“ ‘Then we are to lose Madame la Comtesse, but I hope only for a few hours,’ I
said, with a low bow.
“ ‘It may be that only, or it may be a few weeks. It was very unlucky his speaking
to me just now as he did. Do you now know me?’
“I assured her I did not.
“ ‘You shall know me,’ she said, ‘but not at present. We are older and better
friends than, perhaps, you suspect. I cannot yet declare myself. I shall in three
weeks pass your beautiful schloss, about which I have been making enquiries. I
shall then look in upon you for an hour or two, and renew a friendship which I
never think of without a thousand pleasant recollections. This moment a piece of
news has reached me like a thunderbolt. I must set out now, and travel by a
devious route, nearly a hundred miles, with all the dispatch I can possibly make.
My perplexities multiply. I am only deterred by the compulsory reserve I practise
as to my name from making a very singular request of you. My poor child has not
quite recovered her strength. Her horse fell with her, at a hunt which she had
ridden out to witness, her nerves have not yet recovered the shock, and our
physician says that she must on no account exert herself for some time to come.
We came here, in consequence, by very easy stages—hardly six leagues a day.
I must now travel day and night, on a mission of life and death— a mission the
critical and momentous nature of which I shall be able to explain to you when we
meet, as I hope we shall, in a few weeks, without the necessity of any
“She went on to make her petition, and it was in the tone of a person from whom
such a request amounted to conferring, rather than seeking a favour. This was
only in manner, and, as it seemed, quite unconsciously. Than the terms in which
it was expressed, nothing could be more deprecatory. It was simply that I would
consent to take charge of her daughter during her absence.
“This was, all things considered, a strange, not to say, an audacious request.
She in some sort disarmed me, by stating and admitting everything that could be
urged against it, and throwing herself entirely upon my chivalry. At the same
moment, by a fatality that seems to have predetermined all that happened, my
poor child came to my side, and, in an undertone, besought me to invite her new
friend, Millarca, to pay us a visit. She had just been sounding her, and thought, if
her mamma would allow her, she would like it extremely.
“At another time I should have told her to wait a little, until, at least, we knew who
they were. But I had not a moment to think in. The two ladies assailed me
together, and I must confess the refined and beautiful face of the young lady,
about which there was something extremely engaging, as well as the elegance
and fire of high birth, determined me; and, quite overpowered, I submitted, and
undertook, too easily, the care of the young lady, whom her mother called
“The Countess beckoned to her daughter, who listened with grave attention while
she told her, in general terms, how suddenly and peremptorily she had been