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Captain Fracasse By Theophile Gautier Characters: 52899

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

The comedians pushed forward at first as rapidly as the strength of their horse-resuscitated by a night's rest in a comfortable stable, and a generous feed of oats-would allow; it being important to put a good distance between themselves and the infuriated peasants who had been repulsed by de Sigognac and the tyrant. They plodded on for more than two leagues in profound silence, for poor Matamore's sad fate weighed heavily upon their hearts, and each one thought, with a shudder, that the day might come when he too would die, and be buried secretly and in haste, in some lonely and neglected spot by the roadside, wherever they chanced to be, and there abandoned by his comrades.

At last Blazius, whose tongue was scarcely ever at rest, save when he slept, could restrain it no longer, and began to expatiate upon the mournful theme of which all were thinking, embellishing his discourse with many apt quotations, apothegms and maxims, of which in his role of pedant he had an ample store laid up in his memory. The tyrant listened in silence, but with such a scowling, preoccupied air that Blazius finally observed it, and broke off his eloquent disquisition abruptly to inquire what he was cogitating so intently.

"I am thinking about Milo, the celebrated Crotonian," he replied, "who killed a bullock with one blow of his fist, and devoured it in a single day. I always have admired that exploit particularly, and I feel as if I could do as much myself to-day."

"But as bad luck will have it," said Scapin, putting in his oar, "the bullock is wanting."

"Yes," rejoined the tyrant, "I, alas! have only the fist and the stomach. Oh! thrice happy the ostrich, that, at a pinch, makes a meal of pebbles, bits of broken glass, shoe-buttons, knife-handles, belt-buckles, or any such-like delicacies that come in its way, which the poor, weak, human stomach cannot digest at all. At this moment I feel capable of swallowing whole that great mass of scenery and decorations in the chariot yonder. I feel as if I had as big a chasm in me as the grave I dug this morning for poor Matamore, and as if I never could get enough to fill it. The ancients were wise old fellows; they knew what they were about when they instituted the feasts that always followed their funerals, with abundance of meats and all sorts of good things to eat, washed down with copious draughts of wine, to the honour of the dead and the great good of the living. Ah! if we only had the wherewithal now to follow their illustrious example, and accomplish worthily that philosophical rite, so admirably calculated to stay the tears of mourners and raise their drooping spirits."

"In other words," said Blazius, "you are hankering after something to eat. Polyphemus, ogre, Gargantua, monster that you are! you disgust me."

"And you," retorted the tyrant, "I know that you are hankering after something to drink. Silenus, hogshead, wine-bottle, sponge that you are! you excite my pity."

"How delightful it would be for us all if you both could have your wish," interposed Scapin, in a conciliatory tone.

"Look, yonder by the roadside is a little grove, capitally situated for a halting-place. We might stop there for a little, ransack the chariot to find whatever fragments may yet remain in it of our last stock of provisions, and gathering them all up take our breakfast, such as it may be, comfortably sheltered from this cold north wind on the lee side of the thicket there. The short halt will give the poor old horse a chance to rest, and we meantime, while we are breakfasting, can discuss at our leisure some expedients for supplying our immediate needs, and also talk over our future plans and prospects-which latter, it seems to me, look devilishly dark and discouraging."

"Your words are golden, friend Scapin," the pedant said, "let us by all means gather up the crumbs that are left of former plenty, though they will be but few and musty, I fear. There are still, however, two or three bottles of wine remaining-the last of a goodly store-enough for us each to have a glass. What a pity that the soil hereabouts is not of that peculiar kind of clay upon which certain tribes of American savages are said to subsist, when they have been unlucky in their hunting and fishing, and have nothing better to eat."

They accordingly turned the chariot off from the road into the edge of the thicket, unharnessed the horse, and left him free to forage for himself; whereupon he began to nibble, with great apparent relish, at the scattered spears of grass peeping up here and there through the snow. A large rug was brought from the chariot and spread upon the ground in a sheltered spot, upon which the comedians seated themselves, in Turkish fashion, in a circle, while Blazius distributed among them the sorry rations he had managed to scrape together; laughing and jesting about them in such an amusing manner that all were fain to join in his merriment, and general good humour prevailed. The Baron de Sigognac, who had long, indeed always, been accustomed to extreme frugality, in fact almost starvation, and found it easier to bear such trials with equanimity than his companions, could not help admiring the wonderful way in which the pedant made the best of a really desperate situation, and found something to laugh at and make merry over where most people would have grumbled and groaned, and bewailed their hard lot, in a manner to make themselves, and all their companions in misery, doubly unhappy. But his attention was quickly absorbed in his anxiety about Isabelle, who was deathly pale, and shivering until her teeth chattered, though she did her utmost to conceal her suffering condition, and to laugh with the rest. Her wraps were sadly insufficient to protect her properly from such extreme cold as they were exposed to then, and de Sigognac, who was sitting beside her, insisted upon sharing his cloak with her-though she protested against his depriving himself of so much of it-and beneath its friendly shelter gently drew her slender, shrinking form close to himself, so as to impart some of his own vital warmth to her. She could feel the quickened beating of his heart as he held her respectfully, yet firmly and tenderly, embraced, and he was soon rewarded for his loving care by seeing the colour return to her pale lips, the happy light to her sweet eyes, and even a faint flush appear on her delicate cheeks.

While they were eating-or rather making believe to eat their make-believe breakfast-a singular noise was heard near by, to which at first they paid no particular attention, thinking it was the wind whistling through the matted branches of the thicket, if they thought of it at all; but presently it grew louder, and they could not imagine what it proceeded from. It was a sort of hissing sound, at once shrill and hoarse, quite impossible to describe accurately.

As it grew louder and louder, and seemed to be approaching them, the women manifested some alarm.

"Oh!" shrieked Serafina "I hope it's not a snake; I shall die if it is; I am so terrified by the horrid, crawling creatures."

"But it can't possibly be a snake," said Leander, reassuringly; "in such cold weather as this the snakes are all torpid and lying in their holes underground, stiffer than so many sticks."

"Leander is right," added the pedant, "this cannot be a snake; and besides, snakes never make such a sound as that at any time. It must proceed from some wild creature of the wood that our invasion has disturbed; perhaps we may be lucky enough to capture it and find it edible; that would be a piece of good fortune, indeed, quite like a fairy-tale."

Meantime Scapin was listening attentively to the strange, incomprehensible sound, and watching keenly that part of the thicket from which it seemed to come. Presently a movement of the underbrush became noticeable, and just as he motioned to the company to keep perfectly quiet a magnificent big gander emerged from the bushes, stretching out his long neck, hissing with all his might, and waddling along with a sort of stupid majesty that was most diverting-closely followed by two geese, his good, simple-minded, confiding wives, in humble attendance upon their infuriated lord and master.

"Don't stir, any of you," said Scapin, under his breath, and I will endeavour to capture this splendid prize"-with which the clever scamp crept softly round behind his companions, who were still seated in a circle on the rug, so lightly that he made not the slightest sound; and while the gander-who with his two followers had stopped short at sight of the intruders-was intently examining them, with some curiosity mingled with his angry defiance, and apparently wondering in his stupid way how these mysterious figures came to be in that usually deserted spot, Scapin succeeded, by making a wide detour, in getting behind the three geese unseen, and noiselessly advancing upon them, with one rapid, dexterous movement, threw his large heavy cloak over the coveted prize. In another instant he had the struggling gander, still enveloped in the cloak, in his arms, and, by compressing his neck tightly, quickly put an end to his resistance-and his existence at the same time; while his two wives, or rather widows, rushed back into the thick underbrush to avoid a like fate, making a great cackling and ado over the terrible catastrophe that had befallen their quondam lord and master.

"Bravo, Scapin! that was a clever trick indeed," cried Herode; "it throws those you are so often applauded for on the stage quite into the shade-a masterpiece of strategy, friend Scapin!-for, as is well known, geese are by nature very vigilant, and never caught off their guard-of which history gives us a notable instance, in the watchfulness of the sacred geese of the Capitol, whose loud cackling in the dead of night at the stealthy approach of the Gauls woke the sleeping soldiers to a sense of their danger just in time to save Rome. This splendid big fellow here saves us-after another fashion it is true, but one which is no less providential."

The goose was plucked and prepared for the spit by Mme. Leonarde, while Blazius, the tyrant, and Leander busied themselves in gathering together a goodly quantity of dead wood and twigs, and laying them ready to light in a tolerably dry spot. Scapin, with his large clasp-knife, cut a straight, strong stick, stripped off the bark for a spit, and found two stout forked branches, which he stuck firmly into the ground on each side of the fire so that they would meet over it. A handful of dry straw from the chariot served as kindling, and they quickly had a bright blaze, over which the goose was suspended, and being duly turned and tended by Scapin, in a surprisingly short space of time began to assume a beautiful light brown hue, and send out such a savoury delicious odour that the tyrant sprang up and strode away from its immediate vicinity, declaring that if he remained near it the temptation to seize and swallow it, spit and all, would surely be too strong for him. Blazius had fetched from the chariot a huge tin platter that usually figured in theatrical feasts, upon which the goose, done to a turn, was finally placed with all due ceremony, and a second breakfast was partaken of, which was by no means a fallacious, chimerical repast like the first. The pedant, who was an accomplished carver, officiated in that capacity on this auspicious occasion; begging the company, as he did so, to be kind enough to excuse the unavoidable absence, which he deeply regretted, of the slices of Seville oranges that should have formed a part of the dish-being an obligatory accessory of roast goose-and they with charming courtesy smilingly expressed their willingness to overlook for this once such a culinary solecism.

"Now," said Herode, when nothing remained of the goose but its well-picked bones, "we must try to decide upon what is best to be done. Only three or four pistoles are left in the exchequer, and my office as treasurer bids fair to become a sinecure. We have been so unfortunate as to lose two valuable members of the troupe, Zerbine and poor Matamore, rendering many of our best plays impossible for us, and at any rate we cannot give dramatic representations that would bring in much money here in the fields, where our audience would be mainly composed of crows, jackdaws, and magpies-who could scarcely be expected to pay us very liberally for our entertainment. With that poor, miserable, old horse there, slowly dying between the shafts of our chariot, hardly able to drag one foot after another, we cannot reasonably expect to reach Poitiers in less than two days-if we do then-and our situation is an unpleasantly tragic one, for we run the risk of being frozen or starved to death by the wayside; fat geese, already roasted, do not emerge from every thicket you know."

"You state the case very clearly," the pedant said as he paused, "and make the evil very apparent, but you don't say a word about the remedy."

"My idea is," rejoined Herode, "to stop at the first village we come to and give an entertainment. All work in the fields is at a standstill now, and the peasants are idle in consequence; they will be only too delighted at the prospect of a little amusement. Somebody will let us have his barn for our theatre, and Scapin shall go round the town beating the drum, and announcing our programme, adding this important clause, that all those who cannot pay for their places in money may do so in provisions. A fowl, a ham, or a jug of wine, will secure a seat in the first row; a pair of pigeons, a dozen eggs, or a loaf of bread, in the second, and so on down. Peasants are proverbially stingy with their money, but will be liberal enough with their provisions; and though our purse will not be replenished, our larder will, which is equally important, since our very lives depend upon it. After that we can push on to Poitiers, and I know an inn-keeper there who will give us credit until we have had time to fill our purse again, and get our finances in good order."

"But what piece can we play, in case we find our village?" asked Scapin. "Our repertoire is sadly reduced, you know. Tragedies, and even the better class of comedies, would be all Greek to the stupid rustics, utterly ignorant as they are of history or fable, and scarcely even understanding the French language. The only thing to give them would be a roaring farce, with plenty of funny by-play, resounding blows, kicks and cuffs, ridiculous tumbles, and absurdities within their limited comprehension. The Rodomontades of Captain Matamore would be the very thing; but that is out of our power now that poor Matamore is dead."

When Scapin paused, de Sigognac made a sign with his hand that he wished to speak, and all the company turned respectfully towards him to listen to what he had to say. A little flush spread itself over his pale countenance, and it was only after a brief but sharp struggle with himself that he opened his tightly compressed lips, and addressed his expectant audience, as follows: "Although I do not possess poor Matamore's talent, I can almost rival him in thinness, and I will take his role, and do the best I can with it. I am your comrade, and I want to do my part in this strait we find ourselves in. I should be ashamed to share your prosperity, as I have done, and not aid you, so far as lies in my power, in your adversity, and this is the only way in which I can assist you. There is no one in the whole world to care what may become of the de Sigognacs; my house is crumbling into dust over the tombs of my ancestors; oblivion covers my once glorious name, and the arms of my family are almost entirely obliterated above the deserted entrance to the Chateau de Sigognac. Perhaps I may yet see the three golden storks shine out brilliantly upon my shield, and life, prosperity, and happiness return to the desolate abode where my sad, hopeless youth was spent. But in the meantime, since to you I owe my escape from that dreary seclusion, I beg you to accept me freely as your comrade, and my poor services as such; to you I am no longer de Sigognac."

Isabelle had laid her hand on his arm at his first sentence, as soon as she comprehended what he meant to say, to try to stop him, and here she made another effort to interrupt; but for once he would not heed her, and continued, "I renounce my title of baron for the present; I fold it up and put it away at the bottom of my portmanteau, like a garment that is laid aside. Do not make use of it again, I pray you; we will see whether under a new name I may not succeed in escaping from the ill fortune that has thus far pursued me as the Baron de Sigognac. Henceforth then I take poor Matamore's place, and my name is Captain Fracasse."

"Bravo! Vive Captain Fracasse!" cried they all, with enthusiasm, "may applause greet and follow him wherever he goes."

This sudden move on de Sigognac's part, at which the comedians were greatly astonished, as well as deeply touched, was not so unpremeditated as it seemed; he had been thinking about it for some time. He blushed at the idea of being a mere parasite, living upon the bounty of these honest players-who shared all they had with him so generously, and without ever making him feel, for a moment, that he was under any obligation to them, but-rather that he was conferring an honour upon them-he deemed it less unworthy a gentleman to appear upon the stage and do his part towards filling the common purse than to be their pensioner in idleness; and after all, there was no disgrace in becoming an actor. The idea of quitting them and going back to Sigognac had indeed presented itself to his mind, but he had instantly repulsed it as base and cowardly-it is not in the hour of danger and disaster that the true soldier retires from the ranks. Besides, if he had wished to go ever so much, his love for Isabelle would have kept him near her; and then, though he was not given to day-dreams, he yet fancied that wonderful adventures, sudden changes, and strokes of good fortune might possibly be awaiting him in the mysterious future, into which he fain would peer, and he would inevitably lose the chance of them all if he returned to his ruinous chateau.

Everything being thus satisfactorily arranged, the old horse was harnessed up again, and the chariot moved slowly forward on its way. Their good meal had revived everybody's drooping spirits, and they all, excepting the duenna and Serafina, who never walked if they could possibly help it, trudged cheerily along, laughing and talking as they went.

Isabelle had taken de Sigognac's offered arm, and leaned on it proudly, glancing furtively up into his face, whenever he was looking away from her, with eyes full of tenderness and loving admiration, never suspecting, in her modesty, that it was for love of her that he had decided to turn actor-a thing so revolting, as she knew, to his pride as a gentleman. He was a hero in her eyes, and though she wished to reproach him for his hasty action, which she would have prevented if she could, she had not the heart to find fault with him for his noble devotion to the common cause after all. Yet she would have done anything, suffered everything herself, to have saved him this humiliation; hers being one of those true, loyal hearts that forget themselves in their love, and think only of the interests and happiness of the being beloved. She walked on beside him until her strength was exhausted, and then returned to her place in the chariot, giving him a look so eloquent of love and admiration, as he carefully drew her wraps about her, that his heart bounded with joy, and he felt that no sacrifice could be too great which was made for her sweet sake.

In every direction around them, as far as the eye could reach, the snow-covered country was utterly devoid of town, village, or hamlet; not a sign of life was anywhere to be seen.

"A sorry prospect for our fine plan," said the pedant, after a searching examination of their surroundings, "and I very much fear that the plentiful store of provisions Herode promised us will not be forthcoming. I cannot see the smoke of a single chimney, strain my eyes as I will, nor the weather-cock on any village spire."

"Have a little patience, Blazius!" the tyrant replied. "Where people live too much crowded together the air becomes vitiated, you know, and it is very salubrious to have the villages situated a good distance apart."

"What a healthy part of the country this must be then the inhabitants need not to fear epidemics-for to begin with there are no inhabitants. At this rate our Captain Fracasse will not have a chance very soon to make his debut."

By this time it was nearly dark, the sky was overcast with heavy leaden clouds, and only a faint lurid glow on the horizon in the west showed where the sun had gone down. An icy wind, blowing full in their faces, and the hard, frozen surface of the snow, made their progress both difficult and painful. The poor old horse slipped at every step, though Scapin was carefully leading him, and staggered along like a drunken man, striking first against one shaft and then against the other, growing perceptibly weaker at every turn of the wheels behind him. Now and again he shook his head slowly up and down, and cast appealing glances at those around him, as his trembling legs seemed about to give way under him. His hour had come-the poor, old horse! and he was dying in harness like a brave beast, as he was. At last he could no more, and falling heavily to the ground gave one feeble kick as he stretched himself out on his side, and yielded up the ghost. Frightened by the sudden shock, the women shrieked loudly, and the men, running to their assistance, helped them to clamber out of the chariot. Mme. Leonarde and Serafina were none the worse for the fright, but Isabelle had fainted quite away, and de Sigognac, lifting her light weight easily, carried her in his arms to the bank at the side of the road, followed by the duenna, while Scapin bent down over the prostrate horse and carefully examined his ears.

"He is stone dead," said he in despairing tones; "his ears are cold, and there is no pulsation in the auricular artery."

"Then I suppose we shall have to harness ourselves to the chariot in his place," broke in Leander dolefully, almost weeping. "Oh! cursed be the mad folly that led me to choose an actor's career."

"Is this a time to groan and bewail yourself?" roared the tyrant savagely, entirely out of patience with Leander's everlasting jeremiads; "for heaven's sake pluck up a little courage, and be a man! And now to consider what is to be done; but first let us see how our good little Isabelle is getting on; is she still unconscious? No; she opens her eyes, and there is the colour coming back to her lips; she will do now, thanks to the baron and Mme. Leonarde. We must divide ourselves into two bands; one will stay with the women and the chariot, the other will scour the country in search of aid. We cannot think of remaining here all night, for we should be frozen stiff long before morning. Come, Captain Fracasse, Leander, and Scapin, you three being the youngest, and also the fleetest of foot, off with you. Run like greyhounds, and bring us succour as speedily as may be. Blazius and I will meantime do duty as guardians of the chariot and its contents."

The three men designated signified their readiness to obey the tyrant, and set off across country, though not feeling at all sanguine as to the results of their search, for the night was intensely dark; but that very darkness had its advantages, and came to their aid in an unexpected manner, for though it effectually concealed all surrounding objects, it made visible a tiny point of light shining at the foot of a little hill some distance from the road.

"Behold," cried the pedant, "our guiding star! as welcome to us weary travellers, lost in the desert, as the polar star to the distressed mariner 'in periculo maris.' That blessed star yonder, whose rays shine far out into the darkness, is a light burning in some warm, comfortable room, which forms-Heaven be praised!-part of the habitation of human and civilized beings-not Laestrygon savages. Without doubt there is a bright fire blazing on the hearth in that cosy room, and over it hangs a famous big pot, from which issue puffs of a delicious odour-oh, delightful thought!-round which my imagination holds high revel, and in fancy I wash down with generous wine the savoury morsels from that glorious pot-au-feu."

"You rave, my good Blazius," said the tyrant, "the frost must have gotten into your brain-that makes men mad, they say, or silly. Yet there is some method in your madness, some truth in your ravings, for yonder light must indicate an inhabited dwelling. This renders a change in the plans for our campaign advisable. We will all go forward together towards the promised refuge, and leave the chariot where it is; no robbers will be abroad on such a night as this to interfere with its contents. We will take our few valuables-they are not so numerous or weighty but that we can carry them with us; for once it is an advantage that our possessions are few. To-morrow morning we will come back to fetch the chariot: now, forward, march!-and it is time, for I am nearly frozen to death."

The comedians accordingly started across the fields, towards the friendly light that promised them so much-Isabelle supported by de Sigognac, Serafina by Leander, and the duenna dragged along by Scapin; while Blazius and the tyrant formed the advance guard. It was not easy work; sometimes plunging into deep snow, more than knee high, as they came upon a ditch, hidden completely under the treacherously smooth white surface, or stumbling, and even falling more than once, over some unseen obstacle; but at length they came up to what seemed to be a large, low building, probably a farm-house, surrounded by stone walls, with a big gate for carts to enter. In the expanse of dark wall before them shone the light which had guided their steps, and upon approaching they found that it proceeded from a small window, whose shutters-most fortunately for them, poor, lost wanderers-had not yet been closed. The dogs within the enclosure, per

ceiving the approach of strangers, began to bark loudly and rush about the yard; they could hear them jumping up at the walls in vain efforts to get at the intruders. Presently the sound of a man's voice and footsteps mingled with their barking, and in a moment the whole establishment seemed to be on the alert.

"Stay here, all of you," said the pedant, halting at a little distance from the gate, "and let me go forward alone to knock for admission. Our numbers might alarm the good people of the farm, and lead them to fancy us a band of robbers, with designs upon their rustic Penates; as I am old, and inoffensive looking, they will not be afraid of me."

This advice was approved by all, and Blazius, going forward by himself, knocked gently at the great gate, which was first opened cautiously just a very little, then flung impetuously back; and then the comedians, from their outpost in the snow, saw a most extraordinary and inexplicable scene enacted before their astonished eyes. The pedant and the farmer who had opened the gate, after gazing at each other a moment intently, by the light of the lantern which the latter held up to see what manner of man his nocturnal visitor might be, and after exchanging rapidly a few words, that the others could not hear, accompanied by wild gesticulations, rushed into each other's arms, and began pounding each other heartily upon the back-mutually bestowing resounding accolades-as is the manner upon the stage of expressing joy at meeting a dear friend. Emboldened by this cordial reception, which yet was a mystery to them, the rest of the troupe ventured to approach, though slowly and timidly.

"Halloa! all of you there," cried the pedant suddenly, in a joyful voice, "come on without fear, you will be made welcome by a friend and a brother, a world-famed member of our profession, the darling of Thespis, the favourite of Thalia, no less a personage than the celebrated Bellombre-you all know his glorious record. Blessed is the happy chance that has directed our steps hither, to the philosophic retreat where this histrionic hero reposes tranquilly upon his laurels."

"Come in, I pray you, ladies and gentlemen," said Bellombre, advancing to meet them, with a graceful courtesy which proved that the ci-devant actor had not put aside his elegant, courtly manners when he donned his peasant dress.

"Come in quickly out of this biting wind; my dwelling is rude and homely, but you will be better off within it than here in the open air."

They needed no urging, and joyfully accepting his kind invitation followed their host into the house, charmed with this unhoped-for good fortune. Blazius and Bellombre were old acquaintances, and had formerly been members Of the same troupe; as their respective roles did not clash there was no rivalry between them, and they had become fast friends-being fellow worshippers at the shrine of the merry god of wine. Bellombre had retired from the stage some years before, when at his father's death he inherited this farm and a small fortune. The parts that he excelled in required a certain degree of youth, and he was not sorry to withdraw before wrinkles and whitening locks should make it necessary for him to abandon his favourite roles. In the world he was believed to be dead, but his splendid acting was often quoted by his former admirers-who were wont to declare that there had been nothing to equal it seen on the stage since he had made his last bow to the public.

The room into which he led his guests was very spacious, and served both as kitchen and sitting-room-there was also a large curtained bed standing in an alcove at the end farthest from the fire, as was not unusual in ancient farm-houses. The blaze from the four or five immense logs of wood heaped up on the huge andirons was roaring up the broad chimney flue, and filling the room with a bright, ruddy glow-a most welcome sight to the poor half-frozen travellers, who gathered around it and luxuriated in its genial warmth. The large apartment was plainly and substantially furnished, just as any well-to-do farmer's house might be, but near one of the windows stood a round table heaped up with books, some of them lying open as if but just put down, which showed that the owner of the establishment had not lost his taste for literary pursuits, but devoted to them his long winter evenings.

The cordiality of their welcome and the deliciously warm atmosphere in which they found themselves had combined to raise the spirits of the comedians-colour returned to pate faces, light to heavy eyes, and smiles to anxious lips-their gaiety was in proportion to the misery and peril from which they had just happily escaped, their hardships were all forgotten, and they gave themselves up entirely to the enjoyment of the hour. Their host had called up his servants, who bustled about, setting the table and making other preparations for supper, to the undisguised delight of Blazius, who said triumphantly to the tyrant, "You see now, Herode, and must acknowledge, that my predictions, inspired by the little glimmer of light we saw from afar, are completely verified-they have all come literally true. Fragrant puffs are issuing even now from the mammoth pot-au-feu there over the fire, and we shall presently wash down its savoury contents with draughts of generous wine, which I see already awaiting us on the table yonder. It is warm and bright and cosy in this room, and we appreciate and enjoy it all doubly, after the darkness and the cold and the danger from which we have escaped into the grateful shelter of this hospitable roof; and to crown the whole, our host is the grand, illustrious, incomparable Bellombre-flower and cream of all comedians, past, present and future, and best of good fellows."

"Our happiness would be complete if only poor Matamore were here," said Isabelle with a sigh.

"Pray what has happened to him?" asked Bellombre, who knew him by reputation.

The tyrant told him the tragic story of the snow-storm, and its fatal consequences. "But for this thrice-blessed meeting with my old and faithful friend here," Blazius added, "the same fate would probably have overtaken us ere morning-we should all have been found, frozen stiff and stark, by the next party of travellers on the post road."

"That would have been a pity indeed," Bellombre rejoined, and glancing admiringly at Isabelle and Serafina, added gallantly, "but surely these young goddesses would have melted the snow, and thawed the ice, with the fire I see shining in their sparkling eyes."

"You attribute too much power to our eyes," Scrafina made answer; "they could not even have made any impression upon a heart, in the thick, impenetrable darkness that enveloped us; the tears that the icy cold forced from them would have extinguished the flames of the most ardent love."

While they sat at supper, Blazius told their host of the sad condition of their affairs, at which he seemed no way surprised.

"There are always plenty of ups and downs in a theatrical career," he said-"the wheel of Fortune turns very fast in that profession; but if misfortunes come suddenly, so also does prosperity follow quickly in their train. Don't be discouraged!-things are brightening with you now. Tomorrow morning I will send one of my stout farm-horses to bring your chariot on here, and we will rig up a theatre in my big barn; there is a large town not far from this which will send us plenty of spectators. If the entertainment does not fetch as good a sum as I think it will, I have a little fund of pistoles lying idle here that will be entirely at your service, for, by Apollo! I would not leave my good Blazius and his friends in distress so long as I had a copper in my purse."

"I see that you are always the same warm-hearted, openhanded Bellombre as of old," cried the pedant, grasping the other's outstretched hand warmly; "you have not grown rusty and hard in consequence of your bucolic occupations."

"No," Bellombre replied, with a smile; "I do not let my brain lie fallow while I cultivate my fields. I make a point of reading over frequently the good old authors, seated comfortably by the fire with my feet on the fender, and I read also such new works as I am able to procure, from time to time, here in the depths of the country. I often go carefully over my own old parts, and I see plainly what a self-satisfied fool I was in the old days, when I was applauded to the echo every time I appeared upon the stage, simply because I happened to be blessed with a sonorous voice, a graceful carriage, and a fine leg; the doting stupidity of the public, with which I chanced to be a favourite, was the true cause of my success."

"Only the great Bellombre himself would ever be suffered to say such things as these of that most illustrious ornament of our profession," said the tyrant, courteously.

"Art is long, but life is short," continued the ci-devant actor, "and I should have arrived at a certain degree of proficiency at last perhaps, but-I was beginning to grow stout; and I would not allow myself to cling to the stage until two footmen should have to come and help me up from my rheumatic old knees every time I had a declaration of love to make, so I gladly seized the opportunity afforded me by my little inheritance, and retired in the height of my glory."

"And you were wise, Bellombre," said Blazius, "though your retreat was premature; you might have given ten years more to the theatre, and then have retired full early."

In effect he was still a very handsome, vigorous man, about whom no signs of age were apparent, save an occasional thread of silver amid the rich masses of dark hair that fell upon his shoulders.

The younger men, as well as the three actresses, were glad to retire to rest early; but Blazius and the tyrant, with their host, sat up drinking the latter's capital wine until far into the night. At length they, too, succumbed to their fatigue; and while they are sleeping we will return to the abandoned chariot to see what was going on there. In the gray light of the early morning it could be perceived that the poor old horse still lay just as he had fallen; several crows were flitting about, not yet venturing to attack the miserable carcass, peering at it suspiciously from a respectful distance, as if they feared some hidden snare. At last one, bolder than its fellows, alighted upon the poor beast's head, and was just bending over that coveted dainty, the eye-which was open and staring-when a heavy step, coming over the snow, startled him. With a croak of disappointment he quitted his post of vantage, rose heavily in the air, and flapped slowly off to a neighbouring tree, followed by his companions, cawing and scolding hoarsely. The figure of a man appeared, coming along the road at a brisk pace, and carrying a large bundle in his arms, enveloped in his cloak. This he put down upon the ground when he came up with the chariot, standing directly in his way, and it proved to be a little girl about twelve years old; a child with large, dark, liquid eyes that had a feverish light in them-eyes exactly like Chiquita's. There was a string of pearl beads round the slender neck, and an extraordinary combination of rags and tatters, held together in some mysterious way, hung about the thin, fragile little figure. It was indeed Chiquita herself, and with her, Agostino-the ingenious rascal, whose laughable exploit with his scarecrow brigands has been already recorded-who, tired of following a profession that yielded no profits, had set out on foot for Paris-where all men of talent could find employment they said-marching by night, and lying hidden by day, like all other beasts of prey. The poor child, overcome with fatigue and benumbed by the cold, had given out entirely that night, in spite of her valiant efforts to keep up with Agostino, and he had at last picked her up in his arms and carried her for a while-she was but a light burden-hoping to find some sort of shelter soon.

"What can be the meaning of this?" he said to Chiquita. "Usually we stop the vehicles, but here we are stopped by one in our turn; we must look out lest it be full of travellers, ready to demand our money or our lives."

"There's nobody in it," Chiquita replied, having peeped in under the cover.

"Perhaps there may be something worth having inside there," Agostino said; "we will look and see," and he proceeded to light the little dark lantern he always had with him, for the daylight was not yet strong enough to penetrate into the dusky interior of the chariot. Chiquita, who was greatly excited by the hope of booty, jumped in, and rapidly searched it, carefully directing the light of the lantern upon the packages and confused mass of theatrical articles stowed away in the back part of it, but finding nothing of value anywhere.

"Search thoroughly, my good little Chiquita!" said the brigand, as he kept watch outside, "be sure that you don't overlook anything."

"There is nothing here, absolutely nothing that is worth the trouble of carrying away. Oh, yes! here is a bag, with something that sounds like money in ft."

"Give it to me," cried Agostino eagerly, snatching it from her, and making a rapid examination of its contents; but he threw it down angrily upon the ground, exclaiming, "the devil take it! I thought we had found a treasure at last, but instead of good money there's nothing but a lot of pieces of gilded lead and such-like in it. But we'll get one thing out of this anyhow-a good rest inside here for you, sheltered from the wind and cold. Your poor little feet are bleeding, and they must be nearly frozen. Curl yourself down there on those cushions, and I will cover you with this bit of painted canvas. Now go to sleep, and I will watch while you have a nap; it is too early yet for honest folks to be abroad, and we shall not be disturbed." In a few minutes poor little Chiquita was sound asleep.

Agostino sat on the front seat of the chariot, with his navaja open and lying beside him, watching the road and the fields all about, with the keen, practised eye of a man of his lawless profession. All was still. No sound or movement any where, save among the crows. In spite of his iron will and constitution he began to feel an insidious drowsiness creeping over him, which he did not find it easy to shake off; several times his eyelids closed, and he lifted them resolutely, only to have them fall again in another instant. In fact he was just dropping into a doze, when he felt, as in a dream, a hot breath on his face, and suddenly waked to see two gleaming eyeballs close to his. With a movement more rapid than thought itself, he seized the wolf by the throat with his left hand, and picking up his navaja with the other, plunged it up to the hilt into the animal's breast. It must have gone through the heart, for he dropped down dead in the road, without a struggle.

Although he had gained the victory so easily over his fierce assailant, Agostino concluded that this was not a good place for them to tarry in, and called to Chiquita, who jumped up instantly, wide awake, and manifested no alarm at sight of the dead wolf lying beside the chariot.

"We had better move on," said he, "that carcass of the horse there draws the wolves; they are often mad with hunger in the winter time you know, and especially when there is snow on the ground. I could easily kill a pretty good number of them, but they might come down upon us by scores, and if I should happen to fall asleep again it would not be pleasant to wake up and find myself in the stomach of one of those confounded brutes. When I was disposed of they would make only a mouthful of you, little one! So come along, we must scamper off as fast as ever we can. That fellow there was only the advance guard, the others will not be far behind him-this carcass will keep them busy for a while, and give us time to get the start of them. You can walk now, Chiquita, can't you?"

"Yes, indeed," she replied cheerily, "that little nap has done me so much good. Poor Agostino! you shall not have to carry me again, like a great clumsy parcel. And Agostino," she added with a fierce energy, "when my feet refuse to walk or run in your service you must just cut my throat with your big knife there, and throw me into the next ditch. I will thank you for it, Agostino, for I could not bear to have your precious life in danger for the sake of poor, miserable little me." Thereupon this strange pair, both very fleet of foot, set off running, side by side, the brigand holding Chiquita by the hand, so as to give her all the aid and support he could, and they quickly passed out of sight. No sooner had they departed than the crows came swooping down from their perch in the nearest tree, and fell to fiercely upon their horrible feast, in which they were almost directly joined by several ravenous wolves-and they made such good use of their time, that in a few hours nothing remained of the poor old horse but his bones, his tail, and his shoes. When somewhat later the tyrant arrived, accompanied by one of Bellombre's farm-hands, leading the horse that was to take the chariot back with them, he was naturally astonished to find only the skeleton, with the harness and trappings, still intact, about it, for neither birds nor beasts had interfered with them, and his surprise was increased when he discovered the half-devoured carcass of the wolf lying under the chariot wheels. There also, scattered on the road, were the sham louis-d'or that did duty upon the stage when largesses were to be distributed; and upon the snow were the traces, clearly defined, of the footsteps of a man, approaching the chariot from the way it had come, and of those of the same man, and also of a child, going on beyond it.

"It would appear," said Herode to himself, "that the chariot of Thespis has received visitors, since we abandoned it, of more than one sort, and for my part I am very thankful to have missed them all. Oh, happy accident! that, when it happened, seemed to us so great a misfortune, yet is proven now to have been a blessing in disguise. And you, my poor old horse, you could not have done us a greater service than to die just when and where you did. Thanks to you we have escaped the wolves-two-legged ones, which are perhaps the most to be dreaded of all, as well as the ravenous brethren of this worthy lying here. What a dainty feast the sweet, tender flesh of those plump little pullets, Isabelle and Serafina, would have been for them, to say nothing of the tougher stuff the rest of us are made of. What a bountiful meal we should have furnished them-the murderous brutes!" While the tyrant was indulging in this soliloquy Bellombre's servant had detached the chariot from the skeleton of the poor old horse, and had harnessed to it, with considerable difficulty, the animal he had been leading, which was terrified at sight of the bleeding, mutilated carcass of the wolf lying on the snow, and the ghastly skeleton of its predecessor. Arrived at the farm, the chariot was safely stowed away under a shed, and upon examination it was found that nothing was missing. Indeed, something had been left there, for a small clasp-knife was picked up in it, which had fallen out of Chiquita's pocket, and excited a great deal of curiosity and conjecture. It was of Spanish make, and bore upon its sharp, pointed blade, a sinister inscription in that language, to this effect-

"When this viper bites you, make sure

That you must die-for there is no cure."

No one could imagine how it had come there, and the tyrant was especially anxious to clear up the mystery that puzzled them all. Isabelle, who was a little inclined to be superstitious, and attach importance to omens, signs of evil, and such-like, felt troubled about it. She spoke Spanish perfectly, and understood the full force and significance of the strange inscription upon the wicked-looking blade of the tiny weapon.

Meantime, Scapin, dressed in his freshest and most gaudy costume, had marched into the neighbouring town, carrying his drum; he stationed himself in the large, public square, and made such good play with his drum-sticks that he soon had a curious crowd around him, to whom he made an eloquent address, setting forth in glowing terms the great attractions offered by "the illustrious comedians of Herode's celebrated troupe," who, "for this night only," would delight the public by the representation of that screaming farce, the Rodomontades of Captain Fracasse; to be followed by a "bewitching Moorish dance," performed by the "incomparable Mlle. Serafina." After enlarging brilliantly upon this theme, he added, that as they were "more desirous of glory than profit," they would be willing to accept provisions of all kinds, instead of coin of the realm, in payment of places, from those who had not the money to spare, and asked them to let all their friends know. This closing announcement made a great sensation among his attentive listeners, and he marched back to the farm, confident that they would have a goodly number of spectators. There he found the stage already erected in the barn, and a rehearsal in progress, which was necessary on de Sigognac's account.

Bellombre was instructing him in various minor details as the play went on, and for a novice he did wonderfully well-acting with much spirit and grace, showing decided talent, and remarkable aptitude. But it was very evident that he was greatly annoyed by some portions of the piece, and an angry flush mounted to the roots of his hair at the whacks and cuffs so liberally bestowed upon the doughty captain.

His comrades spared him as much as possible-feeling that it must be intensely repugnant to him-but he grew furious in spite of all his efforts to control his temper, and at each fresh attack upon him his flashing eyes and knitted brows betrayed the fierce rage he was in; then, suddenly remembering that his role required a very different expression of countenance, he would pull himself up, and endeavour to imitate that which Matamore had been wont to assume in this character. Bellombre, who was watching him critically, stopped him a moment, to say: "You make a great mistake in attempting to suppress your natural emotions; you should take care not to do it, for they produce a capital effect, and you can create a new type of stage bully; when you have gotten accustomed to this sort of thing, and no longer feel this burning indignation, you must feign it. Strike out in a path of your own, and you will be sure to attain success-far more so than if you attempt to follow in another's footsteps. Fracasse, as you represent him, loves and admires courage, and would fain be able to manifest it-he is angry with himself for being such an arrant coward. When free from danger, he dreams of nothing but heroic exploits and superhuman enterprises; but when any actual peril threatens him, his too vivid imagination conjures up such terrible visions of bleeding wounds and violent death that his heart fails him. Yet his pride revolts at the idea of being beaten; for a moment he is filled with rage, but his courage all disappears with the first blows he receives, and he finally shows himself to be the poltroon that he himself despises. This method it appears to me is far superior to the absurd grimaces, trembling legs, and exaggerated gestures, by which indifferent actors endeavour to excite the laughter of their audience-but meantime lose sight entirely of their art."

The baron gratefully accepted the veteran actor's advice, and played his part after the fashion indicated by him with so much spirit that all present applauded his acting enthusiastically, and prophesied its success. The performances were to begin at an early hour, and as the time approached, de Sigognac put on poor Matamore's costume, to which he had fallen heir, and which Mme. Leonarde had taken in hand and cleverly altered for him, so that he could get into it. He had a sharp struggle with his pride as be donned this absurd dress, and made himself ready for his debut as an actor, but resolutely repressed all rising regrets, and determined faithfully to do his best in the new role he had undertaken.

A large audience had gathered in the big barn, which was brilliantly lighted, and the representation began before a full house. At the end farthest from the stage, and behind the spectators, were some cattle in their stalls, that stared at the unwonted scene with an expression of stupid wonder in their great, soft eyes-the eyes that Homer, the grand old Greek poet, deemed worthy to supply an epithet for the beauteous orbs of majestic Juno herself-and in the midst of one of the most exciting parts of the play, a calf among them was moved to express its emotions by an unearthly groan, which did not in the least disconcert the audience, but had nearly been too much for the gravity of the actors upon the stage.

Captain Fracasse won much applause, and indeed acted his part admirably, being under no constraint; for he did not need to fear the criticism of this rustic audience as he would have done that of a more cultivated and experienced one; and, too, he felt sure that there could be nobody among the spectators that knew him, or anything about him. The other actors were also vigorously clapped by the toil-hardened hands of these lowly tillers of the soil-whose applause throughout was bestowed, Bellombre declared, judiciously and intelligently. Serafina executed her Moorish dance with a degree of agility and voluptuous grace that would have done honour to a professional ballet-dancer, or to a Spanish gipsy, and literally brought down the house.

But while de Sigognac was thus employed, far from his ancient chateau, the portraits of his ancestors that hung upon its walls were frowning darkly at the degeneracy of this last scion of their noble race, and a sigh, almost a groan, that issued from their faded lips, echoed dismally through the deserted house. In the kitchen, Pierre, with Miraut and Beelzebub on either side of him-all three looking melancholy and forlorn-sat thinking of his absent lord, and said aloud, "Oh, where is my poor, dear master now?" a big tear rolling down his withered cheek as he stooped to caress his dumb companions.

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