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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Nameless Castle - Part 1. Cythera's Brigade - Chapter 4
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The Nameless Castle - Part 1. Cythera's Brigade - Chapter 4 Post by :olecram Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :760

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The Nameless Castle - Part 1. Cythera's Brigade - Chapter 4

PART I. CYTHERA'S BRIGADE
CHAPTER IV

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

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

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

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

"THEMIRE."


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

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

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

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

"Had I suspected this," returned Themire, "I would not have given 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."

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