The carriage rolled smoothly and swiftly on its way towards Vallombreuse, and when the high, steep roof of the chateau came in sight the young duke said to de Sigognac, “You must go with me to my room first, where you can get rid of the dust, and freshen up a bit before I present you to my sister—who knows nothing whatever of my journey, or its motive. I have prepared a surprise for her, and I want it to be complete—so please draw down the curtain on your side, while I do the same on mine, in order that we may not be seen, as we drive into the court, from any of the windows that command a view of it. But what are we to do with this little wretch here?”
Chiquita, who was roused from her deep reverie by the duke’s question, looked gravely up at him, and said, “Let some one take me to Mlle. Isabelle—she will decide what is to be done with me.”
With all the curtains carefully drawn down the carriage drove over the drawbridge and into the court. Vallombreuse alighted, took de Sigognac’s arm, and led him silently to his own apartment, after having ordered a servant to conduct Chiquita to the presence of the Comtesse de Lineuil. At sight of her Isabelle was greatly astonished, and, laying down the book she was reading, fixed upon the poor child a look full of interest, affection, and questioning.
Chiquita stood silent and motionless until the servant had retired, then, with a strange solemnity, which was entirely new in her, she went up to Isabelle, and timidly taking her hand, said:
“My knife is in Agostino’s heart. I have no master now, and I must devote myself to somebody. Next to him who is dead I love you best of all the world. You gave me the pearl necklace I wished for, and you kissed me. Will you have me for your servant, your slave, your dog? Only give me a black dress, so that I may wear mourning for my lost love—it is all I ask. I will sleep on the floor outside your door, so that I shall not be in your way. When you want me, whistle for me, like this,”—and she whistled shrilly—“and I will come instantly. Will you have me?”
In answer Isabelle drew Chiquita into her arms, pressed her lips to the girl’s forehead warmly, and thankfully accepted this soul, that dedicated itself to her.
CHAPTER XXI. HYMEN! OH HYMEN!
Isabelle, accustomed to Chiquita’s odd, enigmatical ways, had refrained from questioning her—waiting to ask for explanations until the poor girl should have become more quiet, and able to give them. She could see that some terrible catastrophe must have occurred, which had left all her nerves quivering, and caused the strong shudders that passed over her in rapid succession; but the child had rendered her such good service, in her own hour of need, that she felt the least she could do was to receive and care for the poor little waif tenderly, without making any inquiries as to her evidently desperate situation.