The day passed without any other incident worthy of being recorded, and our travellers arrived in good season at the inn where they were to sup and sleep.
It was in front of the largest house in a wretched little hamlet that the weary oxen drawing the chariot of Thespis stopped of their own accord. The wooden sign that creaked distractingly as it swung to and fro at every breath of wind bore a large, blue sun, darting its rays, after the most approved fashion, to the utmost dimensions of the board on which it was painted. Rather an original idea, one would say, to have a blue orb of day instead of a golden one—such as adorned so many other inns on the great post-road—but originality had had nothing whatever to do with it. The wandering painter who produced this remarkable work of art happened to have no vestige of any colour but blue left upon his palette, and he discoursed so eloquently of the superiority of this tint to all others that he succeeded in persuading the worthy innkeeper to have an azure sun depicted on his swinging sign. And not this one alone had yielded to his specious arguments, for he had painted blue lions, blue cocks, blue horses, on various signs in the country round, in a manner that would have delighted the Chinese—who esteem an artist in proportion to the unnaturalness of his designs and colouring.
The few scrawny, unwholesome-looking children feebly playing in the muddy, filthy, little street, and the prematurely old, ghastly women standing at the open doors of the miserable thatched huts of which the hamlet was composed, were but too evidently the wretched victims of a severe type of malarial fever that prevails in the Landes. They were truly piteous objects, and our travellers were glad to take refuge in the inn—though it was anything but inviting—and so get out of sight of them.
The landlord, a villainous looking fellow, with an ugly crimson scar across his forehead, who rejoiced in the extraordinary name of Chirriguirri, received them with many low obeisances, and led the way into his house, talking volubly of the excellent accommodations to be found therein.
The Baron de Sigognac hesitated ere he crossed the threshold, though the comedians had all drawn back respectfully to allow him to precede them. His pride revolted at going into such a place in such company, but one glance from Isabelle put everything else out of his head, and he entered the dirty little inn at her side with an air of joyful alacrity. In the happy kingdom of France the fortunate man who escorted a pretty woman, no matter where, needed not to fear ridicule or contumely, and was sure to be envied.