WORKS OF MAURUS JOKAI
THE NAMELESS CASTLE
Translated from the Hungarian Under the Author's supervision By S. E. BOGGS
NEW YORK DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY 1898
TO THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MY WORKS
This is not the first occasion upon which it has been my good fortune to win appreciation and approval for my works from the reading public of the United States. Up to the present, however, it has often been under difficulties; for many of my works which have been published in the English tongue were not translated from the original Hungarian text, while others, through want of a final perusal, were introduced to the public marred by numerous faults.
In the present edition we have striven to give the English reading public a correct translation, for which an authorized text has been utilized by the Doubleday & McClure Co., who have sole right for publishing future English translations of my books.
Between the United States and Hungary we discover many common traits: the same state-creative energy in the predominant people, which finds expression in constitutional forms, relying upon the love of freedom, which unites so many different races in one uniform whole; the same independent institutions; the same ideas in religion, in ethics; the same respect for women, the same esteem of labor, the same mental culture; a striving after progress, yet side by side with this a high respect for traditions; the same poetry of agriculture, the same prose of industry; rapid progress of both, and in consequence thereof an impetuous growth of towns.
Yet, while we find so many common traits between America and Hungary in the great field of theory, those typical figures which here in Hungary represent such theories must make a novel and extraordinary entree in the New World, that they may deserve to win the interest of the foreign reader.
Hungary still represents a piece and parcel of the Old World; she is not so much Europe as a modern Asia. My novels centre round those peculiar figures of Hungarian common life; and in every work of mine a bit of history of true common life will be found described. I have had a particular delight, however, in occupying myself with foreign countries, especially with the East. There have been years when I was compelled to choose subjects for novel-writing in foreign parts.
In English and in Hungarian literature we find a common trait in that humor which is discovered also in the tragic; a characteristic of the nation itself.
It is with perfect confidence and in good hope that I present my present work (translated so faithfully) before the much-esteemed English reading public. May God bless that home of freedom, by whose example we have learnt how to unite the greatness of the state with the welfare of the people.
DR. MAURUS JOKAI.
BUDAPEST, May 11th, 1898.
DR. MAURUS JOKAI
To a man who has earned such titles as "The Shakespeare of Hungary" and "The Glory of Hungarian Literature"; who published in fifty years three hundred and fifty novels, dramas, and miscellaneous works, not to mention innumerable articles for the press that owes its freedom chiefly to him, it seems incredible that there was ever a time of indecision as to what career he was best fitted to follow. The idle life of the nobility into which Maurus Jokay was born in 1825 had no attractions for a strongly intellectual boy, fired with zeal and energy that carried him easily to the head of each class in school and college; nor did he feel any attraction for the prosaic practice of law, his father's profession, to which Austria's despotism drove many a nobleman in those wretched days for Hungary. It was Petofi, the poet, who was his dearest friend during the student-life at Papa; idealism ever attracted him, and, by natural gravitation toward the finest minds, he chose the friendship of young men who quickly rose into eminence during the days of revolution and invasion that tried men's souls.
For a time Jokay, as he then wrote his name, was undecided whether to choose literature or art as an outlet for the idealism, imagination, and devotion that overflowed in two directions from this boy of seventeen. With some of the inherited artistic talent, which in his relative Munkacsy amounted to genius, he felt most inclined toward painting and sculpture, and finally consecrated himself to them. In his library at Budapest there now stands a small, well-executed bust of his wife in ivory; and on the walls hang several landscapes and still-life paintings, which he showed with a smile to an American visitor, who stood silent before them last winter, hoping for some inspiration of speech that would reconcile politeness with veracity and her own ideals of good art. If a "deep love for art and an ardent desire to excel" will "more than compensate for the want of method," to quote Sir Joshua Reynolds, then Jokay would have been a great painter indeed. While he never was that, his chisel and brushes have remained a recreation and delight to him always.
Apparently he was diverted from art to literature by a trifle; but in the light of later developments it is simple enough to see which was really the greater force working within. The Academy of Arts and Sciences, founded by Szecheni, offered a prize for the best drama, and Jokay won it. He was then seventeen, for careers began early in olden times. When twenty-one his first novel, "Work Days," met with great applause; other romances quickly followed, and, as they dealt with the social and political tendencies that fanned the revolution into flame two years later, their success was instantaneous. His true representations of Hungarian life and character, his passionate love of liberty, his lofty idealism for his crushed and lethargic country, aroused a great wave of patriotism like a call to arms, and consecrated him to work with his pen for the freedom of the common people. Henceforth paint-brushes were cast aside.
Petofi and Jokay, teeming with great ideas, quickly attracted other writers and young men of the university about them, and, each helping the other, brought about a bloodless revolution that secured, among other inestimable boons, the freedom of a censored, degraded press. And yet the only act of violence these young revolutionists committed was in entering a printing establishment and setting up with their own hands the type for Petofi's poem, that afterward became the war-song of the national movement. At that very establishment was soon to be printed a proclamation granting twelve of their dearest wishes to the people. From this time Jokay changed the spelling of his name to Jokai, y being a badge of nobility hateful to disciples of the doctrine of liberty, fraternity, equality.
About this time Jokai married the Rachel of the Hungarian stage, Rosa Laborfalvy. The portrait of her that hangs in her husband's famous library shows a beautiful woman of intense sensitiveness, into whose face some of the sadness of her roles seems to have crept. It was to her powers of impersonation and disguise that Jokai owed his life many years later, when, imprisoned and suffering in a dungeon, he was enabled to escape in her clothes to join Kossuth in the desperate fight against the allied armies of Austria and Russia. Since her death he has lived in retirement.
The bloodless revolution of 1848, which suddenly transformed Hungary into a modern state, possessing civil and religious liberty for which the young idealists led by Kossuth had labored with such passionate zeal, was not effected without antagonizing the old aristocracy, all of whose cherished institutions were suddenly swept away; or the semi-barbaric people of the peasant class, who could little appreciate the beneficent reforms. Into the awful civil war that followed, when the horrors of an Austrian-Russian invasion were added to the already desperate situation, Jokai plunged with magnificent heroism. Side by side with Kossuth, he fought with sword and pen. Those who heard him deliver an address at the Peace Congress at Brussels two years ago felt through his impassioned eloquence that the man had himself drained the bitterest dregs of war.
While Kossuth lived in exile in England and the United States, and many other compatriots escaped to Turkey and beyond, Jokai, in concealment at home, writing under an assumed name and with a price on his head, continued his work for social reform, until a universal pardon was granted by Austria and the saddened idealists once more dared show their faces in devastated Hungary.
Ripe with experience and full of splendid intellectual power, Jokai now turned his whole attention to literature. The pages of his novels glow with the warmth of the man's intensity of feeling: his pen had been touched by a living coal. He knew his country as no other man has known it; and transferred its types, its manners, its life in high degree and low, to the pages of his romances and dramas with a brilliancy and mastery of style that captivated the people, whose idol he still remains. Scenes from Turkish life—in which, next to Hungarian, he is particularly interested; historical novels, romances of pure imagination, short tales, dramatic works, essays on literature and social questions, came pouring from his surcharged brain and heart. The very virtues of his work, its intensity, and the boundless scope of its imagination, sometimes produce a lack of unity and an improbability to which the hypercritical in the West draw attention with a sense of superior wisdom; but the Hungarians themselves, who know whereof he writes, can see no faults whatever in his work. It is essentially idealistic; the true and the beautiful shine through it with radiant lustre, in sharp distinction from the scenes of famine and carnage that abound. His Turkish stories have been described as "full of blood and roses."
Of his more mature productions, the best known are: "A Magyar Nabob"; "The Fools of Love"; "The New Landlord"; "Black Diamonds"; "A Romance of the Coming Century"; "Handsome Michael"; "God is One," in which the Unitarians play an important part; "The Nameless Castle," that gives an account of the Hungarian army employed against Napoleon in 1809; "Captive Raby," a romance of the times of Joseph II.; and "As We Grow Old," the latter being the author's own favorite and, strangely enough, the people's also. Dr. Jokai greatly deplores that what the critics call his best work should not have been given to the English-speaking people.
In 1896 Hungary celebrated the completion of his fifty years of literary labor by issuing a beautiful jubilee edition of his works, for which the people of all grades of society subscribed $100,000. Every county in the country sent him memorials in the form of albums wrought in gold and precious stones, two hundred of these souvenirs filling one side of the author's large library and reception-room. Low bookcases running around the walls are filled only with his own publications, the various editions of his three hundred and fifty books making a large library in themselves. The cabinets hold sketches and paintings sent by the artists of Hungary as a jubilee gift; there are cases containing carvings, embroidery, lace, and natural-history specimens sent him by the peasants, and orders in gold and silver, studded with jewels, with autograph letters from the kings and queens of Europe. In the midst of all this inspiring display of loving appreciation, Dr. Jokai has his desk; a pile of neatly written, even manuscript ever before him, for in his seventy-fourth year he still feels the old-time passion for work calling him to it early in the morning and holding him in its spell all the day long. A small room adjoining his library contains the books of reference he consults, a narrow bed like a soldier's, and a few window plants. It might be the room of a monk, so bare is it of what the world calls comforts. One devoted man-servant attends to Dr. Jokai's simple wants with abundant leisure to spare.
While in Budapest Dr. Jokai is seldom seen away from home, except in Parliament, where he has a seat in the Upper House, or at the theatre where his plays are regularly performed, or at the table of a few dear relatives and old-time friends. His life is exceedingly simple and well ordered.
Just a little way back on the hills that rise beyond Buda, across the Danube and overlooking wide stretches of beautiful, fertile country, stands Dr. Jokai's summer-home. His garden is a paradise. Quantities of roses climb over the unpretentious house, the paths are lined with them; gay beds of poppies and other familiar favorites in our Western gardens, but many new to American eyes, crowd the fruit that grows in delightful abundance everywhere, for Dr. Jokai tends his garden with his own hands, and his horticultural wisdom is only second to his knowledge of the Turkish wars. His apples, pears, and roses win prizes at all the shows, and his little book, "Hints on Gardening," propagates a large crop of like-minded enthusiasts year after year. Now, as ever, any knowledge he has he shares with the people. After a long life of bitter stress and labor, abundant peace has come in the latter days.
Hungary boasts four great men: Liszt, Munkacsy, Kossuth, and Jokai, who was the intimate friend of the other three.
NEW YORK, JUNE, 1898.
I CYTHERA'S BRIGADE II THE HOME OF ANECDOTE III THE MISTRESS OF THE CATS IV SATAN LACZI V ANGE BARTHELMY VI DEATH AND NEW LIFE IN THE NAMELESS CASTLE VII THE HUNGARIAN MILITIA VIII KATHARINA OR THEMIRE? IX SATAN AND DEMON X CONCLUSION
A snow-storm was raging with such vigor that any one who chanced to be passing along the silent thoroughfare might well have believed himself in St. Petersburg instead of in Paris, in the Rue des Ours, a side street leading into the Avenue St. Martin. The street, never a very busy one, was now almost deserted, as was also the avenue, as it was yet too early for vehicles of various sorts to be returning from the theatre.
The street-lamps on the corners had not yet been lighted. In front of one of those old-fashioned houses which belong to a former Paris a heavy iron lantern swung, creaking in the wind, and, battling with the darkness, shed flickering rays of light on the child who, with a faded red cotton shawl wrapped about her, was cowering in the deep doorway of the house. From time to time there would emerge from the whirling snowflakes the dark form of a man clad as a laborer. He would walk leisurely toward the doorway in which the shivering child was concealed, but would turn when he came to the circle of light cast on the snowy pavement by the swinging lantern, and retrace his steps, thus appearing and disappearing at regular intervals. Surely a singular time and place for a promenade! The clocks struck ten—the hour which found every honest dweller within the Quartier St. Martin at home. On this evening, however, two belated citizens came from somewhere, their hurrying footsteps noiseless in the deep snow, their approach announced only by the lantern carried by one of them—an article without which no respectable citizen at the beginning of the century would have ventured on the street after nightfall. One of the pedestrians was tall and broad-shouldered, with a handsome countenance, which bore the impress of an inflexible determination; a dimple indented his smoothly shaven chin. His companion, and his senior by several years, was a slender, undersized man.
When the two men came abreast of the doorway illumined by the swinging lamp, it was evident that they had arrived at their destination. They halted and prepared to enter the house.
At this moment the child crouching in the snow began to sob.
"See here!" exclaimed the taller of the two gentlemen. "Here is a little girl."
"Why, so there is!" in turn exclaimed the elder, stooping and letting the light of his lantern fall on the child's face. "What are you doing here, little one?" he asked in a kindly tone.
"I want my mama! I want my mama!" wailed the child, with a fresh burst of sobs.
"Who is your mama?" queried the younger man.
"My mama is the countess."
"And where does she live?"
"In the palace."
"Naturally! In which avenue is the palace?"
"A true child of Paris!" in an undertone exclaimed the elder gentleman. "She knows that her mother is a countess, and that she lives in a palace; but she has never been told the name of the street in which is her home."
"How come you to be here, little countess?" inquired the younger man.
"Diana can tell you," was the reply.
"And who may Diana be?"
"Why, who else but mama's Diana?"
"Allow me to question her," here interposed the elder man. Then, to the child: "Diana is the person who helps you put on your clothes, is she not?"
"It is just the other way: she took off my clothes—just see; I have nothing on but this petticoat and this hideous shawl."
As she spoke she flung back the faded shawl and revealed how scantily she was clad.
"You poor child!" compassionately ejaculated the young man; and when he saw that her thin morocco slippers were buried in the snow, he lifted her hastily in his arms. "You are half frozen."
"But why did Diana leave you half clothed in this manner?" pursued the elder man. "Why did she undress you? Can't you tell us that much?"
"Mama slapped her this morning."
"Ah! then Diana is a servant?"
"Why, of course; what else could she be?"
"Well, she might be a goddess or a hound, you know," smilingly returned the old gentleman.
"When mama went to the opera, this evening," explained the little one, "she ordered Diana to take me to the children's ball at the marquis's. Instead, she brought me to this street, made me get out of the carriage, took off my silk ball-gown and all my pretty ornaments, and left me here in this doorway—I am sure I don't know why, for there is n't any music here."
"It is well she left this old shawl with you, else your mama would not have a little countess to tell the tale to-morrow," observed the elder man. Then, turning to his companion, he added in a lower tone: "What are we to do with her?"
"We can't leave her here; that would be inhuman," was the reply, in the same cautious tone.
"But we can't take her in; it would be a great risk."
"What is there to fear from an innocent prattler who cannot even remember her mother's name?"
"We might take her to the conciergerie," suggested the elder gentleman.
"I think we had better not disturb the police when they are asleep," in a significant tone responded his companion.
"That is true; but we can't take the child to our apartments. You know that we—"
"I have an idea!" suddenly interposed the young man. "This innocent child has been placed in our way by Providence; by aiding her we may accomplish more easily the task we have undertaken."
"I understand," assented the elder; "we can accomplish two good deeds at one and the same time. Allow me to go up-stairs first; while you are locking the door I will arrange matters up there so that you may bring this poor little half-frozen creature directly with you." Then, to the child: "Don't be afraid, little countess; nothing shall harm you. To-morrow morning perhaps you will remember your mama's name, or else she will send some one in search of you."
He opened the door, and ran hastily up the worn staircase.
When the young man, with the little girl in his arms, reached the door at the head of the stairs, his companion met him, and, with a meaning glance, announced that everything was ready for the reception of their small guest. They entered a dingy anteroom, which led, through heavily curved antique sliding-doors, into a vaulted saloon hung with faded tapestry.
Here the child exhibited the first signs of alarm. "Are you going to kill me?" she cried out in terror.
The old gentleman laughed merrily, and said:
"Why, surely you don't take us to be croquemitaines who devour little children; do you?"
"Have you got a little girl of your own?" queried the little one, suddenly.
"No, my dear," replied the old gentleman, visibly affected by the question. "I have no wife; therefore I cannot have a little girl."
"But my mama has no husband, and she 's got me," prattled the child.
"That is different, my dear. But if I have not got a little girl, I know very well what to do for one."
As he spoke he drew off the child's wet slippers and stockings, rubbed her feet with a flannel cloth, then laid her on the bed which stood in the alcove.
"Why, how warm this bed is!" cried the child; "just as if some one had been sleeping here."
The old man's face betrayed some confusion as he responded:
"Might I not have warmed it with a warming-pan?"
"But where did you get hot coals?"
"Well, well, what an inquisitive little creature it is!" muttered the old man. Then, aloud: "My dear, don't you say your prayers before going to sleep?"
"No, indeed! Mama says we shall have plenty of time for that when we grow old."
"An enlightened woman, truly! Well, I dare say, my little maid, your convictions will not prevent you from drinking a cup of egg-punch, and partaking of a bit of pasty or a small biscuit?"
At mention of these dainties the child's countenance brightened; and while she was eating the repast with evident relish, the younger man rummaged from somewhere a large, beautifully dressed doll. All thought of fear now vanished from the small guest's mind. She clasped the toy in her arms, and, having finished her light meal, began to sing a lullaby, to which she very soon fell asleep herself.
"She is sleeping soundly," whispered the elder man, softly drawing together the faded damask bed-curtains, and walking on tiptoe back to the fireplace, where his companion had fanned the fire into a fresh blaze.
"It is high time," was the low and rather impatient response. "We can't stop here much longer. Do you know what has happened to the duke?"
"Yes, I know. He has been sentenced to death. To-morrow he will be executed. What have you discovered?"
"A fox on the trail of a lion!" harshly replied the young man. "He who aroused so many hopes is, after all, nothing more than an impostor—Leon Maria Hervagault, the son of a tailor at St. Leu. The true dauphin, the son of Louis XVI., really died a natural death, after he had served a three years' apprenticeship as shoemaker under Master Simho; and in order that a later generation might not be able to secure his ashes, he was buried in quick-lime in the Chapel of St. Margarethe."
"They were not so scrupulous concerning monsieur," observed the old man, restlessly pacing the floor. "I received a letter from my agent to-day; he writes that monsieur was secretly shot at Dillingen."
[Footnote 1: Count de Provence, afterward Louis XVIII.]
"What! He, too? Then—"
"Hush!" cautiously interposed the elder man. "That child might not be asleep."
"And if she were awake, what could she understand?"
"True; but we must be cautious." He ceased his restless promenade, and came close to the young man's side. "Everything is at an end here," he added in a lower tone. "We must remove our treasure to a more secure hiding-place—this very night, indeed, if it be possible."
"It is possible," assented his companion. "The plan of flight was arranged two days ago. The most difficult part was to get away from this house. It is watched day and night. Chance, however, has come to our aid."
"I understand," nodded the old gentleman, glancing significantly toward the bed.
"The most serious question now is, where shall we find a secure hiding-place? Even England is not safe. The bullets of Dillingen can reach to that country! Indeed, wherever there are police no secret is safe."
"I 'll tell you something," after a moment's deliberation observed the elder man. "I know of a country in Europe where order prevails, and where there are no police spies; and, what is more, the place of which I speak is beyond the range of a gunshot!"
"I confess I am curious to learn where such a place may be found," with an incredulous smile returned the young man.
"Fetch the map, and I will point it out to you. Afterward we will arrange your route toward it." The two men spread a large map of Europe on the table, and, bending over it, were soon deeply absorbed in examining it, the while exchanging whispered remarks.
At last they seemed to have agreed on something. The map was folded up and thrust into the younger man's pocket.
"I shall start at once," he said, with an air of decision.
"That is well," with evident satisfaction assented his companion. "And take with you also the steel casket. In it are all the necessary documents, some articles of clothing on which the mother with her own hands embroidered the well-known symbol, and a million of francs in English bank-notes. These, however, you will not use unless compelled to do so by extreme necessity. You will receive annually a sufficient sum from a certain banking-house which will supply all your wants. Have our two trusty friends been apprised?"
"Yes; they await me hourly."
"So soon as you are beyond the French boundary you may communicate with me in the way we have agreed upon. Until I hear from you I shall be in a terror of anxiety. I am sorry I cannot accompany you, but I am already suspected. You are, as yet, free from suspicion—are not yet registered in the black book!"
"You may trust my skill to evade pursuit," said the young man, producing from a secret cupboard a casket richly ornamented with gold.
"I do not doubt your skill, or your ability to accomplish the undertaking; but the task is not a suitable one for so young a man. Have you considered the fate which awaits you?"
"I have considered everything."
"You will be buried; and, what is worse, you will be the keeper of your own prison."
"I shall be a severe jailer, I promise you," with a grim smile responded the young man.
"Jester! You forget your twenty-six years! And who can tell how long you may be buried alive?"
"Have no fear for me. I do not dread the task. Those in power now will one day be overthrown."
"But when the child, who is only twelve years old now, becomes in three or four years a blooming maiden—what then? Already she is fond of you; then she will love you. You cannot hinder it; and yet, you will not even dare to dream of returning her love. Have you thought of this also?"
"I shall look upon myself as the inhabitant of a different planet," answered the young man.
"Your hand, my friend! You have undertaken a noble task—one that is greater than that of the captive knight who cut off his own foot, that his sovereign, who was chained to him, might escape—"
"Pray say no more about me," interposed his companion. "Is the child asleep?"
"This one is; the one in the other room is awake."
"Then let us go to her and tell her what we have decided." He lifted the two-branched candlestick from the table; his companion carefully closed the iron doors of the fireplace; then the two went into the adjoining chamber, leaving the room they had quitted in darkness.
The elder gentleman had made a mistake: "this" child was not asleep. She had listened attentively, half sitting up in bed, to as much of the conversation as she could hear.
A ray of light penetrated through the keyhole. The little girl sprang nimbly from the bed, ran to the door, and peered through the tiny aperture. Suddenly footsteps came toward the door. When it opened, however, the little eavesdropper was back underneath the covers of the bed. The old gentleman entered the room. He had no candle. He left the door open, walked noiselessly to the bed, and drew aside the curtains to see if "this" child was still asleep. The long-drawn, regular breathing convinced him. Then he took something from the chair beside the bed, and went back into the other room. The object he had taken from the chair was the faded red shawl in which the stray child had been wrapped. He did not close the door of the adjoining chamber, for the candles had been extinguished and both rooms were now dark.
To the listening child in the bed, however, it seemed as if voices were whispering near her—as if she heard a stifled sob. Then cautious footsteps crossed the floor, and after an interval of silence the street door opened and closed.
Very soon afterward a light was struck in the adjoining room, and the elder man came through the doorway—alone.
He flung back the doors of the fireplace, and stirred the embers; then he proceeded to perform a singular task. First he tossed a number of letters and papers into the flames, then several dainty articles of girls' clothing. He watched them until they had burned to ashes; then he flung himself into an arm-chair; his head sank forward on his breast, in which position he sat motionless for several hours.
When the younger of the two men stepped into the street he carried in his arms a little girl wrapped in a faded red shawl, to whom he was speaking encouragingly, in tones loud enough for any passer-by to hear:
"I know the little countess will be able to find her mama's palace; for there is a fountain in front of it in which there is a stone man with a three-pronged fork, and a stone lady with a fish-tail! Oh, yes; we shall be sure to find it; and very soon we shall be with mama."
Here the child in his arms began to sob bitterly.
"For heaven's sake, do not weep; do not let your voice be heard," whispered the young man in her ear.
At this moment a man wearing a coarse blouse, with his cap drawn over his eyes and a short pipe between his lips, came staggering toward them. The young man, in order to make room for him, pressed close to the wall, whereupon the new-comer, who seemed intoxicated, began in drunken tones:
"Hello, citizen! What do you mean? Do you want me to walk in the gutter?—because you have got on fine boots, and I have only wooden sabots! I am a citizen like yourself, and as good as you. We are alike, are n't we?"
The young man now knew with whom he had to deal—a police spy whose duty it was to watch him. He therefore replied quietly:
"No, we are not alike, citizen; for I have in my arms an unfortunate child who has strayed from its mother. Every Frenchman respects a child and misfortune. Is not that so, citizen?"
"Yes, that is so, citizen. Let 's have a little conversation about it"; and the pretended drunkard seized hold of the young man's mantle to detain him.
"It is very cold," returned the young man. "Instead of talking here, suppose you help me get this child to its home. Go to the nearest corner and fetch a coach. I will wait here for you."
The blouse-wearer hesitated a moment, then walked toward the street-corner, managing, however, to keep an eye on the young man and his charge. At the corner he whistled in a peculiar manner, whereupon the rumbling of wheels was heard. In a few moments the leather-covered vehicle drew up beside the curb where the young man was waiting.
"I am very much obliged to you for your kindness, citizen," he said to the blouse-wearer, who had returned with the coach. "Here," pressing a twenty-sou piece into the man's palm, "is something for your trouble. I wish you would come with me to help hunt for this little girl's home. If you have time, and will come with me, you shall be paid for your trouble."
"Can't do it, citizen; my wife is expecting me at home. Just you trust this coachman; he will help you find the place. He 's a clever youth—are n't you, Peroquin? You have made many a night journey about Paris, have n't you? See that you earn your twenty francs to-night, too!"
That the coachman was also in the service of the secret police the young man knew very well; but he did not betray his knowledge by word or mien.
The blouse-wearer now shook hands cordially with the young man, and said:
"Adieu, citizen. I beg your pardon if I offended you. I 'll leave you now. I am going to my wife, or to the tavern; who can tell the future?"
He waited until the young man had entered the coach with his charge; then, instead of betaking himself to his wife or to the tavern, he crossed the street, and took up his station in the recess of a doorway opposite the house with the swinging lantern. . . .
"Where to?" asked the coachman of the young man.
"Well, citizen," was the smiling response, "if I knew that, all would be well. But that is just what I don't know; and the little countess, here, who has strayed from her home, can't remember the street, nor the number of the house, in which she lives. She can only remember that her mama's palace is on a square in which there is a fountain. We must therefore visit all the fountains in turn until we find the right one."
The coachman made no further inquiries, but climbed to the box, and drove off in quest of the fountains of Paris.
Two fountains were visited, but neither of them proved to be the right one. The young man now bade the coachman drive through a certain street to a third fountain. It was a narrow, winding street—the Rue des Blancs Manteaux.
When the coach was opposite a low, one-storied house, the young man drew the strap, and told the driver he wished to stop for a few moments. As the vehicle drew up in front of the house, the door opened, and a tall, stalwart man in top-boots came forth, accompanied by a sturdy dame who held a candle, which she protected from the wind with the palm of her hand.
"Is that you, Raoul?" called the young man from the coach window.
There was no response from the giant, who, instead, sprang nimbly to the box, and, flinging one arm around the astonished coachman, thrust a gag into his mouth. Before the captive could make a move to defend himself, his fare was out of the coach, and had pinioned his arms behind his back. The giant and the young man now lifted the coachman from the box and carried him into the house, the woman followed with the trembling child, whom she had carefully lifted from the coach.
In the house, the two men bound their captive securely, first removing his coat. Then they seated him on the couch, and placed a mirror in front of him.
"You need not be alarmed, citizen," said the man in the top-boots. "No harm shall come to you. We are only going to copy your face—because of its beauty, you know!"
The young man also seated himself in front of the mirror, and proceeded, with various brushes and colors, to paint his cheeks and nose a copper hue, exactly like that of the coachman's reflection in the glass. Then he exchanged his own peruke and hat for the shabby ones of the coachman. Lastly, he flung around his shoulders the mantle with its seven collars, and the resemblance was complete.
"And now," observed the giant, addressing the captive, "you can rest without the least fear. At the latest, to-morrow about this time your coach, your horses, your mantle, and whatever else belongs to you will be returned. For the use of the things we have borrowed from you we shall leave in the pocket of your coat twenty francs for every hour, and an extra twenty francs as a pourboire; don't forget to look for it! To-morrow at eleven o'clock a girl will fetch milk; she will release you, and you can tell her what a singular dream you had! If you can't go to sleep, just repeat the multiplication table. I always do when I can't sleep, and I never have to go beyond seven times seven. Good night, citizen!"
The door of the adjoining room opened, and the woman appeared, leading by the hand a pretty little boy.
"We are ready," she announced.
The two men thrust pistols into their pockets. Then the woman and the little boy entered the coach, the two men took seats on the box, and the coach rolled away.
At ten o'clock the next morning the old gentleman paid a visit to his little guest. This time the child was really asleep, and opened her eyes only when the curtains were drawn back and the light from the window fell on her face.
"How kind of you to waken me, monsieur!" she said, smiling; she was in a good humor, as children are who have slept well. "I have slept splendidly. This bed is as good as my own at home. And how delightful not to hear my governess scolding! You never scold, do you, monsieur? I deserve to be scolded, though, for I was very naughty last night, and you were so kind to me—gave me such nice egg-punch; see, there is a glass of it left over; it will do for my breakfast. I love cold punch, so you need not trouble to bring me any chocolate." With these words, the little maid sprang nimbly from the bed, ran with the naivete of an eight-year-old child to the table, where she settled herself in the corner of the sofa, drew her bare feet up under her, and proceeded to breakfast on the left-over punch and biscuits.
"There! that was a good breakfast," she said, after she had finished her meal. "Oh, I almost forgot. Has mama sent for me?"
"Certainly not, my dear! We are going, by and by, to look for her. The countess very likely has not yet learned of your disappearance; and if she does know that you did not return home last night, she believes you safe with the marquis. She will think you were not allowed to return home in the storm, and will not expect to see you before noon."
"You are very clever, monsieur. I should never have thought of that! I imagined that mama would be vexed, and when mama is cross she is so disagreeable. At other times, though, she is perfectly lovely! You will see how very beautiful she is, monsieur, for you are coming home with me to tell her how you found me—you are so very kind! How I wish you were my papa!"
The old gentleman was touched by the little one's artless prattle.
"Well, my dear little maid," he said tenderly, "we can't think of showing ourselves on the street in such a costume. Besides, it would frighten your mama to see you so. I am going out to one of the shops to buy you a frock. Tell me, what sort was it Diana took from you?"
"A lovely pink silk, trimmed with lace, with short sleeves," promptly replied the little maid.
"I shall not forget—a pink silk, trimmed with lace. You need not be afraid to stay alone here. No one will come while I am away."
"Oh, I am not the least bit afraid. I like to be alone sometimes."
"There is the doll to keep you company," suggested the old gentleman, more and more pleased with his affable little visitor.
"Is n't she lovely!" enthusiastically exclaimed the child. "She slept with me last night, and every time I woke up I kissed her."
"You shall have her for your own, if you like her so much, my dear."
"Oh, thank you! Did the doll belong to your dear little daughter who is dead?"
"Yes—yes," sorrowfully murmured the old gentleman.
"Then I will not play with her, but keep her locked in my little cupboard, and call her Philine. That was the name of my little sister who is dead. Come here, Philine, and sit by me."
"Perhaps you might like to look at a book while I am away—"
"A book!" interrupted the child, with a merry laugh, clapping her hands. "Why, I am just learning the alphabet, and can't bring myself to call a two-pronged fork 'y.'"
"You dear little innocent rogue!" tenderly ejaculated the old gentleman. "Are you fond of flowers?"
He brought from the adjoining room a porcelain flowerpot containing a narcissus in bloom.
"Oh, what a charming flower!" cried the child, admiringly. "How I wish I might pluck just one!"
"Help yourself, my dear," returned her host, pushing the plant toward her.
The child daintily broke off one of the snowy blossoms, and, with childlike coquetry, fastened it in the trimming of her chemise.
"What is this beautiful flower called, monsieur?"
At mention of the name the little maid suddenly clapped her hands and cried joyfully:
"Why, that is the name of our palace! Now don't you know where it is?"
"The 'Palace of Narcissus'? I have heard of it."
"Then you will have no trouble finding my home. Oh, you dear good little flower!" and she kissed the snowy blossom rapturously.
The old gentleman surveyed her smilingly for a few moments, then said:
"I will go now, and buy the frock."
"And while you are away I shall tell Philine the story of Gargantua," responded the child.
"Lock the door after me, my dear, and do not open it until I mention my name: Alfred Cambray—"
"Oh, I should forget the second one! Just say, 'Papa Alfred'; I can remember that."
When the child was certain that the old gentleman had left the house, she began hastily to search the room. She peered into every corner and crevice. Then she went into the adjoining chamber, and opened every drawer and cupboard. In returning to the first room she saw some scraps of paper scattered about the floor. She collected them carefully, placed them on the table, and dexterously fitted the pieces together until the entire note-sheet lay before her. It was covered with writing which had evidently been traced by a hurried hand, yet the child seemed to have no difficulty in reading it.
When she heard the old gentleman's footstep on the staircase, she brushed the scraps of paper from the table, and hastened to open the door before the signal was given; and when he exhibited his purchase she danced for joy.
"It is just like my ball-gown—exactly like it!" she exclaimed, kissing the hands of her benefactor. Then the old gentleman clothed the child as skilfully as if he were accustomed to such work. When the task was finished he looked about him, and saw the scraps of paper on the floor; he swept them together, and threw them into the fire.
Then, with the hand of his little companion clasped in his own, he descended to the street in quest of a cab to take them to the Palace of Narcissus.
The Palace of Narcissus had originally been the property of the celebrated danseuse, Mlle. Guimard, for whom it had been built by the Duke de Soubise. Like so many other fine houses, it had been confiscated by the Revolution and sold at auction—or, rather, had been disposed of by lottery, a lady who had paid one hundred and twenty francs for her ticket winning it.
The winner of the palace sold it to M. Perigaud, a banker and shrewd speculator, who divided the large dwelling into suites of apartments, which became the favorite lodgings of the young men of fashion. These young men were called the "narcissi," and later, the "incroyables" and "petits creves." The building, however, retained the name of the Palace of Narcissus.
When the fiacre stopped at the door of the palace which led to her mama's apartment, the little countess alighted with her escort, and said to the coachman:
"You need not wait; the marquis will return home in my mama's carriage."
M. Cambray was obliged to submit to be called the "marquis." The harmless fib was due to the rank of the little countess; she could not have driven through the streets of Paris in the same fiacre with a pekin!
"We will not go up the main staircase," said the child, taking her companion's arm and leading him into the palace. "I don't want to meet any of the servants. We will go directly to mama's boudoir, and take her by surprise."
The countess mother, however, was not in her boudoir; only a screaming cockatoo, and a capuchin monkey that grimaced a welcome. Through the folding-doors which opened into an adjoining room came the melancholy tones of a harmonium; and M. Cambray recognized a favorite air—Beethoven's symphony, "Les adieux, l'absence, et le retour." He paused a moment to listen to it.
"That is mama playing," whispered the child. "You go in first, and tell her you have brought me home. Be very careful; mama is very nervous." M. Cambray softly opened the door, and halted, amazed, on the threshold.
The room into which he had ventured unannounced was a magnificent salon, filled with a brilliant company. Evidently the countess was holding a matinee.
The assembled company were in full toilet. The women, who were chiefly young and handsome, were clad in the modest fashion of that day, which draped the shoulders and bust with embroidered kerchiefs, with priceless lace adorning their gowns and genuine pearls twined among their tresses. The men also wore full dress: Hungarian trousers, short-waisted coat, with large, bright metal buttons, opening over an embroidered waistcoat.
Surrounded by her guests, the mistress of the house, an ideal of beauty, Cythera herself, was seated at the harpsichord, her neck and shoulders hidden by her wonderfully beautiful golden hair. When M. Cambray, in his plain brown coat buttoned to the chin, with black gloves and dull buckle-shoes, appeared in the doorway of the boudoir, which was not open to all the world, every eye was turned in surprise toward him.
The lady at the harpsichord rose, surveyed the intruder with a haughty stare, and was about to speak when a lackey in silver-embroidered livery came hastily toward her and said something in a low tone.
"What?" she ejaculated, with sudden terror. "My daughter lost?"
The guests crowded around her, and a scene of great excitement followed.
Here M. Cambray came forward and said:
"I have found your daughter, countess, and return her to you."
The lovely woman made one step toward the child, who had followed M. Cambray into the room, then sank to the floor unconscious. She was tenderly lifted and borne into the boudoir. Two physicians, who were of the company, followed.
When the door closed behind them, the entire company remaining in the salon gathered about M. Cambray. The ladies seized his hands; and while a blonde houri on his right sought to attract his attention, a brunette beauty claimed it on his left—both women ignoring the attempts of the men to shake hands with the hero of the hour.
One of the men, an elderly and distinguished-looking personage with a commanding mien, now pressed forward to introduce himself. "Monsieur, I am the Marquis Lyonel de Fervlans," he repeated in a patronizing tone.
"I am Alfred Cambray," was the simple response.
"Ah? Pray, have the kindness to tell us—the friends of the countess—what has happened?"
M. Cambray related how and where he had found the lost child, the company listening with eager attention. All were deeply affected. Some of the women wept. When M. Cambray concluded his recital, the marquis grasped both his hands, and, pressing them warmly, said in a trembling voice:
"Thanks, many thanks, you brave, good man! We will never forget your kindness."
One of the physicians now came from the boudoir, and announced that the countess was better, and desired to speak to the deliverer of her child.
The countess was reclining on an ottoman, half buried in luxurious cushions. Her little daughter was kneeling by her side, her head resting on her mother's knee. It was a charming tableau.
"I am not able to express my gratitude, monsieur," began the countess, in a faint voice, extending both hands toward M. Cambray. "I hope you will allow me to call you my friend. I shall never cease to thank you! Amelie, my love, kiss this hand; look at this face; impress it on your heart, and never, never forget it, for this brave gentleman rescued you from a most horrible fate."
M. Cambray listened to these profuse expressions of gratitude, but with heedless ear. His thoughts were with the fugitives. He longed to know if they had escaped pursuit. While the countess was speaking he could not help but think that a great ado was being made because a little countess had been abandoned half clad in the public street. He knew of another little maid who had been treated with far greater cruelty.
His reply was brief:
"Your little daughter is very charming."
The mother sat upright with sudden decision, and unfastened the ivory locket from the black ribbon around her neck. It contained a portrait of the little countess Amelie.
"If the memory of the little foundling you rescued is dear to you, monsieur, then accept this from me, and think sometimes of your protegee."
It was a noble gift indeed! The lovely countess had given him her most valued ornament.
M. Cambray expressed his thanks, pressed his lips to the countess's hand, and kissed the little Amelie, who smilingly lifted her face for the caress. Then he bowed courteously, and returned to the salon. He was met at the door by the Marquis de Fervlans, who exclaimed reproachfully:
"What, you are going to desert us already? Then, if you will go, you must allow me to offer you my carriage." He gave his arm to the old gentleman, and conducted him to the vestibule, where, among a number of liveried servants, stood a trim hussar in Swiss uniform.
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 Amelie, 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. Pelagie."
"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 Amelie'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:
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.
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 Recamier.
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-a-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 Amelie 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 Amelie 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 Amelie 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 regime is not to blame that you married a roue, 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 Amelie 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 role 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 Amelie; 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,
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 Amelie'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 Amelie, 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."
Then she turned toward De Fervlans, and whispered, holding the lorgnette in front of her lips:
"Mama leaves her money-chest in my care"—adding, with naive sarcasm, "which means that she has left me to battle with her creditors."
THE HOME OF ANECDOTE
The entire population of Fertoeszeg was assembled on the public highway to welcome the new proprietress of the estate. Elaborate preparations had been made for the reception. An arch of green boughs—at the top of which gleamed the word "Vivat" in yellow roses—spanned the road, on either side of which were ranged twelve little girls in white, with flower-baskets in their hands. They were under the superintendence of the village cantor, whose intention it was to conclude the ceremonies with a hymn of welcome by these innocent little creatures.
On a sort of platform, a bevy of rosy-cheeked maids were waiting to present to the new-comer a huge hamper heaped to the brim with ripe melons, grapes, and Ostyepka cheeses of marvelous shapes. Mortars crowned the summit of the neighboring hill. In the shadow of a spreading beech-tree were assembled the official personages: the vice-palatine, the county surveyor, the village pastor, the district physician, the justice of the peace, and the different attendants, county and state employees, belonging to these gentlemen. The vice-palatine's assistant ought also to have been in this company, but he was busy giving the last instructions to the village beauties whose part it was to present the hamper of fruit and cheeses.
These gentlemen had wives and daughters; but they had stationed themselves along the trench at the side of the road. They did not seek the shadow of a tree, because they wished people to know that they had parasols; for to own a parasol in those days was no small matter.
Preparations were making in the market-place for an ox-roast. The fat young ox had been spitted, and the pile of fagots underneath him was ready for the torch. Hard by, on a stout trestle, rested a barrel of wine. In front of the inn a gypsy band were tuning their instruments, while at the window of the church tower might have been seen two or three child faces; they were on the lookout for the new lady of the manor, in order that they might be ready to ring the bells the moment she came in sight. There was only that one tower in the village, and there was a cross on it; but it was not a Romish church, for all that. The inhabitants were adherents of Luther—Swabians, mixed with Magyars.
The municipal authorities, in their holiday attire of blue cloth, had grouped themselves about the town hall. The older men wore their long hair brushed back from the temples and held in place by a curved comb. The young men had thrust into the sides of their lambskin caps gay little nosegays of artificial flowers. They proposed to fire a grand salute from the pistols they had concealed in their pockets.
Meanwhile, the dignitaries underneath the umbrageous beech-tree were passing the time of waiting pleasantly enough. Maple wine mixed with mineral water was a very refreshing drink in the intense heat; besides, it served as a stimulant to the appetite—appetitorium, they called it.
Three wooden benches, joined together in a half-circle, formed a comfortable resting-place for the committee of reception, the chief of whom, the vice-palatine, was seated on the middle bench, drawing through the stem of his huge carved meerschaum the smoke of the sweet Veker tobacco. His figure was the living illustration of the ever true axiom: "Extra Hungariam non est vita,"—an axiom which his fat red face by no means confuted,—while his heavy, stiffly waxed mustache seemed to add menacingly: "Leave the Hungarian in peace."
He shared his seat with the clergyman, whose ecclesiastical office entitled him to that honor. The reverend gentleman, however, was an extremely humble person, whom erudition had bent and warped to such a degree that one shoulder was lower than the other, one eyelid was elevated above its fellow, and only one half of his mouth opened when he gave utterance to a remark. His part in the festive ceremony was the performance of the beneventatio; and although he had committed the speech to memory, he could not help but tremble at thought of having to repeat it before so grand a dame as the new mistress of the manor. He always trembled whenever he began his sermons; but once fairly started, then he became a veritable Demosthenes.
"I only hope, reverend sir," jestingly observed the vice-palatine, "that it will not happen to you as it did to the csokonai, not long ago. Some wags exchanged his sermon-book for one on cookery, and he did not notice it until he began to read in the pulpit: 'The vinegar was—' Then he saw that he was reading a recipe for pickled gherkins. He had the presence of mind, however, to continue, '—was offered to the Saviour, who said, "It is finished."' And on that text he extemporized a discourse that astounded the entire presbytery."
"I shall manage somehow to say my speech," returned the pastor, meekly, "if only I do not stumble over the name of the lady."
"It is a difficult name," assented the vice-palatine. "What is it? I have already forgotten it, reverend sir."
"Katharina von Landsknechtsschild."
The vice-palatine's pointed mustaches essayed to give utterance to the name.
"Lantz-k-nek-hisz-sild—that's asking a great deal from a body at one time!" he concluded, in disgust at his ill success.
"And yet, it is a good old Hungarian family name. The last Diet recognized her ancestors as belonging to the nobility."
This remark was made by a third gentleman. He was sitting on the left of the vice-palatine, and was clad in snuff-colored clothes. His face was covered with small-pox marks; he had tangled yellow hair and inflamed eyelids.
"Are you acquainted with the family, doctor?" asked the vice-palatine.
"Of course I am," replied the doctor. "Baron Landsknechtsschild inherited this estate from his mother, who was a Markoczy. The baron sold the estate to his niece Katharina. You, Herr Surveyor, must have seen the baron, when the land was surveyed around the Nameless Castle for the mad count?"
The surveyor, who was seated beside the doctor, was a clever man in his profession, but little given to conversation. When he did open his lips, he rarely got beyond: "I—say—what was it, now, I was going to say?"
As no one seemed willing to-day to wait until he could remember what he wanted to remark, the doctor, who was never at a loss for words, continued:
"The Baroness Katharina paid one hundred thousand florins for the estate, with all its prerogatives—"
"That's quite a handsome sum," observed the vice-palatine. "And, what is handsomer, it is said the new proprietress intends to take up a permanent residence here. Is not that the report, Herr Justice? You ought to know."
The justice had an odd habit, while speaking, of rubbing together the palms of his hands, as if he were rolling little dumplings between them.
"Yes—yes," he replied, beginning his dumpling-rolling; "that is quite true. The baroness sent some beautiful furniture from Vienna; also a piano, and a tuner to tune it. All the rooms at the manor have been hung with new tapestry, and the conservatory has been completely renovated."
"I wonder how the baroness came to take such a fancy to this quiet neighborhood? It is very strange, too, that none of the neighboring nobles have been invited here to meet her. It is as if she intended to let them know in advance that she did n't want their acquaintance. At any other celebration of this sort half the county would have been invited, and here are only ourselves—and we are here because we are obliged, ex officio, to be present."
This speech was delivered over the mouthpiece of the vice-palatine's meerschaum.
"I fancy I can enlighten you," responded the doctor.
"I thought it likely that the 'county clock' could tell us something about it," laughingly interpolated the vice-palatine.
"You may laugh as much as you like, but I always tell what is true," retorted the "county clock." "They say that the baroness was betrothed to a gentleman from Bavaria, that the wedding-day was set, when the bridegroom heard that the lady he was about to marry was—"
"Hush!" hastily whispered the justice; "the servants might hear you."
"Oh, it is n't anything scandalous. All that the bridegroom heard was that the baroness was a Lutheran; and as the matrimonia mixta are forbidden in Vienna and in Bavaria, the bridegroom withdrew from the engagement. In her grief over the affair, the sposa repudiata said farewell to the world, and determined to wear theparta for the remainder of her days. That is why she chose this remote region as a residence."
[Footnote 2: A head-covering worn only by Hungarian maidens.]
Here the bell in the church tower began to ring. It was followed by a roar from the mortars on the hilltop.
The gypsy band began to play Biharis's "Vierzigmann Marsch"; a cloud of dust rose from the highway; and soon afterward there appeared an outrider with three ostrich-plumes in his hat. He was followed by a four-horse coach, with coachman and footman on the box.
The committee of reception came forth from the shade of the beech and ranged themselves underneath the arch. The clergyman for the last time took his little black book from his pocket, and satisfied himself that his speech was still in it. The coach stopped, and it was discovered that no one occupied it; only the discarded shawl and traveling-wraps told that women had been riding in the conveyance.
The general consternation which ensued was ended by the agent from Vienna, who drove up in a second vehicle. He explained that the baroness and her companion had alighted at the park gate, whence they would proceed on foot up the shorter foot-path to the manor. And thus ended all the magnificent preparations for the reception!
A servant now came running from the village, his plumed czako in one hand, and announced that the baroness awaited the dignitaries at the manor.
This was, to say the least, exasperating! A whole week spent in preparing—for nothing!
You may be sure every one had something to say about it, audibly and to themselves, and some one was even heard to mutter:
"This is the second mad person come to live in Fertoeszeg."
And then they all betook themselves, a disappointed company, to their homes.
The baroness, who had preferred to walk the shorter path through the park to driving around the village in the dust for the sake of receiving a ceremonious welcome, was a lovely blonde, a true Viennese, good-humored, and frank as a child. She treated every one with cordial friendliness. One might easily have seen that everything rural was new to her. While walking through the park she took off her hat and decorated it with the wild flowers which grew along the path. In the farm-yard she caught two or three little chickens, calling them canaries—a mistake the mother hen sought in the most emphatic manner to correct. The surly old watch-dog's head was patted. She brushed with her dainty fingers the hair from the eyes of the gaping farmer children. She was here and there in a moment, driving to despair her companion, whose gouty limbs were unable to keep pace with the flying feet of her mistress.