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[Illustration: With her eye for detail Marie observed that the young
officer, instead of imparting information, received it.]













Marie Gessler, known as Marie Chaumontel, Jeanne d'Avrechy, the Countess
d'Aurillac, was German. Her father, who served through the
Franco-Prussian War, was a German spy. It was from her mother she
learned to speak French sufficiently well to satisfy even an Academician
and, among Parisians, to pass as one. Both her parents were dead. Before
they departed, knowing they could leave their daughter nothing save
their debts, they had had her trained as a nurse. But when they were
gone, Marie in the Berlin hospitals played politics, intrigued,
indiscriminately misused the appealing, violet eyes. There was a
scandal; several scandals. At the age of twenty-five she was dismissed
from the Municipal Hospital, and as now - save for the violet eyes - she
was without resources, as a _compagnon de voyage_ with a German doctor
she travelled to Monte Carlo. There she abandoned the doctor for Henri
Ravignac, a captain in the French Aviation Corps, who, when his leave
ended, escorted her to Paris.

The duties of Captain Ravignac kept him in barracks near the aviation
field, but Marie he established in his apartments on the Boulevard
Haussmann. One day he brought from the barracks a roll of blue-prints,
and as he was locking them in a drawer, said: "The Germans would pay
through the nose for those!" The remark was indiscreet, but then Marie
had told him she was French, and any one would have believed her.

The next morning the same spirit of adventure that had exiled her from
the Berlin hospitals carried her with the blue-prints to the German
embassy. There, greatly shocked, they first wrote down her name and
address, and then, indignant at her proposition, ordered her out. But
the day following a strange young German who was not at all indignant,
but, on the contrary, quite charming, called upon Marie. For the
blue-prints he offered her a very large sum, and that same hour with
them and Marie departed for Berlin. Marie did not need the money. Nor
did the argument that she was serving her country greatly impress her.
It was rather that she loved intrigue. And so she became a spy.

Henri Ravignac, the man she had robbed of the blue-prints, was tried by
court martial. The charge was treason, but Charles Ravignac, his
younger brother, promised to prove that the guilty one was the girl, and
to that end obtained leave of absence and spent much time and money. At
the trial he was able to show the record of Marie in Berlin and Monte
Carlo; that she was the daughter of a German secret agent; that on the
afternoon the prints disappeared Marie, with an agent of the German
embassy, had left Paris for Berlin. In consequence of this the charge of
selling military secrets was altered to one of "gross neglect," and
Henri Ravignac was sentenced to two years in the military prison at
Tours. But he was of an ancient and noble family, and when they came to
take him from his cell in the Cherche-Midi, he was dead. Charles, his
brother, disappeared. It was said he also had killed himself; that he
had been appointed a military attaché in South America; that to revenge
his brother he had entered the secret service; but whatever became of
him no one knew. All that was certain was that, thanks to the act of
Marie Gessler, on the rolls of the French army the ancient and noble
name of Ravignac no longer appeared.

In her chosen profession Marie Gessler found nothing discreditable. Of
herself her opinion was not high, and her opinion of men was lower. For
her smiles she had watched several sacrifice honor, duty, loyalty; and
she held them and their kind in contempt. To lie, to cajole, to rob men
of secrets they thought important, and of secrets the importance of
which they did not even guess, was to her merely an intricate and
exciting game.

She played it very well. So well that in the service her advance was
rapid. On important missions she was sent to Russia, through the
Balkans; even to the United States. There, with credentials as an army
nurse, she inspected our military hospitals and unobtrusively asked many
innocent questions.

When she begged to be allowed to work in her beloved Paris, "they" told
her when war came "they" intended to plant her inside that city, and
that, until then, the less Paris knew of her the better.

But just before the great war broke, to report on which way Italy might
jump, she was sent to Rome, and it was not until September she was
recalled. The telegram informed her that her Aunt Elizabeth was ill, and
that at once she must return to Berlin. This, she learned from the code
book wrapped under the cover of her thermos bottle, meant that she was
to report to the general commanding the German forces at Soissons.

From Italy she passed through Switzerland, and, after leaving Basle, on
military trains was rushed north to Luxemburg, and then west to Laon.
She was accompanied by her companion, Bertha, an elderly and
respectable, even distinguished-looking female. In the secret service
her number was 528. Their passes from the war office described them as
nurses of the German Red Cross. Only the Intelligence Department knew
their real mission. With her also, as her chauffeur, was a young Italian
soldier of fortune, Paul Anfossi. He had served in the Belgian Congo, in
the French Foreign Legion in Algiers, and spoke all the European
languages. In Rome, where as a wireless operator he was serving a
commercial company, in selling Marie copies of messages he had
memorized, Marie had found him useful, and when war came she obtained
for him, from the Wilhelmstrasse, the number 292. From Laon, in one of
the automobiles of the General Staff, the three spies were driven first
to Soissons, and then along the road to Meaux and Paris, to the village
of Neufchelles. They arrived at midnight, and in a château of one of the
champagne princes, found the colonel commanding the Intelligence
Bureau. He accepted their credentials, destroyed them, and replaced them
with a _laisser-passer_ signed by the mayor of Laon. That dignitary, the
colonel explained, to citizens of Laon fleeing to Paris and the coast
had issued many passes. But as now between Laon and Paris there were
three German armies, the refugees had been turned back and their passes

"From among them," said the officer, "we have selected one for you. It
is issued to the wife of Count d'Aurillac, a captain of reserves, and
her aunt, Madame Benet. It asks for those ladies and their chauffeur,
Briand, a safe-conduct through the French military lines. If it gets you
into Paris you will destroy it and assume another name. The Count
d'Aurillac is now with his regiment in that city. If he learned of the
presence there of his wife, he would seek her, and that would not be
good for you. So, if you reach Paris, you will become a Belgian refugee.
You are highborn and rich. Your château has been destroyed. But you have
money. You will give liberally to the Red Cross. You will volunteer to
nurse in the hospitals. With your sad story of ill treatment by us, with
your high birth, and your knowledge of nursing, which you acquired, of
course, only as an amateur, you should not find it difficult to join
the Ladies of France, or the American Ambulance. What you learn from the
wounded English and French officers and the French doctors you will send
us through the usual channels."

"When do I start?" asked the woman.

"For a few days," explained the officer, "you remain in this château.
You will keep us informed of what is going forward after we withdraw."

"Withdraw?" It was more of an exclamation than a question. Marie was too
well trained to ask questions.

"We are taking up a new position," said the officer, "on the Aisne."

The woman, incredulous, stared.

"And we do not enter Paris?"

"_You_ do," returned the officer. "That is all that concerns you. We
will join you later - in the spring. Meanwhile, for the winter we
intrench ourselves along the Aisne. In a chimney of this château we have
set up a wireless outfit. We are leaving it intact. The chauffeur
Briand - who, you must explain to the French, you brought with you from
Laon, and who has been long in your service - will transmit whatever you
discover. We wish especially to know of any movement toward our left. If
they attack in front from Soissons, we are prepared; but of any attempt
to cross the Oise and take us in flank, you must warn us."

The officer rose and hung upon himself his field-glasses, map-cases, and

"We leave you now," he said. "When the French arrive you will tell them
your reason for halting at this château was that the owner, Monsieur
Iverney, and his family are friends of your husband. You found us here,
and we detained you. And so long as you can use the wireless, make
excuses to remain. If they offer to send you on to Paris, tell them your
aunt is too ill to travel."

"But they will find the wireless," said the woman. "They are sure to use
the towers for observation, and they will find it."

"In that case," said the officer, "you will suggest to them that we fled
in such haste we had no time to dismantle it. Of course, you had no
knowledge that it existed, or, as a loyal French woman, you would have
at once told them." To emphasize his next words the officer pointed at
her: "Under no circumstances," he continued, "must you be suspected. If
they should take Briand in the act, should they have even the least
doubt concerning him, you must repudiate him entirely. If necessary, to
keep your own skirts clear, it would be your duty yourself to denounce
him as a spy."

"Your first orders," said the woman, "were to tell them Briand had been
long in my service; that I brought him from my home in Laon."

"He might be in your service for years," returned the colonel, "and you
not know he was a German agent."

"If to save myself I inform upon him," said Marie, "of course you know
you will lose him."

The officer shrugged his shoulders. "A wireless operator," he retorted,
"we can replace. But for you, and for the service you are to render in
Paris, we have no substitute. _You_ must not be found out. You are

The spy inclined her head. "I thank you," she said.

The officer sputtered indignantly.

"It is not a compliment," he exclaimed; "it is an order. You must not be
found out!"

Withdrawn some two hundred yards from the Paris road, the château stood
upon a wooded hill. Except directly in front, trees of great height
surrounded it. The tips of their branches brushed the windows;
interlacing, they continued until they overhung the wall of the estate.
Where it ran with the road the wall gave way to a lofty gate and iron
fence, through which those passing could see a stretch of noble turf, as
wide as a polo-field, borders of flowers disappearing under the shadows
of the trees; and the château itself, with its terrace, its many
windows, its high-pitched, sloping roof, broken by towers and turrets.

Through the remainder of the night there came from the road to those in
the château the roar and rumbling of the army in retreat. It moved
without panic, disorder, or haste, but unceasingly. Not for an instant
was there a breathing-spell. And when the sun rose, the three spies - the
two women and the chauffeur - who in the great château were now alone,
could see as well as hear the gray column of steel rolling past below

The spies knew that the gray column had reached Claye, had stood within
fifteen miles of Paris, and then upon Paris had turned its back. They
knew also that the reverberations from the direction of Meaux, that each
moment grew more loud and savage, were the French "seventy-fives"
whipping the gray column forward. Of what they felt the Germans did not
speak. In silence they looked at each other, and in the eyes of Marie
was bitterness and resolve.

Toward noon Marie met Anfossi in the great drawing-room that stretched
the length of the terrace and from the windows of which, through the
park gates, they could see the Paris road.

"This, that is passing now," said Marie, "is the last of our rear-guard.
Go to your tower," she ordered, "and send word that except for
stragglers and the wounded our column has just passed through
Neufchelles, and that any moment we expect the French." She raised her
hand impressively. "From now," she warned, "we speak French, we think
French, we _are_ French!"

Anfossi, or Briand, as now he called himself, addressed her in that
language. His tone was bitter. "Pardon my lese-majesty," he said, "but
this chief of your Intelligence Department is a _dummer Mensch_. He is
throwing away a valuable life."

Marie exclaimed in dismay. She placed her hand upon his arm, and the
violet eyes filled with concern.

"Not yours!" she protested.

"Absolutely!" returned the Italian. "I can send nothing by this knapsack
wireless that they will not learn from others; from airmen, Uhlans, the
peasants in the fields. And certainly I will be caught. Dead I am dead,
but alive and in Paris the opportunities are unending. From the French
Legion Etranger I have my honorable discharge. I am an expert wireless
operator and in their Signal Corps I can easily find a place. Imagine
me, then, on the Eiffel Tower. From the air I snatch news from all of
France, from the Channel, the North Sea. You and I could work together,
as in Rome. But here, between the lines, with a pass from a village
_sous préfet_, it is ridiculous. I am not afraid to die. But to die
because some one else is stupid, that is hard."

Marie clasped his hand in both of hers.

"You must not speak of death," she cried; "you know I must carry out my
orders, that I must force you to take this risk. And you know that
thought of harm to you tortures me!"

Quickly the young man disengaged his hand. The woman exclaimed with

"Why do you doubt me?" she cried.

Briand protested vehemently.

"I do not doubt you."

"My affection, then?" In a whisper that carried with it the feeling of a
caress Marie added softly: "My love?"

The young man protested miserably. "You make it very hard,
mademoiselle," he cried. "You are my superior officer, I am your
servant. Who am I that I should share with others - "

The woman interrupted eagerly.

"Ah, you are jealous!" she cried. "Is that why you are so cruel? But
when I _tell_ you I love you, and only you, can you not _feel_ it is the

The young man frowned unhappily.

"My duty, mademoiselle!" he stammered.

With an exclamation of anger Marie left him. As the door slammed behind
her, the young man drew a deep breath. On his face was the expression of
ineffable relief.

In the hall Marie met her elderly companion, Bertha, now her aunt,
Madame Benet.

"I heard you quarrelling," Bertha protested. "It is most indiscreet. It
is not in the part of the Countess d'Aurillac that she makes love to her

Marie laughed noiselessly and drew her farther down the hall. "He is
imbecile!" she exclaimed. "He will kill me with his solemn face and his
conceit. I make love to him - yes - that he may work the more willingly.
But he will have none of it. He is jealous of the others."

Madame Benet frowned.

"He resents the others," she corrected. "I do not blame him. He is a

"And the others," demanded Marie; "were they not of the most noble
families of Rome?"

"I am old and I am ugly," said Bertha, "but to me Anfossi is always as
considerate as he is to you who are so beautiful."

"An Italian gentleman," returned Marie, "does not serve in Belgian Congo
unless it is the choice of that or the marble quarries."

"I do not know what his past may be," sighed Madame Benet, "nor do I
ask. He is only a number, as you and I are only numbers. And I beg you
to let us work in harmony. At such a time your love-affairs threaten our
safety. You must wait."

Marie laughed insolently. "With the Du Barry," she protested, "I can
boast that I wait for no man."

"No," replied the older woman; "you pursue him!"

Marie would have answered sharply, but on the instant her interest was
diverted. For one week, by day and night, she had lived in a world
peopled only by German soldiers. Beside her in the railroad carriage, on
the station platforms, at the windows of the trains that passed the one
in which she rode, at the grade crossings, on the bridges, in the roads
that paralleled the tracks, choking the streets of the villages and
spread over the fields of grain, she had seen only the gray-green
uniforms. Even her professional eye no longer distinguished regiment
from regiment, dragoon from grenadier, Uhlan from Hussar or Landsturm.
Stripes, insignia, numerals, badges of rank, had lost their meaning.
Those who wore them no longer were individuals. They were not even
human. During the three last days the automobile, like a motor-boat
fighting the tide, had crept through a gray-green river of men, stained,
as though from the banks, by mud and yellow clay. And for hours, while
the car was blocked, and in fury the engine raced and purred, the
gray-green river had rolled past her, slowly but as inevitably as lava
down the slope of a volcano, bearing on its surface faces with staring
eyes, thousands and thousands of eyes, some fierce and bloodshot, others
filled with weariness, homesickness, pain. At night she still saw them:
the white faces under the sweat and dust, the eyes dumb, inarticulate,
asking the answer. She had been suffocated by German soldiers, by the
mass of them, engulfed and smothered; she had stifled in a land
inhabited only by gray-green ghosts.

And suddenly, as though a miracle had been wrought, she saw upon the
lawn, riding toward her, a man in scarlet, blue, and silver. One man
riding alone.

Approaching with confidence, but alert; his reins fallen, his hands
nursing his carbine, his eyes searched the shadows of the trees, the
empty windows, even the sun-swept sky. His was the new face at the door,
the new step on the floor. And the spy knew had she beheld an army corps
it would have been no more significant, no more menacing, than the
solitary _chasseur à cheval_ scouting in advance of the enemy.

"We are saved!" exclaimed Marie, with irony. "Go quickly," she
commanded, "to the bedroom on the second floor that opens upon the
staircase, so that you can see all who pass. You are too ill to travel.
They must find you in bed."

"And you?" said Bertha.

"I," cried Marie rapturously, "hasten to welcome our preserver!"

The preserver was a peasant lad. Under the white dust his cheeks were
burned a brown-red, his eyes, honest and blue, through much staring at
the skies and at horizon lines, were puckered and encircled with tiny
wrinkles. Responsibility had made him older than his years, and in
speech brief. With the beautiful lady who with tears of joy ran to greet
him, and who in an ecstasy of happiness pressed her cheek against the
nose of his horse, he was unimpressed. He returned to her her papers
and gravely echoed her answers to his questions. "This château," he
repeated, "was occupied by their General Staff; they have left no
wounded here; you saw the last of them pass a half-hour since." He
gathered up his reins.

Marie shrieked in alarm. "You will not leave us?" she cried.

For the first time the young man permitted himself to smile. "Others
arrive soon," he said.

He touched his shako, wheeled his horse in the direction from which he
had come, and a minute later Marie heard the hoofs echoing through the
empty village.

When they came, the others were more sympathetic. Even in times of war a
beautiful woman is still a beautiful woman. And the staff officers who
moved into the quarters so lately occupied by the enemy found in the
presence of the Countess d'Aurillac nothing to distress them. In the
absence of her dear friend, Madame Iverney, the châtelaine of the
château, she acted as their hostess. Her chauffeur showed the company
cooks the way to the kitchen, the larder, and the charcoal-box. She,
herself, in the hands of General Andre placed the keys of the famous
wine-cellar, and to the surgeon, that the wounded might be freshly
bandaged, intrusted those of the linen-closet. After the indignities she
had suffered while "detained" by _les Boches_, her delight and relief at
again finding herself under the protection of her own people would have
touched a heart of stone. And the hearts of the staff were not of stone.
It was with regret they gave the countess permission to continue on her
way. At this she exclaimed with gratitude. She assured them, were her
aunt able to travel, she would immediately depart.

"In Paris she will be more comfortable than here," said the kind
surgeon. He was a reservist, and in times of peace a fashionable
physician and as much at his ease in a boudoir as in a field hospital.
"Perhaps if I saw Madame Benet?"

At the suggestion the countess was overjoyed. But they found Madame
Benet in a state of complete collapse. The conduct of the Germans had
brought about a nervous breakdown.

"Though the bridges are destroyed at Meaux," urged the surgeon, "even
with a detour, you can be in Paris in four hours. I think it is worth
the effort."

But the mere thought of the journey threw Madame Benet into hysterics.
She asked only to rest, she begged for an opiate to make her sleep. She
begged also that they would leave the door open, so that when she
dreamed she was still in the hands of the Germans, and woke in terror,
the sound of the dear French voices and the sight of the beloved French
uniforms might reassure her. She played her part well. Concerning her
Marie felt not the least anxiety. But toward Briand, the chauffeur, the
new arrivals were less easily satisfied.

The general sent his adjutant for the countess. When the adjutant had
closed the door General Andre began abruptly:

"The chauffeur Briand," he asked, "you know him; you can vouch for him?"

"But, certainly!" protested Marie. "He is an Italian."

As though with sudden enlightenment, Marie laughed. It was as if now in
the suspicion of the officer she saw a certain reasonableness. "Briand
was so long in the Foreign Legion in Algiers," she explained, "where my
husband found him, that we have come to think of him as French. As much
French as ourselves, I assure you."

The general and his adjutant were regarding each other questioningly.

"Perhaps I should tell the countess," began the general, "that we have
learned - "

The signal from the adjutant was so slight, so swift, that Marie barely
intercepted it.

The lips of the general shut together like the leaves of a book. To show
the interview was at an end, he reached for a pen.

"I thank you," he said.

"Of course," prompted the adjutant, "Madame d'Aurillac understands the
man must not know we inquired concerning him."

General Andre frowned at Marie.

"Certainly not!" he commanded. "The honest fellow must not know that
even for a moment he was doubted."

Marie raised the violet eyes reprovingly.

"I trust," she said with reproach, "I too well understand the feelings
of a French soldier to let him know his loyalty is questioned."

With a murmur of appreciation the officers bowed and with a gesture of
gracious pardon Marie left them.

Outside in the hall, with none but orderlies to observe, like a cloak
the graciousness fell from her. She was drawn two ways. In her work
Anfossi was valuable. But Anfossi suspected was less than of no value;
he became a menace, a death-warrant.

General Andre had said, "We have learned - " and the adjutant had halted
him. What had he learned? To know that, Marie would have given much.
Still, one important fact comforted her. Anfossi alone was suspected.
Had there been concerning herself the slightest doubt, they certainly
would not have allowed her to guess her companion was under
surveillance; they would not have asked one who was herself suspected to
vouch for the innocence of a fellow conspirator. Marie found the course
to follow difficult. With Anfossi under suspicion his usefulness was for
the moment at an end; and to accept the chance offered her to continue
on to Paris seemed most wise. On the other hand, if, concerning Anfossi,

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