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   Chapter 2 Surviving Evils of the Reign of Terror

The Two Vanrevels By Booth Tarkington Characters: 19758

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Does there exist an incredulous, or jealous, denizen of another portion of our country who, knowing that the room in the wooden cupola over Mr. Carewe's library was commonly alluded to by Rouen as the "Tower Chamber," will prove himself so sectionally prejudiced as to deny that the town was a veritable hotbed of literary interest, or that Sir 'Walter Scott was ill-appreciated there? Some of the men looked sly, and others grinned, at mention of this apartment; but the romantic were not lacking who spoke of it in whispers: how the lights sometimes shone there all night long, and the gentlemen drove away, whitefaced, in the dawn. The cupola, rising above the library, overlooked the garden; and the house, save for that, was of a single story, with a low veranda running the length of its front. The windows of the library and of a row of bedrooms--one of which was Miss Betty's-lined the veranda, "steamboat fashion;" the inner doors of these rooms all opening upon a long hail which bisected the house, the stairway leading to the room in the cupola rose the library itself, while the bisecting hail afforded be only access to the library; hence, the gossips, 'eli acquainted with the geography of the place, conferred seriously together upon what effect Miss Betty's homecoming would have in this connection:

Dr anyone going to the stairway must needs pass her door; and, what was more to the point, a party C gentlemen descending late from the mysterious garret might be not so quiet as they intended, and the young lady sufficiently disturbed to inquire of her father what entertainment he provided that should keep his guests until four in the morning.

But at present it was with the opposite end of the house that the town was occupied, for there, workmen were hammering and sawing and painting day long, finishing the addition Mr. Carewe was building for his daughter's debut. This hammering disturbed Miss Betty, who had become almost as busy with the French Revolution as with her mantua-maker. For she had found in her father's library many books not for convent-shelves; and she had become a Girondin. She found memoirs, histories, and tales of that delectable period, then not so dim with time but that the figures of it were more than tragic shadows; and for a week there was no meal in that house to which she sat down earlier than half an hour Jate. She had a rightful property-interest in the Revolution, her own great-uncle having been one of those who "suffered;" not, however, under the guillotine; for to Georges Meilhac appertained the rare distinction of death by accident on the day when the business-like young Bonaparte played upon the mob with his cannon.

There were some yellow letters of this great uncle's in a box which had belonged to her grandmother, a rich discovery for Miss Betty, who read and re-read them with eager and excited eyes, living more in Paris with Georges and his friends than in Rouen with her father. Indeed, she had little else to do. Mr. Carewe was no comrade for her, by far the reverse. She seldom saw him, except at the table, when he sat with averted eyes, and talked to her very little; and, while making elaborate preparation for her introduction to his friends (such was his phrase) he treated her with a perfunctory civility which made her wonder if her advent was altogether welcome to him; bat when she noticed that his hair looked darker than usual about every fourth day, she began to understand Why he appeared ungrateful to her for growing up. He went out a great deal, though no visitors came to the house; for it was known that Mr. Carewe desired to present his daughter to no one until he presented her to all. Fanchon Bareaud, indeed, made one hurried and embarrassed call, evading Miss Betty's reference to the chevalier of the kitten with a dexterity too nimble to be thought unintentional. Miss Carewe was forbidden to return her friend's visit until after her debut; and Mr. Carewe explained that there was always some worthless Young men hanging about the Bareaud's, where (he did not add) they interfered with a worthy oh one who desired to honor Fanchon's older sister, Virginia, with his attentions.

This was no great hardship for Miss Betty, as, since plunging into the Revolution with her great-uncle, she had lost some curiosity concerning the men of to-day, doubting that they would show forth as heroic, as debonnair, gay and tragic as he. He was the legendary hero of her childhood; she remembered her mother's stories of him perhaps more clearly than she remembered her mother; and one of the older Sisters had known him in Paris and had talked of him at length, giving the flavor of his dandyism and his beauty at first hand to his young relative. He had been one of those hardy young men wearing unbelievable garments, who began to appear in the garden of the Tuileries with knives in their sleeves and cudgels in their hands, about April, 1794, and whose dash and recklessness in many matters were the first intimations that the Citizen Tallien was about to cause the Citizen Robespierre to shoot himself through the jaw.

In the library hung a small, full-length drawing of Georges, done in color by Miss Betty's grandmother; and this she carried to her own room an& studied long and ardently, until sometimes the man himself seemed to stand before her, in spite of the fact that Mile. Meithac had not a distinguished talent and M. Meilhac's features might have been anybody's. It was to be seen, however, that he was smiling.

Miss Betty had an impression that her grandmother's art of portraiture would have been more-successful with the profile than the "full-face." Nevertheless, nothing could be more clearly indicated than that the hair of M. Melihac was very yellow, and his short, huge-lapelled waistcoat white, striped with scarlet. An enormous cravat covered his chin; the heavy collar of his yellow coat rose behind his ears, while its tails fell to his ankles; and the tight trousers of white and yellow stripes were tied with white ribbons about the middle of the calf; he wore white stockings and gold-buckled yellow shoes, and on the back of his head a jauntily cocked black hat. Miss Betty innocently wondered why his letters did not speak of Petion, of Vergniaud, or of Dumoriez, since in the historical novels which she read, the hero's lot was inevitably linked with that of everyone of importance in his generation; yet Georges appeared to have been unacquainted with these personages, Robespierre being the only name of consequence mentioned in his letters; and then it appeared in much the same fashion practised by her father in alluding to the Governor of the State, who had the misfortune to be unpopular with Mr. Carewe. But this did not dim her great-uncle's lustre in Miss Betty's eyes, nor lessen for her the pathetic romance of the smile he wore.

Beholding this smile, one remembered the end to which his light footsteps bad led him; and it was unavoidable to picture him left lying in the empty street behind the heels of the flying crowd, carefully forming that same smile on his lips, and taking much pride in passing with some small, cynical speech, murmured to himself, concerning the futility of a gentleman's getting shot by his friends for merely being present to applaud them. So, fancying him thus, with his yellow hair, his scarlet-striped waistcoat, and his tragedy, the young girl felt a share of family greatness, or, at least, of picturesqueness, descend to her. And she smiled sadly back upon the smile in the picture, and dreamed about its original night after night.

Whether or no another figure, that of a dark young man in a white hat, with a white kitten etching his wrist in red, found any place in her dreams at this period,-it is impossible to determine. She did not see him again. It is quite another thing, hazardous to venture, to state that he did not see her. At all events, it is certain that many people who bad never beheld her were talking of her; that Rouen was full of contention concerning her beauty and her gift of music, for a song can be heard through an open window. And how did it happen that Crailey Gray knew that it was Miss Carewe's habit to stroll in her garden for half an hour or so, each evening before retiring, and that she went to mass every morning soon after sunrise? Crailey Gray never rose at, or near, sunrise in his life, though he sometimes beheld it, from another point of view, as the end of the evening. It appears that someone must have told him.

One night when the moon lay white on the trees and housetops, Miss Betty

paused in her evening promenade and seated herself upon a bench on the

borders of the garden, "touched," as the books of the time would have

put it, "by the sweet tranquillity of the scene," and wrought upon by

the tender incentive to sighs and melancholy which youth in loneliness

finds in a loveliness of the earth. The breeze bore the smells of the

old-fashioned garden, of violets and cherry blossoms, and a sound of

distant violins came on the air playing the new song from the new opera.

"But I also dreamt, which pleased me most,

That you loved me just the same-"

they sang; and with the lilt of them and the keen beauty of the night, the inherited pain of the ages rose from the depths of the young girl's heart, so that she thought it must break; for what reason she could not have told, since she was without care or sorrow that she knew, except the French Revolution, yet tears shone upon the long lashes. She shook them off and looked up with a sudden odd consciousness. The next second she sprang to her feet with a gasp and a choked outcry, her bands pressed to her breast.

Ten paces in front of her, a gap in the shrubbery where tall trees rose left a small radiant area of illumination like that

of a lime-light in a theatre, its brilliancy intensified by the dark foliage behind. It was open to view only from the bench by which she stood, and appeared, indeed, like the stage of a little theatre a stage occupied by a bizarre figure. For, in the centre of this shining patch, with the light strong on his face, was standing a fair-haired young man, dressed in a yellow coat, a scarlet and white striped waistcoat, wearing a jauntily cocked black hat on his bead. And even to the last detail, the ribbon laces above the ankle and the gold-buckled shoes, he was the sketch of Georges Meilhac sprung into life.

About this slender figure there hung a wan sweetness like a fine mist, almost an ethereality in that light; yet in the pale face lurked something reckless, something of the actor, too; and though his smile was gentle and wistful, there was a twinkle behind it, not seen at first, something amused and impish; a small surprise underneath, like a flea in a rose-jar.

Fixed to the spot by this apparition, Miss Betty stood wildly staring, her straining eyelids showing the white above and below the large brown iris. Her breath came faster and deeper, until, between her parted lips it became vocal in a quick sound like a sob. At that he spoke.

"Forgive me!" The voice was low, vibrant, and so exceedingly musical that he might have been accused of coolly selecting his best tone; and it became only sweeter when, even more softly, in a semi-whisper of almost crucial pleading, he said, "Ah-don't go away!"

In truth, she could not go; she had been too vitally stirred; she began to tremble excessively, and sank back upon the bench, motioning him away with vague gestures of her shaking hands.

This was more than the Incroyable had counted upon, and far from his desires. He started forward with an exclamation.

"Don't come near me!" she gasped. "Who are you? Go away!"

"Give me one second to explain," he began; but with the instant reassurance of this beginning she cut him off short, her fears dispelled by his commonplace. Nay, indignation displaced them so quickly that she fairly flashed up before him to her full height.

"You did not come in by the gate!" she cried. "What do you mean by coming here in that dress What right have you in my garden?"

"Just one word," he begged quickly, but very gently. "You'd allow a street-beggar that much!"

She stood before him, panting, and, as he thought, glorious, in her flush of youth and anger. Tom Vanrevel had painted her incoherently, but richly, in spite of that, his whole heart being in the portrait; and-Crailey Gray had smiled at what he deemed the exaggeration of an ordinarily unimpressionable man who had fallen in love "at first sight;" yet, in the presence of the reality, the Incroyable decided that Tom's colors had been gray and humble. It was not that she was merely lovely, that her nose was straight, and her chin dexterously wrought between square and oval; that her dark hair lay soft as a shadow on her white brow; not that the trembling hand she held against her breast sprang from a taper wrist and tapered again to the tips of the long fingers; nor that she was of that slenderness as strong as it is delicate; not all the exquisite regularity of line and mould, nor simplicity of color, gave her that significance which made the Incroyable declare to himself that he stood for the first time in the presence of Beauty, and that now he knew the women he had been wont to call beautiful were but pretty. And yet her beauty, he told himself, was the least of her loveliness, for there was a glamour about her. It was not only the richness of her youth; but there was an ineffable exhalation which seemed to be made partly of light, partly of the very spirit of her, and, oddly enough, partly of the scent of the little fan that hung by a ribbon from her waist. This was a woman like a wine, he felt, there was a bouquet.

In regard to the bouquet of the young man himself, if he possessed one, it is pertinent to relate that at this very instant the thought skipped across his mind (like the hop of a flea in a rose-jar) that some day he might find the moment when he could tell her the truth about herself-with a half-laugh-and say: "The angels sent their haloes in a sandal-wood box to be made into a woman-and it was you!"

"If you have anything to say for yourself, say it quickly!" said Miss Betty.

"You were singing a while ago," he answered, somewhat huskily, "and I stopped on the street to listen; then I came here to be nearer. The spell of your voice-" He broke off abruptly to change the word. "The spell of the song came over me-it is my dearest favorite-so that I stood afterward in a sort of trance, only hearing again, in the silence, 'The stolen heart, like the gathered rose, will bloom but for a day!' I did not see you until you came to the bench. You must believe me: I would not have frightened you for anything in the world."

"Why are you wearing that dress?"

He laughed, and pointed to where, behind him on the ground, lay a long gray cloak, upon which had been tossed a white mask. "I'm on my way to the masquerade;" he answered, with an airy gesture in the direction of the violins. "I'm an Incroyable, you see; and I had the costume made from my recollection of a sketch of your great-uncle. I saw it a long time ago in your library."

Miss Carewe's accustomed poise was quite recovered; indeed, she was astonished to discover a distinct trace of disappointment that the brilliant apparition must offer so tame an explanation. What he said was palpably the truth; there was a masquerade that night, she knew, at the Madrillon's, a little way up Carewe Street, and her father had gone, an hour earlier, a blue domino over his arm.

The Incroyable was a person of almost magical perceptiveness; he felt the let-down immediately and feared a failure. This would not do; the attitude of tension between them must be renewed at once. "You'll forgive me?" he began, in a quickly impassioned tone. "It was only after you sang, a dream possessed me, and-"

"I cannot stay to talk with you," Miss Betty interrupted, and added, with a straightforwardness which made him afraid she would prove lamentably direct: "I do not know you."

Perhaps she remembered that already one young man had been presented to her by no better sponsor than a white cat, and had no desire to carry her unconventionality farther than that. In the present instance there was not even a kitten.

She turned toward the house, whereupon he gave a little pathetic exclamation of pleading in a voice that was masterly, being as sincere as it was musical, and he took a few leaning steps toward her, both hands outstretched.

"One moment more!" he cried, as she turned again to him. "It may be the one chance of my life to speak with you; don't deny me this.-All the rest will meet you when the happy evening comes, will dance with you, talk with you, see you when they like, listen to you sing. I, alone, must hover about the gates, or steal like a thief into your garden to hear you from a distance. Listen to me-just this once-for a moment?"

"I cannot listen," she said firmly; and stood quite still. She was now in deep shadow.

"I will not believe you merciless! You would not condemn the meanest criminal unheard!" Remembering that she was so lately from the convent, he ventured this speech in a deep, thrilling voice, only to receive a distinct shock for his pains, for she greeted it with an irrepressible, most unexpected peal of contralto laughter, and his lips parted slightly with the surprise of it.

They parted much farther in the next instant-in good truth, it may be stated of the gentleman that he was left with his mouth open-for, suddenly leaning toward him out of the shadow into the light, her face shining as a cast of tragedy, she cried in a hoarse whisper:

"Are you a murderer?"

And with that and a whisk of her skirts, and a footfall on the gravel path, she was gone. He stood dumbfounded, poor comedian, having come to play the chief role, but to find the scene taken out of his hands. Then catching the flutter of her wrap, as she disappeared into the darkness of the veranda, he cried in a loud, manly voice:

"You are a dear!"

As he came out into the street through a gap in the hedge, he paused, drawing his cloak about him, and lifted his face to the eastern moon. It was a strange face: the modelling most like what is called "Greek," save for the nose, which was a trifle too short for that, and the features showed a happy purity of outline almost childlike; the blue eyes, clear, fleckless, serenely irresponsible, with more the look of refusing responsibility than being unconscious of it; eyes without care, without prudence, and without evil. A stranger might have said he was about twenty-five and had never a thought in his life. There were some blossoms on the hedge, and he touched one lightly, as though he chucked it under the chin; he smiled upon it then, but not as he had smiled upon Miss Betty, for this was his own, the smile that came when he was alone; and, when it came, the face was no longer joyous as it had been in repose; there was an infinite patience and worn tolerance-possibly for himself. This incongruous and melancholy smile was astonishing: one looked for the laughter of a boy and found, instead, a gentle, worldly, old prelate.

Standing there, all alone in the moonlight, by the hedge, he lifted both hands high and waved them toward the house, as children wave to each other across lawns at twilight. After that he made a fantastic bow to his corrugated shadow on the board sidewalk.

"Again, you rogue!" he exclaimed aloud. Then, as he faced about and began to walk in the direction of the beckoning violins: "I wonder if Tom's kitten was better, after all!"

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