Countess Themire, knowing she might safely trust her little daughter to perform the duties of hostess, followed De Fervlans to the conservatory.
“We have been outwitted,” he began at once. “They vanished twelve hours before we learned that they had flown.”
The countess shrugged her shoulders and tossed her head.
“Why do you think it necessary to tell me this?” she inquired, with a touch of asperity. “Have you not got enough police to arrest the fugitives, who must pass through the entire country in their flight?”
“Yes, we have quite enough spies, and they are very skilful; but the fugitives are a trifle more skilful. They have disguised themselves so effectually that it is impossible to trace them. They seized a public coach by force, changed the number on it, and sent it back from the boundary by an accomplice, who left it in the Rue Muffetard. Even should we succeed in tracing their flight, by the time we discovered them they would have crossed the boundary of Switzerland, or would be sailing over the ocean. No; we must begin all over again. There is but one expedient: you must travel in search of the fugitives, and bring them back.”
“I go in search of them and bring them back?” repeated the countess, in a startled tone.
“The first part of your task will not be so difficult,” continued De Fervlans. “The imprisoned marquis will not reveal the destination of the fugitives; but we have learned, through your clever little daughter, that they have gone to a country where there is order, but where there are no police. That, methinks, is not a very difficult riddle to solve. You need only journey from place to place until you find such a country. The fugitives will be certain to betray themselves by their secrecy, and I have not the least doubt but your search will be rewarded before the year is out. For one year you shall have the command of three hundred thousand francs. When you discover the fugitives you will know very well what to do. The man is young and an enthusiast—an easy conquest, I should fancy; and when you have ensnared him the maid’s fate is decided. We want the man, the maid, and the steel casket; any one of the three, however, will be of great value to us. You will keep us advised as to your progress, and we, of course, will assist you all we can. You know that we have secret agents all over Europe. And now, you will do well to prepare for an immediate departure; there is not a moment to be lost.”
“But good, heavens! how can I take Amelie on such a journey?”
“You are not to take her with you—of what are you thinking? That man has already seen the child, and would recognize her at once.”
“You surely cannot mean that I am to desert my daughter?”
“Don’t you think Amelie will be in safe hands if you leave her in my care?” asked De Fervlans, with a glance that would have made any one who had not heard his words believe he was making a declaration of love. “Besides, it will not be the first time you leave her to the care of another.”