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Title: Captain Fracasse
Author: Gautier, Théophile, 1811-1872
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Captain Fracasse" ***

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CAPTAIN FRACASSE


by Theophile Gautier



CONTENTS

     I.     Castle Misery
     II.    The chariot of Thespis
     III.   The Blue Sun Inn
     IV.    An adventure with brigands
     V.     At the Chateau de Bruyeres
     VI.    A snow-storm and its consequences
     VII.   Captain Fracasse
     VIII.  The Duke of Vallombreuse
     IX.    A melee and a duel
     X.     A midnight adventure
     XI.    The Pont-Neuf
     XII.   The Crowned Radish
     XIII.  A double attack
     XIV.   Lampourde's delicacy
     XV.    Malartic at work
     XVI.   Vallombreuse
     XVII.  The amethyst ring
     XVIII. A family party
     XIX.   Nettles and cobwebs
     XX.    Chiquita's declaration of love
     XXI.   "Hymen! Oh Hymen!"
     XXII.  The castle of happiness



CAPTAIN FRACASSE



CHAPTER I. CASTLE MISERY

Upon the southern slope of one of those barren hills that rise abruptly
here and there in the desolate expanse of the Landes, in South-western
France, stood, in the reign of Louis XIII, a gentleman's residence, such
as abound in Gascony, and which the country people dignify by the name
of chateau.

Two tall towers, with extinguisher tops, mounted guard at the angles of
the mansion, and gave it rather a feudal air. The deep grooves upon
its facade betrayed the former existence of a draw-bridge, rendered
unnecessary now by the filling up of the moat, while the towers were
draped for more than half their height with a most luxuriant growth of
ivy, whose deep, rich green contrasted happily with the ancient gray
walls.

A traveller, seeing from afar the steep pointed roof and lofty towers
standing out against the sky, above the furze and heather that crowned
the hill-top, would have pronounced it a rather imposing chateau--the
residence probably of some provincial magnate; but as he drew near would
have quickly found reason to change his opinion. The road which led to
it from the highway was entirely overgrown with moss and weeds, save a
narrow pathway in the centre, though two deep ruts, full of water, and
inhabited by a numerous family of frogs, bore mute witness to the fact
that carriages had once passed that way.

The roof, of dark red tiles, was disfigured by many large,
leprous-looking, yellow patches, while in some places the decayed
rafters had given way, leaving formidable gaps. The numerous
weather-cocks that surmounted the towers and chimneys were so rusted
that they could no longer budge an inch, and pointed persistently in
various directions. The high dormer windows were partially closed by
old wooden shutters, warped, split, and in every stage of dilapidation;
broken stones filled up the loop-holes and openings in the towers; of
the twelve large windows in the front of the house, eight were boarded
up; the remaining four had small diamond-shaped panes of thick, greenish
glass, fitting so loosely in their leaden frames that they shook and
rattled at every breath of wind; between these windows a great deal of
the stucco had fallen off, leaving the rough wall exposed to view.

Above the grand old entrance door, whose massive stone frame and lintel
retained traces of rich ornamentation, almost obliterated by time and
neglect, was sculptured a coat of arms, now so defaced that the most
accomplished adept in heraldry would not be able to decipher it. Only
one leaf of the great double door was ever opened now, for not many
guests were received or entertained at the chateau in these days of its
decadence. Swallows had built their nests in every available nook about
it, and but for a slender thread of smoke rising spirally from a chimney
at the back of this dismal, half-ruined mansion, the traveller would
have surely believed it to be uninhabited. This was the only sign of
life visible about the whole place, like the little cloud upon the
mirror from the breath of a dying man, which alone gives evidence that
he still lives.

Upon pushing open the practicable leaf of the great worm-eaten door,
which yielded reluctantly, and creaked dolefully as it turned upon
its rusty hinges, the curious visitor entered a sort of portico, more
ancient than the rest of the building, with fine, large columns of
bluish granite, and a lofty vaulted roof. At the point of intersection
of the arches was a stone shield, bearing the same coat of arms that was
sculptured over the entrance without. This one was in somewhat better
preservation than the other, and seemed to bear something resembling
three golden storks (cigognes) on an azure field; though it was so much
in shadow, and so faded and dingy, that it was impossible to make it out
clearly. Fastened to the wall, at a convenient height from the ground,
were great iron extinguishers, blackened by the smoke from torches in
long by-gone years, and also iron rings, to which the guests' horses
were made fast in the olden times, when the castle was in its glory. The
dust that lay thick upon them now showed that it was long since they had
been made use of.

From this portico--whence a door on either side opened into the main
building; one leading into a long suite of apartments on the ground
floor, and the other into what had probably been a guard-room--the
explorer passed into an interior court, dismal, damp, and bare. In the
corners nettles and various rank weeds were growing riotously amid the
great heaps of rubbish fallen from the crumbling cornice high above, and
grass had sprung up everywhere in the crevices of the stone pavement.
Opposite the entrance a flight of dilapidated, shaky steps, with a heavy
stone balustrade, led down into a neglected garden, which was gradually
becoming a perfect thicket. Excepting in one small bed, where a few
cabbages were growing, there was no attempt at cultivation, and nature
had reasserted her rights everywhere else in this abandoned spot,
taking, apparently, a fierce delight in effacing all traces of man's
labour. The fruit trees threw out irregular branches without fear of
the pruning knife; the box, intended to form a narrow border to the
curiously shaped flower-beds and grass-plots, had grown up unchecked
into huge, bushy shrubs, while a great variety of sturdy weeds had
usurped the places formerly devoted to choice plants and beautiful,
fragrant flowers. Brambles, bristling with sharp thorns, which had
thrown their long, straggling arms across the paths, caught and tried
to hold back any bold adventurer who attempted to penetrate into the
mysterious depths of this desolate wilderness. Solitude is averse to
being surprised in dishabille, and surrounds herself with all sorts of
defensive obstacles.

However, the courageous explorer who persisted in following the ancient,
overgrown alley, and was not to be daunted by formidable briers that
tore his hands and clothing, nor low-hanging, closely interlaced
branches that struck him smart blows in the face as he forced his
way through them, would have reached at last a sort of rocky niche,
fancifully arranged as a grotto. Besides the masses of ivy, iris and
gladiolus, that had been carefully planted long ago in the interstices
of the rock, it was draped with a profusion of graceful wild vines and
feathery ferns, which half-veiled the marble statue, representing some
mythological divinity, that still stood in this lonely retreat. It must
have been intended for Flora or Pomona, but now there were tufts of
repulsive, venomous-looking mushrooms in the pretty, graceful, little
basket on her arm, instead of the sculptured fruit or flowers that
should have filled it. Although her nose was broken, and her fair body
disfigured by many dark stains, and overgrown in part with clinging
mosses, it could still plainly be seen that she had once been very
lovely. At her feet was a marble basin, shaped like a shell, half full
of discoloured, stagnant water; the lion's head just above it, now
almost entirely concealed by a thick curtain of leaves, no longer poured
forth the sparkling stream that used to fall into it with a musical
murmur. This little grotto, with its fountain and statue, bore witness
to former wealth; and also to the aesthetic taste of some long-dead
owner of the domain. The marble goddess was in the Florentine style of
the Renaissance, and probably the work of one of those Italian sculptors
who followed in the train of del Rosso or Primaticcio, when they came
to France at the bidding of that generous patron of the arts, Francis I;
which time was also, apparently, the epoch of the greatest prosperity of
this noble family, now so utterly fallen into decay.

Behind the grotto rose a high wall, built of stone, crumbling and mouldy
now, but still bearing some broken remains of trellis-work, evidently
intended to be covered with creepers that would entirely conceal the
wall itself with a rich tapestry of verdure. This was the limit of the
garden; beyond stretched the wide expanse of the sandy, barren Landes,
flecked here and there with patches of scanty heather, and scattered
groves of pine trees.

Turning back towards the chateau it became apparent that this side of
it was even more neglected and ruinous than the one we have already
described; the recent poverty-stricken owners having tried to keep up
appearances as far as possible, and concentrated their efforts upon the
front of their dilapidated abode. In the stable, where were stalls for
twenty horses, a miserable, old, white pony stood at an empty manger,
nibbling disconsolately at a scanty truss of hay, and frequently turning
his sunken, lack-lustre eyes expectantly towards the door. In front of
an extensive kennel, where the lord of the manor used to keep a whole
pack of hounds, a single dog, pathetically thin, lay sleeping tranquilly
and soundly, apparently so accustomed to the unbroken solitude of the
place that he had abandoned all habits of watchfulness.

Entering the chateau the visitor found himself in a broad and lofty
hall, containing a grand old staircase, with a richly carved, wooden
balustrade--a good deal broken and defaced now, like everything else
in this doleful Castle Misery. The walls had been elaborately frescoed,
representing colossal figures of Hercules supporting brackets upon which
rested the heavily ornamented cornice. Springing from it fantastic vines
climbed upward on the arched ceiling, and above them the blue sky, faded
and dingy, was grotesquely variegated with dark spots, caused by
the water filtering through from the dilapidated roof. Between the
oft-repeated figures of Hercules were frescoed niches, wherein heads
of Roman emperors and other illustrious historical characters had been
depicted in glowing tints; but all were so vague and dim now that they
were but the ghosts of pictures, which should be described with the
shadows of words--ordinary terms are too substantial to apply to them.
The very echoes in this deserted hall seemed startled and amazed as they
repeated and multiplied the unwonted sound of footsteps.

A door near the head of the first flight of stairs opened into what had
evidently been the great banqueting hall in the old days when sumptuous
repasts and numerous guests were not uncommon things in the chateau. A
huge beam divided the lofty ceiling into two compartments, which were
crossed at regular intervals by smaller joists, richly carved, and
retaining some traces of gilding. The spaces between had been originally
of a deep blue tint, almost lost now under the thick coating of dust and
spiders' webs that no housemaid's mop ever invaded. Above the grand old
chimney-piece was a noble stag's head, with huge, spreading antlers, and
on the walls hung rows of ancient family portraits, so faded and mouldy
now that most of the faces had a ghastly hue, and at night, by the dim,
flickering lamp-light, they looked like a company of spectres. Nothing
in the world is sadder than a collection of old portraits hanging
thus, neglected and forgotten, in deserted halls--representations, half
obliterated themselves, of forms and faces long since returned to dust.
Yet these painted phantoms were most appropriate inhabitants of this
desolate abode; real living people would have seemed out of place in the
death-stricken house.

In the middle of the room stood an immense dining-table of dark,
polished wood, much worm-eaten, and gradually falling into decay. Two
tall buffets, elaborately carved and ornamented, stood on opposite sides
of the room, with only a few odd pieces of Palissy ware, representing
lizards, crabs, and shell-fish, reposing on shiny green leaves, and two
or three delicate wine-glasses of quaint patterns remaining upon the
shelves where gold and silver plate used to glitter in rich profusion,
as was the mode in France. The handsome old chairs, with their high,
carved backs and faded velvet cushions, that had been so firm and
luxurious once, were tottering and insecure; but it mattered little,
since no one ever came to sit in them now round the festive board, and
they stood against the wall in prim order, under the rows of family
portraits.

A smaller room opened out of this one, hung round with faded, moth-eaten
tapestry. In one corner stood a large bed, with four tall, twisted
columns and long, ample curtains of rich brocade, which had been
delicate green and white, but now were of a dingy, yellowish hue, and
cut completely through from top to bottom in every fold. An ebony table,
with some pretty gilded ornaments still clinging to it, a mirror
dim with age, and two large arm-chairs, covered with worn and faded
embroidery, that had been wrought by the fair fingers of some noble dame
long since dead and forgotten, completed the furniture of this dismal
chamber.

In these two rooms were the latticed windows seen in the front of the
chateau, and over them still hung long sweeping curtains, so tattered
and moth-eaten that they were almost falling to pieces. Profound silence
reigned here, unbroken save by occasional scurrying and squeaking
of mice behind the wainscot, the gnawing of rats in the wall, or the
ticking of the death-watch.

From the tapestried chamber a door opened into a long suite of deserted
rooms, which were lofty and of noble proportions, but devoid of
furniture, and given up to dust, spiders, and rats. The apartments on
the floor above them were the home of great numbers of bats, owls, and
jackdaws, who found ready ingress through the large holes in the roof.
Every evening they flew forth in flocks, with much flapping of wings,
and weird, melancholy cries and shrieks, in search of the food not to be
found in the immediate vicinity of this forlorn mansion.

The apartments on the ground floor contained nothing but a few bundles
of straw, a heap of corn-cobs, and some antiquated gardening implements.
In one of them, however, was a rude bed, covered with a single, coarse
blanket; presumably that of the only domestic remaining in the whole
establishment.

It was from the kitchen chimney that the little spiral of smoke escaped
which was seen from without. A few sticks were burning in the wide,
old-fashioned fireplace, but the flames looked pale under the bright
light that streamed down upon them through the broad, straight flue. The
pot that hung from the clumsy iron crane was boiling sleepily, and if
the curious visitor could have peeped into it he would have seen that
the little cabbage bed in the garden had contributed of its produce to
the pot-au-feu. An old black cat was sitting as close to the fire as he
could without singeing his whiskers, and gravely watching the simmering
pot with longing eyes. His ears had been closely cropped, and he had
not a vestige of a tail, so that he looked like one of those grotesque
Japanese chimeras that everybody is familiar with. Upon the table, near
at hand, a white plate, a tin drinking cup, and a china dish, bearing
the family arms stamped in blue, were neatly arranged, evidently in
readiness for somebody's supper. For a long time the cat remained
perfectly motionless, intently watching the pot which had almost ceased
to boil as the fire got low, and the silence continued unbroken; but
at last a slow, heavy step was heard approaching from without, and
presently the door opened to admit an old man, who looked half peasant,
half gentleman's servant. The black cat immediately quitted his place
by the fire and went to meet him; rubbing himself against the newcomer's
legs, arching his back and purring loudly; testifying his joy in every
way possible to him.

"Well, well, Beelzebub," said the old man, bending down and stroking him
affectionately, "are you really so glad to see me? Yes, I know you are,
and it pleases me, old fellow, so it does. We are so lonely here, my
poor young master and I, that even the welcome of a dumb beast is not
to be despised. They do say that you have no soul, Beelzebub, but you
certainly do love us, and understand most times what we say to you too."
These greetings exchanged, Beelzebub led the way back to the fire, and
then with beseeching eyes, looking alternately from the face of his
friend to the pot-au-feu, seemed mutely begging for his share of its
contents. Poor Beelzebub was growing so old that he could no longer
catch as many rats and mice as his appetite craved, and he was evidently
very hungry.

Pierre, that was the old servant's name, threw more wood on the
smouldering fire, and then sat down on a settle in the chimney corner,
inviting his companion--who had to wait still for his supper as
patiently as he might--to take a seat beside him. The firelight shone
full upon the old man's honest, weather-beaten face, the few scattered
locks of snow-white hair escaping from under his dark blue woollen
cap, his thick, black eyebrows and deep wrinkles. He had the usual
characteristics of the Basque race; a long face, hooked nose, and dark,
gipsy-like complexion. He wore a sort of livery, which was so old and
threadbare that it would be impossible to make out its original colour,
and his stiff, soldier-like carriage and movements proclaimed that he
had at some time in his life served in a military capacity. "The young
master is late to-night," he muttered to himself, as the daylight faded.
"What possible pleasure can he find in these long, solitary rambles over
the dunes? It is true though that it is so dreary here, in this lonely,
dismal house, that any other place is preferable."

At this moment a joyous barking was heard without, the old pony in the
stable stamped and whinnied, and the cat jumped down from his place
beside Pierre and trotted off towards the door with great alacrity. In
an instant the latch was lifted, and the old servant rose, taking off
his woollen cap respectfully, as his master came into the kitchen. He
was preceded by the poor old dog, trying to jump up on him, but falling
back every time without being able to reach his face, and Beelzebub
seemed to welcome them both--showing no evidence of the antipathy
usually existing between the feline and canine races; on the contrary,
receiving Miraut with marks of affection which were fully reciprocated.

The Baron de Sigognac, for it was indeed the lord of the manor who now
entered, was a young man of five or six and twenty; though at first
sight he seemed much older, because of the deep gravity, even sadness,
of his demeanour; the feeling of utter powerlessness which poverty
brings having effectually chased away all the natural piety and
light-heartedness of youth. Dark circles surrounded his sunken eyes, his
cheeks were hollow, his mustache drooped in a sorrowful curve over his
sad mouth. His long black hair was negligently pushed back from his
pale face, and showed a want of care remarkable in a young man who was
strikingly handsome, despite his doleful desponding expression. The
constant pressure of a crushing grief had drawn sorrowful lines in a
countenance that a little animation would have rendered charming. All
the elasticity and hopefulness natural to his age seemed to have been
lost in his useless struggles against an unhappy fate. Though his frame
was lithe, vigorous, and admirably proportioned, all his movements were
slow and apathetic, like those of an old man. His gestures were entirely
devoid of animation, his whole expression inert, and it was evidently
a matter of perfect indifference to him where he might chance to find
himself at home, in his dismal chateau, or abroad in the desolate
Landes.

He had on an old gray felt hat, much too large for him, with a dingy,
shabby feather, that drooped as if it felt heartily ashamed of itself,
and the miserable condition to which it was reduced. A broad collar
of guipure lace, ragged in many places, was turned down over a
just-au-corps, which had been cut for a taller and much stouter man than
the slender, young baron. The sleeves of his doublet were so long that
they fell over his hands, which were small and shapely, and there were
large iron spurs on the clumsy, old-fashioned riding-boots he wore.
These shabby, antiquated clothes had belonged to his father; they were
made according to the fashion that prevailed during the preceding
reign; and the poor young nobleman, whose appearance in them was both
ridiculous and touching, might have been taken for one of his own
ancestors. Although he tenderly cherished his father's memory, and tears
often came into his eyes as he put on these garments that had seemed
actually a part of him, yet it was not from choice that young de
Sigognac availed himself of the paternal wardrobe. Unfortunately he had
no other clothes, save those of his boyhood, long ago outgrown, and so
he was thankful to have these, distasteful as they could not fail to be
to him. The peasants, who had been accustomed to hold them in respect
when worn by their old seignior, did not think it strange or absurd to
see them on his youthful successor; just as they did not seem to notice
or be aware of the half-ruined condition of the chateau. It had come so
gradually that they were thoroughly used to it, and took it as a matter
of course. The Baron de Sigognac, though poverty-stricken and forlorn,
was still in their eyes the noble lord of the manor; the decadence of
the family did not strike them at all as it would a stranger; and yet it
was a grotesquely melancholy sight to see the poor young nobleman pass
by, in his shabby old clothes, on his miserable old pony, and followed
by his forlorn old dog.

The baron sat down in silence at the table prepared for him, having
recognised Pierre's respectful salute by a kindly gesture. The old
servant immediately busied himself in serving his master's frugal
supper; first pouring the hot soup--which was of that kind, popular
among the poor peasantry of Gascony, called "garbure"--upon some bread
cut into small pieces in an earthen basin, which he set before the
baron; then, fetching from the cupboard a dish of bacon, cold, and
cooked in Gascon fashion, he placed that also upon the table, and had
nothing else to add to this meagre repast. The baron ate it slowly,
with an absent air, while Miraut and Beelzebub, one on each side of him,
received their full share from his kind hand.

The supper finished, he fell into a deep reverie. Miraut had laid his
head caressingly upon his master's knee, and looked up into his face
with loving, intelligent eyes, somewhat dimmed by age, but still seeming
to understand his thoughts and sympathize with his sadness. Beelzebub
purred loudly meantime, and occasionally mewed plaintively to attract
his attention, while Pierre stood in a respectful attitude, cap in hand,
at a little distance, motionless as a statue, waiting patiently until
his master's wandering thoughts should return. By this time the darkness
had fallen, and the flickering radiance from the few sticks blazing
in the great fireplace made strange effects of light and shade in the
spacious old kitchen. It was a sad picture; this last scion of a noble
race, formerly rich and powerful, left wandering like an uneasy ghost in
the castle of his ancestors, with but one faithful old servant remaining
to him of the numerous retinue of the olden times; one poor old dog,
half starved, and gray with age, where used to be a pack of thirty
hounds; one miserable, superannuated pony in the stable where twenty
horses had been wont to stand; and one old cat to beg for caresses from
his hand.

At last the baron roused himself, and signed to Pierre that he wished to
retire to his own chamber; whereupon the servant lighted a pine knot at
the fire, and preceded his master up the stairs, Miraut and Beelzebub
accompanying them. The smoky, flaring light of the torch made the faded
figures on the wall seem to waver and move as they passed through the
hall and up the broad staircase, and gave a strange, weird expression to
the family portraits that looked down upon this little procession as
it moved by below them. When they reached the tapestried chamber Pierre
lighted a little copper lamp, and then bade the baron good-night,
followed by Miraut as he retraced his steps to the kitchen; but
Beelzebub, being a privileged character, remained, and curled himself up
comfortably in one of the old arm-chairs, while his master threw himself
listlessly into the other, in utter despair at the thought of his
miserable loneliness, and aimless, hopeless life. If the chamber seemed
dreary and forlorn by day, it was far more so by night. The faded
figures in the tapestry had an uncanny look; especially one, a hunter,
who might have passed for an assassin, just taking aim at his victim.
The smile on his startlingly red lips, in reality only a self-satisfied
smirk, was fairly devilish in that light, and his ghastly face horribly
life-like. The lamp burned dimly in the damp heavy air, the wind sighed
and moaned along the corridors, and strange, frightful sounds came
from the deserted chambers close at hand. The storm that had long been
threatening had come at last, and large, heavy rain-drops were driven
violently against the window-panes by gusts of wind that made them
rattle loudly in their leaden frames. Sometimes it seemed as if the
whole sash would give way before the fiercer blasts, as though a giant
had set his knee against it, and was striving to force an entrance. Now
and again, when the wind lulled for a moment while it gathered strength
for a fresh assault, the horrid shriek of an owl would be heard above
the dashing of the rain that was falling in torrents.

The master of this dismal mansion paid little attention to this
lugubrious symphony, but Beelzebub was very uneasy, starting up at every
sound, and peering into the shadowy corners of the room, as if he could
see there something invisible to human eyes. The baron took up a little
book that was lying upon the table, glanced at the familiar arms stamped
upon its tarnished cover, and opening it, began to read in a listless,
absent way. His eyes followed the smooth rhythm of Ronsard's ardent
love-songs and stately sonnets, but his thoughts were wandering far
afield, and he soon threw the book from him with an impatient gesture,
and began slowly unfastening his garments, with the air of a man who is
not sleepy, but only goes to bed because he does not know what else to
do with himself, and has perhaps a faint hope of forgetting his troubles
in the embrace of Morpheus, most blessed of all the gods. The sand runs
so slowly in the hour-glass on a dark, stormy night, in a half-ruined
castle, ten leagues away from any living soul.

The poor young baron, only surviving representative of an ancient and
noble house, had much indeed to make him melancholy and despondent. His
ancestors had worked their own ruin, and that of their descendants,
in various ways. Some by gambling, some in the army, some by undue
prodigality in living--in order that they might shine at court--so that
each generation had left the estate more and more diminished. The fiefs,
the farms, the land surrounding the chateau itself, all had been sold,
one after the other, and the last baron, after desperate efforts to
retrieve the fallen fortunes of the family--efforts which came too late,
for it is useless to try to stop the leaks after the vessel has gone
down--had left his son nothing but this half-ruined chateau and the few
acres of barren land immediately around it. The unfortunate child
had been born and brought up in poverty. His mother had died young,
broken-hearted at the wretched prospects of her only son; so that he
could not even remember her sweet caresses and tender, loving care. His
father had been very stern with him; punishing him severely for the
most trivial offences; yet he would have been glad now even of his sharp
rebukes, so terribly lonely had he been for the last four years; ever
since his father was laid in the family vault. His youthful pride would
not allow him to associate with the noblesse of the province without
the accessories suitable to his rank, though he would have been received
with open arms by them, so his solitude was never invaded. Those who
knew his circumstances respected as well as pitied the poor, proud young
baron, while many of the former friends of the family believed that it
was extinct; which indeed it inevitably would be, with this its only
remaining scion, if things went on much longer as they had been going
for many years past.

The baron had not yet removed a single garment when his attention was
attracted by the strange uneasiness of Beelzebub, who finally jumped
down from his arm-chair, went straight to one of the windows, and
raising himself on his hind legs put his fore-paws on the casing
and stared out into the thick darkness, where it was impossible to
distinguish anything but the driving rain. A loud howl from Miraut at
the same moment proclaimed that he too was aroused, and that something
very unusual must be going on in the vicinity of the chateau, ordinarily
as quiet as the grave. Miraut kept up persistently a furious barking,
and the baron gave up all idea of going to bed. He hastily readjusted
his dress, so that he might be in readiness for whatever should happen,
and feeling a little excited at this novel commotion.

"What can be the matter with poor old Miraut? He usually sleeps from
sunset to sunrise without making a sound, save his snores. Can it be
that a wolf is prowling about the place?" said the young man to
himself, as he buckled the belt of his sword round his slender waist.
A formidable weapon it was, that sword, with long blade, and heavy iron
scabbard.

At that moment three loud knocks upon the great outer door resounded
through the house. Who could possibly have strayed here at this hour, so
far from the travelled roads, and in this tempest that was making
night horrible without? No such thing had occurred within the baron's
recollection. What could it portend?



CHAPTER II. THE CHARIOT OF THESPIS

The Baron de Sigognac went down the broad staircase without a moment's
delay to answer this mysterious summons, protecting with his hand the
feeble flame of the small lamp he carried from the many draughts that
threatened to blow it out. The light, shining through his slender
fingers, gave them a rosy tinge, so that he merited the epithet applied
by Homer, the immortal bard, to the laughing, beautiful Aurora, even
though he advanced through the thick darkness with his usual melancholy
mien, and followed by a black cat, instead of preceding the glorious god
of day.

Setting down his lamp in a sheltered corner, he proceeded to take down
the massive bar that secured the door, cautiously opened the practicable
leaf, and found himself face to face with a man, upon whom the light of
the lamp shone sufficiently to show rather a grotesque figure, standing
uncovered in the pelting rain. His head was bald and shining, with a
few locks of gray hair clustering about the temples. A jolly red nose,
bulbous in form, a small pair of twinkling, roguish eyes, looking out
from under bushy, jet-black eyebrows, flabby cheeks, over which was
spread a network of purplish fibres, full, sensual lips, and a scanty,
straggling beard, that scarcely covered the short, round chin, made up
a physiognomy worthy to serve as the model for a Silenus; for it was
plainly that of a wine-bibber and bon vivant. Yet a certain expression
of good humour and kindness, almost of gentleness, redeemed what would
otherwise have been a repulsive face. The comical little wrinkles
gathering about the eyes, and the merry upward turn of the comers of the
mouth, showed a disposition to smile as he met the inquiring gaze of
the young baron, but he only bowed repeatedly and profoundly, with
exaggerated politeness and respect.

This extraordinary pantomime finished, with a grand flourish, the
burlesque personage, still standing uncovered in the pouring rain,
anticipated the question upon de Sigognac's lips, and began at once the
following address, in an emphatic and declamatory tone:

"I pray you deign to excuse, noble seignior, my having come thus to
knock at the gates of your castle in person at this untimely hour,
without sending a page or a courier in advance, to announce my approach
in a suitable manner. Necessity knows no law, and forces the most
polished personages to be guilty of gross breaches of etiquette at
times."

"What is it you want?" interrupted the baron, in rather a peremptory
tone, annoyed by the absurd address of this strange old creature, whose
sanity he began to doubt.

"Hospitality, most noble seignior; hospitality for myself and my
comrades--princes and princesses, heroes and beauties, men of letters
and great captains, pretty waiting-maids and honest valets, who travel
through the provinces from town to town in the chariot of Thespis, drawn
by oxen, as in the ancient times. This chariot is now hopelessly stuck
in the mud only a stone's throw from your castle, my noble lord."

"If I understand aright what you say," answered the baron, "you are a
strolling band of players, and have lost your way. Though my house is
sadly dilapidated, and I cannot offer you more than mere shelter, you
are heartily welcome to that, and will be better off within here than
exposed to the fury of this wild storm."

The pedant--for such seemed to be his character in the troupe--bowed his
acknowledgments.

During this colloquy, Pierre, awakened by Miraut's loud barking, had
risen and joined his master at the door. As soon as he was informed of
what had occurred, he lighted a lantern, and with the baron set forth,
under the guidance of the droll old actor, to find and rescue the
chariot in distress. When they reached it Leander and Matamore were
tugging vainly at the wheels, while his majesty, the king, pricked up
the weary oxen with the point of his dagger. The actresses, wrapped in
their cloaks and seated in the rude chariot, were in despair, and much
frightened as well--wet and weary too, poor things. This most welcome
re-enforcement inspired all with fresh courage, and, guided by Pierre's
suggestions, they soon succeeded in getting the unwieldy vehicle out
of the quagmire and into the road leading to the chateau, which was
speedily reached, and the huge equipage safely piloted through the grand
portico into the interior court. The oxen were at once taken from before
it and led into the stable, while the actresses followed de Sigognac up
to the ancient banqueting hall, which was the most habitable room in the
chateau. Pierre brought some wood, and soon had a bright fire blazing
cheerily in the great fireplace. It was needed, although but the
beginning of September and the weather still warm, to dry the dripping
garments of the company; and besides, the air was so damp and chilly in
this long disused apartment that the genial warmth and glow of the fire
were welcome to all.

Although the strolling comedians were accustomed to find themselves in
all sorts of odd, strange lodgings in the course of their wanderings,
they now looked with astonishment at their extraordinary surroundings;
being careful, however, like well-bred people, not to manifest too
plainly the surprise they could not help feeling.

"I regret very much that I cannot offer you a supper," said their young
host, when all had assembled round the fire, "but my larder is so bare
that a mouse could not find enough for a meal in it. I live quite alone
in this house with my faithful old Pierre; never visited by anybody;
and you can plainly perceive, without my telling you, that plenty does
not abound here."

"Never mind that, noble seignior," answered Blazius, the pedant, "for
though on the stage we may sit down to mock repasts--pasteboard fowls
and wooden bottles--we are careful to provide ourselves with more
substantial and savoury viands in real life. As quartermaster of
the troupe I always have in reserve a Bayonne ham, a game pasty, or
something, of that sort, with at least a dozen bottles of good old
Bordeaux."

"Bravo, sir pedant," cried Leander, "do you go forthwith and fetch in
the provisions; and if his lordship will permit, and deign to join us,
we will have our little feast here. The ladies will set the table for us
meanwhile I am sure."

The baron graciously nodded his assent, being in truth so amazed at the
whole proceeding that he could not easily have found words just then;
and he followed with wondering and admiring eyes the graceful movements
of Serafina and Isabelle, who, quitting their seats by the fire,
proceeded to arrange upon the worn but snow-white cloth that Pierre
had spread on the ancient dining-table, the plates and other necessary
articles that the old servant brought forth from the recesses of the
carved buffets. The pedant quickly came back, carrying a large basket
in each hand, and with a triumphant air placed a huge pasty of most
tempting appearance in the middle of the table. To this he added a large
smoked tongue, some slices of rosy Bayonne ham, and six bottles of wine.

Beelzebub watched these interesting preparations from a distance with
eager eyes, but was too much afraid of all these strangers to approach
and claim a share of the good things on the table. The poor beast was
so accustomed to solitude and quiet, never seeing any one beyond his
beloved master and Pierre, that he was horribly frightened at the sudden
irruption of these noisy newcomers.

Finding the feeble light of the baron's small lamp rather dim, Matamore
bad gone out to the chariot and brought back two showy candelabra, which
ordinarily did duty on the stage. They each held several candles, which,
in addition to the warm radiance from the blazing fire, made quite
a brilliant illumination in this room, so lately dark, cheerless, and
deserted. It had become warm and comfortable by this time; its family
portraits and tarnished splendour looked their best in the bright, soft
light, which had chased away the dark shadows and given a new beauty to
everything it fell upon; the whole place was metamorphosed; a festive
air prevailed, and the ancient banqueting hall once more resounded with
cheery voices and gay laughter.

The poor young baron, to whom all this had been intensely disagreeable
at first, became aware of a strange feeling of comfort and pleasure
stealing over him, to which, after a short struggle, he finally yielded
himself entirely. Isabelle, Serafina, even the pretty soubrette, seemed
to him, unaccustomed as he was to feminine beauty and grace, like
goddesses come down from Mount Olympus, rather than mere ordinary
mortals. They were all very pretty, and well fitted to turn heads far
more experienced than his. The whole thing was like a delightful dream
to him; he almost doubted the evidence of his own senses, and every few
minutes found himself dreading the awakening, and the vanishing of the
entrancing vision.

When all was ready de Sigognac led Isabelle and Serafina to the table,
placing one on each side of him, with the pretty soubrette opposite.
Mme. Leonarde, the duenna of the troupe, sat beside the pedant,
Leander, Matamore, his majesty the tyrant, and Scapin finding places
for themselves. The youthful host was now able to study the faces of his
guests at his ease, as they sat round the table in the full light of the
candles burning upon it in the two theatrical candelabra. He turned his
attention to the ladies first, and it perhaps will not be out of place
to give a little sketch of them here, while the pedant attacks the
gigantic game pasty.

Serafina, the "leading lady" of the troupe, was a handsome young woman
of four or five and twenty, who had quite a grand air, and was as
dignified and graceful withal as any veritable noble dame who shone
at the court of his most gracious majesty, Louis XIII. She had an oval
face, slightly aquiline nose, large gray eyes, bright red lips--the
under one full and pouting, like a ripe cherry---a very fair complexion,
with a beautiful colour in her cheeks when she was animated or excited,
and rich masses of dark brown hair most becomingly arranged. She wore
a round felt hat, with the wide rim turned up at one side, and trimmed
with long, floating plumes. A broad lace collar was turned down over
her dark green velvet dress, which was elaborately braided, and fitted
closely to a fine, well-developed figure. A long, black silk scarf was
worn negligently around her shapely shoulders and although both velvet
and silk were old and dingy, and the feathers in her hat wet and limp,
they were still very effective, and she looked like a young queen who
had strayed away from her realm; the freshness and radiant beauty of her
face more than made up for the shabbiness of her dress, and de Sigognac
was fairly dazzled by her many charms.

Isabelle was much more youthful than Serafina, as was requisite for her
role of ingenuous young girl, and far more simply dressed. She had a
sweet, almost childlike face, beautiful, silky, chestnut hair, with
golden lights in it, dark, sweeping lashes veiling her large, soft eyes,
a little rosebud of a mouth, and an air of modesty and purity that was
evidently natural to her--not assumed. A gray silk gown, simply made,
showed to advantage her slender, graceful form, which seemed far too
fragile to endure the hardships inseparable from the wandering life she
was leading. A high Elizabethan ruff made a most becoming frame for her
sweet, delicately tinted, young face, and her only ornament was a string
of pearl beads, clasped round her slender, white neck. Though her beauty
was less striking at first sight than Serafina's, it was of a higher
order: not dazzling like hers, but surpassingly lovely in its exquisite
purity and freshness, and promising to eclipse the other's more
showy charms, when the half-opened bud should have expanded into the
full-blown flower.

The soubrette was like a beautiful Gipsy, with a clear, dark complexion,
rich, mantling colour in her velvety cheeks, intensely black hair--long,
thick, and wavy--great, flashing, brown eyes, and rather a large mouth,
with ripe, red lips, and dazzling white teeth--one's very beau-ideal of
a bewitching, intriguing waiting-maid, and one that might be a dangerous
rival to any but a surpassingly lovely and fascinating mistress. She was
one of the beauties that women are not apt to admire, but men rave about
and run after the world over. She wore a fantastic costume of blue and
yellow, which was odd, piquant, and becoming, and seemed fully conscious
of her own charms.

Mme. Leonarde, the "noble mother" of the troupe dressed all in black,
like a Spanish duenna, was portly of figure, with a heavy, very pale
face, double chin, and intensely black eyes, that had a crafty, slightly
malicious expression. She had been upon the stage from her early
childhood, passing through all the different phases, and was an actress
of decided talent, often still winning enthusiastic applause at the
expense of younger and more attractive women, who were inclined to think
her something of an old sorceress.

So much for the feminine element. The principal roles were all
represented; and if occasionally a re-enforcement was required, they
could almost always pick up some provincial actress, or even an
amateur, at a pinch. The actors were five in number: The pedant, already
described, who rejoiced in the name of Blazitis; Leander; Herode, the
tragic tyrant; Matamore, the bully; and Scapin, the intriguing valet.

Leander, the romantic, irresistible, young lover--darling of the
ladies--was a tall, fine-looking fellow of about thirty, though
apparently much more youthful, thanks to the assiduous care he bestowed
on his handsome person. His slightly curly, black hair was worn long,
so that he might often have occasion to push it back from his forehead,
with a hand as white and delicate as a woman's, upon one of whose taper
fingers sparkled an enormous diamond--a great deal too big to be real.
He was rather fancifully dressed, and always falling into such graceful,
languishing attitudes as he thought would be admired by the fair sex,
whose devoted slave he was. This Adonis never for one moment laid aside
his role. He punctuated his sentences with sighs, even when speaking of
the most indifferent matters, and assumed all sorts of preposterous airs
and graces, to the secret amusement of his companions. But he had great
success among the ladies, who all flattered him and declared he was
charming, until they had turned his head completely; and it was his firm
belief that he was irresistibly fascinating.

The tyrant was the most good-natured, easy-going creature imaginable;
but, strangely enough, gifted by nature with all the external signs of
ferocity. With his tall, burly frame, very dark skin, immensely thick,
shaggy eyebrows, black as jet, crinkly, bushy hair of the same hue, and
long beard, that grew far up on his cheeks, he was a very formidable,
fierce-looking fellow; and when he spoke, his loud, deep voice made
everything ring again. He affected great dignity, and filled his role to
perfection.

Matamore was as different as possible, painfully thin--scarcely more
than mere skin and bones--a living skeleton with a large hooked nose,
set in a long, narrow face, a huge mustache turned up at the ends, and
flashing, black eyes. His excessively tall, lank figure was so emaciated
that it was like a caricature of a man. The swaggering air suitable to
his part had become habitual with him, and he walked always with immense
strides, head well thrown back, and hand on the pommel of the huge sword
he was never seen without.

As to Scapin, he looked more like a fox than anything else, and had a
most villainous countenance; yet he was a good enough fellow in reality.

The painter has a great advantage over the writer, in that he can so
present the group on his canvas that one glance suffices to take in the
whole picture, with the lights and shadows, attitudes, costumes, and
details of every kind, which are sadly wanting in our description--too
long, though so imperfect--of the party gathered thus unexpectedly round
our young baron's table. The beginning of the repast was very silent,
until the most urgent demands of hunger had been satisfied. Poor de
Sigognac, who had never perhaps at any one time had as much to eat as
he wanted since he was weaned, attacked the tempting viands with an
appetite and ardour quite new to him; and that too despite his great
desire to appear interesting and romantic in the eyes of the beautiful
young women between whom he was seated. The pedant, very much amused at
the boyish eagerness and enjoyment of his youthful host, quietly heaped
choice bits upon his plate, and watched their rapid disappearance with
beaming satisfaction. Beelzebub had at last plucked up courage and crept
softly under the table to his master, making his presence known by a
quick tapping with his fore-paws upon the baron's knees; his claims were
at once recognised, and he feasted to his heart's content on the savoury
morsels quietly thrown down to him. Poor old Miraut, who had followed
Pierre into the room, was not neglected either, and had his full share
of the good things that found their way to his master's plate.

By this time there was a good deal of laughing and talking round the
festive board. The baron, though very timid, and much embarrassed, had
ventured to enter into conversation with his fair neighbours. The pedant
and the tyrant were loudly discussing the respective merits of tragedy
and comedy. Leander, like Narcissus of old, was complacently admiring
his own charms as reflected in a little pocket mirror he always had
about him. Strange to say he was not a suitor of either Serafina's or
Isabelle's; fortunately for them he aimed higher, and was always hoping
that some grand lady, who saw him on the stage, would fall violently in
love with him, and shower all sorts of favours upon him. He was in the
habit of boasting that he had had many delightful adventures of the
kind, which Scapin persistently denied, declaring that to his certain
knowledge they had never taken place, save in the aspiring lover's own
vivid imagination. The exasperating valet, malicious as a monkey, took
the greatest delight in tormenting poor Leander, and never lost
an opportunity; so now, seeing him absorbed in self-admiration, he
immediately attacked him, and soon had made him furious. The quarrel
grew loud and violent, and Leander was heard declaring that he could
produce a large chest crammed full of love letters, written to him
by various high and titled ladies; whereupon everybody laughed
uproariously, while Serafina said to de Sigognac that she for one did
not admire their taste, and Isabelle silently looked her disgust. The
baron meantime was more and more charmed with this sweet, dainty young
girl, and though he was too shy to address any high-flown compliments to
her, according to the fashion of the day, his eyes spoke eloquently for
him. She was not at all displeased at his ardent glances, and smiled
radiantly and encouragingly upon him, thereby unconsciously making poor
Matamore, who was secretly enamoured of her, desperately unhappy,
though he well knew that his passion was an utterly hopeless one. A more
skilful and audacious lover would have pushed his advantage, but our
poor young hero had not learned courtly manners nor assurance in his
isolated chateau, and, though he lacked neither wit nor learning, it
must be confessed that at this moment he did appear lamentably stupid.

All the bottles having been scrupulously emptied, the pedant turned the
last one of the half dozen upside down, so that every drop might run
out; which significant action was noted and understood by Matamore, who
lost no time in bringing in a fresh supply from the chariot. The baron
began to feel the wine a little in his head, being entirely unaccustomed
to it, yet he could not resist drinking once again to the health of the
ladies. The pedant and the tyrant drank like old topers, who can
absorb any amount of liquor--be it wine, or something stronger--without
becoming actually intoxicated. Matamore was very abstemious, both in
eating and drinking, and could have lived like the impoverished
Spanish hidalgo, who dines on three olives and sups on an air upon his
mandoline. There was a reason for his extreme frugality; he feared
that if he ate and drank like other people he might lose his phenomenal
thinness, which was of inestimable value to him in a professional
point of view. If he should be so unfortunate as to gain flesh, his
attractions would diminish in an inverse ratio, so he starved himself
almost to death, and was constantly seen anxiously examining the buckle
of his belt, to make sure that he had not increased in girth since his
last meal. Voluntary Tantalus, he scarcely allowed himself enough to
keep life in his attenuated frame, and if he had but fasted as carefully
from motives of piety he would have been a full-fledged saint.

The portly duenna disposed of solids and fluids perseveringly, and
in formidable quantities, seeming to have an unlimited capacity; but
Isabelle and Serafina had finished their supper long ago, and were
yawning wearily behind their pretty, outspread hands, having no fans
within reach, to conceal these pronounced symptoms of sleepiness.

The baron, becoming aware of this state of things, said to them,
"Mesdemoiselles, I perceive that you are very weary, and I wish with
all my heart that I could offer you each a luxurious bed-chamber; but my
house, like my family, has fallen into decay, and I can only give to you
and Madame my own room. Fortunately the bed is very large, and you must
make yourselves as comfortable as you can--for a single night you will
not mind. As to the gentlemen, I must ask them to remain here with me,
and try to sleep in the arm-chairs before the fire. I pray you,
ladies, do not allow yourselves to be startled by the waving of the
tapestry-which is only due to the strong draughts about the room on a
stormy night like this--the moaning of the wind in the chimney, or the
wild scurrying and squeaking of the mice behind the wainscot. I can
guarantee that no ghosts will disturb you here, though this place does
look dreary and dismal enough to be haunted."

"I am not a bit of a coward," answered Serafina laughingly, "and will do
my best to reassure this timid little Isabelle. As to our duenna,--she
is something of a sorceress herself, and if the devil in person should
make his appearance he would meet his match in her."

The baron then took a light in his hand and showed the three ladies
the way into the bed-chamber, which certainly did strike them rather
unpleasantly at first sight, and looked very eerie in the dim,
flickering light of the one small lamp.

"What a capital scene it would make for the fifth act of a tragedy,"
said Serafina, as she looked curiously about her, while poor little
Isabelle shivered with cold and terror. They all crept into bed without
undressing, Isabelle begging to lie between Serafina and Mme. Leonarde,
for she felt nervous and frightened. The other two fell asleep at
once, but the timid young girl lay long awake, gazing with wide-open,
straining eyes at the door that led into the shut-up apartments beyond,
as if she dreaded its opening to admit some unknown horror. But it
remained fast shut, and though all sorts of mysterious noises made her
poor little heart flutter painfully, her eyelids closed at last, and she
forgot her weariness and her fears in profound slumber.

In the other room the pedant slept soundly, with his head on the table,
and the tyrant opposite to him snored like a giant. Matamore had rolled
himself up in a cloak and made himself as comfortable as possible
under the circumstances in a large arm-chair, with his long, thin legs
extended at full length, and his feet on the fender. Leander slept
sitting bolt upright, so as not to disarrange his carefully brushed
hair, and de Sigognac, who had taken possession of a vacant arm-chair,
was too much agitated and excited by the events of the evening to be
able to close his eyes. The coming of two beautiful, young women thus
suddenly into his life--which had been hitherto so isolated, sad and
dreary, entirely devoid of all the usual pursuits and pleasures of
youth--could not fail to rouse him from his habitual apathy, and set his
pulses beating after a new fashion. Incredible as it may seem yet it was
quite true that our young hero had never had a single love affair. He
was too proud, as we have already said, to take his rightful place among
his equals, without any of the appurtenances suitable to his rank, and
also too proud to associate familiarly with the surrounding peasantry,
who accorded him as much respect in his poverty as they had ever shown
to his ancestors in their prosperity. He had no near relatives to come
to his assistance, and so lived on, neglected and forgotten, in his
crumbling chateau, with nothing to look forward to or hope for. In
the course of his solitary wanderings he had several times chanced to
encounter the young and beautiful Yolande de Foix, following the hounds
on her snow-white palfrey, in company with her father and a number of
the young noblemen of the neighbourhood. This dazzling vision of beauty
often haunted his dreams, but what possible relations could there ever
be hoped for between the rich, courted heiress, whose suitors were
legion, and his own poverty-stricken self? Far from seeking to attract
her attention, he always got out of her sight as quickly as possible,
lest his ill-fitting, shabby garments and miserable old pony should
excite a laugh at his expense; for he was very sensitive, this poor
young nobleman, and could not have borne the least approach to ridicule
from the fair object of his secret and passionate admiration. He had
tried his utmost to stifle the ardent emotions that filled his heart
whenever his thoughts strayed to the beautiful Yolande, realizing how
far above his reach she was, and he believed that he had succeeded;
though there were times even yet when it all rushed back upon him with
overwhelming force, like a huge tidal wave that sweeps everything
before it.

The night passed quietly at the chateau, without other incident than the
fright of poor Isabelle, when Beelzebub, who had climbed up on the bed,
as was his frequent custom, established himself comfortably upon
her bosom; finding it a deliciously soft, warm resting-place, and
obstinately resisting her frantic efforts to drive him away.

As to de Sigognac, he did not once close his eyes. A vague project was
gradually shaping itself in his mind, keeping him wakeful and perplexed.
The advent of these strolling comedians appeared to him like a stroke of
fate, an ambassador of fortune, to invite him to go out into the great
world, away from this old feudal ruin, where his youth was passing in
misery and inaction--to quit this dreary shade, and emerge into the
light and life of the outer world.

At last the gray light of the dawn came creeping in through the lattice
windows, speedily followed by the first bright rays from the rising sun.
The storm was over, and the glorious god of day rose triumphant in a
perfectly clear sky. It was a strange group that he peeped in upon,
where the old family portraits seemed looking down with haughty contempt
upon the slumbering invaders of their dignified solitude. The soubrette
was the first to awake, starting up as a warm sunbeam shone caressingly
full upon her face. She sprang to her feet, shook out her skirts, as a
bird does its plumage, passed the palms of her hands lightly over her
glossy bands of jet-black hair, and then seeing that the baron was
quietly observing her, with eyes that showed no trace of drowsiness, she
smiled radiantly upon him as she made a low and most graceful curtsey.

"I am very sorry," said de Sigognac, as he rose to acknowledge her
salute, "that the ruinous condition of this chateau, which verily seems
better fitted to receive phantoms than real living guests, would not
permit me to offer you more comfortable accommodations. If I had been
able to follow my inclinations, I should have lodged you in a luxurious
chamber, where you could have reposed between fine linen sheets, under
silken curtains, instead of resting uneasily in that worm-eaten old
chair."

"Do not be sorry about anything, my lord, I pray you," answered the
soubrette with another brilliant smile; "but for your kindness we
should have been in far worse plight; forced to pass the night in the
poor old chariot, stuck fast in the mud; exposed to the cutting wind and
pelting rain. We should assuredly have found ourselves in wretched case
this morning. Besides, this chateau which you speak of so disparagingly
is magnificence itself in comparison with the miserable barns, open to
the weather, in which we have sometimes been forced to spend the night,
trying to sleep as best we might on bundles of straw, and making light
of our misery to keep our courage up."

While the baron and the actress were exchanging civilities the pedant's
chair, unable to support his weight any longer, suddenly gave way under
him, and he fell to the floor with a tremendous crash, which startled
the whole company. In his fall he had mechanically seized hold of the
table-cloth, and so brought nearly all the things upon it clattering
down with him. He lay sprawling like a huge turtle in the midst of them
until the tyrant, after rubbing his eyes and stretching his burly limbs,
came to the rescue, and held out a helping hand, by aid of which the old
actor managed with some difficulty to scramble to his feet.

"Such an accident as that could never happen to Matamore," said Herode,
with his resounding laugh; "he might fall into a spider's web without
breaking through it."

"That's true," retorted the shadow of a man, in his turn stretching his
long attenuated limbs and yawning tremendously, "but then, you know, not
everybody has the advantage of being a second Polyphemus, a mountain of
flesh and bones, like you, or a big wine-barrel, like our friend Blazius
there."

All this commotion had aroused Isabelle, Serafina and the duenna, who
presently made their appearance. The two younger women, though a little
pale and weary, yet looked very charming in the bright morning light. In
de Sigognac's eyes they appeared radiant, in spite of the shabbiness
of their finery, which was far more apparent now than on the preceding
evening. But what signify faded ribbons and dingy gowns when the wearers
are fresh, young and beautiful? Besides, the baron's eyes were so
accustomed to dinginess that they were not capable of detecting such
slight defects in the toilets of his fair guests, and he gazed with
delight upon these bewitching creatures, enraptured with their grace and
beauty. As to the duenna, she was both old and ugly, and had long ago
accepted the inevitable with commendable resignation.

As the ladies entered by one door, Pierre came in by the other, bringing
more wood for the fire, and then proceeding to make the disordered room
as tidy as he could. All the company now gathered round the cheerful
blaze that was roaring up the chimney and sending out a warm glow
that was an irresistible attraction in the chill of the early morning.
Isabelle knelt down and stretched out the rosy palms of her pretty
little hands as near to the flames as she dared, while Serafina stood
behind and laid her hands caressingly on her shoulders, like an elder
sister taking tender care of a younger one. Matamore stood on one
leg like a huge heron, leaning against the corner of the carved
chimney-piece, and seemed inclined to fall asleep again, while the
pedant was vainly searching for a swallow of wine among the empty
bottles.

The baron meantime had held a hurried private consultation with Pierre
as to the possibility of procuring a few eggs, or a fowl or two, at the
nearest hamlet, so that he might give the travellers something to eat
before their departure, and he bade the old servant be quick about it,
for the chariot was to make an early start, as they had a long day's
journey before them.

"I cannot let you go away fasting, though you will have rather a scanty
breakfast I fear," he said to his guests, "but it is better to have a
poor one than none at all; and there is not an inn within six leagues of
this where you could be sure of getting anything to eat. I will not make
further apologies, for the condition of everything in this house shows
you plainly enough that I am not rich; but as my poverty is mainly owing
to the great expenditures made by my honoured ancestors in many wars for
the defence of king and country, I do not need to be ashamed of it."

"No indeed, my lord," answered Herode in his deep, bass voice, "and many
there be in these degenerate days who hold their heads very high because
of their riches, who would not like to have to confess how they came in
possession of them."

"What astonishes me," interrupted Blazius, "is that such an accomplished
young gentleman as your lordship seems to be should be willing to remain
here in this isolated spot, where Fortune cannot reach you even if she
would. You ought to go to Paris, the great capital of the world, the
rendezvous of brave and learned men, the El Dorado, the promised land,
the Paradise of all true Frenchmen. There you would be sure to make
your way, either in attaching yourself to the household of some great
nobleman, a friend of your family, or in performing some brilliant deed
of valour, the opportunity for which will not be long to find."

These words, although rather high-flown, were not devoid of sense, and
de Sigognac could not help secretly admitting that there was some truth
in them. He had often, during his long rambles over the desolate Landes,
thought wishfully of undertaking what the pedant had just proposed; but
he had not money enough for the journey even, and he did not know where
to look for more. Though brave and high-spirited, he was very sensitive,
and feared a smile of derision more than a sword-thrust. He was not
familiar with the prevailing fashions in dress, but he felt that his
antiquated costume was ridiculous as well as shabby, and sure to be
laughed at anywhere but among his own simple peasantry. Like most of
those who are disheartened and crushed by extreme poverty, he only
looked at the dark side of things, and made no allowance for any
possible advantages. Perhaps he might have been delicately as well as
generously assisted by some of his father's old friends if he would only
have let them know of his situation, but his pride held him back, and he
would have died of starvation rather than ask for aid in any form.

"I used to think sometimes of going to Paris," he answered slowly, after
some hesitation, "but I have no friends or even acquaintances there; and
the descendants of those who perhaps knew my ancestors when they were
rich and powerful, and in favour at court, could scarcely be expected
to welcome a poverty-stricken Baron de Sigognac, who came swooping down
from his ruined tower to try and snatch a share of any prey that chanced
to lie within reach of his talons. And besides--I do not know why I
should be ashamed to acknowledge it--I have not any of the appurtenances
suitable to my rank, and could not present myself upon a footing worthy
of my name. I doubt if I have even money enough for the expenses of the
journey alone, and that in the humblest fashion."

"But it is not necessary," Blazius hastened to reply, "that you should
make a state entry into the capital, like a Roman emperor, in a gilded
chariot drawn by four white horses abreast. If our humble equipage does
not appear too unworthy to your lordship, come with us to Paris; we are
on our way there now. Many a man shines there to-day in brave apparel,
and enjoys high favour at court, who travelled thither on foot, carrying
his little bundle over his shoulder, swung on the point of his rapier,
and his shoes in his hand, for fear of wearing them out on the way."

A slight flush, partly of shame, partly of pleasure, rose to de
Sigognac's cheek at this speech. If on the one side his pride revolted
at the idea of being under an obligation to such a person as the pedant,
on the other he was touched and gratified by this kind proposition so
frankly made, and which, moreover, accorded so well with his own secret
desires. He feared also that if he refused the actor's kindly-meant
offer he would wound his feelings, and perhaps miss an opportunity that
would never be afforded to him again. It is true that the idea of a
descendant of the noble old house of Sigognac travelling in the chariot
of a band of strolling players, and making common cause with them, was
rather shocking at first sight, but surely it would be better than to
go on any longer leading his miserable, hopeless life in this
dismal, deserted place. He wavered between those two decisive little
monosyllables, yes and no, and could by no means reach a satisfactory
conclusion, when Isabelle, who had been watching the colloquy with
breathless interest, advanced smilingly to where he was standing
somewhat apart with Blazius, and addressed the following words to him,
which speedily put an end to all his uncertainty:

"Our poet, having fallen heir to a fortune, has lately left us, and
his lordship would perhaps be good enough to take his place. I found
accidentally, in opening a volume of Ronsard's poems that lay upon the
table in his room, a piece of paper with a sonnet written upon it, which
must be of his composition, and proves him not unaccustomed to writing
in verse. He could rearrange our parts for us, make the necessary
alterations and additions in the new plays we undertake, and even
perhaps write a piece for us now and then. I have now a very pretty
little Italian comedy by me, which, with some slight modifications,
would suit us nicely, and has a really charming part for me."

With her last words, accompanied though they were with a smile, she gave
the baron such a sweet, wistful look that he could no longer resist; but
the appearance of Pierre at this moment with a large omelette created
a diversion, and interrupted this interesting conversation. They all
immediately gathered round the table, and attacked the really good
breakfast, which the old servant had somehow managed to put before them,
with great zest. As to de Sigognac, he kept them company merely out of
politeness, and trifled with what was on his plate while the others were
eating, having partaken too heartily of the supper the night before to
be hungry now, and, besides, being so much preoccupied with weightier
matters that he was not able to pay much attention to this.

After the meat was finished, and while the chariot was being made ready
for a start, Isabelle and Serafina expressed a desire to go into the
garden, which they looked down upon from the court.

"I am afraid," said de Sigognac, as he aided them to descend the
unsteady, slippery stone steps, "that the briers will make sad work with
your dresses, for thorns abound in my neglected garden, though roses do
not."

The young baron said this in the sad, ironical tone he usually adopted
when alluding to his poverty; but a moment after they suddenly came upon
two exquisite little wild roses, blooming directly in their path. With
an exclamation of surprise de Sigognac gathered them, and as he offered
one to each lady, said, with a smile, "I did not know there was anything
of this sort here, having never found aught but rank weeds and brambles
before; it is your gracious presence that has brought forth these two
blossoms in the midst of ruin and desolation."

Isabelle put her little rose carefully in the bosom of her dress, giving
him her thanks mutely by an eloquent glance, which spoke more perhaps
than she knew, and brought a flush of pleasure to his cheeks. They
walked on to the statue in its rocky niche at the end of the garden, de
Sigognac carefully bending back the branches that obstructed the way.
The young girl looked round with a sort of tender interest at this
overgrown, neglected spot, so thoroughly in keeping with the ruined
chateau that frowned down upon them, and thought pityingly of the long,
dreary hours that the poor baron must have spent here in solitude and
despair. Serafina's face only expressed a cold disdain, but slightly
masked by politeness. To her mind the ruinous condition of things was
anything but interesting, and though she dearly loved a title she had
still greater respect for wealth and magnificence.

"My domain ends here," said the baron, as they reached the grotto of the
statue, "though formerly all the surrounding country, as far as the
eye can reach from the top of that high tower yonder, belonged to my
ancestors. But barely enough remains now to afford me a shelter until
the day comes when the last of the de Sigognacs shall be laid to rest
amid his forefathers in the family vault, thenceforward their sole
possession."

"Do you know you are very much out of spirits this morning?" said
Isabelle in reply, touched by the expression of this sad thought that
had occurred to her also, and assuming a bright, playful air, in the
hope that it might help to chase away the heavy shadow that lay upon
her young host's brow. "Fortune is blind, they say, but nevertheless she
does sometimes shower her good gifts upon the worthy and the brave; the
only thing is that they must put themselves in her way. Come, decide to
go with us, and perhaps in a few years the Chateau de Sigognac, restored
to its ancient splendour, may loom up as proudly as of old; think of
that, my lord, and take courage to quit it for a time. And besides," she
added in a lower tone that only de Sigognac could hear, "I cannot bear
to go away and leave you here alone in this dreary place."

The soft light that shone in Isabelle's beautiful eyes as she murmured
these persuasive words was irresistible to the man who already loved her
madly; and the idea of following his divinity in a humble disguise,
as many a noble knight had done of old, reconciled him to what would
otherwise have seemed too incongruous and humiliating. It could not be
considered derogatory to any gentleman to accompany his lady-love, be
she what she might, actress or princess, and to attach himself, for love
of her bright eyes, to even a band of strolling players. The mischievous
little boy of the bow had compelled even gods and heroes to submit to
all sorts of odd tests and means. Jupiter himself took the form of a
bull to carry off Europa, and swam across the sea with her upon his
back to the island of Crete. Hercules, dressed as a woman, sat spinning
meekly at Omphale's feet. Even Aristotle went upon all fours that his
mistress might ride on his back. What wonder then that our youthful
baron thought that nothing could be too difficult or repulsive in the
service of the lovely being at his side! So he decided at once not
to let her leave him behind, and begging the comedians to wait a few
moments while he made his hurried preparations, drew Pierre aside and
told him in few words of his new project. The faithful old servant,
although nearly heart-broken at the thought of parting with his beloved
master, fully realized how greatly it would be to his advantage to quit
the dreary life that was blighting his youth, and go out into the world;
and while he felt keenly the incongruity of such fellow travellers for
a de Sigognac, yet wisely thought that it was better for him to go thus
than not at all. He quickly filled an old valise with the few articles
of clothing that formed the baron's scanty wardrobe, and put into a
leathern purse the little money he still possessed; secretly adding
thereto his own small hoard, which he could safely do without fear
of detection, as he had the care of the family finances, as well as
everything else about the establishment. The old white pony was brought
out and saddled, for de Sigognac did not wish to get into the chariot
until they had gone some distance from home, not caring to make his
departure public. He would seem thus to be only accompanying his guests
a little way upon their journey, and Pierre was to follow on foot to
lead the horse back home.

The oxen, great slow-moving, majestic creatures, were already harnessed
to the heavy chariot, while their driver, a tall, sturdy peasant lad,
standing in front of them leaning upon his goad, had unconsciously
assumed an attitude so graceful that he closely resembled the sculptured
figures in ancient Greek bas-reliefs. Isabelle and Serafina had seated
themselves in the front of the chariot, so that they could enjoy the
fresh, cool air, and see the country as they passed along; while the
others bestowed themselves inside, where they might indulge in a morning
nap. At last all were ready; the driver gave the word of command, and
the oxen stepped slowly forward, setting in motion the great unwieldy,
lumbering vehicle, which creaked and groaned in lamentable fashion,
making the vaulted portico ring again as it passed through it and out of
the chateau.

In the midst of all this unwonted commotion, Beelzebub and Miraut moved
restlessly about the court, evidently very much perplexed as to what
could be the meaning of it. The old dog ran back and forth from his
master, who always had a caress for him, to Pierre, looking up into
their faces with questioning, anxious eyes, and Beelzebub finally went
and held a consultation with his good friend, the old white pony,
now standing with saddle and bridle on, quietly awaiting his master's
pleasure. He bent down his head so that his lips almost touched
Beelzebub, and really appeared to be whispering something to him; which
the cat in his turn imparted to Miraut, in that mysterious language of
animals which Democritus, claimed that he understood, but which we are
not able to translate. Whatever it might have been that Bayard, the old
pony, communicated to Beelzebub, one thing is certain, that when at last
the baron vaulted into his saddle and sallied forth from his ancient
castle, he was accompanied by both cat and dog. Now, though it was no
uncommon thing for Miraut to follow him abroad, Beelzebub had never been
known to attempt such a feat before.

As he rode slowly out through the grand old portico de Sigognac felt
his heart heavy within him, and when, after going a few paces from the
chateau, he turned round for one last look at its crumbling walls, he
felt an acute grief at bidding them farewell which was an astonishment
to himself. As his eyes sought and dwelt upon the roof of the little
chapel where his father and mother lay sleeping side by side, he almost
reproached himself for wishing to go and leave them, and it required a
mighty effort to turn away and ride after the chariot, which was some
distance in advance of him. He had soon overtaken and passed it, when
a gentle gust of wind brought to him the penetrating, faintly aromatic
scent of his native heather, still wet from last night's rain, and also
the silvery sound of a distant convent bell that was associated with his
earliest recollections. They both seemed to be reproaching him for his
desertion of his home, and he involuntarily checked the old pony,
and made as if he would turn back. Miraut and Beelzebub, seeming to
understand the movement, looked up at him eagerly, but as he was in the
very act of turning the horse's head he met Isabelle's soft eyes
fixed on him with such an entreating, wistful look that he flushed and
trembled under it, and entirely forgetting his ancient chateau, the
perfume of the heather, and the quick strokes of the distant bell, that
still continued ringing, he put spurs to his horse and dashed on in
advance again. The struggle was over--Isabelle had conquered.

When the highway was reached, de Sigognac again fell behind the
chariot--which moved more quickly over the smooth, hard road--so that
Pierre might be able to catch up to him, and rode slowly forward, lost
in thought; he roused himself, however, in time to take one last look
at the towers of Sigognac, which were still visible over the tops of
the pine trees. Bayard came to a full stop as he gazed, and Miraut took
advantage of the pause to endeavour to climb up and lick his master's
face once more; but he was so old and stiff that de Sigognac had to
lift him up in front of him; holding him there he tenderly caressed
the faithful companion of many sad, lonely years, even bending down
and kissing him between the eyes. Meantime the more agile Beelzebub had
scrambled up on the other side, springing from the ground to the baron's
foot, and then climbing up by his leg; he purred loudly as his master
affectionately stroked his head, looking up in his face as if he
understood perfectly that this was a leave-taking. We trust that the
kind reader will not laugh at our poor young hero, when we say that he
was so deeply touched by these evidences of affection from his humble
followers that two great tears rolled down his pale cheeks and fell upon
the heads of his dumb favourites, before he put them gently from him and
resumed his journey.

Miraut and Beelzebub stood where he had put them down, looking after
their beloved master until a turn in the road hid him from their sight,
and then quietly returned to the chateau together. The rain of the
previous night had left no traces in the sandy expanse of the Landes,
save that it had freshened up the heather with its tiny purple bells,
and the furze bushes with their bright yellow blossoms. The very pine
trees themselves looked less dark and mournful than usual, and their
penetrating, resinous odour filled the fresh morning air. Here and there
a little column of smoke rising from amid a grove of chestnut trees
betrayed the homestead of some farmer, and scattered over the gently
rolling plain, that extended as far as the eye could reach, great flocks
of sheep could be discerned, carefully guarded by shepherd and dog; the
former mounted on stilts, and looking very odd to those unaccustomed to
the shepherds of the Landes. On the southern horizon the snow-clad tops
of the more lofty peaks of the Pyrenees rose boldly into the clear sky,
with light wreaths of mist still clinging round them here and there.

Oxen travel slowly, especially over roads where at times the wheels sink
deep into the sand, and the sun was high above the horizon before they
had gone two leagues on their way. The baron, loath to fatigue his old
servant and poor Bayard, determined to bid adieu to them without further
delay; so he sprang lightly to the ground, put the bridle into Pierre's
trembling hand, and affectionately stroked the old pony's neck, as he
never failed to do when he dismounted. It was a painful moment. The
faithful servant had taken care of his young master from his infancy,
and he turned very pale as he said in faltering tones, "God bless and
keep your lordship. How I wish that I could go with you."

"And so do I, my good Pierre, but that is impossible. You must stay
and take care of the chateau for me; I could not bear to think of
it entirely abandoned, or in any other hands than yours, my faithful
friend! And besides, what would become of Bayard and Miraut and
Beelzebub, if you too deserted them?"

"You are right, master," answered Pierre, his eyes filling with tears as
he bade him farewell before he turned and led Bayard slowly back by the
road they had come. The old pony whinnied loudly as he left his master,
and long after he was out of sight could be heard at short intervals
calling out his adieux.

The poor young baron, left quite alone, stood for a moment with downcast
eyes, feeling very desolate and sad; then roused himself with an effort,
and hastened after the chariot. As he walked along beside it with a
sorrowful, preoccupied air, Isabelle complained of being tired of her
somewhat cramped position, and said that she would like to get down and
walk a little way for a change; her real motive being a kind wish to
endeavour to cheer up poor de Sigognac and make him forget his sad
thoughts. The shadow that had overspread his countenance passed away
entirely as he assisted Isabelle to alight, and then offering his arm
led her on in advance of the lumbering chariot. They had walked some
distance, and she was just reciting some verses, from one of her parts,
which she wished to have altered a little, when the sound of a horn
close at hand startled them, and from a by-path emerged a gay party
returning from the chase. The beautiful Yolande de Foix came first,
radiant as Diana, with a brilliant colour in her cheeks and eyes that
shone like stars. Several long rents in the velvet skirt of her riding
habit showed that she had been following the hounds through the thickets
of furze that abound in the Landes, yet she did not look in the least
fatigued, and as she came forward made her spirited horse fret and
prance under quick, light strokes of her riding-whip--in whose handle
shone a magnificent amethyst set in massive gold, and engraved with
the de Foix arms. Three or four young noblemen, splendidly dressed and
mounted, were with her, and as she swept proudly past our hero and his
fair companion-upon whom she cast a glance of haughty disdain--she
said in clear ringing tones, "Do look at the Baron de Sigognac, dancing
attendance upon a Bohemienne." And the little company passed on with a
shout of laughter.

The poor baron was furious, and instinctively grasped the handle of his
sword with a quick, angry movement; but as quickly released it--for he
was on foot and those who had insulted him were on horseback, so that he
could not hope to overtake them; and besides, he could not challenge a
lady. But the angry flush soon faded from his cheek, and the remembrance
of his displeasure from his mind, under the gentle influence of
Isabelle, who put forth all her powers of fascination to make her
companion forget the affront he had received because of her.

The day passed without any other incident worthy of being recorded, and
our travellers arrived in good season at the inn where they were to sup
and sleep.



CHAPTER III. THE BLUE SUN INN

It was in front of the largest house in a wretched little hamlet that
the weary oxen drawing the chariot of Thespis stopped of their own
accord. The wooden sign that creaked distractingly as it swung to and
fro at every breath of wind bore a large, blue sun, darting its rays,
after the most approved fashion, to the utmost dimensions of the board
on which it was painted. Rather an original idea, one would say, to have
a blue orb of day instead of a golden one--such as adorned so many other
inns on the great post-road--but originality had had nothing whatever to
do with it. The wandering painter who produced this remarkable work of
art happened to have no vestige of any colour but blue left upon his
palette, and he discoursed so eloquently of the superiority of this tint
to all others that he succeeded in persuading the worthy innkeeper to
have an azure sun depicted on his swinging sign. And not this one alone
had yielded to his specious arguments, for he had painted blue lions,
blue cocks, blue horses, on various signs in the country round, in a
manner that would have delighted the Chinese--who esteem an artist in
proportion to the unnaturalness of his designs and colouring.

The few scrawny, unwholesome-looking children feebly playing in the
muddy, filthy, little street, and the prematurely old, ghastly women
standing at the open doors of the miserable thatched huts of which the
hamlet was composed, were but too evidently the wretched victims of a
severe type of malarial fever that prevails in the Landes. They were
truly piteous objects, and our travellers were glad to take refuge in
the inn--though it was anything but inviting--and so get out of sight of
them.

The landlord, a villainous looking fellow, with an ugly crimson
scar across his forehead, who rejoiced in the extraordinary name of
Chirriguirri, received them with many low obeisances, and led the way
into his house, talking volubly of the excellent accommodations to be
found therein.

The Baron de Sigognac hesitated ere he crossed the threshold, though the
comedians had all drawn back respectfully to allow him to precede them.
His pride revolted at going into such a place in such company, but one
glance from Isabelle put everything else out of his head, and he entered
the dirty little inn at her side with an air of joyful alacrity. In the
happy kingdom of France the fortunate man who escorted a pretty woman,
no matter where, needed not to fear ridicule or contumely, and was sure
to be envied.

The large low room into which Maitre Chirriguirri ushered the party,
with much ceremony and many bows, was scarcely so magnificent as he
had given them reason to expect, but our strolling players had long ago
learned to take whatever came in their way without grumbling, and they
seated themselves quietly on the rude wooden settles ranged round a
rough, stone platform in the centre of the apartment, upon which a few
sticks of wood were blazing the smoke escaping through an opening in the
roof above. From an iron bar which crossed this opening a strong chain
was suspended, and fastened to it was the crane, so that it hung at the
proper height over the fire--for this was the kitchen as well as the
reception room. The low ceiling was blackened with the smoke that filled
the upper part of the room and escaped slowly through the hole over the
fire, unless a puff of wind drove it back again. A row of bright copper
casseroles hanging against the wall--like the burnished shields along
the sides of the ancient triremes, if this comparison be not too noble
for such a lowly subject--gleamed vaguely in the flashing of the red
fire-light, and a large, half-empty wine-skin lying on the floor in
one corner looked like a beheaded body carelessly flung down there.
Certainly not a cheerful looking place, but, the fire being newly
replenished burned brightly, and our weary travellers were glad to bask
in its genial warmth.

At the end of one of the wooden benches a little girl was sitting,
apparently sound asleep. She was a poor, thin, little creature, with
a mass of long, tangled, black hair, which hung down over her face and
almost concealed it, as she sat with her head drooping forward on her
breast. Her scanty clothing was tattered and dirty, her feet and poor,
thin, little legs brown and bare, and covered with scratches--some still
bleeding which bore witness to much running through the thorny furze
thickets.

Isabelle, who chanced to sit down near her, cast many pitying glances
upon this forlorn little figure, but took care not to disturb the quiet
sleep she seemed to be enjoying in her uncomfortable resting-place.
After a little, when she had turned to speak to Serafina, who sat
beside her, the child woke with a start, and pushing back the mass of
dishevelled hair revealed a sad little face, so thin that the cheek
bones were painfully prominent, and pale to ghastliness. A pair of
magnificent, dark brown eyes, with heavy sweeping lashes, looked
preternaturally large in her woe-begone little countenance, and at
this moment were filled with wondering admiration, mingled with
fierce covetousness, as she stared at Serafina's mock jewels--and more
especially at Isabelle's row of pearl beads. She seemed fairly dazzled
by these latter, and gazed at them fixedly in a sort of ecstasy--having
evidently never seen anything like them before, and probably thinking
they must be of immense value. Occasionally her eyes wandered to the
dresses of the two ladies, and at last, unable to restrain her ardent
curiosity any longer, she put out her little brown hand and softly felt
of Isabelle's gown, apparently finding exquisite delight in the mere
contact of her finger-tips with the smooth, glossy surface of the silk.
Though her touch was so light Isabelle immediately turned towards the
child and smiled upon her encouragingly, but the poor little vagabond,
finding herself detected, in an instant had assumed a stupid, almost
idiotic look--with an instinctive amount of histrionic art that would
have done honour to a finished actress. Then dropping her eyelids and
leaning her shoulders against the hard back of the wooden settle she
seemed to fall into a deep sleep, with her head bent down upon her
breast in the old attitude.

Meanwhile Maitre Chirriguirri had been talking long and loudly about the
choice delicacies he could have set before his guests if they had
only come a day or two earlier, and enumerating all sorts of fine
dishes--which doubtless had existed only in his own very vivid
imagination--though he told a high-sounding story about the noblemen
and grandees who had supped at his house and devoured all these dainties
only yesterday. When at length the flow of his eloquence was checked
by a display of ferocity on the part of the tyrant, and he was finally
brought to the point, he acknowledged that he could only give them some
of the soup called garbure--with which we have already made acquaintance
at the Chateau de Sigognac, some salt codfish, and a dish of bacon; with
plenty of wine, which according to his account was fit for the gods. Our
weary travellers were so hungry by this time that they were glad of even
this frugal fare, and when Mionnette, a gaunt, morose-looking creature,
the only servant that the inn could boast, announced that their supper
was ready in an adjoining room, they did not wait to be summoned a
second time.

They were still at table when a great barking of dogs was heard without,
together with the noise of horses' feet, and in a moment three loud,
impatient knocks upon the outer door resounded through the house.
Mionnette rushed to open it, whereupon a gentleman entered, followed by
a number of dogs, who nearly knocked the tall maid-servant over in their
eagerness to get in, and rushed into the dining-room where our friends
were assembled, barking, jumping over each other, and licking off the
plates that had been used and removed to a low side table, before their
master could stop them. A few sharp cuts with the whip he held in his
hand distributed promiscuously among them, without distinction between
the innocent and the guilty ones, quieted this uproar as if by magic,
and the aggressive hounds, taking refuge under the benches ranged along
the walls, curled themselves round on the floor and went comfortably
to sleep, or lay panting, with their red tongues hanging out of their
mouths and heads reposing on their fore-paws--not daring to stir.

The obstreperous dogs thus disposed of, the cavalier advanced into the
room, with the calm assurance of a man who feels perfectly at his ease;
his spurs ringing against the stone floor at every step. The landlord
followed him obsequiously, cap in hand, cringing and bowing in most
humble fashion--having entirely laid aside his boasting air and
evidently feeling very ill at ease--this being a personage of whom he
stood in awe. As the gentleman approached the table he politely saluted
the company, before turning to give his orders to Maitre Chirriguirri,
who stood silently awaiting them.

The newcomer was a handsome man of about thirty, with curly light hair,
and a fair complexion, somewhat reddened by exposure to the sun. His
eyes were blue, and rather prominent, his nose slightly retroussi; his
small blond mustache was carefully turned up at the ends, and scarcely
shaded a well-formed but sensual mouth, below which was a small, pointed
beard--called a royal in those days, an imperial in these. As he took
off his broad felt hat, richly ornamented with long sweeping plumes,
and threw it carelessly down on one of the benches, it was seen that
his smooth, broad forehead was snowy white, and the contrast with his
sunburnt cheeks was not by any means displeasing. Indeed it was a very
handsome, attractive face, in which an expression of frank gaiety and
good humour tempered the air of pride that pervaded it.

The dress of this gay cavalier was extremely rich and elegant; almost
too much so for the country. But when we say that the marquis--for
such was his title--had been following the hounds in company with the
beautiful Yolande de Foix, we feel that his costume, of blue velvet
elaborately decorated with silver braid, is fully accounted for. He was
one of the gallants that shone at court in Paris--where he was in the
habit of spending a large portion of every year--and he prided himself
on being one of the best dressed noblemen in France.

His order to the obsequious landlord was in few words. "I want some
broth for my dogs, some oats for my horses, a piece of bread and a slice
of ham for myself, and something or other for my grooms"--and then he
advanced smilingly to the table and sat down in a vacant place beside
the pretty soubrette, who, charmed with such a gay, handsome seignior,
had been pleased to bestow a languishing glance and a brilliant smile
upon him.

Maitre Chirriguirri hastened to fetch what he had demanded, while the
soubrette, with the grace of a Hebe, filled his glass to the brim with
wine; which he accepted with a smile, and drank off at a single draught.
For a few minutes he was fully occupied in satisfying his hunger--which
was veritably that of a hunter--and then looking about him at the party
assembled round the table, remarked the Baron de Sigognac, with whom
he had a slight acquaintance, seated beside the fair Isabelle--in whose
company indeed he had seen him already once before that day. The two
young people were talking together in low tones, and quite absorbed in
each other; but the language of their eyes was unmistakable, and the
marquis smiled to himself as he took note of what he supposed to be
a very promising intrigue--wherein he did the youthful pair great
injustice. As a thorough man of the world he was not at all surprised
at finding de Sigognac with this band of vagabond players, from such
a motive, and the half-pitying contempt he had formerly felt for the
shabby, retiring young baron was straightway changed to a certain
admiration and respect by this evidence of his gallantry. When he caught
his eye he made a little gesture of recognition and approval--to show
that he understood and appreciated his position--but paid no further
attention to him, evidently meaning to respect his incognito,
and devoted himself to the soubrette. She received his high-flown
compliments with peals of laughter, and paid him back in his own coin
with considerable wit and much merriment, to the great delight of the
marquis--who was always delighted to meet with any adventure of this
sort.

Wishing to pursue this one, which opened so well, he declared
loudly that he was passionately fond of the theatre, and complained
pathetically of being deprived altogether of this, his favourite
amusement, in the country; then addressing himself to the tyrant he
asked whether the troupe had any pressing engagements that would prevent
their turning aside a little from the usual route to visit the Chateau
de Bruyeres and give one of their best plays there--it would be an easy
matter to rig up a theatre for them in the great hall or the orangery.

The tyrant hastened to reply that nothing could be easier, and that the
troupe, one of the best that had ever travelled through the provinces,
was entirely at his lordship's disposition--"from the king to the
soubrette"--he added, with a broad grin.

"That is capital," said the marquis, "and as to money matters, you can
arrange them to suit yourself. I should not think of bargaining with the
votaries of Thalia--a muse so highly favoured by Apollo, and as eagerly
sought after, and enthusiastically applauded, at the court of his most
gracious majesty as in town and country everywhere."

After arranging the necessary preliminaries, the marquis, who had
meantime surreptitiously squeezed the soubrette's hand under the table,
rose, called his dogs together, put on his hat, waved his hand to the
company in token of adieu, and took his departure amid much barking and
commotion--going directly home, in order to set on foot his preparations
to receive the comedians on the morrow at his chateau.

As it was growing late, and they were to make an early start the next
morning, our tired travellers lost no time in going to rest; the women
in a sort of loft, where they had to make themselves as comfortable as
they could with the bundles of straw that were to serve them for beds,
whilst the men slept on the benches in the room where they had supped.



CHAPTER IV. AN ADVENTURE WITH BRIGANDS

Let us return now to the little girl we left feigning to sleep soundly
upon a settle in the kitchen. There was certainly something suspicious
about the fierce way in which she eyed Isabelle's pearl necklace, and
her little bit of clever acting afterwards. As soon as the door had
closed upon the comedians she slowly opened her large, dark eyes, looked
sharply round the great, dim kitchen, and when she found that nobody was
watching her, slipped quietly down from the bench, threw back her hair
with a quick movement of the head peculiar to her, crept softly to the
door, which she cautiously unlatched, and escaped into the open air
without making any more sound than a shadow, then walked slowly and
listlessly away until she had turned a corner and was out of sight of
the house, when she set off running as fleetly as a deer pursued by the
hounds--jumping over the frequent obstacles in her path with wonderful
agility, never stumbling, and flying along, with her black hair
streaming out behind her, like some wild creature of the desolate pine
barrens through which she was skilfully threading her way.

She reached at last a little knoll, crowned by a group of pine
trees crowded closely together, and dashing up the steep bank with
undiminished speed came to a sudden stop in the very middle of the
grove. Here she stood still for a moment, peering anxiously about her,
and then, putting two fingers in her mouth, gave three shrill whistles,
such as no traveller in those desolate regions can hear without a
shudder. In an instant what seemed to be a heap of pine twigs stirred,
and a man emerging from beneath them rose slowly to his feet at a little
distance from the child.

"Is it you, Chiquita?" he asked. "What news do you bring? You are late.
I had given over expecting you to-night, and gone to sleep."

The speaker was a dark, fierce-looking fellow of about five and
twenty, with a spare, wiry frame, brilliant black eyes, and very white
teeth--which were long and pointed like the fangs of a young wolf.
He looked as if he might be a brigand, poacher, smuggler, thief, or
assassin--all of which he had been indeed by turns. He was dressed like
a Spanish peasant, and in the red woollen girdle wound several times
around his waist was stuck a formidable knife, called in Spain a navaja.
The desperadoes who make use of these terrible weapons usually display
as many red stripes, cut in the steel, upon their long pointed blades
as they have committed murders, and are esteemed by their companions in
proportion to the number indicated by this horrible record. We do
not know exactly how many of these scarlet grooves adorned Agostino's
navaja, but judging by the savage expression of his countenance, and
the fierce glitter of his eye, we may safely suppose them to have been
creditably numerous.

"Well, Chiquita," said he, laying his hand caressingly on the child's
head, "and what did you see at Maitre Chirriguirri's inn?"

"A great chariot full of people came there this afternoon," she
answered. "I saw them carry five large chests into the barn, and they
must have been very heavy, for it took two men to lift them."

"Hum!" said Agostino, "sometimes travellers put stones into their
boxes to make them seem very weighty and valuable, and deceive the
inn-keepers."

"But," interrupted the child eagerly, "the three young ladies had
trimmings of gold on their clothes; and one of them, the prettiest, had
round her neck a row of round, shining, white things, and oh! they were
so beautiful!" and she clasped her hands in an ecstasy of admiration,
her voice trembling with excitement.

"Those must be pearls," muttered Agostino to himself, "and they will be
worth having--provided they are real--but then they do make such perfect
imitations now-a-days, and even rich people are mean enough to wear
them."

"My dear Agostino, my good Agostino," continued Chiquita, in her most
coaxing tones, and without paying any attention to his mutterings, "will
you give me the beautiful, shining things if you kill that lady?"

"They would go so well with your rags and tatters!" he answered
mockingly.

"But I have so often kept watch for you while you slept, and I have run
so far to tell you when any one was coming, no matter how cold it was,
nor how my poor, bare feet ached--and I have never once kept you waiting
for your food, when I used to carry it to you in your hiding places,
even when I was bad with the fever, or my teeth chattering with the
chill, and I so weak that I could hardly drag myself along. Oh Agostino!
do remember what I have done for you, and let me have the beautiful,
shining things."

"Yes, you have been both brave and faithful, Chiquita, I admit; but we
have not got the wonderful necklace yet, you know. Now, tell me, how
many men were there in the party."

"Oh! a great many. A big, tall man with a long beard; an old, fat
man--one that looked like a fox--two thin men, and one that looked like
a gentleman, though his clothes were very old and shabby."

"Six men," said Agostino, who had counted them on his fingers as she
enumerated them, and his face fell. "Alas! I am the only one left of our
brave band now; when the others were with me we would not have minded
double the number. Have they arms, Chiquita?"

"The gentleman has a sword, and so has the tall, thin man--a very long
one."

"No pistols or guns?"

"I didn't see any," answered Chiquita, "but they might have left them in
the chariot, you know; only Maitre Chirriguirri or Mionnette would have
been sure to send you word if they had, and they said nothing to me
about them."

"Well, we will risk it then, and see what we can do," said Agostino
resolutely. "Five large, heavy chests, gold ornaments, a pearl necklace!
they certainly are worth trying for."

The brigand and his little companion then went to a secret place in the
thick pine grove, and set to work industriously, removing a few large
stones, a quantity of branches, and finally the five or six boards they
had concealed, disclosing a large hole that looked like a grave. It was
not very deep, and Agostino, jumping down into it, stooped and lifted
out what seemed to be a dead body--dressed in its usual every-day
clothes--which he flung down upon the ground beside the hole. Chiquita,
who did not appear to be in the least agitated or alarmed by these
mysterious proceedings, seized the figure by the feet, with the utmost
sang-froid, and dragged it out of Agostino's way, with a much greater
degree of strength than could have been expected from such a slight,
delicate little creature. Agostino continued his work of exhumation
until five other bodies lay beside the first one--all neatly arranged
in a row by the little girl, who seemed to actually enjoy her lugubrious
task. It made a strange picture in the weird light of the nearly full
moon, half veiled by driving clouds--the open grave, the bodies lying
side by side under the dark pine trees, and the figures of Agostino and
Chiquita bending over them. But the tragic aspect of the affair soon
changed to a comic one; for when Agostino placed the first of the bodies
in an upright position it became apparent that it was only a sort of
a scarecrow--a rude figure intended to frighten timid traveller--which
being skilfully disposed at the edge of the grove, partly hidden among
the trees, looked at a little distance exactly like a brigand--gun and
all. Indeed it really was dressed in the garments of one of his old
comrades, who had paid the penalty of his crimes on the gallows. He
apostrophized the figure as he arranged it to his liking, calling it by
name, relating some of the brave deeds of its prototype, and bewailing
the sad fate that had left him to ply his nefarious trade single-handed,
with a rude eloquence that was not wanting in pathos. Returning to where
the others lay, he lifted up one which he reminded Chiquita, represented
her father--whose valour and skill he eulogized warmly--whilst the child
devoutly made the sign of the cross as she muttered a prayer. This one
being put in position, he carried the remaining figures, one by one,
to the places marked for them, keeping up a running commentary upon the
ci-devant brigands whose representatives they were, and calling them
each repeatedly by name, as if there were a certain sad satisfaction in
addressing them in the old, familiar way.

When this queer task was completed, the bandit and his faithful little
companion, taking advantage of a flood of moonlight as the clouds
drifted away before the wind, went and stood on the road--not very far
from their retreat--by which our travellers were to pass, to judge of
the effect of their group of brigands. It was really very formidable,
and had often been of great service to the bold originator of the plan;
for on seeing so numerous a band apparently advancing upon them, most
travellers took to their heels, leaving the coveted spoils behind them
for Agostino to gather up at his leisure.

As they slowly returned to the pine grove he said to the child, who was
clinging to his arm affectionately as she walked beside him, "The first
stage of their journey to-morrow is a long one, and these people will be
sure to start in good season, so that they will reach this spot just
at the right time for us--in the uncertain light of the dawn. In the
darkness of night our brigands yonder could not be seen, and in broad
daylight the ruse would be apparent; so we are in luck, Chiquita! But
now for a nap--we have plenty of time for it, and the creaking of the
wheels will be sure to wake us." Accordingly Agostino threw himself down
upon a little heap of pine branches and heather, Chiquita crept close
to him, so that the large cloak with which he had covered himself might
protect her also from the chilly night air, and both were soon sound
asleep.

It was so early when our travellers were roused from their slumbers
and told that it was time for them to resume their journey, by the
treacherous landlord of the Blue Sun Inn, that it seemed to them like
the middle of the night; to they arranged themselves as comfortably as
they could in the great, roomy chariot, and despite the loud creaking
and groaning that accompanied its every movement as it went slowly
lumbering along, and the shrill cries of the driver to his oxen, they
were all soon asleep again, excepting de Sigognac, who walked beside the
chariot, lost in thoughts of Isabelle's beauty, grace and modesty, and
adorable goodness, which seemed better suited to a young lady of noble
birth than a wandering actress. He tormented himself with trying to
devise some means to induce her to reciprocate the ardent love that
filled his heart for her, not for an instant suspecting that it was
already a fait accompli, and that the sweet, pure maiden had given him,
unasked, her gentle, faithful heart. The bashful young baron imagined
all sorts of romantic and perilous incidents in which he might
constitute himself her knight and protector, and show such brave and
tender devotion to her as he had read of in the old books of chivalry;
and which might lead up to the avowal he was burning to make, yet dared
not. It never occurred to him that the look in his dark eyes whenever
they rested on her face, the tone of his voice when he addressed her,
the deep sighs he vainly sought to stifle, and the tender, eager care
with which he strove to anticipate her every wish had spoken for him,
as plainly as any words could do; and that, though he had not dared to
breathe one syllable of his passionate love to Isabelle, she knew it,
rejoiced in it, and was proud of it, and that it filled her with a
delicious, rapturous joy, such as she had never felt before, or even
dreamed of.

The morning began to break--the narrow band of pale light on the
horizon, which was growing rapidly brighter and assuming a rosy tinge,
was reflected here and there in the little pools of water that shone
like bits of a broken mirror scattered over the ground--distant sounds
were heard, and columns of smoke rising into the still morning air
proved that even in this desolate, God-forsaken part of the Landes there
were human habitations to be found. Stalking along with giant strides on
the highest part of some rising ground not very far off was a grotesque
figure, clearly defined against the bright eastern sky, which would have
been a puzzle to a stranger, but was a familiar sight to de Sigognac--a
shepherd mounted on his high stilts, such as are to be met with
everywhere throughout the Landes.

But the young baron was too much absorbed in his own engrossing
thoughts to take any note of his surroundings as he kept pace with the
slow-moving chariot, until his eye was caught and his attention fixed by
a strange little point of light, glittering among the sombre pines that
formed the dense grove where we left Agostino and Chiquita sleeping.
He wondered what it could be--certainly not a glow-worm, the season for
them was past long ago--and he watched it as he advanced towards it with
a vague feeling of uneasiness. Approaching nearer he caught a glimpse
of the singular group of figures lurking among the trees, and at
first feared an ambuscade; but finding that they continued perfectly
motionless he concluded that he must have been mistaken, and that they
were only old stumps after all; so he forbore to arouse the comedians,
as he had for a moment thought of doing.

A few steps farther and suddenly a loud report was heard from the grove,
a bullet sped through the air, and struck the oxen's yoke--happily
without doing any damage, further than causing the usually quiet,
steady-going beasts to swerve violently to one side--when fortunately a
considerable heap of sand prevented the chariot's being overturned into
the ditch beside the road. The sharp report and violent shock startled
the sleeping travellers in the chariot, and the younger women shrieked
wildly in their terror, whilst the duenna, who had met with such
adventures before, slipped the few gold pieces she had in her purse into
her shoe. Beside the chariot, from which the actors were struggling to
extricate themselves, stood Agostino--his cloak wrapped around his left
arm and the formidable navaja in his right hand-and cried in a voice of
thunder, "Your money or your lives! Resistance is useless! At the first
sign of it my band will fire upon you."

Whilst the bandit was shouting out these terrible words, de Sigognac
had quietly drawn his sword, and as he finished attacked him furiously.
Agostino skilfully parried his thrusts, with the cloak on his left arm,
which so disposed made an excellent shield, and watched his opportunity
to give a murderous stab with his navaja, which indeed he almost
succeeded in doing; a quick spring to one side alone saved the baron
from a wound which must have been fatal, as the brigand threw the knife
at him with tremendous force, and it flew through the air and fell
ringing upon the ground at a marvellous distance, instead of piercing
de Sigognac's heart. His antagonist turned pale, for he was quite
defenceless, having depended entirely upon his trusty navaja, which had
never failed him before, and he very well knew that his vaunted band
could not come to his rescue. However, he shouted to them to fire,
counting upon the sudden terror that command would inspire to deliver
him from his dilemma; and, indeed, the comedians, expecting a broadside,
did take refuge behind the chariot, whilst even our brave hero
involuntarily bent his head a little, to avoid the shower of bullets.

Meantime Chiquita, who had breathlessly watched all that passed from
her hiding place among some furze bushes close at hand, when she saw her
friend in peril, crept softly forth, glided along on the ground like a
snake until she reached the knife, lying unnoticed where it had fallen,
and, seizing it, in one instant had restored it to Agostino, She looked
like a little fury as she did so, and if her strength had been equal to
her ferocity she would have been a formidable foe.

Agostino again aimed his navaja at the baron, who was at that moment off
his guard, and would not perhaps have escaped the deadly weapon a second
time if it had been hurled at him from that skilful hand, but that
a grasp of iron fastened upon the desperado's wrist, just in time to
defeat his purpose. He strove in vain to extricate his right arm from
the powerful grip that held it like a vice--struggling violently, and
writhing with the pain it caused him--but he dared not turn upon this
new assailant, who was behind him, because de Sigognac would have surely
scored his back for him; and he was forced to continue parrying his
thrusts with his left arm, still protected by the ample cloak firmly
wound around it. He soon discovered that he could not possibly free
his right hand, and the agony became so great that his fingers could no
longer keep their grasp of the knife, which fell a second time to the
ground.

It was the tyrant who had come to de Sigognac's rescue, and now suddenly
roared out in his stentorian voice, "What the deuce is nipping me? Is it
a viper? I felt two sharp fangs meet in the calf of my leg."

It was Chiquita, who was biting his leg like a dog, in the vain hope of
making him turn round and loose his hold upon Agostino; but the tyrant
shook her off with a quick movement, that sent her rolling in the dust
at some distance, without relinquishing his captive, whilst Matamore
dashed forward and picked up the navaja, which he shut together and put
into his pocket.

Whilst this scene was enacting the sun had risen, and poured a flood of
radiance upon the earth in which the sham brigands lost much of their
life-like effect. "Ha, ha!" laughed the peasant, "it would appear that
those gentlemen's guns take a long time to go off; they must be wet
with dew. But whatever may be the matter with them they are miserable
cowards, to stand still there at a safe distance and leave their chief
to do all the fighting by himself."

"There is a good reason for that," answered Matamore, as he climbed up
the steep bank to them, "these are nothing but scarecrows." And with
six vigorous kicks he sent the six absurd figures rolling in every
direction, making the most comical gestures as they fell.

"You may safely alight now, ladies," said the baron, reassuringly, to
the trembling actresses, "there's nothing more to fear; it was only a
sham battle after all."

In despair at his overwhelming defeat, Agostino hung his head
mournfully, and stood like a statue of grief, dreading lest worse still
should befall him, if the comedians, who were in too great force for him
to attempt to struggle any longer against them, decided to take him on
to the next town and deliver him over to the jailor to be locked up, as
indeed he richly deserved. His faithful little friend, Chiquita, stood
motionless at his side, as downcast as himself. But the farce of the
false brigands so tickled the fancy of the players that it seemed as
if they never would have done laughing over it, and they were evidently
inclined to deal leniently with the ingenious rascal who had devised it.
The tyrant, who had loosened, but not quitted, his hold upon the bandit,
assumed his most tragic air and voice, and said to him, "You have
frightened these ladies almost to death, you scoundrel, and you richly
deserve to be strung up for it; but if, as I believe, they will consent
to pardon you--for they are very kind and good---I will not take you to
the lock-up. I confess that I do not care to furnish a subject for the
gallows. Besides, your stratagem is really very ingenious and amusing--a
capital farce to play at the expense of cowardly travellers--who have
doubtless paid you well for the entertainment, eh? As an actor, I
appreciate the joke, and your ingenuity inclines me to be indulgent. You
are not simply and brutally a robber, and it would certainly be a pity
to cut short such a fine career."

"Alas!" answered Agostino mournfully, "no other career is open to me,
and I am more to be pitied than you suppose. I am the only one left of
a band formerly as complete as yours; the executioner has deprived me
of my brave comrades one by one, and now I am obliged to carry on my
operations entirely alone--dressing up my scarecrows, as your friend
calls them, and assuming different voices to make believe that I am
supported by a numerous company. Ah! mine is a sad fate; and then my
road is such a poor one--so few travellers come this way--and I have not
the means to purchase a better one. Every good road is owned by a band
of brigands, you know. I wish that I could get some honest work to do,
but that is hopeless; who would employ such a looking fellow as I am?
all in rags and tatters, worse than the poorest beggar. I must surely
have been born under an unlucky star. And now this attempt has failed,
from which I hoped to get enough to keep us for two months, and buy a
decent cloak for poor Chiquita besides; she needs it badly enough, poor
thing! Yesterday I had nothing to eat, and I had to tighten my belt to
sustain my empty stomach. Your unexpected resistance has taken the very
bread out of my mouth; and since you would not let me rob you, at least
be generous and give me something."

"To be sure," said the tyrant, who was greatly amused; "as we have
prevented your successfully plying your trade we certainly do owe you an
indemnity. Here, take these two pistoles to drink our healths with."

Isabelle meantime sought in the chariot for a piece of new woollen stuff
she happened to have with her, which was soft and warm, and gave it to
Chiquita, who exclaimed, "Oh! but it is the necklace of shining white
things that I want."

Kind Isabelle immediately unclasped it, and then fastened it round the
slender neck of the child, who was so overwhelmed with delight that she
could not speak. She silently rolled the smooth, white beads between her
little brown fingers in a sort of mute ecstasy for a few moments, then
suddenly raising her head and tossing back her thick black hair, she
fixed her sparkling eyes on Isabelle, and said in a low, earnest voice,
"Oh! you are very, very good, and I will never, never kill you." Then
she ran swiftly back to the pine grove, clambered up the steep bank, and
sat down to admire and enjoy her treasure. As to Agostino, after
making his best bow, and thanking the tyrant for his really princely
munificence, he picked up his prostrate comrades, and carried them back
to be buried again until their services should be needed on some, he
hoped, more auspicious occasion.

The driver, who had deserted his oxen and run to hide himself among the
furze bushes at the beginning of the affray, returned to his post when
he saw that all danger was over, and the chariot once more started upon
its way--the worthy duenna having taken her doubloons out of her shoes
and restored them to her purse, which was then deposited in the depths
of a mysterious pocket.

"You behaved like a real hero of romance," Isabelle said in an undertone
to de Sigognac, "and I feel that under your protection we can travel
securely; how bravely you attacked that bandit single-handedly when you
had every reason to believe that he was supported by an armed band."

"You overestimate my little exploit," the baron replied modestly, "there
was no danger worth mentioning," then sinking his voice to a whisper,
"but to protect you I would meet and conquer giants, put to flight a
whole host of Saracens, attack and destroy dragons and horrid monsters;
I would force my way through enchanted forests filled with snares and
perils, such as we read of, and even descend into hell itself, like
Aeneas of old. In your dear service the most difficult feats would be
easy; your beautiful eyes inspire me with indomitable courage, and your
sweet presence, or even the bare thought of you, seems to endue me with
a super-human strength."

This was, perhaps, rather exaggerated, but perfectly sincere, and
Isabelle did not doubt for a moment that de Sigognac would be able to
accomplish fabulous deeds of prowess in her honour and for her sake;
and she was not so very far wrong, for he was becoming hourly more
passionately enamoured of her, and ardent young lovers are capable of
prodigies of valour, inspired by the fair objects of their adoration.

Serafina, who had overheard some of the baron's impassioned words, could
not repress a scornful smile; so many women are apt to find the fervid
protestations of lovers, when addressed to others than themselves,
supremely ridiculous, yet they joyfully receive the very same
protestations, without detecting anything in the least absurd in them
when whispered into their own ears. For a moment she was tempted to try
the power of her many charms, which she believed to be irresistible,
with the young baron, and win him away from Isabelle; but this idea was
speedily rejected, for Serafina held beauty to be a precious gem that
should be richly set in gold--the gem was hers, but the golden setting
was lamentably wanting, and poor de Sigognac could not possibly furnish
it. So the accomplished coquette decided not to interfere with this
newly-born love affair, which was "all very well for a simple-minded
young girl like Isabelle," she said to herself, with a disdainful smile
and toss of the head.

Profound silence had fallen upon the party after the late excitement,
and some of them were even growing sleepy again, when several hours
later the driver suddenly called out, "There is the Chateau de
Bruyeres."



CHAPTER V. AT THE CHATEAU DE BRUYERES

The extensive domain of the Marquis de Bruyeres was situated just
upon the edge of the Landes, and consisted mostly of productive,
highly-cultivated land--the barren sand reaching only to the boundary
wall of the great park that surrounded the chateau. An air of prosperity
pervaded the entire estate, in pleasing contrast with the desolate
region of country close at hand. Outside the park wall was a broad, deep
ditch, filled with clear water and spanned by a handsome stone bridge,
wide enough for two carriages abreast, which led to the grand entrance
gates. These were of wrought iron, and quite a marvel of delicate
workmanship and beauty. There was a good deal of gilding about them, and
the lofty apex bore a marquis's crown above a shield supported by
two naked savages, upon which the de Bruyeres arms were richly
emblazoned--it was an entrance worthy of a royal demesne. When our party
paused before it, in the course of the morning, a servant in a rich,
showy livery was slowly opening the folding leaves of the magnificent
gates, so as to admit them into the park. The very oxen hesitated ere
they took their slow way through it, as if dazzled by so much splendour,
and ashamed of their own homeliness--the honest brutes little suspecting
that the wealthy nobleman's pomp and glitter are derived from the
industry of the lowly tillers of the soil. It certainly would seem as
if only fine carriages and prancing horses should be permitted to pass
through such a portal as this, but the chariot of Thespis, no matter how
humble, is privileged, and not only enters, but is welcome everywhere.

A broad avenue led from the bridge to the chateau, passing by carefully
clipped shrubbery, whence marble statues peeped out here and there, and
a beautiful garden, with flower-beds ingeniously laid out in geometrical
patterns, and brilliant with well contrasted colours. The narrow walks
among them were bordered with box, and strewn with fine sand of various
tints, and several little fountains threw up their sparkling jets among
the flowers. In the centre of the garden was a magnificent fountain,
with a large, oblong, marble basin, and a Triton, on a high pedestal,
pouring water from a shell. A row of yews, skilfully trimmed into
pyramids, balls, and various fanciful shapes, and placed at regular
distances on each side of the grand avenue, extended from the entrance
gates to the chateau, their sombre hue contrasting well with the
brighter green of the foliage behind them. Everything was in the most
perfect order; not a leaf out of place, nor a particle of dust to be
seen anywhere, as if the gardeners had just freshly washed and trimmed
every tree, shrub, and plant under their care.

All this magnificence astonished and delighted the poor comedians, who
rarely gained admission to such an abode as this. Serafina, affecting
indifference, but noting everything carefully from under her lowered
eye-lashes, promised herself to supplant the soubrette in the marquis's
favour, feeling that this great seignior was her own legitimate prey,
and ought to have devoted himself to her in the first place, instead of
weakly yielding to the vulgar blandishments of the pretty waiting-maid,
as he should no longer be permitted to do--if she had any power.

Meanwhile the soubrette, feeling sure of her conquest, had given herself
up to castle-building with all the fervour Of her ardent southern
nature. Isabelle, who was not preoccupied by any ambitious projects,
turned her head now and then to glance and smile tenderly at de
Sigognac, who was sitting in the chariot behind her and who she knew
must be feeling acutely the painful contrast between this splendid
estate and his own desolate, half-ruined chateau. Her loving heart
ached for him, and her eyes spoke sweetest sympathy to the poor young
nobleman, reduced so low a fortune, yet so worthy of a better fate.

The tyrant was deep in thought, trying to decide how, much he might
venture to demand for the services of his troupe, and mentally
increasing the amount at every step, as new glories disclosed themselves
to his wondering eyes. The pedant was looking forward impatiently to
the copious draughts of generous wine he felt sure of enjoying in the
splendid chateau that was now in full view, and Leander, striving
to smooth his slightly dishevelled locks with a dainty little
tortoise-shell pocket-comb, was wondering, with a fluttering heart,
whether a fair marquise dwelt within those walls, and would gaze down
upon him from one of those windows as he alighted--indulging in high
hopes of the impression he should make upon her susceptible heart.

The Chateau de Bruyeres, which had been entirely rebuilt in the
preceding reign, was a noble structure, of immense size, three stories
in height, and enclosing a large interior court. It was built of red
brick, with elaborate, white stone facings. There were many pretty
balconies with sculptured stone railings, and large, clear panes of
glass--an unusual luxury at that epoch--in the numerous lofty windows,
through which the rich hangings within were visible; and a projecting
porch, reached by an imposing flight of broad stone steps, in the centre
of the facade, marked the main entrance. The high, steep roof was of
slate, in several shades, wrought into a quaint, pretty pattern, and
the groups of tall chimneys were symmetrically disposed and handsomely
ornamented. There was a look of gaiety and luxury about this really
beautiful chateau which gave the idea of great prosperity, but not the
slightest approach to vulgar pretension. There was nothing meretricious
or glaring; everything was substantial and in perfect taste, and
an indescribably majestic, dignified air, if we may be allowed the
expression, pervaded the whole establishment, which spoke of ancient
wealth and nobility under all this modern splendour.

Behind the chateau, its gardens and terraces, was a veritable forest of
lofty, venerable trees, forming the magnificent park, which was of great
extent, and for centuries had been the pride of the Bruyeres.

Although our high-minded young hero had never been envious of any one
in his life, he could not altogether suppress the melancholy sigh with
which he remembered that in former years the de Sigognacs had stood
higher than the de Bruyeres in the province, and had taken precedence of
them at court; nor could he help contrasting in his own mind this fresh,
new chateau, replete with every beauty and luxury that a cultivated
taste could devise and plentiful wealth procure, with his own desolate,
dilapidated mansion--the home of owls and rats--which was gradually but
surely crumbling into dust, and a keen pang shot through his heart at
the thought. He recalled the dreary, solitary, hopeless life he had led
there, and said to himself that the Marquis de Bruyeres ought to be
a very happy man, with so much to make his existence delightful. The
stopping of the chariot at the foot of the broad stone steps in the
front of the chateau aroused him from his reverie; he dismissed as
quickly as he could the sad thoughts that had engrossed him, endeavoured
to dismiss also the dark shadow from his brow, and jumping lightly to
the ground turned and held out his hand to help Isabelle to descend,
before any one else could offer her that little service.

The Marquis de Bruyeres, who had seen the chariot advancing slowly up
the avenue, stood in the porch to receive them. He was superbly dressed,
and looked very handsome, as both Serafina and the soubrette secretly
remarked. He descended two or three steps as the chariot stopped, and
welcomed his guests with a friendly wave of the hand--doing them as much
honour as if they had been of his own rank--which act of courtesy, let
us hasten to explain, was because of the Baron de Sigognac's presence
among them; but for that they would not have been brought to the main
entrance at all.

At this moment the wily soubrette, seeing her opportunity for a bold
stroke, prepared to alight; and as de Sigognac was fully occupied with
Isabelle, and nobody else thought of paying any attention to her--for
she always jumped to the ground as lightly as a bird, disdaining
assistance--she hesitated for a moment, with an adorable little air of
timidity, and then raised an appealing glance to the marquis. He could
not resist it, and, rushing down the steps to her aid, held out both
hands to her. With wonderful art the clever little actress managed
to slip and lose her balance, so as to fall into his extended arms,
clasping him around the neck as she did so.

"Pardon me, my lord," said she, breathlessly, to the marquis, feigning
a confusion she was far from really feeling, "I thought I was going to
fall, and grasped your collar, just as a drowning man clutches at the
nearest object. A fall is a bad omen, you know, as well as a serious
matter, for a poor actress."

"Permit me to look upon this little accident as a favour," the marquis
replied, giving her a most significant glance, and lightly pressing her
yielding form in his arms before he released her.

Serafina had watched this little by-play out of the corner of her eye,
though her face was apparently turned away from them, and she bit
her lip till it bled, with vexation; so after all the soubrette had
succeeded, by an abominably bold action, in compelling the marquis to
neglect her betters and give his warmest welcome to a low intrigante,
said the "leading lady" to herself, swelling with righteous indignation,
and abusing the offender roundly in her thoughts--wishing that she could
do it aloud, and expose her outrageous, unmannerly artifice.

"Jean," said the marquis to a servant in livery who stood near, "have
this chariot taken into the court, and see that the decorations,
scenery, etc., are carefully put in some convenient place; have the
luggage of these ladies and gentlemen carried to the rooms that
I ordered to be made ready for them, and take care that they have
everything they want;" then in a lower tone, but very emphatically,
"I desire that they should be treated with the utmost courtesy and
respect."

These orders being given, the marquis gravely ascended the steps,
followed by the comedians, and having consigned them to his major-domo
to show them to their respective rooms and make them comfortable,
he gracefully bowed and left them; darting an admiring glance at the
soubrette as he did so, which she acknowledged by a radiant smile, that
Serafina, raging inwardly, pronounced "abominably bold."

The chariot meantime had made its way into a back court, accompanied by
the tyrant, the pedant and Scapin, who superintended the unloading of
the various articles that would be needed--a strange medley, which the
supercilious servants of the chateau, in their rich liveries, handled
with a very lofty air of contempt and condescension, feeling it quite
beneath their dignity to wait upon a band of strolling players. But they
dared not rebel, for the marquis had ordered it, and he was a severe
master, as well as a very generous one.

The major-domo, however, conducted his charges to their appointed
chambers with as profound an air of respect as if they had been real
princes and princesses; for the marquis himself had visited the left
wing of the chateau, where they were to be lodged, had specified the
room for each guest, and ordered that they should want for nothing--a
very unusual proceeding on his part, as he was in the habit of leaving
all such minor details to his trusty major-domo. A beautiful chamber,
hung with tapestry which represented the loves of Cupid and Psyche, was
given to the soubrette, the pretty, dainty, blue one to Isabelle, and
the luxurious red one to Serafina, whilst the more sober brown one
was assigned to the duenna. The Baron de Sigognac was installed in a
magnificent apartment, whose panelled walls were covered with richly
embossed Spanish leather. It was close to Isabelle's room--a delicate
attention on the part of the marquis. This superb chamber was always
reserved for his most honoured guests, and in giving it to our young
hero he desired to testify that he recognised and appreciated his rank,
though he religiously respected his incognito.

When de Sigognac was left alone, and at liberty to think over
quietly the odd situation in which he found himself, he looked at his
magnificent surroundings with surprise as well as admiration--for he had
never in his life seen, or even imagined, such splendour and luxury. The
rich glowing colours of the chimerical flowers and foliage embossed on
a golden ground of the Spanish leather on the walls, the corresponding
tints in the frescoed ceiling and the heavy, silken hangings at the
windows and doors and round the bed, the elaborately carved and gilded
furniture, the luxurious easy-chairs and sofas, the large mirrors with
bevelled edges, and the dainty dressing-table, lavishly furnished with
all the accessories of the toilet, with its oval glass draped with lace
which was tied back with knots of gay ribbon, certainly did make up a
charming whole, and the wood fire burning brightly in the open fireplace
gave a cheerful, cosy air to it all.

Our poor young baron blushed painfully as he caught sight of his own
figure in one of the long mirrors--his shabby, ill-fitting clothes
looked so sadly out of place amidst all this magnificence--and for
the first time in his life he felt ashamed of his poverty. Highly
unphilosophical this, but surely excusable in so young a man as our
hero. With a natural desire to improve his forlorn appearance if he
could, he unpacked the scanty supply of clothing that his faithful
Pierre had put up for him--hoping that he might come across something a
little less thread-bare than the suit he actually had on his back--but
the inspection was not satisfactory, and he groaned as he discarded one
faded, shabby garment after another. The linen was not any better--worn
so that it was thin everywhere, with numerous darns and patches, and
many holes, he could not find a single shirt that was whole and in good
condition. He was so absorbed in this melancholy inspection that he did
not hear a low knock at the door, nor notice that it was slowly pushed
open, having been already ajar, to admit the stout person of Blazius,
who approached him with many bows and flourishes, though entirely
unobserved. When the pedant reached his side de Sigognac was just
holding up before him a shirt that had as many openings as the rose
window of a cathedral, and slowly shaking his head as he gazed at it,
with an expression of utter discouragement.

"Body of Bacchus!" exclaimed the pedant--his voice, so close at hand,
startling the astonished baron, who had believed himself alone, and safe
from intrusion--"that shirt has verily a valiant and triumphant air. It
looks as if it had been worn by Mars himself in battle, so riddled has
it been by lances, spears, darts, arrows, and I know not what besides.
Don't be ashamed of it, Baron!--these holes are honourable to you. Many
a shirt of fine linen, ruffled and embroidered, according to the latest
fashion, disguises the graceless person of some rascally parvenu--and
usurer as well perhaps--who usurps the place of his betters. Several
of the great heroes, of immortal fame, had not a shirt to their
backs--Ulysses, for example, that wise and valiant man, who presented
himself before the beautiful Princess Nausicaa, with no other covering
than a bunch of sea-weed--as we are told, in the Odyssey, by the grand
old bard, Homer."

"Unfortunately," de Sigognac replied, "there is no point of resemblance,
my dear Blazius, between me and the brave King of Ithaca, save the lack
of linen. _I_ have done no deeds of valour to shed a lustre over MY
poverty. I have had no chance to make myself famous, and I fear that
the poets will never celebrate my praises in glowing hexameters. But,
jesting aside, I must confess that I do feel greatly annoyed at being
forced to appear in this guise here. The Marquis de Bruyeres recognised
me, though he made no sign, and he may betray my secret."

"It _is_ a pity," said the pedant in reply, "but there's a remedy for
every ill under the sun, save death, according to the old saying, and
if you will permit me, I think that I can help you out of this awkward
dilemma. We, poor players, shadows of real men and women, phantoms of
personages of every degree, from the highest to the lowest, have
the means necessary for assuming almost any character, you know.
As 'costumier' of the troupe I am accustomed to make all sorts of
transformations, and can turn a miserable vagabond into an Alexander,
or a vulgar wench into a princess. Now, if you are not too proud, I will
exercise my poor skill in your lordship's service. Since you have been
willing to join our company for this journey, do not disdain to make
use of our resources, such as they are, and put aside these ill-fitting
garments, which disguise your natural advantages, and make you feel ill
at ease. Most fortunately I happen to have in reserve a handsome suit of
black velvet, which has not the least of a theatrical air about it, and
has never been used; any gentleman could wear it, and unless I am much
mistaken it will fit you capitally. I have also the fine linen shirt,
silk stockings, shoes--with broad buckles, and cloak to go with
it--there is nothing wanting, not even the sword."

"Oh! as to that," cried de Sigognac, with a gesture expressive of
all that pride of birth which no misfortunes could crush, "I have my
father's sword."

"True," answered Blazius, "and guard it sacredly, my lord! for a sword
is a faithful friend--defender of its master's life and honour. IT does
not abandon him in times of peril and disaster, like the false friends
who cling only to prosperity. Our stage swords have neither edge
nor point, for they are only intended for show; the wounds they make
disappear suddenly when the curtain falls, without the aid of the
surgeon with his instruments and lint. That trusty sword of yours you
can depend upon in any emergency, and I have already seen it doing good
service in our behalf. But permit me to go and fetch the things I spoke
of; I am impatient to see the butterfly emerge from the chrysalis."

Having thus spoken, in the theatrical way that had become habitual with
him, the worthy pedant quitted the room, and soon reappeared, carrying
a large package, which he deposited on the table in the centre of the
chamber.

"If your lordship will accept an old actor as valet-de-chambre," he
said, rubbing his hands joyfully together, "I will beautify you in no
time. All the ladies will be sure to fall in love with you, for--with no
disrespect to the larder at the Chateau de Sigognac be it said--you
have fasted so much in your lonely life there that it has made you most
interestingly slender and pale--just what the dear creatures delight in.
They would not listen to a word from a stout lover, even if the diamonds
and pearls of the fairy tale dropped from his lips whenever he spoke.
That is the sole reason for my want of success with the fair sex, and I
long ago deserted the shrine of Venus for the worship of Bacchus. A big
paunch is not amiss among the devotees of that merry god, for it bears
witness to plentiful libations."

Thus running on gaily, the worthy pedant strove to amuse the melancholy
young nobleman, while he deftly performed his duties as valet; and
they were very quickly completed, for the requirements of the stage
necessitate great dexterity on the part of the actors to make the
metamorphoses frequently needed with sufficient promptness and rapidity.
Charmed with the result of his efforts he led de Sigognac up to one
of the large mirrors, wherein, upon raising his eyes, he saw a figure
which, at the first glance, he thought must be that of some person who
had entered the room without his knowledge, and turned to ask who the
intruder was--but there was no stranger there, and he discovered that it
was his own reflection--so changed that he was mute with astonishment.
A young, handsome, richly-dressed de Sigognae stood before him, and a
radiant smile parted his lips and lighted up his face as he gazed at
his own image, which perfected the really marvellous transformation.
Blazius, standing near, contemplated his work with undisguised pride and
satisfaction, changing his position several times so as to get different
views, as a sculptor might who had just put the finishing touches to his
statue altogether to his liking.

"When you have made your way at court, my lord, and regained the
position held by your ancestors, as I hope and expect that you will do,
I shall pray you to give me a refuge for my old age in your household,
and make me intendant of your lordship's wardrobe," said he, with a
profound bow to the baron.

"I will not forget your request, my good Blazius, even though I fear
that I shall never be able to comply with it," de Sigognae answered with
a melancholy smile. "You, my kind friend, are the first human being that
has ever asked a favour of me."

"After our dinner, which we are to have very shortly, we are to consult
with his lordship, the marquis, as to what play shall be given this
evening, and learn from him where we are to rig our theatre. You will
pass for the poet of the troupe; it is by no means an unheard-of thing
for men of learning and position to join a band of players thus--either
for the fun of the thing, and in hope of adventures, or for the love
of a young and beautiful actress. I could tell you of several notable
instances; and it is thought to be rather to a man's credit than
otherwise in fashionable circles. Isabelle is a very good pretext for
you; she is young, beautiful, clever, modest, and virtuous. In fact many
an actress who takes like her the role of the ingenuous young girl is
in reality all that she personates, though a frivolous and frequently
licentious public will not credit it for a moment."

Herewith the pedant discreetly retired, having accomplished, to his
great satisfaction, what he had really feared to propose to the young
baron, for whom he had conceived a very warm affection.

Meanwhile the elegant Leander, indulging in delightful dreams of the
possible fair chatelaine who was to fall a victim to his charms, was
making his careful toilet--arraying himself in his most resplendent
finery, scrupulously kept for grand occasions--convinced that great good
fortune awaited him, and determined to carry the noble lady's heart by
storm.

As to the actresses, to whom the gallant marquis, with princely
munificence, had sent several pieces of rich stuffs and silks, it is
needless to say that they spared no pains to make themselves as charming
as possible, and obeyed the summons to dinner radiant with smiles and in
high good humour--excepting indeed the fair Serafina, who was inwardly
consumed with envy and spite, but careful to conceal it from all
beholders.

The marquis, who was of an ardent, impatient nature, made his appearance
in the dining-room before they had quite finished the sumptuous repast
which had been served to them; he would not allow them to rise, but
seated himself at the table with them, and when the last course had been
removed, asked the tyrant to be good enough to give him a list of the
plays they were in the habit of acting, so that he might select one
for the evening's entertainment. But so many were enumerated that his
lordship found it not easy to make a choice, and expressed his desire to
have the tyrant's ideas upon the subject.

"There is one piece we often play," Herode said, "which never fails to
please, and is so full of good-natured fun and nonsense that it keeps
the audience in a roar of laughter from the beginning to the end."

"Let us have that one, by all means," the marquis exclaimed; "and pray
what is the name of this delightful play?"

"The Rodomontades of Captain Matamore."

"A capital title, upon my word! and has the soubrette a good part in
it?" asked his lordship, with a languishing glance at her.

"The most racy, mischievous role imaginable," said Herode warmly, "and
she plays it to perfection--it is her chef d'oeuvre. She is always
applauded to the echo in it."

At this high praise from the manager, Zerbine--for such was the
soubrette's name--tried her best to get up a becoming blush, but in
vain. Modesty she had none, and the tint she would fain have called
into requisition at that moment was not contained in any of her numerous
rouge-pots. So she cast down her eyes, thereby displaying to advantage
the length and thickness of her jet-black lashes, and raised her hand
with a deprecating gesture, which called attention to its pretty, taper
fingers and rosy nails. The marquis watched he admiringly, and she
certainly was very charming in her way. He did not vouchsafe even a
glance to the other two young actresses--refraining from testifying any
marked admiration for Isabelle because of the prior claim of the Baron
de Sigognac--though he was secretly very much delighted with her
sweet, refined style of beauty, and the quiet dignity and grace of her
deportment. Serafina, who was naturally indignant that the marquis had
not even asked if there was a part for her in the piece to be performed,
accused him in her heart of being no gentleman, and of having very
low, vulgar tastes, but she was the only one of the party that felt any
dissatisfaction.

Before the marquis left them he said to Herode, "I have given orders
to have the orangery cleared so that our theatre can be arranged there;
they are carrying planks, trestles, benches, hangings, and all other
needful articles in there now. Will you kindly superintend the workmen,
who are new to this sort of business? They will obey your orders as they
would my own."

Accordingly the tyrant, Blazius and Scapin repaired to the orangery,
which was at a little distance from the chateau and admirably calculated
for the purpose it was now to serve, and where they found everything
necessary to convert it into a temporary theatre.

Whilst this work is going forward we will make our amiable, indulgent
readers acquainted with the fair mistress of the chateau--having
heretofore forgotten to mention that the Marquis de Bruyeres was a
married man; he thought of it so seldom himself that we may surely be
pardoned for this omission. As can be readily imagined, from our last
remark, love had not been the moving cause in this union. Adjoining
estates, which, united in one, formed a noble domain, and equality of
rank had been the chief considerations. After a very brief honeymoon,
during which they had become painfully aware of a total want of
congeniality, the marquis and marquise--like well-bred people, making
no outcry about their matrimonial failure--had tacitly agreed to live
amicably under the same roof, but entirely independent of each other--he
to go his way and she hers, with perfect freedom. They always treated
each other in public, and indeed whenever they chanced to meet, with
the greatest courtesy, and might easily have been mistaken by a casual
observer for an unusually happy and united pair. Mme. la Marquise
occupied a sumptuous suite of apartments in the chateau, which her
husband never thought of entering without first sending to ascertain
whether it would be convenient for madame to receive him, like a formal
visitor. But we will avail ourselves of the time-honoured privilege
of authors, and make our way into the noble chatelaine's bed-chamber,
without any form or ceremony--feeling sure of not disturbing its fair
occupant, since the writer of a romance wears upon his finger the
wonder-working ring of Gyges, which renders him invisible.

It was a large, lofty room, hung with superb tapestry representing the
adventures of Apollo, and exhibiting every luxury that wealth could
procure. Here also a bright wood fire was, burning cheerily, and the
Marquise de Bruyeres sat before her dressing table, with two maids in
attendance upon her, absorbed in the all-important business of putting
the finishing touches to her extremely becoming as well as effective
toilet. Mme. la Marquise was a handsome brunette, whose embonpoint,
which had succeeded to the slender outline of early youth, had added to
her beauty; her magnificent black hair, which was one of her ladyship's
greatest charms, was dressed in the most elaborate fashion--an intricate
mass of glossy braids, puffs and curls, forming a lofty structure, and
ornamented with a large bow of crimson ribbon, while one long curl fell
upon her fair neck, making it look all the whiter by contrast. Her
dress of crimson silk, cut very low, displayed to advantage--the plump,
dimpled shoulders, and her snowy bosom, and from a band of black velvet
round her throat was suspended a heart-shaped locket, set with superb
rubies and brilliants. A white satin petticoat covered with priceless
old lace, over which the crimson silk gown, open in front, was looped
high upon the hips, and then swept back in a long, ample, richly trimmed
train, completed the elegant toilet of Mme. la Marquise. Jeanne,
the favourite maid and confidante, held open the box of tiny black,
"muoches"--without which no fashionable lady of that epoch considered
herself fully equipped--while the marquise placed one, with most happy
effect, near the corner of her rather pretty mouth, and then hesitated
some time before she could decide where to put the other, which she
held ready on the tip of her forefinger. The two maids stood motionless,
breathlessly watching their mistress, as if fully impressed with the
importance of this grave question, until at last the little black star
found a resting-place just above the edge of the crimson silk bodice,
to the left--indicating, in the accepted hieroglyphics of that age of
gallantry, that he who aspired to the lips of the fair wearer must first
win her heart.

After a last lingering look in the mirror Mme. la Marquise rose and
walked slowly towards the fire, but suddenly, remembering that there was
yet one adornment wanting, turned back, and took from a beautiful casket
standing open on the toilet-table, a large, thick watch--called in those
days a Nuremberg egg--which was curiously enamelled in a variety of
bright colours, and set with brilliants. It hung from a short, broad
chain of rich workmanship, which she hooked into her girdle, near
another chain of the same description, from which depended a small
hand-mirror in a pretty gold frame.

"Madame is looking her loveliest to-day," said Jeanne in flattering
tones; "her hair is dressed to perfection, and her gown fits like a
glove."

"Do you really think so?" asked her mistress languidly, and with
affected indifference. "It seems to me, on the contrary, that I am
positively hideous. My eyes are sunken, and this colour makes me look
immensely stout. I have half a mind to exchange this dress for a black
one now. What do you think, Jeanne? Black makes people look slender,
they say."

"If madame insists upon it I can quickly make the exchange; but it would
be a sad pity not to wear such an elegant and becoming costume as madame
has on now."

"Well, let it be then; but it will be all your fault, Jeanne, if I fail
to receive as much admiration as usual this evening. Do you know whether
the marquis has invited many people to come and see this play?"

"Yes, madame, several messengers have been sent off on horseback
in different directions, and there will be sure to be a large
gathering--they will come from all the chateaux within driving
distance--for such an occasion as this is rare, here in the depths of
the country."

"You are right," said Mme. la Marquise, with a deep sigh, which was
almost a groan; "we are buried alive in this dreary place. And what
about these players?--have you seen them, Jeanne?--are there any
handsome young actors among them?"

"I have only had a glimpse of them, madame, and such people are so
painted and fixed up, they say, that it is hard to tell what they really
do look like; but there was one slender young man, with long, black
curls and a very good figure, who had quite a grand air."

"That must be the lover, Jeanne, for it is always the best looking young
actor in the troupe who takes that part. It would be ridiculous, you
know, to have a stout old codger, or a very ugly man, or even an awkward
one, making declarations of love, and going down on their knees, and all
that sort of thing--it would not do at all, Jeanne!"

"No, madame, it would not be very nice," said the maid with a merry
laugh, adding shrewdly, "and although it seems to make very little
difference what husbands may be like, lovers should always be everything
that is charming."

"I confess that I have a weakness for those stage gallants," Mme.
la Marquise said with a little sigh, "they are so handsome, and so
devoted--they always use such beautiful language, and make such graceful
gestures--they are really irresistible. I cannot help feeling vexed when
their impassioned appeals are received coldly, and they are driven to
despair, as so often happens in plays; I would like to call them to me
and try to console them, the bewitching creatures!"

"That is because madame has such a kind heart that she can't bear to
see any one suffer without trying to help and comfort them," said the
specious Jeanne. "Now I am of quite a different mind--nothing I would
like better than to flout a sentimental suitor; fine words would not
gain any favour with me--I should distrust them."

"Oh! you don't understand the matter, Jeanne! You have not read as many
romances, or seen as many plays as I have. Did you say that young actor
was very handsome?"

"Mme. la Marquise can judge for herself," answered the maid, who had
gone to the window, "for he is just crossing the court this blessed
minute, on his way to the orangery, where they are rigging up their
theatre."

Mme. la Marquise hastened to the window, and there was Leander in full
view, walking along slowly, apparently lost in thought, and wearing a
tender, sad expression, which he considered especially effective and
interesting--as we have said, he never for a moment forgot his role.
As he drew near he looked up, as by a sudden inspiration, to the very
window where the marquise stood watching him, and instantly taking
off his hat with a grand flourish, so that its long feather swept the
ground, made a very low obeisance, such as courtiers make to a queen;
then drew himself up proudly to his full height, and darting an ardent
glance of admiration and homage at the beautiful unknown, put on his
broad felt hat again and went composedly on his way. It was admirably
well done; a genuine cavalier, familiar with all the gallant usages in
vogue at court, could not have acquitted himself better. Flattered
by this mark of respect for her rank and admiration of her beauty, so
gracefully tendered, Mme. la Marquise could not help acknowledging it
by a slight bend of the head, and a little half suppressed smile.
These favourable signs did not escape Leander, who, with his usual
self-conceit, took a most exaggerated view of their import. He did not
for a moment doubt that the fair mistress of the chateau--for he took it
for granted it was she--had fallen violently in love with him, then and
there; he felt sure that he had read it in her eyes and her smile. His
heart beat tumultuously; he trembled with excitement; at last it had
come! the dream of his life was to be accomplished; he, the poor,
strolling player, had won the heart of a great lady; his fortune was
made! He got through the rehearsal to which he had been summoned as best
he might, and the instant it was over hastened back to his own room, to
indite an impassioned appeal to his new divinity, and devise some means
to insure its reaching her that same evening.

As everything was in readiness the play was to begin as soon as the
invited guests had all assembled. The orangery had been transformed into
a charming little theatre, and was brilliantly lighted by many clusters
of wax candles. Behind the spectators the orange trees had been arranged
in rows, rising one above the other, and filled the air with their
delicious fragrance. In the front row of seats, which was composed of
luxurious arm-chairs, were to be seen the beautiful Yolande de Foix, the
Duchesse de Montalban, the Baronne d'Hagemeau, the Marquise de Bruyres,
and many other titled dames, resplendent in gorgeous array, and vying
with each other in magnificence and beauty. Rich velvets, brilliant
satins, cloth of silver and gold, misty laces, gay ribbons, white
feathers, tiaras of diamonds, strings of pearls, superb jewels,
glittering in delicate shell-like ears, on white necks and rounded arms,
were in profusion, and the scene would have graced the court itself. If
the surpassingly lovely Yolande de Foix had not been present, several
radiant mortal goddesses in the exceptionally brilliant assemblage might
have made it difficult for a Paris to decide between their rival claims
to the golden apple; but her beauty eclipsed them all, though it was
rather that of the haughty Diana than the smiling Venus. Men raved about
her, declared her irresistible, worshipped at her shrine, but never
dared aspire to her love; one scornful glance from her cold blue eyes
effectually extinguished any nascent hope, and the cruel beauty punished
presumption as relentlessly, and won and flung away hearts with as much
nonchalance, as ever did her immortal prototype, the fair goddess of the
chase.

How was this exquisite creature dressed? It would require more
sang-froid than we are possessed of to venture upon a description of
her perfect toilet; her raiment floated about her graceful form like a
luminous cloud, in which one could think only of herself; we believe,
however, that there were clusters of pearls nestling amid the bright
curls that made an aureola--a veritable golden glory--about her
beautiful head.

Behind these fair ladies sat or stood the nobles and gentlemen who had
the honour of being their fathers, husbands, and brothers. Some were
leaning forward to whisper soft nothings and dainty compliments into
willing ears, others lounging and fanning themselves lazily with their
broad felt hats, and others still standing in the background looking
admiringly at the pretty group before them. The hum of conversation
filled the air, and a slight impatience was just beginning to manifest
itself among the waiting audience, when the traditional three knocks
were heard, and all suddenly subsided into silence.

The curtain rose slowly and revealed a very pretty scene representing
a public square where several streets met, surrounded by picturesque
houses with small latticed windows, overhanging gables, high peaked
roofs, and smoke curling upwards from the slender chimneys against the
blue sky.

One of these houses had a practicable door and window, whilst two of
those in the side scenes enjoyed equal advantages, and one of them was
furnished with a balcony. A few trees were scattered about in front of
the houses, and, though the painting was not of the highest order
of scenic art, the general effect was very good, and won a round of
applause from the aristocratic audience. The piece opens with a quarrel
between the testy old bourgeois, Pandolphe, and his daughter, Isabelle,
who, being in love with a handsome young suitor, obstinately refuses to
obey her father's commands and marry a certain Captain Matamore, with
whom he is perfectly infatuated. She is ably supported in her resistance
by her pretty maid, Zerbine, who is well paid by Leander, the favoured
lover, to espouse his cause. To all the curses and abuse that Pandolphe
showers upon her, she answers gaily with the most exasperating and
amusing impertinences, advising him to marry this fine captain himself
if he is so fond of him; as for her part she will never suffer her dear,
beautiful mistress to become the wife of that horrid old codger, that
abominable bully, that detestable scarecrow! Whereupon Pandolphe,
furiously angry, orders her into the house, so that he may speak to his
daughter alone; and when she refuses to obey, and defies him to make
her, he takes her by the shoulders and attempts to force her to go, but
she, bending forward with admirable elasticity, from the waist only, at
each vigorous effort of his, stands her ground and does not budge one
inch from her place, breaking into peals of laughter at every fresh
attempt, and accompanying it all with an irresistibly saucy,
comical by-play, that wins her round after round of enthusiastic
applause--whilst the Marquis de Bruyeres, enchanted with her spirited
acting, congratulates himself anew upon the happy chance that threw this
charming creature in his way.

Another character now enters upon the scene, looking cautiously about
him at every step, as if he feared an unpleasant surprise. This is
Leander, the horror of fathers, husbands, and guardians, the delight of
wives, daughters, and wards--in one word, the lover--the very beau-ideal
of a lover; young, handsome, ardent, ready for anything, winning
over strict old duennas, bribing pert waiting-maids, climbing up
rope-ladders, overcoming every obstacle to reach the fair mistress
of his affections, and kneeling at her feet to pour out burning
protestations of love and devotion, that no mortal woman could ever
resist. Suddenly perceiving that Pandolphe is here, where he only
expected to find Isabelle, Leander stops and throws himself into an
attitude, which he has frequently practised before the mirror,
and which, he flatters himself, shows his handsome person to great
advantage; standing with his weight thrown upon the left leg, the right
one advanced and slightly bent at the knee; one hand on the hilt of his
sword, the other stroking his chin, so as to make the big diamond on his
finger flash in the light, and a slight smile playing about his lips. He
really did look very handsome as he stood there, and was greatly admired
by all the ladies--even the haughty Yolande herself not disdaining to
smile upon him approvingly. Profiting by the opportunity that this pause
gave him, Leander fixed his eyes upon the Marquise de Bruyeres, with
such a look of passionate entreaty and admiration that she blushed
crimson in spite of herself under his ardent gaze; then he turned
reluctantly towards Isabelle, with an absent, indifferent air, which
he intended should indicate to the fair object of his aspirations the
difference between real and simulated passion.

When Pandolphe becomes aware of the presence of Leander he is more
furious than ever, and hustles his daughter and her maid into the house
as quickly as possible, not, however, without Zerbine's finding means to
take from Leander a note for Isabelle, which she slips into the pocket
of her coquettish little apron. The young man, left alone with the irate
father, assures him in the most respectful manner that his intentions
are honourable; that he asks the hand of his fair daughter in marriage;
that he is of gentle birth, has an ample fortune, and is in high favour
at court; that nothing could ever induce him to give up Isabelle; he is
ready to risk everything to win her, for he loves her better than his
life--delicious words, which the young girl listens to with rapture from
her balcony, whence she makes little signs of approval and encouragement
to her lover, quite unknown to the stern father, whose back is turned
to her, and who believes her safely locked up in the house. Despite
the mellifluous eloquence of the ardent young suitor Pandolphe remains
obstinate and unmoved, and swears, by all the gods that either he will
have Captain Matamore for his son-in-law, or his refractory daughter
shall be shut up in a convent and forced to become a nun. Off he bustles
in hot haste to find a notary and have the contract of marriage drawn
without further delay.

As soon as he is out of sight Leander tries to persuade Isabelle--who
is still in her balcony, her father having carried off the key of the
street door in his pocket--to consent to fly from such persecution, and
accompany him to the cell of a certain holy hermit whom he knows,
and who is always willing and ready to marry runaway couples like
themselves, whose loves are thwarted by tyrannical parents. But the
young girl answers modestly, yet firmly, that, although she wishes
nothing so earnestly as to be permitted to bestow her hand upon her
faithful Leander, who already has her heart, she cannot disobey her
father, for that she, like all dutiful daughters, is in duty bound to
respect and submit to the commands of the author of her being; but she
promises never to marry the detested Captain Matamore--she will go into
the convent rather than listen to him for a moment. Unable to shake
her decision Leander then retires to devise plans, with the aid of his
clever valet, to overcome the formidable obstacles in his way--more than
ever determined not to give up the fair Isabelle, and promising her to
return in the evening and report progress.

Isabelle retires from her balcony and closes her window, and a moment
after Captain Matamore strides fiercely upon the stage--his appearance
is greeted with peals of laughter--his tall, attenuated figure is
encased in an absurd costume, in which the bright red and yellow
stripes of his tunic meet in points in front and behind, whilst they
run spirally round his long, thin arms and legs, producing the most
preposterously comical effect imaginable; a stiffly-starched ruff,
immensely broad, encircles his neck, upon which his head seems to be
set, like that of John the Baptist on the charger; a large felt hat,
turned up at one side, and ornamented with a huge tuft of red and yellow
feathers, is stuck jauntily on his head, and a short cloak of the same
colour, fastened round his neck and thrown back from his shoulders,
floats behind him. He wears an enormous sword, whose heavily weighted
hilt keeps the point always raised and standing out prominently behind
him, whilst from it dangles a clever imitation of a spider's web--a
convincing proof of how much he is in the habit of making use of this
formidable weapon. Closely followed by his valet, Scapin, who is in
imminent danger of having an eye put out by the end of his master's big
sword, he marches several times around the stage, taking preternaturally
long strides, rolling his eyes about fiercely, twisting the long ends
of his huge mustache, and indulging in a variety of ridiculous gestures
indicative of exaggerated rage and fury, which are irresistibly
funny--all the more so because there is nothing whatever to provoke
this display of ferocity. Finally he stops in front of the footlights,
strikes an attitude, and delivers himself thus: "For to-day, Scapin, I
am willing to let my man-killer here have a little rest, so that there
may be an opportunity to get all its recent victims decently buried, in
the cemeteries I contribute so largely towards filling. When a man
has performed such feats of courage and carnage as I have--killing my
hundreds single-handed, while my dastardly comrades trembled with fear,
or turned and fled from the foe--to say nothing of my daily affairs of
honour, now that the wars are over--he may assuredly indulge himself
occasionally in milder amusements. Besides, the whole civilized world,
having now been subjugated by my good sword, no longer offers any
resistance to my indomitable arm, and Atropos, the eldest of the dread
Parcae sisters, has sent word to me that the fatal scissors, with which
she cuts the threads of human lives, have become so dulled by the great
amount of work my trusty blade has given her to do with them, that she
has been obliged to send them to Vulcan to be sharpened, and she begs
for a short respite. So you see, Scapin, I must put force upon myself
and restrain my natural ardour--refrain for a time from wars, massacres,
sacking of cities, stand-up fights with giants, killing of monsters and
dragons, like Theseus and Hercules of glorious memory, and all the other
little pastimes which usually occupy my good sword and me. I will take
my ease now for a brief period, and Death may enjoy a short rest too.
But to whom did my worthy prototype, Mars, the great god of war, devote
HIS leisure hours? in whose sweet society did HE find delight? Ask
Venus, the immortal goddess of love and beauty, who had the good taste
to prefer a warlike man to all others, and lent a willing ear to the
suit of my valiant predecessor. So I, following his illustrious example,
condescend to turn my attention for the moment to the tender sex, and
pay my court to the fair Isabelle, the young and beautiful object of my
ardent love. Being aware that Cupid, with all his assurance, would not
dare to aim one of his golden-tipped arrows at such an all-conquering
hero as my unworthy self, I have given him a little encouragement; and,
in order that the shaft may penetrate to the generous lion's heart that
beats in this broad breast, I have laid aside the world-famed coat of
mail--made of the rings given to me by goddesses, empresses, queens,
infantas, princesses, and great ladies of every degree, my illustrious
admirers the world over--which is proof against all weapons, and has so
often saved my life in my maddest deeds of daring."

"All of which signifies," interrupts the valet, who had listened to this
high-blown tirade with ill-concealed impatience, "as far as my feeble
intellect can comprehend such magnificent eloquence, that your most
redoubtable lordship has fallen in love with some young girl hereabouts,
like any ordinary mortal."

"Really, Scapin," says Matamore, with good-humoured condescension, "you
have hit the nail upon the head--you are not so stupid after all, for a
valet. Yes, I have fallen in love, but do not imagine for a moment that
my courage will suffer diminution on that account. It was all very well
for Samson to allow his hair to be cut off, and for Alcides to handle
the distaff at the bidding of his mistress; but Delilah would not have
dared to touch one hair of my head, and Omphale should have pulled off
my boots for me--at the least sign of revolt I would have given her
worse to do: cleaning the skin of the Nemaean lion, for instance, when
I brought it home all fresh and bleeding, just as I had torn it from the
quivering carcass. The thought that has lately occurred to me, that I
have subjugated only half of the human race, is humiliating. Women,
by reason of their weakness, escape me; I cannot treat them as I do my
masculine opponents--cut their throats, run them through the body,
or hew off their arms and legs; I must lay siege to their hearts, and
conquer them in that way. It is true that I have stormed and taken a
greater number of such fair citadels than there are drops of water in
the ocean, or stars in the sky--why, I sleep on a mattress stuffed with
thousands of beautiful curls and tresses of every shade, light and dark,
golden and jet-black, which are among my most treasured trophies.
Juno herself has made overtures to me, but I turned a deaf ear to her
blandishments, finding her charms rather too ripe for my taste; I prefer
the first flush of youthful beauty; it is a pure and innocent maiden
that I would honour with my notice now, but she repulses me--that I
should live to say it!--she dares to repulse me. I cannot permit such
an impertinence on her part, and the fair Isabelle must humbly sue to me
for pardon, and herself bringing the golden keys of the citadel of her
heart, upon a salver of silver, offer them to me upon her bended knees,
with streaming eyes and dishevelled tresses, begging for grace and
favour in my sight. Go now, and summon the fortress to surrender--this
house contains the rebellious fair."

But doors and windows remain inexorably closed, and no notice is taken
of the valet's thundering knocks and mocking summons to surrender;
secure in the strength of their bolts and bars, the garrison, which
consists of Isabelle and her maid, vouchsafes no reply. Matamore,
becoming more enraged at each vain attempt to gain a response from
his fair enemy, stamps about the stage, roaring out his defiance,
threatening to sack and burn the place, pouring out volleys of
remarkable oaths, and lashing himself into such a fury that he actually
foams at the mouth. When his valet at length, after many vain efforts,
is able to gain a hearing, and tells him of his formidable rival,
Leander, and how he has already won the lady's heart, all his rage is
turned against that fortunate suitor, of whom he vows that he will
make mince-meat as soon as he can lay hands on him. At this very moment
Leander himself returns, and Scapin points him out to his master as he
approaches, adding that he will keep a sharp look-out for the police
while Matamore is giving him his quietus. But the cowardly braggadocio
would fain withdraw, now that the enemy is actually in sight, and is
only restrained from flight by his servant, who pushes him forward
directly in Leander's path.

Seeing that escape is impossible, Matamore settles his hat firmly on his
head, twists the long ends of his mustache, puts his hand on the hilt
of his big sword, and advances threateningly towards Leander--but it is
pure bravado, for his teeth are chattering with fear, and his long, thin
legs waver and tremble under him visibly, like reeds shaken by the
wind. Only one hope remains to him--that of intimidating Leander by loud
threats and ferocious gestures, if, by a happy chance, he be a fellow of
his own kidney. So in a terrible voice he addresses him thus: "Sir, do
you know that I am the great Captain Matamore of the celebrated house
of Cuerno de Cornazan, and allied to the no less illustrious family
of Escobombardon de la Papirontonda? I am a descendant, on my mother's
side, of the famous Antacus, the ancient hero and giant."

"Well, you may be a descendant of the man in the moon for all that I
care," answers Leander, with a disdainful shrug of the shoulders; "what
the devil have I to do with such absurd stuff and nonsense?"

"Blood and bones! thunder and Mars! You see, sir, you shall see, and
that very quickly, what you have to do with it, unless you take yourself
off in the twinkling of an eye. I will give you one minute's grace, for
your extreme youth touches me, so take to your heels and fly while there
is yet time. Observe me well! I am the terror of the whole world--my
path is marked with graves--my own shadow scarcely dares to follow me
into the perils I delight in. If I enter a besieged city, it is by
the breach--when I quit it I pass under a triumphal arch; if I cross a
river, it is one of blood, and the bridge is made of the bodies of my
adversaries. I can toss a knight and his horse, both, weighted with
armour, high into the air. I can snap elephants' bones, as you
would pipe-stems. When great Mars himself chances to meet me on the
battle-field he turns and flees, dreading the weight of my arm. My
prowess is so well known, and the terror I inspire so great, that no one
dares to meet me face to face, and I never see anything but the backs of
my retreating foes."

"Is it so? well, you shall meet ME face to face. Take THAT, and see how
you like it!" says Leander laughing merrily, and giving him a sounding
slap on one cheek which almost knocks the poor devil over, and is
instantly followed by an equally hearty one on the other, to restore his
equilibrium.

During this scene Isabelle and Zerbine come out upon the balcony. The
mischievous soubrette goes into convulsions of laughter, whilst her
mistress nods encouragingly to Leander. Meantime Pandolphe, accompanied
by the notary, turns the corner of one of the streets and enters the
square just in time to see Leander's extraordinary exploit, whereat
he is horrified and amazed. The valiant captain bellows like a bull,
shrieks out the most frightful threats and curses, vowing all sorts of
vengeance, and making prodigious efforts to draw his big sword, so that
he may forthwith set about cutting up his unmannerly assailant into
mince-meat. He tugs and strains until he is red in the face, but his
"man-killer" cannot be induced to quit the scabbard and Leander, growing
impatient, follows up his first attack with a vigorous, well directed
kick, which sends the unlucky bully flying to the other side of the
stage, where he falls all in a heap and rolls in the dust. The handsome,
young gallant then bows gracefully to Isabelle and retires from the
scene.

Captain Matamore meanwhile lies sprawling on the ground, making
ludicrous and ineffectual efforts to regain his feet. Pandolphe and
Scapin go to his assistance, and when they have hauled him up, and he
has made sure that Leander is no longer present, he roars out in a voice
of thunder: "Scapin, quick, hoop me with iron bands or I shall burst!
I am in such a rage! I shall explode like a bomb! and you, treacherous
blade, do YOU play me false at such a moment? Is it thus you reward me
for having always tried to slake your insatiable thirst with the blood
of the bravest and noblest? I don't know why I have not already broken
you into a thousand pieces, as you so richly deserve--false, ungrateful
weapon that you are! But stay--was it to teach me that it is unworthy
of the true warrior to desert his post?--or forget his sterner duties
in the soft delights of love?--was it for that you refused to leap from
your scabbard as of old? It is true, alas! that thus far this week
I have not defeated a single army--I have killed neither ogre nor
dragon--I have not furnished his usual rations to Death--and in
consequence my trusty blade has rusted in the scabbard--that I should
live to say it! rusted!--and I have been forced to submit to insults,
and even blows, before the very eyes of my mistress. What a lesson!
Henceforth I shall make it a rule to kill at least three men every
morning before I break my fast, so as to be sure that my good sword
plays freely--keep me in mind, Scapin, do you hear?"

"Perhaps Leander will return before long," says the valet; "suppose we
all help you to draw your 'TRUSTY BLADE,' so that you may be ready for
him."

Matamore, accordingly, plants himself firmly, holding the scabbard in
both hands, Scapin seizes the handle of the sword, Pandolphe clasps him
firmly round the waist, the notary tries to do as much by Pandolphe's
stout person, and they all pull and pull. For some time the rusty old
sword resists all their efforts, but at last yields suddenly, and the
three fall in a confused heap on the ground, with legs and arms waving
wildly in the air, while Matamore tumbles the other way, still clinging
to the now empty scabbard. Picking himself up as quickly as possible
he seizes his big sword, which has dropped from the valet's hand, and
waving it triumphantly says with stem emphasis, "Now Leander's fate is
sealed! There is but one way for him to escape certain death. He must
emigrate to some distant planet. If he be sufficiently fool-hardy to
remain on this globe I will find him, no matter in what distant land he
strives to hide himself, and transfix him with this good sword--unless
indeed he be first turned to stone by the terrible Medusa-like power of
my eye."

In spite of all that he has witnessed, the obstinate old father
still feels unbounded faith in Matamore's valour, and persists in his
lamentable intention to bestow the hand of his fair daughter upon this
magnificent hero. Poor Isabelle bursts into tears, and declares that
she prefers the convent to such a fate. Zerbine loudly swears that
this marriage shall never take place, and tries to console her weeping
mistress. Matamore attributes this rather discouraging demonstration on
the part of Isabelle to an excess of maidenly modesty, not doubting
her penchant for himself, though he acknowledges that he has not yet
properly paid his court, nor shown himself in all his glory to her--this
last from prudential motives, fearing lest she might be dangerously
dazzled and overwhelmed if he should burst upon her too suddenly in the
full splendour of his heroic character, remembering, and taking
warning by, the sad and terrible fate that befell Semele, when Jupiter,
reluctantly yielding to her wishes, appeared before her with all the
insignia of his majesty.

Isabelle and her maid withdrew from the balcony, without taking any
further notice of the valiant Matamore; but he, undaunted, wishing
to play the lover after the most approved fashion, plants himself
resolutely under her window and sends Scapin to fetch a guitar; upon
which he thrums awkwardly for a while, and then accompanies it with his
voice, in an attempt at a Spanish love song, which sounds much like the
nocturnal caterwauling of a disconsolate tabby than anything else we can
compare it to. A dash of cold water, mischievously thrown down on him
by Zerbine under pretext of watering the plants in the balcony, does not
extinguish his musical ardour. "A gentle shower from the sweet eyes of
my Isabelle, moved to tears by this plaintive melody," says he, "for it
is universally conceded that I excel in music as in arms, and wield the
lyre as skilfully as the sword."

Unfortunately for him, Leander suddenly reappears, and highly indignant
that this miserable rascal should presume to serenade HIS mistress,
snatches the guitar from his hands and begins whacking him over the head
with it, so furiously that it is quickly broken through, and slipping
over the unhappy serenader's head remains fixed round his neck, so that
he is completely at the mercy of his assailant. Holding fast to the
handle of the guitar, Leander hauls him about the stage, banging him
against the side-scenes, dragging him forward to the footlights--making
the most absurd scene imaginable--and finally, letting go of him
suddenly, sends him sprawling on the ground. Fancy the ridiculous
appearance of the unfortunate bully, who looked as if he had put his
head through a frying-pan!

But his miseries are not yet at an end. Leander's valet had been
arranging a clever little plot to prevent the fulfilment of the proposed
marriage between Isabelle and Captain Matamore. At his instigation,
a certain Doralice, very pretty and coquettish, makes her appearance,
accompanied by a fierce-looking brother--represented by Herode--carrying
two immensely long rapiers under his arm, and evidently "spoiling for a
fight." The young lady complains that she has been shamefully jilted by
Captain Matamore, who has deserted her for Isabelle, the daughter of
a certain Pandolphe, and demands instant reparation for this outrage,
adding that her brother is ready to exact it at the point of the sword,
or avenge the insult by taking the life of the heartless villain who has
trifled with her youthful affections.

"Make haste to give this rascal his quietus," says Pandolphe to his
future son-in-law; "it will be only child's play for you, who have
fearlessly encountered, single-handed, a whole army of Saracens."

Very reluctantly, and after many most absurd grimaces, Matamore crosses
swords with Doralice's ferocious brother, but he trembles so that the
latter, with one quick movement, sends his weapon flying out of his
hand, and chastises him with the flat of his sword until he roars for
mercy.

To cap the climax, Mme. Leonarde comes upon the scene, mopping her
streaming eyes with an enormous pocket-handkerchief, sighing and
sobbing, and bewailing herself. She goes straight to Pandolphe and shows
him a written promise of marriage, over Matamore's signature, cleverly
counterfeited; whereupon the poor wretch, convicted of such abominable
and complicated perfidy, is assailed with a new shower of blows and
curses, and finally condemned, by the unanimous vote of all present, to
marry old Mme. Leonarde--who has made herself as hideous as possible--as
a fitting punishment for all his deviltries, rodomontades, and
cowardice. Pandolphe, thoroughly disgusted with Matamore at last, makes
no further objections to Leander's suit, and the curtain falls as he
gives his consent to the marriage of the two young lovers.

This bouffonnade, being played with great spirit, was enthusiastically
applauded. The gentlemen were charmed with the mischievous, coquettish
soubrette, who was fairly radiant with beauty that evening; the ladies
were greatly pleased with Isabelle's refinement and modesty; whilst
Matamore received the well merited encomiums of all. It would have been
impossible to find, even in the great Parisian theatres, an actor better
fitted for the part he had played so admirably. Leander was much
admired by all the younger ladies, but the gentlemen agreed, without a
dissenting voice, that he was a horridly conceited coxcomb. Wherever
he appeared indeed this was the universal verdict, with which he was
perfectly content--caring far more for his handsome person, and the
effect it produced upon the fair sex, than for his art; though, to do
him justice, he was a very good actor. Serafina's beauty did not fail to
find admirers, and more than one young gentleman swore by his mustache
that she was an adorable creature--quite regardless of the displeasure
of the fair ladies within hearing.

During the play, de Sigognac, hidden in the coulisses, had enjoyed
intensely Isabelle's charming rendering of her part, though he was
more than a little jealous of the favour she apparently bestowed upon
Leander--and especially at the tender tone of her voice whenever she
spoke to him--not being yet accustomed to the feigned love-making on the
stage, which often covers profound antipathies and real enmity. When
the play was over, he complimented the young actress with a constrained,
embarrassed air, which she could not help remarking, and perfectly
understood.

"You play that part admirably, Isabelle! so well that one might almost
think there was some truth in it."

"Is it not my duty to do so?" she asked smilingly, secretly pleased at
his displeasure; "did not the manager engage me for that?"

"Doubtless," de Sigognac replied, "but you seemed to be REALLY in love
with that conceited fellow, who never thinks of anything but his own
good looks, and how to display them to the best advantage."

"But the role required it. You surely would not have had me play it as
if he disgusted me! besides, did I not preserve throughout the quiet
demeanour of a well-bred, respectable girl? If I failed in that you must
tell me how and where, so that I may endeavour to correct it in future."

"Oh no! you appeared from the beginning to the end like a modest,
retiring, young lady--no, there is no fault to be found with you in
that respect; your acting was inimitable--so graceful, lady-like, and
easy--but withal so true to nature that it was almost too real."

"My dear baron, they are putting out the lights; everybody has gone but
ourselves, and we shall be left in the dark if we don't make haste. Be
good enough to throw this cloak around my shoulders and accompany me to
the chateau."

De Sigognac acquitted himself of this novel duty with less awkwardness
than might have been expected, though his hands trembled a little, and
he felt an almost irresistible desire to take her into his arms as he
wrapped the mantle round her slender form; but he restrained himself,
and respectfully offering his arm led her out of the orangery, which by
this time was entirely deserted. It was, as we have said, at a little
distance from the chateau, and on the level of the park, lower than the
mansion, which stood on a high terrace, with a handsome stone balustrade
at the edge, supporting at regular intervals large vases filled with
blooming plants, in the pretty Italian fashion. A broad, easy flight
of stone steps led up to the terrace, affording in their ascent a
most imposing view of the chateau, which loomed up grandly against the
evening sky. Many of the windows on this side were lighted, whilst the
others glistened brightly as the silvery moon-beams struck upon them--as
did also the dewdrops on the shrubbery and the grass-plots--as if a
shower of diamonds had fallen on this favoured spot. Looking towards
the park, the long vistas cut through the wood, losing themselves in the
hazy blue of the distance, called to mind Breughel's famous picture of
Paradise, or else disclosed the far-away gleam of a marble statue, or
the spray of a misty fountain sparkling in the moonlight.

Isabelle and de Sigognac slowly ascended the broad steps, pausing
frequently to turn and look back at this enchanting scene, and charmed
with the beauty of the night walked for a little while to and fro upon
the terrace before retiring to their rooms. As they were in full sight
of the windows, and it was not yet very late, the modest young girl
felt that there could be no impropriety in this little indulgence; and
besides, the baron's extreme timidity was very reassuring to her, and
she knew that he would not presume upon the favour accorded to him. He
had not made a formal avowal of his love to her, but she was as well
aware of it as if he had, and also of his profound respect for her,
which sentiment is indeed always an accompaniment of a worthy passion.
She knew herself beloved--the knowledge was very sweet to her--and
she felt herself safe from all fear of offence in the company of this
honourable gentleman and true lover. With the delicious embarrassment
of nascent, unavowed love, this young couple wandering by moonlight in
a lonely garden, side by side, arm in arm, only exchanged the most
insignificant, commonplace remarks; but if no undercurrent was betrayed
by actual words, the trembling, voices, long pauses, stifled sighs,
and low, confidential tones told of strong emotions beneath this quiet
surface.

The chamber assigned to the beautiful Yolande de Foix, near that of Mme.
la Marquise, was on this side of the chateau, overlooking the park, and
after she had dismissed her maid, she went to the window to look out
once more upon the exceeding beauty of the night, and caught sight of
de Sigognac and Isabelle, pacing slowly back and forth on the terrace
below, without any other company than their own shadows. Assuredly the
disdainful Yolande, haughty as a goddess, could never have felt anything
but scorn for our poor young baron, past whom she had sometimes flashed
in a whirlwind of light and noise in the chase, and whom she had so
recently cruelly insulted; but still it displeased her to see him
devoting himself thus to a beautiful young girl, to whom he was
undoubtedly making love at that very moment. She had regarded him as
her own humble vassal--for she had not failed to read the passionate
admiration in his eyes whenever they met her own--and could not brook
his shaking off his allegiance thus; her slaves ought to live and die in
her service, even though their fidelity were never rewarded by a single
smile. She watched them, with a frowning brow, until they disappeared,
and then sought her conch in anything but a tranquil mood, haunted by
the lover-like pair that had so roused her wrath, and still kept her
long awake.

De Sigognac escorted Isabelle to the door of her chamber, where he bade
her good-night, and as he turned away towards his own, saw, at the end
of the corridor, a mysterious looking individual closely wrapped in a
large cloak, with one end thrown over the shoulder in Spanish fashion,
and so drawn up round his face that only the eyes were visible; a slouch
hat concealed his forehead, so that he was completely disguised, yet he
drew back hurriedly into a dark corner when de Sigognac turned towards
him, as if to avoid his notice. The baron knew that the comedians had
all gone to their rooms already, and besides, it could not be one of
them, for the tyrant was much larger and taller, the pedant a great
deal stouter, Leander more slender, Matamore much thinner, and Scapin of
quite a different make. Not wishing to appear curious, or to annoy the
unknown in any way, de Sigognac hastened to enter his own room--not
however without having observed that the door of the tapestry-hung
chamber stood ajar. When he had closed his, he heard stealthy footsteps
approaching, and presently a bolt shot home softly, then profound
silence.

About an hour later, Leander opened his door as quietly as possible,
looked carefully to see if the corridor was empty, and then, stepping
as lightly and cautiously as a gipsy performing the famous egg-dance,
traversed its whole length, reached the staircase, which he descended as
noiselessly as the phantoms in a haunted castle, and passed out into the
moonlight; he crept along in the shadow of the wall and of some thick
shrubbery, went down the steps into the park, and made his way to a sort
of bower, where stood a charming statue of the mischievous little god of
love, with his finger on his lip--an appropriate presiding genius of
a secret rendezvous, as this evidently must be. Here he stopped and
waited, anxiously watching the path by which he had come, and listening
intently to catch the first sound of approaching footsteps.

We have already related how Leander, encouraged by the smile with which
Mme. la Marquise acknowledged his salutation, and convinced that she was
smitten with his beauty and grace, had made bold to address a letter
to her, which he bribed Jeanne to place secretly upon her mistress's
toilet-table, where she would be sure to see it. This letter we copy
here at length, so as to give an idea of the style of composition
employed by Leander in addressing the great ladies of whose favours he
boasted so loudly.

"Madame, or rather fair goddess of beauty, do not blame anything but
your own incomparable charms for this intrusion upon you. I am forced by
their radiance to emerge from the deep shadow in which I should remain
shrouded, and approach their dazzling brilliancy--just as the dolphins
are attracted from the depths of ocean, by the brightness of the
fisherman's lanterns, though they are, alas! to find destruction there,
and perish by the sharp harpoons hurled pitilessly at them with unerring
aim. I know but too well that the waves will be reddened by my blood;
but as I cannot live without your favour, I do not fear to meet death
thus. It may be strangely audacious, on my part to pretend to the
privileges of gods and demi-gods--to die by your fair hand--but I dare
to aspire to it; being already in despair, nothing worse can come to me,
and I would rather incur your wrath than your scorn, or your disdain.
In order to direct the fatal blow aright, the executioner must look upon
his victim, and I shall have, in yielding up my life under your fair,
cruel hand, the supreme delight of being for one blissful moment the
object of your regard. Yes, I love you, madame! I adore you! And if it
be a crime, I cannot repent of it. God suffers himself to be adored; the
stars receive the admiration of the humblest shepherd; it is the fate
of all such lofty perfection as yours to, be beloved, adored, only by
inferior beings, since it has not its equal upon earth, nor scarcely
indeed in heaven. I, alas! am but a poor, wandering actor, yet were I
a haughty duke or prince, my head would not be on a level with your
beauteous feet, and there would be, all the same, between your heavenly
height and my kneeling adoration, as great a distance as from the
soaring summit of the loftiest Alp to the yawning abyss far, far below.
You must always stoop to reach a heart that adores you. I dare to say,
madame, that mine is as proud as it is tender, and she who would deign
not to repulse it, would find in it the most ardent love, the most
perfect delicacy, the most absolute respect, and unbounded devotion.
Besides, if such divine happiness be accorded me, your indulgence
would not have to stoop so low as you might fancy. Though reduced by an
adverse destiny and the jealous hatred of one of the great ones of the
earth, who must be nameless, to the dire necessity of hiding myself
under this disguise, I am not what I seem. I do not need to blush for
my birth--rather I may glory in it. If I dared to betray the secrecy
imposed upon me, for reasons of state, I could prove to you that most
illustrious blood runs in my veins. Whoever may love me, noble though
she be, will not degrade herself. But I have already said too much--my
lips are sealed. I shall never be other than the humblest, most devoted
of your slaves; even though, by one of those strange coincidences that
happen sometimes in real life, I should come to be recognised by all the
world as a king's son. If in your great goodness you will condescend to
show me, fair goddess of beauty, by the slightest sign, that my
boldness has not angered you, I shall die happy, consumed by the burning
brightness of your eyes upon the funeral pyre of my love."

How would Mme. la Marquise have received this ardent epistle? which had
perhaps done him good service already more than once. Would she have
looked favourably upon her humble suitor?--who can tell?--for the
feminine heart is past comprehension. Unfortunately the letter did not
reach her. Being entirely taken up with great ladies, Leander overlooked
their waiting-maids, and did not trouble himself to show them any
attentions or gallantries--wherein he made a sad mistake--for if
the pistoles he gave to Jeanne, with his precious epistle, had been
supplemented by a few kisses and compliments, she would have taken far
more pains to execute his commission. As she held the letter carelessly
in her hand, the marquis chanced to pass by, and asked her idly what she
had got there.

"Oh! nothing much," she answered scornfully, "only a note from Mr.
Leander to Mme. la Marquise."

"From Leander? that jackanapes who plays the lover in the Rodomontades
of Captain Matamore? What in the world can HE have to say to Mme. la
Marquise? Doubtless he asks for a gratuity!"

"I don't think so," said the spiteful waiting-maid; "when he gave me
this letter he sighed, and rolled up his eyes like a love-sick swain."

"Give me the letter," said the marquis, "_I_ will answer it--and
don't say anything about it to your mistress. Such chaps are apt to be
impertinent--they are spoiled by admiration, and sometimes presume upon
it."

The marquis, who dearly loved a joke, amused himself by answering
Leander's extraordinary epistle with one in much the same style--written
in a delicate, lady-like hand upon perfumed paper, and sealed with a
fanciful device--altogether a production well calculated to deceive the
poor devil, and confirm him in his ridiculous fancies. Accordingly, when
he regained his bed-chamber after the play was over, he found upon his
dressing-table a note addressed to himself. He hastened to open it,
trembling from head to foot with excitement and delight, and read as
follows: "It is true, as you say so eloquently--too eloquently for my
peace of mind--that goddesses can only love mortals. At eleven o'clock,
when all the world is sunk in slumber, and no prying human eyes open to
gaze upon her, Diana will quit her place in the skies above and descend
to earth, to visit the gentle shepherd, Endymion--not upon Mount Latmus,
but in the park--at the foot of the statue of silent love. The handsome
shepherd must be sure to have fallen asleep ere Diana appears, so as not
to shock the modesty of the immortal goddess--who will come without
her cortege of nymphs, wrapped in a cloud and devoid of her silvery
radiance."

We will leave to the reader's imagination the delirious joy that filled
to overflowing the foolish heart of the susceptible Leander, who was
fooled to the top of his bent, when he read this precious note, which
exceeded his wildest hopes. He immediately began his preparations to
play the part of Endymion--poured a whole bottle of perfume upon his
hair and hands, chewed a flower of mace to make his breath sweet,
twisted his glossy curls daintily round his white fingers--though not a
hair was awry--and then waited impatiently for the moment when he should
set forth to seek the rendezvous at the foot of the statue of silent
love--where we left him anxiously awaiting the arrival of his goddess.
He shivered nervously from excitement, and the penetrating chilliness
of the damp night air, as he stood motionless at the appointed spot. He
trembled at the falling of a leaf--the crackling of the gravel under
his feet whenever he moved them sounded so loud in his ears that he felt
sure it would be heard at the chateau. The mysterious darkness of
the wood filled him with awe, and the great, black trees seemed like
terrible genii, threatening him. The poor wretch was not exactly
frightened, but not very far from it. Mme. la Marquise was tardy--Diana
was leaving her faithful Endymion too long cooling his heels in
the heavy night dew. At last he thought he heard heavy footsteps
approaching,--but they could not be those of his goddess--he must be
mistaken--goddesses glide so lightly over the sward that not even a
blade of grass is crushed beneath their feet--and, indeed, all was
silent again.

"Unless Mme. la Marquise comes quickly, I fear she will find only
a half-frozen lover, instead of an ardent, impatient one," murmured
Leander with chattering teeth; and even as the words escaped him
four dark shadows advanced noiselessly from behind upon the expectant
gallant. Two of these shadows, which were the substantial bodies of
stout rascals in the service of the Marquis de Bruyeres, seized him
suddenly by the arms, which they held pinioned closely to his sides,
while the other two proceeded to rain blows alternately upon his
back--keeping perfect time as their strokes fell thick and fast. Too
proud to run the risk of making his woes public by an outcry, their
astonished victim took his punishment bravely--without making a sound.
Mutius Scaevola did not bear himself more heroically while his right
hand lay among the burning coals upon the altar in the presence of
Porsenna, than did Leander under his severe chastisement. When it was
finished the two men let go of their prisoner, all four saluted him
gravely, and retired as noiselessly as they had come, without a single
word being spoken.

What a terrible fall was this! that famous one of Icarus himself,
tumbling down headlong from the near neighbourhood of the sun, was not
a greater. Battered, bruised, sore and aching all over, poor Leander,
crestfallen and forlorn, limping painfully, and suppressing his groans
with Spartan resolution, crept slowly back to his own room; but so
overweening as his self-conceit that he never even suspected that a
trick had been played upon him. He said to himself that without doubt
Mme. la Marquise had been watched and followed by her jealous husband,
who had overtaken her before she reached the rendezvous in the park,
carried her back to the chateau by main strength, and forced her, with a
poniard at her throat, to confess all. He pictured her to himself on
her knees, with streaming eyes, disordered dress and dishevelled hair,
imploring her stem lord and master to be merciful--to have pity upon
her and forgive her this once--vowing by all she held sacred never to be
faithless to him again, even in thought. Suffering and miserable as he
was after his tremendous thrashing, he yet pitied and grieved over the
poor lady who had put herself in such peril for his sake, never dreaming
that she was in blissful ignorance of the whole affair, and at that
very moment sleeping peacefully in her luxurious bed. As the poor fellow
crept cautiously and painfully along the corridor leading to his room
and to those of the other members of the troupe he had the misfortune to
be detected by Scapin, who, evidently on the watch for him, was peeping
out of his own half-open door, grinning, grimacing, and gesticulating
significantly, as he noted the other's limping gait and drooping figure.

In vain did Leander strive to straighten himself up and assume a gay,
careless air; his malicious tormentor was not in the least taken in by
it.

The next morning the comedians prepared to resume their journey; no
longer, however, in the slow-moving, groaning ox-cart, which they were
glad, indeed, to exchange for the more roomy, commodious vehicle that
the tyrant had been able to hire for them--thanks to the marquis's
liberality--in which they could bestow themselves and their belongings
comfortably, and to which was harnessed four stout draught horses.

Leander and Zerbine were both rather late in rising, and the last to
make their appearance--the former with a doleful countenance, despite
his best efforts to conceal his sufferings under a cheerful exterior,
the latter beaming with satisfaction, and with smiles for everybody.
She was decidedly inclined to be munificent towards her companions, and
bestow upon them some of the rich spoils that had fallen plentifully
to her share--taking quite a new position among them--even the duenna
treating her with a certain obsequious, wheedling consideration, which
she had been far from ever showing her before. Scapin, whose keen
observation nothing ever escaped, noticed that her box had suddenly
doubled in weight, by some magic or other, and drew his own conclusions
therefrom. Zerbine was a universal favourite, and no one begrudged
her her good fortune, save Serafina, who bit her lip till it bled, and
murmured indignantly, "Shameless creature!" but the soubrette pretended
not to hear it, content for the moment with the signal humiliation of
the arch-coquette.

At last the new Thespian chariot was ready for a start, and our
travellers bade adieu to the hospitable chateau, where they had been
so honourably received and so generously treated, and which they all,
excepting poor Leander, quitted with regret. The tyrant dwelt upon
the bountiful supply of pistoles he had received; the pedant upon
the capital wines of which he had drunk his fill; Matamore upon
the enthusiastic applause that had been lavished upon him by that
aristocratic audience; Zerbine upon the pieces of rich silk, the golden
necklaces and other like treasures with which her chest was replete--no
wonder that it was heavy--while de Sigognac and Isabelle, thinking only
of each other, and happy in being together, did not even turn their
heads for one last glimpse of the handsome Chateau de Bruyere.



CHAPTER VI. A SNOW-STORM AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

As may be readily supposed, the comedians were well satisfied with
the kind treatment they had received during their brief sojourn at the
Chateau de Bruyeres; such a piece of good fortune did not often fall
to their lot, and they rejoiced in it exceedingly. The tyrant had
distributed among them each one's share of the marquis's liberal
remuneration for their services, and it was wonderfully pleasant to them
to have broad pieces in the purses usually so scantily supplied, and not
infrequently quite empty. Zerbine, who was evidently rejoicing over some
secret source of satisfaction, accepted good-naturedly all the taunts
and jokes of her companions upon the irresistible power of her charms.
She was triumphant, and could afford to be laughed at--indeed, joined
heartily in the general merriment at her own expense--while Serafina
sulked openly, with "envy, hatred, and malice" filling her heart. Poor
Leander, still smarting from his severe beating, sore and aching, unable
to find an easy position, and suffering agonies from the jolting of the
chariot, found it hard work to join in the prevailing gaiety.

When he thought no one was looking at him, he would furtively rub
his poor, bruised shoulders and arms with the palm of his hand, which
stealthy manoeuvre might very readily have passed unobserved by the rest
of the company, but did not escape the wily valet, who was always on
the lookout for a chance to torment Leander; his monstrous self-conceit
being intensely exasperating to him. A harder jolt than usual having
made the unfortunate gallant groan aloud, Scapin immediately opened his
attack, feigning to feel the liveliest commiseration for him.

"My poor Leander, what is the matter with you this morning? You moan and
sigh as if you were in great agony! Are you really suffering so
acutely? You seem to be all battered and bruised, like the Knight of
the Sorrowful Countenance, after he had capered stark naked, for a love
penance, among the rocks in the Sierra Morena, in humble imitation of
his favourite hero, Amadis de Gaul. You look as if you had not slept
at all last night, and had been lying upon hard sticks, rods, or clubs,
instead of in a soft, downy bed, such as were given to the rest of us
in the fine chateau yonder. Tell us, I pray you, did not Morpheus once
visit you all the night through?"

"Morpheus may have remained shut up in his cavern, but Cupid is a
wanderer by night, who does not need a lantern to find the way to those
fortunate individuals he favours with a visit," Leander replied, hoping
to divert attention from the tell-tale bruises, that he had fancied were
successfully concealed.

"I am only a humble valet, and have had no experience in affairs of
gallantry. I never paid court to a fine lady in my life; but still, I do
know this much, that the mischievous little god, Cupid, according to all
the poets, aims his arrows at the hearts of those he wishes to wound,
instead of using his bow upon their backs."

"What in the world do you mean?" Leander interrupted quickly, growing
seriously uneasy at the turn the conversation was taking.

"Oh! nothing; only that I see, in spite of all your efforts to hide it
with that handkerchief knotted so carefully round your neck, that you
have there on the back of it a long, black mark, which to-morrow will
be indigo, the day after green, and then yellow, until it fades away
altogether, like any other bruise--a black mark that looks devilishly
like the authentic flourish which accompanies the signature of a good,
stout club on a calf's skin--or on vellum, if that term pleases you
better."

"Ah! my good Scapin, you do not understand such matters," Leander
replied, a scarlet flush mounting to the very roots of his hair, and
at his wits' ends to know how to silence his tormentor; "doubtless some
dead and gone beauty, who loved me passionately during her lifetime, has
come back and kissed me there while I was sleeping; as is well known,
the contact of the lips of the dead leave strange, dark marks, like
bruises, on human flesh, which the recipient of the mysterious caress is
astonished to find upon awaking."

"Your defunct beauty visited you and bestowed her mysterious caress very
apropos," remarked Scapin, incredulously; "but I would be willing to
take my oath that yonder vigorous kiss had been imprinted upon your
lily-white neck by the stinging contact of a stout club."

"Unmannerly jester and scoffer that you are! is nothing sacred to you?"
broke in Leander, with some show of heat.

"You push my modesty too far. I endeavoured delicately to put off upon
a dead beauty what I should have ascribed to a living one. Ignorant and
unsophisticated though you claim to be, have you never heard of kisses
so ardent that such traces of them are left?--where pearly teeth have
closed upon the soft flesh, and made their mark on the white skin?"

"Memorem dente notam," interrupted the pedant, charmed to have a chance
to quote Horace.

"This explanation appears to me very judicious," Scapin said; then,
with a low bow to the pedant, "and is sustained by unquestionable if
incomprehensible authority; but the mark is so long that this nocturnal
beauty of yours, dead or alive, must have had in her lovely mouth that
famous tooth which the three Gorgon sisters owned among them, and passed
about from one to the other."

This sally was followed by a roar of laughter, and Leander, beside
himself with rage, half rose, to throw himself upon Scopin, and chastise
him then and there for his insufferable impertinence; but he was so
stiff and sore from his own beating, and the pain in his back, which was
striped like a zebra's, was so excruciating, that he sank back into his
place with a suppressed groan, and concluded to postpone his revenge to
some more convenient season. Herode and Blazius, who were accustomed
to settle such little disputes, insisted upon their making up their
differences, and a sort of reconciliation took place-Scapin promising
never to allude to the subject again, but managing to give poor Leander
one or two more digs that made him wince even as he did so.

During this absurd altercation the chariot had been making steady
progress, and soon arrived at an open space where another great
post-road crossed the one they were following, at right angles. A large
wooden crucifix, much the worse for long exposure to the weather,
had been erected upon a grassy mound at the intersection of the two
highways. A group, consisting of two men and three mules, stood at its
foot, apparently awaiting some one's arrival. As they approached, one
of the mules, as if weary of standing still, impatiently shook its head,
which was gaily decorated with bright, many-coloured tufts and tassels,
and set all the little silver bells about it ringing sharply. Although
a pair of leather blinkers, decked with gay embroidery, effectually
prevented its seeing to the right or to the left, it evidently was aware
of the approach of the chariot before the men's senses had given them
any intimation of it.

"The Colonelle shakes her ear-trumpets and shows her teeth," said one of
them; "they cannot be far off now."

In effect, after a very few minutes the chariot was seen approaching,
and presently rolled into the open space. Zerbine, who sat in front,
glanced composedly at the little group of men and mules standing there,
without betraying any surprise at seeing them.

"By Jove! those are fine beasts yonder," exclaimed the tyrant, "splendid
Spanish mules, especially that foremost one; they can easily do their
fifteen or twenty leagues a day, I'll venture, and if we were mounted on
the like we should soon find ourselves in Paris. But what the devil are
they doing in this lonely place? it must be a relay, waiting for some
rich seignior travelling this way."

"No," said the duenna, "that foremost mule is intended for a lady--don't
you see the cushions and housings?"

"In that case," he replied, "there must be an abduction in the wind;
those two equerries, in gray liveries, certainly have a very mysterious,
knowing sort of an air."

"Perhaps you are right," said Zerbine, demurely, with a significant
little smile and shrug.

"Can it be possible that the lady is among us?" asked Scapin; "one of
the men is coming this way by himself, as if he desired to parley before
resorting to violence."

"Oh! there'll be no need," said Serafina, casting a scornful glance at
the soubrette, who returned it with interest.

"There are bold creatures that go of their own accord, without waiting
to be carried off."

"And there are others who are NOT carried off, that would like to be,"
retorted the soubrette, "but the desire is not sufficient; a few charms
are needed too."

At this point the equerry who had advanced to meet the chariot made a
sign to them to stop, and, cap in hand, politely asked if Mlle. Zerbine
was among them. The soubrette herself answered this inquiry in the
affirmative, and sprang to the ground as lightly as a bird.

"Mademoiselle, I am at your disposal," said the equerry to her, in a
respectful and gallant tone. Zerbine shook out her skirts, adjusted her
wraps, and then, turning towards the comedians, delivered this little
harangue: "My dear comrades, I pray you pardon me for quitting you
in this unceremonious manner. There are times when Opportunity offers
itself suddenly for our acceptance, and we must seize it without delay,
or lose it altogether; he would be a fool who let it slip through
his fingers, for once relinquished it returns not again. The face of
Fortune, which until now has always frowned upon me, at last vouchsafes
me a smile, and I am delighted to enjoy its brightness, even though it
may prove to be only fleeting. In my humble role of soubrette, I could
not aspire to, or expect to receive, the admiration of rich lords and
gentlemen--that is for my betters; and now that a happy chance has
thrown such an unhoped-for piece of good luck in my way, you will
not blame me, I am confident, for gladly accepting it. Let me take my
belongings then--which are packed in the chariot with the others--and
receive my adieux. I shall be sure to rejoin you some day, sooner or
later, at Paris, for I am a born actress; the theatre was my first love,
and I have never long been faithless to it."

The two men accordingly, aided by the comedians, took Zerbine's boxes
out of the chariot, and adjusted them carefully on the pack-mule. The
soubrette made a sweeping curtsey to her friends in the chariot, and
threw a kiss to Isabelle from her finger tips, then, aided by one of the
equerries, sprang to her place behind him, on the back of the Colonelle,
as lightly and gracefully as if she had been taught the art of mounting
in an equestrian academy, nodded a last farewell, and striking the mule
sharply with the high heel of her pretty little shoe, set off at a round
pace.

"Good-bye, and good luck to you, Zerbine," cried the comedians heartily,
one and all; save only Serafina, who was more furiously angry with her
than ever.

"This is an unfortunate thing for us," said the tyrant regretfully,
"a serious loss. I wish with all my heart that we could have kept that
capital little actress with us; we shall not easily find any one to
replace her, even in Paris; she is really incomparable in her own
role--but she was not in any way bound to stay with us a moment longer
than she chose. We shall have to substitute a duenna, or a chaperon, for
the soubrette in our pieces for the present; it will be less pleasing of
course, but still Mme. Leonarde here is a host in herself, and we shall
manage to get on very nicely, I dare say."

The chariot started on its way again as he spoke, at rather a better
pace than the lumbering old ox-cart. They were travelling through a part
of the country now which was a great contrast to the desolate Landes. To
the Baron de Sigognac, who had never been beyond their desolate expanse
before, it was a revelation, and he could not sufficiently admire the
richness and beauty of this region. The productive, red soil was
highly cultivated--not an inch of ground neglected--comfortable,
often handsome, stone houses scattered along their route at frequent
intervals, and surrounded by large, luxuriant gardens, spoke of a
well-to-do population. On each side of the broad, smooth road was a row
of fine trees, whose falling leaves lay piled upon the ground in yellow
heaps, or whirled in the wind before de Sigognac and Isabelle, as they
walked along beneath their spreading branches, finding the exercise a
welcome relief after sitting for a long time in the chariot in rather
a cramped position. One day as they were walking thus side by side,
de Sigognac said to his fair companion, "I wish you would tell me,
Isabelle, how it has happened that you, with all the characteristics
of a lady of lofty lineage in the innate modesty and dignity of your
manners, the refinement and purity of your language, the incomparable
grace of your carriage, the elevation of your sentiments upon all
subjects, to say nothing of the delicate, aristocratic type of your
beauty--should have become a member of a wandering band of players like
this--good, honest people no doubt, but not of the same rank or race as
yourself."

"Don't fancy that I am a princess in disguise, or a great lady reduced
to earn my living in this way," she replied, with an adorable smile,
"merely because of some good qualities you think you have discovered in
me. The history of my life is a very simple, uneventful one, but since
you show such kind interest in me I will gladly relate it to you. So
far from being brought down to the station I occupy by some grievous
catastrophe or romantic combination of adverse circumstances, I was born
to the profession of an actress--the chariot of Thespis was, so to say,
my birthplace. My mother, who was a very beautiful woman and finished
actress, played the part of tragic princess. She did not confine her
role to the theatre, but exacted as much deference and respect from
those around her when off the stage, as she received upon it, until she
came to consider herself a veritable princess. She had all the majesty
and grace of one, and was greatly admired and courted, but never would
suffer any of the gallants, who flutter about pretty actresses like
moths around a candle, to approach her--holding herself entirely above
them, and keeping her good name unsullied through everything. An account
of this unusual conduct on the part of a beautiful young actress chanced
to reach the ears of a certain rich and powerful prince, who was very
much struck and interested by it, and immediately sought an introduction
to my mother. As his actual rank and position equalled hers of imaginary
princess, she received his attentions with evident pleasure. He was
young, handsome, eloquent, and very much in love with her--what wonder
then that she yielded at last to his impassioned entreaties, and gave
herself to him, though, because of his high station, he could not do as
his heart dictated, and make her his wife. They were very happy in each
other's love, and after I was born my young father was devoted to me."

"Ah!" interrupted de Sigognac, eagerly, "that explains it all; princely
blood does flow in your veins. I knew it--was sure of it!"

"Their happiness continued," resumed Isabelle, "until reasons of state
made it necessary for him to tear himself away from her, to go on a
diplomatic mission to one of the great capitals of Europe; and ere his
return to France an illustrious marriage had been arranged for him by
his family, with the sanction of royalty, which he found it impossible
to evade. In these cruel circumstances he endeavoured to do
everything in his power to soften the pain of this rupture to my poor
mother--himself almost broken-hearted at being forced to leave her--and
made every possible arrangement for her comfort and well-being; settling
a generous income on her, and providing lavishly for my maintenance and
education. But she would accept nothing from him--she could not receive
his money without his love--'all or nothing' was her motto; and taking
me with her she fled from him, successfully concealing her place of
refuge. She soon after joined a band of players travelling through the
provinces, and resumed her old role; but her heart was broken, and she
gradually faded away, dying at last when I was only about seven years
old. Even then I used to appear upon the stage in parts suitable to my
age. I was a precocious little thing in many ways. My mother's death
caused me a grief far more acute than most children, even a good deal
older than I was then, are capable of feeling. How well I remember being
punished because I refused to act the part of one of Medea's children,
the day after she died. But my grief was not very long-lived--I was but
a child after all, and the actors and actresses of the troupe were so
good to me, always petting me, and devising all sorts of ways to please
and divert me--theatrical people are proverbially kind to comrades in
distress, you know. The pedant, who belonged to our company, and looked
just as old and wrinkled then as he does now, took the greatest interest
in me, constituted himself my master, and taught me thoroughly and
indefatigably all the secrets of the histrionic art--taking unwearied
pains with me. I could not have had a better teacher; perhaps you do not
know that he has a great reputation, even in Paris. You will wonder that
a man of his fame and attainments should be found in a strolling company
of players like this, but his unfortunate habits of intemperance have
been the cause of all his troubles. He was professor of elocution in one
of the celebrated colleges, holding an enviable and lucrative position,
but lost it because of his inveterate irregularities. He is his own
worst enemy, poor Blazius! In the midst of all the confusion and serious
disadvantages of a vagabond life, I have always been able to hold myself
somewhat apart, and remain pure and innocent. My companions, who have
known me from babyhood, look upon me as a sister or daughter, and treat
me with invariable affection and respect; and as for the men of the
outside world who haunt the coulisses, and seem to think that an actress
is public property, off the stage as well as upon it, I have thus far
managed to keep them at a distance--continuing in real life my role of
modest, ingenuous, young girl, without hypocrisy or false pretensions."

Thus, as they strolled along together, and could talk confidentially
without fear of listeners, Isabelle related the story of her life to de
Sigognac, who was a most attentive and delighted listener, and ever more
and more charmed with his fair divinity.

"And the name of the prince," said he, after a short pause, "do you
remember it?"

"I fear that it might be dangerous to my peace to disclose it," she
replied; "but it is indelibly engraven upon my memory."

"Are there any proofs remaining to you of his connection with your
mother?"

"I have in my possession a seal-ring bearing his coat of arms" Isabelle
answered; "it is the only jewel of all he had lavished upon her that my
mother kept, and that entirely on account of the associations connected
with it, not for its intrinsic value, which is small. If you would like
to see it I will be very glad to show it to you some day."

It would be too tedious to follow our travellers step by step on their
long journey, so we will skip over a few days--which passed quietly,
without any incidents worth recording--and rejoin them as they were
drawing near to the ancient town of Poitiers. In the meantime their
receipts had not been large, and hard times had come to the wandering
comedians. The money received from the Marquis de Bruyeres had all
been spent, as well as the modest sum in de Sigognac's purse-who had
contributed all that he possessed to the common fund, in spite of the
protestations of his comrades in distress. The chariot was drawn now
by a single horse-instead of the four with which they had set off
so triumphantly from the Chateau de Bruyeres--and such a horse! a
miserable, old, broken-down hack, whose ribs were so prominent that he
looked as if he lived upon barrel-hoops instead of oats and hay; his
lack-lustre eyes, drooping head, halting gait, and panting breath
combined to make him a most pitiable object, and he plodded on at a
snail's pace, looking as if he might drop down dead on the road at any
moment. Only the three women were in the chariot--the men all walking,
so as to relieve their poor, jaded beast as much as possible. The
weather was bitterly cold, and they wrapped their cloaks about them and
strode on in silence, absorbed in their own melancholy thoughts.

Poor de Sigognac, well-nigh discouraged, asked himself despondingly
whether it would not have been better for him to have remained in the
dilapidated home of his fathers, even at the risk of starving to death
there in silence and seclusion, than run the risk of such hardships in
company with these Bohemians. His thoughts flew back to his good old
Pierre, to Bayard, Miraut, and Beelzebub, the faithful companions of his
solitude; his heart was heavy within him, and at the sudden
remembrance of his dear old friends and followers his throat contracted
spasmodically, and he almost sobbed aloud; but he looked back at
Isabelle, wrapped in her cloak and sitting serenely in the front of the
chariot, and took fresh courage, feeling glad that he could be near her
in this dark hour, to do all that mortal man, struggling against such
odds, could compass for her comfort and protection. She responded to his
appealing glance with a sweet smile, that quickened his pulses and
sent a thrill of joy through every nerve. She did not seem at all
disheartened or cast down by the greatness of their misery. Her heart
was satisfied and happy; why should she be crushed by mere physical
suffering and discomforts? She was very brave, although apparently so
delicate and fragile, and inspired de Sigognac, who could have fallen
down and worshipped her as he gazed up into her beautiful eyes, with
some of her own undaunted courage.

The great, barren plain they were slowly traversing, with a few dreary
skeletons of misshapen old trees scattered here and there, and not a
dwelling in sight, was not calculated to dissipate the melancholy of the
party. Save one or two aged peasants trudging listlessly along, bending
under the weight of the fagots they carried on their backs, they had not
seen a human being all day long. The spiteful magpies, that seemed to
be the only inhabitants of this dreary waste, danced about in front of
them, chattering and almost laughing at them, as if rejoicing in and
making fun of their miseries. A searching north wind, that penetrated
to the very marrow in their bones, was blowing, and the few white flakes
that flew before it now and then were the avantcouriers of the steady
fall of snow that began as nightfall approached.

"It would appear," said the pedant, who was walking behind the chariot
trying to find shelter from the icy wind, "that the celestial housewife
up above has been plucking her geese, and is shaking the feathers out of
her apron down upon us. She might a great deal better send us the geese
themselves. I for one would be glad enough to eat 114 them, without
being very particular as to whether they were done to a turn, and
without sauce or seasoning either."

"Yes, so would I, even without salt," added the tyrant, "for my stomach
is empty. I could welcome now an omelette such as they gave us this
morning, and swallow it without winking, though the eggs were so far
gone that the little chicks were almost ready to peep."

By this time de Sigognac also had taken refuge behind the
chariot--Isabelle having been driven from her seat in front to a place
in the interior by the increasing violence of the storm-and Blazius said
to him, "This is a trying time, my lord, and I regret very much that
you should have to share our bad fortune; but I trust it will be only of
brief duration, and although we do get on but slowly, still every step
brings us nearer to Paris."

"I was not brought up in the lap of luxury," de Sigognac answered, "and
I am not a man to be frightened by a few snowflakes and a biting wind;
but it is for these poor, suffering women that I am troubled; they are
exposed to such severe hardships--cold, privations, fatigue--and we
cannot adequately shelter and protect them, do what we will."

"But you must remember that they are accustomed to roughing it, my dear
baron, and what would be simply unendurable to many of their sex, who
have never been subjected to such tests, they meet bravely, and make
light of, in a really remarkable manner."

The storm grew worse and worse; the snow, driven with great force by
the wind, penetrated into the chariot where Isabelle, Serafina, and Mme.
Leonarde had taken refuge among the luggage, in spite of all that could
be done to keep it out, and had soon covered their wraps with a coating
of white. The poor horse was scarcely able to make any headway at all
against the wind and snow; his feet slipped at every step, and he panted
painfully. Herode went to his head, and took hold of the bridle with his
strong hand to lead him and try to help him along, while the pedant,
de Sigognac, and Scapin put their shoulders to the wheels at every
inequality in the road and whenever he paused or stumbled badly, and
Leander cracked the whip loudly to encourage the poor beast; it would
have been downright cruelty to strike him. As to Matamore, he had
lingered behind, and they were expecting every moment to see his tall,
spare figure emerge from the gloom with rapid strides and rejoin them.
Finally the storm became so violent that it was impossible to face it
any longer; and though it was so important that they should reach the
next village before the daylight was all gone, they were forced to halt,
and turn the chariot, with its back to the wind. The poor old horse,
utterly exhausted by this last effort, slipped and fell, and without
making any attempt to rise lay panting on the ground. Our unhappy
travellers found themselves in a sad predicament indeed--wet, cold,
tired and hungry, all in the superlative degree--blinded by the driving
snow, and lost, without any means of getting on save their own powers of
locomotion, in the midst of a great desert--for the white covering which
now lay upon everything had obliterated almost all traces of the road;
they did not know which way to turn, or what to do. For the moment
they all took refuge in the chariot, until the greatest violence of the
tempest should be over, huddled close together for warmth, and striving
not to lose heart entirely. Presently the wind quieted down all of a
sudden, as if it had expended its fury and wanted to rest; but the snow
continued to fall industriously, though noiselessly, and as far as the
eye could reach through the gathering darkness the surface of the earth
was white, as if it had been wrapped in a winding sheet.

"What in the world has become of Matamore?" cried Blazius suddenly; "has
the wind carried him off to the moon I wonder?"

"Yes; where can he be?" said the tyrant, in an anxious tone; "I can't
see him anywhere--I thought he was among us; perhaps he is lying asleep
among the stage properties at the back of the chariot; I have known him
curl himself down there for a nap before now. Holloa! Matamore! where
are you? wake up and answer us!" But no Matamore responded, and there
was no movement under the great heap of scenery, and decorations of all
sorts, stowed away there.

"Holloa! Matamore!" roared Herode again, in his loudest tones, which
might have waked the seven sleepers in their cavern, and roused their
dog too.

"We have not seen him here in the chariot at all today," said one of the
actresses; "we thought he was walking with the others."

"The deuce!" exclaimed Blazius, "this is very strange. I hope no
accident has happened to the poor fellow."

"Undoubtedly he has taken shelter in the worst of the storm on the lee
side of the trunk of a tree somewhere," said de Sigognac, "and will soon
come up with us."

After a short discussion, it was decided to wait where they were a few
minutes longer, and then if he did not make his appearance go in search
of him. They anxiously watched the way by which they had come, but no
human form appeared on the great expanse of white, and the darkness
was falling rapidly upon the earth, as it does after the short days of
December. The distant howling of a dog now came to their ears, to add
to the lugubrious effect of their surroundings, but they were all
so troubled at the strange absence of their comrade that their own
individual miseries were for the moment forgotten. The doleful howling,
so far away at first, gradually became louder, until at last a large,
black dog came in sight, and sitting down upon the snow, still a long
distance from them, raised his head so that his muzzle pointed upward to
the sky and howled, as if in the greatest distress.

"I'm afraid something terrible has happened to our poor Matamore," cried
the tyrant, and his voice trembled a little; "that dog howls as if for a
death."

At this speech the two young women turned even paler than they had been
before, if that were possible, and made the sign of the cross devoutly,
while Isabelle murmured a prayer.

"We must go in search of him without a moment's delay," said Blazius,
"and take the lantern with us; it will as a guiding star to him if he
has wandered off from the road, as is very probable, with everything
covered with snow like this."

They accordingly lighted their horn lantern, and set off with all
possible speed--the tyrant, Blazius, and de Sigognac--whilst Scapin and
Leander remained with the three women in the chariot. The dog, meantime,
kept up his dismal howling without a moment's intermission as the three
men hastened towards him. The darkness and the newfallen snow, which had
completely obliterated all traces of footsteps, made the task of looking
for the missing actor a very difficult one, and after walking nearly a
mile without seeing a sign of him, they began to fear that their search
would prove fruitless. They kept calling, "Matamore! Matamore!" but
there was no reply, nothing to be heard but the howling of the large
black dog, at intervals now, or the scream of an owl, disturbed by the
light of the lantern. At last de Sigognac, with his penetrating vision,
thought he could make out a recumbent figure at the foot of a tree, a
little way off from the road, and they all pressed forward to the spot
he indicated.

It was indeed poor Matamore, sitting on the ground, with his back
against the tree, and his long legs, stretched out in front of him,
quite buried under the snow; he did not stir at the approach of his
comrades, or answer their joyful shout of recognition, and when Blazius,
alarmed at this strange apathy, hastened forward and threw the light of
the lantern upon his face, he had nearly let it fall from fright at what
it revealed. Poor Matamore was dead, stiff and stark, with wide-open,
sunken eyes staring out vaguely into the darkness, and his ghastly face
wearing that pinched, indescribable expression which the mortal puts on
when the spirit that dwelt within has fled. The three who had found him
thus were inexpressibly shocked, and stood for a moment speechless
and motionless, in the presence of death. The tyrant was the first to
recover himself, and hoping that some sign of life might yet remain he
stooped and took the cold hand into his, and essayed to find a pulse at
the wrist--in vain! it was still and icy. Unwilling yet to admit that
the vital spark was extinct, he asked Blazius for his gourd, which he
always carried with him, and endeavoured to pour a few drops of wine
into his mouth--in vain! the teeth were tightly locked together, and the
wine trickled from between his pale lips, and dropped slowly down upon
his breast.

"Leave him in peace! do not disturb these poor remains!" said de
Sigognac in trembling tones; "don't you see that he is dead?" "Alas!
you are right," Blazius added, "he is dead; dead as Cheops in the great
pyramid. Poor fellow! he must have been confused by the blinding snow,
and unable to make his way against that terrible wind, turned aside and
sat down under this tree, to wait until its violence should be spent;
but he had not flesh enough on his bones to keep them warm, and must
have been quickly frozen through and through. He has starved himself
more than ever lately, in hopes of producing a sensation at Paris, and
he was thinner than any greyhound before. Poor Matamore! thou art out
of the way of all trouble now; no more blows, and kicks, and curses for
thee, my friend, whether on or off the stage, and thou wilt be laughed
at no more forever."

"What shall we do about his body?" interrupted the more practical
tyrant. "We cannot leave it here for dogs, and wolves, and birds of prey
to devour--though indeed I almost doubt whether they would touch it,
there is so little flesh upon his bones."

"No, certainly, we cannot leave him here," Blazius replied; "he was a
good and loyal comrade; he deserves better of us than that; we will not
abandon him, poor Matamore! He is not heavy; you take his head and I
will take his feet, and we will carry him to the chariot. To-morrow
morning we will bury him as decently as we can in some quiet, retired
spot, where he will not be likely to be disturbed. Unfortunately we
cannot do better for him than that, for we, poor actors, are excluded
by our hard-hearted and very unjust step-mother, the church, from her
cemeteries; she denies us the security and comfort of being laid to rest
for our last long sleep in consecrated ground. After having devoted our
lives to the amusement of the human race--the highest as well as the more
lowly among them, and faithful sons and daughters of holy church too--we
must be thrown into the next ditch when the end comes, like dead dogs
and horses. Now, Herode, are you ready? and will you, my lord, lead the
way with the lantern?"

The mournful little procession moved slowly forward; the howling dog
was quiet at last, as if his duty was done, and a deathlike stillness
prevailed around them. It was well that there were no passers-by at that
hour; it would have been a strange sight, almost a frightful one, for
any such, for they might well have supposed that a hideous crime had
been committed; the two men bearing the dead body away at night, lighted
by the third with his lantern, which threw their shadows, long, black
and misshapen, upon the startling whiteness of the snow, as they
advanced with measured tread. Those who had remained with the chariot
saw from afar the glimmer of de Sigognac's lantern, and wondered why
they walked so slowly, not perceiving at that distance their sad burden.
Scapin and Leander hastened forward to meet them, and as soon as
they got near enough to see them distinctly the former shouted to
them--"Well, what is the matter? why are you carrying Matamore like
that? is he ill, or has he hurt himself?"

"He is not ill," answered Blazius, quietly, as they met, "and nothing can
ever hurt him again--he is cured forever of the strange malady we call
life, which always ends in death."

"Is he really dead?" Scapin asked, with a sob he did not even try to
suppress, as he bent to look at the face of the poor comic actor, for
he had a tender heart under his rough exterior, and had cherished a very
sincere affection for poor Matamoie.

"Very dead indeed, for he is frozen as well," Blazius replied, in a
voice that belied the levity of his words.

"He has lived! as they always say at the end of a tragedy," said Herode;
"but relieve us, please, it is your turn now; we have carried the poor
fellow a long way, and it is well for us that he is no heavier."

Scapin took Herode's place, reverently and tenderly, while Leander
relieved the pedant--though this office was little to his taste--and
they resumed their march, soon reaching the chariot. In spite of the
cold and snow, Isabelle and Serafina sprang to the ground to meet them,
but the duenna did not leave her seat--with age had come apathy, and
selfishness had never been wanting. When they saw poor Matamore stiff
and motionless, and were told that he was dead, the two young women were
greatly shocked and moved, and Isabelle, bursting into tears, raised her
pure eyes to heaven and breathed a fervent prayer for the departed soul.

And now came the question, what was to be done? The village for which
they were bound was still a league away; but they could not stay where
they were all night, and they decided to go on, even if they had to
abandon the chariot and walk--anything would be better than freezing
to death like poor Matamore. But after all, things were not at such a
desperate pass as they supposed; the long rest, and a good feed of oats
that Scapin had been thoughtful enough to give their tired horse, had so
revived the poor old beast that he seemed to be ready and willing to go
forward again--so their most serious difficulty was removed. Matamore's
body was laid in the chariot, and carefully covered with a large
piece of white linen they fortunately happened to have among their
heterogeneous belongings, the women resumed their seats, not without a
slight shudder as they thought of their ghastly companion, and the men
walked--Scapin going in front with the lantern, and Herode leading the
horse. They could not make very rapid progress, but at the end of two
hours perceived--oh, welcome sight!--the first straggling houses of
the village where they were to spend the night. At the noise of the
approaching vehicle the dogs began to bark furiously, and more than one
nightcapped head appeared at the windows as they passed along through
the deserted street--so the pedant was able to ask the way to the inn,
which proved to be at the other end of the hamlet--and the worn-out
old horse had to make one more effort; but he seemed to feel that the
stable, where he should find shelter, rest and food, was before him, and
pushed on with astonishing alacrity.

They found it at last--the inn--with its bunch of holly for a sign. It
looked a forlorn place, for travellers did not usually stop over night
in this small, unimportant village; but the comedians were not in a
mood to be fastidious, and would have been thankful for even a more
unpromising house of entertainment than this one. It was all shut up
for the night, with not a sign of life to be seen, so the tyrant applied
himself diligently to pounding on the door with his big fists, until
the sound of footsteps within, descending the stairs, showed that he had
succeeded in rousing somebody. A ray of light shone through the cracks
in the rickety old door, then it was cautiously opened just a little,
and an aged, withered crone, striving to protect the flame of her
flaring candle from the wind with one skinny hand, and to hold the rags
of her most extraordinary undress together with the other, peered out at
them curiously. She was evidently just as she had turned out of her bed,
and a more revolting, witch-like old hag it would be hard to find; but
she bade the belated travellers enter, with a horrible grimace that was
intended for a smile, throwing the door wide open, and telling them
they were welcome to her house as she led the way into the kitchen. She
kindled the smouldering embers on the hearth into a blaze, threw on some
fresh wood, and then withdrew to mount to her chamber and make herself
a little more presentable--having first roused a stout peasant lad,
who served as hostler, and sent him to take the chariot into the court,
where he was heard directly unharnessing the weary horse and leading him
into the stable.

"We cannot leave poor Matamore's body in the chariot all night, like
a dead deer brought home from the chase," said Blazius; "the dogs out
there in the court might find it out. Besides, he had been baptized, and
his remains ought to be watched with and cared for, like any other good
Christian's."

So they brought in the sad burden tenderly, laid it on the long table,
and covered it again carefully with the white linen cloth. When the
old woman returned, and saw this strange and terrible sight, she was
frightened almost to death, and, throwing herself on her knees, began
begging volubly for mercy--evidently taking the troupe of comedians for
a band of assassins, and the dead man for their unfortunate victim.
It was with the greatest difficulty that Isabelle finally succeeded
in calming and reassuring the poor, distracted, old creature, who was
beside herself with terror, and made her listen to the story of poor
Matamore's death. When, at last, she fully understood the true state
of the case, she went and fetched more candles, which she lighted and
disposed symmetrically about the dead body, and kindly offered to sit up
and watch it with Mme. Leonarde--also to do all that was necessary and
usual for it--adding that she was always sent for in the village when
there was a death, to perform those last, sad offices. All this being
satisfactorily arranged--whereat they were greatly relieved--the weary
travellers were conducted into another room, and food was placed before
them; but the sad scenes just enacted had taken away their appetites,
though it was many long hours since they had eaten. And be it here
recorded that Blazius, for the first time in his life, forgot to drink
his wine, though it was excellent, and left his glass half full. He
could not have given a more convincing proof of the depth and sincerity
of his grief.

Isabelle and Serafina spent the night in an adjoining chamber, sharing
the one small bed it contained, and the men lay down upon bundles
of straw that the stable-boy brought in for them. None of them slept
much--being haunted by disturbing dreams inspired by the sad and trying
events of the previous day--and all were up and stirring at an early
hour, for poor Matamore's burial was to be attended to. For want of
something more appropriate the aged hostess and Mme. Leonarde had
enveloped the body in an old piece of thick canvass--still bearing
traces of the foliage and garlands of flowers originally painted in
bright colours upon it--in which they had sewed it securely, so that it
looked not unlike an Egyptian mummy. A board resting on two cross
pieces of wood served as a bier, and, the body being placed upon it, was
carried by Herode, Blazius, Scapin and Leander. A large, black velvet
cloak, adorned with spangles, which was used upon the stage by
sovereign pontiffs or venerable necromancers, did duty as a pall--not
inappropriately surely. The little cortege left the inn by a small door
in the rear that opened upon a deserted common, so as to avoid passing
through the street and rousing the curiosity of the villagers, and set
off towards a retired spot, indicated by the friendly old woman, where
no one would be likely to witness or interfere with their proceedings.
The early morning was gray and cold, the sky leaden--no one had ventured
abroad yet save a few peasants searching for dead wood and sticks, who
looked with suspicious eyes upon the strange little procession making
its way slowly through the untrodden snow, but did not attempt to
approach or molest it. They reached at last the lonely spot where they
were to leave the mortal remains of poor Matamore, and the stable-boy,
who had accompanied them carrying a spade, set to work to dig the grave.
Several carcasses of animals lay scattered about close at hand, partly
hidden by the snow--among them two or three skeletons of horses, picked
clean by birds of prey; their long heads, at the end of the slender
vertebral columns, peering out horribly at them, and their ribs, like
the sticks of an open fan stripped of its covering, appearing above
the smooth white surface, bearing each one its little load of snow. The
comedians observed these ghastly surroundings with a shudder, as they
laid their burden gently down upon the ground, and gathered round
the grave which the boy was industriously digging. He made but slow
progress, however, and the tyrant, taking the spade from him, went to
work with a will, and had soon finished the sad task. Just at the last
a volley of stones suddenly startled the little group, who, intent upon
the mournful business in hand, had not noticed the stealthy approach of
a considerable number of peasants.

These last had been hastily summoned by their friends who had first
perceived the mysterious little funeral procession, without priest,
crucifix, or lighted tapers, and taken it for granted that there must be
something uncanny about it.

They were about to follow up the shower of stones by a charge upon the
group assembled round the open grave, when de Sigognac, outraged at this
brutal assault, whipped out his sword, and rushed upon them impetuously,
striking some with the flat of the blade, and threatening others with
the point; while the tyrant, who had leaped out of the grave at the
first alarm, seized one of the cross pieces of the improvised bier, and
followed the baron into the thick of the crowd, raining blows right and
left among their cowardly assailants; who, though they far outnumbered
the little band of comedians, fled before the vigorous attack of de
Sigognac and Herode, cursing and swearing, and shouting out violent
threats as they withdrew. Poor Matamore's humble obsequies were
completed without further hindrance. When the first spadeful of earth
fell upon his body the pedant, with great tears slowly rolling down
his cheeks, bent reverently over the grave and sighed out, "Alas! poor
Matamore!" little thinking that he was, using the very words of Hamlet,
prince of Denmark, when he apostrophized the skull of Yorick, an ancient
king's jester, in the famous tragedy of one Shakespeare--a poet of great
renown in England, and protege of Queen Elizabeth.

The grave was filled up in silence, and the tyrant--after having
trampled down the snow for some distance around it, so that its exact
whereabouts might not be easy to find in case the angry peasants should
come back to disturb it--said as they turned away, "Now let us get out
of this place as fast as we can; we have nothing more to do here, and
the sooner we quit it the better. Those brutes that attacked us may
return with reinforcements--indeed I think it more than likely that they
will--in which case your sword, my dear baron, and my stick might not
be enough to scatter them again. We don't want to kill any of them,
and have the cries of widows and orphans resounding in our ears; and
besides, it might be awkward for us if we were obliged to do it in
self-defence, and then were hauled up before the local justice of peace
to answer for it."

There was so much good sense in this advice that it was unanimously
agreed to follow it, and in less than an hour, after having settled
their account at the inn, they, were once more upon the road.



CHAPTER VII. CAPTAIN FRACASSE

The comedians pushed forward at first as rapidly as the strength of
their horse--resuscitated by a night's rest in a comfortable stable, and
a generous feed of oats--would allow; it being important to put a good
distance between themselves and the infuriated peasants who had been
repulsed by de Sigognac and the tyrant. They plodded on for more than
two leagues in profound silence, for poor Matamore's sad fate weighed
heavily upon their hearts, and each one thought, with a shudder, that
the day might come when he too would die, and be buried secretly and in
haste, in some lonely and neglected spot by the roadside, wherever they
chanced to be, and there abandoned by his comrades.

At last Blazius, whose tongue was scarcely ever at rest, save when he
slept, could restrain it no longer, and began to expatiate upon the
mournful theme of which all were thinking, embellishing his discourse
with many apt quotations, apothegms and maxims, of which in his role of
pedant he had an ample store laid up in his memory. The tyrant listened
in silence, but with such a scowling, preoccupied air that Blazius
finally observed it, and broke off his eloquent disquisition abruptly to
inquire what he was cogitating so intently.

"I am thinking about Milo, the celebrated Crotonian," he replied, "who
killed a bullock with one blow of his fist, and devoured it in a single
day. I always have admired that exploit particularly, and I feel as if I
could do as much myself to-day."

"But as bad luck will have it," said Scapin, putting in his oar, "the
bullock is wanting."

"Yes," rejoined the tyrant, "I, alas! have only the fist and the
stomach. Oh! thrice happy the ostrich, that, at a pinch, makes a meal
of pebbles, bits of broken glass, shoe-buttons, knife-handles,
belt-buckles, or any such-like delicacies that come in its way, which
the poor, weak, human stomach cannot digest at all. At this moment
I feel capable of swallowing whole that great mass of scenery and
decorations in the chariot yonder. I feel as if I had as big a chasm in
me as the grave I dug this morning for poor Matamore, and as if I never
could get enough to fill it. The ancients were wise old fellows; they
knew what they were about when they instituted the feasts that always
followed their funerals, with abundance of meats and all sorts of good
things to eat, washed down with copious draughts of wine, to the honour
of the dead and the great good of the living. Ah! if we only had the
wherewithal now to follow their illustrious example, and accomplish
worthily that philosophical rite, so admirably calculated to stay the
tears of mourners and raise their drooping spirits."

"In other words," said Blazius, "you are hankering after something to
eat. Polyphemus, ogre, Gargantua, monster that you are! you disgust me."

"And you," retorted the tyrant, "I know that you are hankering after
something to drink. Silenus, hogshead, wine-bottle, sponge that you are!
you excite my pity."

"How delightful it would be for us all if you both could have your
wish," interposed Scapin, in a conciliatory tone.

"Look, yonder by the roadside is a little grove, capitally situated for
a halting-place. We might stop there for a little, ransack the chariot
to find whatever fragments may yet remain in it of our last stock of
provisions, and gathering them all up take our breakfast, such as it may
be, comfortably sheltered from this cold north wind on the lee side of
the thicket there. The short halt will give the poor old horse a chance
to rest, and we meantime, while we are breakfasting, can discuss at our
leisure some expedients for supplying our immediate needs, and also talk
over our future plans and prospects--which latter, it seems to me, look
devilishly dark and discouraging."

"Your words are golden, friend Scapin," the pedant said, "let us by all
means gather up the crumbs that are left of former plenty, though they
will be but few and musty, I fear. There are still, however, two or
three bottles of wine remaining--the last of a goodly store--enough for
us each to have a glass. What a pity that the soil hereabouts is not of
that peculiar kind of clay upon which certain tribes of American savages
are said to subsist, when they have been unlucky in their hunting and
fishing, and have nothing better to eat."

They accordingly turned the chariot off from the road into the edge
of the thicket, unharnessed the horse, and left him free to forage for
himself; whereupon he began to nibble, with great apparent relish, at
the scattered spears of grass peeping up here and there through the
snow. A large rug was brought from the chariot and spread upon the
ground in a sheltered spot, upon which the comedians seated themselves,
in Turkish fashion, in a circle, while Blazius distributed among them
the sorry rations he had managed to scrape together; laughing and
jesting about them in such an amusing manner that all were fain to
join in his merriment, and general good humour prevailed. The Baron
de Sigognac, who had long, indeed always, been accustomed to extreme
frugality, in fact almost starvation, and found it easier to bear such
trials with equanimity than his companions, could not help admiring the
wonderful way in which the pedant made the best of a really desperate
situation, and found something to laugh at and make merry over where
most people would have grumbled and groaned, and bewailed their hard
lot, in a manner to make themselves, and all their companions in misery,
doubly unhappy. But his attention was quickly absorbed in his anxiety
about Isabelle, who was deathly pale, and shivering until her teeth
chattered, though she did her utmost to conceal her suffering condition,
and to laugh with the rest. Her wraps were sadly insufficient to protect
her properly from such extreme cold as they were exposed to then, and
de Sigognac, who was sitting beside her, insisted upon sharing his cloak
with her--though she protested against his depriving himself of so
much of it--and beneath its friendly shelter gently drew her slender,
shrinking form close to himself, so as to impart some of his own vital
warmth to her. She could feel the quickened beating of his heart as he
held her respectfully, yet firmly and tenderly, embraced, and he was
soon rewarded for his loving care by seeing the colour return to her
pale lips, the happy light to her sweet eyes, and even a faint flush
appear on her delicate cheeks.

While they were eating--or rather making believe to eat their
make-believe breakfast--a singular noise was heard near by, to which
at first they paid no particular attention, thinking it was the wind
whistling through the matted branches of the thicket, if they thought of
it at all; but presently it grew louder, and they could not imagine what
it proceeded from. It was a sort of hissing sound, at once shrill and
hoarse, quite impossible to describe accurately.

As it grew louder and louder, and seemed to be approaching them, the
women manifested some alarm.

"Oh!" shrieked Serafina "I hope it's not a snake; I shall die if it is;
I am so terrified by the horrid, crawling creatures."

"But it can't possibly be a snake," said Leander, reassuringly; "in such
cold weather as this the snakes are all torpid and lying in their holes
underground, stiffer than so many sticks."

"Leander is right," added the pedant, "this cannot be a snake; and
besides, snakes never make such a sound as that at any time. It must
proceed from some wild creature of the wood that our invasion has
disturbed; perhaps we may be lucky enough to capture it and find it
edible; that would be a piece of good fortune, indeed, quite like a
fairy-tale."

Meantime Scapin was listening attentively to the strange,
incomprehensible sound, and watching keenly that part of the thicket
from which it seemed to come. Presently a movement of the underbrush
became noticeable, and just as he motioned to the company to keep
perfectly quiet a magnificent big gander emerged from the bushes,
stretching out his long neck, hissing with all his might, and waddling
along with a sort of stupid majesty that was most diverting--closely
followed by two geese, his good, simple-minded, confiding wives, in
humble attendance upon their infuriated lord and master.

"Don't stir, any of you," said Scapin, under his breath, and I will
endeavour to capture this splendid prize"--with which the clever scamp
crept softly round behind his companions, who were still seated in a
circle on the rug, so lightly that he made not the slightest sound; and
while the gander--who with his two followers had stopped short at sight
of the intruders--was intently examining them, with some curiosity
mingled with his angry defiance, and apparently wondering in his stupid
way how these mysterious figures came to be in that usually deserted
spot, Scapin succeeded, by making a wide detour, in getting behind the
three geese unseen, and noiselessly advancing upon them, with one rapid,
dexterous movement, threw his large heavy cloak over the coveted prize.
In another instant he had the struggling gander, still enveloped in the
cloak, in his arms, and, by compressing his neck tightly, quickly put an
end to his resistance--and his existence at the same time; while his two
wives, or rather widows, rushed back into the thick underbrush to
avoid a like fate, making a great cackling and ado over the terrible
catastrophe that had befallen their quondam lord and master.

"Bravo, Scapin! that was a clever trick indeed," cried Herode; "it
throws those you are so often applauded for on the stage quite into the
shade--a masterpiece of strategy, friend Scapin!--for, as is well known,
geese are by nature very vigilant, and never caught off their guard--of
which history gives us a notable instance, in the watchfulness of the
sacred geese of the Capitol, whose loud cackling in the dead of night at
the stealthy approach of the Gauls woke the sleeping soldiers to a sense
of their danger just in time to save Rome. This splendid big fellow here
saves us--after another fashion it is true, but one which is no less
providential."

The goose was plucked and prepared for the spit by Mme. Leonarde, while
Blazius, the tyrant, and Leander busied themselves in gathering together
a goodly quantity of dead wood and twigs, and laying them ready to
light in a tolerably dry spot. Scapin, with his large clasp-knife, cut a
straight, strong stick, stripped off the bark for a spit, and found two
stout forked branches, which he stuck firmly into the ground on each
side of the fire so that they would meet over it. A handful of dry
straw from the chariot served as kindling, and they quickly had a bright
blaze, over which the goose was suspended, and being duly turned and
tended by Scapin, in a surprisingly short space of time began to assume
a beautiful light brown hue, and send out such a savoury delicious odour
that the tyrant sprang up and strode away from its immediate vicinity,
declaring that if he remained near it the temptation to seize and
swallow it, spit and all, would surely be too strong for him. Blazius
had fetched from the chariot a huge tin platter that usually figured
in theatrical feasts, upon which the goose, done to a turn, was finally
placed with all due ceremony, and a second breakfast was partaken of,
which was by no means a fallacious, chimerical repast like the first.
The pedant, who was an accomplished carver, officiated in that capacity
on this auspicious occasion; begging the company, as he did so, to
be kind enough to excuse the unavoidable absence, which he deeply
regretted, of the slices of Seville oranges that should have formed a
part of the dish--being an obligatory accessory of roast goose--and they
with charming courtesy smilingly expressed their willingness to overlook
for this once such a culinary solecism.

"Now," said Herode, when nothing remained of the goose but its
well-picked bones, "we must try to decide upon what is best to be done.
Only three or four pistoles are left in the exchequer, and my office as
treasurer bids fair to become a sinecure. We have been so unfortunate as
to lose two valuable members of the troupe, Zerbine and poor Matamore,
rendering many of our best plays impossible for us, and at any rate we
cannot give dramatic representations that would bring in much money here
in the fields, where our audience would be mainly composed of crows,
jackdaws, and magpies--who could scarcely be expected to pay us very
liberally for our entertainment. With that poor, miserable, old horse
there, slowly dying between the shafts of our chariot, hardly able
to drag one foot after another, we cannot reasonably expect to reach
Poitiers in less than two days--if we do then--and our situation is an
unpleasantly tragic one, for we run the risk of being frozen or starved
to death by the wayside; fat geese, already roasted, do not emerge from
every thicket you know."

"You state the case very clearly," the pedant said as he paused, "and
make the evil very apparent, but you don't say a word about the remedy."

"My idea is," rejoined Herode, "to stop at the first village we come
to and give an entertainment. All work in the fields is at a standstill
now, and the peasants are idle in consequence; they will be only too
delighted at the prospect of a little amusement. Somebody will let
us have his barn for our theatre, and Scapin shall go round the town
beating the drum, and announcing our programme, adding this important
clause, that all those who cannot pay for their places in money may do
so in provisions. A fowl, a ham, or a jug of wine, will secure a seat in
the first row; a pair of pigeons, a dozen eggs, or a loaf of bread, in
the second, and so on down. Peasants are proverbially stingy with their
money, but will be liberal enough with their provisions; and though
our purse will not be replenished, our larder will, which is equally
important, since our very lives depend upon it. After that we can push
on to Poitiers, and I know an inn-keeper there who will give us credit
until we have had time to fill our purse again, and get our finances in
good order."

"But what piece can we play, in case we find our village?" asked Scapin.
"Our repertoire is sadly reduced, you know. Tragedies, and even the
better class of comedies, would be all Greek to the stupid rustics,
utterly ignorant as they are of history or fable, and scarcely even
understanding the French language. The only thing to give them would be
a roaring farce, with plenty of funny by-play, resounding blows, kicks
and cuffs, ridiculous tumbles, and absurdities within their limited
comprehension. The Rodomontades of Captain Matamore would be the very
thing; but that is out of our power now that poor Matamore is dead."

When Scapin paused, de Sigognac made a sign with his hand that he wished
to speak, and all the company turned respectfully towards him to listen
to what he had to say. A little flush spread itself over his pale
countenance, and it was only after a brief but sharp struggle with
himself that he opened his tightly compressed lips, and addressed
his expectant audience, as follows: "Although I do not possess poor
Matamore's talent, I can almost rival him in thinness, and I will take
his role, and do the best I can with it. I am your comrade, and I want
to do my part in this strait we find ourselves in. I should be ashamed
to share your prosperity, as I have done, and not aid you, so far as
lies in my power, in your adversity, and this is the only way in which
I can assist you. There is no one in the whole world to care what may
become of the de Sigognacs; my house is crumbling into dust over the
tombs of my ancestors; oblivion covers my once glorious name, and the
arms of my family are almost entirely obliterated above the deserted
entrance to the Chateau de Sigognac. Perhaps I may yet see the
three golden storks shine out brilliantly upon my shield, and life,
prosperity, and happiness return to the desolate abode where my sad,
hopeless youth was spent. But in the meantime, since to you I owe my
escape from that dreary seclusion, I beg you to accept me freely as
your comrade, and my poor services as such; to you I am no longer de
Sigognac."

Isabelle had laid her hand on his arm at his first sentence, as soon as
she comprehended what he meant to say, to try to stop him, and here she
made another effort to interrupt; but for once he would not heed her,
and continued, "I renounce my title of baron for the present; I fold it
up and put it away at the bottom of my portmanteau, like a garment that
is laid aside. Do not make use of it again, I pray you; we will see
whether under a new name I may not succeed in escaping from the
ill fortune that has thus far pursued me as the Baron de Sigognac.
Henceforth then I take poor Matamore's place, and my name is Captain
Fracasse."

"Bravo! Vive Captain Fracasse!" cried they all, with enthusiasm, "may
applause greet and follow him wherever he goes."

This sudden move on de Sigognac's part, at which the comedians were
greatly astonished, as well as deeply touched, was not so unpremeditated
as it seemed; he had been thinking about it for some time. He blushed
at the idea of being a mere parasite, living upon the bounty of these
honest players--who shared all they had with him so generously, and
without ever making him feel, for a moment, that he was under any
obligation to them, but--rather that he was conferring an honour upon
them--he deemed it less unworthy a gentleman to appear upon the stage
and do his part towards filling the common purse than to be their
pensioner in idleness; and after all, there was no disgrace in becoming
an actor. The idea of quitting them and going back to Sigognac had
indeed presented itself to his mind, but he had instantly repulsed it as
base and cowardly--it is not in the hour of danger and disaster that
the true soldier retires from the ranks. Besides, if he had wished to
go ever so much, his love for Isabelle would have kept him near her;
and then, though he was not given to day-dreams, he yet fancied that
wonderful adventures, sudden changes, and strokes of good fortune might
possibly be awaiting him in the mysterious future, into which he fain
would peer, and he would inevitably lose the chance of them all if he
returned to his ruinous chateau.

Everything being thus satisfactorily arranged, the old horse was
harnessed up again, and the chariot moved slowly forward on its way.
Their good meal had revived everybody's drooping spirits, and they
all, excepting the duenna and Serafina, who never walked if they could
possibly help it, trudged cheerily along, laughing and talking as they
went.

Isabelle had taken de Sigognac's offered arm, and leaned on it proudly,
glancing furtively up into his face, whenever he was looking away
from her, with eyes full of tenderness and loving admiration, never
suspecting, in her modesty, that it was for love of her that he had
decided to turn actor--a thing so revolting, as she knew, to his pride
as a gentleman. He was a hero in her eyes, and though she wished to
reproach him for his hasty action, which she would have prevented if
she could, she had not the heart to find fault with him for his
noble devotion to the common cause after all. Yet she would have
done anything, suffered everything herself, to have saved him this
humiliation; hers being one of those true, loyal hearts that forget
themselves in their love, and think only of the interests and happiness
of the being beloved. She walked on beside him until her strength was
exhausted, and then returned to her place in the chariot, giving him a
look so eloquent of love and admiration, as he carefully drew her
wraps about her, that his heart bounded with joy, and he felt that no
sacrifice could be too great which was made for her sweet sake.

In every direction around them, as far as the eye could reach, the
snow-covered country was utterly devoid of town, village, or hamlet; not
a sign of life was anywhere to be seen.

"A sorry prospect for our fine plan," said the pedant, after a searching
examination of their surroundings, "and I very much fear that
the plentiful store of provisions Herode promised us will not be
forthcoming. I cannot see the smoke of a single chimney, strain my eyes
as I will, nor the weather-cock on any village spire."

"Have a little patience, Blazius!" the tyrant replied. "Where people
live too much crowded together the air becomes vitiated, you know, and
it is very salubrious to have the villages situated a good distance
apart."

"What a healthy part of the country this must be then the inhabitants
need not to fear epidemics--for to begin with there are no inhabitants.
At this rate our Captain Fracasse will not have a chance very soon to
make his debut."

By this time it was nearly dark, the sky was overcast with heavy leaden
clouds, and only a faint lurid glow on the horizon in the west showed
where the sun had gone down. An icy wind, blowing full in their faces,
and the hard, frozen surface of the snow, made their progress both
difficult and painful. The poor old horse slipped at every step, though
Scapin was carefully leading him, and staggered along like a drunken
man, striking first against one shaft and then against the other,
growing perceptibly weaker at every turn of the wheels behind him.
Now and again he shook his head slowly up and down, and cast appealing
glances at those around him, as his trembling legs seemed about to give
way under him. His hour had come--the poor, old horse! and he was dying
in harness like a brave beast, as he was. At last he could no more,
and falling heavily to the ground gave one feeble kick as he stretched
himself out on his side, and yielded up the ghost. Frightened by the
sudden shock, the women shrieked loudly, and the men, running to their
assistance, helped them to clamber out of the chariot. Mme. Leonarde and
Serafina were none the worse for the fright, but Isabelle had fainted
quite away, and de Sigognac, lifting her light weight easily, carried
her in his arms to the bank at the side of the road, followed by the
duenna, while Scapin bent down over the prostrate horse and carefully
examined his ears.

"He is stone dead," said he in despairing tones; "his ears are cold, and
there is no pulsation in the auricular artery."

"Then I suppose we shall have to harness ourselves to the chariot in his
place," broke in Leander dolefully, almost weeping. "Oh! cursed be the
mad folly that led me to choose an actor's career."

"Is this a time to groan and bewail yourself?" roared the tyrant
savagely, entirely out of patience with Leander's everlasting jeremiads;
"for heaven's sake pluck up a little courage, and be a man! And now to
consider what is to be done; but first let us see how our good little
Isabelle is getting on; is she still unconscious? No; she opens her
eyes, and there is the colour coming back to her lips; she will do now,
thanks to the baron and Mme. Leonarde. We must divide ourselves into
two bands; one will stay with the women and the chariot, the other will
scour the country in search of aid. We cannot think of remaining here
all night, for we should be frozen stiff long before morning. Come,
Captain Fracasse, Leander, and Scapin, you three being the youngest, and
also the fleetest of foot, off with you. Run like greyhounds, and bring
us succour as speedily as may be. Blazius and I will meantime do duty as
guardians of the chariot and its contents."

The three men designated signified their readiness to obey the tyrant,
and set off across country, though not feeling at all sanguine as to the
results of their search, for the night was intensely dark; but that
very darkness had its advantages, and came to their aid in an unexpected
manner, for though it effectually concealed all surrounding objects, it
made visible a tiny point of light shining at the foot of a little hill
some distance from the road.

"Behold," cried the pedant, "our guiding star! as welcome to us weary
travellers, lost in the desert, as the polar star to the distressed
mariner 'in periculo maris.' That blessed star yonder, whose rays shine
far out into the darkness, is a light burning in some warm, comfortable
room, which forms--Heaven be praised!--part of the habitation of human
and civilized beings--not Laestrygon savages. Without doubt there is a
bright fire blazing on the hearth in that cosy room, and over it hangs
a famous big pot, from which issue puffs of a delicious odour--oh,
delightful thought!--round which my imagination holds high revel, and
in fancy I wash down with generous wine the savoury morsels from that
glorious pot-au-feu."

"You rave, my good Blazius," said the tyrant, "the frost must have
gotten into your brain--that makes men mad, they say, or silly. Yet
there is some method in your madness, some truth in your ravings, for
yonder light must indicate an inhabited dwelling. This renders a change
in the plans for our campaign advisable. We will all go forward together
towards the promised refuge, and leave the chariot where it is; no
robbers will be abroad on such a night as this to interfere with its
contents. We will take our few valuables--they are not so numerous or
weighty but that we can carry them with us; for once it is an advantage
that our possessions are few. To-morrow morning we will come back to
fetch the chariot: now, forward, march!--and it is time, for I am nearly
frozen to death."

The comedians accordingly started across the fields, towards the
friendly light that promised them so much--Isabelle supported by de
Sigognac, Serafina by Leander, and the duenna dragged along by Scapin;
while Blazius and the tyrant formed the advance guard. It was not easy
work; sometimes plunging into deep snow, more than knee high, as they
came upon a ditch, hidden completely under the treacherously smooth
white surface, or stumbling, and even falling more than once, over
some unseen obstacle; but at length they came up to what seemed to be a
large, low building, probably a farm-house, surrounded by stone walls,
with a big gate for carts to enter. In the expanse of dark wall before
them shone the light which had guided their steps, and upon approaching
they found that it proceeded from a small window, whose shutters--most
fortunately for them, poor, lost wanderers--had not yet been closed. The
dogs within the enclosure, perceiving the approach of strangers, began
to bark loudly and rush about the yard; they could hear them jumping
up at the walls in vain efforts to get at the intruders. Presently the
sound of a man's voice and footsteps mingled with their barking, and in
a moment the whole establishment seemed to be on the alert.

"Stay here, all of you," said the pedant, halting at a little distance
from the gate, "and let me go forward alone to knock for admission. Our
numbers might alarm the good people of the farm, and lead them to fancy
us a band of robbers, with designs upon their rustic Penates; as I am
old, and inoffensive looking, they will not be afraid of me."

This advice was approved by all, and Blazius, going forward by himself,
knocked gently at the great gate, which was first opened cautiously just
a very little, then flung impetuously back; and then the comedians, from
their outpost in the snow, saw a most extraordinary and inexplicable
scene enacted before their astonished eyes. The pedant and the farmer
who had opened the gate, after gazing at each other a moment intently,
by the light of the lantern which the latter held up to see what manner
of man his nocturnal visitor might be, and after exchanging rapidly
a few words, that the others could not hear, accompanied by wild
gesticulations, rushed into each other's arms, and began pounding
each other heartily upon the back--mutually bestowing resounding
accolades--as is the manner upon the stage of expressing joy at meeting
a dear friend. Emboldened by this cordial reception, which yet was a
mystery to them, the rest of the troupe ventured to approach, though
slowly and timidly.

"Halloa! all of you there," cried the pedant suddenly, in a joyful
voice, "come on without fear, you will be made welcome by a friend and a
brother, a world-famed member of our profession, the darling of Thespis,
the favourite of Thalia, no less a personage than the celebrated
Bellombre--you all know his glorious record. Blessed is the happy chance
that has directed our steps hither, to the philosophic retreat where
this histrionic hero reposes tranquilly upon his laurels."

"Come in, I pray you, ladies and gentlemen," said Bellombre, advancing
to meet them, with a graceful courtesy which proved that the ci-devant
actor had not put aside his elegant, courtly manners when he donned his
peasant dress.

"Come in quickly out of this biting wind; my dwelling is rude and
homely, but you will be better off within it than here in the open air."

They needed no urging, and joyfully accepting his kind invitation
followed their host into the house, charmed with this unhoped-for good
fortune. Blazius and Bellombre were old acquaintances, and had formerly
been members Of the same troupe; as their respective roles did not
clash there was no rivalry between them, and they had become fast
friends--being fellow worshippers at the shrine of the merry god of
wine. Bellombre had retired from the stage some years before, when at
his father's death he inherited this farm and a small fortune. The parts
that he excelled in required a certain degree of youth, and he was not
sorry to withdraw before wrinkles and whitening locks should make it
necessary for him to abandon his favourite roles. In the world he was
believed to be dead, but his splendid acting was often quoted by his
former admirers--who were wont to declare that there had been nothing to
equal it seen on the stage since he had made his last bow to the public.

The room into which he led his guests was very spacious, and served
both as kitchen and sitting-room--there was also a large curtained bed
standing in an alcove at the end farthest from the fire, as was not
unusual in ancient farm-houses. The blaze from the four or five immense
logs of wood heaped up on the huge andirons was roaring up the broad
chimney flue, and filling the room with a bright, ruddy glow--a most
welcome sight to the poor half-frozen travellers, who gathered around it
and luxuriated in its genial warmth. The large apartment was plainly and
substantially furnished, just as any well-to-do farmer's house might be,
but near one of the windows stood a round table heaped up with books,
some of them lying open as if but just put down, which showed that the
owner of the establishment had not lost his taste for literary pursuits,
but devoted to them his long winter evenings.

The cordiality of their welcome and the deliciously warm atmosphere in
which they found themselves had combined to raise the spirits of the
comedians--colour returned to pate faces, light to heavy eyes, and
smiles to anxious lips--their gaiety was in proportion to the misery and
peril from which they had just happily escaped, their hardships were all
forgotten, and they gave themselves up entirely to the enjoyment of the
hour. Their host had called up his servants, who bustled about, setting
the table and making other preparations for supper, to the undisguised
delight of Blazius, who said triumphantly to the tyrant, "You see now,
Herode, and must acknowledge, that my predictions, inspired by the
little glimmer of light we saw from afar, are completely verified--they
have all come literally true. Fragrant puffs are issuing even now from
the mammoth pot-au-feu there over the fire, and we shall presently wash
down its savoury contents with draughts of generous wine, which I see
already awaiting us on the table yonder. It is warm and bright and
cosy in this room, and we appreciate and enjoy it all doubly, after the
darkness and the cold and the danger from which we have escaped into the
grateful shelter of this hospitable roof; and to crown the whole, our
host is the grand, illustrious, incomparable Bellombre--flower and cream
of all comedians, past, present and future, and best of good fellows."

"Our happiness would be complete if only poor Matamore were here," said
Isabelle with a sigh.

"Pray what has happened to him?" asked Bellombre, who knew him by
reputation.

The tyrant told him the tragic story of the snow-storm, and its fatal
consequences. "But for this thrice-blessed meeting with my old and
faithful friend here," Blazius added, "the same fate would probably have
overtaken us ere morning--we should all have been found, frozen stiff
and stark, by the next party of travellers on the post road."

"That would have been a pity indeed," Bellombre rejoined, and glancing
admiringly at Isabelle and Serafina, added gallantly, "but surely these
young goddesses would have melted the snow, and thawed the ice, with the
fire I see shining in their sparkling eyes."

"You attribute too much power to our eyes," Scrafina made answer; "they
could not even have made any impression upon a heart, in the thick,
impenetrable darkness that enveloped us; the tears that the icy cold
forced from them would have extinguished the flames of the most ardent
love."

While they sat at supper, Blazius told their host of the sad condition
of their affairs, at which he seemed no way surprised.

"There are always plenty of ups and downs in a theatrical career," he
said--"the wheel of Fortune turns very fast in that profession; but if
misfortunes come suddenly, so also does prosperity follow quickly in
their train. Don't be discouraged!--things are brightening with you now.
Tomorrow morning I will send one of my stout farm-horses to bring your
chariot on here, and we will rig up a theatre in my big barn; there is a
large town not far from this which will send us plenty of spectators.
If the entertainment does not fetch as good a sum as I think it will, I
have a little fund of pistoles lying idle here that will be entirely at
your service, for, by Apollo! I would not leave my good Blazius and his
friends in distress so long as I had a copper in my purse."

"I see that you are always the same warm-hearted, openhanded Bellombre
as of old," cried the pedant, grasping the other's outstretched hand
warmly; "you have not grown rusty and hard in consequence of your
bucolic occupations."

"No," Bellombre replied, with a smile; "I do not let my brain lie fallow
while I cultivate my fields. I make a point of reading over frequently
the good old authors, seated comfortably by the fire with my feet on
the fender, and I read also such new works as I am able to procure, from
time to time, here in the depths of the country. I often go carefully
over my own old parts, and I see plainly what a self-satisfied fool
I was in the old days, when I was applauded to the echo every time I
appeared upon the stage, simply because I happened to be blessed with
a sonorous voice, a graceful carriage, and a fine leg; the doting
stupidity of the public, with which I chanced to be a favourite, was the
true cause of my success."

"Only the great Bellombre himself would ever be suffered to say such
things as these of that most illustrious ornament of our profession,"
said the tyrant, courteously.

"Art is long, but life is short," continued the ci-devant actor, "and I
should have arrived at a certain degree of proficiency at last perhaps,
but--I was beginning to grow stout; and I would not allow myself to
cling to the stage until two footmen should have to come and help me up
from my rheumatic old knees every time I had a declaration of love
to make, so I gladly seized the opportunity afforded me by my little
inheritance, and retired in the height of my glory."

"And you were wise, Bellombre," said Blazius, "though your retreat was
premature; you might have given ten years more to the theatre, and then
have retired full early."

In effect he was still a very handsome, vigorous man, about whom no
signs of age were apparent, save an occasional thread of silver amid the
rich masses of dark hair that fell upon his shoulders.

The younger men, as well as the three actresses, were glad to retire to
rest early; but Blazius and the tyrant, with their host, sat up drinking
the latter's capital wine until far into the night. At length they, too,
succumbed to their fatigue; and while they are sleeping we will return
to the abandoned chariot to see what was going on there. In the gray
light of the early morning it could be perceived that the poor old horse
still lay just as he had fallen; several crows were flitting about,
not yet venturing to attack the miserable carcass, peering at it
suspiciously from a respectful distance, as if they feared some hidden
snare. At last one, bolder than its fellows, alighted upon the poor
beast's head, and was just bending over that coveted dainty, the
eye--which was open and staring--when a heavy step, coming over the
snow, startled him. With a croak of disappointment he quitted his
post of vantage, rose heavily in the air, and flapped slowly off to
a neighbouring tree, followed by his companions, cawing and scolding
hoarsely. The figure of a man appeared, coming along the road at a brisk
pace, and carrying a large bundle in his arms, enveloped in his cloak.
This he put down upon the ground when he came up with the chariot,
standing directly in his way, and it proved to be a little girl about
twelve years old; a child with large, dark, liquid eyes that had a
feverish light in them--eyes exactly like Chiquita's. There was a string
of pearl beads round the slender neck, and an extraordinary combination
of rags and tatters, held together in some mysterious way, hung about
the thin, fragile little figure. It was indeed Chiquita herself, and
with her, Agostino--the ingenious rascal, whose laughable exploit
with his scarecrow brigands has been already recorded--who, tired of
following a profession that yielded no profits, had set out on foot for
Paris--where all men of talent could find employment they said--marching
by night, and lying hidden by day, like all other beasts of prey. The
poor child, overcome with fatigue and benumbed by the cold, had given
out entirely that night, in spite of her valiant efforts to keep up with
Agostino, and he had at last picked her up in his arms and carried her
for a while--she was but a light burden--hoping to find some sort of
shelter soon.

"What can be the meaning of this?" he said to Chiquita. "Usually we stop
the vehicles, but here we are stopped by one in our turn; we must look
out lest it be full of travellers, ready to demand our money or our
lives."

"There's nobody in it," Chiquita replied, having peeped in under the
cover.

"Perhaps there may be something worth having inside there," Agostino
said; "we will look and see," and he proceeded to light the little dark
lantern he always had with him, for the daylight was not yet strong
enough to penetrate into the dusky interior of the chariot. Chiquita,
who was greatly excited by the hope of booty, jumped in, and rapidly
searched it, carefully directing the light of the lantern upon the
packages and confused mass of theatrical articles stowed away in the
back part of it, but finding nothing of value anywhere.

"Search thoroughly, my good little Chiquita!" said the brigand, as he
kept watch outside, "be sure that you don't overlook anything."

"There is nothing here, absolutely nothing that is worth the trouble of
carrying away. Oh, yes! here is a bag, with something that sounds like
money in ft."

"Give it to me," cried Agostino eagerly, snatching it from her, and
making a rapid examination of its contents; but he threw it down angrily
upon the ground, exclaiming, "the devil take it! I thought we had found
a treasure at last, but instead of good money there's nothing but a lot
of pieces of gilded lead and such-like in it. But we'll get one thing
out of this anyhow--a good rest inside here for you, sheltered from
the wind and cold. Your poor little feet are bleeding, and they must be
nearly frozen. Curl yourself down there on those cushions, and I will
cover you with this bit of painted canvas. Now go to sleep, and I will
watch while you have a nap; it is too early yet for honest folks to be
abroad, and we shall not be disturbed." In a few minutes poor little
Chiquita was sound asleep.

Agostino sat on the front seat of the chariot, with his navaja open and
lying beside him, watching the road and the fields all about, with the
keen, practised eye of a man of his lawless profession. All was still.
No sound or movement any where, save among the crows. In spite of his
iron will and constitution he began to feel an insidious drowsiness
creeping over him, which he did not find it easy to shake off; several
times his eyelids closed, and he lifted them resolutely, only to have
them fall again in another instant. In fact he was just dropping into
a doze, when he felt, as in a dream, a hot breath on his face, and
suddenly waked to see two gleaming eyeballs close to his. With a
movement more rapid than thought itself, he seized the wolf by the
throat with his left hand, and picking up his navaja with the other,
plunged it up to the hilt into the animal's breast. It must have gone
through the heart, for he dropped down dead in the road, without a
struggle.

Although he had gained the victory so easily over his fierce assailant,
Agostino concluded that this was not a good place for them to tarry
in, and called to Chiquita, who jumped up instantly, wide awake, and
manifested no alarm at sight of the dead wolf lying beside the chariot.

"We had better move on," said he, "that carcass of the horse there draws
the wolves; they are often mad with hunger in the winter time you know,
and especially when there is snow on the ground. I could easily kill a
pretty good number of them, but they might come down upon us by scores,
and if I should happen to fall asleep again it would not be pleasant
to wake up and find myself in the stomach of one of those confounded
brutes. When I was disposed of they would make only a mouthful of you,
little one! So come along, we must scamper off as fast as ever we can.
That fellow there was only the advance guard, the others will not be far
behind him--this carcass will keep them busy for a while, and give us
time to get the start of them. You can walk now, Chiquita, can't you?"

"Yes, indeed," she replied cheerily, "that little nap has done me so
much good. Poor Agostino! you shall not have to carry me again, like
a great clumsy parcel. And Agostino," she added with a fierce energy,
"when my feet refuse to walk or run in your service you must just cut
my throat with your big knife there, and throw me into the next ditch.
I will thank you for it, Agostino, for I could not bear to have your
precious life in danger for the sake of poor, miserable little me."
Thereupon this strange pair, both very fleet of foot, set off running,
side by side, the brigand holding Chiquita by the hand, so as to give
her all the aid and support he could, and they quickly passed out of
sight. No sooner had they departed than the crows came swooping down
from their perch in the nearest tree, and fell to fiercely upon their
horrible feast, in which they were almost directly joined by several
ravenous wolves--and they made such good use of their time, that in
a few hours nothing remained of the poor old horse but his bones, his
tail, and his shoes. When somewhat later the tyrant arrived, accompanied
by one of Bellombre's farm-hands, leading the horse that was to take
the chariot back with them, he was naturally astonished to find only the
skeleton, with the harness and trappings, still intact, about it, for
neither birds nor beasts had interfered with them, and his surprise was
increased when he discovered the half-devoured carcass of the wolf lying
under the chariot wheels. There also, scattered on the road, were the
sham louis-d'or that did duty upon the stage when largesses were to be
distributed; and upon the snow were the traces, clearly defined, of the
footsteps of a man, approaching the chariot from the way it had come,
and of those of the same man, and also of a child, going on beyond it.

"It would appear," said Herode to himself, "that the chariot of Thespis
has received visitors, since we abandoned it, of more than one sort,
and for my part I am very thankful to have missed them all. Oh, happy
accident! that, when it happened, seemed to us so great a misfortune,
yet is proven now to have been a blessing in disguise. And you, my poor
old horse, you could not have done us a greater service than to die
just when and where you did. Thanks to you we have escaped the
wolves--two-legged ones, which are perhaps the most to be dreaded of
all, as well as the ravenous brethren of this worthy lying here. What
a dainty feast the sweet, tender flesh of those plump little pullets,
Isabelle and Serafina, would have been for them, to say nothing of
the tougher stuff the rest of us are made of. What a bountiful meal we
should have furnished them--the murderous brutes!" While the tyrant was
indulging in this soliloquy Bellombre's servant had detached the chariot
from the skeleton of the poor old horse, and had harnessed to it, with
considerable difficulty, the animal he had been leading, which was
terrified at sight of the bleeding, mutilated carcass of the wolf lying
on the snow, and the ghastly skeleton of its predecessor. Arrived at
the farm, the chariot was safely stowed away under a shed, and upon
examination it was found that nothing was missing. Indeed, something had
been left there, for a small clasp-knife was picked up in it, which had
fallen out of Chiquita's pocket, and excited a great deal of curiosity
and conjecture. It was of Spanish make, and bore upon its sharp, pointed
blade, a sinister inscription in that language, to this effect--

     "When this viper bites you, make sure
     That you must die--for there is no cure."

No one could imagine how it had come there, and the tyrant was
especially anxious to clear up the mystery that puzzled them all.
Isabelle, who was a little inclined to be superstitious, and attach
importance to omens, signs of evil, and such-like, felt troubled about
it. She spoke Spanish perfectly, and understood the full force and
significance of the strange inscription upon the wicked-looking blade of
the tiny weapon.

Meantime, Scapin, dressed in his freshest and most gaudy costume, had
marched into the neighbouring town, carrying his drum; he stationed
himself in the large, public square, and made such good play with his
drum-sticks that he soon had a curious crowd around him, to whom he
made an eloquent address, setting forth in glowing terms the great
attractions offered by "the illustrious comedians of Herode's celebrated
troupe," who, "for this night only," would delight the public by the
representation of that screaming farce, the Rodomontades of Captain
Fracasse; to be followed by a "bewitching Moorish dance," performed by
the "incomparable Mlle. Serafina." After enlarging brilliantly upon this
theme, he added, that as they were "more desirous of glory than profit,"
they would be willing to accept provisions of all kinds, instead of coin
of the realm, in payment of places, from those who had not the money
to spare, and asked them to let all their friends know. This closing
announcement made a great sensation among his attentive listeners, and
he marched back to the farm, confident that they would have a goodly
number of spectators. There he found the stage already erected in the
barn, and a rehearsal in progress, which was necessary on de Sigognac's
account.

Bellombre was instructing him in various minor details as the play went
on, and for a novice he did wonderfully well--acting with much spirit
and grace, showing decided talent, and remarkable aptitude. But it was
very evident that he was greatly annoyed by some portions of the piece,
and an angry flush mounted to the roots of his hair at the whacks and
cuffs so liberally bestowed upon the doughty captain.

His comrades spared him as much as possible--feeling that it must be
intensely repugnant to him--but he grew furious in spite of all his
efforts to control his temper, and at each fresh attack upon him his
flashing eyes and knitted brows betrayed the fierce rage he was in;
then, suddenly remembering that his role required a very different
expression of countenance, he would pull himself up, and endeavour to
imitate that which Matamore had been wont to assume in this character.
Bellombre, who was watching him critically, stopped him a moment, to
say: "You make a great mistake in attempting to suppress your natural
emotions; you should take care not to do it, for they produce a capital
effect, and you can create a new type of stage bully; when you have
gotten accustomed to this sort of thing, and no longer feel this burning
indignation, you must feign it. Strike out in a path of your own, and
you will be sure to attain success--far more so than if you attempt to
follow in another's footsteps. Fracasse, as you represent him, loves and
admires courage, and would fain be able to manifest it--he is angry
with himself for being such an arrant coward. When free from danger, he
dreams of nothing but heroic exploits and superhuman enterprises; but
when any actual peril threatens him, his too vivid imagination conjures
up such terrible visions of bleeding wounds and violent death that his
heart fails him. Yet his pride revolts at the idea of being beaten; for
a moment he is filled with rage, but his courage all disappears with the
first blows he receives, and he finally shows himself to be the poltroon
that he himself despises. This method it appears to me is far superior
to the absurd grimaces, trembling legs, and exaggerated gestures, by
which indifferent actors endeavour to excite the laughter of their
audience--but meantime lose sight entirely of their art."

The baron gratefully accepted the veteran actor's advice, and played
his part after the fashion indicated by him with so much spirit that
all present applauded his acting enthusiastically, and prophesied its
success. The performances were to begin at an early hour, and as the
time approached, de Sigognac put on poor Matamore's costume, to which he
had fallen heir, and which Mme. Leonarde had taken in hand and cleverly
altered for him, so that he could get into it. He had a sharp struggle
with his pride as be donned this absurd dress, and made himself ready
for his debut as an actor, but resolutely repressed all rising regrets,
and determined faithfully to do his best in the new role he had
undertaken.

A large audience had gathered in the big barn, which was brilliantly
lighted, and the representation began before a full house. At the end
farthest from the stage, and behind the spectators, were some cattle in
their stalls, that stared at the unwonted scene with an expression of
stupid wonder in their great, soft eyes--the eyes that Homer, the grand
old Greek poet, deemed worthy to supply an epithet for the beauteous
orbs of majestic Juno herself--and in the midst of one of the most
exciting parts of the play, a calf among them was moved to express its
emotions by an unearthly groan, which did not in the least disconcert
the audience, but had nearly been too much for the gravity of the actors
upon the stage.

Captain Fracasse won much applause, and indeed acted his part admirably,
being under no constraint; for he did not need to fear the criticism of
this rustic audience as he would have done that of a more cultivated and
experienced one; and, too, he felt sure that there could be nobody among
the spectators that knew him, or anything about him. The other actors
were also vigorously clapped by the toil-hardened hands of these lowly
tillers of the soil--whose applause throughout was bestowed, Bellombre
declared, judiciously and intelligently. Serafina executed her Moorish
dance with a degree of agility and voluptuous grace that would have
done honour to a professional ballet-dancer, or to a Spanish gipsy, and
literally brought down the house.

But while de Sigognac was thus employed, far from his ancient chateau,
the portraits of his ancestors that hung upon its walls were frowning
darkly at the degeneracy of this last scion of their noble race, and a
sigh, almost a groan, that issued from their faded lips, echoed dismally
through the deserted house. In the kitchen, Pierre, with Miraut and
Beelzebub on either side of him--all three looking melancholy and
forlorn--sat thinking of his absent lord, and said aloud, "Oh, where is
my poor, dear master now?" a big tear rolling down his withered cheek as
he stooped to caress his dumb companions.



CHAPTER VIII. THE DUKE OF VALLOMBREUSE

The next morning Bellombre drew Blazius aside, and untying the strings
of a long leathern purse emptied out of it into the palm of his hand a
hundred pistoles, which he piled up neatly on the table by which they
were standing; to the great admiration of the pedant, who thought to
himself that his friend was a lucky fellow to be in possession of so
large a sum--absolute wealth in his eyes. But what was his surprise when
Bellombre swept them all up and put them into his own hands.

"You must have understood," he said, "that I did not bring out this
money in order to torment you in like manner with Tantalus, and I want
you to take it, without any scruples, as freely as it is given--or
loaned, if you are too proud to accept a gift from an old friend. These
pieces were made to circulate--they are round, you see--and by this time
they must be tired of lying tied up in my old purse there. I have no
use for them; there's nothing to spend them on here; the farm produces
everything that is needed in my household, so I shall not miss them, and
it is much better in every way that they should be in your hands."

Not finding any adequate reply to make to this astonishing speech,
Blazius put the money into his pocket, and, after first administering to
his friend a cordial accolade, grasped and wrung his hand with grateful
fervour, while an inconvenient tear, that he had tried in vain to wink
away, ran down his jolly red nose. As Bellombre had said the night
before, affairs were brightening with the troupe; good fortune had
come at last, and the hard times they had met and struggled against
so bravely and uncomplainingly were among the things of the past. The
receipts of the previous evening--for there had been some money taken
in, as well as plentiful stores of edibles--added to Bellombre's
pistoles, made a good round sum, and the chariot of Thespis, so
deplorably bare of late, was now amply provisioned. Not to do things by
halves, their generous host lent to the comedians two stout farm horses,
with a man to drive them into Poitiers, and bring them back home again.
They had on their gala-day harness, and from their gaudily-painted,
high-peaked collars hung strings of tiny bells, that jingled cheerily
at every firm, regular step of the great, gentle creatures. So our
travellers set out in high feather, and their entry into Poitiers,
though not so magnificent as Alexander's into Babylon, was still in
very fine style indeed. As they threaded their way through the narrow,
tortuous streets of that ancient town, the noise of their horses' iron
shoes ringing out against the rough stone pavement, and the clatter of
their wheels drew many inmates of the houses they passed to the windows,
and a little crowd collected around them as they stood waiting for
admission before the great entrance door of the Armes de France; the
driver, meanwhile, cracking his whip till it sounded like a volley of
musketry, to which the horses responded by shaking their heads, and
making all the little bells about them jingle sharply and merrily. There
was a wonderful difference between this and their arrival at the last
inn they had stopped at--the night of the snow-storm--and the landlord,
hearing such welcome sounds without, ran himself to admit his guests,
and opened the two leaves of the great door, so that the chariot could
pass into the interior court. This hotel was the finest in Poitiers,
where all the rich and noble travellers were in the habit of alighting,
and there was an air of gaiety and prosperity about it very pleasing to
our comedians, in contrast with all the comfortless, miserable lodgings
they had been obliged to put up with for a long time past. The landlord,
whose double, or rather triple chin testified to bountiful fare, and the
ruddy tints of his face to the excellence of his wines, seemed to be the
incarnation of good humour.

He was so plump, so fresh, so rosy and so smiling, that it was a
pleasure only to look at him. When he saw the tyrant, he fairly bubbled
over with delight. A troupe of comedians always attracted people to his
house, and brought him in a great deal of money; for the young men of
leisure of the town sought their company, and were constantly drinking
wine with the actors, and giving dainty little suppers, and treats of
various kinds, to the actresses.

"You are heartily welcome, Seignior Herode! What happy chance brings
you this way?" said the landlord, smilingly. "It is a long time since we
have had the pleasure of seeing you at the Armes de France."

"So it is, Maitre Bilot," the tyrant answered; "but we cannot be giving
our poor little performances always in the same place, you see; the
spectators would become so familiar with all our tricks that they could
do them themselves, so we are forced to absent ourselves for a while.
And how are things going on here, now? Have you many of the nobility and
gentry in town at present?"

"A great many, Seignior Herode, for the hunting is over, so they
have come in from the chateaux. But they don't know what to do with
themselves, for it is so dull and quiet here. People can't be eating
and drinking all the time, and they are dying for want of a little
amusement. You will have full houses."

"Well," rejoined the tyrant, "then please give us seven or eight good
rooms, have three or four fat capons put down to roast, bring up, from
that famous cellar of yours, a dozen of the capital wine I used to drink
here--you know which I mean--and spread abroad the news of the arrival
of Herode's celebrated troupe at the Armes de France, with a new and
extensive repertoire, to give a few representations in Poitiers."

While this conversation was going on the rest of the comedians had
alighted, and were already being conducted to their respective rooms by
several servants. The one given to Isabelle was a little apart from the
others--those in their immediate vicinity being occupied--which was not
displeasing to the modest young girl, who was often greatly annoyed
and embarrassed by the promiscuous, free-and-easy way of getting
on, inseparable from such a Bohemian life. She always accepted the
inevitable with a good grace, and never complained of the vexation she
felt at being obliged to share her bed-chamber with Serafina or the
duenna, or perhaps both; but it was a luxury she had scarcely dared to
hope for to have her room entirely to herself, and moreover sufficiently
distant from her companions to insure her a good deal of privacy.

In a marvellously short space of time the whole town had become
acquainted with the news of the arrival of the comedians, and the young
men of wealth and fashion began flocking to the hotel, to drink a bottle
of Maitre Bilot's wine, and question him about the beauty and charms of
the actresses; curling up the points of their mustaches as they did so
with such an absurdly conceited, insolent air of imaginary triumph, that
the worthy landlord could not help laughing in his sleeve at them as
he gave his discreet, mysterious answers, accompanied by significant
gestures calculated to turn the silly heads of these dandified young
calves, and make them wild with curiosity and impatience.

Isabelle, when left alone, had first unpacked a portion of her clothing,
and arranged it neatly on the shelves of the wardrobe in her room, and
then proceeded to indulge in the luxury of a bath and complete change
of linen. She took down her long, fine, silky hair, combed it
carefully, and arranged it tastefully, with a pale blue ribbon entwined
artistically in it; which delicate tint was very becoming to her, with
her fair, diaphanous complexion, and lovely flush, like a rose-leaf, on
her cheek. When she had put on the silvery gray dress, with its pretty
blue trimmings, which completed her simple toilet, she smiled at her
own charming reflection in the glass, and thought of a pair of dark,
speaking eyes that she knew would find her fair, and pleasant to look
upon. As she turned away from the mirror a sunbeam streamed in through
her window, and she could not resist the temptation to open the casement
and put her pretty head out, to see what view there might be from it.
She looked down into a narrow, deserted alley, with the wall of the
hotel on one side and that of the garden opposite on the other, so high
that it reached above the tops of the trees within. From her window she
could look down into this garden, and see, quite at the other end of it,
the large mansion it belonged to, whose lofty, blackened walls testified
to its antiquity. Two gentlemen were walking slowly, arm in arm,
along one of the broad paths leading towards the house, engrossed in
conversation; both were young and handsome, but they were scarcely of
equal rank, judging by the marked deference paid by one, the elder, to
the other.

We will call this friendly pair Orestes and Pylades for the present,
until we ascertain their real names. The former was about one or two and
twenty, and remarkably handsome and distinguished--strikingly so--with
a very white skin, intensely black hair and eyes, a tall, slender, lithe
figure, shown to advantage by the rich costume of tan-coloured velvet
he wore; and well-formed feet, with high, arched insteps, small and
delicate enough for a woman's--that more than one woman had envied
him--encased in dainty, perfectly fitting boots, made of white Russia
leather. From the careless ease of his manners, and the haughty grace of
his carriage, one would readily divine that he was a great noble; one
of the favoured few of the earth, who are sure of being well received
everywhere, and courted and flattered by everybody. Pylades, though
a good-looking fellow enough, with auburn hair and mustache, was
not nearly so handsome or striking, either in face or figure, as his
companion. They were talking of women; Orestes declaring himself a
woman-hater from that time forward, because of what he was pleased to
call the persecutions of his latest mistress, of whom he was thoroughly
tired--no new thing with him--but who would not submit to be thrown
aside, like a cast-off glove, without making a struggle to regain the
favour of her ci-devant admirer. He was anathematizing the vanity,
treachery, and deceitfulness of all women, without exception, from the
duchess down to the dairy-maid, and declaring that he should renounce
their society altogether for the future, when they reached the end of
the walk, at the house, and turned about to pace its length again.

As they did so he chanced to glance upward, and perceived Isabelle at
her window. He nudged his companion, to direct his attention to her,
as he said, "Just look up at that window! Do you see the delicious,
adorable creature there? She seems a goddess, rather than a mere mortal
woman--Aurora, looking forth from her chamber in the East--with her
golden brown hair, her heavenly countenance, and her sweet, soft eyes.
Only observe the exquisite grace of her attitude--leaning slightly
forward on one elbow, so as to bring into fine relief the shapely curves
of her beautiful form. I would be willing to swear that hers is a lovely
character--different from the rest of her sex. She is one by herself--a
peerless creature--a very pearl of womanhood--a being fit for Paradise.
Her face tells me that she is modest, pure, amiable, and refined.
Her manners must be charming, her conversation fresh, sparkling, and
elevating."

"The deuce!" exclaimed Pylades, laughingly, "what good eyes you must
have to make out all that at such a distance! Now I see merely a woman
at a window, who is rather pretty, to tell the honest truth, but not
likely to possess half the perfections you so lavishly bestow upon her.
Take care, or you will be in love with her directly."

"Oh! I'm that now, over head and ears. I must find out forthwith who she
is, and what; but one thing is certain, mine she must be, though it cost
me the half, nay, the whole of my fortune to win her, and there be a
hundred rivals to overcome and slay ere I can carry her off from them in
triumph."

"Come, come, don't get so excited," said Pylades, "you will throw
yourself into a fever; but what has become of the contempt and hatred
for the fair sex you were declaring so vehemently just now? The first
pretty face has routed it all."

"But when I talked like that I did not know that this lovely angel
existed upon earth, and what I said was an odious, outrageous
blasphemy--a monstrous, abominable heresy--for which I pray that Venus,
fair goddess of love and beauty, will graciously forgive me."

"Oh, yes! she'll forgive you fast enough, never fear, for she is always
very indulgent to such hot-headed lovers as you are."

"I am going to open the campaign," said Orestes, "and declare war
courteously on my beautiful enemy."

With these words he stopped short, fixed his bold eyes on Isabelle's
face, took off his hat, in a gallant and respectful way, so that its
long plume swept the ground, and wafted a kiss on the tips of his
fingers towards the new object of his ardent admiration. The young
actress, who saw this demonstration with much annoyance, assumed a cold,
composed manner, as if to show this insolent fellow that he had made a
mistake, drew back from the window, closed it, and let fall the curtain;
all done calmly and deliberately, and with the frigid dignity with which
she was wont to rebuke such overtures.

"There," exclaimed Pylades, "your Aurora is hidden behind a cloud; not
very promising, that, for the rest of the day."

"I don't agree with you; I regard it, on the contrary, as a favourable
augury that my little beauty has retired. Don't you know that when the
soldier hides himself behind the battlements of the tower, it signifies
that the besieger's arrow has hit him? I tell you she has mine now,
sticking in under her left wing; that kiss will force her to think of
me all night, if only to be vexed with me, and tax me with effrontery--a
fault which is never displeasing to ladies, I find, though they do
sometimes make a great outcry about it, for the sake of appearances.
There is something between me and the fair unknown now; a very slight,
almost imperceptible thread it may seem at present, but I will so manage
as to make from it a rope, by which I shall climb up into her window."

"I must admit," rejoined Pylades respectfully, "that you certainly are
wonderfully well versed in all the stratagems and ruses of love-making."

"I rather pique myself upon my accomplishments in that line, I will
confess," Orestes said, laughingly; "but come, let's go in now; the
little beauty was startled, and will not show herself at the window
again just yet. This evening I shall begin operations in earnest." And
the two friends turned about and strolled slowly back towards the house,
which they presently entered, and disappeared from sight.

There was a large tennis-court not far from the hotel, which was
wonderfully well suited to make a theatre of; so our comedians hired
it, took immediate possession, set carpenters and painters to work,
furbished up their own rather dilapidated scenery and decorations, and
soon had a charming little theatre, in which all the numbered seats
and boxes were eagerly snapped up, directly they were offered to
"the nobility and gentry of Poitiers," who secured them for all the
representations to be given by the troupe, so that success was insured.
The dressing-room of the tennis players had to serve as green-room, and
dressing-room as well for the comedians, large folding screens being
disposed round the toilet tables of the actresses, so as to shut them
off as much as possible from the gentlemen visitors always lounging
there. Not a very agreeable arrangement for the former, but the best
that could be done, and highly approved by the latter, of course.

"What a pity it is," said the tyrant to Blazius, as they were arranging
what pieces they could play, seated at a window looking into the
interior court of the Armes de France, "what a great pity it is that
Zerbine is not with us here. She is almost worth her weight in gold,
that little minx; a real treasure, so full of fun and deviltry that
nobody can resist her acting; she would make any piece go off well--a
pearl of soubrettes is Zerbine."

"Yes, she is a rare one," Blazius replied, with a deep sigh, "and I
regret more and more every day our having lost her. The devil fly away
with that naughty marquis who must needs go and rob us of our paragon of
waiting-maids."

Just at this point they were interrupted by the noise of an arrival, and
leaning out of the window saw three fine mules, richly caparisoned in
the gay Spanish fashion, entering the court, with a great jingling of
bells and clattering of hoofs. On the first one was mounted a lackey
in gray livery, and well armed, who led by a long strap a second mule
heavily laden with baggage, and on the third was a young woman, wrapped
in a large cloak trimmed with fur, and with her hat, a gray felt with
a scarlet feather, drawn down over her eyes, so as to conceal her face
from the two interested spectators at the window above.

"I say, Herode," exclaimed the pedant, "doesn't all this remind you of
something? It seems to me this is not the first time we have heard the
jingling of those bells, eh?"

"By Saint Alipantin!" cried the tyrant, joyfully, "these are the very
mules that carried Zerbine off so mysteriously. Speak of a wolf--"

"And you will hear the rustling of his wings," interrupted Blazius,
with a peal of laughter. "Oh! thrice happy day!--day to be marked with
white!--for this is really Mlle. Zerbine in person. Look, she jumps down
from her mule with that bewitching little air peculiar to herself, and
throws her cloak to that obsequious lackey with a nonchalance worthy of
a princess; there, she has taken off her hat, and shakes out her raven
tresses as a bird does its feathers; it delights my old eyes to see her
again. Come, let's go down and welcome her."

So Blazius and his companions hastened down to the court, and met
Zerbine just as she turned to enter the house.

The impetuous girl rushed at the pedant, threw her arms around his neck,
and kissed him heartily, crying, "I must kiss your dear, jolly, ugly old
face, just the same as though it were young and handsome, for I am so
glad, so very glad to see it again. Now don't you be jealous, Herode,
and scowl as if you were just going to order the slaughter of the
innocents; wait a minute! I'm going to kiss you, too; I only began with
my dear old Blazius here because he's the ugliest."

And Zerbine loyally fulfilled her promise. Then giving a hand to each of
her companions, went up-stairs between them to the room Maitre Bilot had
ordered to be made ready for her. The moment she entered it she threw
herself down into an arm-chair standing near the door, and began to
draw long deep breaths, like a person who has just gotten rid of a heavy
load.

"You cannot imagine," she said after a little, "how glad I am to get
back to you again, though you needn't go and imagine that I am in love
with your old phizes because of that; I'm not in love with anybody,
Heaven be praised! I'm so joyful because I've gotten back into my own
element once more. Everything is badly off out of its own element, you
know. The water will not do for birds, nor the air for fishes. I am an
actress by nature, and the atmosphere of the theatre is my native air;
in it alone do I breathe freely; even its unpleasant odours are sweet to
my nostrils. Real, everyday life seems very dull and flat. I must have
imaginary love affairs to manage for other people, and take part in the
whirl of romantic adventures to be found only on the stage, to keep me
alive and happy. So I've come back to claim my old place again. I hope
you haven't found any one else to fill it; though of course I know
that you couldn't get anybody to really replace me. If you had I should
scratch her eyes out, that I promise you, for I am a real little devil
when my rights are encroached upon, though you might not think it."

"There's no need for you to show your prowess in that way," said the
tyrant, "for we have not had any one to take your role, and we're
delighted, overjoyed, to have you back again. If you had had some of the
magic compound Apuleius tells us of, and had thereby changed yourself
into a bird, to come and listen to what Blazius and I were saying a
little while ago, you would have heard nothing but good of yourself--a
rare thing that for listeners--and you would have heard some very
enthusiastic praise besides."

"That's charming!" the soubrette exclaimed. "I see that you two are just
the same good old souls as ever, and that you have missed your little
Zerbine."

Several servants now came in, carrying trunks, boxes, portmanteaus,
packages, no end of baggage, which Zerbine counted over and found
correct; and when they had gone she opened two or three of the larger
chests with the keys she had on a small silver ring. They were filled
with all sorts of handsome things--silks and velvets, laces and
jewels--and among the rest a long purse, crammed as full as it could
hold of gold pieces, which Zerbine poured out in a heap on the table;
seeming to take a childish delight in looking at and playing with her
golden treasure, while laughing and chattering merrily all the time.

"Serafina would burst with rage and envy if she should see all this
money," said she gaily, "so we will keep it out of her sight. I only
show it to you to prove that I didn't need to return to my profession,
but was actuated by a pure love of my art. As to you, my good old
friends, if your finances happen to be not just as you could wish, put
your paws into this and help yourselves; take just as much as ever they
will hold."

The two actors thanked her heartily for her generous offer, but assured
her that they were very well off, and in need of no assistance.

"Ah well!" said Zerbine, "it will be for another time then. I shall
put it away in my strong box, and keep it for you, like a faithful
treasurer."

"But surely you haven't abandoned the poor marquis," said Blazius,
rather reproachfully. "Of course I know there was no question of his
giving you up; you are not one of that sort. The role of Ariadne
would not suit you at all; you are a Circe. Yet he is a splendid young
nobleman-handsome, wealthy, amiable, and not wanting in wit."

"Oh! I haven't given him up; very far from it," Zerbine replied, with a
saucy smile. "I shall guard him carefully, as the most precious gem in
my casket. Though I have quitted him for the moment, he will shortly
follow me."

"Fugax sequax, sequax fugax," the pedant rejoined; "these four Latin
words, which have a cabalistic sound, not unlike the croaking of certain
batrachians, and might have been borrowed, one would say, from the
'Comedy of the Frogs,' by one Aristophanes, an Athenian poet, contain
the very pith and marrow of all theories of love and lovemaking; they
would make a capital rule to regulate everybody's conduct--of the virile
as well as of the fair sex."

"And what under the sun do your fine Latin words mean, you pompous old
pedant?" asked Zerbine. "You have neglected to translate them, entirely
forgetting that not everybody has been professor in a college, and
knight of the ferule, like yourself."

"Their meaning," he replied, "may be expressed in this little couplet:
'If you fly from men, they'll be sure to pursue, But if you follow them,
they will fly from you."

"Ha! ha!" laughed Zerbine, "that's a verse that ought to be set to
music." And she began singing it to a merry tune at the top of her
voice; a voice so clear and ringing that it was a pleasure to hear it.
She accompanied her song with such an amusing and effective pantomime,
representing flight and pursuit, that it was a pity she had not had
a larger audience to enjoy it. After this outburst of merriment she
quieted down a little, and gave her companions a brief, history of her
adventures since she had parted from them, declaring that the marquis
had invariably treated her with the courtesy and generosity of a prince.
But in spite of it all she had longed for her old wandering life with
the troupe, the excitement of acting, and the rounds of applause she
never failed to win; and at last she confessed to the marquis that she
was pining for her role of soubrette.

"'Very well,' he said to me, 'you can take your mules and your
belongings and go in pursuit of the troupe, and I will shortly follow
in pursuit of you. I have some matters to look after in Paris, that have
been neglected of late, and I have been too long absent from the court.
You will permit me to applaud you I suppose, and truth to tell I shall
be very glad to enjoy your bewitching acting again.' So I told him I
would look for him among the audience every evening till he made his
appearance, and, after the most tender leave-taking, I jumped on my mule
and caught you up here at the Armes de France, as you know."

"But," said Herode, "suppose your marquis should not turn up at all! you
would be regularly sold."

This idea struck Zerbine as being so utterly absurd that she threw
herself back and laughed until she had to hold her sides, and was fairly
breathless. "The marquis not come!" she cried, when she could speak,
"you had better engage rooms for him right away--not come! Why my fear
was that he would overtake me on the road; you will see him very soon,
I can guarantee. Ah! you abominable old bear! you doubt the power of
my charms, do you? You're decidedly growing stupid, Herode, as you grow
old; you used to be rather clever than otherwise."

At this moment appeared Leander and Scapin, who had heard of Zerbine's
arrival from the servants, and came to pay their respects, soon
followed by old Mme. Leonarde, who greeted the soubrette with as much
obsequiousness as if she had-been a princess. Isabelle came also to
welcome her, to the great delight of Zerbine, who was devotedly fond of
her, and always trying to do something to please her. She now insisted
upon presenting her with a piece of rich silk, which Isabelle accepted
very reluctantly, and only when she found that the warm-hearted
soubrette would be really wounded if she refused her first gift.
Serafina had shut herself up in her own room, and was the only one that
failed to come and bid Zerbine welcome. She could neither forget nor
forgive the inexplicable preference of the Marquis de Bruyeres for her
humble rival, and she called the soubrette all sorts of hard names in
her wrath and indignation; but nobody paid any attention to her bad
humour, and she was left to sulk in solitude.

When Zerbine asked why Matamore had not come to speak to her with the
rest, they told her the sad story of his death, and also that the Baron
de Sigognac now filled his role, under the name of Captain Fracasse.

"It will be a great honour for me to act with a gentleman whose
ancestors figured honourably in the crusades," said she, "and I only
hope that my profound respect for him will not overwhelm me, and spoil
my acting; fortunately I have become pretty well accustomed to the
society of people of rank lately."

A moment later de Sigognac knocked at the door, and came in to greet
Zerbine, and courteously express his pleasure at her return. She rose
as he approached, and making a very low curtsey, said, "This is for
the Baron de Sigognac; and this is for my comrade, Captain Fracasse;"
kissing him on both cheeks--which unexpected and unprecedented
proceeding put poor de Sigognac completely out of countenance; partly
because he was not used to such little theatrical liberties, but more,
because he was ashamed to have such a thing happen in the presence of
his pure and peerless Isabelle.

And now we will return to Orestes and Pylades, who, after their eventful
promenade in the garden, were cosily dining together. The former, that
is to say the young Duke of Vallombreuse, had scarcely eaten any dinner,
and had even neglected his glass of wine, so preoccupied was he with
thoughts of his lovely unknown. The Chevalier de Vidalinc, his friend
and confidant, tried in vain to draw him into conversation; he replied
only by monosyllables, or not at all, to the other's brilliant sallies.
When the dessert had been put upon the table, and the servants had
retired and left them alone, the chevalier said to the duke: "I am
entirely at your service in this new affair, of course, ready to help
you bag your bird in any way you please; shall I go and send out the
beaters to drive it towards your nets?"

"No, indeed, you will do nothing of the kind; I shall go myself, for
there is nothing I enjoy so much as the pursuit of game, of whatever
sort it may be. I would follow a deer, or a pheasant, to the ends of
the earth but what I would have it; how much more a divine creature like
this. It is only after I have captured the flying prize that I lose
all interest in it; so do not, I pray you, propose to deprive me of the
delights of the chase; the more difficult it is the better I like it,
the more fascinating I find it. The most annoying thing is that women
are always so willing to be caught; if I could only find an obdurate,
cruel fair one, who would fly from me in earnest, how I should adore
her! but, alas! such an anomaly does not exist on this terraqueous
globe."

"If I were not so well acquainted with your innumerable triumphs, I
should be obliged to tax you with conceit," said Vidalinc, "but as it
is I must admit that you are justified in what you say. But perhaps your
wish may be gratified this time, for the young beauty certainly did
seem to be very modest and retiring, as well as positively cold and
forbidding in her manner of receiving your little act of gallantry."

"We will see about that, and without any delay. Maitre Bilot is always
ready and glad to tell all he knows whenever he can secure a good
listener, and he is sharp enough to find out very quickly pretty much
all that's worth knowing about his guests in the hotel. Come, we'll go
and drink a bottle of his best Madeira; I will draw him out, and get all
the information he can give us about this fair inmate of his house."

A few minutes later the two young gentlemen entered the Armes de France,
and asked for Maitre Bilot. The worthy landlord came forward at once,
and himself conducted them into a cosy, well-lighted room on the ground
floor, where a bright fire was burning cheerily; he took the old, dusty
bottle, with cobwebs clinging about it, from the waiter's hands, drew
the cork very carefully, and then poured the amber wine, as clear as a
topaz, into the delicate Venetian glasses held out for it by the duke
and his companion, with a hand as steady as if it bad been of bronze.
In taking upon himself this office Maitre Bilot affected an almost
religious solemnity, as though he were a priest of Bacchus, officiating
at his altar, and about to celebrate the mysterious rites of the ancient
worshippers of that merry god; nothing was wanting but the crown of
vine leaves. He seemed to think that this ceremoniousness was a sort
of testimony to the superior quality of the wine from his well-stocked
cellar, which needed no recommendation, for it was really very good,
worthy of even a royal table, and of wide-spread fame.

Maitre Bilot, having finished his little performance, was about to
withdraw, when a significant glance from the duke made him pause
respectfully on the threshold.

"Maitre Bilot," said he, "fetch a glass for yourself from the buffet
there, and come and drink a bumper of this capital wine to my health."

This command, for such it was in reality, was instantly obeyed, and
after emptying his glass at a single draught, the well-pleased landlord
stood, with one hand resting on the table and his eyes fixed on the
duke, waiting to see, what was wanted of him.

"Have you many strangers in your house now?" asked Vallombreuse, "and
who and what are they?" Bilot was about to reply, but the young duke
interrupted him, and continued, "But what's the use of beating about the
bush with such a wily old miscreant as you are, Maitre Bilot? Who is
the lady that has the room with a window, the third one from the corner,
looking into my garden? Answer to the point, and you shall have a gold
piece for every syllable."

"Under those conditions," said Bilot, with a broad grin, "one must be
very virtuous indeed to make use of the laconic style so highly esteemed
by the ancients. However, as I am devoted to your lordship, I will
answer in a single word--Isabelle."

"Isabelle! a charming and romantic name. But do not confine yourself to
such Lacedaemonian brevity, Maitre Bilot; be prolix! and relate to me,
minutely, everything that you know about the lovely Isabelle."

"I am proud and happy to obey your lordship's commands," the worthy
landlord answered, with a low bow; "my cellar, my kitchen, my tongue and
myself are all at your lordship's disposition. Isabelle is an actress,
belonging to the celebrated troupe of Seignior Herode, stopping at
present at the Armes de France."

"An actress!" exclaimed the young duke, with an air of disappointment.
"I should have taken her for a lady of rank, from her quiet, dignified
mien, or at least a well-bred bourgeoise, rather than a member of a band
of strolling players."

"Yes, your lordship is right; any one might think so, for her
manners and appearance are very lady-like, and she has an untarnished
reputation, despite the difficulties of her position. No one understands
better how to keep all the gallants that hover about her at a respectful
distance; she treats these would-be suitors for her favour with a cold,
reserved, yet perfect politeness that there is no getting over."

"What you say pleases me," interrupted Vallombreuse, "for there
is nothing I so thoroughly despise as a fortress that is ready to
capitulate before the first assault has been made."

"It would need more than one to conquer this fair citadel, my lord,
though you are a bold and successful captain, not used to encountering
any serious resistance, and sweeping everything before you; and,
moreover, it is guarded by the vigilant sentinel of a pure and devoted
love."

"Oh ho! she has a lover then, this modest Isabelle!" cried the young
duke, in a tone at once triumphant and annoyed, for though on the one
side he had no faith in the steadfast virtue of any woman, on the other
he was vexed to learn that he had a successful rival.

"I said love, not lover," continued the landlord with respectful
persistency, "which is by no means the same thing. Your lordship is too
well versed in such matters not to appreciate the difference. A woman
that has one lover may have two, as the old song says; but a woman who
loves, with a pure love, and has that love returned in every sense,
it is impossible, or at least very difficult, to win away from it. She
possesses already everything that you, my lord, or any one, could offer
for her acceptance."

"You talk as if you had been studying the subject of love
diligently--and Petrarch's sonnets as well; but notwithstanding all
that, Maitre Bilot, I don't believe you thoroughly understand anything
outside of your own wines and sauces, which, I am bound to admit, are
always excellent. And pray, who is the favoured object of this Platonic
attachment?"

"One of the members of the troupe," Bilot replied, "and it is not to be
wondered at, for he's a handsome young fellow, and very different from
the rest of them; far superior, more like a gentleman than an actor; and
I shrewdly suspect he is one," added the landlord, with a knowing look.

"Well, now you must be happy!" said the Chevalier de Vidalinc to
his friend. "Here are unexpected obstacles in plenty, and a perfect
none-such of a prize. A virtuous actress is a rare phenomenon, not to be
found every day in the week. You are in luck!"

"Are you sure," continued the young duke, still addressing the landlord,
and without paying any attention to the last remark, "that this chaste
Isabelle does not accord any privileges secretly to that conceited young
jackanapes? I despise the fellow thoroughly, and detest him as well."

"Your lordship does not know her," answered Maitre Bilot, "or I should
not need to declare, as I do, that she is as spotless as the ermine. She
would rather die than suffer a stain upon her purity. It is impossible
to see much of her without perceiving that; it shines out in everything
that she says and does."

Hereupon a long discussion followed as to the best manner of conducting
the attack upon this fair citadel, which the young nobleman became more
and more determined to conquer, as new difficulties were suggested. The
worthy landlord, who was a shrewd fellow and had made a just estimate
of Isabelle's character, finished by advising his noble interlocutor
to turn his attention to Serafina, "who was very charming, and not less
beautiful than Isabelle, and who would be greatly pleased and flattered
by his lordship's notice." This, because he felt sure that the duke
would not succeed with Isabelle, in spite of his exalted rank, handsome
person, and immense wealth, and he wished to spare him an inevitable
disappointment.

"It is Isabelle that I admire, and will have," said Vallombreuse, in
a dry tone that put an end to the discussion. "Isabelle, and no other,
Maitre Bilot."

Then plunging his hand into his pocket, he drew forth a goodly number of
gold pieces, and throwing them down carelessly on the table, said, "Pay
yourself for the bottle of wine out of this, and keep the balance."

The landlord gathered up the louis with a deprecating air, and dropped
them one by one into his purse. The two gentlemen rose, without another
word, put on their broad, plumed hats, threw their cloaks on their
shoulders, and quitted the hotel. Vallombreuse took several turns up
and down the narrow alley between the Armes de France and his own garden
wall, looking up searchingly at Isabelle's window every time he passed
under it; but it was all for naught. Isabelle, now on her guard, did not
approach the window again; the curtain was drawn closely over it, and
not a sign visible from without that the room was occupied. Tired at
last of this dull work, the duke slowly withdrew to his own mansion,
feeling highly indignant that this inappreciative little actress should
presume to slight the attentions of a great and powerful noble like
himself; but he found some comfort in the thought that when she came
to see and know him she could not long hold out against his numerous
attractions. As to his rival--if the fellow ventured to interfere with
him too much, he would quietly suppress him, by means of certain stout
ruffians--professional cut-throats--he had in his employ, to do all
that sort of work for him; his own dignity not allowing him to come into
personal contact with such cattle as actors. Though Vallombreuse had
not seen anything of Isabelle at her window, he himself had been closely
watched, by jealous eyes, from a neighbouring casement that commanded
the same view. They belonged to de Sigognac, who was greatly annoyed and
incensed by the manoeuvres of this mysterious personage under Isabelle's
window. A dozen times he was on the point of rushing down, sword
in hand, to attack and drive away the impertinent unknown; but he
controlled himself by a strong effort; for there was after all nothing
in the mere fact of a man's promenading back and forth in a deserted
alley to justify him in such an onslaught, and he would only bring down
ridicule on himself; besides, the name of Isabelle might be dragged
in--sweet Isabelle, who was all unconscious of the ardent glances
directed at her window from below, as well as of the burning
indignation, because of them, of her own true lover close at hand. But
he promised himself to keep a watchful eye for the future upon this
young gallant, and studied his features carefully, every time his face
was raised towards Isabelle's window, so that he should be sure to
recognise him when he saw him again.

Herode had selected for their first representation in Poitiers a new
play, which all the comedians were very much occupied in learning and
rehearsing, to be followed by the Rodomontades of Captain Fracasse, in
which de Sigognac was to make his real debut before a real public having
only acted as yet to an audience of calves, horned cattle, and peasants
in Bellombre's barn. He was studying diligently under the direction of
Blazius, who was more devoted to him than ever, and who had proposed
something which was a most welcome suggestion to the sensitive young
baron. This was for him to wear what is called a half-mask, which covers
only the forehead and nose, but if arranged with skill alters entirely
the wearer's appearance--so that his nearest friend would not recognise
him--without interfering materially with his comfort. This idea
de Sigognac hailed with delight, for it insured his preserving his
incognito; the light pasteboard screen seemed to him like the closed
visor of a helmet, behind which he need not shrink from facing the
enemy--that is to stay the gazing crowd on the other side of the
foot-lights. With it he would take merely the part of the unknown,
concealed intelligence that directs the movements of the marionette, and
the voice that makes it speak; only he should be within it, instead of
behind the scenes pulling the strings--his dignity would have nothing
to suffer in playing the game in that manner, and for this relief from
a dreaded ordeal he was unspeakably thankful. Biatius, who never could
take too much pains in the service of his dear baron, himself modelled
and fashioned the little mask, very deftly, so as to make his stage
physiognomy as unlike his real, every-day countenance as possible. A
prominent nose, very red at the point, bushy, high-arched eyebrows,
and an immensely heavy mustache drooping over his mouth, completely
disguised the well-cut, regular features of the handsome young nobleman,
and although in reality it only concealed the forehead and nose, yet it
transfigured the whole face.

There was to be a dress rehearsal the evening before the first
representation, so that they might judge of the general effect in their
improvised theatre, and test its capabilities; and as the actresses
could not very well go through the streets in full costume, they were to
finish their toilets in the green-room, while the actor themselves ready
for the stage in the small dressing-closets set aside for that purpose.
All the gentlemen in Poitiers, young and old, were wild to penetrate
into this temple, or rather sacristy, of Thalia, where the priestesses
of that widely worshipped muse adorned themselves to celebrate her
mysterious rites, and a great number of them had succeeded in gaining
admittance. They crowded round the actresses, offering advice as to the
placing of a flower or a jewel, handing the powder-box or the rouge-pot,
presenting the little hand-mirror, taking upon themselves all such small
offices with the greatest "empressement," and vying with each other in
their gallant attendance upon the fair objects of their admiration; the
younger and more timid among them holding a little aloof and sitting on
the large chests scattered about, swinging their feet and twisting their
mustaches, while they watched the proceedings of their bolder companions
with envious eyes. Each actress had her own circle of admiring cavaliers
about her, paying her high-flown compliments in the exaggerated language
of the day, and doing their best to make themselves agreeable in every
way they could think of. Zerbine laughed at them all, and made fun of
them unmercifully, turning everything they said into ridicule; yet so
coquettishly that they thought her bewitching, in spite of her sharp
tongue, which was like a two-edged sword. Serafina, whose vanity was
overweening, delighted in the fulsome homage paid to her charms, and
smiled encouragingly upon her throng of admirers, but Isabelle, who
was intensely annoyed at the whole thing, did not pay the slightest
attention to them, nor even once raise her eyes to look at them; being
apparently absorbed in the duties of her toilet, which she accomplished
as quietly and modestly as possible--having left only the finishing
touches to be given in that public place.

The Duke of Vallombreuse was careful, of course, not to miss this
excellent opportunity, of which he had been informed by Maitre Bilot, to
see Isabelle again, and entering the green-room in good season, followed
by his friend Vidalinc, marched straight up to her toilet-table. He
was enchanted to find that, on this close inspection, she was even more
beautiful than he had supposed, and in his enthusiastic delight at
this discovery could scarcely refrain from seizing her in his arms and
declaring his passion there and then; only the presence of the crowd of
lookers-on saved Isabelle from what would have been a most trying and
painful scene.

The young duke was superbly dressed. He had spared no pains, for
he wanted to dazzle Isabelle, and he certainly did look splendidly
handsome. He wore a magnificent costume of rich white satin, slashed and
trimmed with crimson, with many knots of ribbon about it fastened with
diamond clasps, with broad ruffles of exquisitely fine lace at throat
and wrists, with a wide belt of cloth of silver supporting his sword,
and with perfumed gloves on the hands that held his white felt hat, with
its long crimson feather. His wavy black hair fell around the perfect
oval of his face, enhancing its smooth whiteness; a delicate mustache
shaded, not concealed, his full red lips; his splendid, great black
eyes flashed through their thick, silky fringes, and his neck, white
and round as a marble column, rose from amid its surrounding of soft,
priceless lace, proudly supporting his haughty, handsome head. Yet with
all this perfection of outline and colouring, his appearance was
not entirely pleasing; a repelling haughtiness shone out through the
perfectly modelled features, and it was but too evident that the joys
and sorrows of his fellow mortals would awaken no sympathy in the owner
of that surpassingly handsome face and form. He believed that he was not
made of common clay like other men, but was a being of a higher order,
who condescended to mingle with his inferiors--a piece of fine porcelain
amid homely vessels of coarser earthenware.

Vallombreuse stationed himself silently close beside the mirror on
Isabelle's dressing-table, leaning one elbow on its frame all the other
gallants respectfully making way for him--just where she could not
possibly help seeing him whenever she looked in the glass; a skilful
manoeuvre, which would surely have succeeded with any other than this
modest young girl. He wished to produce an impression, before addressing
a word to her, by his personal beauty, his lordly mien, and his
magnificence of apparel. Isabelle, who had instantly recognised the
audacious gallant of the garden, and who was displeased by the imperious
ardour of his gaze, redoubled her reserve of manner, and did not lift
her eyes to the mirror in front of her at all; she did not even seem
to be aware that one of the handsomest young noblemen in all France
was standing there before her, trying to win a glance from her lovely
eyes--but then, she was a singular girl, this sweet Isabelle! At length,
exasperated by her utter indifference, Vallombreuse suddenly took the
initiative, and said to her, "Mademoiselle, you take the part of Sylvia
in this new play, do you not?"

"Yes, sir," Isabelle answered curtly, without looking at him--not able
to evade this direct question.

"Then never will a part have been so admirably played," continued the
duke. "If it is poor your acting will make it excellent, if it is fine
you will make it peerless. Ah! happy indeed the poet whose verses are
intrusted to those lovely lips of yours."

These vague compliments were only such as admiring gallants were in the
habit of lavishing upon pretty actresses, and Isabelle could not with
any show of reason resent it openly, but she acknowledged it only by
a very slight bend of the head, and still without looking up. At this
moment de Sigognac entered the green-room; he was masked and in full
costume, just buckling around his waist the belt of the big sword he had
inherited from Matamore, with the cobweb dangling from the scabbard. He
also marched straight up to Isabelle, and was received with a radiant
smile.

"You are capitally gotten up," she said to him in a low, tone, so low
that he had to bend down nearer her to hear, "and I am sure that no
fierce Spanish captain ever had a more superbly arrogant air than you."

The Duke of Vallombreuse drew himself up to his full height, and looked
this unwelcome new-comer over from head to foot, with an air of the
coolest, most haughty disdain. "This must be the contemptible scoundrel
they say she's in love with," he said to himself, swelling with
indignation and spite--filled with amazement too--for he could not
conceive of a woman's hesitating for an instant between the magnificent
young Duke of Vallombreuse and this ridiculous play-actor. After the
first rapid glance he made as if he did not perceive de Sigognac at all,
no more than if he had been a piece of furniture standing there; for him
Captain Fracasse was not a MAN, but a THING, and he continued to gaze
fixedly at poor Isabelle--his eyes fairly blazing with passion--exactly
as though no one was near. She, confused at last, and alarmed, blushed
painfully, in spite of all her efforts to appear calm and unmoved, and
hastened to finish what little remained to be done, so that she
might make her escape, for she could see de Sigognac's hand close
spasmodically on the handle of his sword, and, realizing how he must
be feeling, feared an outbreak on his part. With trembling fingers she
adjusted a little black "mouche" near the corner of her pretty mouth,
and pushed back her chair preparatory to rising from it--having a
legitimate cause for haste, as the tyrant had already more than once
roared out from the stage door, "Mesdemoiselles, are you ready?"

"Permit me, mademoiselle," said the duke starting forward, "you have
forgotten to put on an 'assassine,'" and touching the tip of his
forefinger to his lips he plunged it into the box of patches standing
open on the dressing-table, and brought one out on it. "Permit me to put
it on for you--here, just above your snowy bosom; it will enhance its
exquisite whiteness."

The action followed so quickly upon the words that Isabelle, terrified
at this cruel effrontery, had scarcely time to start to one side, and so
escape his profane touch; but the duke was not one to be easily balked
in anything he particularly desired to do, and pressing nearer he
again extended his hand towards Isabelle's white neck, and had almost
succeeded in accomplishing his object, when his arm was seized from
behind, and held firmly in a grasp of iron.

Furiously angry, he turned his head to see who had dared to lay hands
upon his sacred person, and perceived that it was the odious Captain
Fracasse.

"My lord duke," said he calmly, still holding his wrist firmly,
"Mademoiselle is in need of no assistance from you, or any one else, in
this matter." Then his grasp relaxed and he let go of the duke's arm.

Vallombreuse, who looked positively hideous at that moment, his face
pale to ghastliness and disfigured by the rage he felt, grasped the hilt
of his sword with the hand released by de Sigognac, and drew it partly
out of its scabbard, as if he meant to attack him, his eyes flashing
fire and every feature working in its frenzy--the baron meanwhile
standing perfectly motionless, quietly awaiting the onset.

But ere he had touched him the duke stopped short; a sudden thought
had extinguished his blazing fury like a douche of cold water; his
self-control returned, his face resumed its wonted expression, the
colour came to his lips, and his eyes showed the most icy disdain, the
most supreme contempt that it could be possible for one human being to
manifest for another. He had remembered just in time that he must not so
greatly demean himself as to cross swords with a person of no birth,
and an actor besides; all his pride revolted at the bare idea of such a
thing. An insult coming from a creature so low in the social scale could
not reach him. Does a gentleman declare war upon the mud that
bespatters him? However, it was not in his character to leave an offence
unpunished, no matter whence it proceeded, and stepping nearer to de
Sigognac he said, "You impertinent scoundrel, I will have every bone in
your body broken for you with cudgels, by my lackeys."

"You'd better take care what you do, my lord," answered the baron, in
the most tranquil tone and with the most careless air imaginable, "you'd
much better take care what you do! My bones are not so easily broken,
but cudgels may be. I do not put up with blows anywhere but on the
stage."

"However insolent you may choose to be, you graceless rascal, you cannot
provoke me to do you so much honour as to attack you myself; that is
too high an ambition for such as you to realize," said Vallombreuse,
scornfully.

"We will see about that, my lord duke," de Sigognac replied; "it may
happen that I, having less pride than yourself, will fight you, and
conquer you, with my own hands."

"I do not dispute with a masker," said the duke shortly, taking
Vidalinc's arm as if to depart.

"I will show you my face, duke, at a more fitting time and place,"
de Sigognac continued composedly, "and I think it will be still more
distasteful to you than my false nose. But enough for the present. I
hear the bell that summons me, and if I wait any longer here with you I
shall miss my entry at the proper moment."

He turned on his heel and leisurely walked off, with admirable
nonchalance, leaving the haughty duke very much disconcerted, and at a
disadvantage, as indeed de Sigognac had cleverly managed that he should
be throughout the brief interview.

The comedians were charmed with his courage and coolness, but, knowing
his real rank, were not so much astonished as the other spectators
of this extraordinary scene, who were both shocked and amazed at such
temerity.

Isabelle was so terrified and excited by this fierce altercation that
a deathly pallor had overspread her troubled face, and Zerbine, who had
flown to her assistance, had to fetch some of her own rouge and bestow
it plentifully upon the colourless lips and cheeks before she could obey
the tyrant's impatient call, again resounding through the green-room.

When she tried to rise her trembling knees had nearly given way under
her, and but for the soubrette's kind support she must have fallen to
the floor. To have been the cause, though innocently, of a quarrel like
this was a terrible blow to poor Isabelle sweet, pure, modest child that
she was--for she knew that it is a dreadful thing for any woman to have
her name mixed up in such an affair, and shrank from the publicity that
could not fail to be given to it; besides, she loved de Sigognac with
fervour and devotion, though she had never acknowledged it to him, and
the thought of the danger to which he was exposed, of a secret attack by
the duke's hired ruffians, or even of a duel with his lordship himself,
drove her well-nigh frantic with grief and terror.

In spite of this untoward incident, the rehearsal went on, and very
smoothly; the theatre was found to be all that they could desire, and
everybody acted with much spirit. Even poor, trembling Isabelle did
herself credit, though her heart was heavy within her; but for de
Sigognac's dear sake, whose anxious glances she strove to meet with a
reassuring smile, she succeeded in controlling her emotion, and felt
inspired to do her very best. As to Captain Fracasse, excited by
the quarrel, he acted superbly. Zerbine surpassed herself. Shouts
of laughter and storms of clapping followed her animated words and
gestures. From one corner, near the orchestra, came such vigorous bursts
of applause, leading all the rest and lasting longer than any, that at
last Zerbine's attention was attracted and her curiosity excited.

Approaching the foot-lights, in such a way as to make it appear part of
her usual by-play, she peered over them and caught sight of her marquis,
beaming with smiles and flushed from his violent efforts in her behalf.

"The marquis is here," she managed to whisper to Blazius, who was
playing Pandolphe; "just look at him! how delighted he is, and how he
applauds me--till he is actually red in the face, the dear man! So he
admires my acting, does he? Well, he shall have a spicy specimen of it,
then."

Zerbine kept her word, and, from that on to the end of the piece, played
with redoubled spirit. She was never so sparkling, so bewitchingly
coquettish, so charmingly mischievous before, and the delighted marquis
was more fascinated than ever. The new play, entitled "Lygdamon et
Lydias," and written by a certain Georges de Scudery (a gentleman who,
after having served with honour in the French Guards, quitted the sword
for the pen, which he wielded with equal success), was next rehearsed,
and highly approved by all--without a single dissenting voice. Leander,
who played the leading part of Lygdamon, was really admirable in it,
and entertained high hopes of the effect he should produce upon the fair
ladies of Poitiers and its environs.

But we will leave our comedians now, and follow the Duke of Vallombreuse
and his devoted friend Vidalinc.

Quite beside himself with rage, the young duke, after the scene in the
green-room in which he had played so unsatisfactory a part to himself,
returned to his own home and there raved to Vidalinc about his revenge,
threatening the insolent captain with all manner of punishments, and
going on like a madman. His friend tried in vain to soothe him.

He rushed wildly around the room, wringing his hands, kicking the
furniture about right and left, upsetting tables and arm-chairs, and
finally, seizing a large Japanese vase, very curious and costly, threw
it violently on the floor, where it broke into a thousand pieces.

"Oh!" he shrieked, "if I could only smash that abominable blackguard
like this vase, trample him under foot as I do this debris, and then
have the remains of him swept up and thrown out into the dust-heap,
where he belongs. A miserable scoundrel, that dares to interpose between
me, the Duke of Vallombreuse, and the object of my desires! If he
were only a gentleman I would fight him, on foot or on horseback, with
swords, daggers, pistols, anything in the shape of a weapon, until I had
him down, with my foot on his breast, and could spit into the face of
his corpse."

"Perhaps he is one," said Vidalinc; "his audacious defiance looks like
it. You remember what Maitre Bilot told you about Isabelle's favoured
lover? This must be the one, judging by his jealousy of you, and the
agitation of the girl."

"Do you really mean what you say?" cried Vallombreuse, contemptuously.
"What! a man of birth and condition mingle voluntarily and on terms
of equality with these low buffoons of actors, paint his nose red, and
strut about the stage, receiving cuffs and kicks from everybody? Oh no,
Vidalinc, the thing is impossible."

"But just remember," persisted the chevalier, "that mighty Jove himself
resorted to the expedient of adopting the shapes of various beasts, as
well as birds, in his terrestrial love affairs, which was surely much
more derogatory to the majesty of the king of the gods than to play in a
comedy is to the dignity of a gentleman."

"Never mind," said the duke, as he rang a small hand bell sharply; "be
he what he may, I intend first to have the scamp well punished in his
character of play-actor; even though I should be obliged to chastise
the gentleman afterward, if there prove to be one hidden behind that
ridiculous mask--which idea I cannot credit."

"If there be one! There's no doubt of it, I tell you," rejoined his
friend, with an air of conviction. "The more I think of it, the
more positive I am of it. Why, his eyes shone like stars under his
overhanging false eye-brows, and in spite of his absurd pasteboard nose
he had a grand, majestic air about him that was very imposing, and would
be utterly impossible to a low-born man."

"Well, so much the better," said Vallombreuse; "for if you are right, I
can make his punishment twofold."

Meantime a servant, in rich livery, had entered, and after bowing low
stood as motionless as a statue, with one hand on the knob of the door,
awaiting his master's orders; which were presently given, as follows:
"Go and call up Basque, Azolan, Merindol, and Labriche, if they have
gone to bed; tell them to arm themselves with stout cudgels and go down
to the tennis-court, find a dark corner near by and wait there, until
the players come out, for a certain Captain Fracasse. They are to fall
upon him and beat him until they leave him for dead upon the pavement,
but to be careful not to kill him outright--it might be thought that I
was afraid of him if they did, you know," in an aside to Vidalinc.

"I will be responsible for the consequences; and with every blow they
are to cry, 'This is from the Duke of Vallombreuse,' so that he may
understand plainly what it means."

This order, though of so savage and fierce a nature, did not seem to
surprise the lackey, who, as he retired, assured his lordship, with an
unmoved countenance and another low bow, that his commands should be
immediately obeyed.

"I am sorry," said Vidalinc, after the servant had closed the door
behind him, "that you mean to treat this man so roughly, for after all
he showed a spirit superior to his position, and becoming a gentleman.
Suppose you let me go and pick a quarrel with him, and kill him for you
in a duel. All blood is red when it is shed, the lowly as well as the
lofty, though they do pretend that the blood of the nobles is blue. I
come of a good and ancient family, if not so high in rank as yours, and
I have no fear of belittling myself in this affair. Only say the word,
and I will go this instant, for this histrionic captain is, it seems
to me, more worthy of the sword of a gentleman than the cudgels of your
hired ruffians."

"I thank you heartily for this offer," answered the duke, "which proves
your faithful devotion to me and my interests, but I cannot accept it.
That low scoundrel has dared to lay hands upon me, and he must
expiate his crime in the most ignominious way. Should he prove to be a
gentleman, he will be able to find redress. I never fail to respond, as
you know, when there is question of settling a matter by the sword."

"As you please, my lord duke," said Vidalinc, stretching out his legs
lazily and putting his feet on the fender, with the air of a man who can
do no more, but must stand aside and let things take their own course.
"By the way, do you know that that Serafina is charming? I paid her
several compliments, which were very graciously received; and more than
that, she has promised to allow me to call upon her, and appointed the
time. She is a very amiable as well as beautiful young woman. Maitre
Bilot was perfectly correct in his statements to us."

After which the two gentlemen awaited, in almost unbroken silence, the
return of the FOUR ruffians who had gone forth to chastise de Sigognac.



CHAPTER IX. A MELEE AND A DUEL

The rehearsal was over, and the comedians were preparing to return to
their hotel; de Sigognac, expecting some sort of an assault on his way
through the deserted streets, did not lay aside Matamore's big sword
with the rest of his costume. It was an excellent Spanish blade, very
long, and with a large basket hilt, which made a perfect protection for
the hand--altogether a weapon which, wielded by a brave man, was by no
means to be despised, and which could give, as well as parry, good hard
thrusts. Though scarcely able to inflict a mortal wound, as the point
and edge had been blunted, according to the usual custom of theatrical
sword owners, it would be, however, all that was requisite to defend its
wearer against the cudgels of the ruffians that the Duke of Vallombreuse
had despatched to administer his promised punishment. Herode, who also
anticipated an attack upon de Sigognac, and was not one to desert a
friend when danger threatened, took the precaution to arm himself
with the big heavy club that was used to give the signal--three loud
raps--for the rising of the curtain, which made a very formidable
weapon, and would do good service in his strong hands.

"Captain," said he to the baron as they quitted the tennis-court, "we
will let the women go on a little way in advance of us, under the escort
of Blazius and Leander, one of whom is too old, the other too cowardly,
to be of any service to us in case of need. And we don't want to have
their fair charges terrified, and deafening us with their shrieks.
Scapin shall accompany us, for he knows a clever trick or two for
tripping a man up, that I have seen him perform admirably in several
wrestling bouts. He will lay one or two of our assailants flat on their
backs for us before they can turn round. In any event here is my good
club, to supplement your good sword."

"Thanks, my brave friend Herode," answered de Sigognac, "your kind offer
is not one to be refused; but let us take our precautions not to be
surprised, though we are in force. We will march along in single file,
through the very middle of the street, so that these rogues, lurking in
dark corners, will have to emerge from their hiding places to come out
to us, and we shall be able to see them before they can strike us. I
will draw my sword, you brandish your club, and Scapin must cut a pigeon
wing, so as to make sure that his legs are supple and in good working
order. Now, forward march!"

He put himself at the head of the little column, and advanced cautiously
into the narrow street that led from the tennis-court to the hotel of
the Armes de France, which was very crooked, badly paved, devoid of
lamps, and capitally well calculated for an ambuscade. The overhanging
gable-ends on either side of the way made the darkness in the street
below them still more dense--a most favourable circumstance for the
ruffians lying in wait there. Not a single ray of light streamed forth
from the shut-up house whose inmates were presumably all sleeping
soundly in their comfortable beds, and there was no moon that night.
Basque, Azolan, Labriche and Merindol had been waiting more than half an
hour for Captain Fracasse in this street, which they knew he was obliged
to pass through in returning to his hotel. They had disposed themselves
in pairs on opposite sides of the way, so that when he was between them
their clubs could all play upon him together, like the hammers of
the Cyclops on their great anvil. The passing of the group of women,
escorted by Blazius and Leander, none of whom perceived them, had
warned them of the approach of their victim, and they stood awaiting his
appearance, firmly grasping their cudgels in readiness to pounce upon
him; little dreaming of the reception in store for them--for ordinarily,
indeed one may say invariably, the poets, actors, bourgeois, and
such-like, whom the nobles condescended to have cudgeled by their hired
ruffians, employed expressly for that purpose, took their chastisement
meekly, and without attempting to make any resistance. Despite the
extreme darkness of the night, the baron, with his penetrating eyes,
made out the forms of the four villains lying in wait for him, at some
distance, and before he came up with them stopped and made as if he
meant to turn back--which ruse deceived them completely--and fearing
that their prey was about to escape them, they rushed impetuously forth
from their hiding places towards him. Azolan was the first, closely
followed by the others, and all crying at the tops of their voices,
"Kill! Kill! this for Captain Fracasse, from the Duke of Vallombreuse."
Meantime de Sigognac had wound his large cloak several times round
his left arm for a shield, and receiving upon it the first blow from
Azolan's cudgel, returned it with such a violent lunge, full in his
antagonist's breast, that the miserable fellow went over backward,
with great force, right into the gutter running down the middle of the
street, with his head in the mud and his heels in the air. If the point
of the sword had not been blunted, it would infallibly have gone through
his body, and come out between his shoulder-blades, leaving a dead man,
instead of only a stunned one, on the ground. Basque, in spite of his
comrade's disaster, advanced to the charge bravely, but a furious blow
on his head, with the flat of the blade, sent him down like a shot, and
made him see scores of stars, though there was not one visible in the
sky that night. The tyrant's club encountering Merindol's cudgel broke
it short off, and the latter finding himself disarmed, took to his
heels; not however without receiving a tremendous blow on the shoulder
before he could get out of Herode's reach. Scapin, for his part, had
seized Labriche suddenly round the waist from behind, pinning down his
arms so that he could not use his club at all, and raising him from the
ground quickly, with one dexterous movement tripped him up, and sent him
rolling on the pavement ten paces off, so violently that he was knocked
senseless--the back of his neck coming in contact with a projecting
stone--and lay apparently lifeless where he fell.

So the way was cleared, and the victory in this fierce encounter was
honourably gained by our hero and his two companions over the four
sturdy ruffians, who had never been defeated before. They were in a
sorry plight--Azolan and Basque creeping stealthily away, on their hands
and knees, trying under cover of the darkness to put themselves beyond
the reach of further danger; Labriche lying motionless, like a drunken
man, across the gutter, and Merindol, less badly hurt, flying towards
home as fast as his legs could carry him. As he drew near the house,
however, he slackened his pace, for he dreaded the duke's anger more
than Herode's club, and almost forgot, for the moment, the terrible
agony from his dislocated shoulder, from which the arm hung down
helpless and inert. Scarcely had he entered the outer door ere he was
summoned to the presence of the duke, who was all impatient to learn the
details of the tremendous thrashing that, he took it for granted, they
had given to Captain Fracasse. When Merindol was ushered in, frightened
and embarrassed, trembling in every limb, not knowing what to say or
do, and suffering fearfully from his injured shoulder, he paused at the
threshold, and stood speechless and motionless, waiting breathlessly for
a word or gesture of encouragement from the duke, who glared at him in
silence.

"Well," at length said the Chevalier de Vidalinc to the discomfited
Merindol, seeing that Vallombreuse only stared at him savagely and did
not seem inclined to speak, "what news do you bring us? Bad, I am
sure, for you have by no means a triumphant air--very much the reverse,
indeed, I should say."

"My lord, the duke, of course cannot doubt our zeal in striving to
execute his orders, to the best of our ability," said Merindol,
cringingly, "but this time we have had very bad luck."

"What do you mean by that?" asked the duke sharply, with an angry frown
and flashing eyes, before which the stout ruffian quailed. "There were
four of you! do you mean to tell me that, among you, you could not
succeed in thrashing this miserable play-actor?"

"That miserable play-actor, my lord," Merindol replied, plucking up a
little courage, "far exceeds in vigour and bravery the great Hercules
they tell us of. He fell upon us with such fury that in one instant he
had knocked Azolan and Basque down into the gutter. They fell under his
blows like pasteboard puppets--yet they are both strong men, and used
to hard knocks. Labriche was tripped up and cleverly thrown by another
actor, and fell with such force that he was completely stunned; the
back of his head has found out that the stones of Poitiers pavements
are harder than it is, poor fellow! As for me, my thick club was broken
short off by an immense stick in the hands of that giant they call
Herode, and my shoulder so badly hurt that I sha'n't have the use of my
arm here for a fortnight."

"You are no better than so many calves, you pitiful, cowardly knaves!"
cried the Duke of Vallombreuse, in a perfect frenzy of rage. "Why, any
old woman could put you to rout with her distaff, and not half try.
I made a horrid mistake when I rescued you from the galleys and the
gallows, and took you into my service, believing that you were brave
rascals, and not afraid of anything or anybody on the face of the globe.
And now, answer me this: When you found that clubs would not do, why
didn't you whip out your swords and have at him?"

"My lord had given us orders for a beating, not an assassination, and we
would not have dared to go beyond his commands."

"Behold," cried Vidalinc, laughing contemptuously, "behold a faithful,
exact and conscientious scoundrel whose obedience does not deviate so
much as a hair's breadth from his lord's commands. How delightful and
refreshing to find such purity and fidelity, combined with such rare
courage, in the character of a professional cut-throat! But now,
Vallombreuse, what do you think of all this? This chase of yours opens
well, and romantically, in a manner that must be immensely pleasing
to you, since you find the pursuit agreeable in proportion to its
difficulty, and the obstacles in the way constitute its greatest charms
for you. I ought to congratulate you, it seems to me. This Isabelle,
for an actress, is not easy of access; she dwells in a fortress, without
drawbridge or other means of entrance, and guarded, as we read of in the
history of ancient chivalry, by dragons breathing out flames of fire and
smoke. But here comes our routed army."

Azolan, Basque, and Labriche, who had recovered from his swoon, now
presented themselves reluctantly at the door, and stood extending their
hands supplicatingly towards their master. They were a miserable-looking
set of wretches enough--very pale, fairly livid indeed, haggard, dirty
and blood-stained; for although they had only contused wounds, the force
of the blows had set the blood flowing from their noses, and great red
stains disfigured their hideous countenances.

"Get to your kennel, ye hounds!" cried the duke, in a terrible voice,
being moved only to anger by the sight of this forlorn group of
supplicants. "I'm sure I don't know why I have not ordered you all
soundly thrashed for your imbecility and cowardice. I shall send you my
surgeon to examine your wounds, and see whether the thumps you make such
a babyish outcry about really were as violent and overpowering as
you represent. If they were not, I will have you skinned alive, every
mother's son of you, like the eels at Melun; and now, begone! out of my
sight, quick, you vile canaille!" The discomfited ruffians turned and
fled, thankful to make their escape, and forgetful for the moment of
their painful wounds and bruises; such abject terror did the young
duke's anger inspire in the breasts of those hardened villains. When the
poor devils had disappeared, Vallombreuse threw himself down on a heap
of cushions, piled up on a low, broad divan beside the fire, and fell
into a revery that Vidalinc was careful not to break in upon.
They evidently were not pleasant thoughts that occupied him; dark,
tempestuous ones rather, judging by the expression of his handsome face,
as he lay back idly among the soft pillows, looking very picturesque in
the rich showy costume he still wore. He did not remain there long. Only
a short time had elapsed when he suddenly started up, with a smothered
imprecation, and bidding his friend an abrupt good-night, retired to
his own chamber, without touching the dainty little supper that had
just been brought in. Vidalinc sat down and enjoyed it by himself, with
perfect good humour, thinking meanwhile of Serafina's remarkable beauty
and amiability, with which he was highly charmed, and not neglecting
to drink her health in the duke's choice wine ere he quitted the table,
and, following his example, retired to his own room, where he slept
soundly, dreaming of Serafina, until morning; while Vallombreuse, less
fortunate, and still haunted by disturbing thoughts, tossed restlessly,
and turned from side to side, courting sleep in vain, under the rich
silken hangings drawn round his luxurious bed.

When de Sigognac, the tyrant and Scapin reached the Armes de France,
after having overcome the serious obstacles in their way, they found the
others in a terrible state of alarm about them. In the stillness of the
night they had distinctly heard the loud cries of the duke's ruffians,
and the noise of the fierce combat, and feared that their poor friends
were being murdered. Isabelle, nearly frantic in her terror lest her
lover should be overpowered and slain, tried to rush back to him, never
remembering that she would be more of a hindrance than a help; but at
the first step she had again almost fainted away, and would have fallen
upon the rough pavement but for Blazius and Zerbine, who, each taking
an arm, supported her between them the rest of the way to the hotel When
they reached it at last, she refused to go to her own room, but waited
with the others at the outer door for news of their comrades, fearing
the worst, yet prayerfully striving to hope for the best. At sight of de
Sigognac--who, alarmed at her extreme pallor, hastened anxiously to
her side--she impetuously raised her arms to heaven, as a low cry of
thanksgiving escaped her lips, and letting them fall around his neck,
for one moment hid her streaming eyes against his shoulder; but quickly
regaining her self-control, she withdrew herself gently from the
detaining arm that had fondly encircled her slender, yielding form, and
stepping back from him a little, resumed with a strong effort her usual
reserve and quiet dignity.

"And you are not wounded or hurt?" she asked, in her sweetest tones,
her face glowing with happiness as she caught his reassuring gesture;
he could not speak yet for emotion. The clasp of her arms round his neck
had been like a glimpse of heaven to him a moment of divine ecstasy.
"Ah! if he could only snatch her to his breast and hold her there
forever," he was thinking, "close to the heart that beat for her alone,"
as she continued: "If the slightest harm had befallen you, because of
me, I should have died of grief. But, oh! how imprudent you were, to
defy that handsome, wicked duke, who has the assurance and the pride of
Lucifer himself, for the sake of a poor, insignificant girl like me. You
were not reasonable, de Sigognac! Now that you are a comedian, like
the rest of us, you must learn to put up with certain impertinences and
annoyances, without attempting to resent them."

"I never will," said de Sigognac, finding his voice at last, "I swear
it, I never will permit an affront to be offered to the adorable
Isabelle in my presence even when I have on my player's mask."

"Well spoken, captain," cried Herode, "well spoken, and bravely. I would
not like to be the man to incur your wrath. By the powers above! what
a fierce reception you gave those rascals yonder. It was lucky for
them that poor Matamore's sword had no edge. If it had been sharp and
pointed, you would have cleft them from head to heels, clean in two, as
the ancient knight-errants did the Saracens, and wicked enchanters."

"Your club did as much execution as my sword, Herode, and your
conscience need not reproach you, for they were not innocents that you
slaughtered this time."

"No, indeed!" the tyrant rejoined, with a mighty laugh, "the flower of
the galleys these--the cream of gallows-birds."

"Such jobs would scarcely be undertaken by any other class of fellows
you know," de Sigognac said; "but we must not neglect to make Scapin's
valiant deeds known, and praise them as they deserve. He fought and
conquered without the aid of any other arms than those that nature gave
him."

Scapin, who was a natural buffoon, acknowledged this encomium with a
very low obeisance--his eyes cast down, his hand on his heart--and with
such an irresistibly comical affectation of modesty and embarrassment
that they all burst into a hearty laugh, which did them much good after
the intense excitement and alarm.

After this, as it was late, the comedians bade each other good-night,
and retired to their respective rooms; excepting de Sigognac, who
remained for a while in the court, walking slowly back and forth,
cogitating deeply. The actor was avenged, but the gentleman was not.
Must he then throw aside the mask that concealed his identity, proclaim
his real name, make a commotion, and run the risk of drawing down upon
his comrades the anger of a powerful nobleman? Prudence said no, but
honour said yes. The baron could not resist its imperious voice, and
the moment that he decided to obey it he directed his steps towards
Zerbine's room.

He knocked gently at the door, which was opened cautiously, a very
little way at first, by a servant, who instantly admitted the unexpected
guest when he saw who it was.

The large room was brilliantly lighted, with many rose-coloured wax
candles in two handsome candelabra on a table covered with fine damask,
on which smoked a dainty supper. Game and various other delicacies were
there, most temptingly served. One crystal decanter, with sprigs of gold
scattered over its shining surface, was filled with wine rivalling the
ruby in depth and brilliancy of hue, while that in the other was clear
and yellow as a topaz. Only two places had been laid on this festive
board, and opposite Zerbine sat the Marquis de Bruyeres, of whom de
Sigognac was in search. The soubrette welcomed him warmly, with a
graceful mingling of the actress's familiarity with her comrade with her
respect for the gentleman.

"It is very charming of you to come and join us here, in our cosy little
nest," said the marquis to de Sigognac, with much cordiality, "and
we are right glad to welcome you. Jacques, lay a place for this
gentleman--you will sup with us?"

"I will accept your kind invitation," de Sigognac replied; "but not for
the sake of the supper. I do not wish to interfere with your enjoyment,
and nothing is so disagreeable for those at table as a looker-on who is
not eating with them."

The baron accordingly sat down in the arm-chair rolled up for him by the
servant, beside Zerbine and opposite the marquis, who helped him to some
of the partridge he had been carving, and filled his wine-glass for him;
all without asking any questions as to what brought him there, or even
hinting at it. But he felt sure that it must be something of importance
that had caused the usually reserved and retiring young nobleman to take
such a step as this.

"Do you like this red wine best or the other?" asked the marquis. "As
for me, I drink some of both, so that there may be no jealous feeling
between them."

"I prefer the red wine, thank you," de Sigognac said, with a smile, "and
will add a little water to it. I am very temperate by nature and habit,
and mingle a certain devotion to the nymphs with my worship at the
shrine of Bacchus, as the ancients had it. But it was not for feasting
and drinking that I was guilty of the indiscretion of intruding upon you
at this unseemly hour. Marquis, I have come to ask of you a service
that one gentleman never refuses to another. Mlle. Zerbine has probably
related to you something of what took place in the green-room this
evening. The Duke of Vallombreuse made an attempt to lay hands upon
Isabelle, under pretext of placing an assassine for her, and was guilty
of an insolent, outrageous, and brutal action, unworthy of a gentleman,
which was not justified by any coquetry or advances on the part of that
young girl, who is as pure as she is modest and for whom I feel the
highest respect and esteem."

"And she deserves it," said Zerbine heartily, "every word you say
of her, as I, who know her thoroughly, can testify. I could not say
anything but good of her, even if I would."

"I seized the duke's arm, and stopped him before he had succeeded in
what he meant to do," continued de Sigognac, after a grateful glance at
the soubrette; "he was furiously angry, and assailed me with threats and
invectives, to which I replied with a mocking sang-froid, from behind my
stage mask. He declared he would have me thrashed by his lackeys, and
in effect, as I was coming back to this house, a little while ago, four
ruffians fell upon me in the dark, narrow street. A couple of blows with
the flat of my sword did for two of the rascals, while Herode and
Scapin put the other two hors-de-combat in fine style. Although the duke
imagined that only a poor actor was concerned, yet as there is also a
gentleman in that actor's skin, such an outrage cannot be committed with
impunity. You know me, marquis, though up to the present moment you have
kindly and delicately respected my incognito, for which I thank you. You
know who and what my ancestors were, and can certify that the family of
de Sigognac has been noble for more than a thousand years, and that not
one who has borne the name has ever had a blot on his scutcheon."

"Baron de Sigognac," said the marquis, addressing him for the first time
by his own name, "I will bear witness, upon my honour, before whomsoever
you may choose to name, to the antiquity and nobility of your family.
Palamede de Sigognac distinguished himself by wonderful deeds of valour
in the first crusade, to which he led a hundred lances, equipped, and
transported thither, at his own expense. That was at an epoch when the
ancestors of some of the proudest nobles of France to-day were not even
squires. He and Hugues de Bruyeres, my own ancestor, were warm friends,
and slept in the same tent as brothers in arms."

At these glorious reminiscences de Sigognac raised his head proudly, and
held it high; he felt the pure blood of his ancestors throbbing in his
veins, and his heart beat tumultuously. Zerbine, who was watching him,
was surprised at the strange inward beauty--if the expression may be
allowed--that seemed to shine through the young baron's ordinarily sad
countenance, and illuminate it. "These nobles," she said to herself,
"are certainly a race by themselves; they look as if they had sprung
from the side of Jupiter, not been born into the world like ordinary
mortals. At the least word their pride is up in arms, and transforms
them, as it does the Baron de Sigognae now. If he should make love to
me, with eyes like those, I simply could not resist him; I should have
to throw over my marquis. Why, he fairly glows with heroism; he is
god-like."

Meantime de Sigognac, in blissful ignorance of this ardent admiration,
which would have been so distasteful to him, was saying to the marquis,
"Such being your opinion of my family, you will not, I fancy, object to
carry a challenge from me to the Duke of Vallombreuse."

"Assuredly I will do it for you," answered the marquis, in a grave,
measured way, widely different from his habitual good-natured, easy
carelessness of manner and speech; "and, moreover, I offer my own
services as your second. To-morrow morning I will present myself at
the duke's night in your behalf; there is one thing to be said in his
favour--that although he may be, in fact is, very insolent, he is no
coward, and he will no longer intrench himself behind his dignity when
he is made acquainted with your real rank. But enough of this subject
for the present; I will see you to-morrow morning in good season, and we
will not weary poor Zerbine any longer with our man's talk of affairs of
honour. I can plainly see that she is doing her best to suppress a yawn,
and we would a great deal rather that a smile should part her pretty red
lips, and disclose to us the rows of pearls within. Come, Zerbine, fill
the Baron de Sigognac's glass, and let us be merry again."

The soubrette obeyed, and with as much grace and dexterity as if she had
been Hebe in person; everything that she attempted to do she did well,
this clever little actress.

The conversation became animated, and did not touch upon any other
grave subject, but was mainly about Zerbine's own acting--the marquis
overwhelming her with compliments upon it, in which de Sigognac could
truthfully and sincerely join him, for the soubrette had really
shown incomparable spirit, grace, and talent. They also talked of the
productions of M. de Scudery--who was one of the most brilliant writers
of the day--which the marquis declared that he considered perfect, but
slightly soporific; adding that he, for his part, decidedly preferred
the Rodomontades of Captain Fracasse to Lygdamon et Lydias--he was a
gentleman of taste, the marquis!

As soon as he could do so without an actual breach of politeness, de
Sigognac took his leave, and retiring to his own chamber locked himself
in; then took an ancient sword out of the woollen case in which he kept
it to preserve it from rust--his father's sword--which he had brought
with him from home, as a faithful friend and ally. He drew it slowly out
of the scabbard, kissing the hilt with fervent affection and respect as
he did so, for to him it was sacred. It was a handsome weapon, richly,
but not too profusely, ornamented--a sword for service, not for show;
its blade of bluish steel, upon which a few delicate lines of gold were
traced, bore the well-known mark of one of the most celebrated armourers
of Toledo. The young baron examined the edge critically, drawing his
fingers lightly over it, and then, resting the point against the door,
bent it nearly double to test its elasticity. The noble blade stood the
trial right valiantly, and there was no fear of its betraying its master
in the hour of need. Delighted to have it in his hand again, and excited
by the thought of what was in store for it and himself, de Sigognac
began to fence vigorously against the wall, and to practise the varius
thrusts and passes that his faithful old Pierre, who was a famous
swordsman, had taught him at Castle Misery. They had been in the habit
of spending hours every day in these lessons, glad of some active
occupation, and the exercise had developed the young baron's frame,
strengthened his muscles, and greatly augmented his natural suppleness
and agility. He was passionately fond of and had thoroughly studied the
noble art of fencing, and, while he believed himself to be still only a
scholar, had long been a master in it--a proficient, such as is rarely
to be found, even in the great cities. A better instructor than old
Pierre he could not have had--not in Paris itself--and buried though he
had been in the depths of the country, entirely isolated, and deprived
of all the usual advantages enjoyed by young men of his rank, he yet
had become, though perfectly unconscious of it, a match for the most
celebrated swordsmen in France--that is to say, in the world--able
to measure blades with the best of them. He may not have had all the
elegant finish, and the many little airs and graces affected by
the young sprigs of nobility and polished men of fashion in their
sword-play, but skilful indeed must be the blade that could penetrate
within the narrow circle of flashing steel in which he intrenched
himself. Finding, after a long combat with an imaginary foe, that his
hand had not lost its cunning, and satisfied at length both with himself
and with his sword, which he placed near his bedside, de Sigognac was
soon sleeping soundly, and as quietly as if he had never even dreamed
of sending a challenge to that lofty and puissant nobleman, the Duke of
Vallombreuse.

Isabelle meanwhile could not close her eyes, because of her anxiety
about the young baron. She knew that he would not allow the matter to
rest where it was, and she dreaded inexpressibly the consequences of a
quarrel with the duke; but the idea of endeavouring to prevent a
duel never even occurred to her. In those days affairs of honour were
regarded as sacred things, that women did not dream of interfering
with, or rendering more trying to their near and dear ones by tears and
lamentations, in anticipation of the danger to be incurred by them.

At nine o'clock the next morning, the Marquis de Bruyeres was astir, and
went to look up de Sigognae, whom he found in his own room, in order
to regulate with him the conditions of the duel. The baron asked him to
take with him, in case of incredulity, or refusal of his challenge, on
the duke's part, the old deeds and ancient parchments, to which large
seals were suspended, the commissions of various sorts with royal
signatures in faded ink, the genealogical tree of the de Sigognacs, and
in fact all his credentials, which he had brought away from the chateau
with him as his most precious treasures; for they were indisputable
witnesses to the nobility and antiquity of his house. These valuable
documents, with their strange old Gothic characters, scarcely
decipherable save by experts, were carefully wrapped up in a piece of
faded crimson silk, which looked as if it might have been part of the
very banner borne by Palamede de Sigognac at the head of his hundred
followers in the first crusade.

"I do not believe," said the marquis, "that these credentials will be
necessary; my word should be sufficient; it has never yet been doubted.
However, as it is possible that this hot-headed young duke may persist
in recognising only Captain Fracasse in your person, I will let my
servant accompany me and carry them for me to his house, in case I
should deem it best to produce them."

"You must do whatever you think proper and right," de Sigognac answered;
"I have implicit confidence in your judgment, and leave my honour in
your hands, without a condition or reservation."

"It will be safe with me, I do solemnly assure you," said the Marquis de
Bruyeres earnestly, "and we will have satisfaction yet from this proud
young nobleman, whose excessive insolence and outrageously imperious
ways are more than a little offensive to me, as well as to many others.
He is no better than the rest of us, whose blood is as ancient and noble
as his own, nor does his ducal coronet entitle him to the superiority he
arrogates to himself so disagreeably. But we won't talk any more about
it--we must act now. Words are feminine, but actions are masculine, and
offended honour can only be appeased with blood, as the old saying has
it."

Whereupon the marquis called his servant, consigned the precious packet,
with an admonition, to his care, and followed by him set off on his
mission of defiance. The duke, who had passed a restless, wakeful night,
and only fallen asleep towards morning, was not yet up when the Marquis
de Bruyeres, upon reaching his house, told the servant who admitted him
to announce him immediately to his master. The valet was aghast at the
enormity of this demand, which was expressed in rather a peremptory
tone. What! disturb the duke! before he had called for him! it would be
as much as his life was worth to do it; he would as soon venture unarmed
into the cage of a furious lion, or the den of a royal tiger. The duke
was always more or less surly and ill-tempered on first waking in the
morning, even when he had gone to bed in a good humour, as his servants
knew to their cost.

"Your lordship had much better wait a little while, or call again later
in the day," said the valet persuasively, in answer to the marquis. "My
lord, the duke, has not summoned me yet, and I would not dare--"

"Go this instant to your master and announce the Marquis de Bruyeres,"
interrupted that gentleman, in loud, angry tones, "or I will force the
door and admit myself to his presence. I MUST speak to him, and that at
once, on important business, in which your master's honour is involved."

"Ah! that makes a difference," said the servant, promptly, "why didn't
your lordship mention it in the first place? I will go and tell my lord,
the duke, forthwith; he went to bed in such a furious, blood-thirsty
mood last night that I am sure he will be enchanted at the prospect of a
duel this morning--delighted to have a pretext for fighting."

And the man went off with a resolute air, after respectfully begging the
marquis to be good enough to wait a few minutes. At the noise he made in
opening the door of his master's bedroom, though he endeavoured to do it
as softly as possible, Vallombreuse, who was only dozing, started up in
bed, broad awake, and looked round fiercely for something to throw at
his head.

"What the devil do you mean by this?" he cried savagely. "Haven't I
ordered you never to come in here until I called for you? You shall have
a hundred lashes for this, you scoundrel, I promise you; and you needn't
whine and beg for mercy either, for you'll get none from me. I'd like to
know how I am to go to sleep again now?"

"My lord may have his faithful servant lashed to death, if it so please
his lordship," answered the valet, with abject respect, "but though
I have dared to transgress my lord's orders, it is not without a good
reason. His lordship, the Marquis de Bruyeres, is below, asking to speak
with my lord, the duke, on important business, relating to an affair of
honour, and I know that my lord never denies himself to any gentleman on
such occasions, but always receives visits of that sort, at any time of
day or night."

"The Marquis de Bruyeres!" said the duke, surprised, "have I any
quarrel with him? I don't recollect a difference between us ever; and
besides, it's an age since I've seen him. Perhaps he imagines that I
want to steal his dear Zerbine's heart away from him; lovers are always
fancying that everybody else is enamoured of their own particular
favourites. Here, Picard, give me my dressing-gown, and draw those
curtains round the bed, so as to hide its disorder; make haste about it,
do you hear? we must not keep the worthy marquis waiting another
minute."

Picard bustled about, and brought to his master a magnificent
dressing-gown-made, after the Venetian fashion, of rich stuff, with
arabesques of black velvet on a gold ground--which he slipped on, and
tied round the waist with a superb cord and tassels; then, seating
himself in an easychair, told Picard to admit his early visitor.

"Good morning, my dear marquis," said the young duke smilingly, half
rising to salute his guest as he entered. "I am very glad to see you,
whatever your errand may be. Picard, a chair for his lordship! Excuse
me, I pray you, for receiving you so unceremoniously here in my bedroom,
which is still in disorder, and do not look upon it as a lack of
civility, but rather as a mark of my regard for you. Picard said that
you wished to see me immediately."

"I must beg you to pardon me, my dear duke," the marquis hastened to
reply, "for insisting so strenuously upon disturbing your repose, and
cutting short perhaps some delicious dream; but I am charged to see you
upon a mission, which, among gentlemen, will not brook delay."

"You excite my curiosity to the highest degree," said Vallombreuse, "and
I cannot even imagine what this urgent business may be about."

"I suppose it is not unlikely, my lord," rejoined the marquis, "that you
have forgotten certain occurrences that took place last evening. Such
trifling matters are not apt to make a very deep impression, so with
your permission I will recall them to your mind. In the so-called
green-room, down at the tennis-court, you deigned to honour with
your particular notice a young person, Isabelle by name, and with
a playfulness that I, for my part, do not consider criminal, you
endeavoured to place an assassine for her, just above her white bosom,
complimenting her upon its fairness as you did so. This proceeding,
which I do not criticise, greatly shocked and incensed a certain actor
standing by, called Captain Fracasse, who rushed forward and seized your
arm."

"Marquis, you are the most faithful and conscientious of
historiographers," interrupted Vallombreuse. "That is all true, every
word of it, and to finish the narrative I will add that I promised the
rascal, who was as insolent as a noble, a sound thrashing at the hands
of my lackeys; the most appropriate chastisement I could think of, for a
low fellow of that sort."

"No one can blame you for that, my dear duke, for there is certainly
no very great harm in having a play-actor--or writer either, for that
matter--thoroughly thrashed, if he has had the presumption to offend,"
said the marquis, with a contemptuous shrug; "such cattle are not worth
the value of the sticks broken over their backs. But this is a different
case altogether. Under the mask of Captain Fracasse--who, by the way,
routed your ruffians in superb style--is the Baron de Sigognac; a
nobleman of the old school, the head of one of the best families we have
in Gascony; one that has been above reproach for many centuries."

"What the devil is he doing in this troupe of strolling players, pray?"
asked the Duke of Vallombreuse, with some heat, toying nervously with
the cord and tassels of his dressing-gown as he spoke. "Could I be
expected to divine that there was a de Sigognac hidden under that
grotesque costume, and behind that absurd false nose?"

"As to your first question," the marquis replied, "I can answer it in
one word--Isabelle. Between ourselves, I believe that the young baron is
desperately in love with her. Indeed, he makes no secret of that fact;
and, not having been able to induce her to remain with him in his
chateau, he has joined the troupe of which she is a member, in order
to pursue his love affair. You certainly ought not to find this gallant
proceeding in bad taste, since you also admire the fair object of his
pursuit."

"No; I admit all that you say. But you, in your turn, must acknowledge
that I could not be cognisant of this extraordinary romance by
inspiration, and that the action of Captain Fracasse was impertinent."

"Impertinent for an actor, I grant you," said the marquis, "but
perfectly natural, indeed inevitable, for a gentleman, resenting
unauthorized attentions to his mistress, and angry at an affront offered
to her. Now Captain Fracasse throws aside his mask, and as Baron de
Sigognac sends you by me his challenge to fight a duel, and demands
redress in that way for the insult you have offered him."

"But who is to guarantee me that this pretended Baron de Sigognac, who
actually appears on the stage before the public with a company of low
buffoons as one of themselves, is not a vulgar, intriguing rascal,
usurping an honourable name, in the hope of obtaining the honour of
crossing swords with the Duke of Vallombreuse?"

"Duke," said the Marquis de Bruyeres, with much dignity, and some
severity of tone, "_I_ would not serve as second to any man who was
not of noble birth, and of honourable character. I know the Baron de
Sigognac well. His chateau is only a few leagues from my estate. I will
be his guarantee. Besides, if you still persist in entertaining any
doubts with regard to his real rank, I have here with me all the proofs
necessary to convince you of his right to the ancient and distinguished
name of Sigognac. Will you permit me to call in my servant, who is
waiting in the antechamber? He will give you all those documents, for
which I am personally responsible."

"There is no need," Vallombreuse replied courteously; "your word
is sufficient. I accept his challenge. My friend, the Chevalier de
Vidalinc, who is my guest at present, will be my second; will you be
good enough to consult with him as to the necessary arrangements? I will
agree to anything you may propose--fight him when and where you please,
and with any weapons he likes best; though I will confess that I should
like to see whether the Baron de Sigognac can defend himself against
a gentleman's sword as successfully as Captain Fracasse did against my
lackeys' cudgels. The charming Isabelle shall crown the conqueror in
this tournament, as the fair ladies crowned the victorious knights in
the grand old days of chivalry. But now allow me to retire and finish my
toilet. The Chevalier de Vidalinc will be with you directly. I kiss your
hand, valiant marquis, as our Spanish neighbours say."

With these courteous words the Duke of Vallombreuse bowed with studied
deference and politeness to his noble guest, and lifting the heavy
portiere of tapestry that hung over the door opening into his
dressing-room, passed through it and vanished. But a very few moments
had elapsed when the Chevalier de Vidalinc joined the marquis, and they
lost no time in coming to an understanding as to the conditions of
the duel. As a matter of course, they selected swords--the gentleman's
natural weapon--and the meeting was fixed for the following morning,
early; as de Sigognac, with his wonted consideration for his humble
comrades, did not wish to fight that same day, and run the risk of
interfering with the programme Herode had announced for the evening,
in case of his being killed or wounded. The rendezvous was at a certain
spot in a field outside the walls of the town, which was level, smooth,
well sheltered from observation, and advantageous in every way--being
the favourite place of resort for such hostile meetings among the
duellists of Poitiers.

The Marquis de Bruyeres returned straightway to the Armes de France, and
rendered an account of the success of his mission to de Sigognac; who
thanked him warmly for his services, and felt greatly relieved, now
that he was assured of having the opportunity to resent, as a gentleman
should do, the affront offered to his adored Isabelle.

The representation was to begin very early that evening, and all day
the town crier went about through the streets, beating his drum lustily,
and, whenever he had gathered a curious crowd around him, stopping and
announcing the "great attractions--offered for that evening by Herode's
celebrated troupe." Immense placards were posted upon the walls of
the tennis-court and at the entrance of the Armes de France, also
announcing, in huge, bright-coloured capitals, which reflected great
credit on Scapin, who was the calligraphist of the troupe, the new play
of "Lygdamon et Lydias," and the Rodomontades of Captain Fracasse. Long
before the hour designated an eager crowd had assembled in the street in
front of the theatre, and when the doors were opened poured in, like a
torrent that has burst its bounds, and threatened to sweep everything
before them. Order was quickly restored, however, within, and "the
nobility and gentry of Poitiers" soon began to arrive in rapid
succession. Titled dames, in their sedan chairs, carried by liveried
servants, alighted amid much bowing and flourishing of attendant
gallants. Gentlemen from the environs came riding in, followed by
mounted grooms who led away their masters' horses or mules. Grand,
clumsy old carriages, vast and roomy, with much tarnished gildings and
many faded decorations about them, and with coats-of-arms emblazoned on
their panels, rolled slowly up, and out of them, as out of Noah's
ark, issued all sorts of odd-looking pairs, and curious specimens of
provincial grandeur; most of them resplendent in the strange fashions of
a bygone day, yet apparently well satisfied with the elegance of their
appearance. The house was literally packed, until there was not room
left for another human being, be he never so slender. On each side
of the stage was a row of arm-chairs, intended for distinguished
spectators, according to the custom of the times, and there sat the
young Duke of Vallombreuse, looking exceedingly handsome, in a very
becoming suit of black velvet, elaborately trimmed with jet, and with
a great deal of exquisite lace about it. Beside him was his faithful
friend, the Chevalier de Vidalinc, who wore a superb costume of dark
green satin, richly ornamented with gold. As to the Marquis de Bruyeres,
he had not claimed his seat among the notables, but was snugly ensconced
in his usual place--a retired corner near the orchestra--whence he could
applaud his charming Zerbine to his heart's content, without making
himself too conspicuous. In the boxes were the fine ladies, in full
dress, settling themselves to their satisfaction with much rustling
of silks, fluttering of fans, whispering and laughing. Although their
finery was rather old-fashioned, the general effect was exceedingly
brilliant, and the display of magnificent jewels--family heirlooms--was
fairly dazzling. Such flashing of superb diamonds on white bosoms and in
dark tresses; such strings of large, lustrous pearls round fair necks,
and twined amid sunny curls; such rubies and sapphires, with their
radiant surroundings of brilliants; such thick, heavy chains of virgin
gold, of curious and beautiful workmanship; such priceless laces, yellow
with age, of just that much-desired tint which is creamy at night; such
superb old brocades, stiff and rich enough to stand alone; and best of
all, such sweet, sparkling, young faces, as were to be seen here and
there in this aristocratic circle. A few of the ladies, not wishing to
be known had kept on their little black velvet masks, though they did
not prevent their being recognised, spoken of by name, and commented on
with great freedom by the plebeian crowd in the pit. One lady, however,
who was very carefully masked, and attended only by a maid, baffled the
curiosity of all observers. She sat a little back in her box, so that
the full blaze of light should not fall upon her, and a large black lace
veil, which was loosely fastened under her chin, covered her head so
effectually that it was impossible to make out even the colour of her
hair. Her dress was rich and elegant in the extreme, but sombre in hue,
and in her hand she held a handsome fan made of black feathers, with
a tiny looking-glass in the centre. A great many curious glances were
directed at her, which manifestly made her uneasy, and she shrank still
farther back in her box to avoid them; but the orchestra soon struck up
a merry tune, and attracted all eyes and thoughts to the curtain, which
was about to rise, so that the mysterious fair one was left to her
enjoyment of the animated scene in peace. They began with "Lygdamon et
Lydias," in which Leander, who played the principal part, and wore
a most becoming new costume, was quite overwhelmingly handsome. His
appearance was greeted by a murmur of admiration and a great whispering
among the ladies, while one unsophisticated young creature, just
emancipated from her convent-school, exclaimed rapturously, aloud, "Oh!
how charming he is!" for which shocking indiscretion she received a
severe reprimand from her horrified mama, that made her retire into the
darkest corner of the box, covered with blushes and confusion. Yet the
poor girl had only innocently given expression to the secret thought
of every woman in the audience, her own dignified mother included; for,
really, Leander was delightfully, irresistibly handsome as Lygdamon--a
perfect Apollo, in the eyes of those provincial dames. But by far the
most agitated of them all was the masked beauty; whose heaving bosom,
trembling hand--betrayed by the fan it held--and eager attitude--leaning
breathlessly forward and intently watching Leander's every
movement--would inevitably have borne witness to her great and absorbing
interest in him, if anybody had been observing her to mark her emotion;
but fortunately for her all eyes were turned upon the stage, so she had
time to recover her composure. Leander was surpassing himself in his
acting that night, yet even then he did not neglect to gaze searchingly
round the circle of his fair admirers, trying to select the titled
dames, and decide which one among them he should favour with his most
languishing glances. As he scrutinized one after another, his eyes
finally reached the masked lady, and at once his curiosity was on
the qui vive--here was assuredly something promising at last; he was
convinced that the richly dressed, graceful incognita was a victim
to his own irresistible charms, and he directed a long, eloquent,
passionate look full at her, to indicate that she was understood. To
his delight--his rapturous, ecstatic delight--she answered his
appealing glance by a very slight bend of the head, which was full of
significance, as if she would thank him for his penetration. Being thus
happily brought en rapport, frequent glances were exchanged throughout
the play, and even little signals also, between the hero on the stage
and the lady in her box.

Leander was an adept in that sort of thing, and could so modulate his
voice and use his really fine eyes in making an impassioned declaration
of love to the heroine of the play, that the fair object of his
admiration in the audience would believe that it was addressed
exclusively to herself. Inspired by this new flame, he acted with so
much spirit and animation that he was rewarded with round after round
of applause; which he had the art to make the masked lady understand he
valued less than the faintest mark of approbation and favour from her.

After "Lygdamon et Lydias" came the Rodomontades of Captain Fracasse,
which met with its accustomed success. Isabelle was rendered very uneasy
by the close proximity of the Duke of Vallombreuse, dreading some act
of insolence on his part; but her fears were needless, for he studiously
refrained from annoying her in any way--even by staring at her too
fixedly. He was moderate in his applause, and quietly attentive, as he
sat in a careless attitude in his arm-chair on the stage throughout the
piece. His lip curled scornfully sometimes when Captain Fracasse was
receiving the shower of blows and abuse that fell to his share, and his
whole countenance was expressive of the most lofty disdain, but that was
all; for though violent and impetuous by nature, the young duke was too
much of a gentleman--once his first fury passed--to transgress the rules
of courtesy in any way; and more especially towards an adversary
with whom he was to fight on the morrow--until then hostilities were
suspended, and he religiously observed the truce.

The masked lady quietly withdrew a little before the end of the second
piece, in order to avoid mingling with the crowd, and also to be able
to regain her chair, which awaited her close at hand, unobserved; her
disappearance mightily disturbed Leander, who was furtively watching
the movements of the mysterious unknown. The moment he was free, almost
before the curtain had fallen, he threw a large cloak around him to
conceal his theatrical costume, and rushed towards the outer door in
pursuit of her. The slender thread that bound them together would be
broken past mending he feared if he did not find her, and it would be
too horrible to lose sight of this radiant creature--as he styled her
to himself--before he had been able to profit by the pronounced marks
of favour she had bestowed upon him so lavishly during the evening. But
when he reached the street, all out of breath from his frantic efforts
in dashing through the crowd, and bustling people right and left
regardless of everything but the object he had in view, there was
nothing to be seen of her; she had vanished, and left not a trace
behind. Leander reproached himself bitterly with his own folly in not
having endeavoured to exchange a few words with his lost divinity in the
brief interval between the two plays, and called himself every hard name
he could think of; as we are all apt to do in moments of vexation.

But while he still stood gazing disconsolately in the direction that she
must have taken, a little page, dressed in a dark brown livery, and with
his cap pulled down over his eyes, suddenly appeared beside him, and
accosted him politely in a high childish treble, which he vainly strove
to render more manly. "Are you M. Leander? the one who played Lygdamon a
while ago?"

"Yes, I am," answered Leander, amused at the pretentious airs of his
small interlocutor, "and pray what can I do for you, my little man?"

"Oh! nothing for me, thank you," said the page, with a significant
smile, "only I am charged to deliver a message to you--if you are
disposed to hear it--from the lady of the mask."

"From the lady of the mask!" cried Leander. "Oh I tell me quickly what
it is; I am dying to hear it."

"Well, here it is, then, word for word," said the tiny page jauntily.
"If Lygdamon is as brave as he is gallant, he will go at midnight to
the open square in front of the church, where he will find a carriage
awaiting him; he will enter it without question, as without fear, and go
whither it will take him."

Before the astonished Leander had time to answer, the page had
disappeared in the crowd, leaving him in great perplexity, for if
his heart beat high with joy at the idea of a romantic adventure, his
shoulders still reminded him painfully of the beating he had received in
a certain park at dead of night, and he remembered with a groan how he
had been lured on to his own undoing. Was this another snare spread for
him by some envious wretch who begrudged him his brilliant success that
evening, and was jealous of the marked favour he had found in the eyes
of the fair ladies of Poitiers? Should he encounter some furious husband
at the rendezvous, sword in hand, ready to fall upon him and run him
through the body? These thoughts chilled his ardour, and had nearly
caused him to disregard entirely the page's mysterious message. Yet,
if he did not profit by this tempting opportunity, which looked so
promising, he might make a terrible mistake; and, if he failed to
go, would not the lady of the mask suspect him of cowardice, and be
justified in so doing? This thought was insupportable to the gallant
Leander, and he decided to venture, though low be it spoken--in fear
and trembling. He hastened back to the hotel, scarcely touched the
substantial supper provided for the comedians--his appetite lost in his
intense excitement--and retiring to his own chamber made an elaborate
toilet; curling and perfuming his hair and mustache, and sparing no
pains to make himself acceptable to the lovely lady of the mask. He
armed himself with a dagger and a sword, though he did not know how to
use either; but he thought that the mere sight of them might inspire
awe.

When he was all ready at last, he drew his broad felt hat well down over
his eyes, threw the corner of his cloak over his shoulder, in Spanish
fashion, so as to conceal the lower part of his face, and crept
stealthily out of the hotel--for once being lucky enough to escape
the observation of his wily tormentor, Scapin, who was at that moment
snoring his loudest in his own room at the other end of the house.

The streets had long been empty and deserted, for the good people of the
ancient and respectable town of Poitiers go early to bed. Leander did
not meet a living creature, excepting a few forlorn, homeless cats,
prowling about and bewailing themselves in a melancholy way, that fled
before him, and vanished round dark corners or in shadowy doorways. Our
gallant reached the open square designated by the little page just as
the last stroke of twelve was vibrating in the still night air. It gave
him a shudder; a superstitious sensation of horror took possession of
him, and he felt as if he had heard the tolling of his own funeral bell.
For an instant he was on the point of rushing back, and seeking quiet,
safe repose in his comfortable bed at the Armes de France, but was
arrested by the sight of the carriage standing there waiting for him,
with the tiny page himself in attendance, perched on the step and
holding the door open for him. So he was obliged to go on--for few
people in this strange world of ours have the courage to be cowardly
before witnesses--and instinctively acting a part, he advanced with a
deliberate and dignified bearing, that gave no evidence of the inward
fear and agitation that had set his heart beating as if it would burst
out of his breast, and sent strong shivers over him from his head to his
feet. Scarcely had he taken his seat in the carriage when the coachman
touched his horses with the whip, and they were off at a good round
pace; while he was in utter darkness, and did not even know which way
they went, as the leathern curtains were carefully drawn down, so that
nothing could be seen from within, or without. The small page remained
at his post on the carriage step, but spoke never a word, and Leander
could not with decency question him, much as he would have liked to
do so. He knew that his surroundings were luxurious, for his exploring
fingers told him that the soft, yielding cushions, upon which he was
resting, were covered with velvet, and his feet sank into a thick, rich
rug, while the vague, delicious perfume, that seemed to surround and
caress him, soothed his ruffled feelings, and filled his mind with
rapturous visions of bliss. He tried in vain to divine who it could
be that had sent to fetch him in this delightfully mysterious way, and
became more curious than ever, and also rather uneasy again, when he
felt that the carriage had quitted the paved streets of the town, and
was rolling smoothly and rapidly along over a country road. At last it
stopped, the little page jumped down and flung the door wide open, and
Leander, alighting, found himself confronted by a high, dark wall, which
seemed to inclose a park, or garden; but he did not perceive a wooden
door close at hand until his small companion, pushing back a rusty bolt,
proceeded to open it, with considerable difficulty, and admitted him
into what was apparently a thick wood.

"Take hold of my hand," said the page patronizingly to Leander, "so that
I can guide you; it is too dark for you to be able to make out the path
through this labyrinth of trees."

Leander obeyed, and both walked cautiously forward, feeling their way as
they wound in and out among the trees, and treading the crackling, dry
leaves, strewn thickly upon the ground, under their feet. Emerging from
the wood at last, they came upon a garden, laid out in the usual style,
with rows of box bordering the angular flower beds, and with yew trees,
cut into pyramids, at regular intervals; which, just perceptible in the
darkness, looked like sentinels posted on their way--a shocking sight
for the poor timid actor, who trembled in every limb. They passed them
all, however, unchallenged, and ascended some stone steps leading up to
a terrace, on which stood a small country house--a sort of pavilion,
with a dome, and little turrets at the corners. The place seemed quite
deserted, save for a subdued glimmer of light from one large window,
which the thick crimson silk curtains within could not entirely conceal.
At this reassuring sight Leander dismissed all fear from his mind, and
gave himself up to the most blissful anticipations. He was in a seventh
heaven of delight; his feet seemed to spurn the earth; he would have
flown into the presence of the waiting angel within if he had but
known the way. How he wished, in this moment of glory and triumph, that
Scapin, his mortal enemy and merciless tormentor, could see him. The
tiny page stepped on before him, and after opening a large glass door
and showing him into a spacious apartment, furnished with great luxury
and elegance, retired and left him alone, without a word. The vaulted
ceiling--which was the interior of the dome seen from without--was
painted to represent a light blue sky, in which small rosy clouds were
floating, and bewitching little Loves flying about in all sorts of
graceful attitudes, while the walls were hung with beautiful tapestry.
The cabinets, inlaid with exquisite Florentine mosaics and filled with
many rare and curious objects of virtu, the round table covered with
a superb Turkish cloth, the large, luxurious easy-chairs, the vases of
priceless porcelain filled with fragrant flowers, all testified to
the wealth and fastidious taste of their owner. The richly gilded
candelabra, of many branches, holding clusters of wax candles, which
shed their soft, mellow light on all this magnificence, were upheld
by sculptured arms and hands in black marble, to represent a negro's,
issuing from fantastic white marble sleeves; as if the sable attendants
were standing without the room, and had passed their arms through
apertures in the wall.

Leander, dazzled by so much splendour, did not at first perceive that
there was no one awaiting him in this beautiful apartment, but when he
had recovered from his first feeling of astonishment, and realized that
he was alone, he proceeded to take off his cloak and lay it, with his
hat and sword, on a chair in one corner, after which he deliberately
rearranged his luxuriant ringlets in front of a Venetian mirror, and
then, assuming his most graceful and telling pose, began pouring forth
in dulcet tones the following monologue: "But where, oh! where, is the
divinity of this Paradise? Here is the temple indeed, but I see not the
goddess. When, oh! when, will she deign to emerge from the cloud that
veils her perfect form, and reveal herself to the adoring eyes, that
wait so impatiently to behold her?" rolling the said organs of vision
about in the most effective manner by way of illustration.

Just at that moment, as if in response to this eloquent appeal, the
crimson silk hanging, which fell in front of a door that Leander had not
noticed, was pushed aside, and the lady he had come to seek stood before
him; with the little black velvet mask still over her face, to the great
disappointment and discomfiture of her expectant suitor. "Can it be
possible that she is ugly?" he thought to himself; "this obstinate
clinging to the mask alarms me." But his uncertainty was of short
duration, for the lady, advancing to the centre of the room, where
Leander stood respectfully awaiting her pleasure, untied the strings
of the mask, took it off, and threw it down on the table, disclosing a
rather pretty face, with tolerably regular features, large, brilliant,
brown eyes, and smiling red lips. Her rich masses of dark hair were
elaborately dressed, with one long curl hanging down upon her neck, and
enhancing its whiteness by contrast; the uncovered shoulders were plump
and shapely, and the full, snowy bosom rose and fell tumultuously under
the cloud of beautifully fine lace that veiled, not concealed, its
voluptuous curves.

"Mme. la Marquise de Bruyeres!" cried Leander, astonished to the highest
degree, and not a little agitated, as the remembrance of his last, and
first, attempt to meet her, and what he had found in her place, rushed
back upon him; "can it be possible? am I dreaming? or may I dare to
believe in such unhoped-for, transcendent happiness?"

"Yes; you are not mistaken, my dear friend," said she, "I am indeed the
Marquise de Bruyeres, and recognised, I trust, by your heart as well as
your eyes."

"Ah! but too well," Leander replied, in thrilling tones. "Your adored
image is cherished there, traced in living lines of light; I have only
to look into that devoted, faithful heart, to see and worship your
beauteous form, endowed with every earthly grace, and radiant with every
heavenly perfection."

"I thank you," said the marquise, "for having retained such a kind and
tender remembrance of me; it proves that yours is a noble, magnanimous
soul. You had every reason to think me cruel, ungrateful, false--when,
alas! my poor heart in reality is but too susceptible, and I was far
from being insensible to the passionate admiration you so gracefully
testified for me. Your letter addressed to me did not reach my hands,
but unfortunately fell into those of the marquis--through the heartless
treachery of the faithless maid to whom it was intrusted--and he sent
you the answer which so cruelly deceived you, my poor Leander! Some
time after he showed me that letter, laughing heartily over what he
was wicked enough to call a capital joke; that letter, in every line of
which the purest, most impassioned love shone so brightly, and filled
my heart with joy, despite his ridicule and coarse abuse. It did not
produce the effect upon me that he expected and intended; the sentiment
I cherished secretly for you was only increased and strengthened by its
persuasive eloquence, and I resolved to reward you for all that you had
suffered for my sake. Knowing my husband to be perfectly absorbed in his
most recent conquest, and so oblivious of me that there was no danger
of his becoming aware of my absence from the Chateau de Bruyeres, I have
ventured to come to Poitiers; for I have heard you express fictitious
love so admirably, that I long to know whether you can be as eloquent
and convincing when you speak for yourself."

"Mme. la Marquise," said Leander, in his sweetest tones, sinking
gracefully on his knees, upon a cushion at the feet of the lady, who had
let herself fall languidly into a low easy-chair, as if exhausted by the
extreme effort that her confession had been to her modesty. "Madame,
or rather most lovely queen and deity, what can mere empty words,
counterfeit passion, imaginary raptures, conceived and written in cold
blood by the poets, and make-believe sighs, breathed out at the feet of
an odious actress, all powdered and painted, whose eyes are wandering
absently around the theatre--what can these be beside the living words
that gush out from the soul, the fire that burns in the veins and
arteries, the hyperboles of an exalted passion, to which the whole
universe cannot furnish images brilliant and lofty enough to apply to
its idol, and the aspirations of a wildly loving heart, that would fain
break forth from the breast that contains it, to serve as a footstool
for the dear object of its adoration? You deign to say, celestial
marquise, that I express with some feeling the fictitious love in the
pieces I play. Shall I tell you why it is so? Because I never look at,
or even think of, the actress whom I seem to address--my thoughts soar
far above and beyond her--and I speak to my own perfect ideal; to a
being, noble, beautiful, spirituelle as yourself, Mme. la Marquise!
It is you, in fine, YOU that I see and love under the name of Silvie,
Doralice, Isabelle, or whatever it may chance to be; they are only your
phantoms for me."

With these words Leander, who was too good an actor to neglect the
pantomime that should accompany such a declaration, bent down over the
hand that the marquise had allowed him to take, and covered it with
burning kisses; which delicate attention was amiably received, and his
real love-making seemed to be as pleasing to her ladyship as even he
could have desired.

The eastern sky was all aflame with the radiance of the coming sun when
Leander, well wrapped in his warm cloak, was driven back to Poitiers.
As he lifted a corner of one of the carefully lowered curtains, to see
which side of the town they were approaching, he caught sight of the
Marquis de Bruyeres and the Baron de Sigognac, still at some distance,
who were walking briskly along the road towards him, on their way to the
spot designated for the duel.

Leander let the curtain drop, so as not to be seen by the marquis, who
was almost grazed by the carriage wheels as they rolled by him, and a
satisfied smile played round his lips; he was revenged--the beating was
atoned for now.

The place selected for the hostile meeting between the Baron de Sigognac
and the Duke of Vallombreuse was sheltered from the cold north wind by
a high wall, which also screened the combatants from the observation of
those passing along the road. The ground was firm, well trodden down,
without stones, tufts of grass, or inequalities of any kind, which might
be in the way of the swordsmen, and offered every facility to men of
honour to murder each other after the most correct and approved fashion.
The Duke of Vallombreuse and the Chevalier de Vidalinc, followed by a
surgeon, arrived at the rendezvous only a few seconds after the others,
and the four gentlemen saluted each other with the haughty courtesy and
frigid politeness becoming to well-bred men meeting for such a purpose.
The duke's countenance was expressive of the most careless indifference,
as he felt perfect confidence in his own courage and skill. The baron
was equally cool and collected, though it was his first duel, and a
little nervousness or agitation would have been natural and excusable.
The Marquis de Bruyeres watched him with great satisfaction, auguring
good things for their side from his quiet sang-froid. Vallombreuse
immediately threw off his cloak and hat, and unfastened his pourpoint,
in which he was closely imitated by de Sigognac. The marquis and the
chevalier measured the swords of the combatants, which were found to be
of equal length, and then each second placed his principal in position,
and put his sword in his hand.

"Fall to, gentlemen, and fight like men of spirit, as you are," said the
marquis.

"A needless recommendation that," chimed in the Chevalier de Vidalinc;
"they go at it like lions---we shall have a superb duel."

The Duke of Vallombreuse, who, in his inmost heart, could not help
despising de Sigognac more than a little, and had imagined that he
should find in him but a weak antagonist, was astonished when he
discovered the strength of the baron's sword, and could not deny to
himself that he wielded a firm and supple blade, which baffled his own
with the greatest ease--that he was, in fine, a "foeman worthy of his
steel." He became more careful and attentive; then tried several feints,
which were instantly detected. At the least opening he left, the point
of de Sigognac's sword, rapid as lightning in its play, darted in upon
him, necessitating the exercise of all his boasted skill to parry it.
He ventured an attack, which was so promptly met, and his weapon so
cleverly struck aside, that he was left exposed to his adversary's
thrust, and but for throwing himself back out of reach, by a sudden,
violent movement, he must have received it full in his breast. From
that instant all was changed for the young duke; he had believed that
he would be able to direct the combat according to his own will and
pleasure, but, instead of that, he was forced to make use of all his
skill and address to defend himself. He had believed that after a few
passes he could wound de Sigognae, wherever he chose, by a thrust which,
up to that time, he had always found successful; but, instead of that,
he had hard work to avoid being wounded himself. Despite his efforts
to remain calm and cool, he was rapidly growing angry; he felt himself
becoming nervous and feverish, while the baron, perfectly at his ease
and unmoved, seemed to take a certain pleasure in irritating him by the
irreproachable excellence of his fence.

"Sha'n't we do something in this way too, while our friends are
occupied?" said the chevalier to the marquis.

"It is very cold this morning. Suppose we fight a little also, if only
to warm ourselves up, and set our blood in motion."

"With all my heart," the marquis replied; "we could not do better."

The chevalier was superior to the Marquis de Bruyeres in the noble art
of fencing, and after a few passes had sent the latter's sword flying
out of his hand. As no enmity existed between them, they stopped there
by mutual consent, and turned their attention again to de Sigognac and
Vallombreuse. The duke, sore pressed by the close play of the baron,
had fallen back several feet from his original position. He was becoming
weary, and beginning to draw panting breaths. From time to time, as
their swords clashed violently together, bluish sparks flew from them;
but the defence was growing perceptibly weaker, and de Sigognac was
steadily forcing the duke to give way before his attack. When he saw the
state of affairs, the Chevalier de Vidalinc turned very pale, and began
to feel really anxious for his friend, who was so evidently getting the
worst of it.

"Why the devil doesn't he try that wonderful thrust he learned from
Girolamo of Naples?" murmured he. "This confounded Gascon cannot
possibly know anything about that."

As if inspired by the same thought, the young duke did, at that very
moment, try to put it into execution; but de Sigognac, aware of what he
was preparing to do, not only prevented but anticipated him, and touched
and wounded his adversary in the arm--his sword going clean through it.

The pain was so intense that the duke's fingers could no longer grasp
his sword, and it fell to the ground. The baron, with the utmost
courtesy, instantly desisted, although he was entitled by the rules
of the code to follow up his blow with another--for the duel does not
necessarily come to an end with the first blood drawn. He turned the
point of his sword to the ground, put his left hand on his hip, and
stood silently awaiting his antagonist's pleasure. But Vallombreuse
could not hold the sword which his second had picked up and presented to
him, after a nod of acquiescence from de Sigognac; and he turned away
to signify that he had had enough. Whereupon, the marquis and the baron,
after bowing politely to the others, set forth quietly to walk back to
the town.



CHAPTER X. A MIDNIGHT ADVENTURE

After the surgeon had bandaged his injured arm, and arranged a sling for
it, the Duke of Vallombreuse was put carefully into a chair, which had
been sent for in all haste, to be taken home. His wound was not in the
least a dangerous one, though it would deprive him of the use of his
right hand for some time to come, for the blade had gone quite through
the forearm; but, most fortunately, without severing any important
tendons or arteries. He suffered a great deal of pain from it of
course, but still more from his wounded pride; and he felt furiously and
unreasonably angry with everything and everybody about him. It seemed
to be somewhat of a relief to him to swear savagely at his bearers, and
call them all the hardest names he could think of, whenever he felt the
slightest jar, as they carried him slowly towards home, though they
were walking as steadily as men could do, and carefully avoiding every
inequality in the road. When at last he reached his own house, he was
not willing to be put to bed, as the surgeon advised, but lay down upon
a lounge instead, where he was made as comfortable as was possible by
his faithful Picard, who was in despair at seeing the young duke in
such a condition; astonished as well, for nothing of the kind had ever
happened before, in all the many duels he had fought; and the admiring
valet had shared his master's belief that he was invincible. The
Chevalier de Vidalinc sat in a low chair beside his friend, and gave him
from time to time a spoonful of the tonic prescribed by the surgeon,
but refrained from breaking the silence into which he had fallen.
Vallombreuse lay perfectly still for a while; but it was easy to see,
in spite of his affected calmness, that his blood was boiling with
suppressed rage. At last he could restrain himself no longer, and burst
out violently: "Oh! Vidalinc, this is too outrageously aggravating! to
think that that contemptible, lean stork, who has flown forth from his
ruined chateau so as not to die of starvation in it, should have dared
to stick his long bill into me! I have encountered, and conquered, the
best swordsmen in France, and never returned from the field before with
so much as a scratch, or without leaving my adversary stretched lifeless
on the ground, or wounded and bleeding in the arms of his friends."

"But you must remember that the most favoured and the bravest of
mortals have their unlucky days, Vallombreuse," answered the chevalier
sententiously, "and Dame Fortune does not ALWAYS smile, even upon
her prime favourites. Until now you have never had to complain of her
frowns, for you have been her pampered darling all your life long."

"Isn't it too disgraceful," continued Vallombreuse, growing more and
more heated, "that this ridiculous buffoon--this grotesque country
clown--who takes such abominable drubbings on the stage, and has never
in his life known what it was to associate with gentlemen, should have
managed to get the best of the Duke of Vallombreuse, hitherto by common
accord pronounced invincible? He must be a professional prize-fighter,
disguised as a strolling mountebank."

"There can be no doubt about his real rank," said Vidalinc, "for
the Marquis de Bruyeres guarantees it; but I must confess that his
unequalled performance to-day filled me with astonishment; it was simply
marvellous. Neither Girolamo nor Paraguante, those two world-renowned
swordsmen, could have surpassed it. I watched him closely, and I tell
you that even they could not have withstood him. It took all your
remarkable skill--which has been so greatly enhanced by the Neapolitan's
instructions--to avoid being mortally wounded; why your defeat was a
victory in my eyes, in that it was not a more overwhelming one."

"I don't know how I am to wait for this wound to heal," the duke said,
after a short pause, "I am so impatient to provoke him again, and have
the opportunity to revenge myself."

"That would be a very hazardous proceeding, and one that I should
strongly advise you not to attempt," Vidalinc replied in an earnest
tone. "Your sword-arm will scarcely be as strong as before for a long
time I fear, and that would seriously diminish your chances of success.
This Baron de Sigognac is a very formidable antagonist, and will be
still more so, for you, now that he knows your tactics; and besides, the
confidence in himself which his first victory naturally gives him would
be another thing in his favour. Honour is satisfied, and the encounter
was a serious one for you. Let the matter rest here, I beseech you!"

Vallombreuse could not help being secretly convinced of the justice of
these remarks, but was not willing to avow it openly, even to his most
intimate friend. He was a sufficiently accomplished swordsman himself
to appreciate de Sigognac's wonderful prowess, and he knew that it far
surpassed his own much vaunted skill, though it enraged him to have to
recognise this humiliating fact. He was even obliged to acknowledge, in
his inmost heart, that he owed his life to the generous forbearance of
his hated enemy; who might have taken it just as well as not, but had
spared him, and been content with giving him only a flesh wound, just
severe enough to put him hors-de-combat, without doing him any serious
injury. This magnanimous conduct, by which a less haughty nature would
have been deeply touched, only served to irritate the young duke's
pride, and increase his resentment. To think that he, the valiant and
puissant Duke of Vallombreuse, had been conquered, humiliated, wounded!
the bare idea made him frantic. Although he said nothing further to his
companion about his revenge, his mind was filled with fierce projects
whereby to obtain it, and he swore to himself to be even yet with the
author of his present mortification--if not in one way, then in another;
for injuries there be that are far worse than mere physical wounds and
hurts.

"I shall cut a sorry figure enough now in the eyes of the fair
Isabelle," said he at last, with a forced laugh, "with my arm here run
through and rendered useless by the sword of her devoted gallant. Cupid,
weak and disabled, never did find much favour with the Graces, you
know. But oh! how charming and adorable she seems to me, this sweet,
disdainful Isabelle! I am actually almost grateful to her for resisting
me so; for, if she had yielded, I should have been tired of her by this
time, I fancy. Her nature certainly cannot be a base, ordinary one, or
she would never have refused thus the advances of a wealthy and powerful
nobleman, who is ready to lavish upon her everything that heart could
desire, and whose own personal attractions are not to be despised; if
the universal verdict of the fair sex of all ranks can be relied
upon. There is a certain respect and esteem mingled with my passionate
admiration for her, that I have never felt before for any woman, and
it is very sweet to me. But how in the world are we to get rid of this
confounded young sprig of nobility, her self-constituted champion? May
the devil fly away with him!"

"It will not be an easy matter," the chevalier replied, and especially
now that he is upon his guard. "But even if you did succeed in getting
rid of him, Isabelle's love for him would still be in your way, and you
ought to know, better than most men, how obstinate a woman can be in her
devoted attachment to a man."

"Oh! if I could only kill this miserable baron," continued Vallombreuse,
not at all impressed by the chevalier's last remark, "I could soon win
the favour of this virtuous young person, in spite of all her little
prudish airs and graces. Nothing is so quickly forgotten as a defunct
suitor."

These were by no means the chevalier's sentiments, but he refrained from
pursuing the subject then, wishing to soothe, rather than irritate, his
suffering friend.

"You must first get well as fast as you can," he said, "and it will be
time enough then for us to discuss the matter. All this talking wearies
you, and does you no good. Try to get a little nap now, and not excite
yourself so. The surgeon will tax me with imprudence, and call me a bad
nurse, I'm afraid, if I don't manage to keep you more quiet--mentally as
well as physically."

His patient, yielding with rather an ill grace to this sensible advice,
sank back wearily upon his pillows, closed his eyes, and soon fell
asleep--where we will leave him, enjoying his much needed repose.

Meantime the Marquis de Bruyeres and de Sigognac had quietly returned to
their hotel, where, like well-bred gentlemen, they did not breathe even
a hint of what had taken place. But walls have ears they say, and eyes
as well it would appear, for they certainly see as much as they ever
hear. In the neighbourhood of the apparently solitary, deserted spot
where the duel had taken place, more than one inquisitive, hidden
observer had closely watched the progress of the combat, and had not
lost a moment after it was over in spreading the news of it; so that
by breakfast-time all Poitiers was in a flutter of excitement over the
intelligence that the Duke of Vallombreuse had been wounded in a duel
with an unknown adversary, and was exhausting itself in vain conjectures
as to who the valiant stranger could possibly be. No one thought of de
Sigognac, who had led the most retired life imaginable ever since his
arrival; remaining quietly at the hotel all day, and showing only his
stage mask, not his own face, at the theatre in the evening.

Several gentlemen of his acquaintance sent to inquire ceremoniously
after the Duke of Vallombreuse, giving their messengers instructions to
endeavour to get some information from his servants about the mysterious
duel, but they were as taciturn as the mutes of a seraglio, for the very
excellent and sufficient reason that they knew nothing what ever about
it. The young duke, by his great wealth, his overweening pride, his
uncommon good looks, and his triumphant success among fair ladies
everywhere, habitually excited much secret jealousy and hatred among
his associates, which not one of them dared to manifest openly--but they
were mightily pleased by his present discomfiture.

It was the first check he had ever experienced, and all those who
had been hurt or offended by his arrogance--and they were legion--now
rejoiced in his mortification. They could not say enough in praise of
his successful antagonist, though they had never seen him, nor had any
idea as to what manner of than he might be. The ladies, who nearly all
had some cause of complaint against the haughty young noble man, as he
was wont to boast loudly of his triumphs, and basely betray the favours
that had been accorded to him in secret, were full of enthusiastic and
tender admiration for this victorious champion of a woman's virtue, who,
they felt, had unconsciously avenged for them many scornful slights, and
they would have gladly crowned him with laurel and myrtle, and rewarded
him with their sweetest smiles and most distinguished favour.

However, as nothing on this terraqueous and sublunary globe can long
remain a secret, it soon transpired through Maitre Bilot, who had it
direct from Jacques, the valet of the Marquis de Bruyeres, who had been
present during the momentous interview between his master and the Baron
de Sigognac, that the duke's brave antagonist was no other than the
redoubtable Captain Fracasse; or rather, a young nobleman in disguise,
who for the sake of a love affair had become a member of Herode's troupe
of travelling comedians. As to his real name, Jacques had unfortunately
forgotten it, further than that it ended in "gnac," as is not uncommon
in Gascony, but on the point of his rank he was positive. This
delightfully romantic and "ower-true tale" was received with
acclamations by the good folk of Poitiers. They were fairly overflowing
with admiration for and interest in the valiant gentleman who wielded
such a powerful blade, and the devoted lover who had left everything to
follow his mistress, and when Captain Fracasse appeared upon the stage
that evening, the prolonged and enthusiastic applause that greeted him,
and was renewed over and over again before he was allowed to speak a
single word, bore witness unmistakably to the favour with which he
was regarded; while the ladies rose in their boxes and waved their
handkerchiefs, even the grandest and most dignified among them, and
brought the palms of their gloved hands daintily together in his honour.
It was a real ovation, and best of all a spontaneous one. Isabelle
also received a perfect storm of applause, which alarmed and had
nearly overcome the retiring young actress, who blushed crimson in her
embarrassment, as she made a modest curtsey in acknowledgment of the
compliment.

Herode was overjoyed, and his face shone like the full moon as he rubbed
his hands together and grinned broadly in his exuberant delight; for the
receipts were immense, and the cash-box was full to bursting. Everybody
had rushed to the theatre to see and applaud the now famous Captain
Fracasse--the capital actor and high-spirited gentleman--who feared
neither cudgels nor swords; and had not shrunk from encountering the
dreaded Duke of Vallombreuse, the terror of all the country round, in
mortal combat, as the champion of offended beauty. Blazius, however, did
not share the tyrant's raptures, but on the contrary foreboded no good
from all this, for he feared, and not without reason, the vindictive
character of the Duke of Vallombreuse, and was apprehensive that
he would find some means of revenging himself for his defeat at de
Sigognac's hands that would be detrimental to the troupe. "Earthen
vessels," said he, "should be very careful how they get in the way of
metal ones, lest, if they rashly encounter them, they be ignominiously
smashed in the shock." But Herode, relying upon the support and
countenance of the Baron de Sigognac and the Marquis de Bruyeres,
laughed at his fears, and called him faint-heart, a coward, and a
croaker.

When the comedians returned to their hotel, after the play was over, de
Sigognac accompanied Isabelle to the door of her room, and, contrary to
her usual custom, the young actress invited him to enter it with her.
When they found themselves quite alone, and safe from all curious eyes,
Isabelle turned to de Sigognac, took his hand in both of hers, and
pressing it warmly said to him in a voice trembling with emotion,

"Promise me never to run such a fearful risk for my sake again, de
Sigognac; promise me! Swear it, if you really do love me as you say."

"That is a thing I cannot do," the baron replied, "even to please you,
sweet Isabelle! If ever any insolent fellow dares to show a want of
proper respect for you, I shall surely chastise him for it, as I ought,
be he what he may--duke, or even prince."

"But remember, de Sigognac, that I am nothing but an actress, inevitably
exposed to affronts from the men that haunt the coulisses. It is the
generally received opinion, which alas! is but too well justified by the
usual ways of the members of my profession, that an actress is no
better than she should be; in fine, not a proper character nor worthy of
respect. From the moment that a woman steps upon the stage she becomes
public property, and even if she be really pure and virtuous it is
universally believed that she only affects it for a purpose. These
things are hard and bitter, but they must be borne, since it is
impossible to change them. In future trust to me, I pray you, to
repel those who would force their unwelcome attentions upon me in the
green-room, or endeavour to make their way into my dressing-room. A
sharp rap over the knuckles with a corset board from me will be quite as
efficacious as for you to draw your sword in my behalf."

"But I am not convinced," said de Sigognac, with a smile; "I must still
believe, sweet Isabelle, that the sword of a chivalrous ally would be
your best weapon of defence, and I beg you not to deprive me of the
precious privilege of being your devoted knight and champion."

Isabelle was still holding de Sigognac's hand, and she now raised her
lovely eyes, full of mute supplication, to meet his adoring gaze,
hoping yet to draw from him, the much desired promise. But the baron was
incorrigible; where honour was concerned he was as firm and unyielding
as a Spanish hidalgo, and he would have braved a thousand deaths rather
than have allowed an affront to the lady of his love to pass unpunished;
he wished that the same deference and respect should be accorded to
Isabelle upon the stage, as to a duchess in her drawing-room.

"Come, de Sigognac, be reasonable," pleaded the young actress, "and
promise me not to expose yourself to such danger again for so frivolous
a cause. Oh! what anxiety and anguish I endured as I awaited your return
this morning. I knew that you had gone out to fight with that dreadful
duke, who is held in such universal terror here; Zerbine told me all
about it. Cruel that you are to torture my poor heart so! That is always
the way with men; they never stop to think of what we poor, loving women
must suffer when their pride is once aroused! off they go, as fierce as
lions, deaf to our sobs and blind to our tears. Do you know, that if you
had been killed I should have died too?"

The tears that filled Isabelle's eyes, and the excessive trembling of
her voice, showed that she was in earnest, and that she had not even
yet recovered her usual calmness and composure. More deeply touched
than words can express by her emotion, and the love for himself it bore
witness to, de Sigognac, encircling her slender form with the arm that
was free, drew her gently to him, and softly kissed her fair forehead,
whilst he could feel, as he pressed her to his breast, how she was
panting and trembling. He held her thus tenderly embraced for a blissful
few seconds of silent ecstasy, which a less respectful lover would
doubtless have presumed upon; but he would have scorned to take
advantage of the unreserved confidence bestowed upon him in a moment of
such agitation and sorrowful excitement.

"Be comforted, dear Isabelle," said he at last, tenderly. "I was not
killed you see, nor even hurt; and I actually wounded my adversary,
though he does pass for a tolerably good swordsman hereabouts, I
believe."

"Yes, I well know what a strong hand is yours, and what a brave, noble
heart," Isabelle replied; "and I do not scruple to acknowledge that I
love you for it with all my heart; feeling sure that you will respect
my frank avowal, and not endeavour to take advantage of it. When I
first saw you, de Sigognac, dispirited and desolate, in that dreary,
half-ruined chateau, where your youth was passing in sadness and
solitude, I felt a tender interest in you suddenly spring into being in
my heart; had you been happy and prosperous I should have been afraid of
you, and have shrunk timidly from your notice. When we walked together
in that neglected garden, where you held aside the brambles so carefully
for me to pass unscathed, you gathered and presented to me a little
wild rose--the only thing you had to give me. As I raised it to my lips,
before putting it in my bosom, and kissed it furtively under pretence of
inhaling its fragrance, I could not keep back a tear that dropped upon
it, and secretly and in silence I gave you my heart in exchange for it."

As these entrancing words fell upon his ear, de Sigognac impulsively
tried to kiss the sweet lips so temptingly near his own, but Isabelle
withdrew herself gently from his embrace; not with any show of excessive
prudery, but with a modest timidity that no really gallant lover would
endeavour to overcome by force.

"Yes, I love you, de Sigognac," she continued, in a voice that was
heavenly sweet, "and with all my heart, but not as other women love;
your glory is my aim, not my own pleasure. I am perfectly willing to be
looked upon as your mistress; it is the only thing that would account
satisfactorily to the world at large for your presence in this troupe of
strolling players. And why should I care for slanderous reports, so long
as I keep my own self-esteem, and know myself to be virtuous and true?
If there were really a stain upon my purity it would kill me; I could
not survive it. It is the princely blood in my veins doubtless that
gives rise to such pride in me; very ridiculous, perhaps, in an actress,
but such is my nature."

This enchanting avowal, which would not have taught anything new to a
more conceited or bolder suitor, but was a wonderful revelation to de
Sigognac, who had scarcely dared to hope that his passionate, devoted
love might some day be returned, filled him with such rapturous,
overwhelming delight, that he was almost beside himself. A burning flush
overspread his usually pale face; he seemed to see flames before his
eyes; there was a strange ringing in his ears, and his heart throbbed
so violently that he felt half suffocated. Losing control of himself in
this moment of ecstasy, so intense that it was not unmixed with pain,
he suddenly seized Isabelle passionately in his arms, strained her
trembling form convulsively to his heaving breast, and covered her face
and neck with burning kisses. She did not even try to struggle against
this fierce embrace, but, throwing her head back, looked fixedly at him,
with eyes full of sorrow and reproach. From those lovely eyes, clear and
pure as an angel's, great tears welled forth and rolled down over her
blanched cheeks, and a suppressed sob shook her quivering frame as a
sudden faintness seemed to come over her. The young baron, distracted at
the sight of her grief, and full of keen self-reproach, put her gently
down into a low, easy-chair standing near, and kneeling before her, took
in both his own the hands that she abandoned to him, and passionately
implored her pardon; pleading that a momentary madness had taken
possession of him, that he repented of it bitterly, and was ready to
atone for his offence by the most perfect submission to her wishes.

"You have hurt me sadly, my friend!" said Isabelle at last, with a
deep-drawn sigh. "I had such perfect confidence in your delicacy and
respect. The frank, unreserved avowal of my love for you ought to have
been enough, and have shown you clearly, by its very openness, that I
trusted you entirely. I believed that you would understand me and let
me love you in my own way, without troubling my tenderness for you by
vulgar transports. Now, you have robbed me of my feeling of security.
I do not doubt your words, but I shall no longer dare to yield to the
impulses of my own heart. And yet it was so sweet to me to be with you,
to watch you, to listen to your dear voice, and to follow the course of
your thoughts as I saw them written in your eyes. I wished to share your
troubles and anxieties, de Sigognac, leaving your pleasures to others.
I said to myself, among all these coarse, dissolute, presuming men
that hover about us, there is one who is different--one who believes
in purity, and knows how to respect it in the woman he honours with his
love. I dared to indulge in a sweet dream--even I, Isabelle the actress,
pursued as I am constantly by a gallantry that is odious to me--I dared
to indulge in the too sweet dream of enjoying with you a pure mutual
love. I only asked to be your faithful companion, to cheer and comfort
you in your struggles with an adverse fate until you had reached the
beginning of happiness and prosperity, and then to retire into obscurity
again, when you had plenty of new friends and followers, and no longer
needed me. You see that I was not very exacting."

"Isabelle, my adored Isabelle," cried de Sigognac, "every word that you
speak makes me reproach myself more and more keenly for my fault, and
the pain I have given you. Rest assured, my own darling, that you have
nothing further to fear from me. I am not worthy to kiss the traces of
your footprints in the dust; but yet, I pray you, listen to me! Perhaps
you do not fully understand all my thoughts and intentions, and will
forgive me when you do. I have nothing but my name, which is as pure
and spotless as your sweet self, and I offer it to you, my own beloved
Isabelle, if you will deign to accept it."

He was still kneeling at her feet, and at these ardently spoken words
she leaned towards him, took his upraised face between her hands with a
quick, passionate movement, and kissed him fervently on the lips; then
she sprang to her feet and began, hurriedly and excitedly, pacing back
and forth in the chamber.

"You will be my wife, Isabelle?" cried de Sigognac in agitated tones,
thrilling in every nerve from the sweet contact of her pure, lovely
mouth--fresh as a flower, ardent as a flame.

"Never, never," answered Isabelle, with a clear ring of rapture in her
voice. "I will show myself worthy of such an honour by refusing it.
I did mistake you for a moment, my dearest friend; I did mistake you;
forgive me. Oh! how happy you have made me; what celestial joy fills
my soul! You do respect and esteem me, then, to the utmost? Ah! de
Sigognac, you would really lead me, as your wife, into the hall where
all the portraits of your honoured ancestors would look down upon us?
and into the chapel, where your dead mother lies at rest? I could
meet fearlessly, my beloved, the searching gaze of the dead, from whom
nothing is hidden; the crown of purity would not be wanting on my brow."

"But what!" exclaimed the young baron, "you say that you love me,
Isabelle, with all that true, faithful heart of yours, yet you will not
accept me! either as lover or husband?"

"You have offered me your name, de Sigognac, your noble, honoured name,
and that is enough for me. I give it back to you now, after having
cherished it for one moment in my inmost heart. For one instant I was
your wife, and I will never, never be another's. While my lips were
on yours I was saying yes to myself, and oh! I did not deserve such
happiness. For you, my beloved, it would be a sad mistake to burden
yourself with a poor little actress like me, who would always be taunted
with her theatrical career, however pure and honourable it may have
been. The cold, disdainful mien with which great ladies would be sure
to regard me would cause you keen suffering, and you could not challenge
THEM, you know, my own brave champion! You are the last of a noble race,
de Sigognac, and it is your duty to build up your fallen house. When, by
a tender glance, I induced you to quit your desolate home and follow me,
you doubtless dreamed of a love affair of the usual sort, which was but
natural; but I, looking into the future, thought of far other things.
I saw you returning, in rich attire, from the court of your gracious
sovereign, who had reinstated you in your rights, and given you an
honourable office, suitable to your exalted rank. The chateau had
resumed its ancient splendour. In fancy I tore the clinging ivy from its
crumbling walls, put the fallen stones back in their places, restored
the dilapidated roof and shattered window-panes, regilded the three
storks on your escutcheon over the great entrance door, and in the grand
old portico; then, having installed you in the renovated home of your
honoured ancestors, I retired into obscurity, stifling a sigh as I
bade you adieu, though sincerely rejoicing in your well merited good
fortune."

"And your dream shall be accomplished, my noble Isabelle; I feel sure of
it--but not altogether as you relate it to me; such an ending would be
too sad and grievous. You shall be the first, you, my own darling, with
this dear hand clasped in mine, as now, to cross the threshold of that
blessed abode, whence ruin and desolation shall have disappeared, and
have been replaced by prosperity and happiness."

"No, no, de Sigognac, it will be some great, and noble, and beautiful
heiress, worthy of you in every way, who will accompany you then; one
that you can present with just pride to all your friends, and of whom
none can say, with a malicious smile, I hissed or applauded her at such
a time and place."

"It is downright cruelty on your part to show your self so adorable, so
worthy of all love and admiration, my sweet Isabelle, and at the same
time to deprive me of every hope," said de Sigognac, ruefully; "to give
one glimpse of heaven and then shut me out again; nothing could be more
cruel. But I will not despair; I shall make you yield to me yet."

"Do not try, I beseech you," continued Isabelle, with gentle firmness,
"for I never shall; I should despise myself if I did. Strive to be
content, de Sigognac, with the purest, truest, most devoted love that
ever filled a woman's heart, and do not ask for more. Is it such an
unsatisfactory thing to you," she added, with a bright smile, "to be
adored by a girl that several men have had the bad taste to declare
charming? Why, even the Duke of Vallombreuse himself professes that he
would be proud of it."

"But to give yourself to me so absolutely, and to refuse yourself to
me as absolutely! to mingle such sweet and bitter drops in the same
cup--honey and wormwood--and present it to my lips! only you, Isabelle,
could be capable of such strange contradictions."

"Yes, I AM an odd girl," she replied, "and therein I resemble my poor
mother; but such as I am you must put up with me. If you should persist
in persecuting me, I know well how I could elude and escape you, and
where I could hide myself from you so that you would never be able to
find me. But there will be no need of that, we will not talk of it; our
compact is made. Let it be as I say, de Sigognac, and let us be happy
together while we may. It grows late now, and you must go to your own
room; will you take with you these verses, of a part that does not suit
me at all, and remodel them for me? they belong to a piece that we are
to play very soon. Let me be your faithful little friend, de Sigognac,
and you shall be my great, and well-beloved poet."

Isabelle, as she spoke, drew forth from a bureau a roll of manuscript,
tied with a rose-coloured ribbon, which she gave to the baron with a
radiant smile.

"Now kiss me, and go," she said, holding up her cheek for his caress.
"You are going to work for me, and this is your reward. Good-night, my
beloved, good-night."

It was long after he had regained the quiet of his own room ere de
Sigognac could compose himself sufficiently to set about the light task
imposed upon him by Isabelle. He was at once enchanted and cast down;
radiant with joy, and filled with sorrow; in a seventh heaven
of ecstasy, and in the depths of despair. He laughed and he wept
alternately, swayed by the most tumultuous and contradictory emotions.
The intense happiness of at last knowing himself beloved by his adored
Isabelle made him exultant and joyful, while the terrible thought that
she never would be his made his heart sink within him. Little by little,
however, he grew calmer, as his mind dwelt lovingly upon the picture
Isabelle had drawn of the Chateau de Sigognac restored to its ancient
splendour, and as he sat musing he had a wonderful vision of it--so
glowing and vivid that it was like reality. He saw before him the facade
of the chateau, with its large windows shining in the sunlight, and its
many weather-cocks, all freshly gilded, glistening against the bright
blue sky, whilst the columns of smoke rising from every chimney, so
long cold and unused, told of plenty and prosperity within, and his good
faithful Pierre, in a rich new suit of livery, stood between Miraut and
Beelzebub at the great entrance door awaiting him. He saw himself, in
sumptuous attire, proudly leading his fair Isabelle by the hand towards
the grand old home of his forefathers; his beautiful Isabelle, dressed
like a princess, wearing ornaments bearing a device which seemed to be
that of one of the greatest, most illustrious families of France, and
with a ducal coronet upon her shapely head. But with it all she did
not appear to be proud or haughty--she was just her own sweet, modest
self--and in the hand that was free she carried the little wild rose,
fresh as when it was first plucked, that he had given her, and from time
to time raised and pressed it tenderly to her lips as she inhaled its
fragrance; it seemed more precious to her than all the superb jewels
that she wore. As they approached the chateau a most stately and
majestic old man, whose breast was covered with orders, and whose face
seemed not entirely unfamiliar to de Sigognac, stepped forth from the
portico to meet and welcome them. But what greatly surprised him was
that a remarkably handsome young man, of most proud and lofty
bearing, accompanied the old prince, who closely resembled the Duke
of Vallombreuse, and who smilingly advanced and offered a cordial
salutation and welcome to Isabelle and himself. A great crowd of
tenantry stationed near at hand hailed them with lusty cheers, making
many demonstrations of hearty joy and delight, and his own happiness
seemed to be complete. Suddenly the sound of a horn was heard, and at
a little distance he saw the beautiful Yolande de Foix, radiant and
charming as ever, riding slowly by--apparently returning from the chase.
He followed her with his eyes admiringly, but felt no regret as her
figure was lost to view amid the thick gorse bushes bordering the road
down which she was going, and turned with ever increasing love and
adoration to the sweet being at his side. The memory of the fair
Yolande, whom he had once worshipped in a vague, boyish way, faded
before the delicious reality of his passionate love for Isabelle;
who satisfied so fully every requirement of his nature, and had so
thoroughly healed the wound made by the scorn and ridicule of the other,
that it seemed to be entirely forgotten then.

It was not easy for de Sigognac to rouse himself after this entrancing
vision, which had been so startlingly real, and fix his attention upon
the verses he had promised to revise and alter for Isabelle, but when at
last he had succeeded, he threw himself into his task with enthusiasm,
and wrote far into the night--inspired by the thought of the sweet lips
that had called him her poet, and that were to pronounce the words he
penned; and he was rewarded for his exertions by Isabelle's sweetest
smile, and warmest praise and gratitude.

At the theatre the next evening the crowd was even greater than before,
and the crush unprecedented. The reputation of Captain Fracasse, the
valiant conqueror of the Duke of Vallombreuse; increased hourly, and
began to assume a chimerical and fabulous character. If the labours of
Hercules had been ascribed to him, there would have been some credulous
ones to believe the tale, and he was endowed by his admirers with the
prowess of a dozen good knights and brave, of the ancient times of
chivalrous deeds. Some of the young noblemen of the place talked of
seeking his acquaintance, and giving a grand banquet in his honour; more
than one fair lady was desperately in love with him, and had serious
thoughts of writing a billet-doux to tell him so. In short, he was
the fashion, and everybody swore by him. As for the hero of a this
commotion, he was greatly annoyed at being thus forcibly dragged forth
from the obscurity in which he had desired to remain, but it was not
possible to avoid it, and he could only submit. For a few moments he did
think of bolting, and not making his appearance again upon the stage in
Poitiers; but the remembrance of the disappointment it would be to the
worthy tyrant, who was in an ecstasy of delight over the riches pouring
into the treasury, prevented his carrying out this design. And, indeed,
as he reminded himself, were not these honest comedians, who had rescued
him from his misery and despair, entitled in all fairness to profit, so
far as they could, by this unexpected and overwhelming favour which he
had all unwittingly gained? So, resigning himself as philosophically as
he could to his fate, he buckled his sword-belt, draped his cloak over
his shoulder, put on his mask and calmly awaited his call to the stage.

As the receipts were so large, Herode, like a generous manager, had
doubled the usual number of lights, so that the theatre was almost as
radiant as if a flood of sunshine had been poured into it. The fair
portion of the audience, hoping to attract the attention of the valiant
Captain Fracasse, had arrayed themselves in all their splendour; not a
diamond was left in its casket; they sparkled and flashed, every one, on
necks and arms more or less white and round, and on heads more or less
shapely, but all filled with an ardent desire to please the hero of the
hour; so the scene was a brilliant one in every way. Only one box yet
remained unoccupied, the best situated and most conspicuous in the whole
house; every eye was turned upon it, and much wonder expressed at the
apathy manifested by those who had secured it, for all the rest of the
spectators had been long settled in their places. At length, just as the
curtain was rising, a young lady entered and took her seat in the much
observed box, accompanied by a gentleman of venerable and patriarchal
appearance; apparently an indulgent old uncle, a slave to the caprices
of his pretty niece, who had renounced his comfortable after-dinner nap
by the fire, in order to obey her behest and escort her to the theatre.
She, slender and erect as Diana, was very richly and elegantly dressed,
in that peculiar and exquisite shade of delicate sea green which can
be worn only by the purest blondes, and which seemed to enhance the
dazzling whiteness of her uncovered shoulders, and the rounded, slender
neck, diaphanous as alabaster, that proudly sustained her small,
exquisitely poised head. Her hair, clustering in sunny ringlets round
her brow, was like living gold, it made a glory round her head, and the
whole audience was enraptured with her beauty, though an envious mask
concealed so much of it; all, indeed, save the snow-white forehead, the
round dimpled chin, the ripe red lips, whose tint was rendered yet
more vivid by the contrast with the black velvet that shaded them,
the perfect oval of the face, and a dainty little ear, pink as a
sea-shell--a combination of charms worthy of a goddess, and which made
every one impatient to see the radiant, beauteous whole. They were soon
gratified; for the young deity, either incommoded by the heat, or else
wishing to show a queenly generosity to the gazing throng, took off the
odious mask, and disclosed to view a pair of brilliant eyes, dark
and blue as lapis lazuli, shaded with rich golden fringes, a piquant,
perfectly cut little nose, half Grecian, half aquiline, and cheeks
tinged with a delicate flush that would have put a rose-leaf to shame.
In fine, it was Yolande de Foix, more radiantly beautiful than ever,
who, leaning forward in a negligent, graceful pose, looked nonchalantly
about the house, not in the least discomposed by the many eyes fixed
boldly and admiringly upon her. A loud burst of applause, that greeted
the first appearance of the favourite actor, drew attention from her
for a moment, as de Sigognac stalked forward upon the stage in the
character of Captain Fracasse. As he paused, to wait until his admirers
would allow him to begin his first tirade, he looked negligently round
the eager audience, and when his eyes fell upon Yolande de Foix, sitting
tranquil and radiant in her box, calmly surveying him with her glorious
eyes, he suddenly turned dizzy and faint; the lights appeared first
to blaze like suns, and then sink into darkness; the heads of the
spectators seemed sinking into a dense fog; a cold perspiration started
out on him from head to foot; he trembled violently, and felt as if his
legs were giving way under him; composure, memory, courage, all seemed
to have failed him, as utterly as if he had been struck by lightning.

Oh, shame! oh, rage! oh, too cruel stroke of fate! for him, a de
Sigognac, to be seen by her--the haughty beauty that he used to worship
from afar--in this grotesque array, filling so unworthy, so ridiculous
a part, for the amusement of the gaping multitude! and he could not hide
himself, he could not sink into the earth, away from her contemptuous,
mocking gaze. He felt that he could not, would not bear it, and for a
moment was upon the point of flying; but there seemed to be leaden soles
to his shoes, which he could by no means raise from the ground. He
was powerless to move hand or foot, and stood there in a sort of
stupefaction; to the great astonishment of Scapin, who, thinking that
he must have forgotten his part, whispered to him the opening phrases
of his tirade. The public thought that their favourite actor desired
another round of applause, and broke out afresh, clapping, stamping,
crying bravo, making a tremendous racket, which little respite gave poor
de Sigognac time to collect his scattered senses, and, with a mighty
effort, he broke the spell that had bound him, and threw himself into
his part with such desperation that his acting was more extravagant and
telling than ever. It fairly brought down the house. The haughty Yolande
herself could not forbear to smile, and her old uncle, thoroughly
aroused, laughed heartily, and applauded with all his might. No one
but Isabelle had the slightest idea of the reason of Captain Fracasse's
unwonted fury--but she saw at once who was looking on, and knowing how
sensitive he was, realized the effect it must infallibly produce upon
him. She furtively watched the proud beauty as she modestly played her
own part, and thought, not without a keen pang through her faithful,
loving heart, that here would be a worthy mate for the Baron de
Sigognac, when he had succeeded in re-establishing the lost splendour of
his house. As to the poor young nobleman, he resolved not to glance once
again at Yolande, lest he should be seized by a sudden transport of rage
and do something utterly rash and disgraceful, but kept his eyes fixed,
whenever he could, upon his sweet, lovely Isabelle. The sight of her
dear face was balm to his wounded spirit--her love, of which he was now
so blissfully sure, consoled him for the openly manifested scorn of the
other, and from her he drew strength to go on bravely with his detested
part.

It was over at last--the piece was finished--and when de Sigognac tore
off his mask, like a man who is suffocating, his companions were alarmed
at his altered looks. He was fairly livid, and let himself fall upon a
bench standing near like a lifeless body. Seeing that he was very faint,
Blazius hastened to fetch some wine--his sovereign remedy for every
ill--but de Sigognac rejected it, and signed that he wanted water
instead.

"A great mistake," said the pedant, shaking his head disapprovingly,
"a sad mistake--water is only fit for frogs, and fish, and such-like
cold-blooded creatures--it does not do for human beings at all. Every
water-bottle should be labelled,'For external use only.' Why, I should
die instantly if so much as a drop of the vile stuff found its way down
my throat. Take my advice, Captain Fracasse, and let it alone. Here,
have some of this good strong wine; it will set you right in a jiffy."

But de Sigognac would not be persuaded, and persisted in motioning for
water. When it was brought, cool and fresh, he eagerly swallowed a large
draught of the despised liquid, and found himself almost immediately
revived by it--his face resuming a more natural hue, and the light
returning to his eyes. When he was able to sit up and look about him
again, Herode approached, in his turn, and said, "You played admirably
this evening, and with wonderful spirit, Captain Fracasse, but it
does not do to take too much out of yourself in this way--such violent
exertions would quickly do for you. The comedian's art consists in
sparing himself as much as possible, whilst producing striking effects;
he should be calm amidst all his simulated fury, and cool in his
apparently most burning rage. Never did actor play this part as superbly
as you have done to-night--THAT I am bound to acknowledge--but this is
too dear a price to pay for it."

"Yes, wasn't I absurd in it?" answered the baron bitterly. "I felt
myself supremely ridiculous throughout--but especially when my head went
through the guitar with which Leander was belabouring me."

"You certainly did put on the most comically furious airs imaginable,"
the tyrant replied, "and the whole audience was convulsed with laughter.
Even Mlle. Yolande de Foix, that very great, and proud, and noble lady,
condescended to smile. I saw her myself."

"It was a great honour for me assuredly," cried de Sigognac, with
flaming cheeks, "to have been able to divert so great a lady."

"Pardon me, my lord," said the tyrant, who perceived the painful flush
that covered the baron's face, "I should have remembered that the
success which is so prized by us poor comedians, actors by profession,
cannot but be a matter of indifference to one of your lordship's rank."

"You have not offended me, my good Herode," de Sigognac hastened to
reply, holding out his hand to the honest tyrant with a genial smile,
"whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. But I could not help
remembering that I had dreamed of and hoped for very different triumphs
from this."

Isabelle, who meantime had been dressing for the other piece, passed
near de Sigognac just then, and gave him such an angelic look--so full
of tenderness, sympathy, and passionate love--that he quite forgot the
haughty Yolande, and felt really happy again. It was a divine balm, that
healed his wounded pride--for the moment at least; but such wounds are
all too apt to open and bleed again and again.

The Marquis de Bruyeres was at his post as usual, and though very
much occupied in applauding Zerbine, yet found time to go and pay his
respects to Mlle. Yolande de Foix. He related to her, without mentioning
the baron's name, the affair of the duel between Captain Fracasse and
the Duke of Vallombreuse saying that he ought to be able to give all the
details of that famous encounter better than anybody else, since he had
been present as one of the seconds.

"You need not be so mysterious about it," answered Yolande, "for it is
not difficult to divine that your Captain Fracasse is no other than the
Baron de Sigognac. Didn't I myself see him leaving his old owl-haunted
towers in company with this little Bohemienne, who plays her part of
ingenuous young girl with such a precious affectation of modesty?" she
added, with a forced laugh. "And wasn't he at your chateau with these
very players? Judging from his usual stupid, silly air, I would not
have believed him capable of making such a clever mountebank, and such a
faithful gallant."

As he conversed with Yolande, the marquis was looking about the house,
of which he had a much better view than from his own place near the
stage, and his attention was caught and fixed by the masked lady,
whom he had not seen before, as his back was always turned to her box.
Although her head and figure were much enveloped and disguised in a
profusion of black laces, the attitude and general contour of this
mysterious beauty seemed strangely familiar to him, and there was
something about her that reminded him forcibly of the marquise, his own
wife. "Bah!" said he to himself, "how foolish I am; she must be all safe
at the Chateau de Bruyeres, where I left her." But at that very moment
he caught sight of a diamond ring--a large solitaire, peculiarly
set--sparkling on her finger, which was precisely like one that the
Marquise de Bruyeres always wore.

A little troubled by this strange coincidence, he took leave abruptly of
the fair Yolande and her devoted old uncle, and hastened to the masked
lady's box. But, prompt as his movements had been, he was too late--the
nest was empty--the bird had flown. The lady, whoever she might be, had
vanished, and the suspicious husband was left in considerable vexation
and perplexity. "Could it be possible," he murmured, as his doubts
became almost certainty, "that she was sufficiently infatuated to fall
in love with that miserable Leander, and follow him here? Fortunately I
had the rascal thoroughly thrashed, so I am even with him, how ever it
may be." This thought restored his ruffled serenity, and he made his way
as fast as he could to the green-room, to rejoin the soubrette, who had
been impatiently expecting him, and did not hesitate to rate him soundly
for his unwonted delay.

When all was over, and Leander--who had been feeling excessively anxious
about the sudden disappearance of his marquise--was free, he immediately
repaired to the open square where he had been first bidden to meet
the carriage sent to fetch him, and where he had found it awaiting him
nightly ever since. The little page, who was there alone, put a letter
and a small package into his hand, without a word, and then running
swiftly away, before Leander had time to question him, vanished in
the darkness. The note, which was signed simply Marie, was from the
marquise, who said that she feared her husband's suspicions had been
excited, and that it would no longer be safe for them to meet just then,
bade him an affectionate farewell until it might be their good
fortune to see each other again, expressed much regret at this unlucky
contretemps, and begged him to accept the gold chain she sent therewith
as a little souvenir, to remind him of the many happy hours they had
spent together. Leander was at first very much vexed and disappointed,
but was somewhat reconciled and consoled when he felt the weight of his
golden treasure, and saw its length and thickness; and, on the whole,
was rather glad to come off with such flying colours from an adventure
that might have brought down a yet more severe punishment than that he
had already received upon his devoted head.

When Isabelle regained her own room she found a very rich and elegant
casket awaiting her there, which had been placed conspicuously on the
dressing-table, where it could not fail to meet her eye the moment she
entered the chamber. A folded paper was lying under one corner of the
casket, which must have contained some very precious gems, for it was
a real marvel of beauty itself. The paper was not sealed, and bore only
these two words, evidently written by a weak and trembling hand, "For
Isabelle." A bright flush of indignation overspread her sweet face when
she perceived it, and without even yielding to her feminine curiosity
so far as to open the richly carved and inlaid casket for a peep at its
contents, she called for Maitre Bilot, and ordered him peremptorily
to take it immediately out of her room, and give it back to whomsoever
owned it, for she would not suffer it to remain where it was another
minute. The landlord affected astonishment, and swore by all he held
sacred that he did not know who had put the casket there, nor whose it
was; though it must be confessed that he had his suspicions, and felt
very sure that they were correct. In truth, the obnoxious jewel-case had
been secretly placed upon Isabelle's table by old Mme. Leonarde, to whom
the Duke of Vallombreuse had had recourse, in the hope that she might be
able to aid him, and in the full belief, shared by her, that the superb
diamonds which the beautiful casket contained would accomplish all that
he desired with Isabelle. But his offering only served to rouse her
indignation, and she spoke very severely to Maitre Bilot, commanding him
to remove it instantly from her sight, and to be careful not to mention
this fresh affront to Captain Fracasse. The worthy landlord could
not help feeling enthusiastic admiration for the conduct of the young
actress, who rejected jewels that would have made a duchess envious, and
as he retired bowed to her as respectfully and profoundly as he would
have done to a queen. After he had withdrawn and she was left alone,
Isabelle, feeling agitated and feverish, opened her window for a breath
of fresh air, and to cool her burning cheeks and brow. She saw a bright
light issuing from a couple of windows in the mansion of the Duke of
Vallombreuse--doubtless in the room where the wounded young nobleman
lay--but the garden and the little alley beneath her seemed absolutely
deserted. In a moment, however, she caught a low whisper from the
latter, not intended for her ears, which said, "She has not gone to
bed yet." She softly leaned out of her window--the room within was
not lighted, so she could not be seen--and peering anxiously into the
darkness thought she could distinguish two cloaked figures lurking in
the alley, and farther away, near one end of it, a third one, apparently
on the watch. They seemed to feel that they were observed, and all three
presently slunk away and vanished, leaving Isabelle half in doubt as to
whether they were the creatures of her excited imagination, or had been
real men prowling there. Tired at last of watching, without hearing or
seeing anything more, she withdrew from the window, closed and secured
it softly, procured a light, saw that the great, clumsy bolt on her door
was property adjusted, and made her preparations for bed; lying down at
last and trying to sleep, for she was very tired, but haunted by
vague fears and doubts that made her anxious and uneasy. She did not
extinguish her light, but placed it near the bed, and strove to reassure
herself and reason away her nameless terror; but all in vain. At every
little noise--the cracking of the furniture or the falling of a cinder
in the fire-place, she started up in fresh alarm, and could not close
her eyes. High up in the wall of one side of her room was a small round
window--a bull's eye--evidently intended to give light and air to some
dark inner chamber or closet, which looked like a great black eye in
the gray wall, keeping an unwinking watch upon her, and Isabelle found
herself again and again glancing up at it with a shudder. It was crossed
by two strong iron bars, leaving four small apertures, so that there
could not possibly be any danger of intrusion from that quarter, yet she
could not avoid feeling nervous about it, and at times fancied that she
could see two gleaming eye-balls in its black depths. She lay for a long
time perfectly motionless gazing at it, like one under a spell, and at
last was paralyzed with horror when a head actually appeared at one
of the four openings--a small, dark head, with wild, tangled elf-locks
hanging about it; next came a long, thin arm with a claw-like hand,
then the shoulder followed, and finally the whole body of a slender,
emaciated little girl wriggled dexterously, though with much difficulty,
through the narrow aperture, and the child dropped down upon the floor
as lightly and noiselessly as a feather, a snow-flake, or a waft of
thistle-down. She had been deceived by Isabelle's remaining so long
perfectly quiet, and believed her asleep; but when she softly approached
the bed, to make sure that her victim's slumber had not been disturbed
by her own advent, an expression of extreme surprise was depicted on her
face, as she got a full view of the head lying upon the pillow and the
eyes fixed upon her in speechless terror. "The lady of the necklace!"
she exclaimed aloud. "Yes, the lady of the necklace!" putting one hand,
as she spoke, caressingly upon the string of pearl beads round her
little, thin, brown neck. Isabelle, for her part, though half dead with
fright, had recognised the little girl she had first seen at the Blue
Sun inn, and afterwards on the road to the Chateau de Bruyeres, in
company with Agostino, the brigand. She tried to cry out for help, but
the child put her hand quickly and firmly over her mouth.

"Don't scream," she said reassuringly, "nothing shall hurt you. Chiquita
promised that she would never kill nor harm the good, sweet lady, who
gave her the pearls that she meant to steal."

"But what have you come in here for, my poor child?" asked Isabelle,
gradually recovering her composure, but filled with surprise at this
strange intrusion.

"To open the great bolt on your door there that you are so careful to
close every night," answered Chiquita, in the most matter-of-fact way.
"They chose me for it because I am such a good climber, and as thin
and supple as a snake; there are not many holes that I cannot manage to
crawl through."

"And why were you to open my door, Chiquita? so that thieves could come
in and steal what few things I have here? There is nothing of value
among them, I assure you."

"Oh, no!" Chiquita replied disdainfully, "it was to let the men in who
were to carry you off."

"My God! I am lost!" cried poor Isabelle, wringing her hands in despair.

"Not at all," said Chiquita, "and you need not be so frightened. I shall
just leave the bolt as it is, and they would not dare to force the door;
it would make too much noise, and they would be caught at it; they're
not so silly as that, never fear."

"But I should have shrieked at the top of my voice, and clung to the
bedstead with all my might, if they had tried to take me," exclaimed
Isabelle excitedly, "so that I would have been heard by the people in
the neighbouring rooms, and I'm sure they would have come to my rescue."

"A good gag will stifle any shrieks," said Chiquita sententiously, with
a lofty contempt for Isabelle's ignorance that was very amusing, "and a
blanket rolled tightly about the body prevents any movements; that is
an easy matter you see. They would have carried you off without the
slightest difficulty, for the stable boy was bribed, and was to open the
back door for them."

"Who has laid this wicked plot?" asked the poor, frightened, young girl,
with a trembling voice, horror-stricken at the danger she had escaped.

"The great lord who has given them all such heaps of money; oh! such
quantities of big gold pieces--by the handful," said Chiquita, her great
dark eyes glittering with a fierce, covetous expression, strange and
horrible to see in one so young. "But all the same, YOU gave me the
pearls, and he shall not hurt you; he shall not have you if you don't
want to go. I will tell them that you were awake, and there was a man
in the room, so that I could not get in and open the door for them; they
will all go away quietly enough; you need not be afraid. Now let me have
one good look at you before I go--oh, how sweet and pretty you are--and
I love you, yes, I do, ever so much; almost as much as Agostino. But
what is this?" cried she suddenly, pouncing upon a knife that was lying
on the table near the bed. "Why, you have got the very knife I lost; it
was my father's knife. Well, you may keep it--it's a good one."

     'When this viper bites you, make sure
     That you must die, for there's no cure.'

"See, this is the way to open it, and then you use it like this: strike
from below upwards--the blade goes in better that way--and it's so sharp
it will go through anything. Carry it in the bosom of your dress, and it
is always ready; then if anybody bothers you, out with it, and paf! you
have them ripped up in no time," and the strange, eerie little creature
accompanied her words with appropriate gestures, by way of illustration.
This extraordinary lesson in the art of using a knife, given in the dead
of night, and under such peculiar circumstances, seemed like a nightmare
to Isabelle.

"Be sure you hold the knife like this, do you see? tightly clasped in
your fingers--as long as you have it no one can harm you, but you can
hurt them. Now, I must go--adieu, and don't forget Chiquita."

So saying, the queer little elf pushed a table up to the wall under the
bull's eye, mounted it, sprang up and caught hold of the iron bar with
the agility of a monkey, swung herself up in some extraordinary fashion,
wriggled through the small opening and disappeared, chanting in a rude
measure, "Chiquita whisks through key-holes, and dances on the sharp
points of spear-heads and the broken glass on garden walls, without ever
hurting herself one bit--and nobody can catch her."

Isabelle, left alone, awaited the break of day with trembling
impatience, unable to sleep after the fright and agitation she had
experienced, and momentarily dreading some fresh cause of alarm; but
nothing else happened to disturb her. When she joined her companions
at breakfast, they were all struck with her extreme pallor, and the
distressed expression of her countenance. To their anxious questions
she replied by giving an account of her nocturnal adventure, and de
Sigognac, furious at this fresh outrage, could scarcely be restrained
from going at once to demand, satisfaction for it from the Duke of
Vallombreuse, to whom he did not hesitate to attribute this villainous
scheme.

"I think," said Blazius, when he could make himself heard, "that we
had better pack up, and be off as soon as we can for Paris; the air is
becoming decidedly unwholesome for us in this place."

After a short discussion all the others agreed with him, and it was
decided that they should take their departure from Poitiers the very
next day.



CHAPTER XI. THE PONT-NEUF

It would be too long and tedious to follow our comedians, step by step,
on their way up to Paris, the great capital. No adventures worthy of
being recorded here befell them; as they were in good circumstances
financially, they could travel rapidly and comfortably, and were not
again subjected to such hardships and annoyances as they had endured
in the earlier stages of their long journey. At Tours and Orleans they
stopped to give a few representations, which were eminently successful,
and very satisfactory to the troupe as well as the public. No attempt
being made to molest them in any way, Blazius after a time forgot his
fears, which had been excited by the vindictive character of the Duke of
Vallombreuse, but Isabelle could not banish from her memory the wicked
plot to abduct her, and many times saw again in her dreams Chiquita's
wild, weird face, with the long, tangled elf-locks hanging around it,
just as it had appeared to her that dreadful night at the Armes de
Frame, glaring at her with fierce, wolfish eyes. Then she would start
up, sobbing and trembling, in violent agitation, and it required the
most tender soothing from her companion, Zerbine, whose room she had
shared ever since they quitted Poitiers, to quiet and reassure her. The
soubrette, thoroughly enamoured of Isabelle as of old, was devoted to
her, and took great delight in watching over and ministering to her;
an own sister could not have been kinder or more affectionately
considerate.

The only evidence that de Sigognac gave of the anxiety which he
secretly felt, was his always insisting upon occupying the room nearest
Isabelle's, and he used to lie down in his clothes, with his drawn sword
on the bed beside him, so as to be ready in case of any sudden alarm.
By day he generally walked on in advance of the chariot, taking upon
himself the duty of a scout; redoubling his vigilance wherever there
happened to be bushes, thickets, high walls, or lurking places of any
kind, favourable to an ambuscade, near the roadside. If he perceived
from afar a group of travellers approaching, whose appearance seemed to
him in the least suspicious, he would instantly draw his sword and fall
back upon the chariot, around which the tyrant, Scapin, Blazius and
Leander formed an apparently strong guard; though, of the last two
mentioned, one was incapacitated for active service by age, and the
other was as timid as a hare. Some times, varying his tactics like a
good general, who thinks of and provides against every emergency, the
baron would constitute himself a rear guard, and follow the chariot at
a little distance, keeping watch over the road behind them. But all his
precautions were needless, for no attack was made upon the travellers,
or any attempt to interfere with them, and they proceeded tranquilly
on their way, "without let or hindrance." Although it was winter, the
season was not a rigorous one, and our comedians, well fortified against
the cold by plenty of warm clothing and good nourishing food, did not
mind their exposure to the weather, and found their journey a very
enjoyable affair. To be sure, the sharp, frosty air brought a more
brilliant colour than usual into the cheeks of the fair members of the
troupe, but no one could say that it detracted from their charms; and
even when it extended, as it did sometimes, to their pretty little
noses, it could not be found serious fault with, for everything is
becoming to a young and beautiful woman.

At last they drew near to the capital--following the windings of the
Seine, whose waters flow past royal palaces, and many another edifice of
world-wide renown--and at four o'clock of a bright winter afternoon came
in sight of its spires and domes. The smoke rising from its forest of
chimneys hung over it in a semi-transparent cloud, through which the sun
shone, round and red, like a ball of fire. As they entered the city by
the Porte Saint Bernard, a glorious spectacle greeted their wondering
eyes. In front of them Notre Dame stood out in bold relief, with its
magnificent flying buttresses, its two stately towers, massive and
majestic, and its slender, graceful spire, springing from the lofty
roof at the point of intersection of the nave and transepts. Many other
lesser towers and spires rose above churches and chapels that were lost
amid the densely crowded houses all about them, but de Sigognac had
eyes only for the grand old cathedral, which overwhelmed him with
astonishment and delight. He would have liked to linger for hours and
gaze upon that splendid triumph of architecture, but he needs must go
forward with the rest, however reluctantly. The wonderful and unceasing
whirl and confusion in the narrow, crowded streets, through which
they made their way slowly, and not without difficulty, perplexed and
distracted him, accustomed as he had been all his life to the vast
solitude of the Landes, and the deathly stillness that reigned almost
unbroken in his own desolate old chateau; it seemed to him as if a
mill-wheel were running round and round in his head, and he could feel
himself staggering like a drunken man. The Pont-Neuf was soon reached,
and then de Sigognac caught a glimpse of the famous equestrian statue in
bronze of the great and good king, Henri IV, which stands on its lofty
pedestal and seems to be keeping guard over the splendid bridge, with
its ever-rolling stream of foot-passengers, horsemen, and vehicles
of every kind and description, from the superb court carriage to the
huckster's hand-cart; but in a moment it was lost to view, as the
chariot turned into the then newly opened Rue Dauphine. In this street
was a fine big hotel, frequently patronized by ambassadors from foreign
lands, with numerous retinues; for it was so vast that it could always
furnish accommodations for large parties arriving unexpectedly. As the
prosperous state of their finances admitted of their indulging in such
luxury, Herode had fixed upon this house as their place of abode in
Paris; because it would give a certain prestige to his troupe to be
lodged there, and show conclusively that they were not mere needy,
vagabond players, gaining a precarious livelihood in their wanderings
through the provinces, but a company of comedians of good standing,
whose talents brought them in a handsome revenue.

Upon their arrival at this imposing hostelry, they were first shown into
an immense kitchen, which presented an animated, busy scene--a whole
army of cooks bustling about the great roaring fire, and around the
various tables, where all sorts of culinary rites were in active
progress; while the mingling of savoury odours that pervaded the whole
place so tickled the olfactory organs of Blazius, Herode, and Scapin,
the gourmands of the troupe, that their mouths expanded into the
broadest of grins, as they edged as near as possible to the numerous
saucepans, etc., from which they issued. In a few moments a servant came
to conduct them to the rooms that had been prepared for them, and
just as they turned away from the blazing fire, round which they had
gathered, to follow him, a traveller entered and approached it, whose
face seemed strangely familiar to de Sigognac. He was a tall, powerful
man, wearing large spurs, which rang against the stone floor at every
step, and the great spots of mud--some of them not yet dry--with which
he was bespattered from head to foot, showed that he must have been
riding far and fast. He was a fierce-looking fellow, with an insolent,
devil-may-care, arrogant sort of expression, and bold, swaggering gait,
yet he started at sight of the young baron, and plainly shrunk from his
eye; hastening on to the fire and bending over it, with his back turned
to de Sigognac, under pretence of warming his hands. In vain did our
hero try to recall when and where he had seen the man before, but he
was positive that he had come in contact with him somewhere, and that
recently; and he was conscious of a vague feeling of uneasiness with
regard to him, that he could not account for. However, there was nothing
for him to do but follow his companions, and they all went to their
respective chambers, there to make themselves presentable for the meal
to which they were shortly summoned, and which they thoroughly enjoyed,
as only hungry travellers can. The fare was excellent, the wine capital,
the dining-room well lighted, warm, and comfortable, and all were in
high spirits; congratulating each other upon having happily reached
the end of their long journey at last, and drinking to their own future
success in this great city of Paris. They indulged in the flattering
hope of producing a sensation here as well as at Poitiers, and even
dared to dream of being commanded to appear before the court, and of
being rewarded royally for their exertions to please. Only de Sigognac
was silent and preoccupied, and Isabelle, whose thoughts were all of
him, cast anxious glances at him, and wished that she could charm away
his melancholy. He was seated at the other end of the table, and still
puzzling over the face that he had seen in the kitchen, but he soon
looked towards her, and caught her lovely eyes fixed upon him, with such
an adorable expression of chaste love and angelic tenderness in their
shadowy depths, that all thoughts save of her were at once banished from
his mind. The warmth of the room had flushed her cheeks a little, her
eyes shone like stars, and she looked wonderfully beautiful; the young
Duke of Vallombreuse would have been more madly enamoured of her than
ever if he could have seen her then. As for de Sigognac, he gazed at her
with unfeigned delight, his dark, expressive eyes eloquent of adoring
love and deep reverence. A new sentiment mingled with his passion
now--ever since she had opened her heart to him, and let him see all its
heavenly purity and goodness--which elevated, ennobled, and intensified
it. He knew now the true, lofty beauty of her soul, that it was akin
to the angels, and but for the keen, ever-increasing grief he suffered
because of her firm refusal to give herself wholly to him, his
happiness, in possessing her faithful, devoted love, would have been too
perfect for this life of trials and sorrow.

When supper was over, de Sigognac accompanied Isabelle to the threshhold
of her own room, and said ere he left her, "Be sure to fasten your door
securely, my sweet Isabelle, for there are so many people about in a
great hotel like this that one cannot be too careful."

"You need have no fears for me here, my dear baron," she replied; "only
look at this lock, and you will be convinced of that. Why it is strong
enough for a prison door, and the key turns thrice in it. And here is
a great thick bolt besides--actually as long as my arm. The window is
securely barred, and there is no dreadful bull's eye, or opening of any
kind in the wall, to make me afraid. Travellers so often have articles
of value with them that I suppose it is necessary for them to have such
protections against thieves. Make yourself easy about me, de Sigognac!
never was the enchanted princess of a fairy tale, shut up in her strong
tower guarded by dragons, in greater security than am I in this fortress
of mine."

"But sometimes it chances that the magic charms and spells, represented
by these bolts and bars, are insufficient, my beloved Isabelle, and
the enemy manages to force his way in, despite them all--and the mystic
signs, phylacteries, and abracadabras into the bargain."

"Yes; but that is when the princess within secretly favours his
efforts," said Isabelle, with a mischievous smile, "and in some
mysterious way constitutes herself his accomplice; being tired of her
seclusion, perhaps, or else in love with the bold intruder--neither of
which is my case you know, de Sigognac! Surely if I'm not afraid--I, who
am more timid than the trembling doe when she hears the dread sound of
the hunter's horn and the baying of the hounds you should not fear--you,
who are brave as Alexander the Great himself. Sleep in peace to-night,
my friend, I pray you, and sleep soundly--not with one eye open, as you
have done so often of late for my sake; and now, good night."

She held out to him a pretty little hand, white and soft enough to have
belonged to a veritable princess, which he kissed as reverently as if it
had been a queen's; then waited to hear her turn the big, clumsy, iron
key three times in the lock--no easy task for her delicate fingers--and
push home the heavy bolt. Breathing a fervent blessing upon her, he
turned away reluctantly towards his own door. As he paused an instant
before it he saw a shadow moving, turned round quickly, and caught sight
of the very man he had been thinking of, and puzzling over, so much
that evening--whose approach he had not heard at all--passing stealthily
along the corridor, presumably on his way to his own room. Not an
extraordinary circumstance, that; but the baron's suspicions were
instantly aroused, and under pretext of trying to introduce his key
into the lock, he furtively watched him the whole length of the passage,
until a turn in it hid him from view, as he gained an unfrequented part
of the house; a moment later, the sound of a door being softly opened
and closed announced that he had probably reached his own chamber, and
then all was still again.

"Now what does this mean?" said de Sigognac to himself, and haunted by a
vague feeling of anxiety and uneasiness, he could not even bring himself
to lie down upon his bed and rest his weary frame; so, after pacing
restlessly about the room for a while, he concluded to occupy himself in
writing a letter to his good old Pierre; he had promised to apprise him
of his arrival in Paris. He was careful that the handwriting should be
very large, clear, and distinct, for the faithful old servant was not
much of a scholar, and addressed him as follows:

MY GOOD PIERRE:--Here I am at last, actually in Paris, the great
capital, where, according to general belief, I am to fall in with some
sort of good fortune or other, that will enable me to re-establish the
ancient prosperity of my house--though in truth I cannot see where I am
to look for it. However, some happy chance may bring me into relations
with the court, and if I could only get to speak to the king--the great
dispenser of all favours--the important and famous services rendered
by my ancestors to his royal predecessors would surely incline him to
listen to me with indulgence and interest. His gracious majesty could
not, it seems to me, suffer a noble family, that had devoted all their
possessions to the service of king and country, in many wars, to die
out so miserably, if once he knew of it. Meantime, for want of other
employment, I have taken to acting, and have made a little money
thereby--part of which I shall send to you, as soon as I can find a good
opportunity. It would have been better perhaps if I had enlisted as
a soldier; but I could not give up my liberty, and however
poverty-stricken a man may be, his pride revolts at the idea of putting
himself under the orders of those whom his noble ancestors used to
command. The only adventure worth relating that has befallen me since
I left you was a duel that I fought at Poitiers, with a certain
young duke, who is held to be invincible; but, thanks to your good
instructions, I was able to get the better of him easily. I ran him
through the right arm, and could just as well have run him through the
body, and left him dead upon the field, for his defence was weak and
insufficient--by no means equal to his attack, which was daring and
brilliant, though very reckless--and several times he was entirely at
my mercy, as he grew heated and angry. He has not been so thoroughly
trained to preserve his sang-froid, whatever may happen, as I, and I now
appreciate, for the first time, your wonderful patience and perseverance
in making me a master of the noble art of fencing, and how valuable my
proficiency in it will be to me. Your scholar does you honour, my brave
Pierre, and I won great praise and applause for my really too easy
victory. In spite of the constant novelty and excitement of my new way
of life, my thoughts often return to dwell upon my poor old chateau,
crumbling gradually into ruin over the tombs of my ancestors. From afar
it does not seem so desolate and forlorn, and there are times when
I fancy myself there once more, gazing up at the venerable family
portraits, wandering through the deserted rooms, and I find a sort
of melancholy pleasure in it. How I wish that I could look into your
honest, sunburnt face, lighted up with the glad smile that always
greeted me--and I am not ashamed to confess that I long to hear
Beelzebub's contented purring, Miraut's joyful bark, and the loud
whinnying of my poor old Bayard, who never failed to recognise my
step. Are they all still alive--the good, faithful, affectionate
creatures--and do they seem to remember me? Have you been able to keep
yourself and them from starvation thus far? Try to hold out until my
return, my good Pierre, so as to share my fate--be it bright or dark,
happy or sad--that we may finish our days together in the place where we
have suffered so much, yet which is so dear to us all. If I am to be the
last of the de Sigognacs, I can only say, the will of God be done. There
is still a vacant place left for me in the vault where my forefathers
lie.

"BARON DE SIGOGNAC."

The baron sealed this letter with the ring bearing his family arms,
which was the only jewel remaining in his possession; directed it, and
put it into his portfolio, to wait until he should find an opportunity
to forward it to Gascony. Although by this time it was very late, he
could still hear the vague roar of the great city, which, like the sound
of the ocean, never entirely ceases, and was so strange and novel to
him, in contrast with the profound silence of the country that he had
been accustomed to all his life long. As he sat listening to it, he
thought he heard cautious footsteps in the corridor, and extinguishing
his light, softly opened his door just a very little way, scarcely more
than a crack--and caught a glimpse of a man, enveloped in a large cloak,
stealing along slowly in the direction the other one had taken. He
listened breathlessly until he heard him reach, and quietly enter,
apparently the same door. A few minutes later, while he was still on the
lookout, another one came creeping stealthily by, making futile efforts
to stifle the noise of his creaking boots. His suspicions now thoroughly
aroused, de Sigognac continued his watch, and in about half an hour came
yet another--a fierce, villainous looking fellow, and fully armed, as
every one of his predecessors had been also. This strange proceeding
seemed very extraordinary and menacing to the baron, and the number
of the men--four--brought to his mind the night attack upon him in the
streets of Poitiers, after his quarrel with the Duke of Vallombreuse.
This recollection was like a ray of light, and it instantly flashed upon
him that the man he had seen in the kitchen was no other than one of
those precious rascals, who had been routed so ignominiously--and these,
without doubt, were his comrades. But how came they there? in the very
house with him--not by chance surely. They must have followed him up to
Paris, stage by stage, in disguise, or else keeping studiously out of
his sight, Evidently the young duke's animosity was still active, as
well as his passion, and he had not renounced his designs upon either
Isabelle or himself. Our hero was very brave by nature, and did not feel
the least anxiety about his own safety trusting to his good sword to
defend himself against his enemies--but he was very uneasy in regard to
his sweet Isabelle, and dreaded inexpressibly what might be attempted
to gain possession of her. Not knowing which one of them the four
desperadoes had in view now, he determined not to relax his vigilance
an instant, and to take such precautions as he felt pretty sure would
circumvent their plans, whatever they might be. He lighted all the
candles there were in his room--a goodly number--and opened his door,
so that they threw a flood of light on that of Isabelle's chamber, which
was exactly opposite his own. Next he drew his sword, laid it, with his
dagger, on a table he had drawn out in front of the door, and then
sat down beside it, facing the corridor, to watch. He waited some time
without hearing or seeing anything. Two o'clock had rung out from a
neighbouring church tower when a slight rustling caught his listening
ear, and presently one of the four rascals--the very man he had first
seen--emerged from the shadow into the bright light streaming out into
the passage from his open door. The baron had sprung to his feet at the
first sound, and stood erect on the threshold, sword in hand, with
such a lofty, heroic, and triumphant air, that Merindol--for it was
he--passed quickly by, without offering to molest him, with a most
deprecating, crestfallen expression; a laughable contrast to his
habitual fierce insolence. His three doughty comrades followed in quick
succession--but not one of them dared to attack de Sigognac, and they
slunk out of sight as rapidly as possible. He saluted each one with a
mocking gesture as he passed, and stood tranquilly watching them as
long as he could see them. In a few minutes he had the satisfaction of
hearing the stamping of horses' feet in the court-yard below, then the
opening of the outer door to let them pass out into the street, and
finally a great clattering of hoofs as they galloped off down the Rue
Dauphine.

At breakfast the next morning the tyrant said to de Sigognac, "Captain,
doesn't your curiosity prompt you to go out and look about you a little
in this great city--one of the finest in the world, and of such high
renown in history? If it is agreeable to you I will be your guide and
pilot, for I have been familiar from my youth up with the rocks and
reefs, the straits and shallows, the scyllas and charybdises of this
seething ocean, which are often so dangerous--sometimes so fatal--to
strangers, and more especially to inexperienced country people. I will
be your Palinurus--but I promise you that I shall not allow myself to
be caught napping, and so fall overboard, like him that Virgil tells us
about. We are admirably located here for sight-seeing; the Pont-Neuf,
which is close at hand, you know, is to Paris what the Sacra Via was to
ancient Rome--the great resort and rallying place of high and low, great
and small, noble men, gentlemen, bourgeois, working men, rogues and
vagabonds. Men of every rank and profession under the sun are to be
found gathered together at this general rendezvous."

"Your kind proposition pleases me greatly, my good Herode," de Sigognac
replied, "and I accept it with thanks; but be sure to tell Scapin that
he must remain here, and keep a sharp watch over all who come and go;
and, above all, that he must not let any one gain access to Isabelle.
The Duke of Vallombreuse has not given up his designs against her and
me--I feel very anxious about her safety," and therewith he recounted
the occurrences of the preceding night.

"I don't believe they would dare to attempt anything in broad daylight,"
said the tyrant; "still it is best to err on the safe side, and we will
leave Scapin, Blazius and Leander to keep guard over Isabelle while we
are out. And, by the way, I will take my sword with me, too, so that
I can be of some assistance in case they should find an opportunity to
fall upon you in the streets."

After having made every arrangement for Isabelle's safety, de Sigognac
and his companion sallied forth into the Rue Dauphine, and turned
towards the Pont-Neuf. It was quickly reached, and when they had taken
a few steps upon it a magnificent view suddenly burst upon them, which
held the young baron enthralled. In the immediate foreground, on the
bridge itself, which was not encumbered with a double row of houses,
like the Pont au Change and the Pont Saint Michel, was the fine
equestrian statue of that great and good king, Henri IV, rivalling in
its calm majesty the famous one of Marcus Aurelius, on the Capitoline
Hill at Rome. A high railing, richly gilded, protected its pedestal from
injury by mischievous street arabs, and the deep, strong tints of the
bronze horse and rider stood out vigorously against the appropriate
background formed by the distant hill-sides beyond the Pont Rouge. On
the left bank of the river the spire of the venerable old church
of Saint Germain des Pres pointed upwards from amid the houses that
completely hemmed it in, and the lofty roof of the unfinished Hotel
de Nevers towered conspicuously above all its surroundings. A little
farther on was the only tower still standing of the famous, and
infamous, Hotel de Nesle, its base bathed by the river, and though it
was in a ruinous condition it still lifted itself up proudly above the
adjacent buildings. Beyond it lay the marshy Grenouillere, and in the
blue, hazy distance could be distinguished the three crosses on the
heights of Calvary, or Mont-Valerien. The palace of the Louvre occupied
the other bank right royally, lighted up by the brilliant winter
sunshine, which brought out finely all the marvellous details of its
rich and elaborate ornamentation. The long gallery connecting it with
the Tuileries, which enabled the monarch to pass freely from his city
palace to his country house, especially challenged their admiration;
with its magnificent sculptures, its historical bas-reliefs and
ornamented cornices, its fretted stonework, fine columns and pilasters,
it rivalled the renowned triumphs of the best Greek and Roman
architects. Beyond the gardens of the Tuileries, where the city ended,
stood the Porte de la Conference, and along the river bank, outside of
it, were the trees of Cours-la-Reine, the favourite promenade of the
fashionable world, which was thronged of an afternoon with gay and
luxurious equipages. The two banks, which we have thus hastily sketched,
framed in the most animated scene imaginable; the river being covered
with boats of all sorts and descriptions, coming and going, crossing and
recrossing, while at the quay, beside the Louvre, lay the royal barges,
rich with carving and gilding, and gay with bright-coloured awnings, and
near at hand rose the historic towers of Saint Germain l'Auxerrois.

After gazing silently for a long time at this splendid view, de Sigognac
turned away reluctantly at his companion's instance, and joined the
little crowd already gathered round the "Samaritan," waiting to see the
bronze figure surmounting the odd little hydraulic edifice strike the
hour with his hammer on the bell of the clock. Meanwhile they examined
the gilt bronze statue of Christ, standing beside the Samaritan, who was
leaning on the curb of the well, the astronomic dial with its zodiac,
the grotesque stone mask pouring out the water drawn up from the river
below, the stout figure of Hercules supporting the whole thing, and
the hollow statue, perched on the topmost pinnacle, that served as a
weathercock, like the Fortune on the Dogana at Venice and the Giralda
at Seville. As the hands on the clock-face at last pointed to ten and
twelve respectively, the little chime of bells struck up a merry tune,
while the bronze man with the hammer raised his ponderous arm and
deliberately struck ten mighty blows, to the great delight of the
spectators. This curious and ingenious piece of mechanism, which had
been cunningly devised by one Lintlaer, a Fleming, highly amused and
interested de Sigognac, to whom everything of the kind was absolutely
new and surprising.

"Now," said Herode, "we will glance at the view from the other side of
the bridge, though it is not so magnificent as the one you have already
seen, and is very much shut in by the buildings on the Pont au Change
yonder. However, there is the tower of Saint Jacques, the spire of Saint
Mederic, and others too numerous to mention; and that is the Sainte
Chapelle--a marvel of beauty, so celebrated, you know, for its treasures
and relics. All the houses in that direction are new and handsome, as
you see; when I was a boy I used to play at hop-scotch where they now
stand. Thanks to the munificence of our kings, Paris is being constantly
improved and beautified, to the great admiration and delight of
everybody; more especially of foreigners, who take home wondrous tales
of its splendour."

"But what astonishes me," said de Sigognac, "more even than the grandeur
and sumptuousness of the buildings, both public and private, is the
infinite number of people swarming everywhere--in the streets and open
squares, and on the bridges--like ants when one has broken into an ant
hill; they are all rushing distractedly about, up and down, back and
forth, as if life and death depended upon their speed. How strange it is
to think that every individual in this immense crowd must be lodged
and fed--and what a prodigious amount of food and wine it must take to
satisfy them all."

And indeed, it was not surprising that the great numbers of people,
moving in every direction, should strike one unaccustomed to the crowded
thoroughfares of large cities as extraordinary. On the Pont-Neuf an
unceasing stream of vehicles rolled in each direction--fine carriages,
richly decorated and gilded, drawn by two or four prancing horses, with
lackeys in brilliant liveries clinging on behind, and stately coachmen
on the box; less pretentious carriages with more quiet steeds and fewer
servants; heavy carts laden with stone, wood, or wine-barrels, whose
drivers swore loudly at the detentions they were frequently obliged to
submit to, and which were unavoidable in such a crush of vehicles; and
among them all, gentlemen on horseback, threading their way carefully
in and out among the press of carts and carriages, and endeavouring
to avoid coming in contact with their muddy wheels--not always
successfully; while here and there a sedan chair crept slowly along,
keeping upon the edge of the stream, so as not to be crushed; and
the narrow, raised walk on either side was thronged with pedestrians.
Presently a drove of cattle made its appearance on the bridge, and then
the uproar and confusion became terrible indeed; horses, as well as
foot-passengers, were frightened, and tried to run away from danger,
requiring all the strength of their drivers to restrain them. Soon after
that excitement was over a detachment of soldiers came marching along,
with drums beating and colours flying, and everybody had to make way for
the valiant sons of Mars, no matter at what inconvenience to themselves.
And so it went on, one thing after another--a constant scene of bustle,
hurry, and commotion. As de Sigognac and the tyrant strolled
slowly along they were beset by beggars, more or less impudent and
pertinacious, and by all sorts of odd characters, plying various
extraordinary vocations for the amusement of the passers-by, for
which they seemed to be liberally enough remunerated. Here was an
improvisatore, singing, not unmelodiously, his rather clever verses;
there a blind man, led by a stout, jolly-looking old woman, who recited
his dolorous history in a whining voice, and appealed to the charity of
the ever-changing multitude; farther on a charlatan, loudly claiming
to be able to cure "all the ills that flesh is heir to" by his magical
compound--and finding plenty of dupes; and next to him a man with a
monkey, whose funny tricks caused much merriment. Suddenly a great
tumult arose near the other end of the bridge, and in a moment a
compact crowd had gathered around four men, who, with loud cries and
imprecations, were fighting with swords--apparently with great fury,
though in reality it was only a mock combat, probably intended to give a
good chance to the thieves and pickpockets in the throng, with whom they
were in league; such tactics being very common, as well as successful.
By Herode's advice, de Sigognac refrained from mingling with the crowd
immediately around the combatants, so he could not get a very good view
of them; but he was almost sure that they were the very men he had met
first in the streets of Poitiers, to their great discomfiture, and had
seen again the previous night at the hotel in the Rue Dauphine, where
they certainly had gained no advantage to make up for their former
defeat. He communicated his suspicions to the tyrant, but the rascals
had already slipped away, and it would have been as useless to attempt
to find them in the throng as to look for a needle in a haystack.

"It certainly is possible," said Herode, thoughtfully, "that this
quarrel was gotten up with a view to involving you in it, by some means
or other, for we are undoubtedly followed and watched by the emissaries
of the Duke of Vallombreuse. One of the scoundrels might have made
believe that you were in the way, or that you had struck him, and
falling upon you suddenly, before you had time to draw your sword, have
given you a thrust that would have done for you; and if he failed to
wound you mortally; the others could have pretended to come to their
comrade's aid, and have completed the job--nothing would have been
easier. Then they would have separated, and slipped away through the
crowd, before any one could interfere with them, or else have stood
their ground, and declared unanimously that they had been obliged to
attack you in self defence. It is next to impossible in such cases to
prove that the act was premeditated, and there is no redress for the
unhappy victim of such a conspiracy."

"But I am loath to believe," said the brave, generous young baron, "that
any gentleman could be capable of such an utterly base and unworthy act
as this--what, send a set of hired ruffians to foully assassinate his
rival! If he is not satisfied with the result of our first encounter, I
am willing and ready to cross swords with him again and again, until
one or the other of us is slain. That is the way that such matters are
arranged among men of honour, my good Herode!"

"Doubtless," replied the tyrant, dryly, "but the duke well
knows--despite his cursed pride--that the result of another meeting with
you could not but be disastrous to himself. He has tried the strength
of your blade, and learned by bitter experience that its point is sharp.
You may be sure that he hates you like the very devil, and will not
scruple to make use of any means whatever to revenge himself for his
defeat at your hands."

"Well, if he does not care to try my sword again, we could fight on
horseback with pistols. He could not accuse me of having any advantage
of him there."

Talking thus the two had reached the Quai de l'Ecole, and there a
carriage just missed running over de Sigognac, though he did his best to
get out of its way. As it was, only his extremely slender figure saved
him from being crushed between it and the wall, so close did it come to
him--notwithstanding the fact that there was plenty of room on the other
side, and that the coachman could easily have avoided the foot passenger
he actually seemed to pursue. The windows of the carriage were all
closed, and the curtains drawn down, so that it was impossible to tell
whether it had any inmates or not--but if de Sigognac could have peeped
within he would have seen, reclining languidly upon the luxurious
cushions, a handsome young nobleman, richly dressed, whose right arm was
supported by a black silk scarf, arranged as a sling. In spite of the
warm red glow from the crimson silk curtains, he was very pale, and,
though so remarkably handsome, his face wore such an expression of
hatred and cruelty, that he would have inspired dislike, rather than
admiration--as he sat there with a fierce frown contracting his brow,
and savagely gnawing his under lip with his gleaming white teeth. In
fine, the occupant of the carriage that had so nearly run over the Baron
de Sigognac was no other than the young Duke of Vallombreuse.

"Another failure!" said he to himself, with an oath, as he rolled along
up the broad quay past the Tuileries. "And yet I promised that stupid
rascal of a coachman of mine twenty-five louis if he could be adroit
enough to run afoul of that confounded de Sigognac--who is the bane of
my life--and drive over him, as if by accident. Decidedly the star of my
destiny is not in the ascendant--this miserable little rustic lordling
gets the better of me in everything. Isabelle, sweet Isabelle, adores
HIM, and detests me--he has beaten my lackeys, and dared to wound ME.
But there shall be an end of this sort of thing, and that speedily--even
though he be invulnerable, and bear a charmed life, he must and shall be
put out of my way--I swear it! though I should be forced to risk my name
and my title to compass it."

"Humph!" said Herode, drawing a long breath; "why those brutes must be
of the same breed as the famous horses of that Diomedes, King of Thrace,
we read of, that pursued men to tear them asunder, and fed upon their
flesh. But at least you are not hurt, my lord, I trust! That coachman
saw you perfectly well, and I would be willing to wager all I possess
in the world that he purposely tried to run over you--he deliberately
turned his horses towards you--I am sure of it, for I saw the whole
thing. Did you observe whether there was a coat of arms on the panel?
As you are a nobleman yourself I suppose you must be familiar with the
devices of the leading families in France."

"Yes, I am of course," answered de Sigognac, "but I was too much
occupied in getting out of the way of the swift rolling carriage to
notice whether there was anything of that kind on it or not."

"That's a pity," rejoined the tyrant regretfully, "for if we only knew
that, we should have a clew that might lead to our discovering the truth
about this most suspicious affair. It is only too evident that some one
is trying to put you out of the way, quibuscumque viis, as the pedant
would say. Although we unfortunately have no proof of it, I am very much
inclined to think that this same carriage belongs to his lordship, the
Duke of Vallombreuse, who wished to indulge himself in the pleasure of
driving over the body of his enemy in his chariot, in true classical and
imperial style."

"What extraordinary idea have you got into your head now, Sir Herode?"
said de Sigognac, rather indignantly. "Come, that would be too infamous
and villainous a proceeding for any gentleman to be guilty of, and you
must remember that after all the Duke of Vallombreuse is one, and that
he belongs to a very high and noble family. Besides, did not we leave
him in Poitiers, laid up with his wound? How then could he possibly be
in Paris, when we have only just arrived here ourselves?"

"But didn't we stop several days at Tours? and again at Orleans? And
even if his wound were not entirely healed he could easily travel in his
luxurious carriage, by easy stages, from Poitiers to Paris. His hurt was
not of a dangerous character, you know, and he is young and vigorous.
You must be on your guard, my dear captain, unceasingly; never relax
your vigilance for one moment, for I tell you there are those about
who seek your life. You once out of the way, Isabelle would, be in the
duke's power--for what could we, poor players, do against such a
great and powerful nobleman? Even if Vallombreuse himself be not in
Paris--though I am almost positive that he is--his emissaries are, as
you know, and but for your own courage and watchfulness you would have
been assassinated in your bed by them last night."

This de Sigognac could not dispute, and he only nodded in token of
assent, as he grasped the hilt of his sword, so as to be ready to draw
it at the slightest cause for suspicion or alarm. Meantime they had
walked on as far as the Porte de la Conference, and now saw ahead of
them a great cloud of dust, and through it the glitter of bayonets.
They stepped aside to let the cavalcade pass, and saw that the soldiers
preceded the carriage of the king, who was returning from Saint Germain
to the Louvre. The curtains of the royal vehicle were raised, and
the glasses let down, so that the people could distinctly see their
sovereign, Louis XIII, who, pale as a ghost and dressed all in black,
sat as motionless as an effigy in wax. Long, dark brown hair fell about
his mournful, ghastly countenance, upon which was depicted the same
terrible ennui that drove Philip II of Spain, to seclude himself so
much, during the later years of his life, in the silence and solitude of
the dreary Escorial. His eyes were fixed on vacancy, and seemed utterly
lifeless--no desire, no thought, no will lent them light or expression.
A profound disgust for and weariness of everything in this life had
relaxed his lower lip, which fell sullenly, in a morose, pouting way.
His hands, excessively thin and white, lay listlessly upon his knees,
like those of certain Egyptian idols. And yet, for all, there was
a truly royal majesty about this mournful figure, which personified
France, and in whose veins flowed sluggishly the generous blood of Henri
IV.

The young baron had always thought of the king as a sort of supernatural
being, exalted above all other men. Glorious and majestic in his person,
and resplendent in sumptuous raiment, enriched with gold and precious
stones; and now he saw only this sad, motionless figure, clad in
dismal black, and apparently unconscious of his surroundings, sunk in a
profound reverie that none would dare to intrude upon. He had dreamed
of a gracious, smiling sovereign, showering good gifts upon his loyal
subjects, and here was an apathetic, inanimate being, who seemed capable
of no thought for any one but himself. He was sadly disappointed,
shocked, amazed; and he felt, with a sinking heart, how hopeless was his
own case. For even should he be able to approach this mournful, listless
monarch, what sympathy could be expected from him? The future looked
darker than ever now to this brave young heart. Absorbed in these
sorrowful reflections he walked silently along beside his companion, who
suspected his taciturn mood, and did not intrude upon it, until, as the
hour of noon approached, he suggested that they should turn their steps
homeward, so as to be in time for the mid-day meal. When they reached
the hotel they were relieved to find that nothing particular had
happened during their absence. Isabelle, quietly seated at table with
the others when they entered, received the baron with her usual sweet
smile, and held out her little white hand to him. The comedians asked
many questions about his first experiences in Paris, and inquired
mischievously whether he had brought his cloak, his purse, and his
handkerchief home with him, to which de Sigognac joyfully answered
in the affirmative. In this friendly banter he soon forgot his sombre
thoughts, and asked himself whether he had not been the dupe of a
hypochondriac fancy, which could see nothing anywhere but plots and
conspiracies.

He had not been alarmed without reason however, for his enemies, vexed
but not discouraged by the failure of their several attempts upon him,
had by no means renounced their determination to make away with him.
Merindol, who was threatened by the duke with being sent back to the
galleys whence he had rescued him, unless he and his comrades succeeded
in disposing of the Baron de Sigognac, resolved to invoke the assistance
of a certain clever rascal of his acquaintance, who had never been known
to fail in any job of that kind which he undertook. He no longer felt
himself capable to cope with the baron, and moreover now, laboured
under the serious disadvantage of being personally known to him. He
went accordingly to look up his friend, Jacquemin Lampourde by name, who
lodged not very far from the Pont-Neuf, and was lucky enough to find him
at home, sleeping off the effects of his last carouse. He awoke him with
some difficulty, and was violently abused for his pains. Then, having
quietly waited until his friend's first fury was exhausted, he announced
that he had come to consult with him on important business, having
an excellent job to intrust to him, and begging that he would be good
enough to listen to what he had to say.

"I never listen to anybody when I am drunk," said Jacquemin Lampourde,
majestically, putting his elbow on his knee as he spoke, and resting his
head on his hand--"and besides, I have plenty of money--any quantity
of gold pieces. We plundered a rich English lord last night, who was
a walking cash-box, and I am a gentleman of wealth just at present.
However, one evening at lansquenet may swallow it all up. I can't resist
gambling you know, and I'm deuced unlucky at it, so I will see you
to-night about this little matter of yours. Meet me at the foot of the
bronze statue on the Pont-Neuf at midnight. I shall be as fresh and
bright as a lark by that time, and ready for anything. You shall give me
your instructions then, and we will agree upon my share of the spoils.
It should be something handsome, for I have the vanity to believe
that no one would come and disturb a fellow of my calibre for any
insignificant piece of business. But after all I am weary of playing
the thief and pickpocket--it is beneath me--and I mean to devote all my
energies in future to the noble art of assassination; it is more worthy
of my undisputed prowess. I would rather be a grand, man-slaying lion
than any meaner beast of prey. If this is a question of killing I
am your man--but one thing more, it must be a fellow who will defend
himself. Our victims are so apt to be cowardly, and give in without a
struggle--it is no better than sticking a pig--and that I cannot stand,
it disgusts me. A good manly resistance, the more stubborn the better,
gives a pleasant zest to the task."

"You may rest easy on that score," Mirindol replied, with a malicious
smile; "you will find a tough customer to handle, I promise you."

"So much the better," said Lampourde, "for it is a long time since I
have found an adversary worth crossing swords with. But enough of this
for the present. Good-bye to you, and let me finish my nap."

But he tried in vain to compose himself to sleep again, and, after
several fruitless efforts, gave it up as a bad job; then began to shake
a companion, who had slept soundly on the floor under the table during
the preceding discussion, and when he had succeeded in rousing him, both
went off to a gaming-house, where lansquenet was in active progress.
The company was composed of thieves, cut-throats, professional bullies,
ruffians of every sort, lackeys, and low fellows of various callings,
and a few well-to-do, unsophisticated bourgeois, who had been enticed
in there--unfortunate pigeons, destined to be thoroughly plucked.
Lampourde, who played recklessly, had soon lost all his boasted wealth,
and was left with empty pockets. He took his bad luck with the utmost
philosophy.

"Ouf!" said he to his companion, when they had gone out into the street,
and the cool, night air blew refreshingly upon his heated face, "here
am I rid of my money, and a free man again. It is strange that it should
always make such a brute of me. It surprises me no longer that rich
men should invariably be such stupid fools. Now, that I haven't a penny
left, I feel as gay as a lark--ready for anything. Brilliant ideas buzz
about my brain, like bees around the hive. Lampourde's himself again.
But there's the Samaritan striking twelve, and a friend of mine must be
waiting for me down by the bronze Henri IV, so goodnight."

He quitted his companion and walked quickly to the rendezvous, where he
found Merindol, diligently studying his own shadow in the moonlight; and
the two ruffians, after looking carefully about them to make sure that
there was no one within ear-shot, held a long consultation, in very low
tones. What they said we do not know; but, when Lampourde quitted the
agent of the Duke of Vallombreuse, he joyously jingled the handful
of gold pieces in his pocket, with an imprudent audacity that showed
conclusively how much he was respected by the thieves and cut throats
who haunted the Pont-Neuf.



CHAPTER XII. THE CROWNED RADISH

Jacquemin Lampourde, after parting company with Merindol, seemed in
great uncertainty as to which way he should go, and had not yet decided
when he reached the end of the Pont-Neuf. He was like the donkey between
two bundles of hay; or, if that comparison be not pleasing, like a
piece of iron between two magnets of equal power. On the one side was
lansquenet, with the fascinating excitement of rapidly winning and
losing the broad gold pieces that he loved; and on the other the tavern,
with its tempting array of bottles; for he was a drunkard as well as a
gambler, this same notorious Jacquemin Lampourde. He stood stock still
for a while, debating this knotty point with himself, quite unable to
come to a decision, and growing very much vexed at his own hesitation,
when suddenly a brilliant idea occurred to him, and, plunging his hand
into his well-filled pocket, he drew forth a gold piece, which he tossed
into the air, crying, "Head for the tavern, tail for lansquenet." The
coin rang upon the pavement as it fell, and he kneeled down to see
what fate had decided for him; head was up. "Very well," said he,
philosophically, as he picked up the piece of money, carefully wiped off
the mud, and put it back in his pocket, "I'll go and get drunk." Then,
with long strides, he made off to his favourite tavern, which had the
advantage of being in the immediate vicinity of his own lodgings, so
that with a few zigzags he was at home, after he had filled himself with
wine from the soles of his boots to the apple in his throat. It was not
an inviting-looking place, this same tavern, with the odd device of an
enormous radish, bearing a golden crown--now rather tarnished--which
had served as its sign for many generations of wine-drinkers. The heavy
wooden shutters were all closed when Lampourde reached it; but by the
bright light streaming through their crevices, and the sounds of song
and revelry that reached his ear, he knew that there must be a numerous
company within. Knocking on the door in a peculiar way with the handle
of his sword, he made himself known as an habitue of the house, and was
promptly admitted--the door being carefully made fast again the moment
he had entered. The large, low room into which he made his way was
filled with the smoke from many pipes, and redolent with the fumes of
wine. A cheerful wood fire was blazing on the hearth, lighting up the
array of bottles in the bar, which was placed near it, where the master
of the establishment sat enthroned, keeping a watchful eye on the noisy
crowd gathered round the many small tables with which the room abounded,
drinking, smoking, playing at various games, and singing ribald songs.
Lampourde paid no attention to the uproarious throng, further than to
look about and make sure that none of his own particular friends and
associates were among them. He found an unoccupied table, to which a
servant quickly brought a bottle of fine old Canary wine, very choice
and rare, which was reserved for a few privileged and appreciative
customers, who could afford to indulge in such luxuries. Although he was
quite by himself, two glasses were placed before him, as his dislike of
drinking alone was well known, and at any moment a comrade might come
in and join him. Meantime he slowly filled his glass, raised it to the
level of his eyes, and looked long and lovingly through the beautiful,
clear topaz of the generous wine. Having thus satisfied the sense
of sight, he passed to that of smell, and held the glass under his
nostrils, where he could enjoy the delicious aroma arising from it,
giving the wine a rotary motion as he did so, in a very artistic manner;
then, putting the glass to his lips, he let a few drops trickle slowly
down over his tongue to his palate, lengthening out the enjoyment as
much as possible, and approving smack of relish as he at last swallowed
the smooth nectar. Thus Maitre Jacquemin Lampourde managed to gratify
three of the five senses man is blessed with by means of a single glass
of wine. He pretended that the other two might also have a share of the
enjoyment--that of touch by the highly polished surface and swelling
curves of the wine-glass, and that of hearing by the merry ringing when
two glasses are clinked together, or by the musical sounds to be brought
forth from a glass by drawing the moistened finger round and round the
edge of it. But these are fantastic and paradoxical ideas, which only
serve to show the vicious refinement of this fastidious ruffian. He
had been but a few minutes alone when an odd-looking, shabbily dressed
individual came in, who rejoiced in a remarkably pale face, which looked
as if it had been chalked, and a nose as red and fiery as a live coal;
the idea of how many casks of wine and bottles of brandy must have been
imbibed to bring it to such an intensity of erubescence would be enough
to terrify the ordinary drinker. This singular countenance was like
a cheese, with a bright, red cherry stuck in the middle of it; and to
finish the portrait it would only be necessary to add two apple seeds,
placed a little obliquely, for the eyes, and a wide gash for a mouth.
Such was Malartic--the intimate friend, the Pylades, the Euryalus,
the "fidus Achates" of Jacquemin Lampourde; who certainly was not
handsome--but his mental and moral qualities made up for his little
physical disadvantages. Next to Lampourde--for whom he professed the
most exalted admiration and respect--he was accounted the most skillful
swordsman in Paris; he was always lucky at cards, and could drink to any
extent without becoming intoxicated. For the rest, he was a man of
great delicacy and honour, in his way--ready to run any risk to help or
support a friend, and capable of enduring any amount of torture rather
than betray his comrades--so that he enjoyed the universal and unbounded
esteem of his circle.

Malartic went straight to Lampourde's table, sat down opposite to him,
silently seized the glass the other had promptly filled, and drained it
at a single draught; evidently his method differed from his friend's,
but that it was equally efficacious his nose bore indisputable witness.
The two men drank steadily and in silence until they had emptied their
third bottle, and then called for pipes. When they had puffed away for
a while, and enveloped themselves in a dense cloud of smoke, they fell
into conversation, deploring the bad times since the king, his court
and followers, had all gone to Saint Germain, and comparing notes as to
their own individual doings since their last meeting. Thus far they had
paid no attention whatever to the company round them, but now such a
loud discussion arose over the conditions of a bet between two men
about some feat that one of them declared he could perform and the other
pronounced impossible, that they both looked round to see what it was
all about. A man of lithe, vigorous frame, with a complexion dark as
a Moor's, jet-black hair and flashing eyes, was drawing out of his red
girdle a large, dangerous looking knife, which, when opened, was nearly
as long as a sword, and called in Valencia, where it was made, a navaja.
He carefully examined and tested the edge and point of this formidable
weapon, with which he seemed satisfied, said to the man he had been
disputing with, "I am ready!" then turned and called, "Chiquita!
Chiquita!"

At the sound of her name a little girl, who had been sleeping, rolled
up in a cloak, on the floor in a dark corner, rose and came towards
Agostino--for it was he of course--and, fixing her large dark eyes upon
his face earnestly, said, "Master, what do you want me to do? I am ready
to obey you here as everywhere else, because you are so brave, and have
so many red marks on your navaja."

Chiquita said this rapidly, in a patois which was as unintelligible to
the Frenchmen around her as German, Hebrew or Chinese. Agostino took her
by the hand and placed her with her back against the door, telling
her to keep perfectly still, and the child, accustomed to that sort of
thing, showed neither alarm nor surprise, but stood quietly, looking
straight before her with perfect serenity, while Agostino, at the other
end of the room, standing with one foot advanced, balanced the dread
navaja in his hand. Suddenly with a quick jerking movement he sent it
flying through the air, and it struck into the wooden door, just
over Chiquita's head. As it darted by, like a flash of lightning, the
spectators had involuntarily closed their eyes for a second, but the
fragile child's long dark eyelashes did not even quiver. The brigand's
wonderful skill elicited a loud burst of admiration and applause from an
audience not easily surprised or pleased, in which even the man who had
lost his water joined enthusiastically. Agostino went and drew out the
knife, which was still vibrating, and returning to his place this
time sent it in between Chiquita's arm--which was hanging down by her
side--and her body; if it had deviated a hair's breadth it must have
wounded her. At this everybody cried "Enough!" but Agostino insisted
upon aiming at the other side as well, so as to prove to them that there
was no chance about it; that it was purely a matter of skill. Again the
terrible navaja flew through the air, and went straight to the mark,
and Chiquita, very much delighted at the applause that followed, looked
about her proudly, glorying in Agostino's triumph. She still wore
Isabelle's pearl beads round her slender brown neck; in other respects
was much better dressed than when we first saw her, and even had shoes
on her tiny feet; they seemed to worry and annoy her very much, it
is true, but she found them a necessary nuisance on the cold Paris
pavements, and so had to submit to wearing them with as good a grace as
she could muster. When Agostino gave her leave to quit her position
she quietly returned to her corner, rolled herself up anew in the large
cloak, and fell sound asleep again, while he, after pocketing the five
pistoles he had won, sat down to finish his measure of cheap wine;
which he did very slowly, intending to remain where he was as long as
possible; he had no lodging place yet in Paris, having arrived that very
evening, and this warm room was far more comfortable than a refuge in
some convent porch, or under the arch of a bridge perhaps, where he had
feared that he and Chiquita might have to lie shivering all night long.

Quiet being restored, comparatively speaking, Lampourde and Malartic
resumed their interrupted conversation, and after a few remarks upon
the strange performance they had just witnessed--in which Lampourde
especially praised Agostino's marvellous skill, and Malartic warmly
commended Chiquita's wonderful courage and sang-froid--the former
confided to his friend that he had a piece of work in prospect, in which
he would need some assistance, and desired to have his opinion as to
which of their comrades would be best suited for his purpose. He told
him that, in the first place, he was commissioned to despatch a certain
Captain Fracasse, an actor, who had dared to interfere with the love
affair of a very great lord. In this, of course, he would not require
any aid; but he had also to make arrangements for the abduction of
the lady, a very beautiful young actress, who was beloved by both the
nobleman and the comedian, and who would be zealously defended by the
members of the dramatic company to which she belonged; so that he should
be obliged to resort to some stratagem, and would probably need the help
of several hands to carry it out--adding that they were sure of being
well paid, for the young lord was as generous and open handed as he was
wealthy and determined. Thereupon they fell to discussing the respective
merits of their numerous friends and acquaintances--gentlemen of the
same stamp as themselves--and having decided upon four, and determined
to keep an eye upon Agostino, who seemed a clever rascal and might be
of use, they called for another bottle of wine. When that was finished
Jacquemin Lampourde was indisputably drunk, and having loyally kept his
word, retired, somewhat unsteadily, to his own quarters in a high state
of maudlin satisfaction, accompanied by his friend Malartic, whom he had
invited to spend the night with him. By this time--it was nearly four
o'clock in the morning--the Crowned Radish was almost deserted, and
the master of the establishment, seeing that there was no prospect
of further custom, told his servants to rouse up and turn out all the
sleepers--Agostino and Chiquita among the rest--and his orders were
promptly executed.



CHAPTER XIII. A DOUBLE ATTACK

The Duke of Vallombreuse was not a man to neglect his love affairs, any
more than his enemies. If he hated de Sigognac mortally, he felt for
Isabelle that furious passion which the unattainable is apt to excite
in a haughty and violent nature like his, that has never met with
resistance. To get possession of the young actress had become the ruling
thought of his life. Spoiled by the easy victories he had always gained
heretofore, in his career of gallantry, his failure in this instance was
utterly incomprehensible to him, as well as astonishing and maddening.
He could not understand it. Oftentimes in the midst of a conversation,
at the theatre, at church, at the court, anywhere and everywhere, the
thought of it would suddenly rush into his mind, sweeping everything
before it, overwhelming him afresh with wonder and amazement. And indeed
it could not be easy for a man who did not believe that such an anomaly
as a truly virtuous woman ever existed--much less a virtuous actress--to
understand Isabelle's firm resistance to the suit of such a rich and
handsome young nobleman as himself. He sometimes wondered whether it
could be that after all she was only playing a part, and holding back
for a while so as to obtain more from him in the end--tactics that he
knew were not unusual--but the indignant, peremptory way in which she
had rejected the casket of jewels proved conclusively that no such base
motives actuated Isabelle. All his letters she had returned unopened.
All his advances she had persistently repulsed; and he was at his wit's
end to know what to do next. Finally he concluded to send for old Mme.
Leonarde to come and talk the matter over with him; he had kept up
secret relations with her, as it is always well to have a spy in the
enemy's camp. The duke received her, when she came in obedience to
his summons, in his own particular and favoured room, to which she was
conducted by a private staircase. It was a most dainty and luxurious
apartment, fitted up with exquisite taste, and hung round with portraits
of beautiful women--admirably painted by Simon Vouet, a celebrated
master of that day--representing different mythological characters, and
set in richly carved oval frames. These were all likenesses of the young
duke's various mistresses, each one displaying her own peculiar charms
to the greatest possible advantage, and having consented to sit for her
portrait--in a costume and character chosen by the duke--as a special
favour, without the most remote idea that it was to form part of a
gallery.

When the duenna had entered and made her best curtsey, the duke
condescendingly signed to her to be seated, and immediately began to
question her eagerly about Isabelle--as to whether there were any signs
yet of her yielding to his suit, and also how matters were progressing
between her and the detested Captain Fracasse. Although the crafty old
woman endeavoured to put the best face upon everything, and was very
diplomatic in her answers to these searching questions, the information
that she had to give was excessively displeasing to the imperious
young nobleman, who had much ado to control his temper sufficiently to
continue the conversation. Before he let her go he begged her to
suggest some plan by which he could hope to soften the obdurate
beauty--appealing to her great experience in such intrigues, and
offering to give her any reward she chose to claim if she would but
help him to succeed. She had nothing better to propose, however, than
secretly administering a strong narcotic to Isabelle, and concerting
some plan to deliver her into his hands while unconscious from the
effects of it; which even the unscrupulous young duke indignantly
rejected. Whereupon, fixing her wicked old eyes admiringly upon his
handsome face, and apparently moved by a sudden inspiration, she said:
"But why does not your lordship conduct this affair in person? why not
begin a regular and assiduous courtship in the good old style? You
are as beautiful as Adonis, my lord duke! You are young, fascinating,
powerful, wealthy, a favourite at court, rich in everything that is
pleasing to the weaker sex; and there is not a woman on earth who could
long hold out against you, if you would condescend, my lord, to plead
your own cause with her."

"By Jove! the old woman is right," said Vallombreuse to himself,
glancing complacently at the reflection of his own handsome face
and figure in a full-length mirror opposite to him; "Isabelle may be
virtuous and cold, but she is not blind, and Nature has not been so
unkind to me that the sight of me should inspire her with horror. I
can at least hope to produce the same happy effect as a fine statue
or picture, which attracts and charms the eye by its symmetry, or its
beautiful and harmonious colouring. Then, kneeling at her feet, I can
softly whisper some of those persuasive words that no woman can listen
to unmoved--accompanied by such passionately ardent looks that the ice
round her heart will melt under them and vanish quite away. Not one
of the loftiest, haughtiest ladies at the court has ever been able to
withstand them--they have thawed the iciest, most immaculate of them
all; and besides, it surely cannot fail to flatter the pride of this
disdainful, high-spirited little actress to have a real duke actually
and openly kneeling at her feet. Yes, I will take the old woman's
advice, and pay my court to her so charmingly and perseveringly that I
shall conquer at last--she will not be able to withstand me, my sweet
Isabelle. And it will be a miracle indeed if she has a regret left then
for that cursed de Sigognac; who shall no longer interfere between my
love and me--that I swear! She will soon forget him in my arms."

Having dismissed old Mme. Leonarde with a handsome gratuity, the duke
next summoned his valet, Picard, and held an important consultation with
him, as to his most becoming costumes, finally deciding upon a very
rich but comparatively plain one, all of black velvet; whose elegant
simplicity he thought would be likely to suit Isabelle's fastidious
taste better than any more gorgeous array, and in which it must be
confessed that he looked adorably handsome--his really beautiful face
and fine figure appearing to the utmost advantage.

His toilet completed, he sent a peremptory order to his coachman to have
the carriage, with the four bays, ready in a quarter of an hour. When
Picard had departed on this errand, Vallombreuse began pacing slowly to
and fro in his chamber, glancing into the mirror each time he passed it
with a self-satisfied smile. "That proud little minx must be deucedly
cross-grained and unappreciative," said he, "if she does not perceive
how much more worthy I am of her admiration than that shabby de
Sigognac. Oh, yes! she'll be sure to come round, in spite of her
obstinate affectation of such ferocious virtue, and her tiresome,
Platonic love for her impecunious suitor. Yes, my little beauty, your
portrait shall figure in one of those oval frames ere long. I think I'll
have you painted as chaste Diana, descended from the sky, despite her
coldness, to lavish sweet kisses on Endymion. You shall take your place
among those other goddesses, who were as coy and hard to please at first
as yourself, and who are far greater ladies, my dear, than you ever will
be. Your fall is at hand, and you must learn, as your betters have done
before you, that there's no withstanding the will of a Vallombreuse.
'Frango nec frangor,' is my motto."

A servant entered to announce that the carriage awaited his lordship's
pleasure, and during the short drive from his own house to the Rue
Dauphine, the young duke, despite his arrogant assurance, felt his heart
beating faster than usual as he wondered how Isabelle would receive him.
When the splendid carriage, with its four prancing horses and servants
in gorgeous liveries, drove into the courtyard of the hotel where the
comedians were stopping, the landlord himself, cap in hand, rushed
out to ask the pleasure of the lordly visitor; but, rapid as were his
movements, the duke had already alighted before he could reach him.
He cut short the obsequious host's obeisances and breathless offers of
service by an impatient gesture, and said peremptorily:

"Mlle. Isabelle is stopping here. I wish to see her. Is she at home? Do
not send to announce my visit; only let me have a servant to show me the
way to her room."

"My lord, let me have the glory of conducting your lordship myself--such
an honour is too great for a rascally servant--I myself am not worthy of
so distinguished a privilege."

"As you please," said Vallombreuse, with haughty negligence, "only be
quick about it. There are people at every window already, staring down
at me as if I were the Grand Turk in person."

He followed his guide, who, with many bows and apologies, preceded him
upstairs, and down a long, narrow corridor with doors on either side,
like a convent, until they reached Isabelle's room, where the landlord
paused, and, bowing lower than ever, asked what name he should have the
honour of announcing.

"You can go, now," the duke replied, laying his hand on the door; "I
will announce myself."

Isabelle was sitting by the window, diligently studying her part in a
new play to be shortly put in rehearsal, and, at the moment the Duke of
Vallombreuse softly entered her chamber, was repeating, in a low voice
and with closed eyes, the verses she was learning by heart--just as a
child does its lessons. The light from the window shone full upon her
beautiful head and face--seen in profile--and her lovely figure, thrown
back in a negligent attitude full of grace and abandon. She made a most
bewitching picture thus, and with a delicious effect of chiaroscuro that
would have enchanted an artist--it enthralled the young duke.

Supposing that the intruder who entered so quietly was only the
chambermaid, come to perform some forgotten duty, Isabelle did not
interrupt her study or look up, but went on composedly with her
recitation. The duke, who had breathlessly advanced to the centre of the
room, paused there, and stood motionless, gazing with rapture upon her
beauty. As he waited for her to open her eyes and become aware of his
presence, he sank gracefully down upon one knee, holding his hat so that
its long plume swept the floor, and laying his hand on his heart, in an
attitude that was slightly theatrical perhaps, but as respectful as
if he had been kneeling before a queen. Excitement and agitation had
flushed his pale cheeks a little, his eyes were luminous and full of
fire, a sweet smile hovered on his rich, red lips, and he had never
looked more splendidly, irresistibly handsome in his life. At last
Isabelle moved, raised her eyelids, turned her head, and perceived the
Duke of Vallombreuse, kneeling within six feet of her. If Perseus had
suddenly appeared before her, holding up Medusa's horrid head, the
effect would have been much the same. She sat like a statue, motionless,
breathless, as if she had been petrified, or frozen stiff--her eyes,
dilated with excessive terror, fixed upon his face, her lips parted, her
throat parched and dry, her tongue paralyzed--unable to move or speak.
A ghastly pallor overspread her horror-stricken countenance, a deathly
chill seized upon all her being, and for one dreadful moment of supreme
anguish she feared that she was going to faint quite away; but, by a
desperate, prodigious effort of will, she recalled her failing senses,
that she might not leave herself entirely defenceless in the power of
her cruel persecutor.

"Can it be possible that I inspire such overwhelming horror in your
gentle breast, my sweet Isabelle," said Vallombreuse in his most dulcet
tones, and without stirring from his position, "that the mere sight of
me produces an effect like this? Why, a wild beast, crouching to spring
upon you from his lair, with angry roar and blazing eyeballs, could not
terrify you more. My presence here may be a little sudden and startling,
I admit; but you must not be too hard upon one who lives only to love
and adore you. I knew that I risked your anger when I decided to take
this step; but I could not exist any longer without a sight of you,
and I humbly crave your pardon if I have offended you by my ardour and
devotion. I kneel at your feet, fair lady, a despairing and most unhappy
suppliant for your grace and favour."

"Rise, my lord, I beseech you," said the frightened, trembling girl,
speaking with great difficulty and in a voice that sounded strange in
her own ears; "such a position does not become your rank. I am only an
actress, and my poor attractions do not warrant such homage. Forget this
fleeting fancy, I pray you, and carry elsewhere the ardour and devotion
that are wasted upon me, and that so many great and noble ladies would
be proud and happy to receive and reward."

"What do I care for other women, be they what they may?" cried
Vallombreuse impetuously, as he rose in obedience to her request; "it
is YOUR pride and purity that I adore, YOUR beauty and goodness that I
worship; your very cruelty is more charming to me than the utmost
favour of any other woman in the world. Your sweet modesty and angelic
loveliness have inspired in me a passion that is almost delirium, and
unless you can learn to love me I shall die--I cannot live without you.
You need not be afraid of me," he added, as Isabelle recoiled when he
made one step forward, and tried to open the window with her trembling
bands, as if she meant to throw herself out in case of his coming any
nearer; "see, I will stay where I am. I will not touch you, not even the
hem of your garment, so great is my respect for you, charming Isabelle!
I do not ask anything more than that you will deign to suffer my
presence here a little longer now, and permit me to pay my court to you,
lay siege to your heart, and wait patiently until it surrenders
itself to me freely and of its own accord, as it surely will. The most
respectful lover could not do more."

"Spare me this useless pursuit, my lord," pleaded Isabelle, "and I will
reward you with the warmest gratitude; but love you I cannot, now or
ever."

"You have neither father, brother, husband, or affianced lover,"
persisted Vallombreuse, "to forbid the advances of a gallant gentleman,
who seeks only to please and serve you. My sincere homage is surely not
insulting to you; why do you repulse me so? Oh! you do not dream what a
splendid prospect would open out before you if you would but yield to my
entreaties. I would surround you with everything that is beautiful and
dainty, luxurious and rare. I would anticipate your every wish; I would
devote my whole life to your service. The story of our love should
be more enchanting, more blissful than that of Love himself with his
delicious Psyche--not even the gods could rival us. Come, Isabelle,
do not turn so coldly away from me, do not persevere in this maddening
silence, nor drive to desperation and desperate deeds a passion that is
capable of anything, of everything, save renouncing its adored object,
your own sweet, charming self!"

"But this love, of which any other woman would be justly proud," said
Isabelle modestly, "I cannot return or accept; you MUST believe me, my
lord, for I mean every word I say, and I shall never swerve from this
decision. Even if the virtue and purity that I value more highly than
life itself were not against it, I should still feel myself obliged to
decline this dangerous honour."

"Deign to look upon me with favour and indulgence, my sweet Isabelle,"
continued Vallombreuse, without heeding her words, "and I will make you
an object of envy to the greatest and noblest ladies in all France. To
any other woman I should say--take what you please of my treasures--my
chateaux, my estates, my gold, my jewels--dress your lackeys in liveries
richer than the court costumes of princes--have your horses shod with
silver--live as luxuriously as a queen--make even Paris wonder at your
lavish splendour if you will--though Paris is not easily roused to
wonder--but I well know that you have a soul far above all such sordid
temptations as these. They would have no weight with you, my noble
Isabelle! But there IS a glory that may touch you--that of having
conquered Vallombreuse--of leading him captive behind your chariot
wheels--of commanding him as your servant, and your slave. Vallombreuse,
who has never yielded before--who has been the commander, not the
commanded--and whose proud neck has never yet bowed to wear the fetters
that so many fair bands have essayed to fasten round it."

"Such a captive would be too illustrious for my chains," said Isabelle,
firmly, "and as I could never consent to accept so much honour at your
hands, my lord, I pray you to desist, and relieve me of your presence."

Hitherto the Duke of Vallombreuse had managed to keep his temper under
control; he had artfully concealed his naturally violent and domineering
spirit under a feigned mildness and humility, but, at Isabelle's
determined and continued--though modest and respectful--resistance to
his pleading, his anger was rapidly rising to boiling point. He felt
that there was love--devoted love--for another behind her persistent
rejection of his suit, and his wrath and jealousy augmented each
other. Throwing aside all restraint, he advanced towards her
impetuously--whereat she made another desperate effort to tear open the
casement. A fierce frown contracted his brow, he gnawed his under lip
savagely, and his whole face was transformed--if it had been beautiful
enough for an angel's before, it was like a demon's now.

"Why don't you tell the truth," he cried, in a loud, angry voice, "and
say that you are madly in love with that precious rascal, de Sigognac?
THAT is the real reason for all this pretended virtue that you
shamelessly flaunt in men's faces. What is there about that cursed
scoundrel, I should like to know, that charms you so? Am I not
handsomer, of higher rank, younger, richer, as clever, and as much in
love with you as he can possibly be? aye, and more--ten thousand times
more."

"He has at least one quality that you are lacking in, my lord," said
Isabelle, with dignity; "he knows how to respect the woman he loves."

"That's only because he cares so little about you, my charmer!" cried
Vallombreuse, suddenly seizing Isabelle, who vainly strove to
escape from him, in his arms, and straining her violently to his
breast--despite her frantic struggles, and agonized cry for help. As if
in response to it, the door was suddenly opened, and the tyrant, making
the most deprecating gestures and profound bows, entered the room and
advanced towards Isabelle, who was at once released by Vallombreuse,
with muttered curses at this most inopportune intrusion.

"I beg your pardon, mademoiselle," said Herode, with a furtive glance
at the duke, "for interrupting you. I did not know that you were in such
good company; but the hour for rehearsal has struck, and we are only
waiting for you to begin."

He had left the door ajar, and an apparently waiting group could be
discerned without, consisting of the pedant, Scapin, Leander, and
Zerbine; a reassuring and most welcome sight to poor Isabelle. For one
instant the duke, in his rage, was tempted to draw his sword, make a
furious charge upon the intruding canaille, and disperse them "vi et
armis"--but a second thought stayed his hand, as he realized that the
killing or wounding of two or three of these miserable actors would not
further his suit; and besides, he could not stain his noble hands with
such vile blood as theirs. So he put force upon himself and restrained
his rage, and, bowing with icy politeness to Isabelle, who, trembling in
every limb, had edged nearer to her friends, he made his way out of the
room; turning, however, at the threshold to say, with peculiar emphasis,
"Au revoir, mademoiselle!"--a very simple phrase certainly, but replete
with significance of a very terrible and threatening nature from the way
in which it was spoken. His face was so expressive of evil passions as
he said it that Isabelle shuddered, and felt a violent spasm of fear
pass over her, even though the presence of her companions guaranteed her
against any further attempts at violence just then. She felt the mortal
anguish of the fated dove, above which the cruel kite is circling
swiftly in the air, drawing nearer with every rapid round.

The Duke of Vallombreuse regained his carriage, which awaited him in
the court followed by the obsequious landlord, with much superfluous and
aggravating ceremony that he would gladly have dispensed with, and
the next minute the rumble of wheels indicated to Isabelle that her
dangerous visitor had taken his departure.

Now, to explain the timely interruption that came so opportunely to
rescue Isabelle from her enemy's clutches. The arrival of the duke
in his superb carriage at the hotel in the Rue Dauphine had caused an
excitement and flutter throughout the whole establishment, which soon
reached the ears of the tyrant, who, like Isabelle, was busy learning
his new part in the seclusion of his own room. In the absence of de
Sigognac, who was detained at the theatre to try on a new costume, the
worthy tyrant, knowing the duke's evil intentions, determined to keep
a close watch over his actions, and having summoned the others, applied
his ear to the key-hole of Isabelle's door, and listened attentively to
all that passed within--holding himself in readiness to interfere at any
moment, if the duke should venture to offer violence to the defenceless
girl--and to his prudence and courage it was due that she escaped
further persecution, on that occasion, from her relentless and
unscrupulous tormentor.

That day was destined to be an eventful one. It will be remembered that
Lampourde, the professional assassin, had received from Merindol--acting
for the Duke Of Vallombreuse--a commission to put Captain Fracasse
quietly out of the way, and accordingly that worthy was dodging about on
the Pont-Neuf, at the hour of sunset, waiting to intercept his intended
victim, who would necessarily pass that way in returning to his hotel.
Jacquemin awaited his arrival impatiently, frequently breathing on his
fingers and rubbing them vigorously, so that they should not be quite
numb with the cold when the moment for action came, and stamping up and
down in order to warm his half-frozen feet. The weather was extremely
cold, and the sun had set behind the Pont Rouge, in a heavy mass of
blood-red clouds. Twilight was coming on apace, and already there were
only occasional foot-passengers, or vehicles, to be encountered hurrying
along the deserted streets.

At last de Sigognac appeared, walking very fast, for a vague anxiety
about Isabelle had taken possession of him, and he was in haste to get
back to her. In his hurry and preoccupation he did not notice Lampourde,
who suddenly approached and laid hold of his cloak, which he snatched
off, with a quick, strong jerk that broke its fastenings. Without
stopping to dispute the cloak with his assailant, whom he mistook at
first for an ordinary foot-pad, de Sigognac instantly drew his sword
and attacked him. Lampourde, on his side, was ready for him, and pleased
with the baron's way of handling his weapon, said to himself, though in
an audible tone, "Now for a little fun." Then began a contest that would
have delighted and astonished a connoisseur in fencing--such swift,
lightning-like flashing of the blades, as they gave and parried cut and
thrust--the clashing of the steel, the blue sparks that leaped from the
contending swords as the fight grew more furious--Lampourde keeping up
meanwhile an odd running commentary, as his wonder and admiration grew
momentarily greater and more enthusiastic, and he had soon reached an
exulting mood. Here at last was a "foeman worthy of his steel," and he
could not resist paying a tribute to the amazing skill that constantly
and easily baffled his best efforts, in the shape of such extraordinary
and original compliments that de Sigognac was mightily amused thereby.
As usual, he was perfectly cool and self-possessed, keeping control of
his temper as well as of his sword--though by this time he felt sure
that it was another agent of the Duke of Vallombreuse's he had to deal
with, and that his life, not his cloak, was the matter at stake. At last
Lampourde, who had begun to entertain an immense respect for his valiant
opponent, could restrain his curiosity no longer, and eagerly asked,

"Would it be indiscreet, sir, to inquire who was your instructor?
Girolamo, Paraguante, or Cote d'Acier would have reason to be proud of
such a pupil. Which one of them was it?"

"My only master was an old soldier, Pierre by name," answered de
Sigognac, more and more amused at the oddities of the accomplished
swordsman he was engaged with. "Stay, take that! it is one of his
favourite strokes."

"The devil!" cried Lampourde, falling back a step, "I was very nearly
done for, do you know! The point of your sword actually went through my
sleeve and touched my arm--I felt the cold steel; luckily for me it
was not broad daylight--I should have been winged; but you are not
accustomed, like me, to this dim, uncertain light for such work. All the
same, it was admirably well done, and Jacquemin Lampourde congratulates
you upon it, sir! Now, pay attention, to me--I will not take any mean
advantage of such a glorious foe as you are, and I give you fair warning
that I am going to try on you my own secret and special thrust Captain
Fracasse--the crowning glory of my art, the 'ne plus ultra' of my
science--the elixir of my life. It is known only to myself, and up to
this time has been infallible. I have never failed to kill my man
with it. If you can parry it I will teach it to you. It is my only
possession, and I will leave it to you if you survive it; otherwise I
will take my secret to the grave with me. I have never yet found any
one capable of executing it, unless indeed it be yourself--admirable,
incomparable swordsman that you are! It is a joy to meet such an one.
But suppose we suspend hostilities a moment to take breath."

So saying Jacquemin Lampourde lowered the point of his sword, and de
Sigognac did the same. They stood eyeing each other for a few moments
with mutual admiration and curiosity, and then resumed the contest more
fiercely than ever--each man doing his best, as he had need to do,
and enjoying it. After a few passes, de Sigognac became aware that his
adversary was preparing to give the decisive blow, and held himself
on his guard against a surprise; when it came, delivered with terrible
force, he parried it so successfully that Lampourde's sword was broken
short off in the encounter with his own trusty weapon, leaving only the
hilt and a few inches of the blade in his hand.

"If you have not got the rest of my sword in your body," cried
Lampourde, excitedly, "you are a great man!--a hero!--a god!"

"No," de Sigognac replied calmly, "it did not touch me; and now, if
I chose, I could pin you to the wall like a bat; but that would be
repugnant to me, though you did waylay me to take my life, and besides,
you have really amused me with your droll sayings.

"Baron," said Jacquemin Lampourde, calmly, "permit me, I humbly pray
you, to be henceforth, so long as I live, your devoted admirer, your
slave, your dog! I was to be paid for killing you--I even received a
portion of the money in advance, which I have spent. But never mind
that; I will pay it back, every penny of it, though I must rob some one
else to do it."

With these words he picked up de Sigognac's cloak, and having put it
carefully, even reverentially, over his shoulders, made him a profound
obeisance, and departed.

Thus the efforts of the Duke of Vallombreuse, to advance his suit and to
get rid of his rival, had once more failed ignominiously.



CHAPTER XIV. LAMPOURDE'S DELICACY

It is easy to imagine the frame of mind in which the Duke of
Vallombreuse returned home after his repulse by Isabelle, and her rescue
from his arms by the timely intervention of her friends, the comedians.
At sight of his face, fairly livid and contorted with suppressed rage,
his servants trembled and shrunk away from him--as well they might--for
his natural cruelty was apt to vent itself upon the first unhappy
dependent that happened to come in his way when his wrath was excited.
He was not an easy master to serve, even in his most genial mood--this
haughty, exacting young nobleman--and in his frantic fits of anger he
was more savage and relentless than a half-starved tiger. Upon entering
his own house he rushed through it like a whirlwind, shutting every
door behind him with such a violent bang that the very walls shook,
and pieces of the gilt mouldings round the panels were snapped off, and
scattered on the floor. When he reached his own room he flung down his
hat with such force that it was completely flattened, and the feather
broken short off. Then, unable to breathe freely, he tore open his
rich velvet pourpoint, as he rushed frantically to and fro, without any
regard for the superb diamond buttons that fastened it, which flew in
every direction. The exquisitely fine lace ruffles round his neck were
reduced to shreds in a second, and with a vigorous kick he knocked over
a large arm-chair that stood in his way, and left it upside down, with
its legs in the air.

"The impudent little hussy!" he cried, as he continued his frenzied
walk, like a wild beast in a cage. "I have a great mind to have her
thrown into prison, there to be well-whipped, and have her hair shaved
off, before being sent to a lunatic asylum--or better still to some
strict convent where they take in bad girls who have been forcibly
rescued from lives of infamy. I could easily manage it. But no, it would
be worse than useless--persecution would only make her hate me more, and
would not make her love that cursed de Sigognac a bit less. How can I
punish her? what on earth shall I do?" and still he paced restlessly to
and fro, cursing and swearing, and raving like a madman. While he was
indulging in these transports of rage, without paying any attention to
how the time was passing, evening drew on, and it was rapidly growing
dark when his faithful Picard, full of commiseration, screwed up his
courage to the highest point, and ventured to go softly in--though he
had not been called, and was disobeying orders--to light the candles
in his master's room; thinking that he was quite gloomy enough already
without being left in darkness as well, and hoping that the lights might
help to make him more cheerful. They did seem to afford him some relief,
in that they caused a diversion; for his thoughts, which had been all
of Isabelle and her cruel repulse of his passionate entreaties, suddenly
flew to his successful rival, the Baron de Sigognac.

"But how is this?" he cried, stopping short in his rapid pacing up and
down the room. "How comes it that that miserable, degraded wretch has
not been despatched before this? I gave the most explicit orders about
it to that good-for-nothing Merindol. In spite of what Vidalinc says,
I am convinced that I shall succeed with Isabelle when once that cursed
lover of hers is out of my way. She will be left entirely at my mercy
then, and will have to submit to my will and pleasure with the best
grace she can muster--for I shall not allow any sulking or tears.
Doubtless she clings so obstinately to that confounded brute in the
belief that she can induce him to marry her in the end. She means to be
Mme. la Baronne de Sigognac--the aspiring little actress! That must
be the reason of all this mighty display of mock modesty, and of her
venturing to repulse the attentions of a duke, as scornfully, by Jove!
as if he were a stable-boy. But she shall rue it--the impertinent little
minx! and I'll have no mercy shown to the audacious scoundrel who dared
to disable this right arm of mine. Halloa there! send Merindol up to me
instantly, do you hear?"

Picard flew to summon him, and in a few moments the discomfited bully
made his appearance; pale from abject terror, with teeth chattering and
limbs trembling, as he was ushered into the dread presence of his angry
lord. In spite of his efforts to assume the sang-froid he was so far
from feeling, he staggered like a drunken man, though he had not drank
enough wine that day to drown a fly, and did not dare to lift his eyes
to his master's face.

"Well, you cowardly beast," said Vallombreuse angrily, how long, pray,
are you going to stand there speechless, like a stupid fool, with that
hang-dog air, as if you already had the rope that you so richly deserve
round your wicked neck? "I only awaited your lordship's orders,"
stammered Merindol, trying to appear at ease, and failing lamentably.
"My lord duke knows that I am entirely devoted to his service--even to
being hanged, if it seems good to your lordship."

"Enough of that cant!" interrupted the duke impatiently. "Didn't I
charge you to have that cursed de Sigognac, otherwise Captain Fracasse,
cleared out of my way? You have not done it--my orders have not been
obeyed. It is worth while, upon my word, to keep confounded hired
rascals to do such work for me, at this rate! All that you are good for
is to stuff yourself in the kitchen, you dastardly beast, and to guzzle
my good wine from morning until night. But I've had enough of this, by
Jove! and if there is not a change, and that without any further loss
of time, to the hangman you shall go--do you hear? just as sure as you
stand there, gaping like a drivelling idiot."

"My lord duke," said Merindol in a trembling voice, "is unjust to his
faithful servant, who desires nothing but to do his lord's bidding. But
this Baron de Sigognac is not to be disposed of so easily as my lord
believes. Never was there a braver, more fearless man. In our first
attack on him, at Poitiers, he got the better of us in a most wonderful
way--we never saw the like of it--and all he had to fight with was a
dull, rusty sword, not intended for use at all; a theatre sword, just
for looks. And when we tried to do for him here in Paris, the very night
he got here, it all came to naught, because he was so watchful, and
somehow suspected what we were up to, and was ready for us; and that
upset our beautiful little plan entirely. I never was so surprised in my
life; and there was nothing for us to do, the whole four of us, but to
get out of his sight as fast as we could, and he standing there laughing
at us. Oh! he's a rare one, is Captain Fracasse. And now he knows my
face, so I can't go near him myself. But I have engaged the services
of a particular friend of mine--the bravest man and the best fighter in
Paris--he hasn't his equal in the world with the sword, they all say. He
is lying in wait for him on the Pont-Neuf now, at this very moment, and
there'll be no mistake this time. Lampourde will be sure to despatch him
for us--if it is not done already--and that without the slightest danger
of your lordship's name being mixed up with the affair in any way, as it
might have been if your lordship's own servants had done it."

"The plan is not a bad one," said the young duke, somewhat mollified,
"and perhaps it is better that it should be done in that way. But are
you really sure of the courage and skill of this friend of yours? He
will need both to get the better of that confounded de Sigognac, who is
no coward, and a master hand with the sword, I am bound to acknowledge,
though I do hate him like the devil."

"My lord need have no fears," said Merindol enthusiastically, being now
more at his ease. "Jacquemin Lampourde is a hero, a wonder, as everybody
will tell your lordship. He is more valiant than Achilles, or the great
Alexander. He is not spotless certainly, like the Chevalier Bayard, but
he is fearless."

Picard, who had been hovering about for a few minutes in an uneasy way,
now seeing that his master was in a better humour, approached and
told him that a very odd-looking man was below, who asked to see him
immediately on most important business.

"You may bring him in," said the duke, "but just warn him, Picard, that
if he dares to intrude upon me for any trifling matter, I'll have him
skinned alive before I let him go."

Mirindol was just about leaving the room, when the entrance of the
newcomer rooted him to the spot; he was so astonished and alarmed that
he could not move hand or foot. And no wonder, for it was no other
than the hero whose name he had just spoken--Jacquemin Lampourde in
person--and the bare fact of his having dared to penetrate so boldly
into the dread presence of that high and mighty seignior, the Duke of
Vallombreuse, ignoring entirely the agent through whom his services had
been engaged, showed of itself that something very extraordinary must
have taken place.

Lampourde himself did not seem to be in the least disconcerted, and
after winking at his friend furtively in a very knowing way, stood
unabashed before the duke, with the bright light of the many wax candles
shining full upon his face. There was a red mark across his forehead,
where his hat had been pressed down over it, and great drops of sweat
stood on it, as if he had been running fast, or exercising violently.
His eyes, of a bluish gray tint, with a sort of metallic lustre in
them, were fixed upon those of the haughty young nobleman, with a calm
insolence that made Merindol's blood run cold in his veins; his large
nose, whose shadow covered all one side of his face, as the shadow of
Mount Etna covers a considerable portion of the island of Sicily, stood
out prominently, almost grotesquely, in profile; his mustache, with its
long stiff points carefully waxed, which produced exactly the effect of
an iron skewer stuck through his upper lip, and the "royal" on his chin
curled upward, like a comma turned the wrong way, all contributed to
make up a very extraordinary physiognomy, such as caricaturists dote on.
He wore a large scarlet cloak, wrapped closely about his erect, vigorous
form, and in one hand, which he extended towards the duke, he held
suspended a well filled purse--a strange and mysterious proceeding which
Mirindol could by no means understand.

"Well, you rascal," said the duke, after staring for a moment in
astonishment at this odd-looking specimen, "what does this mean? Are you
offering alms to me, pray, or what? with your purse there held out at
arm's length, apparently for my acceptance."

"In the first place, my lord duke," said Lampourde, with perfect
sang-froid and gravity, "may it not displease your highness, but I am
not a rascal. My name is Jacquemin Lampourde, and I ply the sword for a
living. My profession is an honourable one. I have never degraded myself
by taking part in trade of any kind, or by manual labour. Killing is my
business, at the risk of my own life and limb--for I always do my work
alone, unaided, armed only with my trusty sword. Fair play is a jewel,
and I would scorn to take a mean advantage of anybody. I always give
warning before I attack a man, and let him have a chance to defend
himself--having a horror of treachery, and cowardly, sneaking ways. What
profession could be more noble than mine, pray? I am no common, brutal
assassin, my lord duke, and I beseech your lordship to take back that
offensive epithet, which I could never accept, save in a friendly,
joking way--it outrages too painfully the sensitive delicacy of my
amour-propre, my lord!"

"Very well, so be it, Maitre Jacquemin Lampourde, since you desire it,"
answered Vallombreuse, very much amused at the oddity of his strange
visitor. "And now have the goodness to explain your business here, with
a purse in your hand, that you certainly appear to be steadily offering
to me."

Jacquemin satisfied by this concession to his susceptibility, suddenly
jerked his head forward, without bending his body, while he waved the
hat that he held slowly to and fro, making, according to his ideas,
a salute that was a judicious mingling of the soldier's and the
courtier's--which ceremony being concluded, he proceeded as follows with
his explanation:

"Here is the whole thing in a nutshell, my lord duke! I received,
from Merindol--acting for your lordship--part payment in advance
for despatching a certain Baron de Sigognac, commonly called Captain
Fracasse. On account of circumstances beyond my control, I have not been
able to finish the job, and as I am a great stickler for honesty, and
honour also, I have hastened to bring back to you, my lord duke, the
money that I did not earn."

With these words he advanced a step, and with a gesture that was not
devoid of dignity, gently laid the purse down on a beautiful Florentine
mosaic table, that stood at the duke's elbow.

"Verily," said Vallombreuse sneeringly, "we seem to have here one of
those droll bullies who are good for naught but to figure in a comedy;
an ass in a lion's skin, whose roar is nothing worse than a bray. Come,
my man, own up frankly that you were afraid of that same de Sigognac."

"Jacquemin Lampourde has never been afraid of anybody in his life," the
fighting man replied, drawing himself up haughtily, "and no adversary
has ever seen his back. Those who know me will tell your lordship that
easy victories have no charm for me. I love danger and court it. I
take positive delight in it. I attacked the Baron de Sigognac 'secundum
artem,' and with one of my very best swords--made by Alonzo de Sahagun,
the elder, of Toledo."

"Well, and what happened then?" said the young duke eagerly. "It would
seem that you could not have been victorious, since you wish to refund
this money, which was to pay you for despatching him."

"First let me inform your highness that in the course of my duels and
combats, of one sort and another, I have left no less than thirty-seven
men stretched dead upon the ground--and that without counting in all
those I have wounded mortally or crippled for life. But this Baron
de Sigognac intrenched himself within a circle of flashing steel
as impenetrable as the walls of a granite fortress. I called into
requisition all the resources of my art against him, and tried in
every possible way to surprise him off his guard, but he was ready for
everything--as quick as a flash, as firm as a rock--he parried every
thrust triumphantly, magnificently, with the most consummate science,
and a grace and ease I have never seen equalled. He kept me busy
defending myself too all the time, and more than once had nearly done
for me. His audacity was astonishing, his sang froid superb, and his
perfect mastery over his sword, and his temper, sublime--he was not a
man, but a god. I could have fallen down and worshipped him. At the risk
of being spitted on his sword, I prolonged the fight as much as I dared,
so as to enjoy his marvellous, glorious, unparalleled method to the
utmost. However, there had to be an end of it, and I thought I was sure
of despatching him at last by means of a secret I possess--an infallible
and very difficult thrust, taught and bequeathed to me by the great
Girolamo of Naples, my beloved master--no man living has a knowledge
of it but myself--there is no one else left capable of executing it
to perfection, and upon that depends its success. Well, my lord duke,
Girolamo himself could not have done it better than I did to-night. I
was thunderstruck when my opponent did not go down before it as if he
had been shot. I expected to see him lying dead at my feet. But not
at all, by Jove! That devil of a Captain Fracasse parried my blow with
dazzling swiftness, and with such force that my blade was broken short
off, and I left completely at his mercy, with nothing but the stump in
my hand. See here, my lord duke! just look what he did to my precious,
priceless Sahagun." And Jacquemin Lampourde, with a piteous air, drew
out and exhibited the sorry remains of his trusty sword--almost weeping
over it--and calling the duke's attention to the perfectly straight and
even break.

"Your highness can see that it was a prodigious blow that snapped this
steel like a pipe-stem, and it was done with such ease and precision.
To despatch Captain Fracasse by fair means is beyond my skill, my lord
duke, and I would scorn to resort to treachery. Like all truly brave
men, he is generous. I was left entirely defenceless, and he could have
spitted me like an ortolan just by extending his arm, but he refrained;
he let me go unscathed. A miraculous display of delicacy, as well as
chivalrous generosity, from a gentleman assaulted in the gloaming on the
Pont-Neuf. I owe my life to him, and moreover, such a debt of gratitude
as I shall never be able to repay. I cannot undertake anything more
against him, my lord duke; henceforth he is sacred to me. Besides, it
would be a pity to destroy such a swordsman--good ones are rare in these
degenerate days, and growing more so every year. I don't believe he has
his equal on earth. Most men handle a sword as if it were a broomstick
nowadays, and then expect to be praised and applauded, the clumsy,
stupid fools! Now, I have given my reasons for coming to inform your
highness that I must resign the commission I had accepted. As for the
money there, I might perhaps have been justified in keeping it, to
indemnify me for the great risk and peril I incurred, but such a
questionable proceeding would be repugnant to my tender conscience and
my honest pride, as your highness can understand."

"In the name of all the devils in the infernal regions, take back your
money!" cried Vallombreuse impetuously, "or I will have you pitched out
of the window yonder, you and your money both. I never heard of such
a scrupulous scoundrel in my life. You, Merindol, and your cursed
crew, have not a spark of honour or honesty among you all; far enough
from it." Then perceiving that Lampourde hesitated about picking up
the purse, he added, "Take it, I tell you! I give it to you to drink my
health with."

"In that, my lord duke, you shall be religiously obeyed," Lampourde
replied joyfully; "however, I do not suppose that your highness will
object to my dedicating part of it to lansquenet." And he stretched out
his long arm, seized the purse, and with one dexterous movement, like a
juggler, chucked it jingling into the depths of his pocket.

"It is understood then, my lord duke, that I retire from the affair so
far as the Baron de Sigognac is concerned," continued Lampourde, "but,
if agreeable to your highness, it will be taken in hand by my 'alter
ego,' the Chevalier Malartic, who is worthy to be intrusted with the
most delicate and hazardous enterprises, because of his remarkable
adroitness and superior ability, and he is one of the best fellows
in the world into the bargain. I had sketched out a scheme for the
abduction of the young actress, in whom your highness condescends
to take an interest, which Malartic will now carry out, with all the
wonderful perfection of detail that characterizes his clever way of
doing things. Merindol here, who knows him, will testify to his rare
qualifications, my lord duke, and you could not find a better man
for your purpose. I am presenting a real treasure to your lordship in
tendering Malartic's services. When he is wanted your highness has only
to send a trusty messenger to mark a cross in chalk on the left-hand
door-post of the Crowned Radish. Malartic will understand, and repair at
once, in proper disguise, to this house, to receive your lordship's last
orders."

Having finished this triumphant address, Maitre Jacquemin Lampourde
again saluted the duke as before, then put his hat on his head and
stalked majestically out of the room, exceedingly well satisfied with
his own eloquence, and what he considered courtly grace, in the presence
of so illustrious a nobleman. His oddity and originality, together
with his strange mingling of lofty notions of honour and rascality, had
greatly amused and interested the young Duke of Vallombreuse, who was
even willing to forgive him for not having despatched de Sigognac; for,
if even this famous professional duellist could not get the better of
him, he really must be invincible, and in consequence the thought of his
own defeat became less galling and intolerable to his pride and
vanity. Moreover, he had not been able to get rid of an uncomfortable
consciousness, even in his most angry mood, that his endeavouring to
compass de Sigognac's assassination was rather too great an enormity,
not on account of any conscientious scruples, but simply because his
rival was a gentleman; he would not have hesitated a second about having
half-a-dozen bourgeois murdered, if they had been rash or unfortunate
enough to interfere with him, the blood of such base, ignoble
creature being of no more consequence in his eyes than so much
water. Vallombreuse would have liked to despatch his enemy himself
in honourable combat, but that was rendered impossible by the baron's
superior ability as a swordsman, of which he still had a painful
reminder in his wounded arm; which was scarcely healed yet, and would
prevent his indulging in anything like a duel for some time to come. So
his thoughts turned to the abduction of the young actress; a pleasanter
subject to dwell upon, as he felt not the slightest doubt that once he
had her to himself, separated from de Sigognac and her companions, she
would not long be able to withstand his eloquent pleading and personal
attractions. His self-conceit was boundless, but not much to be wondered
at, considering his invariable and triumphant success in affairs of
gallantry; so, in spite of his recent repulse, he flattered himself that
he only required a fitting opportunity to obtain from Isabelle all that
he desired.

"Let me have her for a few days in some secluded place," said he to
himself, "where she cannot escape from me, or have any intercourse with
her friends, and I shall be sure to win her heart. I shall be so kind
and good and considerate to her, treat her with so much delicacy and
devotion, that she cannot help feeling grateful to me; and then the
transition to love will be easy and natural. But when once I have won
her, made her wholly mine, then she shall pay dearly for what she has
made me suffer. Yes, my lady, I mean to have my revenge--you may rest
assured of that."



CHAPTER XV. MALARTIC AT WORK

If the Duke of Vallombreuse had been furious after his unsuccessful
visit to Isabelle, the Baron de Sigognac was not less so, when, upon his
return that evening, he learned what had taken place during his absence.
The tyrant and Blazius were almost obliged to use force to prevent his
rushing off, without losing a minute, to challenge the duke to mortal
combat--a challenge sure to be refused; for de Sigognac, being neither
the brother nor husband of the injured fair one, had no earthly right
to call any other gentleman to account for his conduct towards her; in
France all men are at liberty to pay their court to every pretty woman.

As to the attack upon the baron on the Pont-Neuf, there could be no
doubt that it was instigated by the Duke of Vallombreuse; but how
to prove it? that was the difficulty. And even supposing it could be
proved, what good would that do? In the eyes of the world the Baron
de Sigognac, who carefully concealed his real rank, was only Captain
Fracasse, a low play-actor, upon whom a great noble, like the Duke of
Vallombreuse, had a perfect right to inflict a beating, imprisonment, or
even assassination, if it so pleased him; and that without incurring the
blame, or serious disapproval, of his friends and equals.

So far as Isabelle was concerned, if the affair were made public, nobody
would believe that she was really pure and virtuous--the very fact of
her being an actress was enough to condemn her--for her sake it was
important to keep the matter secret if possible. So there was positively
no means of calling their enemy to account for his flagrant misdeeds,
though de Sigognac, who was almost beside himself with rage and
indignation, and burning to avenge Isabelle's wrongs and his own, swore
that he would punish him, even if he had to move heaven and earth
to compass it. Yet, when he became a little calmer, he could not but
acknowledge that Herode and Blazius were right in advising that
they should all remain perfectly quiet, and feign the most absolute
indifference; but at the same time keep their eyes and ears very wide
open, and be unceasingly on their guard against artful surprises, since
it was only too evident that the vindictive young duke, who was handsome
as a god and wicked as the devil, did not intend to abandon his designs
upon them; although thus far he had failed ignominiously in everything
he had undertaken against them.

A gentle, loving remonstrance from Isabelle, as she held de Sigognac's
hands, all hot and trembling with suppressed rage, between her own soft,
cool palms, and caressingly interlaced her slender white fingers with
his, did more to pacify him than all the rest, and he finally yielded to
her persuasions; promising to keep quiet himself, and allow, things to
go on just as usual.

Meantime the representations of the troupe had met with splendid
success. Isabelle's modest grace and refined beauty, Serafina's more
brilliant charms, the soubrette's sparkling vivacity and bewitching
coquetry, the superb extravagances of Captain Fracasse, the tyrant's
majestic mien, Leander's manly beauty, the grotesque good humour of the
pedant, Scapin's spicy deviltries, and the duenna's perfect acting
had taken Paris by storm, and their highest hopes were likely to be
realized. Having triumphantly won the approbation of the Parisians,
nothing was wanting but to gain also that of the court, then at Saint
Germain, and a rumour had reached their ears that they were shortly to
be summoned thither; for it was asserted that the king, having heard
such favourable reports of them, had expressed a desire to see them
himself. Whereas Herode, in his character of treasurer, greatly
rejoiced, and all felt a pleasant excitement at the prospect of so
distinguished an honour. Meanwhile the troupe was often in requisition
to give private representations at the houses of various people of rank
and wealth in Paris, and it quickly became the fashion among them to
offer this very popular style of entertainment to their guests.

Thus it befell that the tyrant, being perfectly accustomed to that sort
of thing, was not at all surprised, or suspicious of evil, when one
fine morning a stranger, of most venerable and dignified mien, presented
himself at the hotel in the Rue Dauphine, and asked to speak with him
on business. He appeared to be the major-domo, or steward, of some great
nobleman's establishment, and, in effect, announced to Herode that he
had been sent to consult with him, as manager of the troupe, by his
master, the Comte de Pommereuil.

This highly respectable old functionary was richly dressed in black
velvet, and had a heavy gold chain round his neck. His face was slightly
sunburnt; the wavy hair that fell upon his shoulders, his thick, bushy
eyebrows, heavy mustache, and long, sweeping beard were all white as
snow. He had the most patriarchal, benevolent air imaginable, and a very
gentle, yet dignified manner. The tyrant could not help admiring him
very much, as he said, courteously, "Are you, sir, the famous Herode I
am in quest of, who rules with a hand as firm as Apollo's the excellent
company of comedians now playing in Paris? Their renown has gone abroad,
beyond the walls of the city, and penetrated even to my master's ears,
on his estate out in the country."

"Yes, I have the honour to be the man you seek," the tyrant answered,
bowing very graciously.

"The Comte de Pommereuil greatly desires to have you give one of your
celebrated representations at his chateau, where guests of high rank are
sojourning at this moment, and I have come to ascertain whether it will
be possible for you to do so. The distance is not very considerable,
only a few leagues. The comte, my master, is a very great and
generous seignior, who is prepared to reward your illustrious company
munificently for their trouble, and will do everything in his power to
make them comfortable while they are under his roof."

"I will gladly do all that I can to please your noble master," the
tyrant replied, "though it will be a little difficult for us to leave
Paris at present, just in the height of the season; even if it be only
for a short absence."

"Three days would suffice for this expedition," said the venerable
major-domo persuasively; "one for the journey, the second for the
representation, and the third for the return to Paris. There is a
capital theatre at the chateau, furnished with everything that is
requisite, so that you need not be encumbered with much luggage--nothing
beyond your costumes. Here is a purse containing a hundred pistoles that
the Comte de Pommereuil charged me to put into your hands, to defray
the expenses of the journey. You will receive as much more before
you return, and there will be handsome presents for the actresses
forthcoming, of valuable jewels, as souvenirs of the occasion."

After a momentary hesitation, the tyrant accepted the well-filled purse
tendered to him, and, with a gesture of acquiescence, put it into his
pocket.

"I am to understand then that you accept, and I may tell my master that
you will give a representation at the chateau, as he desires?"

"Yes, I place myself and my company at his disposition," Herode said,
smilingly. "And now let me know what day you want us to go, and which of
our pieces your master prefers."

"Thursday is the day my master designated; as for selecting the play,
that he leaves to your own good taste and discretion."

"Very well; and now you have only to give me directions as to the road
we must take to reach the chateau. Be as explicit as you can, I pray
you, so that there may be no danger of our going astray."

The agent of the Comte de Pommereuil accordingly gave the most minute
and exact directions possible, but ended by saying, "Never mind, you
need not burden your memory with all these troublesome details! I will
send you a lackey to serve as guide."

Matters being thus satisfactorily arranged, the charming old major-domo
took leave of Herode, who accompanied him down the stairs and across
the court to the outer door of the hotel, and departed, looking back to
exchange a last polite sign of farewell ere he turned the corner of the
street. If the honest tyrant could have seen him as he walked briskly
away, the moment he was safely out of sight, he would have been
astonished at the way the broad, stooping shoulders straightened
themselves up, and at the rapid, vigorous step that succeeded to the
slow, rather infirm gait of his venerable visitor--but these things our
worthy Herode neither saw nor suspected.

On Wednesday morning, as the comedians were finishing the packing of
their chariot, which stood ready for departure in the courtyard of the
hotel, with a pair of fine spirited horses before it that the tyrant had
hired for the journey, a tall, rather fierce-looking lackey, dressed
in a neat livery and mounted on a stout pony, presented himself at the
outer door, cracking his whip vigorously, and announcing himself as
the guide, sent according to promise by the considerate major-domo, to
conduct them to the Chateau de Pommereuil.

Eight clear strokes rang out from the Samaritan just as the heavy
vehicle emerged into the Rue Dauphine, and our company of players set
forth on their ill-fated expedition. In less than half an hour they had
left the Porte Saint Antoine and the Bastile behind them, passed through
the thickly settled faubourg and gained the open country; advancing
towards Vincennes, which they could distinguish in the distance, with
its massive keep partially veiled by a delicate blue mist, that was
rapidly dispersing under the influence of the bright, morning sunshine.
As the horses were fresh, and travelled at a good pace, they soon came
up with the ancient fortress--which was still formidable in appearance,
though it could not have offered any adequate resistance to the
projectiles of modern artillery. The gilded crescents on the minarets of
the chapel built by Pierre de Montereau shone out brightly, as if joyous
at finding themselves in such close proximity to the cross--the sign of
redemption. After pausing a few minutes to admire this monument of
the ancient splendour of our kings, the travellers entered the forest,
where, amid the dense growth of younger trees, stood a few majestic old
oaks--contemporaries doubtless of the one under which Saint Louis, that
king of blessed memory, used to sit and dispense justice to his loyal
subjects in person--a most becoming and laudable occupation for a
monarch.

The road was so little used that it was grass-grown in many places, and
the chariot rolled so smoothly and noiselessly along over it that they
occasionally surprised a party of rabbits frolicking merrily together,
and were very much amused to see them scamper away, in as great a hurry
as if the hounds were at their heels. Farther on a frightened deer
bounded across the road in front of them, and they could watch its
swift, graceful flight for some distance amid the leafless trees.
The young baron was especially interested in all these things, being
country-bred, and it was a delight unspeakable to him to see the fields,
the hedgerows, the forest, and the wild creatures of the wood once more.
It was a pleasure he had been deprived of ever since he had frequented
cities and towns, where there is nothing to look at but dingy houses,
muddy streets and smoky chimneys--the works of man not of God. He would
have pined in them for the fresh country air if he had not had the sweet
companionship of the lovely woman he adored; in whose deep, blue eyes he
saw a whole heaven of bliss.

Upon emerging from the wood the road wound up a steep hill-side, so the
horses were stopped, to rest a few minutes before beginning the ascent,
and de Sigognac, profiting by the opportunity thus afforded him, said to
Isabelle, "Dear heart, will you get down and walk a little way with me?
You will find it a pleasant change and rest after sitting still in
the chariot so long. The road is smooth and dry, and the sunshine
deliciously warm--do come!"

Isabelle joyfully acceded to this request, and putting her hand into the
one extended to help her, jumped lightly down. It was a welcome means of
according an innocent tete-a-tete to her devoted lover, and both felt
as if they were treading on air, they were so happy to find themselves
alone together, as, arm in arm, they walked briskly forward, until they
were out of sight of their companions. Then they paused to look long and
lovingly into each other's eyes, and de Sigognac began again to pour out
to Isabelle "the old, old story," that she was never weary of hearing,
but found more heavenly sweet at every telling. They were like the first
pair of mortal lovers in Paradise, entirely sufficient to and happy
in each other. Yet even then Isabelle gently checked the passionate
utterances of her faithful suitor, and strove to moderate his rapturous
transports, though their very fervour made her heart rejoice, and
brought a bright flush to her cheeks and a happy light to her eyes that
rendered her more adorably beautiful than ever.

"Whatever you may do or say, my darling," he answered, with a sweet,
tender smile, "you will never be able to tire out my constancy. If need
be, I will wait for you until all your scruples shall have vanished of
themselves--though it be not till these beautiful, soft brown tresses,
with their exquisite tinge of gold where the sun shines on them, shall
have turned to silver."

"Oh!" cried Isabelle, "I shall be so old and so ugly then that even
your sublime courage will be daunted, and I fear that in rewarding
your perseverance and fidelity by the gift of myself I should only be
punishing my devoted knight and brave champion."

"You will never be ugly, my beloved Isabelle, if you live to be a
hundred," he replied, with an adoring glance, "for yours is not the mere
physical beauty, that fades away and vanishes--it is the beauty of the
soul, which is immortal."

"All the same you would be badly off," rejoined Isabelle, "if I were to
take you at your word, and promise to be yours when I was old and gray.
But enough of this jesting," she continued gravely, "let us be serious!
You know my resolution, de Sigognac, so try to content yourself with
being the object of the deepest, truest, most devoted love that was ever
yet bestowed on mortal man since hearts began to beat in this strange
world of ours."

"Such a charming avowal ought to satisfy me, I admit, but it does
not! My love for you is infinite--it can brook no bounds--it is ever
increasing--rising higher and higher, despite your heavenly voice, that
bids it keep within the limits you have fixed for it."

"Do not talk so, de Sigognac! you vex me by such extravagances," said
Isabelle, with a little pout that was as charming as her sweetest smile;
for in spite of herself her heart beat high with joy at these fervent
protestations of a love that no coldness could repel, no remonstrance
diminish.

They walked on a little way in silence--de Sigognac not daring to say
more then, lest he should seriously displease the sweet creature he
loved better than his own life. Suddenly she drew her arm out of his,
and with an exclamation of delight, sprang to a little bank by the
road-side, where she had spied a tiny violet, peeping out from amid
the dead leaves that had lain there all the winter through--the first
harbinger of spring, smiling up at her a friendly greeting, despite the
wintry cold of February. She knelt down and gently cleared away the dry
leaves and grass about it, carefully broke the frail little stem, and
returned to de Sigognac's side with her treasure--more delighted than if
she had found a precious jewel lying hidden among the mosses.

"Only see, how exquisitely beautiful and delicate it is"--said she,
showing it to him--"with its dear little petals scarcely unrolled yet
to return the greeting of this bright, warm sunshine, that has roused it
from its long winter sleep."

"It was not the sunshine, however bright and warm," answered de
Sigognac, "but the light of your eyes, sweet Isabelle, that made it open
out to greet you--and it is exactly the colour too of those dear eyes of
yours."

"It has scarcely any fragrance, but that is because it's so cold," said
Isabelle, loosening her scarf, and putting it carefully inside the ruff
that encircled her slender, white neck. In a few minutes she took it out
again, inhaled its rich perfume, pressed it furtively to her lips, and
offered it to de Sigognac.

"See how sweet it is now! The warmth I imparted to it has reassured
the little modest, timid blossom, and it breathes out its incomparable
fragrance in gratitude to me."

"Say rather that it has received it from you," he replied, raising the
violet tenderly to his lips, and taking from it the kiss Isabelle had
bestowed--"for this delicate, delicious odour has nothing gross or
earthly about it--it is angelically pure and sweet, like yourself, my
own Isabelle."

"Ah! the naughty flatterer," said she, smiling upon him with all her
heart in her eyes. "I give him a little flower that he may enjoy its
perfume, and straightway he draws from it inspiration for all sorts of
high-flown conceits, and fine compliments. There's no doing anything
with him--to the simplest, most commonplace remark he replies with a
poetical flight of fancy."

However, she could not have been very seriously displeased, for she
took his arm again, and even leaned upon it rather more heavily than the
exigencies of the way actually required; which goes to prove that the
purest virtue is not insensible to pretty compliments, and that modesty
itself knows how to recompense delicate flattery.

Not far from the road they were travelling stood a small group of
thatched cottages--scarcely more than huts--whose inhabitants were all
afield at their work, excepting a poor blind man, attended by a little
ragged boy, who sat on a stone by the wayside, apparently to solicit
alms from those who passed by. Although he seemed to be extremely aged
and feeble, he was chanting a sort of lament over his misfortunes, and
an appeal to the charity of travellers, in a loud, whining, yet vigorous
voice; promising his prayers to those who gave him of their substance,
and assuring them that they should surely go to Paradise as a reward for
their generosity. For some time before they came up with him, Isabelle
and de Sigognac had heard his doleful chant--much to the annoyance of
the latter; for when one is listening, entranced, to the sweet singing
of the nightingale, it is sorely vexatious to be intruded upon by the
discordant croaking of a raven. As they drew near to the poor old blind
man, they saw his little attendant bend down and whisper in his ear,
whereupon he redoubled his groans and supplications--at the same time
holding out towards them a small wooden bowl, in which were a few
coppers, and shaking it, so as to make them rattle as loudly as
possible, to attract their attention. He was a venerable looking old
man, with a long white beard, and seemed to be shivering with cold,
despite the great, thick, woollen cloak in which he was wrapped. The
child, a wild-looking little creature, whose scanty, tattered clothing
was but a poor protection against the stinging cold, shrunk timidly from
notice, and tried to hide himself behind his aged charge. Isabelle's
tender heart was moved to pity at the sight of so much misery, and she
stopped in front of the forlorn little group while she searched in her
pocket for her purse--not finding it there she turned to her companion
and asked him to lend her a little money for the poor old blind beggar,
which the baron hastened to do--though he was thoroughly out of patience
with his whining jeremiads--and, to prevent Isabelle's coming in actual
contact with him, stepped forward himself to deposit the coins in his
wooden bowl. Thereupon, instead of tearfully thanking his benefactor
and invoking blessings upon his head, after the usual fashion of such
gentry, the blind man--to Isabelle's inexpressible alarm--suddenly
sprang to his feet, and straightening himself up with a jerk, opened his
arms wide, as a vulture spreads its wings for flight, gathered up his
ample cloak about his shoulders with lightning rapidity and flung
it from him with a quick, sweeping motion like that with which the
fisherman casts his net. The huge, heavy mantle spread itself out like
a dense cloud directly above de Sigognac, and falling over and about him
enveloped him from head to foot in its long, clinging folds, held
firmly down by the lead with which its edges were weighted--making him a
helpless prisoner--depriving him at once of sight and breath, and of the
use of his hands and feet. The young actress, wild with terror, turned
to fly and call for help, but before she could stir, or utter a sound,
a hand was clapped over her mouth, and she felt herself lifted from the
ground. The old blind beggar, who, as by a miracle, had suddenly become
young and active, and possessed of all his faculties, had seized her by
the shoulders, while the boy took her by the feet, and they carried her
swiftly and silently round a clump of bushes near by to where a man on
horseback and masked, was waiting for them. Two other men, also mounted
and masked, and armed to the teeth, were standing close at hand, behind
a wall that prevented their being seen from the road. Poor Isabelle,
nearly fainting with fright, was lifted up in front of the first
horseman, and seated on a cloak folded so as to serve for a cushion; a
broad leather strap being passed round her waist, which also encircled
that of the rider, to hold her securely in her place. All this was done
with great rapidity and dexterity, as if her captors were accustomed
to such manoeuvres, and then the horseman, who held her firmly with one
hand, shook his bridle with the other, drove his spurs into the horse's
sides, and was off like a flash--the whole thing being done in less
time than it takes to describe it. Meanwhile de Sigognac was struggling
fiercely and wildly under the heavy cloak that enveloped him--like a
gladiator entangled in his adversary's net--beside himself with rage and
despair, as he gasped for breath in his stifling prison, and
realized that this diabolical outrage must be the work of the Duke of
Vallombreuse. Suddenly, like an inspiration, the thought flashed into
his mind of using his dagger to free himself from the thick, clinging
folds, that weighed him down like the leaden cloaks of the wretched
condemned spirits we read of with a shudder in Dante's Inferno. With two
or three strong, quick strokes he succeeded in cutting through it, and
casting it from him, with a fierce imprecation, perceived Isabelle's
abductors, still near at hand, galloping across a neighbouring field,
and apparently making for a thick grove at a considerable distance from
where he was standing. As to the blind beggar and the child, they had
disappeared--probably hiding somewhere near by--but de Sigognac did
not waste a second thought on them; throwing off his own cloak, lest it
should impede him, he started swiftly in pursuit of the flying enemy and
their fair prize, with fury and despair in his heart. He was agile and
vigorous, lithe of frame, fleet of foot, the very figure for a runner,
and he quickly began to gain on the horsemen. As soon as they became
aware of this one of them drew a pistol from his girdle and fired at
their pursuer, but missed him; whereupon de Sigognac, bounding rapidly
from side to side as he ran, made it impossible for them to take aim at
him, and effectually prevented their arresting his course in that way.
The man who had Isabelle in front of him tried to ride on in advance,
and leave the other two to deal with the baron, but the young actress
struggled so violently on the horse's neck, and kept clutching so
persistently at the bridle, that his rider could not urge him to his
greatest speed. Meantime de Sigognac was steadily gaining upon them;
without slackening his pace he had managed to draw his sword from the
scabbard, and brandished it aloft, ready for action, as he ran. It is
true that he was one against three--that he was on foot while they were
on horseback--but he had not time to consider the odds against him, and
he seemed possessed of the strength of a giant in Isabelle's behalf.
Making a prodigious effort, he suddenly increased his speed, and coming
up with the two horsemen, who were a little behind the other one,
quickly disposed of them, by vigorously pricking their horses' flanks
with the point of his sword; for, what with fright and pain, the
animals, after plunging violently, threw off all restraint and
bolted--dashing off across country as if the devil were after them, and
carrying their riders with them, just as de Sigognac had expected
and intended that they should do. The brave young baron was nearly
spent--panting, almost sobbing, as he struggled desperately on--feeling
as if his heart would burst at every agonizing throb; but he was indued
with supernatural strength and endurance, and as Isabelle's voice
reached his ear calling, "Help, de Sigognac, help!" he cleared with a
bound the space that separated them, and leaping up to catch the broad
leathern strap that was passed round her and her captor, answered in a
hoarse, shrill tone, "I am here." Clinging to the strap, he ran along
beside the galloping horse--like the grooms that the Romans called
desultores--and strove with all his might to pull the rider down out
of his saddle. He did not dare to use his sword to disable him, as they
struggled together, lest he should wound Isabelle also; and, meantime,
the man on horseback was trying his utmost to shake off his fierce
assailant-unsuccessfully, because he had both hands fully occupied with
his horse and his captive, who was doing all she could to slip from his
grasp, and throw herself into her lover's arms. Loosing his hold on the
rein for a second, the horseman managed to draw a knife from his girdle,
and with one blow severed the strap to which the baron was clinging;
then, driving his spurs into the horse's sides made the frightened
animal spring suddenly forward, while de Sigognac--who was not prepared
for this emergency, and found himself deprived of all support--fell
violently upon his back in the road. He was up again in an instant, and
flying after Isabelle, who was now being borne rapidly away from him,
and whose cries for help came more and more faintly to his ear; but the
moment he had lost made his pursuit hopeless, and he knew that it was
all in vain when he saw her disappear behind the thicket her ravisher
had been aiming for from the first. His heart sank within him, and he
staggered as he still ran feebly on--feeling now the effects of his
superhuman exertions, and fearing at each step that his feet would carry
him no farther. He was soon overtaken by Herode and Scapin, who, alarmed
by the pistol shot, and fearing that something was wrong, had started
in hot pursuit, though the lackey who served them as guide had done all
that he possibly could to hinder them, and in a few faltering words he
told them what had occurred.

"Vallombreuse again!" cried the tyrant, with an oath. "But how the devil
did he get wind of our expedition to the Chateau de Pommereuil? or can
it be possible that it was all a plot from the beginning, and we are
bound on a fool's errand? I really begin to think it must be so. If it
is true, I never saw a better actor in my life than that respectable old
major-domo, confound him! But let us make haste and search this grove
thoroughly; we may find some trace of poor Isabelle; sweet creature that
she is! Rough old tyrant though I be, my heart warms to her, and I love
her more tenderly than I do myself. Alas! I'm afraid, that this poor,
innocent, little fly is caught in the toils of a cruel spider, who will
take care never to let us get sight of her again."

"I will crush him," said de Sigognac, striking his heel savagely on the
ground, as if he actually had the spider under it. "I will crush
the life out of him, the venomous beast!" and the fierce, determined
expression of his usually calm, mild countenance showed that this was no
idle threat, but that he was terribly in earnest.

"Look," cried Herode, as they dashed through the thicket, "there they
are!"

They could just discern, through the screen of leafless but thickly
interlaced branches, a carriage, with all the curtains carefully closed,
and drawn by four horses lashed to a gallop, which was rapidly rolling
away from them in the distance. The two men whose horses had run away
with them had them again under control, and were riding on either side
of it--one of them leading the horse that had carried Isabelle and
her captor. HE was doubtless mounting guard over her in the
carriage--perhaps using force to keep her quiet--at thought of which
de Sigognac could scarcely control the transport of rage and agony that
shook him. Although the three pursuers followed the fugitives, as fast
as they could run, it was all of no avail, for they soon lost sight of
them altogether, and nothing remained to be done but to ascertain, if
possible, the direction they had taken, so as to have some clew to poor
Isabelle's whereabouts. They had considerable difficulty in making out
the marks of the carriage wheels, for the roads were very dry; and when
at length they had succeeded in tracing them to a place where four roads
met they lost them entirely--it was utterly impossible to tell which
way they had gone. After a long and fruitless search they turned back
sorrowfully to join their companions, trying to devise some plan for
Isabelle's rescue, but feeling acutely how hopeless it was. They found
the others in the chariot waiting for them, just where the tyrant and
Scapin had left them, for their false guide had put spurs to his horse
and ridden off after his confederates, as soon as he became aware
that their undertaking had proved successful. When Herode asked an old
peasant woman, who came by with a bundle of fagots on her back, how
far it was to the Chateau de Pommereuil, she answered that there was no
place of that name anywhere in the country round. Upon being questioned
closely, she said that she had lived in the neighbourhood for seventy
years, knew every house within many leagues, and could positively assure
them that there was no such Chateau within a day's journey. So it was
only too evident that they were the dupes of the clever agents of the
Duke of Vallombreuse, who had at last succeeded in getting possession
of Isabelle, as he had sworn that he would do. Accordingly, all of the
party turned back towards Paris, excepting de Sigognac, the tyrant and
Scapin, who had decided to go on to the next village, where they hoped
to be able to procure horses, with which to prosecute their search for
Isabelle and her abductors.

After the baron's fall, she had been swiftly taken on to the other side
of the thicket, where the carriage stood awaiting her; then lifted down
from the horse and put into it, in spite of her frantic struggles and
remonstrances. The man who had held her in front of him got down also
and sprang in after her, closing the door with a bang, and instantly
they were off at a tremendous pace. He seated himself opposite to her,
and when she impetuously tried to pull aside the curtain, so that she
could see out of the window nearest to her, he respectfully but firmly
restrained her.

"Mademoiselle, I implore you to keep quiet," he said, with the utmost
politeness, "and not oblige me to use forcible means to restrain so
charming and adorable a creature as your most lovely self. No harm shall
come to you--do not be afraid!--only kindness is intended; therefore I
beseech you do not persist in vain resistance. If you will only submit
quietly, you shall be treated with as much consideration and respect as
a captive queen, but if you go on acting like the devil, struggling and
shrieking, I have means to bring you to terms, and I shall certainly
resort to them. THIS will stop your screaming, mademoiselle, and THIS
will prevent your struggling."

As he spoke he drew out of his pocket a small gag, very artistically
made, and a long, thick, silken cord, rolled up into a ball.

"It would be barbarous indeed," he continued, "to apply such a thing as
this to that sweet, rosy mouth of yours, mademoiselle, as I am sure
that you will admit--or to bind together those pretty, delicate, little
wrists, upon which no worse fetters than diamond bracelets should ever
be placed."

Poor Isabelle, furious and frightened though she was, could not but
acknowledge to herself that further physical resistance then would
be worse than useless, and determined to spare herself at least such
indignities as she was at that moment threatened with; so, without
vouchsafing a word to her attendant, she threw herself back into the
corner of the carriage, closed her eyes, and tried to keep perfectly
still. But in spite of her utmost endeavours she could not altogether
repress an occasional sob, nor hold back the great tears that welled
forth from under her drooping eyelids and rolled down over her pale
cheeks, as she thought of de Sigognac's despair and her own danger.

"After the nervous excitement comes the moist stage;" said her masked
guardian to himself, "things are following their usual and natural
course. I am very glad of it, for I should have greatly disliked to be
obliged to act a brutal part with such a sweet, charming girl as this."

Now and then Isabelle opened her eyes and cast a timid glance at her
abductor, who finally said to her, in a voice he vainly strove to render
soft and mild:

"You need not be afraid of me, mademoiselle! I would not harm you in any
way for the world. If fortune had been more generous to me I certainly
would never have undertaken this enterprise against such a lovely,
gentle young lady as you are; but poor men like me are driven to all
sorts of expedients to earn a little money; they have to take whatever
comes within their reach, and sacrifice their scruples to their
necessities."

"You do admit then," said Isabelle vehemently, "that you have been
bribed to carry me off? An infamous, cruel, outrageous thing it is."

"After what I have had to do," he replied, "it would be idle to deny it.
There are a good many philosophers like myself in Paris, mademoiselle,
who, instead of indulging in love affairs, and intrigues of various
sorts, of their own, interest themselves in those of other people, and,
for a consideration, make use of their courage, ingenuity and strength
to further them. But to change the subject, how charming you were in
that last new play! You went through the scene of the avowal with a
grace I have never seen equalled. I applauded you to the echo; the pair
of hands that kept it up so perseveringly and vigorously, you know,
belonged to me."

"I beg you to dispense with these ill-judged remarks and compliments,
and to tell me where you are taking me, in this strange, outrageous
manner, against my will, and, in despite of all the ordinary usages of
civilized society."

"I cannot tell you that, mademoiselle, and besides, it would do you
no sort of good to know. In our profession, you see, we are obliged to
observe as much secrecy and discretion as confessors and physicians.
Indeed, in such affairs as this we often do not know the names of the
parties we are working for ourselves."

"Do you mean to say that you do not know who has employed you to commit
this abominable, cruel crime?"

"It makes no difference whether I know his name or not, since I am not
at liberty to disclose it to you. Think over your numerous admirers,
mademoiselle! the most ardent and least favoured one among them would
probably be at the bottom of all this."

Finding that she could not get any information from him, Isabelle
desisted, and did not speak again. She had not the slightest doubt
that the Duke of Vallombreuse was the author of this new and daring
enterprise. The significant and threatening way in which he had said "au
revoir, mademoiselle," as he quitted her presence after she had repulsed
him a few days before, had haunted her, and she had been in constant
dread ever since of some new outrage. She hoped, against hope, that de
Sigognac, her valiant lover, would yet come to her rescue, and thought
proudly of the gallant deeds he had already done in her behalf that
day--but how was he to find out where to seek her?

"If worst comes to worst," she said to herself, "I still have Chiquita's
knife, and I can and will escape from my persecutor in that way, if all
other means fail."

For two long hours she sat motionless, a prey to sad and terrible
thoughts and fears, while the carriage rolled swiftly on without
slackening its speed, save once, for a moment, when they changed horses.
As the curtains were all lowered, she could not catch even a glimpse of
the country she was passing through, nor tell in what direction she was
being driven. At last she heard the hollow sound of a drawbridge under
the wheels; the carriage stopped, and her masked companion, promptly
opening the door, jumped nimbly out and helped her to alight. She cast
a hurried glance round her, as she stepped down, saw that she was in a
large, square court, and that all the tall, narrow windows in the high
brick walls that surrounded it had their inside shutters carefully
closed. The stone pavement of the spacious courtyard was in some places
partly covered with moss, and a few weeds had sprung up in the corners,
and along the edges by the walls. At the foot of a broad, easy flight of
steps, leading up to a covered porch, two majestic Egyptian sphinxes
lay keeping guard; their huge rounded flanks mottled here and there with
patches of moss and lichens. Although the large chateau looked lonely
and deserted, it had a grand, lordly air, and seemed to be kept in
perfect order and repair. Isabelle was led up the steps and into the
vestibule by the man who had brought her there, and then consigned
to the care of a respectable-looking majordomo, who preceded her up
a magnificent staircase, and into a suite of rooms furnished with
the utmost luxury and elegance. Passing through the first--which was
enriched with fine old carvings in oak, dark with age--he left her in a
spacious, admirably proportioned apartment, where a cheery wood fire was
roaring up the huge chimney, and she saw a bed in a curtained alcove.
She chanced to catch sight of her own face in the mirror over an
elaborately furnished dressing-table, as she passed it, and was startled
and shocked at its ghastly pallor and altered expression; she scarcely
could recognise it, and felt as if she had seen a ghost--poor Isabelle!
Over the high, richly ornamented chimney-piece hung a portrait of a
gentleman, which, as she approached the fire, at once caught and riveted
her attention. The face seemed strangely familiar to her, and yet she
could not remember where she had seen it before. It was pale, with
large, black eyes, full red lips, and wavy brown hair, thrown carelessly
back from it-apparently the likeness of a man about forty years of age
and it had a charming air of nobility and lofty pride, tempered with
benevolence and tenderness, which was inexpressibly attractive. The
portrait was only half-length--the breast being covered with a steel
cuirass, richly inlaid with gold, which was partly concealed by a white
scarf, loosely knotted over it. Isabelle, despite her great alarm and
anxiety, could not long withdraw her eyes or her thoughts from this
picture, which seemed to exert a strange fascination over her. There
was something about it that at the first glance resembled the Duke of
Vallombreuse, but the expression was so different that the likeness
disappeared entirely upon closer examination. It brought vague memories
to Isabelle's mind that she tried in vain to seize--she felt as if she
must be looking at it in a dream. She was still absorbed in reverie
before it when the major-domo reappeared, followed by two lackeys, in
quiet livery, carrying a small table set for one person, which they
put down near the fire; and as one of them took the cover off an
old-fashioned, massive silver tureen, he announced to Isabelle that
her dinner was ready. The savoury odour from the smoking soup was very
tempting, and she was very hungry; but after she had mechanically seated
herself and dipped her spoon into the broth, it suddenly occurred to her
that the food might contain a narcotic--such things had been done--and
she pushed away the plate in front of her in alarm. The major-domo, who
was standing at a respectful distance watching her, ready to anticipate
her every wish, seemed to divine her thought, for he advanced to the
table and deliberately partook of all the viands upon it, as well as of
the wine and water--as if to prove to her that there was nothing wrong
or unusual about them. Isabelle was somewhat reassured by this, and
feeling that she would probably have need of all her strength, did bring
herself to eat and drink, though very sparingly. Then, quitting the
table, she sat down in a large easy-chair in front of the fire to think
over her terrible position, and endeavour to devise some means of escape
from it. When the servants had attended to their duties and left her
alone again, she rose languidly and walked slowly to the window--feeling
as weak as though she had had a severe illness, after the violent
emotions and terrors of the day, and as if she had aged years in the
last few hours. Could it be possible that only that very morning she and
de Sigognac had been walking together, with hearts full of happiness and
peace--and she had rapturously hailed the appearance of the first spring
violet as an omen of good, and gathered the sweet little blossom to
bestow upon the devoted lover who adored her? And now, alas! alas! they
were as inexorably and hopelessly separated as if half the globe lay
between them. No wonder that her breast heaved tumultuously with choking
sobs, and hot tears rained down over her pallid cheeks, as she wept
convulsively at the thought of all she had lost. But she did not long
indulge her grief--she remembered that at any moment she might have need
of all her coolness and fortitude--and making a mighty effort, like the
brave heroine that she was, she regained control over herself, and drove
back the gushing tears to await a more fitting season. She was relieved
to find that there were no bars at the window, as she had feared; but
upon opening the casement and leaning out she saw immediately beneath
her a broad moat, full of stagnant water, which surrounded the chateau,
and forbade any hope of succour or escape on that side. Beyond the moat
was a thick grove of large trees, which entirely shut out the view; and
she returned to her seat by the fire, more disheartened and cast
down than ever. She was very nervous, and trembled at the slightest
sound--casting hasty, terrified glances round the vast apartment, and
dreading lest an unseen door in some shadowy corner should be softly
opened, or a hidden panel in the wall be slipped aside, to admit her
relentless enemy to her presence. She remembered all the horrible tales
she had ever heard of secret passages and winding staircases in
the walls, that are supposed to abound in ancient castles; and the
mysterious visitants, both human and supernatural, that are said to be
in the habit of issuing from them, in the gloaming, and at midnight.
As the twilight deepened into darkness, her terror increased, and she
nearly fainted from fright when a servant suddenly entered with lights.

While poor Isabelle was suffering such agony in one part of the chateau,
her abductors were having a grand carouse in another. They were to
remain there for a while as a sort of garrison, in case of an attack
by de Sigognac and his friends; and were gathered round the table in
a large room down on the ground floor--as remote as possible from
Isabelle's sumptuous quarters. They were all drinking like sponges, and
making merry over their wine and good cheer, but one of them especially
showed the most remarkable and astounding powers of ingurgitation--it
was the man who had carried off the fair prize before him on his horse;
and, now that the mask was thrown aside, he disclosed to view the
deathly pale face and fiery red nose of Malartic, bosom friend and
"alter ego" of Maitre Jacquemin Lampourde.



CHAPTER XVI. VALLOMBREUSE

Isabelle sat for a long time perfectly motionless in her luxurious
chamber, sunk in a sad reverie, apparently entirely oblivious of the
glow of light, warmth, and comfort that closed her in--glancing up
occasionally at the portrait over the chimney-piece, which seemed to be
smiling down upon her and promising her protection and peace, while it
more than ever reminded her of some dear face she had known and loved
long ago. After a time, however, her mood changed. She grew restless,
and rising, began to wander aimlessly about the room; but her uneasiness
only increased, and finally, in desperation, she resolved to venture out
into the corridor and look about her, no matter at what risk. Anything
would be better than this enforced inactivity and suspense. She tried
the door with a trembling hand, dreading to find herself locked in, but
it was not fastened, and seeing that all was dark outside, she took up
a small lamp, that had been left burning on a side table, and boldly
setting forth, went softly down the long flight of stairs, in the hope
of finding some means of exit from the chateau on the lower floor. At
the foot of the stairs she came to a large double door, one leaf of
which yielded easily when she timidly tried to open it, but creaked
dolefully as it turned on its hinges. She hesitated for a moment,
fearing that the noise would alarm the servants and bring them out to
see what was amiss; but no one came, and taking fresh courage, she moved
on and passed into a lofty, vaulted hall, with high-backed, oaken benches
ranged against the tapestry-covered walls, upon which hung several large
trophies of arms, and sundry swords, shields, and steel gauntlets, which
caught and flashed back the light from her lamp as she held it up to
examine them. The air was heavy, chilly, and damp. An awful stillness
reigned in this deserted hall. Isabelle shivered as she crept slowly
along, and nearly stumbled against a huge table, with massive carved
feet, that stood in the centre of the tesselated marble pavement. She
was making for a door, opposite the one by which she had entered; but,
as she approached it, was horror-stricken when she perceived two tall
men, clad in armour, standing like sentinels, one on either side of it.
She stopped short, then tried to turn and fly, but was so paralyzed with
terror that she could not stir, expecting every instant that they would
pounce upon her and take her prisoner, while she bitterly repented her
temerity in having ventured to leave her own room, and vainly wished
herself back by the quiet fireside there. Meanwhile the two dread
figures stood as motionless as herself--the silence was unbroken, and
"the beating of her own heart was the only sound she heard." So at last
she plucked up courage to look more closely at the grim sentinels, and
could not help smiling at her own needless alarm, when she found that
they were suits of armour, indeed, but without men inside of them--just
such as one sees standing about in the ancient royal palaces of France.
Passing them with a saucy glance of defiance, and a little triumphant
toss of the head, Isabelle entered a vast dining room, with tall,
sculptured buffets, on which stood many superb vessels of gold and
silver, together with delicate specimens of exquisite Venetian and
Bohemian glass, and precious pieces of fine porcelain, fit for a king's
table. Large handsome chairs, with carved backs, were standing round the
great dining-table, and the walls, above the heavy oaken wainscot, were
hung with richly embossed Cordova leather, glowing with warm, bright
tints and golden arabesques.

She did not linger to examine and admire all the beautified things dimly
revealed to her by the feeble light of her small lamp, but hurried on
to the third door, which opened into an apartment yet more spacious
and magnificent than the other two. At one end of it was a lordly dais,
raised three steps above the inlaid floor, upon which stood a splendid
great arm-chair, almost a throne, under a canopy emblazoned with a
brilliant coat of arms and surmounted by a tuft of nodding plumes. Still
hurrying on, Isabelle next entered a sumptuous bed-chamber, and, as she
paused for an instant to hold up her lamp and look about her, fancied
that she could hear the regular breathing of a sleeper in the immense
bed, behind the crimson silk curtains which were closely drawn around
it. She did not dare to stop and investigate the matter, but flew on her
way, as lightly as any bird, and next found herself in a library, where
the white busts surmounting the well-filled book-cases stared down at
her with their hard, stony eyes, and made her shudder as she nervously
sought for an exit, without delaying one moment to glance at the great
variety of curious and beautiful objects scattered lavishly about,
which, under any ordinary circumstances, would have held her enthralled.

Running at right angles with the library, and opening out of it, was
the picture gallery, where the family portraits were arranged in
chronological order on one side, while opposite to them was a long row
of windows, looking into the court. The shutters were closed, but near
the top of each one was a small circular opening, through which the moon
shone and faintly lighted the dusky gallery, striking here and there
directly upon the face of a portrait, with an indescribably weird and
startling effect. It required all of Isabelle's really heroic courage to
keep on past the long line of strange faces, looking down mockingly it
seemed to her from their proud height upon her trembling form as she
glided swiftly by, and she was thankful to find, at the end of the
gallery, a glass door opening out upon the court. It was not fastened,
and after carefully placing her lamp in a sheltered corner, where no
draughts could reach it, she stepped out under the stars. It was a
relief to find herself breathing freely in the fresh, pure air, though
she was actually no less a prisoner than before, and as she stood
looking up into the clear evening sky, and thinking of her own true
lover, she seemed to feel new courage and hope springing up in her
heart.

In one corner of the court she saw a strong light shining out through
the crevices in the shutters that closed several low windows, and heard
sounds of revelry from the same direction--the only signs of life she
had detected about the whole place. Her curiosity was excited by them,
and she stole softly over towards the quarter from whence they came,
keeping carefully in the shadow of the wall, and glancing anxiously
about to make sure that no one was furtively watching her. Finding a
considerable aperture in one of the wooden shutters she peeped through
it, and saw a party of men gathered around a table, eating and drinking
and making merry in a very noisy fashion. The light from a lamp with
three burners, which was suspended by a copper chain from the low
ceiling, fell full upon them, and although she had only seen them masked
before, Isabelle instantly recognised those who had been concerned
in her abduction. At the head of the table sat Malartic, whose
extraordinary face was paler and nose redder than ever, and at sight
of whom the young girl shuddered and drew back. When she had recovered
herself a little, she looked in again upon the repulsive scene, and was
surprised to see, at the other end of the table, and somewhat apart from
the others, Agostino, the brigand, who had now laid aside the long
white beard in which he had played the part of the old blind beggar
so successfully. A great deal of loud talking was going on, constantly
interrupted by bursts of laughter, but Isabelle could not hear
distinctly enough through the closed window to make out what they were
saying. Even if she had been actually in the room with them, she would
have found much of their conversation incomprehensible, as it was
largely made up of the extraordinary slang of the Paris street Arabs
and rascals generally. From time to time one or the other of the
participants in this orgy seemed to propose a toast, whereupon they
would all clink their glasses together before raising them to their
lips, drain them at a draught, and applaud vociferously, while there was
a constant drawing of corks and placing of fresh bottles on the table
by the servant who was waiting upon them. Just as Isabelle, thoroughly
disgusted with the brutality of the scene before her, was about to turn
away, Malartic rapped loudly on the table to obtain a hearing, and after
making a proposition, which met with ready and cordial assent, rose
from his seat, cleared his throat, and began to sing, or rather shout,
a ribald song, all the others joining in the chorus, with horrible
grimaces and gesticulations, which so frightened poor Isabelle that she
could scarcely find strength to creep away from the loathsome spectacle.

Before re-entering the house she went to look at the drawbridge, with a
faint hope that she might chance upon some unexpected means of escape,
but all was secure there, and a little postern, opening on the moat,
which she discovered near by, was also carefully fastened, with bolts
and bars strong enough to keep out an army. As these seemed to be the
only means of exit from the chateau, she felt that she was a prisoner
indeed, and understood why it had not been deemed necessary to lock any
of the inner doors against her. She walked slowly back to the gallery,
entered it by the glass door, found her lamp burning tranquilly just
where she had left it, retraced her steps swiftly through the long suite
of spacious apartments already described and flew up the grand staircase
to her own room, congratulating herself upon not having been detected in
her wanderings. She put her lamp down in the antechamber, but paused in
terror on the threshold of the inner room, stifling a shriek that
had nearly escaped her as she caught sight of a strange, wild figure
crouching on the hearth. But her fears were short-lived, for with an
exclamation of delight the intruder sprang towards her and she saw that
it was Chiquita--but Chiquita in boy's clothes.

"Have you got the knife yet?" said the strange little creature abruptly
to Isabelle--"the knife with three bonny red marks."

"Yes, Chiquita, I have it here in my bosom," she replied. "But why do
you ask? Is my life in danger?"

"A knife," said the child with fierce, sparkling eyes, "a knife is a
faithful friend and servant; it never betrays or fails its master, if he
is careful to give it a drink now and then, for a knife is often thirsty
you know."

"You frighten me, you naughty child!" exclaimed Isabelle, much troubled
and agitated by these sinister, extravagant words, which perhaps, she
thought, might be intended as a friendly warning.

"Sharpen the edge on the marble of the chimney-piece, like this,"
continued Chiquita, "and polish the blade on the sole of your shoe."

"Why do you tell me all this?" cried Isabelle, turning very pale.

"For nothing in particular, only he who would defend himself gets his
weapons ready--that's all."

These odd, fierce phrases greatly alarmed Isabelle, yet Chiquita's
presence in her room was a wonderful relief and comfort to her. The
child apparently cherished a warm and sincere affection for her, which
was none the less genuine because of its having arisen from such a
trivial incident--for the pearl beads were more precious than diamonds
to Chiquita. She had given a voluntary promise to Isabelle never to kill
or harm her, and with her strange, wild, yet exalted notions of honour
she looked upon it as a solemn obligation and vow, by which she must
always abide--for there was a certain savage nobility in Chiquita's
character, and she could be faithful unto death. Isabelle was the only
human being, excepting Agostino, who had been kind to her. She had
smiled upon the unkempt child, and given her the coveted necklace, and
Chiquita loved her for it, while she adored her beauty. Isabelle's
sweet countenance, so angelically mild and pure, exercised a wonderful
influence over the neglected little savage, who had always been
surrounded by fierce, haggard faces, expressive of every evil passion,
and disfigured by indulgence in the lowest vices, and excesses of every
kind.

"But how does it happen that you are here, Chiquita?" asked Isabelle,
after a short silence. "Were you sent to keep guard over me?"

"No, I came alone and of my own accord," answered Chiquita, "because I
saw the light and fire. I was tired of lying all cramped up in a corner,
and keeping quiet, while those beastly men drank bottle after bottle of
wine, and gorged themselves with the good things set before them. I
am so little, you know, so young and slender, that they pay no more
attention to me than they would to a kitten asleep under the table.
While they were making a great noise I slipped quietly away unperceived.
The smell of the wine and the food sickened me. I am used to the sweet
perfume of the heather, and the pure resinous odour of the pines. I
cannot breathe in such an atmosphere as there is down below there."

"And you were not afraid to wander alone, without a light, through the
long, dark corridors, and the lonely, deserted rooms?"

"Chiquita does not know what it is to be afraid--her eyes can see in
the dark, and her feet never stumble. The very owls shut their eyes when
they meet her, and the bats fold their wings when she comes near their
haunts. Wandering ghosts stand aside to let her pass, or turn back when
they see her approaching. Night is her comrade and hides no secrets from
her, and Chiquita never betrays them to the day."

Her eyes flashed and dilated as she spoke, and Isabelle looked at her
with growing wonder, not unmixed with a vague sensation of fear.

"I like much better to stay here, in this heavenly quiet, by the fire
with you," continued the child, "than down there in all the uproar. You
are so beautiful that I love to look at you-you are like the Blessed
Virgin that I have seen shining above the altar. Only from afar though,
for they always chase me out of the churches with the dogs, because I
am so shabby and forlorn. How white your hand is! Mine looks like a
monkey's paw beside it--and your hair is as fine and soft as silk, while
mine is all rough and tangled. Oh! I am so horribly ugly--you must think
so too."

"No, my dear child," Isabelle replied, touched by her naive expressions
of affection and admiration, "I do not think so. You have beauty
too--you only need to make yourself neat and clean to be as pretty a
little girl as one would wish to see."

"Do you really think so? Are you telling me true? I would steal fine
clothes if they would make me pretty, for then Agostino would love me."

This idea brought a little flush of colour to her thin brown cheeks, and
for a few minutes she seemed lost in a pleasant reverie.

"Do you know where we are?" asked Isabelle, when Chiquita looked up at
her again.

"In a chateau that belongs to the great seignior who has so much money,
and who wanted to carry you off at Poitiers. I had only to draw the bolt
and it would have been done then. But you gave me the pearl necklace,
and I love you, and I would not do anything you did not like."

"Yet you have helped to carry me off this time," said Isabelle
reproachfully. "Is it because you don't love me any more that you have
given me up to my enemies?"

"Agostino ordered me, and I had to obey; besides, some other child could
have played guide to the blind man as well as I, and then I could not
have come into the chateau with you, do you see?--here I may be able to
do something to help you. I am brave, active and strong, though I am
so small, and quick as lightning too--and I shall not let anybody harm
you."

"Is this chateau very far from Paris?" asked Isabelle, drawing Chiquita
up on her lap. "Did you hear any one mention the name of this place?"

"Yes, one of them called it--now what was it?" said the child, looking
up at the ceiling and absently scratching her head, as if to stimulate
her memory.

"Try to remember it, my child!" said Isabelle, softly stroking
Chiquita's brown cheeks, which flushed with delight at the unwonted
caress--no one had ever petted the poor child in her life before.

"I think that it was Val-lom-breuse," said Chiquita at last, pronouncing
the syllables separately and slowly, as if listening to an inward echo.
"Yes, Vallombreuse, I am sure of it now. It is the name of the seignior
that your Captain Fracasse wounded in a duel--he would have done much
better if he had killed him outright--saved a great deal of trouble to
himself and to you. He is very wicked, that rich duke, though he does
throw his gold about so freely by the handfuls--just like a man sowing
grain. You hate him, don't you? and you would be glad if you could get
away from him, eh?"

"Oh yes, indeed!" cried Isabelle impetuously. "But alas! it is
impossible--a deep moat runs all around this chateau the drawbridge is
up, the postern securely fastened--there is no way of escape."

"Chiquita laughs at bolts and bars, at high walls and deep moats.
Chiquita can get out of the best guarded prison whenever she pleases,
and fly away to the moon, right before the eyes of her astonished
jailer. If you choose, before the sun rises your Captain Fracasse shall
know where the treasure that he seeks is hidden."

Isabelle was afraid, when she heard these incoherent phrases, that the
child was not quite sane, but her little face was so calm, her dark eyes
so clear and steady, her voice so earnest, and she spoke with such an
air of quiet conviction, that the supposition was not admissible, and
the strange little creature did seem to be possessed of some of the
magic powers she claimed. As if to convince Isabelle that she was
not merely boasting, she continued, "Let me think a moment, to make a
plan--don't speak nor move, for the least sound interferes with me--I
must listen to the spirit."

Chiquita bent down her head, put her hand over her eyes, and remained
for several minutes perfectly motionless; then she raised her head and
without a word went and opened the window, clambered up on the sill, and
gazed out intently into the darkness.

"Is she really going to take flight?" said Isabelle to herself, as she
anxiously watched Chiquita's movements, not knowing what to expect.
Exactly opposite to the window, on the other side of the moat, was an
immense tree, very high and old, whose great branches, spreading out
horizontally, overhung the water; but the longest of them did not reach
the wall of the chateau by at least ten feet. It was upon this tree,
however, that Chiquita's plan for escape depended. She turned away from
the window, drew from her pocket a long cord made of horse-hair, very
fine and strong, which she carefully unrolled to its full length and
laid upon the floor; then produced from another pocket an iron hook,
which she fastened securely to the cord. This done to her satisfaction,
she went to the window again, and threw the end of the cord with the
hook into the branches of the tree. The first time she was unsuccessful;
the iron hook fell and struck against the stone wall beneath the
casement; but at the second attempt the hook caught and held, and
Chiquita, drawing the cord taut, asked Isabelle to take hold of it
and bear her whole weight on it, until the branch was bent as far as
possible towards the chateau--coming five or six feet nearer to the
window where they were. Then Chiquita tied the cord firmly to the
ornamental iron railing of the tiny balcony, with a knot that could not
slip, climbed over, and grasping the cord with both hands, swung herself
off, and hung suspended over the waters of the moat far below. Isabelle
held her breath. With a rapid motion of the hands Chiquita crossed the
clear space, reached the tree safely, and climbed down into it with the
agility of a monkey.

"Now undo the knot so that I can take the cord with me," she said, in
a low but very distinct tone of voice to Isabelle, who began to breathe
freely again, "unless, indeed, you would like to follow me. But you
would be frightened and dizzy, and might fall, so you had better stay
where you are. Good-bye! I am going straight to Paris, and shall soon be
back again; I can get on quickly in this bright moonlight."

Isabelle did as she was bid, and the branch, being no longer held by
the cord, swung back to its original position. In less than a minute
Chiquita had scrambled down to the ground, and the captive soon lost
sight of her slender little figure as she walked off briskly towards the
capital.

All that had just occurred seemed like a strange dream to Isabelle, now
that she found herself alone again. She remained for some time at the
open casement, looking at the great tree opposite, and trembling as she
realized the terrible risk Chiquita had run for her sake--feeling warm
gratitude and tender affection for the wild, incomprehensible little
creature, who manifested such a strong attachment for herself, and a new
hope sprang up in her heart as she thought that now de Sigognac would
soon know where to find her. The cold night air at last forced her to
close the window, and after arranging the curtains over it carefully,
so as to show no signs of having been disturbed, she returned to her
easy-chair by the fire; and just in time, for she had scarcely seated
herself when the major-domo entered, followed by the two servants,
again carrying the little table, set for one, with her supper daintily
arranged upon it. A few minutes earlier and Chiquita's escape would have
been discovered and prevented. Isabelle, still greatly agitated by all
that had passed, could not eat, and signed to the servants to remove the
supper untouched. Whereupon the major-domo himself put some bread and
wine on a small table beside the bed, and placed on a chair near the
fire a richly trimmed dressing-gown, and everything that a lady could
require in making her toilet for the night. Several large logs of wood
were piled up on the massive andirons, the candles were renewed, and
then the major-domo, approaching Isabelle with a profound obeisance,
said to her that if she desired the services of a maid he would send one
to her. As she made a gesture of dissent he withdrew, after again bowing
to her most respectfully. When they had all gone, Isabelle, quite worn
out, threw herself down on the outside of the bed without undressing, so
as to be ready in case of any sudden alarm in the night; then took out
Chiquita's knife, opened it, and laid it beside her. Having taken these
precautions, she closed her eyes, and hoped that she could for a while
forget her troubles in sleep; but she had been so much excited and
agitated that her nerves were all quivering, and it was long before she
even grew drowsy. There were so many strange, incomprehensible noises in
the great, empty house to disturb and startle her; and in her own room,
the cracking of the furniture, the ticking of a death-watch in the wall
near her bed, the gnawing of a rat behind the wainscot, the snapping of
the fire. At each fresh sound she started up in terror, with her
poor heart throbbing as if it would burst out of her breast, a cold
perspiration breaking out on her forehead, and trembling in every limb.
At last, however, weary nature had to succumb, and she fell into a deep
sleep, which lasted until she was awakened by the sun shining on her
face. Her first thought was to wonder that she had not yet seen the Duke
of Vallombreuse; but she was thankful for his absence, and hoped that
it would continue until Chiquita should have brought de Sigognac to the
rescue.

The reason why the young duke had not yet made his appearance was one of
policy. He had taken especial pains to show himself at Saint Germain on
the day of the abduction--had joined the royal hunting party, and
been exceedingly and unwontedly affable to all who happened to come
in contact with him. In the evening he had played at cards, and lost
ostentatiously sums that would have been of importance to a less wealthy
man--being all the time in a very genial mood--especially after the
arrival of a mounted messenger, who brought him a little note. Thus the
duke's desire to be able to establish an incontestable alibi, in case of
need, had spared Isabelle thus far the infliction of his hated presence;
but while she was congratulating herself upon it, and welcoming the
sunshine that streamed into her room, she heard the drawbridge being let
down, and immediately after a carriage dashed over it and thundered
into the court. Her heart sank, for who would be likely to enter in
that style save the master of the house? Her face grew deathly pale, she
reeled, and for one dreadful moment felt as if she should faint; but,
rallying her courage, she reminded herself that Chiquita had gone to
bring de Sigognac to her aid, and determined afresh to meet bravely
whatever trials might be in store for her, until her beloved knight
and champion should arrive, to rescue her from her terrible danger and
irksome imprisonment. Her eyes involuntarily sought the portrait over
the chimney-piece, and after passionately invoking it, and imploring
its aid and protection, as if it had been her patron saint, she felt
a certain sense of ease and security, as if what she had so earnestly
entreated would really be accorded to her.

A full hour had elapsed, which the young duke had employed in the duties
of the toilet, and in snatching a few minutes of repose after his
rapid night-journey, when the major-domo presented himself, and asked
respectfully if Isabelle would receive the Duke of Vallombreuse.

"I am a prisoner," she replied, with quiet dignity, "and this demand,
which would be fitting and polite in any ordinary case, is only a
mockery when addressed to one in my position. I have no means of
preventing your master's coming into this room, nor can I quit it to
avoid him. I do not accept his visit but submit to it. He must do as he
pleases about it, and come and go when he likes. He allows me no choice
in the matter. Go and tell him exactly what I have said to you."

The major-domo bowed low, and retired backward to the door, having
received strict orders to treat Isabelle with the greatest respect and
consideration. In a few minutes he returned, and announced the Duke of
Vallombreuse.

Isabelle half rose from her chair by the fire, but turned very pale and
fell back into it, as her unwelcome visitor made his appearance at the
door. He closed it and advanced slowly towards her, hat in hand, but
when he perceived that she was trembling violently, and looked ready to
faint, he stopped in the middle of the room, made a low bow, and said in
his most dulcet, persuasive tones:

"If my presence is too unbearably odious now to the charming Isabelle,
and she would like to have a little time to get used to the thought of
seeing me, I will withdraw. She is my prisoner, it is true, but I am
none the less her slave."

"This courtesy is tardy," Isabelle replied coldly, "after the violence
you have made use of against me."

"That is the natural result," said the duke, with a smile, "of pushing
people to extremity by a too obstinate and prolonged resistance. Having
lost all hope, they stop at nothing--knowing that they cannot make
matters any worse, whatever they do. If you had only been willing to
suffer me to pay my court to you in the regular way, and shown a little
indulgence to my love, I should have quietly remained among the ranks
of your passionate adorers; striving, by dint of delicate attentions,
chivalrous devotion, magnificent offerings, and respectful yet ardent
solicitations, to soften that hard heart of yours. If I could not
have succeeded in inspiring it with love for me, I might at least have
awakened in it that tender pity which is akin to love, and which is so
often only its forerunner. In the end, perhaps, you would have repented
of your cruel severity, and acknowledged that you had been unjust
towards me. Believe me, my charming Isabelle, I should have neglected
nothing to bring it about."

"If you had employed only honest and honourable means in your suit,"
Isabelle rejoined, "I should have felt very sorry that I had been so
unfortunate as to inspire an attachment I could not reciprocate, and
would have given you my warm sympathy, and friendly regard, instead of
being reluctantly compelled, by repeated outrages, to hate you instead.

"You do hate me then?--you acknowledge it?" the duke cried, his voice
trembling with rage; but he controlled himself, and after a short pause
continued, in a gentler tone, "Yet I do not deserve it. My only wrongs
towards you, if any there be, have come from the excess and ardour of
my love; and what woman, however chaste and virtuous, can be seriously
angry with a gallant gentleman because he has been conquered by the
power of her adorable charms? whether she so desired or not."

"Certainly, that is not a reason for dislike or anger, my lord, if the
suitor does not overstep the limits of respect, as all women will agree.
But when his insolent impatience leads him to commit excesses, and he
resorts to fraud, abduction, and imprisonment, as you have not hesitated
to do, there is no other result possible than an unconquerable aversion.
Coercion is always and inevitably revolting to a nature that has any
proper pride or delicacy. Love, true love, is divine, and cannot be
furnished to order, or extorted by violence. It is spontaneous, and
freely given--not to be bought, nor yet won by importunity."

"Is an unconquerable aversion then all that I am to expect from you?"
said Vallombreuse, who had become pale to ghastliness, and been fiercely
gnawing his under lip, while Isabelle was speaking, in her sweet, clear
tones, which fell on his ear like the soft chiming of silver bells, and
only served to enhance his devouring passion.

"There is yet one means of winning my friendship and gratitude--be noble
and generous, and give me back the liberty of which you have deprived
me. Let me return to my companions, who must be anxiously seeking for
me, and suffering keenly because of their fears for my safety. Let me
go and resume my lowly life as an actress, before this outrageous
affair--which may irreparably injure my reputation--has become generally
known, or my absence from the theatre been remarked by the public."

"How unfortunate it is," cried the duke, angrily, "that you should ask
of me the only thing I cannot do for you. If you had expressed your
desire for an empire, a throne, I would have given it to you--or if you
had wished for a star, I would have climbed up into the heavens to get
it for you. But here you calmly ask me to open the door of this cage,
little bird, to which you would never come back of your own accord, if I
were stupid enough to let you go. It is impossible! I know well that you
love me so little, or rather hate me so much, that you would never see
me again of your own free will--that my only chance of enjoying your
charming society is to lock you up--keep you my prisoner. However much
it may cost my pride, I must do it--for I can no more live without
you than a plant without the light. My thoughts turn to you as the
heliotrope to the sun. Where you are not, all is darkness for me. If
what I have dared to do is a crime, I must make the best of it, and
profit by it as much as I can--for you would never forgive nor overlook
it, whatever you may say now. Here at least I have you--I hold you. I
can surround you with my love and care, and strive to melt the ice of
your coldness by the heat of my passion. Your eyes must behold me--your
ears must listen to my voice. I shall exert an influence over you, if
only by the alarm and detestation I am so unfortunate as to inspire in
your gentle breast; the sound of my footsteps in your antechamber will
make you start and tremble. And then, besides all that, this captivity
separates you effectually from the miserable fellow you fancy that you
love--and whom I abhor; because he has dared to turn your heart away
from me. I can at least enjoy this small satisfaction, of keeping you
from him; and I will not let you go free to return to him--you may be
perfectly sure of that, my fair lady!"

"And how long do you intend to keep me captive?--not like a Christian
gentleman, but like a lawless corsair."

"Until you have learned to love me--or at least to say that you have,
which amounts to the same thing."

Then he made her a low bow, and departed, with as self-satisfied and
jaunty an air as if he had been in truth a favoured suitor. Half an
hour later a lackey brought in a beautiful bouquet, of the rarest
and choicest flowers, while the stems were clasped by a magnificent
bracelet, fit for a queen's wearing. A little piece of folded paper
nestled among the flowers--a note from the duke--and the fair prisoner
recognised the handwriting as the same in which "For Isabelle" was
written, on the slip of paper that accompanied the casket of jewels at
Poitiers. The note read as follows:

"DEAR ISABELLE--I send you these flowers, though I know they will be
ungraciously received. As they come from me, their beauty and fragrance
will not find favour in your eyes. But whatever may be their fate, even
though you only touch them to fling them disdainfully out of the window,
they will force you to think for a moment--if it be but in anger--of him
who declares himself, in spite of everything, your devoted adorer,

"VALLOMBREUSE."

This note, breathing of the most specious gallantry, and tenacity of
purpose, did produce very much the effect it predicted; for it made
Isabelle exceedingly angry; and, without even once inhaling the
delicious perfume of the flowers, or pausing for an instant to admire
their beauty, she flung the bouquet, diamond bracelet and all, out into
the antechamber. Never surely were lovely blossoms so badly treated; and
yet Isabelle was excessively fond of them; but she feared that if she
even allowed them to remain a little while in her room, their donor
would presume upon the slight concession. She had scarcely resumed her
seat by the fire, after disposing of the obnoxious bouquet, when a maid
appeared, who had been sent to wait upon her. She was a pretty, refined
looking girl, but very pale, and with an air of deep melancholy--as
if she were brooding over a secret sorrow. She offered her services
to Isabelle without looking up, and in a low, subdued voice, as if she
feared that the very walls had ears. Isabelle allowed her to take down
and comb out her long, silky hair, which was very much dishevelled, and
to arrange it again as she habitually wore it; which was quickly and
skilfully done. Then the maid opened a wardrobe and took out several
beautiful gowns, exquisitely made and trimmed, and just Isabelle's
size; but she would not even look at them, and sharply ordered that they
should instantly be put back where they belonged, though her own dress
was very much the worse for the rough treatment it had been subjected to
on the preceding day, and it was a trial to the sweet, dainty creature
to be so untidy. But she was determined to accept nothing from the duke,
no matter how long her captivity might last. The maid did not insist,
but acceded to her wishes with a mild, pitying air--just as indulgence
is shown, as far as possible, to all the little whims and caprices of
prisoners condemned to death. Isabelle would have liked to question her
attendant, and endeavour to elicit some information from her, but
the girl was more like an automaton than anything else, and it was
impossible to gain more than a monosyllable from her lips. So Isabelle
resigned herself with a sigh to her mute ministerings, not without a
sort of vague terror.

After the maid had retired, dinner was served as before, and Isabelle
made a hearty meal--feeling that she must keep up her strength, and
also hopeful of hearing something in a few hours more from her faithful
lover. Her thoughts were all of him, and as she realized the dangers to
which he would inevitably be exposed for her sake, her eyes filled
with tears, and a sharp pang shot through her heart. She was angry with
herself for being the cause of so much trouble, and fain to curse her
own beauty--the unhappy occasion of it all. She was absorbed in these
sad thoughts when a little noise as if a hail-stone had struck against
the window pane, suddenly aroused her. She flew to the casement, and saw
Chiquita, in the tree opposite, signing to her to open it, and swinging
back and forth the long horse-hair cord, with the iron hook attached to
it. She hastened to comply with the wishes of her strange little ally,
and, as she stepped back in obedience to another sign, the hook, thrown
with unerring aim, caught securely in the iron railing of the little
balcony. Chiquita tied the other end of the cord to the branch to which
she was clinging, and then began to cross over the intervening space
as before; but ere she was half-way over, the knot gave way, and poor
Isabelle for one moment of intense agony thought that the child was
lost. But, instead of falling into the moat beneath her, Chiquita, who
did not appear to be in the least disconcerted by this accident, swung
over against the wall below the balcony, and climbing up the cord hand
over hand, leaped lightly into the room, before Isabelle had recovered
her breath. Finding her very pale, and tremulous, the child said
smilingly, "You were frightened, eh? and thought Chiquita would fall
down among the frogs in the moat. When I tied my cord to the branch,
I only made a slip-knot, so that I could bring it back with me. I must
have looked like a big spider climbing up its thread," she added, with a
laugh.

"My dear child," said Isabelle, with much feeling, and kissing
Chiquita's forehead, "you are a very brave little girl."

"I saw your friends. They had been searching and searching for you; but
without Chiquita they would never have found out where you were hidden.
The captain was rushing about like an angry lion--his eyes flashed
fire--he was magnificent. I came back with him. He rode, and held me
in front of him. He is hidden in a little wood not far off, he and his
comrades--they must keep out of sight, you know. This evening, as soon
as it is dark, they will try to get in here to you--by the tree,
you know. There's sure to be a scrimmage--pistol shots and swords
clashing--oh! it will be splendid; for there's nothing so fine as a good
fight; when the men are in earnest, and fierce and brave. Now don't you
be frightened and scream, as silly women do; nothing upsets them like
that. You must just remain perfectly quiet, and keep out of their
way. If you like, I will come and stay by you, so that you will not be
afraid."

"Don't be uneasy about that, Chiquita! I will not annoy my brave
friends, who come to save my life at the risk of their own, by any
foolish fears or demonstrations; that I promise you."

"That's right," the child replied, "and until they come, you can defend
yourself with my knife, you know. Don't forget the proper way to use it.
Strike like this, and then do so; you can rip him up beautifully. As
for me, I'm going to hunt up a quiet corner where I can get a nap. No,
I can't stay here, for we must not be seen together; it would never do.
Now do you be sure to keep away from that window. You must not even go
near it, no matter what you hear, for fear they might suspect that you
hoped for help from that direction. If they did, it would be all up with
us; for they would send out and search the woods, and beat the bushes,
and find our friends where they lie hidden. The whole thing would fall
through, and you would have to stop here with this horrid duke that you
hate so much."

"I will not go near the window," Isabelle answered, "nor even look
towards it, however much I may wish to. You may depend upon my
discretion, Chiquita, I do assure you."

Reassured upon this important point, Chiquita crept softly away, and
went back to the lower room where she had left the ruffians carousing.
They were still there--lying about on the benches and the floor, in a
drunken sleep, and evidently had not even missed her. She curled herself
up in a corner, as far as might be from the loathsome brutes, and was
asleep in a minute. The poor child was completely tired out; her slender
little feet had travelled eight leagues the night before, running a good
part of the way, and the return on horseback had perhaps fatigued her
even more, being unaccustomed to it. Although her fragile little body
had the strength and endurance of steel, she was worn out now, and lay,
pale and motionless, in a sleep that seemed like death.

"Dear me! how these children do sleep to be sure," said Malartic,
when he roused himself at last and looked about him. "In spite of our
carouse, and all the noise we made, that little monkey in the corner
there has never waked nor stirred. Halloa! wake up you fellows! drunken
beasts that you are. Try to stand up on your hind legs, and go out in
the court and dash a bucket of cold water over your cursed heads. The
Circe of drunkenness has made swine of you in earnest--go and see if the
baptism I recommend will turn you back into men, and then we'll take a
little look round the place, to make sure there's no plot hatching to
rescue the little beauty we have in charge."

The men scrambled to their feet slowly and with difficulty, and
staggered out into the court as best they might, where the fresh air,
and the treatment prescribed by Malartic, did a good deal towards
reviving them; but they were a sorry looking set after all, and there
were many aching heads among them. As soon as they were fit for it,
Malartic took three of the least tipsy of them, and leading the way to a
small postern that opened on the moat, unchained a row-boat lying there,
crossed the broad ditch, ascended a steep flight of steps leading up
the bank on the other side, and, leaving one man to guard the boat,
proceeded to make a tour of inspection in the immediate vicinity of the
chateau; fortunately without stumbling on the party concealed in the
wood, or seeing anything to arouse their suspicions; so they returned to
their quarters perfectly satisfied that there was no enemy lurking near.

Meantime Isabelle, left quite alone, tried in vain to interest herself
in a book she had found lying upon one of the side-tables. She read
a few pages mechanically, and then, finding it impossible to fix her
attention upon it, threw the volume from her and sat idly in front of
the fire, which was blazing cheerily, thinking of her own true lover,
and praying that he might be preserved from injury in the impending
struggle. Evening came at last--a servant brought in lights, and soon
after the major-domo announced a visit from the Duke of Vallombreuse.
He entered at once, and greeted his fair captive with the most finished
courtesy. He looked very handsome, in a superb suit of pearl gray satin,
richly trimmed with crimson velvet, and Isabelle could not but admire
his personal appearance, much as she detested his character.

"I have come to see, my adorable Isabelle, whether I shall be more
kindly received than my flowers," said he, drawing up a chair beside
hers. "I have not the vanity to think so, but I want you to become
accustomed to my presence. To-morrow another bouquet, and another
visit."

"Both will be useless, my lord," she replied, "though I am sorry to have
to be so rude as to say so--but I had much better be perfectly frank
with you."

"Ah, well!" rejoined the duke, with a malicious smile, "I will dispense
with hope, and content myself with reality. You do not know, my poor
child, what a Vallombreuse can do--you, who vainly try to resist him.
He has never yet known what it was to have an unsatisfied desire--he
invariably gains his ends, in spite of all opposition--nothing can stop
him. Tears, supplication, laments, threats, even dead bodies and smoking
ruins would not daunt him. Do not tempt him too powerfully, by throwing
new obstacles in his way, you imprudent child!"

Isabelle, frightened by the expression of his countenance as he spoke
thus, instinctively pushed her chair farther away from his, and felt for
Chiquita's knife. But the wily duke, seeing that he had made a mistake,
instantly changed his tone, and begging her pardon most humbly for his
vehemence, endeavoured to persuade her, by many specious arguments, that
she was wrong in persistently turning a deaf ear to his suit--setting
forth at length, and in glowing words, all the advantages that would
accrue to her if she would but yield to his wishes, and describing the
happiness in store for her. While he was thus eloquently pleading his
cause, Isabelle, who had given him only a divided attention, thought
that she heard a peculiar little noise in the direction whence the
longed-for aid was to come, and fearing that Vallombreuse might hear it
also, hastened to answer him the instant that he paused, in a way to vex
him still further--for she preferred his anger to his love-making. Also,
she hoped that by quarrelling with him she would be able to prevent
his perceiving the suspicious little sound--now growing louder and more
noticeable.

"The happiness that you so eloquently describe, my lord, would be for me
a disgrace, which I am resolved to escape by death, if all other means
fail me. You never shall have me living. Formerly I regarded you with
indifference, but now I both hate and despise you, for your infamous,
outrageous and violent behaviour to me, your helpless victim. Yes, I may
as well tell you openly--and I glory in it--that I do love the Baron de
Sigognac, whom you have more than once so basely tried to assassinate,
through your miserable hired ruffians."

The strange noise still kept on, and Isabelle raised her voice to drown
it. At her audacious, defiant words, so distinctly and impressively
enunciated--hurled at him, as it were--Vallombreuse turned pale, and his
eyes flashed ominously; a light foam gathered about the corners of his
mouth, and he laid hold of the handle of his sword. For an instant he
thought of killing Isabelle himself, then and there. If he could not
have her, at least no one else should. But he relinquished that idea
almost as soon as it occurred to him, and with a hard, forced laugh
said, as he sprang up and advanced impetuously towards Isabelle, who
retreated before him:

"Now, by all the devils in hell, I cannot help admiring you immensely
in this mood. It is a new role for you, and you are deucedly charming
in it. You have got such a splendid colour, and your eyes are so
bright--you are superb, I declare. I am greatly flattered at your
blazing out into such dazzling beauty on my account--upon my word I am.
You have done well to speak out openly--I hate deceit. So you love de
Sigognac, do you? So much the better, say I--it will be all the sweeter
to call you mine. It will be a pleasing variety to press ardent
kisses upon sweet lips that say 'I hate you,' instead of the insipid,
everlasting 'I love you,' that one gets a surfeit of from all the pretty
women of one's acquaintance."

Alarmed at this coarse language, and the threatening gestures that
accompanied it, Isabelle started back and drew out Chiquita's knife.

"Bravo!" cried the duke--"here comes the traditional poniard. We are
being treated to a bit of high tragedy. But, my fierce little beauty, if
you are well up in your Roman history, you will remember that the chaste
Mme. Lucretia did not make use of her dagger until AFTER the assault of
Sextus, the bold son of Tarquin the Proud. That ancient and much-cited
example is a good one to follow."

And without paying any more attention to the knife than to a bee-sting,
he had violently seized Isabelle in his arms before she could raise it
to strike.

Just at that moment a loud cracking noise was heard, followed by a
tremendous crash, and the casement fell clattering to the floor, with
every pane of glass in it shattered; as if a giant had put his knee
against it and broken it in; while a mass of branches protruded through
the opening into the room. It was the top of the tree that Chiquita had
made such good use of as a way of escape and return. The trunk, sawed
nearly through by de Sigognac and his companions, was guided in its fall
so as to make a means of access to Isabelle's window; both bridging the
moat, and answering all the purposes of a ladder.

The Duke of Vallombreuse, astonished at this most extraordinary
intrusion upon his love-making, released his trembling victim, and drew
his sword. Chiquita, who had crept into the room unperceived when the
crash came, pulled Isabelle's sleeve and whispered, "Come into this
corner, out of the way; the dance is going to begin."

As she spoke, several pistol shots were heard without, and four of
the duke's ruffians--who were doing garrison duty came rushing up the
stairs, four steps at a time, and dashed into the room-sword in hand,
and eager for the fray.



CHAPTER XVII. THE AMETHYST RING

The topmost branches of the tree, protruding through the window,
rendered the centre of the room untenable, so Malartic and his three
aids ranged themselves two and two against the wall on either side of
it, armed with pistols and swords--ready to give the assailants a warm
welcome.

"You had better retire, my lord duke, or else put on a mask," whispered
Malartic to the young nobleman, "so that you may not be seen and
recognised in this affair."

"What do I care?" cried Vallombreuse, flourishing his sword. "I am not
afraid of anybody in the world--and besides, those who see me will never
go away from this to tell of it."

"But at least your lordship will place this second Helen in some safe
retreat. A stray bullet might so easily deprive your highness of the
prize that cost so dear--and it would be such a pity."

The duke, finding this advice judicious, went at once over to where
Isabelle was standing beside Chiquita, and throwing his arms round
her attempted to carry her into the next room. The poor girl made a
desperate resistance, and slipping from the duke's grasp rushed to the
window, regardless of danger, crying, "Save me, de Sigognac! save me!"
A voice from without answered, "I am coming," but, before he could reach
the window, Vallombreuse had again seized his prey, and succeeded in
carrying her into the adjoining room, closing and bolting the stout
oaken door behind him just as de Sigognac bounded into the chamber he
had quitted. His entrance was so sudden, and so swiftly and boldly made,
that he entirely escaped the pistol shots aimed at him, and the four
bullets all fell harmless. When the smoke had cleared away and the
"garrison" saw that he was unhurt, a murmur of astonishment arose, and
one of the men exclaimed aloud that Captain Fracasse--the only name
by which THEY knew him--must bear a charmed life; whereupon, Malartic
cried, "Leave him to me, I'll soon finish him, and do you three keep
a strict guard over the window there; for there will be more to follow
this one if I am not mistaken."

But he did not find his self-imposed task as easy as he supposed--for
de Sigognac was ready for him, and gave him plenty to do, though
his surprise and disappointment were overwhelming when he found that
Isabelle was nowhere to be seen.

"Where is she?" he cried impetuously. "Where is Isabelle? I heard her
voice in here only a moment ago."

"Don't ask me!" Malartic retorted. "YOU didn't give her into my charge."
And all this time their swords were flashing and clashing, as the combat
between them grew more animated.

A moment later, before the men had finished reloading their pistols,
Scapin dashed in through the window, throwing a remarkable somersault
like an acrobat as he came, and seeing that the three ruffians had laid
down their swords beside them on the floor while attending to their
other weapons, he seized upon them all, ere their owners had recovered
from their astonishment at his extraordinary advent, and hurled them
through the broken casement down into the moat. Then, laying hold of one
of the three from behind, and pinning down his arms securely, he placed
him in front of himself for a shield--turning him dexterously this
way and that, in order to keep his body always between his own and the
enemy; so that they dared not fire upon him lest they should kill their
comrade, who was vehemently beseeching them to spare his life, and
vainly struggling to escape from Scapin's iron grip.

The combat between de Sigognac and Malartic was still going on, but at
last, the baron--who had already wounded his adversary slightly, and
whose agony and desperation at being kept from prosecuting his search
for Isabelle were intense--wrested Malartic's sword from his grasp, by a
dexterous manoeuvre with his own, and putting his foot upon it as it lay
on the floor raised the point of his blade to the professional ruffian's
throat, crying "Surrender, or you are a dead man!"

At this critical moment another one of the besieging party burst in
through the window, who, seeing at a glance how matters stood, said to
Malartic in an authoritative tone, "You can surrender without dishonour
to this valiant hero--you are entirely at his mercy. You have done your
duty loyally--now consider yourself a prisoner of war."

Then turning to de Sigognac, he said, "You may trust his word, for he is
an honourable fellow in his way, and will not molest you again--I will
answer for him."

Malartic made a gesture of acquiescence, and the baron let him
go--whereupon the discomfited bully picked up his sword, and with a
crestfallen air walked off very disconsolately to a corner, where he sat
down and occupied himself in staunching the blood that was flowing
from his wound. The other three men were quickly conquered, and, at the
suggestion of the latest comer, were securely bound hand and foot
as they lay upon the floor, and then left to reflect upon their
misfortunes.

"They can't do any more mischief now," said Jacquemin Lampourde,
mockingly; for it was that famous fighting man in person, who, in his
enthusiastic admiration, or rather adoration, for de Sigognac, had
offered his services on this momentous occasion--services by no means
to be despised. As to the brave Herode, he was doing good service in
fighting the rest of the garrison below. They had hastened out and
crossed the moat in the little row-boat as quickly as possible after the
alarm was given, but arrived too late, as we have seen, to prevent
the assailants from ascending their strange scaling ladder. So they
determined to follow, hoping to overtake and dislodge some of them. But
Herode, who had found the upper branches bending and cracking in a very
ominous manner under his great weight, was forced to turn about and
make his way back to the main trunk, where, under cover of darkness,
he quietly awaited the climbing foe. Merindol, who commanded this
detachment of the garrison, was first, and being completely taken by
surprise was easily dislodged and thrown down into the water below. The
next one, aroused to a sense of his danger by this, pulled out a pistol
and fired, but in the agitation of the moment, and the darkness, missed
his aim, so that he was entirely at the tyrant's mercy, and in an
instant was held suspended over the deep waters of the moat. He clung
desperately to a little branch he had managed to lay hold of, and
made such a brave fight for his life, that Herode, who was merciful by
nature, though so fierce of aspect, decided to make terms with him, if
he could do so without injuring the interests of his own party; and upon
receiving a solemn promise from him to remain strictly neutral during
the remainder of the fray, the powerful actor lifted him up, with the
greatest ease, and seated him in safety upon the tree-trunk again. The
poor fellow was so grateful that he was even better than his word, for,
making use of the password and giving a pretended order from Merindol
to the other two, who were some distance behind him and ignorant of what
had happened, he sent them off post-haste to attend to an imaginary foe
at some distance from the chateau; availing himself of their absence to
make good his escape, after heartily thanking Herode for his clemency.
The moon was just rising, and by its light the tyrant spied the little
row-boat, lying not very far off at the foot of a flight of steps in the
steep bank, and he was not slow to make use of it to cross the moat,
and penetrate into the interior court of the chateau--the postern having
been fortunately left open. Looking about him, to see how he could best
rejoin his comrades within the building, his eyes fell upon the porch
guarded by the two huge, calm sphinxes, and he wisely concluded that
through it must lie his way to the scene of action.

Meantime de Sigognac, Scapin and Lampourde, having a chance to look
about them, were horrified to find that they were prisoners in the room
where the battle had been fought. In vain they tried to burst open the
stout oaken door which was their only means of egress--for the tree had,
but a moment before, given way and fallen with a loud crash into the
moat; in vain they strove to cut through one of the panels, or force the
lock from its fastenings. To de Sigognac this delay was maddening, for
he knew that the Duke of Vallombreuse had carried Isabelle away, and
that he must still be with her. He worked like a giant himself, and
incited the others to redouble their efforts; making battering rams
of various pieces of furniture--resorting to every means that their
ingenuity could devise--but without making the least impression on the
massive barrier. They had paused in dismay, when suddenly a slight,
grinding noise was heard, like a key turning in a lock, and the door, so
unsuccessfully attacked, opened as if by magic before them.

"What good angel has come to our aid?" cried de Sigognac; "and by what
miracle does this door open of itself, after having so stoutly resisted
all our efforts?"

"There is neither angel nor miracle; only Chiquita," answered a quiet
little voice, as the child appeared from behind the door, and fixed her
great, dark, liquid eyes calmly on de Sigognac. She had managed to slip
out with Vallombreuse and Isabelle, entirely unnoticed by the former,
and in the hope of being of use to the latter.

"Where is Isabelle?" cried the baron, as he crossed the threshold and
looked anxiously round the anteroom, which was dimly lighted by one
little flickering lamp. For a moment he did not perceive her; the Duke
of Vallombreuse, surprised at the sudden opening of the door, which he
had believed to be securely fastened and impenetrable, had retreated
into a corner, and placed Isabelle, who was almost fainting from terror
and exhaustion, behind him. She had sunk upon her knees, with her head
leaning against the wall, her long hair, which had come down, falling
about her, and her dress in the utmost disorder; for she had struggled
desperately in the arms of her captor; who, feeling that his fair victim
was about to escape from his clutches, had vainly striven to snatch a
few kisses from the sweet lips so temptingly near his own.

"Here she is," said Chiquita, "in this corner, behind the Duke of
Vallombreuse; but to get to her you must first kill him."

"Of course I shall kill him," cried de Sigognac, advancing sword in hand
towards the young duke, who was ready to receive him.

"We shall see about that, Sir Captain Fracasse--doughty knight of
Bohemiennes!" said Vallombreuse disdainfully, and the conflict began.
The duke was not de Sigognac's equal at this kind of work, but still he
was skilful and brave, and had had too much good instruction to handle
his sword like a broom-stick, as Lampourde expressed it. He stood
entirely upon the defensive, and was exceedingly wary and prudent,
hoping, as his adversary must be already considerably fatigued by his
encounter with Malartic, that he might be able to get the better of him
this time, and retrieve his previous defeat. At the very beginning he
had succeeded in raising a small silver whistle to his lips with his
left hand--and its shrill summons brought five or six armed attendants
into the room.

"Carry away this woman," he cried, "and put out those two rascals. I
will take care of the captain myself."

The sudden interruption of these fresh forces astonished de Sigognac,
and as he saw two of the men lift up and carry off Isabelle--who had
fainted quite away--he was thrown for an instant off his guard, and very
nearly run through the body by his opponent.

Roused to a sense of his danger, he attacked the duke with renewed fury,
and with a terrible thrust, that made him reel, wounded him seriously in
the upper part of the chest.

Meanwhile Lampourde and Scapin had shown the duke's lackeys that it
would not be a very easy matter to put them out, and were handling them
rather roughly, when the cowardly fellows, seeing that their master was
wounded, and leaning against the wall, deathly pale, thought that he was
done for, and although they were fully armed, took to their heels and
fled, deaf to his feeble cry for assistance. While all this was going
on, the tyrant was making his way up the grand staircase, as fast as
his corpulence would permit, and reached the top just in time to see
Isabelle, pale, dishevelled, motionless, and apparently dead, being
borne along the corridor by two lackeys. Without stopping to make any
inquiries, and full of wrath at the thought that the sweet girl had
fallen a victim to the wickedness of the cruel Duke of Vallombreuse,
he drew his sword, and fell upon the two men with such fury that they
dropped their light burden and fled down the stairs as fast as their
legs could carry them. Then he knelt down beside the unconscious girl,
raised her gently in his arms, and found that her heart was beating,
though but feebly, and that she apparently had no wound, while she
sighed faintly, like a person beginning to revive after a swoon. In this
position he was found by de Sigognac, who had effectually gotten rid
of Vallombreuse, by the famous and well-directed thrust that had thrown
Jacquemin Lampourde into a rapture of admiration and delight. He knelt
down beside his darling, took both her hands in his, and said, in the
most tender tones, that Isabelle heard vaguely as if in a dream:

"Rouse yourself, dear heart, and fear nothing. You are safe now, with
your own friends, and your own true lover--nobody can harm or frighten
you again."

Although she did not yet open her eyes, a faint smile dawned upon the
colourless lips, and her cold, trembling, little fingers feebly returned
the tender pressure of de Sigognac's warm hands. Lampourde stood by,
and looked down with tearful eyes upon this touching group--for he was
exceedingly romantic and sentimental, and always intensely interested in
a love affair. Suddenly, in the midst of the profound silence that had
succeeded to the uproar of the melee, the winding of a horn was heard
without, and in a moment energetically repeated. It was evidently a
summons that had to be instantly obeyed; the drawbridge was lowered in
haste, with a great rattling of chains, and a carriage driven rapidly
into the court, while the red flaring light of torches flashed through
the windows of the corridor. In another minute the door of the vestibule
was thrown open, and hasty steps ascended the grand staircase. First
came four tall lackeys, in rich liveries, carrying lights, and directly
behind them a tall, noble-looking man, who was dressed from head to foot
in black velvet, with an order shining on his breast--of those that
are usually reserved for kings and princes of the blood, and only very
exceptionally bestowed, upon the most illustrious personages.

When the four lackeys reached the landing at the head of the stairs,
they silently ranged themselves against the wall, and stood like statues
bearing torches; without the raising of an eyelid, or the slightest
change in the stolid expression of their countenances to indicate that
they perceived anything out of the usual way--exhibiting in perfection
that miraculous imperturbability and self-command which is peculiar to
well-bred, thoroughly trained menservants. The gentleman whom they
had preceded paused ere he stepped upon the landing. Although age had
brought wrinkles to his handsome face, and turned his abundant dark hair
gray, it was still easy to recognise in him the original of the
portrait that had so fascinated Isabelle, and whose protection she had
passionately implored in her distress.

It was the princely father of Vallombreuse--the son bearing a different
name, that of a duchy he possessed, until he in his turn should become
the head of the family, and succeed to the title of prince.

At sight of Isabelle, supported by de Sigognac and the tyrant, whose
ghastly pallor made her look like one dead, the aged gentleman raised
his arms towards heaven and groaned.

"Alas! I am too late," said he, "for all the haste I made," and
advancing a few steps he bent over the prostrate girl, and took her
lifeless hand in his. Upon this hand, white, cold and diaphanous, as if
it had been sculptured in alabaster, shone a ring, set with an amethyst
of unusual size. The old nobleman seemed strangely agitated as it
caught his eye. He drew it gently from Isabelle's slender finger, with
a trembling hand signed to one of the torch-bearers to bring his light
nearer, and by it eagerly examined the device cut upon the stone; first
holding it close to the light and then at arm's length; as those whose
eyesight is impaired by age are wont to do. The Baron de Sigognac,
Herode and Lampourde anxiously watched the agitated movements of the
prince, and his change of expression, as he contemplated this jewel,
which he seemed to recognise; and which he turned and twisted between
his fingers, with a pained look in his face, as if some great trouble
had befallen him.

"Where is the Duke of Vallombreuse?" he cried at last, in a voice of
thunder. "Where is that monster in human shape, who is unworthy of my
race?"

He had recognised, without a possibility of doubt, in this ring, the one
bearing a fanciful device, with which he had been accustomed, long ago,
to seal the notes he wrote to Cornelia--Isabelle's mother, and his own
youthful love. How happened it that this ring was on the finger of
the young actress, who had been forcibly and shamefully abducted by
Vallombreuse? From whom could she have received it? These questions were
torturing to him.

"Can it be possible that she is Cornelia's daughter and mine?" said the
prince to himself. "Her profession, her age, her sweet face, in which I
can trace a softened, beautified likeness of her mother's, but which has
a peculiarly high bred, refined expression, worthy of a royal princess,
all combine to make me believe it must be so. Then, alas! alas! it is
his own sister that this cursed libertine has so wronged, and he has
been guilty of a horrible, horrible crime. Oh! I am cruelly punished for
my youthful folly and sin."

Isabelle at length opened her eyes, and her first look fell upon the
prince, holding the ring that he had drawn from her finger. It seemed to
her as if she had seen his face before--but in youth, without the gray
hair and beard. It seemed also to be an aged copy of the portrait over
the chimney-piece in her room, and a feeling of profound veneration
filled her heart as she gazed at him. She saw, too, her beloved de
Sigognac kneeling beside her, watching her with tenderest devotion; and
the worthy tyrant as well--both safe and sound. To the horrors of the
terrible struggle had succeeded the peace and security of deliverance.
She had nothing more to fear, for her friends or for herself--how could
she ever be thankful enough?

The prince, who had been gazing at her with passionate earnestness, as
if her fair face possessed an irresistible charm for him, now addressed
her in low, moved tones:

"Mademoiselle, will you kindly tell me how you came by this ring, which
recalls very dear and sacred memories to me? Has it been long in your
possession?"

"I have had it ever since my infancy; it is the only thing that my poor
mother left me," Isabelle replied, with gentle dignity.

"And who was your mother? Will you, tell me something about her?"
continued the prince, with increasing emotion.

"Her name was Cornelia, and she was an actress, belonging to the same
troupe that I am a member of now."

"Cornelia! then there is no possible doubt about it," murmured the
prince to himself, in great agitation. "Yes, it is certainly she whom I
have been seeking all these years--and now to find her thus!"

Then, controlling his emotion, he resumed his usual calm, majestic
demeanour, and turning back to Isabelle, said to her, "Permit me to keep
this ring for the present; I will soon give it back to you."

"I am content to leave it in your lordship's hands," the young actress
replied, in whose mind the memory of a face, that she had seen long
years ago bending over her cradle, was growing clearer and more distinct
every moment.

"Gentlemen," said the prince, turning to de Sigognac and his companions,
"under any other circumstances I might find your presence here, in my
chateau, with arms in your hands, unwarranted, but I am aware of the
necessity that drove you to forcibly invade this mansion, hitherto
sacred from such scenes as this--I know that violence must be met with
violence, and justifies it; therefore I shall take no further notice of
what has happened here to-night, and you need have no fears of any evil
consequences to yourselves because of your share in it. But where is the
Duke of Vallombreuse? that degenerate son who disgraces my old age."

As if in obedience to his father's call, the young duke at that moment
appeared upon the threshold of the door leading into what had been
Isabelle's apartment, supported by Malartic. He was frightfully pale,
and his clinched hand pressed a handkerchief tightly upon his wounded
chest. He came forward with difficulty, looking like a ghost. Only a
strong effort of will kept him from falling--an effort that gave to
his face the immobility of a marble mask. He had heard the voice of his
father, whom, depraved and shameless as he was, he yet respected and
dreaded, and he hoped to be able to conceal his wound from him. He bit
his lips so as not to cry out or groan in his agony, and resolutely
swallowed down the bloody foam that kept rising and filling his mouth.
He even took off his hat, in spite of the frightful pain the raising
of his arm caused him, and stood uncovered and silent before his angry
parent.

"Sir," said the prince, severely, "your misdeeds transcend all limits,
and your behaviour is such that I shall be forced to implore the king
to send you to prison, or into exile. You are not fit to be at large.
Abduction--imprisonment--criminal assault. These are not simple
gallantries; and though I might be willing to pardon and overlook many
excesses, committed in the wildness of licentious youth, I never could
bring myself to forgive a deliberate and premeditated crime. Do
you know, you monster," he continued approaching Vallombreuse, and
whispering in his ear, so that no one else could hear, "do you know
who this young girl is? this good and chaste Isabelle, whom you have
forcibly abducted, in spite of her determined and virtuous resistance!
She is your own sister!

"May she replace the son you are about to lose," the young duke replied,
attacked by a sudden faintness, and an agony of pain which he felt
that he could not long endure and live; "but I am not as guilty as you
suppose. Isabelle is pure--stainless. I swear it, by the God before whom
I must shortly appear. Death does not lie, and you may believe what I
say, upon the word of a dying gentleman."

These words were uttered loudly and distinctly, so as to be heard
by all. Isabelle turned her beautiful eyes, wet with tears, upon de
Sigognac, and read in those of her true and faithful lover that he had
not waited for the solemn attestation, "in extremis," of the Duke of
Vallombreuse to believe in the perfect purity of her whom he adored.

"But what is the matter?" asked the prince, holding out his hand to his
son, who staggered and swayed to and fro in spite of Malartic's efforts
to support him, and whose face was fairly livid.

"Nothing, father," answered Vallombreuse, in a scarcely articulate
voice, "nothing--only I am dying"--and he fell at full length on the
floor before the prince could clasp him in his arms, as he endeavoured
to do.

"He did not fall on his face," said Jacquemin Lampourde, sententiously;
"it's nothing but a fainting fit. He may escape yet. We duellists are
familiar with this sort of thing, my lord; a great deal more so than
most medical men, and you may depend upon what I say."

"A doctor! a doctor!" cried the prince, forgetting his anger as he saw
his son lying apparently lifeless at his feet. "Perhaps this man is
right, and there may be some hope for him yet. A fortune to whomsoever
will save my son!--my only son!--the last scion of a noble race. Go! run
quickly! What are you about there?--don't you understand me? Go, I say,
and run as fast as you can; take the fleetest horse in the stable."

Whereupon two of the imperturbable lackeys, who had held their torches
throughout this exciting scene without moving a muscle, hastened off
to execute their master's orders. Some of his own servants now came
forward, raised up the unconscious Duke of Vallombreuse with every
possible care and precaution, and by his father's command carried him to
his own room and laid him on his own bed, the aged prince following, with
a face from which grief and anxiety had already driven away all traces
of anger. He saw his race extinct in the death of this son, whom he
so dearly loved--despite his fault--and whose vices he forgot for the
moment, remembering only his brilliant and lovable qualities. A profound
melancholy took complete possession of him, as he stood for a few
moments plunged in a sorrowful reverie that everybody respected.

Isabelle, entirely revived, and no longer feeling at all faint, bad
risen to her feet, and now stood between de Sigognac and the tyrant,
adjusting, with a trembling hand, her disordered dress and dishevelled
hair. Lampourde and Scapin had retired to a little distance from them,
and held themselves modestly aloof, whilst the men within, still bound
hand and foot, kept as quiet as possible; fearful of their fate if
brought to the prince's notice. At length that aged nobleman returned,
and breaking the terrible silence that had weighed upon all, said,
in severe tones, "Let all those who placed their services at the
disposition of the Duke of Vallombreuse, to aid him in indulging
his evil passions and committing a terrible crime, quit this chateau
instantly. I will refrain from placing you in the hands of the public
executioner, though you richly deserve it. Go now! vanish! get ye back
to your lairs! and rest assured that justice will not fail to overtake
you at last."

These words were not complimentary, but the trembling offenders were
thankful to get off so easily, and the ruffians, whom Lampourde and
Scapin had unbound, followed Malartic down the stairs in silence,
without daring to claim their promised reward. When they had
disappeared, the prince advanced and took Isabelle by the hand, and
gently detaching her from the group of which she had formed a part, led
her over to where he had been standing, and kept her beside him.

"Stay here, mademoiselle," he said; "your place is henceforth by
my side. It is the least that you can do to fulfil your duty as my
daughter, since you are the innocent means of depriving me of my son."
And he wiped away a tear, that, despite all his efforts to control his
grief, rolled down his withered cheek. Then turning to de Sigognac, he
said, with an incomparably noble gesture, "Sir, you are at liberty to
withdraw, with your brave companions. Isabelle will have nothing to fear
under her father's protection, and this chateau will be her home for
the present. Now that her birth is made known it is not fitting that my
daughter should return to Paris with you. I thank you, though it
costs me the hope of perpetuating my race, for having spared my son a
disgraceful action--what do I say? An abominable crime. I would rather
have a bloodstain on my escutcheon than a dishonourable blot. Since
Vallombreuse was infamous in his conduct, you have done well to kill
him. You have acted like a true gentleman, which I am assured that you
are, in chivalrously protecting weakness, innocence and virtue. You
are nobly in the right. That my daughter's honour has been preserved
unstained, I owe to you--and it compensates me for the loss of my
son--at least my reason tells me that it should do so; but the father's
heart rebels, and unjust ideas of revenge might arise, which I should
find it difficult to conquer and set at rest. Therefore you had better
go your way now, and whatever the result may be I will not pursue or
molest you. I will try to forget that a terrible necessity turned your
sword against my son's life."

"My lord," said de Sigognac, with profound respect, "I feel so keenly
for your grief as a father, that I would have accepted any reproaches,
no matter how bitter and unjust, from you, without one word of protest
or feeling of resentment; even though I cannot reproach myself for my
share in this disastrous conflict. I do not wish to say anything to
justify myself in your eyes, at the expense of the unhappy Duke of
Vallombreuse, but I beg you to believe that this quarrel was not of
my seeking. He persistently threw himself in my way, and I have done
everything I could to spare him, in more than one encounter. Even
here it was his own blind fury that led to his being wounded. I leave
Isabelle, who is dearer to me than my own soul, in your hands, and shall
grieve my whole life long for this sad victory; which is a veritable and
terrible defeat for me, since it destroys my happiness. Ah! if only I
could have been slain myself, instead of your unhappy son; it would have
been better and happier for me."

He bowed with grave dignity to the prince, who courteously returned
his salute, exchanged a long look, eloquent of passionate love and
heart-breaking regret, with Isabelle, and went sadly down the grand
staircase, followed by his companions--not however without glancing back
more than once at the sweet girl he was leaving--who to save herself
from falling, leaned heavily against the railing of the landing,
sobbing as if her heart would break, and pressing a handkerchief to her
streaming eyes. And, so strange a thing is the human heart, the Baron
de Sigognac departed much comforted by the bitter grief and tears of her
whom he so devotedly loved and worshipped. He and his friends went on
foot to the little wood where they had left their horses tied to the
trees, found them undisturbed, mounted and returned to Paris.

"What do you think, my lord, of all these wonderful events?" said the
tyrant, after a long silence, to de Sigognac, beside whom he was
riding. "It all ends up like a regular tragi-comedy. Who would ever
have dreamed, in the midst of the melee, of the sudden entrance upon the
scene of the grand old princely father, preceded by torches, and coming
to put a little wholesome restraint on the too atrociously outrageous
pranks of his dissolute young son? And then the recognition of Isabelle
as his daughter, by means of the ring with a peculiar device of his own
engraved upon it; haven't you seen exactly the same sort of thing on the
stage? But, after all, it is not so surprising perhaps as it seems
at the first glance--since the theatre is only a copy of real life.
Therefore, real life should resemble it, just as the original does the
portrait, eh? I have always heard that our sweet little actress was of
noble birth. Blazius and old Mme. Leonarde remember seeing the prince
when he was devoted to Cornelia. The duenna has often tried to persuade
Isabelle to seek out her father, but she is of too modest and gentle a
nature to take a step of that kind; not wishing to intrude upon a family
that might reject her, and willing to content herself in her own lowly,
position."

"Yes, I knew all about that," rejoined de Sigognac, "for Isabelle
told me some time ago her mother's history, and spoke of the ring; but
without attaching any importance to the fact of her illustrious origin.
It is very evident, however, from the nobility and delicacy of her
nature, without any other proof, that princely blood flows in her veins;
and also the refined, pure, elevated type of her beauty testifies to
her descent. But what a terrible fatality that this cursed Vallombreuse
should turn out to be her brother! There is a dead body between us
now--a stream of blood separates us--and yet, I could not save her
honour in any other way. Unhappy mortal that I am! I have myself created
the obstacle upon which my love is wrecked, and killed my hopes of
future bliss with the very sword that defended the purity of the woman I
adore. In guarding her I love, I have put her away from me forever. How
could I go now and present myself to Isabelle with blood-stained hands?
Alas! that the blood which I was forced to shed in her defence should
have been her brother's. Even if she, in her heavenly goodness, could
forgive me, and look upon me without a feeling of horror, the prince,
her father, would repulse and curse me as the murderer of his only son.
I was born, alas! under an unlucky star."

"Yes, it is all very sad and lamentable, certainly," said the tyrant;
"but worse entanglements than this have come out all right in the end.
You must remember that the Duke of Vallombreuse is only half-brother
to Isabelle, and that they were aware of the relationship but for a
few minutes before he fell dead at our feet; which must make a great
difference in her feelings. And besides, she hated that overbearing
nobleman, who pursued her so cruelly with his violent and scandalous
gallantries. The prince himself was far from being satisfied with his
wretched son--who was ferocious as Nero, dissolute as Heliogabalus, and
perverse as Satan himself, and who would have been hanged ten times over
if he had not been a duke. Do not be so disheartened! things may turn
out a great deal better than you think now."

"God grant it, my good Herode," said de Sigognac fervently. "But
naturally I cannot feel happy about it. It would have been far better
for all if I had been killed instead of the duke, since Isabelle would
have been safe from his criminal pursuit under her father's care. And
then, I may as well tell you all, a secret horror froze the very marrow
in my bones when I saw that handsome young man, but a moment before so
full of life, fire, and passion, fall lifeless, pale and stiff at my
feet. Herode, the death of a man is a grave thing, and though I cannot
suffer from remorse for this one, since I have committed no crime,
still, all the time I see Vallombreuse before me, lying, motionless and
ghastly, with the blood oozing slowly from his wound. It haunts me. I
cannot drive the horrid sight away."

"That is all wrong," said the tyrant, soothingly--for the other was much
excited--"for you could not have done otherwise. Your conscience should
not reproach you. You have acted throughout, from the very beginning to
the end, like the noble gentleman that you are. These scruples are owing
to exhaustion, to the feverishness due to the excitement you have gone
through, and the chill from the night air. We will gallop on swiftly in
a moment, to set our blood flowing more freely, and drive away these sad
thoughts of yours. But one thing must be promptly done; you must quit
Paris, forthwith, and retire for a time to some quiet retreat, until all
this trouble is forgotten. The violent death of the Duke of Vallombreuse
will make a stir at the court, and in the city, no matter how much pains
may be taken to keep the facts from the public, and, although he was not
at all popular, indeed very much the reverse, there will be much regret
expressed, and you will probably be severely blamed. But now let us put
spurs to these lazy steeds of ours, and try to get on a little faster."

While they are galloping towards Paris, we will return to the
chateau--as quiet now as it had been noisy a little while before. In
the young duke's room, a candelabrum, with several branches, stood on a
round table, so that the light from the candles fell upon the bed, where
he lay with closed eyes, as motionless as a corpse, and as pale. The
walls of the large chamber, above a high wainscot of ebony picked out
with gold, were hung with superb tapestry, representing the history of
Medea and Jason, with all its murderous and revolting details. Here,
Medea was seen cutting the body of Pelias into pieces, under pretext of
restoring his youth--there, the madly jealous woman and unnatural
mother was murdering her own children; in another panel she was
fleeing, surfeited with vengeance, in her chariot, drawn by huge dragons
breathing out flames of fire. The tapestry was certainly magnificent in
quality and workmanship, rich in colouring, artistic in design, and very
costly--but inexpressibly repulsive. These mythological horrors gave
the luxurious room an intensely disagreeable, lugubrious aspect, and
testified to the natural ferocity and cruelty of the person who had
selected them. Behind the bed the crimson silk curtains had been drawn
apart, exposing to view the representation of Jason's terrible conflict
with the fierce, brazen bulls that guarded the golden fleece, and
Vallombreuse, lying senseless below them, looked as if he might have
been one of their victims. Various suits of clothes, of the greatest
richness and elegance, which had been successively tried on and
rejected, were scattered about, and in a splendid great Japanese vase,
standing on an ebony table near the head of the bed, was a bouquet of
beautiful flowers, destined to replace the one Isabelle had already
refused to receive--its glowing tints making a strange contrast with the
death-like face, which was whiter than the snowy pillow it rested
on. The prince, sitting in an arm-chair beside the bed, gazed at his
unconscious son with mournful intentness, and bent down from time to
time to listen at the slightly parted lips; but no fluttering breath
came through them; all was still. Never had the young duke looked
handsomer. The haughty, fierce expression, habitual with him, had given
place to a serenity that was wonderfully beautiful, though so like
death. As the father contemplated the perfect face and form, so soon to
crumble into dust, he forgot, in his overwhelming grief, that the soul
of a demon had animated it, and he thought sorrowfully of the great name
that had been revered and honoured for centuries past, but which could
not go down to centuries to come. More even than the death of his son
did he mourn for the extinction of his home.

Isabelle stood at the foot of the bed, with clasped hands, praying with
her whole soul for this new-found brother, who had expiated his crime
with his life--the crime of loving too much, which woman pardons so
easily.

The prince, who had been for some time holding his son's icy cold hand
between both his own, suddenly thought that he could feel a slight
warmth in it, and not realizing that he himself had imparted it, allowed
himself to hope again.

"Will the doctor never come?" he cried impatiently; "something may yet
be done; I am persuaded of it."

Even as he spoke the door opened, and the surgeon appeared, followed by
an assistant carrying a case of instruments. He bowed to the prince, and
without saying one word went straight to the bedside, felt the patient's
pulse, put his hand over his heart, and shook his head despondingly.
However, to make sure, he drew a little mirror of polished steel from
his pocket, removed it from its case, and held it for a moment over the
parted lips; then, upon examining its surface closely, he found that
a slight dimness was visible upon it. Surprised at this unexpected
indication of life, he repeated the experiment, and again the little
mirror was dimmed--Isabelle and the prince meantime breathlessly
watching every movement, and even the expression of the doctor's face.

"Life is not entirely extinct," he said at last, turning to the anxious
father, as he wiped the polished surface of his tiny mirror. "The
patient still breathes, and as long as there is life there is hope, But
do not give yourself up to a premature joy that might render your grief
more bitter afterwards. I only say that the Duke of Vallombreuse has not
yet breathed his last; that is all. Now, I am going to probe the wound,
which perhaps is not fatal, as it did not kill him at once."

"You must not stay here, Isabelle," said the prince, tenderly; "such
sights are too trying for a young girl like you. Go to your own room
now, my dear, and I will let you know the doctor's verdict as soon as he
has pronounced it."

Isabelle accordingly withdrew, and was conducted to an apartment that
had been made ready for her; the one she had occupied being all in
disorder after the terrible scenes that had been enacted there.

The surgeon proceeded with his examination, and when it was finished
said to the prince, "My lord, will you please to order a cot put up in
that corner yonder, and have a light supper sent in for my assistant and
myself? We shall remain for the night with the Duke of Vallombreuse, and
take turns in watching him. I must be with him constantly, so as to note
every symptom; to combat promptly those that are unfavorable, and aid
those that are the reverse. Your highness may trust everything to me,
and feel assured that all that human skill and science can do towards
saving your son's life shall be faithfully done. Let me advise you to
go to your own room now and try to get some rest; I think I may safely
answer for my patient's life until the morning."

A little calmed and much encouraged by this assurance, the prince
retired to his own apartment, where every hour a servant brought him a
bulletin from the sick-room.

As to Isabelle, lying in her luxurious bed and vainly trying to sleep,
she lived over again in imagination all the wonderful as well as
terrible experiences of the last two days, and tried to realize her new
position; that she was now the acknowledged daughter of a mighty
prince, than whom only royalty was higher; that the dreaded Duke of
Vallombreuse, so handsome and winning despite his perversity, was no
longer a bold lover to be feared and detested, but a brother, whose
passion, if he lived, would doubtless be changed into a pure and calm
fraternal affection. This chateau, no longer her prison, had become her
home, and she was treated by all with the respect and consideration due
to the daughter of its master. From what had seemed to be her ruin had
arisen her good fortune, and a destiny radiant, unhoped-for, and beyond
her wildest flights of fancy. Yet, surrounded as she was by everything
to make her happy and content, Isabelle was far from feeling so--she was
astonished at herself for being sad and listless, instead of joyous and
exultant--but the thought of de Sigognac, so infinitely dear to her,
so far more precious than any other earthly blessing, weighed upon her
heart, and the separation from him was a sorrow for which nothing could
console her. Yet, now that their relative positions were so changed,
might not a great happiness be in store for her? Did not this very
change bring her nearer in reality to that true, brave, faithful,
and devoted lover, though for the moment they were parted? As a poor
nameless actress she had refused to accept his offered hand, lest such
an alliance should be disadvantageous to him and stand in the way of his
advancement, but now--how joyfully would she give herself to him. The
daughter of a great and powerful prince would be a fitting wife for the
Baron de Sigognac. But if he were the murderer of her father's only son;
ah! then indeed they could never join hands over a grave. And even if
the young duke should recover, he might cherish a lasting resentment for
the man who had not only dared to oppose his wishes and designs, but
had also defeated and wounded him. As to the prince, good and generous
though he was, still he might not be able to bring himself to look with
favour upon the man who had almost deprived him of his son. Then, too,
he might desire some other alliance for his new-found daughter--it
was not impossible--but in her inmost heart she promised herself to be
faithful to her first and only love; to take refuge in a convent rather
than accept the hand of any other; even though that other were as
handsome as Apollo, and gifted as the prince of a fairy tale. Comforted
by this secret vow, by which she dedicated her life and love to de
Sigognac, whether their destiny should give them to each other or keep
them asunder, Isabelle was just falling into a sweet sleep when a slight
sound made her open her eyes, and they fell upon Chiquita, standing at
the foot of the bed and gazing at her with a thoughtful, melancholy air.

"What is it, my dear child?" said Isabelle, in her sweetest tones. "You
did not go away with the others, then? I am glad; and if you would
like to stay here with me, Chiquita, I will keep you and care for you
tenderly; as is justly due to you, my dear, for you have done a great
deal for me."

"I love you dearly," answered Chiquita, "but I cannot stay with you
while Agostino lives; he is my master, I must follow him. But I have one
favour to beg before I leave you; if you think that I have earned the
pearl necklace now, will you kiss me? No one ever did but you, and it
was so sweet."

"Indeed I will, and with all my heart," said Isabelle, taking the
child's thin face between her hands and kissing her warmly on her brown
cheeks, which flushed crimson under the soft caress.

"And now, good-bye!" said Chiquita, when after a few moments of silence
she had resumed her usual sang-froid. She turned quickly away, but,
catching sight of the knife she had given Isabelle, which lay upon the
dressing-table, she seized it eagerly, saying, "Give me back my knife
now; you will not need it any more," and vanished.



CHAPTER XVIII. A FAMILY PARTY

The next morning found the young Duke of Vallombreuse still living,
though his life hung by so slender a thread, that the surgeon, who
anxiously watched his every breath, feared from moment to moment that it
might break. He was a learned and skilful man, this same Maitre Laurent,
who only needed some favourable opportunity to bring him into notice and
make him as celebrated as he deserved to be. His remarkable talents and
skill had only been exercised thus far "in anima vili," among the lower
orders of society--whose living or dying was a matter of no moment
whatever. But now had come at last the chance so long sighed for in
secret, and he felt that the recovery of his illustrious patient was of
paramount importance to himself. The worthy doctor's amour propre
and ambition were both actively engaged in this desperate duel he
was fighting with Death, and he set his teeth and determined that the
victory must rest with him. In order to keep the whole glory of
the triumph for himself, he had persuaded the prince--not without
difficulty--to renounce his intention of sending for the most celebrated
surgeons in Paris, assuring him that he himself was perfectly capable to
do all that could be done, and pleading that nothing was more dangerous
than a change of treatment in such a case as this. Maitre Laurent
conquered, and feeling that there was now no danger of his being
pushed into the background, threw his whole heart and strength into the
struggle; yet many times during that anxious night he feared that his
patient's life was slipping away from his detaining grasp, and almost
repented him of having assumed the entire responsibility. But with the
morning came encouragement, and as the watchful surgeon stood at
the bedside, intently gazing upon the ghastly face on the pillow, he
murmured to himself:

"No, he will not die--his countenance has lost that terrible,
hippocratic look that had settled upon it last evening when I first saw
him--his pulse is stronger, his breathing free and natural. Besides, he
MUST live--his recovery will make my fortune. I must and will tear him
out of the grim clutches of Death--fine, handsome, young fellow that he
is, and the heir and hope of his noble family--it will be long ere his
tomb need be made ready to receive him. He will help me to get away from
this wretched little village, where I vegetate ignobly, and eat my
heart out day by day. Now for a bold stroke!--at the risk of producing
fever--at all risks--I shall venture to give him a dose of that
wonder-working potion of mine." Opening his case of medicines, he took
out several small vials, containing different preparations--some red as
a ruby, others green as an emerald--this one yellow as virgin gold,
that bright and colourless as a diamond--and on each one a small label
bearing a Latin inscription. Maitre Laurent, though he was perfectly
sure of himself, carefully read the inscriptions upon those he had
selected several times over, held up the tiny vials one after another,
where a ray of sunshine struck upon them, and looked admiringly through
the bright transparent liquids they contained--then, measuring with the
utmost care a few drops from each, compounded a potion after a secret
recipe of his own; which he made a mystery of, and refused to impart to
his fellow practitioners. Rousing his sleeping assistant, he ordered him
to raise the patient's head a little, while, with a small spatula, he
pried the firmly set teeth apart sufficiently to allow the liquid he
had prepared to trickle slowly into the mouth. As it reached the throat
there was a spasmodic contraction that gave Maitre Laurent an instant
of intense anxiety--but it was only momentary, and the remainder of the
dose was swallowed easily and with almost instantaneous effect. A slight
tinge of colour showed itself in the pallid cheeks, the eyelids trembled
and half unclosed, and the hand that had lain inert and motionless upon
the counterpane stirred a little. Then the young duke heaved a deep
sigh, and opening his eyes looked vacantly in about him, like one
awakening from a dream, or returning from those mysterious regions
whither the soul takes flight when unconsciousness holds this mortal
frame enthralled. Only a glance, and the long eyelashes fell again upon
the pale cheeks--but a wonderful change had passed over the countenance.

"I staked everything on that move," said Maitre Laurent to himself,
with a long breath of relief, "and I have won. It was either kill or
cure--and it has not killed him. All glory be to Aesculapius, Hygeia,
and Hippocrates!"

At this moment a hand noiselessly put aside the hangings over the door,
and the venerable head of the prince appeared--looking ten years older
for the agony and dread of the terrible night just passed.

"How is he, Maitre Laurent?" he breathed, in broken, scarcely audible
tones.

The surgeon put his finger to his lips, and with the other hand pointed
to the young duke's face-still raised a little on the pillows, and no
longer wearing its death-like look; then, with the light step habitual
with those who are much about the sick, he went over to the prince,
still standing on the threshold, and drawing him gently outside and
away from the door, said in a low voice, "Your highness can see that the
patient's condition, so far from growing worse, has decidedly improved.
Certainly he is not out of danger yet--his state is very critical--but
unless some new and totally unforeseen complication should arise,
which I shall use every effort to prevent, I think that we can pull him
through, and that he will be able to enjoy life again as if he had never
been hurt."

The prince's care-worn face brightened and his fine eyes flashed at
these hopeful words; he stepped forward to enter the sick-room, but
Maitre Laurent respectfully opposed his doing so.

"Permit me, my lord, to prevent your approaching your son's bedside just
now--doctors are often very disagreeable, you know, and have to impose
trying conditions upon those to whom their patients are dear. I beseech
you not to go near the Duke of Vallombreuse at present. Your beloved
presence might, in the excessively weak and exhausted condition of
my patient, cause dangerous agitation. Any strong emotion would be
instantly fatal to him, his hold upon life is still so slight. Perfect
tranquility is his only safety. If all goes well--as I trust and believe
that it will--in a few days he will have regained his strength in a
measure, his wound will be healing, and you can probably be with him as
much as you like, without any fear of doing him harm. I know that this
is very trying to your highness, but, believe me, it is necessary to
your son's well-being."

The prince, very much relieved, and yielding readily to the doctor's
wishes, returned to his own apartment; where he occupied himself with
some religious reading until noon, when the major-domo came to announce
that dinner was on the table.

"Go and tell my daughter, the Comtesse Isabelle de Lineuil--such is the
title by which she is to be addressed henceforth--that I request her to
join me at dinner," said the prince to the major-domo, who hastened off
to obey this order.

Isabelle went quickly down the grand staircase with a light step, and
smiled to herself as she passed through the noble hall where she had
been so frightened by the two figures in armour, on the occasion of
her bold exploring expedition the first night after her arrival at the
chateau. Everything looked very different now--the bright sunshine
was pouring in at the windows, and large fires of juniper, and other
sweet-smelling woods, had completely done away with the damp, chilly,
heavy atmosphere that pervaded the long disused rooms when she was in
them before.

In the splendid dining-room she found a table sumptuously spread, and
her father already seated at it, in his large, high-backed, richly
carved chair, behind which stood two lackeys, in superb liveries. As she
approached him she made a most graceful curtsey, which had nothing in
the least theatrical about it, and would have met with approbation even
in courtly circles. A servant was holding the chair destined for her,
and with some timidity, but no apparent embarrassment, she took her seat
opposite to the prince. She was served with soup and wine, and then with
course after course of delicate, tempting viands; but she could not eat
her heart was too full--her nerves were still quivering, from the terror
and excitement of the preceding day and night.

She was dazzled and agitated by this sudden change of fortune, anxious
about her brother, now lying at the point of death, and, above all,
troubled and grieved at her separation from her lover--so she could only
make a pretence of dining, and played languidly with the food on her
plate.

"You are eating nothing, my dear comtesse," said the prince, who had
been furtively watching her; "I pray you try to do better with this bit
of partridge I am sending you."

At this title of comtesse, spoken as a matter of course, and in such a
kind, tender tone, Isabelle looked up at the prince with astonishment
written in her beautiful, deep blue eyes, which seemed to plead timidly
for an explanation.

"Yes, Comtesse de Lineuil; it is the title which goes with an estate I
have settled on you, my dear child, and which has long been destined for
you. The name of Isabelle alone, charming though it be, is not suitable
for my daughter."

Isabelle, yielding to the impulse of the moment--as the servants had
retired and she was alone with her father--rose, and going to his side,
knelt down and kissed his hand, in token of gratitude for his delicacy
and generosity.

"Rise, my child," said he, very tenderly, and much moved, "and return
to your place. What I have done is only just. It calls for no thanks. I
should have done it long ago if it had been in my power. In the terrible
circumstances that have reunited us, my dear daughter, I can see the
finger of Providence, and through them I have learned your worth. To
your virtue alone it is due that a horrible crime was not committed, and
I love and honour you for it; even though it may cost me the loss of my
only son. But God will be merciful and preserve his life, so that he may
repent of having so persecuted and outraged the purest innocence.
Maitre Laurent, in whom I have every confidence, gives me some hope this
morning; and when I looked at Vallombreuse--from the threshold of his
room only--I could see that the seal of death was no longer upon his
face."

They were interrupted by the servants, bringing in water to wash their
fingers, in a magnificent golden bowl, and this ceremony having been
duly gone through with, the prince threw down his napkin and led the way
into the adjoining salon, signing to Isabelle to follow him. He seated
himself in a large arm-chair in front of the blazing wood fire, and
bidding Isabelle place herself close beside him, took her hand tenderly
between both of his, and looked long and searchingly at this lovely
young daughter, so strangely restored to him. There was much of sadness
mingled with the joy that shone in his eyes, for he was still very
anxious about his son, whose life was in such jeopardy; but as he gazed
upon Isabelle's sweet face the joy predominated, and he smiled very
lovingly upon the new comtesse, as he began to talk to her of long past
days.

"Doubtless, my beloved child, in the midst of the strange events that
have brought us together, in such an odd, romantic, almost supernatural
manner, the thought has suggested itself to your mind, that during all
the years that have passed since your infancy I have not sought you out,
and that chance alone has at last restored the long-lost child to her
neglectful father. But you are so good and noble that I know you would
not dwell upon such an idea, and I hope that you do not so misjudge
me as to think me capable of such culpable neglect, now that you are
getting a little better acquainted with me. As you must know, your
mother, Cornelia, was excessively proud and high-spirited. She resented
every affront, whether intended as such or not, with extraordinary
violence, and when I was obliged, in spite of my most heartfelt wishes,
to separate myself from her, and reluctantly submit to a marriage that I
could not avoid, she obstinately refused to allow me to provide for
her maintenance in comfort and luxury, as well as for you and your
education. All that I gave her, and settled on her, she sent back to
me with the most exaggerated disdain, and inexorably refused to receive
again. I could not but admire, though I so deplored, her lofty spirit,
and proud rejection of every benefit which I desired to confer upon her,
and I left in the hands of a trusty agent, for her, the deeds of all the
landed property and houses I had destined for her, as well as the
money and jewels--so that she could at any time reclaim them, if she
would--hoping that she might see fit to change her mind when the first
flush of anger was over. But, to my great chagrin, she persisted in her
refusal of everything, and changing her name, fled from Paris into the
provinces; where she was said to have joined a roving band of comedians.
Soon after that I was sent by my sovereign on several foreign missions
that kept me long away from France, and I lost all trace of her and you.
In vain were all my efforts to find you both, until at last I heard that
she was dead. Then I redoubled my diligence in the search for my little
motherless daughter, whom I had so tenderly loved; but all in vain. No
trace of her could I find. I heard, indeed, of many children among these
strolling companies, and carefully investigated each case that came
to my knowledge; but it always ended in disappointment. Several women,
indeed, tried to palm off their little girls upon me as my child, and
I had to be on my guard against fraud; but I never failed to sift the
matter thoroughly, even though I knew that deceit was intended, lest I
should unawares reject the dear little one I was so anxiously seeking.
At last I was almost forced to conclude that you too had perished; yet
a secret intuition always told me that you were still in the land of the
living. I used to sit for hours and think of how sweet and lovely you
were in infancy; how your little rosy fingers used to play with and pull
my long mustache--which was black then, my dear--when I leaned over to
kiss you in your cradle--recalling all your pretty, engaging little baby
tricks, remembering how fond and proud I was of you, and grieving over
the loss that I seemed to feel more and more acutely as the years went
on. The birth of my son only made me long still more intensely for you,
instead of consoling me for your loss, or banishing you from my memory,
and when I saw him decked with rich laces and ribbons, like a royal
babe, and playing with his jewelled rattle, I would think with an aching
heart that perhaps at that very moment my dear little daughter was
suffering from cold and hunger, or the unkind treatment of those who
had her in charge. Then I regretted deeply that I had not taken you away
from your mother in the very beginning, and had you brought up as
my daughter should be--but when you were born I did not dream of our
parting. As years rolled on new anxieties tortured me. I knew that
you would be beautiful, and how much you would have to suffer from the
dissolute men who hover about all young and pretty actresses--my blood
would boil as I thought of the insults and affronts to which you might
be subjected, and from which I was powerless to shield you--no words can
tell what I suffered. Affecting a taste for the theatre that I did not
possess, I never let an opportunity pass to see every company of
players that I could hear of--hoping to find you at last among them. But
although I saw numberless young actresses, about your age, not one of
them could have been you, my dear child--of that I was sure. So at last
I abandoned the hope of finding my long-lost daughter, though it was a
bitter trial to feel that I must do so. The princess, my wife, had
died three years after our marriage, leaving me only one
child--Vallombreuse--whose ungovernable disposition has always given me
much trouble and anxiety. A few days ago, at Saint Germain, I heard some
of the courtiers speak in terms of high praise of Herode's troupe,
and what they said made me determine to go and see one of their
representations without delay, while my heart beat high with a new
hope--for they especially lauded a young actress, called Isabelle; whose
graceful, modest, high-bred air they declared to be irresistible, and
her acting everything that could be desired--adding that she was as
virtuous as she was beautiful, and that the boldest libertines respected
her immaculate purity. Deeply agitated by a secret presentiment, I
hastened back to Paris, and went to the theatre that very night. There I
saw you, my darling, and though it would seem to be impossible for even
a father's eye to recognise, in the beautiful young woman of twenty, the
babe that he had kissed in its cradle, and had never beheld since,
still I knew you instantly--the very moment you came in sight--and I
perceived, with a heart swelling with happiness and thankfulness, that
you were all that I could wish. Moreover, I recognised the face of an
old actor, who had been I knew in the troupe that Cornelia joined when
she fled from Paris, and I resolved to address myself first to him; so
as not to startle you by too abrupt a disclosure of my claims upon you.
But when I sent the next morning to the hotel in the Rue Dauphine, I
learned that Herode's troupe had just gone to give a representation at
a chateau in the environs of Paris, and would be absent three days. I
should have endeavoured to wait patiently for their return, had not
a brave fellow, who used to be in my service, and has my interest at
heart, come to inform me that the Duke of Vallombreuse, being madly in
love with a young actress named Isabelle, who resisted his suit with
the utmost firmness and determination, had arranged to gain forcible
possession of her in the course of the day's journey--the expedition
into the country being gotten up for that express purpose--that he had
a band of hired ruffians engaged to carry out his nefarious purpose and
bring his unhappy victim to this chateau--and that he had come to warn
me, fearing lest serious consequences should ensue to my son, as the
young actress would be accompanied by brave and faithful friends, who
were armed, and would defend her to the death. This terrible news threw
me into a frightful state of anxiety and excitement. Feeling sure, as
I did, that you were my own daughter, I shuddered at the thought of the
horrible crime that I might not be in time to prevent, and without one
moment's delay set out for this place--suffering such agony by the
way as I do not like even to think of. You were already delivered from
danger when I arrived, as you know, and without having suffered anything
beyond the alarm and dread--which must have been terrible indeed, my
poor child! And then, the amethyst ring on your finger confirmed, past
any possibility of doubt, what my heart had told me, when first my eyes
beheld you in the theatre."

"I pray you to believe, dear lord and father," answered Isabelle, "that
I have never accused you of anything, nor considered myself neglected.
Accustomed from my infancy to the roving life of the troupe I was with,
I neither knew nor dreamed of any other. The little knowledge that I had
of the world made me realize that I should be wrong in wishing to
force myself upon an illustrious family, obliged doubtless by powerful
reasons, of which I knew nothing, to leave me in obscurity. The confused
remembrance I had of my origin sometimes inspired me--when I was very
young--with a certain pride, and I would say to myself, when I noticed
the disdainful air with which great ladies looked down upon us poor
actresses, I also am of noble birth. But I outgrew those fancies,
and only preserved an invincible self-respect, which I have always
cherished. Nothing in the world would have induced me to dishonour the
illustrious blood that flows in my veins. The disgraceful license of the
coulisses, and the loathsome gallantries lavished upon all actresses,
even those who are not comely, disgusted me from the first, and I have
lived in the theatre almost as if in a convent. The good old pedant
has been like a watchful father to me, and as for Herode, he would have
severely chastised any one who dared to touch me with the tip of his
finger, or even to pronounce a vulgar word in my presence. Although they
are only obscure actors, they are very honourable, worthy men, and I
trust you will be good enough to help them if they ever find themselves
in need of assistance. I owe it partly to them that I can lift my
forehead for your kiss without a blush of shame, and proudly declare
myself worthy, so far as purity is concerned, to be your daughter. My
only regret is to have been the innocent cause of the misfortune that
has overtaken the duke, your son. I could have wished to enter your
family, my dear father, under more favourable auspices."

"You have nothing to reproach yourself with, my sweet child, for you
could not divine these mysteries, which have been suddenly disclosed
by a combination of circumstances that would be considered romantic
and improbable, even in a novel; and my joy at finding you as worthy
in every way to be my beloved and honoured daughter, as if you had not
lived amid all the dangers of such a career, makes up for the pain and
anxiety caused by the illness and danger of my son. Whether he lives or
dies, I shall never for one moment blame you for anything in connection
with his misfortune. In any event, it was your virtue and courage that
saved him from being guilty of a crime that I shudder to contemplate.
And now, tell me, who was the handsome young man among your liberators
who seemed to direct the attack, and who wounded Vallombreuse? An actor
doubtless, though it appeared to me that he had a very noble bearing,
and magnificent courage."

"Yes, my dear father," Isabelle replied, with a most lovely and becoming
blush, "he is an actor, a member of our troupe; but if I may venture to
betray his secret, which is already known to the Duke of Vallombreuse,
I will tell you that the so-called Captain Fracasse conceals under his
mask a noble countenance, as indeed you already know, and under his
theatrical pseudonym, the name of an illustrious family."

"True!" rejoined the prince, "I have heard something about that already.
It would certainly have been astonishing if an ordinary, low-born actor
had ventured upon so bold and rash a course as running counter to a Duke
of Vallombreuse, and actually entering into a combat with him; it
needs noble blood for such daring acts. Only a gentleman can conquer a
gentleman, just as a diamond can only be cut by a diamond."

The lofty pride of the aged prince found much consolation in the
knowledge that his son had not been attacked and wounded by an adversary
of low origin; there was nothing compromising in a duel between equals,
and he drew a deep breath of relief at thought of it.

"And pray, what is the real name of this valiant champion?" smilingly
asked the prince, with a roguish twinkle in his dark eyes--"this
dauntless knight, and brave defender of innocence and purity!"

"He is the Baron de Sigognac," Isabelle replied blushingly, with a
slight trembling perceptible in her sweet, low voice. "I reveal his name
fearlessly to you, my dear father, for you are both too just and too
generous to visit upon his head the disastrous consequences of a victory
that he deplores."

"De Sigognac?" said the prince. "I thought that ancient and illustrious
family was extinct. Is he not from Gascony?"

"Yes; his home is in the neighbourhood of Dax."

"Exactly--and the de Sigognacs have an appropriate coat of arms--three
golden storks on an azure field. Yes, it is as I said, an ancient and
illustrious family--one of the oldest and most honourable in France.
Paramede de Sigognac figured gloriously in the first crusade. A Raimbaud
de Sigognac, the father of this young man without doubt, was the devoted
friend and companion of Henri IV, in his youth, but was not often
seen at court in later years. It was said that he was embarrassed
financially, I remember."

"So much so, that when our troupe sought refuge of a stormy night under
his roof, we found his son living in a half ruined chateau, haunted by
bats and owls, where his youth was passing in sadness and misery. We
persuaded him to come away with us, fearing that he would die there of
starvation and melancholy--but I never saw misfortune so bravely borne."

"Poverty is no disgrace," said the prince, "and any noble house that
has preserved its honour unstained may rise again from its ruins to
its ancient height of glory and renown. But why did not the young baron
apply to some of his father's old friends in his distress? or lay his
case before the king, who is the natural refuge of all loyal gentlemen
under such circumstances?"

"Misfortunes such as his are apt to breed timidity, even with the
bravest," Isabelle replied, "and pride deters many a man from betraying
his misery to the world. When the Baron de Sigognac consented to
accompany us to Paris, he hoped to find some opportunity there to
retrieve his fallen fortunes; but it has not presented itself. In order
not to be an expense to the troupe, he generously and nobly insisted
upon taking the place of one of the actors, who died on the way, and who
was a great loss to us. As he could appear upon the stage always masked,
he surely did not compromise his dignity by it."

"Under this theatrical disguise, I think that, without being a sorcerer,
I can detect a little bit of romance, eh?" said the prince, with a
mischievous smile. "But I will not inquire too closely; I know how good
and true you are well enough not to take alarm at any respectful tribute
paid to your charms. I have not been with you long enough yet as a
father, my sweet child, to venture upon sermonizing."

As he paused, Isabelle raised her lovely eyes, in which shone the purest
innocence and the most perfect loyalty, to his, and met his questioning
gaze unflinchingly. The rosy flush which the first mention of de
Sigognac's name had called up was gone, and her countenance showed no
faintest sign of embarrassment or shame. In her pure heart the most
searching looks of a father, of God himself, could have found nothing
to condemn. Just at this point the doctor's assistant was announced, who
brought a most favourable report from the sick-room. He was charged to
tell the prince that his son's condition was eminently satisfactory--a
marked change for the better having taken place; and that Maitre Laurent
considered the danger past--believing that his recovery was now only a
question of time.

A few days later, Vallombreuse, propped up on his pillows, received a
visit from his faithful and devoted friend, the Chevalier de Vidalinc,
whom he had not been permitted to see earlier. The prince was sitting
by the bedside, affectionately watching every flitting expression on
his son's face, which was pathetically thin and pale, but handsomer
than ever; because the old haughty, fierce look had vanished, and a soft
light, that had never been in them before, shone in his beautiful eyes,
whereat his father's heart rejoiced exceedingly. Isabelle stood at
the other side of the bed, and the young duke had clasped his thin,
startlingly white fingers round her hand. As he was forbidden to speak,
save in monosyllables--because of his injured lung--he took this means
of testifying his sympathy with her, who had been the involuntary cause
of his being wounded and in danger of losing his life, and thus made her
understand that he cherished no resentments. The affectionate brother
had replaced the fiery lover, and his illness, in calming his ardent
passion, had contributed not a little to make the transition a less
difficult one than it could possibly have been otherwise. Isabelle was
now for him really and only the Comtesse de Lineuil, his dear sister.
He nodded in a friendly way to Vidalinc, and disengaged his hand for
a moment from Isabelle's to give it to him--it was all that the doctor
would allow--but his eyes were eloquent enough to make up for his
enforced silence.

In the course of a few weeks, Vallombreuse, who had gained strength
rapidly, was able to leave his bed and recline upon a lounge near the
open window; so as to enjoy the mild, delightful air of spring, that
brought colour to his cheeks and light to his eyes. Isabelle was often
with him, and read aloud for hours together to entertain him; as Maitre
Laurent's orders were strict that he should not talk, even yet, any
more than was actually necessary. One day, when Isabelle had finished a
chapter in the volume from which she was reading to him, and was about
to begin another, he interrupted her, and said, "My dear sister, that
book is certainly very amusing, and the author a man of remarkable wit
and talent; but I must confess that I prefer your charming conversation
to your delightful reading. Do you know, I would not have believed it
possible to gain so much, in losing all hope of what I desired more
ardently than I had ever done anything in my whole life before. The
brother is very much more kindly treated than the suitor--are you aware
of that? You are as sweet and amiable to the one as you were severe and
unapproachable to the other. I find in this calm, peaceful affection,
charms that I had never dreamed of, and you reveal to me a new side of
the feminine character, hitherto utterly unknown to me. Carried away by
fiery passions, and irritated to madness by any opposition, I was like
the wild huntsman of the ancient legend, who stopped for no obstacle,
but rode recklessly over everything in his path. I looked upon whatever
beautiful woman I was in pursuit of as my legitimate prey. I scouted the
very idea of failure, and deemed myself irresistible. At the mention of
virtue, I only shrugged my shoulders, and I think I may say, without too
much conceit, to the only woman I ever pursued who did not yield to me,
that I had reason not to put much faith in it. My mother died when I was
a mere baby; you, my sweet sister, were not near me, and I have never
known, until now, all the purity, tenderness, and sublime courage
of which your sex is capable. I chanced to see you. An irresistible
attraction, in which, perhaps, the unknown tie of blood had its
influence, drew me to you, and for the first time in my life a feeling
of respect and esteem mingled with my passion. Your character delighted
me, even when you drove me to despair. I could not but secretly approve
and admire the modest and courteous firmness with which you rejected
my homage. The more decidedly you repulsed me, the more I felt that you
were worthy of my adoration. Anger and admiration succeeded each other
in my heart, and even in my most violent paroxysms of rage I always
respected you. I descried the angel in the woman, and bowed to the
ascendency of a celestial purity. Now I am happy and blessed indeed;
for I have in you precisely what I needed, without knowing it--this pure
affection, free from all earthly taint--unalterable--eternal. I possess
at last the love of a soul."

"Yes, my dear brother, it is yours," Isabelle replied; "and it is a
great source of happiness to me that I am able to assure you of it. You
have in me a devoted sister and friend, who will love you doubly to make
up for the years we have lost--above all, now that you have promised me
to correct the faults that have so grieved and alarmed our dear father,
and to exhibit only the good qualities of which YOU have plenty."

"Oh! you little preacher," cried Vallombreuse, with a bright, admiring
smile; "how you take advantage of my weakness. However, it is perfectly
true that I have been a dreadful monster, but I really do mean to do
better in future--if not for love of virtue itself, at least to avoid
seeing my charming sister put on a severe, disapproving air, at some
atrocious escapade of mine. Still, I fear that I shall always be Folly,
as you will be Reason."

"If you will persist in paying me such high-flown compliments,"
said Isabelle, with a little shrug of her pretty shoulders, "I shall
certainly resume the reading, and you will have to listen to a long
story that the corsair is just about to relate to the beautiful
princess, his captive, in the cabin of his galley."

"Oh, no! surely I do not deserve such a severe punishment as that. Even
at the risk of appearing garrulous, I do so want to talk a little. That
confounded doctor has kept me mute long enough in all conscience, and
I am tired to death of having the seal of silence upon my lips, like a
statue of Hippocrates."

"But I am afraid you may do yourself harm; remember that your wound
is scarcely healed yet, and the injured lung is still very irritable.
Maitre Laurent laid such stress upon my reading to you, so that you
should keep quiet, and give your chest a good chance to get strong and
well again."

"Maitre Laurent doesn't know what he's talking about, and only wants
to prolong his own importance to me. My lungs work as well as ever they
did. I feel perfectly myself again, and I've a great mind to order my
horse and go for a canter in the forest."

"You had better talk than do such a wildly imprudent thing as that; it
is certainly less dangerous."

"I shall very soon be about again, my sweet little sister, and then I
shall have the pleasure of introducing you into the society suitable
to your rank--where your incomparable grace and beauty will create a
sensation, and bring crowds of adorers to your feet. From among them
you will be able to select a husband, eh?" "I can have no desire to
do anything of that kind, Vallombreuse, and pray do not think this the
foolish declaration of a girl who would be very sorry to be taken at her
word. I am entirely in earnest, I do assure you. I have bestowed my hand
so often in the last act of the pieces I have played that I am in no
hurry to do it in reality. I do not wish for anything better than to
remain quietly here with the prince and yourself."

"But, my dear girl, a father and brother will not always content you--do
not think it! Such affection cannot satisfy the demands of the heart
forever."

"It will be enough for me, however, and if some day they fail me, I can
take refuge in a convent."

"Heaven forbid! that would be carrying austerity too far indeed. I pray
you never to mention it again, if you have any regard for my peace of
mind. And now tell me, my sweet little sister, what do you think of my
dear friend, the Chevalier de Vidalinc? does not he seem to be possessed
of every qualification necessary to make a good husband?"

"Doubtless, and the woman that he marries will have a right to consider
herself fortunate but however charming and desirable your friend may be,
my dear Vallombreuse, _I_ shall never be that woman."

"Well, let him pass, then--but tell me what you think of the Marquis de
l'Estang, who came to see me the other day, and gazed spell-bound at my
lovely sister all the time he was here. He was so overwhelmed by your
surpassing grace, so dazzled by your exquisite beauty, that he was
struck dumb, and when he tried to pay you pretty compliments, did
nothing but stammer and blush. Aside from this timidity, which made him
appear to great disadvantage, and which your ladyship should readily
excuse, since you yourself were the cause of it, the marquis is an
accomplished and estimable gentleman. He is handsome, young, of high
birth and great wealth. He would do capitally for my fair sister, and is
sure to address himself to the prince--if indeed he has not already done
so--as an aspirant to the honour of an alliance with her."

"As I have the honour of belonging to this illustrious family," said
Isabelle a little impatiently, for she was exceedingly annoyed by this
banter, "too much humility would not become me, therefore I will not say
that I consider myself unworthy of such an alliance; but if the Marquis
de l'Estang should ask my hand of my father, I would refuse him. I
have told you, my dear brother, more than once, that I do not wish to
marry--and you know it too--so pray don't tease me any more about it."

"Oh! what a fierce, determined little woman is this fair sister of mine.
Diana herself was not more inaccessible, in the forests and valleys of
Haemus--yet, if the naughty mythological stories may be believed, she
did at last smile upon a certain Endymion. You are vexed, because I
casually propose some suitable candidates for the honour of your hand;
but you need not be, for, if THEY do not please you, we will hunt up one
who will."

"I am not vexed, my dear brother, but you are certainly talking far too
much for an invalid, and I shall tell Maitre, Laurent to reprimand you,
or not permit you to have the promised bit of fowl for your supper."

"Oh! if that's the case I will desist at once," said Vallombreuse,
with a droll air of submission, "for I'm as hungry as an ogre--but
rest assured of one thing, my charming sister: No one shall select your
husband but myself."

To put an end to this teasing, Isabelle began to read the corsair's long
story, without paying any attention to the indignant protests that were
made, and Vallombreuse, to revenge himself, finally closed his eyes
and pretended to be asleep; which feigned slumber soon became real,
and Isabelle, perceiving that it was so, put aside her book and quietly
stole away.

This conversation, in which, under all his mischievous banter, the duke
seemed to have a definite and serious purpose in view, worried Isabelle
very much, in spite of her efforts to banish it from her mind. Could
it be that Vallombreuse was nursing a secret resentment against de
Sigognac? He had never once spoken his name, or referred to him in
any way, since he was wounded by him; and was he trying to place an
insurmountable barrier between his sister and the baron, by bringing
about her marriage with another? or was he simply trying to find out
whether the actress transformed to a countess, had changed in
sentiments as well as in rank? Isabelle could not answer these questions
satisfactorily to herself. As she was the duke's sister, of course the
rivalry between him and de Sigognac could no longer exist; but, on the
other hand, it was difficult to imagine that such a haughty, vindictive
character as the young duke's could have forgotten, or forgiven, the
ignominy of his first defeat at the baron's hands, and still less of the
second more disastrous encounter. Although their relative positions
were changed, Vallombreuse, in his heart, would doubtless always hate
de Sigognac--even if he had magnanimity enough to forgive him, it could
scarcely be expected that he should also love him, and be willing
to welcome him as a member of his family. No, all hope of such a
reconciliation must be abandoned. Besides, she feared that the prince,
her father, would never be able to regard with favour the man who had
imperilled the life of his only son. These sad thoughts threw poor
Isabelle into a profound melancholy, which she in vain endeavoured to
shake off. As long as she considered that her position as an actress
would be an obstacle to de Sigognac, she had resolutely repelled the
idea of a marriage with him, but now that an unhoped-for, undreamed-of
stroke of destiny had heaped upon her all the good things that heart
could desire, she would have loved to reward, with the gift of her hand
and fortune, the faithful lover who had addressed her when she was poor
and lowly--it seemed an actual meanness, to her generous spirit, not to
share her prosperity with the devoted companion of her misery. But all
that she could do was to be faithful to him--for she dared not say a
word in his favour, either to the prince or to Vallombreuse.

Very soon the young duke was well enough to join his father and sister
at meals, and he manifested such respectful and affectionate deference
to the prince, and such an ingenuous and delicate tenderness towards
Isabelle, that it was evident he had, in spite of his apparent
frivolity, a mind and character very superior to what one would have
expected to find in such a licentious, ungovernable youth as he had
been, and which gave promise of an honourable and useful manhood.
Isabelle took her part modestly--but with a very sweet dignity, that sat
well upon her--in the conversation at the table, and in the salon, and
her remarks were so to the point, so witty, and so apropos, that the
prince was astonished as well as charmed, and grew daily more proud of
and devoted to his new treasure; finding a happiness and satisfaction
he had longed for all his life in the affection and devotion of his
children.

At last Vallombreuse was pronounced well enough to mount his horse, and
go for a ride in the forest--which he had long been sighing for--and
Isabelle gladly consented to bear him company. They looked a wonderfully
handsome pair, as they rode leisurely through the leafy arcades. But
there was one very marked difference between them.

The young man's countenance was radiant with happiness and smiles,
but the girl's face was clouded over with an abiding melancholy.
Occasionally her brother's lively sallies would bring a faint smile to
her sweet lips, but they fell back immediately into the mournful droop
that had become habitual with them. Vallombreuse apparently did not
perceive it--though in reality he was well aware of it, and of its
cause--and was full of fun and frolic.

"Oh! what a delicious thing it is to live," he cried, "yet how seldom
we think of the exquisite enjoyment there is in the simple act of
breathing," and he drew a long, deep breath, as if he never could get
enough of the soft, balmy air. "The trees surely were never so green
before, the sky so blue, or the flowers so fragrant. I feet as if I had
been born into the world only yesterday, and was looking upon nature for
the first time to-day. I never appreciated it before. When I remember
that I might even now be lying, stiff and stark, under a fine marble
monument, and that instead of that I am riding through an elysium,
beside my darling sister, who has really learned to love me, I am too
divinely happy. I do not even feel my wound any more. I don't believe
that I ever was wounded. And now for a gallop, for I'm sure that our
good father is wearying for us at home."

In spite of Isabelle's remonstrances he put spurs to his horse, and she
could not restrain hers when its companion bounded forward, so off
they went at a swift pace, and never drew rein until they reached the
chateau. As he lifted his sister down from her saddle, Vallombreuse
said, "Now, after to-day's achievement, I can surely be treated like a
big boy, and get permission to go out by myself."

"What! you want to go away and leave us already? and scarcely well yet,
you bad boy!"

"Even so, my sweet sister; I want to make a little journey that will
take several days," said Vallombreuse negligently.

Accordingly, the very next morning he departed, after having taken an
affectionate leave of the prince, his father; who did not oppose
his going, as Isabelle had confidently expected, but seemed, on the
contrary, to approve of it heartily. After receiving many charges to
be careful and prudent, from his sister, which he dutifully promised to
remember and obey, the young duke bade her good-bye also, and said, in a
mysterious, yet most significant way,

"Au revoir, my sweet little sister, you will be pleased with what I am
about to do." And Isabelle sought in vain for the key to the enigma.



CHAPTER XIX. NETTLES AND COBWEBS

The worthy tyrant's advice was sensible and good, and de Sigognac
resolved to follow it without delay. Since Isabelle's departure, no
attraction existed for him in the troupe, and he was very glad of a
valid pretext for quitting it; though he could not leave his humble
friends without some regrets. It was necessary that he should disappear
for a while--plunge into obscurity, until the excitement consequent upon
the violent death of the young Duke of Vallombreuse should be forgotten
in some new tragedy in real life.

So, after bidding farewell to the worthy comedians, who had shown him
so much kindness, he departed from the gay capital--mounted on a stout
pony, and with a tolerably well-filled purse--his share of the receipts
of the troupe, which he had fairly earned. By easy stages he travelled
slowly towards his own ruined chateau. After the storm the bird flies
home to its nest, no matter how ragged and torn it may be. It was the
only refuge open to him, and in the midst of his despondency he felt
a sort of sad pleasure at the thought of returning to his ancestral
home--desolate and forlorn as it was--where it would have been better,
perhaps, for him to have quietly remained--for his fortunes were not
improved, and this last crowning disaster had been ruinous to all his
hopes and prospects of happiness.

"Ah, well!" said he to himself, sorrowfully, as he jogged slowly on,
"it was predestined that I should die of hunger and ennui within those
crumbling walls, and under my poor, dilapidated, old roof, that lets the
rain run through it like a huge sieve. No one can escape his destiny,
and I shall accomplish mine. I am doomed to be the last de Sigognac."

Then came visions of what might have been, that made the sad present
seem even darker by contrast; and his burden was well-nigh too heavy
for him to bear, when he remembered all Isabelle's goodness and
loveliness--now lost to him forever. No wonder that his eyes were often
wet with tears, and that there was no brightness even in the sunshine
for him.

It is needless to describe in detail a journey that lasted twenty days,
and was not marked by any remarkable incidents or adventures. It is
enough to say that one fine evening de Sigognac saw from afar the lofty
towers of his ancient chateau, illuminated by the setting sun, and
shining out in bold relief against the soft purple of the evening sky;
whilst one of the few remaining casements had caught the fiery sunset
glow, and looked like a great carbuncle set in the fine facade of
the stately old castle. This sight aroused a strange tenderness and
agitation in the young baron's breast. It was true that he had suffered
long and acutely in that dreary mansion, yet after all it was very
dear to him--far more than he knew before he had quitted it--and he was
deeply moved at seeing it again. In a few moments more the glorious god
of day had sunk behind the western horizon, and the chateau seemed
to retreat, until it became scarcely perceptible as the light faded,
forming only a vague, gray blot in the distance as the gloaming
succeeded to the glow. But de Sigognac knew every step of the way
perfectly, and soon turned from the highway into the neglected,
grass-grown road that led to the chateau. In the profound stillness,
which seemed wonderfully peaceful and pleasant to him, he fancied that
he could distinguish the distant barking of a dog, and that it sounded
like Miraut. He stopped to listen; yes, there could be no doubt about
it, and it was approaching. The baron gave a clear, melodious whistle--a
signal well known of old to Miraut-and in a few moments the faithful
dog, running as fast as his poor old legs could carry him, burst through
a break in the hedge--panting, barking, almost sobbing for joy. He
strove to jump up on the horse's neck to get at his beloved master; he
was beside himself with delight, and manifested it in the most frantic
manner, whilst de Sigognac bent down to pat his head and try to quiet
his wild transports. After bearing his master company a little way,
Miraut set off again at full speed, to announce the good news to
the others at the chateau--that is to say, to Pierre, Bayard, and
Beelzebub--and bounding into the kitchen where the old servant was
sitting, lost in sad thoughts, he barked in such a significant way that
Pierre knew at once that something unusual had happened.

"Can it be possible that the young master is coming? said he aloud,
rising, in compliance with Miraut's wishes, who was pulling at the
skirts of his coat, and imploring him with his eyes to bestir himself
and follow him. As it was quite dark by this time, Pierre lighted a pine
torch, which he carried with him, and as he turned into the road its
ruddy light suddenly flashed upon de Sigognac and his horse.

"Is it really you, my lord?" cried Pierre, joyfully, as he caught sight
of his young master; "Miraut had tried to tell me of your arrival in his
own way before I left the house, but as I had not heard anything about
your even thinking of coming, I feared that he might be mistaken.
Welcome home to your own domain, my beloved master! We are overjoyed to
see you."

"Yes, my good Pierre, it is really I, and not my wraith. Miraut was not
mistaken. Here I am again, if not richer than when I went away, at least
all safe and sound. Come now, lead the way with your torch, and we will
go into the chateau."

Pierre, not without considerable difficulty, opened the great door,
and the Baron de Sigognac rode slowly through the ancient portico,
fantastically illuminated by the flaring torchlight, in which the three
sculptured storks overhead seemed to be flapping their wings, as if
in joyful salutation to the last representative of the family they had
symbolized for so many centuries. Then a loud, impatient whinny, like
the blast of a trumpet, was heard ringing out on the still night air, as
Bayard, in his stable, caught the welcome sound of his master's voice.

"Yes, yes, I hear you, my poor old Bayard," cried de Sigognac, as he
dismounted in the court, and threw the bridle to Pierre; "I am coming to
say how d'you do," and as he turned he stumbled over Beelzebub, who
was trying to rub himself against his master's legs, purring and mewing
alternately to attract his attention. The baron stooped down, took the
old black cat up in his arms, and tenderly caressed him as he advanced
towards the stables; then put him down gently as he reached Bayard's
stall, and another touching scene of affectionate greeting was enacted.
The poor old pony laid his head lovingly on his master's shoulder, and
actually tried to kick up his hind legs in a frisky way in honour of the
great event; also, he received the horse that de Sigognac had ridden all
the way from Paris, and which was put in the stall beside his own,
very politely, and seemed pleased to have a companion in his solitary
grandeur.

"And now that I have responded to the endearments of my dumb friends,"
said the baron to Pierre, "we will go into the kitchen, and examine
into the condition of your larder. I had but a poor breakfast this
morning, and no dinner at all, being anxious to push on and reach my
journey's end before nightfall. I am as hungry as a bear, and will be
glad of anything, no matter what."

"I have not much to put before you, my lord, and I fear that you
will find it but sorry fare after the delicacies you must have been
accustomed to in Paris; but though it will not be tempting, nor over
savoury, it will at least satisfy your hunger."

"That is all that can be required of any food," answered de Sigognac,
"and I am not as ungrateful as you seem to think, my good Pierre, to the
frugal fare of my youth, which has certainly made me healthy, vigorous,
and strong. Bring out what you have, and serve it as proudly as if it
were of the choicest and daintiest; I will promise to do honour to it,
for I am desperately hungry."

The old servant bustled about joyously, and quickly had the table ready
for his master; then stood behind his chair, while he ate and drank
with a traveller's appetite, as proudly erect as if he had been a grand
major-domo waiting on a prince. According to the old custom, Miraut
and Beelzebub, stationed on the right and on the left, watched their
master's every motion, and received a share of everything that was on
the table. The great kitchen was lighted, not very brilliantly, by a
torch, stuck in an iron bracket just inside the broad, open chimney, so
that the smoke should escape through it and not fill the room, and the
scene was so exactly a counterpart of the one described at the beginning
of this narrative, that the baron, struck with the perfect resemblance,
fancied that he must have been dreaming, and had never quitted his
ancient chateau at all. Everything was precisely as he had left it,
excepting that the nettles and weeds had grown a little taller, and
the cobweb draperies a little more voluminous; all else was unchanged.
Unconsciously lapsing into the old ways, de Sigognac fell into a deep
reverie after he had finished his simple repast, which Pierre, as of
old, respected, and even Miraut and Beelzebub did not venture to intrude
upon. All that had occurred since he last sat at his own table passed in
review before him, but seemed like adventures that he had read of, not
actually participated in himself. It had all passed into the background.
Captain Fracasse, already nearly obliterated, appeared like a pale
spectre in the far distance; his combats with the Duke of Vallombreuse
seemed equally unreal. In fine, everything that he had seen, done, and
suffered, had sunk into shadowy vagueness; but his love for Isabelle had
undergone no change; it had neither diminished nor grown cold; it was as
passionate and all-absorbing as ever; it was his very life; yet rather
like an aspiration of the soul than a real passion, since with it all he
knew that the angelic being who was its object, and whom he worshipped
from afar, could never, never be his. The wheels of his chariot, which
for a brief space had turned aside into a new track, were back in the
old rut again, and realizing that there could be no further escape from
it possible for him, he gave way sullenly to a despairing, stolid sort
of resignation, that he had no heart to struggle against, but yielded to
it passively; blaming himself the while for having presumed to indulge
in a season of bright hopes and delicious dreams. Why the devil should
such an unlucky fellow as he had always been venture to aspire
to happiness? It was all foolishness, and sure to end in bitter
disappointment; but he had had his lesson now, and would be wiser for
the future.

He sat perfectly motionless for a long time, plunged in a sad
reverie--sunk in a species of torpor; but he roused himself at last, and
perceiving that his faithful old follower's eyes were fixed upon him,
full of timid questioning that he did not venture to put into words,
briefly related to him the principal incidents of his journey up to the
capital, and his short stay there. When he graphically described his two
duels with the Duke of Vallombreuse--the old man, filled with pride and
delight at the proficiency of his beloved pupil, could not restrain his
enthusiasm, and snatching up a stick gave vigorous illustrations of all
the most salient points of the encounters as the baron delineated them,
ending up with a wild flourish and a shout of triumph.

"Alas! my good Pierre," said he, with a sigh, when quiet was restored,
"you taught me how to use my sword only too well. My unfortunate victory
has been my ruin, and has sent me back, hopeless and bereaved, to this
poor old crumbling chateau of mine, where I am doomed to drag out
the weary remainder of my days in sorrow and misery. I am peculiarly
unhappy, in that my very triumphs have only made matters worse for
me--it would have been better far for me, and for all, if I had been
wounded, or even killed, in this last disastrous encounter, instead of
my rival and enemy, the young Duke of Vallombreuse."

"The de Sigognacs are never beaten," said the old retainer loftily. "No
matter what may come of it, I am glad, my dear young master, that you
killed that insolent duke. The whole thing was conducted in strict
accordance with the code of honour--what more could be desired? How
could any valiant gentleman object to die gloriously, sword in hand,
of a good, honest wound, fairly given? He should consider himself most
fortunate."

"Ah well! perhaps you are right--I will not dispute you," said de
Sigognac, smiling secretly at the old man's philosophy. "But I am very
tired, and would like to go to my own room now--will you light the lamp,
my good Pierre, and lead the way?"

Pierre obeyed, and the baron, preceded by his old servant and followed
by his old dog and cat, slowly ascended the ancient staircase. The
quaint frescoes were gradually fading, growing ever paler and more
indistinct, and there were new stains on the dull blue sky of the
vaulted ceiling, where the rain and melting snow of winter storms had
filtered through from the dilapidated roof. The ruinous condition of
everything in and about the crumbling old chateau, to which de Sigognac
had been perfectly accustomed before he quitted it, and taken as a
matter of course, now struck him forcibly, and increased his dejection.
He saw in it the sad and inevitable decadence of his race, and said
to himself, "If these ancient walls had any pity for the last forlorn
remnant of the family they have sheltered for centuries, they would fall
in and bury me in their ruins."

When he reached the landing at the head of the stairs he took the lamp
from Pierre's hand, bade him good-night and dismissed him--not willing
that even his faithful old servant, who had cared for him ever since his
birth, should witness his overpowering emotion. He walked slowly through
the great banqueting hall, where the comedians had supped on that
memorable night, and the remembrance of that gay scene rendered the
present dreary solitude and silence more terrible than they had ever
seemed to him before. The death-like stillness was only broken by
the horrid gnawing of a rat somewhere in the wall, and the old family
portraits glared down at him reproachfully, as he passed on below them
with listless step and downcast eyes, oblivious of everything but his
own deep misery, and his yearning for his lost Isabelle. As he came
under the last portrait of all, that of his own sweet young mother,
he suddenly looked up, and as his eyes rested on the calm, beautiful
countenance--which had always worn such a pathetic, mournful expression
that it used to make his heart ache to look at it in his boyish days--it
seemed to smile upon him. He was startled for an instant, and then,
thrilling with a strange, exquisite delight, and inspired with new hope
and courage, he said in a low, earnest tone, "I accept my dear dead
mother's smile as a good omen--perhaps all may not be lost even yet--I
will try to believe so."

After a moment of silent thought, he went on into his own chamber, and
put down the small lamp he carried, upon the little table, where still
lay the stray volume of Ronsard's poems that he had been reading--or
rather trying to read--on that tempestuous night when the old pedant
knocked at his door. And there was his bed, where Isabelle had
slept--the very pillow upon which her dear head had rested. He trembled
as he stood and gazed at it, and saw, as in a vision, the perfect form
lying there again in his place, and the sweetest face in all the world
turned towards him, with a tender smile parting the ripe red lips, a
rosy flush mantling in the delicate cheeks, and warm lovelight
shining in the deep blue eyes. He stood spell-bound--afraid to move
or breathe--and worshipped the beautiful vision with all his soul
and strength, as if it had been indeed divine--but alas! it faded as
suddenly as it had appeared, and he felt as if the doors of heaven had
been shut upon him. He hastily undressed, and threw himself down in
the place where Isabelle had actually reposed; passionately kissed the
pillow that had been hallowed by the touch of her head, and bedewed it
with his tears. He lay long awake, thinking of the angelic being who
loved him and whom he adored, whilst Beelzebub, rolled up in a ball,
slept at his feet, and snored like the traditional cat of Mahomet, that
lay and slumbered upon the prophet's sleeve.

When morning came, de Sigognac was more impressed than ever with the
dilapidated, crumbling condition of his ancient mansion. Daylight has
no mercy upon old age and ruins; it reveals with cruel distinctness the
wrinkles, gray hairs, poverty, misery, stains, fissures, dust and mould
in which they abound; but more kindly night softens or conceals all
defects, with its friendly shade, spreading over them its mantle of
darkness. The rooms that used to seem so vast to their youthful owner
had shrunken, and looked almost small and insignificant to him now, to
his extreme surprise and mortification; but he soon regained the feeling
of being really at home, and resumed his former way of life completely;
just as one goes back to an old garment, that has for a time been laid
aside, and replaced by a new one. His days were spent thus: early in the
morning he went to say a short prayer in the half-ruined chapel where
his ancestors lay, ere he repaired to the kitchen where his simple
breakfast awaited him; that disposed of, he and old Pierre fetched their
swords, and fought their friendly duels; after which he mounted Bayard,
or the pony he had brought home with him, and went off for long,
solitary rides over the desolate Landes. Returning late in the afternoon
he sat, sad and silent as of old, until his frugal supper was prepared,
partook of it, also in silence, and then retired to his lonely chamber,
where he tried to read some musty old volume which he knew by heart
already, or else flung himself on his bed--never without kissing the
sacred pillow that had supported Isabelle's beloved head--and lay there
a prey to mournful and bitter meditations, until at last he could forget
his troubles and grief in sleep. There was not a vestige left of the
brilliant Captain Fracasse, nor of the high-spirited rival of the
haughty Duke of Vallombreuse; the unfortunate young Baron de Sigognac
had relapsed entirely into the sad-eyed, dejected master of Castle
Misery.

One morning he sauntered listlessly down into the garden, which was
wilder and more overgrown than ever--a tangled mass of weeds and
brambles. He mechanically directed his steps towards the straggling
eglantine that had had a little rose ready for each of the fair visitors
that accompanied him when last he was there, and was surprised and
delighted to see that it again held forth, as if for his acceptance, two
lovely little blossoms that had come out to greet him, and upon each of
which a dewdrop sparkled amid the frail, delicately tinted petals. He
was strangely moved and touched by the sight of these tiny wild roses,
which awoke such tender, precious memories, and he repeated to himself,
as he had often done before, the words in which Isabelle had confessed
to him that she had furtively kissed the little flower, his offering,
and dropped a tear upon it, and then secretly given him her own heart in
exchange for it--surely the sweetest words ever spoken on this earth. He
gently plucked one of the dainty little roses, passionately inhaled its
delicate fragrance and pressed a kiss upon it, as if it had been her
lips, which were not less sweet, and soft, and fresh. He had done
nothing but think of Isabelle ever since their separation, and he fully
realized now, if he had not before, how indispensable she was to his
happiness. She was never out of his mind, waking or sleeping, for he
dreamed of her every night, and his love grew fonder, if that were
possible, as the weary days went on. She was so good and true, so pure
and sweet, so beautiful, so everything that was lovely and desirable,
"made of all creatures' best," a veritable angel in human guise. Ah!
how passionately he loved her--how could he live without her? Yet
he feared--he was almost forced to believe--that he had lost her
irreparably, and that for him hope was dead. Those were terrible days
for the poor, grief-stricken young baron, and he felt that he could not
long endure such misery and live. Two or three months passed away thus,
and one day when de Sigognac chanced to be in his own room, finishing
a sonnet addressed to Isabelle, Pierre entered, and announced to his
master that there was a gentleman without who wished to speak with him.

"A gentleman, who wants to see me!" exclaimed the astonished baron. "You
must be either romancing or mad, my good Pierre! There is no gentleman
in the world who can have anything to say to me. However, for the rarity
of the thing, you may bring in this extraordinary mortal--if such there
really be, and you are not dreaming, as I shrewdly suspect. But tell me
his name first, or hasn't he got any?"

"He declined to give it, saying that it would not afford your lordship
any information," Pierre made answer, as he turned back and opened wide
both leaves of the door.

Upon the threshold appeared a handsome young man, dressed in a rich and
elegant travelling costume of chestnut brown cloth trimmed with green,
and holding in his hand a broad felt hat with a long green plume;
leaving his well shaped, proudly carried head fully exposed to view, as
well as the delicate, regular features of a face worthy of an ancient
Greek statue. The sight of this fine cavalier did not seem to make an
agreeable impression upon de Sigognac, who turned very pale, and rushing
to where his trusty sword was suspended, over the head of his bed, drew
it from the scabbard, and turned to face the new-comer with the naked
blade in his hand.

"By heaven, my lord duke, I believed that I had killed you!" he cried
in excited tones. "Is it really you--your very self--or your wraith that
stands before me?"

"It is really I--my very self--Hannibal de Vallombreuse, in the flesh,
and no wraith; as far from being dead as possible," answered the young
duke, with a radiant smile. "But put up that sword I pray you, my
dear baron! We have fought twice already, you know, and surely that is
enough. I do not come as an enemy, and if I have to reproach myself with
some little sins against you, you have certainly had your revenge for
them, so we are quits. To prove that my intentions are not hostile,
but of the most friendly nature if you will so allow, I have brought
credentials, in the shape of this commission, signed by the king, which
gives you command of a regiment. My good father and I have reminded his
majesty of the devotion of your illustrious ancestors to his royal ones,
and I have ventured to bring you this good news in person. And now, as
I am your guest, I pray you have something or other killed, I don't care
what, and put on the spit to roast as quickly as may be--for the love of
God give me something to eat--I am starving. The inns are so far apart
and so abominably bad down here that there might almost as well be none
at all, and my baggage-wagon, stocked with edibles, is stuck fast in a
quagmire a long way from this. So you see the necessities of the case."

"I am very much afraid, my lord duke, that the fare I can offer will
seem to you only another form of revenge on my part," said de Sigognac
with playful courtesy; "but do not, I beseech you, attribute to
resentment the meagre repast for which I shall be obliged to claim your
indulgence. You must know how gladly I would put before you a sumptuous
meal if I could; and what we can give you will at least, as my good
Pierre says, satisfy hunger, though it may not gratify the palate. And
let me now say that your frank and cordial words touch me deeply, and
find an echo in my inmost heart. I am both proud and happy to call you
my friend--henceforth you will not have one more loyal and devoted than
myself--and though you may not often have need of my services, they will
be, none the less, always at your disposition. Halloa! Pierre! do
you go, without a moment's delay, and hunt up some fowls, eggs, meat,
whatever you can find, and try to serve a substantial meal to this
gentleman, my friend, who is nearly dying with hunger, and is not used
to it like you and I."

Pierre put in his pocket some of the money his master had sent him from
Paris--which he had never touched before--mounted the pony, and galloped
off to the nearest village in search of provisions. He found several
fowls--such as they were--a splendid Bayonne ham, a few bottles of fine
old wine, and by great good luck, discovered, at the priest's house, a
grand big pate of ducks' livers--a delicacy worthy of a bishop's or
a prince's table--and which he had much difficulty to obtain from his
reverence, who was a bit of a gourmand, at an almost fabulous price. But
this was evidently a great occasion, and the faithful old servant would
spare no pains to do it honour. In less than an hour he was at home
again, and leaving the charge of the cooking to a capable woman he had
found and sent out to the chateau, he immediately proceeded to set the
table, in the ancient banqueting hall--gathering together all the fine
porcelain and dainty glass that yet remained intact in the two tall
buffets--evidences of former splendour. But the profusion of gold and
silver plate that used to adorn the festive board of the de Sigognacs
had all been converted into coin of the realm long ago.

When at last the old servant announced that dinner was ready, the
two young men took their places opposite to each other at table, and
Vallombreuse, who was in the gayest, most jovial mood, attacked the
viands with an eagerness and ferocity immensely diverting to his host.
After devouring almost the whole of a chicken, which, it is true, seemed
to have died of a consumption, there was so little flesh on its bones,
he fell back upon the tempting, rosy slices of the delicate Bayonne ham,
and then passed to the pate of ducks' livers, which he declared to be
supremely delicious, exquisite, ambrosial--food fit for the gods; and
he found the sharp cheese, made of goat's milk, which followed, an
excellent relish. He praised the wine, too--which was really very old
and fine and drank it with great gusto, out of his delicate Venetian
wine-glass. Once, when he caught sight of Pierre's bewildered, terrified
look, as he heard his master address his merry guest as the Duke of
Vallombreuse--who ought to be dead, if he was not--he fairly roared with
laughter, and was as full of fun and frolic as a school-boy out for
a holiday; Meantime de Sigognac, whilst he endeavoured to play the
attentive host, and to respond as well as he could to the young duke's
lively sallies, could not recover from his surprise at seeing him
sitting there opposite to himself, as a guest at his own table--making
himself very much at home, too, in the most charming, genial, easy way
imaginable--and yet he was the haughty, overbearing, insolent young
nobleman, who had been his hated rival; whom he had twice encountered
and defeated, in fierce combat, and who had several times tried
to compass his death by means of hired ruffians. What could be the
explanation of it all?

The Duke of Vallombreuse divined his companion's thoughts, and when the
old servant had retired, after placing a bottle of especially choice
wine and two small glasses on the table, he looked up at de Sigognac and
said, with the most amicable frankness, "I can plainly perceive, my dear
baron, in spite of your admirable courtesy, that this unexpected step of
mine appears very strange and inexplicable to you. You have been saying
to yourself, How in the world has it come about, that the arrogant,
imperious Vallombreuse has been transformed, from the unscrupulous,
cruel, blood-thirsty tiger that he was, into the peaceable, playful lamb
he seems to be now--which a 'gentle shepherdess' might lead about with a
ribbon round its neck!--I will tell you. During the six weeks that I was
confined to my bed, I made various reflections, which the thoughtless
might pronounce cowardly, but which are permitted to the bravest and
most valiant when death stares them in the face. I realized then, for
the first time, the relative value of many things, and also how wrong
and wicked my own course had been; and I promised myself to do very
differently for the future, if I recovered. As the passionate love that
Isabelle inspired in my heart had been replaced by a pure and sacred
fraternal affection--which is the greatest blessing of my life--I had
no further reason to dislike you. You were no longer my rival; a brother
cannot be jealous in that way of his own sister; and then, I was deeply
grateful to you, for the respectful tenderness and deference I knew you
had never failed to manifest towards her, when she was in a position
that authorized great license. You were the first to recognise her pure,
exalted soul, while she was still only an obscure actress. When she was
poor, and despised by those who will cringe to her now, you offered
to her--lowly as was her station--the most precious treasure that a
nobleman can possess: the time-honoured name of his ancestors. You would
have made her your wife then--now that she is rich, and of high rank,
she belongs to you of right. The true, faithful lover of Isabelle, the
actress, should be the honoured husband of the Comtesse de Lineuil."

"But you forget," cried de Sigognac, in much agitation, "that she
always absolutely refused me, though she knew that I was perfectly
disinterested."

"It was because of her supreme delicacy, her angelic susceptibility, and
her noble spirit of self-sacrifice that she said that. She feared that
she would necessarily be a disadvantage to you--an obstacle in the way
of your advancement. But the situation is entirely changed now."

"Yes, now it is I who would be a disadvantage to her; have I then a
right to be less generous and magnanimous than she was?"

"Do you still love my sister?" said Vallombreuse, in a grave tone. "As
her brother, I have the right to ask this question."

"I love her with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my strength,"
de Sigognac replied fervently, "as much and more than ever man loved
woman on this earth--where nothing is perfect--save Isabelle."

"Such being the case, my dear Captain of Mousquetaires, and governor of
a province--soon to be--have your horse saddled, and come with me to
the Chateau of Vallombreuse, so that I may formally present you to the
prince, my father, as the favoured suitor of the Comtesse de Lineuil, my
sister. Isabelle has refused even to think of the Chevalier de Vidalinc,
or the Marquis de l'Estang, as aspirants to her hand--both right
handsome, attractive, eligible young fellows, by Jove!--but I am of
opinion that she will accept, without very much persuasion, the Baron de
Sigognac."

The next day the duke and the baron were riding gaily forward, side by
side, on the road to Paris.



CHAPTER XX. CHIQUITA'S DECLARATION OF LOVE

A compact crowd filled the Place de Greve, despite the early hour
indicated by the clock of the Hotel de Ville.

The tall buildings on the eastern side of the square threw their
shadows more than half-way across it, and upon a sinister-looking wooden
framework, which rose several feet above the heads of the populace, and
bore a number of ominous, dull red stains. At the windows of the houses
surrounding the crowded square, a few heads were to be seen looking out
from time to time, but quickly drawn back again as they perceived that
the interesting performance, for which all were waiting, had not yet
begun. Clinging to the transverse piece of the tall stone cross, which
stood at that side of the open square nearest the river, was a
forlorn, little, ragged boy, who had climbed up to it with the greatest
difficulty, and was holding on with all his might, his arms clasped
round the cross-piece and his legs round the upright, in a most painful
and precarious position. But nothing would have induced him to abandon
it, so long as he could possibly maintain himself there, no matter at
what cost of discomfort, or even actual distress, for from it he had
a capital view of the scaffold, and all its horribly fascinating
details--the wheel upon which the criminal was to revolve, the coil of
rope to bind him to it, and the heavy bar to break his bones.

If any one among the anxious crowd of spectators, however, had carefully
studied the small, thin countenance of the child perched up on the tall
stone cross, he would have discovered that its expression was by no
means that of vulgar curiosity. It was not simply the fierce attractions
of an execution that had drawn thither this wild, weird-looking young
creature, with his sun-burned complexion, great, flashing, dark eyes,
brilliant white teeth, unkempt masses of thick, black hair, and slender
brown hands--which were convulsively clinging to the rough, cold stone.
The delicacy of the features would seem to indicate a different sex from
the dress--but nobody paid any attention to the child, And all eyes
were turned towards the scaffold, or the direction from which the cart
bearing the condemned criminal was to come. Among the groups close
around the scaffold were several faces we have seen before; notably, the
chalky countenance and fiery red nose of Malartic, and the bold profile
of Jacquemin Lampourde, also several of the ruffians engaged in the
abduction of Isabelle, as well as various other habitues of the Crowned
Radish. The Place de Greve, to which sooner or later they were all
pretty sure to come and expiate their crimes with their lives, seemed to
exercise a singular fascination over murderers, thieves, and criminals
of all sorts, who invariably gathered in force to witness an execution.
They evidently could not resist it, and appeared to find a fierce
satisfaction in watching the terrible spectacle that they themselves
would some day probably furnish to the gaping multitude. Then the victim
himself always expected his friends' attendance--he would be hurt and
disappointed if his comrades did not rally round him at the last. A
criminal in that position likes to see familiar faces in the throng that
hems him in. It gives him courage, steadies his nerves.

He cannot exhibit any signs of cowardice before those who appreciate
true merit and bravery, according to his way of thinking, and pride
comes to his aid. A man will meet death like a Roman under such
circumstances, who would be weak as a woman if he were despatched in
private.

The criminal to be executed on that occasion was a thief, already
notorious in Paris for his daring and dexterity, though he had only been
there a few months. But, unfortunately for himself--though very much the
reverse for the well-to-do citizens of the capital in general--he
had not confined himself to his legitimate business. In his last
enterprise--breaking into a private dwelling to gain possession of a
large sum of money that was to be kept there for a single night--he had
killed the master of the house, who was aroused by his entrance; and,
not content to stop there, had also brutally murdered his wife, as she
lay quietly sleeping in her bed--like a tiger, that has tasted blood
and is wild for more. So atrocious a crime had roused the indignation of
even his own unscrupulous, hardened companions, and it was not long ere
his hiding-place was mysteriously revealed, and he was arrested, tried,
and condemned to death. Now he was to pay the penalty of his guilt.

As the fatal hour approached, a carriage drove down along the quay,
turned into the Place de Greve, and attempted to cross it; but, becoming
immediately entangled in the crowd, could make little or no progress,
despite the utmost exertions of the majestic coachman and attendant
lackeys to induce the people to make way for it, and let it pass.

But for the grand coat of arms and ducal coronet emblazoned on the
panels, which inspired a certain awe as well as respect in the motley
throng of pedestrians, the equipage would undoubtedly have been roughly
dealt with-but as it was, they contented themselves with resolutely and
obstinately barring its passage, after it had reached the middle of the
square. The indignant coachman did not dare to urge his spirited
horses forward at all hazards, ruthlessly trampling down the unlucky
individuals who happened to be directly in his way, as he would
certainly have done in any ordinary crowd, for the canaille, that filled
the Place de Greve to overflowing, was out in too great force to be
trifled with--so there was nothing for it but patience.

"These rascals are waiting for an execution, and will not stir, nor
let us stir, until it is over," said a remarkably handsome young man,
magnificently dressed, to his equally fine looking, though more modestly
attired friend, who was seated beside him in the luxurious carriage.
"The devil take the unlucky dog who must needs be broken on the wheel
just when we want to cross the Place de Greve. Why couldn't he have put
it off until to-morrow morning, I should like to know!"

"You may be sure that the poor wretch would be only too glad to do so if
he could," answered the other, "for the occasion is a far more serious
matter to him than to us."

"The best thing we can do under the circumstances, my dear de Sigognac,
is to turn our heads away if the spectacle is too revolting--though it
is by no means easy, when something horrible is taking place close at
hand. Even Saint Augustine opened his eyes in the arena at a loud cheer
from the people, though he had vowed to himself beforehand to keep them
closed."

"At all events, we shall not be detained here long," rejoined de
Sigognac, "for there comes the prisoner. See, Vallombreuse, how the
crowd gives way before him, though it will not let us move an inch."

A rickety cart, drawn by a miserable old skeleton of a horse, and
surrounded by mounted guards, was slowly advancing through the dense
throng towards the scaffold. In it were a venerable priest, with a long
white beard, who was holding a crucifix to the lips of the condemned
man, seated beside him, the executioner, placed behind his victim, and
holding the end of the rope that bound him, and an assistant, who was
driving the poor old horse. The criminal, whom every one turned to gaze
at, was no other than our old acquaintance, Agostino, the brigand.

"Why, what is this!" cried de Sigognac, in great surprise. "I know
that man--he is the fellow who stopped us on the highway, and tried to
frighten us with his band of scarecrows, as poor Matamore called them. I
told you all about it when we came by the place where it happened."

"Yes, I remember perfectly," said Vallombreuse; "it was a capital story,
and I had a good laugh over it. But it would seem that the ingenious
rascal has been up to something more serious since then--his ambition
has probably been his ruin. He certainly is no coward--only look what a
good face he puts on it."

Agostino, holding his head proudly erect, but a trifle paler than usual
perhaps, seemed to be searching for some one in the crowd. When the cart
passed slowly in front of the stone cross, he caught sight of the little
boy, who had not budged from his excessively uncomfortable and wearisome
position, and a flash of joy shone in the brigand's eyes, a slight smile
parted his lips, as he made an almost imperceptible sign with his head,
and said, in a low tone, "Chiquita!"

"My son, what was that strange word you spoke?" asked the priest. "It
sounded like an outlandish woman's name. Dismiss all such subjects from
your mind, and fix your thoughts on your own hopes of salvation, for you
stand on the threshold of eternity."

"Yes, my father, I know it but too well, and though my hair is black
and my form erect, whilst you are bowed with age, and your long beard
is white as snow, you are younger now than I--every turn of the wheels,
towards that scaffold yonder, ages me by ten years."

During this brief colloquy the cart had made steady progress, and
in a moment more had stopped at the foot of the rude wooden steps
that led up to the scaffold, which Agostino ascended slowly but
unfalteringly--preceded by the assistant, supported by the priest, and
followed by the executioner. In less than a minute he was firmly bound
upon the wheel, and the executioner, having thrown off his showy scarlet
cloak, braided with white, and rolled up his sleeves, stooped to pick up
the terrible bar that lay at his feet. It was a moment of intense
horror and excitement. An anxious curiosity, largely mixed with
dread, oppressed the hearts of the spectators, who stood motionless,
breathless, with pale faces, and straining eyes fixed upon the tragic
group on the fatal scaffold. Suddenly a strange stir ran through the
crowd--the child, who was perched up on the cross, had slipped quickly
down to the ground, and gliding like a serpent through the closely
packed throng, reached the scaffold, cleared the steps at a bound, and
appeared beside the astonished executioner, who was just in the act
of raising the ponderous bar to strike, with such a wild, ghastly, yet
inspired and noble countenance--lighted up by a strength of will and
purpose that made it actually sublime--that the grim dealer of death
paused involuntarily, and withheld the murderous blow about to fall.

"Get out of my way, thou puppet!" he roared in angry tones, as he
recovered his sang-froid, "or thou wilt get thy accursed head smashed."

But Chiquita paid no attention to him--she did not care whether she was
killed too, or not. Bending over Agostino, she passionately kissed his
forehead, whispered "I love thee!"--and then, with a blow as swift
as lightning, plunged into his heart the knife she had reclaimed from
Isabelle. It was dealt with so firm a hand, and unerring an aim, that
death was almost instantaneous--scarcely had Agostino time to murmur
"Thanks."

With a wild burst of hysterical laughter the child sprang down from the
scaffold, while the executioner, stupefied at her bold deed, lowered his
now useless club; uncertain whether or not he should proceed to break
the bones of the man already dead, and beyond his power to torture.

"Well done, Chiquita, well done, and bravely!" cried Malartic--who had
recognised her in spite of her boy's clothes--losing his self-restraint
in his admiration. The other ruffians, who had seen Chiquita at the
Crowned Radish, and wondered at and admired her courage when she stood
against the door and let Agostino fling his terrible navaja at her
without moving a muscle, now grouped themselves closely together so as
to effectually prevent the soldiers from pursuing her. The fracas
that ensued gave Chiquita time to reach the carriage of the Duke of
Vallombreuse--which, taking advantage of the stir and shifting in the
throng, was slowly making its way out of the Place de Greve. She climbed
up on the step, and catching sight of de Sigognac within, appealed to
him, in scarcely audible words, as she panted and trembled--"I saved
your Isabelle, now save me!"

Vallombreuse, who had been very much interested by this strange and
exciting scene, cried to the coachman, "Get on as fast as you can, even
if you have to drive over the people."

But there was no need--the crowd opened as if by magic before the
carriage, and closed again compactly after it had passed, so that
Chiquita's pursuers could not penetrate it, or make any progress--they
were completely baffled, whichever way they turned. Meanwhile the
fugitive was being rapidly carried beyond their reach. As soon as the
open street was gained, the coachman had urged his horses forward,
and in a very few minutes they reached the Porte Saint Antoine. As
the report of what had occurred in the Place de Greve could not have
preceded them, Vallombreuse thought it better to proceed at a more
moderate pace--fearing that their very speed might arouse suspicion--and
gave orders accordingly; as soon as they were fairly beyond the gate
he took Chiquita into the carriage--where she seated herself, without a
word, opposite to de Sigognac. Under the calmest exterior she was filled
with a preternatural excitement--not a muscle of her face moved; but
a bright flush glowed on her usually pale cheeks, which gave to her
magnificent dark eyes--now fixed upon vacancy, and seeing nothing that
was before them--a marvellous brilliancy. A complete transformation
had taken place in Chiquita--this violent shock had torn asunder the
childish chrysalis in which the young maiden had lain dormant--as she
plunged her knife into Agostino's heart she opened her own. Her love was
born of that murder--the strange, almost sexless being, half child, half
goblin, that she had been until then, existed no longer--Chiquita was
a woman from the moment of that heroic act of sublime devotion. Her
passion, that had bloomed out in one instant, was destined to be
eternal--a kiss and a stab, that was Chiquita's love story.

The carriage rolled smoothly and swiftly on its way towards
Vallombreuse, and when the high, steep roof of the chateau came in sight
the young duke said to de Sigognac, "You must go with me to my room
first, where you can get rid of the dust, and freshen up a bit before I
present you to my sister--who knows nothing whatever of my journey,
or its motive. I have prepared a surprise for her, and I want it to be
complete--so please draw down the curtain on your side, while I do the
same on mine, in order that we may not be seen, as we drive into the
court, from any of the windows that command a view of it. But what are
we to do with this little wretch here?"

Chiquita, who was roused from her deep reverie by the duke's question,
looked gravely up at him, and said, "Let some one take me to Mlle.
Isabelle--she will decide what is to be done with me."

With all the curtains carefully drawn down the carriage drove over the
drawbridge and into the court. Vallombreuse alighted, took de Sigognac's
arm, and led him silently to his own apartment, after having ordered a
servant to conduct Chiquita to the presence of the Comtesse de Lineuil.
At sight of her Isabelle was greatly astonished, and, laying down the
book she was reading, fixed upon the poor child a look full of interest,
affection, and questioning.

Chiquita stood silent and motionless until the servant had retired,
then, with a strange solemnity, which was entirely new in her, she went
up to Isabelle, and timidly taking her hand, said:

"My knife is in Agostino's heart. I have no master now, and I must
devote myself to somebody. Next to him who is dead I love you best of
all the world. You gave me the pearl necklace I wished for, and you
kissed me. Will you have me for your servant, your slave, your dog? Only
give me a black dress, so that I may wear mourning for my lost love--it
is all I ask. I will sleep on the floor outside your door, so that
I shall not be in your way. When you want me, whistle for me, like
this,"--and she whistled shrilly--"and I will come instantly. Will you
have me?"

In answer Isabelle drew Chiquita into her arms, pressed her lips to
the girl's forehead warmly, and thankfully accepted this soul, that
dedicated itself to her.



CHAPTER XXI. HYMEN! OH HYMEN!

Isabelle, accustomed to Chiquita's odd, enigmatical ways, had refrained
from questioning her--waiting to ask for explanations until the poor
girl should have become more quiet, and able to give them. She could see
that some terrible catastrophe must have occurred, which had left all
her nerves quivering, and caused the strong shudders that passed over
her in rapid succession; but the child had rendered her such good
service, in her own hour of need, that she felt the least she could
do was to receive and care for the poor little waif tenderly, without
making any inquiries as to her evidently desperate situation. After
giving her in charge to her own maid, with orders that she should be
properly clothed, and made thoroughly comfortable in every way, Isabelle
resumed her reading--or rather tried to resume it; but her thoughts
would wander, and after mechanically turning over a few pages in a
listless way, she laid the book down, beside her neglected embroidery,
on a little table at her elbow. Leaning her head on her hand, and
closing her eyes, she lapsed into a sorrowful reverie--as, indeed, she
had done of late many times every day.

"Oh! what has become of de Sigognac?" she said to herself. "Where can he
be? and does he still think of me, and love me as of old? Yes, I am
sure he does; he will be true and faithful to me so long as he lives, my
brave, devoted knight! I fear that he has gone back to his desolate,
old chateau, and, believing that my brother is dead, does not dare to
approach me. It must be that chimerical obstacle that stands in his
way--otherwise he would surely have tried to see me again--or at
least have written to me. Perhaps I ought to have sent him word that
Vallombreuse had recovered; yet how could I do that? A modest woman
shrinks from even seeming to wish to entice her absent lover back to
her side. How often I think that I should be far happier if I could have
remained as I was--an obscure actress; then I could at least have
had the bliss of seeing him every day, and of enjoying in peace the
sweetness of being loved by such a noble, tender heart as his. Despite
the touching affection and devotion that my princely father lavishes
upon me, I feel sad and lonely in this magnificent chateau. If
Vallombreuse were only here his society would help to pass the time; but
he is staying away so long--and I try in vain to make out what he meant
when he told me, with such a significant smile, as he bade me adieu,
that I would be pleased with what he was about to do. Sometimes I fancy
that I do understand; but I dare not indulge myself with such blissful
thoughts for an instant. If I did, and were mistaken after all, the
disappointment would be too cruel--too heart-rending. But, if it only
could be true! ah! if it only might! I fear I should go mad with excess
of joy."

The young Comtesse de Lineuil was still absorbed in sad thoughts when a
tall lackey appeared, and asked if she would receive his lordship, the
Duke of Vallombreuse who had just arrived, at the chateau and desired to
speak with her.

"Certainly, I shall be delighted to see him," she said in glad surprise;
"ask him to come to me at once."

In a few minutes--which had seemed like hours to Isabelle--the young
duke made his appearance, with beaming eyes, rosy cheeks, light, elastic
step, and that air of glorious health and vigour which had distinguished
him before his illness. He threw down his broad felt hat as he came in,
and, hastening to his sister's side, took her pretty white hands and
raised them to his lips.

"Dearest Isabelle," he cried, "I am so rejoiced to see you again! I was
obliged to stay away from you much longer than I wished, for it is a
great deprivation to me now not to be with you every day--I have gotten
so thoroughly into the habit of depending upon your sweet society. But
I have been occupied entirely with your interests during my absence, and
the hope of pleasing my darling sister, and adding to her happiness, has
helped me to endure the long separation from her."

"The way to please me most, as you ought to have known," Isabelle
replied, "was to stay here at home quietly with your father and me, and
let us take care of you, instead of rushing off so rashly--with your
wound scarcely healed, or your health fully re-established--on some
foolish errand or other, that you were not willing to acknowledge."

"Was I ever really wounded, or ill?" said Vallombreuse, laughing. "Upon
my word I had forgotten all about it. Never in my life was I in better
health than at this moment, and my little expedition has done me no end
of good. But you, my sweet sister, are not looking as well as when I
left you; you have grown thin and pale. What is the matter? I fear that
you find your life here at the chateau very dull. Solitude and seclusion
are not at all the thing for a beautiful young woman, I know. Reading
and embroidery are but melancholy pastimes at best and there must be
moments when even the gravest, most sedate of maidens grows weary of
gazing out upon the stagnant waters of the moat, and longs to look upon
the face of a handsome young knight."

"Oh! what an unmerciful tease you are, Vallombreuse, and how you do love
to torment me with these strange fancies of yours. You forget that I
have had the society of the prince, who is so kind and devoted to me,
and who abounds in wise and instructive discourse."

"Yes, there is no doubt that our worthy father is a most learned and
accomplished gentleman, honoured and admired at home and abroad; but his
pursuits and occupations are too grave and weighty for you to share, my
dear little sister, and I don't want to see your youth passed altogether
in such a solemn way. As you would not smile upon my friend, the
Chevalier de Vidalinc, nor condescend to listen to the suit of the
Marquis de l'Estang, I concluded to go in search of somebody that would
be more likely to please your fastidious taste, and, my dear, I have
found him. Such a charming, perfect, ideal husband he will make! I am
convinced that you will dote upon him."

"It is downright cruelty, Vallombreuse, to persecute me as you do, with
such unfeeling jests. You know perfectly well that I do not wish to
marry; I cannot give my hand without my heart, and my heart is not mine
to give."

"But you will talk very differently, I do assure you, my dear little
sister, when you see the husband I have chosen for you."

"Never! never!" cried Isabelle, whose voice betrayed her distress.
"I shall always be faithful to a memory that is infinitely dear and
precious to me; for I cannot think that you intend to force me to act
against my will."

"Oh, no! I am not quite such a tyrant as that; I only ask you not to
reject my protege before you have seen him."

Without waiting for her reply, Vallombreuse abruptly left the room, and
returned in a moment with de Sigognac, whose heart was throbbing as
if it would burst out of his breast. The two young men, hand in hand,
paused on the threshold, hoping that Isabelle would turn her eyes
towards them; but she modestly cast them down and kept them fixed upon
the floor, while her thoughts flew far away, to hover about the beloved
being who she little dreamed was so near her. Vallombreuse, seeing that
she took no notice of them, and had fallen into a reverie, advanced
towards her, still holding de Sigognac by the hand, and made a
ceremonious bow, as did also his companion; but while the young duke was
smiling and gay, de Sigognac was deeply agitated, and very pale. Brave
as a lion when he had to do with men, he was timid with women--as are
all generous, manly hearts.

"Comtesse de Lineuil," said Vallombreuse, in an emphatic tone of voice,
"permit me to present to you one of my dearest friends, for whom I
entreat your favour--the Baron de Sigognac."

As he pronounced this name, which she at first believed to be a jest
on her brother's part, Isabelle started, trembled violently, and then
glanced up timidly at the newcomer.

When she saw that Vallombreuse had not deceived her, that it was really
he, her own true lover, standing there before her, she turned deathly
pale, and had nearly fallen from her chair; then the quick reaction
came, and a most lovely blush spread itself all over her fair face, and
even her snowy neck, as far as it could be seen. Without a word, she
sprang up, and throwing her arms round her brother's neck hid her face
on his shoulder, while two or three convulsive sobs shook her slender
frame and a little shower of tears fell from her eyes. By this
instinctive movement, so exquisitely modest and truly feminine, Isabelle
manifested all the exceeding delicacy and purity of her nature. Thus
were her warm thanks to Vallombreuse, whose kindness and generosity
overcame her, mutely expressed; and as she could not follow the dictates
of her heart, and throw herself into her lover's arms, she took refuge
in her transport of joy with her brother, who had restored him to her.

Vallombreuse supported her tenderly for a few moments, until he found
she was growing calmer, when he gently disengaged himself from her
clasping arms, and drawing down the hands with which she had covered her
face, to hide its tears and blushes, said, "My sweet sister, do not,
I pray you, hide your lovely face from us; I fear my protege will be
driven to believe that you entertain such an invincible dislike to him
you will not even look at him."

Isabelle raised her drooping head, and turning full upon de Sigognac her
glorious eyes, shining with a celestial joy, in spite of the sparkling
tear-drops that still hung upon their long lashes, held out to him her
beautiful white hand, which he took reverentially in both his own,
and bending down pressed fervently to his lips. The passionate kiss he
imprinted upon it thrilled through Isabelle's whole being, and for a
second she turned faint and giddy; but the delicious ecstasy, which
is almost anguish, of such emotion as hers, is never hurtful, and she
presently looked up and smiled reassuringly upon her anxious lover, as
the colour returned to her lips and cheeks, and the warm light to her
eyes.

"And now tell me, my sweet little sister," began Vallombreuse, with an
air of triumph, and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, "wasn't I right
when I declared that you would smile upon the husband I had chosen for
you? and would not be discouraged, though you were so obstinate? If I
had not been equally so, this dear de Sigognac would have gone back to
his far-away chateau, without even having seen you; and that would have
been a pity, as you must admit."

"Yes, I do admit it, my dearest brother, and also that you have been
adorably kind and good to me. You were the only one who, under the
circumstances, could bring about this reunion, and we both know how to
appreciate what you have so nobly and generously done for us."

"Yes, indeed," said de Sigognac warmly; "your brother has given us ample
proof of the nobility and generosity of his nature--he magnanimously put
aside the resentment that might seem legitimate, and came to me with his
hand outstretched, and his heart in it. He revenges himself nobly for
the harm I was obliged to do him, by imposing an eternal gratitude upon
me--a light burden, that I shall bear joyfully so long as I live."

"Say nothing more about that, my dear baron!" Vallombreuse exclaimed.
"You would have done as much in my place. The differences of two valiant
adversaries are very apt to end in a warm mutual attachment--we were
destined from the beginning to become, sooner or later, a devoted pair
of friends; like Theseus and Pirithous, Nisus and Euryalus, or Damon and
Pythias. But never mind about me now, and tell my sister how you were
thinking of her, and longing for her, in that lonely chateau of yours;
where, by the way, I made one of the best meals I ever had in my life,
though you do pretend that starvation is the rule down there."

"And _I_ had a charming supper there too," said Isabelle with a smile,
"which I look back upon with the greatest pleasure."

"Nevertheless," rejoined de Sigognac, "plenty does not abound there--but
I cannot regret the blessed poverty that was the means of first winning
me your regard, my precious darling! I am thankful for it--I owe
everything to it."

"_I_ am of opinion," interrupted Vallombreuse, with a significant smile,
"that it would be well for me to go and report myself to my father. I
want to announce your arrival to him myself, de Sigognac! Not that he
will need to be specially prepared to receive you, for I am bound to
confess--what may surprise my little sister here--that he knew such a
thing might come about, and was equally implicated with my graceless
self in this little conspiracy. But one thing yet--tell me before I go,
Isabelle, Comtesse de Lineuil, whether you really do intend to accept
the Baron de Sigognac as your husband--I don't want to run any risk of
making a blunder at this stage of the proceedings, you understand, after
having conducted the negotiations successfully up to this point. You do
definitely and finally accept him, eh?--that is well--and now I will
go to the prince. Engaged lovers sometimes have matters to discuss that
even a brother may not hear, so I will leave you together, feeling sure
that you will both thank me for it in your hearts. Adieu!--make the
most of your time, for I shall soon return to conduct de Sigognac to the
prince."

With a laughing nod the young duke picked up his hat and went away,
leaving the two happy lovers alone together, and--however agreeable his
company may have been to them, it must be admitted that his absence was,
as he had predicted, very welcome to both. The Baron de Sigognac eagerly
approached Isabelle, and--again possessed himself of her fair hand,
which she did not withdraw from his warm, loving clasp. Neither spoke,
and for a few minutes the fond lovers stood side by side and gazed into
each other's eyes. Such silence is more eloquent than any words. At last
de Sigognac said softly, "I can scarcely believe even yet in the reality
of so much bliss. Oh! what a strange, contradictory destiny is mine. You
loved me, my darling, because I was poor and unhappy--and thus my
past misery was the direct cause of my present felicity. A troupe of
strolling actors, who chanced to seek refuge under my crumbling roof,
held in reserve for me an angel of purity and goodness--a hostile
encounter has given me a devoted friend--and, most wonderful of all,
your forcible abduction led to your meeting the fond father who had
been seeking you so many years in vain. And all this because a Thespian
chariot went astray one stormy night in the Landes."

"We were destined for each other--it was all arranged for us in heaven
above. Twin souls are sure to come together at last, if they can only
have patience to wait for the meeting. I felt instinctively, when we met
at the Chateau de Sigognac, that you were my fate. At sight of you my
heart, which had always lain dormant before, and never responded to any
appeal, thrilled within me, and, unasked, yielded to you all its love
and allegiance. Your very timidity won more for you than the greatest
boldness and assurance could have done, and from the first moment of
our acquaintance I resolved never to give myself to any one but you, or
God."

"And yet, cruel, hard-hearted child that you were--though so divinely
good and lovely--you refused your hand to me, when I sued for it on my
knees. I know well that it was all through generosity, and that of the
noblest--but, my darling, it was a very cruel generosity too."

"I will do my best to atone for it now, my dearest de Sigognac, in
giving you this hand you wished for, together with my heart, which
has long been all your own. The Comtesse de Lineuil is not bound to be
governed by the scruples of Isabelle, the actress. I have had only one
fear--that your pride might keep you from ever seeking me again as I
am now. But, even if you had given me up, you would never have loved
another woman, would you, de Sigognac? You would have been faithful to
me always, even though you had renounced me--I felt so sure of that.
Were you thinking of me down there in your ancient chateau, when
Vallombreuse broke in upon your solitude?"

"My dearest Isabelle, by day I had only one thought--of you--and at
night, when I kissed the sacred pillow on which your lovely head had
rested, before laying my own down upon it, I besought the god of dreams
to show me your adored image while I slept."

"And were your prayers sometimes answered?"

"Always--not once was I disappointed--and only when morning came did you
leave me, vanishing through 'the ivory gates.' Oh I how interminable the
sad, lonely days seemed to me, and how I wished that I could sleep, and
dream of you, my angel, all the weary time."

"I saw you also in my dreams, many nights in succession. Our souls must
have met, de Sigognac, while our bodies lay wrapped in slumber. But now,
thanks be to God, we are reunited--and forever. The prince, my father,
knew and approved of your being brought here, Vallombreuse said, so we
can have no opposition to our wishes to fear from him. He has spoken to
me of you several times of late in very flattering terms; looking at me
searchingly, the while, in a way that greatly agitated and troubled me,
for I did not know what might be in his mind, as Vallombreuse had not
then told me that he no longer hated you, and I feared that he would
always do so after his double defeat at your hands. But all the terrible
anxiety is over now, my beloved, and blessed peace and happiness lie
before us."

At this moment the door opened, and the young duke announced to
de Sigognac that his father was waiting to receive him. The baron
immediately rose from his seat beside Isabelle, bowed low to her, and
followed Vallombreuse to the prince's presence. The aged nobleman,
dressed entirely in black, and with his breast covered with orders, was
sitting in a large arm-chair at a table heaped up with books and papers,
with which he had evidently been occupied. His attitude was stately
and dignified, and the expression of his noble, benevolent countenance
affable in the extreme. He rose to receive de Sigognac, gave him a
cordial greeting, and politely bade him be seated.

"My dear father," said Vallombreuse, "I present to you the Baron de
Sigognac; formerly my rival, now my friend, and soon to be my brother,
if you consent. Any improvement that you may see in me is due to his
influence, and it is no light obligation that I owe to him--though he
will not admit that there is any. The baron comes to ask a favour of
you, which I shall rejoice to see accorded to him."

The prince made a gesture of acquiescence, and looked reassuringly at de
Sigognac, as if inviting him to speak fearlessly for himself. Encouraged
by the expression of his eyes, the baron rose, and, with a low bow,
said, in clear, distinct tones, "Prince, I am here to ask of you the
hand of Mlle. la Comtesse Isabelle de Lineuil, your daughter."

The old nobleman looked at him steadily and searchingly for a moment,
and then, as if satisfied with his scrutiny, answered: "Baron de
Sigognac, I accede to your request, and consent to this alliance, with
great pleasure--so far, that is, as my paternal will accords with the
wishes of my beloved daughter--whom I should never attempt to coerce in
anything. The Comtesse de Lineuil must be consulted in this matter, and
herself decide the question which is of such vital importance to her.
I cannot undertake to answer for her--the whims and fancies of young
ladies are sometimes so odd and unexpected."

The prince said this with a mischievous smile--as if he had not long
known that Isabelle loved de Sigognac with all her heart, and was pining
for him. After a brief pause, he added: "Vallombreuse, go and fetch your
sister, for, without her, I cannot give a definite answer to the Baron
de Sigognac."

The young duke accordingly went for Isabelle, who was greatly alarmed at
this summons, and obeyed it in fear and trembling. Despite her brother's
assurances, she could not bring herself to believe in the reality of
such great happiness. Her breast heaved tumultuously, her face was very
pale, at each step her knees threatened to give way under her, and when
her father drew her fondly to his side she was forced to grasp the arm
of his chair tightly, to save herself from falling.

"My daughter," said the prince gravely, "here is a gentleman who does
you the honour to sue for your hand. For my own part, I should hail
this union with joy--for he is of an ancient and illustrious family,
of stainless reputation and tried courage, and appears to me to possess
every qualification that heart could desire. I am perfectly satisfied
with him--but has he succeeded in pleasing you, my child? Young heads do
not always agree with gray ones. Examine your own heart carefully,
and tell me if you are willing to accept the Baron de Sigognac as your
husband. Take plenty of time to consider--you shall not be hurried, my
dear child, in so grave a matter as this."

The prince's kindly, cordial smile gave evidence that he was in a
playful mood, and Isabelle, plucking up courage, threw her arms round
her father's neck, and said in the softest tones, "There is no need for
me to consider or hesitate, my dear lord and father! Since the Baron de
Sigognac is so happy as to please you, I confess, freely and frankly,
that I have loved him ever since we first met, and have never wished for
any other alliance. To obey, you in this will be my highest happiness."

"And now clasp hands, my children, and exchange the kiss of betrothal,"
cried the Duke of Vallombreuse gaily. "Verily, the romance ends more
happily than could have been expected after such a stormy beginning. And
now the next question is, when shall the wedding be?"

"It will take a little time to make due preparation," said the prince.
"So many people must be set to work, in order that the marriage of my
only daughter may be worthily celebrated. Meanwhile, Isabelle, here is
your dowry, the deed of the estate of Lineuil--from which you derive
your title, and which yields you an income of fifty thousand crowns
per annum--together with rent-rolls, and all the various documents
appertaining thereto"--and he handed a formidable roll of papers to her.
"As to you, my dear de Sigognac, I have here for you a royal ordinance,
which constitutes you governor of a province; and no one, I venture to
say, could be more worthy of this distinguished honour than yourself."

Vallombreuse, who had gone out of the room while his father was
speaking, now made his appearance, followed by a servant carrying a box
covered with crimson velvet.

He took it from the lackey at the door, and advancing, placed it upon
the table in front of Isabelle.

"My dear little sister," said he, "will you accept this from me as a
wedding gift?"

On the cover was inscribed "For Isabelle," in golden letters, and it
contained the very casket which the Duke of Vallombreuse had offered at
Poitiers to the young actress, and which she had so indignantly refused
to receive, or even look at.

"You will accept it this time?" he pleaded, with a radiant smile; "and
honour these diamonds of finest water, and these pearls of richest
lustre, by wearing them, for my sake. They are not more pure and
beautiful than yourself."

Isabelle smilingly took up a magnificent necklace and clasped it round
her fair neck, to show that she harboured no resentment; then put the
exquisite bracelets on her round, white arms, and decked herself with
the various superb ornaments that the beautiful casket contained.

And now we have only to add, that a week later Isabelle and de Sigognac
were united in marriage in the chapel at Vallombreuse, which was
brilliantly lighted, and filled with fragrance from the profusion of
flowers that converted it into a very bower. The music was heavenly, the
fair bride adorably beautiful, with her long white veil floating about
her, and the Baron de Sigognac radiant with happiness. The Marquis de
Bruyeres was one of his witnesses, and a most brilliant and aristocratic
assemblage "assisted" at this notable wedding in high life. No one, who
had not been previously informed of it, could ever have suspected
that the lovely bride--at once so noble and modest, so dignified and
graceful, so gentle and refined, yet with as lofty a bearing as a
princess of the blood royal--had only a short time before been one of a
band of strolling players, nightly fulfilling her duties as an actress.
While de Sigognac, governor of a province, captain of mousquetaires,
superbly dressed, dignified, stately and affable, the very beau-ideal
of a distinguished young nobleman, had nothing about him to recall
the poor, shabby, disconsolate youth, almost starving in his dreary,
half-ruined chateau, whose misery was described at the beginning of this
tale.

After a splendid collation, graced by the presence of the bride and
groom, the happy pair vanished; but we will not attempt to follow them,
or intrude upon their privacy--turning away at the very threshold of
the nuptial chamber, singing, in low tones, after the fashion of the
ancients, "Hymen! oh Hymen!"

The mysteries of such sacred happiness as theirs should be respected;
and besides, sweet, modest Isabelle would have died of shame if so much
as a single one of the pins that held her bodice were indiscreetly drawn
out.



CHAPTER XXII. THE CASTLE OF HAPPINESS

EPILOGUE

It will be readily believed that our sweet Isabelle had not forgotten,
in her exceeding happiness as Mme. la Baronne de Sigognac, her former
companions of Herode's troupe. As she could not invite them to her
wedding because they would have been so much out of place there--she
had, in commemoration of that auspicious occasion, sent handsome and
appropriate gifts to them all; offered with a grace so charming that
it redoubled their value. So long as the company remained in Paris, she
went often to see them play; applauding her old friends heartily, and
judiciously as well, knowing just where the applause should be given.
The young baronne did not attempt to conceal the fact that she had
formerly been an actress herself--not parading it, but referring to it
quietly, if necessary, as a matter of course; an excellent method to
disarm ill-natured tongues, which would surely have wagged vigorously
had any mystery been made about it. In addition, her illustrious birth
and exalted position imposed silence upon those around her, and her
sweet dignity and modesty had soon won all hearts--even those of her own
sex--until it was universally conceded that there was not a greater
or truer lady in court circles than the beautiful young Baronne de
Sigognac.

The king, Louis XIII, having heard Isabelle's eventful history, praised
her highly for her virtuous conduct, and evinced great interest in de
Sigognac, whom he heartily commended for his respectful, honourable
gallantry, under circumstances that, according to general opinion, would
authorize all manner of license. His deference to defenceless virtue
peculiarly pleased the chaste, reserved monarch, who had no sympathy
with, or indulgence for the wild, unbridled excesses of the licentious
youth of his capital and court. As to Vallombreuse, he had entirely
changed and amended his way of life, and seemed to find unfailing
pleasure and satisfaction, as well as benefit, in the companionship
of his new friend and brother, to whom he was devoted, and who fully
reciprocated his warm affection; while the prince, his father, joyfully
dwelt in the bosom of his reunited family, and found in it the happiness
he had vainly sought before. The young husband and wife led a charming
life, more and more in love with and devoted to each other, and never
experiencing that satiety of bliss which is ruinous to the most perfect
happiness. Although Isabelle had no concealments from her husband, and
shared even her inmost thoughts with him, yet for a time she seemed very
much occupied with some mysterious business--apparently exclusively her
own.

She had secret conferences with her steward, with an architect, and
also with certain sculptors and painters--all without de Sigognac's
knowledge, and by the connivance of Vallombreuse, who seemed to be her
confidant, aider and abettor.

One fine morning, several months after their marriage, Isabelle said to
de Sigognac, as if a sudden thought had struck her: "My dear lord, do
you never think of your poor, deserted, old chateau? and have you no
desire to return to the birthplace of our love?"

"I am not so unfeeling as that, my darling, and I have thought of it
longingly many times of late. But I did not like to propose the journey
to you without being sure that it would please you. I did not like to
tear you away from the delights of the court--of which you are the chief
ornament--and take you to that poor, old, half-ruined mansion, the haunt
of rats and owls, where I could not hope to make you even comfortable,
yet, which I prefer, miserable as it is, to the most luxurious palaces;
for it was the home of my ancestors, and the place where I first saw
you, my heart's delight!--spot ever sacred and dear to me, upon which I
should like to erect an altar."

"And I," rejoined Isabelle, "often wonder whether the eglantine in the
garden still blooms, as it did for me."

"It does," said de Sigognac, "I am sure of it--having once been blessed
by your touch, it must be always blooming--even though there be none to
see."

"Ah! my lord, unlike husbands in general, you are more gallant after
marriage than before," Isabelle said, laughingly, yet deeply touched by
his tender words, "and you pay your wife compliments as if she were your
ladylove. And now, since I have ascertained that your wishes accord
with my whim, will it please your lordship to set out for the Chateau
de Sigognac this week? The weather is fine. The great heat of summer is
over, and we can really enjoy the journey. Vallombreuse will go with
us, and I shall take Chiquita. She will be glad to see her own country
again."

The needful preparations were soon made, and the travelling party set
off in high spirits. The journey was rapid and delightful. Relays of
horses had been sent on in advance by Vallombreuse, so that in a few
days they reached the point where the road leading to the Chateau de
Sigognac branched off from the great post-road. It was about two o'clock
of a bright, warm afternoon when the carriage turned off the highway,
and as they got, at the same moment, their first view of the chateau,
de Sigognac could not believe the testimony of his own eyes--he was
bewildered, dazzled, overwhelmed--he no longer recognised the familiar
details which had been so deeply impressed upon his memory. All was
changed, as if by magic. The road, smooth, free from grass and weeds,
and freshly gravelled, had no more ruts; the hedges, neatly trimmed and
properly tended, no longer reached out long, straggling arms to catch
the rare passer-by; the tall trees on either side had been carefully
pruned, so that their branches met in an arch overhead, and framed in a
most astonishing picture. Instead of the dreary ruin, slowly crumbling
into dust, a fine new chateau rose before them--resembling the old one
as a son resembles his father. It was an exact reproduction--nothing
had been changed, only renewed--it was simply the ancient mansion
rejuvenated. The walls were smooth and unbroken, the lofty towers
intact, rising proudly at the four angles of the building, with their
freshly gilded weathercocks gleaming in the sunlight. A handsome new
roof, tastefully ornamented with a pretty design in different coloured
slates, had replaced the broken, weather-stained tiles, through which
the rain used to find its way down into the frescoed hall, and the long
suite of deserted rooms. Every window had bright large panes of clear
glass shining in its casement, and a magnificent great door, turning
smoothly and noiselessly upon its huge hinges, had superseded the old,
worm-eaten one, that used to groan and creak piteously when opened ever
so little. Above it shone the de Sigognac arms--three golden storks
upon an azure field, with this noble motto--entirely obliterated of
old--"Alta petunt."

For a few moments de Sigognac gazed at it all in silence, overcome by
astonishment and emotion. Then he suddenly turned to Isabelle, with
joyful surprise written in every line of his speaking countenance, and
seizing her hands passionately, and holding them firmly clasped in his,
said: "It is to you, my kind, generous fairy, that I owe this marvellous
transformation of my poor, dilapidated, old chateau. You have touched it
with your wand and restored its ancient splendour, majesty and youth.
I cannot tell you how enchanted, how gratified I am by this wonderful
surprise. It is unspeakably charming and delightful, like everything
that emanates from my good angel. Without a word or hint from me, you
have divined, and carried out, the secret and most earnest wish of my
heart."

"You must also thank a certain sorcerer, who has greatly aided me in
all this," said Isabelle softly, touched by her husband's emotion and
delight, and pointing to Vallombreuse, who was sitting opposite to her.
The two young men clasped hands for a moment, and smiled at each other
in friendly fashion. There was a perfect under standing between these
kindred spirits now, and no words were needed on either side.

By this time the carriage had reached the chateau, where Pierre, in a
fine new livery--and a tremor of delight--was waiting to receive them.
After an affectionate, as well as respectful, greeting from the faithful
old servant, they entered the grand portico, which had been, like all
the rest, admirably restored, and, alighting from the carriage, paused a
moment to admire its magnificent proportions ere they passed on into the
frescoed hall, where eight or ten tall lackeys were drawn up in line,
and bowed profoundly to their new master and mistress. Skilful artists
had retouched the ancient frescoes, and made them glow with all their
original brilliant tints. The colossal figures of Hercules were still
supporting the heavy cornice, and the busts of the Roman emperors looked
out majestically from their niches. Higher up, the vine climbing on
its trellis was as luxuriant as in the olden time, and there were no
unsightly stains on the bright blue sky of the vaulted roof to mar its
beauty. A like metamorphosis had been worked everywhere--the worm-eaten
woodwork had been renewed, the uneven floors relaid, the tarnished
gilding restored to its original splendour--and the new furniture
throughout had been made exactly like the old that it replaced. The fine
old tapestry in de Sigognac's own room had been minutely copied, down to
the smallest detail, and the hangings of the bed were of green and white
brocade, in precisely the same delicate tint and graceful pattern as the
old.

Isabelle, with her innate delicacy and perfect taste, had not aimed
at producing a sensation, by any overwhelming magnificence or dazzling
splendour in renovating the intrinsically fine old Chateau de Sigognac,
but had simply wished to gratify and delight the heart of her
husband, so tenderly loved, in giving back to him the impressions and
surroundings of his childhood and youth, robbed of their misery and
sadness. All was bright and gay now in this lordly mansion, erst so
dreary and melancholy; even the sombre old family portraits, cleansed,
retouched and revarnished by skilful hands, smiled down upon them, as
if pleased with the new order of things; especially their own handsome,
richly gilt frames.

After looking through the interior of the chateau, de Sigognac and
Isabelle went out into the court, where no weeds or nettles were to be
seen, no grass growing up between the paving stones, no heaps of rubbish
in the corners, and through the clear glass panes of the numerous
windows looking into it were visible the folds of the rich curtains in
the chambers that were formerly the favourite haunt of owls and bats.
They went on down into the garden, by a noble flight of broad stone
steps, no longer tottering and moss-grown, and turned first to seek the
wild eglantine which had offered its delicate little rose to the young
actress, on the memorable morning when the baron had decided to go forth
from his ruined castle for love of her. It had another dainty blossom
ready for her now, which Isabelle received from de Sigognac's hand, with
tears, that told of a happiness too deep for words, welling up into her
eyes, and exchanged with her adored and adoring husband a long, fond
look, that seemed to give to each a glimpse of heaven.

The gardeners had been busy too, and had converted the neglected
wilderness we made acquaintance with long ago into a veritable little
paradise. At the end of the well-ordered and exquisitely arranged garden,
Pomona still stood in her cool grotto, restored to all the beauty of her
youth, while a stream of pure, sparkling water poured from the lion's
mouth, and fell with a musical murmur into the marble basin. Even in
their best and most glorious days the garden and the chateau had never
known greater beauty and luxury than now. The baron, ever more and more
astonished and enchanted, as he rambled slowly through it all, like one
in a delicious dream, kept Isabelle's arm pressed tenderly to his heart,
and was not ashamed to let her see the tears that at last he could no
longer restrain, and which came from a very full heart.

"Now," said Isabelle, "that we have seen everything here, we must go and
inspect the different pieces of property we have been able to buy back,
so as to reconstruct, as nearly as possible, the ancient barony of
Sigognac. I will leave you for a few moments, to go and put on my riding
habit; I shall not be long, for I learned to make changes of that sort
very rapidly in my old profession, you know. Will you, meantime, go and
select our horses, and order that they should be made ready?"

Vallombreuse accompanied de Sigognac to the stables, where they found
ten splendid horses contentedly munching their oats in their oaken
stalls. Everything was in perfect order, but ere the baron had time to
admire and praise, as he wished to do, a loud whinnying that was almost
deafening suddenly burst forth, as good old Bayard peremptorily claimed
his attention. Isabelle had long ago sent orders to the chateau that the
superannuated pony should always have the best place in the stable,
and be tenderly cared for. His manger was full of ground oats, which he
seemed to be enjoying with great gusto, and he evidently approved highly
of the new regime. In his stall Miraut lay sleeping, but the sound of
his master's voice aroused him, and he joyfully jumped up and came to
lick his hand, and claim the accustomed caress. As to Beelzebub, though
he had not yet made his appearance, it must not be attributed to a want
of affection on his part, but rather to an excess of timidity. The poor
old cat had been so unsettled and alarmed at the invasion of the quiet
chateau by an army of noisy workmen, and all the confusion and changes
that had followed, that he had fled from his usual haunts, and taken up
his abode in a remote attic; where he lay in concealment, impatiently
waiting for darkness to come, so that he might venture out to pay his
respects to his beloved master.

The baron, after petting Bayard and Miraut until they were in ecstasies
of delight, chose from among the horses a beautiful, spirited chestnut
for himself, the duke selected a Spanish jennet, with proudly arched
neck and flowing mane, which was worthy to carry an Infanta, and an
exquisite white palfrey, whose skin shone like satin, was brought out
for the baronne. In a few moments Isabelle came down, attired in a
superb riding habit, which consisted of a dark blue velvet basque,
richly braided with silver, over a long, ample skirt of silver-gray
satin, and her broad hat of white felt, like a cavalier's, was trimmed
with a floating, dark blue feather. Her beautiful hair was confined in
the most coquettish little blue and silver net, and as she came forward,
radiant with smiles, she was a vision of loveliness, that drew forth
fervent exclamations of delight from her two devoted and adoring
knights. The Baronne de Sigognac certainly was enchantingly beautiful
in her rich equestrian costume, which displayed the perfection of her
slender, well-rounded figure to the greatest advantage, and there was
a high-bred, dainty look about her which bore silent witness to her
illustrious origin. She was still the sweet, modest Isabelle of old,
but she was also the daughter of a mighty prince, the sister of a proud
young duke, and the honoured wife of a valiant gentleman, whose race had
been noble since before the crusades. Vallombreuse, remarking it, could
not forbear to say: "My dearest sister, how magnificent you look
to-day! Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons, was never more superb, or more
triumphantly beautiful, than you are in this most becoming costume."

Isabelle smiled in reply, as she put her pretty little foot into de
Sigognac's hand, and sprang lightly into her saddle.

Her husband and brother mounted also, and the little cavalcade set forth
in high glee, making the vaulted portico ring with their merry laughter,
as they rode through it. Just in front of the chateau they met the
Marquis de Bruyeres, and several other gentlemen of the neighbourhood,
coming to pay their respects. They wished to go back into the chateau
and receive their guests properly, saying that they could ride out at
any time, but the visitors would not listen to such a thing, and turning
their horses' heads proposed to ride with them. The party, increased by
six or eight cavaliers in gala dress--for the provincial lordlings
had made themselves as fine as possible to do honour to their new
neighbours--was really very imposing; a cortege worthy of a princess.
They rode on between broad green fields, through woods and groves and
highly cultivated farms, all of which had now been restored to the
estate they had originally belonged to; and the grateful, adoring
glances that the Baron de Sigognac found opportunity to bestow upon his
lovely baronne, made her heart beat high with a happiness almost too
perfect for this weary world of trials and sorrows.

As they were riding through a little pine wood, near the boundary line
of the estate, the barking of hounds was heard, and presently the party
met the beautiful Yolande de Foix, followed by her old uncle, and one
or two attendant cavaliers. The road was very narrow, and there was
scarcely room to pass, though each party endeavoured to make way for the
other. Yolande's horse was prancing about restively, and the skirt of
her long riding-habit brushed Isabelle's as she passed her. She was
furiously angry, and sorely tempted to address some cutting words to the
"Bohemienne" she had once so cruelly insulted; but Isabelle, who had a
soul above such petty malice, and had long ago forgiven Yolande for
her unprovoked insolence, felt how much her own triumph must wound the
other's proud spirit, and with perfect dignity and grace bowed to Mlle.
de Foix, who could not do less than respond by a slight inclination of
her haughty head, though her heart was filled with rage, and she had
much ado to control herself. The Baron de Sigognac, with a quiet,
unembarrassed air, had bowed respectfully to the fair huntress, who
looked eagerly, but in vain, into the eyes of her former adorer for a
spark of the old flame that used to blaze up in them at sight of her.
Angry and disappointed, she gave her horse a sharp cut with the whip,
and swept away at a gallop.

"Now, by Venus and all the Loves," said Vallombreuse to the Marquis de
Bruyeres, beside whom he was riding, "that girl is a beauty, but she
looked deucedly savage and cross. How she did glare at my sister, eh! as
if she wanted to stab her."

"When one has long been the acknowledged queen of a neighbourhood,"
the marquis replied, "it is not pleasant to be dethroned, you know,
and every one must admit that Mme. la Baronne de Sigognac bears off the
palm."

The gay cavalcade, after a long ride, returned to the chateau, to find a
sumptuous repast awaiting them in the magnificent banqueting hall, where
the poor young baron had once supped with the wandering comedians, upon
their own provisions. What a transformation had been effected! now a
superb service of silver, bearing the family arms, shone upon the fine
damask that covered the table, in which also the three storks were
apparent, while beautiful porcelain and dainty glass, lovely flowers
and luscious fruits contributed to the attractions of the bountifully
furnished board. Isabelle sat in the same place she had occupied on the
eventful night that had changed the destiny of the young lord of the
chateau, and she could not but think of, and live over, that widely
different occasion, as did also the baron, and the married lovers
exchanged furtive smiles and glances, in which tender memories and
bright hopes were happily mingled.

Near one of the tall buffets stood a large, fine-looking man with a
thick black beard, dressed in black velvet, and wearing a massive chain
of silver round his neck, who kept a watchful eye upon the numerous
lackeys waiting on the guests, and from time to time gave an order, with
a most majestic air. Presiding over another buffet, on which were neatly
arranged numerous wine-bottles of different forms and dimensions, was
another elderly man, of short, corpulent figure, and with a jolly
red face, who stepped about actively and lightly, despite his age and
weight, dispensing the wine to the servants as it was needed. At
first de Sigognac did not notice them, but chancing to glance in their
direction, was astonished to recognise in the first the tragic Herode,
and in the second the grotesque Blazius. Isabelle, seeing that her
husband had become aware of their presence, whispered to him, that
in order to provide for the old age of those two devoted and faithful
friends she had thought it well to give them superior positions in their
household; in which they would have only easy duties to perform, as they
had to direct others in their work, not to do any themselves; and the
baron heartily approved and commended what his sweet young wife, ever
considerate for others, had been pleased to do.

Course succeeded to course, and bottle to bottle--there was much
laughing and talking around the convivial board, and the host was
exerting himself to do honour to the festive occasion, when he felt a
head laid on his knee, and a tattoo vigorously played by a pair of paws
on his leg that was well known to him of old. Miraut and Beelzebub, who
had slipped into the room, and under the table, without being detected,
thus announced their presence to their indulgent master. He did not
repulse them, but managed, without attracting notice, to give them
a share of everything on his plate, and was especially amused at the
almost insatiable voracity of the old black cat--who had evidently been
fasting in his hiding-place in the attic. He actually seemed to enjoy,
like an epicure, the rich and dainty viands that had replaced the frugal
fare of long ago, and ate so much that when the meal was over he could
scarcely stand, and made his way with difficulty into his master's
bed-chamber, where he curled himself up in a luxurious arm-chair and
settled down comfortably for the night.

Vallombreuse kept pace with the Marquis de Bruyeres, and the other
guests, in disposing of the choice wines, that did credit to the
pedant's selection; but de Sigognac, who had not lost his temperate
habits, only touched his lips to the edge of his wine-glass, and made
a pretence of keeping them company. Isabelle, under pretext of fatigue,
had withdrawn when the dessert was placed upon the table. She really was
very tired, and sent at once for Chiquita, now promoted to the dignity
of first lady's maid, to come and perform her nightly duties. The wild,
untutored child had--under Isabelle's judicious, tender and careful
training--developed into a quiet, industrious and very beautiful young
girl. She still wore mourning for Agostino, and around her neck was the
famous string of pearl beads--it was a sacred treasure to Chiquita, and
she was never seen without it. She attended to her duties quickly and
deftly--evidently taking great delight in waiting upon the mistress she
adored--and kissed her hand passionately, as she never failed to do,
when all was finished and she bade her good-night.

When, an hour later, de Sigognac entered the room in which he had spent
so many weary, lonely nights--listening to the wind as it shrieked and
moaned round the outside of the desolate chateau, and wailed along the
corridors-feeling that life was a hard and bitter thing, and fancying
that it would never bring anything but trials and misery to him--he
saw, by the subdued light from the shaded lamp, the face to him most
beautiful in all the world smiling lovingly to greet him from under the
green and white silken curtains that hung round his own bed, where it
lay resting upon the pillow he had so often kissed, and moistened with
his tears. His eyes were moist now--but from excess of happiness, not
sorrow--as he saw before him the blessed, blissful realization of his
vision.

Towards morning Beelzebub, who had been excessively uneasy and restless
all night, managed, with great difficulty, to clamber up on the bed,
where he rubbed his nose against his master's hand--trying at the same
time to purr in the old way, but failing lamentably. The baron woke
instantly, and saw poor Beelzebub looking at him appealingly, with his
great green eyes unnaturally dilated, and momentarily growing dim; he
was trembling violently, and as his master's kind hand was stretched
out to stroke his head, fell over on his side, and with one half-stifled
cry, one convulsive shudder, breathed his last.

"Poor Beelzebub!" softly said Isabelle, who had been roused from her
sweet slumber by his dying groan, "he has lived through all the misery
of the old time, but will not be here to share and enjoy the prosperity
of the new."

Beelzebub, it must be confessed, fell a victim to his own
intemperance--a severe fit of indigestion, consequent upon the enormous
supper he had eaten, was the cause of his death--his long-famished
stomach was not accustomed to, nor proof against, such excesses. This
death, even though it was only that of a dumb beast, touched de Sigognac
deeply; for poor Beelzebub had been his faithful companion, night and
day, through many long, weary years of sadness and poverty, and had
always shown the warmest, most devoted affection for him. He carefully
wrapped the body in a piece of fine, soft cloth, and waited, until
evening should come, to bury it himself; when he would be safe from
observation and possible ridicule. Accordingly, after nightfall, he took
a spade, a lantern, and poor Beelzebub's body, which was stiff and stark
by that time, and went down into the garden, where he set to work to
dig the grave, under the sacred eglantine, in what seemed to him like
hallowed ground. He wanted to make it deep enough to insure its
not being disturbed by any roaming beast of prey, and worked away
diligently, until his spade struck sharply against some hard substance,
that he at first thought must be a large stone, or piece of rock
perhaps. He attempted, in various ways, to dislodge it, but all in vain,
and it gave out such a peculiar, hollow sound at every blow, that
at last he threw down his spade and took the lantern to see what the
strange obstacle might be.

He was greatly surprised at finding the corner of a stout oaken chest,
strengthened with iron bands, much rusted, but still intact. He dug all
round it, and then, using his spade as a lever, succeeded in raising it,
though it was very heavy, to the edge of the hole, and sliding it out
on the grass beside it; then he put poor Beelzebub into the place it
had occupied, and filled up the grave. He carefully smoothed it over,
replaced the sod, and when all was finished to his satisfaction, went in
search of his faithful old Pierre, upon whose discretion and secrecy he
knew that he could rely. Together they carried the mysterious strong box
into the chateau, but not without great difficulty and frequent pauses
to rest, because of its immense weight. Pierre broke open the chest with
an axe, and the cover sprang back, disclosing to view a mass of gold
coins--all ancient, and many of them foreign. Upon examination, a
quantity of valuable jewelry, set with precious stones, was found
mingled with the gold, and, under all, a piece of parchment, with a huge
seal attached, bearing the three storks of the de Sigognacs, still in
a good state of preservation; but the writing was almost entirely
obliterated by dampness and mould. The signature, however, was still
visible, and letter by letter the baron spelled it out--"Raymond de
Sigognac." It was the name of one of his ancestors, who had gone to
serve his king and country in the war then raging, and never returned;
leaving the mystery of his death, or disappearance, unsolved. He had
only one child, an infant son, and when he left home--in those troublous
times--must have buried all his treasures for safety, and they had
remained undiscovered until this late day. Doubtless, he had confided
the secret of their whereabouts to some trusty friend or retainer, who,
perhaps, had died suddenly before he could disclose it to the rightful
heir. From the time of that Raymond began the decadence of the de
Sigognacs, who, previous to that epoch, had always been wealthy and
powerful.

Of course, the mystery about this treasure--so strangely brought to
light--could never be cleared up now; but one thing was certain, beyond
a question or a doubt, that the strong box and its contents belonged of
right to the present Baron de Sigognac--the only living representative
of the family. His first move was to seek his generous, devoted wife, so
that he might show her the mysterious treasure he had found, and claim
her sweet sympathy in his joy, which would be incomplete without it.
After relating to her all the surprising incidents of the evening, he
finished by saying, "Decidedly, Beelzebub was the good genius of the de
Sigognacs--through his means I have become rich--and now that my blessed
angel has come to me he has taken his departure; for there is nothing
else left for him to do, since you, my love, have given me perfect
happiness."





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