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- WHITE LIES - 5/77 -
Beaurepaire are not in such straits as he pretends?"
"Monsieur, do I look like one starved?"
"By Jove, no! by Ceres, I mean."
"Are my young mistresses wan, and thin?"
"Treason! blasphemy! ah, no! By Venus and Hebe, no!"
Jacintha smiled at this enthusiastic denial, and also because her sex is apt to smile when words are used they do not understand.
"Dard is a fool," suggested Riviere, by way of general solution. He added, "And yet, do you know I wish every word he said had been true." (Jacintha's eyes expressed some astonishment.) "Because then you and I would have concerted means to do them kindnesses, secretly; for I see you are no ordinary servant; you love your young mistresses. Do you not?"
These simple words seemed to touch a grander chord in Jacintha's nature.
"Love them?" said she, clasping her hands; "ah, sir, do not be offended; but, believe me, it is no small thing to serve an old, old family. My grandfather lived and died with them; my father was their gamekeeper, and fed to his last from off the poor baron's plate (and now they have killed him, poor man); my mother died in the house and was buried in the sacred ground near the family chapel. They put an inscription on her tomb praising her fidelity and probity. Do you think these things do not sink into the heart of the poor?--praise on her tomb, and not a word on their own, but just the name, and when each was born and died, you know. Ah! the pride of the mean is dirt; but the pride of the noble is gold."
"For, look you, among parvenues I should be a servant, and nothing more; in this proud family I am a humble friend; of course they are not always gossiping with me like vulgar masters and mistresses; if they did, I should neither respect nor love them; but they all smile on me whenever I come into the room, even the baroness herself. I belong to them, and they belong to me, by ties without number, by the many kind words in many troubles, by the one roof that sheltered us a hundred years, and the grave where our bones lie together till the day of judgment."*
* The French peasant often thinks half a sentence, and utters the other half aloud, and so breaks air in the middle of a thought. Probably Jacintha's whole thought, if we had the means of knowing it, would have run like this--Besides, I have another reason: I could not be so comfortable myself elsewhere--for, look you"--
Jacintha clasped her hands, and her black eyes shone out warm through the dew. Riviere's glistened too.
"That is well said," he cried; "it is nobly said: yet, after all, these are ties that owe their force to the souls they bind. How often have such bonds round human hearts proved ropes of sand! They grapple YOU like hooks of steel; because you are steel yourself to the backbone. I admire you, Jacintha. Such women as you have a great mission in France just now."
Jacintha shook her head incredulously. "What can we poor women do?"
"Bring forth heroes," cried Publicola with fervor. "Be the mothers of great men, the Catos and the Gracchi of the future!"
Jacintha smiled. She did not know the Gracchi nor their politics; but the name rang well. "Gracchi!" Aristocrats, no doubt. "That would be too much honor," replied she modestly. "At present, I must say adieu!" and she moved off an inch at a time, in an uncertain hesitating manner, not very difficult to read; but Riviere, you must know, had more than once during this interview begged her to sit down, and in vain; she had always thanked him, but said she had not a moment to stay. So he made no effort to detain her now. The consequence was--she came slowly back of her own accord, and sat down in a corner of the porch, where nobody could see her, and then she sighed deeply.
"What is the matter now?" said Edouard, opening his eyes.
She looked at him point-blank for one moment; and her scale turned.
"Monsieur," said she timidly, "you have a good face, and a good heart. All I told you was--give me your honor not to betray us."
"I swear it," said Edouard, a little pompously.
"Then--Dard was not so far from the truth; it was but a guess of his, for I never trusted my own sweetheart as I now trust a stranger. But to see what I see every day, and have no one I dare breathe a word to, oh, it is very hard! But on what a thread things turn! If any one had told me an hour ago it was you I should open my heart to! It's not economy: it's not stinginess; they are not paying off their debts. They never can. The baroness and the Demoiselles de Beaurepaire--are paupers."
"Ay, paupers! their debts are greater than their means. They live here by sufferance. They have only their old clothes to wear. They have hardly enough to eat. Just now our cow is in full milk, you know; so that is a great help: but, when she goes dry, Heaven knows what we shall do; for I don't. But that is not the worst; better a light meal than a broken heart. Your precious government offers the chateau for sale. They might as well send for the guillotine at once, and cut off all our heads. You don't know my mistress as I do. Ah, butchers, you will drag nothing out of that but her corpse. And is it come to this? the great old family to be turned adrift like beggars. My poor mistress! my pretty demoiselles that I played with and nursed ever since I was a child! (I was just six when Josephine was born) and that I shall love with my last breath"--
She could say no more, but choked by the strong feeling so long pent up in her own bosom, fell to sobbing hysterically, and trembling like one in an ague.
The statesman, who had passed all his short life at school and college, was frightened, and took hold of her and pulled her, and cried, "Oh! don't, Jacintha; you will kill yourself, you will die; this is frightful: help here! help!" Jacintha put her hand to his mouth, and, without leaving off her hysterics, gasped out, "Ah! don't expose me." So then he didn't know what to do; but he seized a tumbler and filled it with wine, and forced it between her lips. All she did was to bite a piece out of the glass as clean as if a diamond had cut it. This did her a world of good: destruction of sacred household property gave her another turn. "There, I've broke your glass now," she cried, with a marvellous change of tone; and she came-to and cried quietly like a reasonable person, with her apron to her eyes.
When Edouard saw she was better, he took her hand and said proudly, "Secret for secret. I choose this moment to confide to you that I love Mademoiselle Rose de Beaurepaire. Love her? I did love her; but now you tell me she is poor and in distress, I adore her." The effect of this declaration on Jacintha was magical, comical. Her apron came down from one eye, and that eye dried itself and sparkled with curiosity: the whole countenance speedily followed suit and beamed with sacred joy. What! an interesting love affair confided to her all in a moment! She lowered her voice to a whisper directly. "Why, how did you manage? She never goes into company."
"No; but she goes to church. Besides, I have met her eleven times out walking with her sister, and twice out of the eleven she smiled on me. O Jacintha! a smile such as angels smile; a smile to warm the heart and purify the soul and last forever in the mind."
"Well, they say 'man is fire and woman tow:' but this beats all. Ha! ha!"
"Oh! do not jest. I did not laugh at you. Jacintha, it is no laughing matter; I revere her as mortals revere the saints; I love her so that were I ever to lose all hope of her I would not live a day. And now that you have told me she is poor and in sorrow, and I think of her walking so calm and gentle--always in black, Jacintha,-- and her low courtesy to me whenever we met, and her sweet smile to me though her heart must be sad, oh! my heart yearns for her. What can I do for her? How shall I surround her with myself unseen--make her feel that a man's love waits upon her feet every step she takes-- that a man's love floats in the air round that lovely head?" Then descending to earth for a moment, "but I say, you promise not to betray me; come, secret for secret."
"I will not tell a soul; on the honor of a woman," said Jacintha.
The form of protestation was quite new to Edouard, and not exactly the one his study of the ancient writers would have led him to select. But the tone was convincing: he trusted her. They parted sworn allies; and, at the very moment of parting, Jacintha, who had cast many a furtive glance at the dead game, told Edouard demurely, Mademoiselle Rose was very fond of roast partridge. On this he made her take the whole bag; and went home on wings. Jacintha's revelation roused all that was noble and forgiving in him. His understanding and his heart expanded from that hour, and his fancy spread its pinions to the sun of love. Ah! generous Youth, let who will betray thee; let who will sneer at thee; let me, though young no longer, smile on thee and joy in thee! She he loved was sad, was poor, was menaced by many ills; then she needed a champion. He would be her unseen friend, her guardian angel. A hundred wild schemes whirled in his beating heart and brain. He could not go in- doors, indeed, no room could contain him: he made for a green lane he knew at the back of the village, and there he walked up and down for hours. The sun set, and the night came, and the stars glittered; but still he walked alone, inspired, exalted, full of generous and loving schemes: of sweet and tender fancies: a heart on fire; and youth the fuel, and the flame vestal.
This very day was the anniversary of the baron's death.
The baroness kept her room all the morning, and took no nourishment but one cup of spurious coffee Rose brought her. Towards evening she came down-stairs. In the hall she found two chaplets of flowers; they were always placed there for her on this sad day. She took them in her hand, and went into the little oratory that was in the park; there she found two wax candles burning, and two fresh
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