“How come you to be here, little countess?” inquired the younger man.
“Diana can tell you,” was the reply.
“And who may Diana be?”
“Why, who else but mama’s Diana?”
“Allow me to question her,” here interposed the elder man. Then, to the child: “Diana is the person who helps you put on your clothes, is she not?”
“It is just the other way: she took off my clothes—just see; I have nothing on but this petticoat and this hideous shawl.”
As she spoke she flung back the faded shawl and revealed how scantily she was clad.
“You poor child!” compassionately ejaculated the young man; and when he saw that her thin morocco slippers were buried in the snow, he lifted her hastily in his arms. “You are half frozen.”
“But why did Diana leave you half clothed in this manner?” pursued the elder man. “Why did she undress you? Can’t you tell us that much?”
“Mama slapped her this morning.”
“Ah! then Diana is a servant?”
“Why, of course; what else could she be?”
“Well, she might be a goddess or a hound, you know,” smilingly returned the old gentleman.
“When mama went to the opera, this evening,” explained the little one, “she ordered Diana to take me to the children’s ball at the marquis’s. Instead, she brought me to this street, made me get out of the carriage, took off my silk ball-gown and all my pretty ornaments, and left me here in this doorway—I am sure I don’t know why, for there is n’t any music here.”
“It is well she left this old shawl with you, else your mama would not have a little countess to tell the tale to-morrow,” observed the elder man. Then, turning to his companion, he added in a lower tone: “What are we to do with her?”
“We can’t leave her here; that would be inhuman,” was the reply, in the same cautious tone.
“But we can’t take her in; it would be a great risk.”
“What is there to fear from an innocent prattler who cannot even remember her mother’s name?”
“We might take her to the conciergerie,” suggested the elder gentleman.
“I think we had better not disturb the police when they are asleep,” in a significant tone responded his companion.
“That is true; but we can’t take the child to our apartments. You know that we—”
“I have an idea!” suddenly interposed the young man. “This innocent child has been placed in our way by Providence; by aiding her we may accomplish more easily the task we have undertaken.”
“I understand,” assented the elder; “we can accomplish two good deeds at one and the same time. Allow me to go up-stairs first; while you are locking the door I will arrange matters up there so that you may bring this poor little half-frozen creature directly with you.” Then, to the child: “Don’t be afraid, little countess; nothing shall harm you. To-morrow morning perhaps you will remember your mama’s name, or else she will send some one in search of you.”