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- WHITE LIES - 4/77 -
"These Beaurepaire aristocrats," said he, with his hard peasant good-sense, "are neither the one thing nor the other; they cannot keep up nobility, they have not the means; they will not come down off their perch, they have not the sense. No, for as small as they are, they must look and talk as big as ever. They can only afford one servant, and I don't believe they pay her; but they must be attended on just as obsequious as when they had a dozen. And this is fatal to all us little people that have the misfortune to be connected with them."
"Why, how are you connected with them?"
"By the tie of affection."
"I thought you hated them."
"Of course I do; but I have the ill-luck to love Jacintha, and she loves these aristocrats, and makes me do little odd jobs for them." And at this Dard's eyes suddenly glared with horror.
"Well, what of that?" asked Riviere.
"What of it, citizen, what? you do not know the fatal meaning of those accursed words?"
"Why, I never heard of a man's back being broken by little odd jobs."
"Perhaps not his back, citizen, but his heart? if little odd jobs will not break that, why nothing will. Torn from place to place, and from trouble to trouble; as soon as one tiresome thing begins to go a bit smooth, off to a fresh plague, in-doors work when it is dry, out-a-doors when it snows; and then all bustle; no taking one's work quietly, the only way it agrees with a fellow. 'Milk the cow, Dard, but look sharp; the baroness's chair wants mending. Take these slops to the pig, but you must not wait to see him enjoy them: you are wanted to chop billets.' Beat the mats, take down the curtains, walk to church (best part of a league), and heat the pew cushions; come back and cut the cabbages, paint the door, and wheel the old lady about the terrace, rub quicksilver on the little dog's back,--mind he don't bite you to make hisself sick,--repair the ottoman, roll the gravel, scour the kettles, carry half a ton of water up twopurostairs, trim the turf, prune the vine, drag the fish-pond; and when you ARE there, go in and gather water lilies for Mademoiselle Josephine while you are drowning the puppies; that is little odd jobs: may Satan twist her neck who invented them!"
"Very sad all this," said young Riviere.
Dard took the little sneer for sympathy, and proceeded to "the cruellest wrong of all."
"When I go into their kitchen to court Jacintha a bit, instead of finding a good supper there, which a man has a right to, courting a cook, if I don't take one in my pocket, there is no supper, not to say supper, for either her or me. I don't call a salad and a bit of cheese-rind--SUPPER. Beggars in silk and satin! Every sou they have goes on to their backs, instead of into their bellies."
"I have heard their income is much reduced," said Edouard gently.
"Income! I would not change with them if they'd throw me in half a pancake a day. I tell you they are the poorest family for leagues round; not that they need be quite so starved, if they could swallow a little of their pride. But no, they must have china and plate and fine linen at dinner; so their fine plates are always bare, and their silver trays empty. Ask the butcher, if you don't believe ME. Just you ask him whether he does not go three times to the smallest shopkeeper, for once he goes to Beaurepaire. Their tenants send them a little meal and eggs, and now and then a hen; and their great garden is chock full of fruit and vegetables, and Jacintha makes me dig in it gratis; and so they muddle on. But, bless your heart, coffee! they can't afford it; so they roast a lot of horse-beans that cost nothing, and grind them, and serve up the liquor in a silver coffee-pot, on a silver salver. Haw, haw, haw!"
"Is it possible? reduced to this?" said Edouard gravely.
"Don't you be so weak as to pity them," cried the remorseless plebeian. "Why don't they melt their silver into soup, and cut down their plate into rashers of bacon? why not sell the superfluous, and buy the needful, which it is grub? And, above all, why don't they let their old tumble-down palace to some rich grocer, and that accursed garden along with it, where I sweat gratis, and live small and comfortable, and pay honest men for their little odd jobs, and"--
Here Riviere interrupted him, and asked if it was really true about the beans.
"True?" said Dard, "why, I have seen Rose doing it for the old woman's breakfast: it was Rose invented the move. A girl of nineteen beginning already to deceive the world! But they are all tarred with the same stick. Down with the aristocrats!"
"Dard," said Riviere, "you are a brute."
"Me, citizen?" inquired Dard with every appearance of genuine surprise.
Edouard Riviere rose from his seat in great excitement. Dard's abuse of the family he was lately so bitter against had turned him right round. He pitied the very baroness herself, and forgave her declining his visit.
"Be silent," said he, "for shame! There is such a thing as noble poverty; and you have described it. I might have disdained these people in their prosperity, but I revere them in their affliction. And I'll tell you what, don't you ever dare to speak slightly of them again in my presence, or"--
He did not conclude his threat, for just then he observed that a strapping girl, with a basket at her feet, was standing against the corner of the Auberge, in a mighty careless attitude, but doing nothing, so most likely listening with all her ears and soul. Dard, however, did not see her, his back being turned to her as he sat; so he replied at his ease,--
"I consent," said he very coolly: "that is your affair; but permit me," and here he clenched his teeth at remembrance of his wrongs, "to say that I will no more be a scullery man without wages to these high-minded starvelings, these illustrious beggars." Then he heated himself red-hot. "I will not even be their galley slave. Next, I have done my last little odd job in this world," yelled the now infuriated factotum, bouncing up to his feet in brief fury. "Of two things one: either Jacintha quits those aristos, or I leave Jacin-- eh?--ah!--oh!--ahem! How--'ow d'ye do, Jacintha?" And his roar ended in a whine, as when a dog runs barking out, and receives in full career a cut from his master's whip, his generous rage turns to whimper with ludicrous abruptness. "I was just talking of you, Jacintha," quavered Dard in conclusion.
"I heard you, Dard," replied Jacintha slowly, softly, grimly.
It was a lusty young woman, with a comely peasant face somewhat freckled, and a pair of large black eyes surmounted by coal-black brows. She stood in a bold attitude, her massive but well-formed arms folded so that the pressure of each against the other made them seem gigantic, and her cheek red with anger, and her eyes glistening like basilisks upon citizen Dard. She looked so grand, with her lowering black brows, that even Riviere felt a little uneasy. As for Jacintha, she was evidently brooding with more ire than she chose to utter before a stranger. She just slowly unclasped her arms, and, keeping her eye fixed on Dard, pointed with a domineering gesture towards Beaurepaire. Then the doughty Dard seemed no longer master of his limbs: he rose slowly, with his eyes fastened to hers, and was moving off like an ill-oiled automaton in the direction indicated; but at that a suppressed snigger began to shake Riviere's whole body till it bobbed up and down on the seat. Dard turned to him for sympathy.
"There, citizen," he cried, "do you see that imperious gesture? That means you promised to dig in the aristocrat's garden this afternoon, so march! Here, then, is one that has gained nothing by kings being put down, for I am ruled with a mopstick of iron. Thank your stars, citizen, that you are not in may place."
"Dard," retorted Jacintha, "if you don't like your place, I'd quit it. There are two or three young men down in the village will be glad to take it."
"I won't give them the chance, the vile egotists!" cried Dard. And he returned to the chateau and little odd jobs.
Jacintha hung behind, lowered her eyes, put on a very deferential manner, and thanked Edouard for the kind sentiments he had uttered; but at the same time she took the liberty to warn him against believing the extravagant stories Dard had been telling about her mistress's poverty. She said the simple fact was that the baron had contracted debts, and the baroness, being the soul of honor, was living in great economy to pay them off. Then, as to Dard getting no supper up at Beaurepaire, a complaint that appeared to sting her particularly, she assured him she was alone to blame: the baroness would be very angry if she knew it. "But," said she, "Dard is an egotist. Perhaps you may have noticed that trait in him."
"Glimpses of it," replied Riviere, laughing.
"Monsieur, he is so egotistic that he has not a friend in the world but me. I forgive him, because I know the reason; he has never had a headache or a heartache in his life."
Edouard, aged twenty, and a male, did not comprehend this piece of feminine logic one bit: and, while he puzzled over it in silence, Jacintha went on to say that if she were to fill her egotist's paunch, she should never know whether he came to Beaurepaire for her, or himself. "Now, Dard," she added, "is no beauty, monsieur; why, he is three inches shorter than I am."
"You are joking! he looks a foot," said Edouard.
"He is no scholar neither, and I have had to wipe up many a sneer and many a sarcasm on his account; but up to now I have always been able to reply that this five feet one of egotism loves me sincerely; and the moment I doubt this, I give him the sack,--poor little fellow!"
"In a word," said Riviere, a little impatiently, "the family at
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