He drew from his pocket a small case, and, opening it, disclosed a pallid face with closed eyes. A wreath of myrtle encircled the head, which rested on the pillow of a coffin.
“She is dead!” screamed the horror-stricken mother, staring with wild eyes at the sorrowful picture.
“Yes, madame, she is dead,” assented the marquis. “This portrait is sent by your daughter as a remembrance to the mother who exposed her on the streets, one stormy winter night, in order that she might spy upon another little child—a persecuted and homeless little child.”
The baroness cowered beneath the merciless words as beneath a stinging lash: but the man knew no pity; he would not spare the heartbroken woman.
“And now, madame,” he continued in a sharp tone, “you can go back to your home and take possession of your reward. You have worked hard to earn the blood-money.”
Here the baroness sat suddenly upright, tore from her bosom a small gold note-case, in which was the order for the five millions of francs. She opened the case, took out the order, and tore it into tiny bits. Then she flung them from her, crying savagely:
“Curse him who brought me to this! God’s curse be upon him who brought this on me!”
“Madame,” calmly interposed the marquis, “you have not yet completed the task you were set to do.”
“No, no; I have not—I have not,” was the excited response, “and I never will. Come—come with me! The maid and what belongs to her are here—safe, unharmed. Take her—fly with her and hers whithersoever you choose to go; I shall not hinder you.”
“That I cannot do, madame. I am a stranger in a strange land. I know not who is my friend or who is my foe. You must save the maid. If atonement is possible for you, that is the way you may win it. You know best where the maid will be safe from her persecutors. Save her, and atone for your transgression against her. Ludwig Vavel gave you his love and, more than that, his respect. Would you retain both, or will you tear them to tatters, as you have the order for the five million francs? Will you let me advise you?” he asked, suddenly.
“Advise me, and I will follow it to the letter!”
“Then disguise yourself as a peasant, hide the steel casket in a hamper, and take it to Ludwig Vavel, wherever he may be.”
“You cannot with safety take her with you. The maid and the casket must not remain together. You must conceal Marie somewhere until you return from the camp.”
“Will you not stay here and keep watch over her until I return?”
“I thank you, madame, for your hospitality, but I must not accept it. I come direct from the influenza hospital. I feel that the disease has laid hold of me. I have comfortable quarters at the Nameless Castle, where my old friend Lisette will take care of me. Don’t let Marie come to see me; and if I should not recover from this illness, which I feel will be a severe one, let me be buried down yonder on the shore of the lake.”