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"Confound the bees!" was the cry. "Allons, can't you get on? — quick! Devil take the bees! wherever do they come from?"
These questions were being asked by a stranger, and one of our peasants replied, —
"Those bees, monsieur? They belong to our curd."
''Ah!" exclaimed the stranger; "of course they do; they could not belong to any one else but a curd."
He then relieved himself of a volley of epithets against all Jesuits and priests, so that when the cart had gone by we had a good laugh, and Monsieur le Curd goodhumouredly said,—
"Here's one who has not spared abuse of me! He must be a factory-man — a stranger."
"A Parisian, I dare .say," replied I. "He has been stung anyhow."
I held the brandies aside and perceived, at about ten steps from the gap I looked through, an immense vehicle, on the top of which was an enormous package of deal wood. One of Monsieur Jean's servants, old Dominique, led the horse by the bridle, and a stranger walked by, holding his handkerchief up to his nose.
Whatever could that package be? I wondered. I saw it was for Monsieur Jean, and that it had come from some distance. Thinking over it, we carried the pots to a small back room in which Monsieur Jannequin kept his plants and tools in winter.
Suzanne ran away as fast as she could. The windows were covered with bees, and Monsieur le Curd was much amused at her fright, calling, "Suzanne, come and taste our honey!
"Thank you, monsieur, I can taste it later," she replied, hiding behind the door. Amid laughter and quizzing we fumigated our coats, and when the Dees had dropped we took our disguise off.
As I have said, the quantity of honey we took was enormous; the curd fetched a plate, on which he placed three of the finest honeycombs.
"This is your part, my dear Monsieur Florent," said he. "I thank you for the assistance you have given me."
"I am quite at your service, Monsieur le Curd."
"I know, and am much obliged to you," said he, taking me out. "Au revoir."
I then left with my plate, which I carefully covered, for though the operation
had been performed an hour ago. thousands of bees, half intoxicated by the smoke, were swarming about everywhere. They were now beginning to <jo b?.ck to their hives, and not more than three or four pursued me and my honey.
When I got to the school-house, I closed the door as soon as I was in. and my wife and Juliette carried the plate into the cool pantry, admiring the honeycombs all the way.
"Have you seen a large cart go by?" asked my wife, while I stood washing my hands and face in the kitchen.
"Well, the whole village is wondering about it."
"Was not the driver stung?"
"He was, right under the nose, and on his neck ; but that is not what people are talking about. They say a magnificent piece of furniture has arrived, a beautiful piano Monsieur Jean has ordered from Paris for his daughter. Madame Bouveret declares there never was anything like it."
On hearing this I thought I would like to look at it. I had for some time wished to see an instrument of real Paris make. Our pianos in Lorraine had only three octaves, and came from Harchkirch. I may say, without the least desire to injure the manufacturers of our country, that they murdered them and did not make them. Their instruments never kept in tune; one had to hold the tuning-fork continually, and wind them up by half a tone all the time. Then the swelling of the wood in autumn, and the grating of all the chords getting unstrung! It would have been wise to put down in black and white all the qualities their makers attributed to them, before they were paid for, as I did with the cows of Elias. By dint of changing, one might perhaps have fallen on a good piano out of fifty.
My wife was just as curious as I was to see the instrument, but I told her she could wait till the next day, whereas I only had Thursday afternoons to myself. On leaving I promised to be back by supper-time.
As I went down the street I saw a group of neighbours standing in front of Monsieur Jean's house ; others were coming that way; girls carrying dead leaves in grey linen cloths threw their burden down to look in through the open windows.
Louise must have seen me coming, for she ran down to meet me.
"Oil, Monsieur Florent,'' said she, "here you are just in time; walk in. Come and look at the beautiful piano father has bought me."
"That is what brings me here, my dear," said I, going into the best room, which had been newly papered with a beautiful sky-blue leaf-pattern.
The piano stood between the two windows that looked out on the street.
Monsieur Jean, with his large bald forehead, was walking up and down in deep thought, and his arms crossed behind him.
"Ah! so here you are, Monsieur Florent: you have come to see our piano?" he asked, stopping in front of me. "Well, now look at it; what is your opinion?"
He seemed quite proud, and not without cause, for it was a splendid piece of furniture, and surpassed my expectations. It was made of rosewood, shone like a mirror, and had gilt bronze handles. It was somewhat in the shape of a chiffonier, and any one could guess by its outward appearance that it was first-rate. No such finish is wasted on H.irchkirch instruments; but all I could have imagined was nothing compared to what I was soon to hear.
Louise, in her great eagerness to display her musical talent, hastily opened the piano and exhibited the ivory and ebony notes on which the sun now shone, then she ran up and down the keys with her white taper fingers as fast as lightning. The different sounds of the flute and hautbois at the top, and the full, sonorous bass tones at the bottom sent me off in a perfect ecstasy.
Louise was much more of a proficient in music than I was. Her lingering showed that a great deal of trouble had been taken with her accomplishments at Molsheim, and it is but justice here to say a good word for the sisters, they did not neglect the fine arts.
Only, if I may be allowed an observation, the harmonious blending or union of chords one in the other, which can only be obtained by organ practice, on which instrument all sounds have gradually to swell, and the passage of one tone to another, which we call fugue, — a thing old Monsieur Labadie so excelled in,— besides a few other details of expression, were wanting in Louise's performance. It does not ensue that it was at all an indifferent one, no, it was not; though her haste to show all she could do was perhaps her cause of not keeping perfect
time ; but I had no fault to find with her. I told her I was very much pleased, and congratulated her, saying I was proud to call her my scholar, at which her eyes sparkled.
"So, really, you are satisfied, dear Monsieur Florent?" she asked.
"I am indeed; you do me great credit in every respect, my dear."
"Then please do sit down," she exclaimed. "I must sing to you now. You will accompany me, Monsieur Florent, and sing with me."
"What are you thinking of, my clear?" I exclaimed. "I sing with you? 1 know nothing but church music: Kyries, Glorias, Alleluias."
"What does that signify? We can sing church music. At the convent chapel I used to take the contralto parts. You have such a fine bass voice, Monsieur Florent! We must sing together."
Finding she had made up her mind to it, I sent one of my barefooted scholars, who was looking in at the window, to fetch the organ book at my house. Off he went in the dust, and came back five minutes later with the right copy.
Monsieur Jean, who knew no other will than that of his daughter, seemed pleased at the idea of hearing us sing together. I opened my book, after placing it carefully on the polished music-stand, then beat the preliminary one — two — three, and we both started on a grand Kyrie just as if it were full cathedral service.
"Kyrie-e-e, Kyrie-e-e-e eleison."
I never should have believed Louise had such a fine voice if any one had told me. It was full-toned, touching, and went up — up — as high as heaven. At first a shudder crept over me, and I opened my eyes very wide, thinking we were going up higher and higher still. The notes were fortunately written down before us, and we had to keep following them.
As nothing encourages and stimulates so much as feeling one's self supported by a magnificent voice, I don't remember ever having sung so well in my life. I actually considered my bass was a worthy accompaniment to such singing.
This is the result of emulation. When a man has to accompany himself on a worn-out, asthmatic organ in a low church without any echo, in which five or six choir-boys are shrieking out in a straggling sort of way to aged people who don't even listen, because they have grown deaf, then he may pull out all the stops, swell his voice, hold down the pedals, and yet the result will be most depressing, perfect wretchedness. What a difference!
Monsieur Jean had thrown the windows open so that all the village could hoar; but we did not think of the people who were listening, going from an Alleluia to a Salutaris in raptures and enthusiasm.
I was just like a child, playing everything Louise told me. The evening set in so rapidly it was as if the afternoon had lasted one minute. Then only, towards dusk, did I remember it was supper-time, and suddenly rose.
"Whatever will my wife and Juliette say?" .exclaimed I; "they are waiting for supper."
Monsieur Jean laughed and asked me to take supper with them, but having promised at home, I did not think that was quite proper; so I left, followed by Louise and her father, who saw me out, the old man saying,—
"The notes work very well, certainly, and those Parisians do make first-rate instruments, but they cost a pretty sum. Now, just guess what I have been charged for that piano, Monsieur Florent."
"Not a bit too much, Monsieur Rantzau,'' replied I; "when a thing is perfect, it is never too dear."
"Well, no, in one sense," said he laughing; "but a two thousand franc piano!"
'• Bah! that is not too much for you to spend."
"As to that, I can afford it; still, two thousand francs arc two thousand francs. Monsieur Florent. I shall have to sell bushels of salt, and many a cartload of hay and straw, before I make that sum up again. Two thousand francs! The Parisians can't be losers by the pianoforte business; they must make a good thing out of it, eh?"
"It is right they should, Monsieur Rantzau; where there is merit there should be the reward."
"I have nothing to say to the contrary," said Monsieur Jean.
Talking thus we came to the door; the people who had gathered were going away.
"You will come back another time, will you not?" said Louise, holding out her hand.
"As often as I can, my dear." On turning to wisli her and Monsieur ean "good night" I perceived George ehind the leafy hedgerow at the back of his father's garden opposite. He was stooping down to hide; he had most cer
I tainly heard us, and perhaps had been listening.
As I walked homewards I looked back on the pleasures of the past day, and I thought of the enjoyment I should have I when I could accept Louise's invitation in the future. I told my wife and Juliette ■ all that had occurred while we ate our supper, after which we went to bed under the safe watch of the Almighty.
Everything went on smoothly now. After five and twenty years' toil I wis beginning to reap the fruit of my labour.
Paul was completing his studies at the Normal School, on leaving which institution he would certainly have a good situation.
Juliette had as much work as she could do. I and my wife were in good health, thank God; my two best pupils had returned; everybody liked me; what more could I desjre? I considered myself the happiest of men. Nevertheless a very disagreeable thing happened at this time.
I went to see Louise on the following Thursday, carrying her some pretty pieces by Mozart that I had hunted up in Father Labadie's old music scores.
On reaching Monsieur Jean's house I found him standing at the window in an extraordinary passion.
"Now come here, Monsieur Florent," said he, drawing the curtains aside as soon as -I entered; "please look out. Did you ever see a more abominable thing in your life than that man's face oppdsite?"
lie pointed to his brother Jacques, who just then was sitting in shirt-sleeves on a bundle of straw at the corner of his barn and pleasantly taking a pinch of snuff.
I could not see what he was doing to offend Monsieur Jean, who now began to walk up and down in the room.
"Last year," continued he, "that old wretch had his grain thrashed in the barn at the back, where he also opened his ventilator to avoid our all being stifled with the dust, for it comes in his house as well as mine; but this year, in order to prevent Louise from going on with her music, he lias given orders for his thrashing to commence three weeks earlier than usual, and opens his barn right opposite. His idea is to deafen us with the noise, and thus force us to close our windows. Does not such a brute deserve to be sent to Toulon, and have all the skin peeled off his back with a horsewhip?"
I had never seen Monsieur Jean in so violent a passion, and, as the unfortunate tic-tac over the way did not cease, while dust filled the air, I had nothing to answer on the spur of the moment; but, after a little reflection, I said,—
"It is very annoying, Monsieur Rantzau ; but Monsieur Jacques may not have thought of all this. He may have other reasons for thrashing his grain on the front side of his house; we cannot tell. It is always better to put the best construction on things, and not look on the dark side."
"You are a kind-hearted man, Monsieur Florent, and have to keep on good terms with everybody; neither do I blame you, for, situated as you are, that brigand might take it into his head to turn you out of the Mairie if you were not very cautious; but I tell you things arc as I say. I have known him long enough, and I tell you he thinks of nothing but evil; his only enjoyment is to vex others and injure his neighbours. He is always ruminating and turning over in his mind how he can harm the innocent. He is too much of a coward to attempt an open attack, and, besides, he is afraid of the treadmill; but, if he were as brave as he is perverse, you would see strange things come to pass until he would, of course, be stopped by the authorities. Oh, the miserable wretch! And, then, to think the Almighty ordains we should have such brothers! Look; now do' look at him. Wouldn't any one swear he is an old Jew, an old usurer, planning the ruin of his relatives?"
Monsieur Jean did not consider that he was himself the picture of his brother, only that he was bald and Monsieur Jacques' hair was grey.
Passion had totally blinded him; seeing which, and not feeling inclined to get mixed up in the new quarrel, I pul; the books on the piano.
"Do not take this little disappointment to heart, my dear," said I to Louise. "I had brought you some music, but as we cannot play on account of the din, I will come back next Sunday after vespers, and we will try the new pieces. Monsieur Jacques will not be able to have his grain thrashed on the holy day of rest, you know."
Bowing to Monsieur Jean, I then left by the back door, for, if I had crossed the street, Monsieur Jacques would have called to ask me how I was, and might have shaken hands with me to his brother's face. I therefore went down
I the garden-lane, thinking, as I went, of the abominable consequences of family feuds.
I could see Monsieur Jacques' sly smile of satisfaction as he sat on his sheaves in front of his barn; but 1 could not bring myself to believe all Monsieur Jean thought of him. He had certainly gone too far.
On that same Thursday evening, after supper, George looked in on his return home from his father's saw-mill at Saarrouge.
"I have brought you a piece of white heath, which I gathered on the heights, Monsieur Florent," said he pleasantly; "I thought you would be pleased to have it."
"So I am, George ; sit down, I have one or two specimens, but not of that family. This is a rare one. Bring out the brandycherries, Marie-Barbe; George won't refuse to take one or two with me?"
"By no means,'' said George, sitting down. When my wife had placed the cherries before us, we talked of the high table-lands on which white heath grows, of the saw-mills, the sale of timber, valuations, and felling. Finally, I came to the barn subject, which was uppermost on my mind.
"By the way, George," said I, "you are now having your barley and oats thrashed in the front barn! Would you believe your uncle Jean fancies you do that to prevent Louise from practising her piano! I of course don't believe anything of the kind, but he"
George burst out laughing.
"Well, upon my word, Monsieur Florent," said lie, " that squealing and thump ing on a piano'from morning to night is a fearful nuisance."
"George!" I exclaimecl, "how can you call that squealing — you who have learnt music at college, and who play so nicely on the flute? Louise sings, sir, with much taste and talent. She has a splendid voice."
My wife, who was sitting in the window-seat, made me a sign to hold ray tongue, but I could not hear such an untruth without feeling concerned.
"Maybe," replied George ;" I don't deny it; but," added he, reddening, " my father is not fond of the piano. Every one has a right to play on the instrument he likes best."
I shook my head as much as to say his reasons were very bad ones; and he continued, " Now, Monsieur Florent, do say whether you think it is pleasant to have such a scoundrel as that living in grandfather's house, which he has robbed us of, and then to see him buy two thousand franc pianos out of our money."
"Allons, allons!" cried I, getting warm in spite of my wife's signs. " this is going a little too far! We will say no more about it, we should disagree. Louise has robbed nothing at all. sir; it is none of the child's fault. I have discovered many very good qualities in her, and I am very fond of her. 1 am grieved to see you and your father do all you can to annoy her."
My wife fidgeted about tremendously, but my heart was too full. George stared at me, and I went on,—
"I should very much like to know, sir, whether there is a prettier girl in all the Saarbourg arrondisscmcnt, or one who is more lady-like any where, than your cousin? I am not a Rantzau, and I have not the slightest desire to flatter them, but if 1 had the honour to belong to the first family of the country, I should not go about finding fault with my own relatives; I should feel proud of all who did the race any credit. That is my frank opinion, and those are the very words I should tell Louise if she said anything behind your back."
Seeing I was grieved, George suddenly held out his hand, and said he hoped he had not offended me.
"Offended me!" I cried, "not at all; I am only fond of my old scholars, especially those who deserve my esteem, and you are one, George. That is why your injustice concerns me; if you were any one else, I should not so much care."
"You are quite right, Monsieur Florent," said he, with a softened voice. "I love you all the more for it. It is a pity," he continued, rising, "that everybody is not of your mind. Good night, Madame Florent; good night, Juliette." Then turning and pressing my hand, he added, " If it is agreeable to you, my dear master, we will some day take a stroll up in the mountains together. I should like you to see how lovely the country is round about the springs of the Saar."
"Wherever you like, George. 1 am always happy to go out and have a talk with you."
1 took him down-stairs, and when he had gone I congratulated myself on having for once said what had been so long on my heart; but my wife blamed my conduct, and declared I should soon get between Monsieur Jean and Monsieur Jacques in the position of a nail between
the hammer and anvil, that is — T should come in for all the blows.
"I don't care if I do," I replied.
I had evidently taken too manv cherries and lost sight of danger. "If these people seek to do me evil because 1 seek their good, God will punish them; they will repent of it."
This is what a man is led to through following his inclinations; he is sure to commit the most incautious deeds.
I approved of my new line of conduct the whole of the following night, even in my dreams, but the next day 1 perceived I had been very rash, and, had the opportunity occurred, 1 should have retracted my words. However, no evil consequences ensued, for two or three days later George came to fetch me. He hid put on a mountaineer suit, a blouse and broad-brimmed hat, and held a strong stick in his hand. I saw he had a mind to go up to the saw-mills, and feeling no less exuberant than he at the prospect of a climb, I hastily put the brandy flagon in my pocket and a crust or so in my bag.
Although I had reached fifty I was still a good walker, being rather s|5.ire and of a nervous temperament. Then, the beauty of the scenery, the light and shade in the branches, the hoary trees, the ivy, moss, and cool streamlets leaping over beds of gravels between the rocks, the insects dancing on a sunbeam, the velvety woodland flies, and many other things besides, alt contributed so to enliven and vivify me that I felt twenty again! Neither is this all. After a good stretch up hill and down again, through broom, heather, and dried twigs, what a pleasure to view in the distance a secluded valley through which winds a river, and close by a saw-mill, with its small bridge, its heavy wheel, pond, and lots of planks in fan-like rows; while in the midst of all this, the wood-cutter stops thinning the trunk before him. to look up and watch us approach from afar: meantime the paddling of the wheel and the rush of the water underneath the dykes fill solitude with their busy noise, and male and female buzzards pursue each other in wide circles above the pine-woods!
These were the sounds and scenes that soothed and rested me, these I delighted in.
As to George, his business was the valuation of timber: he had a wonderful eye for it.
"How many square metres of fuel do you suppose there are in that fir-tree?" would 1 ask.