemar Nordeck; my niece, Countess Morynska," said the
Princess, looking first at Waldemar with considerable astonishment, and
then casting a questioning glance at the young girl.

Wanda had quickly overcome the childish impulse to merriment,
remembering that she was now a grown-up lady. Her graceful courtesy was
so correct that the severest mistress of deportment could have found no
fault with it; but there came a traitorous little twitch about the
youthful lips again as Waldemar returned her salutation by a movement
which he no doubt intended for a bow, but which certainly had a very
strange effect. Once again his mother scanned his face, as though she
would read his most secret thoughts. "It seems you know your cousin
already?" she said, with a peculiar emphasis. Her allusion to the
relationship between himself and the new-comer only increased the young
man's discomfiture.

"I don't know," he replied, in extreme embarrassment. "I did ...
certainly ... some days ago ..."

"Herr Nordeck was so good as to act as my guide when I lost my way in
the forest," interposed Wanda. "It was the day before yesterday, when
we made our excursion to the Beech Holm."

At the time the Princess had described this walk as a rebellious and
highly improper freak; but now she had not a word of blame for it. Her
tone was almost sweet as she replied--

"Indeed! a singular meeting. But why behave to each other as though you
were strangers? Between relations etiquette need not be so strictly
observed. You may certainly offer your cousin your hand, Wanda."

Wanda obeyed, holding out her hand in a frank, unembarrassed way.
Cousin Leo was already gallant enough to kiss it when she gave it him
in token of reconciliation after a quarrel; his elder brother,
unfortunately, appeared to possess none of this chivalry. He took the
delicate little fingers, shyly and hesitatingly at first, as though he
hardly dared to touch them, then all at once pressed them so tightly
between his own that the girl almost cried out with the pain. Of this
new cousin she knew as little as Leo, nay, still less; she had
therefore looked forward to his announced visit with proportionable
curiosity. Her disenchantment knew no bounds.

The Princess had stood by, a silent though keen observer. Her eye never
quitted Waldemar's face.

"So you met each other in the forest?" said she again. "Was no name
mentioned on either side to enlighten you?"

"Well, I unluckily took Herr Nordeck for a wood demon," burst out
Wanda, paying no heed to her aunt's grave, reproving glance, "and he
did his best to strengthen me in the belief. You can't imagine, aunt,
what an interesting interview we had. During the half hour we were
together, he never let me find out whether he really belonged to the
present race of men, or to the old fabulous ages. Under these
circumstances, a formal introduction was out of the question, of
course."

This little speech was made in a tone of impertinent, half-mocking
jest; but, strangely enough, Waldemar, who had recently shown himself
so irritable, did not appear in the least offended by it. His eyes were
still fixed on the young girl, and he hardly seemed to hear her
stinging little pleasantries.

The Princess, however, thought it time to put a stop to Wanda's
pertness. She turned to her son with calm as perfect as though the
previous scene between them had never taken place.

"You have not yet seen your brother, Waldemar, nor your uncle either; I
will take you to them. You will spend the day with us?" She spoke the
last words in an airy, assured tone, as though his staying were a thing
of course.

"If you wish it." This was said irresolutely, hesitatingly, but with
none of the fierce defiance of his former answers. Evidently Waldemar
no longer thought of going.

"Certainly I wish it. You would not leave us so abruptly on the
occasion of your first visit. Come, dear Wanda."

Young Nordeck wavered yet a moment; but as Wanda obeyed the summons,
his decision was taken. He laid the hat and riding-whip, to which he
had hitherto persistently clung, down on the chair he had a little
while before upset in his sudden blaze of anger, and meekly followed
the ladies as they led the way. A scarcely perceptible smile of triumph
played about the Princess's lips. She was too clever an observer not to
know that she had the game in her own hands. It is true that accident
had befriended her.



                               CHAPTER V.


Count Morynski and Leo were together in the drawing-room. They had
already heard from Pawlick of Waldemar's arrival, but had not wished to
disturb the first meeting between mother and son. The Count looked a
little surprised, as Wanda, whom he believed to be in her room, came in
with them; but he did not put the question which was on his lips. For
the moment young Nordeck engaged his whole attention. The Princess took
her younger son by the hand, and led him to the elder. "You do not know
each other yet," she said, significantly; "but to-day, at last, the
satisfaction of bringing you together is granted me. Leo is ready to
meet you with a brother's love, Waldemar. Let me hope that he may find
the same in you."

Waldemar, with a rapid glance, took the measure of the new-found
brother standing before him. There was no hostility in his manner now.
The young Prince's handsome face took him captive on the spot, so much
was evident; perhaps, too, he had been won over to a milder mood by
that which had passed, for when Leo, still with some shy reserve, held
out his hand to him, he grasped it warmly.

Count Morynski now drew near to address some words of courtesy to his
sister's son. The latter answered chiefly in monosyllables, and the
conversation, which, on Waldemar's account, was carried on exclusively
in German, would have been forced and languid, had not the Princess
guided it with truly masterly tact. She steered clear of every rock
ahead, she avoided every painful allusion, and skilfully contrived that
her brother, her sons, and Wanda should by turns be drawn into the
general talk, so as, for half an hour, really to conjure up an illusion
of the most perfect harmony reigning among the different members of the
family.

Leo stood close to Waldemar's chair, and the contrast between the
brothers was thus brought into strongest relief. The young Prince
himself had hardly emerged from boyhood; he no more than his neighbour
had yet ripened to man's estate. But how different was the transition
here! Waldemar had never appeared to greater disadvantage than by the
side of this slender, supple form, where there was symmetry in every
line--by this youthful aristocrat, with his easy, assured bearing, his
graceful gestures and ideally beautiful head. Young Nordeck's sharp,
angular figure, his irregular features and sombre eyes, looking out
from under a tangle of light hair, justified but too fully the mother's
feelings, as her gaze rested on them both--on her darling, her handsome
boy, so full of life and animation, and on that other, who was also her
son, but to whom she was linked by no single outward trait, by no
impulse of the heart. There was something in Waldemar's manner to-day
which showed him in a more than usually unfavourable light. The short,
imperious tone that was habitual to him, though unattractive enough,
was yet consistent with his general appearance, and lent to it a
character of its own. This tone he had maintained throughout the
interview with his mother; but, from the moment of the young Countess
Morynska's entrance, it had deserted him. For the first time in his
life he appeared shy and under restraint; for the first time he seemed
to feel the influence of society in every way superior to himself, and
the novelty of his position robbed him, not only of his defiance, but
visibly of his self-confidence also. He had come prepared to face a
hostile camp, and his resolution had armed him with a certain rugged
dignity. Now he had given up the fight, and his dignity had vanished.
He was awkward, abstracted, and Morynski's surprised look seemed now
and then to ask whether this really could be the Waldemar as to whom
such alarming reports had been made. When they had sat and talked for
about half an hour, Pawlick came in and announced that dinner was
ready.

"Leo, you must resign your office to your brother, and let him take
Wanda in to-day," said the Princess, as she rose and, passing her hand
through her brother's arm, went on first with him to the dining-room.

"Well," asked the Count in a low voice, and in Polish, "how do matters
stand? What was the result of the interview?"

The Princess only smiled. She gave one rapid glance back at Waldemar,
who was just going up to Wanda, and then answered, also in Polish,
"Make your mind easy. He will comply. I will answer for it."

It was nearly evening when young Nordeck set out on his homeward
journey. Leo went with his brother to the gate of the villa, and then
returned to the drawing-room. The Princess and Count Morynski were no
longer there, but Wanda still stood on the balcony, watching the
departing horseman.

"Good gracious, what a monster that Waldemar is!" cried Wanda to her
cousin as he came in. "However did you manage to keep serious all the
time, Leo? Look here, I have nearly bitten my handkerchief to pieces,
trying to hide that I was laughing; but I can't keep it down any
longer, or I shall suffocate!" and, falling on to one of the balcony
chairs, Wanda broke into a violent burst of merriment, which plainly
showed what severe restraint she must hitherto have placed on herself.

"We were prepared to find Waldemar odd," said Leo, half apologetically.
"After all we had heard of him, I, to tell the truth, expected he would
be much rougher and more disagreeable than he is."

"Oh, you only saw him in company dress to-day," jested Wanda; "but when
one has had the good fortune to admire him, as I did, in all his
primeval grandeur, it is hard to recover from the overpowering effect
of the savage's first appearance. I yet think with awe of our meeting
in the forest."

"Yes, you owe me an account of that meeting still," put in Leo. "So it
was Waldemar who showed you the way to the Beech Holm the day before
yesterday? I have gathered this much from your discourse, but I really
do not understand why you make such a mystery of the matter."

"I only did that to torment you," replied the young lady with great
candour. "You grew so angry when I told you of my interesting adventure
with a stranger. You naturally believed some fascinating cavalier had
escorted me, and I left you in that belief. Now, Leo"--here her gaiety
got the better of her again--"now you see it was not a very dangerous
affair."

"Well, yes, I see that," assented the young Prince, laughing; "but
Waldemar must have had some knightly instinct, or he would not have
condescended to act as your guide."

"Possibly; but I shall remember his escort as long as I live. Just
fancy, Leo; all in a minute I lost the path I had so often taken, and
which I thought I knew so well. At every attempt to find it I got
deeper and deeper into the forest, until at last I strayed into regions
quite unknown to me. I could not even tell in which direction the Beech
Holm or the sea lay, for there was not a breath of wind, and not a
murmur of the waves reached me. I stood still, not knowing what to do,
and was just on the point of turning back, when something broke through
the bushes as violently as though the woods were being beaten for a
battue. Suddenly the figure of a man stood before me, whom I really
could take for none other than the wood-demon in person. He was up to
his knees in mud. A freshly killed doe was thrown over his shoulder,
quite regardless of the fact that blood was dripping from the animal
down on to his clothes and staining them. The enormous yellow mane,
which serves him for hair, had been roughly used by the bushes, and was
hanging down over his face. He stood there with a gun in his hand, and
a growling, snarling dog at his side, who showed his teeth as he looked
at me. I ask you if it was possible to take this monster of the woods
for a human being bent on sport."

"You were in a tremendous fright, I suppose," said Leo, banteringly.

Wanda tossed her head. "In a fright? I? You ought to know by this time
that I am not timid. Another girl would have probably fled
precipitately, but I kept my ground, and asked the way to the Beech
Holm. Though I repeated the question twice, I got no answer. Instead of
replying, the spectre stood as though rooted to the ground, and stared
at me with its great wild eyes without uttering a sound. Then I did
begin to feel uncomfortable, and turned to go, when in a moment, with
two strides, he was at my side, pointing to the right, and showing an
unmistakable intention of acting as my guide."

"But not by pantomime alone?" interposed Leo. "Waldemar spoke to you,
surely."

"Oh yes, he spoke; he honoured me in all with six or seven words,
certainly not more. On joining company with him, I heard something like
'We must take to the right;' and on parting, 'Yonder lies the Beech
Holm.' During the half-hour's interval, there reigned an impressive
silence which I did not venture to break. And what a way it was we
took! First we went straight into the very midst of the thicket, my
amiable guide walking on ahead of me, trampling and crushing down the
bushes like a bear. I believe he destroyed half the forest to make some
sort of a passage for me. Then we came to a clearing, then to a bog. I
expected we should plunge right into it; but, marvellous to say, we
stopped on the brink. All this time not a word passed between us; but
my singular companion stuck close to my side, and whenever I looked up
I met his eyes, which seemed to grow more and more uncanny every
minute. I now inclined decidedly to the opinion that he had risen from
one of the ancient tumuli, and was prowling about in search of some
human being whom he would straightway drag off to one of the old
heathen altars, and there immolate. Just as I was preparing for my
approaching end, I saw the blue sea glistening through the branches,
and at once recognised the neighbourhood of the Beech Holm. My
wonderful cavalier came to a halt, fixed his great eyes on me once
more, as though he would eat me up on the spot, and seemed hardly to
hear that I was thanking him. Next minute I was on the shore, where I
caught sight of your boat. Think of my astonishment when I came in
to-day and found my wood-demon--my giant of primeval times, whom I
thought long since buried in some deep cavern of the earth--in my
aunt's reception room, and when the said ghostly vision was introduced
to me as 'Cousin Waldemar.' It is true, he conducted himself in the
most approved style; he even took me in to dinner. But, goodness me!
how funnily he set about it! I believe it was the first time in his
life he ever offered a lady his arm. Did you see how he bowed, how he
behaved at table? Don't be offended, Leo; but this new brother of yours
belongs rightly to the wilderness, and to the furthest depths of it,
too! There he has at least something awe-inspiring about him; but when
he comes out among civilised men, he simply convulses one with
laughter. And to think that he should be the future lord of Wilicza!"

At heart, Leo shared this opinion; but he thought it incumbent on him
to take his brother's part. He felt how infinitely superior to young
Nordeck he himself was, both in appearance and bearing, and this made
it easy to be generous.

"But it is not Waldemar's fault that his education has been so entirely
neglected," said he; "mamma thinks that his guardian has let him run
wild systematically."

"Well, all I can say is, he is a monster," decided the young lady. "I
herewith solemnly declare that if I have to go in to dinner with him
again, I will impose a voluntary fast on myself, and not appear at
table."

During their talk, Wanda's handkerchief, with which she had been
fanning herself, had slipped down, and now lay at some distance below
them in the ivy which crept round the balcony. Leo noticed this, and
gallantly bent to reach it. He was obliged almost to go down on his
knees. In this position, he picked up the handkerchief, and restored it
to his cousin. Instead of thanking him, she burst out into a peal of
laughter. The young Prince sprang to his feet.

"You are laughing?"

"Oh, not at you, Leo. It only struck me how unutterably comic your
brother would have looked in such a situation."

"Waldemar? Yes, indeed; but you will hardly have that satisfaction. He
will never bend the knee before a lady, certainly not before you."

"Certainly not before me!" repeated Wanda, in a tone of pique. "Oh, you
think I am still such a child, it is not worth while kneeling to me. I
have a great mind to prove to you the contrary."

"How?" asked Leo, laughing. "By bringing Waldemar to your feet,
perhaps?"

The girl pouted. "And suppose I undertook to do it?"

"Well, try your power on my brother, if you like," said he, touchily.
"Perhaps that will give you a better notion of what you can do, and
what you can't."

Wanda sprang up with the eagerness of a child who sees a new toy before
it.

"I agree. What shall we wager?"

"But it must be done in earnest, Wanda. It must not be a mere act of
politeness, like mine just now."

"Of course not," assented the young Countess. "You laugh; you think
such a thing is quite beyond the range of possibility. Well, we shall
see who wins. You shall behold Waldemar on his knees before we leave. I
only make one condition; you must give him no hint of it. I think it
would rouse all the bear in him if he were to hear we had presumed to
make his lordship the object of a wager."

"I won't say a word," declared Leo, carried away by her mischievous
eagerness, and joining in the frolic. "We shan't escape an outburst of
his Berserker wrath, though, when you laugh out at him at last, and
tell him the truth. But perhaps you mean to say yes?"

Both the children--for children they still were with their respective
sixteen and seventeen years--joked and made merry over their conceit,
as such thoughtless young creatures will. Accustomed constantly to
tease and torment each other, they had no misgivings about including a
third person in their sport. They never reflected how little Waldemar's
stern, unbending character was suited to such trifling, or to what
bitter earnest he might turn the play imagined by them in the foolish
gaiety of their hearts.



                               CHAPTER VI.


Some weeks had passed. The summer was drawing to an end, and all hands
at Altenhof were busy with the harvest. The Squire, who had spent his
whole morning in the fields, looking after the men and directing the
work, had come home weary and exhausted, and was settling himself down
for his well-earned after-dinner nap. Whilst making his preparations
for it, he looked round every now and then, half angrily, half
admiringly, at his adopted son, who was standing by the window dressed
in his usual riding gear, waiting for his horse to be brought round.

"So you are really going over to C---- in the heat of the day?" asked
Herr Witold. "I wish you joy of your two hours' ride. There is not a
bit of shade all the way. You will be getting a sunstroke--but you
don't seem able to live now without paying your respects to your mother
at least three or four times a week."

The young man frowned. "I can't refuse to go if my mother wishes to see
me. Now that we are so near each other she has a right to require that
I should pay her some visits."

"Well, she makes a famous use of the right," said Witold; "but I should
like to know how she has contrived to turn you into an obedient son. I
have tried in vain for nearly twenty years. She managed it in a single
day; she certainly always had the knack of governing people."

"You ought to know that I do not allow myself to be governed, uncle,"
replied Waldemar, in a tone of irritation. "My mother met me in a
conciliatory spirit, and I neither can nor will repulse her advances
roughly, as you did whilst I was under your guardianship."

"They tell you often enough that you are under it no longer, I'll be
bound," interrupted his uncle. "You have laid great stress on that for
the last few weeks; but it is quite unnecessary, my boy. You have, I am
sorry to say, never done anything but just what pleased you, and often
acted in opposition to my will. Your coming of age is a mere form, for
me, at least, though not for the Baratowskis. They best know what use
they mean to make of it, and why they are continually reminding you of
your freedom."

"What is the good of these perpetual suspicions?" cried Waldemar, in a
passion. "Am I to give up all intercourse with my relations for no
other reason but because you dislike them?"

"I wish you could put your dear relations' tenderness to the test,"
said Witold, ironically. "They would not trouble themselves so much
about you, if you did not happen to be master of Wilicza. Now, now,
don't fly out again. We have had quarrels enough about it of late, I am
not going to spoil my nap to-day. This confounded bathing season will
be over soon, and then we shall be quit of them all."

A short pause followed, Waldemar pacing impatiently up and down the
room.

"I can't think what they are about in the stables. I ordered Norman to
be saddled--the men seem to have gone to sleep over it."

"You are in a terrible hurry to get away, are not you?" asked the
Squire, drily. "I really believe they have given you some philtre over
in C----, which will not allow you to rest anywhere else. You can
hardly bear to wait until it is time for you to be in the saddle."

Waldemar made no reply. He began to whistle and to crack his whip in
the air.

"The Princess is going back to Paris, I presume?" asked Witold all at
once.

"I don't know. It is not decided yet where Leo is to finish his
studies. His mother will no doubt be guided by that in the choice of
her future home."

"I wish he would go and study in Constantinople, and that his lady
mother would be guided by that, and take herself off with him to the
land of the Turks; then, at all events, they could not be back for some
time," said Herr Witold, spitefully. "That young Baratowski must be a
perfect prodigy of learning. You are always talking of his studies."

"Leo has learned a great deal more than I, yet he is four years
younger," said Waldemar, in a grumbling voice.

"His mother has kept him to his books, no doubt. That boy has kept the
same tutor all the while, you may be sure; while six have decamped from
here, and the seventh only stays on with you because he can't very well
help himself."

"And why was not I kept to my books?" asked young Nordeck, suddenly,
crossing his arms defiantly and going up close to his guardian. The
latter stared at him in astonishment.

"I do believe the boy is going to reproach me with giving him his own
way in everything," he cried, in wrathful indignation.

"No," replied Waldemar, briefly. "You meant well, uncle; but you don't
know how I feel when I see that Leo is before me in everything, and
hear constantly of the necessity of further advantages for him, while I
stand by and ... But there shall be an end of it. I'll go to the
University, too."

Herr Witold, in his fright, nearly let fall the sofa cushion he was
comfortably adjusting.

"To the University?" he repeated.

"Yes, certainly. Dr. Fabian has been talking of it for months."

"And for months you have refused to go.

"That was before ... I have changed my mind now. Leo is to go to the
University next year, and if he is ready for it at eighteen, it must be
high time for me to be there. I am not going to be outdone always by my
younger brother. I shall talk to Dr. Fabian about it to-morrow. And now
I'll go round to the stables myself, and see whether Norman is saddled
at last. My patience is pretty well worn out."

With these words he took up his hat from the table, and hurried out of
the room, full of eagerness to be gone. Herr Witold sat still on the
sofa, holding the cushion. He did not think of laying it straight now.
It was all over with his noonday rest.

"What has come to the boy, Doctor? What have you been doing to the
boy?" he cried, angrily, as that inoffensive individual came into the
room.

"I?" asked the Doctor, in alarm. "Nothing! Why, he has but just left
you.

"Well, well, I don't mean you exactly," said the Squire, peevishly. "I
mean the Baratowski people. There has been no managing him since they
got him into their hands. Just fancy, he says now he wants to go to the
University."

"No? Really?" cried the Doctor, in delight.

This reply roused Herr Witold to still greater ire.

"Yes, it will be a matter of rejoicing to you," he grumbled. "You will
be enchanted to get away from here, and to leave me at Altenhof without
a soul to keep me company."

"You know that I have always advocated his going to the University. I
have unfortunately never found a hearing; and, if it really be the
Princess who has prevailed upon Waldemar to take this step, I can only
regard her influence as most beneficial."

"Deuce take her beneficial influence!" stormed the Squire, flinging the
unhappy sofa cushion into the middle of the room. "We shall soon see
what it all means. Something has happened to the boy. He wanders about
as if he were dreaming in broad daylight, takes no interest in
anything, and when one asks him a question he answers at cross
purposes. When he goes out shooting, he comes back with an empty
bag--he, who never used to miss a shot; and now he has all at once
taken to study, and there is no getting him from his books. I must find
out what has brought about this change in him, and you will have to
help me, Doctor. You must go over to C---- one of these days."

"No, for Heaven's sake, no!" protested Dr. Fabian. "What should I do
there?"

"See how the land lies," said the Squire, emphatically, "and bring me
back word. Something is going on there, of that I am certain. I can't
go over myself, for I am, so to speak, on a war-footing with the
Princess, and when we two come together there is sure to be a row. I
can't tolerate her spiteful ways, and she can't put up with my plain
speaking; but you, Doctor, stand as a neutral in the business. You are
the right man."

The Doctor with all his might resisted the requirement made of him.

"But I understand nothing of such matters," he complained. "You know,
too, how absent and ill at ease I am in my intercourse with strangers.
I should be especially so with the Princess. Besides, Waldemar would
never consent to my going with him."

"It is all of no use," interrupted Witold, dictatorially. "Go over
to C---- you must. You are the only creature in whom I have confidence,
Doctor. You won't desert me now?" With this he broke into such a flood
of argument, reproaches, and entreaties, that the poor Doctor, half
stunned by so much eloquence, surrendered at last, and promised all
that was asked of him.

The sound of hoofs was heard outside, and Waldemar, already mounted,
trotted past the window, then gave his horse the rein, and galloped
away without once looking back.

"Off he goes," said Witold, half grumbling, and yet brimming over anew
with admiration for his adopted son. "Just see how the boy sits his
horse. They might be cast in bronze! and it is no trifle to keep the
Norman well in hand."

"Waldemar has a singular mania for riding young horses which are only
half broken in," said the Doctor, anxiously. "I cannot understand why
he has selected Norman for his favourite. He is the most unmanageable,
the most restive, animal in the stables."

"That is the very reason," returned the Squire, laughing. "You know he
must have something to curb and master, or he finds no pleasure in the
game. But now, come here, Doctor; we must consider about this mission
of yours. You must set to work diplomatically, you know."

So saying, he grasped the Doctor's arm and dragged him off to the sofa.
Poor Fabian went docilely enough. He had resigned himself to his fate,
and only murmured occasionally, in doleful accents, "I a diplomatist,
Herr Witold? Mercy on me! la diplomatist!"


The Baratowski family had never taken much part in the gay doings of
the C---- season, and latterly they had withdrawn from them more and
more. Waldemar, who now paid them such frequent visits, always found
the family party alone. Count Morynski alone was wanting to it. He had
left a few days before the scene above described. It had been his
intention to take his daughter away with him; but the Princess
discovered that a longer stay at the seaside was essential to Wanda's
health, and prevailed on her brother to consent to a prolonged
separation. He yielded to his sister's wish, and set out on his
solitary way towards Rakowicz, where business matters required his
presence.

In spite of the noonday heat, young Nordeck had ridden over from
Altenhof at full speed. On his arrival he entered the Princess's room,
where he found her sitting at her writing-table. Had Leo come to her
thus, glowing and overheated, she would certainly have met him with
some word of remonstrance, of motherly solicitude; but Waldemar's
appearance, though possibly not unnoticed by her, excited no remark.

It was a singular fact that, although mother and son now saw each other
so frequently, no intimacy had taken root between them. The Princess
always treated Waldemar with the utmost consideration, and he strove to
tone down the harshness of his demeanour towards her; but in this
mutual endeavour to preserve a good understanding, there was not a
spark of warm, genuine feeling. They _could_ not cross the invisible
gulf which lay between them, though, for the time being, an extraneous
power had bridged it over. The greeting on either side was just as cool
as on the occasion of their first meeting; but Waldemar's eyes now
roved round the parlour with an uneasy, questioning glance.

"You are looking for Leo and Wanda?" said the Princess. "They have gone
down to the shore, and will wait for you there. You have planned a
boating excursion together, I think?"

"Yes. I will go and look for the others at once." Waldemar made a hasty
movement towards the door, but his mother laid her hand on his arm.

"I must claim your attention for a few minutes first. I have something
important to discuss with you."

"Won't it do later?" asked Waldemar, impatiently. "I should like
before ..."

"I particularly wish to speak to you alone," the Princess interrupted
him. "You will still be in time for the sail. You can all very well put
it off for a quarter of an hour."

Young Nordeck looked annoyed at being thus detained, and obeyed with
evident reluctance when invited to sit down. There seemed little
prospect of his attention being given to the matter in hand, for his
eyes wandered off continually to the window near him which opened on to
the shore.

"Our stay in C---- is drawing to an end," said the Princess; "we must
soon begin to think of our departure."

Waldemar gave a start almost of dismay.

"So soon? September promises to be fine, why not spend it here?"

"I cannot, on Wanda's account. I can hardly expect my brother to do
without his darling any longer. It was very unwillingly, and only by my
especial wish, that he consented to leave her behind. I promised him in
return that I would myself take her to Rakowicz."

"Rakowicz is not far from Wilicza, is it?" asked Waldemar, quickly.

"Only two or three miles; about half as far as Altenhof from this."

The young man was silent. He looked anxiously through the window again:
the shore seemed to have an unusual interest for him to-day.

"Speaking of Wilicza," said the Princess, negligently, "you will be
taking possession of your property soon, I suppose, now that you are of
age. When do you think of going there?"

"It was fixed for next spring," said Waldemar, absently, still absorbed
by his outdoor observations. "I wanted to stay on with my uncle through
the winter; but all that will be changed now, for I mean to go to the
University."

His mother bent her head approvingly.

"I can but applaud such a resolution. I have never disguised from you
that the essentially practical education you have received at your
guardian's has been, in my opinion, too one-sided. For such a position
as yours, some higher culture is indispensable."

"I should rather like to see Wilicza first, though." Waldemar made a
dash at his object. "I have not been there since my childhood, and ...
You will make a long stay at Rakowicz, will you not?"

"I do not know," replied the Princess. "For the present I shall
certainly accept the refuge offered by my brother to me and to my son.
Time will show whether we must make a permanent claim on his
generosity."

Young Nordeck looked up. "Refuge? Generosity? What do you mean,
mother?"

The Princess's lips twitched nervously, the only sign she gave that the
step she was about to take was one painful to her. With this exception
her face remained unmoved as she answered--

"Hitherto I have concealed the state of our circumstances from the
world, and I intend still to do so. To you, I neither can nor will make
a secret of our position. Yes, I am compelled to seek a refuge with my
brother. You know something of the events which happened during the
term of my second marriage. I stood at my husband's side when the storm
of revolution swept him down. I followed him into banishment, and for
ten long years I shared his exile. Our fortune was sacrificed to the
cause; for some time there has been a hopeless discrepancy between the
claims of our position and the means at our command. A cursory
inspection of our affairs, made since the Prince's death, has convinced
me that I must give up the struggle. We are at the end of our
resources."

Waldemar would have spoken. His mother raised her hand to silence him.

"You can understand what it costs me to make these disclosures to you,
and that I never should have entered on the subject if I myself had
been alone in question; but as a mother, I must look to my son's
interests. Every other consideration must give way to that. Leo stands
on the threshold of life, of his career. I do not fear for him the
privations of poverty, but its humiliations, for I know that he will
not be able to bear them. Fate has willed it that you should be rich;
henceforth, your wealth will be at your unlimited disposal. I confide
your brother's future to your generosity, and to your sense of honour."

Any other woman would have felt, and shown she felt, it keenly
mortifying thus to sue for help from the son of the man she had fled
from in scorn and hatred; but this woman so carried herself that the
painful step she had to take was in no degree lowering to her, and
wrought no prejudice to her dignity. Her bearing, as she stood before
her son, was not that of a supplicant. She made appeal neither to his
filial feeling, nor to an affection which, as she well knew, did not
exist. The mother with her rights stepped, for the time being, into the
background. She did not take her stand on them; but she demanded from
the elder brother's sense of justice that he should befriend the
younger--and it soon appeared that she had not erred in her judgment of
Waldemar. He sprang up quickly.

"And you only tell me this now, today? Why did I not hear of it
sooner?"

The Princess's eyes met his gravely and steadily.

"What answer would you have made me if, on our first meeting after our
long separation, I had made this communication to you?"

Waldemar looked down; he very well remembered the insulting manner in
which he had asked his mother what it was she wanted with him.

"You are mistaken in me," he replied, hastily. "I should never have
consented to your seeking help from any one but me. What! I am to be
master of Wilicza and allow my mother and brother to live in a state of
dependence! You are mistaken in me, mother; I have not deserved such
distrust!"

"I was not distrustful of you, my son, but only of that influence which
has guided you so far, and may perhaps be your guide even now. I do not
even know whether your friends will permit you to offer us an asylum."

Again she pricked him with a goad which never failed in its effect, and
which the mother was always ready to apply at the right moment. As
usual, it stung the young man's pride into arms.

"I think I have shown you that I can assert my own independence," he
replied, shortly. "Now tell me, what am I to do? I am ready for
anything."

The Princess felt she was about to hazard a bold stroke, but she went
on steadily, straight to her aim.

"We can only accept your help in one form, so that it shall not be made
a humiliation to us," said she. "You are master of Wilicza--would it
not seem natural that your mother and brother should be your guests in
your own house?"

Waldemar started. At the mention of Wilicza, the old suspicion and
distrust reared their heads anew. All the warnings he had heard from
his guardian against his mother's plans recurred to his memory. The
Princess saw this, and parried the danger with masterly skill.

"I only care for the place on account of its being near Rakowicz," she
said, indifferently. "From thence I could keep up a constant
intercourse with Wanda."

Near Rakowicz! constant intercourse with its inhabitants! That decided
the question. The young man's cheeks flushed crimson as he replied--

"Arrange it just as you like. I shall agree to everything. I am not
going to stay permanently at Wilicza just at present; but I will take
you there, at any rate--and there are long holidays at the University
every year."

The Princess held out her hand to him.

"I thank you, Waldemar, in my own name, and in Leo's."

Her thanks were sincerely meant, but there was no warmth or heartiness
in them, and Waldemar's reply was equally cool.

"Pray don't, mother; you make me feel ashamed. The thing is
settled--and now I can go to the shore at last, I suppose."

He seemed most desirous of escaping, and his mother detained him no
longer. She knew too well to whom she owed her victory. Standing at the
window, she watched the young man as he strode hastily along the garden
walk towards the shore; then, turning to her desk again, she sat down
to finish a letter she had been writing to her brother.

The letter was just completed, and the Princess was in the act of
sealing it, when Leo made his appearance. He looked almost as heated as
his brother had been previously; but, in his case, it was evidently
some inner disturbance which sent the blood to his temples. With a
frowning brow and lips tightly set, he drew near his mother, who looked
up in surprise.

"What is the matter, Leo? Why do you come alone? Did Waldemar not find
you and Wanda?"

"Oh, to be sure. He came to us a quarter of an hour ago," said Leo, in
an agitated tone.

"And where is he now?"

"He has gone out for a sail with Wanda."

"Alone?"

"Yes, all alone."

"You know very well I do not approve of such doings," said the
Princess, much annoyed. "If, now and then, I trust Wanda to you, that
is quite a different thing. You have been brought up together, and are
therefore entitled to treat each other as brother and sister. Waldemar
stands in quite a different relation to her, and moreover--I do not
choose that they should thus be left alone together. The boating
excursion was planned by you all in common. Why did you not remain with
the others?"

"Because I will not always stay where I am not wanted!" exclaimed Leo.
"Because it is no pleasure to me to see Waldemar following Wanda about
with his eyes, and behaving as if she were the only creature in
existence."

The Princess pressed the seal on her letter.

"I have told you before what I think of these foolish fits of jealousy,
Leo. Are you beginning with them again already?"

"Mamma!" The young Prince came up to the writing table with flashing
eyes. "Do you not see, or _will_ you not see, that Waldemar is in love
with your niece--that he worships her?"

"Well, and what do you do?" asked his mother, leaning back in her chair
composedly. "Precisely the same, or at least you fancy so. You cannot
expect me to take this boyish enthusiasm into serious account? You and
Waldemar are just at the age to need an ideal, and Wanda is the only
young girl with whom you have been thrown in contact so far.
Fortunately, she is still child enough to look on it all as a sort of
game, and it is for that reason alone I allow it to go on. If she were
to begin to take a more serious view of the matter, I should be obliged
to interfere and restrict your intercourse to narrower limits. But, if
I know anything of Wanda, the case will not arise. She plays with you
both, and laughs at you both. So indulge yet awhile in your romance,
young people! It will do your brother no harm to practise a little
gallantry. He needs it much, I am sorry to say!"

The smile which accompanied these words was truly insulting to a
youthful passion--it said so plainly, 'mere child's play.' Leo
restrained his indignation with much difficulty.

"I wish you would talk to Waldemar in that tone of his 'boyish
enthusiasm,'" he replied, with suppressed vehemence. "He would not take
it so quietly."

"I should not disguise from him, any more than from you, that I look
upon the matter as a piece of youthful folly. If, five or six years
hence, you speak to me of your love to Wanda, or if Waldemar tells me
of his, I shall attach some importance to your feelings. For the
present, you can safely play the part of your cousin's faithful
knights--always on condition that no disputes arise between you on the
subject."

"They have arisen already," declared Leo. "I have just had some very
sharp words with Waldemar. That was why I gave up the sail. I won't
bear it. He claims Wanda's company and conversation altogether for
himself, and I won't stand his imperious, dictatorial ways any longer
either. I shall take every opportunity now of letting him see it."

"You will not do that," interrupted his mother. "I am more desirous now
than ever that there should be a good understanding between you, for we
are going with Waldemar to Wilicza."

"To Wilicza!" cried Leo, in a fury; "and I am to be his guest there--to
be under him, perhaps! No, that I will never consent to; I will owe
Waldemar nothing. If it costs me my whole future, I'll accept nothing
from him!"

The Princess preserved her superior calm, but her brow grew dark as she
answered--

"If you are willing to set your whole future at stake for a mere whim,
I am still here to watch over your interests. Besides, it is not merely
a question of you or of me. There are other and higher considerations
which make a sojourn at Wilicza desirable for me, and I have no
intention of allowing my plans to be disturbed by your childish
jealousy. You know I should never ask of you anything that could
compromise your dignity; and you know, too, that I am accustomed to see
my will obeyed. I tell you, we are going to Wilicza, and you will treat
your brother with the regard and courtesy I show him myself. I require
obedience from you, Leo."

The young Prince knew that tone full well. He knew that when his mother
assumed it she meant to have her way at any cost; but on this occasion
a mighty spur urged him to resistance. If he ventured no reply in
words, his face betrayed that he was inclined to rebel in deeds, and
that he would hardly condescend so far as to show his brother the
required courtesy.

"I will take care that no provocation to these disputes shall arise in
future," went on the Princess. "We shall leave this in a week, and when
Wanda goes back to her father you will necessarily see less of her. As
to this sail, _tête-à-tête_ with Waldemar, of which I altogether
disapprove, it shall most decidedly be the last."

So saying, she rang, and, on Pawlick's appearing, gave him the letter
to take to the post. It conveyed news to Count Morynski of their
intended departure from C----, and informed him that his sister would
not at present make a claim on his hospitality, but that the former
mistress of Wilicza was about to return to, and take up her residence
in, her old home.



                              CHAPTER VII.


The boat containing Waldemar and the young Countess Morynska sailed
merrily before the breeze. The sea was rather rough on that day, and
the waves broke foaming against the keel of the little vessel as she
shot through them, dashing their spray overboard every now and then, a
fact which in no way disturbed the two occupants. Waldemar sat at the
helm, with the calm of an experienced steersman; and Wanda, who had
placed herself opposite him under the shadow of the sail, seemed to
find great enjoyment in the quick, bounding motion of the little craft,
and in their rapid onward progress.

"Leo will go and complain of us to my aunt," said she, looking back
towards the coast, which they had already left at some distance behind
them. "He went away in a great rage, and you _were_ very unkind to him,
Waldemar."

"I don't like any one else to take the rudder when I am in the boat,"
he answered, in a curt, authoritative tone.

"And suppose I wanted to have it?" asked Wanda, mischievously.

He made no reply, but stood up at once, and silently offered her his
place.

The young Countess laughed.

"Oh no. It was only to see what you would say. There is no pleasure for
me in the sail when I have to think of steering all the while."

Without a word, Waldemar again grasped the rudder which had been the
nominal subject of dispute between him and Leo, though the real cause
of their quarrel lay elsewhere.

"Where are we going?" Wanda began again, after a short pause.

"To the Beech Holm, I think. That was what we had settled."

"Won't it be rather far for to-day?" asked the girl, a little
anxiously.

"With the wind in our favour we shall be there in half an hour, and if
I work the oars well it will not take us much longer to get back. You
wanted to see the sunset from the Beech Holm, you know."

Wanda resisted no further, though a vague feeling of uneasiness came
over her. Heretofore Leo had been the constant companion of the young
people in their excursions by sea and land; this was the first time
they had been out alone together. Young as Wanda was, she would have
been no woman not to discover, before Waldemar's second visit was over,
what had made him so shy and confused on the first. He was incapable of
dissimulation, and his eyes spoke a language all too plain, though he
had as yet betrayed himself by no word. He was still more reserved and
monosyllabic with Wanda than with the others; but, notwithstanding
this, she knew her power over him well enough--knew how to use, and
occasionally to misuse it; for to her the whole thing was a sport, and
nothing more. It pleased her that she could rule this obstinate,
masterful nature with a word, nay, even with a look; it flattered her
to feel herself the object of a certainly somewhat mute and eccentric,
but yet passionate homage; above all, it delighted her to see how angry
Leo grew over the matter. Really to give the preference to his elder
brother never once entered her mind. Waldemar's person and manners were
to the last degree distasteful to her. She thought his appearance
'horrid;' his lack of courtesy shocked, and his conversation wearied
her. Love had not made young Nordeck more amiable. He showed her none
of those chivalrous attentions in which Leo, in spite of his youth, was
already an adept. He seemed, on the contrary, to yield with reluctance
to a charm from which he was unable to escape; yet everything in him
bore witness to the irresistible power which this first passion had
gained over him.

The Beech Holm must probably one day have been a little islet, as its
name would indicate; now it was only a thickly wooded hill, joined to
the shore by a narrow strip of land, or rather by a little chain of
sandy downs, whereby access could be had to it on foot. Notwithstanding
its beauty, the place was but little frequented. It was too secluded
and too distant for the brilliant, gaiety-loving visitors of C----,
whose excursions were generally made to some of the neighbouring
villages along the coast. To-day, as usual, there was no one on the
Holm when the boat came to land. Waldemar jumped out, whilst his
companion, without waiting for help, sprang lightly on to the white
sand, and ran off up the hill.

The Beech Holm well deserved its name. The whole wood, which lined the
shore for nearly a mile, showed nowhere so many or such fine trees of
this species as were gathered together on this spot of earth. Here
mighty old beeches stood, spreading their giant branches far over the
green turf, and over the grey, weather-beaten fragments of stone which
lay scattered here and there, the relics of heathen times--tradition
said of some ancient place of sacrifice. At the landing-place the trees
stood back on either side, and the broad, beautiful sea lay as in a
frame, its deep-blue plain stretching away far as the eye could reach.
No shore, no island obstructed the view, no sail rose on the horizon,
nothing but the sea in all its grandeur, and the Beech Holm, lying
there so solitary and world-forgotten, it might really have been a
little islet lost in mid-ocean.

Wanda had taken off her straw hat with its plain black ribbon, and sat
down on one of the moss-grown stones. She still wore half-mourning for
the late Prince Baratowski. Her white dress was only relieved by a
black knot here and there, and a little black scarf was thrown round
her shoulders. This sombre hue on her white garments gave to the girl's
appearance a subdued and softened tinge which was not habitual to it.
She looked infinitely charming as she sat thus with folded hands,
gazing meditatively out over the sea.

Waldemar, who had taken a seat by her side on the enormous root of an
old beech, seemed to be of this opinion, for he entertained himself
exclusively with looking at her. For him the scenery around existed
not. He started as from a dream when Wanda, pointing to her stone seat,
said jestingly--"I suppose this is one of your old Runic stones?"

Waldemar shrugged his shoulders. "You must ask my tutor, Dr. Fabian,
about that. He is more at home in the first century of our era than in
the present. He would give you a learned and lengthy dissertation on
Runic stones, dolmens, tumuli, and the like. It would afford him the
greatest pleasure."

"Oh no; for goodness' sake!" laughed Wanda; "but, if Dr. Fabian has
such an enthusiastic love for antiquity, I wonder he has not instilled
a taste for it into you. It seems to me you are quite indifferent on
the subject."

The young man's face took a most disdainful expression. "What do I care
for all their antiquarian nonsense? The woods and fields interest me
for the sport they can give me."

"How prosaic!" cried Wanda, indignantly. "So all your thoughts run on
your sport! I dare say here on the Beech Holm you are thinking of the
bucks and hares which may be hidden in the coverts."

"No," said Waldemar, slowly. "I am not."

"It would be unpardonable with such a prospect before you. Just look at
the evening glow out yonder! The waves seem literally to beam with
light."

Waldemar followed the direction of her hand with indifferent eyes.

"Yes; that is where they say Vineta went down."

"What went down?"

"Have not you heard? It is an old sea legend. I thought you knew it."

"No; tell me."

"I am a poor story-teller," said Waldemar, deprecatingly. "Ask our
fisher-folk about it. That old boatman yonder would give you a far
better and more complete account of it than I can."

"But I want to hear it from you," persisted Wanda. "I _will_; so go
on."

A frown gathered on Waldemar's brow. The command had been too
imperative.

"You will?" he repeated, rather sharply.

Wanda saw very well that he was offended; but she relied on her power
over him, a power she had often tested during the last few weeks.

"Yes, I will!" she declared, as decidedly as before.

The frown deepened on the young man's face. It was one of those moments
when he rose up in rebellion against the charm which held him captive;
but suddenly he met the dark eyes, and their look seemed to change the
order into an entreaty. It was all over now with his anger and
resistance. His brow cleared. He smiled.

"Well, then, I will give it you in my short, prosaic way," said he,
with an emphasis on the last words. "Vineta[1] was, so the story goes,
an old fortified place by the sea, and the capital of an ancient
nation. Her dominion extended over all the neighbouring coasts and over
the waves, where she ruled supreme. Unparalleled in splendour and
greatness, countless treasures flowed in to her from other lands; but
pride, presumption, and the sins of her inhabitants brought down the
chastisement of Heaven upon her, and she sank, swallowed up by the
waves. Our sailors still affirm and vow that yonder, where the coast
shelves back so far, the fortress of Vineta lies uninjured at the
bottom of the sea. They say that, deep down below in the water, they
catch a glimpse at times of towers and cupolas, hear the bells ring,
and occasionally, at enchanted hours, the whole fairy city rises out of
the depths, and shows itself to some specially favoured beholders.
There are plenty of strange mirage effects at sea, and here in the
north we have a sort of 'Fata Morgana,' though it comes but seldom ..."

"Oh, spare me all these tame explanations!" interrupted Wanda,
impatiently. "Who cares for them, when the legend is pretty--and
wonderfully pretty this one is, don't you think so?"

"I don't know," replied Waldemar, a little embarrassed. "I never
thought about it."

"Have you no feeling for poetry whatever?" cried the young Countess, in
despair. "Why, it is perfectly dreadful!"

He looked at her in surprise and some confusion.

"Do you think it so dreadful?"

"Of course I do!"

"No one has ever taught me to understand poetry," said the young man,
almost in a tone of apology. "In my uncle's house nobody knows anything
about it, and my tutors have never done more than give me dry, formal
lessons. I am only just beginning to see that there is such a thing in
the world."

The last words were spoken with a certain dreaminess of expression very
new to Waldemar. He tossed back the hair which, as usual, had fallen
low over his forehead, and leaned his head against the trunk of a
beech. Wanda suddenly discovered that the brow so constantly hidden
beneath those unkempt light locks was high and remarkably well-shaped.
Now that it was free and exposed to view, it seemed really to lend
nobility to the plain, irregular face. On the left temple a peculiarly
distinct blue vein stood out, marked and salient even in a moment of
repose. The young Countess had never noticed it before, hidden, as it
generally was, beneath the enormous lion's mane which was always an
object of derision to her.

"Do you know, I have just found out something, Waldemar," said she,
mischievously.

"Well?" he asked, without changing his position.

"That strange blue vein on your forehead. My aunt has one, too, on the
temple, just in the same place and exactly similar, only less strongly
marked."

"Really? Well, it is the only thing I have of my mother about me."

"Yes, it is true; you are not in the least like her," said Wanda,
candidly, "and Leo is her very image!"

"Leo!" repeated Waldemar, with a singular intonation. "Leo, indeed!
That is a very different matter."

Wanda laughed. "Why? Has the younger brother any advantage over the
elder in this respect?"

"Why not? He has the advantage of his mother's love. I should think
that was enough."

"Waldemar, how can you say so!" put in the young Countess.

"Is the idea new to you?" he said, looking up with a frown. "I should
have thought any third person must see how I stand with my mother. She
forces herself to be friendly to me--oh yes!--and it must cost her
trouble enough at times; but she can't overcome her secret dislike any
more than I can mine--so we have nothing to reproach one another with."

Wanda was silent, embarrassed, and greatly surprised at the turn the
conversation had taken. Waldemar did not appear to notice this; he went
on in a hard voice--

"The Princess Baratowska is, and always will be, a stranger to me. I do
not belong to her or to her son. I feel that every time we meet. You
have no idea, Wanda, what it costs me to cross that threshold
continually, to be constantly with them. It is a positive torture I
impose on myself, and I should never have thought I could bear it so
patiently."

"But what do you do it for?" asked Wanda, imprudently. "Nobody forces
you to come."

He looked at her, and the answer lay in his eyes--shone in them so
distinctly that the young girl blushed to her very forehead. That
ardent, reproachful gaze spoke all too plainly.

"You do my aunt injustice," she said, speaking quickly, as if to hide
her embarrassment. "She must, and does, love her own son."

"Oh, no doubt!" Waldemar's bitterness had now grown quite beyond his
control. "I am persuaded that she loves Leo very much, though she is so
severe with him; but why should she love me, or I her? I was hardly a
year old when I lost father and mother at one stroke. I was torn from
my home to be brought up among strangers. When, later on, I came to
reflect, to ask questions, I learned that my parents' marriage had been
an unhappy one--a misfortune for both of them--and that they had
separated in bitter hatred; and I learned, too, how this hatred had
survived the grave, and how it exerted an influence on my own life.
They told me that my mother had been to blame for all; and yet I heard
many an allusion to my father, many an expression used with regard to
him, which disturbed my judgment of him also. Where other children are
taught to love and respect, suspicion and distrust were instilled into
me--and now I cannot get free from them. My uncle has been good to me;
he is fond of me in his way, but he could not offer me anything beyond
the life he leads himself. You know pretty well what that is--I think
every one in my mother's house is well posted up on that subject--and
yet, Wanda, you expect me to have some feeling for the poetical!"

He spoke almost resentfully, and yet there was a sort of low, regretful
sadness in his words. Wanda looked up at her companion with great
astonished eyes. She could hardly recognise him to-day. It was the
first time she had ever had any serious conversation with him, the
first time he had departed from his shy monosyllabic reserve. The
peculiarly cold relations between the mother and son had not escaped
her; but she had not believed the latter to be in any way affected by
the existing estrangement. He had never alluded to the situation by a
word; and now, all at once, he showed himself to be most keenly alive
to, and deeply wounded by it. Now, in this hour, there dawned on the
girl's mind some dim notion of what Waldemar's youth had been--how
empty, lonely, and desolate, and how friendless and neglected the young
heir whose riches she had so often heard extolled.

"You wanted to see the sunset," said Waldemar, suddenly changing the
subject and speaking in quite a different tone, as he rose and came to
her side. "I think we are having a rare one to-day."

And truly the clouds which bordered the horizon were suffused with a
crimson glow, and the sun, still radiantly clear, was sinking lower and
lower towards the sea, which flashed into a sudden glory at its
farewell greeting. A flood of light streamed over its surface,
spreading ever wider and wider--only over the spot where Vineta lay
deep down at the bottom of the sea, the waves kept their sombre purple,
while in their furrows gleamed bright streaks as of liquid gold, and
above them thousands of glittering sparks danced and floated.

It must be owned that in the old legends there is a something which
lifts them out of the domain of superstition, and even to a denizen of
the modern world an hour may come when the old enchanting glamour makes
itself felt, quickening the phantasies of the past into actual living
realities. Truly, these legends sprang from the hearts of men; and
their eternal problems, like their eternal truths, still preserve a
strong hold on the human breast. Not to every one, indeed, does the
fairy world open its gates, so closely guarded in these our days; but
the two now seated on the Beech Holm must have belonged to the elect
few, for they distinctly felt the charm which drew them gently but
irresistibly within the magic circle, and neither of them had the
courage, or the will, forcibly to break the spell.

Over their heads the wind rustled in the branches, louder still ran the
murmur and plash of the sea at their feet. Wave upon wave came rolling
up, rearing their white foam-crests aloft for an instant, then crashing
over on to the shore. It was the old mighty ocean melody, the song of
breeze and billow combined, which in its everlasting freshness enthrals
every listener's heart. It sings now of dreamy, sunshiny calm, anon of
raging storms with their terror and desolation, of restless, endless,
surging life--each succeeding wave bringing a new tone of its own, each
breath of wind echoing a responsive chord.

Waldemar and his young companion must have well understood this
language, for they listened to it in breathless silence; and as they so
sat and hearkened, another sound stole on their ears. Up from the very
depths of the ocean came the faint chiming of bells, and about their
hearts a feeling gathered as of pain and longing, mingled with a dim
far-off perception of infinite bliss. From the purple waves yonder rose
a shining vision. It floated on the waters, away into the golden glory,
and there stood bright and definite, a world of countless, unknown
treasures, a picture framed in a magic halo--the old fairy city of
Vineta!

The burning edge of the great glowing disc now touched, as it were, the
sea beneath it, and sinking ever deeper and deeper, disappeared at last
below the horizon. One more flaming, fiery blaze--then the light went
out, and the deep red hue still staining the water paled and gradually
died away.

Wanda drew a long breath, and passed her hand across her brow.

"The sun is down," she said in a low voice; "we must be thinking of
going back."

"Of going back?" repeated Waldemar, as in a dream. "Already?"

The girl rose quickly, as though to escape from some weight of
uneasiness. "The daylight will soon be gone now, and we must get back
to C---- before it grows dusk, or my aunt will never forgive me for
coming without her leave."

"_I_ will set that right with my mother," said Waldemar, and he too
seemed to speak the indifferent words with an effort; "but if you wish
to start ..."

"I do wish it, please."

The young man turned to go towards the boat, but all at once he
stopped.

"You will be going away soon now, Wanda. In a few days, will you not?"

The question was put in a strangely agitated tone, and the young
Countess's voice too had lost its natural ring, as she answered--

"I must go to my father now; he has done without me so long."

"My mother and Leo are going to Wilicza." Waldemar hesitated between
the words, as though something caught his breath. "There is some talk
of my joining them. May I?"

"Why do you ask me?" said Wanda, with an embarrassment very unusual to
her. "It depends entirely upon yourself whether you visit your own
property or not."

The young man did not heed the remark. He bent lower over her. His
voice faltered, as it seemed, with deep passionate anxiety.

"But I do ask you, Wanda--you alone! May I come to Wilicza?"

"Yes," fell almost involuntarily from Wanda's lips; but in the same
moment she started back, frightened at what she had done, for Waldemar
seized her hand impetuously, and held it fast, as though it were his
for ever and ever. The young Countess felt how he interpreted her
'yes,' and grew confused and troubled. A thrill of sudden alarm shot
through her. Waldemar noticed that she drew back.

"Have I been too rough again?" he asked, in a low voice. "You must not
be angry with me, Wanda--not to-day. It was only the idea of your going
away that I could not bear. Now I know that I may see you again--now I
will wait patiently till we are at Wilicza."

She made no reply, and they both went silently down to the boat.
Waldemar put up the sail, and settled himself to the oars. With a few
powerful strokes he sent the little craft far out to sea. A faint, rosy
glimmer still lingered on the waves as the boat glided through them.
Neither of the young people spoke during the journey. There was no
sound, save the monotonous ripple of the water; the last transient glow
died out of the sky, and the early shades of twilight fell over the
Beech Holm, as it receded farther and farther into the distance. The
sunset dream was over; but that old legend, which had woven its
threads, tells us that he who has once looked on the lost Vineta, has
once heard the sound of her bells, is pursued all his life by a longing
which leaves him no rest until the enchanted city rises before him once
more--or draws him down below into the depths.



                             CHAPTER VIII.


In Herr Witold's opinion, the diplomatic mission for which he had
selected Dr. Fabian would be comparatively easy of performance; the
chief difficulty lay in preparing the way for it. In order to gain
accurate information as to 'what was really going on in C----,' the
Doctor must, naturally, have access to the Princess Baratowska's house,
and this could only be obtained through Waldemar. Witold racked his
brains to think how he could put the matter before his adopted son, so
as not to be met at the outset by a decided refusal. Chance
unexpectedly befriended him. On Waldemar's last visit, the Princess had
expressed a wish to make the acquaintance of her son's tutor. The young
man spoke of it on his return, and the Squire caught eagerly at the
welcome opportunity. For once in his life he was able to approve of a
wish of the Princess Hedwiga's as rational. He held the Doctor
inexorably to his word, and the latter, who had all along hoped that
the scheme would fall through, frustrated by his pupil's obstinacy, was
obliged, two days later, to set out for C---- in Waldemar's company, in
order to undergo the desired presentation.

Waldemar was in the saddle as usual. He was passionately fond of
riding, and detested a drive along the sandy or stony roads, over which
he could gallop so swiftly. It did not occur to him to take a seat in
the carriage to-day out of courtesy to his tutor. Dr. Fabian was
accustomed to such marks of disrespect, and, shy and yielding by
nature, he had not the courage to make a firm stand against his pupil's
cavalier treatment of him, or, on its account, to resign his post. He
was without pecuniary resources of his own; a situation meant for him
the means of earning a livelihood. The life at Altenhof suited him but
ill; still, on the whole, he contrived to take little part in it. He
only appeared at table, and again for an hour in the evening, to keep
the Squire company. His pupil made but small claim on his time.
Waldemar was always glad when the hours for study were over, and his
master was still more so. All the rest of the day was at the latter's
own disposal, and he could pursue his hobby, his old Germanic
researches, undisturbed. To these beloved studies Herr Witold owed it
that the present preceptor of his adopted son did not follow the
example of his six predecessors, and decamp from the place; for the
Doctor said to himself with justice that, in another situation where
the boys under his charge would require constant supervision, it would
be all over with his archaeology. It needed, indeed, a patient
character like Fabian's to hold out under such trying circumstances.
To-day again he gave proof of his forbearance, bearing Waldemar's
desertion in silence, when that young gentleman, giving spurs to his
horse, actually rode on before, and only pulled rein to wait for him at
the entrance to C----, which they reached about noon.

On their arrival they found only Countess Wanda in the drawing-room,
and Dr. Fabian went through the first ordeal of introduction with much
embarrassment, it is true, but still with a tolerable presence.
Unfortunately, his visible and somewhat comic uneasiness at once
incited the young Countess to bring her talent for mischief to bear on
him.

"So, Doctor, you are my Cousin Waldemar's tutor?" she began. "I offer
you my sincere condolences, and pity you with all my heart."

Fabian looked up startled, and then glanced with alarm at his pupil,
who, however, seemed not to have heard the remark--his face did not
betray a trace of anger or indignation.

"Why so, Countess?" stammered the Doctor.

"I mean, it must be a difficult office to educate Herr Waldemar
Nordeck," continued Wanda, quite undisturbed, and with intense
enjoyment of the confusion her words produced.

Again Dr. Fabian glanced across at Waldemar with an expression of real
anguish. He knew how sensitive the young man was, how ill he could
brook a jest. Often enough had a far more inoffensive observation from
Herr Witold called forth a perfect storm; but, curiously enough, there
was no sign of one to-day. Waldemar was leaning quietly on Countess
Morynska's chair. A smile even hovered about his lips, as, bending down
to her, he asked--

"Do you think me such a bad fellow, then?"

"Yes, I do. Had not I the pleasure of seeing you in a regular passion
the day before yesterday, at the time of the quarrel about the rudder?"

"But I was not in a passion with _you_." said Waldemar, reproachfully.

The Doctor let fall the hat he had hitherto grasped with both hands.
What mild, gentle tones were those he had heard from his rough pupil's
mouth, and what meant the look which accompanied it? The conversation
went on as it had begun, Wanda teasing the young man in her usual
merry, high-handed way, and Waldemar lending himself to the sport with
infinite patience. Nothing seemed to irritate or offend him here. He
had a smile for her every joke, and was, indeed, completely
metamorphosed since he had come into the young Countess's presence.

"Dr. Fabian is listening to us quite devoutly," she laughed. "It
rejoices you to see us in such good spirits, Doctor?"

Poor Doctor! He was not thinking of rejoicing. Everything was going
round him in a whirl. Slight as was his experience of love matters, the
truth began gradually to dawn upon him. He could now form some idea of
how 'the land lay.' This, then, was the reason Waldemar had so amiably
consented to the reconciliation; this was why he so assiduously rode
over to C---- in storm and sunshine; here was the explanation of the
change in his whole behaviour. Herr Witold would certainly have a fit
when he heard of it--Herr Witold, who had such a deeply rooted aversion
to the entire 'Polish lot!' The diplomatic mission was indeed crowned
with success in the very first half-hour; but its result filled the
ambassador with such alarm that he entirely forgot the dissimulation
which had been enjoined on him, and would probably have betrayed his
trepidation, had not the Princess just then come in.

The lady had more than one reason for wishing to make the personal
acquaintance of her son's tutor, who would accompany his pupil to the
University. Now that the reconciliation had been achieved, that a
lasting connection seemed likely to follow, Waldemar's nearest
surroundings could not be a matter of indifference to her. She
convinced herself, before ten minutes were over, that there was nothing
to fear from the harmless Fabian; that, on the contrary, he might be
made useful, possibly unknown to himself. Many things might be learned
from the constant companion which could not be extracted from the
taciturn Waldemar, and this was no unimportant consideration. The
Princess did the Doctor the honour to look upon him as a fitting
instrument for her use. She therefore treated him with much
condescending kindness, and the humility with which he received such
condescension met with her full approbation. She forgave him his
shyness and awkwardness, or rather she looked on both as very natural
in her presence, and deigned to engage him in conversation at some
length.

On his mother's entrance, Waldemar had relapsed into his usual laconic
mood. He took little part in the general talk, but after a time he said
a few words to the Princess in a low voice. She rose at once, and went
out with him on to the balcony.

"You wish to speak to me alone?" she asked.

"Only for a minute," replied Waldemar. "I only wanted to tell you that
it will not be possible for me to accompany you and Leo to Wilicza, as
we had agreed."

"Why? Are difficulties placed in your way?"

"Yes," said the young man, impatiently. "There are, it appears, certain
formalities to be gone through, relating to my coming of age, at which
I am bound to be present. My father's will gives most decided
directions on the subject. Neither my uncle Witold nor I ever thought
about it; and now, just when I want to go, the notice has come. I shall
have to stay here for the present."

"Well, in that case, we will put off our journey also," said the
Princess, "and I must send Wanda to Rakowicz alone."

"On no account," returned Waldemar, with much decision. "I have already
written to Wilicza to say that you will arrive in the course of a few
days, and that the necessary preparations are to be made at the
castle."

"And you?"

"I shall come as soon as I am at liberty. Anyway, I shall spend a few
weeks with you before I go to the University."

"One more question, Waldemar," said the Princess, gravely. "Does your
ex-guardian know of these arrangements?"

"No, I have only spoken of my visit to Wilicza, so far."

"Then you will have to tell him of our intended sojourn there."

"I mean to," replied Waldemar, shortly. "I have written to my agent
that he is to place himself at your service until I arrive. You have
only to give your orders. I have provided for their being obeyed."

The Princess would have expressed her thanks, but she could not bring
herself to articulate them. She knew so well that this generous
consideration was not shown her for her own sake, and the particularly
cold manner in which the obligation was conferred made it incumbent on
her to accept it with equal reserve, if she would not incur a
humiliation.

"So we may certainly expect you," she said. "As for Leo ..."

"Leo is sulky still, because of our quarrel the day before yesterday,"
interrupted Waldemar. "When I arrived just now, he turned off very
demonstratively towards the shore, pretending not to see me."

The Princess knitted her brows. Leo had received strict orders to meet
his brother in a friendly manner, and now he was showing this
rebellious spirit at a most inopportune moment.

"Leo is often hasty and thoughtless. I will see that he makes the first
advances towards a reconciliation."

Waldemar declined coolly. "No, no, we shall settle it better between
ourselves. You need not be uneasy."

They went back into the drawing-room, where Wanda meanwhile had been
amusing herself by sending Dr. Fabian from one stage of embarrassment
to another. The Princess now released him. She wished thoroughly to
discuss the plan of her son's studies, and he was obliged to follow her
into her private room.

"Poor Doctor!" said Wanda, looking after him. "It seems to me you have
quite reversed your _rôles_. You have not a particle of respect for
your teacher, but he stands in unbounded awe of you."

Waldemar did not contradict this assertion, which was but too just; he
merely remarked--

"Does it appear to you that Dr. Fabian is a person to inspire respect?"

"Not exactly; but he seems very forbearing and good-natured."

The young man looked contemptuous.

"Perhaps so; but those are qualities I do not particularly value."

"One should tyrannise well over you if one wishes to inspire respect?"
said Wanda, with an arch glance up at him.

Waldemar drew forward a chair, and sat down by her side. "It all
depends upon who plays the tyrant. I would not advise any one at
Altenhof to try it, not even Uncle Witold, and here I only stand it
from one person."

"Who knows!" cried Wanda, lightly. "I should not care to make you angry
in real earnest."

He made no reply. His thoughts had evidently wandered from the
conversation, and were following another track.

"Did not you think it was very beautiful on the Beech Holm the day
before yesterday?" he asked suddenly, with a brusque transition.

A slight blush rose to the young Countess's cheeks, but she answered in
her former sprightly tone--

"I think there is something uncanny about the place in spite of its
beauty; and, as to those sea legends of yours, I certainly shall not
listen to them again at the sunset hour. One really comes to believe in
the old fables."

"Yes, one comes to believe in them!" said Waldemar, in a low tone. "You
reproached me with not entering into the poetry of the tradition. I
have learned to understand it now in my turn."

Wanda was silent. She was struggling to keep down a certain
embarrassment which had assailed her yesterday for the first time in
her life. Before this, on young Nordeck's entrance, the feeling had
taken possession of her. She had tried to laugh it off, to jest it
away, and had succeeded in the presence of others; but directly the two
were left alone together, it returned in full force. She could not get
back the tranquil easy tone of former days. That strange evening on the
Beech Holm! It had invested with a singular earnest a matter which was,
and certainly was to remain, nothing but a joke.

Waldemar waited for an answer in vain. He seemed rather hurt that none
came.

"I was telling my mother just now that I cannot go with you all to
Wilicza," he began again. "I shall not be there for three or four
weeks."

"Well, that is not long," said Wanda.

"Not long? Why, it is an eternity!" he cried, vehemently. "You can form
no idea of what it costs me to stay behind, and let you set out alone."

"Waldemar, pray ..." Wanda interposed in visible distress. He did not
heed her, but went on with the same vehemence.

"I promised to wait until we were at Wilicza, but at that time I hoped
to travel with you. Now it may be a whole month before we see each
other again, and I cannot be silent so long. I cannot know you
constantly in Leo's company, unless I have the conviction that you
belong to me, to me alone."

The avowal came so suddenly, with such a rush, that the young Countess
had no time to ward it off; and, indeed, any attempt of hers to stay
this burst of passion would have been in vain. He had seized her hand
again, and held it fast, as he had held it that evening on the Beech
Holm.

"Do not shrink from me so, Wanda! You must long have known what brings
me to this place. I have never been able to hide it, and you have borne
with me--you have never repulsed me. I must break silence at last. I
know I am not as others are. I know there is little, perhaps nothing,
in me to please you; but I can, and will, learn to be different. It is
solely and entirely on your account that I have imposed on myself these
years at the University. What do I care for study, or for the life out
yonder? I care for them nothing at all; but I have seen that I often
shock you, that you sometimes laugh at me--and ... and you shall not do
it any more. Only give me the certainty that you are mine, that I shall
not lose you. Wanda, I have been alone ever since I was a child--sadly
alone, often. If I have seemed rough and wild to you--you know, dear, I
have had no mother, no affection. I could not grow up to be like Leo,
who has had both; but I can love, perhaps more ardently and better than
he. You are the only creature I have ever loved, and one single word
from you will make up to me for all the past. Say the word, Wanda--or
give me, at least, hope that I may one day hear it from your lips; but,
I entreat of you, do not say no, for I could not, could not bear it."

He was actually on his knees before her; but the young Countess had no
thought now of enjoying the triumph she had once desired in her
childish presumption and vanity. A dim suspicion had, now and again,
crossed her mind that the play was growing more like earnest than she
had intended, and that it would not be easy to end it by treating it as
a mere joke; but, with the heedlessness of her sixteen years, she had
put the thought from her. Now the crisis had come, and she must face
it--must reply to this passionate wooer, who would be satisfied by
nothing less than a 'yes' or a 'no.' Truly, the wooing was not an
alluring one. There was none of that tender romantic halo about it
which, to a young girl's imagination, appears all essential. Even
through this avowal of his love there ran a touch of that sternness
which was inseparable from Waldemar's character; but every word told of
stormy, long pent-up emotion--spoke of passion's ardent glow. Now for
the first time Wanda saw how earnest he was in this matter of his love;
and, with a pang of burning self-reproach, the thought flashed through
her mind--what had she done?

"Get up, Waldemar, pray--I entreat of you!" Her voice shook with
repressed alarm and anxiety.

"When I hear you say yes, not before!"

"I cannot--not now--do get up!"

He did not obey her; he was still in the same supplicating attitude,
when the door leading from the anteroom was unexpectedly opened, and
Leo entered.

For one moment the new-comer stood rooted to the spot; then a cry of
indignation escaped his lips. "So this is how it is!"

Waldemar had sprung to his feet. His eyes blazed with anger. "What do
you want here?" he demanded of his brother, imperiously.

Leo had been pale from agitation, but the tone of this question sent
the blood up to his face. With a few rapid strides he stood before
Waldemar.

"You seem to think my presence here unnecessary," said he, with
flashing eyes. "Yet I of all people can best unriddle to you the scene
which has just taken place."

"Leo, do not speak!" cried Wanda, half entreating, half commanding;
but, in his jealousy, the young Prince lost sight of every other
consideration.

"I will speak," he returned, in his exasperation. "My word only bound
me until the wager was won, and I have just seen with my own eyes in
whose favour it is decided. How often I have begged of you to make an
end of the sport. You knew it wounded me, that it drove me to
desperation. You persisted in it, nevertheless. Am I to submit quietly
while Waldemar, in his fancied triumph, shows me the door--I, who am
witness of how you undertook to bring Waldemar to his knees, come what
might? Well, you have succeeded; but at least he shall know the truth!"

At the first word 'wager,' a great shock had passed through Waldemar's
frame; now he stood motionless, grasping the back of the chair
convulsively, whilst his eyes were turned on the young Countess with a
strange expression.

"What--what does this mean?" he asked, in a hoarse whisper.

Wanda drooped her head consciously. There was a struggle in her mind
between anger against Leo and shame at her own conduct; while, sharper
than either, prevailed a feeling of keen, intense anxiety. She knew now
how cruelly the blow would tell! Leo, too, was silent--struck by the
sudden change in his brother's countenance; he began also to feel how
unjustifiably he had acted in exposing Wanda, and how needful it was
for him to stop.

"What does this mean?" repeated Waldemar, suddenly rousing himself from
his torpor, and going straight up to the young girl. "Leo speaks of
some wager, of some sport of which I have been the object. Answer me,
Wanda. I will believe you, and you only. Tell me that it is a lie!"

"So I am a liar in your eyes," broke out Leo; but his brother did not
heed him. The young Countess's silence told him enough--he needed no
further confirmation; but, with the discovery of the truth, all the
savage fierceness of his nature rose up within him, and now that the
charm to which he had so long yielded was broken, that fierceness
carried him beyond all bounds.

"I will have an answer!" he broke out in a fury. "Have I really only
been a plaything for you, an amusement for your caprices? Have you been
laughing at me, making a mock of me, while I ... You will give me an
answer, Wanda--an answer on the spot, or I ..."

He did not finish the sentence; but his look and tone were so menacing
that Leo stepped before Wanda to protect her. She, too, now drew
herself erect, however. The sight of the young man's ungovernable rage
had given her back her self-possession.

"I will not allow myself to be questioned in this manner!" she began,
and would have added words of proud defiance, when suddenly her eye met
Waldemar's, and she stopped. Though his features still worked with
passion, there was something in his look which told of the man's
unspeakable mental torture at seeing his love scorned and betrayed, the
ideal he had worshipped hopelessly and utterly destroyed. But her voice
seemed to recall him to his senses. His clenched fists relaxed, and he
pressed his lips tightly together, as though resolved that no further
word should pass them. His breast heaved convulsively in the mighty
effort he was making to restrain his rage. He staggered, and leaned
against the chair for support.

"What ails you, Waldemar?" asked Leo in alarm, as, remorse springing up
within him, he advanced towards his brother.

Waldemar raised himself, and, waving off Leo, turned to go without
uttering a word, but with a face from which every drop of blood had
receded.

At this moment the Princess made her appearance, accompanied by Dr.
Fabian. The sound of their voices, growing louder and louder, had
reached her in her room, and made it clear to her that something
unusual was going on in the drawing-room. She came in quickly, and for
an instant her entrance was unnoticed. Wanda stood vacillating between
defiance and distress; but at this crisis the latter gained the upper
hand, and, with the cry of a child confessing a fault and praying to be
forgiven, she called to the young man to come back.

"Waldemar!"

He stopped. "Have you anything else to say to me, Countess Morynska?"

The young Countess started. Never before had that tone of frigid,
cutting contempt met her ear, and the burning blush which mantled to
her face showed how keenly she felt it. But now the Princess barred her
son's passage.

"What has happened? Where are you going, Waldemar?"

"Away from here," he answered in a dull low tone, without looking up.

"But explain to me what ..."

"I cannot; let me go. I cannot stay!" and, thrusting his mother aside,
he rushed out.

"Well, then, I must request of you an explanation of this strange
scene," said the Princess, turning to the others. "Stay, Doctor!" she
continued, as Dr. Fabian, who up to this time had remained at the door,
an anxious spectator, now made as though he would follow his pupil.
"There is evidently some misunderstanding here, and I must beg of you
to undertake the task of clearing up any mistake existing in my son's
mind. By rushing away in that violent manner, he has made it impossible
for me to explain matters myself. What has happened? I insist on being
told."

Wanda did not respond to this authoritative demand; she threw herself
on the sofa, and burst into a passionate flood of tears. Leo, on a sign
from his mother, went up to her at the window, and related what had
passed. The Princess's mien grew more and more ominously dark at every
word he said, and it evidently cost her an effort to preserve her calm
demeanour, as she turned to the Doctor at length and said, with much
apparent composure--

"It is as I thought--a misunderstanding, nothing more! A foolish jest
between my niece and my younger son has given Waldemar cause to feel
offended. I beg of you to tell him that I regret it sincerely, but that
I expect of him that he will not attach undue importance to the folly
of two children." She laid a stress on the last word.

"It would be best for me to go now and look after my pupil," Fabian
ventured to remark.

"By all means, do so," assented the lady, desirous now of ridding
herself of this innocent but most unwelcome witness of the family
quarrel. "Good-bye for the present, Doctor. I shall quite hope to see
you back soon in Waldemar's company."

She spoke these last words very graciously, and received the tutor's
parting obeisance with a smiling face; but when the door had closed
behind him, the Princess stepped in sharply between Wanda and Leo, and
on her countenance were written signs of an approaching storm, such as
but rarely disturbed the even rule of this severe mother and aunt.

Meanwhile Dr. Fabian had learned from Pawlick that young Herr Nordeck
had thrown himself on to his horse and ridden away. There was nothing
for it now but to drive off to Altenhof after him, which the Doctor did
as speedily as possible. On arriving there, however, he heard that
Waldemar had not yet returned. The tutor could not help feeling uneasy
at this prolonged absence, which, under ordinary circumstances, he
would hardly have remarked. The conclusion of the agitated scene he had
witnessed directed his surmises pretty near the truth. The Princess,
certainly, had spoken of a misunderstanding only, of a jest which her
son had taken amiss; but Waldemar's violent exit, his cutting reply to
the young Countess's cry of entreaty--above all, the expression of his
face--showed that the matter in question was of a very different
nature. Something serious must have occurred that Waldemar, who but a
short time before had patiently, in contradiction to his whole
character, submitted to Wanda's every whim, should now turn his back on
her and hers, and leave his mother's house in a manner which seemed to
preclude all idea of return.

The whole afternoon wore away, and still Waldemar did not appear. Dr.
Fabian waited and hoped in vain. He was glad that Herr Witold had taken
advantage of his two house-mates' absence to drive over to the
neighbouring town, from whence he was not expected to return until
evening; so that, for the present at least, there was an escape from
his inevitable questions.

Hour after hour passed away. Evening came; but neither the inspector
who had been over to the forester's house, nor the men coming home from
the fields, had seen anything of the young master. The Doctor's anxiety
now drove him out of doors. He walked some distance up the road which
led to the park, and along which every new-comer must pass. At some
distance from this road ran a very broad, deep ditch, which was
generally full of water, but was now dried up by the heat of the
summer, the great unhewn stones with which the bottom was paved lying
exposed to view. From the bridge which spanned it an extensive view
could be had of the fields around. It was still quite light out here in
the open air--only the woods began to wrap themselves in shade. Dr.
Fabian stood on the bridge, not knowing what to do next, and
considering whether he should go on farther, or turn back, when at last
the figure of a horseman appeared in the distance, coming towards him
at a gallop. The Doctor drew a deep breath of relief. He himself did
not exactly know what he had feared; but, anyway, his fears had been
groundless, and, full of rejoicing at the fact, he hurried along the
side of the ditch towards the approaching figure on horseback.

"Thank God you are there, Waldemar!" cried he. "I have been so uneasy
about you."

"Why?" he asked, coldly. "Am I a child that I may not be let out of
sight?"

In spite of his enforced calm, there was a strange sound in his voice
which at once called up afresh the Doctor's hardly appeased anxiety. He
now noticed that the horse was completely exhausted. It was covered
with foam from head to foot, the white flakes fell from its nostrils,
and its chest heaved and panted. The animal had evidently been spurred
on and on without rest or respite; but the rider showed no signs of
fatigue. He sat firm in the saddle, grasped the reins with an iron
grasp, and, instead of turning off aside in the direction of the
bridge, made as though he would leap the ditch.

"For God's sake, do not attempt such a mad, rash act!" remonstrated
Fabian. "You know Norman never will take the ditch."

"He will take it to-day," declared Waldemar, driving his spurs into the
horse's flanks. It reared high in the air, but shied back from the
obstacle, feeling, perhaps, that its exhausted strength would fail it
at the critical moment.

"But listen, do listen!" entreated the Doctor, in spite of his timidity
coming close up to the rearing, plunging animal. "You are requiring
what is impossible. The leap will miscarry; and, in your fall, your
head will be dashed to pieces on the stones below."

For all reply, Waldemar drove his Norman on anew. "Get out of my way!"
he gasped. "I will go over. Out of the way, I say!"

That wild tone of torture and desperation revealed to the Doctor how
matters stood with his pupil at this moment, and how little he cared
whether he were really dashed to pieces on the stones below, or not. In
his mortal dread of the accident he saw inevitably approaching, this
man, usually so timorous, ventured to seize the reins, meaning to
continue his remonstrances. Just then, however, a fearful blow of the
whip crashed down on the rebellious animal. It reared again, and beat
the air with its forefeet, but still refused the leap. At the same
instant, a faint cry reached the rider's ears. He started, stopped, and
then, with a movement swift as lightning, reined his horse back. It was
too late. Dr. Fabian had been thrown to the ground, and Waldemar,
leaping from his saddle, saw his tutor stretched, bleeding and
unconscious, at his feet.



                              CHAPTER IX.


The dwellers at Altenhof had passed a week of great suspense and
anxiety. When Herr Witold returned home on the evening of the accident,
he found the whole house in commotion. Dr. Fabian lay bleeding and
still unconscious in his room; and Waldemar, with a face which
terrified his guardian even more than the sight of the sufferer, was
endeavouring to stanch the wound. Nothing could be extracted from him,
save that he had been the cause of the misfortune which had occurred;
so the Squire was obliged, in a great measure, to rely on the reports
of the servants. From them he learned that the young master had
returned at dusk, bearing in his arms the injured man, whom he must
have carried from a distance, and that he had immediately sent off
messengers to the nearest doctors. A quarter of an hour later, the
horse had come in in his turn, exhausted, and bearing all the traces of
fast and furious riding. The animal, on being abandoned by its master,
had taken the familiar road home--that was all the servants knew. The
wound on the Doctor's head, evidently caused by a blow from the hoof,
seemed of a serious nature; and the great loss of blood and weakly
constitution of the patient aroused for some time fears of the worst.
Herr Witold, thoroughly sound and healthy himself, and accustomed to a
like vigour in Waldemar, had no experience of sickness or suspense, and
swore often enough that for all the gold in the world he would not live
through that week again. To-day, for the first time, the Squire's face
wore its accustomed cheery look, as he sat by the bed in the patient's
room.

"So we have tided over the worst," said he. "And now, Doctor, you will
do me the favour to have a little rational talk with Waldemar." He
pointed to his adopted son, who stood by the window, leaning his head
against the panes, and looking out absently into the court. "I can do
nothing with him, but you can obtain what you like from him now; so try
and bring him to reason, or I shall have the boy ruined for life
through this unhappy business."

Doctor Fabian, who wore a broad white bandage across his brow, still
looked very weak and wasted; but he was sitting up, supported by
pillows, and his voice, though faint, was quite clear as he asked--

"What do you wish Waldemar to do?"

"I wish him to be reasonable," returned Witold, emphatically; "to be
reasonable, and to thank God that things have gone so well with us;
instead of which he goes about tormenting himself, as if he really had
a murder on his conscience. I was anxious enough myself for the first
two or three days, when your life hung on a thread; but now that the
doctor has declared you to be out of danger, one may breathe freely
again. There is no good in overdoing a thing, and I can't bear any
longer to see the boy wandering about with such a face, and hardly
saying a word for hours together."

"But I have told Waldemar over and over again that I alone am to blame
for the accident," said the Doctor. "His attention was quite taken up
with his horse; he could not see I was standing so near. I was
imprudent enough to seize the animal's veins, and it pulled me to the
ground."

"You caught hold of Norman's reins?" asked the Squire, petrified with
amazement. "You, who will go ten paces out of any horse's way, and have
never ventured to approach the wild beast? How did you come to do
that?"

Fabian glanced across at his pupil. "I was afraid of an accident," he
answered, gently.

"Which would unquestionably have happened," went on Witold. "Waldemar
could not have all his five senses about him that evening, to want to
leap the ditch just at that spot, at dusk too, and with a horse dead
beat! I have always told him that temper of his would get him into
trouble some day. Now he has had a lesson--but he takes it rather too
much to heart. So, Doctor, you just read him a sermon--you are allowed
to talk now, you know--and persuade him to be reasonable. He will do
what you tell him now, I am certain."

Saying which, the Squire rose and left the room.

The two who remained behind were silent awhile. At last the Doctor
began--

"Did you hear what I have been charged with, Waldemar?"

The young man, who up to this time had stood by the window, silent and
abstracted, as though the conversation in no way concerned him, turned
round at once, and went up to the bed. At first sight, Witold's anxiety
might have appeared exaggerated. Such a nature as Waldemar's does not
succumb so easily to moral influences. He only looked somewhat paler
than of yore; but any one who observed him closely would have discerned
the change.

There was a strange, new expression in his face, well calculated to
excite uneasiness--a peculiar rigidity of feature, as though all
emotion had died out within him. This, however, might only be the
vizier behind which some deeply wounded feeling hid itself from the
outer world. His voice, too, had lost its full strong ring; it sounded
weary and spiritless as he replied--

"Don't listen to my uncle. There is nothing the matter with me."

Dr. Fabian took his pupil's hand between his own, the young man
submitting unresistingly.

"I have not ventured to touch on the subject yet," went on the Doctor,
timidly. "I see it still gives you pain. Shall I be silent?"

Waldemar drew a deep, long breath.

"No," said he, after a minute. "I ought to thank you for withholding
the truth from my uncle. He would have tortured me with questions which
I should not have answered; but my madness on that evening nearly cost
you your life. I cannot--I do not wish to deny to you what you, indeed,
must know already."

"I know nothing," replied the Doctor, with a troubled look. "I can only
form a guess from the scene I witnessed. Waldemar, tell me, for
Heaven's sake, what had taken place?"

"Oh, it was nothing--a mere childish joke," said Waldemar, bitterly. "A
piece of folly, which was not worthy to be taken seriously--so my
mother wrote the day before yesterday. Unfortunately, I have taken it
seriously--so seriously that it has wrecked part of my life for me,
perhaps the best part."

"You love Countess Morynska?" asked the Doctor, in a low tone.

"I _did_ love her; it is over. I know now that she was miserably
trifling with me. I have done with her and her love."

Dr. Fabian shook his head, as he scanned the young man's face with deep
anxiety. "Done with her? no, not for some time to come! I can see but
too plainly what you are suffering at this moment."

Waldemar passed his hand across his brow. "That will pass. I have borne
it, and I shall conquer it; for conquer it I will, at any cost. Only
one thing I beg of you. Say no word of it to my uncle, nor--nor to me.
I shall battle down the weakness, I know; but I cannot speak of it, not
even to you. Let me settle the matter by myself--it will be all the
sooner buried."

His trembling lips betrayed how sensitive was the wound to the
slightest touch. The Doctor saw he must desist.

"I will be silent, since you wish it. You shall in future hear no word
of it from me."

"In future!" repeated Waldemar. "Why, are you thinking of staying on
with me? I took it for granted that you would leave us when you got
well. I can hardly expect you to put up with a pupil who rides you down
in return for all your care and trouble."

The Doctor took the young man's hands again soothingly between his own.

"As though I did not know that you have suffered far more than I! One
good result my illness has had. It has convinced me on a point--forgive
me--on which I was not fully convinced before. I know now that you have
a heart to feel for others."

Waldemar seemed hardly to hear the last words. His eyes had a gloomy,
absent look; but suddenly he roused himself, and said, "My uncle is
right in one thing. How did you come to take hold of Norman's reins,
you of all people?"

Fabian smiled. "You mean because my cowardice is notorious? It was
anxiety on your account which made me courageous for once. I had, it is
true, often seen you commit similar mad acts of rashness, and never
ventured to interfere; but then I always knew that you were a match for
the danger which you set yourself to overcome. On that evening you were
not bent on overcoming a danger; you were bent on bringing about that
fall, Waldemar. I saw you wished for it, saw it would be death to you,
if I did not hold you back by force, and I forgot even my fear, and
seized the bridle."

Waldemar looked at the speaker with wide, astonished eyes. "So it was
not mere imprudence, not by any unlucky accident that you were thrown
to the ground. You knew to what you were exposing yourself. Do you care
at all about my life, then? I thought nobody cared for it."

"Nobody? and your guardian?"

"Uncle Witold? Yes, he perhaps; but no one else."

"I think I have shown you that somebody else cares," said the Doctor,
with gentle reproach.

The young man bent over him.

"I know that I have deserved it least of all from you; but, believe me,
Doctor, I have had a hard lesson, so hard a one that I shall never
forget it as long as I live. From the hour I carried you home bleeding,
from the two first days when the surgeon gave you up for lost, I have
been learning what a murderer must feel. If you really are willing to
stay on with me, you may risk it now. Here, by your bed of pain, I have
for ever forsworn those violent fits of passion which blind me to
everything that comes in my way. You shall not have to complain of me
any more."

The words were spoken with a touch of the old energy; but Dr. Fabian
still gazed anxiously into his pupil's countenance, as the latter bent
over him. "I wish you could tell me that with a different face," he
replied. "Of course I shall stay with you; but I would rather have your
old impetuosity than this dull unnatural calm. There is a look in your
eye which does not please me."

Waldemar raised himself quickly, withdrawing from the too keen
observation. "Don't let us be for ever talking of me," he said. "The
doctor says you may have some fresh air now. Shall I open the window?"

The sick man sighed. He saw there was nothing to be done here;
moreover, the conversation was now interrupted by the entrance of Herr
Witold.

"Here I am again," said he, coming in. "Waldemar, you will have to go
down. Young Prince Baratowski is there."

"Leo?" asked Waldemar, in evident astonishment.

"Yes, he wants to speak to you. My presence will be superfluous, I am
very sure, so I'll stay and keep the Doctor company."

The young man left the room, and Witold sat down in his former place by
the bedside.

"The Baratowskis are exceedingly anxious to get hold of him again,"
said he, alluding to his adopted son. "Three days ago a letter came
from her Highness, our lady mamma. Waldemar has not answered it, to my
knowledge; in fact, nothing would induce him to leave you, so now the
brother is sent over in person. And I must say this, the young Polish
shoot is of a very trim growth--a perfect picture of a boy! only,
unfortunately, as like his mother as two peas, which goes strongly
against him in my eyes. And now it just occurs to me, I have never
asked you what discoveries you made at C----. In my worry about you, I
had quite forgotten the whole affair."

Dr. Fabian cast down his eyes, and plucked nervously at the
counterpane. "I am sorry I cannot give you any information, Herr
Witold," he replied. "My visit to C---- was too short, too hurried, and
I told you before that I had neither skill nor luck for a diplomatist."

"Ah, you are thinking of the crack in your skull," said the Squire;
"but that had nothing to do with the business. However, I won't bother
you with such commissions in future. So you could not find out
anything? More's the pity! And how goes it with Waldemar? Did you read
him a good lecture?"

"He has promised that he will endeavour to put all that has passed away
from his mind."

"Thank God! I tell you, you can do anything with him now; and what is
more, Doctor, we have both of us been unjust to the boy in thinking he
had no feeling. I never should have imagined he would take the thing so
much to heart."

On entering the study or 'den' before described, Waldemar found his
brother waiting for him. The young Prince, on arriving, had been
struck by the appearance of the old-fashioned, somewhat low-roofed
dwelling-house, and was now examining with wondering eyes the modest
arrangements of the room into which he had been shown. Accustomed from
his earliest childhood to a well-appointed, elegant house, he could not
understand how his brother, wealthy as he knew him to be, could
possibly endure to live on here. The _salon_ of the hired house at
C----, which to him and to the Princess appeared miserably shabby, was
splendid in comparison to this reception-room at Altenhof.

All these reflections vanished, however, on Waldemar's entrance. Leo
went up to him, and said hastily, as though to get over a disagreeable
but unavoidable task as speedily as possible, "You are surprised to see
me here; but you have not been near us for a whole week, and you have
not answered mamma's letter, so there was nothing left us but to come
and look after you."

It was easy to see that, in paying this visit, the young man was not
acting spontaneously. His speech and manner were decidedly constrained.
He seemed on the point of holding out his hand to his brother, but
evidently could not quite prevail on himself to offer such a mark of
amity. The little movement was not followed up.

Waldemar either did not, or would not, notice it. "You come by your
mother's, desire?" he asked.

Leo reddened. He best knew what a struggle it had cost the Princess to
extort compliance; how she had needed to employ the whole weight of her
authority before he would consent to take this journey to Altenhof.

"Yes," he replied, somewhat tardily.

"I am sorry you should have had to take a step which must appear a
humiliating one to you, Leo. I should certainly have spared it you, if
I had known anything of the matter."

Leo looked up in surprise. The tone was as new to him as the
consideration for his feelings, coming from this quarter.

"Mamma declared you had been insulted in our house," he began
again--"insulted by me, and that, therefore, I must make the first
advances towards a reconciliation. I feel myself now that she is right.
You will believe me, Waldemar"--here his voice grew agitated--"you will
believe me, that without such a feeling on my part I never should have
come, never!"

"I believe you," was the short, but decided answer.

"Well, then, don't make it so hard for me to beg your pardon!" cried
Leo, really stretching out his hand now. His brother declined it.

"I cannot accept your excuses. Neither you nor my mother are to blame
for the insult I received in your house; moreover, it is already past
and forgotten. Let us say no more about it."

Leo's astonishment grew with every minute. He could make nothing of
this quiet coolness which he had been so far from expecting. Had he not
himself witnessed Waldemar's terrible agitation, and that scarcely a
week ago?

"I did not think you could forget so quickly!" he replied, with
unfeigned wonder.

"When my contempt is aroused, certainly!"

"Waldemar, that is too severe," Leo broke out. "You do Wanda a wrong.
She herself charged me to say to you ..."

"Had you not better spare me Countess Morynska's message?" said his
brother, interrupting him. "My view of the case is, I should imagine,
the one in question now, and it differs altogether from yours--but let
us drop the subject. My mother will not, of course, expect me to bid
her good-bye in person. She will understand that, for the present, I
shall avoid her house, and that I shall not come to Wilicza this
autumn, as we had agreed. Perhaps I may see you there next year."

The young Prince drew back with a dark frown on his brow. "You do not
suppose that, after this quarrel, after the cold repulse I have met
with here, we can still be your guests?" he asked, angrily.

Waldemar crossed his arms, and leaned on the bureau. "You mistake.
There has been no quarrel between us. My mother, in her letter to me,
condemned the late incident in very decided terms. You showed a
disapproval even more marked by interfering the other day; and if I
desired any formal satisfaction, you offer it me now by coming here.
What has the whole business to do with your staying at my place? But
you always opposed the plan, I know. For what reason?"

"Because it is humiliating to me--and what was painful to me before,
has now become impossible. Mamma may determine on what she likes, but I
will not set my foot ..."

Waldemar laid his hand kindly on the boy's arm. "Do not say it out,
Leo. Later on you may feel yourself bound by a word spoken in haste.
You are in no way concerned in the matter. I offered my mother a home
at Wilicza, and she accepted it. Under existing circumstances, it was
no more than my duty. I could not consent to her staying with strangers
for any length of time--so the plan still holds good. Besides, you will
be going to the University, and at most will only run over to Wilicza
in the holidays to see my mother. If she thinks the arrangement
compatible with her pride, you may very well put up with it."

"But I know that our whole living depends on it!" cried Leo,
impulsively. "I have insulted you--I feel it now--and you cannot
require me to accept anything at your hands!"

"You have offered me no offence," said Waldemar, gravely. "On the
contrary, you are the only one who has been true to me; and if your
words stung me at first, I thank you for them now. You should only have
spoken sooner; but I could hardly expect you to play the part of
informer. I understand that nothing but the passion of the moment would
have forced the disclosure from you. Your intervention rent away a net
in which I lay captive, and you do not suppose I am so weak a creature
as to complain of that. Between us two all enmity is at an end."

Resentment and a feeling of shame were struggling together in Leo's
mind. He knew right well that he had been prompted by jealousy alone,
and felt his share in the fault the more keenly, the more he was
absolved from blame. He had counted on a violent scene with his
brother, of whose passionate temper he had had sufficient proofs; but
now he stood before him utterly disconcerted. The young Prince was not
yet experienced enough in the reading of men's hearts to see, or even
to dream of, all that lay behind Waldemar's incomprehensible calm,
or to guess by what an effort it was assumed. He accepted it as
genuine. One thing he clearly felt, and that was his brother's evident
desire that neither he nor the Princess should suffer by what had
occurred--that it should still be possible for them to accept a home
from him. Perhaps under similar circumstances Leo would not have been
capable of a like generosity; but for this very reason he felt it to
its fullest extent.

"Waldemar, I am sorry for what has happened," he said, frankly holding
out his hand. There was nothing constrained about his manner this
time--the impulse came straight from his heart--and this time his
brother grasped the offered hand unhesitatingly.

"Promise me to go with our mother to Wilicza. I ask it of you," he went
on, more gravely, as Leo was about to resist. "If you really think you
have given me ground for offence, I ask this favour of you as the price
of our reconciliation."

Leo drooped his head. He gave up all resistance now. "So you will not
say good-bye to my mother yourself?" he asked, after a pause. "That
will grieve her."

A very bitter smile played about Waldemar's lips as he replied, "She
will be able to bear it. Good-bye, Leo. I am glad at least to have seen
you again."

The young Prince looked for one instant into his brother's face, then,
with a sudden rush of feeling, he threw his arms round his neck.
Waldemar submitted to the embrace in silence; but he did not respond to
it, though it was the first demonstration of the kind between the two.

"Good-bye," said Leo, somewhat chilled, and letting his arms fall to
his sides again.

A few minutes later the carriage which had brought young Baratowski
rolled out of the courtyard again, and Waldemar returned to the room
they had just left. Any one seeing him now--seeing how his lips
twitched convulsively, how his features were drawn in a tension
of pain, how fixed and full of misery was his look--would have
discerned the real state of the case, have understood why the cold,
self-possessed tone he had maintained throughout the interview had been
adopted. His pride, which had received so mortal a wound, had roused
itself to action once more. Leo must not see that he was suffering,
must on no account take back that report to C----. But now such
self-control was no longer needed; now the wounds bled afresh. Strong
and violent, as was his whole character, had been Waldemar's love, the
first tender emotion that had sprung up in the heart of the desolate,
uncultured youth. He had loved Wanda with all the glow of passion, but
also with the reverent worship of a first pure affection; and if the
discovery that he had been trifled with and scoffed at did not
altogether ruin him, that hour in which his boyish ideal was shattered
and destroyed took from him much that makes life desirable--took from
him his youth and his trust in his fellow-men.



                            PART THE SECOND.



                               CHAPTER I.


Castle Wilicza, which gave its name to all the lands appertaining to
it, formed, as has already been mentioned, the central point of a great
agglomeration of estates situated near the frontier. Rarely indeed does
so extensive a property come into the hands of one man; still more
rarely does it happen that the owner shows so little interest in his
possessions as was here the case. Judicious, systematic management had
ever been wanting to the Wilicza domain. The late master, Nordeck, had
been a speculator, and had acquired his fortune by a speculator's
talents; he could play the part of a great landed proprietor neither as
regards a practical nor a social point of view, and was not long in
discovering that he was well-nigh at the mercy of his agents. He at
once rid himself of all care for the separate outlying estates by
letting them off, and they were still held by the various tenants who
had leased them. Wilicza itself, his own residence, was excepted from
the rule, and given over to the administration of a steward.

The chief wealth of the property consisted, however, in the extensive
forests, which covered nearly two-thirds of the domain, and required
for their inspection a perfect army of foresters and rangers. They
formed a distinct branch of the administration, and were the principal
source of those vast revenues which yearly flowed into the proprietor's
coffers.

At Nordeck's death, the guardian of the infant heir, stepping into his
friend's shoes, suffered all existing arrangements to remain
undisturbed, partly out of a pious regard to the dead man's wishes,
partly because such a course seemed to him advisable in the interest
of the property. Herr Witold managed the Altenhof estate extremely
well--it was on a scale small enough for him to take the entire
direction of it into his own hands; but to the grander ratio of Wilicza
affairs the Squire showed himself altogether unequal--he had neither
measure nor grasp for them. He thought he had done his duty to the
uttermost when he had gone as carefully as possible through the
accounts and vouchers submitted to him, which he was necessarily
obliged to take on trust--when he had conscientiously invested the
incoming funds with a due regard to his ward's interests; and, for the
rest, he relied on the agents, who were allowed to act in everything
according to their own good will and pleasure. This sort of management
would have ruined most landowners, but it could not make any very
formidable breach in the Nordeck fortune; for, if hundreds were lost
here and there, thousands and tens of thousands remained behind, and
the enormous revenues of the domain, of which at present the young heir
could only enjoy a very limited fraction, not only covered every chance
deficit, but went continually to swell the capital. That the estates
produced less than by skilful hands they might have been made to
produce, was incontestable; but the guardian cared little for that, and
young Nordeck even less.

The young man had gone to the University shortly after his coming of
age, and from thence he had set out on his travels. For years he had
not shown himself at Wilicza; he seemed to have no love for the place.

The Castle itself presented a striking contrast to most of the
noblemen's seats around, which, with few exceptions, hardly deserved
the name of castles, and whereof the decay and ruin were often not to
be hidden by a certain outward splendour maintained by their owners at
any cost. The exterior of Wilicza was such as became the old
seigneurial residence of many a prince and count during two centuries.
It dated from the country's brightest period, when the might of the
nobility still went hand in hand with its wealth, when its chateaux
were the scene of a luxury and magnificence hardly known in these our
days. The castle could not exactly be described as beautiful, and would
hardly have found grace in the eyes of an artist. The taste which gave
it being was undeniably of a rude order; but it was imposing by its
massive structure and by the grandeur of its design. In spite of all
the changes it had undergone in the course of years, it still retained
its old original character; and the great edifice, with its long rows
of windows, its broad expanse of lawn, and vast, finely wooded park,
stood out, somewhat sombre perhaps, but grand and majestic, from the
circle of magnificent forests which surrounded it.

After the death of the late owner, the castle had stood for many years
empty and deserted. At very rare intervals the young heir came in
company of his guardian, but he never stayed more than a few weeks at a
time. The desolate solitude of the place vanished, however, when its
former mistress, the present widowed Princess Baratowska, returned to
take up her abode at Wilicza. The apartments, which had been so long
shut up, were thrown open once more, and the costly decorations and
furniture with which Nordeck had fitted up the different suites of
rooms on the occasion of his marriage, were renewed and restored to all
their pristine splendour. The present proprietor had assigned to his
mother's use the income arising from the Castle lands--a sum
inconsiderable to him, yet sufficient to secure to the Princess and her
younger son means 'suitable to their position,' however broad an
interpretation she might choose to put on the words. She made full use
of the funds at her disposal, and her surroundings and manner of life
were ordered on the same scale as in past times, when the young
Countess Morynska came to rule as mistress in Wilicza, and her husband
still loved to parade his wealth before her and her relations.

It was the beginning of October. The autumnal wind was sharp already as
it swept over the forests, where the foliage was gradually changing its
tints, and the sun often fought its way with difficulty through the
thick mists which enveloped the landscape. To-day again the veil had
only lifted towards noon, but now the sun shone brightly into the
_salon_ which communicated with the Princess's study, and in which she
usually sat. It was a large apartment, lofty and somewhat gloomy, like
all the rooms in the Castle, with deep window-niches and a spacious
chimney-place, where, as a protection against the chills of autumn, a
fire was sparkling. The heavy dark-green curtains were thrown far back,
and the full daylight streaming in displayed the solid handsome
furniture, in all which the same dark-green hue predominated.

The only occupants of the room at the present moment were Count
Morynski and the Princess. The Count often came over with his daughter
from Rakowicz, and would spend days, even weeks, with his sister. On
this occasion he had arrived on a long visit. The years which had
passed over his head had left visible traces--his hair had grown
greyer, and there were more lines imprinted on his forehead--but the
expression of that grave, characteristic face remained unaltered. In
the Princess, on the other hand, there was hardly any change. The
features of this still beautiful woman were as cold and proud, her
bearing as haughty, as in the old days. Although at the expiration of
the year she had laid aside her deep widow's mourning, she yet
constantly dressed in black; and her dark, though exceedingly rich,
attire set off her tall figure to full advantage. She was now engaged
in an animated conversation with her brother.

"I do not understand why the news should surprise you," said she. "We
must both of us have been prepared for it for some time. To me, at
least, it has always been a matter for wonder that Waldemar should
remain so long and so persistently absent from his estates."

"That is just what causes my surprise," said the Count. "He has avoided
Wilicza hitherto in the most evident manner. Why should he come now so
suddenly, without any previous intimation of his plan? What can he want
here?"

"What should he want but to hunt and shoot?" replied the Princess. "You
know he has inherited from his father a passion for sport. I am
convinced that he only chose the University of J---- because it lies in
a well-wooded country; and that, instead of attending the lectures, he
roamed about all day with his gun and bag. It will have been the same,
no doubt, on his travels. It is certain that he thinks of, and cares
for, nothing but sport."

"He could not come at a worse time," said Morynski. "Just now
everything depends upon your remaining complete mistress here. Rakowicz
lies too far from the frontier. We are watched on all sides, hemmed in
by all manner of difficulties. It is absolutely necessary we should
keep Wilicza in our hands."

"I know it," said the Princess, "and I will take care so to keep it.
You are right, the visit comes at a most inopportune moment; but I
cannot prevent my son from visiting his own estates when he thinks
proper. We must be very prudent."

The Count waved his hand impatiently.

"Prudence alone will not suffice. We ought simply to give up the whole
business while Waldemar stays at the Castle, and that is impossible."

"It is not necessary either, for he will be little enough at the
Castle, or I am mistaken in the charm which our forests must exercise
over such a son of Nimrod. With Nordeck this passion for sport became
at last a perfect mania, and Waldemar is exactly like his father in
this respect. We shall not see much of him; he will be out all day in
the forests, and will, assuredly, pay no attention to what is going on
at Wilicza. The only thing here which can have any interest for him is
the great collection of guns in the armoury, and that we will willingly
leave to him."

There was a sort of half-contemptuous raillery in her words; but the
Count's voice was grave and a little doubtful as he answered--

"Four years have gone by since you saw Waldemar. You could do what you
liked with him then, it is true, though at first I greatly doubted your
power over him. It is to be hoped you will succeed as well now."

"I think it likely," returned the Princess, with calm assurance.
"Besides, he is really not so difficult to manage as you imagine. His
stubborn self-will furnishes the very best hold over him. You have only
to give way to his rough violence in the first moment, and maintain him
in the implicit belief that his will is to be respected, come what may,
and you have him altogether in your hands. If we tell him every day
that he is sole and unrestricted master of Wilicza, it will not occur
to him to wish to be so in reality. I do not credit him with sufficient
intelligence for any very deep interest in the state of affairs on his
estates. We may make our minds easy."

"I must depend altogether on your judgment in the matter," said
Morynski. "I myself have only seen him twice. When did you receive the
letter?"

"This morning, about an hour before you arrived. According to it, we
may expect Waldemar any day; he was already on his road hither. He
writes in his usual laconic way, giving no details. You know that our
correspondence has never been remarkable for prolixity. We have never
communicated to each other more details than were necessary."

The Count looked down thoughtfully. "Does he come alone?"

"With his former tutor, who is his constant companion. I thought at
first the man might prove useful, that we might gain from him some
fuller accounts of Waldemar's doings and manner of life at the
University, but I was mistaken. Of course, my son's studies served
me as a pretext for seeking information from him, and I received in
reply nothing but learned dissertations on the subject of those
studies, not a word of what I wanted to know. My questions did not
appear to be understood, so at last I broke off the fruitless
correspondence--otherwise, this Dr. Fabian is one of the most harmless
creatures in the world. We have nothing to apprehend from his presence,
and certainly nothing from his influence, for he possesses none."

"It is Waldemar who principally concerns us," said the Count. "If you
think there will be no inconvenient watchfulness in that quarter ..."

"At all events, there will be none keener than that which we have had
to endure day by day for months together," interrupted his sister. "I
should think the steward must have taught us caution by this time."

"Yes, that Frank and his household are acting as so many spies upon
us," exclaimed Morynski, hotly. "I wonder, Hedwiga, you have never been
able to rid us of that troublesome personage."

The Princess smiled in her superior wisdom.

"Compose yourself, Bronislaus. The steward will very shortly give in
his resignation. I could not proceed against him earlier. He has been
twenty years at his post, and has always acquitted himself of his
duties in an irreproachable manner. I had no grounds for requiring his
dismissal. I preferred to manage so that he should give notice himself,
which he did yesterday--only by word of mouth, so far, and to me; but
the formal announcement of it will follow ere long. I attach much
importance to its coming from _him_, particularly now that a visit from
Waldemar is impending."

The Count's features, which during the whole interview had evinced
unmistakable anxiety, gradually relaxed into calm.

"It was high time," said he, with evident satisfaction; "that Frank was
growing to be a real danger. Unfortunately, we must still put up with
him for a time. His contract stipulates for a notice of several
months."

"It does; but the clause will not be insisted on. The steward has long
been independent of his situation; it is even said he means to buy a
place of his own. Besides this, he is a man of high spirit; one scene
that hurt his pride, and he would go at once. I give you my word for
it! That will not be difficult to obtain, now that he has once decided
upon going. What, Leo, back from your walk already?"

The last words were addressed to the young Prince, who at that moment
entered the room and came up to them.

"Wanda would not stay in the park any longer," he answered. "I was
coming ... But perhaps I am interrupting a consultation?"

Count Morynski rose. "We have finished. I have just heard of your
brother's expected arrival, and we were discussing the consequences,
one of which will be that our present visit must be shortened. We shall
remain to-morrow for the _fête_, but return next day to Rakowicz before
Waldemar makes his appearance. He ought not, on coming home, to find us
here as guests of his house."

"Why not?" asked the Princess, coolly. "On account of that old childish
folly, do you mean? Pooh! who gives it a thought now? Certainly not
Wanda! And Waldemar--well, in four years he has had time to get over
the imagined insult! That his heart was not deeply involved in the
matter we know through Leo, to whom but a week afterwards he declared
that he had forgotten the whole affair. Our sojourn at Wilicza, too, is
proof enough that he no longer attaches any importance to it. I
consider it will be most judicious and show the best tact for us to
ignore the matter altogether. If Wanda meets him without any
embarrassment, in a cousinly way, he will hardly remember that he once
cherished a romantic feeling for her."

"Perhaps it would be wisest," said the Count, as he turned to go. "At
all events, I will talk it over with Wanda."

Leo, contrary to his habit, had taken no part in the conversation; and
now that his uncle had left the room, he sat down in his place without
speaking. He had looked agitated on his entrance, and there were still
signs in his face of a perturbation he strove in vain to hide. His
mother, at least, had remarked it at once.

"Your intended walk was soon over," she said, nonchalantly. "Where is
Wanda?"

"In her room--or so I suppose."

"You suppose only? There has been a quarrel between you again, I
conclude. Do not attempt to deny it, Leo. Your face tells the tale
plainly enough; and, moreover, I know you never leave Wanda's side
unless she drives you away from her."

"Yes, she often seems to find a peculiar pleasure in driving me from
her," said Leo, with unfeigned bitterness.

"And you often torment her by your unfounded jealousy of every one who
approaches her. I am convinced that has been the cause of your
disagreement today."

The young Prince was silent, thereby confirming his mother's
supposition. She went on a little satirically, "It is the old story: a
love uncrossed makes sorrows for itself. You have the rare good fortune
to be able to follow the impulse of your hearts without impediment,
with the full approval of your parents, and now you make your lives
uncomfortable in this manner. I will not attempt to exonerate Wanda
from her share of the blame. I am not blind to her advantages, which
grow more and more striking now that she has laid aside her childish
ways; but what I feared from the first day I gave her back to her
father has unfortunately come to pass. With his unbounded tenderness,
his adoration, he has prepared a hard task for you and me. Wanda knows
no will but her own. She is accustomed to have her way in everything;
and you, I regret to say, do not teach her that others can be firm as
well as she."

"I assure you, mother, I was not very yielding to Wanda to-day,"
replied Leo, in a voice still vibrating with anger.

The Princess shrugged her shoulders. "Perhaps not to-day; but to-morrow
you will be on your knees before her, begging her pardon. She has
invariably brought you to it. How often must I explain to you that that
is not the way to inspire a proud and wilful girl with the respect to
which the future husband should lay claim!"

"But I am not capable of such cool calculation," cried Leo,
passionately. "When I love, when I worship a woman with all my soul, I
cannot for ever be thinking whether my conduct towards her is such as
befits the future husband."

"Do not complain then if your passion is not returned in the measure
you desire," said the Princess, coldly. "If I know anything of Wanda,
she will never love the man who bows to her authority, but rather him
who resists it. A nature such as hers should be forced into surrender,
and that you have never understood."

He turned away, muttering in his ill humour--

"After all, I have no right to Wanda's love. I have never been
permitted to make our engagement known. Our marriage is put off to some
distant, indefinite time ..."

"Because it is not now the moment to be thinking of betrothals and
weddings," interrupted his mother, with much decision and energy.
"Because there are other and graver tasks before you than that of
adoring a young wife who would banish everything else from your mind!
'Some distant, indefinite time!' when it is only a question of a year's
delay! First win your bride; the opportunity will not long be wanting,
and Wanda herself would never consent to marry you until you have
earned her favour. But this brings us to another subject, which I am
forced to touch upon. Leo, your uncle is not pleased with you."

"Has he been accusing me to you?" asked the young man, looking up with
a frown.

"He has, unfortunately, been forced to speak to me. Must I remind you
that to your superior in age, your relative and leader, you owe
unreserved obedience? Instead of obeying, however, you place new and
unnecessary difficulties in his path--put yourself at the head of a
band of young men, your own contemporaries, and offer him open
opposition. What does this mean?"

A look of stubborn defiance came into Leo's face, as he answered, "We
are no children to be led without a will of our own. If we are younger,
we have still a right to our opinion; and we are resolved not to bear
this eternal hesitation, these doubts and fears which hold us back."

"Do you suppose that my brother will allow himself to be drawn by young
Hotspurs such as you into a course he knows to be ruinous?" asked the
Princess, sharply. "You are much mistaken. It was hard work for him
before to keep all the clashing elements in check, and now he has the
vexation of seeing his own nephew set the example of disobedience."

"I only contested his decision, nothing more," said the young Prince,
defending himself. "I love and honour Morynski as your brother, still
more as Wanda's father; but it wounds me that he will not admit my
right to independence. You yourself repeat to me continually that my
name and descent entitle me to the first place, and my uncle requires
me to be satisfied with a subordinate one."

"Because he dares not confide the direction of all-important matters to
a hot head of one and twenty. You misjudge your uncle altogether. He
has been denied an heir, and, idolise Wanda as he may, those hopes
which only a son can realise are concentrated on you--you who are so
closely connected with him by ties of blood, and who will shortly be to
him indeed a son. If, for the present, he thinks it necessary to
restrain your ardour, for the future he counts upon your fresh young
strength, when his own shall begin to fail. I have his word that, when
the decisive moment arrives, Prince Leo Baratowski shall assume the
position which is his due. We both hope you will show yourself worthy
of it."

"Do you doubt it?" cried Leo, springing up with flashing eyes.

His mother laid her hand soothingly on his arm. "Most assuredly we do
not doubt your courage. What you lack is reflection, and I fear you
will never learn it, for you have your father's temperament. Baratowski
would blaze out as you do, without considering obstacles, or staying to
inquire whether things were possible, and often enough has his
impetuosity brought trouble both on himself and me. But you are my son
as well, Leo, and I fancy you must have inherited something from your
mother also. I have answered for you to my brother. It will be for you
to redeem my surety."

Earnest as were her words, they breathed of such fond, motherly pride
that Leo threw his arms round her in a burst of loving emotion. The
Princess smiled. She was but rarely accessible to soft touches of
feeling; but at this moment all a mother's tenderness was in her look
and in her tone, as, returning her son's embrace, she said, "What _my_
hopes for your future are, my Leo, I need not now repeat to you; I have
told you again and again. You have ever been to me my all, my only
one."

"Your only one?" the young Prince reminded her a little reproachfully.
"You forget my brother?"

"Waldemar?" The Princess drew herself up. At mention of this name all
softness vanished from her features, all tenderness from her voice. Her
countenance was grave and severe as before, and her tone icy cold as
she went on, "Yes, truly, I had forgotten Waldemar. Fate has decreed
that he should be master of Wilicza. We shall have to endure him."



                              CHAPTER II.


At no great distance from the Castle stood the dwelling of Herr Frank,
the land-steward. The administration of the Wilicza estates had ever
been carried on distinct from the Castle, which, whether it were
inhabited or not, stood apart in stately seclusion, while the
management of the property was left exclusively in the hands of the
agent. The latter's handsome house, with its surrounding buildings and
offices, almost all newly erected, excited much admiration; and the
order reigning throughout the farm, so different from what was to be
seen on the neighbouring estates, was marvelled at, though not
imitated, by the whole country-side. The position of the Wilicza
steward was, indeed, one which many a landed proprietor might have
envied, both as regarded income and his manner of life.

It was growing dusk. Over at the Castle the long rows of windows on the
first story were being gradually illuminated; there was a grand
reception at the Princess's. In the agent's parlour no light had
as yet been kindled, and the two gentlemen sitting there were so
absorbed by their conversation that they did not appear to notice the
ever-increasing darkness.

The elder of these was a fine man of noble presence, still in the prime
of life, and with a frank and exceedingly sunburnt face. The younger,
on the other hand, bore in his whole appearance evident marks of town
breeding. In spite of his rather diminutive stature, he might be
considered a good-looking man. His carefully curled hair, and the
fashionable cut of his clothes, gave him somewhat of the air of a
dandy; but there was no affectation of this in his manner. On the
contrary, his speech and bearing were weighted with an excess of
dignity and importance which occasionally came into rather comic
contrast with his small person. "The thing is settled, I shall go!" the
elder man was saying. "I made known to the Princess the day before
yesterday that I intended doing her the pleasure of turning my back on
Wilicza, since to that her man[oe]uvres have long been tending. I got
no further in my disclosures, for she interrupted me in her majestic
way, 'My good Frank, I sincerely regret that you are wishing to leave
us; but I will place no obstacles in your path. Be persuaded that your
long and active service at Wilicza will be forgotten neither by my son
nor myself.' She said that to me--to me, whom she has systematically
hunted out! Do you think I could make head against that look and tone?
I had intended to relieve my mind at length by telling her the whole
truth, as a parting compliment; but at this--I made my bow and went."

The younger man shook his head. "A remarkable woman, but a most
dangerous one! We Government men have proofs of it. I tell you, Herr
Frank, that Princess Baratowska is a source of danger to the whole
province."

"Stuff and nonsense!" said the agent, irritably; "but she is a source
of danger to Wilicza. She has contrived now to get the whole property
under her dominion. I was the last stumbling-block in her way; and, at
last, she is ridding herself of me. You may believe me, Herr Assessor,
when I say I have held out as long as I possibly could; not for the
sake of the post--thank God, I am sufficiently before the world to
stand on my own feet any day--but I don't like to think of all I have
worked for and accomplished these last twenty years going to the dogs
now because the old Polish management is to the fore again. When I came
to the place, Herr Nordeck had been dead a few years, his son was
living with his guardian at Altenhof, and farmers, foresters, and
agents were working the concern merrily as best suited themselves. Here
at Wilicza things were worst of all. My predecessor had robbed so
openly and audaciously that it grew too strong even for Herr Witold,
who, one fine day, dismissed him summarily. The Castle, the
magnificence of which was talked of far and wide, stood shut up and
deserted. Of the state of things in the village and on the farms about,
I can give you no idea. Miserable wood and clay huts tumbling down over
one's head, dirt and disorder whichever way one turned; the lower
orders cringing, false, and full of pious national hatred to the
'German'; the fields in a condition to make a good farmer's heart sick
within him. There was need, truly, of a pair of strong fists to the
rescue. It was a good six months before I could send for my wife and
children, because, outside the Castle, there was not what to our
notions would seem a single habitable house to be found anywhere about.
How could it be otherwise? The deceased Nordeck had never done anything
but hunt and shoot, and quarrel with his wife, and Herr Witold did
nothing at all. There were a few rows regularly each time he came; but,
in general, he let himself be led by the nose, and that was pretty well
known throughout the place. If the accounts were down on paper in black
and white, and the figures added up right, then all was as it should
be; whether the expenditure were real or fictitious, he never troubled
himself to inquire. What sums I had to ask for at first to bring the
concern into anything like order! They were granted me without delay or
difficulty; and the fact that I really employed them on the estate,
instead of putting them into my own pockets like my worthy colleagues,
was a mere hazard. Mine was an exceptional case. But the old gentleman
had some glimmering of the fact that I was the only honest man of the
whole set, for at the end of the first year he raised my salary and
commission, so that I, with my honesty, fared just as well as the
others with their thieving; and if he had lived, I should never have
left Wilicza, in spite of the Princess's intrigues. She was too wise to
attack me in those days. She knew I had only to write to Altenhof and
put Heir Witold up to what was going on, and there would have been an
explosion. He had still influence enough over his adopted son to
procure me liberty of action. During his lifetime I was left in peace;
but when he died, all that was over. What good does it do me that my
contract guarantees me a free and independent position? When these
continual encroachments proceed from the Castle itself and are
authorised by the owner's mother, there is nothing for me but either to
bear them, or to go. I have borne them long enough, and now I shall
go."

"But it is a real misfortune for Wilicza!" struck in the Assessor. "You
were the only one who ventured in some degree to resist the Princess,
whose sharp eyes inspired a wholesome fear. If you go, they will have
full scope for all their secret machinations. We Government men"--he
each time laid great stress on these words--"best know what will be the
consequences if the Nordeck estates, with all their vast extent and
confounded proximity to the frontier, come under the rule of a
Baratowska."

"Yes, she has made good progress in the space of four years," said the
steward, bitterly. "She set to work on the very first day, and has
continued slowly, but surely, advancing always towards her aim with an
energy one cannot but admire. When some time ago the farm leases
expired, she contrived that they should all be taken up by men of her
own nationality. They applied for and acquired them. Herr Nordeck
probably never knew that there were any other applicants. From the
administration of the woods and forests every German element has been
gradually expelled. The whole staff is now composed of obedient
partisans of the Princess. How often I have had to interfere in the
most energetic manner, in my endeavour to keep my German inspectors and
overseers in their situations! It grew to be of no use at last. They
went of their own free will, tired out by the refractoriness of the
people; and we are pretty well aware who urged and incited the
underlings on to resist. I think I know my successor in office. He is a
drunken lout who understands as good as nothing of agricultural
economy, and who will altogether ruin Wilicza, just as the tenants and
foresters are busy ruining the other estates and the woodlands; but he
is a National of the purest water, and that is enough for the Princess.
He is sure of the post."

"If Herr Nordeck would only make up his mind to come!" said the
Assessor. "He has no suspicion, I dare say, of what is going on here on
his property."

Frank shrugged his shoulders. "The young master? As if he ever troubled
his head about Wilicza! He has never set foot in it for the last ten
years; he likes roaming about the world better. I hoped that, on
reaching his majority, he would come here for some length of time, and
there was some talk of it at first; but he stayed away, and sent us
instead his lady mother, who lost no time in assuming the reins of
government. None of the officials are in direct communication with him.
We send in all our accounts, make our payments, and address all our
statements and demands to the magistrate at L----. Besides, before I
decided to go, I tried my last resource, and wrote to Herr Nordeck
myself. I knew that my position was untenable; but I thought it my
duty, after twenty years' service, to make him acquainted with the
doings here, and to tell him frankly that, if matters went on so, not
even his fortune would be able to stand it. I sent the letter off a
month ago, and--would you believe it?--I have never had an answer. No,
from that quarter there is nothing to hope.--But with all this worry, I
am forgetting that we are sitting in the dark. I can't think why
Gretchen does not bring in the lamp as usual. She probably does not
know you are here."

"Yes, she does," said the Assessor, in a tone of pique. "Fräulein
Margaret was in the hall when I drove up; but she did not give me time
to speak to her. She ran upstairs as fast as she could, right up to the
garret."

Frank looked a little embarrassed.

"No, no, you must have been mistaken."

"Right up to the garret," repeated the little gentleman, emphatically,
raising his eyebrows and looking fixedly at the steward, as though
calling on him to join in his indignation; but Frank only laughed.

"I am sorry for it; but with the best will in the world, I can't help
you."

"You can help me very much," cried the Assessor, warmly. "A father's
authority is unbounded, and if you were to say to your daughter that it
was your will and desire ..."

"That I will never do," interrupted Frank, with quiet decision. "You
know that I place no obstacle in the way of your suit. I believe you
have a sincere affection for my daughter, and I have no objection to
make to you either personally or as regards your circumstances; but to
obtain the girl's consent is your business. I shall not meddle with
that. If she, of her own accord, thinks fit to say yes, you'll be
welcome to me as a son-in-law; but I must say there seems to me little
chance of it."

"You are wrong, Herr Frank," said the Assessor, confidently. "You are
most decidedly wrong. True, Fräulein Margaret sometimes treats me
rather strangely--inconsiderately, I may say; but that is nothing but
the usual bashfulness of young girls. They like to be sought and won,
like to hold back, so as to make the prize of greater value. I
understand them perfectly. Make your mind easy. I shall certainly
succeed."

"I shall be glad of it," replied the agent, breaking off shortly as the
object of their conversation came into the room, carrying the lamp in
her hand.

Gretchen Frank might be about twenty. She was no delicate, ideal
beauty, but a true living picture of youth and health. There was
something of her father's stately vigour about her; and, as the bright
rays from the lamp fell on her fresh rosy face, with its clear blue
eyes and fair crown of plaits, she looked so charming that it was easy
to understand how the Assessor at once forgot that flight to the
garret, and sprang to his feet in a violent hurry in order to greet the
maiden.

"Good evening, Herr Assessor," said she, returning his greeting
somewhat coolly. "So it was you who drove into the courtyard just now.
I certainly did not expect that, as you were here only last Sunday."

The Assessor thought proper not to notice the last words. "Official
business brings me here this time," he replied; "an affair of great
importance which has been entrusted to me, and will detain me in this
neighbourhood for some days. I have taken the liberty of making a claim
on your father's hospitality. We Government men are having a bad time
of it just now, Fräulein Margaret. There is a sort of dull ferment
abroad everywhere, secret machinations, revolutionary tendencies! The
whole province is one nest of conspirators."

"You hardly need tell us that," said the agent, drily. "I think we are
at the fountain head for such news here at Wilicza."

"Yes, this Wilicza is the real centre of all their plots and
intrigues," cried the Assessor, warmly. "They dare not play their game
so openly at Rakowicz. It is too near L----, and is enclosed on all
sides by German settlements. That somewhat shackles the noble Count
Morynski; here, on the other hand, he has free elbow-room."

"And the most favourable ground to work on," added Frank; "the Nordeck
domain extending to the very frontier, and all the foresters, rangers,
and inspectors at the beck and call of the Princess! You would say such
a sharp look-out is kept that not a cat could get across without its
being known; and yet every night of our lives there is passing to and
fro, and all who come from out yonder find open doors at Wilicza,
though, to be sure, for the present they are only the back doors."

"We know it all, Herr Frank," asserted the Assessor, with a look
which betokened omniscience, to say the least. "All, I tell you; but we
can do nothing, for proofs are wanting. We can discover absolutely
nothing. At the approach of one of our people the whole busy hive
vanishes--sinks, so to speak, into the earth. My present mission is
connected with these doings; and as you have the superintendence of the
police here, I shall in some measure have to rely on you for help."

"If I must, I must; but you know how unwillingly I lend my hand to such
services--though over at the Castle they insist upon it that I am a spy
and a detective, because I will not deliberately close my eyes, and
when the people turn refractory I proceed against them with all
severity."

"But you must. There are two dangerous persons wandering about this
neighbourhood under all manner of pretexts, who must be placed in safe
custody if possible. I am on their traces already. On my road hither I
met two most suspicious-looking individuals. They were on foot."

Gretchen laughed out. "Is that a reason for suspecting them? Perhaps
they had no money to pay the post."

"I beg your pardon, Fräulein. They had even money enough for a private
post-chaise, for they had passed me in one previously; but at the last
station they left the carriage, and made all sorts of the most minute
inquiries about Wilicza. They declined the proffered guide, and
continued their journey on foot, avoiding the main road, and striking
off straight across the fields. They could give no account of
themselves to the post-master. I, unfortunately, did not reach the
station until after they had left it, and as dusk was coming on apace,
all further investigations were at an end for to-day; but to-morrow I
intend to set about them in earnest. The two men must still be lurking
somewhere in the neighbourhood."

"Perhaps over there, even," said Gretchen, pointing in the direction of
the Castle, with its long rows of illuminated windows shining across
through the darkness. "There is a great meeting of conspirators this
evening at the Princess's."

The Assessor started up. "Meeting of conspirators? How? Do you know it
for a certainty? I will surprise them, I will ..."

The steward pushed him laughingly down into his seat again. "Don't let
yourself be taken in. It is only an absurd notion of the girl's own,
nothing more."

"But, papa, you yourself said not long ago that there are good and
special reasons for all the gaieties which are going on at the Castle,"
interposed Gretchen.

"I certainly am of that opinion. Much as the Princess may love show and
splendour, I am convinced that at a time like the present she can have
no real heart for such festive doings. These great hunting parties and
balls are the simplest, the most convenient pretext for calling all
Wilicza together without exciting surprise or remark. They dine and
dance, no doubt. Appearances have to be kept up--but most of the guests
remain all night at the Castle, and that which goes on when the great
chandeliers are put out is perhaps of not quite so innocent a nature."

The Assessor listened breathlessly to a discussion which for him was
fraught with the profoundest interest. Unfortunately it was interrupted
at this point, the steward's attention being called off. News was
brought him that his own very valuable riding horse had been seized by
an attack of illness which seemed likely to take a serious turn. Frank
went himself to look after the animal, leaving the two young people
alone.

Fräulein Margaret was evidently put out by this unexpected
_tête-à-tête_ with the Assessor, to whom, on the other hand, it
appeared highly acceptable. He twisted his moustaches, passed his white
hands through his carefully curled hair, and resolved upon making the
most of so favourable an opportunity.

"Herr Frank has been telling me that he intends to give up his post
here," he began. "The thought that he and his were about leaving
Wilicza would, under other circumstances, have been a heavy blow to
me--would have come upon me, so to speak, like a thunderclap; but as I
myself am not likely to remain very long in L---- ..."

"Are you going away?" asked the girl, in surprise.

The Assessor smiled self-consciously. "You know, Fräulein Margaret,
that to us officials promotion generally means a change of place, and I
hope soon to advance in my career."

"Really?"

"Undoubtedly. I am already Government Assessor, and in a state like
ours that is saying sufficient. It is in some sort the first rung of
the great official ladder which leads straight up to the Minister's
seat."

"Well, you have got a long way to go," said Gretchen, rather
distrustfully.

The little gentleman leaned back with an air of dignity, as though the
cane chair on which he was seated were already the before-named stool
of office.

"Such an eminence is not, it is true, attained in a day; but for the
future ... one should always keep great things in view, Fräulein,
always propose to one's self the highest aims. Ambition is the
placeman's spur. As for myself, I daily expect to be raised to the rank
of Counsellor."[2]

"But you have been expecting that a long time," said the young girl.

"Because envy and malevolence are constantly blocking the path," cried
the Assessor, with a burst of wounded feeling. "We younger officials
are kept down by our superiors as long as we possibly can be. Hitherto
I have had no opportunity of distinguishing myself, but at last they
have seen the necessity of confiding to me a mission of importance. His
Excellency the President himself gave the necessary instructions, and
charged me to make a personal report to him of the result of my
researches. If things go well, I am sure of the Counsellorship."

He looked so significantly at the young lady, as he uttered these last
words, that she could entertain no doubt as to who would be the future
Counsellor's bride-elect. Notwithstanding this, she preserved an
obstinate silence.

"In that case a change of place would necessarily follow," continued
the Assessor. "I should in all probability remove to the capital. I
have influential connections there. You do not know the capital,
Fräulein ..." And thereupon he began to describe the city life and
amusements, to vaunt the influential relatives, skilfully contriving to
group all these advantages around himself as central figure. Gretchen
listened, half curious, half thoughtful. The brilliant pictures now
unrolled before her were seductive to the eyes of a young country-bred
maiden. She leaned her blonde head on her hand, and gazed meditatively
at the table-cover. Evidently, to her thinking, the drawback lay in
that unavoidable corollary of the present Assessor and future
Counsellor. The latter saw his advantage right well, however, and made
no delay in following it up. He prepared to open a full battery on the
besieged fort.

"But, in spite of all this, I shall feel lonely and desolate there," he
said, pathetically, "for I shall leave my heart behind, Fräulein
Margaret."

Gretchen grew frightened. She saw that the Assessor, who after
pronouncing her name had made a long dramatic pause, was now rising
from his chair with the unmistakable intention of falling on his knees
before her. The solemnity and ceremony with which he went through these
preliminaries to a love scene were, however, destined to prove fatal to
him. They gave the girl time for reflection. She sprang up in her turn.

"Excuse me one minute. I think--I think the house door has fallen to.
Papa won't be able to get in when he comes back. I must go and open
it!" and she rushed out of the room.

The Assessor stood with his dramatic pause, and knees half bent to do
her homage, the picture of consternation. It was the second time to-day
his chosen one had fled from him, and such bashfulness began to be
inconvenient. But it never occurred to him to think of a serious
resistance. She was acting from caprice, coquetry, perhaps even--the
suitor smiled--fear of his irresistible ascendancy. Evidently she dared
not say him nay, so took flight in charming confusion, postponing the
decisive moment. There was something exceedingly consoling to the
Assessor in this thought, and though he regretted having once more
failed to attain his object, he never doubted of his final victory. He
so thoroughly understood what he was about!

The pretext used by the young girl was not altogether a vain one. The
hall door, pushed by some careless hand, had really closed with a bang.
It is true that, at his return, the steward would only have had to call
from outside to one of the maids to have it opened; but his daughter
did not seem to think of this. She rushed through the adjoining room
out into the hall.

An exclamation of pain and one of alarm resounded in the same instant.
As Gretchen violently thrust open the door, a stranger, who at that
very moment had grasped the handle from outside, struck by the sudden
rebound, staggered back several paces and would have fallen, if some
one who was with him had not caught and supported him.

"Good gracious, what is it?" cried the girl.

"I beg your pardon a thousand times," said a timid voice in a tone of
great courtesy.

Gretchen looked up in surprise at the man who excused himself so
politely for having nearly been knocked down, while yet in the act of
raising himself to an upright posture. Before she had time for an
answer, the other stranger drew near and addressed himself to her.

"We wish to see Herr Frank. He is at home, we hear."

"Papa is not here just at this moment, but he will be back directly,"
replied Gretchen, to whom this late and unexpected visit came as a
great relief, offering her the means of escape from her difficulty.
Without it, she must either have committed the rudeness of leaving the
Assessor alone during her father's absence, or have been compelled to
stay with him to keep him company. Instead, therefore, of showing the
new-comers into the agent's study, as was customary, she led them
straightway into the sitting-room.

"Two gentlemen who wish to speak to papa," said she, by way of
explanation, to the astonished Assessor, who looked up and rose as the
strangers entered and bowed to him, while the girl, kindly offering to
let her father know, went out again for that purpose.

She had just sent off one of the maids, and was about to return to the
room, when, to her amazement, the Assessor appeared in the dimly
lighted hall, and inquired hastily whether Herr Frank had been sent
for. Gretchen answered in the affirmative.

The Assessor came up to her, and said in a whisper--

"Fräulein Margaret, those are the men."

"What men?" asked she, in surprise.

"The two suspicious characters. I have them. They are in the trap."

"But they are not Poles, not a bit of it," objected the girl.

"They are the two individuals who passed me in the post-chaise," he
replied, obstinately. "The same who, later on, behaved in a way
calculated to arouse suspicion. At all events, I shall take my
measures. I shall interrogate, and if necessary arrest them."

"But need it all be done in our house?" asked Gretchen, in a very
ungracious tone.

"The duty of my office requires it!" said the Assessor, with dignity.
"First of all, the entrance must be secured, to prevent any possible
attempt at flight. I shall lock the hall door." So saying, he turned
the key in the lock and drew it out.

"What are you thinking of?" protested Gretchen. "Papa won't be able to
get in when he comes back."

"We shall post the maid at the door, and give her the key," whispered
the little gentleman, who by this time was in a fever of official zeal.
"She will open when Herr Frank comes, and at the same time call in the
men to guard the door. Who knows whether the delinquents will surrender
easily?"

"But how do you know they are delinquents at all? Suppose you were to
make a mistake?"

"Fräulein Margaret, you have not the eye of a detective," declared the
Assessor, with conscious superiority. "I am a good physiognomist, and I
tell you I never yet saw two faces on which 'conspirator' was stamped
more legibly, more unmistakably. I am not to be deceived, however pure
their German may be. For the present, I will merely subject them to an
interrogation, until Herr Frank arrives. It is dangerous, no doubt, to
let such men get an inkling that they are found out--extremely
dangerous, particularly when one is alone with them; but duty demands
it!"

"I will go with you," said Gretchen, valiantly.

"Thank you," said the Assessor, as solemnly as though the girl had
resolved on going to the scaffold with him. "Thank you. Now let us
act."

He called the maid, gave her the required instructions, and then
returned to the parlour, Gretchen following him. She was naturally
courageous, and felt quite as much curiosity as uneasiness about the
issue. The two strangers had evidently not the smallest notion of the
storm about to burst over their heads. They imagined themselves in
perfect security. The younger of the two, who was a remarkably tall
man, towering more than a head above his companion, was pacing the room
with folded arms, while the elder, a person of slight build, with pale
but agreeable features, had obediently taken the place offered him, and
was sitting harmlessly enough in the armchair.

The Assessor assumed an air of authority. Convinced of the importance
of the moment, and conscious that the eyes of his beloved were upon
him, he rose to the measure of his task. He looked the judicial mind
personified, as he stepped up to the two 'individuals.'

"I have not yet introduced myself to you, gentlemen," he began,
courteous as yet. "Government Assessor Hubert, of L----."

The persons addressed could have been no novices in the art of
conspiracy, for they did not even change colour at the mention of his
official quality. The elder man rose, bowed in silence, but with much
politeness, and then sat down again. The younger merely inclined his
head slightly, and said in a careless tone, "Very happy, I'm sure.

"Might I in my turn inquire the names of these gentlemen?" continued
Hubert.

"What makes you ask?" said the younger stranger, indifferently.

"I wish to know them."

"I am sorry for that. We don't wish to tell."

The Assessor nodded as much as to say: "So I thought." "I am connected
with the police department of L----," he said, significantly.

"Very agreeable position," said the stranger, his eyes just glancing at
the official with an indifference positively offensive, and then
wandering off and fixing themselves on the young girl, who had
retreated to the window.

For a moment Hubert was disconcerted. They must indeed be case-hardened
conspirators! Even the mention of the L---- police could extract from
them no sign of alarm, though by this time some inkling of their fate
must have dawned upon them. But there were means of overcoming their
obduracy. The interrogation proceeded.

"About two hours ago you passed me in a post-chaise?"

This time the younger man made no answer. He seemed to have had enough
of the conversation; but the elder replied civilly, "Certainly, we
noticed you in your carriage."

"At the last station you left the post-chaise and continued your
journey on foot. You were, according to your own statement, bound for
Wilicza--you avoided the high-road, and took a side-path across the
fields." The Assessor was sternly judicial now again, as he hurled out
these accusations one after the other, in a manner which ought to have
been crushing, and which did indeed produce some effect. The elder of
the two conspirators showed signs of uneasiness, and the younger, on
whom the lynx eye of the official had at once fixed as the more
dangerous of the pair, went up quickly to his companion, and laid his
hand protectingly as it were on the back of his chair.

"We put on our coats, too, when it began to get cool, and left a pair
of gloves at the post-house by mistake," said the latter, with
unconcealed irony. "Perhaps you would like to add these two facts to
your interesting notes on our conduct and deportment."

"Sir, that is not a tone in which to address a representative of the
Government," exclaimed Hubert, angrily.

The stranger shrugged his shoulders and turned to the window.

"You leave us quite to ourselves, Fräulein. Will you not come out and
deliver us by your presence from this gentleman's unrefreshing
discourse?"

The Assessor was seized with a just wrath; such boldness was more than
he could bear. The steward might come in at any moment now, he knew, so
he threw to the winds his previous caution, and replied in a lofty
tone--

"I fear there is much before you that you will find unrefreshing. In
the first place you will give me your names, deliver up your papers. I
require it, I insist upon it. In a word, you are suspicious
characters."

That blow told. The pale gentleman started up with every appearance of
trepidation. "Good Heavens, what do you say!"

"Ah, so the consciousness of guilt makes itself felt at last, does it?"
said Hubert, triumphantly. "You winced yourself," he asserted, turning
to the other, and looking up at him with an authoritative air. "Do not
attempt to deny it. I saw your face twitch."

The young man's face had twitched, no doubt, in the most singular
manner at mention of the words "suspicious characters;" and now, as he
bent down to his companion, the corners of his mouth worked quite
perceptibly.

"Why do you not clear up the matter?" asked his friend, in a low
beseeching tone.

"Because it amuses me," was the reply, returned in a voice as low.

"No whispering here," interrupted the Assessor. "No fresh conspiring in
my very presence--that I forbid. Once again, your name! Will you give
me an answer?"

"Yes, we will," said the younger stranger, drawing himself up. "So you
look upon us as conspirators?"

"And traitors to the State," added Hubert, emphatically.

"And traitors to the State. Of course--that is the usual complement."

The Assessor stood petrified at such audacity.

"I call upon you for the last time to give me your names and deliver up
your papers," he cried. "You refuse to do either?"

The stranger sat down unconcernedly on the arm of the chair, and
crossed his arms.

"Quite correct. The whole conspiracy lies in a nutshell."

"Sir, I believe that you are inclined to jest with me," shouted the
Assessor, scarlet with rage. "Are you aware that that will tell very
much against your case? The police department of L---- ..."

"Must be in a bad way if it has you for a representative," observed the
young man, with imperturbable calm.

This was too much. The insulted official sprang up like one possessed.

"Unheard-of insolence! What, have things gone so far that the
authorities are now to be openly scoffed at and treated with contempt?
But you shall pay dearly for it! You have insulted and attacked the
Government in my person. I arrest you. I will have you handcuffed and
conveyed to L----."

He rushed at his adversary, who quietly let him come on, and then with
a single movement of his powerful arm sent him back, bounding like a
ball on to the sofa near at hand, which happily received him.

"Violence!" he screamed, "violence! an attack upon my person. Fräulein
Margaret, fetch your father."

"Fetch a glass of water, Fräulein, and dash it over the gentleman's
head," said the stranger. "He needs it."

The girl had no time to obey either of these very different
injunctions, for hasty steps were heard in the adjoining room, and the
steward, who had seen with extreme surprise the precautionary measures
adopted in his hall, and had heard the loud voices, came quickly in.

The Assessor still lay on the sofa, wriggling and kicking in his
struggle to get on his legs again, which, in consequence of the
shortness of those members and the height whereon he was perched, was a
feat difficult to accomplish.

"Herr Frank," he cried, "guard the entrance, call in the men. You have
the direction of the Wilicza police--you must support me. I arrest
these two persons in the name of ..."

Here his voice deserted him; he fought desperately in the air, and at
last, by a violent jerk, managed to get himself into a sitting posture.

The younger stranger had risen and gone up to the steward. "Herr Frank,
you hold the direction of the Wilicza police as proxy for me, and you
will, I trust, reflect before delivering up your own principal."

"Who?" cried the steward, starting back.

The stranger drew a paper from his breast-pocket and held it out to
him. "I come quite unexpectedly, and after ten years you can hardly be
expected to recognise me, so this letter may serve for my credentials.
You addressed it to me a few weeks since."

Frank cast a rapid glance at the page, and another as rapid at the
features of the man before him. "Herr Nordeck?"

That gentleman assented. "Waldemar Nordeck, who in the very hour of his
return to his own estates has come near being arrested as a suspicious
vagrant. A most agreeable welcome, certainly."

He looked across at the sofa. There sat the Assessor, stiff and
motionless as a statue, with mouth wide open, arms pendant, staring at
the young landowner as though he were out of his mind.

"What a painful misunderstanding!" said the steward, in great
confusion. "I am very sorry it should have happened in my house, Herr
Nordeck. The Assessor will regret his mistake exceedingly ..."

The poor Assessor! He was so crushed, he had not even strength to
apologise. The master of Wilicza, the man of many millions, of whom
the President had lately spoken, saying that, should he come to
Wilicza, he was to be treated with special consideration--and he, the
subordinate, had threatened to have this personage conveyed handcuffed
to L----! Fortunately Waldemar took no notice of him. He now presented
his companion to the steward and the steward's daughter.

"Dr. Fabian, my friend and teacher. We saw that the Castle was lighted
up, and heard that a great festivity was going on there. I am quite a
stranger to my mother's guests, and as my sudden arrival might very
naturally have caused some disturbance, we preferred to make a call on
your hospitality--at all events, until the visitors take their
departure. Besides this, there are some matters I wish to talk over
with you, Herr Frank--matters referred to in your letter, which I only
received a few days ago. I was travelling, and it was sent on after me
from place to place. Could we have half an hour's talk in private?"

Frank opened the door of his study. "May I ask you to step in here?"

Waldemar turned to his friend before going. "Pray wait for me here,
Doctor. I trust you are in no danger now of being treated as a
conspirator, and I shall soon be back." He bowed slightly to the young
girl, and left the room with the steward, having apparently lost sight
of the fact of the Assessor's existence.

"Herr Assessor," said Gretchen, going up to that unfortunate
representative of the L---- police, "I congratulate you on your
promotion."

"Oh, Fräulein!" groaned the unlucky man.

"You will have to acquaint his Excellency the President with the result
of your researches, you know, to make a personal report."

"Fräulein Margaret!"

"I have not the eye of a detective, have I?" continued the girl,
mercilessly. "Who would have thought that the young heir would have
'conspirator' so legibly, so unmistakably stamped on his countenance?"

It had cost the Assessor a great effort to hold his ground so far.
Mockery from those lips was more than he could bear. He rose, stammered
an excuse to the Doctor, the principal person concerned being no longer
present, and pleaded a feeling of indisposition as a pretext for
withdrawing as quickly as possible.

"Fräulein," said Dr. Fabian, rather timidly, but in a compassionate
tone, "that gentleman appears to be somewhat eccentric. Is he
perhaps ...?" and he touched his forehead with a significant gesture.

Gretchen laughed. "No, sir; but he is burning to advance in his career,
and he fancies that a couple of conspirators would help him forward
immensely. He thought he had found them in you and Herr Nordeck."

The Doctor shook his head sorrowfully. "Poor man! There is certainly
something morbid about him. I am afraid his career will hardly be so
brilliant as he hopes."

"I don't think it will," said Gretchen, very decidedly. "Our Government
is a great deal too sensible for that!"



                               FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: It is said that the city of Vineta really existed, and
that traces of it may yet be seen near Leddin, a village in the island
of Usedom, in the Baltic.]

[Footnote 2: Regierungsrath.]



                             END OF VOL. I.



                           *   *   *   *   *
            PRINTED AT THE CAXTON PRESS, BECCLES.  _S. & H_.





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