"Oh, mother, what shall I do?" Jane cried, rufilecoin redditshing into the parlor and throwing herself on the floor, "he's goin' to put us right out."
At a few moments before twelve the farmer came briskly toward the house, and was evidently in the best of spirits. When he entered and saw Jane, his countenance indicated so much dismay that Alida could scarcely repress a smile. The child rose and stood before him like a culprit awaiting sentence. She winked hard to keep the tears back, for there was no welcome in his manner. She could not know how intensely distasteful was her presence at this time, nor had Holcroft himself imagined how unwelcome a third person in his house could be until he saw the intruder before him. He had only felt that he was wonderfully contented and happy in his home, and that Jane would be a constant source of annoyance and restraint. Moreover, it might lead to visitation from Mrs. Mumpson, and that was the summing up of earthly ills. But the child's appearance and manner were so forlorn and deprecating that words of irritation died upon his lips. He gravely shook hands with her and then drew out the story which Alida had learned.buy hex uniswap"Why, Jane," he exclaimed, frowning, "Mr. Watterly will be scouring the country for you. I shall have to take you back right after dinner."
"I kinder hoped," she sobbed, "that you'd let me stay. I'd stay in the barn if I couldn't be in the house. I'd just as soon work outdoors, too.""I don't think you'd be allowed to stay," said the farmer, with a sinking heart; "and then--perhaps your mother would be coming here.""I can't stand mother no more'n you can" said the girl, through her set teeth. "I oughtn'ter been born, for there's no place for me in the world."Holcroft looked at his wife, his face expressive of the utmost annoyance, worry, and irresolution. Her glance was sympathetic, but she said nothing, feeling that if he could make the sacrifice from his own will he should have the chance. "You can't begin to know how much trouble this may lead to, Jane," he resumed. "You remember how your other threatened to take the law upon me, and it wouldn't be possible for you to stay here without her consent.""She oughter consent; I'll make her consent!" cried the child, speaking as if driven to desperation. "What's she ever done for me but teach me mean ways? Keep me or kill me, for I must be in some place where I've a right to be away from mother. I've found that there's no sense in her talk, and it drives me crazy."
Although Jane's words and utterance were strangely uncouth, they contained a despairing echo which the farmer could not resist. Turning his troubled face to his wife, he began, ""If this is possible, Alida, it will be a great deal harder on you than it will on me. I don't feel that I would be doing right by you unless you gave your consent with full knowledge of--""Then please let her stay, if it is possible. She seems to need a friend and home as much as another that you heard about.""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 goodheart. 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 ofhis, for I never trusted my own sweetheart as I now trust astranger. But to see what I see every day, and have no one I darebreathe a word to, oh, it is very hard! But on what a thread thingsturn! If any one had told me an hour ago it was you I should openmy heart to! It's not economy: it's not stinginess; they are notpaying off their debts. They never can. The baroness and theDemoiselles de Beaurepaire--are paupers.""Paupers, Jacintha?""Ay, paupers! their debts are greater than their means. They livehere by sufferance. They have only their old clothes to wear. Theyhave hardly enough to eat. Just now our cow is in full milk, youknow; so that is a great help: but, when she goes dry, Heaven knowswhat we shall do; for I don't. But that is not the worst; better alight meal than a broken heart. Your precious government offers thechateau for sale. They might as well send for the guillotine atonce, and cut off all our heads. You don't know my mistress as Ido. 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 adriftlike beggars. My poor mistress! my pretty demoiselles that I playedwith and nursed ever since I was a child! (I was just six whenJosephine was born) and that I shall love with my last breath"--She could say no more, but choked by the strong feeling so long pentup in her own bosom, fell to sobbing hysterically, and tremblinglike one in an ague.
The statesman, who had passed all his short life at school andcollege, was frightened, and took hold of her and pulled her, andcried, "Oh! don't, Jacintha; you will kill yourself, you will die;this is frightful: help here! help!" Jacintha put her hand to hismouth, and, without leaving off her hysterics, gasped out, "Ah!don't expose me." So then he didn't know what to do; but he seizeda 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 adiamond had cut it. This did her a world of good: destruction ofsacred household property gave her another turn. "There, I've brokeyour glass now," she cried, with a marvellous change of tone; andshe came-to and cried quietly like a reasonable person, with herapron 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 Ilove Mademoiselle Rose de Beaurepaire. Love her? I did love her;but now you tell me she is poor and in distress, I adore her." Theeffect of this declaration on Jacintha was magical, comical. Herapron came down from one eye, and that eye dried itself and sparkledwith curiosity: the whole countenance speedily followed suit andbeamed with sacred joy. What! an interesting love affair confidedto her all in a moment! She lowered her voice to a whisperdirectly. "Why, how did you manage? She never goes into company.""No; but she goes to church. Besides, I have met her eleven timesout walking with her sister, and twice out of the eleven she smiledon me. O Jacintha! a smile such as angels smile; a smile to warmthe 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 nolaughing matter; I revere her as mortals revere the saints; I loveher so that were I ever to lose all hope of her I would not live aday. And now that you have told me she is poor and in sorrow, and Ithink of her walking so calm and gentle--always in black, Jacintha,--and her low courtesy to me whenever we met, and her sweet smile tome though her heart must be sad, oh! my heart yearns for her. Whatcan I do for her? How shall I surround her with myself unseen--makeher 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?" Thendescending to earth for a moment, "but I say, you promise not tobetray 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 exactlythe one his study of the ancient writers would have led him toselect. But the tone was convincing: he trusted her. They partedsworn allies; and, at the very moment of parting, Jacintha, who hadcast many a furtive glance at the dead game, told Edouard demurely,Mademoiselle Rose was very fond of roast partridge. On this he madeher take the whole bag; and went home on wings. Jacintha'srevelation roused all that was noble and forgiving in him. Hisunderstanding and his heart expanded from that hour, and his fancyspread its pinions to the sun of love. Ah! generous Youth, let whowill betray thee; let who will sneer at thee; let me, though youngno longer, smile on thee and joy in thee! She he loved was sad, waspoor, was menaced by many ills; then she needed a champion. Hewould be her unseen friend, her guardian angel. A hundred wildschemes whirled in his beating heart and brain. He could not go in-doors, indeed, no room could contain him: he made for a green lanehe knew at the back of the village, and there he walked up and downfor hours. The sun set, and the night came, and the starsglittered; but still he walked alone, inspired, exalted, full ofgenerous and loving schemes: of sweet and tender fancies: a heart onfire; and youth the fuel, and the flame vestal.
Chapter 3This very day was the anniversary of the baron's death.The baroness kept her room all the morning, and took no nourishmentbut one cup of spurious coffee Rose brought her. Towards eveningshe came down-stairs. In the hall she found two chaplets offlowers; they were always placed there for her on this sad day. Shetook them in her hand, and went into the little oratory that was inthe park; there she found two wax candles burning, and two freshchaplets hung up. Her daughters had been there before her.She knelt and prayed many hours for her husband's soul; then sherose and hung up one chaplet and came slowly away with the other inher hand. At the gate of the park, Josephine met her with tenderanxiety in her sapphire eyes, and wreathed her arms round her, andwhispered, "But you have your children still."The baroness kissed her and they came towards the house together,the baroness leaning gently on her daughter's elbow.
Between the park and the angle of the chateau was a small plot ofturf called at Beaurepaire the Pleasance, a name that had descendedalong with other traditions; and in the centre of this Pleasance, orPleasaunce, stood a wonderful oak-tree. Its circumference wasthirty-four feet. The baroness came to this ancient tree, and hungher chaplet on a mutilated limb called the "knights' bough."The sun was setting tranquil and red; a broad ruby streak lingeredon the deep green leaves of the prodigious oak. The baroness lookedat it awhile in silence.Then she spoke slowly to it and said, "You were here before us: youwill be here when we are gone."A spasm crossed Josephine's face, but she said nothing at the time.
And so they went in together.Now as this tree was a feat of nature, and, above all, played acurious part in our story, I will ask you to stay a few minutes andlook at it, while I say what was known about it; not the thousandthpart of what it could have told, if trees could speak as well asbreathe.
The baroness did not exaggerate; the tree was far older than eventhis ancient family. They possessed among other archives amanuscript written by a monk, a son of the house, about four hundredyears before our story, and containing many of the oral traditionsabout this tree that had come down to him from remote antiquity.According to this authority, the first Baron of Beaurepaire hadpitched his tent under a fair oak-tree that stood prope rivum, neara brook. His grandson built a square tower hard by, and dug a moatthat enclosed both tree and tower, and received the waters of thebrook aforesaid.At this time the tree seems only to have been remarked for itsheight. But, a century and a half before the monk wrote, it hadbecome famous in all the district for its girth, and in the monk'sown day had ceased to grow; but not begun to decay. The mutilatedarm I have mentioned was once a long sturdy bough, worn smooth asvelvet in one part from a curious cause: it ran about as high abovethe ground as a full-sized horse, and the knights and squires usedto be forever vaulting upon it, the former in armor; the monk, whena boy, had seen them do it a thousand times. This bough broke intwo, A.D. 1617: but the mutilated limb was still called the knights'bough, nobody knew why. So do names survive their ideas.What had not this tree seen since first it came green and tender asa cabbage above the soil, and stood at the mercy of the first hareor rabbit that should choose to cut short its frail existence!Since then eagles had perched on its crown, and wild boars fedwithout fear of man upon its acorns. Troubadours had sung beneathit to lords and ladies seated round, or walking on the grass andcommenting the minstrel's tales of love by exchange of amorousglances. Mediaeval sculptors had taken its leaves, and wiselytrusting to nature, had adorned churches with those leaves cut instone.
It had seen a Norman duke conquer England, and English kings invadeFrance and be crowned at Paris. It had seen a girl put knights tothe rout, and seen the warrior virgin burned by envious priests withcommon consent both of the curs she had defended and the curs shehad defeated.Why, in its old age it had seen the rise of printing, and the firstdawn of national civilization in Europe. It flourished and decayedin France; but it sprung in Gaul. And more remarkable still, thoughby all accounts it may see the world to an end, it was a tree inancient history: its old age awaits the millennium; its first youthbelonged to that great tract of time which includes the birth ofChrist, the building of Rome, and the siege of Troy.
The tree had, ere this, mingled in the fortunes of the family. Ithad saved their lives and taken their lives. One lord ofBeaurepaire, hotly pursued by his feudal enemies, made for the tree,and hid himself partly by a great bough, partly by the thick screenof leaves. The foe darted in, made sure he had taken to the house,ransacked it, and got into the cellar, where by good-luck was astore of Malvoisie: and so the oak and the vine saved the quakingbaron. Another lord of Beaurepaire, besieged in his castle, wasshot dead on the ramparts by a cross-bowman who had secreted himselfunobserved in this tree a little before the dawn.A young heir of Beaurepaire, climbing for a raven's nest to the topof this tree, lost his footing and fell, and died at its foot: andhis mother in her anguish bade them cut down the tree that hadkilled her boy. But the baron her husband refused, and spake inthis wise: "ytte ys eneugh that I lose mine sonne, I will nat alsoelose mine Tre." In the male you see the sober sentiment of theproprietor outweighed the temporary irritation of the parent. Thenthe mother bought fifteen ells of black velvet, and stretched a pallfrom the knights' bough across the west side to another branch, andcursed the hand that should remove it, and she herself "wolde neverpasse the Tre neither going nor coming, but went still about." Andwhen she died and should have been carried past the tree to thepark, her dochter did cry from a window to the bearers, "Goe about!
goe about!" and they went about, and all the company. And in timethe velvet pall rotted, and was torn and driven away by the winds:and when the hand of Nature, and no human hand, had thus flouted anddispersed the trappings of the mother's grief, two pieces werepicked up and preserved among the family relics: but the blackvelvet had turned a rusty red.
So the baroness did nothing new in this family when she hung herchaplet on the knights' bough; and, in fact, on the west side, abouteighteen feet from the ground, there still mouldered one corner ofan Atchievement an heir of Beaurepaire had nailed there twocenturies before, when his predecessor died: "For," said he, "thechateau is of yesterday, but the tree has seen us all come and go."The inside of the oak was hollow as a drum; and on its east sideyawned a fissure as high as a man and as broad as a street-door.Dard used to wheel his wheelbarrow into the tree at a trot, andthere leave it.Yet in spite of excavation and mutilation not life only but vigordwelt in this wooden shell. The extreme ends of the longer boughswere firewood, touchwood, and the crown was gone this many a year:but narrow the circle a very little to where the indomitable trunkcould still shoot sap from its cruse deep in earth, and there onevery side burst the green foliage in its season countless as thesand. The leaves carved centuries ago from these very models,though cut in stone, were most of them mouldered, blunted, notched,deformed: but the delicate types came back with every summer,perfect and lovely as when the tree was but their elder brother: andgreener than ever: for, from what cause nature only knows, theleaves were many shades richer than any other tree could show for ahundred miles round; a deep green, fiery, yet soft; and then theirmultitude--the staircases of foliage as you looked up the tree, andcould scarce catch a glimpse of the sky. An inverted abyss ofcolor, a mound, a dome, of flake emeralds that quivered in thegolden air.
And now the sun sets; the green leaves are black; the moon rises:her cold light shoots across one half that giant stem.
How solemn and calm stands the great round tower of living wood,half ebony, half silver, with its mighty cloud above of flake jetleaves tipped with frosty fire!Now is the still hour to repeat in a whisper the words of the dameof Beaurepaire, "You were here before us: you will be here when weare gone."We leave the hoary king of trees standing in the moonlight, calmlydefying time, and follow the creatures of a day; for, what theywere, we are.
A spacious saloon panelled; dead but showy white picked outsparingly with gold. Festoons of fruits and flowers finely carvedin wood on some of the panels. These also not smothered in gilding,but as it were gold speckled here and there, like tongues of flamewinding among insoluble snow. Ranged against the walls were sofasand chairs covered with rich stuffs well worn. And in one littledistant corner of the long room a gray-haired gentleman and twoyoung ladies sat round a small plain table, on which burned asolitary candle; and a little way apart in this candle's twilight anold lady sat in an easy-chair, thinking of the past, scarce daringto inquire the future. Josephine and Rose were working: not fancy-work but needle-work; Dr. Aubertin writing. Every now and then heput the one candle nearer the girls. They raised no objection: onlya few minutes after a white hand would glide from one or other ofthem like a serpent, and smoothly convey the light nearer to thedoctor's manuscript."Is it not supper-time?" he inquired. "I have an inward monitor;and I think our dinner was more ethereal than usual.""Hush!" said Josephine, and looked uneasily towards her mother.
"Wax is so dear.""Wax?--ah!--pardon me:" and the doctor returned hastily to his work.But Rose looked up and said, "I wonder Jacintha does not come; it iscertainly past the hour;" and she pried into the room as if sheexpected to see Jacintha on the road. But she saw in fact verylittle of anything, for the spacious room was impenetrable to hereye; midway from the candle to the distant door its twilightdeepened, and all became shapeless and sombre. The prospect endedsharp and black, as in those out-o'-door closets imagined andpainted by a certain great painter, whose Nature comes to a fullstop as soon as he has no further commercial need of her, instead ofmelting by fine expanse and exquisite gradation into genuinedistance, as nature does in Claude and in nature. To reverse thepicture, if you stood at the door you looked across forty feet ofblack, and the little corner seemed on fire, and the fair headsabout the candle shone like the St. Cecilias and Madonnas in anantique stained-glass window.At last the door opened, and another candle fired Jacintha's comelypeasant face in the doorway. She put down her candle outside thedoor, and started as crow flies for the other light. After glowinga moment in the doorway she dived into the shadow and emerged intolight again close to the table with napkins on her arm. She removedthe work-box reverentially, the doctor's manuscript unceremoniously,and proceeded to lay a cloth: in which operation she looked at Rosea point-blank glance of admiration: then she placed the napkins; andin this process she again cast a strange look of interest upon Rose.The young lady noticed it this time, and looked inquiringly at herin return, half expecting some communication; but Jacintha loweredher eyes and bustled about the table. Then Rose spoke to her with asort of instinct of curiosity, on the chance of drawing her out.
"Supper is late to-night, is it not, Jacintha?""Yes, mademoiselle; I have had more cooking than usual," and withthis she delivered another point-blank look as before, and divedinto the palpable obscure, and came to light in the doorway.Her return was anxiously expected; for, if the truth must be told,they were very hungry. So rigorous was the economy in this decayedbut honorable house that the wax candles burned to-day in theoratory had scrimped their dinner, unsubstantial as it was wont tobe. Think of that, you in fustian jackets who grumble after meat.
The door opened, Jacintha reappeared in the light of her candle amoment with a tray in both hands, and, approaching, was lost toview; but a strange and fragrant smell heralded her. All their eyesturned with curiosity towards the unwonted odor, and Jacintha dawnedwith three roast partridges on a dish.They were wonder-struck, and looked from the birds to her in mutesurprise, that was not diminished by a certain cynical indifferenceshe put on. She avoided their eyes, and forcibly excluded from herface everything that could imply she did not serve up partridges tothis family every night of her life.
"The supper is served, madame," said she, with a respectful courtesyand a mechanical tone, and, plunging into the night, swam out at herown candle, shut the door, and, unlocking her face that moment,burst out radiant, and so to the kitchen, and, with a tear in hereye, set-to and polished all the copper stewpans with a vigor andexpedition unknown to the new-fangled domestic."Partridges, mamma! What next?""Pheasants, I hope," cried the doctor, gayly. "And after themhares; to conclude with royal venison. Permit me, ladies." And heset himself to carve with zeal.