eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER XVII.


Edouard Riviere contrived one Saturday to work off all arrears of
business, and start for Beaurepaire. He had received a very kind
letter from Rose, and his longing to see her overpowered him. On
the road his eyes often glittered, and his cheek flushed with
expectation. At last he got there. His heart beat: for four months
he had not seen her. He ran up into the drawing-room, and there
found the baroness alone; she welcomed him cordially, but soon let
him know Rose and her sister were at Frejus. His heart sank.
Frejus was a long way off. But this was not all. Rose's last
letter was dated from Beaurepaire, yet it must have been written at
Frejus. He went to Jacintha, and demanded an explanation of this.
The ready Jacintha said it looked as if she meant to be home
directly; and added, with cool cunning, "That is a hint for me to
get their rooms ready."

"This letter must have come here enclosed in another," said Edouard,
sternly.

"Like enough," replied Jacintha, with an appearance of sovereign
indifference.

Edouard looked at her, and said, grimly, "I will go to Frejus."

"So I would," said Jacintha, faltering a little, but not
perceptibly; "you might meet them on the road, if so be they come
the same road; there are two roads, you know."

Edouard hesitated; but he ended by sending Dard to the town on his
own horse, with orders to leave him at the inn, and borrow a fresh
horse. "I shall just have time," said he. He rode to Frejus, and
inquired at the inns and post-office for Mademoiselle de
Beaurepaire. They did not know her; then he inquired for Madame
Raynal. No such name known. He rode by the seaside upon the chance
of their seeing him. He paraded on horseback throughout the place,
in hopes every moment that a window would open, and a fair face
shine at it, and call him. At last his time was up, and he was
obliged to ride back, sick at heart, to Beaurepaire. He told the
baroness, with some natural irritation, what had happened. She was
as much surprised as he was.

"I write to Madame Raynal at the post-office, Frejus," said she.

"And Madame Raynal gets your letters?"

"Of course she does, since she answers them; you cannot have
inquired at the post."

"Why, it was the first place I inquired at, and neither Mademoiselle
de Beaurepaire nor Madame Raynal were known there."

Jacintha, who could have given the clew, seemed so puzzled herself,
that they did not even apply to her. Edouard took a sorrowful leave
of the baroness, and set out on his journey home.

Oh! how sad and weary that ride seemed now by what it had been
coming. His disappointment was deep and irritating; and ere he had
ridden half way a torturer fastened on his heart. That torture is
suspicion; a vague and shadowy, but gigantic phantom that oppresses
and rends the mind more terribly than certainty. In this state of
vague, sickening suspicion, he remained some days: then came an
affectionate letter from Rose, who had actually returned home. In
this she expressed her regret and disappointment at having missed
him; blamed herself for misleading him, but explained that their
stay at Frejus had been prolonged from day to day far beyond her
expectation. "The stupidity of the post-office was more than she
could account for," said she. But, what went farthest to console
Edouard, was, that after this contretemps she never ceased to invite
him to come to Beaurepaire. Now, before this, though she said many
kind and pretty things in her letters, she had never invited him to
visit the chateau; he had noticed this. "Sweet soul," thought he,
"she really is vexed. I must be a brute to think any more about it.
Still"--

So this wound was skinned over.

At last, what he called his lucky star ordained that he should be
transferred to the very post his Commandant Raynal had once
occupied. He sought and obtained permission to fix his quarters in
the little village near Beaurepaire, and though this plan could not
be carried out for three months, yet the prospect of it was joyful
all that time--joyful to both lovers. Rose needed this consolation,
for she was very unhappy: her beloved sister, since their return
from Frejus, had gone back. The flush of health was faded, and so
was her late energy. She fell into deep depression and languor,
broken occasionally by fits of nervous irritation.

She would sit for hours together at one window languishing and
fretting. Can the female reader guess which way that window looked?

Now, Edouard was a favorite of Josephine's; so Rose hoped he would
help to distract her attention from those sorrows which a lapse of
years alone could cure.

On every account, then, his visit was looked forward to with hope
and joy.

He came. He was received with open arms. He took up his quarters
at his old lodgings, but spent his evenings and every leisure hour
at the chateau.

He was very much in love, and showed it. He adhered to Rose like a
leech, and followed her about like a little dog.

This would have made her very happy if there had been nothing great
to distract her attention and her heart; but she had Josephine,
whose deep depression and fits of irritation and terror filled her
with anxiety; and so Edouard was in the way now and then. On these
occasions he was too vain to see what she was too polite to show him
offensively.

But on this she became vexed at his obtuseness.

"Does he think I can be always at his beck and call?" thought she.

"She is always after her sister," said he.

He was just beginning to be jealous of Josephine when the following
incident occurred:--

Rose and the doctor were discussing Josephine. Edouard pretended to
be reading a book, but he listened to every word.

Dr. Aubertin gave it as his opinion that Madame Raynal did not make
enough blood.

"Oh! if I thought that!" cried Rose.

"Well, then, it is so, I assure you."

"Doctor," said Rose, "do you remember, one day you said healthy
blood could be drawn from robust veins and poured into a sick
person's?"

"It is a well-known fact," said Aubertin.

"I don't believe it," said Rose, dryly.

"Then you place a very narrow limit to science," said the doctor,
coldly.

"Did you ever see it done?" asked Rose, slyly.

"I have not only seen it done, but have done it myself."

"Then do it for us. There's my arm; take blood from that for dear
Josephine!" and she thrust a white arm out under his eye with such a
bold movement and such a look of fire and love as never beamed from
common eyes.

A keen, cold pang shot through the human heart of Edouard Riviere.

The doctor started and gazed at her with admiration: then he hung
his head. "I could not do it. I love you both too well to drain
either of life's current."

Rose veiled her fire, and began to coax. "Once a week; just once a
week, dear, dear doctor; you know I should never miss it. I am so
full of that health, which Heaven denies to her I love."

"Let us try milder measures first," said the doctor. "I have most
faith in time."

"What if I were to take her to Frejus? hitherto, the sea has always
done wonders for her."

"Frejus, by all means," said Edouard, mingling suddenly in the
conversation; "and this time I will go with you, and then I shall
find out where you lodged before, and how the boobies came to say
they did not know you."

Rose bit her lip. She could not help seeing then how much dear
Edouard was in her way and Josephine's. Their best friends are in
the way of all who have secrets. Presently the doctor went to his
study. Then Edouard let fall a mock soliloquy. "I wonder," said
he, dropping out his words one by one, "whether any one will ever
love me well enough to give a drop of their blood for me."

"If you were in sickness and sorrow, who knows?" said Rose, coloring
up.

"I would soon be in sickness and sorrow if I thought that."

"Don't jest with such matters, monsieur."

"I am serious. I wish I was as ill as Madame Raynal is, to be loved
as she is."

"You must resemble her in some other things to be loved as she is.

"You have often made me feel that of late, dear Rose."

This touched her. But she fought down the kindly feeling. "I am
glad of it," said she, out of perverseness. She added after a
while, "Edouard, you are naturally jealous."

"Not the least in the world, Rose, I assure you. I have many
faults, but jealous I am not."

"Oh, yes, you are, and suspicious, too; there is something in your
character that alarms me for our happiness."

"Well, if you come to that, there are things in YOUR conduct I could
wish explained."

"There! I said so. You have not confidence in me."

"Pray don't say that, dear Rose. I have every confidence in you;
only please don't ask me to divest myself of my senses and my
reason."

"I don't ask you to do that or anything else for me; good-by, for
the present."

"Where are you going now? tic! tic! I never can get a word in peace
with you."

"I am not going to commit murder. I'm only going up-stairs to my
sister."

"Poor Madame Raynal, she makes it very hard for me not to dislike
her."

"Dislike my Josephine?" and Rose bristled visibly.

"She is an angel, but I should hate an angel if it came forever
between you and me."

"Excuse me, she was here long before you. It is you that came
between her and me."

"I came because I was told I should be welcome," said Edouard
bitterly, and equivocating a little; he added, "and I dare say I
shall go when I am told I am one too many."

"Bad heart! who says you are one too many in the house? But you are
too exigent, monsieur; you assume the husband, and you tease me. It
is selfish; can you not see I am anxious and worried? you ought to
be kind to me, and soothe me; that is what I look for from you, and,
instead of that, I declare you are getting to be quite a worry."

"I should not be if you loved me as I love you. I give YOU no
rival. Shall I tell you the cause of all this? you have secrets."

"What secrets?"

"Is it me you ask? am I trusted with them? Secrets are a bond that
not even love can overcome. It is to talk secrets you run away from
me to Madame Raynal. Where did you lodge at Frejus, Mademoiselle
the Reticent?"

"In a grotto, dry at low water, Monsieur the Inquisitive."

"That is enough: since you will not tell me, I will find it out
before I am a week older."

This alarmed Rose terribly, and drove her to extremities. She
decided to quarrel.

"Sir," said she, "I thank you for playing the tyrant a little
prematurely; it has put me on my guard. Let us part; you and I are
not suited to each other, Edouard Riviere."

He took this more humbly than she expected. "Part!" said he, in
consternation; "that is a terrible word to pass between you and me.
Forgive me! I suppose I am jealous."

"You are; you are actually jealous of my sister. Well, I tell you
plainly I love you, but I love my sister better. I never could love
any man as I do her; it is ridiculous to expect such a thing."

"And do you think I could bear to play second fiddle to her all my
life?"

"I don't ask you. Go and play first trumpet to some other lady."

"You speak your wishes so plainly now, I have nothing to do but to
obey."

He kissed her hand and went away disconsolately.

Rose, instead of going to Josephine, her determination to do which
had mainly caused the quarrel, sat sadly down, and leaned her head
on her hand. "I am cruel. I am ungrateful. He has gone away
broken-hearted. And what shall I do without him?--little fool! I
love him better than he loves me. He will never forgive me. I have
wounded his vanity; and they are vainer than we are. If we meet at
dinner I will be so kind to him, he will forget it all. No! Edouard
will not come to dinner. He is not a spaniel that you can beat, and
then whistle back again. Something tells me I have lost him, and if
I have, what shall I do? I will write him a note. I will ask him
to forgive me."

She sat down at the table, and took a sheet of notepaper and began
to write a few conciliatory words. She was so occupied in making
these kind enough, and not too kind, that a light step approached
her unobserved. She looked up and there was Edouard. She whipped
the paper off the table.

A look of suspicion and misery crossed Edouard's face.

Rose caught it, and said, "Well, am I to be affronted any more?"

"No, Rose. I came back to beg you to forget what passed just now,"
said he.

Rose's eye flashed; his return showed her her power. She abused it
directly.

"How can I forget it if you come reminding me?"

"Dear Rose, now don't be so unkind, so cruel--I have not come back
to tease you, sweet one. I come to know what I can do to please
you; to make you love me again?" and he was about to kneel
graciously on one knee.

"I'll tell you. Don't come near me for a month."

Edouard started up, white as ashes with mortification and wounded
love.

"This is how you treat me for humbling myself, when it is you that
ought to ask forgiveness."

"Why should I ask what I don't care about?"

"What DO you care about?--except that sister of yours? You have no
heart. And on this cold-blooded creature I have wasted a love an
empress might have been proud of inspiring. I pray Heaven some man
may sport with your affections, you heartless creature, as you have
played with mine, and make you suffer what I suffer now!"

And with a burst of inarticulate grief and rage he flung out of the
room.

Rose sank trembling on the sofa a little while: then with a mighty
effort rose and went to comfort her sister.

Edouard came no more to Beaurepaire.


There is an old French proverb, and a wise one, "Rien n'est certain
que l'imprevu;" it means you can make sure of nothing but this, that
matters will not turn as you feel sure they will. And, even for
this reason, you, who are thinking of suicide because trade is
declining, speculation failing, bankruptcy impending, or your life
going to be blighted forever by unrequited love--DON'T DO IT.
Whether you are English, American, French, or German, listen to a
man that knows what is what, and DON'T DO IT. I tell you none of
those horrors, when they really come, will affect you as you fancy
they will. The joys we expect are not a quarter so bright, nor the
troubles half so dark as we think they will be. Bankruptcy coming
is one thing, come is quite another: and no heart or life was ever
really blighted at twenty years of age. The love-sick girls that
are picked out of the canal alive, all, without exception, marry
another man, have brats, and get to screech with laughter when they
think of sweetheart No. 1, generally a blockhead, or else a
blackguard, whom they were fools enough to wet their clothes for,
let alone kill their souls. This happens INVARIABLY. The love-sick
girls that are picked out of the canal dead have fled from a year's
misery to eternal pain, from grief that time never failed to cure,
to anguish incurable. In this world "Rien n'est certain que
l'imprevu."

Edouard and Rose were tender lovers, at a distance. How much
happier and more loving they thought they should be beneath the same
roof. They came together: their prominent faults of character
rubbed: the secret that was in the house did its work: and
altogether, they quarrelled. L'imprevu.

Dard had been saying to Jacintha for ever so long, "When granny
dies, I will marry you."

Granny died. Dard took possession of her little property. Up came
a glittering official, and turned him out; he was not her heir.
Perrin, the notary, was. He had bought the inheritance of her two
sons, long since dead.

Dard had not only looked on the cottage and cow, as his, but had
spoken of them as such for years. The disappointment and the irony
of comrades ate into him.

"I will leave this cursed place," said he.

Josephine instantly sent for him to Beaurepaire. He came, and was
factotum with the novelty of a fixed salary. Jacintha accommodated
him with a new little odd job or two. She set him to dance on the
oak floors with a brush fastened to his right foot; and, after a
rehearsal or two, she made him wait at table. Didn't he bang the
things about: and when he brought a lady a dish, and she did not
instantly attend, he gave her elbow a poke to attract attention:
then she squeaked; and he grinned at her double absurdity in minding
a touch, and not minding the real business of the table.

But his wrongs rankled in him. He vented antique phrases such as,
"I want a change;" "This village is the last place the Almighty
made," etc.

Then he was attacked with a moral disease: affected the company of
soldiers. He spent his weekly salary carousing with the military, a
class of men so brilliant that they are not expected to pay for
their share of the drink; they contribute the anecdotes and the
familiar appeals to Heaven: and is not that enough?

Present at many recitals, the heroes of which lost nothing by being
their own historians, Dard imbibed a taste for military adventure.
His very talk, which used to be so homely, began now to be tinselled
with big swelling words of vanity imported from the army. I need
hardly say these bombastical phrases did not elevate his general
dialect: they lay fearfully distinct upon the surface, "like lumps
of marl upon a barren soil, encumbering the ground they could not
fertilize."

Jacintha took leave to remind him of an incident connected with
warfare--wounds.

"Do you remember how you were down upon your luck when you did but
cut your foot? Why, that is nothing in the army. They never go out
to fight but some come back with arms off, and some with legs off
and some with heads; and the rest don't come back at all: and how
would you like that?"

This intrusion of statistics into warfare at first cooled Dard's
impatience for the field. But presently the fighting half of his
heart received an ally in one Sergeant La Croix (not a bad name for
a military aspirant). This sergeant was at the village waiting to
march with the new recruits to the Rhine. Sergeant La Croix was a
man who, by force of eloquence, could make soldiering appear the
most delightful as well as glorious of human pursuits. His tongue
fired the inexperienced soul with a love of arms, as do the drums
and trumpets and tramp of soldiers, and their bayonets glittering in
the sun. He would have been worth his weight in fustian here, where
we recruit by that and jargon; he was superfluous in France, where
they recruited by force: but he was ornamental: and he set Dard and
one or two more on fire. Indeed, so absorbing was his sense of
military glory, that there was no room left in him for that mere
verbal honor civilians call veracity.

To speak plainly, the sergeant was a fluent, fertile, interesting,
sonorous, prompt, audacious liar: and such was his success, that
Dard and one or two more became mere human fiction pipes--of
comparatively small diameter--irrigating a rural district with false
views of military life, derived from that inexhaustible reservoir,
La Croix.

At last the long-threatened conscription was levied: every person
fit to bear arms, and not coming under the allowed exceptions, drew
a number: and at a certain hour the numbers corresponding to these
were deposited in an urn, and one-third of them were drawn in
presence of the authorities. Those men whose numbers were drawn had
to go for soldiers. Jacintha awaited the result in great anxiety.
She could not sit at home for it; so she went down the road to meet
Dard, who had promised to come and tell her the result as soon as
known. At last she saw him approaching in a disconsolate way. "O
Dard! speak! are we undone? are you a dead man?" cried she. "Have
they made a soldier of you?"

"No such luck: I shall die a man of all work," grunted Dard.

"And you are sorry? you unnatural little monster! you have no
feeling for me, then."

"Oh, yes, I have; but glory is No. 1 with me now."

"How loud the bantams crow! You leave glory to fools that be six
feet high."

"General Bonaparte isn't much higher than I am, and glory sits upon
his brow. Why shouldn't glory sit upon my brow?"

"Because it would weigh you down, and smother you, you little fool."
She added, "And think of me, that couldn't bear you to be killed at
any price, glory or no glory."

Then, to appease her fears, Dard showed her his number, 99; and
assured her he had seen the last number in the functionary's hand
before he came away, and it was sixty something.

This ocular demonstration satisfied Jacintha; and she ordered Dard
to help her draw the water.

"All right," said he, "there is no immortal glory to be picked up
to-day, so I'll go in for odd jobs."

While they were at this job a voice was heard hallooing. Dard
looked up, and there was a rigid military figure, with a tremendous
mustache, peering about. Dard was overjoyed. It was his friend,
his boon-companion. "Come here, old fellow," cried he, "ain't I
glad to see you, that is all?" La Croix marched towards the pair.
"What are you skulking here for, recruit ninety-nine?" said he,
sternly, dropping the boon-companion in the sergeant; "the rest are
on the road."

"The rest, old fellow! what do you mean? why, I was not drawn."

"Yes, you were."

"No, I wasn't."

"Thunder of war, but I say you were. Yours was the last number."

"That is an unlucky guess of yours, for I saw the last number. Look
here," and he fumbled in his pocket, and produced his number.

La Croix instantly fished out a corresponding number.

"Well, and here you are; this was the last number drawn."

Dard burst out laughing.

"You goose!" said he, "that is sixty-six--look at it."

"Sixty-six!" roared the sergeant; "no more than yours is--they are
both sixty-sixes when you play tricks with them, and turn them up
like that; but they are both ninety-nines when you look at them
fair."

Dard scratched his head.

"Come," said the corporal, briskly, "make up his bundle, girl, and
let us be off; we have got our marching orders; going to the Rhine."

"And do you think that I will let him go?" screamed Jacintha. "No!
I will say one word to Madame Raynal, and she will buy him a
substitute directly."

Dard stopped her sullenly. "No! I have told all in the village that
I would go the first chance: it is come, and I'll go. I won't stay
to be laughed at about this too. If I was sure to be cut in pieces,
I'd go. Give over blubbering, girl, and get us a bottle of the best
wine, and while we are drinking it, the sergeant and I, you make up
my bundle. I shall never do any good here."

Jacintha knew the obstinate toad. She did as she was bid, and soon
the little bundle was ready, and the two men faced the wine; La
Croix, radiant and bellicose; Dard, crestfallen but dogged (for
there was a little bit of good stuff at the bottom of the creature);
and Jacintha rocking herself, with her apron over her head.

"I'll give you a toast," said La Croix. "Here's gunpowder."

Jacintha promptly honored the toast with a flood of tears.

"Drop that, Jacintha," said Dard, angrily; "do you think that is
encouraging? Sergeant, I told this poor girl all about glory before
you came, but she was not ripe for it: say something to cheer her
up, for I can't."

"I can," cried this trumpet of battle, emptying its glass.
"Attention, young woman."

"Oh, dear! oh, dear! yes, sir."

"A French soldier is a man who carries France in his heart"--

"But if the cruel foreign soldiers kill him? Oh!"

"Why, in that case, he does not care a straw. Every man must die;
horses likewise, and dogs, and donkeys, when they come to the end of
their troubles; but dogs and donkeys and chaps in blouses can't die
gloriously; as Dard may, if he has any luck at all: so, from this
hour, if there was twice as little of him, be proud of him, for from
this time he is a part of France and her renown. Come, recruit
ninety-nine, shoulder your traps at duty's call, and let us go forth
in form. Attention! Quick--march! Halt! is that the way I showed
you to march? Didn't I tell you to start from the left? Now try
again. QUICK--march! left--right--left--right--left--right--NOW
you've--GOT it--DRAT ye,--KEEP it--left--right--left--right--left--
right." And with no more ado the sergeant marched the little odd-
job man to the wars.

VIVE LA FRANCE!





White Lies by Charles Reade
Category:
English Literature
Nabou.com: the big site