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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Nameless Castle - Part 1. Cythera's Brigade - Chapter 3
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The Nameless Castle - Part 1. Cythera's Brigade - Chapter 3 Post by :olecram Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :1656

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The Nameless Castle - Part 1. Cythera's Brigade - Chapter 3

PART I. CYTHERA'S BRIGADE
CHAPTER III

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?"

"The narcissus."

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:

"I do."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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