The baron had not yet removed a single garment when his attention was attracted by the strange uneasiness of Beelzebub, who finally jumped down from his arm-chair, went straight to one of the windows, and raising himself on his hind legs put his fore-paws on the casing and stared out into the thick darkness, where it was impossible to distinguish anything but the driving rain. A loud howl from Miraut at the same moment proclaimed that he too was aroused, and that something very unusual must be going on in the vicinity of the chateau, ordinarily as quiet as the grave. Miraut kept up persistently a furious barking, and the baron gave up all idea of going to bed. He hastily readjusted his dress, so that he might be in readiness for whatever should happen, and feeling a little excited at this novel commotion.
“What can be the matter with poor old Miraut? He usually sleeps from sunset to sunrise without making a sound, save his snores. Can it be that a wolf is prowling about the place?” said the young man to himself, as he buckled the belt of his sword round his slender waist. A formidable weapon it was, that sword, with long blade, and heavy iron scabbard.
At that moment three loud knocks upon the great outer door resounded through the house. Who could possibly have strayed here at this hour, so far from the travelled roads, and in this tempest that was making night horrible without? No such thing had occurred within the baron’s recollection. What could it portend?
CHAPTER II. THE CHARIOT OF THESPIS
The Baron de Sigognac went down the broad staircase without a moment’s delay to answer this mysterious summons, protecting with his hand the feeble flame of the small lamp he carried from the many draughts that threatened to blow it out. The light, shining through his slender fingers, gave them a rosy tinge, so that he merited the epithet applied by Homer, the immortal bard, to the laughing, beautiful Aurora, even though he advanced through the thick darkness with his usual melancholy mien, and followed by a black cat, instead of preceding the glorious god of day.