Four weeks went by so rapidly that every one refused to believe it when the major stated the fact at the breakfast-table, for all had enjoyed themselves so heartily that they had been unconscious of the lapse of time.
"You are not going away, uncle?" cried Amy, with a panic-stricken look.
"Next week, my dear; we must be off, for we've much to do yet, and I promised mamma to bring you back by the end of October."
"Never mind Paris and the rest of it; this is pleasanter. I'd rather stay here--"
There Amy checked herself and tried to hide her face behind her coffee-cup, for Casimer looked up in a way that made her heart flutter and her cheeks burn.
"Sorry for it, Amy; but go we must, so enjoy your last week with all your might, and come again next year."
"It will never be again what it is now," sighed Amy; and Casimer echoed the words "next year," as if sadly wondering if the present year would not be his last.
Helen rose silently and went into the garden, for of late she had fallen into the way of reading and working in the little pavilion which stood in an angle of the wall, overlooking lake and mountains.
A seat at the opposite end of the walk was Amy's haunt, for she liked the sun, and within a week or two something like constraint had existed between the cousins. Each seemed happier apart, and each was intent on her own affairs. Helen watched over Amy's health, but no longer offered advice or asked confidence. She often looked anxious, and once or twice urged the major to go, as if conscious of some danger.
But the worthy man seemed to have been bewitched as well as the young folks, and was quite happy sitting by the plump, placid widow, or leisurely walking with her to the chapel on the hillside.
All seemed waiting for something to break up the party, and no one had the courage to do it. The major's decision took every one by surprise, and Amy and Casimer looked as if they had fallen from the clouds.
The persistency with which the English lessons had gone on was amazing, for Amy usually tired of everything in a day or two. Now, however, she was a devoted teacher, and her pupil did her great credit by the rapidity with which he caught the language. It looked like pleasant play, sitting among the roses day after day, Amy affecting to embroider while she taught, Casimer marching to and fro on the wide, low wall, below which lay the lake, while he learned his lesson; then standing before her to recite, or lounging on the turf in frequent fits of idleness, both talking and laughing a great deal, and generally forgetting everything but the pleasure of being together. They wrote little notes as exercises--Amy in French, Casimer in English, and each corrected the other's.
All very well for a time; but as the notes increased the corrections decreased, and at last nothing was said of ungrammatical French or comical English and the little notes were exchanged in silence.
As Amy took her place that day she looked forlorn, and when her pupil came her only welcome was a reproachful--
"You are very late, sir."
"It is fifteen of minutes yet to ten clocks," was Casimer's reply, in his best English.
"Ten o'clock, and leave out 'of' before minutes. How many times must I tell you that?" said Amy, severely, to cover her first mistake.
"Ah, not many times; soon all goes to finish, and I have none person to make this charming English go in my so stupide head."
"What will you do then?"
"I jeter myself into the lake."
"Don't be foolish; I'm dull to-day, and want to be cheered up; suicide isn't a pleasant subject."
"Good! See here, then--a little plaisanterie--what you call joke. Can you will to see it?" and he laid a little pink cocked-hat note on her lap, looking like a mischievous boy as he did so.
"'Mon Casimer Teblinski;' I see no joke;" and Amy was about to tear it up, when he caught it from destruction, and holding it out of reach, said, laughing wickedly,--
"The 'mon' is one abbreviation of 'monsieur,' but you put no little--how do you say?--period at the end of him; it goes now in English--My Casimer Teblinski,' and that is of the most charming address."
Amy colored, but had her return shot ready.
"Don't exult; that was only an oversight, not a deliberate deception like that you put upon me. It was very wrong and rude, and I shall not forgive it."
"Mon Dieu! where have I gone in sinning! I am a polisson, as I say each day, but not a villain, I swear to you. Say to me that which I have made of wrong, and I will do penance."
"You told me 'Ma drogha' was the Polish for 'My pupil,' and let me call you so a long time; I am wiser now," replied Amy, with great dignity.
"Who has said stupidities to you, that you doubt me?" and Casimer assumed an injured look, though his eyes danced with merriment.
"I heard Hoffman singing a Polish song to little Roserl, the burden of which was, 'Ma drogha, Ma drogha,' and when I asked him to translate it, those two words meant, 'My darling.' How dare you, ungrateful creature that you are!"
As Amy spoke, half-confusedly, half-angrily, Casimer went down upon his knees, with folded hands and penitent face, exclaiming, in good English,--
"Be merciful to me a sinner. I was tempted, and I could not resist."
"Get up this instant, and stop laughing. Say your lesson, for this will be your last," was the stern reply, though Amy's face dimpled all over with suppressed merriment.
He rose meekly, but made such sad work with the verb "To love," that his teacher was glad to put an end to it, by proposing to read her French to him. It was "Thaddeus of Warsaw," a musty little translation which she had found in the house, and begun for her own amusement. Casimer read a little, seemed interested, and suggested that they read it together, so that he might correct her accent. Amy agreed, and they were in the heart of the sentimental romance, finding it more interesting than most modern readers, for the girl had an improved Thaddeus before her, and the Pole a fairer, kinder Mary Beaufort.
Dangerous times for both, but therein lay the charm; for, though Amy said to herself each night, "Sick, Catholic, and a foreigner,--it can never be," yet each morning she felt, with increasing force, how blank her day would be without him. And Casimer, honorably restraining every word of love, yet looked volumes, and in spite of the glasses, the girl felt the eloquence of the fine eyes they could not entirely conceal.
To-day, as she read, he listened with his head leaning on his hand, and though she never had read worse, he made no correction, but sat so motionless, she fancied at last that he had actually fallen asleep. Thinking to rouse him, she said, in French,--
"Poor Thaddeus! don't you pity him?--alone, poor, sick, and afraid to own his love."
"No, I hate him, the absurd imbecile, with his fine boots and plumes, and tragedy airs. He was not to be pitied, for he recovered health, he found a fortune, he won his Marie. His sufferings were nothing; there was no fatal blight on him, and he had time and power to conquer his misfortunes, while I--"
Casimer spoke with sudden passion, and pausing abruptly, turned his face away, as if to hide some emotion he was too proud to show.
Amy's heart ached, and her eyes filled, but her voice was sweet and steady, as she said, putting by the book, like one weary of it,--
"Are you suffering to-day? Can we do anything for you? Please let us, if we may."
"You give me all I can receive; no one can help my pain yet; but a time will come when something may be done for me; then I will speak." And, to her great surprise, he rose and left her, without another word.
She saw him no more till evening; then he looked excited, played stormily, and would sing in defiance of danger. The trouble in Amy's face seemed reflected in Helen's, though not a word had passed between them. She kept her eye on Casimer, with an intentness that worried Amy, and even when he was at the instrument Helen stood near him, as if fascinated, watching the slender hands chase one another up and down the keys with untiring strength and skill.
Suddenly she left the room and did not return. Amy was so nervous by that time, she could restrain herself no longer, and slipping out, found her cousin in their chamber, poring over a glove.
"Oh, Nell, what is it? You are so odd to-night I can't understand you. The music excites me, and I'm miserable, and I want to know what has happened," she said, tearfully.
"I've found him!" whispered Helen, eagerly, holding up the glove with a gesture of triumph.
"Who?" asked Amy, blinded by her tears.
"Where?--when?" cried the girl, amazed.
"Here, and now."
"Don't take my breath away; tell me quick, or I shall get hysterical."
"Casimer is Sigismund Palsdorf, and no more a Pole than I am," was Helen's answer.
Amy dropped in a heap on the floor, not fainting, but so amazed she had neither strength nor breath left. Sitting by her, Helen rapidly went on,--
"I had a feeling as if something was wrong, and began to watch. The feeling grew, but I discovered nothing till to-day. It will make you laugh, it was so unromantic. As I looked over uncle's things when the laundress brought them this afternoon, I found a collar that was not his. It was marked 'S.P.,' and I at once felt a great desire to know who owned it. The woman was waiting for her money, and I asked her. 'Monsieur Pologne,' she said, for his name is too much for her. She took it into his room, and that was the end of it."
"But it may be another name; the initials only a coincidence," faltered Amy, looking frightened.
"No, dear, it isn't; there is more to come. Little Roserl came crying through the hall an hour ago, and I asked what the trouble was. She showed me a prettily-bound prayer-book which she had taken from the Pole's room to play with, and had been ordered by her mother to carry back. I looked into it; no name, but the same coat-of-arms as the glove and the handkerchief. To-night as he played I examined his hands; they are peculiar, and some of the peculiarities have left traces on the glove. I am sure it is he, for on looking back many things confirm the idea. He says he is a polisson, a rogue, fond of jokes, and clever at playing them. The Germans are famous for masquerading and practical jokes; this is one, I am sure, and uncle will be terribly angry if he discovers it."
"But why all this concealment?" cried Amy. "Why play jokes on us? You look so worried I know you have not told me all you know or fear."
"I confess I do fear that these men are political plotters as well as exiles. There are many such, and they make tools of rich and ignorant foreigners to further their ends. Uncle is rich, generous, and unsuspicious; and I fear that while apparently serving and enjoying us they are using him."
"Heavens, it may be! and that would account for the change we see in him. I thought he was in love with the widow, but that may be only a cloak to hide darker designs. Karl brought us here, and I dare say it is a den of conspirators!" cried Amy, feeling as if she were getting more of an adventure than she had bargained for.
"Don't be alarmed! I am on the watch, and mean to demand an explanation from uncle, or take you away on my own responsibility, if I can."
Here a maid tapped to say that tea was served.
"We must go down, or some one will suspect trouble. Plead headache to excuse your paleness, and I'll keep people away. We will manage the affair and be off as soon as possible," said Helen, as Amy followed her, too bewildered to answer.
Casimer was not in the room, the major and Mrs. Cumberland were sipping tea side by side, and the professors roaming vaguely about. To leave Amy in peace, Helen engaged them both in a lively chat, and her cousin sat by the window trying to collect her thoughts. Some one was pacing up and down the garden, hatless, in the dew.
Amy forgot everything but the danger of such exposure to her reckless friend. His cloak and hat lay on a chair; she caught them up and glided unperceived from the long window.
"You are so imprudent I fear for you, and bring your things," said a timid voice, as the little white figure approached the tall black one, striding down the path tempestuously.
"You to think of me, forgetful of yourself! Little angel of kindness, why do you take such care of me?" cried Casimer, eagerly taking not only the cloak, but the hands that held it.
"I pitied you because you were ill and lonely. You do not deserve my pity, but I forgive that, and would not see you suffer," was the reproachful answer, as Amy turned away.
But he held her fast, saying earnestly,--
"What have I done? You are angry. Tell me my fault and I will amend."
"You have deceived me."
"Will you own the truth?" and in her eagerness to set her fears at rest, Amy forgot Helen.
She could not see his face, but his voice was steady and his manner earnest.
"Tell me, then, is not your true name Sigismund Palsdorf?"
He started, but answered instantly,--
"It is not."
"You are not the baron?" cried Amy.
"No; I will swear it if you wish."
"Who, then, are you?"
"Shall I confess?"
"Yes, I entreat you."
"Remember, you command me to speak."
"I do. Who are you?"
The words were breathed into her ear as softly as ardently, but they startled her so much she could find no reply, and, throwing himself down before her, Casimer poured out his passion with an impetuosity that held her breathless.
"Yes, I love you, and I tell it, vain and dishonorable as it is in one like me. I try to hide it. I say 'it cannot be.' I plan to go away. But you keep me; you are angel-good to me; you take my heart, you care for me, teach me, pity me, and I can only love and die. I know it is folly; I ask nothing; I pray to God to bless you always, and I say, Go, go, before it is too late for you, as now for me!"
"Yes, I must go--it is all wrong. Forgive me. I have been very selfish. Oh, forget me and be happy," faltered Amy, feeling that her only safety was in flight.
"Go! go!" he cried, in a heart-broken tone, yet still kissed and clung to her hands till she tore them away and fled into the house.
Helen missed her soon after she went, but could not follow for several minutes; then went to their chamber and there found Amy drowned in tears, and terribly agitated.
Soon the story was told with sobs and moans, and despairing lamentations fit to touch a heart of stone.
"I do love him--oh, I do; but I didn't know it till he was so unhappy, and now I've done this dreadful harm. He'll die, and I can't help him, see him, or be anything to him. Oh, I've been a wicked, wicked girl, and never can be happy any more."
Angry, perplexed, and conscience-stricken, for what now seemed blind and unwise submission to the major, Helen devoted herself to calming Amy, and when at last the poor, broken-hearted little soul fell asleep in her arms, she pondered half the night upon the still unsolved enigma of the Baron Sigismund.