As he had not as yet had the pleasure of being introduced to the countess, although he had often heard her spoken of in the first society, O'Donahue did not fail in his appointment, as he considered that it was possible that the Princess Czartorinski might be connected with it; nor was he deceived, for on his entering the saloon, he found the princess sitting on the sofa with Madame Erhausen, a young and pretty woman, not more than twenty-five years of age.
"My dear love," said the countess, "you are an inquisitive little girl, and you will not make me say what I do not choose to say, especially after a confidence that Pere Anselme made to me; for if I did, your imagination would at once set off at a gallop." The gallop had already started, and every word the countess said only added to the anxious eagerness of the young girl.
He then returned to me, the plan being that if we heard pursuit he and I were to mount and ride on, thus leading our enemies away from the Countess, who with Mathilde should betake herself to the hiding-place till danger was past. With Hugues's knowledge of the byways and forest paths, we might be able to elude the hunt.
I met her eyes, and her laughing countenance seemed to say to me: "Only wait for two years, at the utmost, and all that your imagination is now creating will then exist in reality." She was elegantly dressed in the prevalent fashion, with large hoops, and like the daughters of the nobility who have not yet attained the age of puberty, although the young countess was marriageable.
Cornudet sat still and deep in thoughts. After they had traveled for three hours, Loiseau picked up his cards and said: "I am hungry." Then his wife reached out for a package from which she drew a piece of cold veal. She cut it carefully in thin and neat slices and both began to eat. "Why shouldn't we do the same?" said the Countess.
"I have entered into all these details, Magloire, because I want you to know what kind of a woman the countess is, so that you may understand her conduct. You see that she did not treat me like a traitor: she had given me fair warning, and shown me the abyss into which I was going to fall. Alas! so far from being terrified, these dark sides of her character only attracted me the more.
Fur and cloaks passed in rapid succession before the gigantic porter at the entrance. Hermann stopped. "Whose house is this?" he asked of the watchman at the corner. "The Countess A 's," replied the watchman. Hermann started. The strange story of the three cards again presented itself to his imagination. He began walking up and down before the house, thinking of its owner and her strange secret.
Had she done anything improper on this her first entry into the world? Was her conduct to be scanned, and judged, and condemned, while she was flattering herself that no one had noticed her but him who was speaking to her? Their breakfast was late, and the countess sat, as was her wont, with her book beside her teacup, speaking a word every now and again to her son.
When the Countess of Leicester arrived at the outer gate of the Castle of Kenilworth, she found the tower, beneath which its ample portal arch opened, guarded in a singular manner.
The Countess was reserved for a more brilliant and a more bitter fate. She was to espouse a man of higher rank, but more worthless character, also a traitor to the cause of freedom, to which she was herself devoted, and who was even accused of attempting her life in her old age, in order to supply her place with a younger rival.