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قراءة كتاب White Lies

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‏اللغة: English
White Lies

White Lies

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 5

creatures had hearts, as if they could comprehend the struggle that took place in my mind between duty, and generosity to the fallen, before I could make the first overture to their acquaintance; as if they could understand the politeness of the heart, or anything nobler than curving and ducking and heartless etiquette. This is the last notice I will ever take of that old woman, unless it is to denounce her."

He walked home to the town very fast, his heart boiling, and his lips compressed, and his brow knitted.

To this mood succeeded a sullen and bitter one. He was generous, but vain, and his love had humiliated him so bitterly, he resolved to tear it out of his heart. He absented himself from church; he met the young ladies no more. He struggled fiercely with his passion; he went about dogged, silent, and sighing. Presently he devoted his leisure hours to shooting partridges instead of ladies. And he was right; partridges cannot shoot back; whereas beautiful women, like Cupid, are all archers more or less, and often with one arrow from eye or lip do more execution than they have suffered from several discharges of our small shot.

In these excursions, Edouard was generally accompanied by a thick-set rustic called Dard, who, I believe, purposes to reveal his own character to you, and so save me that trouble.

One fine afternoon, about four o'clock, this pair burst remorselessly through a fence, and landed in the road opposite Bigot's Auberge; a long low house, with "ICI ON LOGE A PIED ET A CHEVAL," written all across it in gigantic letters. Riviere was for moving homeward, but Dard halted and complained dismally of "the soldier's gripes." The statesman had never heard of that complaint, so Dard explained that the VULGAR name for it was hunger. "And only smell," said he, "the soup is just fit to come off the fire."

Riviere smiled sadly, but consented to deign to eat a morsel in the porch. Thereat Dard dashed wildly into the kitchen.

They dined at one little round table, each after his fashion. When Dard could eat no more, he proceeded to drink; and to talk in proportion. Riviere, lost in his own thoughts, attended to him as men of business do to a babbling brook; until suddenly from the mass of twaddle broke forth a magic word—Beaurepaire; then the languid lover pricked up his ears and found Mr. Dard was abusing that noble family right and left. Young Riviere inquired what ground of offence they had given HIM. "I'll tell you," said Dard; "they impose on Jacintha; and so she imposes on me." Then observing he had at last gained his employer's ear, he became prodigiously loquacious, as such people generally are when once they get upon their own griefs.

"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 two purostairs, 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

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