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   Chapter 6 A SNOW-STORM AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

Captain Fracasse By Theophile Gautier Characters: 47126

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


As may be readily supposed, the comedians were well satisfied with the kind treatment they had received during their brief sojourn at the Chateau de Bruyeres; such a piece of good fortune did not often fall to their lot, and they rejoiced in it exceedingly. The tyrant had distributed among them each one's share of the marquis's liberal remuneration for their services, and it was wonderfully pleasant to them to have broad pieces in the purses usually so scantily supplied, and not infrequently quite empty. Zerbine, who was evidently rejoicing over some secret source of satisfaction, accepted good-naturedly all the taunts and jokes of her companions upon the irresistible power of her charms. She was triumphant, and could afford to be laughed at-indeed, joined heartily in the general merriment at her own expense-while Serafina sulked openly, with "envy, hatred, and malice" filling her heart. Poor Leander, still smarting from his severe beating, sore and aching, unable to find an easy position, and suffering agonies from the jolting of the chariot, found it hard work to join in the prevailing gaiety.

When he thought no one was looking at him, he would furtively rub his poor, bruised shoulders and arms with the palm of his hand, which stealthy manoeuvre might very readily have passed unobserved by the rest of the company, but did not escape the wily valet, who was always on the lookout for a chance to torment Leander; his monstrous self-conceit being intensely exasperating to him. A harder jolt than usual having made the unfortunate gallant groan aloud, Scapin immediately opened his attack, feigning to feel the liveliest commiseration for him.

"My poor Leander, what is the matter with you this morning? You moan and sigh as if you were in great agony! Are you really suffering so acutely? You seem to be all battered and bruised, like the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance, after he had capered stark naked, for a love penance, among the rocks in the Sierra Morena, in humble imitation of his favourite hero, Amadis de Gaul. You look as if you had not slept at all last night, and had been lying upon hard sticks, rods, or clubs, instead of in a soft, downy bed, such as were given to the rest of us in the fine chateau yonder. Tell us, I pray you, did not Morpheus once visit you all the night through?"

"Morpheus may have remained shut up in his cavern, but Cupid is a wanderer by night, who does not need a lantern to find the way to those fortunate individuals he favours with a visit," Leander replied, hoping to divert attention from the tell-tale bruises, that he had fancied were successfully concealed.

"I am only a humble valet, and have had no experience in affairs of gallantry. I never paid court to a fine lady in my life; but still, I do know this much, that the mischievous little god, Cupid, according to all the poets, aims his arrows at the hearts of those he wishes to wound, instead of using his bow upon their backs."

"What in the world do you mean?" Leander interrupted quickly, growing seriously uneasy at the turn the conversation was taking.

"Oh! nothing; only that I see, in spite of all your efforts to hide it with that handkerchief knotted so carefully round your neck, that you have there on the back of it a long, black mark, which to-morrow will be indigo, the day after green, and then yellow, until it fades away altogether, like any other bruise-a black mark that looks devilishly like the authentic flourish which accompanies the signature of a good, stout club on a calf's skin-or on vellum, if that term pleases you better."

"Ah! my good Scapin, you do not understand such matters," Leander replied, a scarlet flush mounting to the very roots of his hair, and at his wits' ends to know how to silence his tormentor; "doubtless some dead and gone beauty, who loved me passionately during her lifetime, has come back and kissed me there while I was sleeping; as is well known, the contact of the lips of the dead leave strange, dark marks, like bruises, on human flesh, which the recipient of the mysterious caress is astonished to find upon awaking."

"Your defunct beauty visited you and bestowed her mysterious caress very apropos," remarked Scapin, incredulously; "but I would be willing to take my oath that yonder vigorous kiss had been imprinted upon your lily-white neck by the stinging contact of a stout club."

"Unmannerly jester and scoffer that you are! is nothing sacred to you?" broke in Leander, with some show of heat.

"You push my modesty too far. I endeavoured delicately to put off upon a dead beauty what I should have ascribed to a living one. Ignorant and unsophisticated though you claim to be, have you never heard of kisses so ardent that such traces of them are left?-where pearly teeth have closed upon the soft flesh, and made their mark on the white skin?"

"Memorem dente notam," interrupted the pedant, charmed to have a chance to quote Horace.

"This explanation appears to me very judicious," Scapin said; then, with a low bow to the pedant, "and is sustained by unquestionable if incomprehensible authority; but the mark is so long that this nocturnal beauty of yours, dead or alive, must have had in her lovely mouth that famous tooth which the three Gorgon sisters owned among them, and passed about from one to the other."

This sally was followed by a roar of laughter, and Leander, beside himself with rage, half rose, to throw himself upon Scopin, and chastise him then and there for his insufferable impertinence; but he was so stiff and sore from his own beating, and the pain in his back, which was striped like a zebra's, was so excruciating, that he sank back into his place with a suppressed groan, and concluded to postpone his revenge to some more convenient season. Herode and Blazius, who were accustomed to settle such little disputes, insisted upon their making up their differences, and a sort of reconciliation took place-Scapin promising never to allude to the subject again, but managing to give poor Leander one or two more digs that made him wince even as he did so.

During this absurd altercation the chariot had been making steady progress, and soon arrived at an open space where another great post-road crossed the one they were following, at right angles. A large wooden crucifix, much the worse for long exposure to the weather, had been erected upon a grassy mound at the intersection of the two highways. A group, consisting of two men and three mules, stood at its foot, apparently awaiting some one's arrival. As they approached, one of the mules, as if weary of standing still, impatiently shook its head, which was gaily decorated with bright, many-coloured tufts and tassels, and set all the little silver bells about it ringing sharply. Although a pair of leather blinkers, decked with gay embroidery, effectually prevented its seeing to the right or to the left, it evidently was aware of the approach of the chariot before the men's senses had given them any intimation of it.

"The Colonelle shakes her ear-trumpets and shows her teeth," said one of them; "they cannot be far off now."

In effect, after a very few minutes the chariot was seen approaching, and presently rolled into the open space. Zerbine, who sat in front, glanced composedly at the little group of men and mules standing there, without betraying any surprise at seeing them.

"By Jove! those are fine beasts yonder," exclaimed the tyrant, "splendid Spanish mules, especially that foremost one; they can easily do their fifteen or twenty leagues a day, I'll venture, and if we were mounted on the like we should soon find ourselves in Paris. But what the devil are they doing in this lonely place? it must be a relay, waiting for some rich seignior travelling this way."

"No," said the duenna, "that foremost mule is intended for a lady-don't you see the cushions and housings?"

"In that case," he replied, "there must be an abduction in the wind; those two equerries, in gray liveries, certainly have a very mysterious, knowing sort of an air."

"Perhaps you are right," said Zerbine, demurely, with a significant little smile and shrug.

"Can it be possible that the lady is among us?" asked Scapin; "one of the men is coming this way by himself, as if he desired to parley before resorting to violence."

"Oh! there'll be no need," said Serafina, casting a scornful glance at the soubrette, who returned it with interest.

"There are bold creatures that go of their own accord, without waiting to be carried off."

"And there are others who are NOT carried off, that would like to be," retorted the soubrette, "but the desire is not sufficient; a few charms are needed too."

At this point the equerry who had advanced to meet the chariot made a sign to them to stop, and, cap in hand, politely asked if Mlle. Zerbine was among them. The soubrette herself answered this inquiry in the affirmative, and sprang to the ground as lightly as a bird.

"Mademoiselle, I am at your disposal," said the equerry to her, in a respectful and gallant tone. Zerbine shook out her skirts, adjusted her wraps, and then, turning towards the comedians, delivered this little harangue: "My dear comrades, I pray you pardon me for quitting you in this unceremonious manner. There are times when Opportunity offers itself suddenly for our acceptance, and we must seize it without delay, or lose it altogether; he would be a fool who let it slip through his fingers, for once relinquished it returns not again. The face of Fortune, which until now has always frowned upon me, at last vouchsafes me a smile, and I am delighted to enjoy its brightness, even though it may prove to be only fleeting. In my humble role of soubrette, I could not aspire to, or expect to receive, the admiration of rich lords and gentlemen-that is for my betters; and now that a happy chance has thrown such an unhoped-for piece of good luck in my way, you will not blame me, I am confident, for gladly accepting it. Let me take my belongings then-which are packed in the chariot with the others-and receive my adieux. I shall be sure to rejoin you some day, sooner or later, at Paris, for I am a born actress; the theatre was my first love, and I have never long been faithless to it."

The two men accordingly, aided by the comedians, took Zerbine's boxes out of the chariot, and adjusted them carefully on the pack-mule. The soubrette made a sweeping curtsey to her friends in the chariot, and threw a kiss to Isabelle from her finger tips, then, aided by one of the equerries, sprang to her place behind him, on the back of the Colonelle, as lightly and gracefully as if she had been taught the art of mounting in an equestrian academy, nodded a last farewell, and striking the mule sharply with the high heel of her pretty little shoe, set off at a round pace.

"Good-bye, and good luck to you, Zerbine," cried the comedians heartily, one and all; save only Serafina, who was more furiously angry with her than ever.

"This is an unfortunate thing for us," said the tyrant regretfully, "a serious loss. I wish with all my heart that we could have kept that capital little actress with us; we shall not easily find any one to replace her, even in Paris; she is really incomparable in her own role-but she was not in any way bound to stay with us a moment longer than she chose. We shall have to substitute a duenna, or a chaperon, for the soubrette in our pieces for the present; it will be less pleasing of course, but still Mme. Leonarde here is a host in herself, and we shall manage to get on very nicely, I dare say."

The chariot started on its way again as he spoke, at rather a better pace than the lumbering old ox-cart. They were travelling through a part of the country now which was a great contrast to the desolate Landes. To the Baron de Sigognac, who had never been beyond their desolate expanse before, it was a revelation, and he could not sufficiently admire the richness and beauty of this region. The productive, red soil was highly cultivated-not an inch of ground neglected-comfortable, often handsome, stone houses scattered along their route at frequent intervals, and surrounded by large, luxuriant gardens, spoke of a well-to-do population. On each side of the broad, smooth road was a row of fine trees, whose falling leaves lay piled upon the ground in yellow heaps, or whirled in the wind before de Sigognac and Isabelle, as they walked along beneath their spreading branches, finding the exercise a welcome relief after sitting for a long time in the chariot in rather a cramped position. One day as they were walking thus side by side, de Sigognac said to his fair companion, "I wish you would tell me, Isabelle, how it has happened that you, with all the characteristics of a lady of lofty lineage in the innate modesty and dignity of your manners, the refinement and purity of your language, the incomparable grace of your carriage, the elevation of your sentiments upon all subjects, to say nothing of the delicate, aristocratic type of your beauty-should have become a member of a wandering band of players like this-good, honest people no doubt, but not of the same rank or race as yourself."

"Don't fancy that I am a princess in disguise, or a great lady reduced to earn my living in this way," she replied, with an adorable smile, "merely because of some good qualities you think you have discovered in me. The history of my life is a very simple, uneventful one, but since you show such kind interest in me I will gladly relate it to you. So far from being brought down to the station I occupy by some grievous catastrophe or romantic combination of adverse circumstances, I was born to the profession of an actress-the chariot of Thespis was, so to say, my birthplace. My mother, who was a very beautiful woman and finished actress, played the part of tragic princess. She did not confine her role to the theatre, but exacted as much deference and respect from those around her when off the stage, as she received upon it, until she came to consider herself a veritable princess. She had all the majesty and grace of one, and was greatly admired and courted, but never would suffer any of the gallants, who flutter about pretty actresses like moths around a candle, to approach her-holding herself entirely above them, and keeping her good name unsullied through everything. An account of this unusual conduct on the part of a beautiful young actress chanced to reach the ears of a certain rich and powerful prince, who was very much struck and interested by it, and immediately sought an introduction to my mother. As his actual rank and position equalled hers of imaginary princess, she received his attentions with evident pleasure. He was young, handsome, eloquent, and very much in love with her-what wonder then that she yielded at last to his impassioned entreaties, and gave herself to him, though, because of his high station, he could not do as his heart dictated, and make her his wife. They were very happy in each other's love, and after I was born my young father was devoted to me."

"Ah!" interrupted de Sigognac, eagerly, "that explains it all; princely blood does flow in your veins. I knew it-was sure of it!"

"Their happiness continued," resumed Isabelle, "until reasons of state made it necessary for him to tear himself away from her, to go on a diplomatic mission to one of the great capitals of Europe; and ere his return to France an illustrious marriage had been arranged for him by his family, with the sanction of royalty, which he found it impossible to evade. In these cruel circumstances he endeavoured to do everything in his power to soften the pain of this rupture to my poor mother-himself almost broken-hearted at being forced to leave her-and made every possible arrangement for her comfort and well-being; settling a generous income on her, and providing lavishly for my maintenance and education. But she would accept nothing from him-she could not receive his money without his love-'all or nothing' was her motto; and taking me with her she fled from him, successfully concealing her place of refuge. She soon after joined a band of players travelling through the provinces, and resumed her old role; but her heart was broken, and she gradually faded away, dying at last when I was only about seven years old. Even then I used to appear upon the stage in parts suitable to my age. I was a precocious little thing in many ways. My mother's death caused me a grief far more acute than most children, even a good deal older than I was then, are capable of feeling. How well I remember being punished because I refused to act the part of one of Medea's children, the day after she died. But my grief was not very long-lived-I was but a child after all, and the actors and actresses of the troupe were so good to me, always petting me, and devising all sorts of ways to please and divert me-theatrical people are proverbially kind to comrades in distress, you know. The pedant, who belonged to our company, and looked just as old and wrinkled then as he does now, took the greatest interest in me, constituted himself my master, and taught me thoroughly and indefatigably all the secrets of the histrionic art-taking unwearied pains with me. I could not have had a better teacher; perhaps you do not know that he has a great reputation, even in Paris. You will wonder that a man of his fame and attainments should be found in a strolling company of players like this, but his unfortunate habits of intemperance have been the cause of all his troubles. He was professor of elocution in one of the celebrated colleges, holding an enviable and lucrative position, but lost it because of his inveterate irregularities. He is his own worst enemy, poor Blazius! In the midst of all the confusion and serious disadvantages of a vagabond life, I have always been able to hold myself somewhat apart, and remain pure and innocent. My companions, who have known me from babyhood, look upon me as a sister or daughter, and treat me with invariable affection and respect; and as for the men of the outside world who haunt the coulisses, and seem to think that an actress is public property, off the stage as well as upon it, I have thus far managed to keep them at a distance-continuing in real life my role of modest, ingenuous, young girl, without hypocrisy or false pretensions."

Thus, as they strolled along together, and could talk confidentially without fear of listeners, Isabelle related the story of her life to de Sigognac, who was a most attentive and delighted listener, and ever more and more charmed with his fair divinity.

"And the name of the prince," said he, after a short pause, "do you remember it?"

"I fear that it might be dangerous to my peace to disclose it," she replied; "but it is indelibly engraven upon my memory."

"Are there any proofs remaining to you of his connection with your mother?"

"I have in my possession a seal-ring bearing his coat of arms" Isabelle answered; "it is the only jewel of all he had lavished upon her that my mother kept, and that entirely on account of the associations connected with it, not for its intrinsic value, which is small. If you would like to see it I will be very glad to show it to you some day."

It would be too tedious to follow our travellers step by step on their long journey, so we will skip over a few days-which passed quietly, without any incidents worth recording-and rejoin them as they were drawing near to the ancient town of Poitiers. In the meantime their receipts had not been large, and hard times had come to the wandering comedians. The money received from the Marquis de Bruyeres had all been spent, as well as the modest sum in de Sigognac's purse-who had contributed all that he possessed to the common fund, in spite of the protestations of his comrades in distress. The chariot was drawn now by a single horse-instead of the four with which they had set off so triumphantly from the Chateau de Bruyeres-and such a horse! a miserable, old, broken-down hack, whose ribs were so prominent that he looked as if he lived upon barrel-hoops instead of oats and hay; his lack-lustre eyes, drooping head, halting gait, and panting breath combined to make him a most pitiable object, and he plodded on at a snail's pace, looking as if he might drop down dead on the road at any moment. Only the three women were in the chariot-the men all walking, so as to relieve their poor, jaded beast as much as possible. The weather was bitterly cold, and they wrapped their cloaks about them and strode on in silence, absorbed in their own melancholy thoughts.

Poor de Sigognac, well-nigh discouraged, asked himself despondingly whether it would not have been better for him to have remained in the dilapidated home of his fathers, even at the risk of starving to death there in silence and seclusion, than run the risk of such hardships in company with these Bohemians. His thoughts flew back to his good old Pierre, to Bayard, Miraut, and Beelzebub, the faithful companions of his solitude; his heart was heavy within him, and at the sudden remembrance of his dear old friends and followers his throat contracted spasmodically, and he almost sobbed aloud; but he looked back at Isabelle, wrapped in her cloak and sitting serenely in the front of the chariot, and took fresh courage, feeling glad that he could be near her in this dark hour, to do all that mortal man, struggling against such odds, could compass for her comfort and protection. She responded to his appealing glance with a sweet smile, that quickened his pulses and sent a thrill of joy through every nerve. She did not seem at all disheartened or cast down by the greatness of their misery. Her heart was satisfied and happy; why should she be crushed by mere physical suffering and discomforts? She was very brave, although apparently so delicate and fragile, and inspired de Sigognac, who could have fallen down and worshipped her as he gazed up into her beautiful eyes, with some of her own undaunted courage.

The great, barren plain they were slowly traversing, with a few dreary skeletons of misshapen old trees scattered here and there, and not a dwelling in sight, was not calculated to dissipate the melancholy of the party. Save one or two aged peasants trudging listlessly along, bending under the weight of the fagots they carried on their backs, they had not seen a human being all day long. The spiteful magpies, that seemed to be the only inhabitants of this dreary waste, danced about in front of them, chattering and almost laughing at them, as if rejoicing in and making fun of their miseries. A searching north wind, that penetrated to the very marrow in their bones, was blowing, and the few white flakes that flew before it now and then were the avantcouriers of the steady fall of snow that began as nightfall approached.

"It would appear," said the pedant, who was walking behind the chariot trying to find shelter from the icy wind, "that the celestial housewife up above has been plucking her geese, and is shaking the feathers out of her apron down upon us. She might a great deal better send us the geese themselves. I for one would be glad enough to eat 114 them, without being very particular as to whether they were done to a turn, and without sauce or seasoning either."

"Yes, so would I, even without salt," added the tyrant, "for my stomach is emp

ty. I could welcome now an omelette such as they gave us this morning, and swallow it without winking, though the eggs were so far gone that the little chicks were almost ready to peep."

By this time de Sigognac also had taken refuge behind the chariot-Isabelle having been driven from her seat in front to a place in the interior by the increasing violence of the storm-and Blazius said to him, "This is a trying time, my lord, and I regret very much that you should have to share our bad fortune; but I trust it will be only of brief duration, and although we do get on but slowly, still every step brings us nearer to Paris."

"I was not brought up in the lap of luxury," de Sigognac answered, "and I am not a man to be frightened by a few snowflakes and a biting wind; but it is for these poor, suffering women that I am troubled; they are exposed to such severe hardships-cold, privations, fatigue-and we cannot adequately shelter and protect them, do what we will."

"But you must remember that they are accustomed to roughing it, my dear baron, and what would be simply unendurable to many of their sex, who have never been subjected to such tests, they meet bravely, and make light of, in a really remarkable manner."

The storm grew worse and worse; the snow, driven with great force by the wind, penetrated into the chariot where Isabelle, Serafina, and Mme. Leonarde had taken refuge among the luggage, in spite of all that could be done to keep it out, and had soon covered their wraps with a coating of white. The poor horse was scarcely able to make any headway at all against the wind and snow; his feet slipped at every step, and he panted painfully. Herode went to his head, and took hold of the bridle with his strong hand to lead him and try to help him along, while the pedant, de Sigognac, and Scapin put their shoulders to the wheels at every inequality in the road and whenever he paused or stumbled badly, and Leander cracked the whip loudly to encourage the poor beast; it would have been downright cruelty to strike him. As to Matamore, he had lingered behind, and they were expecting every moment to see his tall, spare figure emerge from the gloom with rapid strides and rejoin them. Finally the storm became so violent that it was impossible to face it any longer; and though it was so important that they should reach the next village before the daylight was all gone, they were forced to halt, and turn the chariot, with its back to the wind. The poor old horse, utterly exhausted by this last effort, slipped and fell, and without making any attempt to rise lay panting on the ground. Our unhappy travellers found themselves in a sad predicament indeed-wet, cold, tired and hungry, all in the superlative degree-blinded by the driving snow, and lost, without any means of getting on save their own powers of locomotion, in the midst of a great desert-for the white covering which now lay upon everything had obliterated almost all traces of the road; they did not know which way to turn, or what to do. For the moment they all took refuge in the chariot, until the greatest violence of the tempest should be over, huddled close together for warmth, and striving not to lose heart entirely. Presently the wind quieted down all of a sudden, as if it had expended its fury and wanted to rest; but the snow continued to fall industriously, though noiselessly, and as far as the eye could reach through the gathering darkness the surface of the earth was white, as if it had been wrapped in a winding sheet.

"What in the world has become of Matamore?" cried Blazius suddenly; "has the wind carried him off to the moon I wonder?"

"Yes; where can he be?" said the tyrant, in an anxious tone; "I can't see him anywhere-I thought he was among us; perhaps he is lying asleep among the stage properties at the back of the chariot; I have known him curl himself down there for a nap before now. Holloa! Matamore! where are you? wake up and answer us!" But no Matamore responded, and there was no movement under the great heap of scenery, and decorations of all sorts, stowed away there.

"Holloa! Matamore!" roared Herode again, in his loudest tones, which might have waked the seven sleepers in their cavern, and roused their dog too.

"We have not seen him here in the chariot at all today," said one of the actresses; "we thought he was walking with the others."

"The deuce!" exclaimed Blazius, "this is very strange. I hope no accident has happened to the poor fellow."

"Undoubtedly he has taken shelter in the worst of the storm on the lee side of the trunk of a tree somewhere," said de Sigognac, "and will soon come up with us."

After a short discussion, it was decided to wait where they were a few minutes longer, and then if he did not make his appearance go in search of him. They anxiously watched the way by which they had come, but no human form appeared on the great expanse of white, and the darkness was falling rapidly upon the earth, as it does after the short days of December. The distant howling of a dog now came to their ears, to add to the lugubrious effect of their surroundings, but they were all so troubled at the strange absence of their comrade that their own individual miseries were for the moment forgotten. The doleful howling, so far away at first, gradually became louder, until at last a large, black dog came in sight, and sitting down upon the snow, still a long distance from them, raised his head so that his muzzle pointed upward to the sky and howled, as if in the greatest distress.

"I'm afraid something terrible has happened to our poor Matamore," cried the tyrant, and his voice trembled a little; "that dog howls as if for a death."

At this speech the two young women turned even paler than they had been before, if that were possible, and made the sign of the cross devoutly, while Isabelle murmured a prayer.

"We must go in search of him without a moment's delay," said Blazius, "and take the lantern with us; it will as a guiding star to him if he has wandered off from the road, as is very probable, with everything covered with snow like this."

They accordingly lighted their horn lantern, and set off with all possible speed-the tyrant, Blazius, and de Sigognac-whilst Scapin and Leander remained with the three women in the chariot. The dog, meantime, kept up his dismal howling without a moment's intermission as the three men hastened towards him. The darkness and the newfallen snow, which had completely obliterated all traces of footsteps, made the task of looking for the missing actor a very difficult one, and after walking nearly a mile without seeing a sign of him, they began to fear that their search would prove fruitless. They kept calling, "Matamore! Matamore!" but there was no reply, nothing to be heard but the howling of the large black dog, at intervals now, or the scream of an owl, disturbed by the light of the lantern. At last de Sigognac, with his penetrating vision, thought he could make out a recumbent figure at the foot of a tree, a little way off from the road, and they all pressed forward to the spot he indicated.

It was indeed poor Matamore, sitting on the ground, with his back against the tree, and his long legs, stretched out in front of him, quite buried under the snow; he did not stir at the approach of his comrades, or answer their joyful shout of recognition, and when Blazius, alarmed at this strange apathy, hastened forward and threw the light of the lantern upon his face, he had nearly let it fall from fright at what it revealed. Poor Matamore was dead, stiff and stark, with wide-open, sunken eyes staring out vaguely into the darkness, and his ghastly face wearing that pinched, indescribable expression which the mortal puts on when the spirit that dwelt within has fled. The three who had found him thus were inexpressibly shocked, and stood for a moment speechless and motionless, in the presence of death. The tyrant was the first to recover himself, and hoping that some sign of life might yet remain he stooped and took the cold hand into his, and essayed to find a pulse at the wrist-in vain! it was still and icy. Unwilling yet to admit that the vital spark was extinct, he asked Blazius for his gourd, which he always carried with him, and endeavoured to pour a few drops of wine into his mouth-in vain! the teeth were tightly locked together, and the wine trickled from between his pale lips, and dropped slowly down upon his breast.

"Leave him in peace! do not disturb these poor remains!" said de Sigognac in trembling tones; "don't you see that he is dead?" "Alas! you are right," Blazius added, "he is dead; dead as Cheops in the great pyramid. Poor fellow! he must have been confused by the blinding snow, and unable to make his way against that terrible wind, turned aside and sat down under this tree, to wait until its violence should be spent; but he had not flesh enough on his bones to keep them warm, and must have been quickly frozen through and through. He has starved himself more than ever lately, in hopes of producing a sensation at Paris, and he was thinner than any greyhound before. Poor Matamore! thou art out of the way of all trouble now; no more blows, and kicks, and curses for thee, my friend, whether on or off the stage, and thou wilt be laughed at no more forever."

"What shall we do about his body?" interrupted the more practical tyrant. "We cannot leave it here for dogs, and wolves, and birds of prey to devour-though indeed I almost doubt whether they would touch it, there is so little flesh upon his bones."

"No, certainly, we cannot leave him here," Blazius replied; "he was a good and loyal comrade; he deserves better of us than that; we will not abandon him, poor Matamore! He is not heavy; you take his head and I will take his feet, and we will carry him to the chariot. To-morrow morning we will bury him as decently as we can in some quiet, retired spot, where he will not be likely to be disturbed. Unfortunately we cannot do better for him than that, for we, poor actors, are excluded by our hard-hearted and very unjust step-mother, the church, from her cemeteries; she denies us the security and comfort of being laid to rest for our last long sleep in consecrated ground. After having devoted our lives to the amusement of the human race-the highest as well as the more lowly among them, and faithful sons and daughters of holy church too-we must be thrown into the next ditch when the end comes, like dead dogs and horses. Now, Herode, are you ready? and will you, my lord, lead the way with the lantern?"

The mournful little procession moved slowly forward; the howling dog was quiet at last, as if his duty was done, and a deathlike stillness prevailed around them. It was well that there were no passers-by at that hour; it would have been a strange sight, almost a frightful one, for any such, for they might well have supposed that a hideous crime had been committed; the two men bearing the dead body away at night, lighted by the third with his lantern, which threw their shadows, long, black and misshapen, upon the startling whiteness of the snow, as they advanced with measured tread. Those who had remained with the chariot saw from afar the glimmer of de Sigognac's lantern, and wondered why they walked so slowly, not perceiving at that distance their sad burden. Scapin and Leander hastened forward to meet them, and as soon as they got near enough to see them distinctly the former shouted to them-"Well, what is the matter? why are you carrying Matamore like that? is he ill, or has he hurt himself?"

"He is not ill," answered Blazius, quietly, as they met, "and nothing can ever hurt him again-he is cured forever of the strange malady we call life, which always ends in death."

"Is he really dead?" Scapin asked, with a sob he did not even try to suppress, as he bent to look at the face of the poor comic actor, for he had a tender heart under his rough exterior, and had cherished a very sincere affection for poor Matamoie.

"Very dead indeed, for he is frozen as well," Blazius replied, in a voice that belied the levity of his words.

"He has lived! as they always say at the end of a tragedy," said Herode; "but relieve us, please, it is your turn now; we have carried the poor fellow a long way, and it is well for us that he is no heavier."

Scapin took Herode's place, reverently and tenderly, while Leander relieved the pedant-though this office was little to his taste-and they resumed their march, soon reaching the chariot. In spite of the cold and snow, Isabelle and Serafina sprang to the ground to meet them, but the duenna did not leave her seat-with age had come apathy, and selfishness had never been wanting. When they saw poor Matamore stiff and motionless, and were told that he was dead, the two young women were greatly shocked and moved, and Isabelle, bursting into tears, raised her pure eyes to heaven and breathed a fervent prayer for the departed soul.

And now came the question, what was to be done? The village for which they were bound was still a league away; but they could not stay where they were all night, and they decided to go on, even if they had to abandon the chariot and walk-anything would be better than freezing to death like poor Matamore. But after all, things were not at such a desperate pass as they supposed; the long rest, and a good feed of oats that Scapin had been thoughtful enough to give their tired horse, had so revived the poor old beast that he seemed to be ready and willing to go forward again-so their most serious difficulty was removed. Matamore's body was laid in the chariot, and carefully covered with a large piece of white linen they fortunately happened to have among their heterogeneous belongings, the women resumed their seats, not without a slight shudder as they thought of their ghastly companion, and the men walked-Scapin going in front with the lantern, and Herode leading the horse. They could not make very rapid progress, but at the end of two hours perceived-oh, welcome sight!-the first straggling houses of the village where they were to spend the night. At the noise of the approaching vehicle the dogs began to bark furiously, and more than one nightcapped head appeared at the windows as they passed along through the deserted street-so the pedant was able to ask the way to the inn, which proved to be at the other end of the hamlet-and the worn-out old horse had to make one more effort; but he seemed to feel that the stable, where he should find shelter, rest and food, was before him, and pushed on with astonishing alacrity.

They found it at last-the inn-with its bunch of holly for a sign. It looked a forlorn place, for travellers did not usually stop over night in this small, unimportant village; but the comedians were not in a mood to be fastidious, and would have been thankful for even a more unpromising house of entertainment than this one. It was all shut up for the night, with not a sign of life to be seen, so the tyrant applied himself diligently to pounding on the door with his big fists, until the sound of footsteps within, descending the stairs, showed that he had succeeded in rousing somebody. A ray of light shone through the cracks in the rickety old door, then it was cautiously opened just a little, and an aged, withered crone, striving to protect the flame of her flaring candle from the wind with one skinny hand, and to hold the rags of her most extraordinary undress together with the other, peered out at them curiously. She was evidently just as she had turned out of her bed, and a more revolting, witch-like old hag it would be hard to find; but she bade the belated travellers enter, with a horrible grimace that was intended for a smile, throwing the door wide open, and telling them they were welcome to her house as she led the way into the kitchen. She kindled the smouldering embers on the hearth into a blaze, threw on some fresh wood, and then withdrew to mount to her chamber and make herself a little more presentable-having first roused a stout peasant lad, who served as hostler, and sent him to take the chariot into the court, where he was heard directly unharnessing the weary horse and leading him into the stable.

"We cannot leave poor Matamore's body in the chariot all night, like a dead deer brought home from the chase," said Blazius; "the dogs out there in the court might find it out. Besides, he had been baptized, and his remains ought to be watched with and cared for, like any other good Christian's."

So they brought in the sad burden tenderly, laid it on the long table, and covered it again carefully with the white linen cloth. When the old woman returned, and saw this strange and terrible sight, she was frightened almost to death, and, throwing herself on her knees, began begging volubly for mercy-evidently taking the troupe of comedians for a band of assassins, and the dead man for their unfortunate victim. It was with the greatest difficulty that Isabelle finally succeeded in calming and reassuring the poor, distracted, old creature, who was beside herself with terror, and made her listen to the story of poor Matamore's death. When, at last, she fully understood the true state of the case, she went and fetched more candles, which she lighted and disposed symmetrically about the dead body, and kindly offered to sit up and watch it with Mme. Leonarde-also to do all that was necessary and usual for it-adding that she was always sent for in the village when there was a death, to perform those last, sad offices. All this being satisfactorily arranged-whereat they were greatly relieved-the weary travellers were conducted into another room, and food was placed before them; but the sad scenes just enacted had taken away their appetites, though it was many long hours since they had eaten. And be it here recorded that Blazius, for the first time in his life, forgot to drink his wine, though it was excellent, and left his glass half full. He could not have given a more convincing proof of the depth and sincerity of his grief.

Isabelle and Serafina spent the night in an adjoining chamber, sharing the one small bed it contained, and the men lay down upon bundles of straw that the stable-boy brought in for them. None of them slept much-being haunted by disturbing dreams inspired by the sad and trying events of the previous day-and all were up and stirring at an early hour, for poor Matamore's burial was to be attended to. For want of something more appropriate the aged hostess and Mme. Leonarde had enveloped the body in an old piece of thick canvass-still bearing traces of the foliage and garlands of flowers originally painted in bright colours upon it-in which they had sewed it securely, so that it looked not unlike an Egyptian mummy. A board resting on two cross pieces of wood served as a bier, and, the body being placed upon it, was carried by Herode, Blazius, Scapin and Leander. A large, black velvet cloak, adorned with spangles, which was used upon the stage by sovereign pontiffs or venerable necromancers, did duty as a pall-not inappropriately surely. The little cortege left the inn by a small door in the rear that opened upon a deserted common, so as to avoid passing through the street and rousing the curiosity of the villagers, and set off towards a retired spot, indicated by the friendly old woman, where no one would be likely to witness or interfere with their proceedings. The early morning was gray and cold, the sky leaden-no one had ventured abroad yet save a few peasants searching for dead wood and sticks, who looked with suspicious eyes upon the strange little procession making its way slowly through the untrodden snow, but did not attempt to approach or molest it. They reached at last the lonely spot where they were to leave the mortal remains of poor Matamore, and the stable-boy, who had accompanied them carrying a spade, set to work to dig the grave. Several carcasses of animals lay scattered about close at hand, partly hidden by the snow-among them two or three skeletons of horses, picked clean by birds of prey; their long heads, at the end of the slender vertebral columns, peering out horribly at them, and their ribs, like the sticks of an open fan stripped of its covering, appearing above the smooth white surface, bearing each one its little load of snow. The comedians observed these ghastly surroundings with a shudder, as they laid their burden gently down upon the ground, and gathered round the grave which the boy was industriously digging. He made but slow progress, however, and the tyrant, taking the spade from him, went to work with a will, and had soon finished the sad task. Just at the last a volley of stones suddenly startled the little group, who, intent upon the mournful business in hand, had not noticed the stealthy approach of a considerable number of peasants.

These last had been hastily summoned by their friends who had first perceived the mysterious little funeral procession, without priest, crucifix, or lighted tapers, and taken it for granted that there must be something uncanny about it.

They were about to follow up the shower of stones by a charge upon the group assembled round the open grave, when de Sigognac, outraged at this brutal assault, whipped out his sword, and rushed upon them impetuously, striking some with the flat of the blade, and threatening others with the point; while the tyrant, who had leaped out of the grave at the first alarm, seized one of the cross pieces of the improvised bier, and followed the baron into the thick of the crowd, raining blows right and left among their cowardly assailants; who, though they far outnumbered the little band of comedians, fled before the vigorous attack of de Sigognac and Herode, cursing and swearing, and shouting out violent threats as they withdrew. Poor Matamore's humble obsequies were completed without further hindrance. When the first spadeful of earth fell upon his body the pedant, with great tears slowly rolling down his cheeks, bent reverently over the grave and sighed out, "Alas! poor Matamore!" little thinking that he was, using the very words of Hamlet, prince of Denmark, when he apostrophized the skull of Yorick, an ancient king's jester, in the famous tragedy of one Shakespeare-a poet of great renown in England, and protege of Queen Elizabeth.

The grave was filled up in silence, and the tyrant-after having trampled down the snow for some distance around it, so that its exact whereabouts might not be easy to find in case the angry peasants should come back to disturb it-said as they turned away, "Now let us get out of this place as fast as we can; we have nothing more to do here, and the sooner we quit it the better. Those brutes that attacked us may return with reinforcements-indeed I think it more than likely that they will-in which case your sword, my dear baron, and my stick might not be enough to scatter them again. We don't want to kill any of them, and have the cries of widows and orphans resounding in our ears; and besides, it might be awkward for us if we were obliged to do it in self-defence, and then were hauled up before the local justice of peace to answer for it."

There was so much good sense in this advice that it was unanimously agreed to follow it, and in less than an hour, after having settled their account at the inn, they, were once more upon the road.

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