White Lies by Charles Reade
Dr. Aubertin received one day a note from a publishing bookseller, to inquire whether he still thought of giving the world his valuable work on insects. The doctor was amazed. "My valuable work! Why, Rose, they all refused it, and this person in particular recoiled from it as if my insects could sting on paper."
The above led to a correspondence, in which the convert to insects explained that the work must be published at the author's expense, the publisher contenting himself with the profits. The author, thirsting for the public, consented. Then the publisher wrote again to say that the immortal treatise must be spiced; a little politics flung in: "Nothing goes down, else." The author answered in some heat that he would not dilute things everlasting with the fleeting topics of the day, nor defile science with politics. On this his Mentor smoothed him down, despising him secretly for not seeing that a book is a matter of trade and nothing else. It ended in Aubertin going to Paris to hatch his Phoenix. He had not been there a week, when a small deputation called on him, and informed him he had been elected honorary member of a certain scientific society. The compliment was followed by others, till at last certain ladies, with the pliancy of their sex, find out they had always secretly cared for butterflies. Then the naturalist smelt a rat, or, in other words, began to scent that entomology, a form of idiocy in a poor man, is a graceful decoration of the intellect in a rich one.
Philosopher without bile, he saw through this, and let it amuse, not shock him. His own species, a singularly interesting one in my opinion, had another trait in reserve for him.
He took a world of trouble to find out the circumstances of his nephew's nephews and nieces: then he made arrangements for distributing a large part of his legacy among them. His intentions and the proportions of his generosity transpired.
Hitherto they had been silent, but now they all fell-to and abused him: each looking only to the amount of his individual share, not at the sum total the doctor was giving way to an ungrateful lot.
The donor was greatly amused, and noted down the incident and some of the remarks in his commonplace book, under the general head of "Bestiarium;" and the particular head of "Homo."
Paris with its seductions netted the good doctor, and held him two or three months; would have detained him longer, but for alarming accounts the baroness sent of Josephine's health. These determined him to return to Beaurepaire; and, must I own it, the announcement was no longer hailed at Beaurepaire with universal joy as heretofore.
Josephine Raynal, late Dujardin, is by this time no stranger to my intelligent reader. I wish him to bring his knowledge of her character and her sensibility to my aid. Imagine, as the weary hours and days and weeks roll over her head, what this loving woman feels for her lover whom she has dismissed; what this grateful wife feels for the benefactor she has unwittingly wronged; but will never wrong with her eyes open; what this lady pure as snow, and proud as fire, feels at the seeming frailty into which a cruel combination of circumstances has entrapped her.
Put down the book a moment: shut your eyes: and imagine this strange and complicated form of human suffering.
Her mental sufferings were terrible; and for some time Rose feared for her reason. At last her agonies subsided into a listlessness and apathy little less alarming. She seemed a creature descending inch by inch into the tomb. Indeed, I fully believe she would have died of despair: but one of nature's greatest forces stepped into the arena and fought on the side of life. She was affected with certain bilious symptoms that added to Rose's uneasiness, but Jacintha assured her it was nothing, and would retire and leave the sufferer better. Jacintha, indeed, seemed now to take a particular interest in Josephine, and was always about her with looks of pity and interest.
"Good creature!" thought Rose, "she sees my sister is unhappy: and that makes her more attentive and devoted to her than ever."
One day these three were together in Josephine's room. Josephine was mechanically combing her long hair, when all of a sudden she stretched out her hand and cried, "Rose!"
Rose ran to her, and coming behind her saw in the glass that her lips were colorless. She screamed to Jacintha, and between them they supported Josephine to the bed. She had hardly touched it when she fainted dead away. "Mamma! mamma!" cried Rose in her terror.
"Hush!" cried Jacintha roughly, "hold your tongue: it is only a faint. Help me loosen her: don't make any noise, whatever." They loosened her stays, and applied the usual remedies, but it was some time before she came-to. At last the color came back to her lips, then to her cheek, and the light to her eye. She smiled feebly on Jacintha and Rose, and asked if she had not been insensible.
"Yes, love, and frightened us--a little--not much--oh, dear! oh, dear!"
"Don't be alarmed, sweet one, I am better. And I will never do it again, since it frightens you." Then Josephine said to her sister in a low voice, and in the Italian language, "I hoped it was death, my sister; but he comes not to the wretched."
"If you hoped that," replied Rose in the same language, "you do not love your poor sister who so loves you."
While the Italian was going on, Jacintha's dark eyes glanced suspiciously on each speaker in turn. But her suspicions were all wide of the mark.
"Now may I go and tell mamma?" asked Rose.
"No, mademoiselle, you shall not," said Jacintha. "Madame Raynal, do take my side, and forbid her."
"Why, what is it to you?" said Rose, haughtily.
"If it was not something to me, should I thwart my dear young lady?"
"No. And you shall have your own way, if you will but condescend to give me a reason."
This to some of us might appear reasonable, but not to Jacintha: it even hurt her feelings.
"Mademoiselle Rose," she said, "when you were little and used to ask me for anything, did I ever say to you, 'Give me a reason first'?"
"There! she is right," said Josephine. "We should not make terms with tried friends. Come, we will pay her devotion this compliment. It is such a small favor. For my part I feel obliged to her for asking it."
Josephine's health improved steadily from that day. Her hollow cheeks recovered their plump smoothness, and her beauty its bloom, and her person grew more noble and statue-like than ever, and within she felt a sense of indomitable vitality. Her appetite had for some time been excessively feeble and uncertain, and her food tasteless; but of late, by what she conceived to be a reaction such as is common after youth has shaken off a long sickness, her appetite had been not only healthy but eager. The baroness observed this, and it relieved her of a large portion of her anxiety. One day at dinner her maternal heart was so pleased with Josephine's performance that she took it as a personal favor, "Well done, Josephine," said she; "that gives your mother pleasure to see you eat again. Soup and bouillon: and now twice you have been to Rose for some of that pate, which does you so much credit, Jacintha."
Josephine colored high at this compliment.
"It is true," said she, "I eat like a pig;" and, with a furtive glance at the said pate, she laid down her knife and fork, and ate no more of anything. The baroness had now a droll misgiving.
"The doctor will be angry with me," said she: "he will find her as well as ever."
"Madame," said Jacintha hastily, "when does the doctor come, if I may make so bold, that I may get his room ready, you know?"
"Well thought of, Jacintha. He comes the day after to-morrow, in the afternoon."
At night when the young ladies went up to bed, what did they find but a little cloth laid on a little table in Josephine's room, and the remains of the pate she had liked. Rose burst out laughing. "Look at that dear duck of a goose, Jacintha! Our mother's flattery sank deep: she thinks we can eat her pates at all hours of the day and night. Shall I send it away?"
"No," said Josephine, "that would hurt her culinary pride, and perhaps her affection: only cover it up, dear, for just now I am not in the humor: it rather turns me."
It was covered up. The sisters retired to rest. In the morning Rose lifted the cover and found the plate cleared, polished. She was astounded.
The large tapestried chamber, once occupied by Camille Dujardin, was now turned into a sitting-room, and it was a favorite on account of the beautiful view from the windows.
One day Josephine sat there alone with some work in her hand; but the needle often stopped, and the fair head drooped. She heaved a deep sigh. To her surprise it was echoed by a sigh that, like her own, seemed to come from a heart full of sighs.
She turned hastily round and saw Jacintha.
Now Josephine had all a woman's eye for reading faces, and she was instantly struck by a certain gravity in Jacintha's gaze, and a flutter which the young woman was suppressing with tolerable but not complete success.
Disguising the uneasiness this discovery gave her, she looked her visitor full in the face, and said mildly, but a little coldly, "Well, Jacintha?"
Jacintha lowered her eyes and muttered slowly,--
"The doctor--comes--to-day," then raised her eyes all in a moment to take Josephine off her guard; but the calm face was impenetrable. So then Jacintha added, "to our misfortune," throwing in still more meaning.
"To our misfortune? A dear old friend--like him?"
Jacintha explained. "That old man makes me shake. You are never safe with him. So long as his head is in the clouds, you might take his shoes off, and on he'd walk and never know it; but every now and then he comes out of the clouds all in one moment, without a word of warning, and when he does his eye is on everything, like a bird's. Then he is so old: he has seen a heap. Take my word for it, the old are more knowing than the young, let them be as sharp as you like: the old have seen everything. We have only heard talk of the most part, with here and there a glimpse. To know life to the bottom you must live it out, from the soup to the dessert; and that is what the doctor has done, and now he is coming here. And Mademoiselle Rose will go telling him everything; and if she tells him half what she has seen, your secret will be no secret to that old man."
"My secret!" gasped Josephine, turning pale.
"Don't look so, madame: don't be frightened at poor Jacintha. Sooner or later you must trust somebody besides Mademoiselle Rose."
Josephine looked at her with inquiring, frightened eyes.
Jacintha drew nearer to her.
"Mademoiselle,--I beg pardon, madame,--I carried you in my arms when I was a child. When I was a girl you toddled at my side, and held my gown, and lisped my name, and used to put your little arms round my neck, and kissed me, you would; and if ever I had the least pain or sickness your dear little face would turn as sorrowful, and all the pretty color leave it for Jacintha; and now you are in trouble, in sore trouble, yet you turn away from me, you dare not trust me, that would be cut in pieces ere I would betray you. Ah, mademoiselle, you are wrong. The poor can feel: they have all seen trouble, and a servant is the best of friends where she has the heart to love her mistress; and do not I love you? Pray do not turn from her who has carried you in her arms, and laid you to sleep upon her bosom, many's and many's the time."
Josephine panted audibly. She held out her hand eloquently to Jacintha, but she turned her head away and trembled.
Jacintha cast a hasty glance round the room. Then she trembled too at what she was going to say, and the effect it might have on the young lady. As for Josephine, terrible as the conversation had become, she made no attempt to evade it: she remained perfectly passive. It was the best way to learn how far Jacintha had penetrated her secret, if at all.
Jacintha looked fearfully round and whispered in Josephine's ear, "When the news of Colonel Raynal's death came, you wept, but the color came back to your cheek. When the news of his life came, you turned to stone. Ah! my poor young lady, there has been more between you and that man than should be. Ever since one day you all went to Frejus together, you were a changed woman. I have seen you look at him as--as a wife looks at her man. I have seen him"--
"Hush, Jacintha! Do not tell me what you have seen: oh! do not remind me of joys I pray God to help me forget. He was my husband, then!--oh, cruel Jacintha, to remind me of what I have been, of what I am! Ah me! ah me! ah me!"
"Your husband!" cried Jacintha in utter amazement.
Then Josephine drooped her head on this faithful creature's shoulder, and told her with many sobs the story I have told you. She told it very briefly, for it was to a woman who, though little educated, was full of feeling and shrewdness, and needed but the bare facts: she could add the rest from her own heart and experience: could tell the storm of feelings through which these two unhappy lovers must have passed. Her frequent sighs of pity and sympathy drew Josephine on to pour out all her griefs. When the tale was ended she gave a sigh of relief.
"It might have been worse: I thought it was worse the more fool I. I deserve to have my head cut off." This was Jacintha's only comment at that time.
It was Josephine's turn to be amazed. "It could have been worse?" said she. "How? tell me," added she bitterly. "It would be a consolation to me, could I see that."
Jacintha colored and evaded this question, and begged her to go on, to keep nothing back from her. Josephine assured her she had revealed all. Jacintha looked at her a moment in silence.
"It is then as I half suspected. You do not know all that is before you. You do not see why I am afraid of that old man."
"No, not of him in particular."
"Nor why I want to keep Mademoiselle Rose from prattling to him?"
"No. I assure you Rose is to be trusted; she is wise--wiser than I am."
"You are neither of you wise. You neither of you know anything. My poor young mistress, you are but a child still. You have a deep water to wade through," said Jacintha, so solemnly that Josephine trembled. "A deep water, and do not see it even. You have told me what is past, now I must tell you what is coming. Heaven help me! But is it possible you have no misgiving? Tell the truth, now."
"Alas! I am full of them; at your words, at your manner, they fly around me in crowds."
"Have you no one?"
"Then turn your head from me a bit, my sweet young lady; I am an honest woman, though I am not so innocent as you, and I am forced against my will to speak my mind plainer than I am used to."
Then followed a conversation, to detail which might anticipate our story; suffice it to say, that Rose, coming into the room rather suddenly, found her sister weeping on Jacintha's bosom, and Jacintha crying and sobbing over her.
She stood and stared in utter amazement.
Dr. Aubertin, on his arrival, was agreeably surprised at Madame Raynal's appearance. He inquired after her appetite.
"Oh, as to her appetite," cried the baroness, "that is immense."
"It was," explained Josephine, "just when I began to get better, but now it is as much as usual." This answer had been arranged beforehand by Jacintha. She added, "The fact is, we wanted to see you, doctor, and my ridiculous ailments were a good excuse for tearing you from Paris."--"And now we have succeeded," said Rose, "let us throw off the mask, and talk of other things; above all, of Paris, and your eclat."
"For all that," persisted the baroness, "she was ill, when I first wrote, and very ill too."
"Madame Raynal," said the doctor solemnly, "your conduct has been irregular; once ill, and your illness announced to your medical adviser, etiquette forbade you to get well but by his prescriptions. Since, then, you have shown yourself unfit to conduct a malady, it becomes my painful duty to forbid you henceforth ever to be ill at all, without my permission first obtained in writing."
This badinage was greatly relished by Rose, but not at all by the baroness, who was as humorless as a swan.
He stayed a month at Beaurepaire, then off to Paris again: and being now a rich man, and not too old to enjoy innocent pleasures, he got a habit of running backwards and forwards between the two places, spending a month or so at each alternately. So the days rolled on. Josephine fell into a state that almost defies description; her heart was full of deadly wounds, yet it seemed, by some mysterious, half-healing balm, to throb and ache, but bleed no more. Beams of strange, unreasonable complacency would shoot across her; the next moment reflection would come, she would droop her head, and sigh piteously. Then all would merge in a wild terror of detection. She seemed on the borders of a river of bliss, new, divine, and inexhaustible: and on the other bank mocking malignant fiends dared her to enter that heavenly stream. The past to her was full of regrets; the future full of terrors, and empty of hope. Yet she did not, could not succumb. Instead of the listlessness and languor of a few months back, she had now more energy than ever; at times it mounted to irritation. An activity possessed her: it broke out in many feminine ways. Among the rest she was seized with what we men call a cacoethes of the needle: "a raging desire" for work. Her fingers itched for work. She was at it all day. As devotees retire to pray, so she to stitch. On a wet day she would often slip into the kitchen, and ply the needle beside Jacintha: on a dry day she would hide in the old oak-tree, and sit like a mouse, and ply the tools of her craft, and make things of no mortal use to man or woman; and she tried little fringes of muslin upon her white hand, and held it up in front of her, and smiled, and then moaned. It was winter, and Rose used sometimes to bring her out a thick shawl, as she sat in the old oak-tree stitching, but Josephine nearly always declined it. She was nearly impervious to cold.
Then, her purse being better filled than formerly, she visited the poor more than ever, and above all the young couples; and took a warm interest in their household matters, and gave them muslin articles of her own making, and sometimes sniffed the soup in a young housewife's pot, and took a fancy to it, and, if invited to taste it, paid her the compliment of eating a good plateful of it, and said it was much better soup than the chateau produced, and, what is stranger, thought so: and, whenever some peevish little brat set up a yell in its cradle and the father naturally enough shook his fist at the destroyer of his peace, Madame Raynal's lovely face filled with concern not for the sufferer but the pest, and she flew to it and rocked it and coaxed it and consoled it, till the young housewife smiled and stopped its mouth by other means. And, besides the five-franc pieces she gave the infants to hold, these visits of Madame Raynal were always followed by one from Jacintha with a basket of provisions on her stalwart arm, and honest Sir John Burgoyne peeping out at the corner. Kind and beneficent as she was, her temper deteriorated considerably, for it came down from angelic to human. Rose and Jacintha were struck with the change, assented to everything she said, and encouraged her in everything it pleased her caprice to do. Meantime the baroness lived on her son Raynal's letters (they came regularly twice a month). Rose too had a correspondence, a constant source of delight to her. Edouard Riviere was posted at a distance, and could not visit her; but their love advanced rapidly. Every day he wrote down for his Rose the acts of the day, and twice a week sent the budget to his sweetheart, and told her at the same time every feeling of his heart. She was less fortunate than he; she had to carry a heavy secret; but still she found plenty to tell him, and tender feelings too to vent on him in her own arch, shy, fitful way. Letters can enchain hearts; it was by letters that these two found themselves imperceptibly betrothed. Their union was looked forward to as certain, and not very distant. Rose was fairly in love.
One day, Dr. Aubertin, coming back from Paris to Beaurepaire rather suddenly, found nobody at home but the baroness. Josephine and Rose were gone to Frejus; had been there more than a week. She was ailing again; so as Frejus had agreed with her once, Rose thought it might again. "She would send for them back directly."
"No," said the doctor, "why do that? I will go over there and see them." Accordingly, a day or two after this, he hired a carriage, and went off early in the morning to Frejus. In so small a place he expected to find the young ladies at once; but, to his surprise, no one knew them nor had heard of them. He was at a nonplus, and just about to return home and laugh at himself and the baroness for this wild-goose chase, when he fell in with a face he knew, one Mivart, a surgeon, a young man of some talent, who had made his acquaintance in Paris. Mivart accosted him with great respect; and, after the first compliments, informed him that he had been settled some months in this little town, and was doing a fair stroke of business.
"Killing some, and letting nature cure others, eh?" said the doctor; then, having had his joke, he told Mivart what had brought him to Frejus.
"Are they pretty women, your friends? I think I know all the pretty women about," said Mivart with levity. "They are not pretty," replied Aubertin. Mivart's interest in them faded visibly out of his countenance. "But they are beautiful. The elder might pass for Venus, and the younger for Hebe."
"I know them then!" cried he; "they are patients of mine."
The doctor colored. "Ah, indeed!"
"In the absence of your greater skill," said Mivart, politely; "it is Madame Aubertin and her sister you are looking for, is it not?"
Aubertin groaned. "I am rather too old to be looking for a Madame Aubertin," said he; "no; it is Madame Raynal, and Mademoiselle de Beaurepaire."
Mivart became confidential. "Madame Aubertin and her sister," said he, "are so lovely they make me ill to look at them: the deepest blue eyes you ever saw, both of them; high foreheads; teeth like ivory mixed with pearl; such aristocratic feet and hands; and their arms--oh!" and by way of general summary the young surgeon kissed the tips of his fingers, and was silent; language succumbed under the theme. The doctor smiled coldly.
Mivart added, "If you had come an hour sooner, you might have seen Mademoiselle Rose; she was in the town."
"Mademoiselle Rose? who is that?"
"Why, Madame Aubertin's sister."
At this Dr. Aubertin looked first very puzzled, then very grave.
"Hum!" said he, after a little reflection, "where do these paragons live?"
"They lodge at a small farm; it belongs to a widow; her name is Roth." They parted. Dr. Aubertin walked slowly towards his carriage, his hands behind him, his eyes on the ground. He bade the driver inquire where the Widow Roth lived, and learned it was about half a league out of the town. He drove to the farmhouse; when the carriage drove up, a young lady looked out of the window on the first floor. It was Rose de Beaurepaire. She caught the doctor's eye, and he hers. She came down and welcomed him with a great appearance of cordiality, and asked him, with a smile, how he found them out.
"From your medical attendant," said the doctor, dryly.
Rose looked keenly in his face.
"He said he was in attendance on two paragons of beauty, blue eyes, white teeth and arms."
"And you found us out by that?" inquired Rose, looking still more keenly at him.
"Hardly; but it was my last chance of finding you, so I came. Where is Madame Raynal?"
"Come into this room, dear friend. I will go and find her."
Full twenty minutes was the doctor kept waiting, and then in came Rose, gayly crying, "I have hunted her high and low, and where do you think my lady was? sitting out in the garden--come."
Sure enough, they found Josephine in the garden, seated on a low chair. She smiled when the doctor came up to her, and asked after her mother. There was an air of languor about her; her color was clear, delicate, and beautiful.
"You have been unwell, my child."
"A little, dear friend; you know me; always ailing, and tormenting those I love."
"Well! but, Josephine, you know this place and this sweet air always set you up. Look at her now, doctor; did you ever see her look better? See what a color. I never saw her look more lovely."
"I never saw her look so lovely; but I have seen her look better. Your pulse. A little languid?"
"Yes, I am a little."
"Do you stay at Beaurepaire?" inquired Rose; "if so, we will come home."
"On the contrary, you will stay here another fortnight," said the doctor, authoritatively.
"Prescribe some of your nice tonics for me, doctor," said Josephine, coaxingly.
"No! I can't do that; you are in the hands of another practitioner."
"What does that matter? You were at Paris."
"It is not the etiquette in our profession to interfere with another man's patients."
"Oh, dear! I am so sorry," began Josephine.
"I see nothing here that my good friend Mivart is not competent to deal with," said the doctor, coldly.
Then followed some general conversation, at the end of which the doctor once more laid his commands on them to stay another fortnight where they were, and bade them good-by.
He was no sooner gone than Rose went to the door of the kitchen, and called out, "Madame Jouvenel! Madame Jouvenel! you may come into the garden again."
The doctor drove away; but, instead of going straight to Beaurepaire, he ordered the driver to return to the town. He then walked to Mivart's house.
In about a quarter of an hour he came out of it, looking singularly grave, sad, and stern.