At last Vallombreuse was pronounced well enough to mount his horse, and go for a ride in the forest—which he had long been sighing for—and Isabelle gladly consented to bear him company. They looked a wonderfully handsome pair, as they rode leisurely through the leafy arcades. But there was one very marked difference between them.
The young man’s countenance was radiant with happiness and smiles, but the girl’s face was clouded over with an abiding melancholy. Occasionally her brother’s lively sallies would bring a faint smile to her sweet lips, but they fell back immediately into the mournful droop that had become habitual with them. Vallombreuse apparently did not perceive it—though in reality he was well aware of it, and of its cause—and was full of fun and frolic.
“Oh! what a delicious thing it is to live,” he cried, “yet how seldom we think of the exquisite enjoyment there is in the simple act of breathing,” and he drew a long, deep breath, as if he never could get enough of the soft, balmy air. “The trees surely were never so green before, the sky so blue, or the flowers so fragrant. I feet as if I had been born into the world only yesterday, and was looking upon nature for the first time to-day. I never appreciated it before. When I remember that I might even now be lying, stiff and stark, under a fine marble monument, and that instead of that I am riding through an elysium, beside my darling sister, who has really learned to love me, I am too divinely happy. I do not even feel my wound any more. I don’t believe that I ever was wounded. And now for a gallop, for I’m sure that our good father is wearying for us at home.”
In spite of Isabelle’s remonstrances he put spurs to his horse, and she could not restrain hers when its companion bounded forward, so off they went at a swift pace, and never drew rein until they reached the chateau. As he lifted his sister down from her saddle, Vallombreuse said, “Now, after to-day’s achievement, I can surely be treated like a big boy, and get permission to go out by myself.”
“What! you want to go away and leave us already? and scarcely well yet, you bad boy!”
“Even so, my sweet sister; I want to make a little journey that will take several days,” said Vallombreuse negligently.
Accordingly, the very next morning he departed, after having taken an affectionate leave of the prince, his father; who did not oppose his going, as Isabelle had confidently expected, but seemed, on the contrary, to approve of it heartily. After receiving many charges to be careful and prudent, from his sister, which he dutifully promised to remember and obey, the young duke bade her good-bye also, and said, in a mysterious, yet most significant way,
“Au revoir, my sweet little sister, you will be pleased with what I am about to do.” And Isabelle sought in vain for the key to the enigma.