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- WHITE LIES - 10/77 -
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.
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