“And now,” the letter went on, “I come to my instructions to you, general. You will move with your division toward the southern shore of Lake Neusiedl, and cut off the way of our fugitives toward the Tyrol. There is also another task which you must undertake. The mysterious maid, once she is in our hands, must be treated with the utmost courtesy and respect. A remarkable destiny awaits her. You know the emperor is going to separate from Josephine. A new palace will be built for the new empress. Who is the fortunate lady? As yet, no one can tell. A royal maid who can bring as her dowry the crown of a sovereign. A marriage that would unite the imperial crown with the crown of Hugo Capet would firmly establish Napoleon’s throne. The legitimate dynasty would then be satisfied with the sovereign chosen by the people. This fugitive maid is, I hear, lovely, amiable, generous, pure, as only the ideal of a sovereign can be.”
Vavel stamped his foot in a paroxysm of fury. Had this miscreant written that Marie was to be imprisoned in a convent, he could have borne it. But to suggest that his idol, his pure, adored image of a saint, might become the consort of the man on whom all the savage hatred of his nature was concentrated—this was more horrible than all the torments of hell. But he must calm himself and read the letter to the end.
“With this probability in view, I request that you send your wife and daughter, with a proper escort, of course, to meet me in one of the border cities, say Friedberg, where the ladies will be prepared to take charge of the maid. You will understand that a lady of her exalted position must travel only in company with distinguished persons. Countess Themire Dealba’s role is concluded. She must not be allowed, in any character, to accompany our presumptive sovereign to Paris. She will receive her five millions of francs, as promised, and that will conclude our business transactions with her. Pray communicate my desire to your wife and daughter, and bid them prepare for the journey.
“MARQUIS DE FERVLANS.”
Not for one instant did Ludwig Vavel deliberate as to his course of action.
He could not leave his post. For a soldier to quit his post before the enemy is treason. He hurried back to his tent. Satan Laczi was stretched on the bare ground, sleeping soundly.
Ludwig shook him vigorously.
“Awake—awake! You must depart at once.”
Satan Laczi sprang to his feet.
“Take my own horse, and ride for your life the shortest way to Fertoeszeg.”
“And what am I to do there?”
“Do you remember that an officer once asked you to steal the treasure I kept concealed in the Nameless Castle?”
“Yes; but I did n’t do it.”
“Well, I want you to do it now for me.”
“Which do you want, the maid or the casket?”