MoboReader> Literature > Captain Fracasse

   Chapter 16 THE AMETHYST RING

Captain Fracasse By Theophile Gautier Characters: 45482

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The topmost branches of the tree, protruding through the window, rendered the centre of the room untenable, so Malartic and his three aids ranged themselves two and two against the wall on either side of it, armed with pistols and swords-ready to give the assailants a warm welcome.

"You had better retire, my lord duke, or else put on a mask," whispered Malartic to the young nobleman, "so that you may not be seen and recognised in this affair."

"What do I care?" cried Vallombreuse, flourishing his sword. "I am not afraid of anybody in the world-and besides, those who see me will never go away from this to tell of it."

"But at least your lordship will place this second Helen in some safe retreat. A stray bullet might so easily deprive your highness of the prize that cost so dear-and it would be such a pity."

The duke, finding this advice judicious, went at once over to where Isabelle was standing beside Chiquita, and throwing his arms round her attempted to carry her into the next room. The poor girl made a desperate resistance, and slipping from the duke's grasp rushed to the window, regardless of danger, crying, "Save me, de Sigognac! save me!" A voice from without answered, "I am coming," but, before he could reach the window, Vallombreuse had again seized his prey, and succeeded in carrying her into the adjoining room, closing and bolting the stout oaken door behind him just as de Sigognac bounded into the chamber he had quitted. His entrance was so sudden, and so swiftly and boldly made, that he entirely escaped the pistol shots aimed at him, and the four bullets all fell harmless. When the smoke had cleared away and the "garrison" saw that he was unhurt, a murmur of astonishment arose, and one of the men exclaimed aloud that Captain Fracasse-the only name by which THEY knew him-must bear a charmed life; whereupon, Malartic cried, "Leave him to me, I'll soon finish him, and do you three keep a strict guard over the window there; for there will be more to follow this one if I am not mistaken."

But he did not find his self-imposed task as easy as he supposed-for de Sigognac was ready for him, and gave him plenty to do, though his surprise and disappointment were overwhelming when he found that Isabelle was nowhere to be seen.

"Where is she?" he cried impetuously. "Where is Isabelle? I heard her voice in here only a moment ago."

"Don't ask me!" Malartic retorted. "YOU didn't give her into my charge." And all this time their swords were flashing and clashing, as the combat between them grew more animated.

A moment later, before the men had finished reloading their pistols, Scapin dashed in through the window, throwing a remarkable somersault like an acrobat as he came, and seeing that the three ruffians had laid down their swords beside them on the floor while attending to their other weapons, he seized upon them all, ere their owners had recovered from their astonishment at his extraordinary advent, and hurled them through the broken casement down into the moat. Then, laying hold of one of the three from behind, and pinning down his arms securely, he placed him in front of himself for a shield-turning him dexterously this way and that, in order to keep his body always between his own and the enemy; so that they dared not fire upon him lest they should kill their comrade, who was vehemently beseeching them to spare his life, and vainly struggling to escape from Scapin's iron grip.

The combat between de Sigognac and Malartic was still going on, but at last, the baron-who had already wounded his adversary slightly, and whose agony and desperation at being kept from prosecuting his search for Isabelle were intense-wrested Malartic's sword from his grasp, by a dexterous manoeuvre with his own, and putting his foot upon it as it lay on the floor raised the point of his blade to the professional ruffian's throat, crying "Surrender, or you are a dead man!"

At this critical moment another one of the besieging party burst in through the window, who, seeing at a glance how matters stood, said to Malartic in an authoritative tone, "You can surrender without dishonour to this valiant hero-you are entirely at his mercy. You have done your duty loyally-now consider yourself a prisoner of war."

Then turning to de Sigognac, he said, "You may trust his word, for he is an honourable fellow in his way, and will not molest you again-I will answer for him."

Malartic made a gesture of acquiescence, and the baron let him go-whereupon the discomfited bully picked up his sword, and with a crestfallen air walked off very disconsolately to a corner, where he sat down and occupied himself in staunching the blood that was flowing from his wound. The other three men were quickly conquered, and, at the suggestion of the latest comer, were securely bound hand and foot as they lay upon the floor, and then left to reflect upon their misfortunes.

"They can't do any more mischief now," said Jacquemin Lampourde, mockingly; for it was that famous fighting man in person, who, in his enthusiastic admiration, or rather adoration, for de Sigognac, had offered his services on this momentous occasion-services by no means to be despised. As to the brave Herode, he was doing good service in fighting the rest of the garrison below. They had hastened out and crossed the moat in the little row-boat as quickly as possible after the alarm was given, but arrived too late, as we have seen, to prevent the assailants from ascending their strange scaling ladder. So they determined to follow, hoping to overtake and dislodge some of them. But Herode, who had found the upper branches bending and cracking in a very ominous manner under his great weight, was forced to turn about and make his way back to the main trunk, where, under cover of darkness, he quietly awaited the climbing foe. Merindol, who commanded this detachment of the garrison, was first, and being completely taken by surprise was easily dislodged and thrown down into the water below. The next one, aroused to a sense of his danger by this, pulled out a pistol and fired, but in the agitation of the moment, and the darkness, missed his aim, so that he was entirely at the tyrant's mercy, and in an instant was held suspended over the deep waters of the moat. He clung desperately to a little branch he had managed to lay hold of, and made such a brave fight for his life, that Herode, who was merciful by nature, though so fierce of aspect, decided to make terms with him, if he could do so without injuring the interests of his own party; and upon receiving a solemn promise from him to remain strictly neutral during the remainder of the fray, the powerful actor lifted him up, with the greatest ease, and seated him in safety upon the tree-trunk again. The poor fellow was so grateful that he was even better than his word, for, making use of the password and giving a pretended order from Merindol to the other two, who were some distance behind him and ignorant of what had happened, he sent them off post-haste to attend to an imaginary foe at some distance from the chateau; availing himself of their absence to make good his escape, after heartily thanking Herode for his clemency. The moon was just rising, and by its light the tyrant spied the little row-boat, lying not very far off at the foot of a flight of steps in the steep bank, and he was not slow to make use of it to cross the moat, and penetrate into the interior court of the chateau-the postern having been fortunately left open. Looking about him, to see how he could best rejoin his comrades within the building, his eyes fell upon the porch guarded by the two huge, calm sphinxes, and he wisely concluded that through it must lie his way to the scene of action.

Meantime de Sigognac, Scapin and Lampourde, having a chance to look about them, were horrified to find that they were prisoners in the room where the battle had been fought. In vain they tried to burst open the stout oaken door which was their only means of egress-for the tree had, but a moment before, given way and fallen with a loud crash into the moat; in vain they strove to cut through one of the panels, or force the lock from its fastenings. To de Sigognac this delay was maddening, for he knew that the Duke of Vallombreuse had carried Isabelle away, and that he must still be with her. He worked like a giant himself, and incited the others to redouble their efforts; making battering rams of various pieces of furniture-resorting to every means that their ingenuity could devise-but without making the least impression on the massive barrier. They had paused in dismay, when suddenly a slight, grinding noise was heard, like a key turning in a lock, and the door, so unsuccessfully attacked, opened as if by magic before them.

"What good angel has come to our aid?" cried de Sigognac; "and by what miracle does this door open of itself, after having so stoutly resisted all our efforts?"

"There is neither angel nor miracle; only Chiquita," answered a quiet little voice, as the child appeared from behind the door, and fixed her great, dark, liquid eyes calmly on de Sigognac. She had managed to slip out with Vallombreuse and Isabelle, entirely unnoticed by the former, and in the hope of being of use to the latter.

"Where is Isabelle?" cried the baron, as he crossed the threshold and looked anxiously round the anteroom, which was dimly lighted by one little flickering lamp. For a moment he did not perceive her; the Duke of Vallombreuse, surprised at the sudden opening of the door, which he had believed to be securely fastened and impenetrable, had retreated into a corner, and placed Isabelle, who was almost fainting from terror and exhaustion, behind him. She had sunk upon her knees, with her head leaning against the wall, her long hair, which had come down, falling about her, and her dress in the utmost disorder; for she had struggled desperately in the arms of her captor; who, feeling that his fair victim was about to escape from his clutches, had vainly striven to snatch a few kisses from the sweet lips so temptingly near his own.

"Here she is," said Chiquita, "in this corner, behind the Duke of Vallombreuse; but to get to her you must first kill him."

"Of course I shall kill him," cried de Sigognac, advancing sword in hand towards the young duke, who was ready to receive him.

"We shall see about that, Sir Captain Fracasse-doughty knight of Bohemiennes!" said Vallombreuse disdainfully, and the conflict began. The duke was not de Sigognac's equal at this kind of work, but still he was skilful and brave, and had had too much good instruction to handle his sword like a broom-stick, as Lampourde expressed it. He stood entirely upon the defensive, and was exceedingly wary and prudent, hoping, as his adversary must be already considerably fatigued by his encounter with Malartic, that he might be able to get the better of him this time, and retrieve his previous defeat. At the very beginning he had succeeded in raising a small silver whistle to his lips with his left hand-and its shrill summons brought five or six armed attendants into the room.

"Carry away this woman," he cried, "and put out those two rascals. I will take care of the captain myself."

The sudden interruption of these fresh forces astonished de Sigognac, and as he saw two of the men lift up and carry off Isabelle-who had fainted quite away-he was thrown for an instant off his guard, and very nearly run through the body by his opponent.

Roused to a sense of his danger, he attacked the duke with renewed fury, and with a terrible thrust, that made him reel, wounded him seriously in the upper part of the chest.

Meanwhile Lampourde and Scapin had shown the duke's lackeys that it would not be a very easy matter to put them out, and were handling them rather roughly, when the cowardly fellows, seeing that their master was wounded, and leaning against the wall, deathly pale, thought that he was done for, and although they were fully armed, took to their heels and fled, deaf to his feeble cry for assistance. While all this was going on, the tyrant was making his way up the grand staircase, as fast as his corpulence would permit, and reached the top just in time to see Isabelle, pale, dishevelled, motionless, and apparently dead, being borne along the corridor by two lackeys. Without stopping to make any inquiries, and full of wrath at the thought that the sweet girl had fallen a victim to the wickedness of the cruel Duke of Vallombreuse, he drew his sword, and fell upon the two men with such fury that they dropped their light burden and fled down the stairs as fast as their legs could carry them. Then he knelt down beside the unconscious girl, raised her gently in his arms, and found that her heart was beating, though but feebly, and that she apparently had no wound, while she sighed faintly, like a person beginning to revive after a swoon. In this position he was found by de Sigognac, who had effectually gotten rid of Vallombreuse, by the famous and well-directed thrust that had thrown Jacquemin Lampourde into a rapture of admiration and delight. He knelt down beside his darling, took both her hands in his, and said, in the most tender tones, that Isabelle heard vaguely as if in a dream:

"Rouse yourself, dear heart, and fear nothing. You are safe now, with your own friends, and your own true lover-nobody can harm or frighten you again."

Although she did not yet open her eyes, a faint smile dawned upon the colourless lips, and her cold, trembling, little fingers feebly returned the tender pressure of de Sigognac's warm hands. Lampourde stood by, and looked down with tearful eyes upon this touching group-for he was exceedingly romantic and sentimental, and always intensely interested in a love affair. Suddenly, in the midst of the profound silence that had succeeded to the uproar of the melee, the winding of a horn was heard without, and in a moment energetically repeated. It was evidently a summons that had to be instantly obeyed; the drawbridge was lowered in haste, with a great rattling of chains, and a carriage driven rapidly into the court, while the red flaring light of torches flashed through the windows of the corridor. In another minute the door of the vestibule was thrown open, and hasty steps ascended the grand staircase. First came four tall lackeys, in rich liveries, carrying lights, and directly behind them a tall, noble-looking man, who was dressed from head to foot in black velvet, with an order shining on his breast-of those that are usually reserved for kings and princes of the blood, and only very exceptionally bestowed, upon the most illustrious personages.

When the four lackeys reached the landing at the head of the stairs, they silently ranged themselves against the wall, and stood like statues bearing torches; without the raising of an eyelid, or the slightest change in the stolid expression of their countenances to indicate that they perceived anything out of the usual way-exhibiting in perfection that miraculous imperturbability and self-command which is peculiar to well-bred, thoroughly trained menservants. The gentleman whom they had preceded paused ere he stepped upon the landing. Although age had brought wrinkles to his handsome face, and turned his abundant dark hair gray, it was still easy to recognise in him the original of the portrait that had so fascinated Isabelle, and whose protection she had passionately implored in her distress.

It was the princely father of Vallombreuse-the son bearing a different name, that of a duchy he possessed, until he in his turn should become the head of the family, and succeed to the title of prince.

At sight of Isabelle, supported by de Sigognac and the tyrant, whose ghastly pallor made her look like one dead, the aged gentleman raised his arms towards heaven and groaned.

"Alas! I am too late," said he, "for all the haste I made," and advancing a few steps he bent over the prostrate girl, and took her lifeless hand in his. Upon this hand, white, cold and diaphanous, as if it had been sculptured in alabaster, shone a ring, set with an amethyst of unusual size. The old nobleman seemed strangely agitated as it caught his eye. He drew it gently from Isabelle's slender finger, with a trembling hand signed to one of the torch-bearers to bring his light nearer, and by it eagerly examined the device cut upon the stone; first holding it close to the light and then at arm's length; as those whose eyesight is impaired by age are wont to do. The Baron de Sigognac, Herode and Lampourde anxiously watched the agitated movements of the prince, and his change of expression, as he contemplated this jewel, which he seemed to recognise; and which he turned and twisted between his fingers, with a pained look in his face, as if some great trouble had befallen him.

"Where is the Duke of Vallombreuse?" he cried at last, in a voice of thunder. "Where is that monster in human shape, who is unworthy of my race?"

He had recognised, without a possibility of doubt, in this ring, the one bearing a fanciful device, with which he had been accustomed, long ago, to seal the notes he wrote to Cornelia-Isabelle's mother, and his own youthful love. How happened it that this ring was on the finger of the young actress, who had been forcibly and shamefully abducted by Vallombreuse? From whom could she have received it? These questions were torturing to him.

"Can it be possible that she is Cornelia's daughter and mine?" said the prince to himself. "Her profession, her age, her sweet face, in which I can trace a softened, beautified likeness of her mother's, but which has a peculiarly high bred, refined expression, worthy of a royal princess, all combine to make me believe it must be so. Then, alas! alas! it is his own sister that this cursed libertine has so wronged, and he has been guilty of a horrible, horrible crime. Oh! I am cruelly punished for my youthful folly and sin."

Isabelle at length opened her eyes, and her first look fell upon the prince, holding the ring that he had drawn from her finger. It seemed to her as if she had seen his face before-but in youth, without the gray hair and beard. It seemed also to be an aged copy of the portrait over the chimney-piece in her room, and a feeling of profound veneration filled her heart as she gazed at him. She saw, too, her beloved de Sigognac kneeling beside her, watching her with tenderest devotion; and the worthy tyrant as well-both safe and sound. To the horrors of the terrible struggle had succeeded the peace and security of deliverance. She had nothing more to fear, for her friends or for herself-how could she ever be thankful enough?

The prince, who had been gazing at her with passionate earnestness, as if her fair face possessed an irresistible charm for him, now addressed her in low, moved tones:

"Mademoiselle, will you kindly tell me how you came by this ring, which recalls very dear and sacred memories to me? Has it been long in your possession?"

"I have had it ever since my infancy; it is the only thing that my poor mother left me," Isabelle replied, with gentle dignity.

"And who was your mother? Will you, tell me something about her?" continued the prince, with increasing emotion.

"Her name was Cornelia, and she was an actress, belonging to the same troupe that I am a member of now."

"Cornelia! then there is no possible doubt about it," murmured the prince to himself, in great agitation. "Yes, it is certainly she whom I have been seeking all these years-and now to find her thus!"

Then, controlling his emotion, he resumed his usual calm, majestic demeanour, and turning back to Isabelle, said to her, "Permit me to keep this ring for the present; I will soon give it back to you."

"I am content to leave it in your lordship's hands," the young actress replied, in whose mind the memory of a face, that she had seen long years ago bending over her cradle, was growing clearer and more distinct every moment.

"Gentlemen," said the prince, turning to de Sigognac and his companions, "under any other circumstances I might find your presence here, in my chateau, with arms in your hands, unwarranted, but I am aware of the necessity that drove you to forcibly invade this mansion, hitherto sacred from such scenes as this-I know that violence must be met with violence, and justifies it; therefore I shall take no further notice of what has happened here to-night, and you need have no fears of any evil consequences to yourselves because of your share in it. But where is the Duke of Vallombreuse? that degenerate son who disgraces my old age."

As if in obedience to his father's call, the young duke at that moment appeared upon the threshold of the door leading into what had been Isabelle's apartment, supported by Malartic. He was frightfully pale, and his clinched hand pressed a handkerchief tightly upon his wounded chest. He came forward with difficulty, looking like a ghost. Only a strong effort of will kept him from falling-an effort that gave to his face the immobility of a marble mask. He had heard the voice of his father, whom, depraved and shameless as he was, he yet respected and dreaded, and he hoped to be able to conceal his wound from him. He bit his lips so as not to cry out or groan in his agony, and resolutely swallowed down the bloody foam that kept rising and filling his mouth. He even took off his hat, in spite of the frightful pain the raising of his arm caused him, and stood uncovered and silent before his angry parent.

"Sir," said the prince, severely, "your misdeeds transcend all limits, and your behaviour is such that I shall be forced to implore the king to send you to prison, or into exile. You are not fit to be at large. Abduction-imprisonment-criminal assault. These are not simple gallantries; and though I might be willing to pardon and overlook many excesses, committed in the wildness of licentious youth, I never could bring myself to forgive a deliberate and premeditated crime. Do you know, you monster," he continued approaching Vallombreuse, and whispering in his ear, so that no one else could hear, "do you know who this young girl is? this good and chaste Isabelle, whom you have forcibly abducted, in spite of her determined and virtuous resistance! She is your own sister!

"May she replace the son you are about to lose," the young duke replied, attacked by a sudden faintness, and an agony of pain which he felt that he could not long endure and live; "but I am not as guilty as you suppose. Isabelle is pure-stainless. I swea

r it, by the God before whom I must shortly appear. Death does not lie, and you may believe what I say, upon the word of a dying gentleman."

These words were uttered loudly and distinctly, so as to be heard by all. Isabelle turned her beautiful eyes, wet with tears, upon de Sigognac, and read in those of her true and faithful lover that he had not waited for the solemn attestation, "in extremis," of the Duke of Vallombreuse to believe in the perfect purity of her whom he adored.

"But what is the matter?" asked the prince, holding out his hand to his son, who staggered and swayed to and fro in spite of Malartic's efforts to support him, and whose face was fairly livid.

"Nothing, father," answered Vallombreuse, in a scarcely articulate voice, "nothing-only I am dying"-and he fell at full length on the floor before the prince could clasp him in his arms, as he endeavoured to do.

"He did not fall on his face," said Jacquemin Lampourde, sententiously; "it's nothing but a fainting fit. He may escape yet. We duellists are familiar with this sort of thing, my lord; a great deal more so than most medical men, and you may depend upon what I say."

"A doctor! a doctor!" cried the prince, forgetting his anger as he saw his son lying apparently lifeless at his feet. "Perhaps this man is right, and there may be some hope for him yet. A fortune to whomsoever will save my son!-my only son!-the last scion of a noble race. Go! run quickly! What are you about there?-don't you understand me? Go, I say, and run as fast as you can; take the fleetest horse in the stable."

Whereupon two of the imperturbable lackeys, who had held their torches throughout this exciting scene without moving a muscle, hastened off to execute their master's orders. Some of his own servants now came forward, raised up the unconscious Duke of Vallombreuse with every possible care and precaution, and by his father's command carried him to his own room and laid him on his own bed, the aged prince following, with a face from which grief and anxiety had already driven away all traces of anger. He saw his race extinct in the death of this son, whom he so dearly loved-despite his fault-and whose vices he forgot for the moment, remembering only his brilliant and lovable qualities. A profound melancholy took complete possession of him, as he stood for a few moments plunged in a sorrowful reverie that everybody respected.

Isabelle, entirely revived, and no longer feeling at all faint, bad risen to her feet, and now stood between de Sigognac and the tyrant, adjusting, with a trembling hand, her disordered dress and dishevelled hair. Lampourde and Scapin had retired to a little distance from them, and held themselves modestly aloof, whilst the men within, still bound hand and foot, kept as quiet as possible; fearful of their fate if brought to the prince's notice. At length that aged nobleman returned, and breaking the terrible silence that had weighed upon all, said, in severe tones, "Let all those who placed their services at the disposition of the Duke of Vallombreuse, to aid him in indulging his evil passions and committing a terrible crime, quit this chateau instantly. I will refrain from placing you in the hands of the public executioner, though you richly deserve it. Go now! vanish! get ye back to your lairs! and rest assured that justice will not fail to overtake you at last."

These words were not complimentary, but the trembling offenders were thankful to get off so easily, and the ruffians, whom Lampourde and Scapin had unbound, followed Malartic down the stairs in silence, without daring to claim their promised reward. When they had disappeared, the prince advanced and took Isabelle by the hand, and gently detaching her from the group of which she had formed a part, led her over to where he had been standing, and kept her beside him.

"Stay here, mademoiselle," he said; "your place is henceforth by my side. It is the least that you can do to fulfil your duty as my daughter, since you are the innocent means of depriving me of my son." And he wiped away a tear, that, despite all his efforts to control his grief, rolled down his withered cheek. Then turning to de Sigognac, he said, with an incomparably noble gesture, "Sir, you are at liberty to withdraw, with your brave companions. Isabelle will have nothing to fear under her father's protection, and this chateau will be her home for the present. Now that her birth is made known it is not fitting that my daughter should return to Paris with you. I thank you, though it costs me the hope of perpetuating my race, for having spared my son a disgraceful action-what do I say? An abominable crime. I would rather have a bloodstain on my escutcheon than a dishonourable blot. Since Vallombreuse was infamous in his conduct, you have done well to kill him. You have acted like a true gentleman, which I am assured that you are, in chivalrously protecting weakness, innocence and virtue. You are nobly in the right. That my daughter's honour has been preserved unstained, I owe to you-and it compensates me for the loss of my son-at least my reason tells me that it should do so; but the father's heart rebels, and unjust ideas of revenge might arise, which I should find it difficult to conquer and set at rest. Therefore you had better go your way now, and whatever the result may be I will not pursue or molest you. I will try to forget that a terrible necessity turned your sword against my son's life."

"My lord," said de Sigognac, with profound respect, "I feel so keenly for your grief as a father, that I would have accepted any reproaches, no matter how bitter and unjust, from you, without one word of protest or feeling of resentment; even though I cannot reproach myself for my share in this disastrous conflict. I do not wish to say anything to justify myself in your eyes, at the expense of the unhappy Duke of Vallombreuse, but I beg you to believe that this quarrel was not of my seeking. He persistently threw himself in my way, and I have done everything I could to spare him, in more than one encounter. Even here it was his own blind fury that led to his being wounded. I leave Isabelle, who is dearer to me than my own soul, in your hands, and shall grieve my whole life long for this sad victory; which is a veritable and terrible defeat for me, since it destroys my happiness. Ah! if only I could have been slain myself, instead of your unhappy son; it would have been better and happier for me."

He bowed with grave dignity to the prince, who courteously returned his salute, exchanged a long look, eloquent of passionate love and heart-breaking regret, with Isabelle, and went sadly down the grand staircase, followed by his companions-not however without glancing back more than once at the sweet girl he was leaving-who to save herself from falling, leaned heavily against the railing of the landing, sobbing as if her heart would break, and pressing a handkerchief to her streaming eyes. And, so strange a thing is the human heart, the Baron de Sigognac departed much comforted by the bitter grief and tears of her whom he so devotedly loved and worshipped. He and his friends went on foot to the little wood where they had left their horses tied to the trees, found them undisturbed, mounted and returned to Paris.

"What do you think, my lord, of all these wonderful events?" said the tyrant, after a long silence, to de Sigognac, beside whom he was riding. "It all ends up like a regular tragi-comedy. Who would ever have dreamed, in the midst of the melee, of the sudden entrance upon the scene of the grand old princely father, preceded by torches, and coming to put a little wholesome restraint on the too atrociously outrageous pranks of his dissolute young son? And then the recognition of Isabelle as his daughter, by means of the ring with a peculiar device of his own engraved upon it; haven't you seen exactly the same sort of thing on the stage? But, after all, it is not so surprising perhaps as it seems at the first glance-since the theatre is only a copy of real life. Therefore, real life should resemble it, just as the original does the portrait, eh? I have always heard that our sweet little actress was of noble birth. Blazius and old Mme. Leonarde remember seeing the prince when he was devoted to Cornelia. The duenna has often tried to persuade Isabelle to seek out her father, but she is of too modest and gentle a nature to take a step of that kind; not wishing to intrude upon a family that might reject her, and willing to content herself in her own lowly, position."

"Yes, I knew all about that," rejoined de Sigognac, "for Isabelle told me some time ago her mother's history, and spoke of the ring; but without attaching any importance to the fact of her illustrious origin. It is very evident, however, from the nobility and delicacy of her nature, without any other proof, that princely blood flows in her veins; and also the refined, pure, elevated type of her beauty testifies to her descent. But what a terrible fatality that this cursed Vallombreuse should turn out to be her brother! There is a dead body between us now-a stream of blood separates us-and yet, I could not save her honour in any other way. Unhappy mortal that I am! I have myself created the obstacle upon which my love is wrecked, and killed my hopes of future bliss with the very sword that defended the purity of the woman I adore. In guarding her I love, I have put her away from me forever. How could I go now and present myself to Isabelle with blood-stained hands? Alas! that the blood which I was forced to shed in her defence should have been her brother's. Even if she, in her heavenly goodness, could forgive me, and look upon me without a feeling of horror, the prince, her father, would repulse and curse me as the murderer of his only son. I was born, alas! under an unlucky star."

"Yes, it is all very sad and lamentable, certainly," said the tyrant; "but worse entanglements than this have come out all right in the end. You must remember that the Duke of Vallombreuse is only half-brother to Isabelle, and that they were aware of the relationship but for a few minutes before he fell dead at our feet; which must make a great difference in her feelings. And besides, she hated that overbearing nobleman, who pursued her so cruelly with his violent and scandalous gallantries. The prince himself was far from being satisfied with his wretched son-who was ferocious as Nero, dissolute as Heliogabalus, and perverse as Satan himself, and who would have been hanged ten times over if he had not been a duke. Do not be so disheartened! things may turn out a great deal better than you think now."

"God grant it, my good Herode," said de Sigognac fervently. "But naturally I cannot feel happy about it. It would have been far better for all if I had been killed instead of the duke, since Isabelle would have been safe from his criminal pursuit under her father's care. And then, I may as well tell you all, a secret horror froze the very marrow in my bones when I saw that handsome young man, but a moment before so full of life, fire, and passion, fall lifeless, pale and stiff at my feet. Herode, the death of a man is a grave thing, and though I cannot suffer from remorse for this one, since I have committed no crime, still, all the time I see Vallombreuse before me, lying, motionless and ghastly, with the blood oozing slowly from his wound. It haunts me. I cannot drive the horrid sight away."

"That is all wrong," said the tyrant, soothingly-for the other was much excited-"for you could not have done otherwise. Your conscience should not reproach you. You have acted throughout, from the very beginning to the end, like the noble gentleman that you are. These scruples are owing to exhaustion, to the feverishness due to the excitement you have gone through, and the chill from the night air. We will gallop on swiftly in a moment, to set our blood flowing more freely, and drive away these sad thoughts of yours. But one thing must be promptly done; you must quit Paris, forthwith, and retire for a time to some quiet retreat, until all this trouble is forgotten. The violent death of the Duke of Vallombreuse will make a stir at the court, and in the city, no matter how much pains may be taken to keep the facts from the public, and, although he was not at all popular, indeed very much the reverse, there will be much regret expressed, and you will probably be severely blamed. But now let us put spurs to these lazy steeds of ours, and try to get on a little faster."

While they are galloping towards Paris, we will return to the chateau-as quiet now as it had been noisy a little while before. In the young duke's room, a candelabrum, with several branches, stood on a round table, so that the light from the candles fell upon the bed, where he lay with closed eyes, as motionless as a corpse, and as pale. The walls of the large chamber, above a high wainscot of ebony picked out with gold, were hung with superb tapestry, representing the history of Medea and Jason, with all its murderous and revolting details. Here, Medea was seen cutting the body of Pelias into pieces, under pretext of restoring his youth-there, the madly jealous woman and unnatural mother was murdering her own children; in another panel she was fleeing, surfeited with vengeance, in her chariot, drawn by huge dragons breathing out flames of fire. The tapestry was certainly magnificent in quality and workmanship, rich in colouring, artistic in design, and very costly-but inexpressibly repulsive. These mythological horrors gave the luxurious room an intensely disagreeable, lugubrious aspect, and testified to the natural ferocity and cruelty of the person who had selected them. Behind the bed the crimson silk curtains had been drawn apart, exposing to view the representation of Jason's terrible conflict with the fierce, brazen bulls that guarded the golden fleece, and Vallombreuse, lying senseless below them, looked as if he might have been one of their victims. Various suits of clothes, of the greatest richness and elegance, which had been successively tried on and rejected, were scattered about, and in a splendid great Japanese vase, standing on an ebony table near the head of the bed, was a bouquet of beautiful flowers, destined to replace the one Isabelle had already refused to receive-its glowing tints making a strange contrast with the death-like face, which was whiter than the snowy pillow it rested on. The prince, sitting in an arm-chair beside the bed, gazed at his unconscious son with mournful intentness, and bent down from time to time to listen at the slightly parted lips; but no fluttering breath came through them; all was still. Never had the young duke looked handsomer. The haughty, fierce expression, habitual with him, had given place to a serenity that was wonderfully beautiful, though so like death. As the father contemplated the perfect face and form, so soon to crumble into dust, he forgot, in his overwhelming grief, that the soul of a demon had animated it, and he thought sorrowfully of the great name that had been revered and honoured for centuries past, but which could not go down to centuries to come. More even than the death of his son did he mourn for the extinction of his home.

Isabelle stood at the foot of the bed, with clasped hands, praying with her whole soul for this new-found brother, who had expiated his crime with his life-the crime of loving too much, which woman pardons so easily.

The prince, who had been for some time holding his son's icy cold hand between both his own, suddenly thought that he could feel a slight warmth in it, and not realizing that he himself had imparted it, allowed himself to hope again.

"Will the doctor never come?" he cried impatiently; "something may yet be done; I am persuaded of it."

Even as he spoke the door opened, and the surgeon appeared, followed by an assistant carrying a case of instruments. He bowed to the prince, and without saying one word went straight to the bedside, felt the patient's pulse, put his hand over his heart, and shook his head despondingly. However, to make sure, he drew a little mirror of polished steel from his pocket, removed it from its case, and held it for a moment over the parted lips; then, upon examining its surface closely, he found that a slight dimness was visible upon it. Surprised at this unexpected indication of life, he repeated the experiment, and again the little mirror was dimmed-Isabelle and the prince meantime breathlessly watching every movement, and even the expression of the doctor's face.

"Life is not entirely extinct," he said at last, turning to the anxious father, as he wiped the polished surface of his tiny mirror. "The patient still breathes, and as long as there is life there is hope, But do not give yourself up to a premature joy that might render your grief more bitter afterwards. I only say that the Duke of Vallombreuse has not yet breathed his last; that is all. Now, I am going to probe the wound, which perhaps is not fatal, as it did not kill him at once."

"You must not stay here, Isabelle," said the prince, tenderly; "such sights are too trying for a young girl like you. Go to your own room now, my dear, and I will let you know the doctor's verdict as soon as he has pronounced it."

Isabelle accordingly withdrew, and was conducted to an apartment that had been made ready for her; the one she had occupied being all in disorder after the terrible scenes that had been enacted there.

The surgeon proceeded with his examination, and when it was finished said to the prince, "My lord, will you please to order a cot put up in that corner yonder, and have a light supper sent in for my assistant and myself? We shall remain for the night with the Duke of Vallombreuse, and take turns in watching him. I must be with him constantly, so as to note every symptom; to combat promptly those that are unfavorable, and aid those that are the reverse. Your highness may trust everything to me, and feel assured that all that human skill and science can do towards saving your son's life shall be faithfully done. Let me advise you to go to your own room now and try to get some rest; I think I may safely answer for my patient's life until the morning."

A little calmed and much encouraged by this assurance, the prince retired to his own apartment, where every hour a servant brought him a bulletin from the sick-room.

As to Isabelle, lying in her luxurious bed and vainly trying to sleep, she lived over again in imagination all the wonderful as well as terrible experiences of the last two days, and tried to realize her new position; that she was now the acknowledged daughter of a mighty prince, than whom only royalty was higher; that the dreaded Duke of Vallombreuse, so handsome and winning despite his perversity, was no longer a bold lover to be feared and detested, but a brother, whose passion, if he lived, would doubtless be changed into a pure and calm fraternal affection. This chateau, no longer her prison, had become her home, and she was treated by all with the respect and consideration due to the daughter of its master. From what had seemed to be her ruin had arisen her good fortune, and a destiny radiant, unhoped-for, and beyond her wildest flights of fancy. Yet, surrounded as she was by everything to make her happy and content, Isabelle was far from feeling so-she was astonished at herself for being sad and listless, instead of joyous and exultant-but the thought of de Sigognac, so infinitely dear to her, so far more precious than any other earthly blessing, weighed upon her heart, and the separation from him was a sorrow for which nothing could console her. Yet, now that their relative positions were so changed, might not a great happiness be in store for her? Did not this very change bring her nearer in reality to that true, brave, faithful, and devoted lover, though for the moment they were parted? As a poor nameless actress she had refused to accept his offered hand, lest such an alliance should be disadvantageous to him and stand in the way of his advancement, but now-how joyfully would she give herself to him. The daughter of a great and powerful prince would be a fitting wife for the Baron de Sigognac. But if he were the murderer of her father's only son; ah! then indeed they could never join hands over a grave. And even if the young duke should recover, he might cherish a lasting resentment for the man who had not only dared to oppose his wishes and designs, but had also defeated and wounded him. As to the prince, good and generous though he was, still he might not be able to bring himself to look with favour upon the man who had almost deprived him of his son. Then, too, he might desire some other alliance for his new-found daughter-it was not impossible-but in her inmost heart she promised herself to be faithful to her first and only love; to take refuge in a convent rather than accept the hand of any other; even though that other were as handsome as Apollo, and gifted as the prince of a fairy tale. Comforted by this secret vow, by which she dedicated her life and love to de Sigognac, whether their destiny should give them to each other or keep them asunder, Isabelle was just falling into a sweet sleep when a slight sound made her open her eyes, and they fell upon Chiquita, standing at the foot of the bed and gazing at her with a thoughtful, melancholy air.

"What is it, my dear child?" said Isabelle, in her sweetest tones. "You did not go away with the others, then? I am glad; and if you would like to stay here with me, Chiquita, I will keep you and care for you tenderly; as is justly due to you, my dear, for you have done a great deal for me."

"I love you dearly," answered Chiquita, "but I cannot stay with you while Agostino lives; he is my master, I must follow him. But I have one favour to beg before I leave you; if you think that I have earned the pearl necklace now, will you kiss me? No one ever did but you, and it was so sweet."

"Indeed I will, and with all my heart," said Isabelle, taking the child's thin face between her hands and kissing her warmly on her brown cheeks, which flushed crimson under the soft caress.

"And now, good-bye!" said Chiquita, when after a few moments of silence she had resumed her usual sang-froid. She turned quickly away, but, catching sight of the knife she had given Isabelle, which lay upon the dressing-table, she seized it eagerly, saying, "Give me back my knife now; you will not need it any more," and vanished.

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