A snow-storm was raging with such vigor that any one who chanced to be passing along the silent thoroughfare might well have believed himself in St. Petersburg instead of in Paris, in the Rue des Ours, a side street leading into the Avenue St. Martin. The street, never a very busy one, was now almost deserted, as was also the avenue, as it was yet too early for vehicles of various sorts to be returning from the theatre.
The street-lamps on the corners had not yet been lighted. In front of one of those old-fashioned houses which belong to a former Paris a heavy iron lantern swung, creaking in the wind, and, battling with the darkness, shed flickering rays of light on the child who, with a faded red cotton shawl wrapped about her, was cowering in the deep doorway of the house. From time to time there would emerge from the whirling snowflakes the dark form of a man clad as a laborer. He would walk leisurely toward the doorway in which the shivering child was concealed, but would turn when he came to the circle of light cast on the snowy pavement by the swinging lantern, and retrace his steps, thus appearing and disappearing at regular intervals. Surely a singular time and place for a promenade! The clocks struck ten—the hour which found every honest dweller within the Quartier St. Martin at home. On this evening, however, two belated citizens came from somewhere, their hurrying footsteps noiseless in the deep snow, their approach announced only by the lantern carried by one of them—an article without which no respectable citizen at the beginning of the century would have ventured on the street after nightfall. One of the pedestrians was tall and broad-shouldered, with a handsome countenance, which bore the impress of an inflexible determination; a dimple indented his smoothly shaven chin. His companion, and his senior by several years, was a slender, undersized man.
When the two men came abreast of the doorway illumined by the swinging lamp, it was evident that they had arrived at their destination. They halted and prepared to enter the house.
At this moment the child crouching in the snow began to sob.
“See here!” exclaimed the taller of the two gentlemen. “Here is a little girl.”
“Why, so there is!” in turn exclaimed the elder, stooping and letting the light of his lantern fall on the child’s face. “What are you doing here, little one?” he asked in a kindly tone.
“I want my mama! I want my mama!” wailed the child, with a fresh burst of sobs.
“Who is your mama?” queried the younger man.
“My mama is the countess.”
“And where does she live?”
“In the palace.”
“Naturally! In which avenue is the palace?”
“A true child of Paris!” in an undertone exclaimed the elder gentleman. “She knows that her mother is a countess, and that she lives in a palace; but she has never been told the name of the street in which is her home.”