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Captain Fracasse by Theophile Gautier

Part 4 out of 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The Marquis de Bruyeres! " said the duke, surprised, "have I any
quarrel with him? I don't recollect a difference between us ever;
and besides, it's an age since I've seen him.

Perhaps he imagines that I want to steal his dear Zerbine's heart
away from him; lovers are always fancying that everybody else is
enamoured of their own particular favourites. Here, Picard, give
me my dressing-gown, and draw those curtains round the bed, so as
to hide its disorder; make haste about it, do you hear? we must
not keep the worthy marquis waiting another minute."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I thank you," said the marquise, "for having retained such a
kind and tender remembrance of me; it proves that yours is a
noble, magnanimous soul. You had every reason to think me cruel,
ungrateful, false--when, alas! my poor heart in reality is but
too susceptible, and I was far from being insensible to the
passionate admiration you so gracefully testified for me. Your

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