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Captain Fracasse by Theophile Gautier

Part 8 out of 9

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you were in infancy; how your little rosy fingers used to play
with and pull my long mustache--which was black then, my
dear--when I leaned over to kiss you in your cradle--recalling
all your pretty, engaging little baby tricks, remembering how
fond and proud I was of you, and grieving over the loss that I
seemed to feel more and more acutely as the years went on. The
birth of my son only made me long still more intensely for
you, instead of consoling me for your loss, or banishing you from
my memory, and when I saw him decked with rich laces and ribbons,
like a royal babe, and playing with his jewelled rattle, I would
think with an aching heart that perhaps at that very moment my
dear little daughter was suffering from cold and hunger, or the
unkind treatment of those who had her in charge. Then I regretted
deeply that I had not taken you away from your mother in the very
beginning, and had you brought up as my daughter should be--but
when you were born I did not dream of our parting. As years
rolled on new anxieties tortured me. I knew that you would be
beautiful, and how much you would have to suffer from the
dissolute men who hover about all young and pretty actresses--my
blood would boil as I thought of the insults and affronts to
which you might be subjected, and from which I was powerless to
shield you--no words can tell what I suffered. Affecting a taste
for the theatre that I did not possess, I never let an
opportunity pass to see every company of players that I could
hear of--hoping to find you at last among them. But although I
saw numberless young actresses, about your age, not one of them
could have been you, my dear child--of that I was sure. So at
I abandoned the hope of finding my longlost daughter, though it
was a bitter trial to feel that I must do so. The princess, my
wife, had died three years after our marriage, leaving me only
one child--Vallombreuse--whose ungovernable disposition has
always given me much trouble and anxiety. A few days ago, at
Saint Germain, I heard some of the courtiers speak in terms of
high praise of Herode's troupe, and what they said made me
determine to go and see one of their representations without
delay, while my heart beat high with a new hope--for they
especially lauded a young actress, called Isabelle; whose
graceful, modest, high-bred air they declared to be irresistible,
and her acting everything that could be desired--adding that she
was as virtuous as she was beautiful, and that the boldest
libertines respected her immaculate purity. Deeply agitated by a
secret presentiment, I hastened back to Paris, and went to
the theatre that very night. There I saw you, my darling, and
though it would seem to be impossible for even a father's eye to
recognise, in the beautiful young woman of twenty, the babe that
he had kissed in its cradle, and had never beheld since, still I
knew you instantly--the very moment you came in sight--and I
perceived, with a heart swelling with happiness and thankfulness,
that you were all that I could wish. Moreover, I recognised the
face of an old actor, who had been I knew in the troupe that
Cornelia joined when she fled from Paris, and I resolved to
address myself first to him; so as not to startle you by too
abrupt a disclosure of my claims upon you. But when I sent the
next morning to the hotel in the Rue Dauphine, I learned that
Herode's troupe had just gone to give a representation at a
chateau in the environs of Paris, and would be absent three days.
I should have endeavoured to wait patiently for their return, had
not a brave fellow, who used to be in my service, and has my
interest at heart, come to inform me that the Duke of
Vallombreuse, being madly in love with a young actress named
Isabelle, who resisted his suit with the utmost firmness and
determination, had arranged to gain forcible possession of her in
the course of the day's journey--the expedition into the country
being gotten up for that express purpose--that he had a band of
hired ruffians engaged to carry out his nefarious purpose and
bring his unhappy victim to this chateau--and that he had come to
warn me, fearing lest serious consequences should ensue to my
son, as the young actress would be accompanied by brave and
faithful friends, who were armed, and would defend her to the
death. This terrible news threw me into a frightful state of
anxiety and excitement. Feeling sure, as I did, that you were my
own daughter, I shuddered at the thought of the horrible crime
that I might not be in time to prevent, and without one moment's
delay set out for this place-- suffering such agony by the way as
I do not like even to think of. You were already delivered from
danger when I arrived, as you know, and without having suffered
anything beyond the alarm and dread--which must have been
terrible indeed, my poor child! And then, the amethyst ring on
your finger confirmed, past any possibility of doubt, what my
heart had told me, when first my eyes beheld you in the theatre."

"I pray you to believe, dear lord and father," answered Isabelle,
"that I have never accused you of anything, nor considered myself
neglected. Accustomed from my infancy to the roving life of the
troupe I was with, I neither knew nor dreamed of any other. The
little knowledge that I had of the world made me realize that I
should be wrong in wishing to force myself upon an illustrious
family, obliged doubtless by powerful reasons, of which I knew
nothing, to leave me in obscurity. The confused remembrance I had
of my origin sometimes inspired me--when I was very young--with a
certain pride, and I would say to myself, when I noticed the
disdainful air with which great ladies looked down upon us poor
actresses, I also am of noble birth. But I outgrew those fancies,
and only preserved an invincible self-respect, which I have
always cherished. Nothing in the world would have induced me to
dishonour the illustrious blood that flows in my veins. The
disgraceful license of the coulisses, and the loathsome
gallantries lavished upon all actresses, even those who are not
comely, disgusted me from the first, and I have lived in the
theatre almost as if in a convent. The good old pedant has been
like a watchful father to me, and as for Herode, he would have
severely chastised any one who dared to touch me with the tip of
his finger, or even to pronounce a vulgar word in my presence.
Although they are only obscure actors, they are very honourable,
worthy men, and I trust you will he good enough to help them if
they ever find themselves in need of assistance. I owe it partly
to them that I can lift my forehead for your kiss without a blush
of shame, and proudly declare myself worthy, so far as purity is
concerned, to be your daughter. My only regret is to have been
the innocent cause of the misfortune that has overtaken the duke,
your son. I could have wished to enter your family, my dear
father, under more favourable auspices."

"You have nothing to reproach yourself with, my sweet child, for
you could not divine these mysteries, which have been suddenly
disclosed by a combination of circumstances that would be
considered romantic and improbable, even in a novel; and my joy
at finding you as worthy in every way to be my beloved and
honoured daughter, as if you had not lived amid all the dangers
of such a career, makes up for the pain and anxiety caused by the
illness and danger of my son. Whether he lives or dies, I shall
never for one moment blame you for anything in connection with
his misfortune. In any event, it was your virtue and courage that
saved him from being guilty of a crime that I shudder to
contemplate. And now, tell me, who was the handsome young man
among your liberators who seemed to direct the attack, and who
wounded Vallombreuse? An actor doubtless, though it appeared to
me that he had a very noble bearing, and magnificent courage."

"Yes, my dear father," Isabelle replied, with a most lovely and
becoming blush, "he is an actor, a member of our troupe; but if I
may venture to betray his secret, which is already known to the
Duke of Vallombreuse, I will tell you that the so-called Captain
Fracasse conceals under his mask a noble countenance, as indeed
you already know, and under his theatrical pseudonym, the name of
an illustrious family."

"True!" rejoined the prince, "I have heard something about that
already. It would certainly have been astonishing if an ordinary,
low-born actor had ventured upon so bold and rash a course as
running counter to a Duke of Vallombreuse, and actually entering
into a combat with him; it needs noble blood for such daring
acts. Only a gentleman can conquer a gentleman, just as a diamond
can only be cut by a diamond."

The lofty pride of the aged prince found much consolation in the
knowledge that his son had not been attacked and wounded by an
adversary of low origin; there was nothing compromising in a duel
between equals, and he drew a deep breath of relief at thought of

"And pray, what is the real name of this valiant champion?"
smilingly asked the prince, with a roguish twinkle in his dark
eyes--"this dauntless knight, and brave defender of innocence and

"He is the Baron de Sigognac," Isabelle replied blushingly, with
a slight trembling perceptible in her sweet, low voice. "I reveal
his name fearlessly to you, my dear father, for you are both too
just and too generous to visit upon his head the disastrous
consequences of a victory that he deplores."

"De Sigognac?" said the prince. "I thought that ancient and
illustrious family was extinct. Is he not from Gascony?"

"Yes; his home is in the neighbourhood of Dax."

"Exactly--and the de Sigognacs have an appropriate coat of arms--
three golden storks on an azure field. Yes, it is as I said, an
ancient and illustrious family--one of the oldest and most
honourable in France. Paramede de Sigognac figured gloriously in
the first crusade. A Raimbaud de Sigognac, the father of this
young man without doubt, was the devoted friend and companion of
Henri IV, in his youth, but was not often seen at court in later
years. it was said that he was embarrassed financially, I

"So much so, that when our troupe sought refuge of a stormy night
under his roof, we found his son living in a half ruined chateau,
haunted by bats and owls, where his youth was passing in sadness
and misery. We persuaded him to come away with us, fearing that
he would die there of starvation and melancholy--but I never saw
misfortune so bravely borne."

"Poverty is no disgrace," said the prince, "and any noble house
that has preserved its honour unstained may rise again from its
ruins to its ancient height of glory and renown. But why did not
the young baron apply to some of his father's old friends in his
distress? or lay his case before the king, who is the natural
refuge of all loyal gentlemen under such circumstances?"

"Misfortunes such as his are apt to breed timidity, even with the
bravest," Isabelle replied, "and pride deters many a man from
betraying his misery to the world. When the Baron de Sigognac
consented to accompany us to Paris, he hoped to find some
opportunity there to retrieve his fallen fortunes; but it has not
presented itself. In order not to be an expense to the troupe, he
generously and nobly insisted upon taking the place of one of the
actors, who died on the way, and who was a great loss to us. As
he could appear upon the stage always masked, he surely did not
compromise his dignity by it."

"Under this theatrical disguise, I think that, without being a
sorcerer, I can detect a little bit of romance, eh?" said the
prince, with a mischievous smile. "But I will not inquire too
closely; I know how good and true you are well enough not to take
alarm at any respectful tribute paid to your charms. I have not
been with you long enough yet as a father, my sweet child, to
venture upon sermonizing."

As he paused, Isabelle raised her lovely eyes, in which shone the
purest innocence and the most perfect loyalty, to his, and met
his questioning gaze unflinchingly. The rosy flush which the
first mention of de Sigognac's name had called up was gone, and
her countenance showed no faintest sign of embarrassment or
shame. In her pure heart the most searching looks of a father, of
God himself, could have found nothing to condemn. Just at this
point the doctor's assistant was announced, who brought a most
favourable report from the sick-room. He was charged to tell the
prince that his son's condition was eminently satisfactory--a
marked change for the better having taken place; and that Maitre
Laurent considered the danger past--believing that his recovery
was now only a question of time.

A few days later, Vallombreuse, propped up on his pillows,
received a visit from his faithful and devoted friend, the
Chevalier de Vidalinc, whom he had not been permitted to see
earlier. The, prince was sitting by the bedside, affectionately
watching every flitting expression on his son's face, which was
pathetically thin and pale, but handsomer than ever; because the
old haughty, fierce look had vanished, and a soft light, that had
never been in them before, shone in his beautiful eyes, whereat
his father's heart rejoiced exceedingly. Isabelle stood at the
other side of the bed, and the young duke had clasped his thin,
startlingly white fingers round her hand. As he was forbidden to
speak, save in monosyllables--because of his injured lung--he
took this means of testifying his sympathy with her, who had been
the involuntary cause of his being wounded and in danger of
losing his life, and thus made her understand that he cherished
no resentments. The affectionate brother had replaced the fiery
lover, and his illness, in calming his ardent passion, had
contributed not a little to make the transition a less difficult
one than it could possibly have been otherwise. Isabelle was now
for him really and only the Comtesse de Lineuil, his dear sister.
He nodded in a friendly way to Vidalinc, and disengaged his hand
for a moment from Isabelle's to give it to him--it was all that
the doctor would allow--but his eyes were eloquent enough to make
up for his enforced silence.

In the course of a few weeks, Vallombreuse, who had gained
strength rapidly, was able to leave his bed and recline upon a
lounge near the open window; so as to enjoy the mild, delightful
air of spring, that brought colour to his cheeks and light to his
eyes. Isabelle was often with him, and read aloud for hours
together to entertain him; as Maitre Laurent's orders were strict
that he should not talk, even yet, any more than was actually
necessary. One day, when Isabelle had finished a chapter in the
volume from which she was reading to him, and was about to begin
another, he interrupted her, and said, "My dear sister, that book
is certainly very amusing, and the author a man of remarkable wit
and talent; but I must confess that I prefer your charming
conversation to your delightful reading. Do you know, I would not
have believed it possible to gain so much, in losing all hope of
what I desired more ardently than I had ever done anything in my
whole life before. The brother is very much more kindly treated
than the suitor--are you aware of that? You are as sweet and
amiable to the one as you were severe and unapproachable to the
other. I find in this calm, peaceful affection, charms that I had
never dreamed of, and you reveal to me a new side of the feminine
character, hitherto utterly unknown to me. Carried away by
fiery passions, and irritated to madness by any opposition, I was
like the wild huntsman of the ancient legend, who stopped for no
obstacle, but rode recklessly over everything in his path. I
looked upon whatever beautiful woman I was in pursuit of as my
legitimate prey. I scouted the very idea of failure, and deemed
myself irresistible. At the mention of virtue, I only shrugged my
shoulders, and I think I may say, without too much conceit, to
the only woman I ever pursued who did not yield to me, that I had
reason not to put much faith in it. My mother died when I was a
mere baby; you, my sweet sister, were not near me, and I have
never known, until now, all the purity, tenderness, and sublime
courage of which your sex is capable. I chanced to see you. An
irresistible attraction, in which, perhaps, the unknown tie of
blood had its influence, drew me to you, and for the first time
in my life a feeling of respect and esteem mingled with my
passion. Your character delighted me, even when you drove me to
despair. I could not but secretly approve and admire the modest
and courteous firmness with which you rejected my homage. The
more decidedly you repulsed me, the more I felt that you were
worthy of my adoration. Anger and admiration succeeded each other
in my heart, and even in my most violent paroxysms of rage I
always respected you. I descried the angel in the woman, and
bowed to the ascendency of a celestial purity. Now I am happy and
blessed indeed; for I have in you precisely what I needed,
without knowing it--this pure affection, free from all earthly
taint--unalterable--eternal. I possess at last the love of a

"Yes, my dear brother, it is yours," Isabelle replied; "and it is
a great source of happiness to me that I am able to assure you of
it. You have in me a devoted sister and friend, who will love you
doubly to make up for the years we have lost--above all, now that
you have promised me to correct the faults that have so grieved
and alarmed our dear father, and to exhibit only the good
qualities of which YOU have plenty."

"Oh! you little preacher," cried Vallombreuse, with a bright,
admiring smile; "how you take advantage of my weakness. However,
it is perfectly true that I have been a dreadful monster, but I
really do mean to do better in future--if not for love of virtue
itself, at least to avoid seeing my charming sister put on a
severe, disapproving air, at some atrocious escapade of mine.
Still, I fear that I shall always be Folly, as you will be

"If you will persist in paying me such high-flown compliments,"
said Isabelle, with a little shrug of her pretty shoulders, "I
shall certainly resume the reading, and you will have to listen
to a long story that the corsair is just about to relate to the
beautiful princess, his captive, in the cabin of his galley."

"Oh, no! surely I do not deserve such a severe punishment as
that. Even at the risk of appearing garrulous, I do so want to
talk a little. That confounded doctor has kept me mute long
enough in all conscience, and I am tired to death of having the
seal of silence upon my lips, like a statue of Hippocrates."

"But I am afraid you may do yourself harm; remember that your
wound is scarcely healed yet, and the injured lung is still very
irritable. Maitre Laurent laid such stress upon my reading to
you, so that you should keep quiet, and give your chest a good
chance to get strong and well again."

"Maitre Laurent doesn't know what he's talking about, and only
wants to prolong his own importance to me. My lungs work as well
as ever they did. I feel perfectly myself again, and I've a great
mind to order my horse and go for a canter in the forest."

"You had better talk than do such a wildly imprudent thing as
that; it is certainly less dangerous."

"I shall very soon be about again, my sweet little sister, and
then I shall have the pleasure of introducing you into the
society suitable to your rank--where your incomparable grace and
beauty will create a sensation, and bring crowds of adorers to
your feet. From among them you will be able to select a husband,
eh?" "I can have no desire to do anything of that kind,
Vallombreuse, and pray do not think this the foolish declaration
of a girl who would be very sorry to be taken at her word. I am
entirely in earnest, I do assure you. I have bestowed my hand so
often in the last act of the pieces I have played that I am in no
hurry to do it in reality. I do not wish for anything better than
to remain quietly here with the prince and yourself."

"But, my dear girl, a father and brother will not always content
you--do not think it! Such affection cannot satisfy the demands
of the heart forever."

"It will be enough for me, however, and if some day they fail me,
I can take refuge in a convent."

"Heaven forbid! that would be carrying austerity too far
indeed. I pray you never to mention it again, if you have any
regard for my peace of mind. And now tell me, my sweet little
sister, what do you think of my dear friend, the Chevalier de
Vidalinc? does not he seem to be possessed of every qualification
necessary to make a good husband?"

"Doubtless, and the woman that he marries will have a right to
consider herself fortunate but however charming and desirable
your friend may be, my dear Vallombreuse, _I_ shall never be that

"Well, let him pass, then--but tell me what you think of the
Marquis de l'Estang, who came to see me the other day, and gazed
spell-bound at my lovely sister all the time he was here. He was
so overwhelmed by your surpassing grace, so dazzled by your
exquisite beauty, that he was struck dumb, and when he tried to
pay you pretty compliments, did nothing but stammer and blush.
Aside from this timidity, which made him appear to great
disadvantage, and which your ladyship should readily excuse,
since you yourself were the cause of it, the marquis is an
accomplished and estimable gentleman. He is handsome, young, of
high birth and great wealth. He would do capitally for my fair
sister, and is sure to address himself to the prince--if indeed
be has not already done so--as an aspirant to the honour of an
alliance with her."

"As I have the honour of belonging to this illustrious family,"
said Isabelle a little impatiently, for she was exceedingly
annoyed by this banter, "too much humility would not become me,
therefore I will not say that I consider myself unworthy of such
an alliance; but if the Marquis de l'Estang should ask my hand of
my father, I would refuse him. I have told you, my dear brother,
more than once, that I do not wish to marry--and you know it
too--so pray don't tease me any more about it."

"Oh! what a fierce, determined little woman is this fair sister
of mine. Diana herself was not more inaccessible, in the forests
and valleys of Haemus--yet, if the naughty mythological stories
may be believed, she did at last smile upon a certain Endymion.
You are vexed, because I casually propose some suitable
candidates for the honour of your hand; but you need not be, for,
if THEY do not please you, we will hunt up one who will."

"I am not vexed, my dear brother, but you are certainly talking
far too much for an invalid, and I shall tell Maitre, Laurent to
reprimand you, or not permit you to have the promised bit of fowl
for your supper."

"Oh! if that's the case I will desist at once," said
Vallombreuse, with a droll air of submission, "for I'm as hungry
as an ogre--but rest assured of one thing, my charming sister: No
one shall select your husband but myself."

To put an end to this teasing, Isabelle began to read the
corsair's long story, without paying any attention to the
indignant protests that were made, and Vallombreuse, to revenge
himself, finally closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep;
which feigned slumber soon became real, and Isabelle, perceiving
that it was so, put aside her book and quietly stole away.

This conversation, in which, under all his mischievous banter,
the duke seemed to have a definite and serious purpose in view,
worried Isabelle very much, in spite of her efforts to banish it
from her mind. Could it be that Vallombreuse was nursing a secret
resentment against de Sigognac? He had never once spoken his
name, or referred to him in any way, since he was wounded by him;
and was he trying to place an insurmountable barrier between his
sister and the baron, by bringing about her marriage with
another? or was he simply trying to find out whether the actress
transformed to a countess, had changed in sentiments as well as
in rank? Isabelle could not answer these questions satisfactorily
to herself. As she was the duke's sister, of course the rivalry
between him and de Sigognac could no longer exist; but, on the
other hand, it was difficult to imagine that such a haughty,
vindictive character as the young duke's could have forgotten, or
forgiven, the ignominy of his first defeat at the baron's hands,
and still less of the second more disastrous encounter. Although
their relative positions were changed, Vallombreuse, in his
heart, would doubtless always hate de Sigognac--even if he had
magnanimity enough to forgive him, it could scarcely be expected
that he should also love him, and be willing to welcome him as a
member of his family. No, all hope of such a reconciliation must
be abandoned. Besides, she feared that the prince, her father,
would never be able to regard with favour the man who had
imperilled the life of his only son. These sad thoughts threw
poor Isabelle into a profound melancholy, which she in vain
endeavoured to shake off. As long as she considered that her
position as an actress would be an obstacle to de Sigognac, she
had resolutely repelled the idea of a marriage with him, but now
that an unhoped-for, undreamed-of stroke of destiny had heaped
upon her all the good things that heart could desire, she would
have loved to reward, with the gift of her hand and fortune, the
faithful lover who had addressed her when she was poor and
lowly--it seemed an actual meanness, to her generous spirit, not
to share her prosperity with the devoted companion of her misery.
But all that she could do was to be faithful to him--for she
dared not say a word in his favour, either to the prince or to

Very soon the young duke was well enough to join his father and
sister at meals, and he manifested such respectful and
affectionate deference to the prince, and such an ingenuous and
delicate tenderness towards Isabelle, that it was evident he
had, in spite of his apparent frivolity, a mind and character
very superior to what one would have expected to find in such a
licentious, ungovernable youth as he had been, and which gave
promise of an honourable and useful manhood. Isabelle took her
part modestly--but with a very sweet dignity, that sat well upon
her--in the conversation at the table, and in the salon, and her
remarks were so to the point, so witty, and so apropos, that the
prince was astonished as well as charmed, and grew daily more
proud of and devoted to his new treasure; finding a happiness and
satisfaction he had longed for all his life in the affection and
devotion of his children.

At last Vallombreuse was pronounced well enough to mount his
horse, and go for a ride in the forest--which he had long been
sighing for--and Isabelle gladly consented to bear him company.
They looked a wonderfully handsome pair, as they rode leisurely
through the leafy arcades. But there was one very marked
difference between them.

The young man's countenance was radiant with happiness and
smiles, but the girl's face was clouded over with an abiding
melancholy. Occasionally her brother's lively sallies would bring
a faint smile to her sweet lips, but they fell back immediately
into the mournful droop that had become habitual with them.
Vallombreuse apparently did not perceive it--though in reality he
was well aware of it, and of its cause--and was full of fun and

"Oh! what a delicious thing it is to live," he cried, "yet how
seldom we think of the exquisite enjoyment there is in the simple
act of breathing," and he drew a long, deep breath, as if he
never could get enough of the soft, balmy air. "The trees surely
were never so green before, the sky so blue, or the flowers so
fragrant. I feet as if I had been born into the world only
yesterday, and was looking upon nature for the first time to-day.
I never appreciated it before. When I remember that I might even
now be lying, stiff and stark, under a fine marble monument, and
that instead of that I am riding through an elysium, beside my
darling sister, who has really learned to love me, I am too
divinely happy. I do not even feel my wound any more. I don't
believe that I ever was wounded. And now for a gallop, for
I'm sure that our good father is wearying for us at home."

In spite of Isabelle's remonstrances he put spurs to his horse,
and she could not restrain hers when its companion bounded
forward, so off they went at a swift pace, and never drew rein
until they reached the chateau. As he lifted his sister down from
her saddle, Vallombreuse said, "Now, after to-day's achievement,
I can surely be treated like a big boy, and get permission to go
out by myself."

"What! you want to go away and leave us already? and scarcely
well yet, you bad boy!"

"Even so, my sweet sister; I want to make a little journey that
will take several days," said Vallombreuse negligently.

Accordingly, the very next morning he departed, after having
taken an affectionate leave of the prince, his father; who did
not oppose his going, as Isabelle had confidently expected, but
seemed, on the contrary, to approve of it heartily. After
receiving many charges to be careful and prudent, from his
sister, which he dutifully promised to remember and obey, the
young duke bade her good-bye also, and said, in a mysterious, yet
most significant way,

"Au revoir, my sweet little sister, you will be pleased with what
I am about to do." And Isabelle sought in vain for the key to the


The worthy tyrant's advice was sensible and good, and de Sigognac
resolved to follow it without delay. Since Isabelle's departure,
no attraction existed for him in the troupe, and he was very glad
of a valid pretext for quitting it; though he could not leave his
humble friends without some regrets. It was necessary that he
should disappear for a while--plunge into obscurity, until the
excitement consequent upon the violent death of the young Duke of
Vallombreuse should be forgotten in some new tragedy in real

So, after bidding farewell to the worthy comedians, who had shown
him so much kindness, he departed from the gay capital--mounted
on a stout pony, and with a tolerably well-filled purse--his
share of the receipts of the troupe, which he had fairly earned.
By easy stages he travelled slowly towards his own ruined
chateau. After the storm the bird flies home to its nest, no
matter how ragged and torn it may be. It was the only refuge open
to him, and in the midst of his despondency he felt a sort of sad
pleasure at the thought of returning to his ancestral home--
desolate and forlorn as it was--where it would have been better,
perhaps, for him to have quietly remained--for his fortunes were
not improved, and this last crowning disaster had been ruinous to
all his hopes and prospects of happiness.

"Ah, well!" said he to himself, sorrowfully, as he jogged slowly
on," it was predestined that I should die of hunger and ennui
within those crumbling walls, and under my poor, dilapidated, old
roof, that lets the rain run through it like a huge sieve. No one
can escape his destiny, and I shall accomplish mine. I am
doomed to be the last de Sigognac."

Then came visions of what might have been, that made the sad
present seem even darker by contrast; and his burden was
well-nigh too heavy for him to bear, when he remembered all
Isabelle's goodness and loveliness--now lost to him forever. No
wonder that his eyes were often wet with tears, and that there
was no brightness even in the sunshine for him.

It is needless to describe in detail a journey that lasted twenty
days, and was not marked by any remarkable incidents or
adventures. It is enough to say that one fine evening de Sigognac
saw from afar the lofty towers of his ancient chateau,
illuminated by the setting sun, and shining out in bold relief
against the soft purple of the evening sky; whilst one of the few
remaining casements had caught the fiery sunset glow, and looked
like a great carbuncle set in the fine facade of the stately old
castle. This sight aroused a strange tenderness and agitation in
the young baron's breast. It was true that he had suffered long
and acutely in that dreary mansion, yet after all it was very
dear to him--far more than he knew before he had quitted it--and
he was deeply moved at seeing it again. In a few moments more the
glorious god of day had sunk behind the western horizon, and the
chateau seemed to retreat, until it became scarcely perceptible
as the light faded, forming only a vague, gray blot in the
distance as the gloaming succeeded to the glow. But de Sigognac
knew every step of the way perfectly, and soon turned from the
highway into the neglected, grass-grown road that led to the
chateau. In the profound stillness, which seemed wonderfully
peaceful and pleasant to him, he fancied that he could
distinguish the distant barking of a dog, and that it sounded
like Miraut. He stopped to listen; yes, there could be no doubt
about it, and it was approaching. The baron gave a clear,
melodious whistle--a signal well known of old to Miraut-and in a
few moments the faithful dog, running as fast as his poor old
legs could carry him, burst through a break in the
hedge--panting, barking, almost sobbing for joy. He strove to
jump up on the horse's neck to get at his beloved master; he was
beside himself with delight, and manifested it in the most
frantic manner, whilst de Sigognac bent down to pat his head and
try to quiet his wild transports. After bearing his master
company a little way, Miraut set off again at full speed, to
announce the good news to the others at the chateau--that is to
say, to Pierre, Bayard, and Beelzebub--and bounding into the
kitchen where the old servant ,was sitting, lost in sad thoughts,
he barked in such a significant way that Pierre knew at once that
something unusual had happened.

"Can it be possible that the young master is coming? said he
aloud, rising, in compliance with Miraut's wishes, who was
pulling at the skirts of his coat, and imploring him ,with his
eyes to bestir himself and follow him. As it was quite dark by
this time, Pierre lighted a pine torch, which he carried with
him, and as he turned into the road its ruddy light suddenly
flashed upon de Sigognac and his horse.

"Is it really you, my lord?" cried Pierre, joyfully, as he caught
sight of his young master; "Miraut had tried to tell me of your
arrival in his own way before I left the house, but as I had not
heard anything about your even thinking of coming, I feared that
he might be mistaken. Welcome home to your own domain, my beloved
master! We are overjoyed to see you."

"Yes, my good Pierre, it is really I, and not my wraith. Miraut
was not mistaken. Here I am again, if not richer than when I went
away, at least all safe and sound. Come now, lead the way with
your torch, and we will go into the chateau."

Pierre, not without considerable difficulty, opened the great
door, and the Baron de Sigognac rode slowly through the ancient
portico, fantastically illuminated by the flaring torchlight, in
which the three sculptured storks overhead seemed to be flapping
their wings, as if in joyful salutation to the last
representative of the family they had symbolized for so many
centuries. Then a loud, impatient whinny, like the blast of a
trumpet, was heard ringing out on the still night air, as
Bayard, in his stable, caught the welcome sound of his master's

"Yes, yes, I hear you, my poor old Bayard," cried de Sigognac, as
he dismounted in the court, and threw the bridle to Pierre; "I am
coming to say how d'you do," and as he turned he stumbled over
Beelzebub, who was trying to rub himself against his master's
legs, purring and mewing alternately to attract his attention.
The baron stooped down, took the old black cat up in his arms,
and tenderly caressed him as he advanced towards the stables;
then put him down gently as he reached Bayard's stall, and
another touching scene of affectionate greeting was enacted. The
poor old pony laid his head lovingly on his master's shoulder,
and actually tried to kick up his hind legs in a frisky way in
honour of the great event; also, he received the horse that de
Sigognac had ridden all the way from Paris, and which was put in
the stall beside his own, very politely, and seemed pleased to
have a companion in his solitary grandeur.

"And now that I have responded to the endearments of my dumb
friends," said the baron to Pierre, " we will go into the
kitchen, and examine into the condition of your larder. I had but
a poor breakfast this morning, and no dinner at all, being
anxious to push on and reach my journey's end before nightfall. I
am as hungry as a bear, and will be glad of anything, no matter

"I have not much to put before you, my lord, and I fear that you
will find it but sorry fare after the delicacies you must have
been accustomed to in Paris; but though it will not be tempting,
nor over savoury, it will at least satisfy your hunger."

"That is all that can be required of any food," answered de
Sigognac, "and I am not as ungrateful as you seem to think, my
good Pierre, to the frugal fare of my youth, which has certainly
made me healthy, vigorous, and strong. Bring out what you have,
and serve it as proudly as if it were of the choicest and
daintiest; I will promise to do honour to it, for I am
desperately hungry."

The old servant bustled about joyously, and quickly had the
table ready for his master; then stood behind his chair, while he
ate and drank with a traveller's appetite, as proudly erect as if
he had been a grand major-domo waiting on a prince. According to
the old custom, Miraut and Beelzebub, stationed on the right and
on the left, watched their master's every motion, and received a
share of everything that was on the table. The great kitchen was
lighted, not very brilliantly, by a torch, stuck in an iron
bracket just inside the broad, open chimney, so that the smoke
should escape through it and not fill the room, and the scene was
so exactly a counterpart of the one described at the beginning of
this narrative, that the baron, struck with the perfect
resemblance, fancied that he must have been dreaming, and had
never quitted his ancient chateau at all. Everything was
precisely as he had left it, excepting that the nettles and weeds
had grown a little taller, and the cobweb draperies a little more
voluminous; all else was unchanged. Unconsciously lapsing into
the old ways, de Sigognac fell into a deep reverie after he had
finished his simple repast, which Pierre, as of old, respected,
and even Miraut and Beelzebub did not venture to intrude upon.
All that had occurred since he last sat at his own table passed
in review before him, but seemed like adventures that he had read
of, not actually participated in himself. It had all passed into
the background. Captain Fracasse, already nearly obliterated,
appeared like a pale spectre in the far distance; his combats
with the Duke of Vallombreuse seemed equally unreal. In fine,
everything that he had seen, done, and suffered, had sunk into
shadowy vagueness; but his love for Isabelle had undergone no
change; it had neither diminished nor grown cold; it was as
passionate and all-absorbing as ever; it was his very life; yet
rather like an aspiration of the soul than a real passion, since
with it all he knew that the angelic being who was its object,
and whom he worshipped from afar, could never, never be his. The
wheels of his chariot, which for a brief space had turned aside
into a new track, were back in the old rut again, and realizing
that there could be no further escape from it possible for him,
he gave way sullenly to a despairing, stolid sort of resignation,
that he had no heart to struggle against, but yielded to it
passively; blaming himself the while for having presumed to
indulge in a season of bright hopes and delicious dreams. Why the
devil should such an unlucky fellow as he had always been venture
to aspire to happiness? It was all foolishness, and sure to end
in bitter disappointment; but he had had his lesson now, and
would be wiser for the future.

He sat perfectly motionless for a long time, plunged in a sad
reverie--sunk in a species of torpor; but he roused himself at
last, and perceiving that his faithful old follower's eyes were
fixed upon him, full of timid questioning that he did not venture
to put into words, briefly related to him the principal incidents
of his journey up to the capital, and his short stay there. When
he graphically described his two duels with the Duke of
Vallombreuse--the old man, filled with pride and delight at the
proficiency of his beloved pupil, could not restrain his
enthusiasm, and snatching up a stick gave vigorous illustrations
of all the most salient points of the encounters as the baron
delineated them, ending up with a wild flourish and a shout of

"Alas! my good Pierre," said he, with a sigh, when quiet was
restored, "you taught me how to use my sword only too well. My
unfortunate victory has been my ruin, and has sent me back,
hopeless and bereaved, to this poor old crumbling chateau of
mine, where I am doomed to drag out the weary remainder of my
days in sorrow and misery. I am peculiarly unhappy, in that my
very triumphs have only made matters worse for me--it would have
been better far for me, and for all, if I had been wounded, or
even killed, in this last disastrous encounter, instead of my
rival and enemy, the young Duke of Vallombreuse."

"The de Sigognacs are never beaten," said the old retainer
loftily. "No matter what may come of it, I am glad, my dear young
master, that you killed that insolent duke. The whole thing was
conducted in strict accordance with the code of honour--what more
could be desired? How could any valiant gentleman object to die
gloriously, sword in hand, of a good, honest wound, fairly
given? He should consider himself most fortunate."

"Ah well! perhaps you are right--I will not dispute you," said de
Sigognac, smiling secretly at the old man's philosophy. "But I am
very tired, and would like to go to my own room now--will you
light the lamp, my good Pierre, and lead the way?"

Pierre obeyed, and the baron, preceded by his old servant and
followed by his old dog and cat, slowly ascended the ancient
staircase. The quaint frescoes were gradually fading, growing
ever paler and more indistinct, and there were new stains on the
dull blue sky of the vaulted ceiling, where the rain and melting
snow of winter storms had filtered through from the dilapidated
roof. The ruinous condition of everything in and about the
crumbling old chateau, to which de Sigognac had been perfectly
accustomed before he quitted it, and taken as a matter of course,
now struck him forcibly, and increased his dejection. He saw in
it the sad and inevitable decadence of his race, and said to
himself, "If these ancient walls had any pity for the last
forlorn remnant of the family they have sheltered for centuries,
they would fall in and bury me in their ruins."

When he reached the landing at the head of the stairs he took the
lamp from Pierre's hand, bade him good-night and dismissed
him--not willing that even his faithful old servant, who had
cared for him ever since his birth, should witness his
overpowering emotion. He walked slowly through the great
banqueting hall, where the comedians had supped on that memorable
night, and the remembrance of that gay scene rendered the present
dreary solitude and silence more terrible than they had ever
seemed to him before. The death-like stillness was only broken by
the horrid gnawing of a rat somewhere in the wall, and the old
family portraits glared down at him reproachfully, as he passed
on below them with listless step and downcast eyes, oblivious of
everything but his own deep misery, and his yearning for his lost
Isabelle. As he came under the last portrait of all, that of his
own sweet young mother, he suddenly looked up, and as his eyes
rested on the calm, beautiful countenance--which had always
worn such a pathetic, mournful expression that it used to make
his heart ache to look at it in his boyish days--it seemed to
smile upon him. He was startled for an instant, and then,
thrilling with a strange, exquisite delight, and inspired with
new hope and courage, he said in a low, earnest tone, "I accept
my dear dead mother's smile as a good omen--perhaps all may not
be lost even yet--I will try to believe so."

After a moment of silent thought, he went on into his own
chamber, and put down the small lamp he carried, upon the little
table, where still lay the stray volume of Ronsard's poems that
he had been reading--or rather trying to read--on that
tempestuous night when the old pedant knocked at his door. And
there was his bed, where Isabelle had slept--the very pillow
upon which her dear head had rested. He trembled as he stood and
gazed at it, and saw, as in a vision, the perfect form lying
there again in his place, and the sweetest face in all the world
turned towards him, with a tender smile parting the ripe red
lips, a rosy flush mantling in the delicate cheeks, and warm
lovelight shining in the deep blue eyes. He stood
spell-bound--afraid to move or breathe--and worshipped the
beautiful vision with all his soul and strength, as if it had
been indeed divine--but alas! it faded as suddenly as it had
appeared, and he felt as if the doors of heaven had been shut
upon him. He hastily undressed, and threw himself down in the
place where Isabelle had actually reposed; passionately kissed
the pillow that had been hallowed by the touch of her head, and
bedewed it with his tears. He lay long awake, thinking of the
angelic being who loved him and whom he adored, whilst Beelzebub,
rolled up in a ball, slept at his feet, and snored like the
traditional cat of Mahomet, that lay and slumbered upon the
prophet's sleeve.

When morning came, de Sigognac was more impressed than ever with
the dilapidated, crumbling condition of his ancient mansion.
Daylight has no mercy upon old age and ruins; it reveals with
cruel distinctness the wrinkles, gray hairs, poverty, misery,
stains, fissures, dust and mould in which they abound; but
more kindly night softens or conceals all defects, with its
friendly shade, spreading over them its mantle of darkness. The
rooms that used to seem so vast to their youthful owner had
shrunken, and looked almost small and insignificant to him now,
to his extreme surprise and mortification; but he soon regained
the feeling of being really at home, and resumed his former way
of life completely; just as one goes back to an old garment, that
has for a time been laid aside, and replaced by a new one. His
days were spent thus: early in the morning he went to say a short
prayer in the half-ruined chapel where his ancestors lay, ere he
repaired to the kitchen where his simple breakfast awaited him;
that disposed of, he and old Pierre fetched their swords, and
fought their friendly duels; after which he mounted Bayard, or
the pony he had brought home with him, and went off for long,
solitary rides over the desolate Landes. Returning late in the
afternoon he sat, sad and silent as of old, until his frugal
supper was prepared, partook of it, also in silence, and then
retired to his lonely chamber, where he tried to read some musty
old volume which he knew by heart already, or else flung himself
on his bed--never without kissing the sacred pillow that had
supported Isabelle's beloved head--and lay there a prey to
mournful and bitter meditations, until at last he could forget
his troubles and grief in sleep. There was not a vestige left of
the brilliant Captain Fracasse, nor of the high-spirited rival of
the haughty Duke of Vallombreuse; the unfortunate young Baron de
Sigognac had relapsed entirely into the sad-eyed, dejected master
of Castle Misery.

One morning he sauntered listlessly down into the garden, which
was wilder and more overgrown than ever--a tangled mass of weeds
and brambles. He mechanically directed his steps towards the
straggling eglantine that had had a little rose ready for each of
the fair visitors that accompanied him when last he was there,
and was surprised and delighted to see that it again held forth,
as if for his acceptance, two lovely little blossoms that had
come out to greet him, and upon each of which a dewdrop sparkled
amid the frail, delicately tinted petals. He was strangely
moved and touched by the sight of these tiny wild roses, which
awoke such tender, precious memories, and he repeated to himself,
as he had often done before, the words in which Isabelle had
confessed to him that she had furtively kissed the little flower,
his offering, and dropped a tear upon it, and then secretly given
him her own heart in exchange for it--surely the sweetest words
ever spoken on this earth. He gently plucked one of the dainty
little roses, passionately inhaled its delicate fragrance and
pressed a kiss upon it, as if it had been her lips, which were
not less sweet, and soft, and fresh. He had done nothing but
think of Isabelle ever since their separation, and he fully
realized now, if he had not before, how indispensable she was to
his happiness. She was never out of his mind, waking or sleeping,
for he dreamed of her every night, and his love grew fonder, if
that were possible, as the weary days went on. She was so good
and true, so pure and sweet, so beautiful, so everything that was
lovely and desirable, "made of all creatures' best," a veritable
angel in human guise. Ah! how passionately he loved her--how
could he live without her? Yet he feared--he was almost forced to
believe--that he had lost her irreparably, and that for him hope
was dead. Those were terrible days for the poor, grief-stricken
young baron, and he felt that he could not long endure such
misery and live. Two or three months passed away thus, and one
day when de Sigognac chanced to be in his own room, finishing a
sonnet addressed to Isabelle, Pierre entered, and announced to
his master that there was a gentleman without who wished to speak
with him.

"A gentleman, who wants to see me!" exclaimed the astonished
baron. "You must be either romancing or mad, my good Pierre!
There is no gentleman in the world who can have anything to say
to me. However, for the rarity of the thing, you may bring in
this extraordinary mortal--if such there really be, and you are
not dreaming, as I shrewdly suspect. But tell me his name first,
or hasn't he got any?"

"He declined to give it, saying that it would not afford your
lordship any information," Pierre made answer, as he turned back
and opened wide both leaves of the door.

Upon the threshold appeared a handsome young man, dressed in a
rich and elegant travelling costume of chestnut brown cloth
trimmed with green, and holding in his hand a broad felt hat with
a long green plume; leaving his well shaped, proudly carried head
fully exposed to view, as well as the delicate, regular features
of a face worthy of an ancient Greek statue. The sight of this
fine cavalier did not seem to make an agreeable impression upon
de Sigognac, who turned very pale, and rushing to where his
trusty sword was suspended, over the head of his bed, drew it
from the scabbard, and turned to face the new-comer with the
naked blade in his hand.

"By heaven, my lord duke, I believed that I had killed you!" he
cried in excited tones. "Is it really you--your very self--or
your wraith that stands before me?"

"It is really I--my very self--Hannibal de Vallombreuse, in the
flesh, and no wraith; as far from being dead as possible,"
answered the young duke, with a radiant smile. "But put up that
sword I pray you, my dear baron! We have fought twice already,
you know, and surely that is enough. I do not come as an enemy,
and if I have to reproach myself with some little sins against
you, you have certainly had your revenge for them, so we are
quits. To prove that my intentions are not hostile, but of the
most friendly nature if you will so allow, I have brought
credentials, in the shape of this commission, signed by the king,
which gives you command of a regiment. My good father and I have
reminded his majesty of the devotion of your illustrious
ancestors to his royal ones, and I have ventured to bring you
this good news in person. And now, as I am your guest, I pray you
have something or other killed, I don't care what, and put on the
spit to roast as quickly as may be--for the love of God give me
something to eat--I am starving. The inns are so far apart and so
abominably bad down here that there might almost as well be none
at all, and my baggage-wagon, stocked with edibles, is stuck
fast in a quagmire a long way from this. So you see the
necessities of the case."

"I am very much afraid, my lord duke, that the fare I can offer
will seem to you only another form of revenge on my part," said
de Sigognac with playful courtesy; "but do not, I beseech you,
attribute to resentment the meagre repast for which I shall be
obliged to claim your indulgence. You must know how gladly I
would put before you a sumptuous meal if I could; and what we can
give you will at least, as my good Pierre says, satisfy hunger,
though it may not gratify the palate. And let me now say that
your frank and cordial words touch me deeply, and find an echo in
my inmost heart. I am both proud and happy to call you my
friend--henceforth you will not have one more loyal and devoted
than myself--and though you may not often have need of my
services, they will be, none the less, always at your
disposition. Halloa! Pierre! do you go, without a moment's delay,
and hunt up some fowls, eggs, meat, whatever you can find, and
try to serve a substantial meal to this gentleman, my friend, who
is nearly dying with hunger, and is not used to it like you and

Pierre put in his pocket some of the money his master had sent
him from Paris--which he had never touched before--mounted the
pony, and galloped off to the nearest village in search of
provisions. He found several fowls--such as they were--a splendid
Bayonne ham, a few bottles of fine old wine, and by great good
luck, discovered, at the priest's house, a grand big pate of
ducks' livers--a delicacy worthy of a bishop's or a prince's
table--and which he had much difficulty to obtain from his
reverence, who was a bit of a gourmand, at an almost fabulous
price. But this was evidently a great occasion, and the faithful
old servant would spare no pains to do it honour. In less than an
hour he was at home again, and leaving the charge of the cooking
to a capable woman he had found and sent out to the chateau, he
immediately proceeded to set the table, in the ancient banqueting
hall--gathering together all the fine porcelain and dainty glass
that yet remained intact in the two tall buffets--evidences of
former splendour. But the profusion of gold and silver plate
that used to adorn the festive board of the de Sigognacs had all
been converted into coin of the realm long ago.

When at last the old servant announced that dinner was ready, the
two young men took their places opposite to each other at table,
and Vallombreuse, who was in the gayest, most jovial mood,
attacked the viands with an eagerness and ferocity immensely
diverting to his host. After devouring almost the whole of a
chicken, which, it is true, seemed to have died of a consumption,
there was so little flesh on its bones, he fell back upon the
tempting, rosy slices of the delicate Bayonne ham, and then
passed to the pate of ducks' livers, which he declared to be
supremely delicious, exquisite, ambrosial--food fit for the gods;
and he found the sharp cheese, made of goat's milk, which
followed, an excellent relish. He praised the wine, too-- which
was really very old and fine and drank it with great gusto, out
of his delicate Venetian wine-glass. Once, when he caught sight
of Pierre's bewildered, terrified look, as he heard his master
address his merry guest as the Duke of Vallombreuse--who ought to
be dead, if he was not--he fairly roared with laughter, and was
as full of fun and frolic as a school-boy out for a holiday;
Meantime de Sigognac, whilst he endeavoured to play the attentive
host, and to respond as well as he could to the young duke's
lively sallies, could not recover from his surprise at seeing him
sitting there opposite to himself, as a guest at his own
table--making himself very much at home, too, in the most
charming, genial, easy way imaginable--and yet he was the
haughty, overbearing, insolent young nobleman, who had been his
hated rival; whom he had twice encountered and defeated, in
fierce combat, and who had several times tried to compass his
death by means of hired ruffians. What could be the explanation
of it all?

The Duke of Vallombreuse divined his companion's thoughts, and
when the old servant had retired, after placing a bottle of
especially choice wine and two small glasses on the table, he
looked up at de Sigognac and said, with the most amicable
frankness, "I can plainly perceive, my dear baron, in spite
of your admirable courtesy, that this unexpected step of mine
appears very strange and inexplicable to you. You have been
saying to yourself, How in the world has it come about, that the
arrogant, imperious Vallombreuse has been transformed, from the
unscrupulous, cruel, blood-thirsty tiger that he was, into the
peaceable, playful lamb he seems to be now--which a 'gentle
shepherdess' might lead about with a ribbon round its neck!--I
will tell you. During the six weeks that I was confined to my
bed, I made various reflections, which the thoughtless might
pronounce cowardly, but which are permitted to the bravest and
most valiant when death stares them in the face. I realized then,
for the first time, the relative value of many things, and also
how wrong and wicked my own course had been; and I promised
myself to do very differently for the future, if I recovered. As
the passionate love that Isabelle inspired in my heart had been
replaced by a pure and sacred fraternal affection--which is the
greatest blessing of my life--I had no further reason to dislike
you. You were no longer my rival; a brother cannot be jealous in
that way of his own sister; and then, I was deeply grateful to
you, for the respectful tenderness and deference I knew you had
never failed to manifest towards her, when she was in a position
that authorized great license. You were the first to recognise
her pure, exalted soul, while she was still only an obscure
actress. When she was poor, and despised by those who will cringe
to her now, you offered to her--lowly as was her station--the
precious treasure that a nobleman can possess: the time-honoured
name of his ancestors. You would have made her your wife
then--now that she is rich, and of high rank, she belongs to you
of right. The true, faithful lover of Isabelle, the actress,
should be the honoured husband of the Comtesse de Lineuil."

"But you forget," cried de Sigognac, in much agitation, "that she
always absolutely refused me, though she knew that I was
perfectly disinterested."

"It was because of her supreme delicacy, her angelic
susceptibility, and her noble spirit of self-sacrifice that she
said that. She feared that she would necessarily be a
disadvantage to you--an obstacle in the way of your advancement.
But the situation is entirely changed now."

"Yes, now it is I who would be a disadvantage to her; have I then
a right to be less generous and magnanimous than she was?"

"Do you still love my sister?" said Vallombreuse, in a grave
tone. "As her brother, I have the right to ask this question."

"I love her with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my
strength," de Sigognac replied fervently, "as much and more than
ever man loved woman on this earth--where nothing is
perfect--save Isabelle."

"Such being the case, my dear Captain of Mousquetaires, and
governor of a province--soon to be--have your horse saddled, and
come with me to the Chateau of Vallombreuse, so that I may
formally present you to the prince, my father, as the favoured
suitor of the Comtesse de Lineuil, my sister. Isabelle has
refused even to think of the Chevalier de Vidalinc, or the
Marquis de l'Estang, as aspirants to her hand--both right
handsome, attractive, eligible young fellows, by Jove!--but I am
of opinion that she will accept, without very much persuasion,
the Baron de Sigognac."

The next day the duke and the baron were riding gaily forward,
side by side, on the road to Paris.


A compact crowd filled the Place de Greve, despite the early hour
indicated by the clock of the Hotel de Ville.

The tall buildings on the eastern side of the square threw their
shadows more than half-way across it, and upon a sinister-looking
wooden framework, which rose several feet above the heads of the
populace, and bore a number of ominous, dull red stains. At the
windows of the houses surrounding the crowded square, a few heads
were to be seen looking out from time to time, but quickly drawn
back again as they perceived that the interesting performance,
for which all were waiting, had not yet begun. Clinging to the
transverse piece of the tall stone cross, which stood at that
side of the open square nearest the river, was a forlorn, little,
ragged boy, who had climbed up to it with the greatest
difficulty, and was holding on with all his might, his arms
clasped round the cross-piece and his legs round the upright, in
a most painful and precarious position. But nothing would have
induced him to abandon it, so long as he could possibly maintain
himself there, no matter at what cost of discomfort, or even
actual distress, for from it he had a capital view of the
scaffold, and all its horribly fascinating details--the wheel
upon which the criminal was to revolve, the coil of rope to bind
him to it, and the heavy bar to break his bones.

If any one among the anxious crowd of spectators, however, had
carefully studied the small, thin countenance of the child
perched up on the tall stone cross, he would have discovered that
its expression was by no means that of vulgar curiosity. It was
not simply the fierce attractions of an execution that had
drawn thither this wild, weird-looking young creature, with his
sun-burned complexion, great, flashing, dark eyes, brilliant
white teeth, unkempt masses of thick, black hair, and slender
brown hands--which were convulsively clinging to the rough, cold
stone. The delicacy of the features would seem to indicate a
different sex from the dress--but nobody paid any attention to
the child, And all eyes were turned towards the scaffold, or the
direction from which the cart bearing the condemned criminal was
to come. Among the groups close around the scaffold were several
faces we have seen before; notably, the chalky countenance and
fiery red nose of Malartic, and the bold profile of Jacquemin
Lampourde, also several of the ruffians engaged in the abduction
of Isabelle, as well as various other habitues of the Crowned
Radish. The Place de Greve, to which sooner or later they were
all pretty sure to come and expiate their crimes with their
lives, seemed to exercise a singular fascination over murderers,
thieves, and criminals of all sorts, who invariably gathered in
force to witness an execution. They evidently could not resist
it, and appeared to find a fierce satisfaction in watching the
terrible spectacle that they themselves would some day probably
furnish to the gaping multitude. Then the victim himself always
expected his friends' attendance--he would be hurt and
disappointed if his comrades did not rally round him at the last.
A criminal in that position likes to see familiar faces in the
throng that hems him in. It gives him courage, steadies his

He cannot exhibit any signs of cowardice before those who
appreciate true merit and bravery, according to his way of
thinking, and pride comes to his aid. A man will meet death like
a Roman under such circumstances, who would be weak as a woman if
he were despatched in private.

The criminal to be executed on that occasion was a thief, already
notorious in Paris for his daring and dexterity, though he had
only been there a few months. But, unfortunately for
himself--though very much the reverse for the well-to-do citizens
of the capital in general--he had not confined himself to his
legitimate business. In his last enterprise--breaking into a
private dwelling to gain possession of a large sum of money that
was to be kept there for a single night--he had killed the master
of the house, who was aroused by his entrance; and, not content
to stop there, had also brutally murdered his wife, as she lay
quietly sleeping in her bed--like a tiger, that has tasted blood
and is wild for more. So atrocious a crime had roused the
indignation of even his own unscrupulous, hardened companions,
and it was not long ere his hiding-place was mysteriously
revealed, and he was arrested, tried, and condemned to death. Now
he was to pay the penalty of his guilt.

As the fatal hour approached, a carriage drove down along the
quay, turned into the Place de Greve, and attempted to cross it;
but, becoming immediately entangled in the crowd, could make
little or no progress, despite the utmost exertions of the
majestic coachman and attendant lackeys to induce the people to
make way for it, and let it pass.

But for the grand coat of arms and ducal coronet emblazoned on
the panels, which inspired a certain awe as well as respect in
the motley throng of pedestrians, the equipage would undoubtedly
have been roughly dealt with-but as it was, they contented
themselves with resolutely and obstinately barring its passage,
after it had reached the middle of the square. The indignant
coachman did not dare to urge his spirited horses forward at all
hazards, ruthlessly trampling down the unlucky individuals who
happened to be directly in his way, as he would certainly have
done in any ordinary crowd, for the canaille, that filled the
Place de Greve to overflowing, was out in too great force to be
trifled with--so there was nothing for it but patience.

"These rascals are waiting for an execution, and will not stir,
nor let us stir, until it is over," said a remarkably handsome
young man, magnificently dressed, to his equally fine looking,
though more modestly attired friend, who was seated beside him in
the luxurious carriage. "The devil take the unlucky dog who must
needs be broken on the wheel just when we want to cross the Place
de Greve. Why couldn't he have put it off until to-morrow
morning, I should like to know!"

"You may be sure that the poor wretch would be only too glad to
do so if he could," answered the other, "for the occasion is a
far more serious matter to him than to us."

"The best thing we can do under the circumstances, my dear de
Sigognac, is to turn our heads away if the spectacle is too
revolting--though it is by no means easy, when something horrible
is taking place close at hand. Even Saint Augustine opened his
eyes in the arena at a loud cheer from the people, though he had
vowed to himself beforehand to keep them closed."

"At all events, we shall not be detained here long," rejoined de
Sigognac, "for there comes the prisoner. See, Vallombreuse, how
the crowd gives way before him, though it will not let us move an

A rickety cart, drawn by a miserable old skeleton of a horse, and
surrounded by mounted guards, was slowly advancing through the
dense throng towards the scaffold. In it were a venerable priest,
with a long white beard, who was holding a crucifix to the lips
of the condemned man, seated beside him, the executioner, placed
behind his victim, and holding the end of the rope that bound
him, and an assistant, who was driving the poor old horse. The
criminal, whom every one turned to gaze at, was no other than our
old acquaintance, Agostino, the brigand.

"Why, what is this!" cried de Sigognac, in great surprise. "I
know that man--he is the fellow who stopped us on the highway,
and tried to frighten us with his band of scarecrows, as poor
Matamore called them. I told you all about it when we came by the
place where it happened."

"Yes, I remember perfectly," said Vallombreuse; "it was a capital
story, and I had a good laugh over it. But it would seem that the
ingenious rascal has been up to something more serious since
then--his ambition has probably been his ruin. He certainly is no
coward--only look what a good face he puts on it."

Agostino, holding his head proudly erect, but a trifle paler than
usual perhaps, seemed to be searching for some one in the crowd.
When the cart passed slowly in front of the stone cross, he
caught sight of the little boy, who had not budged from his
excessively uncomfortable and wearisome position, and a flash of
joy shone in the brigand's eyes, a slight smile parted his lips,
as he made an almost imperceptible sign with his head, and said,
in a low tone, "Chiquita!"

"My son, what was that strange word you spoke?" asked the priest.
"It sounded like an outlandish woman's name. Dismiss all such
subjects from your mind, and fix your thoughts on your own hopes
of salvation, for you stand on the threshold of eternity."

"Yes, my father, I know it but too well, and though my hair is
black and my form erect, whilst you are bowed with age, and your
long beard is white as snow, you are younger now than I--every
turn of the wheels, towards that scaffold yonder, ages me by ten

During this brief colloquy the cart had made steady progress, and
in a moment more had stopped at the foot of the rude wooden steps
that led up to the scaffold, which Agostino ascended slowly but
unfalteringly--preceded by the assistant, supported by the
priest, and followed by the executioner. In less than a minute he
was firmly bound upon the wheel, and the executioner, having
thrown off his showy scarlet cloak, braided with white, and
rolled up his sleeves, stooped to pick up the terrible bar that
lay at his feet. It was a moment of intense horror and
excitement. An anxious curiosity, largely mixed with dread,
oppressed the hearts of the spectators, who stood motionless,
breathless, with pale faces, and straining eyes fixed upon the
tragic group on the fatal scaffold. Suddenly a strange stir ran
through the crowd--the child, who was perched up on the cross,
had slipped quickly down to the ground, and gliding like a
serpent through the closely packed throng, reached the scaffold,
cleared the steps at a bound, and appeared beside the astonished
executioner, who was just in the act of raising the ponderous bar
to strike, with such a wild, ghastly, yet inspired and noble
countenance--lighted up by a strength of will and purpose that
made it actually sublime--that the grim dealer of death paused
involuntarily, and withheld the murderous blow about to fall.

"Get out of my way, thou puppet!" he roared in angry tones, as he
recovered his sang-froid, "or thou wilt get thy accursed head

But Chiquita paid no attention to him--she did not care whether
she was killed too, or not. Bending over Agostino, she
passionately kissed his forehead, whispered "I love thee!"--and
then, with a blow as swift as lightning, plunged into his heart
the knife she had reclaimed from Isabelle. It was dealt with so
firm a hand, and unerring an aim, that death was almost
instantaneous--scarcely had Agostino time to murmur "Thanks."

With a wild burst of hysterical laughter the child sprang down
from the scaffold, while the executioner, stupefied at her bold
deed, lowered his now useless club; uncertain whether or not he
should proceed to break the bones of the man already dead, and
beyond his power to torture.

"Well done, Chiquita, well done, and bravely!" cried Malartic--
who had recognised her in spite of her boy's clothes--losing his
self-restraint in his admiration. The other ruffians, who had
seen Chiquita at the Crowned Radish, and wondered at and admired
her courage when she stood against the door and let Agostino
fling his terrible navaja at her without moving a muscle, now
grouped themselves closely together so as to effectually prevent
the soldiers from pursuing her. The fracas that ensued gave
Chiquita time to reach the carriage of the Duke of
Vallombreuse--which, taking advantage of the stir and shifting in
the throng, was slowly making its way out of the Place de Greve.
She climbed up on the step, and catching sight of de Sigognac
within, appealed to him, in scarcely audible words, as she panted
and trembled--"I saved your Isabelle, now save me!"

Vallombreuse, who had been very much interested by this strange
and exciting scene, cried to the coachman, "Get on as fast as you
can, even if you have to drive over the people."

But there was no need--the crowd opened as if by magic before
the carriage, and closed again compactly after it had passed, so
that Chiquita's pursuers could not penetrate it, or make any
progress--they were completely baffled, whichever way they
turned. Meanwhile the fugitive was being rapidly carried beyond
their reach. As soon as the open street was gained, the coachman
had urged his horses forward, and in a very few minutes they
reached the Porte Saint Antoine. As the report of what had
occurred in the Place de Greve could not have preceded them,
Vallombreuse thought it better to proceed at a more moderate
pace--fearing that their very speed might arouse suspicion--and
gave orders accordingly; as soon as they were fairly beyond the
gate he took Chiquita into the carriage-- where she seated
herself, without a word, opposite to de Sigognac. Under the
calmest exterior she was filled with a preternatural
excitement--not a muscle of her face moved; but a bright flush
glowed on her usually pale cheeks, which gave to her magnificent
dark eyes--now fixed upon vacancy, and seeing nothing that was
before them--a marvellous brilliancy. A complete transformation
had taken place in Chiquita--this violent shock had torn asunder
the childish chrysalis in which the young maiden had lain
dormant--as she plunged her knife into Agostino's heart she
opened her own. Her love was born of that murder--the strange,
almost sexless being, half child, half goblin, that she had been
until then, existed no longer--Chiquita was a woman from the
moment of that heroic act of sublime devotion. Her passion, that
had bloomed out in one instant, was destined to be eternal--a
kiss and a stab, that was Chiquita's love story.

The carriage rolled smoothly and swiftly on its way towards
Vallombreuse, and when the high, steep roof of the chateau came
in sight the young duke said to de Sigognac, "You must go with me
to my room first, where you can get rid of the dust, and freshen
up a bit before I present you to my sister--who knows nothing
whatever of my journey, or its motive. I have prepared a surprise
for her, and I want it to be complete--so please draw down the
curtain on your side, while I do the same on mine, in order that
we may not be seen, as we drive into the court, from any of the
windows that command a view of it. But what are we to do with
this little wretch here?"

Chiquita, who was roused from her deep reverie by the duke's
question, looked gravely up at him, and said, "Let some one take
me to Mlle. Isabelle--she will decide what is to be done with

With all the curtains carefully drawn down the carriage drove
over the drawbridge and into the court. Vallombreuse alighted,
took de Sigognac's arm, and led him silently to his own
apartment, after having ordered a servant to conduct Chiquita to
the presence of the Comtesse de Lineuil. At sight of her Isabelle
was greatly astonished, and, laying down the book she was
reading, fixed upon the poor child a look full of interest,
affection, and questioning.

Chiquita stood silent and motionless until the servant had
retired, then, with a strange solemnity, which was entirely new
in her, she went up to Isabelle, and timidly taking her hand,

"My knife is in Agostino's heart. I have no master now, and I
must devote myself to somebody. Next to him who is dead I love
you best of all the world. You gave me the pearl necklace I
wished for, and you kissed me. Will you have me for your servant,
your slave, your dog? Only give me a black dress, so that I may
wear mourning for my lost love--it is all I ask. I will sleep on
the floor outside your door, so that I shall not be in your way.
When you want me, whistle for me, like this,"--and she whistled
shrilly--"and I will come instantly. Will you have me?"

In answer Isabelle drew Chiquita into her arms, pressed her lips
to the girl's forehead warmly, and thankfully accepted this soul,
that dedicated itself to her.


Isabelle, accustomed to Chiquita's odd, enigmatical ways, had
refrained from questioning her--waiting to ask for explanations
until the poor girl should have become more quiet, and able to
give them. She could see that some terrible catastrophe must have
occurred, which had left all her nerves quivering, and caused the
strong shudders that passed over her in rapid succession; but the
child had rendered her such good service, in her own hour of
need, that she felt the least she could do was to receive and
care for the poor little waif tenderly, without making any
inquiries as to her evidently desperate situation. After giving
her in charge to her own maid, with orders that she should be
properly clothed, and made thoroughly comfortable in every way,
Isabelle resumed her reading--or rather tried to resume it; but
her thoughts would wander, and after mechanically turning over a
few pages in a listless way, she laid the book down, beside her
neglected embroidery, on a little table at her elbow. Leaning her
head on her hand, and closing her eyes, she lapsed into a
sorrowful reverie--as, indeed, she had done of late many times
every day.

"Oh! what has become of de Sigognac?" she said to herself. "Where
can he be? and does he still think of me, and love me as of old?
Yes, I am sure he does; he will be true and faithful to me so
long as he lives, my brave, devoted knight! I fear that he has
gone back to his desolate, old chateau, and, believing that my
brother is dead, does not dare to approach me. It must be that
chimerical obstacle that stands in his way--otherwise he
would surely have tried to see me again--or at least have written
to me. Perhaps I ought to have sent him word that Vallombreuse
had recovered; yet how could I do that? A modest woman shrinks
from even seeming to wish to entice her absent lover back to her
side. How often I think that I should be far happier if I could
have remained as I was--an obscure actress; then I could at least
have had the bliss of seeing him every day, and of enjoying in
peace the sweetness of being loved by such a noble, tender heart
as his. Despite the touching affection and devotion that my
princely father lavishes upon me, I feel sad and lonely in this
magnificent chateau. If Vallombreuse were only here his society
would help to pass the time; but he is staying away so long--and
I try in vain to make out what he meant when he told me, with
such a significant smile, as he bade me adieu, that I would be
pleased with what he was about to do. Sometimes I fancy that I do
understand; but I dare not indulge myself with such blissful
thoughts for an instant. If I did, and were mistaken after all,
the disappointment would be too cruel--too heart-rending. But, if
it only could be true! ah! if it only might! I fear I should go
mad with excess of joy."

The young Comtesse de Lineuil was still absorbed in sad thoughts
when a tall lackey appeared, and asked if she would receive his
lordship, the Duke of Vallombreuse who had just arrived, at the
chateau and desired to speak with her.

"Certainly, I shall be delighted to see him," she said in glad
surprise; "ask him to come to me at once."

In a few minutes--which had seemed like hours to Isabelle--the
young duke made his appearance, with beaming eyes, rosy cheeks,
light, elastic step, and that air of glorious health and vigour
which had distinguished him before his illness. He threw down his
broad felt hat as he came in, and, hastening to his sister's
side, took her pretty white hands and raised them to his lips.

"Dearest Isabelle," he cried, "I am so rejoiced to see you again!
I was obliged to stay away from you much longer than I wished,
for it is a great deprivation to me now not to be with you
every day--I have gotten so thoroughly into the habit of
depending upon your sweet society. But I have been occupied
entirely with your interests during my absence, and the hope of
pleasing my darling sister, and adding to her happiness, has
helped me to endure the long separation from her."

"The way to please me most, as you ought to have known," Isabelle
replied, "was to stay here at home quietly with your father and
me, and let us take care of you, instead of rushing off so
rashly--with your wound scarcely healed, or your health fully
re-established--on some foolish errand or other, that you were
not willing to acknowledge."

"Was I ever really wounded, or ill?" said Vallombreuse, laughing.
"Upon my word I had forgotten all about it. Never in my life was
I in better health than at this moment, and my little expedition
has done me no end of good. But you, my sweet sister, are not
looking as well as when I left you; you have grown thin and pale.
What is the matter? I fear that you find your life here at the
chateau very dull. Solitude and seclusion are not at all the
thing for a beautiful young woman, I know. Reading and embroidery
are but melancholy pastimes at best and there must be moments
when even the gravest, most sedate of maidens grows weary of
gazing out upon the stagnant waters of the moat, and longs to
look upon the face of a handsome young knight."

"Oh! what an unmerciful tease you are, Vallombreuse, and how you
do love to torment me with these strange fancies of yours. You
forget that I have had the society of the prince, who is so kind
and devoted to me, and who abounds in wise and instructive

"Yes, there is no doubt that our worthy father is a most learned
and accomplished gentleman, honoured and admired at home and
abroad; but his pursuits and occupations are too grave and
weighty for you to share, my dear little sister, and I don't want
to see your youth passed altogether in such a solemn way. As you
would not smile upon my friend, the Chevalier de Vidalinc, nor
condescend to listen to the suit of the Marquis de l'Estang, I
concluded to go in search of somebody that would be more
likely to please your fastidious taste, and, my dear, I have
found him. Such a charming, perfect, ideal husband he will make!
I am convinced that you will dote upon him."

"It is downright cruelty, Vallombreuse, to persecute me as you
do, with such unfeeling jests. You know perfectly well that I do
not wish to marry; I cannot give my hand without my heart, and my
heart is not mine to give."

"But you will talk very differently, I do assure you, my dear
little sister, when you see the husband I have chosen for you."

"Never! never!" cried Isabelle, whose voice betrayed her
distress. "I shall always be faithful to a memory that is
infinitely dear and precious to me; for I cannot think that you
intend to force me to act against my will."

"Oh, no! I am not quite such a tyrant as that; I only ask you not
to reject my protege before you have seen him."

Without waiting for her reply, Vallombreuse abruptly left the
room, and returned in a moment with de Sigognac, whose heart was
throbbing as if it would burst out of his breast. The two young
men, hand in hand, paused on the threshold, hoping that Isabelle
would turn her eyes towards them; but she modestly cast them down
and kept them fixed upon the floor, while her thoughts flew far
away, to hover about the beloved being who she little dreamed was
so near her. Vallombreuse, seeing that she took no notice of
them, and had fallen into a reverie, advanced towards her, still
holding de Sigognac by the hand, and made a ceremonious bow, as
did also his companion; but while the young duke was smiling and
gay, de Sigognac was deeply agitated, and very pale. Brave as a
lion when he had to do with men, he was timid with women--as are
all generous, manly hearts.

"Comtesse de Lineuil," said Vallombreuse, in an emphatic tone of
voice, "permit me to present to you one of my dearest friends,
for whom I entreat your favour--the Baron de Sigognac."

As he pronounced this name, which she at first believed to be
a jest on her brother's part, Isabelle started, trembled
violently, and then glanced up timidly at the newcomer.

When she saw that Vallombreuse had not deceived her, that it was
really he, her own true lover, standing there before her, she
turned deathly pale, and had nearly fallen from her chair; then
the quick reaction came, and a most lovely blush spread itself
all over her fair face, and even her snowy neck, as far as it
could be seen. Without a word, she sprang up, and throwing her
arms round her brother's neck hid her face on his shoulder, while
two or three convulsive sobs shook her slender frame and a little
shower of tears fell from her eyes. By this instinctive movement,
so exquisitely modest and truly feminine, Isabelle manifested all
the exceeding delicacy and purity of her nature. Thus were her
warm thanks to Vallombreuse, whose kindness and generosity
overcame her, mutely expressed; and as she could not follow the
dictates of her heart, and throw herself into her lover's arms,
she took refuge in her transport of joy with her brother, who had
restored him to her.

Vallombreuse supported her tenderly for a few moments, until he
found she was growing calmer, when he gently disengaged himself
from her clasping arms, and drawing down the hands with which she
had covered her face, to hide its tears and blushes, said, "My
sweet sister, do not, I pray you, hide your lovely face from us;
I fear my protege will be driven to believe that you entertain
an invincible dislike to him you will not even look at him."

Isabelle raised her drooping head, and turning full upon de
Sigognac her glorious eyes, shining with a celestial joy, in
spite of the sparkling tear-drops that still hung upon their long
lashes, held out to him her beautiful white hand, which he took
reverentially in both his own, and bending down pressed fervently
to his lips. The passionate kiss he imprinted upon it thrilled
through Isabelle's whole being, and for a second she turned faint
and giddy; but the delicious ecstasy, which is almost anguish, of
such emotion as hers, is never hurtful, and she presently looked
up and smiled reassuringly upon her anxious lover, as the colour
returned to her lips and cheeks, and the warm light to her eyes.

"And now tell me, my sweet little sister," began Vallombreuse,
with an air of triumph, and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes,
"wasn't I right when I declared that you would smile upon the
husband I had chosen for you? and would not be discouraged,
though you were so obstinate? If I had not been equally so, this
dear de Sigognac would have gone back to his far-away chateau,
without even having seen you; and that would have been a pity, as
you must admit."

"Yes, I do admit it, my dearest brother, and also that you have
been adorably kind and good to me. You were the only one who,
under the circumstances, could bring about this reunion, and we
both know how to appreciate what you have so nobly and generously
done for us."

"Yes, indeed," said de Sigognac warmly; "your brother has given
us ample proof of the nobility and generosity of his nature--he
magnanimously put aside the resentment that might seem
legitimate, and came to me with his hand outstretched, and his
heart in it. He revenges himself nobly for the harm I was obliged
to do him, by imposing an eternal gratitude upon me--a light
burden, that I shall bear joyfully so long as I live."

"Say nothing more about that, my dear baron!" Vallombreuse
exclaimed. "You would have done as much in my place. The
differences of two valiant adversaries are very apt to end in a
warm mutual attachment--we were destined from the beginning to
become, sooner or later, a devoted pair of friends; like Theseus
and Pirithous, Nisus and Euryalus, or Damon and Pythias. But
never mind about me now, and tell my sister how you were thinking
of her, and longing for her, in that lonely chateau of yours;
where, by the way, I made one of the best meals I ever had in my
life, though you do pretend that starvation is the rule down

"And _I_ had a charming supper there too," said Isabelle with a
smile, "which I look back upon with the greatest pleasure."

"Nevertheless," rejoined de Sigognac, "plenty does not abound
there--but I cannot regret the blessed poverty that was the means
of first winning me your regard, my precious darling! I am
thankful for it--I owe everything to it."

"_I_ am of opinion," interrupted Vallombreuse, with a significant
smile, "that it would be well for me to go and report myself to
my father. I want to announce your arrival to him myself, de
Sigognac! Not that he will need to be specially prepared to
receive you, for I am bound to confess--what may surprise my
little sister here--that he knew such a thing might come about,
and was equally implicated with my graceless self in this little
conspiracy. But one thing yet--tell me before I go, Isabelle,
Comtesse de Lineuil, whether you really do intend to accept the
Baron de Sigognac as your husband--I don't want to run any risk
of making a blunder at this stage of the proceedings, you
understand, after having conducted the negotiations successfully
up to this point. You do definitely and finally accept him,
eh?--that is well--and now I will go to the prince. Engaged
lovers sometimes have matters to discuss that even a brother may
not hear, so I will leave you together, feeling sure that you
will both thank me for it in your hearts. Adieu!--make the most
your time, for I shall soon return to conduct de Sigognac to the

With a laughing nod the young duke picked up his hat and went
away, leaving the two happy lovers alone together, and--however
agreeable his company may have been to them, it must be admitted
that his absence was, as he had predicted, very welcome to both.
The Baron de Sigognac eagerly approached Isabelle, and--again
possessed himself of her fair hand, which she did not withdraw
from his warm, loving clasp. Neither spoke, and for a few minutes
the fond lovers stood side by side and gazed into each other's
eyes. Such silence is more eloquent than any words. At last de
Sigognac said softly, "I can scarcely believe even yet in the
reality of so much bliss. Oh! what a strange, contradictory
destiny is mine. You loved me, my darling, because I was poor and
unhappy--and thus my past misery was the direct cause of my
present felicity. A troupe of strolling actors, who chanced to
seek refuge under my crumbling roof, held in reserve for me an
angel of purity and goodness--a hostile encounter has given me a
devoted friend--and, most wonderful of all, your forcible
abduction led to your meeting the fond father who had been
seeking you so many years in vain. And all this because a
Thespian chariot went astray one stormy night in the Landes."

"We were destined for each other--it was all arranged for us in
heaven above. Twin souls are sure to come together at last, if
they can only have patience to wait for the meeting. I felt
instinctively, when we met at the Chateau de Sigognac, that you
were my fate. At sight of you my heart, which had always lain
dormant before, and never responded to any appeal, thrilled
within me, and, unasked, yielded to you all its love and
allegiance. Your very timidity won more for you than the greatest
boldness and assurance could have done, and from the first moment
of our acquaintance I resolved never to give myself to any one
but you, or God."

"And yet, cruel, hard-hearted child that you were--though so
divinely good and lovely--you refused your hand to me, when I
sued for it on my knees. I know well that it was all through
generosity, and that of the noblest--but, my darling, it was a
very cruel generosity too."

"I will do my best to atone for it now, my dearest de Sigognac,
in giving you this hand you wished for, together with my heart,
which has long been all your own. The Comtesse de Lineuil is not
bound to be governed by the scruples of Isabelle, the actress. I
have had only one fear--that your pride might keep you from ever
seeking me again as I am now. But, even if you had given me up,
you would never have loved another woman, would you, de Sigognac?
You would have been faithful to me always, even though you had
renounced me--I felt so sure of that. Were you thinking of me
down there in your ancient chateau, when Vallombreuse broke in
upon your solitude?"

"My dearest Isabelle, by day I had only one thought--of
you--and at night, when I kissed the sacred pillow on which your
lovely head had rested, before laying my own down upon it, I
besought the god of dreams to show me your adored image while I

"And were your prayers sometimes answered?"

"Always--not once was I disappointed--and only when morning came
did you leave me, vanishing through 'the ivory gates.' Oh I how
interminable the sad, lonely days seemed to me, and how I wished
that I could sleep, and dream of you, my angel, all the weary

"I saw you also in my dreams, many nights in succession. Our
souls must have met, de Sigognac, while our bodies lay wrapped in
slumber. But now, thanks be to God, we are reunited--and forever.
The prince, my father, knew and approved of your being brought
here, Vallombreuse said, so we can have no opposition to our
wishes to fear from him. He has spoken to me of you several times
of late in very flattering terms; looking at me searchingly, the
while, in a way that greatly agitated and troubled me, for I did
not know what might be in his mind, as Vallombreuse had not then
told me that he no longer hated you, and I feared that he would
always do so after his double defeat at your hands. But all the
terrible anxiety is over now, my beloved, and blessed peace and
happiness lie before us."

At this moment the door opened, and the young duke announced to
de Sigognac that his father was waiting to receive him. The baron
immediately rose from his seat beside Isabelle, bowed low to her,
and followed Vallombreuse to the prince's presence. The aged
nobleman, dressed entirely in black, and with his breast covered
with orders, was sitting in a large arm-chair at a table heaped
up with books and papers, with which he had evidently been
occupied. His attitude was stately and dignified, and the
expression of his noble, benevolent countenance affable in the
extreme. He rose to receive de Sigognac, gave him a cordial
greeting, and politely bade him be seated.

"My dear father," said Vallombreuse, "I present to you the Baron
de Sigognac; formerly my rival, now my friend, and soon to be my
brother, if you consent. Any improvement that you may see in me
is due to his influence, and it is no light obligation that I owe
to him--though he will not admit that there is any. The baron
comes to ask a favour of you, which I shall rejoice to see
accorded to him."

The prince made a gesture of acquiescence, and looked
reassuringly at de Sigognac, as if inviting him to speak
fearlessly for himself. Encouraged by the expression of his eyes,
the baron rose, and, with a low bow, said, in clear, distinct
tones, "Prince, I am here to ask of you the hand of Mlle. la
Comtesse Isabelle de Lineuil, your daughter."

The old nobleman looked at him steadily and searchingly for a
moment, and then, as if satisfied with his scrutiny, answered:
"Baron de Sigognac, I accede to your request, and consent to this
alliance, with great pleasure--so far, that is, as my paternal
will accords with the wishes of my beloved daughter--whom I
never attempt to coerce in anything. The Comtesse de Lineuil must
be consulted in this matter, and herself decide the question
which is of such vital importance to her. I cannot undertake to
answer for her--the whims and fancies of young ladies are
sometimes so odd and unexpected."

The prince said this with a mischievous smile--as if he had not
long known that Isabelle loved de Sigognac with all her heart,
and was pining for him. After a brief pause, he added:
"Vallombreuse, go and fetch your sister, for, without her, I
cannot give a definite answer to the Baron de Sigognac."

The young duke accordingly went for Isabelle, who was greatly
alarmed at this summons, and obeyed it in fear and trembling.
Despite her brother's assurances, she could not bring herself to
believe in the reality of such great happiness. Her breast heaved
tumultuously, her face was very pale, at each step her knees
threatened to give way under her, and when her father drew her
fondly to his side she was forced to grasp the arm of his chair
tightly, to save herself from falling.

"My daughter," said the prince gravely, "here is a gentleman who
does you the honour to sue for your hand. For my own part, I
should hail this union with joy--for he is of an ancient and
illustrious family, of stainless reputation and tried courage,
and appears to me to possess every qualification that heart could
desire. I am perfectly satisfied with him--but has he succeeded
pleasing you, my child? Young heads do not always agree with gray
ones. Examine your own heart carefully, and tell me if you are
willing to accept the Baron de Sigognac as your husband. Take
plenty of time to consider--you shall not be hurried, my dear
child, in so grave a matter as this."

The prince's kindly, cordial smile gave evidence that he was in a
playful mood, and Isabelle, plucking up courage, threw her arms
round her father's neck, and said in the softest tones, "There is
no need for me to consider or hesitate, my dear lord and father!
Since the Baron de Sigognac is so happy as to please you, I
confess, freely and frankly, that I have loved him ever since we
first met, and have never wished for any other alliance. To obey,
you in this will be my highest happiness."

"And now clasp hands, my children, and exchange the kiss of
betrothal," cried the Duke of Vallombreuse gaily. "Verily, the
romance ends more happily than could have been expected after
such a stormy beginning. And now the next question is, when shall
the wedding be?"

"It will take a little time to make due preparation," said the
prince. "So many people must be set to work, in order that the
marriage of my only daughter may be worthily celebrated.
Meanwhile, Isabelle, here is your dowry, the deed of the estate
of Lineuil--from which you derive your title, and which yields
you an income of fifty thousand crowns per annum--together with
rent-rolls, and all the various documents appertaining thereto"--
and he handed a formidable roll of papers to her. "As to you, my
dear de Sigognac, I have here for you a royal ordinance, which
constitutes you governor of a province; and no one, I venture to
say, could be more worthy of this distinguished honour than

Vallombreuse, who had gone out of the room while his father
was speaking, now made his appearance, followed by a servant
carrying a box covered with crimson velvet.

He took it from the lackey at the door, and advancing, placed it
upon the table in front of Isabelle.

"My dear little sister," said he, "will you accept this from me
as a wedding gift?"

On the cover was inscribed "For Isabelle," in golden letters, and
it contained the very casket which the Duke of Vallombreuse had
offered at Poitiers to the young actress, and which she had so
indignantly refused to receive, or even look at.

"You will accept it this time?" he pleaded, with a radiant smile;
"and honour these diamonds of finest water, and these pearls of
richest lustre, by wearing them, for my sake. They are not more
pure and beautiful than yourself."

Isabelle smilingly took up a magnificent necklace and clasped it
round her fair neck, to show that she harboured no resentment;
then put the exquisite bracelets on her round, white arms, and
decked herself with the various superb ornaments that the
beautiful casket contained.

And now we have only to add, that a week later Isabelle and de
Sigognac were united in marriage in the chapel at Vallombreuse,
which was brilliantly lighted, and filled with fragrance from the
profusion of flowers that converted it into a very bower. The
music was heavenly, the fair bride adorably beautiful, with her
long white veil floating about her, and the Baron de Sigognac
radiant with happiness. The Marquis de Bruyeres was one of his
witnesses, and a most brilliant and aristocratic assemblage
"assisted" at this notable wedding in high life. No one, who had
not been previously informed of it, could ever have suspected
that the lovely bride--at once so noble and modest, so dignified
and graceful, so gentle and refined, yet with as lofty a bearing
as a princess of the blood royal--had only a short time before
been one of a band of strolling players, nightly fulfilling her
duties as an actress. While de Sigognac, governor of a province,
captain of mousquetaires, superbly dressed, dignified, stately
and affable, the very beau-ideal of a distinguished young
nobleman, had nothing about him to recall the poor, shabby,
disconsolate youth, almost starving in his dreary, half-ruined
chateau, whose misery was described at the beginning of this

After a splendid collation, graced by the presence of the bride
and groom, the happy pair vanished; but we will not attempt to
follow them, or intrude upon their privacy--turning away at the
very threshold of the nuptial chamber, singing, in low tones,
after the fashion of the ancients, "Hymen! oh Hymen!"

The mysteries of such sacred happiness as theirs should be
respected; and besides, sweet, modest Isabelle would have died of
shame if so much as a single one of the pins that held her bodice
were indiscreetly drawn out.



It will be readily believed that our sweet Isabelle had not
forgotten, in her exceeding happiness as Mme. la Baronne de
Sigognac, her former companions of Herode's troupe. As she could
not invite them to her wedding because they would have been so
much out of place there--she had, in commemoration of that
auspicious occasion, sent handsome and appropriate gifts to them
all; offered with a grace so charming that it redoubled their
value. So long as the company remained in Paris, she went often
to see them play; applauding her old friends heartily, and
judiciously as well, knowing just where the applause should be
given. The young baronne did not attempt to conceal the fact that
she had formerly been an actress herself--not parading it, but
referring to it quietly, if necessary, as a matter of course; an
excellent method to disarm ill-natured tongues, which would
surely have wagged vigorously had any mystery been made about it.
In addition, her illustrious birth and exalted position imposed
silence upon those around her, and her sweet dignity and modesty
had soon won all hearts--even those of her own sex--until it was
universally conceded that there was not a greater or truer lady
in court circles than the beautiful young Baronne de Sigognac.

The king, Louis XIII, having heard Isabelle's eventful history,
praised her highly for her virtuous conduct, and evinced great
interest in de Sigognac, whom he heartily commended for his
respectful, honourable gallantry, under circumstances that,
according to general opinion, would authorize all manner of
license. His deference to defenceless virtue peculiarly pleased
the chaste, reserved monarch, who had no sympathy with, or
indulgence for the wild, unbridled excesses of the licentious
youth of his capital and court. As to Vallombreuse, he had
entirely changed and amended his way of life, and seemed to find
unfailing pleasure and satisfaction, as well as benefit, in the
companionship of his new friend and brother, to whom he was
devoted, and who fully reciprocated his warm affection; while the
prince, his father, joyfully dwelt in the bosom of his reunited
family, and found in it the happiness he had vainly sought
before. The young husband and wife led a charming life, more and
more in love with and devoted to each other, and never
experiencing that satiety of bliss which is ruinous to the most
perfect happiness. Although Isabelle had no concealments from her
husband, and shared even her inmost thoughts with him, yet for a
time she seemed very much occupied with some mysterious
apparently exclusively her own.

She had secret conferences with her steward, with an architect,
and also with certain sculptors and painters--all without de
Sigognac's knowledge, and by the connivance of Vallombreuse, who
seemed to be her confidant, aider and abettor.

One fine morning, several months after their marriage, Isabelle
said to de Sigognac, as if a sudden thought had struck her: "My
dear lord, do you never think of your poor, deserted, old
chateau? and have you no desire to return to the birthplace of
our love?"

"I am not so unfeeling as that, my darling, and I have thought of
it longingly many times of late. But I did not like to propose
the journey to you without being sure that it would please you. I
did not like to tear you away from the delights of the court--of
which you are the chief ornament--and take you to that poor, old,
half-ruined mansion, the haunt of rats and owls, where I could
not hope to make you even comfortable, yet, which I prefer,
miserable as it is, to the most luxurious palaces; for it was the
home of my ancestors, and the place where I first saw you, my
heart's delight!--spot ever sacred and dear to me, upon which I
should like to erect an altar."

"And I," rejoined Isabelle, "often wonder whether the eglantine
in the garden still blooms, as it did for me."

"It does," said de Sigognac, "I am sure of it--having once been
blessed by your touch, it must be always blooming--even though
there be none to see."

"Ah! my lord, unlike husbands in general, you are more gallant
after marriage than before," Isabelle said, laughingly, yet
deeply touched by his tender words, "and you pay your wife
compliments as if she were your ladylove. And now, since I have
ascertained that your wishes accord with my whim, will it please
your lordship to set out for the Chateau de Sigognac this week?
The weather is fine. The great heat of summer is over, and we can
really enjoy the journey. Vallombreuse will go with us, and I
shall take Chiquita. She will be glad to see her own country

The needful preparations were soon made, and the travelling party
set off in high spirits. The journey was rapid and delightful.
Relays of horses had been sent on in advance by Vallombreuse, so
that in a few days they reached the point where the road leading
to the Chateau de Sigognac branched off from the great post-road.
It was about two o'clock of a bright, warm afternoon when the
carriage turned off the highway, and as they got, at the same
moment, their first view of the chateau, de Sigognac could not
believe the testimony of his own eyes--he was bewildered,
dazzled, overwhelmed--he no longer recognised the familiar
which had been so deeply impressed upon his memory. All was
changed, as if by magic. The road, smooth, free from grass and
weeds, and freshly gravelled, had no more ruts; the hedges,
neatly trimmed and properly tended, no longer reached out long,
straggling arms to catch the rare passer-by; the tall trees on
either side had been carefully pruned, so that their branches met
in an arch overhead, and framed in a most astonishing picture.
Instead of the dreary ruin, slowly crumbling into dust, a fine
new chateau rose before them--resembling the old one as a son
resembles his father. It was an exact reproduction--nothing had
been changed, only renewed--it was simply the ancient mansion
rejuvenated. The walls were smooth and unbroken, the lofty towers

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