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 time."
Curiosity, delicious curiosity, thrilled our two daughters of Eve.
This soon began to alternate with chill misgivings at the novelty of the situation.
"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 of composure.
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 fingers.
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 gold."
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 house.
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 forever."
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 piteously.
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 indescribable.
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 turns.
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 across the park. They came up to Dard, and stood looking at the tree and Dard hacking it, and Edouard watched them greedily. You know we all love to magnify her we love. And this was a delightful way of doing it. It is "a system of espionage" that prevails under every form of government. How he gazed, and gazed, on his now polar star; studied every turn, every gesture, with eager delight, and tried to gather what she said, or at least the nature of it.
But by and by they left Dard and strolled towards the other end of the park. Then did our astronomer fling down his tube, and come running out in hopes of intercepting them, and seeming to meet them by some strange fortuity. Hope whispered he should be blessed with a smile; perhaps a word even. So another minute and he was running up the road to Beaurepaire. But his good heart was doomed to be diverted to a much humbler object than his idol; as he came near the fallen tree he heard loud cries for help, followed by groans of pain. He bounded over the hedge, and there was Dard hanging over his axe, moaning. "What is the matter? what is the matter?" cried Edouard, running to him.
"Oh! oh! cut my foot. Oh!"
Edouard looked, and turned sick, for there was a gash right through Dard's shoe, and the blood welling up through it. But, recovering himself by an effort of the will, he cried out, "Courage, my lad! don't give in. Thank Heaven there's no artery there. Oh, dear, it is a terrible cut! Let us get you home, that is the first thing. Can you walk?"
"Lord bless you, no! nor stand neither without help."
Edouard flew to the wheelbarrow, and, reversing it, spun a lot of billet out. "Ye must not do that," said Dard with all the energy he was capable of in his present condition. "Why, that is Jacintha's wood."—"To the devil with Jacintha and her wood too!" cried Edouard, "a man is worth more than a fagot. Come, I shall wheel you home: it is only just across the park."
With some difficulty he lifted him into the barrow. Luckily he had his shooting-jacket on with a brandy-flask in it: he administered it with excellent effect.
The ladies, as they walked, saw a man wheeling a barrow across the park, and took no particular notice; but, as Riviere was making for the same point they were, though at another angle, presently the barrow came near enough for them to see Dard's head and arms in it. Rose was the first to notice this. "Look! look! if he is not wheeling Dard in the barrow now."
"Can you ask? Who provides all our excitement?"
Josephine instantly divined there was something amiss. "Consider," said she, "Monsieur Riviere would not wheel Dard all across the park for amusement."
Rose assented; and in another minute, by a strange caprice of fate, those Edouard had come to intercept, quickened their pace to intercept him. As soon as he saw their intention he thrilled all over, but did not slacken his pace. He told Dard to take his coat and throw it over his foot, for here were the young ladies coming.
"What for?" said Dard sulkily. "No! let them see what they have done with their little odd jobs: this is my last for one while. I sha'n't go on two legs again this year."
The ladies came up with them.
"O monsieur!" said Josephine, "what is the matter?"
"We have met with a little accident, mademoiselle, that is all. Dard has hurt his foot; nothing to speak of, but I thought he would be best at home."
Rose raised the coat which Riviere, in spite of Dard, had flung over his foot.
"He is bleeding! Dard is bleeding! Oh, my poor Dard. Oh! oh!"
"No, don't put him out of heart, mademoiselle. Take another pull at the flask, Dard. If you please, ladies, I must have him home without delay."
"Oh yes, but I want him to have a surgeon," cried Josephine. "And we have no horses nor people to send off as we used to have."
"But you have me, mademoiselle," said Edouard tenderly. "Me, who would go to the world's end for you." He said this to Josephine, but his eye sought Rose. "I'm a famous runner," he added, a little bumptiously; "I'll be at the town in half an hour, and send a surgeon up full gallop."
"You have a good heart," said Rose simply.
He bowed his blushing, delighted face, and wheeled Dard to his cottage hard by with almost more than mortal vigor. How softly, how nobly, that frolicsome girl could speak! Those sweet words rang in his ears and ran warm round and round his heart, as he straightened his arms and his back to the work. When they had gone about a hundred yards, a single snivel went off in the wheelbarrow. Five minutes after, Dard was at home in charge of his grandmother, his shoe off, his foot in a wet linen cloth; and Edouard, his coat tied round the neck, squared his shoulders, and ran the two short leagues out. He ran them in forty minutes, found the surgeon at home, told the case, pooh-poohed that worthy's promise to go to the patient presently, darted into his stable, saddled the horse, brought him round, saw the surgeon into the saddle, started him, dined at the restaurateur's, strolled back, and was in time to get a good look at the chateau of Beaurepaire just as the sun set on it.
Jacintha came into Dard's cottage that evening.
"So you have been at it, my man," cried she cheerfully and rather roughly, then sat down and rocked herself, with her apron over her head. She explained this anomalous proceeding to his grandmother privately. "I thought I would keep his heart up anyway, but you see I was not fit."
Next morning, as Riviere sat writing, he received an unexpected visit from Jacintha. She came in with her finger to her lips, and said, "You prowl about Dard's cottage. They are sure to go and see him every day, and him wounded in their service."
"Oh, you good girl! you dear girl!" cried Edouard.
She did not reply in words, but, after going to the door, returned and gave him a great kiss without ceremony. "Dare say you know what that's for," said she, and went off with a clear conscience and reddish cheeks.
Dard's grandmother had a little house, a little land, a little money, and a little cow. She could just maintain Dard and herself, and her resources enabled Dard to do so many little odd jobs for love, yet keep his main organ tolerably filled.
"Go to bed, my little son, since you have got hashed," said she.—"Bed be hanged," cried he. "What good is bed? That's a silly old custom wants doing away with. It weakens you: it turns you into train oil: it is the doctor's friend, and the sick man's bane. Many a one dies through taking to bed, that could have kept his life if he had kept his feet like a man. If I had cut myself in two I would not go to bed,—till I go to the bed with a spade in it. No! sit up like Julius Caesar; and die as you lived, in your clothes: don't strip yourself: let the old women strip you; that is their delight laying out a chap; that is the time they brighten up, the old sorceresses." He concluded this amiable rhapsody, the latter part of which was levelled at a lugubrious weakness of his grandmother's for the superfluous embellishment of the dead, by telling her it was bad enough to be tied by the foot like an ass, without settling down on his back like a cast sheep. "Give me the armchair. I'll sit in it, and, if I have any friends, they will show it now: they will come and tell me what is going on in the village, for I can't get out to see it and hear it, they must know that."
Seated in state in his granny's easy-chair, the loss of which after thirty years' use made her miserable, she couldn't tell why, le Sieur Dard awaited his friends.
They did not come.
The rain did, and poured all the afternoon. Night succeeded, and solitude. Dard boiled over with bitterness. "They are a lot of pigs then, all those fellows I have drunk with at Bigot's and Simmet's. Down with all fair-weather friends."
The next day the sun shone, the air was clear, and the sky blue. "Ah! let us see now," cried Dard.
Alas! no fellow-drinkers, no fellow-smokers, came to console their hurt fellow. And Dard, who had boiled with anger yesterday, was now sad and despondent. "Down with egotists," he groaned.
About three in the afternoon came a tap at the door.
"Ah! at last," cried Dard: "come in!"
The door was slowly opened, and two lovely faces appeared at the threshold. The demoiselles De Beaurepaire wore a tender look of interest and pity when they caught sight of Dard, and on the old woman courtesying to them they courtesied to her and Dard. The next moment they were close to him, one a little to his right, the other to his left, and two pair of sapphire eyes with the mild lustre of sympathy playing down incessantly upon him. How was he? How had he slept? Was he in pain? Was he in much pain? tell the truth now. Was there anything to eat or drink he could fancy? Jacintha should make it and bring it, if it was within their means. A prince could not have had more solicitous attendants, nor a fairy king lovelier and less earthly ones.
He looked in heavy amazement from one to the other. Rose bent, and was by some supple process on one knee, taking the measure of the wounded foot. When she first approached it he winced: but the next moment he smiled. He had never been touched like this—it was contact and no contact—she treated his foot as the zephyr the violets—she handled it as if it had been some sacred thing. By the help of his eye he could just know she was touching him. Presently she informed him he was measured for a list shoe: and she would run home for the materials. During her absence came a timid tap to the door; and Edouard Riviere entered. He was delighted to see Josephine, and made sure Rose was not far off. It was Dard who let out that she was gone to Beaurepaire for some cloth to make him a shoe. This information set Edouard fidgeting on his chair. He saw such a chance as was not likely to occur again. He rose with feigned nonchalance, and saying, "I leave you in good hands; angel visitors are best enjoyed alone," slowly retired, with a deep obeisance. Once outside the door, dignity vanished in alacrity; he flew off into the park, and ran as hard as he could towards the chateau. He was within fifty yards of the little gate, when sure enough Rose emerged. They met; his heart beat violently. "Mademoiselle," he faltered.
"Ah! it is Monsieur Riviere, I declare," said Rose, coolly; all over blushes though.
"Yes, mademoiselle, and I am so out of breath. Mademoiselle Josephine awaits you at Dard's house."
"She sent you for me?" inquired Rose, demurely.
"Not positively. But I could see I should please her by coming for you; there is, I believe, a bull or so about."
"A bull or two! don't talk in that reckless way about such things. She has done well to send you; let us make haste."
"But I am a little out of breath."
"Oh, never mind that! I abhor bulls."
"But, mademoiselle, we are not come to them yet, and the faster we go now the sooner we shall."
"Yes; but I always like to get a disagreeable thing over as soon as possible," said Rose, slyly.
"Ah," replied Edouard, mournfully, "in that case let us make haste."
After a little spurt, mademoiselle relaxed the pace of her own accord, and even went slower than before. There was an awkward silence. Edouard eyed the park boundary, and thought, "Now what I have to say I must say before we get to you;" and being thus impressed with the necessity of immediate action, he turned to lead.
Rose eyed him and the ground, alternately, from under her long lashes.
At last he began to color and flutter. She saw something was coming, and all the woman donned defensive armor.
"Is it quite decided that your family refuse my acquaintance, my services, which I still—forgive me—press on you? Ah! Mademoiselle Rose, am I never to have the happiness of—of—even speaking to you?"
"It seems so," said Rose, ironically.
"Have you then decided against me too?"
"I?" asked Rose. "What have I to do with questions of etiquette? I am only a child: so considered at least."
"You a child—an angel like you?"
"Ask any of them, they will tell you I am a child; and it is to that I owe this conversation, no doubt; if you did not look on me as a child, you would not take this liberty with me," said the young cat, scratching without a moment's notice.
"Mademoiselle, do not be angry. I was wrong."
"Oh! never mind. Children are little creatures without reserve, and treated accordingly, and to notice them is to honor them."
"Adieu then, mademoiselle. Try to believe no one respects you more than I do."
"Yes, let us part, for there is Dard's house; and I begin to suspect that Josephine never sent you."
"I confess it."
"There, he confesses it. I thought so all along; WHAT A DUPE I HAVE BEEN!"
"I will offend no more," said poor silly Edouard. "Adieu, mademoiselle. May you find friends as sincere as I am, and more to your taste!"
"Heaven hear your prayers!" replied the malicious thing, casting up her eyes with a mock tragic air.
Edouard sighed; a chill conviction that she was both heartless and empty fell on him. He turned away without another word. She called to him with a sudden airy cheerfulness that made him start. "Stay, monsieur, I forgot—I have a favor to ask you."
"I wish I could believe that:" and his eyes brightened.
Rose stopped, and began to play with her parasol. "You seem," said she softly, "to be pretty generous in bestowing your acquaintance on strangers. I should be glad if I might secure you for a dear friend of mine, Dr. Aubertin. He will not discredit my recommendation; and he will not make so many difficulties as we do; shall I tell you why? Because he is really worth knowing. In short, believe me, it will be a valuable acquaintance for you—and for him," added she with all the grace of the De Beaurepaires.
Many a man, inferior in a general way to Edouard Riviere, would have made a sensible reply to this. Such as, "Oh, any friend of yours, mademoiselle, must be welcome to me," or the like. But the proposal caught Edouard on his foible, his vanity, to wit; and our foibles are our manias. He was mortified to the heart's core. "She refuses to know me herself," thought he, "but she will use my love to make me amuse that old man." His heart swelled against her injustice and ingratitude, and his crushed vanity turned to strychnine. "Mademoiselle," said he, bitterly and doggedly, but sadly, "were I so happy as to have your esteem, my heart would overflow, not only on the doctor but on every honest person around. But if I must not have the acquaintance I value more than life, suffer me to be alone in the world, and never to say a word either to Dr. Aubertin, or to any human creature if I can help it."
The imperious young beauty drew herself up directly. "So be it, monsieur; you teach me how a child should be answered that forgets herself, and asks a favor of a stranger—a perfect stranger," added she, maliciously.
Could one of the dog-days change to mid-winter in a second, it would hardly seem so cold and cross as Rose de Beaurepaire turned from the smiling, saucy fairy of the moment before. Edouard felt as it were a portcullis of ice come down between her and him. She courtesied and glided away. He bowed and stood frozen to the spot.
He felt so lonely and so bitter, he must go to Jacintha for comfort.
He took advantage of the ladies being with Dard, and marched boldly into the kitchen of Beaurepaire.
"Well, I never," cried Jacintha. "But, after all, why not?"
He hurled himself on the kitchen table (clean as china), and told her it was all over. "She hates me now; but it is not my fault," and so poured forth his tale, and feeling sure of sympathy, asked Jacintha whether it was not bitterly unjust of Rose to refuse him her own acquaintance, yet ask him to amuse that old fogy.
Jacintha stood with her great arms akimbo, taking it all in, and looking at him with a droll expression of satirical wonder.
"Now you listen to a parable," said she. "Once there was a little boy madly in love with raspberry jam."
"A thing I hate."
"Don't tell me! Who hates raspberry jam? He came to the store closet, where he knew there were jars of it, and—oh! misery—the door was locked. He kicked the door, and wept bitterly. His mamma came and said, 'Here is the key,' and gave him the key. And what did he do? Why, he fell to crying and roaring, and kicking the door. 'I don't wa-wa-wa-wa-nt the key-ey-ey. I wa-a-ant the jam—oh! oh! oh! oh!'" and Jacintha mimicked, after her fashion, the mingled grief and ire of infancy debarred its jam. Edouard wore a puzzled air, but it was only for a moment; the next he hid his face in his hands, and cried, "Fool!"
"I shall not contradict you," said his Mentor.
"She was my best friend. Once acquainted with the doctor, I could visit at Beaurepaire."
"She had thought of a way to reconcile my wishes with this terrible etiquette that reigns here."
"She thinks to more purpose than you do; that is clear."
"Nothing is left now but to ask her pardon, and to consent; I am off."
"No, you are not," and Jacintha laid a grasp of iron on him. "Will you be quiet?—is not one blunder a day enough? If you go near her now, she will affront you, and order the doctor not to speak to you."
"O Jacintha! your sex then are fiends of malice?"
"While it lasts. Luckily with us nothing lasts very long. Now you don't go near her till you have taken advantage of her hint, and made the doctor's acquaintance; that is easy done. He walks two hours on the east road every day, with his feet in the puddles and his head in the clouds. Them's HIS two tastes."
"But how am I to get him out of the clouds and the puddles?" inquired Riviere half peevishly.
"How?" asked Jacintha, with a dash of that contempt uneducated persons generally have for any one who does not know some little thing they happen to know themselves. "How? Why, with the nearest blackbeetle, to be sure."
"Black or brown; it matters little. Have her ready for use in your handkerchief: pull a long face: and says you—'Excuse me, sir, I have THE MISFORTUNE not to know the Greek name of this merchandise here.' Say that, and behold him launched. He will christen you the beast in Hebrew and Latin as well as Greek, and tell you her history down from the flood: next he will beg her of you, and out will come a cork and a pin, and behold the creature impaled. For that is how men love beetles. He has a thousand pinned down at home—beetles, butterflies, and so forth. When I go near the rubbish with my duster he trembles like an aspen. I pretend to be going to clean them, but it is only to see the face he makes, for even a domestic must laugh now and then—or die. But I never do clean them, for after all he is more stupid than wicked, poor man: I have not therefore the sad courage to make him wretched."
"Let us return to our beetle—what will his tirades about its antiquity advance me?"
"Oh! one begins about a beetle, but one ends Heaven knows where."
Riviere profited by this advice. He even improved on it. In due course he threw himself into Aubertin's way. He stopped the doctor reverentially, and said he had heard he was an entomologist. WOULD he be kind enough to tell him what was this enormous chrysalis he had just found?
"The death's head moth!" cried Aubertin with enthusiasm—"the death's head moth! a great rarity in this district. Where found you this?" Riviere undertook to show him the place.
It was half a league distant. Coming and going he had time to make friends with Aubertin, and this was the easier that the old gentleman, who was a physiognomist as well as ologist, had seen goodness and sensibility in Edouard's face. At the end of the walk he begged the doctor to accept the chrysalis. The doctor coquetted. "That would be a robbery. You take an interest in these things yourself—at least I hope so."
The young rogue confessed modestly to the sentiment of entomology, but "the government worked him so hard as to leave him no hopes of shining in so high a science," said he sorrowfully.
The doctor pitied him. "A young man of your attainments and tastes to be debarred from the everlasting secrets of nature, by the fleeting politics of the day."
Riviere shrugged his shoulders. "Somebody must do the dirty work," said he, chuckling inwardly.
The chrysalis went to Beaurepaire in the pocket of a grateful man, who that same evening told the whole party his conversation with young Riviere, on whom he pronounced high encomiums. Rose's saucy eyes sparkled with fun: you might have lighted a candle at one and exploded a mine at the other; but not a syllable did she utter.
The doctor proved a key, and opened the enchanted castle. One fine day he presented his friend in the Pleasaunce to the baroness and her daughters.
They received him with perfect politeness. Thus introduced, and as he was not one to let the grass grow under his feet, he soon obtained a footing as friend of the family, which, being now advised by Josephine, he took care not to compromise by making love to Rose before the baroness. However, he insisted on placing his financial talent at their service. He surveyed and valued their lands, and soon discovered that all their farms were grossly underlet. Luckily most of the leases were run out. He prepared a new rent roll, and showed it Aubertin, now his fast friend. Aubertin at his request obtained a list of the mortgages, and Edouard drew a balance-sheet founded on sure data, and proved to the baroness that in able hands the said estate was now solvent.
This was a great comfort to the old lady: and she said to Aubertin, "Heaven has sent us a champion, a little republican—with the face of an angel."
Descending to practice, Edouard actually put three of the farms into the market, and let them at an advance of twenty per cent on the expired leases. He brought these leases signed; and the baroness had scarcely done thanking him, when her other secret friend, Monsieur Perrin, was announced. Edouard exchanged civilities with him, and then retired to the Pleasaunce. There he found both sisters, who were all tenderness and gratitude to him. By this time he had learned to value Josephine: she was so lovely and so good, and such a true womanly friend to him. Even Rose could not resist her influence, and was obliged to be kind to him, when Josephine was by. But let Josephine go, and instead of her being more tender, as any other girl would, left alone with her lover, sauciness resumed its empire till sweet Josephine returned. Whereof cometh an example; for the said Josephine was summoned to a final conference with the baroness and Monsieur Perrin.
"Don't be long," said Rose, as Josephine glided away, and (taking the precaution to wait till she was quite out of hearing), "I shall be so dull, dear, till you come back."
"I shall not though," said Edouard.
"I am not so sure of that. Now then."
"Now then, what?"
"Amusing me." And she made herself look sullen and unamusable all over.
"I will try," said Riviere. "I'll tell you what they say of you: that you are too young to love."
"So I am, much."
"No, no, no! I made a mistake. I mean too young to be loved."
"Oh, I am not too young for that, not a bit."
This point settled, she suggested that, if he could not amuse her, he had better do THE NEXT BEST THING, and that was, talk sense.
"I think I had better not talk at all," said he, "for I am no match for such a nimble tongue. And then you are so remorseless. I'll hold my tongue, and make a sketch of this magnificent oak."
"Ay, do: draw it as it appeared on a late occasion: with two ladies flying out of it, and you rooted with dismay."
"There is no need; that scene is engraved."
"Where? in all the shops?"
"No; on all our memories."
"Not on mine; not on mine. How terrified you were—ha, ha! and how terrified we should have been if you had not. Listen: once upon a time—don't be alarmed: it was long after Noah—a frightened hare ran by a pond; the frogs splashed in the water, smit with awe. Then she said, 'Ah ha! there are people in the world I frighten in my turn; I am the thunderbolt of war.' Excuse my quoting La Fontaine: I am not in 'Charles the Twelfth of Sweden' yet. I am but a child."
"And it's a great mercy, for when you grow up, you will be too much for me, that is evident. Come, then, Mademoiselle the Quizzer, come and adorn my sketch."
"Monsieur, shall I make you a confession? You will not be angry: I could not support your displeasure. I have a strange inclination to walk up and down this terrace while you go and draw that tree in the Pleasaunce."
"Resist that inclination; perhaps it will fly from you."
"No; you fly from me, and draw. I will rejoin you in a few minutes."
"Thank you, I'm not so stupid. You will step indoors directly."
"Do you doubt my word, sir?" asked she haughtily.
He had learned to obey all her caprices; so he went and placed himself on the west side of the oak and took out his sketch-book, and worked zealously and rapidly. He had done the outlines of the tree and was finishing in detail a part of the huge trunk, when his eyes were suddenly dazzled: in the middle of the rugged bark, deformed here and there with great wart-like bosses, and wrinkled, seamed, and ploughed all over with age, burst a bit of variegated color; bright as a poppy on a dungeon wall, it glowed and glittered out through a large hole in the brown bark; it was Rose's face peeping. To our young lover's eye how divine it shone! None of the half tints of common flesh were there, but a thing all rose, lily, sapphire, and soul. His pencil dropped, his mouth opened, he was downright dazzled by the glowing, bewitching face, sparkling with fun, in the gaunt tree. Tell me, ladies, did she know, even at that age, the value of that sombre frame to her brightness? The moment she found herself detected, the gaunt old tree rang musical with a crystal laugh, and out came the arch-dryad. "I have been there all the time. How solemn you looked! Now for the result of such profound study." He showed her his work; she altered her tone. "Oh, how clever!" she cried, "and how rapid! What a facility you have! Monsieur is an artist," said she gravely; "I will be more respectful," and she dropped him a low courtesy. "Mind you promised it me," she added sharply.
"You will accept it, then?"
"That I will, now it is worth having: dear me, I never reckoned on that. Finish it directly," cried this peremptory young person.
"First I must trouble you to stand out there near the tree."
"Me? what for?"
"Because art loves contrasts. The tree is a picture of age and gradual decay; by its side then I must place a personification of youth and growing loveliness."
She did not answer, but made a sort of defiant pirouette, and went where she was bid, and stood there with her back to the artist. "That will never do," said he; "you really must be so good as to turn round."
"Oh, very well." And when she came round, behold her color had risen mightily. Flattery is sweet.
This child of nature was delighted, and ashamed it should be seen that she was.
And so he drew her, and kept looking off the paper at her, and had a right in his character of artist to look her full in the face; and he did so with long lingering glances. To be sure, they all began severe and businesslike with half-closed eyes, and the peculiar hostile expression art puts on; but then they always ended open-eyed, and so full and tender, that she, poor girl, who was all real gold, though sham brass, blushed and blushed, and did not know which way to look not to be scorched up by his eye like a tender flower, or blandly absorbed like the pearly dew. Ah, happy hour! ah, happy days of youth and innocence and first love!
Trouble loves to intrude on these halcyon days.
The usually quiet Josephine came flying from the house, pale and agitated, and clung despairingly to Rose, and then fell to sobbing and lamenting piteously.
I shall take leave to relate in my own words what had just occurred to agitate her so. When she entered her mother's room, she found the baroness and Perrin the notary seated watching for her. She sat down after the usual civilities, and Perrin entered upon the subject that had brought him.
He began by confessing to them that he had not overcome the refractory creditor without much trouble; and that he had since learned there was another, a larger creditor, likely to press for payment or for sale of the estate. The baroness was greatly troubled by this communication: the notary remained cool as a cucumber, and keenly observant. After a pause he went on to say all this had caused him grave reflections. "It seems," said he with cool candor, "a sad pity the estate should pass from a family that has held it since the days of Charlemagne."
"Now God forbid!" cried the baroness, lifting her eyes and her quivering hands to heaven.
The notary held the republican creed in all its branches. "Providence, madame, does not interfere—in matters of business," said he. "Nothing but money can save the estate. Let us then be practical. Has any means occurred to you of raising money to pay off these incumbrances?"
"No. What means can there be? The estate is mortgaged to its full value: so they say, at least."
"And they say true," put in the notary quickly. "But do not distress yourself, madame: confide in me."
"Ah, my good friend, may Heaven reward you."
"Madame, up to the present time I have no complaint to make of Heaven. I am on the rise: here, mademoiselle, is a gimcrack they have given me;" and he unbuttoned his overcoat, and showed them a piece of tricolored ribbon and a clasp. "As for me, I look to 'the solid;' I care little for these things," said he, swelling visibly, "but the world is dazzled by them. However, I can show you something better." He took out a letter. "This is from the Minister of the Interior to a client of mine: a promise I shall be the next prefect; and the present prefect—I am happy to say—is on his death-bed. Thus, madame, your humble servant in a few short months will be notary no longer, but prefect; I shall then sell my office of notary: and I flatter myself when I am a prefect you will not blush to own me."
"Then, as now, monsieur," said the baroness politely, "we shall recognize your merit. But"—
"I understand, madame: like me you look to 'the solid.' Thus then it is; I have money."
"Ah! all the better for you."
"I have a good deal of money. But it is dispersed in a great many small but profitable investments: to call it in suddenly would entail some loss. Nevertheless, if you and my young lady there have ever so little of that friendly feeling towards me of which I have so much towards you, all my investments shall be called in, and two-thirds of your creditors shall be paid off at once. A single client of mine, no less a man than the Commandant Raynal, will, I am sure, advance me the remaining third at an hour's notice; and so Beaurepaire chateau, park, estate, and grounds, down to the old oak-tree, shall be saved; and no power shall alienate them from you, mademoiselle, and from the heirs of your body."
The baroness clasped her hands in ecstasy.
"But what are we to do for this?" inquired Josephine calmly, "for it seems to me that it can only be effected by a sacrifice on your part."
"I thank you, mademoiselle, for your penetration in seeing that I must make sacrifices. I would never have told you, but you have seen it; and I do not regret that you have seen it. Madame—mademoiselle—those sacrifices appear little to me; will seem nothing; will never be mentioned, or even alluded to after this day, if you, on your part, will lay me under a far heavier obligation, if in short"—here the contemner of things unsubstantial reopened his coat, and brought his ribbon to light again—"if you, madame, will accept me for your son-in-law—if you, mademoiselle, will take me for your husband."
The baroness and her daughter looked at one another in silence.
"Is it a jest?" inquired the former of the latter.
"Can you think so? Answer Monsieur Perrin. He has just done us a kind office, mother."
"I shall remember it. Monsieur, permit me to regret that having lately won our gratitude and esteem, you have taken this way of modifying those feelings. But after all," she added with gentle courtesy, "we may well put your good deeds against this—this error in judgment. The balance is in your favor still, provided you never return to this topic. Come, is it agreed?" The baroness's manner was full of tact, and the latter sentences were said with an open kindliness of manner. There was nothing to prevent Perrin from dropping the subject, and remaining good friends. A gentleman or a lover would have so done. Monsieur Perrin was neither. He said bitterly, "You refuse me, then."
The tone and the words were each singly too much for the baroness's pride. She answered coldly but civilly,—
"I do not refuse you. I do not take an affront into consideration."
"Be calm, mamma; no affront whatever was intended."
"Ah! here is one that is more reasonable," cried Perrin.
"There are men," continued Josephine without noticing him, "who look to but one thing—interest. It was an offer made politely in the way of business: decline it in the same spirit; that is what you have to do."
"Monsieur, you hear what mademoiselle says? She carries politeness a long way. After all it is a good fault. Well, monsieur, I need not answer you, since Mademoiselle de Beaurepaire has answered you; but I detain you no longer."
Strictly a weasel has no business with the temper of a tiger, but this one had, and the long vindictiveness of a Corsican. "Ah! my little lady, you turn me out of the house, do you?" cried he, grinding his teeth.
"Turn him out of the house? what a phrase! where has this man lived?"
"A man!" snarled Perrin, "whom none ever yet insulted without repenting it, and repenting in vain. You are under obligations to me, and you think to turn me out! You are at my mercy, and you think I will let you turn me to your door! In less than a mouth I will stand here, and say to you, Beaurepaire is mine. Begone from it!"
When he uttered these terrible words, each of which was like a sword-stroke to the baroness, the old lady, whose courage was not equal to her strength, shrank over the side of her arm-chair, and cried piteously—"He threatens me! he threatens me! I am frightened;" and put up her trembling hands, for the notary's eloquence, being accompanied with abundance of gesture, bordered upon physical violence. His brutality received an unexpected check. Imagine that a sparrow-hawk had seized a trembling pigeon, and that a royal falcon swooped, and with one lightning-like stroke of body and wing, buffeted him away, and sent him gaping and glaring and grasping at pigeonless air with his claws. So swift and majestic, Josephine de Beaurepaire came from her chair with one gesture of her body between her mother and the notary, who was advancing with arms folded in a brutal, menacing way—not the Josephine we have seen her, the calm languid beauty, but the demoiselle de Beaurepaire—her great heart on fire—her blood up—not her own only, but all the blood of all the De Beaurepaires—pale as ashes with great wrath, her purple eyes on fire, and her whole panther-like body full of spring. "Wretch! you dare to insult her, and before me! Arriere miserable! or I soil my hand with your face." And her hand was up with the word, up, up, higher it seemed than ever a hand was raised before. And if he had hesitated one moment, I really believe it would have come down; not heavily, perhaps—the lightning is not heavy. But there was no need. The towering threat and the flaming eye and the swift rush buffeted the caitiff away: he recoiled. She followed him as he went, strong, FOR A MOMENT OR TWO, as Hercules, beautiful and terrible as Michael driving Satan. He dared not, or could not stand before her: he writhed and cowered and recoiled all down the room, while she marched upon him. But the driven serpent hissed horribly as it wriggled away.
"You shall both be turned out of Beaurepaire by me, and forever; I swear it, parole de Perrin."
He had not been gone a minute when Josephine's courage oozed away, and she ran, or rather tottered, into the Pleasaunce, and clung like a drowning thing to Rose, and, when Edouard took her hand, she clung to him. They had to gather what had happened how they could: the account was constantly interrupted with her sobs and self-reproaches. She said she had ruined all she loved: ruined her sister, ruined her mother, ruined the house of Beaurepaire. Why was she ever born? Why had she not died three years ago? (Query, what was the date at which Camille's letters suddenly stopped?) "That coward," said she, "has the heart of a fiend. He told us he never forgave an affront; and he holds our fate in his hands. He will drive our mother from her home, and she will die: murdered by her own daughter. After all, why did I refuse him? What should I have sacrificed by marrying him? Rose, write to him, and say—say—I was taken by surprise, I—I"—a violent flood of tears interrupted the sentence.
Rose flung her arms round her neck. "My beautiful Josephine marry that creature? Let house and lands go a thousand times sooner. I love my sister a thousand times better than the walls of this or any other house."
"Come, come," cried Edouard, "you are forgetting ME all this time. Do you really think I am the sort of man to stand by with my hands in my pockets, and let her marry that cur, or you be driven out of Beaurepaire? Neither, while I live."
"Alas! dear boy," sighed Josephine, "what can you do?"
"I'll soon show you. From this hour forth it is a duel between that Perrin and me. Now, Josephine—Rose—don't you cry and fret like that: but just look quietly on, and enjoy the fight, both of you."
Josephine shook her head with a sad smile: but Rose delivered herself thus, after a sob, "La, yes; I forgot: we have got a gentleman now; that's one comfort."
Edouard rose to the situation: he saw that Perrin would lose no time; and that every day, or even hour, might be precious. He told them that the first thing he must do for them was to leave the company he loved best on earth, and run down to the town to consult Picard the rival notary: he would be back by supper-time, when he hoped they would do him the honor, in a matter of such importance, to admit him to a family council.
Josephine assented with perfect simplicity; Rose with a deep blush, for she was too quick not to see all the consequences of admitting so brisk a wooer into a family council.
It was a wet evening, and a sad and silent party sat round a wood fire in the great dining-hall. The baroness was almost prostrated by the scene with Perrin; and a sombre melancholy and foreboding weighed on all their spirits, when presently Edouard Riviere entered briskly, and saluted them all profoundly, and opened the proceedings with a little favorite pomposity. "Madame the baroness, and you Monsieur Aubertin, who honor me with your esteem, and you Mademoiselle de Beaurepaire, whom I adore, and you Mademoiselle Rose, whom I hoped to be permitted—you have this day done me the honor to admit me as your adviser. I am here to lay my plans before you. I believe, madame, I have already convinced you that your farms are under-let, and your property lowered in value by general mismanagement; this was doubtless known to Perrin, and set him scheming. Well, I rely on the same circumstance to defeat him. I have consulted Picard and shown him the rent-roll and balance-sheet I had already shown you. He has confessed that the estate is worth more than its debts, so capitalists can safely advance the money. To-morrow morning, then, I ride to Commandant Raynal for a week's leave of absence; then, armed with Picard's certificate, shall proceed to my uncle and ask him to lend the money. His estate is very small compared with Beaurepaire, but he has always farmed it himself. 'I'll have no go-between,' says he, 'to impoverish both self and soil.' He is also a bit of a misanthrope, and has made me one. I have a very poor opinion of my fellow-creatures, very."
"Well, but," said Rose, "if he is all that, he will not sympathize with us, who have so mismanaged Beaurepaire. Will he not despise us?"
Edouard was a little staggered, but Aubertin came to his aid.
"Permit me, Josephine," said he. "Natural history steps in here, and teaches by me, its mouth-piece. A misanthrope hates all mankind, but is kind to every individual, generally too kind. A philanthrope loves the whole human race, but dislikes his wife, his mother, his brother, and his friends and acquaintances. Misanthrope is the potato: rough and repulsive outside, but good to the core. Philanthrope is a peach: his manner all velvet and bloom, his words sweet juice, his heart of hearts a stone. Let me read Philanthrope's book, and fall into the hands of Misanthrope."
Edouard admitted the shrewdness of this remark.
"And so," said he, "my misanthrope will say plenty of biting words,—which, by-the-by, will not hurt you, who will not hear them, only me,—and then he'll lend us the money, and Beaurepaire will be free, and I shall have had a hand in it. Hurrah!"
Then came a delicious hour to Edouard Riviere. Young and old poured out their glowing thanks and praises upon him till his checks burned like fire.
The baroness was especially grateful, and expressed a gentle regret that she could see no way of showing her gratitude except in words. "What can we do for this little angel?" said she, turning to Josephine.
"Leave that to me, mamma," replied Josephine, turning her lovely eyes full on Edouard, with a look the baroness misunderstood directly.
She sat and watched Josephine and Edouard with comical severity all the rest of the time she was there; and, when she retired, she kissed Rose affectionately, but whispered her eldest daughter, "I hope you are not serious. A mere boy compared with you."
"But such a sweet one," suggested Josephine, apologetically.
"What will the world come to?" said the baroness out loud, and retreated with a sour glance at all of them—except Rose.
She had not been gone five minutes when a letter came by messenger to Edouard. It was from Picard. He read it out.
"Perrin has been with me, to raise money. He wants it in forty-eight hours. Promises good legal security. I have agreed to try and arrange the matter for him."
They were all astonished at this.
"The double-faced traitor!" cried Edouard. "Stay; wait a minute. Let us read it to an end."
"This promise is, of course, merely to prevent his going elsewhere. At the end of the forty-eight hours I shall begin to make difficulties. Meantime, as Perrin is no fool, you had better profit to the full by this temporary delay."
"Well done, Picard!" shouted Edouard. "Notary cut notary. I won't lose an hour. I'll start at five; Commandant Raynal is an early riser himself."
Accordingly, at five he was on the road; Raynal's quarters lay in the direct line to his uncle's place. He found the commandant at home, and was well received. Raynal had observed his zeal, and liked his manners. He gave him the week's leave, and kept him to breakfast, and had his horse well fed. At eight o'clock Edouard rode out of the premises in high spirits. At the very gate he met a gaunt figure riding in on a squab pony. It was Perrin the notary coming in hot haste to his friend and employer, Commandant Raynal.