The child did as she was told, and her mother was soon rocking tron price risingon the snuggest side of the kitchen stove, interspersing her rather bewildering orders with various reflections and surmises.
"Well," said Jane apprehensively, "I only hope we'bitcoin index.hrll soon have a chance to fix up them drawers, for if he should open 'em we'd have to tramp again, and we will anyway if you don't help me get supper.""You are mistaken, Jane," responded Mrs. Mumpson with dignity. "We shall not leave this roof for three months, and that will give me ample time to open his eyes to his true interests. I will condescend to these menial tasks until he brings a girl who will yield the deference due to my years and station in life."
Between them, after filling the room with smoke, they kindled the kitchen fire. Jane insisted on making the coffee and then helped her mother to prepare the rest of the supper, doing, in fact, the greater part of the work. Then they sat down to wait, and they waited so long that Mrs. Mumpson began to express her disapproval by rocking violently. At last, she said severely, "Jane, we will partake of supper alone.""I'd ruther wait till he comes.""It's not proper that we should wait. He is not showing me due respect. Come, do as I command."Mrs. Mumpson indulged in lofty and aggrieved remarks throughout the meal and then returned to her rocker. At last, her indignant sense of wrong reached such a point that she commanded Jane to clear the table and put away the things."I won't," said the child.
"What! Will you compel me to chastise you?""Well, then, I'll tell him it was all your doin's."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.Now nature is nature, and two pair of violet eyes brightened anddwelt on the fragrant and delicate food with demure desire; for allthat, when Aubertin offered Josephine a wing, she declined it. "Nopartridge?" cried the savant, in utter amazement.
"Not to-day, dear friend; it is not a feast day to-day.""Ah! no; what was I thinking of?""But you are not to be deprived," put in Josephine, anxiously. "Wewill not deny ourselves the pleasure of seeing you eat some.""What!" remonstrated Aubertin, "am I not one of you?"The baroness had attended to every word of this. She rose from herchair, and said quietly, "Both you and he and Rose will be so goodas to let me see you eat.""But, mamma," remonstrated Josephine and Rose in one breath."Je le veux," was the cold reply.These were words the baroness uttered so seldom that they werelittle likely to be disputed.The doctor carved and helped the young ladies and himself.When they had all eaten a little, a discussion was observed to begoing on between Rose and her sister. At last Aubertin caught thesewords, "It will be in vain; even you have not influence enough forthat, Rose.""We shall see," was the reply, and Rose put the wing of a partridgeon a plate and rose calmly from her chair. She took the plate andput it on a little work-table by her mother's side. The otherspretended to be all mouths, but they were all ears. The baronesslooked in Rose's face with an air of wonder that was not veryencouraging. Then, as Rose said nothing, she raised heraristocratic hand with a courteous but decided gesture of refusal.Undaunted Rose laid her palm softly on the baroness's shoulder, andsaid to her as firmly as the baroness herself had just spoken,--"Il le veut."The baroness was staggered. Then she looked with moist eyes at thefair young face, then she reflected. At last she said, with anexquisite mixture of politeness and affection, "It is his daughterwho has told me 'Il le veut.' I obey."Rose returning like a victorious knight from the lists, saucilyexultant, and with only one wet eyelash, was solemnly kissed andpetted by Josephine and the doctor.
Thus they loved one another in this great, old, falling house.Their familiarity had no coarse side; a form, not of custom butaffection, it went hand-in-hand with courtesy by day and night.
The love of the daughters for their mother had all the tenderness,subtlety, and unselfishness of womanly natures, together with acertain characteristic of the female character. And whither thatone defect led them, and by what gradations, it may be worth thereader's while to observe.The baroness retired to rest early; and she was no sooner gone thanJosephine leaned over to Rose, and told her what their mother hadsaid to the oak-tree. Rose heard this with anxiety; hitherto theyhad carefully concealed from their mother that the governmentclaimed the right of selling the chateau to pay the creditors, etc.;and now both sisters feared the old lady had discovered it somehow,or why that strange thing she had said to the oak-tree? But Dr.
Aubertin caught their remarks, and laid down his immortal MS. onFrench insects, to express his hope that they were putting a forcedinterpretation on the baroness's words."I think," said he, "she merely meant how short-lived are we allcompared with this ancient oak. I should be very sorry to adopt theother interpretation; for if she knows she can at any moment beexpelled from Beaurepaire, it will be almost as bad for her as thecalamity itself; THAT, I think, would kill her.""Why so?" said Rose, eagerly. "What is this house or that? Mammawill still have her daughters' love, go where she will."Aubertin replied, "It is idle to deceive ourselves; at her age menand women hang to life by their habits; take her away from herchateau, from the little oratory where she prays every day for thedeparted, from her place in the sun on the south terrace, and fromall the memories that surround her here; she would soon pine, anddie."Here the savant seeing a hobby-horse near, caught him and jumped on.
He launched into a treatise upon the vitality of human beings, andproved that it is the mind which keeps the body of a man alive forso great a length of time as fourscore years; for that he had in theearlier part of his studies carefully dissected a multitude ofanimals,--frogs, rabbits, dogs, men, horses, sheep, squirrels,foxes, cats, etc.,--and discovered no peculiarity in man's organs toaccount for his singular longevity, except in the brain or organ ofmind. Thence he went to the longevity of men with contented minds,and the rapid decay of the careworn. Finally he succeeded inconvincing them the baroness was so constituted, physically andmentally, that she would never move from Beaurepaire except into hergrave. However, having thus terrified them, he proceeded to consolethem. "You have a friend," said he, "a powerful friend; and here inmy pocket--somewhere--is a letter that proves it."The letter was from Mr. Perrin the notary. It appeared by it thatDr. Aubertin had reminded the said Perrin of his obligations to thelate baron, and entreated him to use all his influence to keep theestate in this ancient family.Perrin had replied at first in a few civil lines; but his presentletter was a long and friendly one. It made both the daughters ofBeaurepaire shudder at the peril they had so narrowly escaped. Forby it they now learned for the first time that one Jaques Bonard, asmall farmer, to whom they owed but five thousand francs, had goneto the mayor and insisted, as he had a perfect right, on the estatebeing put up to public auction. This had come to Perrin's ears justin time, and he had instantly bought Bonard's debt, and stopped theauction; not, however, before the very bills were printed; for whichhe, Perrin, had paid, and now forwarded the receipt. He concludedby saying that the government agent was personally inert, and wouldnever move a step in the matter unless driven by a creditor."But we have so many," said Rose in dismay. "We are not safe a day."Aubertin assured her the danger was only in appearance. "Your largecreditors are men of property, and such men let their funds lieunless compelled to move them. The small mortgagee, the pettymiser, who has, perhaps, no investment to watch but one small loan,about which he is as anxious and as noisy as a hen with one chicken,he is the clamorous creditor, the harsh little egoist, who for fearof risking a crown piece would bring the Garden of Eden to thehammer. Now we are rid of that little wretch, Bonard, and havePerrin on our side; so there is literally nothing to fear."The sisters thanked him warmly, and Rose shared his hopes; and saidso; but Josephine was silent and thoughtful. Nothing more worthrecording passed that night. But the next day was the first of May,Josephine's birthday.Now they always celebrated this day as well as they could; and usedto plant a tree, for one thing. Dard, well spurred by Jacintha, hadgot a little acacia; and they were all out in the Pleasaunce toplant it. Unhappily, they were a preposterous time making up theirfeminine minds where to have it set; so Dard turned rusty and saidthe park was the best place for it. There it could do no harm,stick it where you would.
"And who told you to put in your word?" inquired Jacintha. "You'rehere to dig the hole where mademoiselle chooses; not to argufy."Josephine whispered Rose, "I admire the energy of her character.Could she be induced to order once for all where the poor thing isto be planted?""Then where WILL you have it, mademoiselle?" asked Dard, sulkily.
"Here, I think, Dard," said Josephine sweetly.Dard grinned malignantly, and drove in his spade. "It will never bemuch bigger than a stinging nettle," thought he, "for the roots ofthe oak have sucked every atom of heart out of this." His blacksoul exulted secretly.
Jacintha stood by Dard, inspecting his work; the sistersintertwined, a few feet from him. The baroness turned aside, andwent to look for a moment at the chaplet she had placed yesterday onthe oak-tree bough. Presently she uttered a slight ejaculation; andher daughters looked up directly."Come here, children," said she. They glided to her in a moment;and found her eyes fixed upon an object that lay on the knights'
bough.It was a sparkling purse.I dare say you have noticed that the bark on the boughs of thesevery ancient trees is as deeply furrowed as the very stem of an oaktree that boasts but a few centuries; and in one of these deepfurrows lay a green silk purse with gold coins glittering throughthe glossy meshes.Josephine and Rose eyed it a moment like startled deer; then Rosepounced on it. "Oh, how heavy!" she cried. This brought up Dardand Jacintha, in time to see Rose pour ten shining gold pieces outof the purse into her pink-white palm, while her face flushed andher eyes glittered with excitement. Jacintha gave a scream of joy;"Our luck is turned," she cried, superstitiously. Meanwhile,Josephine had found a slip of paper close to the purse. She openedit with nimble fingers; it contained one line in a hand like that ofa copying clerk: FROM A FRIEND: IN PART PAYMENT OF A GREAT DEBT.
Keen, piquant curiosity now took the place of surprise. Who couldit be? The baroness's suspicion fell at once on Dr. Aubertin. ButRose maintained he had not ten gold pieces in the world. Thebaroness appealed to Josephine. She only blushed in an extraordinaryway, and said nothing. They puzzled, and puzzled, and were as muchin the dark as ever, when lo! one of the suspected parties deliveredhimself into the hands of justice with ludicrous simplicity. Ithappened to be Dr. Aubertin's hour of out-a-door study; and hecame mooning along, buried in a book, and walked slowly into thegroup--started, made a slight apology, and was mooning off, lostin his book again. Then the baroness, who had eyed him with grimsuspicion all the time, said with well-affected nonchalance, "Doctor,you dropped your purse; we have just picked it up." And she handedit to him. "Thank you, madame," said he, and took it quietly withoutlooking at it, put it in his pocket, and retired, with his soul inhis book. They stared comically at one another, and at this coolhand. "It's no more his than it's mine," said Jacintha, bluntly.Rose darted after the absorbed student, and took him captive. "Now,doctor," she cried, "be pleased to come out of the clouds." Andwith the word she whipped the purse out of his coat pocket, andholding it right up before his eye, insisted on his telling herwhether that was his purse or not, money and all. Thus adjured,he disowned the property mighty coolly, for a retired physician,who had just pocketed it.
"No, my dear," said he; "and, now I think of it, I have not carrieda purse this twenty years."The baroness, as a last resource, appealed to his honor whether hehad not left a purse and paper on the knights' bough. The questionhad to be explained by Josephine, and then the doctor surprised themall by being rather affronted--for once in his life."Baroness," said he, "I have been your friend and pensioner nearlytwenty years; if by some strange chance money were to come into myhands, I should not play you a childish trick like this. What! haveI not the right to come to you, and say, 'My old friend, here Ibring you back a very small part of all I owe you?'""What geese we are," remarked Rose. "Dear doctor, YOU tell us whoit is."Dr. Aubertin reflected a single moment; then said he could make ashrewd guess.
"Who? who? who?" cried the whole party."Perrin the notary."It was the baroness's turn to be surprised; for there was nothingromantic about Perrin the notary. Aubertin, however, let her knowthat he was in private communication with the said Perrin, and thiswas not the first friendly act the good notary had done her in secret.