MoboReader> Literature > Captain Fracasse

   Chapter 14 MALARTIC AT WORK

Captain Fracasse By Theophile Gautier Characters: 44510

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


If the Duke of Vallombreuse had been furious after his unsuccessful visit to Isabelle, the Baron de Sigognac was not less so, when, upon his return that evening, he learned what had taken place during his absence. The tyrant and Blazius were almost obliged to use force to prevent his rushing off, without losing a minute, to challenge the duke to mortal combat-a challenge sure to be refused; for de Sigognac, being neither the brother nor husband of the injured fair one, had no earthly right to call any other gentleman to account for his conduct towards her; in France all men are at liberty to pay their court to every pretty woman.

As to the attack upon the baron on the Pont-Neuf, there could be no doubt that it was instigated by the Duke of Vallombreuse; but how to prove it? that was the difficulty. And even supposing it could be proved, what good would that do? In the eyes of the world the Baron de Sigognac, who carefully concealed his real rank, was only Captain Fracasse, a low play-actor, upon whom a great noble, like the Duke of Vallombreuse, had a perfect right to inflict a beating, imprisonment, or even assassination, if it so pleased him; and that without incurring the blame, or serious disapproval, of his friends and equals.

So far as Isabelle was concerned, if the affair were made public, nobody would believe that she was really pure and virtuous-the very fact of her being an actress was enough to condemn her-for her sake it was important to keep the matter secret if possible. So there was positively no means of calling their enemy to account for his flagrant misdeeds, though de Sigognac, who was almost beside himself with rage and indignation, and burning to avenge Isabelle's wrongs and his own, swore that he would punish him, even if he had to move heaven and earth to compass it. Yet, when he became a little calmer, he could not but acknowledge that Herode and Blazius were right in advising that they should all remain perfectly quiet, and feign the most absolute indifference; but at the same time keep their eyes and ears very wide open, and be unceasingly on their guard against artful surprises, since it was only too evident that the vindictive young duke, who was handsome as a god and wicked as the devil, did not intend to abandon his designs upon them; although thus far he had failed ignominiously in everything he had undertaken against them.

A gentle, loving remonstrance from Isabelle, as she held de Sigognac's hands, all hot and trembling with suppressed rage, between her own soft, cool palms, and caressingly interlaced her slender white fingers with his, did more to pacify him than all the rest, and he finally yielded to her persuasions; promising to keep quiet himself, and allow, things to go on just as usual.

Meantime the representations of the troupe had met with splendid success. Isabelle's modest grace and refined beauty, Serafina's more brilliant charms, the soubrette's sparkling vivacity and bewitching coquetry, the superb extravagances of Captain Fracasse, the tyrant's majestic mien, Leander's manly beauty, the grotesque good humour of the pedant, Scapin's spicy deviltries, and the duenna's perfect acting had taken Paris by storm, and their highest hopes were likely to be realized. Having triumphantly won the approbation of the Parisians, nothing was wanting but to gain also that of the court, then at Saint Germain, and a rumour had reached their ears that they were shortly to be summoned thither; for it was asserted that the king, having heard such favourable reports of them, had expressed a desire to see them himself. Whereas Herode, in his character of treasurer, greatly rejoiced, and all felt a pleasant excitement at the prospect of so distinguished an honour. Meanwhile the troupe was often in requisition to give private representations at the houses of various people of rank and wealth in Paris, and it quickly became the fashion among them to offer this very popular style of entertainment to their guests.

Thus it befell that the tyrant, being perfectly accustomed to that sort of thing, was not at all surprised, or suspicious of evil, when one fine morning a stranger, of most venerable and dignified mien, presented himself at the hotel in the Rue Dauphine, and asked to speak with him on business. He appeared to be the major-domo, or steward, of some great nobleman's establishment, and, in effect, announced to Herode that he had been sent to consult with him, as manager of the troupe, by his master, the Comte de Pommereuil.

This highly respectable old functionary was richly dressed in black velvet, and had a heavy gold chain round his neck. His face was slightly sunburnt; the wavy hair that fell upon his shoulders, his thick, bushy eyebrows, heavy mustache, and long, sweeping beard were all white as snow. He had the most patriarchal, benevolent air imaginable, and a very gentle, yet dignified manner. The tyrant could not help admiring him very much, as he said, courteously, "Are you, sir, the famous Herode I am in quest of, who rules with a hand as firm as Apollo's the excellent company of comedians now playing in Paris? Their renown has gone abroad, beyond the walls of the city, and penetrated even to my master's ears, on his estate out in the country."

"Yes, I have the honour to be the man you seek," the tyrant answered, bowing very graciously.

"The Comte de Pommereuil greatly desires to have you give one of your celebrated representations at his chateau, where guests of high rank are sojourning at this moment, and I have come to ascertain whether it will be possible for you to do so. The distance is not very considerable, only a few leagues. The comte, my master, is a very great and generous seignior, who is prepared to reward your illustrious company munificently for their trouble, and will do everything in his power to make them comfortable while they are under his roof."

"I will gladly do all that I can to please your noble master," the tyrant replied, "though it will be a little difficult for us to leave Paris at present, just in the height of the season; even if it be only for a short absence."

"Three days would suffice for this expedition," said the venerable major-domo persuasively; "one for the journey, the second for the representation, and the third for the return to Paris. There is a capital theatre at the chateau, furnished with everything that is requisite, so that you need not be encumbered with much luggage-nothing beyond your costumes. Here is a purse containing a hundred pistoles that the Comte de Pommereuil charged me to put into your hands, to defray the expenses of the journey. You will receive as much more before you return, and there will be handsome presents for the actresses forthcoming, of valuable jewels, as souvenirs of the occasion."

After a momentary hesitation, the tyrant accepted the well-filled purse tendered to him, and, with a gesture of acquiescence, put it into his pocket.

"I am to understand then that you accept, and I may tell my master that you will give a representation at the chateau, as he desires?"

"Yes, I place myself and my company at his disposition," Herode said, smilingly. "And now let me know what day you want us to go, and which of our pieces your master prefers."

"Thursday is the day my master designated; as for selecting the play, that he leaves to your own good taste and discretion."

"Very well; and now you have only to give me directions as to the road we must take to reach the chateau. Be as explicit as you can, I pray you, so that there may be no danger of our going astray."

The agent of the Comte de Pommereuil accordingly gave the most minute and exact directions possible, but ended by saying, "Never mind, you need not burden your memory with all these troublesome details! I will send you a lackey to serve as guide."

Matters being thus satisfactorily arranged, the charming old major-domo took leave of Herode, who accompanied him down the stairs and across the court to the outer door of the hotel, and departed, looking back to exchange a last polite sign of farewell ere he turned the corner of the street. If the honest tyrant could have seen him as he walked briskly away, the moment he was safely out of sight, he would have been astonished at the way the broad, stooping shoulders straightened themselves up, and at the rapid, vigorous step that succeeded to the slow, rather infirm gait of his venerable visitor-but these things our worthy Herode neither saw nor suspected.

On Wednesday morning, as the comedians were finishing the packing of their chariot, which stood ready for departure in the courtyard of the hotel, with a pair of fine spirited horses before it that the tyrant had hired for the journey, a tall, rather fierce-looking lackey, dressed in a neat livery and mounted on a stout pony, presented himself at the outer door, cracking his whip vigorously, and announcing himself as the guide, sent according to promise by the considerate major-domo, to conduct them to the Chateau de Pommereuil.

Eight clear strokes rang out from the Samaritan just as the heavy vehicle emerged into the Rue Dauphine, and our company of players set forth on their ill-fated expedition. In less than half an hour they had left the Porte Saint Antoine and the Bastile behind them, passed through the thickly settled faubourg and gained the open country; advancing towards Vincennes, which they could distinguish in the distance, with its massive keep partially veiled by a delicate blue mist, that was rapidly dispersing under the influence of the bright, morning sunshine. As the horses were fresh, and travelled at a good pace, they soon came up with the ancient fortress-which was still formidable in appearance, though it could not have offered any adequate resistance to the projectiles of modern artillery. The gilded crescents on the minarets of the chapel built by Pierre de Montereau shone out brightly, as if joyous at finding themselves in such close proximity to the cross-the sign of redemption. After pausing a few minutes to admire this monument of the ancient splendour of our kings, the travellers entered the forest, where, amid the dense growth of younger trees, stood a few majestic old oaks-contemporaries doubtless of the one under which Saint Louis, that king of blessed memory, used to sit and dispense justice to his loyal subjects in person-a most becoming and laudable occupation for a monarch.

The road was so little used that it was grass-grown in many places, and the chariot rolled so smoothly and noiselessly along over it that they occasionally surprised a party of rabbits frolicking merrily together, and were very much amused to see them scamper away, in as great a hurry as if the hounds were at their heels. Farther on a frightened deer bounded across the road in front of them, and they could watch its swift, graceful flight for some distance amid the leafless trees. The young baron was especially interested in all these things, being country-bred, and it was a delight unspeakable to him to see the fields, the hedgerows, the forest, and the wild creatures of the wood once more. It was a pleasure he had been deprived of ever since he had frequented cities and towns, where there is nothing to look at but dingy houses, muddy streets and smoky chimneys-the works of man not of God. He would have pined in them for the fresh country air if he had not had the sweet companionship of the lovely woman he adored; in whose deep, blue eyes he saw a whole heaven of bliss.

Upon emerging from the wood the road wound up a steep hill-side, so the horses were stopped, to rest a few minutes before beginning the ascent, and de Sigognac, profiting by the opportunity thus afforded him, said to Isabelle, "Dear heart, will you get down and walk a little way with me? You will find it a pleasant change and rest after sitting still in the chariot so long. The road is smooth and dry, and the sunshine deliciously warm-do come!"

Isabelle joyfully acceded to this request, and putting her hand into the one extended to help her, jumped lightly down. It was a welcome means of according an innocent tete-a-tete to her devoted lover, and both felt as if they were treading on air, they were so happy to find themselves alone together, as, arm in arm, they walked briskly forward, until they were out of sight of their companions. Then they paused to look long and lovingly into each other's eyes, and de Sigognac began again to pour out to Isabelle "the old, old story," that she was never weary of hearing, but found more heavenly sweet at every telling. They were like the first pair of mortal lovers in Paradise, entirely sufficient to and happy in each other. Yet even then Isabelle gently checked the passionate utterances of her faithful suitor, and strove to moderate his rapturous transports, though their very fervour made her heart rejoice, and brought a bright flush to her cheeks and a happy light to her eyes that rendered her more adorably beautiful than ever.

"Whatever you may do or say, my darling," he answered, with a sweet, tender smile, "you will never be able to tire out my constancy. If need be, I will wait for you until all your scruples shall have vanished of themselves-though it be not till these beautiful, soft brown tresses, with their exquisite tinge of gold where the sun shines on them, shall have turned to silver."

"Oh!" cried Isabelle, "I shall be so old and so ugly then that even your sublime courage will be daunted, and I fear that in rewarding your perseverance and fidelity by the gift of myself I should only be punishing my devoted knight and brave champion."

"You will never be ugly, my beloved Isabelle, if you live to be a hundred," he replied, with an adoring glance, "for yours is not the mere physical beauty, that fades away and vanishes-it is the beauty of the soul, which is immortal."

"All the same you would be badly off," rejoined Isabelle, "if I were to take you at your word, and promise to be yours when I was old and gray. But enough of this jesting," she continued gravely, "let us be serious! You know my resolution, de Sigognac, so try to content yourself with being the object of the deepest, truest, most devoted love that was ever yet bestowed on mortal man since hearts began to beat in this strange world of ours."

"Such a charming avowal ought to satisfy me, I admit, but it does not! My love for you is infinite-it can brook no bounds-it is ever increasing-rising higher and higher, despite your heavenly voice, that bids it keep within the limits you have fixed for it."

"Do not talk so, de Sigognac! you vex me by such extravagances," said Isabelle, with a little pout that was as charming as her sweetest smile; for in spite of herself her heart beat high with joy at these fervent protestations of a love that no coldness could repel, no remonstrance diminish.

They walked on a little way in silence-de Sigognac not daring to say more then, lest he should seriously displease the sweet creature he loved better than his own life. Suddenly she drew her arm out of his, and with an exclamation of delight, sprang to a little bank by the road-side, where she had spied a tiny violet, peeping out from amid the dead leaves that had lain there all the winter through-the first harbinger of spring, smiling up at her a friendly greeting, despite the wintry cold of February. She knelt down and gently cleared away the dry leaves and grass about it, carefully broke the frail little stem, and returned to de Sigognac's side with her treasure-more delighted than if she had found a precious jewel lying hidden among the mosses.

"Only see, how exquisitely beautiful and delicate it is"-said she, showing it to him-"with its dear little petals scarcely unrolled yet to return the greeting of this bright, warm sunshine, that has roused it from its long winter sleep."

"It was not the sunshine, however bright and warm," answered de Sigognac, "but the light of your eyes, sweet Isabelle, that made it open out to greet you-and it is exactly the colour too of those dear eyes of yours."

"It has scarcely any fragrance, but that is because it's so cold," said Isabelle, loosening her scarf, and putting it carefully inside the ruff that encircled her slender, white neck. In a few minutes she took it out again, inhaled its rich perfume, pressed it furtively to her lips, and offered it to de Sigognac.

"See how sweet it is now! The warmth I imparted to it has reassured the little modest, timid blossom, and it breathes out its incomparable fragrance in gratitude to me."

"Say rather that it has received it from you," he replied, raising the violet tenderly to his lips, and taking from it the kiss Isabelle had bestowed-"for this delicate, delicious odour has nothing gross or earthly about it-it is angelically pure and sweet, like yourself, my own Isabelle."

"Ah! the naughty flatterer," said she, smiling upon him with all her heart in her eyes. "I give him a little flower that he may enjoy its perfume, and straightway he draws from it inspiration for all sorts of high-flown conceits, and fine compliments. There's no doing anything with him-to the simplest, most commonplace remark he replies with a poetical flight of fancy."

However, she could not have been very seriously displeased, for she took his arm again, and even leaned upon it rather more heavily than the exigencies of the way actually required; which goes to prove that the purest virtue is not insensible to pretty compliments, and that modesty itself knows how to recompense delicate flattery.

Not far from the road they were travelling stood a small group of thatched cottages-scarcely more than huts-whose inhabitants were all afield at their work, excepting a poor blind man, attended by a little ragged boy, who sat on a stone by the wayside, apparently to solicit alms from those who passed by. Although he seemed to be extremely aged and feeble, he was chanting a sort of lament over his misfortunes, and an appeal to the charity of travellers, in a loud, whining, yet vigorous voice; promising his prayers to those who gave him of their substance, and assuring them that they should surely go to Paradise as a reward for their generosity. For some time before they came up with him, Isabelle and de Sigognac had heard his doleful chant-much to the annoyance of the latter; for when one is listening, entranced, to the sweet singing of the nightingale, it is sorely vexatious to be intruded upon by the discordant croaking of a raven. As they drew near to the poor old blind man, they saw his little attendant bend down and whisper in his ear, whereupon he redoubled his groans and supplications-at the same time holding out towards them a small wooden bowl, in which were a few coppers, and shaking it, so as to make them rattle as loudly as possible, to attract their attention. He was a venerable looking old man, with a long white beard, and seemed to be shivering with cold, despite the great, thick, woollen cloak in which he was wrapped. The child, a wild-looking little creature, whose scanty, tattered clothing was but a poor protection against the stinging cold, shrunk timidly from notice, and tried to hide himself behind his aged charge. Isabelle's tender heart was moved to pity at the sight of so much misery, and she stopped in front of the forlorn little group while she searched in her pocket for her purse-not finding it there she turned to her companion and asked him to lend her a little money for the poor old blind beggar, which the baron hastened to do-though he was thoroughly out of patience with his whining jeremiads-and, to prevent Isabelle's coming in actual contact with him, stepped forward himself to deposit the coins in his wooden bowl. Thereupon, instead of tearfully thanking his benefactor and invoking blessings upon his head, after the usual fashion of such gentry, the blind man-to Isabelle's inexpressible alarm-suddenly sprang to his feet, and straightening himself up with a jerk, opened his arms wide, as a vulture spreads its wings for flight, gathered up his ample cloak about his shoulders with lightning rapidity and flung it from him with a quick, sweeping motion like that with which the fisherman casts his net. The huge, heavy mantle spread itself out like a dense cloud directly above de Sigognac, and falling over and about him enveloped him from head to foot in its long, clinging folds, held firmly down by the lead with which its edges were weighted-making him a helpless prisoner-depriving him at once of sight and breath, and of the use of his hands and feet. The young actress, wild with terror, turned to fly and call for help, but before she could stir, or utter a sound, a hand was clapped over her mouth, and she felt herself lifted from the ground. The old blind beggar, who, as by a miracle, had suddenly become young and active, and possessed of all his faculties, had seized her by the shoulders, while the boy took her by the feet, and they carried her swiftly and silently round a clump of bushes near by to where a man on horseback and masked, was waiting for them. Two other men, also mounted and masked, and armed to the teeth, were standing close at hand, behind a wall that prevented their being seen from the road. Poor Isabelle, nearly fainting with fright, was lifted up in front of the first horseman, and seated on a cloak folded so as to serve for a cushion; a broad leather strap being passed round her waist, which also encircled that of the rider, to hold her securely in her place. All this was done with great rapidity and dexterity, as if her captors were accustomed to such manoeuvres, and then the horseman, who held her firmly with one hand, shook his bridle with the other, drove his spurs into the horse's sides, and was off like a flash-the whole thing being done in less time than it takes to describe it. Meanwhile de Sigognac was struggling fiercely and wildly under the heavy cloak that enveloped him-like a gladiator entangled in his adversary's net-beside himself with rage and despair, as he gasped for breath in his stifling prison, a

nd realized that this diabolical outrage must be the work of the Duke of Vallombreuse. Suddenly, like an inspiration, the thought flashed into his mind of using his dagger to free himself from the thick, clinging folds, that weighed him down like the leaden cloaks of the wretched condemned spirits we read of with a shudder in Dante's Inferno. With two or three strong, quick strokes he succeeded in cutting through it, and casting it from him, with a fierce imprecation, perceived Isabelle's abductors, still near at hand, galloping across a neighbouring field, and apparently making for a thick grove at a considerable distance from where he was standing. As to the blind beggar and the child, they had disappeared-probably hiding somewhere near by-but de Sigognac did not waste a second thought on them; throwing off his own cloak, lest it should impede him, he started swiftly in pursuit of the flying enemy and their fair prize, with fury and despair in his heart. He was agile and vigorous, lithe of frame, fleet of foot, the very figure for a runner, and he quickly began to gain on the horsemen. As soon as they became aware of this one of them drew a pistol from his girdle and fired at their pursuer, but missed him; whereupon de Sigognac, bounding rapidly from side to side as he ran, made it impossible for them to take aim at him, and effectually prevented their arresting his course in that way. The man who had Isabelle in front of him tried to ride on in advance, and leave the other two to deal with the baron, but the young actress struggled so violently on the horse's neck, and kept clutching so persistently at the bridle, that his rider could not urge him to his greatest speed. Meantime de Sigognac was steadily gaining upon them; without slackening his pace he had managed to draw his sword from the scabbard, and brandished it aloft, ready for action, as he ran. It is true that he was one against three-that he was on foot while they were on horseback-but he had not time to consider the odds against him, and he seemed possessed of the strength of a giant in Isabelle's behalf. Making a prodigious effort, he suddenly increased his speed, and coming up with the two horsemen, who were a little behind the other one, quickly disposed of them, by vigorously pricking their horses' flanks with the point of his sword; for, what with fright and pain, the animals, after plunging violently, threw off all restraint and bolted-dashing off across country as if the devil were after them, and carrying their riders with them, just as de Sigognac had expected and intended that they should do. The brave young baron was nearly spent-panting, almost sobbing, as he struggled desperately on-feeling as if his heart would burst at every agonizing throb; but he was indued with supernatural strength and endurance, and as Isabelle's voice reached his ear calling, "Help, de Sigognac, help!" he cleared with a bound the space that separated them, and leaping up to catch the broad leathern strap that was passed round her and her captor, answered in a hoarse, shrill tone, "I am here." Clinging to the strap, he ran along beside the galloping horse-like the grooms that the Romans called desultores-and strove with all his might to pull the rider down out of his saddle. He did not dare to use his sword to disable him, as they struggled together, lest he should wound Isabelle also; and, meantime, the man on horseback was trying his utmost to shake off his fierce assailant-unsuccessfully, because he had both hands fully occupied with his horse and his captive, who was doing all she could to slip from his grasp, and throw herself into her lover's arms. Loosing his hold on the rein for a second, the horseman managed to draw a knife from his girdle, and with one blow severed the strap to which the baron was clinging; then, driving his spurs into the horse's sides made the frightened animal spring suddenly forward, while de Sigognac-who was not prepared for this emergency, and found himself deprived of all support-fell violently upon his back in the road. He was up again in an instant, and flying after Isabelle, who was now being borne rapidly away from him, and whose cries for help came more and more faintly to his ear; but the moment he had lost made his pursuit hopeless, and he knew that it was all in vain when he saw her disappear behind the thicket her ravisher had been aiming for from the first. His heart sank within him, and he staggered as he still ran feebly on-feeling now the effects of his superhuman exertions, and fearing at each step that his feet would carry him no farther. He was soon overtaken by Herode and Scapin, who, alarmed by the pistol shot, and fearing that something was wrong, had started in hot pursuit, though the lackey who served them as guide had done all that he possibly could to hinder them, and in a few faltering words he told them what had occurred.

"Vallombreuse again!" cried the tyrant, with an oath. "But how the devil did he get wind of our expedition to the Chateau de Pommereuil? or can it be possible that it was all a plot from the beginning, and we are bound on a fool's errand? I really begin to think it must be so. If it is true, I never saw a better actor in my life than that respectable old major-domo, confound him! But let us make haste and search this grove thoroughly; we may find some trace of poor Isabelle; sweet creature that she is! Rough old tyrant though I be, my heart warms to her, and I love her more tenderly than I do myself. Alas! I'm afraid, that this poor, innocent, little fly is caught in the toils of a cruel spider, who will take care never to let us get sight of her again."

"I will crush him," said de Sigognac, striking his heel savagely on the ground, as if he actually had the spider under it. "I will crush the life out of him, the venomous beast!" and the fierce, determined expression of his usually calm, mild countenance showed that this was no idle threat, but that he was terribly in earnest.

"Look," cried Herode, as they dashed through the thicket, "there they are!"

They could just discern, through the screen of leafless but thickly interlaced branches, a carriage, with all the curtains carefully closed, and drawn by four horses lashed to a gallop, which was rapidly rolling away from them in the distance. The two men whose horses had run away with them had them again under control, and were riding on either side of it-one of them leading the horse that had carried Isabelle and her captor. HE was doubtless mounting guard over her in the carriage-perhaps using force to keep her quiet-at thought of which de Sigognac could scarcely control the transport of rage and agony that shook him. Although the three pursuers followed the fugitives, as fast as they could run, it was all of no avail, for they soon lost sight of them altogether, and nothing remained to be done but to ascertain, if possible, the direction they had taken, so as to have some clew to poor Isabelle's whereabouts. They had considerable difficulty in making out the marks of the carriage wheels, for the roads were very dry; and when at length they had succeeded in tracing them to a place where four roads met they lost them entirely-it was utterly impossible to tell which way they had gone. After a long and fruitless search they turned back sorrowfully to join their companions, trying to devise some plan for Isabelle's rescue, but feeling acutely how hopeless it was. They found the others in the chariot waiting for them, just where the tyrant and Scapin had left them, for their false guide had put spurs to his horse and ridden off after his confederates, as soon as he became aware that their undertaking had proved successful. When Herode asked an old peasant woman, who came by with a bundle of fagots on her back, how far it was to the Chateau de Pommereuil, she answered that there was no place of that name anywhere in the country round. Upon being questioned closely, she said that she had lived in the neighbourhood for seventy years, knew every house within many leagues, and could positively assure them that there was no such Chateau within a day's journey. So it was only too evident that they were the dupes of the clever agents of the Duke of Vallombreuse, who had at last succeeded in getting possession of Isabelle, as he had sworn that he would do. Accordingly, all of the party turned back towards Paris, excepting de Sigognac, the tyrant and Scapin, who had decided to go on to the next village, where they hoped to be able to procure horses, with which to prosecute their search for Isabelle and her abductors.

After the baron's fall, she had been swiftly taken on to the other side of the thicket, where the carriage stood awaiting her; then lifted down from the horse and put into it, in spite of her frantic struggles and remonstrances. The man who had held her in front of him got down also and sprang in after her, closing the door with a bang, and instantly they were off at a tremendous pace. He seated himself opposite to her, and when she impetuously tried to pull aside the curtain, so that she could see out of the window nearest to her, he respectfully but firmly restrained her.

"Mademoiselle, I implore you to keep quiet," he said, with the utmost politeness, "and not oblige me to use forcible means to restrain so charming and adorable a creature as your most lovely self. No harm shall come to you-do not be afraid!-only kindness is intended; therefore I beseech you do not persist in vain resistance. If you will only submit quietly, you shall be treated with as much consideration and respect as a captive queen, but if you go on acting like the devil, struggling and shrieking, I have means to bring you to terms, and I shall certainly resort to them. THIS will stop your screaming, mademoiselle, and THIS will prevent your struggling."

As he spoke he drew out of his pocket a small gag, very artistically made, and a long, thick, silken cord, rolled up into a ball.

"It would be barbarous indeed," he continued, "to apply such a thing as this to that sweet, rosy mouth of yours, mademoiselle, as I am sure that you will admit-or to bind together those pretty, delicate, little wrists, upon which no worse fetters than diamond bracelets should ever be placed."

Poor Isabelle, furious and frightened though she was, could not but acknowledge to herself that further physical resistance then would be worse than useless, and determined to spare herself at least such indignities as she was at that moment threatened with; so, without vouchsafing a word to her attendant, she threw herself back into the corner of the carriage, closed her eyes, and tried to keep perfectly still. But in spite of her utmost endeavours she could not altogether repress an occasional sob, nor hold back the great tears that welled forth from under her drooping eyelids and rolled down over her pale cheeks, as she thought of de Sigognac's despair and her own danger.

"After the nervous excitement comes the moist stage;" said her masked guardian to himself, "things are following their usual and natural course. I am very glad of it, for I should have greatly disliked to be obliged to act a brutal part with such a sweet, charming girl as this."

Now and then Isabelle opened her eyes and cast a timid glance at her abductor, who finally said to her, in a voice he vainly strove to render soft and mild:

"You need not be afraid of me, mademoiselle! I would not harm you in any way for the world. If fortune had been more generous to me I certainly would never have undertaken this enterprise against such a lovely, gentle young lady as you are; but poor men like me are driven to all sorts of expedients to earn a little money; they have to take whatever comes within their reach, and sacrifice their scruples to their necessities."

"You do admit then," said Isabelle vehemently, "that you have been bribed to carry me off? An infamous, cruel, outrageous thing it is."

"After what I have had to do," he replied, "it would be idle to deny it. There are a good many philosophers like myself in Paris, mademoiselle, who, instead of indulging in love affairs, and intrigues of various sorts, of their own, interest themselves in those of other people, and, for a consideration, make use of their courage, ingenuity and strength to further them. But to change the subject, how charming you were in that last new play! You went through the scene of the avowal with a grace I have never seen equalled. I applauded you to the echo; the pair of hands that kept it up so perseveringly and vigorously, you know, belonged to me."

"I beg you to dispense with these ill-judged remarks and compliments, and to tell me where you are taking me, in this strange, outrageous manner, against my will, and, in despite of all the ordinary usages of civilized society."

"I cannot tell you that, mademoiselle, and besides, it would do you no sort of good to know. In our profession, you see, we are obliged to observe as much secrecy and discretion as confessors and physicians. Indeed, in such affairs as this we often do not know the names of the parties we are working for ourselves."

"Do you mean to say that you do not know who has employed you to commit this abominable, cruel crime?"

"It makes no difference whether I know his name or not, since I am not at liberty to disclose it to you. Think over your numerous admirers, mademoiselle! the most ardent and least favoured one among them would probably be at the bottom of all this."

Finding that she could not get any information from him, Isabelle desisted, and did not speak again. She had not the slightest doubt that the Duke of Vallombreuse was the author of this new and daring enterprise. The significant and threatening way in which he had said "au revoir, mademoiselle," as he quitted her presence after she had repulsed him a few days before, had haunted her, and she had been in constant dread ever since of some new outrage. She hoped, against hope, that de Sigognac, her valiant lover, would yet come to her rescue, and thought proudly of the gallant deeds he had already done in her behalf that day-but how was he to find out where to seek her?

"If worst comes to worst," she said to herself, "I still have Chiquita's knife, and I can and will escape from my persecutor in that way, if all other means fail."

For two long hours she sat motionless, a prey to sad and terrible thoughts and fears, while the carriage rolled swiftly on without slackening its speed, save once, for a moment, when they changed horses. As the curtains were all lowered, she could not catch even a glimpse of the country she was passing through, nor tell in what direction she was being driven. At last she heard the hollow sound of a drawbridge under the wheels; the carriage stopped, and her masked companion, promptly opening the door, jumped nimbly out and helped her to alight. She cast a hurried glance round her, as she stepped down, saw that she was in a large, square court, and that all the tall, narrow windows in the high brick walls that surrounded it had their inside shutters carefully closed. The stone pavement of the spacious courtyard was in some places partly covered with moss, and a few weeds had sprung up in the corners, and along the edges by the walls. At the foot of a broad, easy flight of steps, leading up to a covered porch, two majestic Egyptian sphinxes lay keeping guard; their huge rounded flanks mottled here and there with patches of moss and lichens. Although the large chateau looked lonely and deserted, it had a grand, lordly air, and seemed to be kept in perfect order and repair. Isabelle was led up the steps and into the vestibule by the man who had brought her there, and then consigned to the care of a respectable-looking majordomo, who preceded her up a magnificent staircase, and into a suite of rooms furnished with the utmost luxury and elegance. Passing through the first-which was enriched with fine old carvings in oak, dark with age-he left her in a spacious, admirably proportioned apartment, where a cheery wood fire was roaring up the huge chimney, and she saw a bed in a curtained alcove. She chanced to catch sight of her own face in the mirror over an elaborately furnished dressing-table, as she passed it, and was startled and shocked at its ghastly pallor and altered expression; she scarcely could recognise it, and felt as if she had seen a ghost-poor Isabelle! Over the high, richly ornamented chimney-piece hung a portrait of a gentleman, which, as she approached the fire, at once caught and riveted her attention. The face seemed strangely familiar to her, and yet she could not remember where she had seen it before. It was pale, with large, black eyes, full red lips, and wavy brown hair, thrown carelessly back from it-apparently the likeness of a man about forty years of age and it had a charming air of nobility and lofty pride, tempered with benevolence and tenderness, which was inexpressibly attractive. The portrait was only half-length-the breast being covered with a steel cuirass, richly inlaid with gold, which was partly concealed by a white scarf, loosely knotted over it. Isabelle, despite her great alarm and anxiety, could not long withdraw her eyes or her thoughts from this picture, which seemed to exert a strange fascination over her. There was something about it that at the first glance resembled the Duke of Vallombreuse, but the expression was so different that the likeness disappeared entirely upon closer examination. It brought vague memories to Isabelle's mind that she tried in vain to seize-she felt as if she must be looking at it in a dream. She was still absorbed in reverie before it when the major-domo reappeared, followed by two lackeys, in quiet livery, carrying a small table set for one person, which they put down near the fire; and as one of them took the cover off an old-fashioned, massive silver tureen, he announced to Isabelle that her dinner was ready. The savoury odour from the smoking soup was very tempting, and she was very hungry; but after she had mechanically seated herself and dipped her spoon into the broth, it suddenly occurred to her that the food might contain a narcotic-such things had been done-and she pushed away the plate in front of her in alarm. The major-domo, who was standing at a respectful distance watching her, ready to anticipate her every wish, seemed to divine her thought, for he advanced to the table and deliberately partook of all the viands upon it, as well as of the wine and water-as if to prove to her that there was nothing wrong or unusual about them. Isabelle was somewhat reassured by this, and feeling that she would probably have need of all her strength, did bring herself to eat and drink, though very sparingly. Then, quitting the table, she sat down in a large easy-chair in front of the fire to think over her terrible position, and endeavour to devise some means of escape from it. When the servants had attended to their duties and left her alone again, she rose languidly and walked slowly to the window-feeling as weak as though she had had a severe illness, after the violent emotions and terrors of the day, and as if she had aged years in the last few hours. Could it be possible that only that very morning she and de Sigognac had been walking together, with hearts full of happiness and peace-and she had rapturously hailed the appearance of the first spring violet as an omen of good, and gathered the sweet little blossom to bestow upon the devoted lover who adored her? And now, alas! alas! they were as inexorably and hopelessly separated as if half the globe lay between them. No wonder that her breast heaved tumultuously with choking sobs, and hot tears rained down over her pallid cheeks, as she wept convulsively at the thought of all she had lost. But she did not long indulge her grief-she remembered that at any moment she might have need of all her coolness and fortitude-and making a mighty effort, like the brave heroine that she was, she regained control over herself, and drove back the gushing tears to await a more fitting season. She was relieved to find that there were no bars at the window, as she had feared; but upon opening the casement and leaning out she saw immediately beneath her a broad moat, full of stagnant water, which surrounded the chateau, and forbade any hope of succour or escape on that side. Beyond the moat was a thick grove of large trees, which entirely shut out the view; and she returned to her seat by the fire, more disheartened and cast down than ever. She was very nervous, and trembled at the slightest sound-casting hasty, terrified glances round the vast apartment, and dreading lest an unseen door in some shadowy corner should be softly opened, or a hidden panel in the wall be slipped aside, to admit her relentless enemy to her presence. She remembered all the horrible tales she had ever heard of secret passages and winding staircases in the walls, that are supposed to abound in ancient castles; and the mysterious visitants, both human and supernatural, that are said to be in the habit of issuing from them, in the gloaming, and at midnight. As the twilight deepened into darkness, her terror increased, and she nearly fainted from fright when a servant suddenly entered with lights.

While poor Isabelle was suffering such agony in one part of the chateau, her abductors were having a grand carouse in another. They were to remain there for a while as a sort of garrison, in case of an attack by de Sigognac and his friends; and were gathered round the table in a large room down on the ground floor-as remote as possible from Isabelle's sumptuous quarters. They were all drinking like sponges, and making merry over their wine and good cheer, but one of them especially showed the most remarkable and astounding powers of ingurgitation-it was the man who had carried off the fair prize before him on his horse; and, now that the mask was thrown aside, he disclosed to view the deathly pale face and fiery red nose of Malartic, bosom friend and "alter ego" of Maitre Jacquemin Lampourde.

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