This letter by no means lightened Vavel’s gloomy mood. Colonel Oudet, the secret chief of the Philadelphians in the French army, heartily thanked Count Vavel for his offer of assistance to overthrow Napoleon; but he also gave the count to understand that, were Bonaparte defeated, the republic would be restored to France. In this case, what would become of Vavel’s cherished plans?
It was after midnight. The pole of “Charles’s Wain” in the heavens stood upward. Ludwig approached the watch-fire, and told the lieutenant on guard that he might go to his tent, that he, Vavel, would take his place for the remainder of the night. Then he let the reins drop on the neck of his horse, and while the beast grazed on the luxuriant grass, his rider, with his carbine resting in the hollow of his arm, continued the night watch. The night was very still; the air was filled with odorous exhalations, which rose from the earth after the shower in the early part of the evening. From time to time a shooting star sped on its course across the sky.
One after the other, Ludwig Vavel read the two letters he carried in his breast. He did not need to take them from their hiding-place in order to read them. He knew the contents by heart—every word. One of them was a love-letter he had received from his betrothed; the other was the Judas message of his enemy and Marie’s.
At one time he would read the love-letter first; then that of the arch-plotter. Again, he would change the order of perusal, and test the different sensations—the bitter after the sweet, the sweet after the bitter.
Suddenly, through the silence of the night, he heard the distant tinkle of a mule-bell. It came nearer and nearer. He heard the outpost’s “Halt! Who comes there?” and heard the pleasant-voiced response: “Good evening, friend. God bless you.”
“Ah!” muttered Ludwig, with a scornful smile, “my beautiful bride is sending another supply of dainties. How much she thinks of me!”
The mule-bell came nearer and nearer.
By the light of the watch-fire Vavel could see the familiar red kerchief the farmer’s wife from the manor was wont to wear over her head. The mule came directly toward the watch-fire, and stopped when close to Vavel’s horse. The woman riding the beast slipped quickly to the ground, emptied the provisions from the hampers, then, lifting the object which had been concealed in the bottom of one of them, came around to Vavel’s side, saying:
“It is I. I have come to seek you.”
“Who is it?” he demanded sternly, recognizing the voice; “Katharina or Themire?”
“Katharina—Katharina; it is Katharina,” stammered the trembling woman, looking pleadingly up into his forbidding face.
“And why have you come here?”
“I came to bring you this,” she replied, holding toward him the steel casket.
“Where is Marie?”
“She is safe—with the Marquis d’Avoncourt.”