This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Language:
Form:
Genre:
Published:
  • 1863
Collection:
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

has just gotten rid of a heavy load.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir,” Isabelle answered curtly, without looking at him–not able to evade this direct question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER IX. A MELEE AND A DUEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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