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Grandmother Dear Part 4

"They're sure to be here," she said.

The room was very crowded. She dared not rush through it as fast as hitherto; it was _so_ crowded that she felt it would be quite possible to overlook a group of even four. More than once she fancied she caught sight of grandmother's small and aunty's taller figure, both dressed in black. Once her heart gave a great throb of delight when she fancied she distinguished through the crowd the cream-coloured felt hat and feathers of Molly, her double. But no--it was a cream-coloured felt hat, but the face below it was not Molly's. Then at last a panic seized the poor little girl. She fairly lost her head, and the tears blinding her so, that had Molly and all of them been close beside her, she could scarcely have perceived them, she ran half frantically through the rooms. Half frantically in reality, but scarcely so to outward appearance. Her habit of self-control, her unconquerable British dislike to being seen in tears, or to making herself conspicuous, prevented her distress being so visible as to attract general attention. Some few people remarked her as she passed--a forlorn little Evangeline--her pretty face now paler, now more flushed than its wont, as alternations of hope and fear succeeded each other, and wondered if she had lost her party or her way. But she had disappeared before there was time to do more than notice her. More than once she was on the point of asking help or advice from the cocked-hat officials at the doors, but she was afraid. In some ways she was very ignorant and childish for her age, notwithstanding her little womanlinesses and almost precocious good sense, and to tell the truth, a vague misty terror was haunting her brain--a terror which she would hardly have confessed to Molly, not for worlds untold to _Ralph_--that, being in France and not in England, she might somehow be put in prison, were the state of the case known to these same cocked-hat gentlemen! So, when at last one of these dignitaries, who had been noticing her rapid progress down the long gallery "Napoleon III.," stopped her with the civil inquiry, "Had Mademoiselle lost her way? was she seeking some one?" she bit her lips tight and winked her eyes briskly not to cry, as she replied in her best French, "Oh no," she could find her way. And then, as a sudden thought struck her that possibly he had been deputed by grandmother and aunty, who _must_ have missed her by now, to look for her, she glanced up at him again with the inquiry, had he, perhaps, seen a little girl like her? _just_ like her?

[Illustration: SYLVIA LOST IN THE LOUVRE.]

"Une petite fille comme Mademoiselle?" replied the man smiling, but not taking in the sense of the question. "No, he had not." How could there be two little demoiselles, "tout-a-fait pareilles?" He shook his head, good-natured but mystified, and Sylvia, getting frightened again, thanked him and sped off anew.

The next doorway--by this time she had unconsciously in her panic and confusion begun actually to retrace her steps round the main court of the palace--brought her again into a room filled with statuary and antiquities. She was getting so tired, so out of breath, that the excitement now deserted her. She sat down on the ledge of one of the great marble vases, in a corner where her little figure was almost hidden from sight, and began to think, as quietly and composedly as she could, what she should do. The tears were slowly creeping up into her eyes again; she let two or three fall, and then resolutely drove the others back.

"What shall I do?" she thought, and joined to her own terrors there was now the certainty of the anxiety and misery the others must, by this time, be suffering on her account. "Oh, poor little Molly," she said to herself. "How dreadfully she will be crying! What shall I do?"

Two or three ideas struck her. Should she go down one of the staircases which every now and then she came upon, and find her way out of the palace, and down in the street try to call a cab to take her back to the hotel? But she had no money with her, and no idea what a cab would cost.

And she was frightened of strange cabmen, and by no means sure that she could intelligibly explain the address. Besides this, she could not bear to go home without them all, feeling certain that they would not desert the palace till they had searched every corner for her.

"If I could but be sure of any place they _must_ pass," she said to herself, with her good sense reviving; "it would be the best way to wait there till they come."

She jumped up again. "The door out!" she exclaimed. "They _must_ pass it.

Only perhaps," her hopes falling, "there are several doors. The best one to wait at would be the one we came in by, if I could but tell which it was. Let me see--yes, I remember, as we came upstairs, aunty said, 'This is the Grand Escalier.' If I ask for the 'Grand Escalier.'"

Her courage returned. The very next cocked hat she came upon, she asked to direct her to the "Grand Escalier." He sent her straight back through a vestibule she had just left, at the other entrance to which she found herself at the head of the great staircase.

"I am sure this is the one we came up," she thought, as she ran down, and her certainty was confirmed, when, having made her way out through the entrance hall at the foot of the staircase, she caught sight, a few yards off, of an old apple woman's stall in the courtyard.

"I remember that stall quite well," thought Sylvia, and in her delight she felt half inclined to run up to the apple-woman and kiss her. "She looks nice," she said to herself, "and they must pass that way to get to the street we came along. I'll go and stand beside her."

Half timidly the little girl advanced towards the stall. She had stood there a minute or two before its owner noticed her, and turned to ask if mademoiselle wanted an apple.

Sylvia shook her head. She had no money and did not want any apples, but might she stand there to watch for her friends, whom she had lost in the crowd. The old woman, with bright black eyes and shrivelled-up, yellow-red cheeks, not unlike one of her own apples that had been thrown aside as spoilt, turned and looked with kindly curiosity at the little girl.

"Might Mademoiselle wait there? Certainly. But she must not stand," and as she spoke she drew out a little stool, on which Sylvia was only too glad to seat herself, and feeling a little less anxious, she mustered courage to ask the old woman if every one came out at this door.

"To go where?" inquired the old woman, and when Sylvia mentioned the name of the hotel and the street where they were staying, "Ah, yes!" said her informant; "Mademoiselle might be quite satisfied. It was quite sure Madame, her mother, would come out by that entrance."

"Not my mother," said Sylvia. "I have no mother. It is my grandmother."

"The grandmother of Mademoiselle," repeated the old woman with increased interest. "Ah, yes I too had once a grand-daughter."

"Did she die?" said Sylvia.

"Poor angel, yes," replied the apple-seller; "she went to the good God, and no doubt it is better. She was orphan, Mademoiselle, and I was obliged to be out all day, and she would come too. And it is so cold in Paris, the winter. She got a bad bronchitis and she died, and her old grandmother is now alone."

"I am so sorry," said Sylvia. And her thoughts went off to her own grandmother, and Molly, and all of them, with fresh sympathy for the anxiety they must be suffering. She leant back on the wall against which the old woman had placed the stool, feeling very depressed and weary--so weary that she did not feel able to do anything but sit still, which no doubt from every point of view was the best thing she could do, though but for her weariedness she would have felt much inclined to rush off again to look for them, thus decidedly decreasing her chance of finding them.

"Mademoiselle is tired," said the old woman, kindly. "She need not be afraid. The ladies are sure to come out here. I will watch well those who pass. A little demoiselle dressed like Mademoiselle? One could not mistake. Mademoiselle may feel satisfied."

Somehow the commonplace, kindly words did make Sylvia feel less anxious.

And she was very tired. Not so much with running about the Louvre; that, in reality, had not occupied more than three quarters of an hour, but with the fright and excitement, and the excitement of a different kind too, that she had had the last few days, poor little Sylvia was really quite tired out.

She laid her head down on the edge of the table on which the apples were spread out, hardly taking in the sense of what the old woman was saying--that in half-an-hour at most Mademoiselle would find her friends, for then the doors would be closed, and every one would be obliged to leave the palace. She felt satisfied that the old woman would be on the look-out for the little party she had described to her, and she thought vaguely that she would ask grandmother to give her a sixpence or a shilling--no, not a sixpence or a shilling,--she was in France, not in England--what should she say? A franc--half a franc--how much was equal to a sixpence or a shilling? She thought it over mistily for a moment or two, and then thought no more about it--she had fallen fast asleep!

But how was this? She had fallen asleep with her head on the apple-woman's stall; when she looked round her again where was she? For a minute or two she did not in the least recognise the room--then it suddenly flashed upon her she was in the Salle Henri II., the room where poor Henry the Fourth was killed! But how changed it was--the pictures were all gone, the walls were hung with the tapestry she had wished she could see there, and the room was but dimly lighted by a lamp hanging from the centre of the roof. Sylvia did not feel in any way surprised at the transformation--but she looked about her with great interest and curiosity. Suddenly a slight feeling of fear came over her, when in one corner she saw the hangings move, and from behind the tapestry a hand, a very long white hand, appear. Whose could it be? Sylvia's fear increased to terror when it suddenly struck her that this must be the night of the 14th of May, the night on which Henry of Navarre was to be killed. She gave a scream of terror, or what she fancied a scream; in reality it was the faintest of muffled sounds, like the tiny squeal of a distressed mouse, which seemed to startle the owner of the hand into quicker measures. He threw back the hangings and came towards Sylvia, addressing her distinctly. The voice was so kind that her courage returned, and she looked up at the new comer. His face was pale and somewhat worn-looking, the eyes were bright and sparkling, and benevolent in expression; his tall figure was curiously dressed in a fashion which yet did not seem quite unfamiliar to the little girl--a sort of doublet or jacket of rich crimson velvet, with lace at the collar and cuffs, short trousers fastened in at the knees, "very like Ralph's knickerbockers," said Sylvia to herself, long pointed-toed shoes, like canoes, and on the head a little cap edged with gold, half coronet, half smoking cap, it seemed to her. Where had she ever seen this old-world figure before? She gazed at him in perplexity.

"Why are you so frightened, Mademoiselle?" said the stranger, and curiously enough his voice sounded very like that of the most amiable of her cocked-hat friends.

Sylvia hesitated.

"I don't think I am frightened," she said, and though she spoke English and the stranger had addressed her in French, he seemed quite to understand her. "I am only tired, and there was something the matter.

I can't remember what it was."

"I know," replied her visitor. "You can't find Molly and the others.

Never mind. If you come with me I'll take you to them. I know all the ins and outs of the palace. I have lived here so long, you see."

He held out his hand, but Sylvia hesitated. "Who are you?" she said.

A curious smile flickered over the face before her.

"Don't you know?" he said. "I am surprised at that. I thought you knew me quite well."

"Are you?" said Sylvia--"yes, I am sure you must be one of the pictures in the long gallery. I remember looking at you this afternoon. How did you get down?"

"No," said the stranger, "Mademoiselle is not quite right. How could there be two 'tout a fait pareils'?" and again his voice sounded exactly like that of the cocked-hat who would not understand when she had asked him if he had seen Molly. Yet she still felt sure he was mistaken, he _must_ be the picture she remembered.

"It is very queer," she said. "If you are not the picture, who are you then?"

"I pass my time," said the figure, somewhat irrelevantly, "between this room, where I was killed and the 'Salle des Caryatides,' where I was married. On the whole I prefer this room."

"Are you--can you be--Henry the Fourth?" exclaimed Sylvia. "Oh! poor Henry the Fourth, I am so afraid of them coming to kill you again. Come, let us run quick to the old apple-woman, she will take care of you till we find grandmother."

She in turn held out her hand. The king took it and held it a moment in his, and a sad, very sad smile overspread his face.

"Alas!" he said, "I cannot leave the palace. I have no little grand-daughter like Mademoiselle. I am alone, always alone. Farewell, my little demoiselle. Les voila qui viennent."

The last words he seemed to speak right into her ears, so clear and loud they sounded. Sylvia started--opened her eyes--no, there was no king to be seen, only the apple-woman, who had been gently shaking her awake, and who now stood pointing out to her a little group of four people hurrying towards them, of whom the foremost, hurrying the fastest of all, was a fair-haired little girl with a cream-coloured felt hat and feathers, who, sobbing, threw herself into Sylvia's arms, and hugged and hugged as if she never would let go.

"Oh, Sylvia, oh, my darling!" she cried. "I thought you were lost for always. Oh, I have been so frightened--oh, we have all been so frightened. I thought perhaps they had taken you away to one of the places where the tops of the beds come down, or to that other place on the river, the Morgue, where they drown people, only I didn't say so, not to frighten poor grandmother worse. Oh, grandmother _dear_, aren't you glad she's found?"

Sylvia was crying too by this time, and the old apple-woman was wiping her eyes with a corner of her apron. You may be sure grandmother gave her a present, I rather think it was of a five-franc piece, which was very extravagant of grandmother, wasn't it?

They had been of course hunting for Sylvia, as people always do for anything that is lost, from a little girl to a button-hook, _before they find it_, in every place but the right one. I think it was grandmother's bright idea at last to make their way to the entrance and wait there.

There had been quite a commotion among the cocked-hats who had _not_ seen Sylvia, only unfortunately they had not managed to communicate with the cocked-hats who _had_ seen her, and they had shown the greatest zeal in trying to "match" the little girl in the cream-coloured hat, held out to them as a pattern by the brisk old lady in black, who spoke such beautiful French, that they "demanded themselves" seriously if the somewhat eccentric behaviour of the party could be explained, as all eccentricities should of course _always_ be explained, by the fact of their being English! Aunty's distress had been great, and she had not "kept her head" as well as grandmother, whose energies had a happy knack of always rising to the occasion.

"What _will_ Walter think of us," said aunty piteously, referring to the children's father, "if we begin by losing one of them?" And she unmercifully snubbed Ralph's not unreasonable suggestion of "detectives;"

he had always heard the French police system was so excellent.

Ralph had been as unhappy as any of them, especially as grandmother had strenuously forbidden his attempting to mend matters by "threading his way in and out," and getting lost himself in the process. And yet when they were all comfortably at the hotel again, their troubles forgotten, and Sylvia had time to relate her remarkable dream, he teased her unmercifully the whole evening about her description of the personal appearance of Henry the Fourth. He was, according to Ralph, neither tall nor pale, and he certainly could not have had long thin hands, nor did people--kings, that is to say, at that date--wear lace ruffles or pointed shoes. Had Molly not known, for a fact, that all their lesson books were unget-at-ably packed up, she would certainly have suspected Ralph of a sly peep at Mrs. Markham, just on purpose "to set Sylvia down." But failing this weapon, her defence of Sylvia was, it must be confessed, somewhat illogical.

She didn't care, she declared, whether Henry the Fourth was big or little, or how he was dressed. It was very clever of Sylvia to dream such a nice dream about real history things, and Ralph couldn't dream such a dream if he tried ever so hard.

Chapter end

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