Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Captain Fracasse by Theophile Gautier

Part 9 out of 9

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.0 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

intact, rising proudly at the four angles of the building, with
their freshly gilded weathercocks gleaming in the sunlight. A
handsome new roof, tastefully ornamented with a pretty design in
different coloured slates, had replaced the broken,
weather-stained tiles, through which the rain used to find its
way down into the frescoed hall, and the long suite of deserted
rooms. Every window had bright large panes of clear glass shining
in its casement, and a magnificent great door, turning smoothly
and noiselessly upon its huge hinges, had superseded the old,
worm-eaten one, that used to groan and creak piteously when
opened ever so little. Above it shone the de Sigognac arms--three
golden storks upon an azure field, with this noble motto-
-entirely obliterated of old--"Alta petunt."

For a few moments de Sigognac gazed at it all in silence,
overcome by astonishment and emotion. Then he suddenly turned to
Isabelle, with joyful surprise written in every line of his
speaking countenance, and seizing her hands passionately, and
holding them firmly clasped in his, said: "It is to you, my kind,
generous fairy, that I owe this marvellous transformation of my
poor, dilapidated, old chateau. You have touched it with your
wand and restored its ancient splendour, majesty and youth. I
cannot tell you how enchanted, how gratified I am by this
wonderful surprise. It is unspeakably charming and delightful,
like everything that emanates from my good angel.

Without a word or hint from me, you have divined, and carried
out, the secret and most earnest wish of my heart."

"You must also thank a certain sorcerer, who has greatly aided me
in all this," said Isabelle softly, touched by her husband's
emotion and delight, and pointing to Vallombreuse, who was
sitting opposite to her. The two young men clasped hands for a
moment, and smiled at each other in friendly fashion. There was a
perfect under standing between these kindred spirits now, and no
words were needed on either side.

By this time the carriage had reached the chateau, where Pierre,
in a fine new livery--and a tremor of delight--was waiting to
receive them. After an affectionate, as well as respectful,
greeting from the faithful old servant, they entered the grand
portico, which had been, like all the rest, admirably restored,
and, alighting from the carriage, paused a moment to admire its
magnificent proportions ere they passed on into the frescoed
hall, where eight or ten tall lackeys were drawn up in line, and
bowed profoundly to their new master and mistress. Skilful
artists had retouched the ancient frescoes, and made them glow
with all their original brilliant tints. The colossal figures of
Hercules were still supporting the heavy cornice, and the busts
of the Roman emperors looked out majestically from their niches.
Higher up, the vine climbing on its trellis was as luxuriant as
in the olden time, and there were no unsightly stains on the
bright blue sky of the vaulted roof to mar its beauty. A like
metamorphosis had been worked everywhere--the worm-eaten woodwork
had been renewed, the uneven floors relaid, the tarnished gilding
restored to its original splendour--and the new furniture
throughout had been made exactly like the old that it replaced.
The fine old tapestry in de Sigognac's own room had been minutely
copied, down to the smallest detail, and the hangings of the bed
were of green and white brocade, in precisely the same delicate
tint and graceful pattern as the old.

Isabelle, with her innate delicacy and perfect taste, had not
aimed at producing a sensation, by any overwhelming magnificence
or dazzling splendour in renovating the intrinsically fine old
Chateau de Sigognac, but had simply wished to gratify and delight
the heart of her husband, so tenderly loved, in giving back to
him the impressions and surroundings of his childhood and youth,
robbed of their misery and sadness. All was bright and gay now in
this lordly mansion, erst so dreary and melancholy; even the
sombre old family portraits, cleansed, retouched and revarnished
by skilful hands, smiled down upon them, as if pleased with the
new order of things; especially their own handsome, richly gilt

After looking through the interior of the chateau, de Sigognac
and Isabelle went out into the court, where no weeds or nettles
were to be seen, no grass growing up between the paving stones,
no heaps of rubbish in the corners, and through the clear glass
panes of the numerous windows looking into it were visible the
folds of the rich curtains in the chambers that were formerly the
favourite haunt of owls and bats. They went on down into the
garden, by a noble flight of broad stone steps, no longer
tottering and moss-grown, and turned first to seek the wild
eglantine which had offered its delicate little rose to the young
actress, on the memorable morning when the baron had decided to
go forth from his ruined castle for love of her. It had another
dainty blossom ready for her now, which Isabelle received from de
Sigognac's hand, with tears, that told of a happiness too deep
for words, welling up into her eyes, and exchanged with her
adored and adoring husband a long, fond look, that seemed to give
to each a glimpse of heaven.

The gardeners had been busy too, and had converted the neglected
wilderness we made acquaintance with long ago into a veritable
little paradise. At the end of the wellordered and exquisitely
arranged garden, Pomona still stood in her cool grotto, restored
to all the beauty of her youth, while a stream of pure, sparkling
water poured from the lion's mouth, and fell with a musical
murmur into the marble basin. Even in their best and most
glorious days the garden and the chateau had never known greater
beauty and luxury than now. The baron, ever more and more
astonished and enchanted, as he rambled slowly through it all,
like one in a delicious dream, kept Isabelle's arm pressed
tenderly to his heart, and was not ashamed to let her see the
tears that at last he could no longer restrain, and which came
from a very full heart.

"Now," said Isabelle, "that we have seen everything here, we must
go and inspect the different pieces of property we have been able
to buy back, so as to reconstruct, as nearly as possible, the
ancient barony of Sigognac. I will leave you for a few moments,
to go and put on my riding habit; I shall not be long, for I
learned to make changes of that sort very rapidly in my old
profession, you know. Will you, meantime, go and select our
horses, and order that they should be made ready?"

Vallombreuse accompanied de Sigognac to the stables, where they
found ten splendid horses contentedly munching their oats in
their oaken stalls. Everything was in perfect order, but ere the
baron had time to admire and praise, as he wished to do, a loud
whinnying that was almost deafening suddenly burst forth, as good
old Bayard peremptorily claimed his attention. Isabelle had long
ago sent orders to the chateau that the superannuated pony should
always have the best place in the stable, and be tenderly cared
for. His manger was full of ground oats, which he seemed to be
enjoying with great gusto, and he evidently approved highly of
the new regime. In his stall Miraut lay sleeping, but the sound
of his master's voice aroused him, and he joyfully jumped up and
came to lick his hand, and claim the accustomed caress. As to
Beelzebub, though he had not yet made his appearance, it must not
be attributed to a want of affection on his part, but rather to
an excess of timidity. The poor old cat had been so unsettled and
alarmed at the invasion of the quiet chateau by an army of noisy
workmen, and all the confusion and changes that had followed,
that he had fled from his usual haunts, and taken up his abode in
a remote attic; where he lay in concealment, impatiently waiting
for darkness to come, so that he might venture out to pay his
respects to his beloved master.

The baron, after petting Bayard and Miraut until they were in
ecstasies of delight, chose from among the horses a beautiful,
spirited chestnut for himself, the duke selected a Spanish
jennet, with proudly arched neck and flowing mane, which was
worthy to carry an Infanta, and an exquisite white palfrey, whose
skin shone like satin, was brought out for the baronne. In a few
moments Isabelle came down, attired in a superb riding habit,
which consisted of a dark blue velvet basque, richly braided
with silver, over a long, ample skirt of silver-gray satin, and
her broad hat of white felt, like a cavalier's, was trimmed with
a floating, dark blue feather. Her beautiful hair was confined in
the most coquettish little blue and silver net, and as she came
forward, radiant with smiles, she was a vision of loveliness,
that drew forth fervent exclamations of delight from her two
devoted and adoring knights. The Baronne de Sigognac certainly
was enchantingly beautiful in her rich equestrian costume, which
displayed the perfection of her slender, well-rounded figure to
the greatest advantage, and there was a high-bred, dainty look
about her which bore silent witness to her illustrious origin.
She was still the sweet, modest Isabelle of old, but she was also
the daughter of a mighty prince, the sister of a proud young
duke, and the honoured wife of a valiant gentleman, whose race
had been noble since before the crusades. Vallombreuse, remarking
it, could not forbear to say: "My dearest sister, how magnificent
you look to-day! Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons, was never more
superb, or more triumphantly beautiful, than you are in this most
becoming costume."

Isabelle smiled in reply, as she put her pretty little foot into
de Sigognac's hand, and sprang lightly into her saddle.

Her husband and brother mounted also, and the little cavalcade
set forth in high glee, making the vaulted portico ring with
their merry laughter, as they rode through it. Just in front of
the chateau they met the Marquis de Bruyeres, and several other
gentlemen of the neighbourhood, coming to pay their respects.
They wished to go back into the chateau and receive their guests
properly, saying that they could ride out at any time, but the
visitors would not listen to such a thing, and turning their
horses' heads proposed to ride with them. The party, increased by
six or eight cavaliers in gala dress--for the provincial
lordlings had made themselves as fine as possible to do honour to
their new neighbours--was really very imposing; a cortege worthy
of a princess. They rode on between broad green fields, through
woods and groves and highly cultivated farms, all of which had
now been restored to the estate they had originally belonged to;
and the grateful, adoring glances that the Baron de Sigognac
found opportunity to bestow upon his lovely baronne, made her
heart beat high with a happiness almost too perfect for this
weary world of trials and sorrows.

As they were riding through a little pine wood, near the boundary
line of the estate, the barking of hounds was heard, and
presently the party met the beautiful Yolande de Foix, followed
by her old uncle, and one or two attendant cavaliers. The road
was very narrow, and there was scarcely room to pass, though each
party endeavoured to make way for the other. Yolande's horse was
prancing about restively, and the skirt of her long riding-habit
brushed Isabelle's as she passed her. She was furiously angry,
and sorely tempted to address some cutting words to the
"Bohemienne" she had once so cruelly insulted; but Isabelle, who
had a soul above such petty malice, and had long ago forgiven
Yolande for her unprovoked insolence, felt how much her own
triumph must wound the other's proud spirit, and with perfect
dignity and grace bowed to Mlle. de Foix, who could not do less
than respond by a slight inclination of her haughty head, though
her heart was filled with rage, and she had much ado to control
herself. The Baron de Sigognac, with a quiet, unembarrassed air,
had bowed respectfully to the fair huntress, who looked eagerly,
but in vain, into the eyes of her former adorer for a spark of
the old flame that used to blaze up in them at sight of her.
Angry and disappointed, she gave her horse a sharp cut with the
whip, and swept away at a gallop.

"Now, by Venus and all the Loves," said Vallombreuse to the
Marquis de Bruyeres, beside whom he was riding, "that girl is a
beauty, but she looked deucedly savage and cross. How she did
glare at my sister, eh! as if she wanted to stab her."

"When one has long been the acknowledged queen of a
neighbourhood," the marquis replied, "it is not pleasant to be
dethroned, you know, and every one must admit that Mme. la
Baronne de Sigognac bears off the palm."

The gay cavalcade, after a long ride, returned to the chateau, to
find a sumptuous repast awaiting them in the magnificent
banqueting hall, where the poor young baron had once supped with
the wandering comedians, upon their own provisions. What a
transformation had been effected! now a superb service of silver,
bearing the family arms, shone upon the fine damask that covered
the table, in which also the three storks were apparent, while
beautiful porcelain and dainty glass, lovely flowers and luscious
fruits contributed to the attractions of the bountifully
furnished board. Isabelle sat in the same place she had occupied
on the eventful night that had changed the destiny of the young
lord of the chateau, and she could not but think of, and live
over, that widely different occasion, as did also the baron, and
the married lovers exchanged furtive smiles and glances, in which
tender memories and bright hopes were happily mingled.

Near one of the tall buffets stood a large, fine-looking man with
a thick black beard, dressed in black velvet, and wearing a
massive chain of silver round his neck, who kept a watchful eye
upon the numerous lackeys waiting on the guests, and from time to
time gave an order, with a most majestic air. Presiding over
another buffet, on which were neatly arranged numerous
wine-bottles of different forms and dimensions, was another
elderly man, of short, corpulent figure, and with a jolly red
face, who stepped about actively and lightly, despite his age and
weight, dispensing the wine to the servants as it was needed. At
first de Sigognac did not notice them, but chancing to glance in
their direction, was astonished to recognise in the first the
tragic Herode, and in the second the grotesque Blazius. Isabelle,
seeing that her husband had become aware of their presence,
whispered to him, that in order to provide for the old age of
those two devoted and faithful friends she had thought it well to
give them superior positions in their household; in which they
would have only easy duties to perform, as they had to direct
others in their work, not to do any themselves; and the baron
heartily approved and commended what his sweet young wife, ever
considerate for others, had been pleased to do.

Course succeeded to course, and bottle to bottle--there was much
laughing and talking around the convivial board, and the host was
exerting himself to do honour to the festive occasion, when he
felt a head laid on his knee, and a tattoo vigorously played by a
pair of paws on his leg that was well known to him of old.
Miraut and Beelzebub, who had slipped into the room, and under
the table, without being detected, thus announced their presence
to their indulgent master. He did not repulse them, but managed,
without attracting notice, to give them a share of everything on
his plate, and was especially amused at the almost insatiable
voracity of the old black cat--who had evidently been fasting in
his hiding-place in the attic. He actually seemed to enjoy, like
an epicure, the rich and dainty viands that had replaced the
frugal fare of long ago, and ate so much that when the meal was
over he could scarcely stand, and made his way with difficulty
into his master's bed-chamber, where he curled himself up in a
luxurious arm-chair and settled down comfortably for the night.

Vallombreuse kept pace with the Marquis de Bruyeres, and the
other guests, in disposing of the choice wines, that did credit
to the pedant's selection; but de Sigognac, who had not lost his
temperate habits, only touched his lips to the edge of his
wine-glass, and made a pretence of keeping them company.
Isabelle, under pretext of fatigue, had withdrawn when the
dessert was placed upon the table. She really was very tired, and
sent at once for Chiquita, now promoted to the dignity of first
lady's maid, to come and perform her nightly duties. The wild,
untutored child had--under Isabelle's judicious, tender and
careful training--developed into a quiet, industrious and very
beautiful young girl. She still wore mourning for Agostino, and
around her neck was the famous string of pearl beads--it was a
sacred treasure to Chiquita, and she was never seen without it.
She attended to her duties quickly and deftly--evidently taking
great delight in waiting upon the mistress she adored--and kissed
her hand passionately, as she never failed to do, when all was
finished and she bade her good-night.

When, an hour later, de Sigognac entered the room in which he had
spent so many weary, lonely nights--listening to the wind as it
shrieked and moaned round the outside of the desolate chateau,
and wailed along the corridors- feeling that life was a hard and
bitter thing, and fancying that it would never bring anything but
trials and misery to him--he saw, by the subdued light from the
shaded lamp, the face to him most beautiful in all the world
smiling lovingly to greet him from under the green and white
silken curtains that hung round his own bed, where it lay resting
upon the pillow he had so often kissed, and moistened with his
tears. His eyes were moist now--but from excess of happiness, not
sorrow--as he saw before him the blessed, blissful realization of
his vision.

Towards morning Beelzebub, who had been excessively uneasy and
restless all night, managed, with great difficulty, to clamber up
on the bed, where he rubbed his nose against his master's
hand--trying at the same time to purr in the old way, but failing
lamentably. The baron woke instantly, and saw poor Beelzebub
looking at him appealingly, with his great green eyes unnaturally
dilated, and momentarily growing dim; he was trembling violently,
and as his master's kind hand was stretched out to stroke his
head, fell over on his side, and with one half-stifled cry, one
convulsive shudder, breathed his last.

"Poor Beelzebub!" softly said Isabelle, who had been roused from
her sweet slumber by his dying groan, "he has lived through all
the misery of the old time, but will not be here to share and
enjoy the prosperity of the new."

Beelzebub, it must be confessed, fell a victim to his own
intemperance--a severe fit of indigestion, consequent upon the
enormous supper he had eaten, was the cause of his death--his
long-famished stomach was not accustomed to, nor proof against,
such excesses. This death, even though it was only that of a dumb
beast, touched de Sigognac deeply; for poor Beelzebub had been
his faithful companion, night and day, through many long, weary
years of sadness and poverty, and had always shown the warmest,
most devoted affection for him. He carefully wrapped the body in
a piece of fine, soft cloth, and waited, until evening should
come, to bury it himself; when he would be safe from observation
and possible ridicule. Accordingly, after nightfall, he took a
spade, a lantern, and poor Beelzebub's body, which was stiff and
stark by that time, and went down into the garden, where he set
to work to dig the grave, under the sacred eglantine, in what
seemed to him like hallowed ground. He wanted to make it deep
enough to insure its not being disturbed by any roaming beast of
prey, and worked away diligently, until his spade struck sharply
against some hard substance, that he at first thought must be a
large stone, or piece of rock perhaps. He attempted, in various
ways, to dislodge it, but all in vain, and it gave out such a
peculiar, hollow sound at every blow, that at last he threw down
his spade and took the lantern to see what the strange obstacle
might be.

He was greatly surprised at finding the corner of a stout oaken
chest, strengthened with iron bands, much rusted, but still
intact. He dug all round it, and then, using his spade as a
lever, succeeded in raising it, though it was very heavy, to the
edge of the hole, and sliding it out on the grass beside it; then
he put poor Beelzebub into the place it had occupied, and filled
up the grave. He carefully smoothed it over, replaced the sod,
and when all was finished to his satisfaction, went in search of
his faithful old Pierre, upon whose discretion and secrecy he
knew that he could rely. Together they carried the mysterious
strong box into the chateau, but not without great difficulty and
frequent pauses to rest, because of its immense weight. Pierre
broke open the chest with an axe, and the cover sprang back,
disclosing to view a mass of gold coins--all ancient, and many of
them foreign. Upon examination, a quantity of valuable jewelry,
set with precious stones, was found mingled with the gold, and,
under all, a piece of parchment, with a huge seal attached,
bearing the three storks of the de Sigognacs, still in a good
state of preservation; but the writing was almost entirely
obliterated by dampness and mould. The signature, however, was
still visible, and letter by letter the baron spelled it
out--"Raymond de Sigognac." It was the name of one of his
ancestors, who had gone to serve his king and country in the war
then raging, and never returned; leaving the mystery of his
death, or disappearance, unsolved. He had only one child, an
infant son, and when he left home--in those troublous times--must
have buried all his treasures for safety, and they had remained
undiscovered until this late day. Doubtless, he had confided the
secret of their whereabouts to some trusty friend or retainer,
who, perhaps, had died suddenly before he could disclose it to
the rightful heir. From the time of that Raymond began the
decadence of the de Sigognacs, who, previous to that epoch, had
always been wealthy and powerful.

Of course, the mystery about this treasure--so strangely brought
to light--could never be cleared up now; but one thing was
certain, beyond a question or a doubt, that the strong box and
its contents belonged of right to the present Baron de
Sigognac--the only living representative of the family. His first
move was to seek his generous, devoted wife, so that he might
show her the mysterious treasure he had found, and claim her
sweet sympathy in his joy, which would be incomplete without it.
After relating to her all the surprising incidents of the
evening, he finished by saying, "Decidedly, Beelzebub was the
good genius of the de Sigognacs--through his means I have become
rich--and now that my blessed angel has come to me he has taken
his departure; for there is nothing else left for him to do,
since you, my love, have given me perfect happiness."

Book of the day: