Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/The stratagems of the Lady Isolda


The Lady Isolda de Grandmarais opened her lattice, ostensibly to look at the moon, but, in reality, for quite a different purpose. As she gazed, a muffled figure stepped forward, and, placing himself in a romantic attitude under her window, sang in a low voice the following ditty:—

Look forth, look forth, my fairest,
There’s none to see to us now;
The night is of the rarest
To hear a lover’s vow:
Your porter—he so fat is
He can’t do else but sleep,
Then from your opened lattice
My own Isolda peep.

Look forth, look forth, my darling,
To see us now there’s none;
The mastiff at me snarling
I solaced with a bone:
From castle top to basement,
Save you, all are asleep,
Then from the opened casement
My dear Isolda peep.

“What are you doing here at this time of night, Albert?” asked the lady.

“Well!” answered Albert, “considering that you told me to come, you will excuse me if I confess that I am somewhat surprised at the question.”

“Propriety compels me to be unconscious of such an invitation. As, however, you are here, I can acquaint you with the plans I have formed for effecting my elopement with you. You know Yeux-de-Groseilles?”

“Yes, he is the greatest fool I know.”

“He may be. He has, however, done me the honour to fall in love with me.”

“Then he has more sense than I supposed he had.”

“My father destines him to be my husband, but has not yet broken the matter to him, and Yeux-de-Groseilles is wrongly impressed with the idea that my father does not favour his suit. He has also committed the mistake of supposing that I am favourable to him. I have told him that I will meet him to-morrow evening, at dusk, at the chapel some little distance from the castle. Now, what do you think I intend to do?”

“I know what I intend to do,” replied Albert, “and that is to kick Yeux-de-Groseilles.”

“Stupid fellow! I will tell you no more of my schemes than is absolutely necessary. Be here to-morrow evening, with two horses, at the time when I am to meet Yeux-de-Groseilles, but not at the same place. Wait for me under the trees at the eastern end of the castle. And now begone as softly as you can.”

With that she shut the window.

Albert walked away as stealthily as he could—but in vain. The mastiff had finished the bone, and now barked ungratefully at the donor of it. The porter, awakened, got up to kick the dog. As he proceeded for this purpose, he came across Albert, who immediately knocked him down. But the porter being fat and heavy, his fall caused such a concussion to the whole castle, that the Baron de Grandmarais’s terrified retainers, starting from their sleep, rushed to the spot to learn what was the matter. Seeing Albert, they instantly secured him, and consigned him to the Baron’s hereditary dungeon.

Next morning, the Baron de Grandmarais, surnamed Long-nez, from the extraordinary length of his proboscis, was breakfasting in a manner suitable to his position and the period in which he lived. A vast sirloin of beef (which had not then received the honour of knighthood) occupied with dignity the right of the board; a venison pasty adorned the centre, and a boar’s head frowned sternly on the left. Nor were liquors befitting such viands wanting. On the right hand of the Baron stood a huge flagon of Rhenish, on his left an equally capacious tankard of ale.

The Baron was engaged in discharging another important duty besides that of breakfasting. He was holding a court, and exercising his judicial functions, which were indefinite in power. Beneath him sat his steward, who acted as clerk, with writing materials before him, not for use, but in order to give a kind of dignity to the proceedings. Before the Baron stood the culprit—the same that was captured the night before—whose dress and manners seemed to show that in station he was little, if at all, the inferior of his judge. About the room stood the Baron’s servants, who were there in the capacity either of witnesses or guards.

The porter and some of the servants were examined as to the circumstances of the discovery and seizure of the prisoner; and after them was put forward Hugo, another servant, who, partly from his natural fear of the Baron, and partly from a guilty consciousness that he had been fast asleep all night, and therefore knew nothing at all about the matter, waited with great trepidation to give his evidence.

“Do you recognise the prisoner as the man who was sneaking about the castle last night?” said the Baron, addressing Hugo.

“Yes.”

“Did you see him last night?” timidly interposed the steward.

“No.”

“Would you have recognised him if you had seen him?” urged the Baron.

“Yes.”

“Very well! it’s all the same,” said the Baron, darting a reproachful glance at his officious steward.

The Baron, having now heard all the evidence, clothed his countenance with a look of the greatest gravity and importance, preparatory to pronouncing sentence.

The steward, observing him put on this look, hastened to whisper that it might be more regular to ask the prisoner if he had anything to say.

On this the Baron, with no great willingness, altered the judicial expression of his countenance, and asked the prisoner for his explanation.

“I am Albert de Chose,” was the reply, “nearly your equal in rank and power. I shall not tell you why I am here; but it is absurd to suppose that I came here for your spoons. If you inflict any punishment or degradation on me, you will repent it.”

The Baron turned to the steward and said peevishly:

“I knew how it would be: if I had heard only one side I should have had no difficulty in deciding, but now I am amazingly perplexed.”

He pished, he pshawed; he looked up to the ceiling and down to the floor. He shook his weighty head, and laid his right forefinger alongside of his enormous nose. But it was all in vain. His embarrassment seemed to increase. At last his glance rested upon Hugo, who was endeavouring to screen himself behind another servant. As he looked, his perplexity vanished, and a cheerful smile spread over his features.

“Put Hugo in the stocks,” he said.

“But,” the steward ventured to say, “how can Hugo be wrong?”

“Right or wrong, put Hugo in the stocks.”

This happy thought satisfied the Baron’s craving for punishment, and permitted the cold water of prudence to extinguish his desire of inflicting punishment on the real culprit. The steward would have still interceded for Hugo, but observing that his master’s head was buried in the tankard, he desisted, knowing that the Baron always sealed his acts as irreversible by a draught of ale.

Hugo was therefore conducted to the stocks, and Albert de Chose was allowed to depart unmolested.

Long did the Baron cogitate as to what was the cause of Albert’s intrusion into his castle, but hour after hour elapsed without his having gained an idea on the subject. There was one person who could have given him information, but of her he did not think. The Lady Isolda had been caused some trepidation by the tidings of the capture of Albert. When, however, she heard that he had been allowed to leave the castle, she gave a sigh of relief, and proceeded to dress for dinner.

On that day the Baron and his daughter dined together. During the first part of the meal they were silent. At length the Lady Isolda gently exclaimed:

“My father!”

“My daughter!” replied the Baron in a voice hollow—not with emotion, but from his mouth being then enveloped in the tankard he had just emptied.

“I am sorry you let that insolent Albert de Chose go this morning. Do you know that he is one of my lovers?”

“Isolda!” said the Baron, pianissimo, in a tone of gentle reproach.

“I daresay you are at a loss to discover why he came here last night. He came in order to serenade me.”

“Isolda!!” exclaimed the Baron, crescendo.

“I have told him to meet me at the chapel near the castle this evening at dusk.”

“Isolda!!!” roared the Baron, furioso.

“I need not tell you that I do not intend to keep the appointment.”

“But why did you not inform me of all this before?”

“Maidenly reserve prevented me.”

“Maidenly fiddlestick!” exclaimed the Baron, bouncing up and kicking a servant who happened to be in the room out of it.

“Now, papa,” said Isolda, quietly, “if you won’t be so extremely violent I will inform you of a plan of mine which, I think, is a good one. I should like this Albert de Chose to be punished for his presumption. You shall go to this place of meeting instead of me. You shall recapture Albert, and put him in your stocks, or your dungeon, or do anything else you like with him.”

“The idea is not a bad one,” said the Baron, much mollified: “I will do as you propose.”

As soon, therefore, as he had finished his after-dinner nap, he put on his armour, summoned his retainers, amongst whom was the unfortunate Hugo, released for the occasion from the stocks, and set out, chuckling at the idea of the unpleasant surprise which he was about to give the amorous Albert. At the chapel waited Yeux-de-Groseilles, leaning against the wall, with his eyes shut and his arms folded. Had the Baron put on his spectacles as well as his armour, he would have seen that he had made a mistake in his man. As it was, he concluded that it was Albert that he saw, and proceeded to recapture him. Ordering his retainers to disperse and gradually surround and approach the unconscious man, he himself, accompanied only by Hugo, walked stealthily up to him. As soon as he reached him he uttered two exclamations expressive of surprise. The first was:

“Why, he is asleep!”

The second was:

“Why, it is Yeux-de-Groseilles!”

The second exclamation roused Yeux-de Groseilles from his slumbers. Not recognising the Baron, he made a hostile rush at him. The Baron prudently retreated, but in avoiding Charybdis he fell into Scylla.

Hugo, who was in the rear, burning with resentment at the treatment which he had received that morning, was inflicting imaginary castigation on his master by flourishing his foot within an inch of the most prominent part exposed to him. The retreat of the Baron, to his discomposure, and the horror of Hugo, made the castigation real. The Baron assailed thus strenuously in the rear, jumped forward, and Yeux-de-Groseilles seized him by the nose.

“Why, this nose,” ejaculated Yeux-de-Groseilles, giving it a tweak in order to satisfy himself of its identity, “must belong to the Baron de Grandmarais.”

“Let it go!” roared the Baron.

Yeux-de-Groseilles accordingly released it.

“What brings you here?” inquired the Baron.

“Well, to tell you the truth,” answered Yeux-de-Groseilles, with a confidential nod, “I came to meet your daughter.”

“And Albert de Chose is not here—ha! an idea—let me think.”

The Baron cogitated profoundly for some time. At last he said:

“My daughter has misled me. Yeux-de-Groseilles, will you come back with me?”

Yeux-de-Groseilles agreed to do so, and they proceeded to the castle together.

It is needless for us to acquaint our intelligent readers with the fact that Isolda took advantage of the opportunity afforded by her father’s absence, and went off with Albert de Chose.

At the castle gate the Baron met his steward, who was pale and trembling.

“Your daughter, the Lady Isolda, has gone off with some one,” stuttered the steward.

“And the jewels of her late mother?” said the Baron, in a tone of the deepest emotion: “has she taken them? Speak, varlet, speak!”

“No,” answered the steward.

The Baron gave a sigh of relief.

“Well,” said he, “perhaps it is the best thing that could happen. She plagued me exceedingly.”

“She has made egregious fools of us,” said Yeux-de-Groseilles, gloomily.

“Never mind,” responded the Baron, cheerfully, “we will, notwithstanding, have a jolly night together—you and I.”

And they did have a night of it. When the chamberlain came with the bed-candles they had forgotten the very existence of Isolda.