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Captain Fracasse by Theophile Gautier

Part 5 out of 9

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letter addressed to me did not reach my hands, but unfortunately
fell into those of the marquis--through the heartless treachery
of the faithless maid to whom it was intrusted--and he sent you
the answer which so cruelly deceived you, my poor Leander! Some
time after he showed me that letter, laughing heartily over what
he was wicked enough to call a capital joke; that letter, in
every line of which the purest, most impassioned love shone so
brightly, and filled my heart with joy, despite his ridicule and
coarse abuse. It did not produce the effect upon me that he
expected and intended; the sentiment I cherished secretly for you
was only increased and strengthened by its persuasive eloquence,
and I resolved to reward you for all that you had suffered for my
sake. Knowing my husband to be perfectly absorbed in his most
recent conquest, and so oblivious of me that there was no danger
of his becoming aware of my absence from the Chateau de Bruyeres,
I have ventured to come to Poitiers; for I have heard you express
fictitious love so admirably, that I long to know whether you can
be as eloquent and convincing when you speak for yourself."

"Mme. la Marquise," said Leander, in his sweetest tones, sinking
gracefully on his knees, upon a cushion at the feet of the lady,
who had let herself fall languidly into a low easy-chair, as if
exhausted by the extreme effort that her confession had been to
her modesty. "Madame, or rather most lovely queen and deity, what
can mere empty words, counterfeit passion, imaginary raptures,
conceived and written in cold blood by the poets, and
make-believe sighs, breathed out at the feet of an odious
actress, all powdered and painted, whose eyes are wandering
absently around the theatre--what can these be beside the living
words that gush out from the soul, the fire that burns in the
veins and arteries, the hyperboles of an exalted passion, to
which the whole universe cannot furnish images brilliant and
lofty enough to apply to its idol, and the aspirations of a
wildly loving heart, that would fain break forth from the breast
that contains it, to serve as a footstool for the dear object of
its adoration? You deign to say, celestial marquise, that I
express with some feeling the fictitious love in the pieces I
play. Shall I tell you why it is so? Because I never look at, or
even think of, the actress whom I seem to address--my thoughts
soar far above and beyond her--and I speak to my own perfect
ideal; to a being, noble, beautiful, spirituelle as yourself,
Mme. la Marquise! It is you, in fine, YOU that I see and love
under the name of Silvie, Doralice, Isabelle, or whatever it may
chance to be; they are only your phantoms for me."

With these words Ieander, who was too good an actor to neglect
the pantomime that should accompany such a declaration, bent down
over the hand that the marquise had allowed him to take, and
covered it with burning kisses; which delicate attention was
amiably received, and his real love-making seemed to be as
pleasing to her ladyship as even he could have desired.

The eastern sky was all aflame with the radiance of the coming
sun when Leander, well wrapped in his warm cloak, was driven back
to Poitiers. As he lifted a corner of one of the carefully
lowered curtains, to see which side of the town they were
approaching, he caught sight of the Marquis de Bruyeres and the
Baron de Sigognac, still at some distance, who were walking
briskly along the road towards him, on their way to the spot
designated for the duel.

Leander let the curtain drop, so as not to be seen by the
marquis, who was almost grazed by the carriage wheels as they
rolled by him, and a satisfied smile played round his lips; he
was revenged--the beating was atoned for now.

The place selected for the hostile meeting between the Baron de
Sigognac and the Duke of Vallombreuse was sheltered from the cold
north wind by a high wall, which also screened the combatants
from the observation of those passing along the road. The ground
was firm, well trodden down, without stones, tufts of grass, or
inequalities of any kind, which might be in the way of the
swordsmen, and offered every facility to men of honour to murder
each other after the most correct and approved fashion. The Duke
of Vallombreuse and the Chevalier de Vidalinc, followed by a
surgeon, arrived at the rendezvous only a few seconds after the
others, and the four gentlemen saluted each other with the
haughty courtesy and frigid politeness becoming to wellbred men
meeting for such a purpose. The duke's countenance was expressive
of the most careless indifference, as he felt perfect confidence
in his own courage and skill. The baron was equally cool and
collected, though it was his first duel, and a little nervousness
or agitation would have been natural and excusable. The Marquis
de Bruyeres watched him with great satisfaction, auguring good
things for their side from his quiet sang-froid. Vallombreuse
immediately threw off his cloak and hat, and unfastened his
pourpoint, in which he was closely imitated by de Sigognac. The
marquis and the chevalier measured the swords of the combatants,
which were found to be of equal length, and then each second
placed his principal in position, and put his sword in his hand.

"Fall to, gentlemen, and fight like men of spirit, as you are,"
said the marquis.

"A needless recommendation that," chimed in the Chevalier de
Vidalinc; "they go at it like lions---we shall have a superb

The Duke of Vallombreuse, who, in his inmost heart, could not
help despising de Sigognac more than a little, and had imagined
that he should find in him but a weak antagonist, was astonished
when he discovered the strength of the baron's sword, and could
not deny to himself that he wielded a firm and supple blade,
which baffled his own with the greatest ease--that he was, in
fine, a " foeman worthy of his steel." He became more careful and
attentive; then tried several feints, which were instantly
detected. At the least opening he left, the point of de
Sigognac's sword, rapid as lightning in its play, darted in upon
him, necessitating the exercise of all his boasted skill to parry
it. He ventured an attack, which was so promptly met, and his
weapon so cleverly struck aside, that he was left exposed to his
adversary's thrust, and but for throwing himself back out of
reach, by a sudden, violent movement, he must have received it
full in his breast. From that instant all was changed for the
young duke; he had believed that he would be able to direct the
combat according to his own will and pleasure, but, instead of
that, he was forced to make use of all his skill and address to
defend himself. He had believed that after a few passes he could
wound de Sigognae, wherever he chose, by a thrust which, up to
that time, he had always found successful; but, instead of that,
he had hard work to avoid being wounded himself. Despite his
efforts to remain calm and cool, he was rapidly growing angry; he
felt himself becoming nervous and feverish, while the baron,
perfectly at his ease and unmoved, seemed to take a certain
pleasure in irritating him by the irreproachable excellence of
his fence.

"Sha'n't we do something in this way too, while our friends are
occupied?" said the chevalier to the marquis.

"It is very cold this morning. Suppose we fight a little also, if
only to warm ourselves up, and set our blood in motion."

"With all my heart," the marquis replied; "we could not do

The chevalier was superior to the Marquis de Bruyeres in the
noble art of fencing, and after a few passes had sent the
latter's sword flying out of his hand. As no enmity existed
between them, they stopped there by mutual consent, and turned
their attention again to de Sigognac and Vallombreuse. The duke,
sore pressed by the close play of the baron, had fallen back
several feet from his original position. He was becoming weary,
and beginning to draw panting breaths. From time to time, as
their swords clashed violently together, bluish sparks flew from
them; but the defence was growing perceptibly weaker, and de
Sigognac was steadily forcing the duke to give way before his
attack. When he saw the state of affairs, the Chevalier de
Vidalinc turned very pale, and began to feel really anxious for
his friend, who was so evidently getting the worst of it.

"Why the devil doesn't he try that wonderful thrust he learned
from Girolamo of Naples?" murmured he. "This confounded Gascon
cannot possibly know anything about that."

As if inspired by the same thought, the young duke did, at that
very moment, try to put it into execution; but de Sigognac, aware
of what he was preparing to do, not only prevented but
anticipated him, and touched and wounded his adversary in the
arm--his sword going clean through it.

The pain was so intense that the duke's fingers could no longer
grasp his sword, and it fell to the ground. The baron, with the
utmost courtesy, instantly desisted, although he was entitled by
the rules of the code to follow up his blow with another--for the
duel does not necessarily come to an end with the first blood
drawn. He turned the point of his sword to the ground, put his
left hand on his hip, and stood silently awaiting his
antagonist's pleasure. But Vallombreuse could not hold the sword
which his second had picked up and presented to him, after a nod
of acquiescence from de Sigognac; and he turned away to signify
that he had had enough. Whereupon, the marquis and the baron,
after bowing politely to the others, set forth quietly to walk
back to the town.


After the surgeon had bandaged his injured arm, and arranged a
sling for it, the Duke of Vallombreuse was put carefully into a
chair, which had been sent for in all haste, to be taken home.
His wound was not in the least a dangerous one, though it would
deprive him of the use of his right hand for some time to come,
for the blade had gone quite through the forearm; but, most
fortunately, without severing any important tendons or arteries.
He suffered a great deal of pain from it of course, but still
more from his wounded pride; and he felt furiously and
unreasonably angry with everything and everybody about him. It
seemed to be somewhat of a relief to him to swear savagely at his
bearers, and call them all the hardest names he could think of,
whenever he felt the slightest jar, as they carried him slowly
towards home, though they were walking as steadily as men could
do, and carefully avoiding every inequality in the road. When at
last he reached his own house, he was not willing to be put to
bed, as the surgeon advised, but lay down upon a lounge instead,
where he was made as comfortable as was possible by his faithful
Picard, who was in despair at seeing the young duke in such a
condition; astonished as well, for nothing of the kind had ever
happened before, in all the many duels he had fought; and the
admiring valet had shared his master's belief that he was
invincible. The Chevalier de Vidalinc sat in a low chair beside
his friend, and gave him from time to time a spoonful of the
tonic prescribed by the surgeon, but refrained from breaking the
silence into which he had fallen. Vallombreuse lay perfectly
still for a while; but it was easy to see, in spite of his
affected calmness, that his blood was boiling with suppressed
rage. At last he could restrain himself no longer, and burst out
violently: "Oh! Vidalinc, this is too outrageously aggravating!
to think that that contemptible, lean stork, who has flown forth
from his ruined chateau so as not to die of starvation in it,
should have dared to stick his long bill into me! I have
encountered, and conquered, the best swordsmen in France, and
never returned from the field before with so much as a scratch,
or without leaving my adversary stretched lifeless on the ground,
or wounded and bleeding in the arms of his friends."

"But you must remember that the most favoured and the bravest of
mortals have their unlucky days, Vallombreuse," answered the
chevalier sententiously, "and Dame Fortune does not ALWAYS smile,
even upon her prime favourites. Until now you have never had to
complain of her frowns, for you have been her pampered darling
all your life long."

"Isn't it too disgraceful," continued Vallombreuse, growing more
and more heated, "that this ridiculous buffoon--this grotesque
country clown--who takes such abominable drubbings on the stage,
and has never in his life known what it was to associate with
gentlemen, should have managed to get the best of the Duke of
Vallombreuse, hitherto by common accord pronounced invincible? He
must be a professional prize-fighter, disguised as a strolling

"There can be no doubt about his real rank," said Vidalinc, "for
the Marquis de Bruyeres guarantees it; but I must confess that
his unequalled performance to-day filled me with astonishment; it
was simply marvellous. Neither Girolamo nor Paraguante, those two
world-renowned swordsmen, could have surpassed it. I watched him
closely, and I tell you that even they could not have withstood
him. It took all your remarkable skill--which has been so greatly
enhanced by the Neapolitan's instructions--to avoid being
wounded; why your defeat was a victory in my eyes, in that it was
not a more overwhelming one."

"I don't know how I am to wait for this wound to heal," the duke
said, after a short pause, "I am so impatient to provoke him
again, and have the opportunity to revenge myself."

"That would be a very hazardous proceeding, and one that I should
strongly advise you not to attempt," Vidalinc replied in an
earnest tone. "Your sword-arm will scarcely be as strong as
before for a long time I fear, and that would seriously diminish
your chances of success. This Baron de Sigognac is a very
formidable antagonist, and will be still more so, for you, now
that he knows your tactics; and besides, the confidence in
himself which his first victory naturally gives him would be
another thing in his favour. Honour is satisfied, and the
encounter was a serious one for you. Let the matter rest here, I
beseech you!"

Vallombreuse could not help being secretly convinced of the
justice of these remarks, but was not willing to avow it openly,
even to his most intimate friend. He was a sufficiently
accomplished swordsman himself to appreciate de Sigognac's
wonderful prowess, and he knew that it far surpassed his own much
vaunted skill, though it enraged him to have to recognise this
humiliating fact. He was even obliged to acknowledge, in his
inmost heart, that he owed his life to the generous forbearance
of his hated enemy; who might have taken it just as well as not,
but had spared him, and been content with giving him only a flesh
wound, just severe enough to put him hors-de-combat, without
doing him any serious injury. This magnanimous conduct, by which
a less haughty nature would have been deeply touched, only served
to irritate the young duke's pride, and increase his resentment.
To think that he, the valiant and puissant Duke of Vallombreuse,
had been conquered, humiliated, wounded! the bare idea made him
frantic. Although he said nothing further to his companion about
his revenge, his mind was filled with fierce projects whereby to
obtain it, and he swore to himself to be even yet with the author
of his present mortification--if not in one way, then in another;
for injuries there be that are far worse than mere physical
wounds and hurts.

"I shall cut a sorry figure enough now in the eyes of the fair
Isabelle," said he at last, with a forced laugh, "with my arm
here run through and rendered useless by the sword of her devoted
gallant. Cupid, weak and disabled, never did find much favour
with the Graces, you know. But oh! how charming and adorable she
seems to me, this sweet, disdainful Isabelle! I am actually
almost grateful to her for resisting me so; for, if she had
yielded, I should have been tired of her by this time, I fancy.
Her nature certainly cannot be a base, ordinary one, or she would
never have refused thus the advances of a wealthy and powerful
nobleman, who is ready to lavish upon her everything that heart
could desire, and whose own personal attractions are not to be
despised; if the universal verdict of the fair sex of all ranks
can be relied upon. There is a certain respect and esteem mingled
with my passionate admiration for her, that I have never felt
before for any woman, and it is very sweet to me. But how in the
world are we to get rid of this confounded young sprig of
nobility, her self-constituted champion? May the devil fly away
with him!"

"It will not be an easy matter," the chevalier replied, and
especially now that he is upon his guard. But even if you did
succeed in getting rid of him, Isabelle's love for him would
still be in your way, and you ought to know, better than most
men, how obstinate a woman can be in her devoted attachment to a

"Oh! if I could only kill this miserable baron," continued
Vallombreuse, not at all impressed by the chevalier's last
remark, "I could soon win the favour of this virtuous young
person, in spite of all her little prudish airs and graces.
Nothing is so quickly forgotten as a defunct suitor."

These were by no means the chevalier's sentiments, but he
refrained from pursuing the subject then, wishing to soothe,
rather than irritate, his suffering friend.

"You must first get well as fast as you can," he said, "and it
will be time enough then for us to discuss the matter. All this
talking wearies you, and does you no good. Try to get a little
nap now, and not excite yourself so. The surgeon will tax me with
imprudence, and call me a bad nurse, I'm afraid, if I don't
manage to keep you more quiet--mentally as well as physically."

His patient, yielding with rather an ill grace to this sensible
advice, sank back wearily upon his pillows, closed his eyes, and
soon fell asleep--where we will leave him, enjoying his much
needed repose.

Meantime the Marquis de Bruyeres and de Sigognac had quietly
returned to their hotel, where, like well-bred gentlemen, they
did not breathe even a hint of what had taken place. But walls
have ears they say, and eyes as well it would appear, for they
certainly see as much as they ever hear. In the neighbourhood of
the apparently solitary, deserted spot where the duel had taken
place, more than one inquisitive, hidden observer had closely
watched the progress of the combat, and had not lost a moment
after it was over in spreading the news of it; so that by
breakfast-time all Poitiers was in a flutter of excitement over
the intelligence that the Duke of Vallombreuse had been wounded
in a duel with an unknown adversary, and was exhausting itself in
vain conjectures as to who the valiant stranger could possibly
be. No one thought of de Sigognac, who had led the most retired
life imaginable ever since his arrival; remaining quietly at the
hotel all day, and showing only his stage mask, not his own face,
at the theatre in the evening.

Several gentlemen of his acquaintance sent to inquire
ceremoniously after the Duke of Vallombreuse, giving their
messengers instructions to endeavour to get some information from
his servants about the mysterious duel, but they were as taciturn
as the mutes of a seraglio, for the very excellent and sufficient
reason that they knew nothing what ever about it. The young duke,
by his great wealth, his overweening pride, his uncommon good
looks, and his triumphant success among fair ladies everywhere,
habitually excited much secret jealousy and hatred among his
associates, which not one of them dared to manifest openly--but
they were mightily pleased by his present discomfiture.

It was the first check he had ever experienced, and all those who
had been hurt or offended by his arrogance--and they were
now rejoiced in his mortification. They could not say enough in
praise of his successful antagonist, though they had never seen
him, nor had any idea as to what man ner of tnan he might be. The
ladies, who nearly all had some cause of complaint against the
haughty young noble man, as he was wont to boast loudly of his
triumphs, and basely betray the favours that had been accorded to
him in secret, were full of enthusiastic and tender admiration
for this victorious champion of a woman's virtue, who, they felt,
had unconsciously avenged for them many scornful slights, and
they would have gladly crowned him with laurel and myrtle, and
rewarded him with their sweetest smiles and most distinguished

However, as nothing on this terraqueous and sublunary globe can
long remain a secret, it soon transpired through Maitre Bilot,
who had it direct from Jacques, the valet of the Marquis de
Bruyeres, who had been present during the momentous interview
between his master and the Baron de Sigognac, that the duke's
brave antagonist was no other than the redoubtable Captain
Fracasse; or rather, a young nobleman in disguise, who for the
sake of a love affair had become a member of Herode's troupe of
travelling comedians. As to his real name, Jacques had
unfortunately forgotten it, further than that it ended in "gnac,"
as is not uncommon in Gascony, but on the point of his rank he
was positive. This delightfully romantic and "ower-true tale" was
received with acclamations by the good folk of Poitiers. They
were fairly overflowing with admiration for and interest in the
valiant gentleman who wielded such a powerful blade, and the
devoted lover who had left everything to follow his mistress, and
when Captain Fracasse appeared upon the stage that evening, the
prolonged and enthusiastic applause that greeted him, and was
renewed over and over again before he was allowed to speak a
single word, bore witness unmistakably to the favour with which
he was regarded; while the ladies rose in their boxes and waved
their handkerchiefs, even the grandest and most dignified among
them, and brought the palms of their gloved hands daintily
together in his honour. It was a real ovation, and best of all a
spontaneous one. Isabelle also received a perfect storm of
applause, which alarmed and had nearly overcome the retiring
young actress, who blushed crimson in her embarrassment, as she
made a modest curtsey in acknowledgment of the compliment.

Herode was overjoyed, and his face shone like the full moon as he
rubbed his hands together and grinned broadly in his exuberant
delight; for the receipts were immense, and the cash-box was full
to bursting. Everybody had rushed to the theatre to see and
applaud the now famous Captain Fracasse--the capital actor and
high-spirited gentleman--who feared neither cudgels nor swords;
and had not shrunk from encountering the dreaded Duke of
Vallombreuse, the terror of all the country round, in mortal
combat, as the champion of offended beauty. Blazius, however, did
not share the tyrant's raptures, but on the contrary foreboded no
good from all this, for he feared, and not without reason, the
vindictive character of the Duke of Vallombreuse, and was
apprehensive that he would find some means of revenging himself
for his defeat at de Sigognac's hands that would be detrimental
to the troupe. "Earthen vessels," said he, "should be very
careful how they get in the way of metal ones, lest, if they
rashly encounter them, they be ignominiously smashed in the
shock." But Herode, relying upon the support and countenance of
the Baron de Sigognac and the Marquis de Bruyeres, laughed at his
fears, and called him faint-heart, a coward, and a croaker.

When the comedians returned to their hotel, after the play was
over, de Sigognac accompanied Isabelle to the door of her room,
and, contrary to her usual custom, the young actress invited him
to enter it with her. When they found themselves quite alone, and
safe from all curious eyes, Isabelle turned to de Sigognac, took
his hand in both of hers, and pressing it warmly said to him in a
voice trembling with emotion,

"Promise me never to run such a fearful risk for my sake again,
de Sigognac; promise me! Swear it, if you really do love me as
you say."

"That is a thing I cannot do," the baron replied, "even to please
you, sweet Isabelle! If ever any insolent fellow dares to show a
want of proper respect for you, I shall surely chastise him for
it, as I ought, be he what he may--duke, or even prince."

"But remember, de Sigognac, that I am nothing but an actress,
inevitably exposed to affronts from the men that haunt the
coulisses. It is the generally received opinion, which alas! is
but too well justified by the usual ways of the members of my
profession, that an actress is no better than she should be; in
fine, not a proper character nor worthy of respect. From the
moment that a woman steps upon the stage she becomes public
property, and even if she be really pure and virtuous it is
universally believed that she only affects it for a purpose.
These things are hard and bitter, but they must be borne, since
it is impossible to change them. In future trust to me, I pray
you, to repel those who would force their unwelcome attentions
upon me in the green-room, or endeavour to make their way into my
dressing-room. A sharp rap over the knuckles with a corset board
from me will be quite as efficacious as for you to draw your
sword in my behalf."

"But I am not convinced," said de Sigognac, with a smile; "I must
still believe, sweet Isabelle, that the sword of a chivalrous
ally would be your best weapon of defence, and I beg you not to
deprive me of the precious privilege of being your devoted knight
and champion."

Isabelle was still holding de Sigognac's hand, and she now raised
her lovely eyes, full of mute supplication, to meet his adoring
gaze, hoping yet to draw from him, the much desired promise. But
the baron was incorrigible; where honour was concerned he was as
firm and unyielding as a Spanish hidalgo, and he would have
braved a thousand deaths rather than have allowed an affront to
the lady of his love to pass unpunished; he wished that the same
deference and respect should be accorded to Isabelle upon the
stage, as to a duchess in her drawing-room.

"Come, de Sigognac, be reasonable," pleaded the young actress,
"and promise me not to expose yourself to such danger again for
so frivolous a cause. Oh! what anxiety and anguish I endured as I
awaited your return this morning. I knew that you had gone out to
fight with that dreadful duke, who is held in such universal
terror here; Zerbine told me all about it. Cruel that you are to
torture my poor heart so! That is always the way with men; they
never stop to think of what we poor, loving women must suffer
when their pride is once aroused! off they go, as fierce as
lions, deaf to our sobs and blind to our tears. Do you know, that
if you had been killed I should have died too?"

The tears that filled Isabelle's eyes, and the excessive
trembling of her voice, showed that she was in earnest, and that
she had not even yet recovered her usual calmness and composure.
More deeply touched than words can express by her emotion, and
the love for himself it bore witness to, de Sigognac, encircling
her slender form with the arm that was free, drew her gently to
him, and softly kissed her fair forehead, whilst he could feel,
as he pressed her to his breast, how she was panting and
trembling. He held her thus tenderly embraced for a blissful few
seconds of silent ecstasy, which a less respectful lover would
doubtless have presumed upon; but he would have scorned to take
advantage of the unreserved confidence bestowed upon him in a
moment of such agitation and sorrowful excitement.

"Be comforted, dear Isabelle," said he at last, tenderly. "I was
not killed you see, nor even hurt; and I actually wounded my
adversary, though he does pass for a tolerably good swordsman
hereabouts, I believe."

"Yes, I well know what a strong hand is yours, and what a brave,
noble heart," Isabelle replied; "and I do not scruple to
acknowledge that I love you for it with all my heart; feeling
sure that you will respect my frank avowal, and not endeavour to
take advantage of it. When I first saw you, de Sigognac,
dispirited and desolate, in that dreary, half-ruined chateau,
where your youth was passing in sadness and solitude, I felt a
tender interest in you suddenly spring into being in my heart;
had you been happy and prosperous I should have been afraid of
you, and have shrunk timidly from your notice. When we walked
together in that neglected garden, where you held aside the
brambles so carefully for me to pass unscathed, you gathered and
presented to me a little wild rose--the only thing you had to
give me. As I raised it to my lips, before putting it in my
bosom, and kissed it furtively under pretence of inhaling its
fragrance, I could not keep back a tear that dropped upon it, and
secretly and in silence I gave you my heart in exchange for it."

As these entrancing words fell upon his ear, de Sigognac
impulsively tried to kiss the sweet lips so temptingly near his
own, but Isabelle withdrew herself gently from his embrace; not
with any show of excessive prudery, but with a modest timidity
that no really gallant lover would endeavour to overcome by

"Yes, I love you, de Sigognac," she continued, in a voice that
was heavenly sweet, "and with all my heart, but not as other
women love; your glory is my aim, not my own pleasure. I am
perfectly willing to be looked upon as your mistress; it is the
only thing that would account satisfactorily to the world at
large for your presence in this troupe of strolling players. And
why should I care for slanderous reports, so long as I keep my
own self-esteem, and know myself to be virtuous and true? If
there were really a stain upon my purity it would kill me; I
could not survive it. It is the princely blood in my veins
doubtless that gives rise to such pride in me; very ridiculous,
perhaps, in an actress, but such is my nature."

This enchanting avowal, which would not have taught anything new
to a more conceited or bolder suitor, but was a wonderful
revelation to de Sigognac, who had scarcely dared to hope that
his passionate, devoted love might some day be returned, filled
him with such rapturous, overwhelming delight, that he was almost
beside himself. A burning flush overspread his usually pale face;
he seemed to see flames before his eyes; there was a strange
ringing in his ears, and his heart throbbed so violently that he
felt half suffocated. Losing control of himself in this moment of
ecstasy, so intense that it was not unmixed with pain, he
suddenly seized Isabelle passionately in his arms, strained her
trembling form convulsively to his heaving breast, and covered
her face and neck with burning kisses. She did not even try to
struggle against this fierce embrace, but, throwing her head
back, looked fixedly at him, with eyes full of sorrow and
reproach. From those lovely eyes, clear and pure as an angel's,
great tears welled forth and rolled down over her blanched
cheeks, and a suppressed sob shook her quivering frame as a
sudden faintness seemed to come over her. The young baron,
distracted at the sight of her grief, and full of keen
self-reproach, put her gently down into a low, easy-chair
standing near, and kneeling before her, took in both his own the
hands that she abandoned to him, and passionately implored her
pardon; pleading that a momentary madness had taken possession of
him, that he repented of it bitterly, and was ready to atone for
his offence by the most perfect submission to her wishes.

"You have hurt me sadly, my friend!" said Isabelle at last, with
a deep-drawn sigh. "I had such perfect confidence in your
delicacy and respect. The frank, unreserved avowal of my love for
you ought to have been enough, and have shown you clearly, by its
very openness, that I trusted you entirely. I believed that you
would understand me and let me love you in my own way, without
troubling my tenderness for you by vulgar transports. Now, you
have robbed me of my feeling of security. I do not doubt your
words, but I shall no longer dare to yield to the impulses of my
own heart. And yet it was so sweet to me to be with you, to watch
you, to listen to your dear voice, and to follow the course of
your thoughts as I saw them written in your eyes. I wished to
share your troubles and anxieties, de Sigognac, leaving your
pleasures to others. I said to myself, among all these coarse,
dissolute, presuming men that hover about us, there is one who is
different--one who believes in purity, and knows how to respect
it in the woman he honours with his love. I dared to indulge in a
sweet dream--even I, Isabelle the actress, pursued as I am
constantly by a gallantry that is odious to me--I dared to
indulge in the too sweet dream of enjoying with you a pure mutual
love. I only asked to be your faithful companion, to cheer and
comfort you in your struggles with an adverse fate until you had
reached the beginning of happiness and prosperity, and then to
retire into obscurity again, when you had plenty of new friends
and followers, and no longer needed me. You see that I was not
very exacting."

"Isabelle, my adored Isabelle," cried de Sigognac, "every word
that you speak makes me reproach myself more and more keenly for
my fault, and the pain I have given you. Rest assured, my own
darling, that you have nothing further to fear from me. I am not
worthy to kiss the traces of your footprints in the dust; but
yet, I pray you, listen to me! Perhaps you do not fully
understand all my thoughts and intentions, and will forgive me
when you do. I have nothing but my name, which is as pure and
spotless as your sweet self, and I offer it to you, my own
beloved Isabelle, if you will deign to accept it."

He was still kneeling at her feet, and at these ardently spoken
words she leaned towards him, took his upraised face between her
hands with a quick, passionate movement, and kissed him fervently
on the lips; then she sprang to her feet and began, hurriedly and
excitedly, pacing back and forth in the chamber.

"You will be my wife, Isabelle?" cried de Sigognac in agitated
tones, thrilling in every nerve from the sweet contact of her
pure, lovely mouth--fresh as a flower, ardent as a flame.

"Never, never," answered Isabelle, with a clear ring of rapture
in her voice. "I will show myself worthy of such an honour by
refusing it. I did mistake you for a moment, my dearest friend; I
did mistake you; forgive me. Oh! how happy you have made me; what
celestial joy fills my soul! You do respect and esteem me, then,
to the utmost? Ah! de Sigognac, you would really lead me, as your
wife, into the hall where all the portraits of your honoured
ancestors would look down upon us? and into the chapel, where
your dead mother lies at rest? I could meet fearlessly, my
beloved, the searching gaze of the dead, from whom nothing is
hidden; the crown of purity would not be wanting on my brow."

"But what!" exclaimed the young baron, "you say that you love me,
Isabelle, with all that true, faithful heart of yours, yet you
will not accept me! either as lover or husband?"

"You have offered me your name, de Sigognac, your noble, honoured
name, and that is enough for me. I give it back to you now, after
having cherished it for one moment in my inmost heart. For one
instant I was your wife, and I will never, never be another's.
While my lips were on yours I was saying yes to myself, and oh! I
did not deserve such happiness. For you, my beloved, it would be
a sad mistake to burden yourself with a poor little actress like
me, who would always be taunted with her theatrical career,
however pure and honourable it may have been. The cold,
disdainful mien with which great ladies would be sure to regard
me would cause you keen suffering, and you could not challenge
THEM, you know, my own brave champion! You are the last of a
noble race, de Sigognac, and it is your duty to build up your
fallen house. When, by a tender glance, I induced you to quit
your desolate home and follow me, you doubtless dreamed of a love
affair of the usual sort, which was but natural; but I, looking
into the future, thought of far other things. I saw you
returning, in rich attire, from the court of your gracious
sovereign, who had reinstated you in your rights, and given you
an honourable office, suitable to your exalted rank. The chateau
had resumed its ancient splendour. In fancy I tore the clinging
ivy from its crumbling walls, put the fallen stones back in their
places, restored the dilapidated roof and shattered window-panes,
regilded the three storks on your escutcheon over the great
entrance door, and in the grand old portico; then, having
installed you in the renovated home of your honoured ancestors, I
retired into obscurity, stifling a sigh as I bade you adieu,
though sincerely rejoicing in your well merited good fortune."

"And your dream shall be accomplished, my noble Isabelle; I feel
sure of it--but not altogether as you relate it to me; such an
ending would be too sad and grievous. You shall be the first,
you, my own darling, with this dear hand clasped in mine, as now,
to cross the threshold of that blessed abode, whence ruin and
desolation shall have disappeared, and have been replaced by
prosperity and happiness."

"No, no, de Sigognac, it will be some great, and noble, and
beautiful heiress, worthy of you in every way, who will accompany
you then; one that you can present with just pride to all your
friends, and of whom none can say, with a malicious smile, I
hissed or applauded her at such a time and place."

"It is downright cruelty on your part to show your self so
adorable, so worthy of all love and admiration, my sweet
Isabelle, and at the same time to deprive me of every hope," said
de Sigognac, ruefully; "to give one glimpse of heaven and then
shut me out again; nothing could be more cruel. But I will not
despair; I shall make you yield to me yet."

"Do not try, I beseech you," continued Isabelle, with gentle
firmness, "for I never shall; I should despise myself if I did.
Strive to be content, de Sigognac, with the purest, truest, most
devoted love that ever filled a woman's heart, and do not ask for
more. Is it such an unsatisfactory thing to you," she added, with
a bright smile, "to be adored by a girl that several men have had
the bad taste to declare charming? Why, even the Duke of
Vallombreuse himself professes that he would be proud of it."

"But to give yourself to me so absolutely, and to refuse yourself
to me as absolutely! to mingle such sweet and bitter drops in the
same cup--honey and wormwood--and present it to my lips! only
you, Isabelle, could be capable of such strange contradictions."

"Yes, I AM an odd girl," she replied, "and therein I resemble my
poor mother; but such as I am you must put up with me. If you
should persist in persecuting me, I know well how I could elude
and escape you, and where I could hide myself from you so that
you would never be able to find me. But there will be no need of
that, we will not talk of it; our compact is made. Let it be as I
say, de Sigognac, and let us be happy together while we may. It
grows late now, and you must go to your own room; will you take
with you these verses, of a part that does not suit me at all,
and remodel them for me? they belong to a piece that we are to
play very soon. Let me be your faithful little friend, de
Sigognac, and you shall be my great, and well-beloved poet."

Isabelle, as she spoke, drew forth from a bureau a roll of
manuscript, tied with a rose-coloured ribbon, which she gave to
the baron with a radiant smile.

"Now kiss me, and go," she said, holding up her cheek for his
caress. "You are going to work for me, and this is your reward.
Good-night, my beloved, good-night."

It was long after he had regained the quiet of his own room ere
de Sigognac could compose himself sufficiently to set about the
light task imposed upon him by Isabelle. He was at once enchanted
and cast down; radiant with joy, and filled with sorrow; in a
seventh heaven of ecstasy, and in the depths of despair. He
laughed and he wept alternately, swayed by the most tumultuous
and contradictory emotions. The intense happiness of at last
knowing himself beloved by his adored Isabelle made him exultant
and joyful, while the terrible thought that she never would be
his made his heart sink within him. Little by little, however, he
grew calmer, as his mind dwelt lovingly upon the picture Isabelle
had drawn of the Chateau de Sigognac restored to its ancient
splendour, and as he sat musing he had a wonderful vision of it--
so glowing and vivid that it was like reality. He saw before him
the facade of the chateau, with its large windows shining in the
sunlight, and its many weather-cocks, all freshly gilded,
glistening against the bright blue sky, whilst the columns of
smoke rising from every chimney, so long cold and unused, told of
plenty and prosperity within, and his good faithful Pierre, in a
rich new suit of livery, stood between Miraut and Beelzebub at
the great entrance door awaiting him. He saw himself, in
sumptuous attire, proudly leading his fair Isabelle by the hand
towards the grand old home of his forefathers; his beautiful
Isabelle, dressed like a princess, wearing ornaments bearing a
device which seemed to be that of one of the greatest, most
illustrious families of France, and with a ducal coronet upon her
shapely head. But with it all she did not appear to be proud or
haughty--she was just her own sweet, modest self--and in the hand
that was free she carried the little wild rose, fresh as when it
was first plucked, that he had given her, and from time to time
raised and pressed it tenderly to her lips as she inhaled its
fragrance; it seemed more precious to her than all the superb
jewels that she wore. As they approached the chateau a most
stately and majestic old man, whose breast was covered with
orders, and whose face seemed not entirely unfamiliar to de
Sigognac, stepped forth from the portico to meet and welcome
them. But what greatly surprised him was that a remarkably
handsome young man, of most proud and lofty bearing, accompanied
the old prince, who closely resembled the Duke of Vallombreuse,
and who smilingly advanced and offered a cordial salutation and
welcome to Isabelle and himself. A great crowd of tenantry
stationed near at hand hailed them with lusty cheers, making many
demonstrations of hearty joy and delight, and his own happiness
seemed to be complete. Suddenly the sound of a horn was heard,
and at a little distance he saw the beautiful Yolande de Foix,
radiant and charming as ever, riding slowly by--apparently
returning from the chase. He followed her with his eyes
admiringly, but felt no regret as her figure was lost to view
amid the thick gorse bushes bordering the road down which she was
going, and turned with ever increasing love and adoration to the
sweet being at his side. The memory of the fair Yolande, whom he
had once worshipped in a vague, boyish way, faded before the
delicious reality of his passionate love for Isabelle; who
satisfied so fully every requirement of his nature, and had so
thoroughly healed the wound made by the scom and ridicule of the
other, that it seemed to be entirely forgotten then.

It was not easy for de Sigognac to rouse himself after this
entrancing vision, which had been so startlingly real, and fix
his attention upon the verses he had promised to revise and alter
for Isabelle, but when at last he had succeeded, he threw himself
into his task with enthusiasm, and wrote far into the night--
inspired by the thought of the sweet lips that had called him her
poet, and that were to pronounce the words he penned; and he was
rewarded for his exertions by Isabelle's sweetest smile, and
warmest praise and gratitude.

At the theatre the next evening the crowd was even greater than
before, and the crush unprecedented. The reputation of Captain
Fracasse, the valiant conqueror of the Duke of Vallombreuse;
increased hourly, and began to assume a chimerical and fabulous
character. If the labours of Hercules had been ascribed to him,
there would have been some credulous ones to believe the tale,
and he was endowed by his admirers with the prowess of a dozen
good knights and brave, of the ancient times of chivalrous deeds.
Some of the young noblemen of the place talked of seeking his
acquaintance, and giving a grand banquet in his honour; more than
one fair lady was desperately in love with him, and had serious
thoughts of writing a billet-doux to tell him so. In short, he
was the fashion, and everybody swore by him. As for the hero of a
this commotion, he was greatly annoyed at being thus forcibly
dragged forth from the obscurity in which he had desired to
remain, but it was not possible to avoid it, and he could only
submit. For a few moments he did think of bolting, and not
making his appearance again upon the stage in Poitiers; but the
remembrance of the disappointment it would be to the worthy
tyrant, who was in an ecstasy of delight over the riches pouring
into the treasury, prevented his carrying out this design. And,
indeed, as he reminded himself, were not these honest comedians,
who had rescued him from his misery and despair, entitled in all
fairness to profit, so far as they could, by this unexpected and
overwhelming favour which he had all unwittingly gained? So,
resigning himself as philosophically as he could to his fate, he
buckled his sword-belt, draped his cloak over his shoulder, put
on his mask and calmly awaited his call to the stage.

As the receipts were so large, Herode, like a generous manager,
had doubled the usual number of lights, so that the theatre was
almost as radiant as if a flood of sunshine had been poured into
it. The fair portion of the audience, hoping to attract the
attention of the valiant Captain Fracasse, had arrayed themselves
in all their splendour; not a diamond was left in its casket;
they sparkled and fiashrd, every one, on necks and arms more or
less white and round, and on heads more or less shapely, but all
filled with an ardent desire to please the hero of the hour; so
the scene was a brilliant one in every way. Only one box yet
remained unoccupied, the best situated and most conspicuous in
the whole house; every eye was turned upon it, and much wonder
expressed at the apathy manifested by those who had secured it,
for all the rest of the spectators had been long settled in their
places. At length, just as the curtain was rising, a young lady
entered and took her seat in the much observed box, accompanied
by a gentleman of venerable and patriarchal appearance;
apparently an indulgent old uncle, a slave to the caprices of his
pretty niece, who had renounced his comfortable after-dinner nap
by the fire, in order to obey her behest and escort her to the
theatre. She, slender and erect as Diana, was very richly and
elegantly dressed, in that peculiar and exquisite shade of
delicate sea green which can be worn only by the purest blondes,
and which seemed to enhance the dazzling whiteness of her
uncovered shoulders, and the rounded, slender neck, diaphanous as
alabaster, that proudly sustained her small, exquisitely poised
head. Her hair, clustering in sunny ringlets round her brow, was
like living gold, it made a glory round her head, and the whole
audience was enraptured with her beauty, though an envious mask
concealed so much of it; all, indeed, save the snow-white
forehead, the round dimpled chin, the ripe red lips, whose tint
was rendered yet more vivid by the contrast with the black velvet
that shaded them, the perfect oval of the face, and a dainty
little ear, pink as a sea-shell--a combination of charms worthy
of a goddess, and which made every one impatient to see the
radiant, beauteous whole. They were soon gratified; for the young
deity, either incommoded by the heat, or else wishing to show a
queenly generosity to the gazing throng, took off the odious
mask, and disclosed to view a pair of brilliant eyes, dark and
blue as lapis lazuli, shaded with rich golden fringes, a piquant,
perfectly cut little nose, half Grecian, half aquiline, and
cheeks tinged with a delicate flush that would have put a
rose-leaf to shame. In fine, it was Yolande de Foix, more
radiantly beautiful than ever, who, leaning forward in a
negligent, graceful pose, looked nonchalantly about the house,
not in the least discomposed by the many eyes fixed boldly and
admiringly upon her. A loud burst of applause, that greeted the
first appearance of the favour ite actor, drew attention from her
for a moment, as de Sigognac stalked forward upon the stage in
the character of Captain Fracasse. As he paused, to wait until
his admirers would allow him to begin his first tirade, he looked
negligently round the eager audience, and when his eyes fell
upon Yolande de Foix, sitting tranquil and radiant in her box,
calmly surveying him with her glorious eyes, he suddenly turned
dizzy and faint; the lights appeared first to blaze like suns,
and then sink into darkness; the heads of the spectators seemed
sinking into a dense fog; a cold perspiration started out on him
from head to foot; he trembled violently, and felt as if his legs
were giving way under him; composure, memory, courage, all seemed
to have failed him, as utterly as if he had been struck by

Oh, shame! oh, rage! oh, too cruel stroke of fate! for him, a de
Sigognac, to be seen by her--the haughty beauty that he used to
worship from afar--in this grotesque array, filling so unworthy,
so ridiculous a part, for the amusement of the gaping multitude!
and he could not hide himself, he could not sink into the earth,
away from her contemptuous, mocking gaze. He felt that he could
not, would not bear it, and for a moment was upon the point of
flying; but there seemed to be leaden soles to his shoes, which
he could by no means raise from the ground. He was powerless to
move hand or foot, and stood there in a sort of stupefaction; to
the great astonishment of Scapin, who, thinking that he must have
forgotten his part, whispered to him the opening phrases of his
tirade. The public thought that their favourite actor desired
another round of applause, and broke out afresh, clapping,
stamping, crying bravo, making a tremendous racket, which little
respite gave poor de Sigognac time to collect his scattered
senses, and, with a mighty effort, he broke the spell that had
bound him, and threw himself into his part with such desperation
that his acting was more extravagant and telling than ever. It
fairly brought down the house. The haughty Yolande herself could
not forbear to smile, and her old uncle, thoroughly aroused,
laughed heartily, and applauded with all his might. No one but
Isabelle had the slightest idea of the reason of Captain
Fracasse's unwonted fury--but she saw at once who was looking on,
and knowing how sensitive he was, realized the effect it must
infallibly produce upon him. She furtively watched the proud
beauty as she modestly played her own part, and thought, not
without a keen pang through her faithful, loving heart, that here
would be a worthy mate for the Baron de Sigognac, when he had
succeeded in re-establishing the lost splendour of his house. As
to the poor young nobleman, he resolved not to glance once again
at Yolande, lest he should be seized by a sudden transport of
rage and do something utterly rash and disgraceful, but kept his
eyes fixed, whenever he could, upon his sweet, lovely Isabelle.
The sight of her dear face was balm to his wounded spirit--her
love, of which he was now so blissfully sure, consoled him for
the openly manifested scorn of the other, and from her he drew
strength to go on bravely with his detested part.

It was over at last--the piece was finished--and when de Sigognac
tore off his mask, like a man who is suffocating, his companions
were alarmed at his altered looks. He was fairly livid, and let
himself fall upon a bench standing near like a lifeless body.
Seeing that he was very faint, Blazius hastened to fetch some
wine--his sovereign remedy for every ill--but de Sigognac
rejected it, and signed that he wanted water instead.

"A great mistake," said the pedant, shaking his head
disapprovingly, "a sad mistake--water is only fit for frogs, and
fish, and such-like cold-blooded creatures--it does not do for
human beings at all. Every water-bottle should be labelled,'For
external use only.' Why, I should die instantly if so much as a
drop of the vile stuff found its way down my throat. Take my
advice, Captain Fracasse, and let it alone. Here, have some of
this good strong wine; it will set you right in a jiffy."

But de Sigognac would not be persuaded, and persisted in
motioning for water. When it was brought, cool and fresh, he
eagerly swallowed a large draught of the despised liquid, and
found himself almost immediately revived by it--his face resuming
a more natural hue, and the light returning to his eyes. When he
was able to sit up and look about him again, Herode approached,
in his turn, and said, "You played admirably this evening, and
with wonderful spirit, Captain Fracasse, but it does not do to
take too much out of yourself in this way--such violent exertions
would quickly do for you. The comedian's art consists in sparing
himself as much as possible, whilst producing striking effects;
he should be calm amidst all his simulated fury, and cool in his
apparently most burning rage. Never did actor play this part as
superbly as you have done to-night--THAT I am bound to
acknowledge--but this is too dear a price to pay for it."

"Yes, wasn't I absurd in it?" answered the baron bitterly. "I
felt myself supremely ridiculous throughout--but especially when
my head went through the guitar with which Leander was
belabouring me."

"You certainly did put on the most comically furious airs
imaginable," the tyrant replied, "and the whole audience was
convulsed with laughter. Even Mlle. Yolande de Foix, that very
great, and proud, and noble lady, condescended to smile. I saw
her myself."

"It was a great honour for me assuredly," cried de Sigognac, with
flaming cheeks, "to have been able to divert so great a lady."

"Pardon me, my lord," said the tyrant, who perceived the painful
flush that covered the baron's face, "I should have remembered
that the success which is so prized by us poor comedians, actors
by profession, cannot but be a matter of indifference to one of
your lordship's rank."

"You have not offended me, my good Herode," de Sigognac hastened
to reply, holding out his hand to the honest tyrant with a genial
smile, "whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. But I could
not help remembering that I had dreamed of and hoped for very
different triumphs from this."

Isabelle, who meantime had been dressing for the other piece,
passed near de Sigognac just then, and gave him such an angelic
look--so full of tenderness, sympathy, and passionate love--that
he quite forgot the haughty Yolande, and felt really happy again.
It was a divine balm, that healed his wounded pride--for the
moment at least; but such wounds are all too apt to open and
bleed again and again.

The Marquis de Bruyeres was at his post as usual, and though very
much occupied in applauding Zerbine, yet found time to go and pay
his respects to Mlle. Yolande de Foix. He related to her, without
mentioning the baron's name, the affair of the duel between
Captain Fracasse and the Duke of Vallombreuse saying that he
ought to be able to give all the details of that famous encounter
better than anybody else, since he had been present as one of the

"You need not be so mysterious about it," answered Yolande, "for
it is not difficult to divine that your Captain Fracasse is no
other than the Baron de Sigognac. Didn't I myself see him leaving
his old owl-haunted towers in company with this little
Bohemienne, who plays her part of ingenuous young girl with such
a precious affectation of modesty?" she added, with a forced
laugh. "And wasn't he at your chateau with these very players?
Judging from his usual stupid, silly air, I would not have
believed him capable of making such a clever mountebank, and such
a faithful gallant."

As he conversed with Yolande, the marquis was looking about the
house, of which he had a much better view than from his own place
near the stage, and his attention was caught and fixed by the
masked lady, whom he had not seen before, as his back was always
turned to her box. Although her head and figure were much
enveloped and disguised in a profusion of black laces, the
attitude and general contour of this mysterious beauty seemed
strangely familiar to him, and there was something about her that
reminded him forcibly of the marquise, his own wife. "Bah!" said
he to himself, "how foolish I am; she must be all safe at the
Chateau de Bruyeres, where I left her." But at that very moment
he caught sight of a diamond ring--a large solitaire, peculiarly
set--sparkling on her finger, which was precisely like one that
the Marquise de Bruyeres always wore.

A little troubled by this strange coincidence, he took leave
abruptly of the fair Yolande and her devoted old uncle, and
hastened to the masked lady's box. But, prompt as his movements
had been, he was too late--the nest was empty--the bird had
flown. The lady, whoever she might be, had vanished, and the
suspicious husband was left in considerable vexation and
perplexity. "Could it be possible," he murmured, as his doubts
became almost certainty, "that she was sufficiently infatuated to
fall in love with that miserable Leander, and follow him here?
Fortunately I had the rascal thoroughly thrashed, so I am even
with him, how ever it may be." This thought restored his ruffled
serenity, and he made his way as fast as he could to the
green-room, to rejoin the soubrette, who had been impatiently
expecting him, and did not hesitate to rate him soundly for his
unwonted delay.

When all was over, and Leander--who had been feeling excessively
anxious about the sudden disappearance of his marquise--was free,
he immediately repaired to the open square where he had been
first bidden to meet the carriage sent to fetch him, and where he
had found it awaiting him nightly ever since. The little page,
who was there alone, put a letter and a small package into his
hand, without a word, and then running swiftly away, before
Leander had time to question him, vanished in the darkness. The
note, which was signed simply Marie, was from the marquise, who
said that she feared her husband's suspicions had been excited,
and that it would no longer be safe for them to meet just then,
bade him an affectionate farewell until it might be their good
fortune to see each other again, expressed much regret at this
unlucky contretemps, and begged him to accept the gold chain she
sent therewith as a little souvenir, to remind him of the many
happy hours they had spent together. Leander was at first very
much vexed and disappointed, but was somewhat reconciled and
consoled when he felt the weight of his golden treasure, and saw
its length and thickness; and, on the whole, was rather glad to
come off with such flying colours from an adventure that might
have brought down a yet more severe punishment than that he had
already received upon his devoted head.

When Isabelle regained her own room she found a very rich and
elegant casket awaiting her there, which had been placed
conspicuously on the dressing-table, where it could not fail to
meet her eye the moment she entered the chamber. A folded paper
was lying under one corner of the casket, which must have
contained some very precious gems, for it was a real marvel of
beauty itself. The paper was not sealed, and bore only these two
words, evidently written by a weak and trembling hand, "For
Isabelle." A bright flush of indignation overspread her sweet
face when she perceived it, and without even yielding to her
feminine curiosity so far as to open the richly carved and inlaid
casket for a peep at its contents, she called for Maitre Bilot,
and ordered him peremptorily to take it immediately out of her
room, and give it back to whomsoever owned it, for she would not
suffer it to remain where it was another minute. The landlord
affected astonishment, and swore by all he held sacred that he
did not know who had put the casket there, nor whose it was;
though it must be confessed that he had his suspicions, and felt
very sure that they were correct. In truth, the obnoxious
jewel-case had been secretly placed upon Isabelle's table by old
Mme. Leonarde, to whom the Duke of Vallombreuse had had recourse,
in the hope that she might be able to aid him, and in the full
belief, shared by her, that the superb diamonds which the
beautiful casket contained would accomplish all that he desired
with Isabelle. But his offering only served to rouse her
indignation, and she spoke very severely to Maitre Bilot,
commanding him to remove it instantly from her sight, and to be
careful not to mention this fresh affront to Captain Fracasse.
The worthy landlord could not help feeling enthusiastic
admiration for the conduct of the young actress, who rejected
jewels that would have made a duchess envious, and as he retired
bowed to her as respectfully and profoundly as he would have done
to a queen. After he had withdrawn and she was left alone,
Isabelle, feeling agitated and feverish, opened her window for a
breath of fresh air, and to cool her burning cheeks and brow. She
saw a bright light issuing from a couple of windows in the
mansion of the Duke of Vallombreuse--doubtless in the room where
the wounded young nobleman lay--but the garden and the little
alley beneath her seemed absolutely deserted. In a moment,
however, she caught a low whisper from the latter, not intended
for her ears, which said, "She has not gone to bed yet." She
softly leaned out of her window--the room within was not lighted,
so she could not be seen--and peering anxiously into the darkness
thought she could distinguish two cloaked figures lurking in the
alley, and farther away, near one end of it, a third one,
apparently on the watch. They seemed to feel that they were
observed, and all three presently slunk away and vanished,
leaving Isabelle half in doubt as to whether they were the
creatures of her excited imagination, or had been real men
prowling there. Tired at last of watching, without hearing or
seeing anything more, she withdrew from the window, closed and
secured it softly, procured a light, saw that the great, clumsy
bolt on her door was property adjusted, and made her preparations
for bed; lying down at last and trying to sleep, for she was very
tired, but haunted by vague fears and doubts that made her
anxious and uneasy. She did not extinguish her light, but placed
it near the bed, and strove to reassure herself and reason away
her nameless terror; but all in vain. At every little noise--the
cracking of the furniture or the falling of a cinder in the
fire-place, she started up in fresh alarm, and could not close
her eyes. High up in the wall of one side of her room was a small
round window--a bull's eye--evidently intended to give light and
air to some dark inner chamber or closet, which looked like a
great black eye in the gray wall, keeping an unwinking watch upon
her, and Isabelle found herself again and again glancing up at it
with a shudder. It was crossed by two strong iron bars, leaving
four small apertures, so that there could not possibly be any
danger of intrusion from that quarter, yet she could not avoid
feeling nervous about it, and at times fancied that she could see
two gleaming eye-balls in its black depths. She lay for a long
time perfectly motionless gazing at it, like one under a spell,
and at last was paralyzed with horror when a head actually
appeared at one of the four openings --a small, dark head, with
wild, tangled elf-locks hanging about it; next came a long, thin
arm with a claw-like hand, then the shoulder followed, and
finally the whole body of a slender, emaciated little girl
wriggled dexterously, though with much difficulty, through the
narrow aperture, and the child dropped down upon the floor as
lightly and noiselessly as a feather, a snow-flake, or a waft of
thistle-down. She had been deceived by Isabelle's remaining so
long perfectly quiet, and believed her asleep; but when she
softly approached the bed, to make sure that her victim's slumber
had not been disturbed by her own advent, an expression of
extreme surprise was depicted on her face, as she got a full view
of the head lying upon the pillow and the eyes fixed upon her in
speechless terror. "The lady of the necklace!" she exclaimed
aloud. "Yes, the lady of the necklace!" putting one hand, as she
spoke, caressingly upon the string of pearl beads round her
little, thin, brown neck. Isabelle, for her part, though half
dead with fright, had recognised the little girl she had first
seen at the Blue Sun inn, and afterwards on the road to the
Chateau de Bruyeres, in company with Agostino, the brigand. She
tried to cry out for help, but the child put her hand quickly and
firmly over her mouth.

"Don't scream," she said reassuringly, "nothing shall hurt you.
Chiquita promised that she would never kill nor harm the good,
sweet lady, who gave her the pearls that she meant to steal."

"But what have you come in here for, my poor child?" asked
Isabelle, gradually recovering her composure, but filled with
surprise at this strange intrusion.

"To open the great bolt on your door there that you are so
careful to close every night," answered Chiquita, in the most
matter-of-fact way. "They chose me for it because I am such a
good climber, and as thin and supple as a snake; there are not
many holes that I cannot manage to crawl through."

"And why were you to open my door, Chiquita? so that thieves
could come in and steal what few things I have here? There is
nothing of value among them, I assure you."

"Oh, no!" Chiquita replied disdainfully, "it was to let the men
in who were to carry you off."

"My God! I am lost!" cried poor Isabelle, wringing her hands in

"Not at all," said Chiquita, "and you need not be so frightened.
I shall just leave the bolt as it is, and they would not dare to
force the door; it would make too much noise, and they would be
caught at it; they're not so silly as that, never fear."

"But I should have shrieked at the top of my voice, and clung to
the bedstead with all my might, if they had tried to take me,"
exclaimed Isabelle excitedly, "so that I would have been heard by
the people in the neighbouring rooms, and I'm sure they would
have come to my rescue."

"A good gag will stifle any shrieks," said Chiquita
sententiously, with a lofty contempt for Isabelle's ignorance
that was very amusing, "and a blanket rolled tightly about the
body prevents any movements; that is an easy matter you see. They
would have carried you off without the slightest difficulty, for
the stable boy was bribed, and was to open the back door for

"Who has laid this wicked plot?" asked the poor, frightened,
young girl, with a trembling voice, horror-stricken at the danger
she had escaped.

"The great lord who has given them all such heaps of money; oh!
such quantities of big gold pieces--by the handful," said
Chiquita, her great dark eyes glittering with a fierce, covetous
expression, strange and horrible to see in one so young. "But all
the same, YOU gave me the pearls, and he shall not hurt you; he
shall not have you if you don't want to go. I will tell them that
you were awake, and there was a man in the room, so that I could
not get in and open the door for them; they will all go away
quietly enough; you need not be afraid. Now let me have one good
look at you before I go--oh, how sweet and pretty you are--and I
love you, yes, I do, ever so much; almost as much as Agostino.
But what is this?" cried she suddenly, pouncing upon a knife that
was lying on the table near the bed. "Why, you have got the very
knife I lost; it was my father's knife. Well, you may keep it--
it's a good one."

'When this viper bites you, make sure
That you must die, for there's no cure.'

See, this is the way to open it, and then you use it like this:
strike from below upwards--the blade goes in better that way--and
it's so sharp it will go through anything. Carry it in the bosom
of your dress, and it is always ready; then if anybody bothers
you, out with it, and paf! you have them ripped up in no time,"
and the strange, eerie little creature accompanied her words with
appropriate gestures, by way of illustration. This extraordinary
lesson in the art of using a knife, given in the dead of night,
and under such peculiar circumstances, seemed like a nightmare to

"Be sure you hold the knife like this, do you see? tightly
clasped in your fingers--as long as you have it no one can harm
you, but you can hurt them. Now, I must go--adieu, and don't
forget Chiquita."

So saying, the queer little elf pushed a table up to the wall
under the bull's eye, mounted it, sprang up and caught hold of
the iron bar with the agility of a monkey, swung herself up in
some extraordinary fashion, wriggled through the small opening
and disappeared, chanting in a rude measure, "Chiquita whisks
through key-holes, and dances on the sharp points of spear-heads
and the broken glass on garden walls, without ever hurting
herself one bit--and nobody can catch her."

Isabelle, left alone, awaited the break of day with trembling
impatience, unable to sleep after the fright and agitation she
had experienced, and momentarily dreading some fresh cause of
alarm; but nothing else happened to disturb her. When she joined
her companions at breakfast, they were all struck with her
extreme pallor, and the distressed expression of her countenance.
To their anxious questions she replied by giving an account of
her nocturnal adventure, and de Sigognac, furious at this fresh
outrage, could scarcely be restrained from going at once to
demand, satisfaction for it from the Duke of Vallombreuse, to
whom he did not hesitate to attribute this villainous scheme.

"I think," said Blazius, when he could make himself heard, "that
we had better pack up, and be off as soon as we can for Paris;
the air is becoming decidedly unwholesome for us in this place."

After a short discussion all the others agreed with him, and it
was decided that they should take their departure from Poitiers
the very next day.


It would be too long and tedious to follow our comedians, step by
step, on their way up to Paris, the great capital. No adventures
worthy of being recorded here befell them; as they were in good
circumstances financially, they could travel rapidly and
comfortably, and were not again subjected to such hardships and
annoyances as they had endured in the earlier stages of their
long journey. At Tours and Orleans they stopped to give a few
representations, which were eminently successful, and very
satisfactory to the troupe as well as the public. No attempt
being made to molest them in any way, Blazius after a time forgot
his fears, which had been excited by the vindictive character of
the Duke of Vallombreuse, but Isabelle could not banish from her
memory the wicked plot to abduct her, and many times saw again in
her dreams Chiquita's wild, weird face, with the long, tangled
elf-locks hanging around it, just as it had appeared to her that
dreadful night at the Armes de Frame, glaring at her with fierce,
wolfish eyes. Then she would start up, sobbing and trembling, in
violent agitation, and it required the most tender soothing from
her companion, Zerbine, whose room she had shared ever since they
quitted Poitiers, to quiet and reassure her. The soubrette,
thoroughly enamoured of Isabelle as of old, was devoted to her,
and took great delight in watching over and ministering to her;
an own sister could not have been kinder or more affectionately

The only evidence that de Sigognac gave of the anxiety which he
secretly felt, was his always insisting upon occupying the room
nearest Isabelle's, and he used to lie down in his clothes, with
his drawn sword on the bed beside him, so as to be ready in case
of any sudden alarm. By day he generally walked on in advance of
the chariot, taking upon himself the duty of a scout; redoubling
his vigilance wherever there happened to be bushes, thickets,
high walls, or lurking places of any kind, favourable to an
ambuscade, near the roadside. If he perceived from afar a group
of travellers approaching, whose appearance seemed to him in the
least suspicious, he would instantly draw his sword and fall back
upon the chariot, around which the tyrant, Scapin, Blazius and
Leander formed an apparently strong guard; though, of the last
two mentioned, one was incapacitated for active service by age,
and the other was as timid as a hare. Some times, varying his
tactics like a good general, who thinks of and provides against
every emergency, the baron would constitute himself a rear guard,
and follow the chariot at a little distance, keeping watch over
the road behind them. But all his precautions were needless, for
no attack was made upon the travellers, or any attempt to
interfere with them, and they proceeded tranquilly on their way,
"without let or hindrance." Although it was winter, the season
was not a rigorous one, and our comedians, well fortified against
the cold by plenty of warm clothing and good nourishing food, did
not mind their exposure to the weather, and found their journey a
very enjoyable affair. To be sure, the sharp, frosty air brought
a more brilliant colour than usual into the cheeks of the fair
members of the troupe, but no one could say that it detracted
from their charms; and even when it extended, as it did
sometimes, to their pretty little noses, it could not be found
serious fault with, for everything is becoming to a young and
beautiful woman.

At last they drew near to the capital--following the windings of
the Seine, whose waters flow past royal palaces, and many another
edifice of world-wide renown--and at four o'clock of a bright
winter afternoon came in sight of its spires and domes. The smoke
rising from its forest of chimneys hung over it in a
semi-transparent cloud, through which the sun shone, round and
red, like a ball of fire. As they entered the city by the Porte
Saint Bernard, a glorious spectacle greeted their wondering eyes.
In front of them Notre Dame stood out in bold relief, with its
magnificent flying buttresses, its two stately towers, massive
and majestic, and its slender, graceful spire, springing from the
lofty roof at the point of intersection of the nave and
transepts. Many other lesser towers and spires rose above
churches and chapels that were lost amid the densely crowded
houses all about them, but de Sigognac had eyes only for the
grand old cathedral, which overwhelmed him with astonishment and
delight. He would have liked to linger for hours and gaze upon
that splendid triumph of architecture, but he needs must go
forward with the rest, however reluctantly. The wonderful and
unceasing whirl and confusion in the narrow, crowded streets,
through which they made their way slowly, and not without
difficulty, perplexed and distracted him, accustomed as he had
been all his life to the vast solitude of the Landes, and the
deathly stillness that reigned almost unbroken in his own
desolate old chateau; it seemed to him as if a mill-wheel were
running round and round in his head, and he could feel himself
staggering like a drunken man. The Pont-Neuf was soon reached,
and then de Sigognac caught a glimpse of the famous equestrian
statue in bronze of the great and good king, Henri IV, which
stands on its lofty pedestal and seems to be keeping guard over
the splendid bridge, with its ever-rolling stream of
foot-passengers, horsemen, and vehicles of every kind and
description, from the superb court carriage to the huckster's
hand-cart; but in a moment it was lost to view, as the chariot
turned into the then newly opened Rue Dauphine. In this street
was a fine big hotel, frequently patronized by ambassadors from
foreign lands, with numerous retinues; for it was so vast that it
could always furnish accommodations for large parties arriving
unexpectedly. As the prosperous state of their finances admitted
of their indulging in such luxury, Herode had fixed upon this
house as their place of abode in Paris; because it would give a
certain prestige to his troupe to be lodged there, and show
conclusively that they were not mere needy, vagabond players,
gaining a precarious livelihood in their wanderings through the
provinces, but a company of comedians of good standing, whose
talents brought them in a handsome revenue.

Upon their arrival at this imposing hostelry, they were first
shown into an immense kitchen, which presented an animated, busy
scene--a whole army of cooks bustling about the great roaring
fire, and around the various tables, where all sorts of culinary
rites were in active progress; while the mingling of savoury
odours that pervaded the whole place so tickled the olfactory
organs of Blazius, Herode, and Scapin, the gourmands of the
troupe, that their mouths expanded into the broadest of grins, as
they edged as near as possible to the numerous saucepans, etc.,
from which they issued. In a few moments a servant came to
conduct them to the rooms that had been prepared for them, and
just as they turned away from the blazing fire, round which they
had gathered, to follow him, a traveller entered and approached
it, whose face seemed strangely familiar to de Sigognac. He was a
tall, powerful man, wearing large spurs, which rang against the
stone floor at every step, and the great spots of mud--some of
them not yet dry--with which he was bespattered from head to
foot, showed that he must have been riding far and fast. He was a
fierce-looking fellow, with an insolent, devil-may-care, arrogant
sort of expression, and bold, swaggering gait, yet he started at
sight of the young baron, and plainly shrunk from his eye;
hastening on to the fire and bending over it, with his back
turned to de Sigognac, under pretence of warming his hands. In
vain did our hero try to recall when and where he had seen the
man before, but he was positive that he had come in contact with
him somewhere, and that recently; and he was conscious of a vague
feeling of uneasiness with regard to him, that he could not
account for. However, there was nothing for him to do but follow
his companions, and they all went to their respective chambers,
there to make themselves presentable for the meal to which they
were shortly summoned, and which they thoroughly enjoyed, as only
hungry travellers can. The fare was excellent, the wine capital,
the dining-room well lighted, warm, and comfortable, and all were
in high spirits; congratulating each other upon having happily
reached the end of their long journey at last, and drinking to
their own future success in this great city of Paris. They
indulged in the flattering hope of producing a sensation here as
well as at Poitiers, and even dared to dream of being commanded
to appear before the court, and of being rewarded royally for
their exertions to please. Only de Sigognac was silent and
preoccupied, and Isabelle, whose thoughts were all of him, cast
anxious glances at him, and wished that she could charm away his
melancholy. He was seated at the other end of the table, and
still puzzling over the face that he had seen in the kitchen, but
he soon looked towards her, and caught her lovely eyes fixed upon
him, with such an adorable expression of chaste love and angelic
tenderness in their shadowy depths, that all thoughts save of her
were at once banished from his mind. The warmth of the room had
flushed her cheeks a little, her eyes shone like stars, and she
looked wonderfully beautiful; the young Duke of Vallombreuse
would have been more madly enamoured of her than ever if he could
have seen her then. As for de Sigognac, he gazed at her with
unfeigned delight, his dark, expressive eyes eloquent of adoring
love and deep reverence. A new sentiment mingled with his passion
now--ever since she had opened her heart to him, and let him see
all its heavenly purity and goodness--which elevated, ennobled,
and intensified it. He knew now the true, lofty beauty of her
soul, that it was akin to the angels, and but for the keen,
ever-increasing grief he suffered because of her firm refusal to
give herself wholly to him, his happiness, in possessing her
faithful, devoted love, would have been too perfect for this
life of trials and sorrow.

When supper was over, de Sigognac accompanied Isabelle to the
threshhold of her own room, and said ere he left her, "Be sure to
fasten your door securely, my sweet Isabelle, for there are so
many people about in a great hotel like this that one cannot be
too careful."

"You need have no fears for me here, my dear baron," she replied;
"only look at this lock, and you will be convinced of that. Why
it is strong enough for a prison door, and the key turns thrice
in it. And here is a great thick bolt besides--actually as long
as my arm. The window is securely barred, and there is no
dreadful bull's eye, or opening of any kind in the wall, to make
me afraid. Travellers so often have articles of value with them
that I suppose it is necessary for them to have such protections
against thieves. Make yourself easy about me, de Sigognac! never
was the enchanted princess of a fairy tale, shut up in her strong
tower guarded by dragons, in greater security than am I in this
fortress of mine."

"But sometimes it chances that the magic charms and spells,
represented by these bolts and bars, are insufficient, my beloved
Isabelle, and the enemy manages to force his way in, despite them
all--and the mystic signs, phylacteries, and abracadabras into
the bargain."

"Yes; but that is when the princess within secretly favours his
efforts," said Isabelle, with a mischievous smile, "and in some
mysterious way constitutes herself his accomplice; being tired of
her seclusion, perhaps, or else in love with the bold intruder--
neither of which is my case you know, de Sigognac! Surely if I'm
not afraid--I, who am more timid than the trembling doe when she
hears the dread sound of the hunter's horn and the baying of the
hounds you should not fear--you, who are brave as Alexander the
Great himself. Sleep in peace to-night, my friend, I pray you,
and sleep soundly--not with one eye open, as you have done so
often of late for my sake; and now, good night."

She held out to him a pretty little hand, white and soft enough
to have belonged to a veritable princess, which he kissed as
reverently as if it had been a queen's; then waited to hear her
turn the big, clumsy, iron key three times in the lock--no easy
task for her delicate fingers--and push home the heavy bolt.
Breathing a fervent blessing upon her, he turned away reluctantly
towards his own door. As he paused an instant before it he saw a
shadow moving, turned round quickly, and caught sight of the very
man he had been thinking of, and puzzling over, so much that
evening--whose approach he had not heard at all--passing
stealthily along the corridor, presumably on his way to his own
room. Not an extraordinary circumstance, that; but the baron's
suspicions were instantly aroused, and under pretext of trying to
introduce his key into the lock, he furtively watched him the
whole length of the passage, until a turn in it hid him from
view, as he gained an unfrequented part of the house; a moment
later, the sound of a door being softly opened and closed
announced that he had probably reached his own chamber, and then
all was still again.

"Now what does this mean?" said de Sigognac to himself, and
haunted by a vague feeling of anxiety and uneasiness, he could
not even bring himself to lie down upon his bed and rest his
weary frame; so, after pacing restlessly about the room for a
while, he concluded to occupy himself in writing a letter to his
good old Pierre; he had promised to apprise him of his arrival in
Paris. He was careful that the handwriting should be very large,
clear, and distinct, for the faithful old servant was not much of
a scholar, and addressed him as follows:

MY GOOD PIERRE:--Here I am at last, actually in Paris, the great
capital, where, according to general belief, I am to fall in with
some sort of good fortune or other, that will enable me to
re-establish the ancient prosperity of my house--though in truth
I cannot see where I am to look for it. However, some happy
chance may bring me into relations with the court, and if I could
only get to speak to the king--the great dispenser of all
favours--the important and famous services rendered by my
ancestors to his royal predecessors would surely incline him to
listen to me with indulgence and interest. His gracious majesty
could not, it seems to me, suffer a noble family, that had
devoted all their possessions to the service of king and country,
in many wars, to die out so miserably, if once he knew of it.
Meantime, for want of other employment, I have taken to acting,
and have made a little money thereby--part of which I shall send
to you, as soon as I can find a good opportunity. It would have
been better perhaps if I had enlisted as a soldier; but I could
not give up my liberty, and however poverty-stricken a man may
be, his pride revolts at the idea of putting himself under the
orders of those whom his noble ancestors used to command. The
only adventure worth relating that has befallen me since I left
you was a duel that I fought at Poitiers, with a certain young
duke, who is held to be invincible; but, thanks to your good
instructions, I was able to get the better of him easily. I ran
him through the right arm, and could just as well have run him
through the body, and left him dead upon the field, for his
defence was weak and insufficient--by no means equal to his
attack, which was daring and brilliant, though very reckless--and
several times he was entirely at my mercy, as he grew heated and
angry. He has not been so thoroughly trained to preserve his
sang-froid, whatever may happen, as I, and I now appreciate, for
the first time, your wonderful patience and perseverance in
making me a master of the noble art of fencing, and how valuable
my proficiency in it will be to me. Your scholar does you honour,
my brave Pierre, and I won great praise and applause for my
really too easy victory. In spite of the constant novelty and
excitement of my new way of life, my thoughts often return to
dwell upon my poor old chateau, crumbling gradually into ruin
over the tombs of my ancestors. From afar it does not seem so
desolate and forlorn, and there are times when I fancy myself
there once more, gazing up at the venerable family portraits,
wandering through the deserted rooms, and I find a sort of
melancholy pleasure in it. How I wish that I could look into your
honest, sunburnt face, lighted up with the glad smile that always
greeted me--and I am not ashamed to confess that I long to hear
Beelzebub's contented purring, Miraut's joyful bark, and the loud
whinnying of my poor old Bayard, who never failed to recognise my
step. Are they all still alive--the good, faithful, affectionate
creatures--and do they seem to remember me? Have you been able to
keep yourself and them from starvation thus far? Try to hold out
until my return, my good Pierre, so as to share my fate--be it
bright or dark, happy or sad--that we may finish our days
together in the place where we have suffered so much, yet which
is so dear to us all. If I am to be the last of the de Sigognacs,
I can only say, the will of God be done. There is still a vacant
place left for me in the vault where my forefathers lie.


The baron sealed this letter with the ring bearing his family
arms, which was the only jewel remaining in his possession;
directed it, and put it into his portfolio, to wait until he
should find an opportunity to forward it to Gascony. Although by
this time it was very late, he could still hear the vague roar of
the great city, which, like the sound of the ocean, never
entirely ceases, and was so strange and novel to him, in contrast
with the profound silence of the country that be had been
accustomed to all his life long. As he sat listening to it, he
thought he heard cautious footsteps in the corridor, and
extinguishing his light, softly opened his door just a very
little way, scarcely more than a crack--and caught a glimpse of a
man, enveloped in a large cloak, stealing along slowly in the
direction the other one had taken. He listened breathlessly until
he heard him reach, and quietly enter, apparently the same door.
A few minutes later, while he was still on the lookout, another
one came creeping stealthily by, making futile efforts to stifle
the noise of his creaking boots. His suspicions now thoroughly
aroused, de Sigognac continued his watch, and in about half an
hour came yet another--a fierce, villainous looking fellow, and
fully armed, as every one of his predecessors had been also. This
strange proceeding seemed very extraordinary and menacing to the
baron, and the number of the men--four--brought to his mind the
night attack upon him in the streets of Poitiers, after his
quarrel with the Duke of Vallombreuse. This recollection was like
a ray of light, and it instantly flashed upon him that the man he
had seen in the kitchen was no other than one of those precious
rascals, who had been routed so ignominiously--and these, without
doubt, were his comrades. But how came they there? in the very
house with him--not by chance surely. They must have followed him
up to Paris, stage by stage, in disguise, or else keeping
studiously out of his sight, Evidently the young duke's animosity
was still active, as well as his passion, and he had not
renounced his designs upon either Isabelle or himself. Our hero
was very brave by nature, and did not feel the least anxiety
about his own safety trusting to his good sword to defend himself
against his enemies--but he was very uneasy in regard to his
sweet Isabelle, and dreaded inexpressibly what might be attempted
to gain possession of her. Not knowing which one of them the four
desperadoes had in view now, he determined not to relax his
vigilance an instant, and to take such precautions as he felt
pretty sure would circumvent their plans, whatever they might be.
He lighted all the candles there were in his room--a goodly
number--and opened his door, so that they threw a flood of light
on that of Isabelle's chamber, which was exactly opposite his
own. Next he drew his sword, laid it, with his dagger, on a table
he had drawn out in front of the door, and then sat down beside
it, facing the corridor, to watch. He waited some time without
hearing or seeing anything. Two o'clock had rung out from a
neighbouring church tower when a slight rustling caught his
listening ear, and presently one of the four rascals--the very
he had first seen--emerged from the shadow into the bright light
streaming out into the passage from his open door. The baron had
sprung to his feet at the first sound, and stood erect on the
threshold, sword in hand, with such a lofty, heroic, and
triumphant air, that Merindol--for it was he--passed quickly by,
without offering to molest him, with a most deprecating,
crestfallen expression; a laughable contrast to his habitual
fierce insolence. His three doughty comrades followed in quick
succession--but not one of them dared to attack de Sigognac, and
they slunk out of sight as rapidly as possible. He saluted each
one with a mocking gesture as he passed, and stood tranquilly
watching them as long as he could see them. In a few minutes he
had the satisfaction of hearing the stamping of horses' feet in
the court-yard below, then the opening of the outer door to let
them pass out into the street, and finally a great clattering of
hoofs as they galloped off down the Rue Dauphine.

At breakfast the next morning the tyrant said to de Sigognac,
"Captain, doesn't your curiosity prompt you to go out and look
about you a little in this great city--one of the finest in the
world, and of such high renown in history? If it is agreeable to
you I will be your guide and pilot, for I have been familiar from
my youth up with the rocks and reefs, the straits and shallows,
the scyllas and charybdises of this seething ocean, which are
often so dangerous--sometimes so fatal--to strangers, and more
especially to inexperienced country people. I will be your
Palinurus--but I promise you that I shall not allow myself to be
caught napping, and so fall overboard, like him that Virgil tells
us about. We are admirably located here for sight-seeing; the
Pont-Neuf, which is close at hand, you know, is to Paris what the
Sacra Via was to ancient Rome--the great resort and rallying
place of high and low, great and small, noble men, gentlemen,
bourgeois, working men, rogues and vagabonds. Men of every rank
and profession under the sun are to be found gathered together at
this general rendezvous."

"Your kind proposition pleases me greatly, my good Herode," de
Sigognac replied, "and I accept it with thanks; but be sure to
tell Scapin that he must remain here, and keep a sharp watch over
all who come and go; and, above all, that he must not let any one
gain access to Isabelle. The Duke of Vallombreuse has not given
up his designs against her and me--I feel very anxious about her
safety," and therewith he recounted the occurrences of the
preceding night.

"I don't believe they would dare to attempt anything in broad
daylight," said the tyrant; "still it is best to err on the safe
side, and we will leave Scapin, Blazius and Leander to keep guard
over Isabelle while we are out. And, by the way, I will take my
sword with me, too, so that I can be of some assistance in case
they should find an opportunity to fall upon you in the streets."

After having made every arrangement for Isabelle's safety, de
Sigognac and his companion sallied forth into the Rue Dauphine,
and turned towards the Pont-Neuf. It was quickly reached, and
when they had taken a few steps upon it a magnificent view
suddenly burst upon them, which held the young baron enthralled.
In the immediate foreground, on the bridge itself, which was not
encumbered with a double row of houses, like the Pont au Change
and the Pont Saint Michel, was the fine equestrian statue of that
great and good king, Henri IV, rivalling in its calm majesty the
famous one of Marcus Aurelius, on the Capitoline Hill at Rome. A
high railing, richly gilded, protected its pedestal from injury
by mischievous street arabs, and the deep, strong tints of the
bronze horse and rider stood out vigorously against the
appropriate background formed by the distant hill-sides beyond
the Pont Rouge. On the left bank of the river the spire of the
venerable old church of Saint Germain des Pres pointed upwards
from amid the houses that completely hemmed it in, and the lofty
roof of the unfinished Hotel de Nevers towered conspicuously
above all its surroundings. A little farther on was the only
tower still standing of the famous, and infamous, Hotel de Nesle,
its base bathed by the river, and though it was in a ruinous
condition it still lifted itself up proudly above the adjacent
buildings. Beyond it lay the marshy Grenouillere, and in the
blue, hazy distance could be distinguished the three crosses on
the heights of Calvary, or Mont-Valerien. The palace of the
Louvre occupied the other bank right royally, lighted up by the
brilliant winter sunshine, which brought out finely all the
marvellous details of its rich and elaborate ornamentation. The
long gallery connecting it with the Tuileries, which enabled the
monarch to pass freely from his city palace to his country house,
especially challenged their admiration; with its magnificent
sculptures, its historical bas-reliefs and ornamented cornices,
its fretted stonework, fine columns and pilasters, it rivalled
the renowned triumphs of the best Greek and Roman architects.
Beyond the gardens of the Tuileries, where the city ended, stood
the Porte de la Conference, and along the river bank, outside of
it, were the trees of Cours-la-Reine, the favourite promenade of
the fashionable world, which was thronged of an afternoon with
gay and luxurious equipages. The two banks, which we have thus
hastily sketched, framed in the most animated scene imaginable;
the river being covered with boats of all sorts and descriptions,
coming and going, crossing and recrossing, while at the quay,
beside the Louvre, lay the royal barges, rich with carving and
gilding, and gay with bright-coloured awnings, and near at hand
rose the historic towers of Saint Germain l'Auxerrois.

After gazing silently for a long time at this splendid view, de
Sigognac turned away reluctantly at his companion's instance, and
joined the little crowd already gathered round the "Samaritan,"
waiting to see the bronze figure surmounting the odd little
hydraulic edifice strike the hour with his hammer on the bell of
the clock. Meanwhile they examined the gilt bronze statue of
Christ, standing beside the Samaritan, who was leaning on the
curb of the well, the astronomic dial with its zodiac, the
grotesque stone mask pouring out the water drawn up from the
river below, the stout figure of Hercules supporting the whole
thing, and the hollow statue, perched on the topmost pinnacle,
that served as a weathercock, like the Fortune on the Dogana at
Venice and the Giralda at Seville. As the hands on the clock-face
at last pointed to ten and twelve respectively, the little chime
of bells struck up a merry tune, while the bronze man with the
hammer raised his ponderous arm and deliberately struck ten
mighty blows, to the great delight of the spectators. This
curious and ingenious piece of mechanism, which had been
cunningly devised by one Lintlaer, a Fleming, highly amused and
interested de Sigognac, to whom everything of the kind was
absolutely new and surprising.

"Now," said Herode, "we will glance at the view from the other
side of the bridge, though it is not so magnificent as the one
you have already seen, and is very much shut in by the buildings
on the Pont au Change yonder. However, there is the tower of
Saint Jacques, the spire of Saint Mederic, and others too
numerous to mention; and that is the Sainte Chapelle--a marvel of
beauty, so celebrated, you know, for its treasures and relics.
All the houses in that direction are new and handsome, as you
see; when I was a boy I used to play at hop-scotch where they now
stand. Thanks to the munificence of our kings, Paris is being
constantly improved and beautified, to the great admiration and
delight of everybody; more especially of foreigners, who take
home wondrous tales of its splendour."

"But what astonishes me," said de Sigognac, "more even than the
grandeur and sumptuousness of the buildings, both public and
private, is the infinite number of people swarming everywhere--in
the streets and open squares, and on the bridges--like ants when
one has broken into an ant hill; they are all rushing
distractedly about, up and down, back and forth, as if life and
death depended upon their speed. How strange it is to think that
every individual in this immense crowd must be lodged and fed--
and what a prodigious amount of food and wine it must take to
satisfy them all."

And indeed, it was not surprising that the great numbers of
people, moving in every direction, should strike one unaccustomed
to the crowded thoroughfares of large cities as extraordinary. On
the Pont-Neuf an unceasing stream of vehicles rolled in each
direction--fine carriages, richly decorated and gilded, drawn by
two or four prancing horses, with lackeys in brilliant liveries
clinging on behind, and stately coachmen on the box; less
pretentious carriages with more quiet steeds and fewer servants;
heavy carts laden with stone, wood, or wine-barrels, whose
drivers swore loudly at the detentions they were frequently
obliged to submit to, and which were unavoidable in such a crush
of vehicles; and among them all, gentlemen on horseback,
threading their way carefully in and out among the press of carts
and carriages, and endeavouring to avoid coming in contact with
their muddy wheels--not always successfully; while here and there
a sedan chair crept slowly along, keeping upon the edge of the
stream, so as not to be crushed; and the narrow, raised walk on
either side was thronged with pedestrians. Presently a drove of
cattle made its appearance on the bridge, and then the uproar and
confusion became terrible indeed; horses, as well as
foot-passengers, were frightened, and tried to run away from
danger, requiring all the strength of their drivers to restrain
them. Soon after that excitement was over a detachment of
soldiers came marching along, with drums beating and colours
flying, and everybody had to make way for the valiant sons of
Mars, no matter at what inconvenience to themselves. And so it
went on, one thing after another--a constant scene of bustle,
hurry, and commotion. As de Sigognac and the tyrant strolled
slowly along they were beset by beggars, more or less impudent
and pertinacious, and by all sorts of odd characters, plying
various extraordinary vocations for the amusement of the
passers-by, for which they seemed to be liberally enough
remunerated. Here was an improvisatore, singing, not
unmelodiously, his rather clever verses; there a blind man, led
by a stout, jolly-looking old woman, who recited his dolorous
history in a whining voice, and appealed to the charity of the
ever-changing multitude; farther on a charlatan, loudly claiming
to be able to cure "all the ills that flesh is heir to" by his
magical compound--and finding plenty of dupes; and next to him a
man with a monkey, whose funny tricks caused much merriment.
Suddenly a great tumult arose near the other end of the bridge,
and in a moment a compact crowd had gathered around four men,
who, with loud cries and imprecations, were fighting with
swords--apparently with great fury, though in reality it was only
a mock combat, probably intended to give a good chance to the
thieves and pickpockets in the throng, with whom they were in
league; such tactics being very common, as well as successful. By
Herode's advice, de Sigognac refrained from mingling with the
crowd immediately around the combatants, so he could not get a
very good view of them; but he was almost sure that they were the
very men he had met first in the streets of Poitiers, to their
great discomfiture, and had seen again the previous night at the
hotel in the Rue Dauphine, where they certainly had gained no
advantage to make up for their former defeat. He communicated his
suspicions to the tyrant, but the rascals had already slipped
away, and it would have been as useless to attempt to find them
in the throng as to look for a needle in a haystack.

"It certainly is possible," said Herode, thoughtfully, "that this
quarrel was gotten up with a view to involving you in it, by some
means or other, for we are undoubtedly followed and watched by
the emissaries of the Duke of Vallombreuse. One of the scoundrels
might have made believe that you were in the way, or that you had
struck him, and falling upon you suddenly, before you had time to
draw your sword, have given you a thrust that would have done for
you; and if he failed to wound you mortally; the others could
have pretended to come to their comrade's aid, and have completed
the job--nothing would have been easier. Then they would have
separated, and slipped away through the crowd, before any one
could interfere with them, or else have stood their ground, and
declared unanimously that they had been obliged to attack you in
self defence. It is next to impossible in such cases to prove
that the act was premeditated, and there is no redress for the
unhappy victim of such a conspiracy."

"But I am loath to believe," said the brave, generous young
baron, "that any gentleman could be capable of such an utterly
base and unworthy act as this--what, send a set of hired ruffians
to foully assassinate his rival! If he is not satisfied with the
result of our first encounter, I am willing and ready to cross
swords with him again and again, until one or the other of us is
slain. That is the way that such matters are arranged among men
of honour, my good Herode!"

"Doubtless," replied the tyrant, dryly, "but the duke well
despite his cursed pride--that the result of another meeting
with you could not but be disastrous to himself. He has tried the
strength of your blade, and learned by bitter experience that its
point is sharp. You may be sure that he hates you like the very
devil, and will not scruple to make use of any means whatever to
revenge himself for his defeat at your hands."

"Well, if be does not care to try my sword again, we could fight
on horseback with pistols. He could not accuse me of having any
advantage of him there."

Talking thus the two had reached the Quai de l'Ecole, and there a
carriage just missed running over de Sigognac, though he did his
best to get out of its way. As it was, only his extremely slender
figure saved him from being crushed between it and the wall, so
close did it come to him--notwithstanding the fact that there
was plenty of room on the other side, and that the coachman could
easily have avoided the foot passenger he actually seemed to
pursue. The windows of the carriage were all closed, and the
curtains drawn down, so that it was impossible to tell whether it
had any inmates or not--but if de Sigognac could have peeped
within he would have seen, reclining languidly upon the luxurious
cushions, a handsome young nobleman, richly dressed, whose right
arm was supported by a black silk scarf, arranged as a sling. In
spite of the warm red glow from the crimson silk curtains, he was
very pale, and, though so remarkably handsome, his face wore such
an expression of hatred and cruelty, that he would have inspired
dislike, rather than admiration--as he sat there with a fierce
frown contracting his brow, and savagely gnawing his under lip
with his gleaming white teeth. In fine, the occupant of the
carriage that had so nearly run over the Baron de Sigognac was no
other than the young Duke of Vallombreuse.

"Another failure!" said he to himself, with an oath, as he rolled
along up the broad quay past the Tuileries. "And yet I promised
that stupid rascal of a coachman of mine twenty-five louis if he
could be adroit enough to run afoul of that confounded de
Sigognac--who is the bane of my life--and drive over him, as if
by accident. Decidedly the star of my destiny is not in the
ascendant--this miserable little rustic lordling gets the better
of me in everything. Isabelle, sweet Isabelle, adores HIM, and
detests me--he has beaten my lackeys, and dared to wound ME. But
there shall be an end of this sort of thing, and that speedily--
even though he be invulnerable, and bear a charmed life, he must
and shall be put out of my way--I swear it! though I should be
forced to risk my name and my title to compass it."

"Humph!" said Herode, drawing a long breath; "why those brutes
must be of the same breed as the famous horses of that Diomedes,
King of Thrace, we read of, that pursued men to tear them
asunder, and fed upon their flesh. But at least you are not hurt,
my lord, I trust! That coachman saw you perfectly well, and I
would be willing to wager all I possess in the world that he
purposely tried to run over you--he deliberately turned his
horses towards you--I am sure of it, for I saw the whole thing.
Did you observe whether there was a coat of arms on the panel? As
you are a nobleman yourself I suppose you must be familiar with
the devices of the leading families in France."

"Yes, I am of course," answered de Sigognac, "but I was too much
occupied in getting out of the way of the swift rolling carriage
to notice whether there was anything of that kind on it or not."

"That's a pity," rejoined the tyrant regretfully, "for if we only
knew that, we should have a clew that might lead to our
discovering the truth about this most suspicious affair. It is
only too evident that some one is trying to put you out of the
way, quibuscumque viis, as the pedant would say. Although we
unfortunately have no proof of it, I am very much inclined to
think that this same carriage belongs to his lordship, the Duke
of Vallombreuse, who wished to indulge himself in the pleasure of
driving over the body of his enemy in his chariot, in true
classical and imperial style."

"What extraordinary idea have you got into your head now, Sir
Herode?" said de Sigognac, rather indignantly. "Come, that would
be too infamous and villainous a proceeding for any gentleman to
be guilty of, and you must remember that after all the Duke of
Vallombreuse is one, and that he belongs to a very high and noble
family. Besides, did not we leave him in Poitiers, laid up with
his wound? How then could he possibly be in Paris, when we have
only just arrived here ourselves?"

"But didn't we stop several days at Tours? and again at Orleans?
And even if his wound were not entirely healed he could easily
travel in his luxurious carriage, by easy stages, from Poitiers
to Paris. His hurt was not of a dangerous character, you know,
and he is young and vigorous. You must be on your guard, my dear
captain, unceasingly; never relax your vigilance for one moment,
for I tell you there are those about who seek your life. You once
out of the way, Isabelle would, be in the duke's power--for what
could we, poor players, do against such a great and powerful
nobleman? Even if Vallombreuse himself be not in Paris--though I
am almost positive that he is--his emissaries are, as you know,
and but for your own courage and watchfulness you would have been
assassinated in your bed by them last night."

This de Sigognac could not dispute, and he only nodded in token
of assent, as he grasped the hilt of his sword, so as to be ready
to draw it at the slightest cause for suspicion or alarm.
Meantime they had walked on as far as the Porte de la Conference,
and now saw ahead of them a great cloud of dust, and through it
the glitter of bayonets. They stepped aside to let the cavalcade
pass, and saw that the soldiers preceded the carriage of the
king, who was returning from Saint Germain to the Louvre. The
curtains of the royal vehicle were raised, and the glasses let
down, so that the people could distinctly see their sovereign,
Louis XIII, who, pale as a ghost and dressed all in black, sat
as motionless as an effigy in wax. Long, dark brown hair fell
about his mournful, ghastly countenance, upon which was depicted
the same terrible ennui that drove Philip II of Spain, to
seclude himself so much, during the later years of his life, in
the silence and solitude of the dreary Escorial. His eyes were
fixed on vacancy, and seemed utterly lifeless--no desire, no
thought, no will lent them light or expression. A profound
disgust for and weariness of everything in this life had relaxed
his lower lip, which fell sullenly, in a morose, pouting way. His
hands, excessively thin and white, lay listlessly upon his knees,
like those of certain Egyptian idols. And yet, for all, there was
a truly royal majesty about this mournful figure, which
personified France, and in whose veins flowed sluggishly the
generous blood of Henri IV.

The young baron had always thought of the king as a sort of
supernatural being, exalted above all other men. Glorious and
majestic in his person, and resplendent in sumptuous raiment,
enriched with gold and precious stones; and now he saw only this
sad, motionless figure, clad in dismal black, and apparently
unconscious of his surroundings, sunk in a profound reverie that
none would dare to intrude upon. He had dreamed of a gracious,
smiling sovereign, showering good gifts upon his loyal subjects,
and here was an apathetic, inanimate being, who seemed capable of
no thought for any one but himself. He was sadly disappointed,
shocked, amazed; and he felt, with a sinking heart, how hopeless
was his own case. For even should he be able to approach this
mournful, listless monarch, what sympathy could be expected from
him? The future looked darker than ever now to this brave young
heart. Absorbed in these sorrowful reflections he walked silently
along beside his companion, who suspected his taciturn mood, and
did not intrude upon it, until, as the hour of noon approached,
he suggested that they should turn their steps homeward, so as to
be in time for the mid-day meal. When they reached the hotel they
were relieved to find that nothing particular had happened during
their absence. Isabelle, quietly seated at table with the others
when they entered, received the baron with her usual sweet smile,
and held out her little white hand to him. The comedians asked
many questions about his first experiences in Paris, and inquired
mischievously whether he had brought his cloak, his purse, and
his handkerchief home with him, to which de Sigognac joyfully
answered in the affirmative. In this friendly banter he soon
forgot his sombre thoughts, and asked himself whether he had not

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