The day he received his orders to march, he was forced to take enough time to speak on some very important matters to his betrothed wife. He delivered into her hands the steel casket, of which so much has been written. When he entered the room where the two ladies were sitting, Marie discreetly rose and left the lovers alone; but she did not go very far: she knew that she would be sent for very soon. Why should she stop to hear the exchange of lovers’ confidences, hear the mutual confessions which made them so happy? She did not want to see the tears which he would kiss away.
“May God protect you,” sobbed Katharina, reflecting at the same moment that it would be a great pity were a bullet to strike the spot on the noble brow where she pressed her farewell kiss.
“You will guard my treasure, Katharina? Take good care of my palladium and of yourself. Before I go, let me show you what this casket which you must guard with unceasing care contains.”
He drew the steel ring from his thumb, and pushed to one side the crown which formed the seal, whereupon a tiny key was revealed. With it he unlocked the casket.
On top lay a packet of English bank-notes of ten thousand pounds each.
“This sum,” explained Ludwig, “will defray the expenses of our undertaking. When I shall have attained my object, I shall be just so much the poorer. I am not a rich man, Katharina; I must tell you this before our marriage.”
“I should love you even were you a beggar,” was the sincere response.
A kiss was her reward.
Underneath the bank-notes were several articles of child’s clothing, such as little girls wear.
“Her mother embroidered the three lilies on these with her own hands,” said Ludwig, laying the little garments to one side. Then he took from the casket several time-stained documents, and added: “These are the certificate of baptism, the last lines from the mother to her daughter, and the deposition of the two men who witnessed the exchange of the children. This,” taking up a miniature-case, “contains a likeness of Marie, and one of the other little girl who exchanged destinies with her. The Marquis d’Avoncourt, who is now a prisoner in the Castle of Ham,—if he is still alive!—is the only one besides ourselves who knows of the existence of these things. And now, Katharina, let me beg of you to take good care of them; no matter what happens, do not lose sight of this casket.”
He locked the casket, and returned the ring to his thumb.
The baroness placed the treasure intrusted to her care in a secret cupboard in the wall of her own room.
And now, one more kiss!
The girl waiting in the adjoining room was doubtless getting weary. Suddenly Ludwig heard the tones of a piano. Some one was playing, in the timid, uncertain manner of a new beginner, Miska’s martial song. Ludwig listened, and turned questioningly toward his betrothed. Katharina did not speak; she merely smiled, and walked toward the door of the adjoining room, which she opened.