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White Lies   By: (1814-1884)

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By Charles Reade


Towards the close of the last century the Baron de Beaurepaire lived in the chateau of that name in Brittany. His family was of prodigious antiquity; seven successive barons had already flourished on this spot when a younger son of the house accompanied his neighbor the Duke of Normandy in his descent on England, and was rewarded by a grant of English land, on which he dug a mote and built a chateau, and called it Beaurepaire (the worthy Saxons turned this into Borreper without delay). Since that day more than twenty gentlemen of the same lineage had held in turn the original chateau and lands, and handed them down to their present lord.

Thus rooted in his native Brittany, Henri Lionel Marie St. Quentin de Beaurepaire was as fortunate as any man can be pronounced before he dies. He had health, rank, a good income, a fair domain, a goodly house, a loving wife, and two lovely young daughters, all veneration and affection. Two months every year he visited the Faubourg St. Germain and the Court. At both every gentleman and every lacquey knew his name, and his face: his return to Brittany after this short absence was celebrated by a rustic fete.

Above all, Monsieur de Beaurepaire possessed that treasure of treasures, content. He hunted no heart burns. Ambition did not tempt him; why should he listen to long speeches, and court the unworthy, and descend to intrigue, for so precarious and equivocal a prize as a place in the Government, when he could be De Beaurepaire without trouble or loss of self respect? Social ambition could get little hold of him; let parvenus give balls half in doors, half out, and light two thousand lamps, and waste their substance battling and manoeuvring for fashionable distinction; he had nothing to gain by such foolery, nothing to lose by modest living; he was the twenty ninth Baron of Beaurepaire. So wise, so proud, so little vain, so strong in health and wealth and honor, one would have said nothing less than an earthquake could shake this gentleman and his house. Yet both were shaken, though rooted by centuries to the soil; and by no vulgar earthquake.

For years France had bowed in silence beneath two galling burdens a selfish and corrupt monarchy, and a multitudinous, privileged, lazy, and oppressive aristocracy, by whom the peasant was handled like a Russian serf. [Said peasant is now the principal proprietor of the soil.]

The lower orders rose upon their oppressors, and soon showed themselves far blacker specimens of the same breed. Law, religion, humanity, and common sense, hid their faces; innocent blood flowed in a stream, and terror reigned. To Monsieur de Beaurepaire these republicans murderers of women, children, and kings seemed the most horrible monsters nature had ever produced; he put on black, and retired from society; he felled timber, and raised large sums of money upon his estate. And one day he mounted his charger, and disappeared from the chateau.

Three months after this, a cavalier, dusty and pale, rode into the courtyard of Beaurepaire, and asked to see the baroness. She came to him; he hung his head and held her out a letter.

It contained a few sad words from Monsieur de Laroche jaquelin. The baron had just fallen in La Vendee, fighting for the Crown.

From that hour till her death the baroness wore black.

The mourner would have been arrested, and perhaps beheaded, but for a friend, the last in the world on whom the family reckoned for any solid aid. Dr. Aubertin had lived in the chateau twenty years. He was a man of science, and did not care a button for money; so he had retired from the practice of medicine, and pursued his researches at ease under the baron's roof. They all loved him, and laughed at his occasional reveries, in the days of prosperity; and now, in one great crisis, the protege became the protector, to their astonishment and his own. But it was an age of ups and downs... Continue reading book >>

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