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Captain Fracasse by Theophile Gautier

Part 3 out of 9

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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

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