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  • 1863
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who had carried off the fair prize before him on his horse; and, now that the mask was thrown aside, he disclosed to view the deathly pale face and fiery red nose of Malartic, bosom friend and “alter ego” of Maitre Jacquemin Lampourde.


Isabelle sat for a long time perfectly motionless in her luxurious chamber, sunk in a sad reverie, apparently entirely oblivious of the glow of light, warmth, and comfort that closed her in–glancing up occasionally at the portrait over the chimney-piece, which seemed to be smiling down upon her and promising her protection and peace, while it more than ever reminded her of some dear face she had known and loved long ago. After a time, however, her mood changed. She grew restless, and rising, began to wander aimlessly about the room; but her uneasiness only increased, and finally, in desperation, she resolved to venture out into the corridor and look about her, no matter at what risk. Anything would be better than this enforced inactivity and suspense. She tried the door with a trembling hand, dreading to find herself locked in, but it was not fastened, and seeing that all was dark outside, she took up a small lamp, that had been left burning on a side table, and boldly setting forth, went softly down the long flight of stairs, in the hope of finding some means of exit from the chateau on the lower floor. At the foot of the stairs she came to a large double door, one leaf of which yielded easily when she timidly tried to open it, but creaked dolefully as it turned on its hinges. She hesitated for a moment, fearing that the noise would alarm the servants and bring them out to see what was amiss; but no one came, and taking fresh courage, she moved on and passed into a lofty, vaulted hall, with highbacked, oaken benches ranged against the tapestry-covered walls, upon which hung several large trophies of arms, and sundry swords, shields, and steel gauntlets, which caught and flashed back the light from her lamp as she held it up to examine them. The air was heavy, chilly, and damp. An awful stillness reigned in this deserted hall. Isabelle shivered as she crept slowly along, and nearly stumbled against a huge table, with massive carved feet, that stood in the centre of the tesselated marble pavement. She was making for a door, opposite the one by which she had entered; but, as she approached it, was horror-stricken when she perceived two tall men, clad in armour, standing like sentinels, one on either side of it. She stopped short, then tried to turn and fly, but was so paralyzed with terror that she could not stir, expecting every instant that they would pounce upon her and take her prisoner, while she bitterly repented her temerity in having ventured to leave her own room, and vainly wished herself back by the quiet fireside there. Meanwhile the two dread figures stood as motionless as herself–the silence was unbroken, and “the beating of her own heart was the only sound she heard.” So at last she plucked up courage to look more closely at the grim sentinels, and could not help smiling at her own needless alarm, when she found that they were suits of armour, indeed, but without men inside of them–just such as one sees standing about in the ancient royal palaces of France. Passing them with a saucy glance of defiance, and a little triumphant toss of the head, Isabelle entered a vast dining room, with tall, sculptured buffets, on which stood many superb vessels of gold and silver, together with delicate specimens of exquisite Venetian and Bohemian glass, and precious pieces of fine porcelain, fit for a king’s table. Large handsome chairs, with carved backs, were standing round the great dining-table, and the walls, above the heavy oaken wainscot, were hung with richly embossed Cordova leather, glowing with warm, bright tints and golden arabesques.

She did not linger to examine and admire all the beautified things dimly revealed to her by the feeble light of her small lamp, but hurried on to the third door, which opened into an apartment yet more spacious and magnificent than the other two. At one end of it was a lordly dais, raised three steps above the inlaid floor, upon which stood a splendid great arm-chair, almost a throne, under a canopy emblazoned with a brilliant coat of arms and surmounted by a tuft of nodding plumes. Still hurrying on, Isabelle next entered a sumptuous bed-chamber, and, as she paused for an instant to hold up her lamp and look about her, fancied that she could hear the regular breathing of a sleeper in the immense bed, behind the crimson silk curtains which were closely drawn around it. She did not dare to stop and investigate the matter, but flew on her way, as lightly as any bird, and next found herself in a library, where the white busts surmounting the well-filled book-cases stared down at her with their hard, stony eyes, and made her shudder as she nervously sought for an exit, without delaying one moment to glance at the great variety of curious and beautiful objects scattered lavishly about, which, under any ordinary circumstances, would have held her enthralled.

Running at right angles with the library, and opening out of it, was the picture gallery, where the family portraits were arranged in chronological order on one side, while opposite to them was a long row of windows, looking into the court. The shutters were closed, but near the top of each one was a small circular opening, through which the moon shone and faintly lighted the dusky gallery, striking here and there directly upon the face of a portrait, with an indescribably weird and startling effect. It required all of Isabelle’s really heroic courage to keep on past the long line of strange faces, looking down mockingly it seemed to her from their proud height upon her trembling form as she glided swiftly by, and she was thankful to find, at the end of the gallery, a glass door opening out upon the court. It was not fastened, and after carefully placing her lamp in a sheltered corner, where no draughts could reach it, she stepped out under the stars. It was a relief to find herself breathing freely in the fresh, pure air, though she was actually no less a prisoner than before, and as she stood looking up into the clear evening sky, and thinking of her own true lover, she seemed to feel new courage and hope springing up in her heart.

In one corner of the court she saw a strong light shining out through the crevices in the shutters that closed several low windows, and heard sounds of revelry from the same direction–the only signs of life she had detected about the whole place. Her curiosity was excited by them, and she stole softly over towards the quarter from whence they came, keeping carefully in the shadow of the wall, and glancing anxiously about to make sure that no one was furtively watching her. Finding a considerable aperture in one of the wooden shutters she peeped through it, and saw a party of men gathered around a table, eating and drinking and making merry in a very noisy fashion. The light from a lamp with three burners, which was suspended by a copper chain from the low ceiling, fell full upon them, and although she had only seen them masked before, Isabelle instantly recognised those who had been concerned in her abduction. At the head of the table sat Malartic, whose extraordinary face was paler and nose redder than ever, and at sight of whom the young girl shuddered and drew back. When she had recovered herself a little, she looked in again upon the repulsive scene, and was surprised to see, at the other end of the table, and somewhat apart from the others, Agostino, the brigand, who had now laid aside the long white beard in which he had played the part of the old blind beggar so successfully. A great deal of loud talking was going on, constantly interrupted by bursts of laughter, but Isabelle could not hear distinctly enough through the closed window to make out what they were saying. Even if she had been actually in the room with them, she would have found much of their conversation incomprehensible, as it was largely made up of the extraordinary slang of the Paris street Arabs and rascals generally. From time to time one or the other of the participants in this orgy seemed to propose a toast, whereupon they would all clink their glasses together before raising them to their lips, drain them at a draught, and applaud vociferously, while there was a constant drawing of corks and placing of fresh bottles on the table by the servant who was waiting upon them. just as Isabelle, thoroughly disgusted with the brutality of the scene before her, was about to turn away, Malartic rapped loudly on the table to obtain a hearing, and after making a proposition, which met with ready and cordial assent, rose from his seat, cleared his throat, and began to sing, or rather shout, a ribald song, all the others joining in the chorus, with horrible grimaces and gesticulations, which so frightened poor Isabelle that she could scarcely find strength to creep away from the loathsome spectacle.

Before re-entering the house she went to look at the drawbridge, with a faint hope that she might chance upon some unexpected means of escape, but all was secure there, and a little postern, opening on the moat, which she discovered near by, was also carefully fastened, with bolts and bars strong enough to keep out an army. As these seemed to be the only means of exit from the chateau, she felt that she was a prisoner indeed, and understood why it had not been deemed necessary to lock any of the inner doors against her. She walked slowly back to the gallery, entered it by the glass door, found her lamp burning tranquilly just where she had left it, retraced her steps swiftly through the long suite of spacious apartments already described and flew jp the grand staircase to her own room, congratulating herself upon not having been detected in her wanderings. She put her lamp down in the antechamber, but paused in terror on the threshold of the inner room, stifling a shriek that had nearly escaped her as she caught sight of a strange, wild figure crouching on the hearth. But her fears were short-lived, for with an exclamation of delight the intruder sprang towards her and she saw that it was Chiquita–but Chiquita in boy’s clothes.

“Have you got the knife yet?” said the strange little creature abruptly to Isabelle–“the knife with three bonny red marks.”

“Yes, Chiquita, I have it here in my bosom,” she replied. “But why do you ask? Is my life in danger?”

“A knife,” said the child with fierce, sparkling eyes, “a knife is a faithful friend and servant; it never betrays or fails its master, if he is careful to give it a drink now and then, for a knife is often thirsty you know.”

“You frighten me, you naughty child!” exclaimed Isabelle, much troubled and agitated by these sinister, extravagant words, which perhaps, she thought, might be intended as a friendly warning.

“Sharpen the edge on the marble of the chimney-piece, like this,” continued Chiquita, “and polish the blade on the sole of your shoe.”

“Why do you tell me all this?” cried Isabelle, turning very pale.

“For nothing in particular, only he who would defend himself gets his weapons ready–that’s all.”

These odd, fierce phrases greatly alarmed Isabelle, yet Chiquita’s presence in her room was a wonderful relief and comfort to her. The child apparently cherished a warm and sincere affection for her, which was none the less genuine because of its having arisen from such a trivial incident–for the pearl beads were more precious than diamonds to Chiquita. She had given a voluntary promise to Isabelle never to kill or harm her, and with her strange, wild, yet exalted notions of honour she looked upon it as a solemn obligation and vow, by which she must always abide–for there was a certain savage nobility in Chiquita’s character, and she could be faithful unto death. Isabelle was the only human being, excepting Agostino, who had been kind to her. She had smiled upon the unkempt child, and given her the coveted necklace, and Chiquita loved her for it, while she adored her beauty. Isabelle’s sweet countenance, so angelically mild and pure, exercised a wonderful influence over the neglected little savage, who had always been surrounded by fierce, haggard faces, expressive of every evil passion, and disfigured by indulgence in the lowest vices, and excesses of every kind.

“But how does it happen that you are here, Chiquita? asked Isabelle, after a short silence. “Were you sent to keep guard over me?

“No, I came alone and of my own accord,” answered Chiquita, “because I saw the light and fire. I was tired of lying all cramped up in a corner, and keeping quiet, while those beastly men drank bottle after bottle of wine, and gorged themselves with the good things set before them. I am so little, you know, so young and slender, that they pay no more attention to me than they would to a kitten asleep under the table. While they were making a great noise I slipped quietly away unperceived. The smell of the wine and the food sickened me. I am used to the sweet perfume of the heather, and the pure resinous odour of the pines. I cannot breathe in such an atmosphere as there is down below there.”

“And you were not afraid to wander alone, without a light, through the long, dark corridors, and the lonely, deserted rooms?”

“Chiquita does not know what it is to be afraid–her eyes can see in the dark, and her feet never stumble. The very owls shut their eyes when they meet her, and the bats fold their wings when she comes near their haunts. Wandering ghosts stand aside to let her pass, or turn back when they see her approaching. Night is her comrade and hides no secrets from her, and Chiquita never betrays them to the day.”

Her eyes flashed and dilated as she spoke, and Isabelle looked at her with growing wonder, not unmixed with a vague sensation of fear.

“I like much better to stay here, in this heavenly quiet, by the fire with you,” continued the child, “than down there in all the uproar. You are so beautiful that I love to look at you-you are like the Blessed Virgin that I have seen shining above the altar. Only from afar though, for they always chase me out of the churches with the dogs, because I am so shabby and forlorn. How white your hand is! Mine looks like a monkey’s paw beside it–and your hair is as fine and soft as silk, while mine is all rough and tangled. Oh! I am so horribly ugly–you must think so too.”

“No, my dear child,”Isabelle replied, touched by her naive expressions of affection and admiration, “I do not think so. You have beauty too–you only need to make yourself neat and clean to be as pretty a little girl as one would wish to see.”

“Do you really think so? Are you telling me true? I would steal fine clothes if they would make me pretty, for then Agostino would love me.”

This idea brought a little flush of colour to her thin brown cheeks, and for a few minutes she seemed lost in a pleasant reverie.

“Do you know where we are?” asked Isabelle, when Chiquita looked up at her again.

“In a chateau that belongs to the great seignior who has so much money, and who wanted to carry you off at Poitiers. I had only to draw the bolt and it would have been done then. But you gave me the pearl necklace, and I love you, and I would not do anything you did not like.”

“Yet you have helped to carry me off this time,” said Isabelle reproachfully. “Is it because you don’t love me any more that you have given me up to my enemies?”

“Agostino ordered me, and I had to obey; besides, some other child could have played guide to the blind man as well as I, and then I could not have come into the chateau with you, do you see?–here I may be able to do something to help you. I am brave, active and strong, though I am so small, and quick as lightning too–and I shall not let anybody harm you.”

“Is this chateau very far from Paris?” asked Isabelle, drawing Chiquita up on her lap. “Did you hear any one mention the name of this place?”

“Yes, one of them called it–now what was it?” said the child, looking up at the ceiling and absently scratching her head, as if to stimulate her memory.

“Try to remember it, my child!” said Isabelle, softly stroking Chiquita’s brown cheeks, which flushed with delight at the unwonted caress–no one had ever petted the poor child in her life before.

“I think that it was Val-lom-breuse,” said Chiquita at last, pronouncing the syllables separately and slowly, as if listening to an inward echo. “Yes, Vallombreuse, I am sure of it now. It is the name of the seignior that your Captain Fracasse wounded in a duel–he would have done much better if he had killed him outright–saved a great deal of trouble to himself and to you. He is very wicked, that rich duke, though he does throw his gold about so freely by the handfuls–just like a man sowing grain. You hate him, don’t you? and you would be glad if you could get away from him, eh?”

“Oh yes, indeed!” cried Isabelle impetuously. “But alas! it is impossible–a deep moat runs all around this chateau the drawbridge is up, the postern securely fastened–there is no way of escape.”

“Chiquita laughs at bolts and bars, at high walls and deep moats. Chiquita can get out of the best guarded prison whenever she pleases, and fly away to the moon, right before the eyes of her astonished jailer. If you choose, before the sun rises your Captain Fracasse shall know where the treasure that he seeks is hidden.”

Isabelle was afraid, when she heard these incoherent phrases, that the child was not quite sane, but her little face was so calm, her dark eyes so clear and steady, her voice so earnest, and she spoke with such an air of quiet conviction, that the supposition was not admissible, and the strange little creature did seem to be possessed of some of the magic powers she claimed. As if to convince Isabelle that she was not merely boasting, she continued, “Let me think a moment, to make a plan–don’t speak nor move, for the least sound interferes with me–I must listen to the spirit.”

Chiquita bent down her head, put her hand over her eyes, and remained for several minutes perfectly motionless; then she raised her head and without a word went and opened the window, clambered up on the sill, and gazed out intently into the darkness.

“Is she really going to take flight?” said Isabelle to herself, as she anxiously watched Chiquita’s movements, not knowing what to expect. Exactly opposite to the window, on the other side of the moat, was an immense tree, very high and old, whose great branches, spreading out horizontally, overhung the water; but the longest of them did not reach the wall of the chateau by at least ten feet. It was upon this tree, however, that Chiquita’s plan for escape depended. She turned away from the window, drew from her pocket a long cord made of horse-hair, very fine and strong, which she carefully unrolled to its full length and laid upon the floor; then produced from another pocket an iron hook, which she fastened securely to the cord. This done to her satisfaction, she went to the window again, and threw the end of the cord with the hook into the branches of the tree. The first time she was unsuccessful; the iron hook fell and struck against the stone wall beneath the casement; but at the second attempt the hook caught and held, and Chiquita, drawing the cord taut, asked Isabelle to take hold of it and bear her whole weight on it, until the branch was bent as far as possible towards the chateau–coming five or six feet nearer to the window where they were. Then Chiquita tied the cord firmly to the ornamental iron railing of the tiny balcony, with a knot that could not slip, climbed over, and grasping the cord with both hands, swung herself off, and hung suspended over the waters of the moat far below. Isabelle held her breath. With a rapid motion of the hands Chiquita crossed the clear space, reached the tree safely, and climbed down into it with the agility of a monkey.

“Now undo the knot so that I can take the cord with me,” she said, in a low but very distinct tone of voice to Isabelle, who began to breathe freely again, “unless, indeed, you would like to follow me. But you would be frightened and dizzy, and might fall, so you had better stay where you are. Good-bye! I am going straight to Paris, and shall soon be back again; I can get on quickly in this bright moonlight.”

Isabelle did as she was bid, and the branch, being no longer held by the cord, swung back to its original position. In less than a minute Chiquita had scrambled down to the ground, and the captive soon lost sight of her slender little figure as she walked off briskly towards the capital.

All that had just occurred seemed like a strange dream to Isabelle, now that she found herself alone again. She remained for some time at the open casement, looking at the great tree opposite, and trembling as she realized the terrible risk Chiquita had run for her sake–feeling warm gratitude and tender affection for the wild, incomprehensible little creature, who manifested such a strong attachment for herself, and a new hope sprang up in her heart as she thought that now de Sigognac would soon know where to find her. The cold night air at last forced her to close the window, and after arranging the curtains over it carefully, so as to show no signs of having been disturbed, she returned to her easy-chair by the fire; and just in time, for she had scarcely seated herself when the major-domo entered, followed by the two servants, again carrying the little table, set for one, with her supper daintily arranged upon it. A few minutes earlier and Chiquita’s escape would have been discovered and prevented. Isabelle, still greatly agitated by all that had passed, could not eat, and signed to the servants to remove the supper untouched. Whereupon the major-domo himself put some bread and wine on a small table beside the bed, and placed on a chair near the fire a richly trimmed dressing-gown, and everything that a lady could require in making her toilet for the night. Several large logs of wood were piled up on the massive andirons, the candles were renewed, and then the major-domo, approaching Isabelle with a profound obeisance, said to her that if she desired the services of a maid he would send one to her. As she made a gesture of dissent he withdrew, after again bowing to her most respectfully. When they had all gone, Isabelle, quite worn out, threw herself down on the outside of the bed without undressing, so as to be ready in case of any sudden alarm in the night; then took out Chiquita’s knife, opened it, and laid it beside her. Having taken these precautions, she closed her eyes, and hoped that she could for a while forget her troubles in sleep; but she had been so much excited and agitated that her nerves were all quivering, and it was long before she even grew drowsy. There were so many strange, incomprehensible noises in the great, empty house to disturb and startle her; and in her own room, the cracking of the furniture, the ticking of a death-watch in the wall near her bed, the gnawing of a rat behind the wainscot, the snapping of the fire. At each fresh sound she started up in terror, with her poor heart throbbing as if it would burst out of her breast, a cold perspiration breaking out on her forehead, and trembling in every limb. At last, however, weary nature had to succumb, and she fell into a deep sleep, which lasted until she was awakened by the sun shining on her face. Her first thought was to wonder that she had not yet seen the Duke of Vallombreuse; but she was thankful for his absence, and hoped that it would continue until Chiquita should have brought de Sigognac to the rescue.

The reason why the young duke had not yet made his appearance was one of policy. He had taken especial pains to show himself at Saint Germain on the day of the abduction–had joined the royal hunting party, and been exceedingly and unwontedly affable to all who happened to come in contact with him. In the evening he had played at cards, and lost ostentatiously sums that would have been of importance to a less wealthy man–being all the time in a very genial mood–especially after the arrival of a mounted messenger, who brought him a little note. Thus the duke’s desire to be able to establish an incontestable alibi, in case of need, had spared Isabelle thus far the infliction of his hated presence; but while she was congratulating herself upon it, and welcoming the sunshine that streamed into her room, she heard the drawbridge being let down, and immediately after a carriage dashed over it and thundered into the court. Her heart sank, for who would be likely to enter in that style save the master of the house? Her face grew deathly pale, she reeled, and for one dreadful moment felt as if she should faint; but, rallying her courage, she reminded herself that Chiquita had gone to bring de Sigognac to her aid, and determined afresh to meet bravely whatever trials might be in store for her, until her beloved knight and champion should arrive, to rescue her from her terrible danger and irksome imprisonment. Her eyes involuntarily sought the portrait over the chimney-piece, and after passionately invoking it, and imploring its aid and protection, as if it had been her patron saint, she felt a certain sense of ease and security, as if what she had so earnestly entreated would really be accorded to her.

A full hour had elapsed, which the young duke had employed in the duties of the toilet, and in snatching a few minutes of repose after his rapid night-journey, when the major-domo presented himself, and asked respectfully if Isabelle would receive the Duke of Vallombreuse.

“I am a prisoner,” she replied, with quiet dignity, “and this demand, which would be fitting and polite in any ordinary case, is only a mockery when addressed to one in my position. I have no means of preventing your master’s coming into this room, nor can I quit it to avoid him. I do not accept his visit but submit to it.
He must do as he pleases about it, and come and go when he likes. He allows me no choice in the matter. Go and tell him exactly what I have said to you.”

The major-domo bowed low, and retired backward to the door, having received strict orders to treat Isabelle with the greatest respect and consideration. In a few minutes he returned, and announced the Duke of Vallombreuse.

Isabelle half rose from her chair by the fire, but turned very pale and fell back into it, as her unwelcome visitor made his appearance at the door. He closed it and advanced slowly towards her, hat in hand, but when he perceived that she was trembling violently, and looked ready to faint, he stopped in the middle of the room, made a low bow, and said in his most dulcet, persuasive tones:

“If my presence is too unbearably odious now to the charming Isabelle, and she would like to have a little time to get used to the thought of seeing me, I will withdraw. She is my prisoner, it is true, but I am none the less her slave.”

“This courtesy is tardy,” Isabelle replied coldly, “after the violence you have made use of against me.”

“That is the natural result,” said the duke, with a smile, “of pushing people to extremity by a too obstinate and prolonged resistance. Having lost all hope, they stop at nothing–knowing that they cannot make matters any worse, whatever they do. If you had only been willing to suffer me to pay my court to you in the regular way, and shown a little indulgence to my love, I should have quietly remained among the ranks of your passionate adorers; striving, by dint of delicate attentions, chivalrous devotion, magnificent offerings, and respectful yet ardent solicitations, to soften that hard heart of yours. If I could not have succeeded in inspiring it with love for me, I might at least have awakened in it that tender pity which is akin to love, and which is so often only its forerunner. In the end, perhaps, you would have repented of your cruel severity, and acknowledged that you had been unjust towards me. Believe me, my charming Isabelle, I should have neglected nothing to bring it about.”

“If you had employed only honest and honourable means in your suit,” Isabelle rejoined, “I should have felt very sorry that I had been so unfortunate as to inspire an attachment I could not reciprocate, and would have given you my warm sympathy, and friendly regard, instead of being reluctantly compelled, by repeated outrages, to hate you instead.

“You do hate me then?–you acknowledge it?” the duke cried, his voice trembling with rage; but he controlled himself, and after a short pause continued, in a gentler tone, “Yet I do not deserve it. My only wrongs towards you, if any there be, have come from the excess and ardour of my love; and what woman, however chaste and virtuous, can be seriously angry with a gallant gentleman because he has been conquered by the power of her adorable charms? whether she so desired or not.”

“Certainly, that is not a reason for dislike or anger, my lord, if the suitor does not overstep the limits of respect, as all women will agree. But when his insolent impatience leads him to commit excesses, and he resorts to fraud, abduction, and imprisonment, as you have not hesitated to do, there is no other result possible than an unconquerable aversion. Coercion is always and inevitably revolting to a nature that has any proper pride or delicacy. Love, true love, is divine, and cannot be furnished to order, or extorted by violence. It is spontaneous, and freely given–not to be bought, nor yet won by importunity.”

“Is an unconquerable aversion then all that I am to expect from you?” said Vallombreuse, who had become pale to ghastliness, and been fiercely gnawing his under lip, while Isabelle was speaking, in her sweet, clear tones, which fell on his ear like the soft chiming of silver bells, and only served to enhance his devouring passion.

“There is yet one means of winning my friendship and gratitude– be noble and generous, and give me back the liberty of which you have deprived me. Let me return to my companions, who must be anxiously seeking for me, and suffering keenly because of their fears for my safety. Let me go and resume my lowly life as an actress, before this outrageous affair–which may irreparably injure my reputation–has become generally known, or my absence from the theatre been remarked by the public.”

“How unfortunate it is,” cried the duke, angrily, “that you should ask of me the only thing I cannot do for you. If you had expressed your desire for an empire, a throne, I would have given it to you–or if you had wished for a star, I would have climbed up into the heavens to get it for you. But here you calmly ask me to open the door of this cage, little bird, to which you would never come back of your own accord, if I were stupid enough to let you go. It is impossible! I know well that you love me so little, or rather hate me so much, that you would never see me again of your own free will–that my only chance of enjoying your charming society is to lock you up–keep you my prisoner. However much it may cost my pride, I must do it–for I can no more live without you than a plant without the light. My thoughts turn to you as the heliotrope to the sun. Where you are not, all is darkness for me. If what I have dared to do is a crime, I must make the best of it, and profit by it as much as I can–for you would never forgive nor overlook it, whatever you may say now. Here at least I have you–I hold you. I can surround you with my love and care, and strive to melt the ice of your coldness by the heat of my passion. Your eyes must behold me–your ears must listen to my voice. I shall exert an influence over you, if only by the alarm and detestation I am so unfortunate as to inspire in your gentle breast; the sound of my footsteps in your antechamber will make you start and tremble. And then, besides all that, this captivity separates you effectually from the miserable fellow you fancy that you love–and whom I abhor; because he has dared to turn your heart away from me. I can at least enjoy this small satisfaction, of keeping you from him; and I will not let you go free to return to him–you may be perfectly sure of that, my fair lady!”

“And how long do you intend to keep me captive?–not like a Christian gentleman, but like a lawless corsair.”

“Until you have learned to love me–or at least to say that you have, which amounts to the same thing.”

Then he made her a low bow, and departed, with as self-satisfied and jaunty an air as if he had been in truth a favoured suitor. Half an hour later a lackey brought in a beautiful bouquet, of the rarest and choicest flowers, while the stems were clasped by a magnificent bracelet, fit for a queen’s wearing. A little piece of folded paper nestled among the flowers–a note from the duke–and the fair prisoner recognised the handwriting as the same in which “For Isabelle” was written, on the slip of paper that accompanied the casket of jewels at Poitiers. The note read as follows:

“DEAR ISABELLE–I send you these flowers, though I know they will be ungraciously received. As they come from me, their beauty and fragrance will not find favour in your eyes. But whatever may be their fate, even though you only touch them to fling them disdainfully out of the window, they will force you to think for a moment–if it be but in anger–of him who declares himself, in spite of everything, your devoted adorer, “VALLOMBREUSE.”

This note, breathing of the most specious gallantry, and tenacity of purpose, did produce very much the effect it predicted; for it made Isabelle exceedingly angry; and, without even once inhaling the delicious perfume of the flowers, or pausing for an instant to admire their beauty, she flung the bouquet, diamond bracelet and all, out into the antechamber. Never surely were lovely blossoms so badly treated; and yet Isabelle was excessively fond of them; but she feared that if she even allowed them to remain a little while in her room, their donor would presume upon the slight concession. She had scarcely resumed her seat by the fire, after disposing of the obnoxious bouquet, when a maid appeared, who had been sent to wait upon her. She was a pretty, refined looking girl, but very pale, and with an air of deep melancholy–as if she were brooding over a secret sorrow. She offered her services to Isabelle without looking up, and in a low, subdued voice, as if she feared that the very walls had ears. Isabelle allowed her to take down and comb out her long, silky hair, which was very much dishevelled, and to arrange it again as she habitually wore it; which was quickly and skilfully done. Then the maid opened a wardrobe and took out several beautiful gowns, exquisitely made and trimmed, and just Isabelle’s size; but she would not even look at them, and sharply ordered that they should instantly be put back where they belonged, though her own dress was very much the worse for the rough treatment it had been subjected to on the preceding day, and it was a trial to the sweet, dainty creature to be so untidy. But she was determined to accept nothing from the duke, no matter how long her captivity might last. The maid did not insist, but acceded to her wishes with a mild, pitying air–just as indulgence is shown, as far as possible, to all the little whims and caprices of prisoners condemned to death. Isabelle would have liked to question her attendant, and endeavour to elicit some information from her, but the girl was more like an automaton than anything else, and it was impossible to gain more than a monosyllable from her lips. So Isabelle resigned herself with a sigh to her mute ministerings, not without a sort of vague terror.

After the maid had retired, dinner was served as before, and Isabelle made a hearty meal–feeling that she must keep up her strength, and also hopeful of hearing something in a few hours more from her faithful lover. Her thoughts were all of him, and as she realized the dangers to which he would inevitably be exposed for her sake, her eyes filled with tears, and a sharp pang shot through her heart. She was angry with herself for being the cause of so much trouble, and fain to curse her own beauty–the unhappy occasion of it all. She was absorbed in these sad thoughts when a little noise as if a hail-stone had struck against the window pane, suddenly aroused her. She flew to the casement, and saw Chiquita, in the tree opposite, signing to her to open it, and swinging back and forth the long horse-hair cord, with the iron hook attached to it. She hastened to comply with the wishes of her strange little ally, and, as she stepped back in obedience to another sign, the hook, thrown with unerring aim, caught securely in the iron railing of the little balcony. Chiquita tied the other end of the cord to the branch to which she was clinging, and then began to cross over the intervening space as before; but ere she was half-way over, the knot gave way, and poor Isabelle for one moment of intense agony thought that the child was lost. But, instead of falling into the moat beneath her, Chiquita, who did not appear to be in the least disconcerted by this accident, swung over against the wall below the balcony, and climbing up the cord hand over hand, leaped lightly into the room, before Isabelle had recovered her breath. Finding her very pale, and tremulous, the child said smilingly, “You were frightened, eh? and thought Chiquita would fall down among the frogs in the moat. When I tied my cord to the branch, I only made a slip-knot, so that I could bring it back with me. I must have looked like a big spider climbing up its thread,” she added, with a laugh.

“My dear child,” said Isabelle, with much feeling, and kissing Chiquita’s forehead, “you are a very brave little girl.”

“I saw your friends. They had been searching and searching for you; but without Chiquita they would never have found out where you were hidden. The captain was rushing about like an angry lion–his eyes flashed fire–he was magnificent. I came back with him. He rode, and held me in front of him. He is hidden in a little wood not far off, he and his comrades–they must keep out of sight, you know. This evening, as soon as it is dark, they will try to get in here to you–by the tree, you know. There’s sure to be a scrimmage–pistol shots and swords clashing–oh! it will be splendid; for there’s nothing so fine as a good fight; when the men are in earnest, and fierce and brave. Now don’t you be frightened and scream, as silly women do; nothing upsets them like that. You must just remain perfectly quiet, and keep out of their way. If you like, I will come and stay by you, so that you will not be afraid.”

“Don’t be uneasy about that, Chiquita! I will not annoy my brave friends, who come to save my life at the risk of their own, by any foolish fears or demonstrations; that I promise you.”

“That’s right,” the child replied, “and until they come, you can defend yourself with my knife, you know. Don’t forget the proper way to use it. Strike like this, and then do so; you can rip him up beautifully. As for me, I’m going to hunt up a quiet corner where I can get a nap. No, I can’t stay here, for we must not be seen together; it would never do. Now do you be sure to keep away from that window. You must not even go near it, no matter what you hear, for fear they might suspect that you hoped for help from that direction. If they did, it would be all up with us; for they would send out and search the woods, and beat the bushes, and find our friends where they lie hidden. The whole thing would fall through, and you would have to stop here with this horrid duke that you hate so much.”

“I will not go near the window,” Isabelle answered, “nor even look towards it, however much I may wish to. You may depend upon my discretion, Chiquita, I do assure you.”

Reassured upon this important point, Chiquita crept softly away, and went back to the lower room where she had left the ruffians carousing. They were still there–lying about on the benches and the floor, in a drunken sleep, and evidently had not even missed her. She curled herself up in a corner, as far as might be from the loathsome brutes, and was asleep in a minute. The poor child was completely tired out; her slender little feet had travelled eight leagues the night before, running a good part of the way, and the return on horseback had perhaps fatigued her even more, being unaccustomed to it. Although her fragile little body had the strength and endurance of steel, she was worn out now, and lay, pale and motionless, in a sleep that seemed like death.

“Dear me! how these children do sleep to be sure,” said Malartic, when he roused himself at last and looked about him. “In spite of our carouse, and all the noise we made, that little monkey in the corner there has never waked nor stirred. Halloa! wake up you fellows! drunken beasts that you are. Try to stand up on your hind legs, and go out in the court and dash a bucket of cold water over your cursed heads. The Circe of drunkenness has made swine of you in earnest–go and see if the baptism I recommend will turn you back into men, and then we’ll take a little look round the place, to make sure there’s no plot hatching to rescue the little beauty we have in charge.”

The men scrambled to their feet slowly and with difficulty, and staggered out into the court as best they might, where the fresh air, and the treatment prescribed by Malartic, did a good deal towards reviving them; but they were a sorry looking set after all, and there were many aching heads among them. As soon as they were fit for it, Malartic took three of the least tipsy of them, and leading the way to a small postern that opened on the moat, unchained a row-boat lying there, crossed the broad ditch, ascended a steep flight of steps leading up the bank on the other side, and, leaving one man to guard the boat, proceeded to make a tour of inspection in the immediate vicinity of the chateau; fortunately without stumbling on the party concealed in the wood, or seeing anything to arouse their suspicions; so they returned to their quarters perfectly satisfied that there was no enemy lurking near.

Meantime Isabelle, left quite alone, tried in vain to interest herself in a book she had found lying upon one of the side-tables. She read a few pages mechanically, and then, finding it impossible to fix her attention upon it, threw the volume from her and sat idly in front of the fire, which was blazing cheerily, thinking of her own true lover, and praying that he might be preserved from injury in the impending struggle. Evening came at last–a servant brought in lights, and soon after the major-domo announced a visit from the Duke of Vallombreuse. He entered at once, and greeted his fair captive with the most finished courtesy. He looked very handsome, in a superb suit of pearl gray satin, richly trimmed with crimson velvet, and Isabelle could not but admire his personal appearance, much as she detested his character.

“I have come to see, my adorable Isabelle, whether I shall be more kindly received than my flowers,” said he, drawing up a chair beside hers. “I have not the vanity to think so, but I want you to become accustomed to my presence. To-morrow another bouquet, and another visit.”

“Both will be useless, my lord,” she replied, “though I am sorry to have to be so rude as to say so–but I had much better be perfectly frank with you.”

“Ah, well!” rejoined the duke, with a malicious smile, I will dispense with hope, and content myself with reality. You do not know, my poor child, what a Vallombreuse can do–you, who vainly try to resist him. He has never yet known what it was to have an unsatisfied desire–he invariably gains his ends, in spite of all opposition–nothing can stop him. Tears, supplication, laments, threats, even dead bodies and smoking ruins would not daunt him. Do not tempt him too powerfully, by throwing new obstacles in his way, you imprudent child!”

Isabelle, frightened by the expression of his countenance as he spoke thus, instinctively pushed her chair farther away from his, and felt for Chiquita’s knife. But the wily duke, seeing that he had made a mistake, instantly changed his tone, and begging her pardon most humbly for his vehemence, endeavoured to persuade her, by many specious arguments, that she was wrong in persistently turning a deaf ear to his suit–setting forth at length, and in glowing words, all the advantages that would accrue to her if she would but yield to his wishes, and describing the happiness in store for her. While he was thus eloquently pleading his cause, Isabelle, who had given him only a divided attention, thought that she heard a peculiar little noise in the direction whence the longed-for aid was to come, and fearing that Vallombreuse might hear it also, hastened to answer him the instant that he paused, in a way to vex him still further–for she preferred his anger to his love-making. Also, she hoped that by quarrelling with him she would be able to prevent his perceiving the suspicious little sound–now growing louder and more noticeable.

“The happiness that you so eloquently describe, my lord, would be for me a disgrace, which I am resolved to escape by death, if all other means fail me. You never shall have me living. Formerly I regarded you with indifference, but now I both hate and despise you, for your infamous, outrageous and violent behaviour to me, your helpless victim. Yes, I may as well tell you openly–and I glory in it–that I do love the Baron de Sigognac, whom you have more than once so basely tried to assassinate, through your miserable hired ruffians.”

The strange noise still kept on, and Isabelle raised her voice to drown it. At her audacious, defiant words, so distinctly and impressively enunciated–hurled at him, as it were–Vallombreuse turned pale, and his eyes flashed ominously; a light foam gathered about the corners of his mouth, and he laid hold of the handle of his sword. For an instant he thought of killing Isabelle himself, then and there. If he could not have her, at least no one else should. But he relinquished that idea almost as soon as it occurred to him, and with a hard, forced laugh said, as he sprang up and advanced impetuously towards Isabelle, who retreated before him:

“Now, by all the devils in hell, I cannot help admiring you immensely in this mood. It is a new role for you, and you are deucedly charming in it. You have got such a splendid colour, and your eyes are so bright–you are superb, I declare. I am greatly flattered at your blazing out into such dazzling beauty on my account–upon my word I am. You have done well to speak out openly–I hate deceit. So you love de Sigognac, do you? So much the better, say I–it will be all the sweeter to call you mine. It will be a pleasing variety to press ardent kisses upon sweet lips that say ‘I hate you,’ instead of the insipid, everlasting ‘I love you,’ that one gets a surfeit of from all the pretty women of one’s acquaintance.”

Alarmed at this coarse language, and the threatening gestures that accompanied it, Isabelle started back and drew out Chiquita’s knife.

Bravo!” cried the duke–“here comes the traditional poniard. We are being treated to a bit of high tragedy. But, my fierce little beauty, if you are well up in your Roman history, you will remember that the chaste Mme. Lucretia did not make use of her dagger until AFTER the assault of Sextus, the bold son of Tarquin the Proud. That ancient and much-cited example is a good one to follow.”

And without paying any more attention to the knife than to a bee-sting, he had violently seized Isabelle in his arms before she could raise it to strike.

Just at that moment a loud cracking noise was heard, followed by a tremendous crash, and the casement fell clattering to the floor, with every pane of glass in it shattered; as if a giant had put his knee against it and broken it in; while a mass of branches protruded through the opening into the room. It was the top of the tree that Chiquita had made such good use of as a way of escape and return. The trunk, sawed nearly through by de Sigognac and his companions, was guided in its fall so as to make a means of access to Isabelle’s window; both bridging the moat, and answering all the purposes of a ladder.

The Duke of Vallombreuse, astonished at this most extraordinary intrusion upon his love-making, released his trembling victim, and drew his sword. Chiquita, who had crept into the room unperceived when the crash came, pulled Isabelle’s sleeve and whispered, “Come into this corner, out of the way; the dance is going to begin.”

As she spoke, several pistol shots were heard without, and four of the duke’s ruffians–who were doing garrison duty came rushing up the stairs, four steps at a time, and dashed into the room-sword in hand, and eager for the fray.


The topmost branches of the tree, protruding through the window, rendered the centre of the room untenable, so Malartic and his three aids ranged themselves two and two against the wall on either side of it, armed with pistols and swords–ready to give the assailants a warm welcome.

“You had better retire, my lord duke, or else put on a mask,” whispered Malartic to the young nobleman, “so that you may not be seen and recognised in this affair.”

“What do I care?” cried Vallombreuse, flourishing his sword. “I am not afraid of anybody in the world–and besides, those who see me will never go away from this to tell of it.”

“But at least your lordship will place this second Helen in some safe retreat. A stray bullet might so easily deprive your highness of the prize that cost so dear–and it would be such a pity.”

The duke, finding this advice judicious, went at once over to where Isabelle was standing beside Chiquita, and throwing his arms round her attempted to carry her into the next room. The poor girl made a desperate resistance, and slipping from the duke’s grasp rushed to the window, regardless of danger, crying, “Save me, de Sigognac! save me!” A voice from without answered, “I am coming,” but, before he could reach the window, Vallombreuse had again seized his prey, and succeeded in carrying her into the adjoining room, closing and bolting the stout oaken door behind him just as de Sigognac bounded into the chamber he had quitted. His entrance was so sudden, and so swiftly and boldly made, that he entirely escaped the pistol shots aimed at him, and the four bullets all fell harmless. When the smoke had cleared away and the “garrison” saw that he was unhurt, a murmur of astonishment arose, and one of the men exclaimed aloud that Captain Fracasse–the only name by which THEY knew him–must bear a charmed life; whereupon, Malartic cried, “Leave him to me, I’ll soon finish him, and do you three keep a strict guard over the window there; for there will be more to follow this one if I am not mistaken.”

But he did not find his self-imposed task as easy as he supposed–for de Sigognac was ready for him, and gave him plenty to do, though his surprise and disappointment were overwhelming when he found that Isabelle was nowhere to be seen.

“Where is she?” he cried impetuously. “Where is Isabelle? I heard her voice in here only a moment ago.”

“Don’t ask me!” Malartic retorted. “YOU didn’t give her into my charge.” And all this time their swords were flashing and clashing, as the combat between them grew more animated.

A moment later, before the men had finished reloading their pistols, Scapin dashed in through the window, throwing a remarkable somersault like an acrobat as he came, and seeing that the three ruffians had laid down their swords beside them on the floor while attending to their other weapons, he seized upon them all, ere their owners had recovered from their astonishment at his extraordinary advent, and hurled them through the broken casement down into the moat. Then, laying hold of one of the three from behind, and pinning down his arms securely, he placed him in front of himself for a shield–turning him dexterously this way and that, in order to keep his body always between his own and the enemy; so that they dared not fire upon him lest they should kill their comrade, who was vehemently beseeching them to spare his life, and vainly struggling to escape from Scapin’s iron grip.

The combat between de Sigognac and Malartic was still going on, but at last, the baron–who had already wounded his adversary slightly, and whose agony and desperation at being kept from prosecuting his search for Isabelle were intense–wrested Malartic’s sword from his grasp, by a dexterous manoeuvre with his own, and putting his foot upon it as it lay on the floor raised the point of his blade to the professional ruffian’s throat, crying “Surrender, or you are a dead man!”

At this critical moment another one of the besieging party burst in through the window, who, seeing at a glance how matters stood, said to Malartic in an authoritative tone, “You can surrender without dishonour to this valiant hero–you are entirely at his mercy. You have done your duty loyally–now consider yourself a prisoner of war.”

Then turning to de Sigognac, he said, “You may trust his word, for he is an honourable fellow in his way, and will not molest you again–I will answer for him.”

Malartic made a gesture of acquiescence, and the baron let him go–whereupon the discomfited bully picked up his sword, and with a crestfallen air walked off very disconsolately to a corner, where he sat down and occupied himself in staunching the blood that was flowing from his wound. The other three men were quickly conquered, and, at the suggestion of the latest comer, were securely bound hand and foot as they lay upon the floor, and then left to reflect upon their misfortunes.

“They can’t do any more mischief now,” said Jacquemin Lampourde, mockingly; for it was that famous fighting man in person, who, in his enthusiastic admiration, or rather adoration, for de Sigognac, had offered his services on this momentous occasion–services by no means to be despised. As to the brave Herode, he was doing good service in fighting the rest of the garrison below. They had hastened out and crossed the moat in the little row-boat as quickly as possible after the alarm was given, but arrived too late, as we have seen, to prevent the assailants from ascending their strange scaling ladder. So they determined to follow, hoping to overtake and dislodge some of them. But Herode, who had found the upper branches bending and cracking in a very ominous manner under his great weight, was forced to turn about and make his way back to the main trunk, where, under cover of darkness, he quietly awaited the climbing foe. Merindol, who commanded this detachment of the garrison, was first, and being completely taken by surprise was easily dislodged and thrown down into the water below. The next one, aroused to a sense of his danger by this, pulled out a pistol and fired, but in the agitation of the moment, and the darkness, missed his aim, so that he was entirely at the tyrant’s mercy, and in an instant was held suspended over the deep waters of the moat. He clung desperately to a little branch he had managed to lay hold of, and made such a brave fight for his life, that Herode, who was merciful by nature, though so fierce of aspect, decided to make terms with him, if he could do so without injuring the interests of his own party; and upon receiving a solemn promise from him to remain strictly neutral during the remainder of the fray, the powerful actor lifted him up, with the greatest ease, and seated him in safety upon the tree-trunk again. The poor fellow was so grateful that he was even better than his word, for, making use of the password and giving a pretended order from Merindol to the other two, who were some distance behind him and ignorant of what had happened, he sent them off post-haste to attend to an imaginary foe at some distance from the chateau; availing himself of their absence to make good his escape, after heartily thanking Herode for his clemency. The moon was just rising, and by its light the tyrant spied the little row-boat, lying not very far off at the foot of a flight of steps in the steep bank, and he was not slow to make use of it to cross the moat, and penetrate into the interior court of the chateau–the postern having been fortunately left open. Looking about him, to see how he could best rejoin his comrades within the building, his eyes fell upon the porch guarded by the two huge, calm sphinxes, and he wisely concluded that through it must lie his way to the scene of action.

Meantime de Sigognac, Scapin and Lampourde, having a chance to look about them, were horrified to find that they were prisoners in the room where the battle had been fought. In vain they tried to burst open the stout oaken door which was their only means of egress–for the tree had, but a moment before, given way and fallen with a loud crash into the moat; in vain they strove to cut through one of the panels, or force the lock from its fastenings. To de Sigognac this delay was maddening, for he knew that the Duke of Vallombreuse had carried Isabelle away, and that he must still be with her. He worked like a giant himself, and incited the others to redouble their efforts; making battering rams of various pieces of furniture–resorting to every means that their ingenuity could devise–but without making the least impression on the massive barrier. They had paused in dismay, when suddenly a slight, grinding noise was heard, like a key turning in a lock, and the door, so unsuccessfully attacked, opened as if by magic before them.

“What good angel has come to our aid?” cried de Sigognac; “and by what miracle does this door open of itself, after having so stoutly resisted all our efforts?”

“There is neither angel nor miracle; only Chiquita,” answered a quiet little voice, as the child appeared from behind the door, and fixed her great, dark, liquid eyes calmly on de Sigognac. She had managed to slip out with Vallombreuse and Isabelle, entirely unnoticed by the former, and in the hope of being of use to the latter.

“Where is Isabelle?” cried the baron, as he crossed the threshold and looked anxiously round the anteroom, which was dimly lighted by one little flickering lamp. For a moment he did not perceive her; the Duke of Vallombreuse, surprised at the sudden opening of the door, which he had believed to be securely fastened and impenetrable, had retreated into a corner, and placed Isabelle, who was almost fainting from terror and exhaustion, behind him. She had sunk upon her knees, with her head leaning against the wall, her long hair, which had come down, falling about her, and her dress in the utmost disorder; for she had struggled desperately in the arms of her captor; who, feeling that his fair victim was about to escape from his clutches, had vainly striven to snatch a few kisses from the sweet lips so temptingly near his own.

“Here she is,” said Chiquita, “in this corner, behind the Duke of Vallombreuse; but to get to her you must first kill him.”

“Of course I shall kill him,” cried de Sigognac, advancing sword in hand towards the young duke, who was ready to receive him.

“We shall see about that, Sir Captain Fracasse–doughty knight of Bohemiennes!” said Vallombreuse disdainfully, and the conflict began. The duke was not de Sigognac’s equal at this kind of work, but still he was skilful and brave, and had had too much good instruction to handle his sword like a broom-stick, as Lampourde expressed it. He stood entirely upon the defensive, and was exceedingly wary and prudent, hoping, as his adversary must be already considerably fatigued by his encounter with Malartic, that he might be able to get the better of him this time, and retrieve his previous defeat. At the very beginning he had succeeded in raising a small silver whistle to his lips with his left hand–and its shrill summons brought five or six armed attendants into the room.

“Carry away this woman,” he cried, “and put out those two rascals. I will take care of the captain myself.”

The sudden interruption of these fresh forces astonished de Sigognac, and as he saw two of the men lift up and carry off Isabelle–who had fainted quite away–he was thrown for an instant off his guard, and very nearly run through the body by his opponent.

Roused to a sense of his danger, he attacked the duke with renewed fury, and with a terrible thrust, that made him reel, wounded him seriously in the upper part of the chest.

Meanwhile Lampourde and Scapin had shown the duke’s lackeys that it would not be a very easy matter to put them out, and were handling them rather roughly, when the cowardly fellows, seeing that their master was wounded, and leaning against the wall, deathly pale, thought that he was done for, and although they were fully armed, took to their heels and fled, deaf to his feeble cry for assistance. While all this was going on, the tyrant was making his way up the grand staircase, as fast as his corpulence would permit, and reached the top just in time to see Isabelle, pale, dishevelled, motionless, and apparently dead, being borne along the corridor by two lackeys. Without stopping to make any inquiries, and full of wrath at the thought that the sweet girl had fallen a victim to the wickedness of the cruel Duke of Vallombreuse, he drew his sword, and fell upon the two men with such fury that they dropped their light burden and fled down the stairs as fast as their legs could carry them. Then he knelt down beside the unconscious girl, raised her gently in his arms, and found that her heart was beating, though but feebly, and that she apparently had no wound, while she sighed faintly, like a person beginning to revive after a swoon. In this position he was found by de Sigognac, who had effectually gotten rid of Vallombreuse, by the famous and well-directed thrust that had thrown Jacquemin Lampourde into a rapture of admiration and delight. He knelt down beside his darling, took both her hands in his, and said, in the most tender tones, that Isabelle heard vaguely as if in a dream:

“Rouse yourself, dear heart, and fear nothing. You are safe now, with your own friends, and your own true lover–nobody can harm or frighten you again.”

Although she did not yet open her eyes, a faint smile dawned upon the colourless lips, and her cold, trembling, little fingers feebly returned the tender pressure of de Sigognac’s warm hands. Lampourde stood by, and looked down with tearful eyes upon this touching group–for he was exceedingly romantic and sentimental, and always intensely interested in a love affair. Suddenly, in the midst of the profound silence that had succeeded to the uproar of the melee, the winding of a horn was heard without, and in a moment energetically repeated. It was evidently a summons that had to be instantly obeyed; the drawbridge was lowered in haste, with a great rattling of chains, and a carriage driven rapidly into the court, while the red flaring light of torches flashed through the windows of the corridor. In another minute the door of the vestibule was thrown open, and hasty steps ascended the grand staircase. First came four tall lackeys, in rich liveries, carrying lights, and directly behind them a tall, noble-looking man, who was dressed from head to foot in black velvet, with an order shining on his breast–of those that are usually reserved for kings and princes of the blood, and only very exceptionally bestowed, upon the most illustrious personages.

When the four lackeys reached the landing at the head of the stairs, they silently ranged themselves against the wall, and stood like statues bearing torches; without the raising of an eyelid, or the slightest change in the stolid expression of their countenances to indicate that they perceived anything out of the usual way–exhibiting in perfection that miraculous imperturbability and self-command which is peculiar to well-bred, thoroughly trained menservants. The gentleman whom they had preceded paused ere he stepped upon the landing. Although age had brought wrinkles to his handsome face, and turned his abundant dark hair gray, it was still easy to recognise in him the original of the portrait that had so fascinated Isabelle, and whose protection she had passionately implored in her distress.

It was the princely father of Vallombreuse–the son bearing a different name, that of a duchy he possessed, until he in his turn should become the head of the family, and succeed to the title of prince.

At sight of Isabelle, supported by de Sigognac and the tyrant, whose ghastly pallor made her look like one dead, the aged gentleman raised his arms towards heaven and groaned.

“Alas! I am too late,” said he, “for all the haste I made,” and advancing a few steps he bent over the prostrate girl, and took her lifeless hand in his. Upon this hand, white, cold and diaphanous, as if it had been sculptured in alabaster, shone a ring, set with an amethyst of unusual size. The old nobleman seemed strangely agitated as it caught his eye. He drew it gently from Isabelle’s slender finger, with a trembling hand signed to one of the torch-bearers to bring his light nearer, and by it eagerly examined the device cut upon the stone; first holding it close to the light and then at arm’s length; as those whose eyesight is impaired by age are wont to do. The Baron de Sigognac, Herode and Lampourde anxiously watched the agitated movements of the prince, and his change of expression, as he contemplated this jewel, which he seemed to recognise; and which he turned and twisted between his fingers, with a pained look in his face, as if some great trouble had befallen him.

“Where is the Duke of Vallombreuse?” he cried at last, in a voice of thunder. “Where is that monster in human shape, who is unworthy of my race?”

He had recognised, without a possibility of doubt, in this ring, the one bearing a fanciful device, with which he had been accustomed, long ago, to seal the notes he wrote to Cornelia–Isabelle’s mother, and his own youthful love. How happened it that this ring was on the finger of the young actress, who had been forcibly and shamefully abducted by Vallombreuse? From whom could she have received it? These questions were torturing to him.

“Can it be possible that she is Cornelia’s daughter and mine?” said the prince to himself. “Her profession, her age, her sweet face, in which I can trace a softened, beautified likeness of her mother’s, but which has a peculiarly high bred, refined expression, worthy of a royal princess, all combine to make me believe it must be so. Then, alas! alas! it is his own sister that this cursed libertine has so wronged, and he has been guilty of a horrible, horrible crime. Oh! I am cruelly punished for my youthful folly and sin.”

Isabelle at length opened her eyes, and her first look fell upon the prince, holding the ring that he had drawn from her finger. It seemed to her as if she had seen his face before–but in youth, without the gray hair and beard. It seemed also to be an aged copy of the portrait over the chimney-piece in her room, and a feeling of profound veneration filled her heart as she gazed at him. She saw, too, her beloved de Sigognac kneeling beside her, watching her with tenderest devotion; and the worthy tyrant as well–both safe and sound. To the horrors of the terrible struggle had succeeded the peace and security of deliverance. She had nothing more to fear, for her friends or for herself–how could she ever be thankful enough?

The prince, who had been gazing at her with passionate earnestness, as if her fair face possessed an irresistible charm for him, now addressed her in low, moved tones:

“Mademoiselle, will you kindly tell me how you came by this ring, which recalls very dear and sacred memories to me? Has it been long in your possession?”

“I have had it ever since my infancy; it is the only thing that my poor mother left me,” Isabelle replied, with gentle dignity.

“And who was your mother? Will you, tell me something about her?” continued the prince, with increasing emotion.

“Her name was Cornelia, and she was an actress, belonging to the same troupe that I am a member of now.”

“Cornelia! then there is no possible doubt about it,’ murmured the prince to himself, in great agitation. “Yes, it is certainly she whom I have been seeking all these years–and now to find her thus!”

Then, controlling his emotion, he resumed his usual calm, majestic demeanour, and turning back to Isabelle, said to her, “Permit me to keep this ring for the present; I will soon give it back to you.”

“I am content to leave it in your lordship’s hands,” the young actress replied, in whose mind the memory of a face, that she had seen long years ago bending over her cradle, was growing clearer and more distinct every moment.

“Gentlemen,” said the prince, turning to de Sigognac and his companions, “under any other circumstances I might find your presence here, in my chateau, with arms in your hands, unwarranted, but I am aware of the necessity that drove you to forcibly invade this mansion, hitherto sacred from such scenes as this–I know that violence must be met with violence, and justifies it; therefore I shall take no further notice of what has happened here to-night, and you need have no fears of any evil consequences to yourselves because of your share in it. But where is the Duke of Vallombreuse? that degenerate son who disgraces my old age.”

As if in obedience to his father’s call, the young duke at that moment appeared upon the threshold of the door leading into what had been Isabelle’s apartment, supported by Malartic. He was frightfully. pale, and his clinched hand pressed a handkerchief tightly upon his wounded chest. He came forward with difficulty, looking like a ghost. Only a strong effort of will kept him from falling–an effort that gave to his face the immobility of a marble mask. He had heard the voice of his father, whom, depraved and shameless as he was, he yet respected and dreaded, and he hoped to be able to conceal his wound from him. He bit his lips so as not to cry out or groan in his agony, and resolutely swallowed down the bloody foam that kept rising and filling his mouth. He even took off his hat, in spite of the frightful pain the raising of his arm caused him, and stood uncovered and silent before his angry parent.

“Sir,” said the prince, severely, “your misdeeds transcend all limits, and your behaviour is such that I shall be forced to implore the king to send you to prison, or into exile. You are not fit to be at large. Abduction–imprisonment–criminal assault. These are not simple gallantries; and though I might be willing to pardon and overlook many excesses, committed in the wildness of licentious youth, I never could bring myself to forgive a deliberate and premeditated crime. Do you know, you monster,” he continued approaching Vallombreuse, and whispering in his ear, so that no one else could hear, “do you know who this young girl is? this good and chaste Isabelle, whom you have forcibly abducted, in spite of her determined and virtuous resistance! She is your own sister!

“May she replace the son you are about to lose,” the young duke replied, attacked by a sudden faintness, and an agony of pain which he felt that he could not long endure and live; “but I am not as guilty as you suppose. Isabelle is pure–stainless. I swear it, by the God before whom I must shortly appear. Death does not lie, and you may believe what I say, upon the word of a dying gentleman.”

These words were uttered loudly and distinctly, so as to be heard by all. Isabelle turned her beautiful eyes, wet with tears, upon de Sigognac, and read in those of her true and faithful lover that he had not waited for the solemn attestation, “in extremis,” of the Duke of Vallombreuse to believe in the perfect purity of her whom he adored.

“But what is the matter?” asked the prince, holding out his hand to his son, who staggered and swayed to and fro in spite of Malartic’s efforts to support him, and whose face was fairly livid.

“Nothing, father,” answered Vallombreuse, in a scarcely articulate voice, “nothing–only I am dying”–and he fell at full length on the floor before the prince could clasp him in his arms, as he endeavoured to do.

“He did not fall on his face,” said Jacquemin Lampourde, sententiously; “it’s nothing but a fainting fit. He may escape yet. We duellists are familiar with this sort of thing, my lord; a great deal more so than most medical men, and you may depend upon what I say.”

“A doctor! a doctor!” cried the prince, forgetting his anger as he saw his son lying apparently lifeless at his feet. “Perhaps this man is right, and there may be some hope for him yet. A fortune to whomsoever will save my son!–my only son!–the last scion of a noble race. Go! run quickly! What are you about there?–don’t you understand me? Go, I say, and run as fast as you
can; take the fleetest horse in the stable.”

Whereupon two of the imperturbable lackeys, who had held their torches throughout this exciting scene without moving a muscle, hastened off to execute their master’s orders. Some of his own servants now came forward, raised up the unconscious Duke of Vallombreuse with every possible care and precaution, and by his father’s command carried him to his own room and laid him on his own bed,the aged prince following, with a face from which grief and anxiety had already driven away all traces of anger. He saw his race extinct in the death of this son, whom he so dearly loved–despite his fault–and whose vices he forgot for the moment, remembering only his brilliant and lovable qualities. A profound melancholy took complete possession of him, as he stood for a few moments plunged in a sorrowful reverie that everybody respected.

Isabelle, entirely revived, and no longer feeling at all faint, bad risen to her feet, and now stood between de Sigognac and the tyrant, adjusting, with a trembling hand, her disordered dress and dishevelled hair. Lampourde and Scapin had retired to a little distance from them, and held themselves modestly aloof, whilst the men within, still bound hand and foot, kept as quiet as possible; fearful of their fate if brought to the prince’s notice. At length that aged nobleman returned, and breaking the terrible silence that had weighed upon all, said, in severe tones, “Let all those who placed their services at the disposition of the Duke of Vallombreuse, to aid him in indulging his evil passions and commiting a terrible crime, quit this chateau instantly. I will refrain from placing you in the hands of the public executioner, though you richly deserve it. Go now! vanish! get ye back to your lairs! and rest assured that justice will not fail to overtake you at last.”

These words were not complimentary, but the trembling offenders were thankful to get off so easily, and the ruffians, whom Lampourde and Scapin had unbound, followed Malartic down the stairs in silence, without daring to claim their promised reward. When they had disappeared, the prince advanced and took Isabelle by the hand, and gently detaching her from the group of which she had formed a part, led her over to where he had been standing, and kept her beside him.

“Stay here, mademoiselle,” he said; “your place is henceforth by my side. It is the least that you can do to fulfil your duty as my daughter, since you are the innocent means of depriving me of my son.” And he wiped away a tear, that, despite all his efforts to control his grief, rolled down his withered cheek. Then turning to de Sigognac, he said, with an incomparably noble gesture, “Sir, you are at liberty to withdraw, with your brave companions. Isabelle will have nothing to fear under her father’s protection, and this chateau will be her home for the present. Now that her birth is made known it is not fitting that my daughter should return to Paris with you. I thank you, though it costs me the hope of perpetuating my race, for having spared my son a disgraceful action–what do I say? An abominable crime. I would rather have a bloodstain on my escutcheon than a dishonourable blot. Since Vallombreuse was infamous in his conduct, you have done well to kill him. You have acted like a true gentleman, which I am assured that you are, in chivalrously protecting weakness, innocence and virtue. You are nobly in the right. That my daughter’s honour has been preserved unstained, I owe to you–and it compensates me for the loss of my son–at least my reason tells me that it should do so; but the father’s heart rebels, and unjust ideas of revenge might arise, which I should find it difficult to conquer and set at rest. Therefore you had better go your way now, and whatever the result may be I will not pursue or molest you. I will try to forget that a terrible necessity turned your sword against my son’s life.”

“My lord,” said de Sigognac, with profound respect, “I feel so keenly for your grief as a father, that I would have accepted any reproaches, no matter how bitter and unjust, from you, without one word of protest or feeling of resentment; even though I cannot reproach myself for my share in this disastrous conflict. I do not wish to say anything to justify myself in your eyes, at the expense of the unhappy Duke of Vallombreuse, but I beg you to believe that this quarrel was not of my seeking. He persistently threw himself in my way, and I have done everything I could to spare him, in more than one encounter. Even here it was his own blind fury that led to his being wounded. I leave Isabelle, who is dearer to me than my own soul, in your hands, and shall grieve my whole life long for this sad victory; which is a veritable and terrible defeat for me, since it destroys my happiness. Ah! if only I could have been slain myself, instead of your unhappy son; it would have been better and happier for me.”

He bowed with grave dignity to the prince, who courteously returned his salute, exchanged a long look, eloquent of passionate love and heart-breaking regret, with Isabelle, and went sadly down the grand staircase, followed by his companions–not however without glancing back more than once at the sweet girl he was leaving–who to save herself from falling, leaned heavily against the railing of the landing, sobbing as if her heart would break, and pressing a handkerchief to her streaming eyes. And, so strange a thing is the human heart, the Baron de Sigognac departed much comforted by the bitter grief and tears of her whom he so devotedly loved and worshipped. He and his friends went on foot to the little wood where they had left their horses tied to the trees, found them undisturbed, mounted and returned to Paris.

“What do you think, my lord, of all these wonderful events?” said the tyrant, after a long silence, to de Sigognac, beside whom he was riding. “It all ends up like a regular tragi-comedy. Who would ever have dreamed, in the midst of the melee, of the sudden entrance upon the scene of the grand old princely father, preceded by torches, and coming to put a little wholesome restraint on the too atrociously outrageous pranks of his dissolute young son? And then the recognition of Isabelle as his daughter, by means of the ring with a peculiar device of his own engraved upon it; haven’t you seen exactly the same sort of thing on the stage? But, after all, it is not so surprising perhaps as it seems at the first glance–since the theatre is only a copy of real life. Therefore, real life should resemble it, just as the original does the portrait, eh? I have always heard that our sweet little actress was of noble birth. Blazius and old Mme. Leonarde remember seeing the prince when he was devoted to Cornelia. The duenna has often tried to persuade Isabelle to seek out her father, but she is of too modest and gentle a nature to take a step of that kind; not wishing to intrude upon a family that might reject her, and willing to content herself in her own lowly, position.”

“Yes, I knew all about that,” rejoined de Sigognac, “for Isabelle told me some time ago her mother’s history, and spoke of the ring; but without attaching any importance to the fact of her illustrious origin. It is very evident, however, from the nobility and delicacy of her nature, without any other proof, that princely blood flows in her veins; and also the refined, pure, elevated type of her beauty testifies to her descent. But what a terrible fatality that this cursed Vallombreuse should turn out to be her brother! There is a dead body between us now–a stream of blood separates us–and yet, I could not save her honour in any other way. Unhappy mortal that I am! I have myself created the obstacle upon which my love is wrecked, and killed my hopes of future bliss with the very sword that defended the purity of the woman I adore. In guarding her I love, I have put her away from me forever. How could I go now and present myself to Isabelle with blood-stained hands? Alas! that the blood which I was forced to shed in her defence should have been her brother’s. Even if she, in her heavenly goodness, could forgive me, and look upon me without a feeling of horror, the prince, her father, would repulse and curse me as the murderer of his only son. I was born, alas! under an unlucky star.”

“Yes, it is all very sad and lamentable, certainly,” said the tyrant; “but worse entanglements than this have come out all right in the end. You must remember that the Duke of Vallombreuse is only half-brother to Isabelle, and that they were aware of the relationship but for a few minutes before he fell dead at our feet; which must make a great difference in her feelings. And besides, she hated that overbearing nobleman, who pursued her so cruelly with his violent and scandalous gallantries. The prince himself was far from being satisfied with his wretched son–who was ferocious as Nero, dissolute as Heliogabalus, and perverse as Satan himself, and who would have been hanged ten times over if he had not been a duke. Do not be so disheartened! things may turn out a great deal better than you think now.”

“God grant it, my good Herode,” said de Sigognac fervently. “But naturally I cannot feel happy about it. It would have been far better for all if I had been killed instead of the duke, since Isabelle would have been safe from his criminal pursuit under her father’s care. And then, I may as well tell you all, a secret horror froze the very marrow in my bones when I saw that handsome young man, but a moment before so full of life, fire, and passion, fall lifeless, pale and stiff at my feet. Herode, the death of a man is a grave thing, and though I cannot suffer from remorse for this one, since I have committed no crime, still, all the time I see Vallombreuse before me, lying, motionless and ghastly, with the blood oozing slowly from his wound. It haunts me. I cannot drive the horrid sight away.”

“That is all wrong,” said the tyrant, soothingly–for the other was much excited–“for you could not have done otherwise. Your conscience should not reproach you. You have acted throughout, from the very beginning to the end, like the noble gentleman that you are. These scruples are owing to exhaustion, to the feverishness due to the excitement you have gone through, and the chill from the night air. We will gallop on swiftly in a moment, to set our blood flowing more freely, and drive away these sad thoughts of yours. But one thing must be promptly done; you must quit Paris, forthwith, and retire for a time to some quiet retreat, until all this trouble is forgotten. The violent death of the Duke of Vallombreuse will make a stir at the court, and in the city, no matter how much pains may be taken to keep the facts from the public, and, although he was not at all popular, indeed very much the reverse, there will be much regret expressed, and you will probably be severely blamed. But now let us put spurs to these lazy steeds of ours, and try to get on a little faster.”

While they are galloping towards Paris, we will return to the chateau–as quiet now as it had been noisy a little while before. In the young duke’s room, a candelabrum, with several branches, stood on a round table, so that the light from the candles fell upon the bed, where he lay with closed eyes, as motionless as a corpse, and as pale. The walls of the large chamber, above a high wainscot of ebony picked out with gold, were hung with superb tapestry, representing the history of Medea and Jason, with all its murderous and revolting details. Here, Medea was seen cutting the body of Pelias into pieces, under pretext of restoring his youth–there, the madly jealous woman and unnatural mother was murdering her own children; in another panel she was fleeing, surfeited with vengeance, in her chariot, drawn by huge dragons breathing out flames of fire. The tapestry was certainly magnificent in quality and workmanship, rich in colouring, artistic in design, and very costly–but inexpressibly repulsive. These mythological horrors gave the luxurious room an intensely disagreeable, lugubrious aspect, and testified to the natural ferocity and cruelty of the person who had selected them. Behind the bed the crimson silk curtains had been drawn apart, exposing to view the representation of Jason’s terrible conflict with the fierce, brazen bulls that guarded the golden fleece, and Vallombreuse, lying senseless below them, looked as if he might have been one of their victims. Various suits of clothes, of the greatest richness and elegance, which had been successively tried on and rejected, were scattered about, and in a splendid great Japanese vase, standing on an ebony table near the head of the bed, was a bouquet of beautiful flowers, destined to replace the one Isabelle had already refused to receive–its glowing tints making a strange contrast with the death-like face, which was whiter than the snowy pillow it rested on. The prince, sitting in an arm-chair beside the bed, gazed at his unconscious son with mournful intentness, and bent down from time to time to listen at the slightly parted lips; but no fluttering breath came through them; all was still. Never had the young duke looked handsomer. The
haughty, fierce expression, habitual with him, had given place to a serenity that was wonderfully beautiful, though so like death. As the father contemplated the perfect face and form, so soon to crumble into dust, he forgot, in his overwhelming grief, that the soul of a demon had animated it, and he thought sorrowfully of the great name that had been revered and honoured for centuries past, but which could not go down to centuries to come. More even than the death of his son did he mourn for the exinction of his home.

Isabelle stood at the foot of the bed, with clasped hands, praying with her whole soul for this new-found brother, who had expiated his crime with his life–the crime of loving too much, which woman pardons so easily.

The prince, who had been for some time holding his son’s icy cold hand between both his own, suddenly thought that he could feel a slight warmth in it, and not realizing that he himself had imparted it, allowed himself to hope again.

“Will the doctor never come?” he cried impatiently; “something may yet be done; I am persuaded of it.”

Even as he spoke the door opened, and the surgeon appeared, followed by an assistant carrying a case of instruments. He bowed to the prince, and without saying one word went straight to the bedside, felt the patient’s pulse, put his hand over his heart, and shook his head despondingly. However, to make sure, he drew a little mirror of polished steel from his pocket, removed it from its case, and held it for a moment over the parted lips; then, upon examining its surface closely, he found that a slight dimness was visible upon it. Surprised at this unexpected indication of life, he repeated the experiment, and again the little mirror was dimmed–Isabelle and the prince meantime breathlessly watching every movement, and even the expression of the doctor’s face.

“Life is not entirely extinct,” he said at last, turning to the anxious father, as he wiped the polished surface of his tiny mirror. “The patient still breathes, and as long as there is life there is hope, But do not give yourself up to a premature joy that might render your grief more bitter afterwards. I only say that the Duke of Vallombreuse has not yet breathed his last; that is all. Now, I am going to probe the wound, which perhaps is not fatal, as it did not kill him at once.”

“You must not stay here, Isabelle,” said the prince, tenderly; “such sights are too trying for a young girl like you. Go to your own room now, my dear, and I will let you know the doctor’s verdict as soon as he has pronounced it.”

Isabelle accordingly withdrew, and was conducted to an apartment that had been made ready for her; the one she had occupied being all in disorder after the terrible scenes that had been enacted there.

The surgeon proceeded with his examination, and when it was finished said to the prince, “My lord, will you please to order a cot put up in that corner yonder, and have a light supper sent in for my assistant and myself? We shall remain for the night with the Duke of Vallombreuse, and take turns in watching him. I must be with him constantly, so as to note every symptom; to combat promptly those that are unfavorable, and aid those that are the reverse. Your highness may trust everything to me, and feel assured that all that human skill and science can do towards saving your son’s life shall be faithfully done. Let me advise you to go to your own room now and try to get some rest; I think I may safely answer for my patient’s life until the morning.”

A little calmed and much encouraged by this assurance, the prince retired to his own apartment, where every hour a servant brought him a bulletin from the sick-room.

As to Isabelle, lying in her luxurious bed and vainly trying to sleep, she lived over again in imagination all the wonderful as well as terrible experiences of the last two days, and tried to realize her new position; that she was now the acknowledged daughter of a mighty prince, than whom only royalty was higher; that the dreaded Duke of Vallombreuse, so handsome and winning despite his perversity, was no longer a bold lover to be feared and detested, but a brother, whose passion, if he lived, would doubtless be changed into a pure and calm fraternal affection. This chateau, no longer her prison, had become her home, and she was treated by all with the respect and consideration due to the daughter of its master. From what had seemed to be her ruin had arisen her good fortune, and a destiny radiant, unhoped-for, and beyond her wildest flights of fancy. Yet, surrounded as she was by everything to make her happy and content, Isabelle was far from feeling so–she was astonished at herself for being sad and listless, instead of joyous and exultant–but the thought of de Sigognac, so infinitely dear to her, so far more precious than any other earthly blessing, weighed upon her heart, and the separation from him was a sorrow for which nothing could console her. Yet, now that their relative positions were so changed, might not a great happiness be in store for her? Did not this very change bring her nearer in reality to that true, brave, faithful, and devoted lover, though for the moment they were parted? As a poor nameless actress she had refused to accept his offered hand, lest such an alliance should be disadvantageous to him and stand in the way of his advancement, but now–how joyfully would she give herself to him. The daughter of a great and powerful prince would be a fitting wife for the Baron de Sigognac. But if he were the murderer of her father’s only son; ah! then indeed they could never join hands over a grave. And even if the young duke should recover, he might cherish a lasting resentment for the man who had not only dared to oppose his wishes and designs, but had also defeated and wounded him. As to the prince, good and generous though he was, still he might not be able to bring himself to look with favour upon the man who had almost deprived him of his son. Then, too, he might desire some other alliance for his new-found daughter–it was not impossible–but in her inmost heart she promised herself to be faithful to her first and only love; to take refuge in a convent rather than accept the hand of any other; even though that other were as handsome as Apollo, and gifted as the prince of a fairy tale. Comforted by this secret vow, by which she dedicated her life and love to de Sigognac, whether their destiny should give them to each other or keep them asunder, Isabelle was just falling into a sweet sleep when a slight sound made her open her eyes, and they fell upon Chiquita, standing at the foot of the bed and gazing at her with a thoughtful, melancholy air.

“What is it, my dear child?” said Isabelle, in her sweetest tones. “You did not go away with the others, then? I am glad; and if you would like to stay here with me, Chiquita, I will keep you and care for you tenderly; as is justly due to you, my dear, for you have done a great deal for me.”

“I love you dearly,” answered Chiquita, “but I cannot stay with you while Agostino lives; he is my master, I must follow him. But I have one favour to beg before I leave you; if you think that I have earned the pearl necklace now, will you kiss me? No one ever did but you, and it was so sweet.”

“Indeed I will, and with all my heart,” said Isabelle, taking the child’s thin face between her hands and kissing her warmly on her brown cheeks, which flushed crimson under the soft caress.

“And now, good-bye!” said Chiquita, when after a few moments of silence she had resumed her usual sang-froid. She turned quickly away, but, catching sight of the knife she had given Isabelle, which lay upon the dressing-table, she seized it eagerly, saying, “Give me back my knife now; you will not need it any more,” and vanished.


The next morning found the young Duke of Vallombreuse still living, though his life hung by so slender a thread, that the surgeon, who anxiously watched his every breath, feared from moment to moment that it might break. He was a learned and skilful man, this same Maitre Laurent, who only needed some favourable opportunity to bring him into notice and make him as celebrated as he deserved to be. His remarkable talents and skill had only been exercised thus far “in anima vili,” among the lower orders of society–whose living or dying was a matter of no moment whatever. But now had come at last the chance so long sighed for in secret, and he felt that the recovery of his illustrious patient was of paramount importance to himself. The worthy doctor’s amour propre and ambition were both actively engaged in this desperate duel he was fighting with Death, and he set his teeth and determined that the victory must rest with him. In order to keep the whole glory of the triumph for himself, he had persuaded the prince–not without difficulty–to renounce his intention of sending for the most celebrated surgeons in Paris, assuring him that he himself was perfectly capable to do all that could be done, and pleading that nothing was more dangerous than a change of treatment in such a case as this. Maitre Laurent conquered, and feeling that there was now no danger of his being pushed into the background, threw his whole heart and strength into the struggle; yet many times during that anxious night he feared that his patient’s life was slipping away from his detaining grasp, and almost repented him of having assumed the entire responsibility. But with the morning came encouragement, and as the watchful surgeon stood at the bedside, intently gazing upon the ghastly face on the pillow, he murmured to himself:

“No, he will not die–his countenance has lost that terrible, hippocratic look that had settled upon it last evening when I first saw him–his pulse is stronger, his breathing free and natural. Besides, he MUST live–his recovery will make my fortune. I must and will tear him out of the grim clutches of Death–fine, handsome, young fellow that he is, and the heir and hope of his noble family–it will be long ere his tomb need be made ready to receive him. He will help me to get away from this wretched little village, where I vegetate ignobly, and eat my heart out day by day. Now for a bold stroke!–at the risk of producing fever–at all risks–I shall venture to give him a dose of that wonder-working potion of mine.” Opening his case of medicines, he took out several small vials, containing different preparations–some red as a ruby, others green as an emerald–this one yellow as virgin gold, that bright and colourless as a diamond–and on each one a small label bearing a Latin inscription. Maitre Laurent, though he was perfectly sure of himself, carefully read the inscriptions upon those he had selected several times over, held up the tiny vials one after another, where a ray of sunshine struck upon them, and looked admiringly through the bright transparent liquids they contained–then, measuring with the utmost care a few drops from each, compounded a potion after a secret recipe of his own; which he made a mystery of, and refused to impart to his fellow practitioners. Rousing his sleeping assistant, he ordered him to raise the patient’s head a little, while, with a small spatula, he pried the firmly set teeth apart sufficiently to allow the liquid he had prepared to trickle slowly into the mouth. As it reached the throat there was a spasmodic contraction that gave Maitre Laurent an instant of intense anxiety–but it was only momentary, and the remainder of the dose was swallowed easily and with almost instantaneous effect. A slight tinge of colour showed itself in the pallid cheeks, the eyelids trembled and half unclosed, and the hand that had lain inert and motionless upon the counterpane stirred a little. Then the young duke heaved a deep sigh, and opening his eyes looked vacantly in about him, like one awakening from a dream, or returning from those mysterious regions whither the soul takes flight when unconsciousness holds this mortal frame enthralled. Only a glance, and the long eyelashes fell again upon the pale cheeks–but a wonderful change had passed over the countenance.

“I staked everything on that move,” said Maitre Laurent to himself, with a long breath of relief, “and I have won. It was either kill or cure–and it has not killed him. All glory be to Aesculapius, Hygeia, and Hippocrates!”

At this moment a hand noiselessly put aside the hangings over the door, and the venerable head of the prince appeared–looking ten years older for the agony and dread of the terrible night just passed.

“How is he, Maitre Laurent?” he breathed, in broken, scarcely audible tones.

The surgeon put his finger to his lips, and with the other hand pointed to the young duke’s face-still raised a little on the pillows, and no longer wearing its death-like look; then, with the light step habitual with those who are much about the sick, he went over to the prince, still standing on the threshold, and drawing him gently outside and away from the door, said in a low voice, “Your highness can see that the patient’s condition, so far from growing worse, has decidedly improved. Certainly he is not out of danger yet–his state is very critical–but unless some new and totally unforeseen complication should arise, which I shall use every effort to prevent, I think that we can pull him through, and that he will be able to enjoy life again as if he had never been hurt.”

The prince’s care-worn face brightened and his fine eyes flashed at these hopeful words; he stepped forward to enter the sick-room, but Maitre Laurent respectfully opposed his doing so.

“Permit me, my lord, to prevent your approaching your son’s bedside just now–doctors are often very disagreeable, you know, and have to impose trying conditions upon those to whom their patients are dear. I beseech you not to go near the Duke of Vallombreuse at present. Your beloved presence might, in the excessively weak and exhausted condition of my patient, cause dangerous agitation. Any strong emotion would be instantly fatal to him, his hold upon life is still so slight. Perfect tranquility is his only safety. If all goes well–as I trust and believe that it will–in a few days he will have regained his strength in a measure, his wound will be healing, and you can probably be with him as much as you like, without any fear of doing him harm. I know that this is very trying to your highness, but, believe me, it is necessary to your son’s well-being.”

The prince, very much relieved, and yielding readily to the doctor’s wishes, returned to his own apartment; where he occupied himself with some religious reading until noon, when the major-domo came to announce that dinner was on the table.

“Go and tell my daughter, the Comtesse Isabelle de Lineuil–such is the title by which she is to be addressed henceforth–that I request her to join me at dinner,” said the prince to the major-domo, who hastened off to obey this order.

Isabelle went quickly down the grand staircase with a light step, and smiled to herself as she passed through the noble hall where she had been so frightened by the two figures in armour, on the occasion of her bold exploring expedition the first night after her arrival at the chateau. Everything looked very different now–the bright sunshine was pouring in at the windows, and large fires of juniper, and other sweet-smelling woods, had completely done away with the damp, chilly, heavy atmosphere that pervaded the long disused rooms when she was in them before.

In the splendid dining-room she found a table sumptuously spread, and her father already seated at it, in his large, high-backed, richly carved chair, behind which stood two lackeys, in superb liveries. As she approached him she made a most graceful curtsey, which had nothing in the least theatrical about it, and would have met with approbation even in courtly circles. A servant was holding the chair destined for her, and with some timidity, but no apparent embarrassment, she took her seat opposite to the prince. She was served with soup and wine, and then with course after course of delicate, tempting viands; but she could not eat her heart was too full–her nerves were still quivering, from the terror and excitement of the preceding day and night.

She was dazzled and agitated by this sudden change of fortune, anxious about her brother, now lying at the point of death, and, above all, troubled and grieved at her separation from her lover–so she could only make a pretence of dining, and played languidly with the food on her plate.

“You are eating nothing, my dear comtesse,” said the prince, who had been furtively watching her; “I pray you try to do better with this bit of partridge I am sending you.

At this title of comtesse, spoken as a matter of course, and in such a kind, tender tone, Isabelle looked up at the prince with astonishment written in her beautiful, deep blue eyes, which seemed to plead timidly for an explanation.

“Yes, Comtesse de Lineuil; it is the title which goes with an estate I have settled on you, my dear child, and which has long been destined for you. The name of Isabelle alone, charming though it be, is not suitable for my daughter.”

Isabelle, yielding to the impulse of the moment–as the servants had retired and she was alone with her father–rose, and going to his side, knelt down and kissed his hand, in token of gratitude for his delicacy and generosity.

“Rise, my child,” said he, very tenderly, and much moved, “and return to your place. What I have done is only just. It calls for no thanks. I should have done it long ago if it had been in my power. In the terrible circumstances that have reunited us, my dear daughter, I can see the finger of Providence, and through them I have learned your worth. To your virtue alone it is due that a horrible crime was not committed, and I love and honour you for it; even though it may cost me the loss of my only son. But God will be merciful and preserve his life, so that he may repent of having so persecuted and outraged the purest innocence. Maitre Laurent, in whom I have every confidence, gives me some hope this morning; and when I looked at Vallombreuse–from the threshold of his room only–I could see that the seal of death was no longer upon his face.”

They were interrupted by the servants, bringing in water to wash their fingers, in a magnificent golden bowl, and this ceremony having been duly gone through with, the prince threw down his napkin and led the way into the adjoining salon, signing to Isabelle to follow him. He seated himself in a large arm-chair in front of the blazing wood fire, and bidding Isabelle place herself close beside him, took her hand tenderly between both of his, and looked long and searchingly at this lovely young daughter, so strangely restored to him. There was much of sadness mingled with the joy that shone in his eyes, for he was still very anxious about his son, whose life was in such jeopardy; but as he gazed upon Isabelle’s sweet face the joy predominated, and he smiled very lovingly upon the new comtesse, as he began to talk to her of long past days.

“Doubtless, my beloved child, in the midst of the strange events that have brought us together, in such an odd, romantic, almost supernatural manner, the thought has suggested itself to your mind, that during all the years that have passed since your infancy I have not sought you out, and that chance alone has at last restored the long-lost child to her neglectful father. But you are so good and noble that I know you would not dwell upon such an idea, and I hope that you do not so misjudge me as to think me capable of such culpable neglect, now that you are getting a little better acquainted with me. As you must know, your mother, Cornelia, was excessively proud and high-spirited. She resented every affront, whether intended as such or not, with extraordinary violence, and when I was obliged, in spite of my most heartfelt wishes, to separate myself from her, and reluctantly submit to a marriage that I could not avoid, she obstinately refused to allow me to provide for her maintenance in comfort and luxury, as well as for you and your education. All that I gave her, and settled on her, she sent back to me with the most exaggerated disdain, and inexorably refused to receive again. I could not but admire, though I so deplored, her lofty spirit, and proud rejection of every benefit which I desired to confer upon her, and I left in the hands of a trusty agent, for her, the deeds of all the landed property and houses I had destined for her, as well as the money and jewels–so that she could at any time reclaim them, if she would–hoping that she might see fit to change her mind when the first flush of anger was over. But, to my great chagrin, she persisted in her refusal of everything, and changing her name, fled from Paris into the provinces; where she was said to have joined a roving band of comedians. Soon after that I was sent by my sovereign on several foreign missions that kept me long away from France, and I lost all trace of her and you. In vain were all my efforts to find you both, until at last I heard that she was dead. Then I redoubled my diligence in the search for my little motherless daughter, whom I had so tenderly loved; but all in vain. No trace of her could I find. I heard, indeed, of many children among these strolling companies, and carefully investigated each case that came to my knowledge; but it always ended in disappointment. Several women, indeed, tried to palm off their little girls upon me as my child, and I had to be on my guard against fraud; but I never failed to sift the matter thoroughly, even though I knew that deceit was intended, lest I should unawares reject the dear little one I was so anxiously seeking. At last I was almost forced to conclude that you too had perished; yet a secret intuition always told me that you were still in the land of the living. I used to sit for hours and think of how sweet and lovely