“You overestimate my little exploit,” the baron replied modestly, “there was no danger worth mentioning,” then sinking his voice to a whisper, “but to protect you I would meet and conquer giants, put to flight a whole host of Saracens, attack and destroy dragons and horrid monsters; I would force my way through enchanted forests filled with snares and perils, such as we read of, and even descend into hell itself, like Aeneas of old. In your dear service the most difficult feats would be easy; your beautiful eyes inspire me with indomitable courage, and your sweet presence, or even the bare thought of you, seems to endue me with a super-human strength.”
This was, perhaps, rather exaggerated, but perfectly sincere, and Isabelle did not doubt for a moment that de Sigognac would be able to accomplish fabulous deeds of prowess in her honour and for her sake; and she was not so very far wrong, for he was becoming hourly more passionately enamoured of her, and ardent young lovers are capable of prodigies of valour, inspired by the fair objects of their adoration.
Serafina, who had overheard some of the baron’s impassioned words, could not repress a scornful smile; so many women are apt to find the fervid protestations of lovers, when addressed to others than themselves, supremely ridiculous, yet they joyfully receive the very same protestations, without detecting anything in the least absurd in them when whispered into their own ears. For a moment she was tempted to try the power of her many charms, which she believed to be irresistible, with the young baron, and win him away from Isabelle; but this idea was speedily rejected, for Serafina held beauty to be a precious gem that should be richly set in gold—the gem was hers, but the golden setting was lamentably wanting, and poor de Sigognac could not possibly furnish it. So the accomplished coquette decided not to interfere with this newly-born love affair, which was “all very well for a simple-minded young girl like Isabelle,” she said to herself, with a disdainful smile and toss of the head.
Profound silence had fallen upon the party after the late excitement, and some of them were even growing sleepy again, when several hours later the driver suddenly called out, “There is the Chateau de Bruyeres.”
The extensive domain of the Marquis de Bruyeres was situated just upon the edge of the Landes, and consisted mostly of productive, highly-cultivated land—the barren sand reaching only to the boundary wall of the great park that surrounded the chateau. An air of prosperity pervaded the entire estate, in pleasing contrast with the desolate region of country close at hand. Outside the park wall was a broad, deep ditch, filled with clear water and spanned by a handsome stone bridge, wide enough for two carriages abreast, which led to the grand entrance gates. These