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  • 1863
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intact, rising proudly at the four angles of the building, with their freshly gilded weathercocks gleaming in the sunlight. A handsome new roof, tastefully ornamented with a pretty design in different coloured slates, had replaced the broken, weather-stained tiles, through which the rain used to find its way down into the frescoed hall, and the long suite of deserted rooms. Every window had bright large panes of clear glass shining in its casement, and a magnificent great door, turning smoothly and noiselessly upon its huge hinges, had superseded the old, worm-eaten one, that used to groan and creak piteously when opened ever so little. Above it shone the de Sigognac arms–three golden storks upon an azure field, with this noble motto- -entirely obliterated of old–“Alta petunt.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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