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- WHITE LIES - 20/77 -
"Do I know Beaurepaire?"
And the pale youth turned very red; and stared with awe at this wizard of a commandant. He thought he was going to be called over the coals for frequenting a disaffected family. "Well," said Raynal, "I have been and bought this Beaurepaire."
Edouard uttered a loud exclamation. "It was YOU bought it! she never told me that."
"Yes," said Raynal, "I am the culprit; and we have fixed on you to undo my work without hurting their pride too much, poor souls; but let us begin with the facts."
Then Raynal told him my story after his fashion. Of course I shall not go and print his version; you might like his concise way better than my verbose; and I'm not here to hold up any man's coat-tails. Short as he made it, Edouard's eyes were moist more than once; and at the end he caught Raynal's hand and kissed it. Then he asked time to reflect; "for," said he, "I must try and be just."
"I'll give you an hour," said Raynal, with an air of grand munificence. The only treasure he valued was time.
In less than an hour Edouard had solved the knot, to his entire satisfaction; he even gave the commandant particular instructions for carrying out his sovereign decree. Raynal received these orders from his subordinate with that simplicity which formed part of his amazing character, and rode home relieved of all responsibility in the matter.
COMMANDANT RAYNAL TO MADEMOISELLE DE BEAUREPAIRE.
Mademoiselle,--Before I could find time to write to our referee, news came in that he had just broken his arm;--
"Oh! oh, dear! our poor Edouard!"
And if poor Edouard had seen the pale faces, and heard the faltering accents, it would have reconciled him to his broken arm almost. This hand-grenade the commandant had dropped so coolly among them, it was a long while ere they could recover from it enough to read the rest of the letter,--
so I rode over to him, and found him on his back, fretting for want of something to do. I told him the whole story. He undertook the business. I have received his instructions, and next week shall be at his quarters to clear off his arrears of business, and make acquaintance with all your family, if they permit.
As the latter part of this letter seemed to require a reply, the baroness wrote a polite note, and Jacintha sent Dard to leave it for the commandant at Riviere's lodgings. But first they all sat down and wrote kind and pitying and soothing letters to Edouard. Need I say these letters fell upon him like balm?
They all inquired carelessly in their postscripts what he had decided as their referee. He replied mysteriously that they would know that in a week or two. Meantime, all he thought it prudent to tell them was that he had endeavored to be just to both parties.
"Little solemn puppy," said Rose, and was racked with curiosity.
Next week Raynal called on the baroness. She received him alone. They talked about Madame Raynal. The next day he dined with the whole party, and the commandant's manners were the opposite of what the baroness had inculcated. But she had a strong prejudice in his favor. Had her feelings been the other way his brusquerie would have shocked her. It amused her. If people's hearts are with you, THAT for their heads!
He came every day for a week, chatted with the baroness, walked with the young ladies; and when after work he came over in the evening, Rose used to cross-examine him, and out came such descriptions of battles and sieges, such heroism and such simplicity mixed, as made the evening pass delightfully. On these occasions the young ladies fixed their glowing eyes on him, and drank in his character as well as his narrative, in which were fewer "I's" than in anything of the sort you ever read or heard.
At length Rose contrived to draw him aside, and, hiding her curiosity under feigned nonchalance, asked him what the referee had decided. He told her that was a secret for the present.
"Well, but," said Rose, "not from me. Edouard and I have no secrets."
"Come, that's good," said Raynal. "Why, you are the very one he warned me against the most; said you were as curious as Mother Eve, and as sharp as her needle."
"Then he is a little scurrilous traitor," cried Rose, turning very red. "So that is how he talks of me behind my back, and calls me an angel to my face; I'll pay him for this. Do tell me, commandant; never mind what HE says."
"What! disobey orders?"
"Orders? to you from that boy!"
"Oh!" said Raynal, "for that matter, we soldiers are used to command one moment, and obey the next."
In a word, this military pedant was impracticable, and Rose gave him up in disgust, and began to call up a sulky look when the other two sang his praises. For the old lady pronounced him charming, and Josephine said he was a man of crystal; never said a word he did not mean, and she wished she was like him. But the baroness thought this was going a little too far.
"No, thank you," said she hastily; "he is a man, a thorough man. He would make an intolerable woman. A fine life if one had a parcel of women about, all blurting out their real minds every moment, and never smoothing matters."
"Mamma, what a horrid picture!" chuckled Rose.
She then proposed that at his next visit they should all three make an earnest appeal to him to let them know what Edouard had decided.
But Josephine begged to be excused, feared it would be hardly delicate; and said languidly that for her part she felt they were in good hands, and prescribed patience. The baroness acquiesced, and poor Rose and her curiosity were baffled on every side.
At last, one fine day, her torments were relieved without any further exertion on her part. Jacintha bounced into the drawing- room with a notice that the commandant wanted to speak to Josephine a minute out in the Pleasaunce.
"How droll he is," said Rose; "fancy sending in for a young lady like that. Don't go, Josephine; how, he would stare."
"My dear, I no more dare disobey him than if I was one of his soldiers." And she laid down her work, and rose quietly to do what she was bid.
"Well," said Rose, superciliously, "go to your commanding officer. And, O Josephine, if you are worth anything at all, do get out of him what that Edouard has settled."
Josephine kissed her, and promised to try. After the first salutation, there was a certain hesitation about Raynal which Josephine had never seen a trace of in him before; so, to put him at his ease, and at the same time keep her promise to Rose, she asked timidly if their mutual friend had been able to suggest anything.
"What! don't you know that I have been acting all along upon his instructions?" answered Raynal.
"No, indeed! and you have not told us what he advised."
"Told you? why, of course not; they were secret instructions. I have obeyed one set, and now I come to the other; and there is the difficulty, being a kind of warfare I know nothing about."
"It must be savage warfare, then," suggested the lady politely.
"Not a bit of it. Now, who would have thought I was such a coward?"
Josephine was mystified; however, she made a shrewd guess. "Do you fear a repulse from any one of us? Then, I suppose, you meditate some extravagant act of generosity."
"Of delicacy, then."
"Just the reverse. Confound the young dog! why is he not here to help me?"
"But, after all," suggested Josephine, "you have only to carry out his instructions."
"That is true! that is true! but when a fellow is a coward, a poltroon, and all that sort of thing."
This repeated assertion of cowardice on the part of the living Damascus blade that stood bolt-upright before her, struck Josephine as so funny that she laughed merrily, and bade him fancy it was only a fort he was attacking instead of the terrible Josephine; whom none but heroes feared, she assured him.
This encouragement, uttered in jest, was taken in earnest. The soldier thanked her, and rallied visibly at the comparison. "All right," said he, "as you say, it is only a fort--so--mademoiselle!"
"Hum! will you lend me your hand for a moment?"
"My hand! what for? there," and she put it out an inch a minute. He took it, and inspected it closely.
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