"Perfectly so, my lord; and I can tell you now that I already know the means and way to do the job. A little while ago a man, whom I can trust, informed me that Fanfaro is going to play a part in the conspiracy against the government which I have already spoken to you about."
"So much the better; but can he be captured in such a way that there will be no outlet for him?"
"I hope so."
"Who gave you this information?" asked the marquis, after Simon had told him all that Robeckal had overheard.
"A man called Robeckal; he is a member of Girdel's troupe."
The marquis took out a note-book, wrote a few lines, and then said:
"Here, take this note, Simon, and accompany Robeckal at once to Remiremont. There you will go to the Count of Vernac, the police superintendent, and give him the note. The count is a faithful supporter of the monarchy, and will no doubt accede to my request to send some policemen here this very night to arrest Girdel and Fanfaro. The rest I shall see to."
"My lord, I congratulate you," said Simon, respectfully.
Before Robeckal had gone with Simon, he had hurried to Rolla and told her that he was going to Remiremont now to get some policemen.
"Our score will be settled now on one board," he said, with a wink.
The fat woman had looked at him with swimming eyes, and in a maudlin voice replied:
"Certainly, Caillette, too," replied Robeckal, inwardly vowing to follow his own ideas with respect to this last, and then he hurried after the steward.
Caillette and Rolla slept in the same room; when the young girl entered it she saw the Cannon Queen sitting in an intoxicated condition at the table surrounded by empty bottles. The horrible woman greeted the young girl with a coarse laugh, and as Caillette paid no attention to her, Rolla placed her arms upon the table, and threateningly exclaimed:
"Don't put on such airs, you tight-rope princess; what will you do when they take your Fanfaro away?"
"Take Fanfaro away? What do you mean?" asked Caillette, frightened, overcoming her repulsion, and looking at Rolla.
"Ha! ha! ha! Now the pigeon thaws—yes, there is nothing like love," mocked the drunken woman. "Ah, the policemen won't let themselves be waited for; Robeckal and the others will look out for that."
Caillette, horror-stricken, listened to the virago's words. Was she right, and were her father and Fanfaro in danger?
"I am going to sleep now," said Rolla, "and when I wake up Fanfaro and Girdel will have been taken care of."
Leaning back heavily in the chair, the woman closed her eyes. Caillette waited until loud snoring told her Rolla was fast asleep, and then she silently slipped out of the room, locked it from the outside, and tremblingly hurried to wake her father.
As she reached Girdel's door, a dark form, which had been crouching near the threshold, arose.
"Who's there?" asked Caillette softly.
"I, little Caillette," replied Bobichel's voice. "I am watching, because I do not trust Robeckal."
"Oh, Bobichel, there is danger. I must waken father at once."
"What is the matter?"
"Go, wake father and tell him I must speak to him; do not lose a minute," urged Caillette.
The clown did not ask any more questions. He hurried to wake Girdel and Fanfaro, and then called Caillette. The young girl hastily told what she had heard. At first Girdel shook his head doubtingly, but he soon became pensive, and when Caillette finally said Rolla even muttered in her sleep about an important conspiracy and papers, he could no longer doubt.
"What shall we do?" he asked, turning to Fanfaro.
"Fly," said the young man quickly. "We owe our lives and our strength to the fatherland and the good cause; to stay here would be to put them both rashly at stake. Let us pray to God that it even now may not be too late."
"So be it, let us fly. We can leave the wagon go, and take only the horses. Is Robeckal at home?" asked Girdel, suddenly turning to Bobichel.
"No, master, he has gone."
"Then forward," said the athlete firmly. "I will take Caillette on my horse and you two, Fanfaro and Bobichel, mount the second animal."
"No, master, that won't do," remarked the clown, "you alone are almost too heavy for a horse; Fanfaro must take Caillette upon his and I shall go on foot. Do not say otherwise. My limbs can stand a great deal, and I won't lose sight of you. Where are we going?"
"We must reach Paris as soon as possible," said Fanfaro. "Shall we wake the landlord?"
"Not for any money," said Girdel; "we would only bring him into trouble."
"You are right," replied Fanfaro; "we must not open the house door either, we must go by way of the window."
"That won't be very difficult for such veterans as we are," laughed Girdel. "Bobichel, get down at once and saddle the horses. You will find the saddles in the large box in the wagon. But one minute—what will become of my wife?"
The others remained silent, only Fanfaro said:
"Her present condition is such that we cannot take her along; and, besides, there is no danger in store for her."
Girdel scratched his head in embarrassment.
"I will look after her," he finally said, and hurried out.
In about two minutes he returned.
"She is sleeping like a log," he said; "we must leave her here. Schwan will take care of her."
In the meantime Bobichel had tied the bedclothes, opened the window, and fastened the clothes to the window hinges. He then whispered jovially: "Good-evening, ladies and gentlemen," and let himself slide down the improvised rope. Caillette followed the clown, then came Girdel, and finally Fanfaro.
"Let the clothes hang," ordered Girdel.
They all crept softly to the stable and in about five minutes were on the street.
Bobichel ran alongside Girdel. Suddenly he stopped and hurriedly said:
"I hear the sound of horses' hoofs; we escaped just in time."
The noise Bobichel heard really came from the policemen, who had hurried from Remiremont to Sainte-Ame and were now surrounding the Golden Sun. Robeckal and Simon were smart enough to keep in the background. The brigadier, a veteran soldier, knocked loudly at the house-door, and soon the host appeared and asked what was the matter.
"Open in the name of the king," cried the brigadier impatiently.
"Policemen, oh my God!" groaned Schwan, more dead than alive. "There must be a mistake here."
"Haven't arrested any one yet who didn't say the same thing," growled the brigadier. "Quick, open the door and deliver up the malefactors."
"Whom shall I deliver?" asked Schwan, terror-stricken.
"Two acrobats, named Girdel and Fanfaro," was the answer.
"Girdel and Fanfaro? Oh, Mr. Brigadier, you are mistaken. What are they accused of?"
"Treason! They are members of a secret organization, which is directed against the monarchy."
"Impossible; it cannot be!" groaned Schwan.
"I will conduct the gentlemen," said Robeckal, coming forward.
"Scoundrel!" muttered the host, while Robeckal preceded the policemen up the stairs, and pointed to Girdel's room.
"Open!" cried the brigadier, knocking at the door with the hilt of his sword.
As no answer came, he burst open the door, and then uttered an oath.
"Confound them—they have fled!" exclaimed Robeckal.
"Yes, the nest is empty," said the brigadier; "look, there at the window, the bed-sheets are still hanging with which they made their escape."
"You are right," growled Robeckal; "but they cannot be very far off yet."
"No; quick—to horse!" cried the brigadier to his men; and while they got into the saddle, Robeckal looked in the stables and discovered the loss of the two horses. The tracks were soon found, and the pursuers, with Robeckal at the head, quickly gained the forest. But here something singular happened. The brigadier's horse stumbled and fell, the horse of the second policeman met with the same accident, and before the end of two seconds two more horses, together with their riders, lay on the ground. All four raged and cried in a horrible manner; one of them had broken a leg, the brigadier's sword had run into his left side, and two horses were so badly hurt that they had to be killed on the spot.
"The devil take them!" cried Robeckal, who was looking about with his lantern to discover the cause of these accidents, "the scoundrels have drawn a net of thin cords from one tree to the other."
"Yes, the scoundrels happened to be smarter than other people," came a mocking voice from the branch of an oak-tree, and looking up, Robeckal saw the clown, who, with the quickness of an ape, had now slid down the tree and disappeared in the bush.
"Villain!" exclaimed Robeckal, angrily, and taking a gun from one of the policemen he fired a shot at Bobichel.
Did the shot take effect?
On the 29th of February, 1824, a great crowd of laughing, noisy people wandered up and down the streets of the French capital, for it was the last Sunday of the carnival; the boulevards in the neighborhood of the Palais-Royal especially being packed with promenaders of both sexes.
An elegant carriage drawn by two thoroughbreds halted at the edge of the pavement, and three young men got out. They had cigars in their mouths, which at that time was something extraordinary; white satin masks hid their faces, and dark (so-called) Venetian mantles, with many colored bands on their shoulders, covered their forms.
The young men answered the jokes and guys of the crowd in a jolly manner, and then took seats in the Cafe de la Rotonde. Darkness came on, the lights gleamed, and one of the young men said, sorrowfully:
"The carnival is coming to an end; it's a great pity—we had such fun."
"Fernando, are you getting melancholy?" laughed the second young man.
"Fernando is right," remarked the third; "the last day of the carnival is so dull and spiritless that one can plainly see it is nearing the end. For more than two hours we have been strolling about the boulevards, but have not met with one adventure. Everywhere the stereotyped faces and masks; the same jokes as last year; even the coffee and the cake look stale to me. Arthur, don't you agree with me?"
"You demand too much," cried Arthur, indifferently; "we still have the night before us, and it would not be good if we could not find something to make the hours fly. As a last resort we could get up a scandal."
"Hush! that smells of treason. The dear mob nowadays is not so easy to lead, and the police might take a hand in the fight," warned Fernando.
"So much the better; the scandal would be complete then. The police are naturally on our side, and our motto—'after us the deluge'—has always brought us luck."
The young men laughed loudly. They were evidently in good humor. The one whom his companions called Arthur was the son of the Count of Montferrand, who made a name for himself in the House of Deputies on account of his great speech in favor of the murderers of Marshal Brune; the second, Gaston de Ferrette, was related to the first families of the kingdom; he had accompanied the Duke of Angouleme to Spain, and was known as an expert fencer. He was hardly twenty years of age, but had already come out victorious in several duels.
The third young man was a foreigner, but having the very best recommendations he was soon at home in the capital. His name was Fernando de Velletri, and he was by birth an Italian of the old nobility; he was received in all the palaces of the Faubourg St. Germain, and was acquainted with everything that went on in the great world.
"Where is Frederic?" asked Arthur now.
"Really, he seems to have forgotten us," replied Fernando, "I cannot understand what delays him so long."
"Stop!" exclaimed Gaston de Ferrette. "Come to think of it, I understand that he was going to accompany the Countess of Salves to some ceremony at Notre Dame."
"He is not to be pitied. The Countess of Salves is a charming girl."
"Bah, she is going to become his wife."
"So much the more reason that he should love her before the marriage; afterward, it isn't considered good form to have such feelings."
"He loves her, then?"
"I am very grateful to you, gentlemen; even in my absence you occupy yourselves with my affairs," said a clear, sharp voice now.
"Frederic, at last; where have you been?"
"Oh, I have been standing over five minutes behind you, and heard your conversation."
"Has it insulted you?" asked Gaston, laughing.
Frederic did not answer immediately; he let his gaze fall pityingly over his companion, and Gaston hastily said:
"Really, Frederic, your splendor throws us in the shade; look at him, he has no mask, and is dressed after the latest fashion."
The costume of the last comer was, indeed, much more elegant than those of the other young men. A long overcoat, made of fine brown cloth, sat tightly about the body and reached to the knees; the sleeves, wide at the shoulder, narrowed down toward the wrists and formed cuffs, which fell over the gloved hand. A white satin handkerchief peeped out coquettishly from the left breast pocket. White trousers, of the finest cloth, reached to the soles of his shoes, which were pointed and spurred. A tall, silk hat, with an almost invisible brim, covered his head.
Frederic allowed himself to be admired by his friends, and then said:
"Take my advice and put off your masks at once, and dress yourselves as becomes young noblemen; let the mob run around with masks on."
"Frederic is right," said Gaston, "let us hurry to do so."
"I shall await you here and bring you then to Robert; or better still, you can meet me at the Cafe Valois."
The three masks left, and the Vicomte Talizac, for he was the last comer, remained alone.
His external appearance was very unsympathetic. The sharply-cut face had a disagreeable expression, the squinting eyes and rolling look were likewise repulsive, and if his back was not as much bent as usual, it was due to the art of Bernard, the tailor of the dandies.
The Cafe de Valois, toward which the vicomte was now going, was generally the meeting-place of old soldiers, and the dandies called it mockingly the cafe of the grayheads. Rumor had it that it was really the meeting-place of republicans, and it was a matter of surprise why Delevan, the head of the police department, never took any notice of these rumors.
When the vicomte entered the gallery of the cafe, he looked observingly about him, and then approached a group of young men who all wore plain black clothing and whose manners were somewhat military.
The young men moved backward at both sides when the vicomte approached them. Not one of them gazed at the dandy. The latter, however, stepped up to one of them, and laying his hand lightly upon his shoulder, said:
"Sir, can I see you for a moment?"
The person addressed, a man about twenty-five years of age with classically formed features, turned hurriedly around; seeing the vicomte, he said in a cold voice:
"I am at your service, sir."
The vicomte walked toward the street and the man followed. On a deserted corner they both stopped, and the vicomte began:
"Monsieur, first I must ask you to tell me your name; I am the Vicomte de Talizac."
"I know it," replied the young man coldly.
"So much the better; as soon as I know who you are I will be able to tell whether I should speak to you as an equal or punish you as a lackey."
The young man grew pale but he replied with indomitable courage:
"I don't know what we two could ever have in common."
"Sir!" exclaimed Talizac angrily, "in a month I shall lead the Countess de Salves to the altar; therefore it will not surprise you if I stigmatize your conduct as outrageous. You rode to-day at noon past the De Salves palace, and threw a bouquet over the wall and into the garden."
"Well, what else?"
"You have probably good reasons not to give your name, the name of an adventurer, but in spite of all I must inform you that in case you repeat the scene I shall be obliged to punish you. I—"
The vicomte was unable to proceed; the iron fist of the young man was laid upon his shoulder, and so powerful was the pressure of his hand that the vicomte was hardly able to keep himself on his feet. The young man gave a whistle, upon which signal the friends who had followed him hurried up. When they were near by, Talizac's opponent said:
"Vicomte, before I provoke a scene, I wish to lay the matter before my friends; have patience for a moment. Gentlemen," he said, turning to his companions, "this man insulted me. Shall I fight a duel with him? It is the Vicomte de Talizac."
"The Vicomte de Talizac?" replied one of the men addressed, who wore the cross of the Legion of Honor. "With a Talizac one does not fight duels."
The vicomte uttered a hoarse cry of rage, and turned under the iron fist which was still pressed on his shoulder and held him tight; the young man gave him a look which made his cowardly heart quake, and earnestly said:
"Vicomte, we only fight with people we honor. If you do not understand my words, ask your father the meaning of them; he can give you the necessary explanations. Perhaps a day may come when I myself may not refuse to oppose you, and then you may kill me if you are able to do so! I have told you now what you ought to know, and now go and look up your dissipated companions, and take your presence out of the society of respectable people."
Wild with rage, his features horribly distorted, unable to utter a word, the Vicomte de Talizac put his hand in his pocket, and threw a pack of cards at his opponent's face. The young man was about to rush upon the nobleman, but one of his companions seized his arm and whispered:
"Don't be too hasty, you must not put your life and liberty at stake just now—you are not your own master;" saying which, he pointed to three masked faces who had just approached the group.
The young man shook his head affirmatively, and Talizac took advantage of this to disappear. He had hardly gone a few steps, when an arm was thrown under his own and a laughing voice exclaimed:
"You are punctual, vicomte; your friends can vouch for that."
The vicomte kept silent, and Fernando, lowering his voice, continued:
"What was the difficulty between you and the young man? You wanted to kill him. Are you acquainted with him?"
"No, I hardly know him; you overheard us?"
"Excuse me, my dear fellow; your opponent spoke so loudly that we were not obliged to exert ourselves to hear his estimate of you. Anyhow I only heard the conclusion of the affair; you will no doubt take pleasure in relating the commencement to me!"
The words, and the tone in which they had been said, wounded Talizac's self-love, and he sharply replied:
"If it pleases me, Signor Velletri!"
The Italian laughed, and then said, in an indifferent tone:
"My dear vicomte, in the position in which you find yourself, it would be madness for me to imagine that you intend to insult me, and therefore I do not consider your words as spoken."
"What do you mean, signor?"
"Oh, nothing, except that yesterday was the day of presentation for a certain paper, which you, in a fit of abstraction, no doubt, signed with another name than your own!"
The vicomte grew pale, and he mechanically clinched his fist.
"How—do—you—know—this?" he finally stammered.
The Italian drew an elegant portfolio from his pocket, and took a piece of stamped paper from it.
"Here is the corpus delicti," he said, laughing.
"But how did it get into your hands?"
"Oh, in a very simple way: I bought and paid for it."
"You, signor? For what purpose?"
"Could it not be for the purpose of doing you a service?"
The vicomte shrugged his shoulders; he had no faith in his fellow-men.
"You are right," said Fernando, replying to the dumb protest, "I will be truthful with you. I would not want the Vicomte de Talizac to go under, because my fate is closely attached to his, and because the vicomte's father, the Marquis de Fougereuse, has done great service for the cause I serve. Therefore if I earnestly ask you not to commit such follies any more, you will thank me for it and acknowledge that this small reciprocation is worth the favor I am showing you."
"Then you will return the paper to me?" cried the vicomte, stretching out his hand for it.
"No, the paper does not belong to me."
"But you just said—"
"That I bought it, certainly. I paid the price for it only because I received the amount from several friends."
"And these friends—"
"Are the defenders and supporters of the monarchy; they will not harm you."
Talizac became pensive.
"Let us not speak about the matter," continued Fernando; "I only wished to show you that I have a right to ask your confidence, and I believe you will no longer look upon it as idle curiosity if I ask you what business you had with that man."
The Italian's words confirmed to Talizac the opinion of the world that Velletri was a tool of the Jesuits. However, he had done him a great service, and he no longer hesitated to inform Velletri of the occurrence.
"I accompanied the Countess de Salves and her daughter to a party at Tivoli," he began, as he walked slowly along with his companion, "and we were enjoying ourselves, when suddenly loud cries were heard and the crowd rushed wildly toward the exits. The platform where dancing was indulged in gave way, and the young countess, in affright, let go of my arm and ran into the middle of the crowd. I hurried after her, but could not catch up with her; she was now in the neighborhood of the scene of the accident, and, horror-stricken, I saw a huge plank which hung directly over her head get loose and tumble down. I cried aloud; the plank would crush her to death. At the right minute I saw a man grasp the plank and hold it in the air. How he did it I have never been able to tell; the plank weighed at least several hundred pounds, but he balanced it as if it had been a feather. The young countess had fainted away. When I finally reached her, the young man held her in his arms, and from the way in which she looked at him when she opened her eyes, I at once concluded that that wasn't the first time she had seen him. The old countess thanked him with tears in her eyes; I asked him for his name, for I had to find out first if it were proper for me to speak with him. He gave me no answer, but disappeared in the crowd. The only reward he took was a ribbon which the lady wore on her bosom and which he captured. The ribbon had no intrinsic value, but yet I thought it my duty to inform Irene about it. Do you know what answer she gave me?"
"No," replied Velletri, calmly.
"None at all. She turned her back to me."
"Impossible," observed the Italian, laughing; "well, I suspect that the knight without fear or reproach followed up the thing?"
"He did; he permits himself to ride past the Salves's palace every day, throws flowers over the wall, and I really believe the young countess picks up the flowers and waits at the window until he appears. Should I stand this?"
"No," replied Velletri, laughing; "you must, under all circumstances, get rid of this gallant. For your consolation, I can tell you it is not a difficult job."
"Then you know the man? I sent my servant after him, but could not find out anything further than that he visits the Cafe Valois every day at this hour, and that is the reason I went there to-day."
"Without having been able to accomplish your object. My dear vicomte, I place my experience at your service. The man is no rival, cannot be any; and if the young countess has built any air-castles in her romantic brain, I can give you the means to crumble them to pieces."
"And the means?"
"Simply tell her the name of her admirer."
"Yes; but he didn't mention his name to me."
"That does not surprise me. He was formerly an acrobat, and his name is Fanfaro."
The vicomte laughed boisterously. Fanfaro, a former acrobat, ran after young, noble ladies—it was too comical!
"So that is why the young man did not wish to fight me," he finally cried; "it doesn't surprise me any more, and is cowardly too."
The Italian, who had witnessed the scene in which Fanfaro had refused to cross weapons with a Talizac, laughed maliciously.
"The companions of the former acrobat are, no doubt, ignorant of whom they are dealing with?" asked Talizac.
"On the contrary, they know him well."
"I don't understand it! They speak to him, shake hands with him; it is extraordinary."
The vicomte's stupidity excited the Italian's pity, but he did not allow his feelings to be perceived, and said:
"I think we have discussed this Fanfaro long enough. Let us not forget that we are still in the Carnival, and that we must hurry if we still wish to seek some distraction; forget the fatal scene of a short while ago."
The vicomte had forgotten long ago that he and his father had been stigmatized as dishonorable rogues, and in great good humor he accompanied his companion toward the Rue Vivienne.
They had not gone far when the vicomte paused and nudged his friend.
Leaning against the balustrade of a house, a young girl, whose features were illuminated by the rays of a street lamp, sang in a clear voice to the accompaniment of a guitar. A large crowd of passers-by had assembled around the singer, who was a perfect vision of beauty.
Chestnut brown hair framed a finely cut face, and deep black eyes looked innocently from underneath long eyelashes. The fingers which played on the instrument were long and tapering, and every movement of the body was the personification of grace.
When the song was finished loud applause was heard. The young songstress bowed at all sides, and a flush of pleasure lighted up the charming face. Every one put a penny on the instrument. When the vicomte's turn came, he threw forty francs on the guitar, and approached close to the songstress.
"You are alone to-day?" he boldly asked.
The young girl trembled from head to foot and walked on. The vicomte gazed after her, and the Italian laughingly observed:
"The 'Marquise' is very strict to-day."
Thereupon he bent down and picked something up from the ground.
"Here, vicomte, is your money; the little one threw it away."
The vicomte uttered a cry of rage.
"The impertinent hussy!" he hissed.
"The affair has been going on in this way for the last two months," said the Italian, dryly; "and you could have known long ago, vicomte, that the 'Marquise' spurns your attentions."
"Fernando, I really believe you play the spy upon me!" exclaimed Talizac; "have a care, my patience has its limits."
"You are too tragical," replied Velletri, shrugging his shoulders; "instead of pursuing the little one with platonic declarations, you ought to try to break her spirit."
"Velletri, you are right," replied Talizac; "yes, I will revenge myself upon Fanfaro and possess this girl. What am I peer of France for?"
"Bravo, vicomte, you please me now—let us go to dinner, and then—"
"But the 'Marquise'?"
"Have patience. You will be satisfied with me."
Mardi-Gras had come and folly reigned supreme at Paris. Opposite the Cafe Turque, which had already at that time a European reputation, stood a small poverty-stricken house. It was No. 48 Boulevard du Temple, and was inhabited by poor people.
In a small but cleanly room on the fifth story a young girl stood before a mirror arranging her toilet. The "Marquise," for it was she, looked curiously out of place in her humble surroundings.
A dark, tightly fitting dress showed her form to perfection, and the dark rose in her hair was no redder than the fresh lips of the young girl. The little singer gave a last glance in the mirror, smoothed back a rebellious curl, and seized her guitar to tune it.
A low moan came from a neighboring room. The street-singer immediately opened the curtained door and slipped into the room from which a cry now came.
"The poor thing—she has woke up," sighed the girl as she approached the small bed which stood in the equally small space.
"Mamma, how goes it?" she asked.
The form which lay on the bed looked almost inhuman. The cadaverous face was half burned and the bloodshot eyes, destitute of eyebrows, could not stand the least ray of light. The hands were horribly burned, and her laugh exposed her toothless gums.
"Thirst, Louison," stammered the woman, pulling her long gray hair over her eyes.
"There, mamma, drink," said Louison, bending tenderly over the poor woman.
The woman drank eagerly the glass of milk offered, and then muttered softly to herself.
"It is so warm, I am burning, everywhere there are flames."
The poor woman was crazy, and no one would have ever recognized in her, Louise, the wife of the landlord Jules Fougeres.
The reader will have guessed long since that Louison, the street-singer, was none other than Fanfaro's lost sister. The young girl, however, did not know that the poor woman she so tenderly nursed was her mother.
Louison had once lost herself in the woods, and in her blind fear had run farther and farther until she finally reached an exit. As she stood in a field sobbing bitterly, a man approached her and asked her who she was and where she had come from. The child, exhausted by the excitement of the last few days, could not give a clear answer, and so the man took her on his arm and brought her to his wife, who was waiting for him in a thicket. The man and his wife carried on a terrible trade; they hovered about battlefields to seek prey, and more than one wounded man had been despatched by them if his purse or his watch attracted the robbers' attention. Nevertheless, these "Hyenas of the battlefield" were good and kind to the lost child; they treated her just like their own children, of whom they had three, and at the end of the war, in consequence of the good crop they had secured on the battlefield, they were possessed of sufficient competence to buy a little place in Normandy.
Louison grew up. An old musician, who discovered that she had a magnificent voice, took pride in teaching the child how to sing, and when on Sundays she would sing in the choir, he would enthusiastically exclaim, "Little Louison will be a good songstress some day, her voice sounds far above the others."
An epidemic came to the village soon after, and at the end of two days her foster-parents were carried away, and Louison was once more alone in the world.
The nuns of the neighboring convent took the child, taught it what they knew themselves, and a few years passed peacefully for Louison.
A thirst to see the world took hold of her; the convent walls stifled her, and she implored the nuns to let her wander again. Naturally her request was refused, and so Louison tried to help herself.
One dark, stormy night she clambered over the garden wall, and when the nuns came to wake her next morning for early mass, they found her bed empty and the room vacant.
Singing and begging, the child wandered through Normandy. In many farmhouses she was kept a week as a guest, and one old woman even presented her with a guitar, which a stranger had left behind.
The proverb "all roads lead to Rome" would be more true in many cases if it said they lead to Paris; and thus it was with Louison. After a long and difficult journey she reached the capital, the El Dorado of street singers from Savoy; and, with the sanguine temperament of youth, the fifteen-year-old girl no longer doubted that she would support herself honestly.
In a miserable quarter of the great city, in the midst of people as poor as herself, Louison found a habitation. The wondrous beauty of the girl soon attracted attention, and when she sang songs on some street-corner she never failed to reap a harvest. At the end of four weeks she had her special public, and could now carry out a project she had long thought of. She went to the inspector of the quarter and begged him to name her some poor, sickly old woman whom she could provide for.
"I do not wish to be alone," she said, as the inspector looked at her in amazement, "and it seems to me that my life would have an aim if I could care for some one."
Petitions of this kind are quickly disposed of, and on the next day Louison received an order to go to another house in the same quarter and visit an old mad woman whose face had been terribly disfigured by fire.
Louison did not hesitate a moment to take the woman, whose appearance was so repulsive, to her home. When she asked the crazy woman, who gazed at her, "Mother, do you wish to go with me?" the deserted woman nodded, and from that day on she was sheltered.
Who could tell but that Louison's voice recalled to that clouded memory the recollection of happier days? Anyhow the maniac was tender and obedient to the young girl, and a daughter could not have nursed and cared for the poor old woman better than Louison did.
The sobriquet of the "Marquise" had been given to Louison by the people of the quarter. She was so different from her companions; she looked refined and aristocratic, although her clothes were of the cheapest material, and no one would have dared to say an unkind or bold word to the young girl.
As the old woman handed the empty glass back to the girl, Louison cheerfully said:
"Mother, I must go out; promise me that you will be good during my absence."
"Good," repeated the maniac.
"Then you can put on your new cap to-morrow."
"The one with the ribbons?"
"Oh, then I will be good."
The poor thing clapped her hands, but suddenly she uttered a cry of pain.
"Ah!—my head—it is burning!"
Louison, with heavenly patience, caressed her gray hair and calmed her.
"Ah! where is the box?" the maniac complained after a while.
"To-morrow I will bring it to you," said the songstress, who knew the whims of the sick woman.
"Do not forget it," said the old woman; "in that box is luck. Oh, where did I put it?"
She continued to mutter softly to herself. Louison allowed her to do so, and slipped into the other room. It was time for her to go about her business. This being Mardi-Gras, she expected to reap a rich harvest. As she was about to open the door, she suddenly paused; she thought she heard a voice, and listened. A knock now sounded at the door, and Louison asked:
"Who is there?"
"A friend," came back in a loud voice.
"You do not know me."
"Tell me your name."
"Robeckal; please admit me."
The young girl did not open at once; an indefinable fear seized her. Suppose the vicomte, who had followed her all over, had at last found out where she lived?
"Well, are you going to open?" cried Robeckal, becoming impatient.
Hesitatingly Louison pushed back the bolt, and with a sigh of relief she saw Robeckal's face; no, that was not the vicomte.
"H'm, mademoiselle, you thought perhaps that I was a beggar?" asked Robeckal, mockingly.
"Please tell me quickly what you want," cried Louison, hurriedly. "I must go out, and have no time to lose."
"You might offer me a chair, anyway," growled Robeckal, looking steadily at the handsome girl.
"I told you before I am in a hurry," replied Louison, coldly; "therefore please do not delay me unnecessarily."
Robeckal saw that the best thing he could do would be to come to the point at once, and grinning maliciously, he said:
"Mademoiselle, would you like to earn some money?"
"That depends—go on."
"Let me first speak about myself. I am an extra waiter. Do you know what that is?"
"Yes, you assist in saloons on Sundays and holidays."
"Right. For the past three days I have been at The Golden Calf, just in the street above."
"Ah, by Monsieur Aube?"
"Yes. The landlord would like to treat his guests to-day to some special amusement, and so he said to me last night, 'Robeckal, do you know of anything new and piquant!'
"'The "Marquise," master,' I replied.
"'But will she come?'
"'H'm, we must ask her. How much do you intend to spend?'
"'Good,' I said, 'I will ask her,' and here I am."
Louison had allowed Robeckal to finish. The man displeased her, but his offer was worth considering. Twenty francs! For the young girl the sum was a small fortune, and her heart ceased to beat when she thought of the many little comforts she could provide her protegee with it.
"Did not Monsieur Aube give you a letter for me?" she asked, still hesitating.
"No, mademoiselle. Do you mistrust me?"
"I did not say that, but I cannot decide so hastily. I will be at the Golden Calf in a little while, and give the gentleman my answer."
"Mademoiselle, tell me at once that you don't care to go, and I will get the man without arms, who will do just as well. He won't refuse, I warrant you."
With these words, Robeckal took out a card and pointed to two addresses thereon. The first was Louison's address, the second that of a street-singer who was well known to the young girl. Louison no longer doubted.
"I shall come," she said firmly; "when shall I make my appearance?"
"At eight o'clock."
"And when will I be done?"
A peculiar smile, unnoticed by Louison, played about Robeckal's lips.
"I really do not know," he finally replied, "but it will be between ten and eleven. With such good pay a minute more or less won't make much difference."
"No, but it must not be later than midnight."
"On no account, mademoiselle; if you are afraid, why, I will see you home," Robeckal gallantly cried.
"Good—tell Monsieur Aube I shall be punctual."
"Done. I suppose, mademoiselle, you will not forget to give me a portion of the twenty francs? I was the one, you know, who brought it about."
"Then good-by until this evening."
Robeckal hurried down the five flights of stairs. In front of the house a man enveloped in a wide mantle walked up and down.
When he saw Robeckal, he anxiously asked:
"It is settled."
"Really? Will she come?"
The man in the cloak, who was no other than Fernando de Velletri, let some gold pieces slip into Robeckal's hand.
"If everything goes all right, you will get five hundred francs more," he cried.
"It is as good as if I had the money already in my pocket. Besides, the racket is rather cheap, for the little one is a picture."
"So much the better," laughed the Italian.
While the worthy pair were discussing their plans, Louison went as usual to the boulevards and sang her pretty songs.
In the Golden Calf, Monsieur Aube's restaurant, things were very lively. The guests fairly swarmed in. The landlord ran busily to and fro, now in the kitchen turning over the roast, then again giving orders to the waiters, pulling a tablecloth here, uncorking a bottle there, and then again greeting new guests. On days like this the place was too narrow, and it always made Aube angry that he could not use the first story. The house belonged to an old man, who had until recently lived on the first floor, but since then new tenants had moved in, who were a thorn in the saloon-keeper's side. He had tried his best to get rid of them, advanced the rent, implored, chicaned, but all in vain. They stayed.
If they had only been tenants one could be proud of; but no! The family consisted of an athlete who called himself Firejaws; his daughter Caillette, a tight-rope dancer, a clown called Mario, and a young acrobat, Fanfaro. Every day the troupe performed on the Place du Chateau d'Eau, and, besides this, people visited the house under the pretence of taking lessons from Fanfaro in parlor magic.
These visitors, strange to say, looked very respectable; most of them appeared to be old soldiers. They certainly had no need to learn magic.
The large hall was filled to the last seat, and the waiters ran here and there with dishes, when an elegant equipage drove up and immediately afterward the stentorian voice of the landlord cried:
"Jean, the gentlemen who have ordered room No. 11 have arrived. Conduct them upstairs."
The gentlemen were the Vicomte de Talizac, Arthur de Montferrand and Fernando de Velletri. Jean led them to the room, and began to set the table.
"Tell me, Frederic," began Arthur, as he threw himself lazily in a chair, "how you got the idea of inviting us to this hole for dinner?"
The waiter threw an angry look at Arthur, who had dared to call the Golden Calf a hole.
"My dear Arthur," said the vicomte, coldly, "have patience yet a while. It is not my fashion to speak about my affairs in the presence of servants."
Jean hastily drew back, and only the thought of losing his tip prevailed upon him to serve his customers.
"Now we are alone," said Arthur, "and we'll finally find out all about it—"
"I must beg your pardon once more," interrupted the vicomte, "but before dessert I never bother about serious affairs."
"Ah, it is serious then," remarked Arthur. He knew that Talizac was often short and feared that he was about to ask for a loan. The young men dined with good appetite, and as the waiter placed the dessert upon the table, the vicomte threw a glass filled with red wine against the wall and exclaimed:
"Champagne, bring champagne!"
"Well, I must say that you end the Carnival in a worthy way," laughed Velletri.
"Bah! I must drown my troubles in champagne," replied the vicomte, shrugging his shoulders. "I tell you, my friends, I had a conversation with my father to-day which made me wild."
"Ah, it was about your marriage, no doubt!" said the Italian.
"Yes. The marquis wants me to go to the altar in fourteen days. That would be a fine thing."
"But I thought the marriage was a good one for both sides; the fortune of the Salves—"
"Oh, bother with the fortune!" interrupted the vicomte.
"And, besides, the young countess is very beautiful," continued Arthur.
"Beautiful?" repeated the vicomte, mockingly; "not that I can see. She puts on airs, as if the whole world lay at her feet, and poses as such a virtuous being. And yet I really believe she is no better than other people; I—"
"Frederic," interrupted Velletri, warningly; he feared that the vicomte would inform young Montferrand what had occurred between his bride and the acrobat.
"Well," said Arthur, hastily, "I hope that when Irene de Salves becomes your bride you will be more pleasant to her."
"Really, Arthur, you have such antediluvian notions," laughed the vicomte; "formerly we said that marriage was the grave of love; but if there has been no love beforehand, it follows that the grave will remain empty. No, my friends, if I am bound by marriage ties, I authorize you both to hunt on my ground, and it will give me pleasure if you score a success. Who knows? The countess is, perhaps, less prudish than she seems."
"Perhaps I shall make use of the permission," laughed Arthur, carelessly.
"I wish you joy. I haven't the stuff of a jealous husband in me, and the freedom I ask for myself I grant to others!"
"That is unselfish," said the Italian; "not every one is so liberal with his wife."
"Bah! the wife of a friend is decidedly more piquant than one's own, and who knows but that I may revenge myself later on. I—"
At this moment a clear, fresh girlish voice was heard coming from downstairs, and the first verse of a ballad by Romagnesi was delightfully phrased. The young men listened attentively to the simple song, and when at the end of the same a storm of applause followed, Arthur clapped his hands too.
"What a pity," he said, "that one cannot hear this nightingale nearer."
"Why should not that be possible?" cried the vicomte, springing up as if electrified.
Fernando grew frightened. This idea might disturb his plan.
"What is there in a street-singer?" he contemptuously asked.
Talizac, however, who was under the influence of the champagne he had drunk, did not understand the hint, and angrily exclaimed:
"Now she shall just come upstairs; first she must sing to us, and then—"
"And then?" repeated Arthur curiously.
"Ah, it is merely a little surprise we arranged for the little one," observed Velletri, with a cynical laugh.
"What! a surprise?"
"And she does not suspect anything?"
"Well, I am curious to see the little one; let us call Aube, he can show his singer to us."
"Gentlemen, no folly," warned Velletri, "we are not in the Palais Royal here, and in some things the mob does not see any fun."
"I will attend to the people downstairs," said Arthur, while the vicomte rang loudly.
When the waiter came he received the order to send the landlord up, and in less than five minutes the latter came and bowed respectfully to the guests who had drunk so much champagne.
"Monsieur Aube," began the vicomte, "who is the little bird that sings so beautifully downstairs?"
"A young, modest, and very respectable girl, gentlemen."
The young men burst into loud laughter.
"A saint, then?" exclaimed Arthur.
"Really, gentlemen, she is very virtuous and respectable."
"So much the better," said the young men to Aube. "We would like to take a good look at the little one. Send her up to us so that she can sing a few songs for us, and at the same time put a few more bottles on the ice."
Monsieur Aube did not know what to do.
"What are you waiting for?" asked the vicomte, in a maudlin voice.
"Gentlemen, the little one is so pure," said the landlord, earnestly.
"Are we going to ruin her?" exclaimed Talizac, with a laugh. "She shall sing, and we will pay her well for it. She shall get a hundred francs; is that enough?"
The landlord considered. He knew Louison was poor, and he said to himself he had no right to prevent the pretty girl from earning so much money. Moreover, she was not called "The Marquise" for nothing, and Velletri's mien reassured the host. So he came to the conclusion that there was no danger to be feared for his protegee. Even if the other two were drunk, the Italian was sober; and so the host finally said:
"I will send the little one."
As the landlord entered the hall, Louison was just going about and collecting. The crop was a rich one, and with sparkling eyes the songstress returned to her place, to give a few more songs, when Aube drew her into a corner.
"Louison," he softly said, "I have got a good business to propose to you."
"What is it, Father Aube?"
The landlord, somewhat embarrassed, stammeringly answered:
"If you desire you can make one hundred francs in fifteen minutes."
"So much? You are joking?"
"Not at all; you sing two or three songs, and the money is earned."
"Where shall I sing?"
"Here in my house, on the first story."
At this minute the hall-door opened and loud laughter came from above. Louison looked anxiously at the host and asked:
"Who wants to hear me?"
"Some guests, Louison; high-toned guests."
"Are they ladies and gentlemen, or only gentlemen?"
"Gentlemen, jolly young gentlemen."
"And if I go up will you stay in the neighborhood?"
"Certainly; this house is my house, and you are under my protection."
Louison considered. One hundred francs was a treasure with which she could do wonders. A comfortable chair could be bought for the invalid, wine and other strengthening things kept in the house, and—
"I agree," she said, picking up her guitar; "when shall I go up?"
"Directly, Louison, I will accompany you."
"H'm, what does that mean?" exclaimed a solid-looking citizen as he saw Louison go up the stairs; "is the performance over?"
"No," said Aube to his guests, "Louison will sing more later on. Have a little patience."
When the landlord and the young girl entered the room of the young men, Aube was agreeably surprised at seeing that the vicomte had disappeared. He was perfectly calm now. It had been the vicomte of whom Aube had been afraid, and with a light heart he left the apartment.
"'Marquise,' will you be so kind as to sing us a song?" asked Arthur, politely.
Louison's modesty began to have a good influence on him, and he already regretted having assisted Talizac in his plan.
Louison tuned her instrument and then began to sing a pretty little air. Montferrand and Velletri listened attentively, and when she had ended they both asked her in the most polite way imaginable to sing another song. Louison did not wait to be coaxed; she began a simple ballad and sang it with melting sweetness. Suddenly she uttered a loud scream and let her guitar fall. Frederic de Talizac stood before her.
"Continue your song, my pretty child," giggled the vicomte; "I hope I have not frightened you?"
As he said this he tried to put his arm around Louison's waist.
She recoiled as if stung by a rattlesnake.
"I will not sing any more," she said firmly; "let me go."
"Nonsense, my little pigeon, you remain here," said the vicomte huskily, placing himself in front of the door, "and for each note you sing I will give you a kiss."
The poor child was paralyzed with fear. She threw an agonizing look upon the drunken man's companions, and when she saw them both sit there so calm and indifferent, her eyes sparkled with anger.
"Miserable cowards!" she contemptuously exclaimed. "Will you permit a drunken scoundrel to insult a defenceless girl?"
Arthur sprang up. A flash of shame was on his classically formed features, and turning to Talizac he hastily said:
"She is right, vicomte; are you not ashamed?"
"Are you speaking to me?" laughed Talizac, mockingly. "I really believe you wish to be the Don Quixote of this virtuous Dulcinea del Toboso! No, my friend, we did not bet that way; the girl must be mine, and I should like to see the man who will oppose me."
He grasped Louison's arm; the young girl cried aloud for help, and the next minute the vicomte tumbled back struck by a powerful blow of the fist. Montferrand had come to the street-singer's rescue.
The vicomte roared like a wild bull, and, seizing a knife from the table, rushed upon Arthur. The two men struggled with one another. The table fell over; and while Louison unsuccessfully tried to separate the combatants, Velletri looked coolly at the fray.
"Help! murder!" cried Louison in desperation. She did not think of escape. She hoped Aube would make his appearance.
The landlord had really hastened up at the first cry, but at the head of the stairs Robeckal had held him tight and uttered a peculiar whistle. Two powerful men came in answer to the signal, and seizing the host in their arms, they bore him to a small room where the brooms were kept. Aube imagined his house had been entered by burglars. He threw himself with all his force against the door, he cried for help, and soon a few guests who had been sitting in the restaurant came to his assistance and rescued him.
"Follow me, gentlemen," cried the landlord, angrily. "It is a dastardly conspiracy! Upstairs there they are driving a poor, innocent girl to despair. Help me to rescue her. It's the 'Marquise.' Oh, heavens! her cries have ceased, she must be dead!"
Twenty men, in company with the landlord, rushed into the young men's rooms. Louison was no longer there, and in the centre Montferrand and the vicomte were still fighting with one another. Montferrand had already taken the knife away from the drunken man, when the vicomte angrily rushed at Arthur and hit him in the neck. A stream of blood gushed from the wound, and with a low moan the wounded man sank to the ground.
Before he could rise to his feet again, Velletri had seized the vicomte by the arm, and in spite of his resistance dragged him down the stairs. When Aube looked around for them, they had already left and not a trace of Louison could be found.
"Merciful God!" he despairingly cried, "where is the poor child? I promised her I would protect her, and now—"
"The scoundrels have abducted her!" exclaimed Arthur, who had in the meantime recovered. "It was a shrewdly planned piece of business."
"Abducted her? Impossible!" cried the landlord, looking at Arthur in amazement. "Who are the men?"
A crowd of guests had gathered about Arthur and the landlord, and while a barber tried to stanch the still bleeding wound, Montferrand bitterly said:
"One of the scoundrels bears a noble old name. Shame over the nobility of France that it tolerates a Talizac and Fougereuse in its ranks."
"Who speaks of Talizac and Fougereuse?" cried a fresh voice, and a very handsome man approached Monsieur Aube.
"Ah, Monsieur Fanfaro," said the landlord vivaciously, "Heaven sends you at the right time. Forget all the troubles and the cares I have caused you; I will never say another word against athletes and acrobats, but help us!"
"What has happened?" asked Fanfaro in astonishment. "I just came home and found every one in the restaurant excited. I asked, but no one knew anything, so I hurried here. Tell me what I can do for you; I am ready."
"May God reward you, Monsieur Fanfaro; oh, if it is only not too late."
"Monsieur Aube," asked Fanfaro, politely, "what is the matter?"
"A young girl—it will bring me to my grave when I think that such a thing should happen in my house—I—"
"Landlord," interrupted Arthur, "let me tell the story to the gentleman.
"Unfortunately," continued Montferrand, turning to Fanfaro, "I am mixed up in the affair myself. I let myself be persuaded by the Vicomte de Talizac—"
"I thought so," growled Fanfaro.
"And his friend Velletri to accompany them here—"
"Velletri? The Italian spy? The tool of the Jesuits, who treacherously betrayed his own countrymen, the Carbonari?" asked Fanfaro, contemptuously.
"Really, you are telling me something new," replied Arthur, "but it served me right. Why wasn't I more particular in the choice of my companions! Well, this worthy pair have abducted a young girl, a street-singer."
"The scoundrels! Where have they carried the poor child to?"
"God alone knows! I only heard here about the plan, but the scoundrels did not inform me where they intended to bring the poor child," replied Arthur, feeling ashamed at having had even the slightest connection with the affair, and inwardly vowing never again to have anything to do with the scoundrels who bear noble names.
"But the girl, no doubt, has relatives, parents or friends, who will follow her traces?"
"No," replied Aube, "she is an orphan, and is called the 'Marquise.'"
"Why has she received that sobriquet?"
"I do not know. She is a very respectable girl."
"Where does she live?"
"Not far from here, No. 42 Boulevard du Temple, fifth story. Robeckal, an extra waiter, who, as I have since found out, is a cunning scoundrel, had engaged her for to-night."
"If Robeckal had a hand in the affair then it can only be a scoundrelly one!" exclaimed Fanfaro, with a frown.
"Do you know him?"
"Unfortunately, yes; tell me what more do you know?"
"Not much. The 'Marquise' lives with an old, poor crazy woman, who lost her reason and the use of her limbs at a fire. The young girl, whose name is Louison—"
"Louison?" cried Fanfaro, in affright.
"Yes; why, what is the matter with you?"
"Nothing; tell me how old is the girl?"
"My God, that would just be right; but no, it cannot be."
"Monsieur Fanfaro," said Montferrand, gently, "can I do anything for you, you seem to be in trouble?"
"Oh, I have a horrible suspicion, I cannot explain it to you now, but the age and the name agree. Ah, that infamous Talizac! again and again he crosses my path; but if I catch him now, I will stamp upon him like a worm!"
"Do you intend to follow the robbers?"
"Certainly, I must rescue the girl."
"Monsieur Fanfaro," said Montferrand, "do with me what you will, I will help you!"
Fanfaro looked gratefully at the young nobleman and then said:
"Please tell me your name, so that I may know whom I am under obligations to?"
"My name is Arthur de Montferrand," said the nobleman, handing his card to the young man, whose profession he knew, with the same politeness as if he were a peer of France.
Fanfaro bowed and then hurriedly said:
"Let us not lose any more time; I—"
Loud knocking at the house-door and the murmur of several voices, which came from below, made the young man pause. The planting of muskets on the pavement was now heard and a coarse voice cried:
"Open in the name of the law!"
"The police!" exclaimed Aube, breathing more freely; "perhaps the robbers have already been captured."
Fanfaro laid his hand upon Aube's shoulder.
"Monsieur Aube," he said bitterly, "the police to-day do not bother about such trivial affairs. The minions of Louis XVIII. hunt different game."
"Open," came louder than before, "or we shall burst in the door."
"My God! my God! what a day this is," complained Aube, sinking helplessly on a chair; "what do the police want in my house?"
"Monsieur Aube, they seek conspirators, heroes of freedom and justice," said Fanfaro earnestly.
"How so? What do you mean?" asked Aube, opening wide his eyes and looking at the young man.
"I am one of the men the police are looking for," exclaimed Fanfaro coolly.
"You!" exclaimed Montferrand in terror, "then you are lost."
"Not yet," laughed Fanfaro. "Monsieur Aube, hurry and open the door and try to detain the people. That is all that is necessary. Good-by for the present, and do not forget to hunt for the girl; with the aid of God we will find her."
He ran out, and the nobleman and the landlord heard him bound up the stairs. Aube now began to push back the iron bolt of the street door, and when it opened several policemen and an inspector entered.
"I must say, Monsieur Aube," cried the inspector angrily, "you took a long time to obey his majesty's order."
"But at this time of night," stammered Aube. "What are you looking for, inspector?"
"Ask rather whom I am looking for?" retorted the inspector.
His gaze fell on Arthur, who did not look very attractive with his bloody clothes and torn shirt.
"Who is this tramp?" asked the inspector roughly.
"The tramp will have you thrown out if you are impertinent. My name is Arthur de Montferrand, and I am the son of the Marquis of Montferrand."
The inspector opened his eyes wide with astonishment. How could such a mistake happen to him? The son of the Marquis of Montferrand. The inspector would have preferred just now to hide himself in a corner. He stammered apology upon apology, and then in an embarrassed way muttered:
"I have got a painful mission. I am to look for a 'suspect' in this house."
"A 'suspect'?" whispered Aube, anxiously.
"Yes; conspirators who threaten the sacred person of the king."
"And you are looking for these people in my house?" asked Aube, apparently overwhelmed at the intelligence.
"Yes, they are said to live here; two acrobats, named Girdel and Fanfaro."
"Inspector, I am inconsolable; but I will not oppose you; do your duty," said Aube, with the mien of a man who gives a kingdom away.
Arthur and the landlord exchanged knowing looks as the inspector strode toward the door. Fanfaro must be in safety by this time.
"The house is surrounded," said the inspector, as he went away, "and I think we shall have little to do."
Montferrand trembled. Suppose Fanfaro had been captured! The policemen went to the upper story, which had been pointed out to them by the landlord as the residence of Girdel and Fanfaro.
"Open, in the name of the law!" thundered a voice, which shook the house; and then followed, hardly less loud, the angry exclamation:
"By Jupiter, the nest is empty; the birds have flown!"
At this moment a voice cried from the street:
"Inspector, they are escaping over the roofs."
It was Simon, the worthy steward of the Marquis of Fougereuse, who assisted the police to-day. He had stationed himself, with several officers, in front of the house, and had noticed two shadows gliding over the roofs.
"Forward, men," cried the inspector. "We must catch them, dead or alive."
In a moment, Simon had bounded up the stairs and now stood near the official at the skylight.
"How slanting that roof is!" growled the inspector. "One misstep and you lie in the street."
He carefully climbed out; Simon followed, and then they both looked around for the escaped conspirators.
"There they are!" exclaimed the steward, hastily. "Look, they have reached the edge of the roof and are going to swing themselves over to the neighboring roof! They are fools; the distance must be at least ten feet. They will either fall down and smash their heads on the pavement, or else fall into our hands."
Simon had seen aright. Girdel and Fanfaro were at the edge of the roof, and now the young man bent down and swung something his pursuers could not make out.
"Surrender!" cried the inspector, holding himself on a chimney.
Fanfaro now rose upright. He made a jump and the next minute he was on the neighboring roof.
The inspector and Simon uttered a cry of rage, and redoubled it when they saw Fanfaro busying himself tying a stout rope to an iron hook which he connected with another hook on the roof he had just left.
Girdel now clambered to the edge of the roof, grasped the rope with both hands, and began to work his way across to Fanfaro.
"Quick, a knife!" cried the inspector.
Simon handed him his pocket-knife and the policeman began to saw the rope through. Luckily for Girdel, the work went very slow, for the knife was as dull as the rope was thick, and Simon, who only now began to remember that Girdel must not be killed at any price, loudly exclaimed:
"Stop, inspector, are you out of your senses?"
The policeman was no longer able to heed the warning. The knife had done its duty, the rope was cut!
Girdel did not fall to the pavement though. At the decisive moment Fanfaro bent far over the roof, and with superhuman strength held on to the rope on which Girdel was, at the same time crying to him:
"Attention, the rope is cut, take your teeth."
Girdel understood at once, and his mighty jaws held the rope firmly.
Fanfaro had bent far forward to hinder Girdel from being dashed against the wall, and kept in that position, until the athlete could work himself with his hands and teeth to the edge of the roof.
The roof was at length reached. Fanfaro swung his arms about Girdel, and the next minute they both disappeared behind a tall chimney!
"Papa Girdel, we have nothing to fear now," said Fanfaro, laughing; but soon he thought of Louison, and he sighed heavily.
"What is the matter with you, my boy?" asked Girdel, in amazement.
"I will tell you some other time. Let us try to reach the street first, for our pursuers will surely try to get into the house and begin the hunt anew."
The athlete saw he was right, and they both began their perilous flight over the roofs. For a time everything went right, but suddenly Fanfaro paused and said:
"We are at a street corner."
"That is a fatal surprise," growled Girdel; "what shall we do now?"
"We must try to reach a roof-pipe and glide down."
"That is easier said than done. Where will you find a roof-pipe able to sustain my weight?"
Fanfaro looked at Girdel in amazement. He had not thought of that.
"Then let us try to find a skylight and get into some house," he said, after a pause.
"Suppose the window leads to an inhabited room?" observed Girdel.
"Then we can explain our perilous position. We will not be likely to tumble into a policeman's house."
"Let us hope for the best," replied Girdel.
At the same moment a terrific crash was heard and Fanfaro saw his foster-father sink away. Girdel had unconsciously trodden on a window-pane and fallen through!
"That is a new way of paying visits," cried a voice which Fanfaro thought he recognized, and while Girdel made desperate attempts to swing himself again on the roof, a hand armed with a tallow candle appeared in the opening.
"I will light the gentlemen," continued the voice.
"Bobichel, is it you?" cried Fanfaro, joyously.
"Certainly, and I ought to know you," was the reply; "really, the master and Fanfaro."
"Bobichel," said Girdel, greatly astonished, "is it really you? We thought you were dead!"
"Bah! a clown can stand a scratch; but come quickly into my room, it is cold outside."
Girdel and Fanfaro entered the small attic and Bobichel received his old comrades cordially.
"The ball did not hit you, then?" asked Girdel; "we thought you were gone."
"Almost," replied the clown; "I dragged myself a few steps further, with the bullet in my side, and then sank down unconscious. When I awoke I found myself in the hospital at Remiremont, where I remained until a week ago. Later on I will give you all the details. For to-day I will only say that I arrived in Paris yesterday and rented this room here. I expected to find you here, and I intended to look about to-morrow morning. What happy accident brought you here?"
"In the first place, the police," replied Fanfaro; "they hunted us like a pack of dogs a wild animal, and if we had not escaped over the roofs we would now be behind lock and key."
"But why are you pursued?" asked Bobichel, anxiously. "Do you belong to the conspiracy of which there is so much talk?"
"Probably," replied Girdel.
"Is there a place for me in the conspiracy?" asked the clown, vivaciously, "I am without employment just now, and if you wish to take me in tow, I—"
"We shall attend to it," said Fanfaro, cordially.
"How is little Caillette getting on?" asked Bobichel, after a pause.
"Very well, thank you. We shall let her know to-morrow morning that we are safe."
"Then she is in Paris, too?"
"Certainly. We lived up till now in the Golden Calf. However, we must look for other rooms now. We can speak about that to-morrow. Let us go to sleep now, it must be very late," said Girdel; and looking at his watch, he added: "Really it is two o'clock."
"Bobichel's eyes knew that long ago," laughed Fanfaro. "Go to bed, old friend, you are tired."
"Oh, I am not tired," said the clown, yawning in spite of himself. "I will not go to bed after I have found you again."
"You must do so, Bobichel," said Fanfaro, earnestly. "You are still weak and must husband your strength. Go calmly to bed. Girdel and I have still a great deal to consider, and we are both glad that we need not camp in the street."
Bobichel hesitated no longer; he threw himself on his hard couch and in less than five minutes he was fast asleep.
As soon as Girdel found himself alone with Fanfaro, he said, in an anxious voice:
"Fanfaro, tell me what ails you. I know you too well not to be aware that something extraordinary has happened. Place confidence in me; perhaps I can help you."
"If you only could," sighed Fanfaro; "but you are right, I will tell you all. First, Papa Girdel, I must ask you a few questions about my past—"
"Speak; what do you wish to know?"
"What did you find out about my mother?"
"That she was the victim of a conflagration. She was in a farmhouse which had been set fire to by Cossacks."
"And my father?"
"He died the death of a hero, fighting for his country."
"As far as my memory goes," said Fanfaro, pensively, "I was in a large, dark room. It must have been a subterranean chamber. My parents had intrusted my little sister to my care. I held her by the hand, but suddenly I lost her and could never find her again."
"I know, I know," said Girdel, sorrowfully.
"Since this evening," continued the young man, "I have been thinking of my poor little Louison. I have not been able to tell you yet that a respectable young girl, who earns her living by singing, was forcibly abducted from the Golden Calf this evening."
"Impossible! Monsieur Aube is a brave man," exclaimed Girdel, impatiently.
"Ah! Aube knows nothing of the matter. He is innocent. The villain who did it is a bad man, who has already crossed our path."
"And his name?"
"Vicomte de Talizac."
"Talizac? Has this family got a thousand devils in its service? It was the vicomte's father, the Marquis of Fougereuse, who wished to kill us at Sainte-Ame; his steward ran to Remiremont to get the police."
"Like father like son. The proverb says that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. The young girl whom Talizac abducted is named Louison, and I—"
"My poor boy, you do not really think—"
"That this Louison is my poor lost sister? Yes, I fear so, Papa Girdel. When I heard the name, I trembled in every limb, and since then the thought haunts me. If I knew that Louison were dead I would thank God on my knees, but it is terrible to think that she is in the power of that scoundrel. The fact that Robeckal has a hand in the affair stamps it at once as a piece of villany."
"Robeckal is the vicomte's accomplice?" cried Girdel, springing up. "Oh, Fanfaro, why did you not say so at once? We must not lose a minute! Ah, now I understand all! Robeckal abducted the poor child and brought it to Rolla. I know they are both in Paris, and I will move heaven and earth to find them!"
"May God reward you, Papa Girdel," said Fanfaro, with deep emotion. "I will in the meantime try to find the invalid with whom the street-singer lives, and—"
"Is there nothing for Bobichel to do?" asked the clown, sitting up in his bed.
"Oh, Bobichel!" exclaimed Fanfaro, gratefully, "if you want to help us?"
"Of course I do. I will accompany master to Robeckal, for I also have a bone to pick with the scoundrel."
Louison's crazy mother had passed a miserable night. Accustomed to see Louison before going to sleep and hear her gentle voice, and not having her cries answered on this particular evening, the poor woman, who had not been able to move a step for years, dragged herself on her hands and feet into the next room and shoved the white curtains aside.
The painful cry of the invalid as she saw the bed empty, drowned a loud knock at the door, and only when the knocking was repeated and a voice imploringly cried: "Open, for God's sake, open quick!" did the burned woman listen. Where had she heard the voice?
"Quick, open—it is on account of Louison," came again from the outside. It was Fanfaro who demanded entrance.
A cry which was no longer human came from the breast of the burned woman, and, collecting all her strength, she crawled to the door and tore so long at the curtains which covered the pane of glass that they came down and Fanfaro could see into the room. As soon as he saw the position of the poor woman, he understood at once that she could not open the door, and making up his mind quickly, he pressed in the window, and the next minute he was in the room.
"Where is Louison, madame?" he exclaimed.
The woman did not answer; she looked steadily at him and plunged her fingers in her gray hair.
"Madame, listen to me. Louison has been abducted. Don't you know anything?"
The poor thing still remained silent, even though her lips trembled convulsively, and the deep-set eyes gazed steadily at the young man.
"Madame," began Fanfaro, desperately, "listen to my words. Can you not remember where Louison told you she was going? You know who Louison is; she nurses and cares for you. Can you not tell me anything?"
At length a word came from the burned woman's breast.
"Jacques, Jacques!" she stammered, clutching the young man's knees and looking at him.
Fanfaro trembled. Who was this horrible woman who called him by the name of his childhood?
"Louison! Jacques!" uttered the toothless lips, and hot, scalding tears rolled over the scarred cheeks.
A flood of never-before-felt emotions rushed over Fanfaro; he tenderly bent over the poor woman, and gently said:
"You called me Jacques. I was called that once. What do you know of me?"
The burned woman looked hopelessly at him; she tried hard to understand him, but her clouded mind could not at first grasp what he meant.
"I will tell you what I know of the past," continued Fanfaro, slowly. "I formerly lived at Leigoutte in the Vosges. My father's name was Jules, my mother's Louise, and my little sister Louison—where is Louison?"
At last a ray of reason broke from the disfigured eyes, and she whispered:
"Jacques, my dear Jacques! I am Louise, your mother, and the wife of Jules Fougeres!"
"My mother!" stammered Fanfaro with emotion, and taking the broken woman in his arms, he fervently kissed her disfigured face. The poor woman clung to him. The veil of madness was torn aside and stroking the handsome face of the young man with her broken fingers, she softly murmured:
"I have you again. God be thanked!"
"But where is Louison?" broke in Fanfaro, anxiously.
Still the brain of the sick woman could not grasp all the new impressions she had received, and although she looked again and again at Fanfaro, she left the question unanswered.
At any other time Fanfaro would have left the sick woman alone, but his anxiety about Louison gave him no peace. He did not doubt a minute but that his mother had recognized Louison long ago as her daughter, and so he asked more urgently:
"Mother, where is Louison? Your little Louison, my sister?"
"Louison?" repeated the sick woman, with flaming eyes. "Oh, she is good; she brings me fruit and flowers."
"But where is she now?"
"Gone," moaned the invalid.
"Gone? Where to?"
"I do not know. Her bed is empty."
"Then I was not deceived. She has been abducted by that scoundrel, Talizac!"
"Talizac?" repeated the maniac, with a foolish laugh. "Oh, I know him, do not let him in; he brings unhappiness—unhappiness!"
"Then he has been here?" cried Fanfaro, terror-stricken.
"No, not here—in—Sachemont—I—oh! my poor head."
With a heart-rending cry the poor woman sank to the ground unconscious. The excitement of the last hour had been too much for her. Fanfaro looked at the fainting woman, not knowing what to do. He took her in his arms and was about to place her on the bed when the door was softly opened and three forms glided in.
"Girdel, thank Heaven!" cried Fanfaro, recognizing the athlete, "have you found Robeckal?"
"No, the wretches moved out of their former residence in the Rue Vinaigrier, yesterday, and no one could tell us where they went."
"I thought so," groaned Fanfaro, and then he hastily added: "Girdel, the unhappy woman I hold in my arms is my mother. No, do not think I am crazy, it is the truth; and the girl who was abducted is my sister Louison."
"Impossible!" stammered Girdel.
"His mother!" came a whisper behind Fanfaro, and turning hastily round he saw Caillette—who stood at the door with tears in her eyes—with Bobichel, who said:
"Caillette will take care of the invalid until we have found Louison; I say that we move heaven and earth so that we find her."
"You are right, Bobichel," said Fanfaro, and, pressing a kiss upon his mother's forehead, he ran off with Girdel and the clown.
While Montferrand and Talizac were struggling, Robeckal slipped up to the door and winked to Louison. She hurried out and implored Robeckal to bring her out of this miserable house. This was just what the wretch had been waiting for, and hardly five minutes later he was in a small street with the betrayed girl. In this street a carriage stood. Robeckal seized the unsuspecting girl by the waist, lifted her into the carriage, and sprang in himself. The driver whipped up the horses and away they went at a rapid gait.
"Where are you bringing me to?" cried Louison in terror, as she saw the carriage take a wrong direction.
"Keep still, my little pigeon," laughed Robeckal, "I am bringing you to a place where it will please you."
Louison for a moment was speechless; she soon recovered herself, however, comprehended her position at a glance, hastily pulled down the carriage window, and cried aloud for help.
"Silence, minx!" exclaimed Robeckal roughly, and pulling a cloth out of his pocket he held it in front of Louison's face.
"Ah, now you are getting tame," he mockingly laughed, as the young girl, moaning softly, fell back in the cushions. The carriage hurried along and finally stopped in an obscure street of the Belleville Quarter.
Robeckal sprang out, and taking the unconscious Louison in his arms, he carried her up the stairs of a small house, and pulled the bell, while the carriage rolled on.
"Ah, here you are; let me see the chicken!"
With these words Rolla received her comrade.
She put the lamp close to Louison's face, and then said:
"Your Talizac hasn't got bad taste; the little one is handsome."
"Is everything in order?" asked Robeckal, going up the stairs after the "Cannon Queen."
"Certainly, look for yourself."
Robeckal entered an elegantly furnished room, and, placing Louison on a sofa, he said in a commendatory tone:
"It's pretty fair."
"Don't you think so? Leave the rest to me; I have a grand idea."
"An idea?" repeated Robeckal, doubtingly.
"Yes, an idea that will bring us in a nice sum of money."
"Then I am satisfied. If the little one only does not cause us any embarrassment."
"No fear of that. In the first place she should sleep."
The virago poured a few drops of a watery liquid in a spoon and approached Louison. The latter had her lips parted, but her teeth were tightly drawn together. Robeckal carefully put the blade of his knife between them, and Rolla poured the liquid down Louison's throat.
"Now come downstairs with me," she said, turning to Robeckal, "and if your vicomte comes you will praise me."
The worthy pair now left Louison, who was sleeping; and after Rolla had tightly locked the door and put the key in her pocket, they both strode to the basement. Here they entered a small, dirty room, and Rolla had just filled two glasses with rum when a carriage stopped in front of the door.
"Here they are," said Robeckal, hastily emptying his glass and going to the street door, from whence came the sound of loud knocks.
Shortly afterward he returned in company with Talizac and Velletri. The vicomte's face was flushed with the wine he had been drinking; spots of blood were on his clothes, and his walk was uneven and unsteady. Velletri, on the other hand, showed not a trace of excitement, and his dress was neat and select.
"A glass of water!" commanded the vicomte, in a rough voice, turning to Rolla.
The fat woman looked angrily at him, and while she brought the water she muttered to herself:
"Wait now. You shall pay dearly for your coarseness."
Talizac drank, and then said:
"Is the little one here?"
"You haven't done anything to her, have you?"
"What do you take me for?" growled Rolla.
"Bring me some wash water," said the vicomte, without noticing Rolla's sensitiveness, and turning to Velletri, he added: "Montferrand handled me roughly; I look as if I had been torn from the gallows."
"As if you won't get there one of these days," growled Rolla; and, lighting a candle, she said aloud, "If the gentlemen wish I will conduct them to the 'Marquise.'"
"Go on; where is she?"
"In the upper story—she is sleeping."
"So much the better. I will lavish my affection on her, and see if she is still as prudish."
Rolla preceded the vicomte up the stairs. As she went past she exchanged a quick glance with Robeckal, and the latter growled to himself:
"There is something up with her; I will watch and help her should it be necessary."
Rolla and Talizac were now in front of the door which led to Louison's room. The vicomte looked inquiringly at his companion and said:
"One moment, we are not as far as that yet. Just look at the little one first."
With these words Rolla opened a sliding window in the door and stepped back, while the vicomte bent down and looked into the partly lighted room.
Louison lay fast asleep on the sofa. The pretty head rested on the left arm, while the right hung carelessly down, and the long eyelashes lay tightly on the slightly flushed cheeks. The small, delicate mouth was slightly compressed, and the mass of silky hair fell in natural curls about the white forehead.
"Isn't she charming?" giggled Rolla.
Talizac was a libertine, a dissipated man, and yet when he saw the sleeping girl, a feeling he could not account for overcame him. He forgot where he was, that the miserable woman at his side had helped to carry out his dastardly plans, and all his longing now was to throw himself at Louison's feet, and say to her:
"I love you dearly!"
"Open," he hastily ordered.
Rolla let the window fall again and looked impertinently at him.
"My lord," she said, with a courtesy, "before I open this door you will pay me twenty thousand francs."
"Woman, are you mad?"
"Bah! you would shout so! I said twenty thousand francs, and I mean it. Here is my hand. Count in the money and I will get the key."
"Enough of this foolish talk," cried the vicomte, in a rage. "I paid your comrade the sum he demanded, and that settles it."
"You are more stupid than I thought," laughed Rolla. "If you do not pay, nothing will come of the affair."
"But this is a swindle," said the vicomte.
"Do not shout such language through the whole house," growled Rolla. "Do you think it is a pleasure to abduct girls? Robeckal had enough trouble with the little one and—"
What Rolla said further was drowned by the noise Talizac made as he threw himself against the door. It did not move an inch though; and before the vicomte could try again, Robeckal hurried up with a long knife in his hand.
"What is the matter?" he angrily cried.
"Your friend the vicomte forgot his purse and thinks he can get the girl on credit," mockingly replied Rolla.
The noise brought Velletri up too; but as soon as he saw Robeckal's long knife, he turned about again. The vicomte too became pacified.
"I will give you all the money I have with me," he said, as he turned the contents of his purse into Rolla's big hand. "Count and see how much it is."
"Ten, twenty, eight hundred francs," counted the Cannon Queen; "we shall keep the money on account, and when you bring the rest, you can get the key."
"This is miserable," hissed Talizac, as he turned to go; "who will vouch to me that you won't ask me again for the money?"
"Our honor, vicomte," replied Rolla, grinning. "We think as much of our reputation as high-toned people."
"Scoundrels," muttered Talizac, as he went away with Velletri. "If we could only do without them!"
MACHIAVELLI AND COMPANY
The Marquis of Fougereuse was sitting in his study, and Simon stood beside him.
"So he has escaped from us again?" remarked the marquis frowning.
"God knows how it happened, my lord; my plans were all so well laid that I cannot understand how the affair fell through?"
"Postponed is not given up," observed the nobleman; "and as Fanfaro does not yet suspect who he really is, he can go on compromising himself. Have you any further details with regard to the conspiracy?"
"Yes, my lord, we have trustworthy witnesses, who can swear, in case of need, that Fanfaro planned an attempt upon the sacred person of the king."
"Very good; but still the attempt must be really made, so that Fanfaro could be convicted."
"I have attended to that. One of our agents will set the harmless attempt in motion, and the individual selected—who, by the way, has escaped the gallows more than once—will swear in court that Fanfaro is the intellectual head of the assassination and chief conspirator."
Before the marquis could express his satisfaction, the Marquis of Montferrand was announced.
"A visit at this hour!" cried Fougereuse, in amazement; "it is hardly seven o'clock."
"The gentleman comes on important business, as he informed me," said the servant.
"Bring the marquis in," ordered the nobleman; and as the servant went away he hastily said to Simon: "Hide behind the curtain, and remain there until the interview is over; perhaps you might hear something that will further our plans." Simon nodded and disappeared, while the marquis was led in.
Arthur's father was a man of imposing presence. He looked down upon the beggar nobility which fawned about the court, to receive money or favors.
The old man looked pale. He hastily approached the marquis and said:
"Marquis, you imagine you are a faithful adherent of the monarchy, but scandals such as take place to-day are not calculated to raise the Fougereuse and Talizacs in the estimation of the court."
"You are speaking in riddles, marquis!" exclaimed Fougereuse, in amazement.
"So much the worse for you, if your son's conduct must be told you by another party," said the old man, sternly.
"What is the matter with my son?"
"The Vicomte de Talizac has dishonored himself and the cause you serve."
"My son is young and wild. Has he again committed one of his stupid follies?" asked the marquis, uneasily.
"If it only were a stupid folly! The vicomte had a quarrel last night with my son, because my son wished to hinder him from committing a dastardly act. My son boxed the vicomte's ears, upon which the latter tried to stab him with a knife."
"Impossible!" cried Fougereuse, in a rage.
"I am speaking the truth," declared the old gentleman, calmly.
"What was the nature of this dastardly act?"
"The vicomte was drunk and employed people to abduct a respectable young girl, a street-singer. My son was in the society of yours, in a restaurant of a low order. When he heard what the affair was, he energetically protested and tried to hinder the vicomte and his friend Velletri from carrying out their plot. They quarrelled, the vicomte was boxed on the ears and my son was stabbed. They both received what they deserved. What brought me here is another matter. You are aware that I consented to speak to my cousin the Comtesse of Salves in relation to the marriage of her daughter with your son. From what happened last night, I should regard it as a misfortune for Irene if she becomes the vicomte's wife. I came here to tell you this."
Fougereuse became pale and clutched the back of a chair to keep from falling. At this moment the rustle of a silk dress was heard, and Madeleine, the marquis's wife, entered the room.
The marquis excitedly approached her.
"The vicomte is a scoundrel!" he cried, in a rage; "he has dragged the old noble name in the mud, thanks to his mother's bringing up. You have never refused him a wish."
Madeleine's blue eyes shot gleams of fire; she looked above her husband as if he had been empty air, and turned to the Marquis of Montferrand.
"Monsieur le Marquis," she politely said, "my son desired me to offer you his apologies."
"Apology?" repeated Montferrand, coldly, "for the box on the ear he got?"
"No, my lord, but because he was so intoxicated as to raise the ire of your son. He would not have gone so far if he had been sober. As to the affair with the street-singer, it is not so serious as you imagine. My son regrets very much that such a trivial affair has been the means of causing a rupture between him and your son. He has already taken steps to indemnify the girl for the wrong he did her, and I am positive the little one will have her liberty restored to her before many hours have passed. Is the word of the Marquise de Fougereuse sufficient for you, my lord?"
"Perfectly sufficient," said Montferrand, gallantly kissing the marquise's hand.
"Then we can count on seeing you to-night at our house?" asked Madeleine. "I have a surprise in store for my friends."
"Can one find out in advance the nature of it?" asked Montferrand, while Fougereuse looked anxiously at Madeleine.
"Oh, yes; his majesty has condescended to appoint the vicomte a captain in the Life Guards with the decoration of St. Louis," said the marquise proudly.
"Oh, I call that a surprise," cried Fougereuse, more freely, and Montferrand hastened to extend his congratulations.
"The Countess of Salves and her daughter have signified their intention of being present," continued Madeleine, "and as soon as my son receives his commission, the engagement of the young couple will be announced."
"It is only what one might expect from the Marquise of Fougereuse," said Montferrand politely, as he rose. "Good-by then, until this evening."
The marquis accompanied the old man to the door, then returned to his wife and excitedly asked:
"Madeleine, is all this true?"
Instead of answering, the marquise contemptuously shrugged her shoulders and left the room to hunt up her son.
"It is all settled," she said; "here are the twenty thousand francs you need to silence the girl; and now try to bring honor to your new position."
Madeleine placed a pocket-book on the table and went away. Talizac laughed in his sleeve. He did not think he could obtain the money so easily.
Toward noon Louison awoke from the lethargic sleep in which Rolla's liquid had thrown her, and her first look fell upon the virago, who was sitting in a half-drunken condition near the window. The young girl unconsciously uttered a cry when she saw the repulsive woman, and this cry aroused Rolla from out of her dreams about well-filled brandy bottles into reality.
"Well, my pigeon, how goes it?" she asked, grinning.
"My head hurts," replied Louison faintly, and throwing an anxious look about the strange apartment, she timidly added: "Where am I?"
"Where are you? Among good people certainly, who have become interested in you and will do what's right."
Louison was silent and tried to collect her thoughts. But it was no use, she had to close her eyes again from exhaustion.
"Ah, you are sensible I see; that pleases me," said Rolla, giggling. "Robeckal thought you would stamp and cry, but I said right away: 'The little one is smart, she will not throw her fortune away.' What is the use of virtue, anyway? It hardly brings one dry bread, so the sooner you throw it overboard the better it is. Oh, you will make your way, never fear. Your face is handsome, and who knows but that you will have your own elegant house and carriage one of these days? The little vicomte is certainly no Adonis, with his high shoulder, but one cannot have everything and—"
Louison had listened to Rolla's words with increasing loathing, and when she heard the name of the vicomte pronounced, her memory returned to her. Hastily springing up, she uttered a loud cry, and clutching Rolla tightly about the shoulder she exclaimed:
"Let me go or you shall be sorry for it!"
Rolla looked at the street-singer with a foolish laugh, and, shaking her thick head, she laconically said:
"But I will not stay here," declared Louison firmly. "I will go away! Either you let me go or I shall cry for help. I am a respectable girl, and you ought to be ashamed to treat me in this way."
"So you—are a respectable girl," said the woman, in a maudlin voice. "What conceit—you have! You might have been so yesterday, but to-day—try it—tell the people that you spent a few hours in the Cannon Queen's house in Belleville and are still a respectable girl. Ha! ha! They will laugh at you, or spit in your face. No, no, my pretty dear, no one will believe that fairy story, and if an angel from heaven came down and took rooms in my house, it would be ruined. Give in, my chicken, and don't show the white feather! No one will believe that you are respectable and virtuous, and I think you ought to save yourself the trouble. It is too late now."
"You lie!" cried Louison, in desperation.
"So—I lie—it is about time that I shut your bold mouth," growled the virago, and raising her voice, she cried: "Robeckal, bring me the bottle."
The next minute hurried steps were heard coming up the stairs, and Rolla hastened to open the locked door. It was Robeckal, who entered with a small bottle in his hand. When Louison saw him she turned deathly pale, and running to the window she burst the panes with her clinched fist and called loudly for help.
"Minx!" hissed Robeckal, forcibly holding her back and throwing her to the ground.
With Rolla's assistance he now poured the contents of the bottle down her throat. When he tried to open the tightly compressed lips, Louison bit him in the finger. He uttered an oath, put a piece of wood between her teeth, and triumphantly exclaimed:
"For the next few hours you are done for, you little hussy."
"If it were only not too much," said Rolla, as Louison, groaning loudly, sank backward and closed her eyes.
"Have no fear; I know my methods," laughed Robeckal. "I am not so foolish as to kill the little one before we have the vicomte's money in our hands. She will sleep a few hours, and wake up tamed. Come, let us put her on the sofa and leave her alone."
The worthy pair laid the unconscious girl on the sofa and went away. Rolla, on closing the door, put the key in her pocket. They began to play cards in the basement, a pursuit which agreed with them, and at the same time swallowed deep draughts of brandy.
Toward six o'clock the vicomte entered. He threw a well-filled pocket-book on the table, and in a tone of command said: "The key!"
"First we will count," growled Rolla; and opening the pocket-book with her fat hands she passed the contents in review.
"It is correct," she finally said; and taking the key out of her pocket she handed it to the vicomte.
As soon as the latter had left the room, Rolla shoved the pocket-book in her dirty dress, and hastily said:
"Come, Robeckal, the little one might make a noise. Let him see how he will get through with her."
Robeckal acquiesced, and they both quickly left the house, leaving all the doors open behind them.
They had hardly been gone, when a cry of rage rang through the house, and immediately afterward the vicomte burst into the room.
"You have deceived me," he cried, in a rage; "the window is open and the girl is gone!"
By what miracle had Louison escaped? In his anxiety to make the young girl harmless, Robeckal had given her such a strong dose that the narcotic had just the opposite effect, and before an hour had passed, a hammering and beating of her temples awakened her again. The excited state in which she was made her unable to grasp a clear thought; but one thing stood plainly before her—she must leave this horrible house at any price.
Slowly rising, she felt for the door; it was locked. She then walked softly to the window and looked at the street. It was deserted and empty of pedestrians, a fog hung over it, and if Louison could only reach the street she would be safe.
Through the broken pane the fresh air entered, and she tried then to collect her thoughts. The horrible woman had spoken about Belleville; if she were only in the street she would soon reach the Boulevard du Temple, and then—further than this she did not get with her plans. Away, only away, the rest would take care of itself.
What had the virago said? "Too late, too late, too late!" The horrible words rang in her ears like a death-knell; every pulse-beat repeated, "Too late!"
Pressing her hand to her temples, Louison began to sob. Just then the coarse laughter of her torturers sounded from the basement and her tears immediately dried.
Softly, very softly, she opened the window, stood on the sill and swung herself to the outer sill. A pole which served to support a grapevine gave her a hold. She carefully climbed down its side, reached the street and ran as if pursued by the Furies.
The fog grew denser, and more than once Louison knocked against a wall or ran against passers-by, but these obstacles did not hinder her from running on.
How long she had been going in this way she did not know, but suddenly a blast of cold air grazed her burning face, and looking up she perceived that she had reached the Canal St. Martin. She had only to cross the bridge to reach those quarters of the great city which were known to her, but still she did not do it. A short while she stood there not knowing what to do. Then she strode on, timidly looking around her and walked down the damp stone steps leading to the water.
For a long time she stood on the last step. All around everything was still, and only the monotonous ripple of the waves reached the deserted girl's ears. With her arms folded across her bosom, she gazed at the black waters; the murmuring waves played about her feet and then she paused so long—long—