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   Chapter 10 A MIDNIGHT ADVENTURE

Captain Fracasse By Theophile Gautier Characters: 61174

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was long after he had regained the quiet of his own room ere de Sigognac could compose himself sufficiently to set about the light task imposed upon him by Isabelle. He was at once enchanted and cast down; radiant with joy, and filled with sorrow; in a seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The great lord who has given them all such heaps of money; oh! such

quantities of big gold pieces-by the handful," said Chiquita, her great

dark eyes glittering with a fierce, covetous expression, strange and

horrible to see in one so young. "But all the same, YOU gave me the

pearls, and he shall not hurt you; he shall not have you if you don't

want to go. I will tell them that you were awake, and there was a man

in the room, so that I could not get in and open the door for them; they

will all go away quietly enough; you need not be afraid. Now let me have

one good look at you before I go-oh, how sweet and pretty you are-and

I love you, yes, I do, ever so much; almost as much as Agostino. But

what is this?" cried she suddenly, pouncing upon a knife that was lying

on the table near the bed. "Why, you have got the very knife I lost; it

was my father's knife. Well, you may keep it-it's a good one."

'When this viper bites you, make sure

That you must die, for there's no cure.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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