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Captain Fracasse by Theophile Gautier

Part 6 out of 9

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been the dupe of a hypochondriac fancy, which could see nothing
anywhere but plots and conspiracies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jacquemin Lampourde, after parting company with Merindol, seemed
in great uncertainty as to which way he should go, and had not
yet decided when he reached the end of the Pont-Neuf. He was like
the donkey between two bundles of hay; or, if that comparison be
not pleasing, like a piece of iron between two magnets of equal
power. On the one side was lansquenet, with the fascinating
excitement of rapidly winning and losing the broad gold pieces
that he loved; and on the other the tavern, with its tempting
array of bottles; for he was a drunkard as well as a gambler,
this same notorious Jacquemin Lampourde. He stood stock still for
a while, debating this knotty point with himself, quite unable to
come to a decision, and growing very much vexed at his own
hesitation, when suddenly a brilliant idea occurred to him, and,
plunging his hand into his wellfilled pocket, he drew forth a
gold piece, which he tossed into the air, crying, "Head for the
tavern, tail for lansquenet." The coin rang upon the pavement as
it fell, and he kneeled down to see what fate had decided for
him; head was up. "Very well," said he, philosophically, as he
picked up the piece of money, carefully wiped off the mud, and
put it back in his pocket, "I'll go and get drunk." Then, with
long strides, he made off to his favourite tavern, which had the
advantage of being in the immediate vicinity of his own lodgings,
so that with a few zigzags he was at home, after he had filled
himself with wine from the soles of his boots to the apple in his
throat. It was not an inviting-looking place, this same tavern,
with the odd device of an enormous radish, bearing a golden
crown--now rather tarnished--which had served as its sign for
many generations of wine-drinkers. The heavy wooden shutters were
all closed when Lampourde reached it; but by the bright light
streaming through their crevices, and the sounds of song and
revelry that reached his ear, he knew that there must be a
numerous company within. Knocking on the door in a peculiar way
with the handle of his sword, he made himself known as an habitue
of the house, and was promptly admitted--the door being carefully
made fast again the moment he had entered. The large, low room
into which he made his way was filled with the smoke from many
pipes, and redolent with the fumes of wine. A cheerful wood fire
was blazing on the hearth, lighting up the array of bottles in
the bar, which was placed near it, where the master of the
establishment sat enthroned, keeping a watchful eye on the noisy
crowd gathered round the many small tables with which the room
abounded, drinking, smoking, playing at various games, and
singing ribald songs. Lampourde paid no attention to the
uproarious throng, further than to look about and make sure that
none of his own particular friends and associates were among
them. He found an unoccupied table, to which a servant quickly
brought a bottle of fine old Canary wine, very choice and rare,
which was reserved for a few privileged and appreciative
customers, who could afford to indulge in such luxuries. Although
he was quite by himself, two glasses were placed before him, as
his dislike of drinking alone was well known, and at any moment a
comrade might come in and join him. Meantime he slowly filled his
glass, raised it to the level of his eyes, and looked long and
lovingly through the beautiful, clear topaz of the generous wine.
Having thus satisfied the sense of sight, he passed to that of
smell, and held the glass under his nostrils, where he could
enjoy the delicious aroma arising from it, giving the wine a
rotary motion as he did so, in a very artistic manner; then,
putting the glass to his lips, he let a few drops trickle slowly
down over his tongue to his palate, lengthening out the enjoyment
as much as possible, and approving smack of relish as he at last
swallowed the smooth nectar. Thus Maitre Jacquemin Lampourde
managed to gratify three of the five senses man is blessed with
by means of a single glass of wine. He pretended that the other
two might also have a share of the enjoyment--that of touch by
the highly polished surface and swelling curves of the
wine-glass, and that of hearing by the merry ringing when two
glasses are clinked together, or by the musical sounds to be
brought forth from a glass by drawing the moistened finger round
and round the edge of it. But these are fantastic and paradoxical
ideas, which only serve to show the vicious refinement of this
fastidious ruffian. He had been but a few minutes alone when an
odd-looking, shabbily dressed individual came in, who rejoiced in
a remarkably pale face, which looked as if it had been chalked,
and a nose as red and fiery as a live coal; the idea of how many
casks of wine and bottles of brandy must have been imbibed to
bring it to such an intensity of erubescence would be enough to
terrify the ordinary drinker. This singular countenance was like
a cheese, with a bright, red cherry stuck in the middle of it;
and to finish the portrait it would only be necessary to add two
apple seeds, placed a little obliquely, for the eyes, and a wide
gash for a mouth. Such was Malartic--the intimate friend, the
Pylades, the Euryalus, the "fidus Achates" of Jacquemin
Lampourde; who certainly was not handsome--but his mental and
moral qualities made up for his little physical disadvantages.
Next to Lampourde--for whom he professed the most exalted
admiration and respect--he was accounted the most skillful
swordsman in Paris; he was always lucky at cards, and could drink
to any extent without becoming intoxicated. For the rest, he was
a man of great delicacy and honour, in his way--ready to run any
risk to help or support a friend, and capable of enduring any
amount of torture rather than betray his comrades-- so that he
enjoyed the universal and unbounded esteem of his circle.

Malartic went straight to Lampourde's table, sat down opposite to
him, silently seized the glass the other had promptly filled, and
drained it at a single draught; evidently his method differed
from his friend's, but that it was equally efficacious his nose
bore indisputable witness. The two men drank steadily and in
silence until they had emptied their third bottle, and then
called for pipes. When they had puffed away for a while, and
enveloped themselves in a dense cloud of smoke, they fell into
conversation, deploring the bad times since the king, his court
and followers, had all gone to Saint Germain, and comparing notes
as to their own individual doings since their last meeting. Thus
far they had paid no attention whatever to the company round
them, but now such a loud discussion arose over the conditions of
a bet between two men about some feat that one of them declared
he could perform and the other pronounced impossible, that they
both looked round to see what it was all about. A man of lithe,
vigorous frame, with a complexion dark as a Moor's, jet-black
hair and flashing eyes, was drawing out of his red girdle a
large, dangerous looking knife, which, when opened, was nearly as
long as a sword, and called in Valencia, where it was made, a
navaja. He carefully examined and tested the edge and point of
this formidable weapon, with which he seemed satisfied, said to
the man he had been disputing with, "I am ready!" then turned and
called, "Chiquita! Chiquita!"

At the sound of her name a little girl, who had been sleeping,
rolled up in a cloak, on the floor in a dark corner, rose and
came towards Agostino--for it was he of course--and, fixing her
large dark eyes upon his face earnestly, said,"Master, what do
you want me to do? I am ready to obey you here as everywhere
else, because you are so brave, and have so many red marks on
your navaja."

Chiquita said this rapidly, in a patois which was as
unintelligible to the Frenchmen around her as German, Hebrew or
Chinese. Agostino took her by the hand and placed her with her
back against the door, telling her to keep perfectly still, and
the child, accustomed to that sort of thing, showed neither alarm
nor surprise, but stood quietly, looking straight before her with
perfect serenity, while Agostino, at the other end of the room,
standing with one foot advanced, balanced the dread navaja in his
hand. Suddenly with a quick jerking movement he sent it flying
through the air, and it struck into the wooden door, just over
Chiquita's head. As it darted by, like a flash of lightning, the
spectators had involuntarily closed their eyes for a second,
but the fragile child's long dark eyelashes did not even
quiver. The brigand's wonderful skill elicited a loud burst of
admiration and applause from an audience not easily surprised or
pleased, in which even the man who had lost his water joined
enthusiastically. Agostino went and drew out the knife, which was
still vibrating, and returning to his place this time sent it in
between Chiquita's arm--which was hanging down by her side--and
her body; if it had deviated a hair's breadth it must have
wounded her. At this everybody cried "Enough!" but Agostino
insisted upon aiming at the other side as well, so as to prove to
them that there was no chance about it; that it was purely a
matter of skill. Again the terrible navaja flew through the air,
and went straight to the mark, and Chiquita, very much delighted
at the applause that followed, looked about her proudly, glorying
in Agostino's triumph. She still wore Isabelle's pearl beads
round her slender brown neck; in other respects was much better
dressed than when we first saw her, and even had shoes on her
tiny feet; they seemed to worry and annoy her very much, it is
true, but she found them a necessary nuisance on the cold Paris
pavements, and so had to submit to wearing them with as good a
grace as she could muster. When Agostino gave her leave to quit
her position she quietly returned to her corner, rolled herself
up anew in the large cloak, and fell sound asleep again, while
he, after pocketing the five pistoles he had won, sat down to
finish his measure of cheap wine; which he did very slowly,
intending to remain where he was as long as possible; he had no
lodging place yet in Paris, having arrived that very evening, and
this warm room was far more comfortable than a refuge in some
convent porch, or under the arch of a bridge perhaps, where he
had feared that he and Chiquita might have to lie shivering all
night long.

Quiet being restored, comparatively speaking, Lampourde and
Malartic resumed their interrupted conversation, and after a few
remarks upon the strange performance they had just witnessed--in
which Lampourde especially praised Agostino's marvellous skill,
and Malartic warmly commended Chiquita's wonderful courage and
sang-froid--the former confided to his friend that he had a piece
of work in prospect, in which he would need some assistance, and
desired to have his opinion as to which of their comrades would
be best suited for his purpose. He told him that, in the first
place, he was commissioned to despatch a certain Captain
Fracasse, an actor, who had dared to interfere with the love
affair of a very great lord. In this, of course, he would not
require any aid; but he had also to make arrangements for the
abduction of the lady, a very beautiful young actress, who was
beloved by both the nobleman and the comedian, and who would be
zealously defended by the members of the dramatic company to
which she belonged; so that he should be obliged to resort to
some stratagem, and would probably need the help of several hands
to carry it out--adding that they were sure of being well paid,
for the young lord was as generous and open handed as he was
wealthy and determined. Thereupon they fell to discussing the
respective merits of their numerous friends and
acquaintances--gentlemen of the same stamp as themselves--and
having decided upon four, and determined to keep an eye upon
Agostino, who seemed a clever rascal and might be of use, they
called for another bottle of wine. When that was finished
Jacquemin Lampourde was indisputably drunk, and having loyally
kept his word, retired, somewhat unsteadily, to his own quarters
in a high state of maudlin satisfaction, accompanied by his
friend Malartic, whom he had invited to spend the night with him.
By this time--it was nearly four o'clock in the morning--the
Crowned Radish was almost deserted, and the master of the
establishment, seeing that there was no prospect of further
custom, told his servants to rouse up and turn out all the
sleepers--Agostino and Chiquita among the rest--and his orders
were promptly executed.


The Duke of Vallombreuse was not a man to neglect his love
affairs, any more than his enemies. If he hated de Sigognac
mortally, he felt for Isabelle that furious passion which the
unattainable is apt to excite in a haughty and violent nature
like his, that has never met with resistance. To get possession
of the young actress had become the ruling thought of his life.
Spoiled by the easy victories he had always gained heretofore, in
his career of gallantry, his failure in this instance was utterly
incomprehensible to him, as well as astonishing and maddening. He
could not understand it. Oftentimes in the midst of a
conversation, at the theatre, at church, at the court, anywhere
and everywhere, the thought of it would suddenly rush into his
mind, sweeping everything before it, overwhelming him afresh with
wonder and amazement. And indeed it could not be easy for a man
who did not believe that such an anomaly as a truly virtuous
woman ever existed--much less a virtuous actress--to understand
Isabelle's firm resistance to the suit of such a rich and
handsome young nobleman as himself. He sometimes wondered whether
it could be that after all she was only playing a part, and
holding back for a while so as to obtain more from him in the
end--tactics that he knew were not unusual--but the indignant,
peremptory way in which she had rejected the casket of jewels
proved conclusively that no such base motives actuated Isabelle.
All his letters she had returned unopened. All his advances she
had persistently repulsed; and he was at his wit's end to know
what to do next. Finally he concluded to send for old Mme.
Leonarde to come and talk the matter over with him; he had kept
up secret relations with her, as it is always well to have a spy
in the enemy's camp. The duke received her, when she came in
obedience to his summons, in his own particular and favoured
room, to which she was conducted by a private staircase. It was a
most dainty and luxurious apartment, fitted up with exquisite
taste, and hung round with portraits of beautiful
women--admirably painted by Simon Vouet, a celebrated master of
that day--representing different mythological characters, and set
in richly carved oval frames. These were all likenesses of the
young duke's various mistresses, each one displaying her own
peculiar charms to the greatest possible advantage, and having
consented to sit for her portrait--in a costume and character
chosen by the duke--as a special favour, without the most remote
idea that it was to form part of a gallery.

When the duenna had entered and made her best curtsey, the duke
condescendingly signed to her to be seated, and immediately began
to question her eagerly about Isabelle--as to whether there were
any signs yet of her yielding to his suit, and also how matters
were progressing between her and the detested Captain Fracasse.
Although the crafty old woman endeavoured to put the best face
upon everything, and was very diplomatic in her answers to these
searching questions, the information that she had to give was
excessively displeasing to the imperious young nobleman, who had
much ado to control his temper sufficiently to continue the
conversation. Before he let her go he begged her to suggest some
plan by which he could hope to soften the obdurate
beauty--appealing to her great experience in such intrigues, and
offering to give her any reward she chose to claim if she would
but help him to succeed. She had nothing better to propose,
however, than secretly administering a strong narcotic to
Isabelle, and concerting some plan to deliver her into his hands
while unconscious from the effects of it; which even the
unscrupulous young duke indignantly rejected. Whereupon, fixing
her wicked old eyes admiringly upon his handsome face, and
apparently moved by a sudden inspiration, she said: "But why does
not your lordship conduct this affair in person? why not begin a
regular and assiduous courtship in the good old style? You are as
beautiful as Adonis, my lord duke! You are young, fascinating,
powerful, wealthy, a favourite at court, rich in everything that
is pleasing to the weaker sex; and there is not a woman on earth
who could long hold out against you, if you would condescend, my
lord, to plead your own cause with her."

"By Jove! the old woman is right," said Vallombreuse to himself,
glancing complacently at the reflection of his own handsome face
and figure in a full-length mirror opposite to him; "Isabelle may
be virtuous and cold, but she is not blind, and Nature has not
been so unkind to me that the sight of me should inspire her with
horror. I can at least hope to produce the same happy effect as a
fine statue or picture, which attracts and charms the eye by its
sym metry, or its beautiful and harmonious colouring. Then,
kneeling at her feet, I can softly whisper some of those
persuasive words that no woman can listen to unmoved--accompanied
by such passionately ardent looks that the ice round her heart
will melt under them and vanish quite away. Not one of the
loftiest, haughtiest ladies at the court has ever been able to
withstand them--they have thawed the iciest, most immaculate of
them all; and besides, it surely cannot fail to flatter the pride
of this disdainful, high-spirited little actress to have a real
duke actually and openly kneeling at her feet. Yes, I will take
the old woman's advice, and pay my court to her so charmingly and
perseveringly that I shall conquer at last--she will not be able
to withstand me, my sweet Isabelle. And it will be a miracle
indeed if she has a regret left then for that cursed de Sigognac;
who shall no longer interfere between my love and me--that I
swear! She will soon forget him in my arms."

Having dismissed old Mme. Leonarde with a handsome gratuity, the
duke next summoned his valet, Picard, and held an important
consultation with him, as to his most becoming costumes, finally
deciding upon a very rich but comparatively plain one, all of
black velvet; whose elegant simplicity he thought would be likely
to suit Isabelle's fastidious taste better than any more gorgeous
array, and in which it must be confessed that he looked adorably
handsome--his really beautiful face and fine figure appearing to
the utmost advantage.

His toilet completed, he sent a peremptory order to his coachman
to have the carriage, with the four bays, ready in a quarter of
an hour. When Picard had departed on this errand, Vallombreuse
began pacing slowly to and fro in his chamber, glancing into the
mirror each time he passed it with a self-satisfied smile. "That
proud little minx must be deucedly cross-grained and
unappreciative," said he, "if she does not perceive how much more
worthy I am of her admiration than that shabby de Sigognac. Oh,
yes! she'll be sure to come round, in spite of her obstinate
affectation of such ferocious virtue, and her tiresome, Platonic
love for her impecunious suitor. Yes, my little beauty, your
portrait shall figure in one of those oval frames ere long. I
think I'll have you painted as chaste Diana, descended from the
sky, despite her coldness, to lavish sweet kisses on Endymion.
You shall take your place among those other goddesses, who were
as coy and hard to please at first as yourself, and who are far
greater ladies, my dear, than you ever will be. Your fall is at
hand, and you must learn, as your betters have done before you,
that there's no withstanding the will of a Vallombreuse. 'Frango
nec frangor,' is my motto."

A servant entered to announce that the carriage awaited his
lordship's pleasure, and during the short drive from his own
house to the Rue Dauphine, the young duke, despite his arrogant
assurance, felt his heart beating faster than usual as he
wondered how Isabelle would receive him. When the splendid
carriage, with its four prancing horses and servants in gorgeous
liveries, drove into the courtyard of the hotel where the
comedians were stopping, the landlord himself, cap in hand,
rushed out to ask the pleasure of the lordly visitor; but, rapid
as were his movements, the duke had already alighted before he
could reach him. He cut short the obsequious host's obeisances
and breathless offers of service by an impatient gesture, and
said peremptorily:

"Mlle. Isabelle is stopping here. I wish to see her. Is she at
home? Do not send to announce my visit; only let me have a
servant to show me the way to her room."

"My lord, let me have the glory of conducting your lordship
myself--such an honour is too great for a rascally servant--I
myself am not worthy of so distinguished a privilege."

"As you please," said Vallombreuse, with haughty negligence,
"only be quick about it. There are people at every window
already, staring down at me as if I were the Grand Turk in

He followed his guide, who, with many bows and apologies,
preceded him upstairs, and down a long, narrow corridor with
doors on either side, like a convent, until they reached
Isabelle's room, where the landlord paused, and, bowing lower
than ever, asked what name he should have the honour of

"You can go, now," the duke replied, laying his hand on the door;
"I will announce myself."

Isabelle was sitting by the window, diligently studying her part
in a new play to be shortly put in rehearsal, and, at the moment
the Duke of Vallombreuse softly entered her chamber, was
repeating, in a low voice and with closed eyes, the verses she
was learning by heart--just as a child does its lessons. The
light from the window shone full upon her beautiful head and
face--seen in profile--and her lovely figure, thrown back in a
negligent attitude full of grace and abandon. She made a most
bewitching picture thus, and with a delicious effect of
chiaroscuro that would have enchanted an artist--it enthralled
the young duke.

Supposing that the intruder who entered so quietly was only the
chambermaid, come to perform some forgotten duty, Isabelle did
not interrupt her study or look up, but went on composedly with
her recitation. The duke, who had breathlessly advanced to the
centre of the room, paused there, and stood motionless, gazing
with rapture upon her beauty. As he waited for her to open her
eyes and become aware of his presence, he sank gracefully down
upon one knee, holding his hat so that its long plume swept the
floor, and laying his hand on his heart, in an attitude that was
slightly theatrical perhaps, but as respectful as if he had been
kneeling before a queen. Excitement and agitation had flushed his
pale cheeks a little, his eyes were luminous and full of fire, a
sweet smile hovered on his rich, red lips, and he had never
looked more splendidly, irresistibly handsome in his life. At
last Isabelle moved, raised her eyelids, turned her head, and
perceived the Duke of Vallombreuse, kneeling within six feet of
her. If Perseus had suddenly appeared before her, holding up
Medusa's horrid head, the effect would have been much the same.
She sat like a statue, motionless, breathless, as if she had been
petrified, or frozen stiff--her eyes, dilated with excessive
terror, fixed upon his face, her lips parted, her throat parched
and dry, her tongue paralyzed--unable to move or speak. A ghastly
pallor overspread her horror-stricken countenance, a deathly
chill seized upon all her being, and for one dreadful moment of
supreme anguish she feared that she was going to faint quite
away; but, by a desperate, prodigious effort of will, she
recalled her failing senses, that she might not leave herself
entirely defenceless in the power of her cruel persecutor.

"Can it be possible that I inspire such overwhelming horror in
your gentle breast, my sweet Isabelle," said Vallombreuse in his
most dulcet tones, and without stirring from his position, "that
the mere sight of me produces an effect like this? Why, a wild
beast, crouching to spring upon you from his lair, with angry
roar and blazing eyeballs, could not terrify you more. My
presence here may be a little sudden and startling, I admit; but
you must not be too hard upon one who lives only to love and
adore you. I knew that I risked your anger when I decided to take
this step; but I could not exist any longer without a sight of
you, and I humbly crave your pardon if I have offended you by my
ardour and devotion. I kneel at your feet, fair lady, a
despairing and most unhappy suppliant for your grace and favour."

"Rise, my lord, I beseech you," said the frightened, trembling
girl, speaking with great difficulty and in a voice that sounded
strange in her own ears; "such a position does not become your
rank. I am only an actress, and my poor attractions do not
warrant such homage. Forget this fleeting fancy, I pray you, and
carry elsewhere the ardour and devotion that are wasted upon me,
and that so many great and noble ladies would be proud and happy
to receive and reward."

"What do I care for other women, be they what they may?" cried
Vallombreuse impetuously, as he rose in obedience to her request;
"it is YOUR pride and purity that I adore, YOUR beauty and
goodness that I worship; your very cruelty is more charming to me
than the utmost favour of any other woman in the world. Your
sweet modesty and angelic loveliness have inspired in me a
passion that is almost delirium, and unless you can learn to love
me I shall die--I cannot live without you. You need not be afraid
of me," he added, as Isabelle recoiled when he made one step
forward, and tried to open the window with her trembling bands,
as if she meant to throw herself out in case of his coming any
nearer; "see, I will stay where I am. I will not touch you, not
even the hem of your garment, so great is my respect for you,
charming Isabelle! I do not ask anything more than that you will
deign to suffer my presence here a little longer now, and permit
me to pay my court to you, lay siege to your heart, and wait
patiently until it surrenders itself to me freely and of its own
accord, as it surely will. The most respectful lover could not do

"Spare me this useless pursuit, my lord," pleaded Isabelle, "and
I will reward you with the warmest gratitude; but love you I
cannot, now or ever."

"You have neither father, brother, husband, or affianced lover,"
persisted Vallombreuse, "to forbid the advances of a gallant
gentleman, who seeks only to please and serve you. My sincere
homage is surely not insulting to you; why do you repulse me so?
Oh! you do not dream what a splendid prospect would open out
before you if you would but yield to my entreaties. I would
surround you with everything that is beautiful and dainty,
luxurious and rare. I would anticipate your every wish; I would
devote my whole life to your service. The story of our love
should be more enchanting, more blissful than that of Love
himself with his delicious Psyche--not even the gods could rival
us. Come, Isabelle, do not turn so coldly away from me, do not
persevere in this maddening silence, nor drive to desperation and
desperate deeds a passion that is capable of anything, of
everything, save renouncing its adored object, your own sweet,
charming self!"

"But this love, of which any other woman would be justly proud,"
said Isabelle modestly, "I cannot return or accept; you MUST
believe me, my lord, for I mean every word I say, and I shall
never swerve from this decision. Even if the virtue and purity
that I value more highly than life itself were not against it, I
should still feel myself obliged to decline this dangerous

"Deign to look upon me with favour and indulgence, my sweet
Isabelle," continued Vallombreuse, without heeding her words,
"and I will make you an object of envy to the greatest and
noblest ladies in all France. To any other woman I should
say--take what you please of my treasures--my chateaux, my
estates, my gold, my jewels--dress your lackeys in liveries
richer than the court costumes of princes--have your horses shod
with silver--live as luxuriously as a queen--make even Paris
wonder at your lavish splendour if you will--though Paris is not
easily roused to wonder--but I well know that you have a soul far
above all such sordid temptations as these. They would have no
weight with you, my noble Isabelle! But there IS a glory that may
touch you--that of having conquered Vallombreuse--of leading him
captive behind your chariot wheels--of commanding him as your
servant, and your slave. Vallombreuse, who has never yielded
before--who has been the commander, not the commanded--and whose
proud neck has never yet bowed to wear the fetters that so many
fair bands have essayed to fasten round it."

"Such a captive would be too illustrious for my chains," said
Isabelle, firmly, "and as I could never consent to accept so much
honour at your hands, my lord, I pray you to desist, and relieve
me of your presence."

Hitherto the Duke of Vallombreuse had managed to keep his temper
under control; he had artfully concealed his naturally violent
and domineering spirit under a feigned mildness and humility,
but, at Isabelle's determined and continued--though modest and
respectful--resistance to his pleading, his anger was rapidly
rising to boiling point. He felt that there was love--devoted
love--for another behind her persistent rejection of his suit,
and his wrath and jealousy augmented each other. Throwing aside
all restraint, he advanced towards her impetuously--whereat she
made another desperate effort to tear open the casement. A fierce
frown contracted his brow, he gnawed his under lip savagely, and
his whole face was transformed--if it had been beautiful enough
for an angel's before, it was like a demon's now.

"Why don't you tell the truth," he cried, in a loud, angry voice,
"and say that you are madly in love with that precious rascal, de
Sigognac? THAT is the real reason for all this pretended virtue
that you shamelessly flaunt in men's faces. What is there about
that cursed scoundrel, I should like to know, that charms you so?
Am I not handsomer, of higher rank, younger, richer, as clever,
and as much in love with you as he can possibly be? aye, and
more--ten thousand times more."

"He has at least one quality that you are lacking in, my lord,"
said Isabelle, with dignity; "he knows how to respect the woman
he loves."

"That's only because he cares so little about you, my charmer!"
cried Vallombreuse, suddenly seizing Isabelle, who vainly strove
to escape from him, in his arms, and straining her violently to
his breast--despite her frantic struggles, and agonized cry for
help. As if in response to it, the door was suddenly opened, and
the tyrant, making the most deprecating gestures and profound
bows, entered the room and advanced towards Isabelle, who was at
once released by Vallombreuse, with muttered curses at this most
inopportune intrusion.

"I beg your pardon, mademoiselle," said Herode, with a furtive
glance at the duke, "for interrupting you. I did not know that
you were in such good company; but the hour for rehearsal has
struck, and we are only waiting for you to begin."

He had left the door ajar, and an apparently waiting group could
be discerned without, consisting of the pedant, Scapin, Leander,
and Zerbine; a reassuring and most welcome sight to poor
Isabelle. For one instant the duke, in his rage, was tempted to
draw his sword, make a furious charge upon the intruding
canaille, and disperse them "vi et armis"--but a second thought
stayed his hand, as he realized that the killing or wounding of
two or three of these miserable actors would not further his
suit; and besides, he could not stain his noble hands with such
vile blood as theirs. So he put force upon himself and restrained
his rage, and, bowing with icy politeness to Isabelle, who,
trembling in every limb, had edged nearer to her friends, he made
his way out of the room; turning, however, at the threshold to
say, with peculiar emphasis, "Au revoir, mademoiselle!"--a very
simple phrase certainly, but replete with significance of a very
terrible and threatening nature from the way in which it was
spoken. His face was so expressive of evil passions as he said it
that Isabelle shuddered, and felt a violent spasm of fear pass
over her, even though the presence of her companions guaranteed
her against any further attempts at violence just then. She felt
the mortal anguish of the fated dove, above which the cruel kite
is circling swiftly in the air, drawing nearer with every rapid

The Duke of Vallombreuse regained his carriage, which awaited him
in the court followed by the obsequious landlord, with much
superfluous and aggravating ceremony that he would gladly have
dispensed with, and the next minute the rumble of wheels
indicated to Isabelle that her dangerous visitor had taken his

Now, to explain the timely interruption that came so opportunely
to rescue Isabelle from her enemy's clutches. The arrival of the
duke in his superb carriage at the hotel in the Rue Dauphine had
caused an excitement and flutter throughout the whole
establishment, which soon reached the ears of the tyrant, who,
like Isabelle, was busy learning his new part in the seclusion of
his own room. In the absence of de Sigognac, who was detained at
the theatre to try on a new costume, the worthy tyrant, knowing
the duke's evil intentions, determined to keep a close watch over
his actions, and having summoned the others, applied his ear to
the key-hole of Isabelle's door, and listened attentively to all
that passed within--holding himself in readiness to interfere at
any moment, if the duke should venture to offer violence to the
defenceless girl--and to his prudence and courage it was due that
she escaped further persecution, on that occasion, from her
relentless and unscrupulous tormentor.

That day was destined to be an eventful one. It will be
remembered that Lampourde, the professional assassin, had
received from Merindol--acting for the Duke Of Vallombreuse--a
commission to put Captain Fracasse quietly out of the way, and
accordingly that worthy was dodging about on the Pont-Neuf, at
the hour of sunset, waiting to intercept his intended victim, who
would necessarily pass that way in returning to his hotel.
Jacquemin awaited his arrival impatiently, frequently breathing
on his fingers and rubbing them vigorously, so that they should
not be quite numb with the cold when the moment for action came,
and stamping up and down in order to warm his half-frozen feet.
The weather was extremely cold, and the sun had set behind the
Pont Rouge, in a heavy mass of blood-red clouds. Twilight was
coming on apace, and already there were only occasional
foot-passengers, or vehicles, to be encountered hurrying along
the deserted streets.

At last de Sigognac appeared, walking very fast, for a vague
anxiety about Isabelle had taken possession of him, and he was in
haste to get back to her. In his hurry and preoccupation he did
not notice Lampourde, who suddenly approached and laid hold of
his cloak, which he snatched off, with a quick, strong jerk that
broke its fastenings. Without stopping to dispute the cloak with
his assailant, whom he mistook at first for an ordinary foot-pad,
de Sigognac instantly drew his sword and attacked him. Lampourde,
on his side, was ready for him, and pleased with the baron's way
of handling his weapon, said to himself, though in an audible
tone, "Now for a little fun." Then began a contest that would
have delighted and astonished a connoisseur in fencing--such
swift, lightning-like flashing of the blades, as they gave and
parried cut and thrust--the clashing of the steel, the blue
sparks that leaped from the contending swords as the fight grew
more furious--Lampourde keeping up meanwhile an odd running
commentary, as his wonder and admiration grew momentarily greater
and more enthusiastic, and he had soon reached an exulting mood.
Here at last was a "foeman worthy of his steel," and he could not
resist paying a tribute to the amazing skill that constantly and
easily baffled his best efforts, in the shape of such
extraordinary and original compliments that de Sigognac was
mightily amused thereby. As usual, he was perfectly cool and
self-possessed, keeping control of his temper as well as of his
sword--though by this time he felt sure that it was another agent
of the Duke of Vallombreuse's he had to deal with, and that his
life, not his cloak, was the matter at stake. At last Lampourde,
who had begun to entertain an immense respect for his valiant
opponent, could restrain his curiosity no longer, and eagerly
asked, " Would it be indiscreet, sir, to inquire who was your
instructor? Girolamo, Paraguante, or Cote d'Acier would have
reason to be proud of such a pupil. Which one of them was it?"

"My only master was an old soldier, Pierre by name," answered de
Sigognac, more and more amused at the oddities of the
accomplished swordsman he was engaged with. "Stay, take that! it
is one of his favourite strokes."

"The devil!" cried Lampourde, falling back a step, "I was very
nearly done for, do you know! The point of your sword actually
went through my sleeve and touched my arm--I felt the cold steel;
luckily for me it was not broad daylight--I should have been
winged; but you are not accustomed, like me, to this dim,
uncertain light for such work. All the same, it was admirably
well done, and Jacquemin Lampourde congratulates you upon it,
sir! Now, pay attention, to me--I will not take any mean
advantage of such a glorious foe as you are, and I give you fair
warning that I am going to try on you my own secret and special
thrust Captain Fracasse--the crowning glory of my art, the
'ne plus ultra' of my science--the elixir of my life. It is known
only to myself, and up to this time has been infallible. I have
never failed to kill my man with it. If you can parry it I will
teach it to you. It is my only possession, and I will leave it to
you if you survive it; otherwise I will take my secret to the
grave with me. I have never yet found any one capable of
executing it, unless indeed it be yourself--admirable,
incomparable swordsman that you are! It is a joy to meet such an
one. But suppose we suspend hostilities a moment to take breath."

So saying Jacquemin Lampourde lowered the point of his sword, and
de Sigognac did the same. They stood eyeing each other for a few
moments with mutual admiration and curiosity, and then resumed
the contest more fiercely than ever--each man doing his best, as
he had need to do, and enjoying it. After a few passes, de
Sigognac became aware that his adversary was preparing to give
the decisive blow, and held himself on his guard against a
surprise; when it came, delivered with terrible force, he parried
it so successfully that Lampourde's sword was broken short off in
the encounter with his own trusty weapon, leaving only the hilt
and a few inches of the blade in his hand.

"If you have not got the rest of my sword in your body," cried
Lampourde, excitedly, "you are a great man!--a hero!--a god!"

"No," de Sigognac replied calmly, "it did not touch me; and now,
if I chose, I could pin you to the wall like a bat; but that
would be repugnant to me, though you did waylay me to take my
life, and besides, you have really amused me with your droll

"Baron," said Jacquemin Lampourde, calmly, "permit me, I humbly
pray you, to be henceforth, so long as I live, your devoted
admirer, your slave, your dog! I was to be paid for killing
you--I even received a portion of the money in advance, which I
have spent. But never mind that; I will pay it back, every penny
of it, though I must rob some one else to do it."

With these words he picked up de Sigognac's cloak, and having put
it carefully, even reverentially, over his shoulders, made him a
profound obeisance, and departed.

Thus the efforts of the Duke of Vallombreuse, to advance his suit
and to get rid of his rival, had once more failed ignominiously.


It is easy to imagine the frame of mind in which the Duke of
Vallombreuse returned home after his repulse by Isabelle, and her
rescue from his arms by the timely intervention of her friends,
the comedians. At sight of his face, fairly livid and contorted
with suppressed rage, his servants trembled and shrunk away from
him--as well they might--for his natural cruelty was apt to vent
itself upon the first unhappy dependent that happened to come in
his way when his wrath was excited. He was not an easy master to
serve, even in his most genial mood--this haughty, exacting young
nobleman--and in his frantic fits of anger be was more savage and
relentless than a half-starved tiger. Upon entering his own house
he rushed through it like a whirlwind, shutting every door behind
him with such a violent bang that the very walls shook, and
pieces of the gilt mouldings round the panels were snapped off,
and scattered on the floor. When he reached his own room he flung
down his hat with such force that it was completely flattened,
and the feather broken short off. Then, unable to breathe freely,
he tore open his rich velvet pourpoint, as he rushed frantically
to and fro, without any regard for the superb diamond buttons
that fastened it, which flew in every direction. The exquisitely
fine lace ruffles round his neck were reduced to shreds in a
second, and with a vigorous kick he knocked over a large
arm-chair that stood in his way, and left it upside down, with
its legs in the air.

"The impudent little hussy!" he cried, as he continued his
frenzied walk, like a wild beast in a cage. "I have a great mind
to have her thrown into prison, there to be well-whipped, and
have her hair shaved off, before being sent to a lunatic
asylum--or better still to some strict convent where they take in
bad girls who have been forcibly rescued from lives of infamy. I
could easily manage it. But no, it would be worse than
useless--persecution would only make her hate me more, and would
not make her love that cursed de Sigognac a bit less. How can I
punish her? what on earth shall I do?" and still he paced
restlessly to and fro, cursing and swearing, and raving like a
madman. While he was indulging in these transports of rage,
without paying any attention to how the time was passing, evening
drew on, and it was rapidly growing dark when his faithful
Picard, full of commiseration, screwed up his courage to the
highest point, and ventured to go softly in--though he had not
been called, and was disobeying orders--to light the candles in
his master's room; thinking that he was quite gloomy enough
already without being left in darkness as well, and hoping that
the lights might help to make him more cheerful. They did seem to
afford him some relief, in that they caused a diversion; for his
thoughts, which had been all of Isabelle and her cruel repulse of
his passionate entreaties, suddenly flew to his successful rival,
the Baron de Sigognac.

"But how is this?" he cried, stopping short in his rapid pacing
up and down the room. "How comes it that that miserable, degraded
wretch has not been despatched before this? I gave the most
explicit orders about it to that good-for-nothing Merindol. In
spite of what Vidalinc says, I am convinced that I shall succeed
with Isabelle when once that cursed ]over of hers is out of my
way. She will be left entirely at my mercy then, and will have to
submit to my will and pleasure with the best grace she can
muster--for I shall not allow any sulking or tears. Doubtless she
clings so obstinately to that confounded brute in the belief that
she can induce him to marry her in the end. She means to be Mme.
la Baronne de Sigognac--the aspiring little actress! That must be
the reason of all this mighty display of mock modesty, and of her
venturing to repulse the attentions of a duke, as scornfully, by
Jove! as if he were a stable-boy. But she shall rue it--the
impertinent little minx! and I'll have no mercy shown to the
audacious scoundrel who dared to disable this right arm of mine.
Halloa there! send Merindol up to me instantly, do you hear?"

Picard flew to summon him, and in a few moments the discomfited
bully made his appearance; pale from abject terror, with teeth
chattering and limbs trembling, as he was ushered into the dread
presence of his angry lord. In spite of his efforts to assume the
sang-froid he was so far from feeling, he staggered like a
drunken man, though he had not drank enough wine that day to
drown a fly, and did not dare to lift his eyes to his master's

"Well, you cowardly beast," said Vallombreuse angrily, how long,
pray, are you going to stand there speechless, like a stupid
fool, with that hang-dog air, as if you already had the rope that
you so richly deserve round your wicked neck? "I only awaited
your lordship's orders," stammered Merindol, trying to appear at
ease, and failing lamentably. "My lord duke knows that I am
entirely devoted to his service--even to being hanged, if it
seems good to your lordship."

"Enough of that cant!" interrupted the duke impatiently. "Didn't
I charge you to have that cursed de Sigognac, otherwise Captain
Fracasse, cleared out of my way? You have not done it--my orders
have not been obeyed. It is worth while, upon my word, to keep
confounded hired rascals to do such work for me, at this rate!
All that you are good for is to stuff yourself in the kitchen,
you dastardly beast, and to guzzle my good wine from morning
until night. But I've had enough of this, by Jove! and if there
is not a change, and that without any further loss of time, to
the hangman you shall go--do you hear? just as sure as you stand
there, gaping like a drivelling idiot."

"My lord duke," said Merindol in a trembling voice, is unjust to
his faithful servant, who desires nothing but to do his lord's
bidding. But this Baron de Sigognac is not to be disposed of so
easily as my lord believes. Never was there a braver, more
fearless man. In our first attack on him, at Poitiers, he got the
better of us in a most wonderful way--we never saw the like
of it--and all he had to fight with was a dull, rusty sword, not
intended for use at all; a theatre sword, just for looks. And
when we tried to do for him here in Paris, the very night he got
here, it all came to naught, because he was so watchful, and
somehow suspected what we were up to, and was ready for us; and
that upset our beautiful little plan entirely. I never was so
surprised in my life; and there was nothing for us to do, the
whole four of us, but to get out of his sight as fast as we
could, and he standing there laughing at us. Oh! he's a rare one,
is Captain Fracasse. And now he knows my face, so I can't go
near him myself. But I have engaged the services of a particular
friend of mine--the bravest man and the best fighter in Paris--he
hasn't his equal in the world with the sword, they all say. He is
lying in wait for him on the Pont-Neuf now, at this very moment,
and there'll be no mistake this time. Lampourde will be sure to
despatch him for us--if it is not done already--and that without
the slightest danger of your lordship's name being mixed up with
the affair in any way, as it might have been if your lordship's
own servants bad done it."

"The plan is not a bad one," said the young duke, somewhat
mollified, "and perhaps it is better that it should be done in
that way. But are you really sure of the courage and skill of
this friend of yours? He will need both to get the better of that
confounded de Sigognac, who is no coward, and a master hand with
the sword, I am bound to acknowledge, though I do hate him like
the devil."

"My lord need have no fears," said Merindol enthusiastically,
being now more at his ease. "Jacquemin Lampourde is a hero, a
wonder, as everybody will tell your lordship. He is more valiant
than Achilles, or the great Alexander. He is not spotless
certainly, like the Chevalier Bayard, but he is fearless."

Picard, who had been hovering about for a few minutes in an
uneasy way, now seeing that his master was in a better humour,
approached and told him that a very odd-looking man was below,
who asked to see him immediately on most important business.

"You may bring him in," said the duke, "but just warn him,
Picard, that if he dares to intrude upon me for any trifling
matter, I'll have him skinned alive before I let him go."

Mirindol was just about leaving the room, when the entrance of
the newcomer rooted him to the spot; he was so astonished and
alarmed that he could not move hand or foot. And no wonder, for
it was no other than the hero whose name he had just
spoken--Jacquemin Lampourde in person--and the bare fact of his
having dared to penetrate so boldly into the dread presence of
that high and mighty seignior, the Duke of Vallombreuse, ignoring
entirely the agent through whom his services had been engaged,
showed of itself that something very extraordinary must have
taken place.

Lampourde himself did not seem to be in the least disconcerted,
and after winking at his friend furtively in a very knowing way,
stood unabashed before the duke, with the bright light of the
many wax candles shining full upon his face. There was a red mark
across his forehead, where his hat had been pressed down over it,
and great drops of sweat stood on it, as if he had been running
fast, or exercising violently. His eyes, of a bluish gray tint,
with a sort of metallic lustre in them, were fixed upon those of
the haughty young nobleman, with a calm insolence that made
Merindol's blood run cold in his veins; his large nose, whose
shadow covered all one side of his face, as the shadow of Mount
Etna covers a considerable portion of the island of Sicily, stood
out prominently, almost grotesquely, in profile; his mustache,
with its long stiff points carefully waxed, which produced
exactly the effect of an iron skewer stuck through his upper lip,
and the "royal" on his chin curled upward, like a comma turned
the wrong way, all contributed to make up a very extraordinary
physiognomy, such as caricaturists dote on. He wore a large
scarlet cloak, wrapped closely about his erect, vigorous form,
and in one hand, which he extended towards the duke, he held
suspended a well filled purse--a strange and mysterious
proceeding which Mirindol could by no means understand.

"Well, you rascal," said the duke, after staring for a moment in
astonishment at this odd-looking specimen, "what does this mean?
Are you offering alms to me, pray, or what? with your purse there
held out at arm's length, apparently for my acceptance."

"In the first place, my lord duke," said Lampourde, with perfect
sang-froid and gravity, "may it not displease your highness, but
I am not a rascal. My name is Jacquemin Lampourde, and I ply the
sword for a living. My profession is an honourable one. I have
never degraded myself by taking part in trade of any kind, or by
manual labour. Killing is my business, at the risk of my own life
and limb--for I always do my work alone, unaided, armed only with
my trusty sword. Fair play is a jewel, and I would scorn to take
a mean advantage of anybody. I always give warning before I
attack a man, and let him have a chance to defend himself--having
a horror of treachery, and cowardly, sneaking ways. What
profession could be more noble than mine, pray? I am no common,
brutal assassin, my lord duke, and I beseech your lordship to
take back that offensive epithet, which I could never accept,
save in a friendly, joking way--it outrages too painfully the
sensitive delicacy of my amour-propre, my lord!"

"Very well, so be it, Maitre Jacquemin Lampourde, since you
desire it," answered Vallombreuse, very much amused at the oddity
of his strange visitor. "And now have the goodness to explain
your business here, with a purse in your hand, that you certainly
appear to be steadily offering to me."

Jacquemin satisfied by this concession to his susceptibility,
suddenly jerked his head forward, without bending his body, while
he waved the hat that he held slowly to and fro, making,
according to his ideas, a salute that was a judicious mingling of
the soldier's and the courtier's--which ceremony being concluded,
he proceeded as follows with his explanation:

"Here is the whole thing in a nutshell, my lord duke! I received,
from Merindol--acting for your lordship--part payment in advance
for despatching a certain Baron de Sigognac, commonly called
Captain Fracasse. On account of circumstances beyond my control,
I have not been able to finish the job, and as I am a great
stickler for honesty, and honour also, I have hastened to bring
back to you, my lord duke, the money that I did not earn."

With these words he advanced a step, and with a gesture that was
not devoid of dignity, gently laid the purse down on a beautiful
Florentine mosaic table, that stood at the duke's elbow.

"Verily," said Vallombreuse sneeringly, "we seem to have here one
of those droll bullies who are good for naught but to figure in a
comedy; an ass in a lion's skin, whose roar is nothing worse than
a bray. Come, my man, own up frankly that you were afraid of that
same de Sigognac."

"Jacquemin Lampourde has never been afraid of anybody in his
life," the fighting man replied, drawing himself up haughtily,
"and no adversary has ever seen his back. Those who know me will
tell your lordship that easy victories have no charm for me. I
love danger and court it. I take positive delight in it. I
attacked the Baron de Sigognac 'secundum artem,' and with one of
my very best swords--made by Alonzo de Sahagun, the elder, of

"Well, and what happened then?" said the young duke eagerly. "It
would seem that you could not have been victorious, since you
wish to refund this money, which was to pay you for despatching

"First let me inform your highness that in the course of my duels
and combats, of one sort and another, I have left no less than
thirty-seven men stretched dead upon the ground--and that without
counting in all those I have wounded mortally or crippled for
life. But this Baron de Sigognac intrenched himself within a
circle of flashing steel as impenetrable as the walls of a
granite fortress. I called into requisition all the resources of
my art against him, and tried in every possible way to surprise
him off his guard, but he was ready for everything--as quick as a
flash, as firm as a rock--he parried every thrust triumphantly,
magnificently, with the most consummate science, and a grace and
ease I have never seen equalled. He kept me busy defending myself
too all the time, and more than once had nearly done for me. His
audacity was astonishing, his sang froid superb, and his perfect
mastery over his sword, and his temper, sublime--he was not a
man, but a god. I could have fallen down and worshipped him. At
the risk of being spitted on his sword, I prolonged the fight as
much as I dared, so as to enjoy his marvellous, glorious,
unparalleled method to the utmost. However, there had to be an
end of it, and I thought I was sure of despatching him at last by
means of a secret I possess--an infallible and very difficult
thrust, taught and bequeathed to me by the great Girolamo of
Naples, my beloved master--no man living has a knowledge of it
but myself--there is no one else left capable of executing it to
perfection, and upon that depends its success. Well, my lord
duke, Girolamo himself could not have done it better than I did
to-night. I was thunderstruck when my opponent did not go down
before it as if he had been shot. I expected to see him lying
dead at my feet. But not at all, by Jove! That devil of a Captain
Fracasse parried my blow with dazzling swiftness, and with such
force that my blade was broken short off, and I left completely
at his mercy, with nothing but the stump in my hand. See here, my
lord duke! just look what he did to my precious, priceless
Sahagun." And Jacquemin Lampourde, with a piteous air, drew out
and exhibited the sorry remains of his trusty sword--almost
weeping over it--and calling the duke's attention to the
perfectly straight and even break.

"Your highness can see that it was a prodigious blow that snapped
this steel like a pipe-stem, and it was done with such ease and
precision. To despatch Captain Fracasse by fair means is beyond
my skill, my lord duke, and I would scorn to resort to treachery.
Like all truly brave men, he is generous. I was left entirely
defenceless, and he could have spitted me like an ortolan just by
extending his arm, but he refrained; he let me go unscathed. A
miraculous display of delicacy, as well as chivalrous generosity,
from a gentleman assaulted in the gloaming on the Pont-Neuf. I
owe my life to him, and moreover, such a debt of gratitude as I
shall never be able to repay. I cannot undertake anything more
against him, my lord duke; henceforth he is sacred to me.
Besides, it would be a pity to destroy such a swordsman--good
ones are rare in these degenerate days, and growing more so every
year. I don't believe he has his equal on earth. Most men handle
a sword as if it were a broomstick nowadays, and then expect to
be praised and applauded, the clumsy, stupid fools! Now, I have
given my reasons for coming to inform your highness that I must
resign the commission I had accepted. As for the money there, I
might perhaps have been justified in keeping it, to indemnify me
for the great risk and peril I incurred, but such a questionable
proceeding would be repugnant to my tender conscience and my
honest pride, as your highness can understand."

"In the name of all the devils in the infernal regions, take back
your money!" cried Vallombreuse impetuously, "or I will have you
pitched out of the window yonder, you and your money both. I
never heard of such a scrupulous scoundrel in my life. You,
Merindol, and your cursed crew,have not a spark of honour or
honesty among you all; far enough from it." Then perceiving that
Lampourde hesitated about picking up the purse, he added, "Take
it, I tell you! I give it to you to drink my health with."

"In that, my lord duke, you shall be religiously obeyed,"
Lampourde replied joyfully; "however, I do not suppose that your
highness will object to my dedicating part of it to lansquenet."
And he stretched out his long arm, seized the purse, and with one
dexterous movement, like a juggler, chucked it jingling into the
depths of his pocket.

"It is understood then, my lord duke, that I retire from the
affair so far as the Baron de Sigognac is concerned," continued
Lampourde, "but, if agreeable to your highness, it will be taken
in hand by my 'alter ego,' the Chevalier Malartic, who is worthy
to be intrusted with the most delicate and hazardous enterprises,
because of his remarkable adroitness and superior ability, and he
is one of the best fellows in the world into the bargain. I had
sketched out a scheme for the abduction of the young actress, in
whom your highness condescends to take an interest, which
Malartic will now carry out, with all the wonderful perfection of
detail that characterizes his clever way of doing things.
Merindol here, who knows him, will testify to his rare
qualifications, my lord duke, and you could not find a better man
for your purpose. I am presenting a real treasure to your
lordship in tendering Malartic's services. When he is wanted your
highness has only to send a trusty messenger to mark a cross in
chalk on the left-hand door-post of the Crowned Radish. Malartic
will understand, and repair at once, in proper disguise, to this
house, to receive your lordship's last orders."

Having finished this triumphant address, Maitre Jacquemin
Lampourde again saluted the duke as before, then put his hat on
his head and stalked majestically out of the room, exceedingly
well satisfied with his own eloquence, and what he considered
courtly grace, in the presence of so illustrious a nobleman. His
oddity and originality, together with his strange mingling of
lofty notions of honour and rascality, had greatly amused and
interested the young Duke of Vallombreuse, who was even willing
to forgive him for not having despatched de Sigognac; for, if
even this famous professional duellist could not get the better
of him, he really must be invincible, and in consequence the
thought of his own defeat became less galling and intolerable to
his pride and vanity. Moreover, he had not been able to get rid
of an uncomfortable consciousness, even in his most angry mood,
that his endeavouring to compass de Sigognac's assassination was
rather too great an enormity, not on account of any conscientious
scruples, but simply because his rival was a gentleman; he would
not have hesitated a second about having half-a-dozen bourgeois
murdered, if they had been rash or unfortunate enough to
interfere with him, the blood of such base, ignoble creature
being of no more consequence in his eyes than so much water.
Vallombreuse would have liked to despatch his enemy himself in
honourable combat, but that was rendered impossible by the
baron's superior ability as a swordsman, of which he still had a
painful reminder in his wounded arm; which was scarcely healed
yet, and would prevent his indulging in anything like a duel for
some time to come. So his thoughts turned to the abduction of the
young actress; a pleasanter subject to dwell upon, as he felt not
the slightest doubt that once he had her to himself, separated
from de Sigognac and her companions, she would not long be able
to withstand his eloquent pleading and personal attractions. His
self-conceit was boundless, but not much to be wondered at,
considering his invariable and triumphant success in affairs of
gallantry; so, in spite of his recent repulse, he flattered
himself that he only required a fitting opportunity to obtain
from Isabelle all that he desired.

"Let me have her for a few days in some secluded place," said he
to himself, "where she cannot escape from me, or have any
intercourse with her friends, and I shall be sure to win her
heart. I shall be so kind and good and considerate to her, treat
her with so much delicacy and devotion, that she cannot help
feeling grateful to me; and then the transition to love will be
easy and natural. But when once I have won her, made her wholly
mine, then she shall pay dearly for what she has made me suffer.
Yes, my lady, I mean to have my revenge--you may rest assured of


If the Duke of Vallombreuse had been furious after his
unsuccessful visit to Isabelle, the Baron de Sigognac was not
less so, when, upon his return that evening, he learned what had
taken place during his absence. The tyrant and Blazius were
almost obliged to use force to prevent his rushing off, without
losing a minute, to challenge the duke to mortal combat--a
challenge sure to be refused; for de Sigognac, being neither the
brother nor husband of the injured fair one, had no earthly right
to call any other gentleman to account for his conduct towards
her; in France all men are at liberty to pay their court to every
pretty woman.

As to the attack upon the baron on the Pont-Neuf, there could be
no doubt that it was instigated by the Duke of Vallombreuse; but
how to prove it? that was the difficulty. And even supposing it
could be proved, what good would that do? In the eyes of the
world the Baron de Sigognac, who carefully concealed his real
rank, was only Captain Fracasse, a low play-actor, upon whom a
great noble, like the Duke of Vallombreuse, had a perfect right
to inflict a beating, imprisonment, or even assassination, if it
so pleased him; and that without incurring the blame, or serious
disapproval, of his friends and equals.

So far as Isabelle was concerned, if the affair were made public,
nobody would believe that she was really pure and virtuous--the
very fact of her being an actress was enough to condemn her--for
her sake it was important to keep the matter secret if possible.
So there was positively no means of calling their enemy to
account for his flagrant misdeeds, though de Sigognac, who was
almost beside himself with rage and indignation, and burning
to avenge Isabelle's wrongs and his own, swore that he would
punish him, even if he had to move heaven and earth to compass
it. Yet, when he became a little calmer, he could not but
acknowledge that Herode and Blazius were right in advising that
they should all remain perfectly quiet, and feign the most
absolute indifference; but at the same time keep their eyes and
ears very wide open, and be unceasingly on their guard against
artful surprises, since it was only too evident that the
vindictive young duke, who was handsome as a god and wicked as
the devil, did not intend to abandon his designs upon them;
although thus far he had failed ignominiously in everything he
had undertaken against them.

A gentle, loving remonstrance from Isabelle, as she held de
Sigognac's hands, all hot and trembling with suppressed rage,
between her own soft, cool palms, and caressingly interlaced her
slender white fingers with his, did more to pacify him than all
the rest, and he finally yielded to her persuasions; promising to
keep quiet himself, and allow, things to go on just as usual.

Meantime the representations of the troupe had met with splendid
success. Isabelle's modest grace and refined beauty, Serafina's
more brilliant charms, the soubrette's sparkling vivacity and
bewitching coquetry, the superb extravagances of Captain
Fracasse, the tyrant's majestic mien, Leander's manly beauty, the
grotesque good humour of the pedant, Scapin's spicy deviltries,
and the duenna's perfect acting had taken Paris by storm, and
their highest hopes were likely to be realized. Having
triumphantly won the approbation of the Parisians, nothing was
wanting but to gain also that of the court, then at Saint
Germain, and a rumour had reached their ears that they were
shortly to be summoned thither; for it was asserted that the
king, having heard such favourable reports of them, had expressed
a desire to see them himself. Whereas Herode, in his character of
treasurer, greatly rejoiced, and all felt a pleasant excitement
at the prospect of so distinguished an honour. Meanwhile the
troupe was often in requisition to give private representations
at the houses of various people of rank and wealth in Paris,
and it quickly became the fashion among them to offer this very
popular style of entertainment to their guests.

Thus it befell that the tyrant, being perfectly accustomed to
that sort of thing, was not at all surprised, or suspicious of
evil, when one fine morning a stranger, of most venerable and
dignified mien, presented himself at the hotel in the Rue
Dauphine, and asked to speak with him on business. He appeared to
be the major-domo, or steward, of some great nobleman's
establishment, and, in effect, announced to Herode that he had
been sent to consult with him, as manager of the troupe, by his
master, the Comte de Pommereuil.

This highly respectable old functionary was richly dressed in
black velvet, and had a heavy gold chain round his neck. His face
was slightly sunburnt; the wavy hair that fell upon his
shoulders, his thick, bushy eyebrows, heavy mustache, and long,
sweeping beard were all white as snow. He had the most
patriarchal, benevolent air imaginable, and a very gentle, yet
dignified manner. The tyrant could not help admiring him very
much, as he said, courteously, "Are you, sir, the famous Herode I
am in quest of, who rules with a hand as firm as Apollo's the
excellent company of comedians now playing in Paris? Their renown
has gone abroad, beyond the walls of the city, and penetrated
even to my master's ears, on his estate out in the country."

"Yes, I have the honour to be the man you seek," the tyrant
answered, bowing very graciously.

"The Comte de Pommereuil greatly desires to have you give one of
your celebrated representations at his chateau, where guests of
high rank are sojourning at this moment, and I have come to
ascertain whether it will be possible for you to do so. The
distance is not very considerable, only a few leagues. The comte,
my master, is a very great and generous seignior, who is prepared
to reward your illustrious company munificently for their
trouble, and will do everything in his power to make them
comfortable while they are under his roof."

"I will gladly do all that I can to please your noble master,"
the tyrant replied, " though it will be a little difficult for
us to leave Paris at present, just in the height of the
season; even if it be only for a short absence."

"Three days would suffice for this expedition," said the
venerable major-domo persuasively; "one for the journey, the
second for the representation, and the third for the return to
Paris. There is a capital theatre at the chateau, furnished with
everything that is requisite, so that you need not be encumbered
with much luggage--nothing beyond your costumes. Here is a purse
containing a hundred pistoles that the Comte de Pommereuil
charged me to put into your hands, to defray the expenses of the
journey. You will receive as much more before you return, and
there will be handsome presents for the actresses forthcoming, of
valuable jewels, as souvenirs of the occasion."

After a momentary hesitation, the tyrant accepted the well-filled
purse tendered to him, and, with a gesture of acquiescence, put
it into his pocket.

"I am to understand then that you accept, and I may tell my
master that you will give a representation at the chateau, as he

"Yes, I place myself and my company at his disposition," Herode
said, smilingly. "And now let me know what day you want us to go,
and which of our pieces your master prefers."

"Thursday is the day my master designated; as for selecting the
play, that he leaves to your own good taste and discretion."

"Very well; and now you have only to give me directions as to the
road we must take to reach the chateau. Be as explicit as you
can, I pray you, so that there may be no danger of our going

The agent of the Comte de Pommereuil accordingly gave the most
minute and exact directions possible, but ended by saying, "Never
mind, you need not burden your memory with all these troublesome
details! I will send you a lackey to serve as guide."

Matters being thus satisfactorily arranged, the charming old
major-domo took leave of Herode, who accompanied him down the
stairs and across the court to the outer door of the hotel,
and departed, looking back to exchange a last polite sign of
farewell ere he turned the corner of the street. If the honest
tyrant could have seen him as he walked briskly away, the moment
he was safely out of sight, he would have been astonished at the
way the broad, stooping shoulders straightened themselves up, and
at the rapid, vigorous step that succeeded to the slow, rather
infirm gait of his venerable visitor--but these things our worthy
Herode neither saw nor suspected.

On Wednesday morning, as the comedians were finishing the packing
of their chariot, which stood ready for departure in the
courtyard of the hotel, with a pair of fine spirited horses
before it that the tyrant had hired for the journey, a tall,
rather fierce-looking lackey, dressed in a neat livery and
mounted on a stout pony, presented himself at the outer door,
cracking his whip vigorously, and announcing himself as the
guide, sent according to promise by the considerate major-domo,
to conduct them to the Chateau de Pommereuil.

Eight clear strokes rang out from the Samaritan just as the heavy
vehicle emerged into the Rue Dauphine, and our company of players
set forth on their ill-fated expedition. In less than half an
hour they had left the Porte Saint Antoine and the Bastile behind
them, passed through the thickly settled faubourg and gained the
open country; advancing towards Vincennes, which they could
distinguish in the distance, with its massive keep partially
veiled by a delicate blue mist, that was rapidly dispersing under
the influence of the bright, morning sunshine. As the horses were
fresh, and travelled at a good pace, they soon came up with the
ancient fortress--which was still formidable in appearance,
though it could not have offered any adequate resistance to the
projectiles of modern artillery. The gilded crescents on the
minarets of the chapel built by Pierre de Montereau shone out
brightly, as if joyous at finding themselves in such close
proximity to the cross--the sign of redemption. After pausing a
few minutes to admire this monument of the ancient splendour of
our kings, the travellers entered the forest, where, amid the
dense growth of younger trees, stood a few majestic old
oaks--contemporaries doubtless of the one under which Saint
Louis, that king of blessed memory, used to sit and dispense
justice to his loyal subjects in person--a most becoming and
laudable occupation for a monarch.

The road was so little used that it was grass-grown in many
places, and the chariot rolled so smoothly and noiselessly along
over it that they occasionally surprised a party of rabbits
frolicking merrily together, and were very much amused to see
them scamper away, in as great a hurry as if the hounds were at
their heels. Farther on a frightened deer bounded across the road
in front of them, and they could watch its swift, graceful flight
for some distance amid the leafless trees. The young baron was
especially interested in all these things, being country-bred,
and it was a delight unspeakable to him to see the fields, the
hedgerows, the forest, and the wild creatures of the wood once
more. It was a pleasure he bad been deprived of ever since he had
frequented cities and towns, where there is nothing to look at
but dingy houses, muddy streets and smoky chimneys--the works of
man not of God. He would have pined in them for the fresh country
air if he had not had the sweet companionship of the lovely woman
he adored; in whose deep, blue eyes he saw a whole heaven of

Upon emerging from the wood the road wound up a steep hill-side,
so the horses were stopped, to rest a few minutes before
beginning the ascent, and de Sigognac, profiting by the
opportunity thus afforded him, said to Isabelle, "Dear heart,
will you get down and walk a little way with me? You will find it
a pleasant change and rest after sitting still in the chariot so
long. The road is smooth and dry, and the sunshine deliciously
warm--do come!"

Isabelle joyfully acceded to this request, and putting her hand
into the one extended to help her, jumped lightly down. It was a
welcome means of according an innocent tete-a-tete to her devoted
lover, and both felt as if they were treading on air, they were
so happy to find themselves alone together, as, arm in arm, they
walked briskly forward, until they were out of sight of their
companions. Then they paused to look long and lovingly into each
other's eyes, and de Sigognac began again to pour out to Isabelle
"the old, old story," that she was never weary of hearing, but
found more heavenly sweet at every telling. They were like the
first pair of mortal lovers in Paradise, entirely sufficient to
and happy in each other. Yet even then Isabelle gently checked
the passionate utterances of her faithful suitor, and strove to
moderate his rapturous transports, though their very fervour made
her heart rejoice, and brought a bright flush to her cheeks and a
happy light to her eyes that rendered her more adorably beautiful
than ever.

"Whatever you may do or say, my darling," he answered, with a
sweet, tender smile, "you will never be able to tire out my
constancy. If need be, I will wait for you until all your
scruples shall have vanished of themselves--though it be not till
these beautiful, soft brown tresses, with their exquisite tinge
of gold where the sun shines on them, shall have turned to

"Oh!" cried Isabelle, "I shall be so old and so ugly then that
even your sublime courage will be daunted, and I fear that in
rewarding your perseverance and fidelity by the gift of myself I
should only be punishing my devoted knight and brave champion."

"You will never be ugly, my beloved Isabelle, if you live to be a
hundred," he replied, with an adoring glance, "for yours is not
the mere physical beauty, that fades away and vanishes--it is the
beauty of the soul, which is immortal."

"All the same you would be badly off," rejoined Isabelle, "if I
were to take you at your word, and promise to be yours when I was
old and gray. But enough of this jesting," she continued gravely,
"let us be serious! You know my resolution, de Sigognac, so try
to content yourself with being the object of the deepest, truest,
most devoted love that was ever yet bestowed on mortal man since
hearts began to beat in this strange world of ours."

"Such a charming avowal ought to satisfy me, I admit, but it does
not! My love for you is infinite--it can brook no bounds--it is
ever increasing--rising higher and higher, despite your
heavenly voice, that bids it keep within the limits you have
fixed for it."

"Do not talk so, de Sigognac! you vex me by such extravagances,"
said Isabelle, with a little pout that was as charming as her
sweetest smile; for in spite of herself her heart beat high with
joy at these fervent protestations of a love that no coldness
could repel, no remonstrance diminish.

They walked on a little way in silence--de Sigognac not daring to
say more then, lest he should seriously displease the sweet
creature he loved better than his own life. Suddenly she drew her
arm out of his, and with an exclamation of delight, sprang to a
little bank by the road-side, where she had spied a tiny violet,
peeping out from amid the dead leaves that had lain there all the
winter through--the first harbinger of spring, smiling up at her
a friendly greeting, despite the wintry cold of February. She
knelt down and gently cleared away the dry leaves and grass about
it, carefully broke the frail little stem, and returned to de
Sigognac's side with her treasure--more delighted than if she had
found a precious jewel lying hidden among the mosses.

"Only see, how exquisitely beautiful and delicate it is"--said
she, showing it to him--"with its dear little petals scarcely
unrolled yet to return the greeting of this bright, warm
sunshine, that has roused it from its long winter sleep."

"It was not the sunshine, however bright and warm," answered de
Sigognac, "but the light of your eyes, sweet Isabelle, that made
it open out to greet you--and it is exactly the colour too of
those dear eyes of yours."

"It has scarcely any fragrance, but that is because it's so
cold," said Isabelle, loosening her scarf, and putting it
carefully inside the ruff that encircled her slender, white neck.
In a few minutes she took it out again, inhaled its rich perfume,
pressed it furtively to her lips, and offered it to de Sigognac.

"See how sweet it is now! The warmth I imparted to it has
reassured the little modest, timid blossom, and it breathes out
its incomparable fragrance in gratitude to me."

"Say rather that it has received it from you," he replied,
raising the violet tenderly to his lips, and taking from it the
kiss Isabelle had bestowed--"for this delicate, delicious odour
has nothing gross or earthly about it--it is angelically pure and
sweet, like yourself, my own Isabelle."

"Ah! the naughty flatterer," said she, smiling upon him with all
her heart in her eyes. "I give him a little flower that he may
enjoy its perfume, and straightway he draws from it inspiration
for all sorts of high-flown conceits, and fine compliments.
There's no doing anything with him--to the simplest, most
commonplace remark he replies with a poetical flight of fancy."

However, she could not have been very seriously displeased, for
she took his arm again, and even leaned upon it rather more
heavily than the exigencies of the way actually required; which
goes to prove that the purest virtue is not insensible to pretty
compliments, and that modesty itself knows how to recompense
delicate flattery.

Not far from the road they were travelling stood a small group of
thatched cottages--scarcely more than huts--whose inhabitants
were all afield at their work, excepting a poor blind man,
attended by a little ragged boy, who sat on a stone by the
wayside, apparently to solicit alms from those who passed by.
Although he seemed to be extremely aged and feeble, he was
chanting a sort of lament over his misfortunes, and an appeal to
the charity of travellers, in a loud, whining, yet vigorous
voice; promising his prayers to those who gave him of their
substance, and assuring them that they should surely go to
Paradise as a reward for their generosity. For some time before
they came up with him, Isabelle and de Sigognac had heard his
doleful chant--much to the annoyance of the latter; for when one
is listening, entranced, to the sweet singing of the nightingale,
it is sorely vexatious to be intruded upon by the discordant
croaking of a raven. As they drew near to the poor old blind man,
they saw his little attendant bend down and whisper in his ear,
whereupon he redoubled his groans and supplications--at the same
time holding out towards them a small wooden bowl, in which were
a few coppers, and shaking it, so as to make them rattle as
loudly as possible, to attract their attention. He was a
venerable looking old man, with a long white beard, and seemed to
be shivering with cold, despite the great, thick, woollen cloak
in which he was wrapped. The child, a wild-looking little
creature, whose scanty, tattered clothing was but a poor
protection against the stinging cold, shrunk timidly from notice,
and tried to hide himself behind his aged charge. Isabelle's
tender heart was moved to pity at the sight of so much misery,
and she stopped in front of the forlorn little group while she
searched in her pocket for her purse--not finding it there she
turned to her companion and asked him to lend her a little money
for the poor old blind beggar, which the baron hastened to
do--though he was thoroughly out of patience with his whining
jeremiads--and, to prevent Isabelle's coming in actual contact
with him, stepped forward himself to deposit the coins in his
wooden bowl. Thereupon, instead of tearfully thanking his
benefactor and invoking blessings upon his head, after the usual
fashion of such gentry, the blind man--to Isabelle's
inexpressible alarm--suddenly sprang to his feet, and
straightening himself up with a jerk, opened his arms wide, as a
vulture spreads its wings for flight, gathered up his ample cloak
about his shoulders with lightning rapidity and flung it from him
with a quick, sweeping motion like that with which the fisherman
casts his net. The huge, heavy mantle spread itself out like a
dense cloud directly above de Sigognac, and falling over and
about him enveloped him from head to foot in its long, clinging
folds, held firmly down by the lead with which its edges were
weighted--making him a helpless prisoner--depriving him at once
of sight and breath, and of the use of his hands and feet. The
young actress, wild with terror, turned to fly and call for help,
but before she could stir, or utter a sound, a hand was clapped
over her mouth, and she felt herself lifted from the ground. The
old blind beggar, who, as by a miracle, had suddenly become young
and active, and possessed of all his faculties, had seized her by
the shoulders, while the boy took her by the feet, and they
carried her swiftly and silently round a clump of bushes near by
to where a man on horseback and masked, was waiting for them.
Two other men, also mounted and masked, and armed to the
teeth, were standing close at hand, behind a wall that prevented
their being seen from the road. Poor Isabelle, nearly fainting
with fright, was lifted up in front of the first horseman, and
seated on a cloak folded so as to serve for a cushion; a broad
leather strap being passed round her waist, which also encircled
that of the rider, to hold her securely in her place. All this
was done with great rapidity and dexterity, as if her captors
were accustomed to such manoeuvres, and then the horseman, who
held her firmly with one hand, shook his bridle with the other,
drove his spurs into the horse's sides, and was off like a
flash--the whole thing being done in less time than it takes to
describe it. Meanwhile de Sigognac was struggling fiercely and
wildly under the heavy cloak that enveloped him--like a gladiator
entangled in his adversary's net--beside himself with rage and
despair, as he gasped for breath in his stifling prison, and
realized that this diabolical outrage must be the work of the
Duke of Vallombreuse. Suddenly, like an inspiration, the thought
flashed into his mind of using his dagger to free himself from
the thick, clinging folds, that weighed him down like the leaden
cloaks of the wretched condemned spirits we read of with a
shudder in Dante's Inferno. With two or three strong, quick
strokes he succeeded in cutting through it, and casting it from
him, with a fierce imprecation, perceived Isabelle's abductors,
still near at hand, galloping across a neighbouring field, and
apparently making for a thick grove at a considerable distance
from where he was standing. As to the blind beggar and the child,
they had disappeared--probably hiding somewhere near by--but de
Sigognac did not waste a second thought on them; throwing off his
own cloak, lest it should impede him, he started swiftly in
pursuit of the flying enemy and their fair prize, with fury and
despair in his heart. He was agile and vigorous, lithe of frame,
fleet of foot, the very figure for a runner, and he quickly began
to gain on the horsemen. As soon as they became aware of this one
of them drew a pistol from his girdle and fired at their pursuer,
but missed him; whereupon de Sigognac, bounding rapidly from
side to side as he ran, made it impossible for them to take aim
at him, and effectually prevented their arresting his course in
that way. The man who had Isabelle in front of him tried to ride
on in advance, and leave the other two to deal with the baron,
but the young actress struggled so violently on the horse's neck,
and kept clutching so persistently at the bridle, that his rider
could not urge him to his greatest speed. Meantime de Sigognac
was steadily gaining upon them; without slackening his pace he
had managed to draw his sword from the scabbard, and brandished
it aloft, ready for action, as he ran. It is true that he was one
against three--that he was on foot while they were on
horseback--but he had not time to consider the odds against him,
and he seemed possessed of the strength of a giant in Isabelle's
behalf. Making a prodigious effort, he suddenly increased his
speed, and coming up with the two horsemen, who were a little
behind the other one, quickly disposed of them, by vigorously
pricking their horses' flanks with the point of his sword; for,
what with fright and pain, the animals, after plunging violently,
threw off all restraint and bolted--dashing off across country as
if the devil were after them, and carrying their riders with
them, just as de Sigognac had expected and intended that they
should do. The brave young baron was nearly spent--panting,
almost sobbing, as he struggled desperately on--feeling as if his
heart would burst at every agonizing throb; but he was indued
with supernatural strength and endurance, and as Isabelle's voice
reached his ear calling, "Help, de Sigognac, help!" he cleared
with a bound the space that separated them, and leaping up to
catch the broad leathern strap that was passed round her and her
captor, answered in a hoarse, shrill tone, "I am here." Clinging
to the strap, he ran along beside the galloping horse--like the
grooms that the Romans called desultores--and strove with all his
might to pull the rider down out of his saddle. He did not dare
to use his sword to disable him, as they struggled together, lest
he should wound Isabelle also; and, meantime, the man on
horseback was trying his utmost to shake off his fierce
assailant-unsuccessfully, because he had both hands fully
occupied with his horse and his captive, who was doing all she
could to slip from his grasp, and throw herself into her lover's
arms. Loosing his hold on the rein for a second, the horseman
managed to draw a knife from his girdle, and with one blow
severed the strap to which the baron was clinging; then, driving
his spurs into the horse's sides made the frightened animal
spring suddenly forward, while de Sigognac--who was not prepared
for this emergency, and found himself deprived of all
support--fell violently upon his back in the road. He was up
again in an instant, and flying after Isabelle, who was now being
borne rapidly away from him, and whose cries for help came more
and more faintly to his ear; but the moment he had lost made his
pursuit hopeless, and he knew that it was all in vain when he saw
her disappear behind the thicket her ravisher had been aiming for
from the first. His heart sank within him, and he staggered as he
still ran feebly on--feeling now the effects of his superhuman
exertions, and fearing at each step that his feet would carry him
no farther. He was soon overtaken by Herode and Scapin, who,
alarmed by the pistol shot, and fearing that something was wrong,
had started in hot pursuit, though the lackey who served them as
guide had done all that he possibly could to hinder them, and in
a few faltering words he told them what had occurred.

"Vallombreuse again!" cried the tyrant, with an oath. "But how
the devil did he get wind of our expedition to the Chateau de
Pommereuil? or can it be possible that it was all a plot from the
beginning, and we are bound on a fool's errand? I really begin to
think it must be so. If it is true, I never saw a better actor in
my life than that respectable old major-domo, confound him! But
let us make haste and search this grove thoroughly; we may find
some trace of poor Isabelle; sweet creature that she is! Rough
old tyrant though I be, my heart warms to her, and I love her
more tenderly than I do myself. Alas! I'm afraid, that this poor,
innocent, little fly is caught in the toils of a cruel spider,
who will take care never to let us get sight of her again."

"I will crush him," said de Sigognac, striking his heel savagely
on the ground, as if he actually had the spider under it. "I will
crush the life out of him, the venomous beast!" and the fierce,
determined expression of his usually calm, mild countenance
showed that this was no idle threat, but that he was terribly in

"Look," cried Herode, as they dashed through the thicket, "there
they are!

They could just discern, through the screen of leafless but
thickly interlaced branches, a carriage, with all the curtains
carefully closed, and drawn by four horses lashed to a gallop,
which was rapidly rolling away from them in the distance. The two
men whose horses had run away with them had them again under
control, and were riding on either side of it--one of them
leading the horse that had carried Isabelle and her captor. HE
was doubtless mounting guard over her in the carriage--perhaps
using force to keep her quiet--at thought of which de Sigognac
could scarcely control the transport of rage and agony that shook
him. Although the three pursuers followed the fugitives, as fast
as they could run, it was all of no avail, for they soon lost
sight of them altogether, and nothing remained to be done but to
ascertain, if possible, the direction they had taken, so as to
have some clew to poor Isabelle's whereabouts. They had
considerable difficulty in making out the marks of the carriage
wheels, for the roads were very dry; and when at length they had
succeeded in tracing them to a place where four roads met they
lost them entirely--it was utterly impossible to tell which way
they had gone. After a long and fruitless search they turned back
sorrowfully to join their companions, trying to devise some plan
for Isabelle's rescue, but feeling acutely how hopeless it was.
They found the others in the chariot waiting for them, just where
the tyrant and Scapin had left them, for their false guide had
put spurs to his horse and ridden off after his confederates, as
soon as he became aware that their undertaking had proved
successful. When Herode asked an old peasant woman, who came by
with a bundle of fagots on her back, how far it was to the
Chateau de Pommereuil, she answered that there was no place of
that name anywhere in the country round. Upon being questioned
closely, she said that she had lived in the neighbourhood for
seventy years, knew every house within many leagues, and could
positively assure them that there was no such Chateau within a
day's journey. So it was only too evident that they were the
dupes of the clever agents of the Duke of Vallombreuse, who had
at last succeeded in getting possession of Isabelle, as he had
sworn that he would do. Accordingly, all of the party turned back
towards Paris, excepting de Sigognac, the tyrant and Scapin, who
had decided to go on to the next village, where they hoped to be
able to procure horses, with which to prosecute their search for
Isabelle and her abductors.

After the baron's fall, she had been swiftly taken on to the
other side of the thicket, where the carriage stood awaiting her;
then lifted down from the horse and put into it, in spite of her
frantic struggles and remonstrances. The man who had held her in
front of him got down also and sprang in after her, closing the
door with a bang, and instantly they were off at a tremendous
pace. He seated himself opposite to her, and when she impetuously
tried to pull aside the curtain, so that she could see out of the
window nearest to her, he respectfully but firmly restrained her.

"Mademoiselle, I implore you to keep quiet," he said, with the
utmost politeness, "and not oblige me to use forcible means to
restrain so charming and adorable a creature as your most lovely
self. No harm shall come to you--do not be afraid!--only kindness
is intended; therefore I beseech you do not persist in vain
resistance. If you will only submit quietly, you shall be treated
with as much consideration and respect as a captive queen, but if
you go on acting like the devil, struggling and shrieking, I have
means to bring you to terms, and I shall certainly resort to
them. THIS will stop your screaming, mademoiselle, and THIS will
prevent your struggling."

As he spoke he drew out of his pocket a small gag, very
artistically made, and a long, thick, silken cord, rolled up into
a ball.

"It would be barbarous indeed," he continued, "to apply such a
thing as this to that sweet, rosy mouth of yours, mademoiselle,
as I am sure that you will admit--or to bind together those
pretty, delicate, little wrists, upon which no worse fetters than
diamond bracelets should ever be placed."

Poor Isabelle, furious and frightened though she was, could not
but acknowledge to herself that further physical resistance then
would be worse than useless, and determined to spare herself at
least such indignities as she was at that moment threatened with;
so, without vouchsafing a word to her attendant, she threw
herself back into the corner of the carriage, closed her eyes,
and tried to keep perfectly still. But in spite of her utmost
endeavours she could not altogether repress an occasional sob,
nor hold back the great tears that welled forth from under her
drooping eyelids and rolled down over her pale cheeks, as she
thought of de Sigognac's despair and her own danger.

"After the nervous excitement comes the moist stage; said her
masked guardian to himself, "things are following their usual and
natural course. I am very glad of it, for I should have greatly
disliked to be obliged to act a brutal part with such a sweet,
charming girl as this."

Now and then Isabelle opened her eyes and cast a timid glance at
her abductor, who finally said to her, in a voice he vainly
strove to render soft and mild:

"You need not be afraid of me, mademoiselle! I would not harm you
in any way for the world. If fortune had been more generous to me
I certainly would never have undertaken this enterprise against
such a lovely, gentle young lady as you are; but poor men like me
are driven to all sorts of expedients to earn a little money;
they have to take whatever comes within their reach, and
sacrifice their scruples to their necessities."

"You do admit then," said Isabelle vehemently, "that you have
been bribed to carry me off ? An infamous, cruel, outrageous
thing it is."

"After what I have had to do," he replied, "it would be idle to
deny it. There are a good many philosophers like myself in Paris,
mademoiselle, who, instead of indulging in love affairs, and
intrigues of various sorts, of their own, interest themselves in
those of other people, and, for a consideration, make use of
their courage, ingenuity and strength to further them. But to
change the subject, how charming you were in that last new play!
You went through the scene of the avowal with a grace I have
never seen equalled. I applauded you to the echo; the pair of
hands that kept it up so perseveringly and vigorously, you know,
belonged to me."

"I beg you to dispense with these ill-judged remarks and
compliments, and to tell me where you are taking me, in this
strange, outrageous manner, against my will, and, in despite of
all the ordinary usages of civilized society."

"I cannot tell you that, mademoiselle, and besides, it would do
you no sort of good to know. In our profession, you see, we are
obliged to observe as much secrecy and discretion as confessors
and physicians. Indeed, in such affairs as this we often do not
know the names of the parties we are working for ourselves."

"Do you mean to say that you do not know who has employed you to
commit this abominable, cruel crime?"

"It makes no difference whether I know his name or not, since I
am not at liberty to disclose it to you. Think over your numerous
admirers, mademoiselle! the most ardent and least favoured one
among them would probably be at the bottom of all this."

Finding that she could not get any information from him, Isabelle
desisted, and did not speak again. She had not the slightest
doubt that the Duke of Vallombreuse was the author of this new
and daring enterprise. The significant and threatening way in
which he had said "au revoir, mademoiselle," as he quitted her
presence after she had repulsed him a few days before, had
haunted her, and she had been in constant dread ever since of
some new outrage. She hoped, against hope, that de Sigognac, her
valiant lover, would yet come to her rescue, and thought proudly
of the gallant deeds he had already done in her behalf that
day--but how was he to find out where to seek her?

"If worst comes to worst," she said to herself, "I still have
Chiquita's knife, and I can and will escape from my persecutor in
that way, if all other means fail."

For two long hours she sat motionless, a prey to sad and terrible
thoughts and fears, while the carriage rolled swiftly on without
slackening its speed, save once, for a moment, when they changed
horses. As the curtains were all lowered, she could not catch
even a glimpse of the country she was passing through, nor tell
in what direction she was being driven. At last she heard the
hollow sound of a drawbridge under the wheels; the carriage
stopped, and her masked companion, promptly opening the door,
jumped nimbly out and helped her to alight. She cast a hurried
glance round her, as she stepped down, saw that she was in a
large, square court, and that all the tall, narrow windows in the
high brick walls that surrounded it had their inside shutters
carefully closed. The stone pavement of the spacious courtyard
was in some places partly covered with moss, and a few weeds had
sprung up in the corners, and along the edges by the walls. At
foot of a broad, easy flight of steps, leading up to a covered
porch, two majestic Egyptian sphinxes lay keeping guard; their
huge rounded flanks mottled here and there with patches of moss
and lichens. Although the large chateau looked lonely and
deserted, it had a grand, lordly air, and seemed to be kept in
perfect order and repair. Isabelle was led up the steps and into
the vestibule by the man who had brought her there, and then
consigned to the care of a respectable-looking majordomo, who
preceded her up a magnificent staircase, and into a suite of
rooms furnished with the utmost luxury and elegance. Passing
through the first--which was enriched with fine old carvings in
oak, dark with age--he left her in a spacious, admirably
proportioned apartment, where a cheery wood fire was roaring up
the huge chimney, and she saw a bed in a curtained alcove. She
chanced to catch sight of her own face in the mirror over an
elaborately furnished dressing-table, as she passed it, and was
startled and shocked at its ghastly pallor and altered
expression; she scarcely could recognise it, and felt as if she
had seen a ghost--poor Isabelle! Over the high, richly ornamented
chimney-piece hung a portrait of a gentleman, which, as she
approached the fire, at once caught and riveted her attention.
The face seemed strangely familiar to her, and yet she could not
remember where she had seen it before. It was pale, with large,
black eyes, full red lips, and wavy brown hair, thrown carelessly
back from it-apparently the likeness of a man about forty years
of age and it had a charming air of nobility and lofty pride,
tempered with benevolence and tenderness, which was inexpressibly
attractive. The portrait was only half-length--the breast being
covered with a steel cuirass, richly inlaid with gold, which was
partly concealed by a white scarf, loosely knotted over it.
Isabelle, despite her great alarm and anxiety, could not long
withdraw her eyes or her thoughts from this picture, which seemed
to exert a strange fascination over her. There was something
about it that at the first glance resembled the Duke of
Vallombreuse, but the expression was so different that the
likeness disappeared entirely upon closer examination. It brought
vague memories to Isabelle's mind that she tried in vain to
seize--she felt as if she must be looking at it in a dream. She
was still absorbed in reverie before it when the major-domo
reappeared, followed by two lackeys, in quiet livery, carrying a
small table set for one person, which they put down near the
fire; and as one of them took the cover off an old-fashioned,
massive silver tureen, he announced to Isabelle that her dinner
was ready. The savoury odour from the smoking soup was very
tempting, and she was very hungry; but after she had mechanically
seated herself and dipped her spoon into the broth, it suddenly
occurred to her that the food might contain a narcotic--such
things had been done--and she pushed away the plate in front of
her in alarm. The major-domo, who was standing at a respectful
distance watching her, ready to anticipate her every wish, seemed
to divine her thought, for he advanced to the table and
deliberately partook of all the viands upon it, as well as of the
wine and water--as if to prove to her that there was nothing
wrong or unusual about them. Isabelle was somewhat reassured by
this, and feeling that she would probably have need of all her
strength, did bring herself to eat and drink, though very
sparingly. Then, quitting the table, she sat down in a large
easy-chair in front of the fire to think over her terrible
position, and endeavour to devise some means of escape from it.
When the servants had attended to their duties and left her alone
again, she rose languidly and walked slowly to the
window--feeling as weak as though she had had a severe illness,
after the violent emotions and terrors of the day, and as if she
had aged years in the last few hours. Could it be possible that
only that very morning she and de Sigognac had been walking
together, with hearts full of happiness and peace--and she had
rapturously hailed the appearance of the first spring violet as
an omen of good, and gathered the sweet little blossom to bestow
upon the devoted lover who adored her? And now, alas! alas! they
were as inexorably and hopelessly separated as if half the globe
lay between them. No wonder that her breast heaved tumultuously
with choking sobs, and hot tears rained down over her pallid
cheeks, as she wept convulsively at the thought of all she had
lost. But she did not long indulge her grief--she remembered that
at any moment she might have need of all her coolness and
fortitude--and making a mighty effort, like the brave heroine
that she was, she regained control over herself, and drove back
the gushing tears to await a more fitting season. She was
relieved to find that there were no bars at the window, as she
had feared; but upon opening the casement and leaning out she saw
immediately beneath her a broad moat, full of stagnant water,
which surrounded the chateau, and forbade any hope of succour or
escape on that side. Beyond the moat was a thick grove of large
trees, which entirely shut out the view; and she returned to her
seat by the fire, more disheartened and cast down than ever. She
was very nervous, and trembled at the slightest sound--casting
hasty, terrified glances round the vast apartment, and dreading
lest an unseen door in some shadowy corner should be softly
opened, or a hidden panel in the wall be slipped aside, to admit
her relentless enemy to her presence. She remembered all the
horrible tales she had ever heard of secret passages and winding
staircases in the walls, that are supposed to abound in ancient
castles; and the mysterious visitants, both human and
supernatural, that are said to be in the habit of issuing from
them, in the gloaming, and at midnight. As the twilight deepened
into darkness, her terror increased, and she nearly fainted from
fright when a servant suddenly entered with lights.

While poor Isabelle was suffering such agony in one part of the
chateau, her abductors were having a grand carouse in another.
They were to remain there for a while as a sort of garrison, in
case of an attack by de Sigognac and his friends; and were
gathered round the table in a large room down on the ground
floor--as remote as possible from Isabelle's sumptuous quarters.
They were all drinking like sponges, and making merry over their
wine and good cheer, but one of them especially showed the most
remarkable and astounding powers of ingurgitation--it was the man

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