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The marquis ordered the hussar to fetch his carriage, and, when it drew
up before the door, himself assisted M. Cambray to enter it. Then he
shook hands cordially with the old gentleman, stepped back to the
doorway, and watched the carriage roll swiftly across the square.

* * * * *

When the servant Jocrisse had closed the boudoir door behind M. Cambray,
the suffering countess sprang lightly from her couch, and pressed her
handkerchief to her lips to smother her laughter; the little Amélie,
overwhelmed by merriment, buried her face in her mother's skirts; the
maid giggled discreetly; while Jocrisse, clasping his rotund stomach
with both hands, bent his head toward his knees, and betrayed his
suppressed hilarity by his shaking shoulders. Even the more important of
the two physicians pursed his lips into a smile, and proffered his
snuff-box to his colleague, who, smothering with laughter, whispered:

"Are we not capital actors?"


* * * * *

Meanwhile M. Cambray drove rapidly in the Marquis de Fervlans's carriage
through the streets of Paris. He was buried in thought. He glanced only
now and then from the window. He was not altogether satisfied with
himself that he was riding in a carriage which belonged to so important
a person - a gentleman whose name he had never heard until that day.

Suddenly he was surprised to find the carriage entering a gateway. A
carriage could not enter the gate at his lodgings! The Swiss hussar
sprang from the box, opened the carriage door, and M. Cambray found
himself confronted by a sergeant with a drawn sword.

"This is not my residence," said the old gentleman.

"Certainly not," replied the sergeant. "This is the Prison of St.
Pélagie."

"What have I to do here? My name is Alfred Cambray."

"You are the very one we have been expecting."

And now it was M. Cambray's turn to laugh merrily.

When M. Cambray's pockets had been searched, and everything suspicious
confiscated, he was conducted to a room in the second story, in which he
was securely locked. He had plenty of time to look about his new
lodgings.

Apparently the room had been occupied by many an important personage.
The walls were covered with names. Above some of them impromptu verses
had been scribbled; others had perpetuated their profiles; and still
others had drawn caricatures of those who had been the means of lodging
them here. The guillotine also figured among the illustrations.

The new lodger was not specially surprised to find himself a prisoner;
what he could not understand was the connection between the two events.
How came it about that the courteous and sympathetic Marquis de
Fervlans's carriage had brought him here from the palace of the deeply
grateful countess?

He was puzzling his brain over this question when his door suddenly
opened, and a morose old jailer entered with some soup and bread for the
prisoner.

"Thanks, I have dined," said M. Cambray.

The jailer placed the food on the table, with the words: "I want you to
understand, citizen, that if you have any idea of starving yourself to
death, we shall pour the soup down your throat."

Toward evening another visitor appeared. The door was opened with loud
clanking of chains and bolts, and a tall man crossed the threshold. It
was the Marquis de Fervlans.

His manner now was not so condescending and sympathetic. He approached
the prisoner, and said in a commanding tone that was evidently intended
to be intimidating:

"You have been betrayed, and may as well confess everything; it is the
only thing that will save you."

A scornful smile crossed the prisoner's lips. "That is the usual form of
address to a criminal who has been arrested for burglary."

The marquis laughed.

"I see, M. Cambray, that you are not the sort of person to be easily
frightened. It is useless to adopt the usual prison methods with you.
Very well; then we will try a different one. It may be that we shall
part quite good friends! What do I say? Part? Say, rather, that we may
continue together, hand in hand! But to the point. You have a friend who
shared the same apartment with you. This gentleman deserted you last
night, I believe?"

"The ingrate!" ironically ejaculated M. Cambray.

"Beg pardon, but there was also a little girl secreted in your
apartment, whom no one ever saw - "

"Pardon me, monsieur," interrupted Cambray, "but it is not the custom
for French gentlemen to spy out or chatter about secrets which relate to
the fair sex."

"I am not talking about the sort of female you refer to, monsieur, but
about a child - a girl of perhaps twelve years."

"How, pray, can one determine the age of a lady whom no one has seen?"

"Certain telltale circumstances give one a clue," retorted De Fervlans.
"Why, for instance, do you keep a doll in your rooms?"

"A doll? I play with it myself sometimes! I am a queer old fellow with
peculiar tastes."

"Very good; we will allow that you are telling the truth. What have you
to say to the fact that you took to your apartment yesterday evening a
stray child, and an hour later your friend came out of the house with
another child, wrapped in the shawl which had enveloped the lost child
when you found her - "

"Have they been overtaken?" hastily interrupted Cambray, forgetting
himself.

"No, they have not - more 's the pity!" returned the marquis. "My
detective was not clever enough to perceive the difference between the
eight-year-old girl who was carried to your apartments at ten o'clock,
and the twelve-year-old little maid whom your friend brought downstairs
at eleven, pretending that he was going in search of the lost child's
mother. Besides, everything conspired to aid your friend to escape. He
was too cunning for us, and got such a start of his pursuers that there
was no use trying to follow him. We do not even know in what direction
he has gone."

Cambray repressed the sigh of relief which would have lightened his
heart, and forced himself to say indifferently:

"Neither the young man nor the child concern me. It is his own family
affair, in which I never meddled."

"That is a move I cannot allow, M. Cambray!" sharply responded the
marquis. "There are proofs that you are perfectly familiar with his
affairs."

Again Cambray smiled scornfully.

"You have evidently searched my lodgings."

"We have done our duty, monsieur. We even tore up the floors, broke your
furniture and ornaments, - for which we apologize, - and found nothing
suspicious. Notwithstanding this, however, we know very well that you
received a letter yesterday warning you of approaching danger. We know
very well that you and your friend traced out the route of his flight;
we have a witness who listened to your plans, and who fitted together
the scraps of the torn letter of warning, and read it."

"And who may this witness be?" queried Cambray.

"The child you picked up in the street."

"What!" ejaculated Cambray, incredulously. "The little girl who sat
shivering in the snow?"

"Yes; she is our most skilful detective, and has entrapped more than one
conspirator," triumphantly interrupted De Fervlans.

"Then" - and M. Cambray brought his hands together in a vehement
gesture - "what I have believed a myth is really true. The police
authorities really employ a number of beautiful women, handsome young
men, and clever children to spy out and entrap suspected persons?
'Cythera's Brigade' really exists?"

"You had the pleasure of meeting that celebrated brigade this morning,"
replied De Fervlans.

"And those grateful men and women, who gathered about me with tearful
eyes and sympathetic words - "

"Were members of Cythera's Brigade," supplemented the marquis.

"And the mistress of the house - the beautiful woman who fainted at sight
of her child?"

"Is the fair Cythera's substitute! She taught her little daughter the
part she played so successfully."

With sudden fury M. Cambray tore from his breast the ivory locket
containing the little Amélie's portrait, and was about to fling it on
the floor and trample upon it. On second thought, he restrained himself,
returned the locket to his breast, and muttered:

"The child is not to blame. Those who have made her such a monster are
at fault. I will keep the miniature as a talisman for the future."

"And now, M. Cambray," pursued the marquis, "we want to learn what has
become of your young friend. In fact, we _must_ know what has become of
him and his charge."

"I don't know where he is."

"You do know. According to the report from our witness, he has fled to a
'country where order prevails, and where there are no police.' Where is
this country, M. Cambray?"

"In the moon, perhaps!" was the laconic response.

"Our witness heard these words from your own lips, and you pointed out
the spot on the map to your friend."

"Your witness dreamed all this!"

"M. Cambray, let us talk sensibly. You are a banker - at least, that is
what you are registered in the police records. It is to the interest of
the state to discover your secret. If you will reveal the hiding-place
of your friend you may demand your own reward. Do you wish to be
intrusted with the management of the state's finances? Or - "

"I regret, monsieur le marquis," interrupted Cambray, "that I must
refuse so handsome an opportunity to enrich myself. Although I am a
banker, I am no swindler."

"Very good! Then you require no money. You are _not_ a banker, M.
Cambray; that is merely a fable. What is your ambition? Should you
prefer to be a governor? Name any office; let it be what it may, you
shall receive the appointment to-morrow."

"Thank you again, monsieur. I must repeat what I said before: I know
nothing about the future residence of the fugitive gentleman."

"And if I tell you, M. Cambray, that your refusal may cost you your
head?"

"I should reply," returned Cambray, smiling calmly, as he took up the
piece of bread lying on the table, "that it is a matter of perfect
indifference to me if this daily portion of bread is enjoyed by some one
else to-morrow. That which I do not know I cannot tell you."

"Very well, then," in a harsh tone rejoined De Fervlans. "I will tell
you that Cambray the banker may say what is not true; but the nobleman
cannot lie. _Marquis d'Avoncourt_, do you know to what country your
friend has flown?"

At this question the old gentleman rose from his chair, drew himself up
proudly, and gazing defiantly into the eyes of his questioner, replied:

"I do."

Instantly De Fervlans's manner changed. He became the embodiment of
courtesy. He bowed with extreme politeness, then, slipping his arm
familiarly through that of the prisoner, whispered insinuatingly:

"And what can we do to win this information from you?"

The gray-haired man released himself from De Fervlans's arm, and
answered with quiet irony:

"I will tell you what you can do: have my head cut off, and send it to
M. Bichet, the celebrated professor of anatomy; perhaps he may be able
to discover the information in my skull - if it is there! And now I beg
you to leave me; I wish to be alone."

De Fervlans took up his hat, but turned at the door to say, in a meaning
tone:

"Marquis d'Avoncourt, we shall forget that you are a prisoner so long as
it shall please you to remain obstinate. As for the fugitives, Cythera's
Brigade will capture them, sooner or later. _Au revoir_!"

That same night the old nobleman was removed to the prison at Ham.




CHAPTER IV


While the ensnared conspirators against the state were receiving
sentence in one district of Paris, in another district the inhabitants
were entertaining themselves.

Paris does not mourn very long. Paris is like the earth: one half of it
is always illumined by the sun. On this fateful evening the incroyables
and the merveilleuses were amusing themselves within the walls of the
Palace of Narcissus.

The members of Cythera's Brigade took great pains to make outsiders
believe that they never troubled themselves about that half of the world
which was in shadow - that half called politics.

In the salon of the fascinating Countess Themire Dealba not a word was
heard relating to affairs of state. The beautiful women who were banded
together to learn the secrets which threatened the present order of
government worked in an imperceptible manner. They did not belong to the
ordinary class of spies - those who collect every ill-natured word, every
trifling occurrence of the street. No, indeed! _They_ did nothing but
amuse themselves. They were merry society women, trusty friends and
confidantes. They moved in the best circles; no one ever saw them
exchange a word with a police commissioner. If any one in the company
happened to speak of anything even remotely connected with politics,
some one quickly changed the subject to a more innocent theme; and if a
stranger chanced to mention so delicate a matter as, say, the dinner
which had been given by the emperor's nephew at Very's, which cost
seventy-five thousand francs, while forty thousand laborers were
starving, then the witty Countess Themire herself turned the
conversation to the "toilet rivalry" between the Mesdames Tallien and
Récamier.

On this particular evening the Countess Dealba was discussing the
beauties of the latest opera with a few of her most intimate friends,
when the Marquis de Fervlans approached, and, bending over her,
whispered: "I must see you alone; find an opportunity to leave the room,
and join me in the conservatory."

At that time it was the fashion to clothe children in garments similar
to those worn by their elders. A company of little ones, therefore,
looked like an assemblage of Lilliputian merveilleuses and incroyables.
The little men and women also accompanied their mamas to receptions and
the theatre, where they joined in the conversation, danced vis-à-vis
with their elders, made witty remarks, criticized the toilets and the
play, gave an opinion as to whether Hardy's confections or those of
Riches were the better, and if it were safe to depend on the friendship
of the Czar Alexander.

In this company of little ones the Countess Amélie was, beyond a doubt,
the most conspicuous.

One could not have imagined anything more interesting or entertaining
than the manner of this miniature dame when left by her mama to do the
honors of the house. The dignity with which the child performed her
duties was enchanting. She understood perfectly how to entertain her
mother's guests, how to spice her conversation with piquant anecdotes,
how to mimic the manner of affected personages. She was, in a word, a
prodigy!

Countess Themire, knowing she might safely trust her little daughter to
perform the duties of hostess, followed De Fervlans to the conservatory.

"We have been outwitted," he began at once. "They vanished twelve hours
before we learned that they had flown."

The countess shrugged her shoulders and tossed her head.

"Why do you think it necessary to tell me this?" she inquired, with a
touch of asperity. "Have you not got enough police to arrest the
fugitives, who must pass through the entire country in their flight?"

"Yes, we have quite enough spies, and they are very skilful; but the
fugitives are a trifle more skilful. They have disguised themselves so
effectually that it is impossible to trace them. They seized a public
coach by force, changed the number on it, and sent it back from the
boundary by an accomplice, who left it in the Rue Muffetard. Even should
we succeed in tracing their flight, by the time we discovered them they
would have crossed the boundary of Switzerland, or would be sailing over
the ocean. No; we must begin all over again. There is but one expedient:
_you_ must travel in search of the fugitives, and bring them back."

"I go in search of them and bring them back?" repeated the countess, in
a startled tone.

"The first part of your task will not be so difficult," continued De
Fervlans. "The imprisoned marquis will not reveal the destination of the
fugitives; but we have learned, through your clever little daughter,
that they have gone to a country where there is order, but where there
are no police. That, methinks, is not a very difficult riddle to solve.
You need only journey from place to place until you find such a country.
The fugitives will be certain to betray themselves by their secrecy,
and I have not the least doubt but your search will be rewarded before
the year is out. For one year you shall have the command of three
hundred thousand francs. When you discover the fugitives you will know
very well what to do. The man is young and an enthusiast - an easy
conquest, I should fancy; and when you have ensnared him the maid's fate
is decided. We want the man, the maid, and the steel casket; any one of
the three, however, will be of great value to us. You will keep us
advised as to your progress, and we, of course, will assist you all we
can. You know that we have secret agents all over Europe. And now, you
will do well to prepare for an immediate departure; there is not a
moment to be lost."

"But good, heavens! how can I take Amélie on such a journey?"

"You are not to take her with you - of what are you thinking? That man
has already seen the child, and would recognize her at once."

"You surely cannot mean that I am to desert my daughter?"

"Don't you think Amélie will be in safe hands if you leave her in _my_
care?" asked De Fervlans, with a glance that would have made any one who
had not heard his words believe he was making a declaration of love.
"Besides, it will not be the first time you leave her to the care of
another."

"That is true," sighed the countess; "I ought to be accustomed to
parting with her. Have not I trusted her to the care of a police spy?
and all for my own advantage! Oh, what a wretched profession I have
chosen for myself and my child!"

"A profession that yields a handsome income, madame," supplemented the
marquis, a trifle sharply. "You ought not to complain. Surely the
régime is not to blame that you married a roué, who squandered your
fortune, and then was killed in a duel about a rope-dancer, leaving you
a clever little daughter and a half-million of debts! What else could
you have done to have earned a living for yourself and child?"

"I might have sent the child to a foundling asylum, and sought
employment for myself in the gobelin factory. It would have been better
had I done so!"

"I doubt it, countess. The path of virtue is only for those women
who - have large feet! You are too fairy-like, and would have found the
way too rough. It is much better, believe me, to serve the state. What
would you? Is there not a comforting word due to the conscience of the
soldier who has killed a fellow-being in the interest of his country?
Don't you suppose his heart aches when he looks upon the death-struggles
of the man he has killed without having a personal grudge against him?
We are all soldiers of the state. When we assault an enemy, we do not
inquire if we hurt him; we kill him! and the safety of our fatherland
hallows the deed."

"But that which we are doing is immoral," interposed the countess.

"And that which our enemy is doing is not immoral, I presume? Are not
their beautiful women, their polished courtiers, acting as spies in our
salons? We are only using their own weapons against them."

"That may be; but it was a repulsive thought that prompted the using of
children as instruments in this deadly game."

"Were not they the first to set us an example? Was not it a repulsive
thought which prompted them to hold over the heads of an entire people
that hellish machine of torture in the shape of a smiling child? No,
madame; we need not be ashamed of what we are doing. Our men are
engaged in warfare against their men; our lovely women are engaged in
warfare against their lovely women; and our little children are engaged
in warfare against their little children. Your little Amélie is a
historical figure, and deserves a monument."

The marquis, perceiving that his sophistry was not without its effect on
the lovely woman, continued:

"And then, madame, if you are weary of the rôle you and your little
daughter are playing with such success, the opportunity is now offered
to you to quit your present mode of life. Your financial affairs are
utterly ruined; you are only the nominal possessor of the estate you
inherited from your ancestors. If you succeed in the task which you are
about to undertake, the entire sum of money, the interest of which you
receive annually, becomes your own. Five millions of francs deserve some
sacrifice. With this sum you can become an independent woman, and your
daughter will never be reproached with having been, in her childhood, a
member of Cythera's Brigade."

Countess Themire deliberated a few moments; then she asked:

"May I not kiss my daughter farewell?"

"Leave your kiss with me, and I will deliver it faithfully!" smilingly
responded the marquis.

"How can you jest at such a moment? Suppose my absence lasts a long
time?"

"That is very probable."

"Am I not even to hear from my child - not even to let her know that I am
living?"

"Certainly, countess; you may communicate with her through me. Moreover,
it rests with yourself how soon you will return. Until that time it
shall be my pleasure to take care of Amélie; you may rest in peace as to
that!"

"Yes; she could not be in worse hands than in those of her mother!"
bitterly rejoined the countess. "The first letter, then, must be one of
farewell."

She rose, went into her boudoir, and wrote on a sheet of paper:

"MY DEAR CHILD: I am compelled to take a journey. I shall write to
you when I am ready to return. Until then, I leave you to perform
the duties of hostess, and intrust my money-chest to your care. I
embrace you a thousand times.

"Your old friend and little mama,

"THEMIRE."

She folded and sealed the letter, and handed it to De Fervlans.

"I shall be sure to deliver it," he said. "And now, send Jocrisse for a
fiacre; you must not use your own carriage for this. You can leave the
palace unperceived by the garden gate. Speak German wherever you go, and
remember that you do not understand a word of French. I think you would
better begin your search in Switzerland. And now, adieu, madame, until
we meet again - "

"If only I might take one last look at my little daughter!" pleadingly
interrupted the countess.

"Themire! You are actually beginning to grow sentimental. That does not
become a soldier!"

"Had I suspected this," returned Themire, "I would not have given
Amélie's portrait to M. Cambray in that ridiculous farce. I wonder if I
might not get it from him?"

"No; he will not part with it; he says he is going to keep it as a
talisman. Only M. Sanson has the privilege of relieving prisoners of
their trinkets, and Cambray is still far enough from Sanson's reach! I
shall have another portrait painted of Amélie, and send it to you."

"But this picture was painted while yet she was an innocent child."

"Upon my word, madame, you are as sentimental as a professor's daughter!
I begin to fear you will not accomplish your mission - that you will end
by falling in love with the man you are to capture for us, and betray us
to him."

Themire did not say another word, but hurried into her dressing-room.

De Fervlans wrote an order for one hundred and fifty thousand francs for
the Countess Themire Dealba for the first six months, added his wishes
for a pleasant and successful journey, then returned to the salon, where
he gave the missive which had been intrusted to his care to Jocrisse.

Jocrisse placed it on a silver tray, and presented it to the tiny lady
of the house.

"Pray allow me, ladies and gentlemen," said the Lilliputian _grande
dame_, as she broke the seal, "to read this letter - although I am only
just learning the alphabet!"

There were a number of persons in the company who understood and enjoyed
the concluding words.

The little countess lifted her gold-rimmed lorgnette to her eyes, and
read her mother's letter.

She shook her head, shrugged her shoulders, and opened wide her blue
eyes.

"Ladies and gentlemen," she proceeded to explain, "mama has been called
suddenly away. She sends her greetings to you" (this was not in the
letter, but the little diplomatist thought it best to atone for her
mama's neglect) "until she returns, which will be very soon" (this also
was a thought of her own). "I am to fulfil the duties of lady of the
house."



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