Saturday, October 13, 2007


Captain Fracasse by Theophile Gautier - I

Captain Fracasse by Theophile Gautier
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
"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
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 aciresses 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
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 portmits 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
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 be
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
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
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
"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
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
over-whelming 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
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
"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
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
"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
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 fn 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
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
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 leavetaking.
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.
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
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 wonderingr 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-hving 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
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 humonr tempered the air of pride that pervaded
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 followingy the hounds
company with the beatitiful 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
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 eariy 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.
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 sfirred, 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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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 struggiing
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,
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
"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 passiontely 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."
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
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 pattems, 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
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
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
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
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
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
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 imtendant 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
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 wihiter 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 hierogiyphics 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
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
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,
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
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
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, feanng 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
"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
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
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
"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
"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,
thle 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
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
"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
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 rendezvons 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
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.
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 manceuvre 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
"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
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 steadv
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
unboped-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
"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
"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
Chiteau 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
"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
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,
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 amusment 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
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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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 furished 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
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 bim--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
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.
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
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
"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
"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 themse1ves, 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
"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
"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
goten 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
"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
"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
"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 thoroughlv 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
"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. Bia;tius, 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
"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
"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
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
bewitcbingly 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
"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
"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 vou 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.
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 clnb, 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
"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
"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 Vidatine, 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
"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 conquored 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
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 deeplv. 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
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 house 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
variow 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
"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 nigbt 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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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 thetnselves 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
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
and more especially towards an adversary with whom be was to
fight on the morrow--until then hostilities were suspended, and
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
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 housea
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 be 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
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 Ieander, 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 wellbred 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
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
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.
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
"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
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
"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
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 man ner of tnan 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
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
"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 scom 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 fiashrd, 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 favour ite 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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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.
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
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.
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 be 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
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
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 be 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 bad 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.
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 wellfilled 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.
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
sym metry, 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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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."

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