White Lies by Charles Reade
Edouard Riviere contrived one Saturday to work off all arrears of business, and start for Beaurepaire. He had received a very kind letter from Rose, and his longing to see her overpowered him. On the road his eyes often glittered, and his cheek flushed with expectation. At last he got there. His heart beat: for four months he had not seen her. He ran up into the drawing-room, and there found the baroness alone; she welcomed him cordially, but soon let him know Rose and her sister were at Frejus. His heart sank. Frejus was a long way off. But this was not all. Rose's last letter was dated from Beaurepaire, yet it must have been written at Frejus. He went to Jacintha, and demanded an explanation of this. The ready Jacintha said it looked as if she meant to be home directly; and added, with cool cunning, "That is a hint for me to get their rooms ready."
"This letter must have come here enclosed in another," said Edouard, sternly.
"Like enough," replied Jacintha, with an appearance of sovereign indifference.
Edouard looked at her, and said, grimly, "I will go to Frejus."
"So I would," said Jacintha, faltering a little, but not perceptibly; "you might meet them on the road, if so be they come the same road; there are two roads, you know."
Edouard hesitated; but he ended by sending Dard to the town on his own horse, with orders to leave him at the inn, and borrow a fresh horse. "I shall just have time," said he. He rode to Frejus, and inquired at the inns and post-office for Mademoiselle de Beaurepaire. They did not know her; then he inquired for Madame Raynal. No such name known. He rode by the seaside upon the chance of their seeing him. He paraded on horseback throughout the place, in hopes every moment that a window would open, and a fair face shine at it, and call him. At last his time was up, and he was obliged to ride back, sick at heart, to Beaurepaire. He told the baroness, with some natural irritation, what had happened. She was as much surprised as he was.
"I write to Madame Raynal at the post-office, Frejus," said she.
"And Madame Raynal gets your letters?"
"Of course she does, since she answers them; you cannot have inquired at the post."
"Why, it was the first place I inquired at, and neither Mademoiselle de Beaurepaire nor Madame Raynal were known there."
Jacintha, who could have given the clew, seemed so puzzled herself, that they did not even apply to her. Edouard took a sorrowful leave of the baroness, and set out on his journey home.
Oh! how sad and weary that ride seemed now by what it had been coming. His disappointment was deep and irritating; and ere he had ridden half way a torturer fastened on his heart. That torture is suspicion; a vague and shadowy, but gigantic phantom that oppresses and rends the mind more terribly than certainty. In this state of vague, sickening suspicion, he remained some days: then came an affectionate letter from Rose, who had actually returned home. In this she expressed her regret and disappointment at having missed him; blamed herself for misleading him, but explained that their stay at Frejus had been prolonged from day to day far beyond her expectation. "The stupidity of the post-office was more than she could account for," said she. But, what went farthest to console Edouard, was, that after this contretemps she never ceased to invite him to come to Beaurepaire. Now, before this, though she said many kind and pretty things in her letters, she had never invited him to visit the chateau; he had noticed this. "Sweet soul," thought he, "she really is vexed. I must be a brute to think any more about it. Still"--
So this wound was skinned over.
At last, what he called his lucky star ordained that he should be transferred to the very post his Commandant Raynal had once occupied. He sought and obtained permission to fix his quarters in the little village near Beaurepaire, and though this plan could not be carried out for three months, yet the prospect of it was joyful all that time--joyful to both lovers. Rose needed this consolation, for she was very unhappy: her beloved sister, since their return from Frejus, had gone back. The flush of health was faded, and so was her late energy. She fell into deep depression and languor, broken occasionally by fits of nervous irritation.
She would sit for hours together at one window languishing and fretting. Can the female reader guess which way that window looked?
Now, Edouard was a favorite of Josephine's; so Rose hoped he would help to distract her attention from those sorrows which a lapse of years alone could cure.
On every account, then, his visit was looked forward to with hope and joy.
He came. He was received with open arms. He took up his quarters at his old lodgings, but spent his evenings and every leisure hour at the chateau.
He was very much in love, and showed it. He adhered to Rose like a leech, and followed her about like a little dog.
This would have made her very happy if there had been nothing great to distract her attention and her heart; but she had Josephine, whose deep depression and fits of irritation and terror filled her with anxiety; and so Edouard was in the way now and then. On these occasions he was too vain to see what she was too polite to show him offensively.
But on this she became vexed at his obtuseness.
"Does he think I can be always at his beck and call?" thought she.
"She is always after her sister," said he.
He was just beginning to be jealous of Josephine when the following incident occurred:--
Rose and the doctor were discussing Josephine. Edouard pretended to be reading a book, but he listened to every word.
Dr. Aubertin gave it as his opinion that Madame Raynal did not make enough blood.
"Oh! if I thought that!" cried Rose.
"Well, then, it is so, I assure you."
"Doctor," said Rose, "do you remember, one day you said healthy blood could be drawn from robust veins and poured into a sick person's?"
"It is a well-known fact," said Aubertin.
"I don't believe it," said Rose, dryly.
"Then you place a very narrow limit to science," said the doctor, coldly.
"Did you ever see it done?" asked Rose, slyly.
"I have not only seen it done, but have done it myself."
"Then do it for us. There's my arm; take blood from that for dear Josephine!" and she thrust a white arm out under his eye with such a bold movement and such a look of fire and love as never beamed from common eyes.
A keen, cold pang shot through the human heart of Edouard Riviere.
The doctor started and gazed at her with admiration: then he hung his head. "I could not do it. I love you both too well to drain either of life's current."
Rose veiled her fire, and began to coax. "Once a week; just once a week, dear, dear doctor; you know I should never miss it. I am so full of that health, which Heaven denies to her I love."
"Let us try milder measures first," said the doctor. "I have most faith in time."
"What if I were to take her to Frejus? hitherto, the sea has always done wonders for her."
"Frejus, by all means," said Edouard, mingling suddenly in the conversation; "and this time I will go with you, and then I shall find out where you lodged before, and how the boobies came to say they did not know you."
Rose bit her lip. She could not help seeing then how much dear Edouard was in her way and Josephine's. Their best friends are in the way of all who have secrets. Presently the doctor went to his study. Then Edouard let fall a mock soliloquy. "I wonder," said he, dropping out his words one by one, "whether any one will ever love me well enough to give a drop of their blood for me."
"If you were in sickness and sorrow, who knows?" said Rose, coloring up.
"I would soon be in sickness and sorrow if I thought that."
"Don't jest with such matters, monsieur."
"I am serious. I wish I was as ill as Madame Raynal is, to be loved as she is."
"You must resemble her in some other things to be loved as she is.
"You have often made me feel that of late, dear Rose."
This touched her. But she fought down the kindly feeling. "I am glad of it," said she, out of perverseness. She added after a while, "Edouard, you are naturally jealous."
"Not the least in the world, Rose, I assure you. I have many faults, but jealous I am not."
"Oh, yes, you are, and suspicious, too; there is something in your character that alarms me for our happiness."
"Well, if you come to that, there are things in your conduct I could wish explained."
"There! I said so. You have not confidence in me."
"Pray don't say that, dear Rose. I have every confidence in you; only please don't ask me to divest myself of my senses and my reason."
"I don't ask you to do that or anything else for me; good-by, for the present."
"Where are you going now? tic! tic! I never can get a word in peace with you."
"I am not going to commit murder. I'm only going up-stairs to my sister."
"Poor Madame Raynal, she makes it very hard for me not to dislike her."
"Dislike my Josephine?" and Rose bristled visibly.
"She is an angel, but I should hate an angel if it came forever between you and me."
"Excuse me, she was here long before you. It is you that came between her and me."
"I came because I was told I should be welcome," said Edouard bitterly, and equivocating a little; he added, "and I dare say I shall go when I am told I am one too many."
"Bad heart! who says you are one too many in the house? But you are too exigent, monsieur; you assume the husband, and you tease me. It is selfish; can you not see I am anxious and worried? you ought to be kind to me, and soothe me; that is what I look for from you, and, instead of that, I declare you are getting to be quite a worry."
"I should not be if you loved me as I love you. I give you no rival. Shall I tell you the cause of all this? you have secrets."
"Is it me you ask? am I trusted with them? Secrets are a bond that not even love can overcome. It is to talk secrets you run away from me to Madame Raynal. Where did you lodge at Frejus, Mademoiselle the Reticent?"
"In a grotto, dry at low water, Monsieur the Inquisitive."
"That is enough: since you will not tell me, I will find it out before I am a week older."
This alarmed Rose terribly, and drove her to extremities. She decided to quarrel.
"Sir," said she, "I thank you for playing the tyrant a little prematurely; it has put me on my guard. Let us part; you and I are not suited to each other, Edouard Riviere."
He took this more humbly than she expected. "Part!" said he, in consternation; "that is a terrible word to pass between you and me. Forgive me! I suppose I am jealous."
"You are; you are actually jealous of my sister. Well, I tell you plainly I love you, but I love my sister better. I never could love any man as I do her; it is ridiculous to expect such a thing."
"And do you think I could bear to play second fiddle to her all my life?"
"I don't ask you. Go and play first trumpet to some other lady."
"You speak your wishes so plainly now, I have nothing to do but to obey."
He kissed her hand and went away disconsolately.
Rose, instead of going to Josephine, her determination to do which had mainly caused the quarrel, sat sadly down, and leaned her head on her hand. "I am cruel. I am ungrateful. He has gone away broken-hearted. And what shall I do without him?--little fool! I love him better than he loves me. He will never forgive me. I have wounded his vanity; and they are vainer than we are. If we meet at dinner I will be so kind to him, he will forget it all. No! Edouard will not come to dinner. He is not a spaniel that you can beat, and then whistle back again. Something tells me I have lost him, and if I have, what shall I do? I will write him a note. I will ask him to forgive me."
She sat down at the table, and took a sheet of notepaper and began to write a few conciliatory words. She was so occupied in making these kind enough, and not too kind, that a light step approached 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."
"No, I wasn't."
"Thunder of war, but I say you were. Yours was the last number."
"That is an unlucky guess of yours, for I saw the last number. Look here," and he fumbled in his pocket, and produced his number.
La Croix instantly fished out a corresponding number.
"Well, and here you are; this was the last number drawn."
Dard burst out laughing.
"You goose!" said he, "that is sixty-six--look at it."
"Sixty-six!" roared the sergeant; "no more than yours is--they are both sixty-sixes when you play tricks with them, and turn them up like that; but they are both ninety-nines when you look at them fair."
Dard scratched his head.
"Come," said the corporal, briskly, "make up his bundle, girl, and let us be off; we have got our marching orders; going to the Rhine."
"And do you think that I will let him go?" screamed Jacintha. "No! I will say one word to Madame Raynal, and she will buy him a substitute directly."
Dard stopped her sullenly. "No! I have told all in the village that I would go the first chance: it is come, and I'll go. I won't stay to be laughed at about this too. If I was sure to be cut in pieces, I'd go. Give over blubbering, girl, and get us a bottle of the best wine, and while we are drinking it, the sergeant and I, you make up my bundle. I shall never do any good here."
Jacintha knew the obstinate toad. She did as she was bid, and soon the little bundle was ready, and the two men faced the wine; La Croix, radiant and bellicose; Dard, crestfallen but dogged (for there was a little bit of good stuff at the bottom of the creature); and Jacintha rocking herself, with her apron over her head.
"I'll give you a toast," said La Croix. "Here's gunpowder."
Jacintha promptly honored the toast with a flood of tears.
"Drop that, Jacintha," said Dard, angrily; "do you think that is encouraging? Sergeant, I told this poor girl all about glory before you came, but she was not ripe for it: say something to cheer her up, for I can't."
"I can," cried this trumpet of battle, emptying its glass. "Attention, young woman."
"Oh, dear! oh, dear! yes, sir."
"A French soldier is a man who carries France in his heart"--
"But if the cruel foreign soldiers kill him? Oh!"
"Why, in that case, he does not care a straw. Every man must die; horses likewise, and dogs, and donkeys, when they come to the end of their troubles; but dogs and donkeys and chaps in blouses can't die gloriously; as Dard may, if he has any luck at all: so, from this hour, if there was twice as little of him, be proud of him, for from this time he is a part of France and her renown. Come, recruit ninety-nine, shoulder your traps at duty's call, and let us go forth in form. Attention! Quick--march! Halt! is that the way I showed you to march? Didn't I tell you to start from the left? Now try again. Quick--march! left--right--left--right--left--right--now you've--got it--drat ye,--keep it--left--right--left--right--left-- right." And with no more ado the sergeant marched the little odd- job man to the wars.
Vive la France!