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- WHITE LIES - 50/77 -
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."
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