Five millions of francs!
It was an enormous sum, and would become hers if she should order the carriage, and, taking Marie and the casket with her, drive leisurely along the highway until stopped by a troop of soldiers that would suddenly surround the carriage. A politely smiling face would then appear at the window of the carriage, and a courteous voice would say:
“Don’t be alarmed, ladies. You are with friends. We are Frenchmen.”
But to renounce the love and respect so hardly won! Ah, how very dearly she loved the man to whom she had betrothed herself in jest! In jest? No, no; it was not a jest!
But five millions of francs!
Would all the millions in the world buy one faithful heart?
Katharina was suffering for her transgressions. She had intended to play with the heart of another, and had lost her own. Besides, she could not bear to think of betraying the innocent girl who loved and trusted her and called her “mother.”
But time pressed. Three times already Jocrisse had interrupted her meditations to inquire if her answer to the marquis’s letter was ready. And still she struggled with herself. When Jocrisse appeared again, she said to him:
“My letter is of such importance that I cannot think of intrusting it to the hands of a stranger. You yourself, Jocrisse, must take it to the marquis.”
“I am ready to depart at once, madame.”
Katharina wrote her reply, sealed it carefully, and gave it to Jocrisse, who set out at once on his errand.
In the letter he carried were but three words:
“Io non posso” ("I cannot").
Katharina locked herself in the pavilion in the park, and gave orders to the servants not to admit any visitors, whether acquaintances or strangers.
An hour or more had passed when she heard a timid knock at the door, and an apologetic voice said:
“A strange gentleman is here. I told him your ladyship would see no one; then he bade me give your ladyship this, which he said he had brought from Paris.”
Katharina opened the door wide enough to receive the object. It was a small ivory locket, yellow with age. Katharina’s hand shook violently as she pressed the spring to open it. She cast a hasty glance at the miniature,—the likeness of her daughter Amelie,—then said in a faltering voice: “You may tell the gentleman I will see him.”
In a few minutes the visitor entered the pavilion.
“M. Cambray!” exclaimed the baroness.
“Yes, madame; I am Cambray, with my other name, Marquis Richard d’Avoncourt. I am he to whom you once said: ’I shall be grateful to you so long as I live.’”
“How—how came you here?” gasped the baroness.
“I managed to escape from my prison at Ham, went to Paris, where I saw your daughter—”
“You saw my daughter?” interrupted the baroness, excitedly. “Did you speak to her? Oh, tell me—tell me what you know about her.”