Part 1 out of 8
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by CHARLES READE
Towards the close of the last century the Baron de Beaurepaire lived
in the chateau of that name in Brittany. His family was of
prodigious antiquity; seven successive barons had already flourished
on this spot when a younger son of the house accompanied his
neighbor the Duke of Normandy in his descent on England, and was
rewarded by a grant of English land, on which he dug a mote and
built a chateau, and called it Beaurepaire (the worthy Saxons turned
this into Borreper without delay). Since that day more than twenty
gentlemen of the same lineage had held in turn the original chateau
and lands, and handed them down to their present lord.
Thus rooted in his native Brittany, Henri Lionel Marie St. Quentin
de Beaurepaire was as fortunate as any man can be pronounced before
he dies. He had health, rank, a good income, a fair domain, a
goodly house, a loving wife, and two lovely young daughters, all
veneration and affection. Two months every year he visited the
Faubourg St. Germain and the Court. At both every gentleman and
every lacquey knew his name, and his face: his return to Brittany
after this short absence was celebrated by a rustic fete.
Above all, Monsieur de Beaurepaire possessed that treasure of
treasures, content. He hunted no heart-burns. Ambition did not
tempt him; why should he listen to long speeches, and court the
unworthy, and descend to intrigue, for so precarious and equivocal a
prize as a place in the Government, when he could be De Beaurepaire
without trouble or loss of self-respect? Social ambition could get
little hold of him; let parvenus give balls half in doors, half out,
and light two thousand lamps, and waste their substance battling and
manoeuvring for fashionable distinction; he had nothing to gain by
such foolery, nothing to lose by modest living; he was the twenty-
ninth Baron of Beaurepaire. So wise, so proud, so little vain, so
strong in health and wealth and honor, one would have said nothing
less than an earthquake could shake this gentleman and his house.
Yet both were shaken, though rooted by centuries to the soil; and by
no vulgar earthquake.
For years France had bowed in silence beneath two galling burdens--a
selfish and corrupt monarchy, and a multitudinous, privileged, lazy,
and oppressive aristocracy, by whom the peasant was handled like a
Russian serf. [Said peasant is now the principal proprietor of the
The lower orders rose upon their oppressors, and soon showed
themselves far blacker specimens of the same breed. Law, religion,
humanity, and common sense, hid their faces; innocent blood flowed
in a stream, and terror reigned. To Monsieur de Beaurepaire these
republicans--murderers of women, children, and kings--seemed the
most horrible monsters nature had ever produced; he put on black,
and retired from society; he felled timber, and raised large sums of
money upon his estate. And one day he mounted his charger, and
disappeared from the chateau.
Three months after this, a cavalier, dusty and pale, rode into the
courtyard of Beaurepaire, and asked to see the baroness. She came
to him; he hung his head and held her out a letter.
It contained a few sad words from Monsieur de Laroche-jaquelin. The
baron had just fallen in La Vendee, fighting for the Crown.
From that hour till her death the baroness wore black.
The mourner would have been arrested, and perhaps beheaded, but for
a friend, the last in the world on whom the family reckoned for any
solid aid. Dr. Aubertin had lived in the chateau twenty years. He
was a man of science, and did not care a button for money; so he had
retired from the practice of medicine, and pursued his researches at
ease under the baron's roof. They all loved him, and laughed at his
occasional reveries, in the days of prosperity; and now, in one
great crisis, the protege became the protector, to their astonishment
and his own. But it was an age of ups and downs. This amiable
theorist was one of the oldest verbal republicans in Europe. And
why not? In theory a republic is the perfect form of government:
it is merely in practice that it is impossible; it is only upon
going off paper into reality, and trying actually to self-govern
limited nations, after heating them white hot with the fire of
politics and the bellows of bombast--that the thing resolves
itself into bloodshed silvered with moonshine.
Dr. Aubertin had for years talked and written speculative
republicanism. So they applied to him whether the baroness shared
her husband's opinions, and he boldly assured them she did not; he
added, "She is a pupil of mine." On this audacious statement they
contented themselves with laying a heavy fine on the lands of
Assignats were abundant, but good mercantile paper, a notorious
coward, had made itself wings and fled, and specie was creeping into
strong boxes like a startled rabbit into its hole. The fine was
paid; but Beaurepaire had to be heavily mortgaged, and the loan bore
a high rate of interest. This, with the baron's previous mortgages,
swamped the estate.
The baroness sold her carriage and horses, and she and her daughters
prepared to deny themselves all but the bare necessaries of life,
and pay off their debts if possible. On this their dependants fell
away from them; their fair-weather friends came no longer near them;
and many a flush of indignation crossed their brows, and many an
aching pang their hearts, as adversity revealed the baseness and
inconstancy of common people high or low.
When the other servants had retired with their wages, one Jacintha
remained behind, and begged permission to speak to the baroness.
"What would you with me, my child?" asked that lady, with an accent
in which a shade of surprise mingled with great politeness.
"Forgive me, madame," began Jacintha, with a formal courtesy; "but
how can I leave you, and Mademoiselle Josephine, and Mademoiselle
Rose? I was born at Beaurepaire; my mother died in the chateau: my
father died in the village; but he had meat every day from the
baron's own table, and fuel from the baron's wood, and died blessing
the house of Beaurepaire. I CANNOT go. The others are gone because
prosperity is here no longer. Let it be so; I will stay till the
sun shines again upon the chateau, and then you shall send me away
if you are bent on it; but not now, my ladies--oh, not now! Oh! oh!
oh!" And the warm-hearted girl burst out sobbing ungracefully.
"My child," said the baroness, "these sentiments touch me, and honor
you. But retire, if you please, while I consult my daughters."
Jacintha cut her sobs dead short, and retreated with a formal
The consultation consisted of the baroness opening her arms, and
both her daughters embracing her at once. Proud as they were, they
wept with joy at having made one friend amongst all their servants.
As months rolled on, Rose de Beaurepaire recovered her natural
gayety in spite of bereavement and poverty; so strong are youth, and
health, and temperament. But her elder sister had a grief all her
own: Captain Dujardin, a gallant young officer, well-born, and his
own master, had courted her with her parents' consent; and, even
when the baron began to look coldly on the soldier of the Republic,
young Dujardin, though too proud to encounter the baron's irony and
looks of scorn, would not yield love to pique. He came no more to
the chateau, but he would wait hours and hours on the path to the
little oratory in the park, on the bare chance of a passing word or
even a kind look from Josephine. So much devotion gradually won a
heart which in happier times she had been half encouraged to give
him; and, when he left her on a military service of uncommon danger,
the woman's reserve melted, and, in that moment of mutual grief and
passion, she vowed she loved him better than all the world.
Letters from the camp breathing a devotion little short of worship
fed her attachment; and more than one public mention of his name and
services made her proud as well as fond of the fiery young soldier.
Still she did not open her heart to her parents. The baron, alive
at that time, was exasperated against the Republic, and all who
served it; and, as for the baroness, she was of the old school: a
passionate love in a lady's heart before marriage was contrary to
her notions of etiquette. Josephine loved Rose very tenderly; but
shrank with modest delicacy from making her a confidante of
feelings, the bare relation of which leaves the female hearer a
child no longer.
So she hid her heart, and delicious first love nestled deep in her
nature, and thrilled in every secret vein and fibre.
They had parted two years, and he had joined the army of the
Pyrenees about one month, when suddenly all correspondence ceased on
Restless anxiety rose into terror as this silence continued; and
starting and trembling at every sound, and edging to the window at
every footstep, Josephine expected hourly the tidings of her lover's
Months rolled on in silence.
Then a new torture came. He must not be dead but unfaithful. At
this all the pride of her race was fired in her.
The struggle between love and ire was almost too much for nature:
violently gay and moody by turns she alarmed both her mother and the
good Dr. Aubertin. The latter was not, I think, quite without
suspicion of the truth; however, he simply prescribed change of air
and place; she must go to Frejus, a watering-place distant about
five leagues. Mademoiselle de Beaurepaire yielded a languid assent.
To her all places were alike.
But when they returned from Frejus a change had taken place. Rose
had extracted her sister's secret, and was a changed girl. Pity,
and the keen sense of Josephine's wrong, had raised her sisterly
love to a passion. The great-hearted girl hovered about her lovely,
suffering sister like an angel, and paid her the tender attentions
of a devoted lover, and hated Camille Dujardin with all her heart:
hated him all the more that she saw Josephine shrink even from her
whenever she inveighed against him.
At last Rose heard some news of the truant lover. The fact is, this
young lady was as intelligent as she was inexperienced; and she had
asked Jacintha to tell Dard to talk to every soldier that passed
through the village, and ask him if he knew anything about Captain
Dujardin of the 17th regiment. Dard cross-examined about a hundred
invalided warriors, who did not even recognize the captain's name;
but at last, by extraordinary luck, he actually did fall in with
two, who told him strange news about Captain Dujardin. And so then
Dard told Jacintha; and Jacintha soon had the men into the kitchen
and told Rose. Rose ran to tell Josephine; but stopped in the
passage, and turned suddenly very cold. Her courage failed her; she
feared Josephine would not take the news as she ought; and perhaps
would not love her so well if SHE told her; so she thought to
herself she would let the soldiers tell their own tale. She went
into the room where Josephine was reading to the baroness and Dr.
Aubertin; she sat quietly down; but at the first opportunity made
Josephine one of those imperceptible signals which women, and above
all, sisters, have reduced to so subtle a system. This done, she
went carelessly out: and Josephine in due course followed her, and
found her at the door.
"What is it?" said Josephine, earnestly.
"Have you courage?" was Rose's reply.
"He is dead?" said Josephine, turning pale as ashes.
"No, no;" said Rose hastily; "he is alive. But you will need all
"Since he lives I fear nothing," said Josephine; and stood there and
quivered from head to foot. Rose, with pitying looks, took her by
the hand and drew her in silence towards the kitchen.
Josephine yielded a mute submission at first; but at the very door
hung back and faltered, "He loves another; he is married: let me
go." Rose made no reply, but left her there and went into the
kitchen and found two dragoons seated round a bottle of wine. They
rose and saluted her.
"Be seated, my brave men," said she; "only please tell me what you
told Jacintha about Captain Dujardin."
"Don't stain your mouth with the captain, my little lady. He is a
"How do you know?"
"Marcellus! mademoiselle asks us how we know Captain Dujardin to be
a traitor. Speak."
Marcellus, thus appealed to, told Rose after his own fashion that he
knew the captain well: that one day the captain rode out of the camp
and never returned: that at first great anxiety was felt on his
behalf, for the captain was a great favorite, and passed for the
smartest soldier in the division: that after awhile anxiety gave
place to some very awkward suspicions, and these suspicions it was
his lot and his comrade's here to confirm. About a month later he
and the said comrade and two more were sent, well mounted, to
reconnoitre a Spanish village. At the door of a little inn they
caught sight of a French uniform. This so excited their curiosity
that he went forward nearer than prudent, and distinctly recognized
Captain Dujardin seated at a table drinking between two guerillas;
then he rode back and told the others, who then came up and
satisfied themselves it was so: that if any of the party had
entertained a doubt, it was removed in an unpleasant way; he,
Marcellus, disgusted at the sight of a French uniform drinking among
Spaniards, took down his carabine and fired at the group as
carefully as a somewhat restive horse permitted: at this, as if by
magic, a score or so of guerillas poured out from Heaven knows
where, musket in hand, and delivered a volley; the officer in
command of the party fell dead, Jean Jacques here got a broken arm,
and his own horse was wounded in two places, and fell from loss of
blood a few furlongs from the French camp, to the neighborhood of
which the vagabonds pursued them, hallooing and shouting and firing
like barbarous banditti as they were.
"However, here I am," concluded Marcellus, "invalided for awhile, my
lady, but not expended yet: we will soon dash in among them again
for death or glory. Meantime," concluded he, filling both glasses,
"let us drink to the eyes of beauty (military salute); and to the
renown of France; and double damnation to all her traitors, like
that Captain Dujardin; whose neck may the devil twist."
Ere they could drink to this energetic toast, a low wail at the
door, like a dying hare's, arrested the glasses on their road, and
the rough soldiers stood transfixed, and looked at one another in
some dismay. Rose flew to the door with a face full of concern.
Josephine was gone.
Then Rose had the tact and resolution to say a few kind, encouraging
words to the soldiers, and bid Jacintha be hospitable to them. This
done she darted up-stairs after Josephine; she reached the main
corridor just in time to see her creep along it with the air and
carriage of a woman of fifty, and enter her own room.
Rose followed softly with wet eyes, and turned the handle gently.
But the door was locked.
"I want to speak to you. I am frightened. Oh, do not be alone."
A choking voice answered, "Give me a little while to draw my
breath." Rose sank down at the door, and sat close to it, with her
head against it, sobbing bitterly. She was hurt at not being let
in; such a friend as she had proved herself. But this personal
feeling was only a fraction of her grief and anxiety.
A good half hour elapsed ere Josephine, pale and stern as no one had
ever seen her till that hour, suddenly opened the door. She started
at sight of Rose couched sorrowful on the threshold; her stern look
relaxed into tender love and pity; she sank, blushing, on her knees,
and took her sister's head quickly to her bosom. "Oh, my little
love, have you been here all this time?"--"Oh! oh! oh!" was all the
little love could reply. Then the deserted one, still kneeling,
took Rose in her lap, and caressed and comforted her, and poured
words of gratitude and affection over her like a warm shower.
They rose hand in hand.
Then Rose suddenly seized Josephine, and looked long and anxiously
down into her eyes. They flashed fire under the scrutiny. "Yes, it
is all over; I could not despise and love. I am dead to him, as he
is dead to France."
This was joyful news to Rose. "I hoped it would be so," said she;
"but you frightened me. My noble sister, were I ever to lose your
esteem, I should die. Oh, how awful yet how beautiful is your
scorn. For worlds I would not be that Cam"-- Josephine laid her
hand imperiously on Rose's mouth. "To mention his name to me will
be to insult me; De Beaurepaire I am, and a Frenchwoman. Come,
dear, let us go down and comfort our mother."
They went down; and this patient sufferer, and high minded
conqueror, of her own accord took up a commonplace book, and read
aloud for two mortal hours to her mother and Aubertin. Her voice
only wavered twice.
To feel that life is ended; to wish existence, too, had ceased; and
so to sit down, an aching hollow, and take a part and sham an
interest in twaddle to please others; such are woman's feats. How
like nothing at all they look!
A man would rather sit on the buffer of a steam-engine and ride at
the Great Redan.
Rose sat at her elbow, a little behind her, and turned the leaves,
and on one pretence or other held Josephine's hand nearly all the
rest of the day. Its delicate fibres remained tense, like a
greyhound's sinews after a race, and the blue veins rose to sight in
it, though her voice and eyes were mastered.
So keen was the strife, so matched the antagonists, so hard the
For ire and scorn are mighty. And noble blood in a noble heart is
heroic. And Love is a giant.
The French provinces were now organized upon a half military plan,
by which all the local authorities radiated towards a centre of
government. By-the-by, this feature has survived subsequent
revolutions and political changes.
In days of change, youth is at a premium; because, though experience
is valuable, the experience of one order of things unfits ordinary
men for another order of things. So a good many old fogies in
office were shown the door, and a good deal of youth and energy
infused into the veins of provincial government. For instance,
Edouard Riviere, who had but just completed his education with
singular eclat at a military school, was one fine day ordered into
Brittany to fill a responsible post under Commandant Raynal, a
blunt, rough soldier, that had risen from the ranks, and bore a much
higher character for zeal and moral integrity than for affability.
This officer was the son of a widow that kept a grocer's shop in
Paris. She intended him for spice, but he thirsted for glory, and
vexed her. So she yielded, as mothers will.
In the armies of the republic a good soldier rose with unparalleled
certainty, and rapidity, too; for when soldiers are being mowed down
like oats, it is a glorious time for such of them as keep their
feet. Raynal mounted fast, and used to write to his mother, and
joke her about the army being such a bad profession; and, as he was
all for glory, not money, he lived with Spartan frugality, and saved
half his pay and all his prize money for the old lady in Paris.
But this prosperous man had to endure a deep disappointment; on the
very day he was made commandant and one of the general's aides-de-
camp, came a letter into the camp. His mother was dead after a
short illness. This was a terrible blow to the simple, rugged
soldier, who had never had much time nor inclination to flirt with a
lot of girls, and toughen his heart. He came back to Paris honored
and rich, but downcast. The old home, empty of his mother, seemed
to him not to have the old look. It made him sadder. To cheer him
up they brought him much money. The widow's trade had taken a
wonderful start the last few years, and she had been playing the
same game as he had, living on ten-pence a day, and saving all for
him. This made him sadder, if anything.
"What," said he, "have we both been scraping all this dross together
for? I would give it all to sit one hour by the fire, with her hand
in mine, and hear her say, 'Scamp, you made me unhappy when you were
young, but I have lived to be proud of you.'"
He applied for active service, no matter what: obtained at once this
post in Brittany, and threw himself into it with that honest zeal
and activity, which are the best earthly medicine for all our
griefs. He was busy writing, when young Riviere first presented
himself. He looked up for a moment, and eyed him, to take his
measure; then put into his hand a report by young Nicole, a
subordinate filling a post of the same nature as Riviere's; and bade
him analyze that report on the spot: with this he instantly resumed
his own work.
Edouard Riviere was an adept at this sort of task, and soon handed
him a neat analysis. Raynal ran his eye over it, nodded cold
approval, and told him to take this for the present as a guide as to
his own duties. He then pointed to a map on which Riviere's
district was marked in blue ink, and bade him find the centre of it.
Edouard took a pair of compasses off the table, and soon discovered
that the village of Beaurepaire was his centre. "Then quarter
yourself at Beaurepaire; and good-day," said Raynal.
The chateau was in sight from Riviere's quarters, and he soon
learned that it belonged to a royalist widow and her daughters, who
all three held themselves quite aloof from the rest of the world.
"Ah," said the young citizen, "I see. If these rococo citizens play
that game with me, I shall have to take them down." Thus a fresh
peril menaced this family, on whose hearts and fortunes such heavy
blows had fallen.
One evening our young official, after a day spent in the service of
the country, deigned to take a little stroll to relieve the cares of
administration. He imprinted on his beardless face the expression
of a wearied statesman, and strolled through an admiring village.
The men pretended veneration from policy; the women, whose views of
this great man were shallower but more sincere, smiled approval of
his airs; and the young puppy affected to take no notice of either
Outside the village, Publicola suddenly encountered two young
ladies, who resembled nothing he had hitherto met with in his
district; they were dressed in black, and with extreme simplicity;
but their easy grace and composure, and the refined sentiment of
their gentle faces, told at a glance they belonged to the high
nobility. Publicola divined them at once, and involuntarily raised
his hat to so much beauty and dignity, instead of poking it with a
finger as usual. On this the ladies instantly courtesied to him
after the manner of their party, with a sweep and a majesty, and a
precision of politeness, that the pup would have laughed at if he
had heard of it; but seeing it done, and well done, and by lovely
women of rank, he was taken aback by it, and lifted his hat again,
and bowed again after he had gone by, and was generally flustered.
In short, instead of a member of the Consular Government saluting
private individuals of a decayed party that existed only by
sufferance, a handsome, vain, good-natured boy had met two self-
possessed young ladies of distinction and breeding, and had cut the
For the next hundred yards his cheeks burned and his vanity cooled.
But bumptiousness is elastic in France, as in England, and doubtless
among the Esquimaux. "Well, they are pretty girls," says he to
himself. "I never saw two such pretty girls together; they will do
for me to flirt with while I am banished to this Arcadia." Banished
from school, I beg to observe.
And "awful beauty" being no longer in sight, Mr. Edouard resolved he
would flirt with them to their hearts' content. But there are
ladies with whom a certain preliminary is required before you can
flirt with them. You must be on speaking terms. How was this to be
He used to watch at his window with a telescope, and whenever the
sisters came out of their own grounds, which unfortunately was not
above twice a week, he would throw himself in their way by the
merest accident, and pay them a dignified and courteous salute,
which he had carefully got up before a mirror in the privacy of his
One day, as he took off his hat to the young ladies, there broke
from one of them a smile, so sudden, sweet, and vivid, that he
seemed to feel it smite him first on the eyes then in the heart. He
could not sleep for this smile.
Yet he had seen many smilers; but to be sure most of them smiled
without effect, because they smiled eternally; they seemed cast with
their mouths open, and their pretty teeth forever in sight; and this
has a saddening influence on a man of sense--when it has any. But
here a fair, pensive face had brightened at sight of him; a lovely
countenance, on which circumstances, not nature, had impressed
gravity, had sprung back to its natural gayety for a moment, and had
thrilled and bewitched the beholder.
The next Sunday he went to church--and there worshipped--whom?
Cupid. He smarted for his heathenism; for the young ladies went
with higher motives, and took no notice of him. They lowered their
long silken lashes over one breviary, and scarcely observed the
handsome citizen. Meantime he, contemplating their pious beauty
with earthly eyes, was drinking long draughts of intoxicating
passion. And when after the service they each took an arm of Dr.
Aubertin, and he with the air of an admiral convoying two ships
choke-full of specie, conducted his precious charge away home, our
young citizen felt jealous, and all but hated the worthy doctor.
This went on till he became listless and dejected on the days he did
not see them. Then he asked himself whether he was not a cowardly
fool to keep at such a distance. After all he was a man in
authority. His friendship was not to be despised, least of all by a
family suspected of disaffection to the state.
He put on his glossy beaver with enormous brim, high curved; his
blue coat with brass buttons; his white waistcoat, gray breeches,
and top-boots; and marched up to the chateau of Beaurepaire, and
sent in his card with his name and office inscribed.
Jacintha took it, bestowed a glance of undisguised admiration on the
young Adonis, and carried it to the baroness. That lady sent her
promptly down again with a black-edged note to this effect.
Highly flattered by Monsieur de Riviere's visit, the baroness must
inform him that she receives none but old acquaintances, in the
present grief of the family, and of the KINGDOM.
Young Riviere was cruelly mortified by this rebuff. He went off
hurriedly, grinding his teeth with rage.
"Cursed aristocrats! We have done well to pull you down, and we
will have you lower still. How I despise myself for giving any one
the chance to affront me thus. The haughty old fool; if she had
known her interest, she would have been too glad to make a powerful
friend. These royalists are in a ticklish position; I can tell her
that. She calls me De Riviere; that implies nobody without a 'De'
to their name would have the presumption to visit her old tumble-
down house. Well, it is a lesson; I am a republican, and the
Commonwealth trusts and honors me; yet I am so ungrateful as to go
out of the way to be civil to her enemies, to royalists; as if those
worn-out creatures had hearts, as if they could comprehend the
struggle that took place in my mind between duty, and generosity to
the fallen, before I could make the first overture to their
acquaintance; as if they could understand the politeness of the
heart, or anything nobler than curving and ducking and heartless
etiquette. This is the last notice I will ever take of that old
woman, unless it is to denounce her."
He walked home to the town very fast, his heart boiling, and his
lips compressed, and his brow knitted.
To this mood succeeded a sullen and bitter one. He was generous,
but vain, and his love had humiliated him so bitterly, he resolved
to tear it out of his heart. He absented himself from church; he
met the young ladies no more. He struggled fiercely with his
passion; he went about dogged, silent, and sighing. Presently he
devoted his leisure hours to shooting partridges instead of ladies.
And he was right; partridges cannot shoot back; whereas beautiful
women, like Cupid, are all archers more or less, and often with one
arrow from eye or lip do more execution than they have suffered from
several discharges of our small shot.
In these excursions, Edouard was generally accompanied by a thick-
set rustic called Dard, who, I believe, purposes to reveal his own
character to you, and so save me that trouble.
One fine afternoon, about four o'clock, this pair burst remorselessly
through a fence, and landed in the road opposite Bigot's Auberge; a
long low house, with "ICI ON LOGE A PIED ET A CHEVAL," written all
across it in gigantic letters. Riviere was for moving homeward,
but Dard halted and complained dismally of "the soldier's gripes."
The statesman had never heard of that complaint, so Dard explained
that the VULGAR name for it was hunger. "And only smell," said he,
"the soup is just fit to come off the fire."
Riviere smiled sadly, but consented to deign to eat a morsel in the
porch. Thereat Dard dashed wildly into the kitchen.
They dined at one little round table, each after his fashion. When
Dard could eat no more, he proceeded to drink; and to talk in
proportion. Riviere, lost in his own thoughts, attended to him as
men of business do to a babbling brook; until suddenly from the mass
of twaddle broke forth a magic word--Beaurepaire; then the languid
lover pricked up his ears and found Mr. Dard was abusing that noble
family right and left. Young Riviere inquired what ground of
offence they had given HIM. "I'll tell you," said Dard; "they
impose on Jacintha; and so she imposes on me." Then observing he
had at last gained his employer's ear, he became prodigiously
loquacious, as such people generally are when once they get upon
their own griefs.
"These Beaurepaire aristocrats," said he, with his hard peasant
good-sense, "are neither the one thing nor the other; they cannot
keep up nobility, they have not the means; they will not come down
off their perch, they have not the sense. No, for as small as they
are, they must look and talk as big as ever. They can only afford
one servant, and I don't believe they pay her; but they must be
attended on just as obsequious as when they had a dozen. And this
is fatal to all us little people that have the misfortune to be
connected with them."
"Why, how are you connected with them?"
"By the tie of affection."
"I thought you hated them."
"Of course I do; but I have the ill-luck to love Jacintha, and she
loves these aristocrats, and makes me do little odd jobs for them."
And at this Dard's eyes suddenly glared with horror.
"Well, what of that?" asked Riviere.
"What of it, citizen, what? you do not know the fatal meaning of
those accursed words?"
"Why, I never heard of a man's back being broken by little odd
"Perhaps not his back, citizen, but his heart? if little odd jobs
will not break that, why nothing will. Torn from place to place,
and from trouble to trouble; as soon as one tiresome thing begins to
go a bit smooth, off to a fresh plague, in-doors work when it is
dry, out-a-doors when it snows; and then all bustle; no taking one's
work quietly, the only way it agrees with a fellow. 'Milk the cow,
Dard, but look sharp; the baroness's chair wants mending. Take
these slops to the pig, but you must not wait to see him enjoy them:
you are wanted to chop billets.' Beat the mats, take down the
curtains, walk to church (best part of a league), and heat the pew
cushions; come back and cut the cabbages, paint the door, and wheel
the old lady about the terrace, rub quicksilver on the little dog's
back,--mind he don't bite you to make hisself sick,--repair the
ottoman, roll the gravel, scour the kettles, carry half a ton of
water up twopurostairs, trim the turf, prune the vine, drag the
fish-pond; and when you ARE there, go in and gather water lilies for
Mademoiselle Josephine while you are drowning the puppies; that is
little odd jobs: may Satan twist her neck who invented them!"
"Very sad all this," said young Riviere.
Dard took the little sneer for sympathy, and proceeded to "the
cruellest wrong of all."
"When I go into their kitchen to court Jacintha a bit, instead of
finding a good supper there, which a man has a right to, courting a
cook, if I don't take one in my pocket, there is no supper, not to
say supper, for either her or me. I don't call a salad and a bit of
cheese-rind--SUPPER. Beggars in silk and satin! Every sou they
have goes on to their backs, instead of into their bellies."
"I have heard their income is much reduced," said Edouard gently.
"Income! I would not change with them if they'd throw me in half a
pancake a day. I tell you they are the poorest family for leagues
round; not that they need be quite so starved, if they could swallow
a little of their pride. But no, they must have china and plate and
fine linen at dinner; so their fine plates are always bare, and
their silver trays empty. Ask the butcher, if you don't believe ME.
Just you ask him whether he does not go three times to the smallest
shopkeeper, for once he goes to Beaurepaire. Their tenants send
them a little meal and eggs, and now and then a hen; and their great
garden is chock full of fruit and vegetables, and Jacintha makes me
dig in it gratis; and so they muddle on. But, bless your heart,
coffee! they can't afford it; so they roast a lot of horse-beans
that cost nothing, and grind them, and serve up the liquor in a
silver coffee-pot, on a silver salver. Haw, haw, haw!"
"Is it possible? reduced to this?" said Edouard gravely.
"Don't you be so weak as to pity them," cried the remorseless
plebeian. "Why don't they melt their silver into soup, and cut down
their plate into rashers of bacon? why not sell the superfluous, and
buy the needful, which it is grub? And, above all, why don't they
let their old tumble-down palace to some rich grocer, and that
accursed garden along with it, where I sweat gratis, and live small
and comfortable, and pay honest men for their little odd jobs, and"--
Here Riviere interrupted him, and asked if it was really true
about the beans.
"True?" said Dard, "why, I have seen Rose doing it for the old
woman's breakfast: it was Rose invented the move. A girl of
nineteen beginning already to deceive the world! But they are all
tarred with the same stick. Down with the aristocrats!"
"Dard," said Riviere, "you are a brute."
"Me, citizen?" inquired Dard with every appearance of genuine
Edouard Riviere rose from his seat in great excitement. Dard's
abuse of the family he was lately so bitter against had turned him
right round. He pitied the very baroness herself, and forgave her
declining his visit.
"Be silent," said he, "for shame! There is such a thing as noble
poverty; and you have described it. I might have disdained these
people in their prosperity, but I revere them in their affliction.
And I'll tell you what, don't you ever dare to speak slightly of
them again in my presence, or"--
He did not conclude his threat, for just then he observed that a
strapping girl, with a basket at her feet, was standing against the
corner of the Auberge, in a mighty careless attitude, but doing
nothing, so most likely listening with all her ears and soul. Dard,
however, did not see her, his back being turned to her as he sat; so
he replied at his ease,--
"I consent," said he very coolly: "that is your affair; but permit
me," and here he clenched his teeth at remembrance of his wrongs,
"to say that I will no more be a scullery man without wages to these
high-minded starvelings, these illustrious beggars." Then he heated
himself red-hot. "I will not even be their galley slave. Next, I
have done my last little odd job in this world," yelled the now
infuriated factotum, bouncing up to his feet in brief fury. "Of two
things one: either Jacintha quits those aristos, or I leave Jacin--
eh?--ah!--oh!--ahem! How--'ow d'ye do, Jacintha?" And his roar
ended in a whine, as when a dog runs barking out, and receives in
full career a cut from his master's whip, his generous rage turns to
whimper with ludicrous abruptness. "I was just talking of you,
Jacintha," quavered Dard in conclusion.
"I heard you, Dard," replied Jacintha slowly, softly, grimly.
It was a lusty young woman, with a comely peasant face somewhat
freckled, and a pair of large black eyes surmounted by coal-black
brows. She stood in a bold attitude, her massive but well-formed
arms folded so that the pressure of each against the other made them
seem gigantic, and her cheek red with anger, and her eyes glistening
like basilisks upon citizen Dard. She looked so grand, with her
lowering black brows, that even Riviere felt a little uneasy. As
for Jacintha, she was evidently brooding with more ire than she
chose to utter before a stranger. She just slowly unclasped her
arms, and, keeping her eye fixed on Dard, pointed with a domineering
gesture towards Beaurepaire. Then the doughty Dard seemed no longer
master of his limbs: he rose slowly, with his eyes fastened to hers,
and was moving off like an ill-oiled automaton in the direction
indicated; but at that a suppressed snigger began to shake Riviere's
whole body till it bobbed up and down on the seat. Dard turned to
him for sympathy.
"There, citizen," he cried, "do you see that imperious gesture?
That means you promised to dig in the aristocrat's garden this
afternoon, so march! Here, then, is one that has gained nothing by
kings being put down, for I am ruled with a mopstick of iron. Thank
your stars, citizen, that you are not in may place."
"Dard," retorted Jacintha, "if you don't like your place, I'd quit
it. There are two or three young men down in the village will be
glad to take it."
"I won't give them the chance, the vile egotists!" cried Dard. And
he returned to the chateau and little odd jobs.
Jacintha hung behind, lowered her eyes, put on a very deferential
manner, and thanked Edouard for the kind sentiments he had uttered;
but at the same time she took the liberty to warn him against
believing the extravagant stories Dard had been telling about her
mistress's poverty. She said the simple fact was that the baron had
contracted debts, and the baroness, being the soul of honor, was
living in great economy to pay them off. Then, as to Dard getting
no supper up at Beaurepaire, a complaint that appeared to sting her
particularly, she assured him she was alone to blame: the baroness
would be very angry if she knew it. "But," said she, "Dard is an
egotist. Perhaps you may have noticed that trait in him."
"Glimpses of it," replied Riviere, laughing.
"Monsieur, he is so egotistic that he has not a friend in the world
but me. I forgive him, because I know the reason; he has never had
a headache or a heartache in his life."
Edouard, aged twenty, and a male, did not comprehend this piece of
feminine logic one bit: and, while he puzzled over it in silence,
Jacintha went on to say that if she were to fill her egotist's
paunch, she should never know whether he came to Beaurepaire for
her, or himself. "Now, Dard," she added, "is no beauty, monsieur;
why, he is three inches shorter than I am."
"You are joking! he looks a foot," said Edouard.
"He is no scholar neither, and I have had to wipe up many a sneer
and many a sarcasm on his account; but up to now I have always been
able to reply that this five feet one of egotism loves me sincerely;
and the moment I doubt this, I give him the sack,--poor little
"In a word," said Riviere, a little impatiently, "the family at
Beaurepaire are not in such straits as he pretends?"
"Monsieur, do I look like one starved?"
"By Jove, no! by Ceres, I mean."
"Are my young mistresses wan, and thin?"
"Treason! blasphemy! ah, no! By Venus and Hebe, no!"
Jacintha smiled at this enthusiastic denial, and also because her
sex is apt to smile when words are used they do not understand.
"Dard is a fool," suggested Riviere, by way of general solution. He
added, "And yet, do you know I wish every word he said had been
true." (Jacintha's eyes expressed some astonishment.) "Because
then you and I would have concerted means to do them kindnesses,
secretly; for I see you are no ordinary servant; you love your young
mistresses. Do you not?"
These simple words seemed to touch a grander chord in Jacintha's
"Love them?" said she, clasping her hands; "ah, sir, do not be
offended; but, believe me, it is no small thing to serve an old, old
family. My grandfather lived and died with them; my father was
their gamekeeper, and fed to his last from off the poor baron's
plate (and now they have killed him, poor man); my mother died in
the house and was buried in the sacred ground near the family
chapel. They put an inscription on her tomb praising her fidelity
and probity. Do you think these things do not sink into the heart
of the poor?--praise on her tomb, and not a word on their own, but
just the name, and when each was born and died, you know. Ah! the
pride of the mean is dirt; but the pride of the noble is gold."
"For, look you, among parvenues I should be a servant, and nothing
more; in this proud family I am a humble friend; of course they are
not always gossiping with me like vulgar masters and mistresses; if
they did, I should neither respect nor love them; but they all smile
on me whenever I come into the room, even the baroness herself. I
belong to them, and they belong to me, by ties without number, by
the many kind words in many troubles, by the one roof that sheltered
us a hundred years, and the grave where our bones lie together till
the day of judgment."*
* The French peasant often thinks half a sentence, and utters the
other half aloud, and so breaks air in the middle of a thought.
Probably Jacintha's whole thought, if we had the means of knowing
it, would have run like this--Besides, I have another reason: I
could not be so comfortable myself elsewhere--for, look you"--
Jacintha clasped her hands, and her black eyes shone out warm
through the dew. Riviere's glistened too.
"That is well said," he cried; "it is nobly said: yet, after all,
these are ties that owe their force to the souls they bind. How
often have such bonds round human hearts proved ropes of sand! They
grapple YOU like hooks of steel; because you are steel yourself to
the backbone. I admire you, Jacintha. Such women as you have a
great mission in France just now."
Jacintha shook her head incredulously. "What can we poor women do?"
"Bring forth heroes," cried Publicola with fervor. "Be the mothers
of great men, the Catos and the Gracchi of the future!"
Jacintha smiled. She did not know the Gracchi nor their politics;
but the name rang well. "Gracchi!" Aristocrats, no doubt. "That
would be too much honor," replied she modestly. "At present, I must
say adieu!" and she moved off an inch at a time, in an uncertain
hesitating manner, not very difficult to read; but Riviere, you must
know, had more than once during this interview begged her to sit
down, and in vain; she had always thanked him, but said she had not
a moment to stay. So he made no effort to detain her now. The
consequence was--she came slowly back of her own accord, and sat
down in a corner of the porch, where nobody could see her, and then
she sighed deeply.
"What is the matter now?" said Edouard, opening his eyes.
She looked at him point-blank for one moment; and her scale turned.
"Monsieur," said she timidly, "you have a good face, and a good
heart. All I told you was--give me your honor not to betray us."
"I swear it," said Edouard, a little pompously.
"Then--Dard was not so far from the truth; it was but a guess of
his, for I never trusted my own sweetheart as I now trust a
stranger. But to see what I see every day, and have no one I dare
breathe a word to, oh, it is very hard! But on what a thread things
turn! If any one had told me an hour ago it was you I should open
my heart to! It's not economy: it's not stinginess; they are not
paying off their debts. They never can. The baroness and the
Demoiselles de Beaurepaire--are paupers."
"Ay, paupers! their debts are greater than their means. They live
here by sufferance. They have only their old clothes to wear. They
have hardly enough to eat. Just now our cow is in full milk, you
know; so that is a great help: but, when she goes dry, Heaven knows
what we shall do; for I don't. But that is not the worst; better a
light meal than a broken heart. Your precious government offers the
chateau for sale. They might as well send for the guillotine at
once, and cut off all our heads. You don't know my mistress as I
do. Ah, butchers, you will drag nothing out of that but her corpse.
And is it come to this? the great old family to be turned adrift
like beggars. My poor mistress! my pretty demoiselles that I played
with and nursed ever since I was a child! (I was just six when
Josephine was born) and that I shall love with my last breath"--
She could say no more, but choked by the strong feeling so long pent
up in her own bosom, fell to sobbing hysterically, and trembling
like one in an ague.
The statesman, who had passed all his short life at school and
college, was frightened, and took hold of her and pulled her, and
cried, "Oh! don't, Jacintha; you will kill yourself, you will die;
this is frightful: help here! help!" Jacintha put her hand to his
mouth, and, without leaving off her hysterics, gasped out, "Ah!
don't expose me." So then he didn't know what to do; but he seized
a tumbler and filled it with wine, and forced it between her lips.
All she did was to bite a piece out of the glass as clean as if a
diamond had cut it. This did her a world of good: destruction of
sacred household property gave her another turn. "There, I've broke
your glass now," she cried, with a marvellous change of tone; and
she came-to and cried quietly like a reasonable person, with her
apron to her eyes.
When Edouard saw she was better, he took her hand and said proudly,
"Secret for secret. I choose this moment to confide to you that I
love Mademoiselle Rose de Beaurepaire. Love her? I did love her;
but now you tell me she is poor and in distress, I adore her." The
effect of this declaration on Jacintha was magical, comical. Her
apron came down from one eye, and that eye dried itself and sparkled
with curiosity: the whole countenance speedily followed suit and
beamed with sacred joy. What! an interesting love affair confided
to her all in a moment! She lowered her voice to a whisper
directly. "Why, how did you manage? She never goes into company."
"No; but she goes to church. Besides, I have met her eleven times
out walking with her sister, and twice out of the eleven she smiled
on me. O Jacintha! a smile such as angels smile; a smile to warm
the heart and purify the soul and last forever in the mind."
"Well, they say 'man is fire and woman tow:' but this beats all.
"Oh! do not jest. I did not laugh at you. Jacintha, it is no
laughing matter; I revere her as mortals revere the saints; I love
her so that were I ever to lose all hope of her I would not live a
day. And now that you have told me she is poor and in sorrow, and I
think of her walking so calm and gentle--always in black, Jacintha,--
and her low courtesy to me whenever we met, and her sweet smile to
me though her heart must be sad, oh! my heart yearns for her. What
can I do for her? How shall I surround her with myself unseen--make
her feel that a man's love waits upon her feet every step she takes--
that a man's love floats in the air round that lovely head?" Then
descending to earth for a moment, "but I say, you promise not to
betray me; come, secret for secret."
"I will not tell a soul; on the honor of a woman," said Jacintha.
The form of protestation was quite new to Edouard, and not exactly
the one his study of the ancient writers would have led him to
select. But the tone was convincing: he trusted her. They parted
sworn allies; and, at the very moment of parting, Jacintha, who had
cast many a furtive glance at the dead game, told Edouard demurely,
Mademoiselle Rose was very fond of roast partridge. On this he made
her take the whole bag; and went home on wings. Jacintha's
revelation roused all that was noble and forgiving in him. His
understanding and his heart expanded from that hour, and his fancy
spread its pinions to the sun of love. Ah! generous Youth, let who
will betray thee; let who will sneer at thee; let me, though young
no longer, smile on thee and joy in thee! She he loved was sad, was
poor, was menaced by many ills; then she needed a champion. He
would be her unseen friend, her guardian angel. A hundred wild
schemes whirled in his beating heart and brain. He could not go in-
doors, indeed, no room could contain him: he made for a green lane
he knew at the back of the village, and there he walked up and down
for hours. The sun set, and the night came, and the stars
glittered; but still he walked alone, inspired, exalted, full of
generous and loving schemes: of sweet and tender fancies: a heart on
fire; and youth the fuel, and the flame vestal.
This very day was the anniversary of the baron's death.
The baroness kept her room all the morning, and took no nourishment
but one cup of spurious coffee Rose brought her. Towards evening
she came down-stairs. In the hall she found two chaplets of
flowers; they were always placed there for her on this sad day. She
took them in her hand, and went into the little oratory that was in
the park; there she found two wax candles burning, and two fresh
chaplets hung up. Her daughters had been there before her.
She knelt and prayed many hours for her husband's soul; then she
rose and hung up one chaplet and came slowly away with the other in
her hand. At the gate of the park, Josephine met her with tender
anxiety in her sapphire eyes, and wreathed her arms round her, and
whispered, "But you have your children still."
The baroness kissed her and they came towards the house together,
the baroness leaning gently on her daughter's elbow.
Between the park and the angle of the chateau was a small plot of
turf called at Beaurepaire the Pleasance, a name that had descended
along with other traditions; and in the centre of this Pleasance, or
Pleasaunce, stood a wonderful oak-tree. Its circumference was
thirty-four feet. The baroness came to this ancient tree, and hung
her chaplet on a mutilated limb called the "knights' bough."
The sun was setting tranquil and red; a broad ruby streak lingered
on the deep green leaves of the prodigious oak. The baroness looked
at it awhile in silence.
Then she spoke slowly to it and said, "You were here before us: you
will be here when we are gone."
A spasm crossed Josephine's face, but she said nothing at the time.
And so they went in together.
Now as this tree was a feat of nature, and, above all, played a
curious part in our story, I will ask you to stay a few minutes and
look at it, while I say what was known about it; not the thousandth
part of what it could have told, if trees could speak as well as
The baroness did not exaggerate; the tree was far older than even
this ancient family. They possessed among other archives a
manuscript written by a monk, a son of the house, about four hundred
years before our story, and containing many of the oral traditions
about this tree that had come down to him from remote antiquity.
According to this authority, the first Baron of Beaurepaire had
pitched his tent under a fair oak-tree that stood prope rivum, near
a brook. His grandson built a square tower hard by, and dug a moat
that enclosed both tree and tower, and received the waters of the
At this time the tree seems only to have been remarked for its
height. But, a century and a half before the monk wrote, it had
become famous in all the district for its girth, and in the monk's
own day had ceased to grow; but not begun to decay. The mutilated
arm I have mentioned was once a long sturdy bough, worn smooth as
velvet in one part from a curious cause: it ran about as high above
the ground as a full-sized horse, and the knights and squires used
to be forever vaulting upon it, the former in armor; the monk, when
a boy, had seen them do it a thousand times. This bough broke in
two, A.D. 1617: but the mutilated limb was still called the knights'
bough, nobody knew why. So do names survive their ideas.
What had not this tree seen since first it came green and tender as
a cabbage above the soil, and stood at the mercy of the first hare
or rabbit that should choose to cut short its frail existence!
Since then eagles had perched on its crown, and wild boars fed
without fear of man upon its acorns. Troubadours had sung beneath
it to lords and ladies seated round, or walking on the grass and
commenting the minstrel's tales of love by exchange of amorous
glances. Mediaeval sculptors had taken its leaves, and wisely
trusting to nature, had adorned churches with those leaves cut in
It had seen a Norman duke conquer England, and English kings invade
France and be crowned at Paris. It had seen a girl put knights to
the rout, and seen the warrior virgin burned by envious priests with
common consent both of the curs she had defended and the curs she
Why, in its old age it had seen the rise of printing, and the first
dawn of national civilization in Europe. It flourished and decayed
in France; but it sprung in Gaul. And more remarkable still, though
by all accounts it may see the world to an end, it was a tree in
ancient history: its old age awaits the millennium; its first youth
belonged to that great tract of time which includes the birth of
Christ, the building of Rome, and the siege of Troy.
The tree had, ere this, mingled in the fortunes of the family. It
had saved their lives and taken their lives. One lord of
Beaurepaire, hotly pursued by his feudal enemies, made for the tree,
and hid himself partly by a great bough, partly by the thick screen
of leaves. The foe darted in, made sure he had taken to the house,
ransacked it, and got into the cellar, where by good-luck was a
store of Malvoisie: and so the oak and the vine saved the quaking
baron. Another lord of Beaurepaire, besieged in his castle, was
shot dead on the ramparts by a cross-bowman who had secreted himself
unobserved in this tree a little before the dawn.
A young heir of Beaurepaire, climbing for a raven's nest to the top
of this tree, lost his footing and fell, and died at its foot: and
his mother in her anguish bade them cut down the tree that had
killed her boy. But the baron her husband refused, and spake in
this wise: "ytte ys eneugh that I lose mine sonne, I will nat alsoe
lose mine Tre." In the male you see the sober sentiment of the
proprietor outweighed the temporary irritation of the parent. Then
the mother bought fifteen ells of black velvet, and stretched a pall
from the knights' bough across the west side to another branch, and
cursed the hand that should remove it, and she herself "wolde never
passe the Tre neither going nor coming, but went still about." And
when she died and should have been carried past the tree to the
park, her dochter did cry from a window to the bearers, "Goe about!
goe about!" and they went about, and all the company. And in time
the velvet pall rotted, and was torn and driven away by the winds:
and when the hand of Nature, and no human hand, had thus flouted and
dispersed the trappings of the mother's grief, two pieces were
picked up and preserved among the family relics: but the black
velvet had turned a rusty red.
So the baroness did nothing new in this family when she hung her
chaplet on the knights' bough; and, in fact, on the west side, about
eighteen feet from the ground, there still mouldered one corner of
an Atchievement an heir of Beaurepaire had nailed there two
centuries before, when his predecessor died: "For," said he, "the
chateau is of yesterday, but the tree has seen us all come and go."
The inside of the oak was hollow as a drum; and on its east side
yawned a fissure as high as a man and as broad as a street-door.
Dard used to wheel his wheelbarrow into the tree at a trot, and
there leave it.
Yet in spite of excavation and mutilation not life only but vigor
dwelt in this wooden shell. The extreme ends of the longer boughs
were firewood, touchwood, and the crown was gone this many a year:
but narrow the circle a very little to where the indomitable trunk
could still shoot sap from its cruse deep in earth, and there on
every side burst the green foliage in its season countless as the
sand. The leaves carved centuries ago from these very models,
though cut in stone, were most of them mouldered, blunted, notched,
deformed: but the delicate types came back with every summer,
perfect and lovely as when the tree was but their elder brother: and
greener than ever: for, from what cause nature only knows, the
leaves were many shades richer than any other tree could show for a
hundred miles round; a deep green, fiery, yet soft; and then their
multitude--the staircases of foliage as you looked up the tree, and
could scarce catch a glimpse of the sky. An inverted abyss of
color, a mound, a dome, of flake emeralds that quivered in the
And now the sun sets; the green leaves are black; the moon rises:
her cold light shoots across one half that giant stem.
How solemn and calm stands the great round tower of living wood,
half ebony, half silver, with its mighty cloud above of flake jet
leaves tipped with frosty fire!
Now is the still hour to repeat in a whisper the words of the dame
of Beaurepaire, "You were here before us: you will be here when we
We leave the hoary king of trees standing in the moonlight, calmly
defying time, and follow the creatures of a day; for, what they
were, we are.
A spacious saloon panelled; dead but showy white picked out
sparingly with gold. Festoons of fruits and flowers finely carved
in wood on some of the panels. These also not smothered in gilding,
but as it were gold speckled here and there, like tongues of flame
winding among insoluble snow. Ranged against the walls were sofas
and chairs covered with rich stuffs well worn. And in one little
distant corner of the long room a gray-haired gentleman and two
young ladies sat round a small plain table, on which burned a
solitary candle; and a little way apart in this candle's twilight an
old lady sat in an easy-chair, thinking of the past, scarce daring
to inquire the future. Josephine and Rose were working: not fancy-
work but needle-work; Dr. Aubertin writing. Every now and then he
put the one candle nearer the girls. They raised no objection: only
a few minutes after a white hand would glide from one or other of
them like a serpent, and smoothly convey the light nearer to the
"Is it not supper-time?" he inquired. "I have an inward monitor;
and I think our dinner was more ethereal than usual."
"Hush!" said Josephine, and looked uneasily towards her mother.
"Wax is so dear."
"Wax?--ah!--pardon me:" and the doctor returned hastily to his work.
But Rose looked up and said, "I wonder Jacintha does not come; it is
certainly past the hour;" and she pried into the room as if she
expected to see Jacintha on the road. But she saw in fact very
little of anything, for the spacious room was impenetrable to her
eye; midway from the candle to the distant door its twilight
deepened, and all became shapeless and sombre. The prospect ended
sharp and black, as in those out-o'-door closets imagined and
painted by a certain great painter, whose Nature comes to a full
stop as soon as he has no further commercial need of her, instead of
melting by fine expanse and exquisite gradation into genuine
distance, as nature does in Claude and in nature. To reverse the
picture, if you stood at the door you looked across forty feet of
black, and the little corner seemed on fire, and the fair heads
about the candle shone like the St. Cecilias and Madonnas in an
antique stained-glass window.
At last the door opened, and another candle fired Jacintha's comely
peasant face in the doorway. She put down her candle outside the
door, and started as crow flies for the other light. After glowing
a moment in the doorway she dived into the shadow and emerged into
light again close to the table with napkins on her arm. She removed
the work-box reverentially, the doctor's manuscript unceremoniously,
and proceeded to lay a cloth: in which operation she looked at Rose
a point-blank glance of admiration: then she placed the napkins; and
in this process she again cast a strange look of interest upon Rose.
The young lady noticed it this time, and looked inquiringly at her
in return, half expecting some communication; but Jacintha lowered
her eyes and bustled about the table. Then Rose spoke to her with a
sort of instinct of curiosity, on the chance of drawing her out.
"Supper is late to-night, is it not, Jacintha?"
"Yes, mademoiselle; I have had more cooking than usual," and with
this she delivered another point-blank look as before, and dived
into the palpable obscure, and came to light in the doorway.
Her return was anxiously expected; for, if the truth must be told,
they were very hungry. So rigorous was the economy in this decayed
but honorable house that the wax candles burned to-day in the
oratory had scrimped their dinner, unsubstantial as it was wont to
be. Think of that, you in fustian jackets who grumble after meat.
The door opened, Jacintha reappeared in the light of her candle a
moment with a tray in both hands, and, approaching, was lost to
view; but a strange and fragrant smell heralded her. All their eyes
turned with curiosity towards the unwonted odor, and Jacintha dawned
with three roast partridges on a dish.
They were wonder-struck, and looked from the birds to her in mute
surprise, that was not diminished by a certain cynical indifference
she put on. She avoided their eyes, and forcibly excluded from her
face everything that could imply she did not serve up partridges to
this family every night of her life.
"The supper is served, madame," said she, with a respectful courtesy
and a mechanical tone, and, plunging into the night, swam out at her
own candle, shut the door, and, unlocking her face that moment,
burst out radiant, and so to the kitchen, and, with a tear in her
eye, set-to and polished all the copper stewpans with a vigor and
expedition unknown to the new-fangled domestic.
"Partridges, mamma! What next?"
"Pheasants, I hope," cried the doctor, gayly. "And after them
hares; to conclude with royal venison. Permit me, ladies." And he
set himself to carve with zeal.
Now nature is nature, and two pair of violet eyes brightened and
dwelt on the fragrant and delicate food with demure desire; for all
that, when Aubertin offered Josephine a wing, she declined it. "No
partridge?" cried the savant, in utter amazement.
"Not to-day, dear friend; it is not a feast day to-day."
"Ah! no; what was I thinking of?"
"But you are not to be deprived," put in Josephine, anxiously. "We
will not deny ourselves the pleasure of seeing you eat some."
"What!" remonstrated Aubertin, "am I not one of you?"
The baroness had attended to every word of this. She rose from her
chair, and said quietly, "Both you and he and Rose will be so good
as to let me see you eat."
"But, mamma," remonstrated Josephine and Rose in one breath.
"Je le veux," was the cold reply.
These were words the baroness uttered so seldom that they were
little likely to be disputed.
The doctor carved and helped the young ladies and himself.
When they had all eaten a little, a discussion was observed to be
going on between Rose and her sister. At last Aubertin caught these
words, "It will be in vain; even you have not influence enough for
"We shall see," was the reply, and Rose put the wing of a partridge
on a plate and rose calmly from her chair. She took the plate and
put it on a little work-table by her mother's side. The others
pretended to be all mouths, but they were all ears. The baroness
looked in Rose's face with an air of wonder that was not very
encouraging. Then, as Rose said nothing, she raised her
aristocratic hand with a courteous but decided gesture of refusal.
Undaunted Rose laid her palm softly on the baroness's shoulder, and
said to her as firmly as the baroness herself had just spoken,--
"Il le veut."
The baroness was staggered. Then she looked with moist eyes at the
fair young face, then she reflected. At last she said, with an
exquisite mixture of politeness and affection, "It is his daughter
who has told me 'Il le veut.' I obey."
Rose returning like a victorious knight from the lists, saucily
exultant, and with only one wet eyelash, was solemnly kissed and
petted by Josephine and the doctor.
Thus they loved one another in this great, old, falling house.
Their familiarity had no coarse side; a form, not of custom but
affection, it went hand-in-hand with courtesy by day and night.
The love of the daughters for their mother had all the tenderness,
subtlety, and unselfishness of womanly natures, together with a
certain characteristic of the female character. And whither that
one defect led them, and by what gradations, it may be worth the
reader's while to observe.
The baroness retired to rest early; and she was no sooner gone than
Josephine leaned over to Rose, and told her what their mother had
said to the oak-tree. Rose heard this with anxiety; hitherto they
had carefully concealed from their mother that the government
claimed the right of selling the chateau to pay the creditors, etc.;
and now both sisters feared the old lady had discovered it somehow,
or why that strange thing she had said to the oak-tree? But Dr.
Aubertin caught their remarks, and laid down his immortal MS. on
French insects, to express his hope that they were putting a forced
interpretation on the baroness's words.
"I think," said he, "she merely meant how short-lived are we all
compared with this ancient oak. I should be very sorry to adopt the
other interpretation; for if she knows she can at any moment be
expelled from Beaurepaire, it will be almost as bad for her as the
calamity itself; THAT, I think, would kill her."
"Why so?" said Rose, eagerly. "What is this house or that? Mamma
will still have her daughters' love, go where she will."
Aubertin replied, "It is idle to deceive ourselves; at her age men
and women hang to life by their habits; take her away from her
chateau, from the little oratory where she prays every day for the
departed, from her place in the sun on the south terrace, and from
all the memories that surround her here; she would soon pine, and
Here the savant seeing a hobby-horse near, caught him and jumped on.
He launched into a treatise upon the vitality of human beings, and
proved that it is the mind which keeps the body of a man alive for
so great a length of time as fourscore years; for that he had in the
earlier part of his studies carefully dissected a multitude of
animals,--frogs, rabbits, dogs, men, horses, sheep, squirrels,
foxes, cats, etc.,--and discovered no peculiarity in man's organs to
account for his singular longevity, except in the brain or organ of
mind. Thence he went to the longevity of men with contented minds,
and the rapid decay of the careworn. Finally he succeeded in
convincing them the baroness was so constituted, physically and
mentally, that she would never move from Beaurepaire except into her
grave. However, having thus terrified them, he proceeded to console
them. "You have a friend," said he, "a powerful friend; and here in
my pocket--somewhere--is a letter that proves it."
The letter was from Mr. Perrin the notary. It appeared by it that
Dr. Aubertin had reminded the said Perrin of his obligations to the
late baron, and entreated him to use all his influence to keep the
estate in this ancient family.
Perrin had replied at first in a few civil lines; but his present
letter was a long and friendly one. It made both the daughters of
Beaurepaire shudder at the peril they had so narrowly escaped. For
by it they now learned for the first time that one Jaques Bonard, a
small farmer, to whom they owed but five thousand francs, had gone
to the mayor and insisted, as he had a perfect right, on the estate
being put up to public auction. This had come to Perrin's ears just
in time, and he had instantly bought Bonard's debt, and stopped the
auction; not, however, before the very bills were printed; for which
he, Perrin, had paid, and now forwarded the receipt. He concluded
by saying that the government agent was personally inert, and would
never move a step in the matter unless driven by a creditor.
"But we have so many," said Rose in dismay. "We are not safe a day."
Aubertin assured her the danger was only in appearance. "Your large
creditors are men of property, and such men let their funds lie
unless compelled to move them. The small mortgagee, the petty
miser, who has, perhaps, no investment to watch but one small loan,
about which he is as anxious and as noisy as a hen with one chicken,
he is the clamorous creditor, the harsh little egoist, who for fear
of risking a crown piece would bring the Garden of Eden to the
hammer. Now we are rid of that little wretch, Bonard, and have
Perrin on our side; so there is literally nothing to fear."
The sisters thanked him warmly, and Rose shared his hopes; and said
so; but Josephine was silent and thoughtful. Nothing more worth
recording passed that night. But the next day was the first of May,
Now they always celebrated this day as well as they could; and used
to plant a tree, for one thing. Dard, well spurred by Jacintha, had
got a little acacia; and they were all out in the Pleasaunce to
plant it. Unhappily, they were a preposterous time making up their
feminine minds where to have it set; so Dard turned rusty and said
the park was the best place for it. There it could do no harm,
stick it where you would.
"And who told you to put in your word?" inquired Jacintha. "You're
here to dig the hole where mademoiselle chooses; not to argufy."
Josephine whispered Rose, "I admire the energy of her character.
Could she be induced to order once for all where the poor thing is
to be planted?"
"Then where WILL you have it, mademoiselle?" asked Dard, sulkily.
"Here, I think, Dard," said Josephine sweetly.
Dard grinned malignantly, and drove in his spade. "It will never be
much bigger than a stinging nettle," thought he, "for the roots of
the oak have sucked every atom of heart out of this." His black
soul exulted secretly.
Jacintha stood by Dard, inspecting his work; the sisters
intertwined, a few feet from him. The baroness turned aside, and
went to look for a moment at the chaplet she had placed yesterday on
the oak-tree bough. Presently she uttered a slight ejaculation; and
her daughters looked up directly.
"Come here, children," said she. They glided to her in a moment;
and found her eyes fixed upon an object that lay on the knights'
It was a sparkling purse.
I dare say you have noticed that the bark on the boughs of these
very ancient trees is as deeply furrowed as the very stem of an oak
tree that boasts but a few centuries; and in one of these deep
furrows lay a green silk purse with gold coins glittering through
the glossy meshes.
Josephine and Rose eyed it a moment like startled deer; then Rose
pounced on it. "Oh, how heavy!" she cried. This brought up Dard
and Jacintha, in time to see Rose pour ten shining gold pieces out
of the purse into her pink-white palm, while her face flushed and
her eyes glittered with excitement. Jacintha gave a scream of joy;
"Our luck is turned," she cried, superstitiously. Meanwhile,
Josephine had found a slip of paper close to the purse. She opened
it with nimble fingers; it contained one line in a hand like that of
a copying clerk: FROM A FRIEND: IN PART PAYMENT OF A GREAT DEBT.
Keen, piquant curiosity now took the place of surprise. Who could
it be? The baroness's suspicion fell at once on Dr. Aubertin. But
Rose maintained he had not ten gold pieces in the world. The
baroness appealed to Josephine. She only blushed in an extraordinary
way, and said nothing. They puzzled, and puzzled, and were as much
in the dark as ever, when lo! one of the suspected parties delivered
himself into the hands of justice with ludicrous simplicity. It
happened to be Dr. Aubertin's hour of out-a-door study; and he
came mooning along, buried in a book, and walked slowly into the
group--started, made a slight apology, and was mooning off, lost
in his book again. Then the baroness, who had eyed him with grim
suspicion all the time, said with well-affected nonchalance, "Doctor,
you dropped your purse; we have just picked it up." And she handed
it to him. "Thank you, madame," said he, and took it quietly without
looking at it, put it in his pocket, and retired, with his soul in
his book. They stared comically at one another, and at this cool
hand. "It's no more his than it's mine," said Jacintha, bluntly.
Rose darted after the absorbed student, and took him captive. "Now,
doctor," she cried, "be pleased to come out of the clouds." And
with the word she whipped the purse out of his coat pocket, and
holding it right up before his eye, insisted on his telling her
whether that was his purse or not, money and all. Thus adjured,
he disowned the property mighty coolly, for a retired physician,
who had just pocketed it.
"No, my dear," said he; "and, now I think of it, I have not carried
a purse this twenty years."
The baroness, as a last resource, appealed to his honor whether he
had not left a purse and paper on the knights' bough. The question
had to be explained by Josephine, and then the doctor surprised them
all by being rather affronted--for once in his life.
"Baroness," said he, "I have been your friend and pensioner nearly
twenty years; if by some strange chance money were to come into my
hands, I should not play you a childish trick like this. What! have
I not the right to come to you, and say, 'My old friend, here I
bring you back a very small part of all I owe you?'"
"What geese we are," remarked Rose. "Dear doctor, YOU tell us who
Dr. Aubertin reflected a single moment; then said he could make a
"Who? who? who?" cried the whole party.
"Perrin the notary."
It was the baroness's turn to be surprised; for there was nothing
romantic about Perrin the notary. Aubertin, however, let her know
that he was in private communication with the said Perrin, and this
was not the first friendly act the good notary had done her in secret.
While he was converting the baroness to his view, Josephine and Rose
exchanged a signal, and slipped away round an angle of the chateau.
"Who is it?" said Rose.
"It is some one who has a delicate mind."
"Clearly, and therefore not a notary."
"Rose, dear, might it not be some person who has done us some wrong,
and is perhaps penitent?"
"Certainly; one of our tenants, or creditors, you mean; but then,
the paper says 'a friend.' Stay, it says a debtor. Why a debtor?
Down with enigmas!"
"Rose, love," said Josephine, coaxingly, "think of some one that
might--since it is not the doctor, nor Monsieur Perrin, might it not
be--for after all, he would naturally be ashamed to appear before me."
"Before you? Who do you mean?" asked Rose nervously, catching a
"He who once pretended to love me."
"Josephine, you love that man still."
"No, no. Spare me!"
"You love him just the same as ever. Oh, it is wonderful; it is
terrible; the power he has over you; over your judgment as well as
"No! for I believe he has forgotten my very name; don't you think so?"
"Dear Josephine, can you doubt it? Come, you do doubt it."
"But why? for what reason?"
"Because of what he said to me as we parted at that gate; the words
and the voice seem still to ring like truth across the weary years.
He said, 'I am to join the army of the Pyrenees, so fatal to our
troops; but say to me what you never yet have said, Camille, I love
you: and I swear I will come back alive.' So then I said to him, 'I
love you,'--and he never came back."
"How could he come here? a deserter, a traitor!"
"It is not true; it is not in his nature; inconstancy may be. Tell
me that he never really loved me, and I will believe you; but not
that he is a traitor. Let me weep over my past love, not blush for
"Past? You love him to-day as you did three years ago."
"No," said Josephine, "no; I love no one. I never shall love any
"But him. It is that love which turns your heart against others.
Oh, yes, you love him, dearest, or why should you fancy our secret
benefactor COULD be that Camille?"
"Why? Because I was mad: because it is impossible; but I see my
folly. I am going in."
"What! don't you care to know who I think it was, perhaps?"
"No," said Josephine sadly and doggedly; she added with cold
nonchalance, "I dare say time will show." And she went slowly in,
her hand to her head.
"Her birthday!" sighed Rose.
The donor, whoever he was, little knew the pain he was inflicting on
this distressed but proud family, or the hard battle that ensued
between their necessities and their delicacy. The ten gold pieces
were a perpetual temptation: a daily conflict. The words that
accompanied the donation offered a bait. Their pride and dignity
declined it; but these bright bits of gold cost them many a sharp
pang. You must know that Josephine and Rose had worn out their
mourning by this time; and were obliged to have recourse to gayer
materials that lay in their great wardrobes, and were older, but
less worn. A few of these gold pieces would have enabled the poor
girls to be neat, and yet to mourn their father openly. And it went
through and through those tender, simple hearts, to think that they
must be disunited, even in so small a thing as dress; that while
their mother remained in her weeds, they must seem no longer to
share her woe.
The baroness knew their feeling, and felt its piety, and yet could
not bow her dignity to say, "Take five of these bits of gold, and
let us all look what we are--one." Yet in this, as in everything
else, they supported each other. They resisted, they struggled, and
with a wrench they conquered day by day. At last, by general
consent, Josephine locked up the tempter, and they looked at it no
more. But the little bit of paper met a kinder fate. Rose made a
little frame for it, and it was kept in a drawer, in the salon: and
often looked at and blessed. Just when they despaired of human
friendship, this paper with the sacred word "friend" written on it,
had fallen all in a moment on their aching hearts.
They could not tell whence it came, this blessed word.
But men dispute whence comes the dew?
Then let us go with the poets, who say it comes from heaven.
And even so that sweet word, friend, dropped like the dew from
heaven on these afflicted ones.
So they locked the potent gold away from themselves, and took the
kind slip of paper to their hearts.
The others left off guessing: Aubertin had it all his own way: he
upheld Perrin as their silent benefactor, and bade them all observe
that the worthy notary had never visited the chateau openly since
the day the purse was left there. "Guilty conscience," said
One day in his walks he met a gaunt figure ambling on a fat pony: he
stopped him, and, holding up his finger, said abruptly, "We have
found you out, Maitre Perrin."
The notary changed color.
"Oh, never be ashamed," said Aubertin; "a good action done slyly is
none the less a good action."
The notary wore a puzzled air.
Aubertin admired his histrionic powers in calling up this look.
"Come, come, don't overdo it," said he. "Well, well; they cannot
profit by your liberality; but you will be rewarded in a better
world, take my word for that."
The notary muttered indistinctly. He was a man of moderate desires;
would have been quite content if there had been no other world in
perspective. He had studied this one, and made it pay: did not
desire a better; sometimes feared a worse.
"Ah!" said Aubertin, "I see how it is; we do not like to hear
ourselves praised, do we? When shall we see you at the chateau?"
"I propose to call on the baroness the moment I have good news to
bring," replied Perrin; and to avoid any more compliments spurred
the dun pony suddenly; and he waddled away.
Now this Perrin was at that moment on the way to dine with a
character who plays a considerable part in the tale--Commandant
Raynal. Perrin had made himself useful to the commandant, and had
become his legal adviser. And, this very day after dinner, the
commandant having done a good day's work permitted himself a little
sentiment over the bottle, and to a man he thought his friend. He
let out that he had a heap of money he did not know what to do with,
and almost hated it now his mother was gone and could not share it.
The man of law consoled him with oleaginous phrases: told him he
very much underrated the power of money. His hoard, directed by a
judicious adviser, would make him a landed proprietor, and the
husband of some young lady, all beauty, virtue, and accomplishment,
whose soothing influence would soon heal the sorrow caused by an
excess of filial sentiment.
"Halt!" shouted Raynal: "say that again in half the words."
Perrin was nettled, for he prided himself on his colloquial style.
"You can buy a fine estate and a chaste wife with the money,"
snapped this smooth personage, substituting curt brutality for
The soldier was struck by the propositions the moment they flew at
him small and solid, like bullets.
"I've no time," said he, "to be running after women. But the estate
I'll certainly have, because you can get that for me without my
troubling my head."
"Is it a commission, then?" asked the other sharply.
"Of course. Do you think I speak for the sake of talking?"
And so Perrin received formal instructions to look out for a landed
estate; and he was to receive a handsome commission as agent.
Now to settle this affair, and pocket a handsome percentage for
himself, he had only to say "Beaurepaire."
Well, he didn't. Never mentioned the place; nor the fact that it
was for sale.
Such are all our agents, when rival speculators. Mind that. Still
it is a terrible thing to be so completely in the power of any man
of the world, as from this hour Beaurepaire was in the power of
Perrin the notary.
Edouard Riviere was unhappy. She never came out now. This alone
made the days dark to him. And then he began to fear it was him she
shunned. She must have seen him lie in wait for her; and so she
would come out no more. He prowled about and contrived to fall in
with Jacintha; he told her his grief. She assured him the simple
fact was their mourning was worn out, and they were ashamed to go
abroad in colors. This revelation made his heart yearn still more.
"O Jacintha," said he, "if I could only make a beginning; but here
we might live a century in the same parish, and not one chance for a
poor wretch to make acquaintance."
Jacintha admitted this, and said gentlefolks were to be pitied.
"Why, if it was the likes of me, you and I should have made friends
long before now."
Jacintha herself was puzzled what to do; she would have told Rose if
she had felt sure it would be well received; but she could not find
out that the young lady had even noticed the existence of Edouard.
But her brain worked, and lay in wait for an opportunity.
One came sooner than she expected. One morning at about six
o'clock, as she came home from milking the cow, she caught sight of
young Riviere trying to open the iron gate. "What is up now?"
thought she; suddenly the truth flashed upon her, clear as day. She
put her pail down and stole upon him. "You want to leave us another
purse," said she. He colored all over and panted.
"How did you know? how could you know? you won't betray me? you
won't be so cruel? you promised."
"Me betray you," said Jacintha; "why, I'll help you; and then they
will be able to buy mourning, you know, and then they will come out,
and give you a chance. You can't open that gate, for it's locked.
But you come round to the lane, and I'll get you the key; it is
hanging up in the kitchen."
The key was in her pocket. But the sly jade wanted him away from
that gate; it commanded a view of the Pleasaunce. He was no sooner
safe in the lane, than she tore up-stairs to her young ladies, and
asked them with affected calm whether they would like to know who
left the purse.
"Oh, yes, yes!" screamed Rose.
"Then come with me. You ARE dressed; never mind your bonnets, or
you will be too late."
Questions poured on her; but she waived all explanation, and did not
give them time to think, or Josephine, for one, she knew would raise
objections. She led the way to the Pleasaunce, and, when she got to
the ancestral oak, she said hurriedly, "Now, mesdemoiselles, hide in
there, and as still as mice. You'll soon know who leaves the purses."
With this she scudded to the lane, and gave Edouard the key. "Look
sharp," said she, "before they get up; it's almost their dressing
"YOU'LL SOON KNOW WHO LEAVES THE PURSES!"
Curiosity, delicious curiosity, thrilled our two daughters of Eve.
This soon began to alternate with chill misgivings at the novelty of
"She is not coming back," said Josephine ruefully.
"No," said Rose, "and suppose when we pounce out on him, it should
be a stranger."
"Pounce on him? surely we are not to do that?"
"Oh, y-yes; that is the p-p-programme," quavered Rose.
A key grated, and the iron gate creaked on its hinges. They ran
together and pinched one another for mutual support, but did not
dare to speak.
Presently a man's shadow came slap into the tree. They crouched and
quivered, and expected to be caught instead of catching, and wished
themselves safe back in bed, and all this a nightmare, and no worse.
At last they recovered themselves enough to observe that this
shadow, one half of which lay on the ground, while the head and
shoulders went a little way up the wall of the tree, represented a
man's profile, not his front face. The figure, in short, was
standing between them and the sun, and was contemplating the
chateau, not the tree.
The shadow took off its hat to Josephine, in the tree. Then would
she have screamed if she had not bitten her white hand instead, and
made a red mark thereon.
It wiped its brow with a handkerchief; it had walked fast, poor
thing! The next moment it was away.
They looked at one another and panted. They scarcely dared do it
before. Then Rose, with one hand on her heaving bosom, shook her
little white fist viciously at where the figure must be, and perhaps
a comical desire of vengeance stimulated her curiosity. She now
glided through the fissure like a cautious panther from her den; and
noiseless and supple as a serpent began to wind slowly round the
tree. She soon came to a great protuberance in the tree, and
twining and peering round it with diamond eye, she saw a very young,
very handsome gentleman, stealing on tiptoe to the nearest flower-
bed. Then she saw him take a purse out of his bosom, and drop it on
the bed. This done, he came slowly past the tree again, and was
even heard to vent a little innocent chuckle of intense satisfaction:
but of brief duration; for, when Rose saw the purse leave his hand,
she made a rapid signal to Josephine to wheel round the other side
of the tree, and, starting together with admirable concert, both
the daughters of Beaurepaire glided into sight with a vast appearance
Two women together are really braver than fifteen separate; but
still, most of this tranquillity was merely put on, but so admirably
that Edouard Riviere had no chance with them. He knew nothing about
their tremors; all he saw or heard was, a rustle, then a flap on
each side of him as of great wings, and two lovely women were upon
him with angelic swiftness. "Ah!" he cried out with a start, and
glanced from the first-comer, Rose, to the gate. But Josephine was
on that side by this time, and put up her hand, as much as to say,
"You can't pass here." In such situations, the mind works quicker
than lightning. He took off his hat, and stammered an excuse--"Come
to look at the oak." At this moment Rose pounced on the purse, and
held it up to Josephine. He was caught. His only chance now was to
bolt for the mark and run; but it was not the notary, it was a
novice who lost his presence of mind, or perhaps thought it rude to
run when a lady told him to stand still. All he did was to crush
his face into his two hands, round which his cheeks and neck now
blushed red as blood. Blush? they could both see the color rush
like a wave to the very roots of his hair and the tips of his
The moment our heroines, who, in that desperation which is one of
the forms of cowardice, had hurled themselves on the foe, saw this,
flash--the quick-witted poltroons exchanged purple lightning over
Edouard's drooping head, and enacted lionesses in a moment.
It was with the quiet composure of lofty and powerful natures that
Josephine opened on him. "Compose yourself, sir; and be so good as
to tell us who you are." Edouard must answer. Now he could not
speak through his hands; and he could not face a brace of tranquil
lionesses: so he took a middle course, removed one hand, and shading
himself from Josephine with the other, he gasped out, "I am--my name
is Riviere; and I--I--ladies!"
"I am afraid we frighten you," said Josephine, demurely.
"Don't be frightened," said Rose, majestically; "we are not VERY
angry, only a LITTLE curious to know why you water our flowers with
At this point-blank thrust, and from her, Edouard was so confounded
and distressed, they both began to pity him. He stammered out that
he was so confused he did not know what to say. He couldn't think
how ever he could have taken such a liberty; might he be permitted
to retire? and with this he tried to slip away.
"Let me detain you one instant," said Josephine, and made for the
Left alone so suddenly with the culprit, the dignity, and majesty,
and valor of Rose seemed to ooze gently out; and she stood blushing,
and had not a word to say; no more had Edouard. But he hung his
head, and she hung her head. And, somehow or other, whenever she
raised her eyes to glance at him, he raised his to steal a look at
her, and mutual discomfiture resulted.
This awkward, embarrassing delirium was interrupted by Josephine's
return. She now held another purse in her hand, and quietly poured
the rest of the coin into it. She then, with a blush, requested him
to take back the money.
At that he found his tongue. "No, no," he cried, and put up his
hands in supplication. "Ladies, do let me speak ONE word to you.
Do not reject my friendship. You are alone in the world; your
father is dead; your mother has but you to lean on. After all, I am
your neighbor, and neighbors should be friends. And I am your
debtor; I owe you more than you could ever owe me; for ever since I
came into this neighborhood I have been happy. No man was ever so
happy as I, ever since one day I was walking, and met for the first
time an angel. I don't say it was you, Mademoiselle Rose. It might
be Mademoiselle Josephine."
"How pat he has got our names," said Rose, smiling.
"A look from that angel has made me so good, so happy. I used to
vegetate, but now I live. Live! I walk on wings, and tread on
roses. Yet you insist on declining a few miserable louis d'or from
him who owes you so much. Well, don't be angry; I'll take them
back, and throw them into the nearest pond, for they are really no
use to me. But then you will be generous in your turn. You will
accept my devotion, my services. You have no brother, you know;
well, I have no sisters; let me be your brother, and your servant
At all this, delivered in as many little earnest pants as there were
sentences, the water stood in the fair eyes he was looking into so
Josephine was firm, but angelical. "We thank you, Monsieur
Riviere," said she, softly, "for showing us that the world is still
embellished with hearts like yours. Here is the money;" and she
held it out in her creamy hand.
"But we are very grateful," put in Rose, softly and earnestly.
"That we are," said Josephine, "and we beg to keep the purse as a
souvenir of one who tried to do us a kindness without mortifying us.
And now, Monsieur Riviere, you will permit us to bid you adieu."
Edouard was obliged to take the hint. "It is I who am the
intruder," said he. "Mesdemoiselles, conceive, if you can, my pride
and my disappointment." He then bowed low; they courtesied low to
him in return; and he retired slowly in a state of mixed feeling
With all their sweetness and graciousness, he felt overpowered by
their high breeding, their reserve, and their composure, in a
situation that had set his heart beating itself nearly out of his
bosom. He acted the scene over again, only much more adroitly, and
concocted speeches for past use, and was very hot and very cold by
I wish he could have heard what passed between the sisters as soon
as ever he was out of earshot. It would have opened his eyes, and
given him a little peep into what certain writers call "the sex."
"Poor boy," murmured Josephine, "he has gone away unhappy."
"Oh, I dare say he hasn't gone far," replied Rose, gayly. "I
shouldn't if I was a boy."
Josephine held up her finger like an elder sister; then went on to
say she really hardly knew why she had dismissed him.
"Well, dear," said Rose, dryly, "since you admit so much, I must say
I couldn't help thinking--while you were doing it--we were letting
'the poor boy' off ridiculously cheap."
"At least I did my duty?" suggested Josephine, inquiringly.
"Magnificently; you overawed even me. So now to business, as the
gentlemen say. Which of us two takes him?"
"Takes whom?" inquired Josephine, opening her lovely eyes.
"Edouard," murmured Rose, lowering hers.
Josephine glared on the lovely minx with wonder and comical horror.
"Oh! you shall have him," said Rose, "if you like. You are the
eldest, you know."
"Do now; TO OBLIGE ME."
"For shame! Rose. Is this you? talking like that!"
"Oh! there's no compulsion, dear; I never force young ladies'
inclinations. So you decline him?"
"Of course I decline him."
"Then, oh, you dear, darling Josephine, this is the prettiest
present you ever made me," and she kissed her vehemently.
Josephine was frightened now. She held Rose out at arm's length
with both hands, and looked earnestly into her, and implored her not
to play with fire. "Take warning by me."
Rose recommended her to keep her pity for Monsieur Riviere, "who had
fallen into nice hands," she said. That no doubt might remain on
that head, she whispered mysteriously, but with much gravity and
conviction, "I am an Imp;" and aimed at Josephine with her
forefinger to point the remark. For one second she stood and
watched this important statement sink into her sister's mind, then
set-to and gambolled elfishly round her as she moved stately and
thoughtful across the grass to the chateau.
Two days after this a large tree was blown down in Beaurepaire park,
and made quite a gap in the prospect. You never know what a big
thing a leafy tree is till it comes down. And this ill wind blew
Edouard good; for it laid bare the chateau to his inquiring
telescope. He had not gazed above half an hour, when a female
figure emerged from the chateau. His heart beat. It was only
Jacintha. He saw her look this way and that, and presently Dard
appeared, and she sent him with his axe to the fallen tree. Edouard
watched him hacking away at it. Presently his heart gave a violent
leap; for why? two ladies emerged from the Pleasaunce and walked
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