White Lies by Charles Reade
Josephine conveyed the phial into her bosom with wonderful rapidity and dexterity, and rose to her feet. But Rose just saw her conceal something, and resolved to find out quietly what it was. So she said nothing about it, but asked Josephine what on earth she was doing.
"I was praying."
"And what is that letter?"
"A letter I have just received from Colonel Raynal."
Rose took the letter and read it. Raynal had written from Paris. He was coming to Beaurepaire to stay a month, and was to arrive that very day.
Then Rose forgot all about herself, and even what she had come for. She clung about her sister's neck, and implored her, for her sake, to try and love Raynal.
Josephine shuddered, and clung weeping to her sister in turn. For in Rose's arms she realized more powerfully what that sister would suffer if she were to die. Now, while they clung together, Rose felt something hard, and contrived just to feel it with her cheek. It was the phial.
A chill suspicion crossed the poor girl. The attitude in which she had found Josephine; the letter, the look of despair, and now this little bottle, which she had hidden. Why hide it? She resolved not to let Josephine out of her sight; at all events, until she had seen this little bottle, and got it away from her.
She helped her to dress, and breakfasted with her in the tapestried room, and dissembled, and put on gayety, and made light of everything but Josephine's health.
Her efforts were not quite in vain. Josephine became more composed; and Rose even drew from her a half promise that she would give Raynal and time a fair trial.
And now Rose was relieved of her immediate apprehensions for Josephine, but the danger of another kind, from Edouard, remained. So she ran into her bedroom for her bonnet and shawl, determined to take the strong measure of visiting Edouard at once, or intercepting him. While she was making her little toilet, she heard her mother's voice in the room. This was unlucky; she must pass through that room to go out. She sat down and fretted at this delay. And then, as the baroness appeared to be very animated, Rose went to the keyhole, and listened. Their mother was telling Josephine how she had questioned Rose, and how Rose had told her an untruth, and how she had made that young lady write to Edouard, etc.; in short, the very thing Rose wanted to conceal from Josephine.
Rose lost all patience, and determined to fly through the room and out before anybody could stop her. She heard Jacintha come in with some message, and thought that would be a good opportunity to slip out unmolested. So she opened the door softly. Jacintha, it seemed, had been volunteering some remark that was not well received, for the baroness was saying, sharply, "Your opinion is not asked. Go down directly, and bring him up here, to this room." Jacintha cast a look of dismay at Rose, and vanished.
Rose gathered from that look, as much as from the words, who the visitor was. She made a dart after Jacintha. But the room was a long one, and the baroness intercepted her: "No," said she, gravely, "I cannot spare you."
Rose stood pale and panting, but almost defiant. "Mamma," said she, "if it is Monsieur Riviere, I must ask your leave to retire. And you have neither love nor pity, nor respect for me, if you detain me."
"Mademoiselle!" was the stern reply, "I forbid you to move. Be good enough to sit there;" with which the baroness pointed imperiously to a sofa at the other side of the room. "Josephine, go to your room." Josephine retired, casting more than one anxious glance over her shoulder.
Rose looked this way and that in despair and terror; but ended by sinking, more dead than alive, into the seat indicated; and even as she drooped, pale and trembling, on that sofa, Edouard Riviere, worn and agitated, entered the room, and bowed low to them all, without a word.
The baroness looked at him, and then at her daughter, as much as to say, now I have got you; deceive me now if you can. "Rose, my dear," said this terrible old woman, affecting honeyed accents, "don't you see Monsieur Riviere?"
The poor girl at this challenge rose with difficulty, and courtesied humbly to Edouard.
He bowed to her, and stealing a rapid glance saw her pallor and distress; and that showed him she was not so hardened as he had thought.
"You have not come to see us lately," said the baroness, quietly, "yet you have been in the neighborhood."
These words puzzled Edouard. Was the old lady all in the dark, then? As a public man he had already learned to be on his guard; so he stammered out, "That he had been much occupied with public duties."
Madame de Beaurepaire despised this threadbare excuse too much to notice it at all. She went on as if he had said nothing. "Intimate as you were with us, you must have some reason for deserting us so suddenly."
"I have," said Edouard, gravely.
"What is it?"
"Excuse me," said Edouard, sullenly.
"No, monsieur, I cannot. This neglect, succeeding to a somewhat ardent pursuit of my daughter, is almost an affront. You shall, of course, withdraw yourself altogether, if you choose. But not without an explanation. This much is due to me; and, if you are a gentleman, you will not withhold it from me."
"If he is a gentleman!" cried Rose; "O mamma, do not you affront a gentleman, who never, never gave you nor me any ground of offence. Why affront the friends and benefactors we have lost by our own fault?"
"Oh, then, it is all your fault," said the baroness. "I feared as much."
"All my fault, all," said Rose; then putting her pretty palms together, and casting a look of abject supplication on Edouard, she murmured, "my temper!"
"Do not you put words into his mouth," said the shrewd old lady. "Come, Monsieur Riviere, be a man, and tell me the truth. What has she said to you? What has she done?"
By this time the abject state of terror the high-spirited Rose was in, and her piteous glances, had so disarmed Edouard, that he had not the heart to expose her to her mother.
"Madame," said he, stiffly, taking Rose's hint, "my temper and mademoiselle's could not accord."
"Why, her temper is charming: it is joyous, equal, and gentle."
"You misunderstand me, madame; I do not reproach Mademoiselle Rose. It is I who am to blame."
"For what?" inquired the baroness dryly.
"For not being able to make her love me."
"Oh! that is it! She did not love you?"
"Ask herself, madame," said Edouard, bitterly.
"Rose," said the baroness, her eye now beginning to twinkle, "were you really guilty of such a want of discrimination? Didn't you love monsieur?"
Rose flung her arms round her mother's neck, and said, "No, mamma, I did not love Monsieur Edouard," in an exquisite tone of love, that to a female ear conveyed the exact opposite of the words.
But Edouard had not that nice discriminating ear. He sighed deeply, and the baroness smiled. "You tell me that?" said she, "and you are crying!"
"She is crying, madame?" said Edouard, inquiringly, and taking a step towards them.
"Why, you see she is, you foolish boy. Come, I must put an end to this;" and she rose coolly from her seat, and begging Edouard to forgive her for leaving him a moment with his deadly enemy, went off with knowing little nods into Josephine's room; only, before she entered it, she turned, and with a maternal smile discharged this word at the pair.
But between the alienated lovers was a long distressing silence. Neither knew what to say; and their situation was intolerable. At last Rose ventured in a timorous voice to say, "I thank you for your generosity. But I knew that you would not betray me."
"Your secret is safe for me," sighed Edouard. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"
Rose shook her head sadly.
Edouard moved to the door.
Rose bowed her head with a despairing moan. It took him by the heart and held him. He hesitated, then came towards her.
"I see you are sorry for what you have done to me who loved you so; and you loved me. Oh! yes, do not deny it, Rose; there was a time you loved me. And that makes it worse: to have given me such sweet hopes, only to crush both them and me. And is not this cruel of you to weep so and let me see your penitence--when it is too late?"
"Alas! how can I help my regrets? I have insulted so good a friend."
There was a sad silence. Then as he looked at her, her looks belied the charge her own lips had made against herself.
A light seemed to burst on Edouard from that high-minded, sorrow- stricken face.
"Tell me it is false!" he cried.
She hid her face in her hands--woman's instinct to avoid being read.
"Tell me you were misled then, fascinated, perverted, but that your heart returned to me. Clear yourself of deliberate deceit, and I will believe and thank you on my knees."
"Heaven have pity on us both!" cried poor Rose.
"On us! Thank you for saying on us. See now, you have not gained happiness by destroying mine. One word--do you love that man?--that Dujardin?"
"You know I do not."
"I am glad of that; since his life is forfeited; if he escapes my friend Raynal, he shall not escape me."
Rose uttered a cry of terror. "Hush! not so loud. The life of Camille! Oh! if he were to die, what would become of--oh, pray do not speak so loud."
"Own then that you do love him," yelled Edouard; "give me truth, if you have no love to give. Own that you love him, and he shall be safe. It is myself I will kill, for being such a slave as to love you still."
Rose's fortitude gave way.
"I cannot bear it," she cried despairingly; "it is beyond my strength; Edouard, swear to me you will keep what I tell you secret as the grave!"
"Ah!" cried Edouard, all radiant with hope, "I swear."
"Then you are under a delirium. I have deceived, but never wronged you; that unhappy child is not-- Hush! Here she comes."
The baroness came smiling out, and Josephine's wan, anxious face was seen behind her.
"Well," said the baroness, "is the war at an end? What, are we still silent? Let me try then what I can do. Edouard, lend me your hand."
While Edouard hesitated, Josephine clasped her hands and mutely supplicated him to consent. Her sad face, and the thought of how often she had stood his friend, shook his resolution. He held out his hand, but slowly and reluctantly.
"There is my hand," he groaned.
"And here is mine, mamma," said Rose, smiling to please her mother.
Oh! the mixture of feeling, when her soft warm palm pressed his. How the delicious sense baffled and mystified the cold judgment.
Josephine raised her eyes thankfully to heaven.
While the young lovers yet thrilled at each other's touch, yet could not look one another in the face, a clatter of horses' feet was heard.
"That is Colonel Raynal," said Josephine, with unnatural calmness. "I expected him to-day."
The baroness was at the side window in a moment.
"It is he!--it is he!"
She hurried down to embrace her son.
Josephine went without a word to her own room. Rose followed her the next minute. But in that one minute she worked magic.
She glided up to Edouard, and looked him full in the face: not the sad, depressed, guilty-looking humble Rose of a moment before, but the old high-spirited, and some what imperious girl.
"You have shown yourself noble this day. I am going to trust you as only the noble are trusted. Stay in the house till I can speak to you."
She was gone, and something leaped within Edouard's bosom, and a flood of light seemed to burst in on him. Yet he saw no object clearly: but he saw light.
Rose ran into Josephine's room, and once more surprised her on her knees, and in the very act of hiding something in her bosom.
"What are you doing, Josephine, on your knees?" said she, sternly.
"I have a great trial to go through," was the hesitating answer.
Rose said nothing. She turned paler. She is deceiving me, thought she, and she sat down full of bitterness and terror, and, affecting not to watch Josephine, watched her.
"Go and tell them I am coming, Rose."
"No, Josephine, I will not leave you till this terrible meeting is over. We will encounter him hand in hand, as we used to go when our hearts were one, and we deceived others, but never each other."
At this tender reproach Josephine fell upon her neck and wept.
"I will not deceive you," she said. "I am worse than the poor doctor thinks me. My life is but a little candle that a breath may put out any day."
Rose said nothing, but trembled and watched her keenly.
"My little Henri," said Josephine imploringly, "what would you do with him--if anything should happen to me?"
"What would I do with him? He is mine. I should be his mother. Oh! what words are these: my heart! my heart!"
"No, dearest; some day you will be married, and owe all the mother to your children; and Henri is not ours only: he belongs to some one I have seemed unkind to. Perhaps he thinks me heartless. For I am a foolish woman; I don't know how to be virtuous, yet show a man my heart. But then he will understand me and forgive me. Rose, love, you will write to him. He will come to you. You will go together to the place where I shall be sleeping. You will show him my heart. You will tell him all my long love that lasted to the end. You need not blush to tell him all. I have no right. Then you will give him his poor Josephine's boy, and you will say to him, 'She never loved but you: she gives you all that is left of her, her child. She only prays you not to give him a bad mother.'"
Poor soul! this was her one bit of little, gentle jealousy; but it made her eyes stream. She would have put out her hand from the tomb to keep her boy's father single all his life.
"Oh! my Josephine, my darling sister," cried Rose, "why do you speak of death? Do you meditate a crime?"
"No; but it was on my heart to say it: it has done me good."
"At least, take me to your bosom, my well-beloved, that I may not see your tears."
"There--tears? No, you have lightened my heart. Bless you! bless you!"
The sisters twined their bosoms together in a long, gentle embrace. You might have taken them for two angels that flowed together in one love, but for their tears.
A deep voice was now heard in the sitting-room.
Josephine and Rose postponed the inevitable one moment more, by arranging their hair in the glass: then they opened the door, and entered the tapestried room.
Raynal was sitting on the sofa, the baroness's hand in his. Edouard was not there.
Colonel Raynal had given him a strange look, and said, "What, you here?" in a tone of voice that was intolerable.
Raynal came to meet the sisters. He saluted Josephine on the brow.
"You are pale, wife: and how cold her hand is."
"She has been ill this month past," said Rose interposing.
"You look ill, too, Mademoiselle Rose."
"Never mind," cried the baroness joyously, "you will revive them both."
Raynal made no reply to that.
"How long do you stay this time, a day?"
"A month, mother."
The doctor now joined the party, and friendly greetings passed between him and Raynal.
But ere long somehow all became conscious this was not a joyful meeting. The baroness could not alone sustain the spirits of the party, and soon even she began to notice that Raynal's replies were short, and that his manner was distrait and gloomy. The sisters saw this too, and trembled for what might be coming.
At last Raynal said bluntly, "Josephine, I want to speak to you alone."
The baroness gave the doctor a look, and made an excuse for going down-stairs to her own room. As she was going Josephine went to her and said calmly,--
"Mother, you have not kissed me to-day."
"There! Bless you, my darling!"
Raynal looked at Rose. She saw she must go, but she lingered, and sought her sister's eye: it avoided her. At that Rose ran to the doctor, who was just going out of the door.
"Oh! doctor," she whispered trembling, "don't go beyond the door. I found her praying. My mind misgives me. She is going to tell him-- or something worse."
"What do you mean?"
"I am afraid to say all I dread. She could not be so calm if she meant to live. Be near! as I shall. She has a phial hid in her bosom."
She left the old man trembling, and went back.
"Excuse me," said she to Raynal, "I only came to ask Josephine if she wants anything."
"No!--yes!--a glass of eau sucree."
Rose mixed it for her. While doing this she noticed that Josephine shunned her eye, but Raynal gazed gently and with an air of pity on her.
She retired slowly into Josephine's bedroom, but did not quite close the door.
Raynal had something to say so painful that he shrank from plunging into it. He therefore, like many others, tried to creep into it, beginning with something else.
"Your health," said he, "alarms me. You seem sad, too. I don't understand that. You have no news from the Rhine, have you?"
"Monsieur!" said Josephine scared.
"Do not call me monsieur, nor look so frightened. Call me your friend. I am your sincere friend."
"Oh, yes; you always were."
"Thank you. You will give me a dearer title before we part this time."
"Yes," said Josephine in a low whisper, and shuddered.
"Have you forgiven me frightening you so that night?"
"It was a shock to me, too, I can tell you. I like the boy. She professed to love him, and, to own the truth, I loathe all treachery and deceit. If I had done a murder, I would own it. A lie doubles every crime. But I took heart; we are all selfish, we men; of the two sisters one was all innocence and good faith; and she was the one I had chosen."
At these words Josephine rose, like a statue moving, and took a phial from her bosom and poured the contents into the glass.
But ere she could drink it, if such was her intention, Raynal, with his eyes gloomily lowered, said, in a voice full of strange solemnity,--
"I went to the army of the Rhine."
Josephine put down the glass directly, though without removing her hand from it.
"I see you understand me, and approve. Yes, I saw that your sister would be dishonored, and I went to the army and saw her seducer."
"You saw him. Oh, I hope you did not go and speak to him of--of this?"
"Why, of course I did."
Josephine resolved to know the worst at once. "May I ask," said she, "what you told him?"
"Why, I told him all I had discovered, and pointed out the course he must take; he must marry your sister at once. He refused. I challenged him. But ere we met, I was ordered to lead a forlorn hope against a bastion. Then, seeing me go to certain death, the noble fellow pitied me. I mean this is how I understood it all at the time; at any rate, he promised to marry Rose if he should live."
Josephine put out her hand, and with a horrible smile said, "I thank you; you have saved the honor of our family;" and with no more ado, she took the glass in her hand to drink the fatal contents.
But Raynal's reply arrested her hand. He said solemnly, "No, I have not. Have you no inkling of the terrible truth? Do not fiddle with that glass: drink it, or leave it alone; for, indeed, I need all your attention."
He took the glass out of her patient hand, and with a furtive look at the bedroom-door, drew her away to the other end of the room; "and," said he, "I could not tell your mother, for she knows nothing of the girl's folly; still less Rose, for I see she loves him still, or why is she so pale? Advise me, now, whilst we are alone. Colonel Dujardin was comparatively indifferent to you. Will you undertake the task? A rough soldier like me is not the person to break the terrible tidings to that poor girl."
"What tidings? You confuse, you perplex me. Oh! what does this horrible preparation mean?"
"It means he will never marry your sister; he will never see her more."
Then Raynal walked the room in great agitation, which at once communicated itself to his hearer. But the loving heart is ingenious in avoiding its dire misgivings.
"I see," said she; "he told you he would never visit Beaurepaire again. He was right."
Raynal shook his head sorrowfully.
"Ah, Josephine, you are far from the truth. I was to attack the bastion. It was mined by the enemy, and he knew it. He took advantage of my back being turned. He led his men out of the trenches; he assaulted the bastion at the head of his brigade. He took it."
"Ah, it was noble; it was like him."
"The enemy, retiring, blew the bastion into the air, and Dujardin-- is dead."
"Dead!" said Josephine, in stupefied tones, as if the word conveyed no meaning to her mind, benumbed and stunned by the blow.
"Don't speak so loud," said Raynal; "I hear the poor girl at the door. Ay, he took my place, and is dead."
"Swallowed up in smoke and flames, overwhelmed and crushed under the ruins."
Josephine's whole body gave way, and heaved like a tree falling under the axe. She sank slowly to her knees, and low moans of agony broke from her at intervals. "Dead, dead, dead!"
"Is it not terrible?" he cried.
She did not see him nor hear him, but moaned out wildly, "Dead, dead, dead!" The bedroom-door was opened.
She shrieked with sudden violence, "Dead! ah, pity! the glass! the composing draught." She stretched her hands out wildly. Raynal, with a face full of concern, ran to the table, and got the glass. She crawled on her knees to meet it; he brought it quickly to her hand.
"There, my poor soul!"
Even as their hands met, Rose threw herself on the cup, and snatched it with fury from them both. She was white as ashes, and her eyes, supernaturally large, glared on Raynal with terror. "Madman!" she cried, "would you kill her?"
He glared back on her: what did this mean? Their eyes were fixed on each other like combatants for life and death; they did not see that the room was filling with people, that the doctor was only on the other side of the table, and that the baroness and Edouard were at the door, and all looking wonderstruck at this strange sight-- Josephine on her knees, and those two facing each other, white, with dilating eyes, the glass between them.
But what was that to the horror, when the next moment the patient Josephine started to her feet, and, standing in the midst, tore her hair by handfuls, out of her head.
"Ah, you snatch the kind poison from me!"
"Poison!" cried the others, horror-stricken.
"Ah! you won't let me die. Curse you all! curse you! I never had my own way in anything. I was always a slave and a fool. I have murdered the man I love--I love. Yes, my husband, do you hear? the man I love."
"Hush! daughter, respect my gray hairs."
"Your gray hairs! You are not so old in years as I am in agony. So this is your love, Rose! Ah, you won't let me die--won't you? Then I'll do worse--I'll tell."
"He who is dead; you have murdered him amongst you, and I'll follow him in spite of you all--he was my betrothed. He struggled wounded, bleeding, to my feet. He found me married. News came of my husband's death; I married my betrothed."
"Married him!" exclaimed the baroness.
"Ah, my poor mother. And she kissed me so kindly just now--she will kiss me no more. Oh, I am not ashamed of marrying him. I am only ashamed of the cowardice that dared not do it in face of all the world. We had scarce been happy a fortnight, when a letter came from Colonel Raynal. He was alive. I drove my true husband away, wretch that I was. None but bad women have an atom of sense. I tried to do my duty to my legal husband. He was my benefactor. I thought it was my duty. Was it? I don't know: I have lost the sense of right and wrong. I turned from a living creature to a lie. He who had scattered benefits on me and all this house; he whom it was too little to love; he ought to have been adored: this man came here one night to wife proud, joyous, and warm-hearted. He found a cradle, and two women watching it. Now Edouard, now Monsieur, do you see that life is impossible to me? One bravely accused herself: she was innocent. One swooned away like a guilty coward."
Edouard uttered an exclamation.
"Yes, Edouard, you shall not be miserable like me; she was guilty. You do not understand me yet, my poor mother--and she was so happy this morning--I was the liar, the coward, the double-faced wife, the miserable mother that denied her child. Now will you let me die? Now do you see that I can't and won't live upon shame and despair? Ah, Monsieur Raynal, my dear friend, you were always generous: you will pity and kill me. I have dishonored the name you gave me to keep: I am neither Beaurepaire nor Raynal. Do pray kill me, monsieur--Jean, do pray release me from my life!"
And she crawled to his knees and embraced them, and kissed his hand, and pleaded more piteously for death, than others have begged for life.
Raynal stood like a rock: he was pale, and drew his breath audibly, but not a word. Then came a sight scarce less terrible than Josephine's despair. The baroness, looking and moving twenty years older than an hour before, tottered across the room to Raynal.
"Sir, you whom I have called my son, but whom I will never presume so to call again, I thought I had lived long enough never to have to blush again. I loved you, monsieur. I prayed every day for you. But she who was my daughter was not of my mind. Monsieur, I have never knelt but to God and to my king, and I kneel to you: forgive us, sir, forgive us!"
She tried to go down on her knees. He raised her with his strong arm, but he could not speak. She turned on the others.
"So this is the secret you were hiding from me! This secret has not killed you all. Oh! I shall not live under its shame so long as you have. Chateau of Beaurepaire--nest of treason, ingratitude, and immodesty--I loathe you as much as once I loved you. I will go and hide my head, and die elsewhere."
"Stay, madame!" said he, in a voice whose depth and dignity was such that it seemed impossible to disobey it. "It was sudden--I was shaken--but I am myself again."
"Oh, show some pity!" cried Rose.
"I shall try to be just."
There was a long, trembling silence; and during that silence and terrible agitation, one figure stood firm among those quaking, beating hearts, like a rock with the waves breaking round it--the man of principle among the creatures of impulse.
He raised Josephine from her knees, and placed her all limp and powerless in an arm-chair. To her frenzy had now succeeded a sickness and feebleness like unto death.
"Widow Dujardin," said he, in a broken voice, "listen to me."
She moaned a sort of assent.
"Your mistake has been not trusting me. I was your friend, and not a selfish friend. I was not enough in love with you to destroy your happiness. Besides, I despise that sort of love. If you had told me all, I would have spared you this misery. By the present law, civil contracts of marriage can be dissolved by mutual consent."
At this the baroness uttered some sign of surprise.
"Ah!" continued Raynal, sadly, "you are aristocrats, and cannot keep pace with the times. This very day our mere contract shall be formally dissolved. Indeed, it ceases to exist since both parties are resolved to withdraw from it. So, if you married Dujardin in a church, you are Madame Dujardin at this moment, and his child is legitimate. What does she say?"
This question was to Rose, for what Josephine uttered sounded like a mere articulate moan. But Rose's quick ear had caught words, and she replied, all in tears, "My poor sister is blessing you, sir. We all bless you."
"She does not understand my position," said Raynal. He then walked up to Josephine, and leaning over her arm, and speaking rather loud, under the impression that her senses were blunted by grief, he said, "Look here: Colonel Dujardin, your husband, deliberately, and with his eyes open, sacrificed his life for me, and for his own heroic sense of honor. Now, it is my turn. If that hero stood here, and asked me for all the blood in my body, I would give it him. He is gone; but, dying for me, he has left me his widow and his child; they remain under my wing. To protect them is my pride, and my only consolation. I am going to the mayor to annul our unlucky contract in due form, and make us brother and sister instead. But," turning to the baroness, "don't you think to escape me as your daughter has done: no, no, old lady, once a mother, always a mother. Stir from your son's home if you dare!"
And with these words, in speaking which his voice had recovered its iron firmness, he strode out at the door, superb in manhood and principle, and every eye turned with wonder and admiration after him. Even when he was gone they gazed at the door by which a creature so strangely noble had disappeared.
The baroness was about to follow him without taking any notice of Josephine. But Rose caught her by the gown. "O mother, speak to poor Josephine: bid her live."
The baroness only made a gesture of horror and disgust, and turned her back on them both.
Josephine, who had tottered up from her seat at Rose's words, sank heavily down again, and murmured, "Ah! the grave holds all that love me now."
Rose ran to her side. "Cruel Josephine! what, do not I love you? Mother, will you not help me persuade her to live? Oh! if she dies, I will die too; you will kill both your children."
Stern and indignant as the baroness was, yet these words pierced her heart. She turned with a piteous, half apologetic air to Edouard and Aubertin. "Gentlemen," said she, "she has been foolish, not guilty. Heaven pardons the best of us. Surely a mother may forgive her child." And with this nature conquered utterly; and she held out her arms, wide, wide, as is a mother's heart. Her two erring children rushed sobbing violently into them; and there was not a dry eye in the room for a long time.
After this, Josephine's heart almost ceased to beat. Fear and misgivings, and the heavy sense of deceit gnawing an honorable heart, were gone. Grief reigned alone in the pale, listless, bereaved widow.
The marriage was annulled before the mayor; and, three days afterwards, Raynal, by his influence, got the consummated marriage formally allowed in Paris.
With a delicacy for which one would hardly have given him credit, he never came near Beaurepaire till all this was settled; but he brought the document from Paris that made Josephine the widow Dujardin, and her boy the heir of Beaurepaire; and the moment she was really Madame Dujardin he avoided her no longer; and he became a comfort to her instead of a terror.
The dissolution of the marriage was a great tie between them. So much that, seeing how much she looked up to Raynal, the doctor said one day to the baroness, "If I know anything of human nature, they will marry again, provided none of you give her a hint which way her heart is turning."
They, who have habituated themselves to live for others, can suffer as well as do great things. Josephine kept alive. A passion such as hers, in a selfish nature, must have killed her.
Even as it was, she often said, "It is hard to live."
Then they used to talk to her of her boy. Would she leave him-- Camille's boy--without a mother? And these words were never spoken to her quite in vain.
Her mother forgave her entirely, and loved her as before. Who could be angry with her long? The air was no longer heavy with lies. Wretched as she was, she breathed lighter. Joy and hope were gone. Sorrowful peace was coming. When the heart comes to this, nothing but Time can cure; but what will not Time do? What wounds have I seen him heal! His cures are incredible.
The little party sat one day, peaceful, but silent and sad, in the Pleasaunce, under the great oak.
Two soldiers came to the gate. They walked feebly, for one was lame, and leaned upon the other, who was pale and weak, and leaned upon a stick.
"Soldiers," said Raynal, "and invalided."
"Give them food and wine," said Josephine.
Rose went towards them; but she had scarcely taken three steps ere she cried out,--
"It is Dard! it is poor Dard! Come in, Dard, come in."
Dard limped towards them, leaning upon Sergeant La Croix. A bit of Dard's heel had been shot away, and of La Croix's head.
Rose ran to the kitchen.
"Jacintha, bring out a table into the Pleasaunce, and something for two guests to eat."
The soldiers came slowly to the Pleasaunce, and were welcomed, and invited to sit down, and received with respect; for France even in that day honored the humblest of her brave.
Soon Jacintha came out with a little round table in her hands, and affected a composure which was belied by her shaking hands and her glowing cheek.
After a few words of homely welcome--not eloquent, but very sincere-- she went off again with her apron to her eyes. She reappeared with the good cheer, and served the poor fellows with radiant zeal.
"What regiment?" asked Raynal.
Dard was about to answer, but his superior stopped him severely; then, rising with his hand to his forehead, he replied, with pride, "Twenty-fourth brigade, second company. We were cut up at Philipsburg, and incorporated with the 12th."
Raynal instantly regretted his question; for Josephine's eye fixed on Sergeant La Croix with an expression words cannot paint. Yet she showed more composure, real or forced, than he expected.
"Heaven sends him," said she. "My friend, tell me, were you--ah!"
Colonel Raynal interfered hastily. "Think what you do. He can tell you nothing but what we know, not so much, in fact, as we know; for, now I look at him, I think this is the very sergeant we found lying insensible under the bastion. He must have been struck before the bastion was taken even."
"I was, colonel, I was. I remember nothing but losing my senses, and feeling the colors go out of my hand."
"There, you see, he knows nothing," said Raynal.
"It was hot work, colonel, under that bastion, but it was hotter to the poor fellows that got in. I heard all about it from Private Dard here."
"So, then, it was you who carried the colors?"
"Yes, I was struck down with the colors of the brigade in my hand," cried La Croix.
"See how people blunder about, everything; they told me the colonel carried the colors."
"Why, of course he did. You don't think our colonel, the fighting colonel, would let me hold the colors of the brigade so long as he was alive. No; he was struck by a Prussian bullet, and he had just time to hand the colors to me, and point with his sword to the bastion, and down he went. It was hot work, I can tell you. I did not hold them long, not thirty seconds, and if we could know their history, they passed through more hands than that before they got to the Prussian flag-staff."
Raynal suddenly rose, and walked rapidly to and fro, with his hands behind him.
"Poor colonel!" continued La Croix. "Well, I love to think he died like a soldier, and not like some of my poor comrades, hashed to atoms, and not a volley fired over him. I hope they put a stone over him, for he was the best soldier and the best general in the army."
"O sir!" cried Josephine, "there is no stone even to mark the spot where he fell," and she sobbed despairingly.
"Why, how is this, Private Dard?" inquired La Croix, sternly.
Dard apologized for his comrade, and touching his own head significantly told them that since his wound the sergeant's memory was defective.
"Now, sergeant, didn't I tell you the colonel must have got the better of his wound, and got into the battery?"
"It's false, Private Dard; don't I know our colonel better than that? Would ever he have let those colors out of his hand, if there had been an ounce of life left in him?"
"He died at the foot of the battery, I tell you."
"Then why didn't we find him?"
Here Jacintha put in a word with the quiet subdued meaning of her class. "I can't find that anybody ever saw the colonel dead."
"They did not find him, because they did not look for him," said Sergeant La Croix.
"God forgive you, sergeant!" said Dard, with some feeling. "Not look for our colonel! We turned over every body that lay there,-- full thirty there were,--and you were one of them."
"Only thirty! Why, we settled more Prussians than that, I'll swear."
"Oh! they carried off their dead."
"Ay! but I don't see why they should carry our colonel off. His epaulets was all the thieves could do any good with. Stop! yet I do, Private Dard; I have a horrible suspicion. No, I have not; it is a certainty. What! don't you see, ye ninny? Thunder and thousands of devils, here's a disgrace. Dogs of Prussians! they have got our colonel, they have taken him prisoner."
"O God bless them!" cried Josephine; "O God bless the mouth that tells me so! O sir, I am his wife, his poor heart-broken wife. You would not be so cruel as to mock my despair. Say again that he may be alive, pray, say it again!"
"His wife! Private Dard, why didn't you tell me? You tell me nothing. Yes, my pretty lady, I'll say it again, and I'll prove it. Here is an enemy in full retreat, would they encumber themselves with the colonel? If he was dead, they'd have whipped off his epaulets, and left him there. Alive? why not? Look at me: I am alive, and I was worse wounded than he was. They took me for dead, you see. Courage, madame! you will see him again, take an old soldier's word for it. Dard, attention! this is the colonel's wife."
She gazed on the speaker like one in a trance.
Every eye and every soul had been so bent on Sergeant La Croix that it was only now Raynal was observed to be missing. The next minute he came riding out of the stable-yard, and went full gallop down the road.
"Ah!" cried Rose, with a burst of hope; "he thinks so too; he has hopes. He is gone somewhere for information. Perhaps to Paris."
Josephine's excitement and alternations of hope and fear were now alarming. Rose held her hand, and implored her to try and be calm till they could see Raynal.
Just before dark he came riding fiercely home. Josephine flew down the stairs. Raynal at sight of her forgot all his caution. He waved his cocked hat in the air. She fell on her knees and thanked God. He gasped out,--
"Prisoner--exchanged for two Prussian lieutenants--sent home--they say he is in France!"
The tears of joy gushed in streams from her.
Some days passed in hope and joy inexpressible; but the good doctor was uneasy for Josephine. She was always listening with supernatural keenness and starting from her chair, and every fibre of her lovely person seemed to be on the quiver.
Nor was Rose without a serious misgiving. Would husband and wife ever meet? He evidently looked on her as Madame Raynal, and made it a point of honor to keep away from Beaurepaire.
They had recourse to that ever-soothing influence--her child. Madame Jouvenel was settled in the village, and Josephine visited her every day, and came back often with red eyes, but always soothed.
One day Rose and she went to Madame Jouvenel, and, entering the house without ceremony, found the nurse out, and no one watching the child.
"How careless!" said Rose.
Josephine stopped eagerly to kiss him. But instead of kissing him, she uttered a loud cry. There was a locket hanging round his neck.
It was a locket containing some of Josephine's hair and Camille's. She had given it him in the happy days that followed their marriage. She stood gasping in the middle of the room. Madame Jouvenel came running in soon after. Josephine, by a wonderful effort over herself, asked her calmly and cunningly,--
"Where is the gentleman who put this locket round my child's neck? I want to speak with him."
Madame Jouvenel stammered and looked confused.
"A soldier--an officer?--come, tell me!"
"Woman," cried Rose, "why do you hesitate?"
"What am I to do?" said Madame Jouvenel. "He made me swear never to mention his coming here. He goes away, or hides whenever you come. And since Madame does not love the poor wounded gentleman, what can he do better?"
"Not love him!" cried Rose: "why, she is his wife, his lawful wedded wife; he is a fool or a monster to run away for her. She loves him as no woman ever loved before. She pines for him. She dies for him."
The door of a little back room opened at these words of Rose, and there stood Camille, with his arm in a sling, pale and astounded, but great joy and wonder working in his face.
Josephine gave a cry of love that made the other two women weep, and in a moment they were sobbing for joy upon each other's neck.
Away went sorrow, doubt, despair, and all they had suffered. That one moment paid for all. And in that moment of joy and surprise, so great as to be almost terrible, perhaps it was well for Josephine that Camille, weakened by his wound, was quite overcome, and nearly fainted. She was herself just going into hysterics; but, seeing him quite overcome, she conquered them directly, and nursed, and soothed, and pitied, and encouraged him instead.
Then they sat hand in hand. Their happiness stopped their very breath. They could not speak. So Rose told him all. He never owned why he had slipped away when he saw them coming. He forgot it. He forgot all his hard thoughts of her. They took him home in the carriage. His wife would not let him out of her sight. For years and years after this she could hardly bear to let him be an hour out of her sight.
The world is wide; there may be a man in it who can paint the sudden bliss that fell on these two much suffering hearts; but I am not that man; this is beyond me; it was not only heaven, but heaven after hell.
Leave we the indescribable and the unspeakable for a moment, and go to a lighter theme.
The day Rose's character was so unexpectedly cleared, Edouard had no opportunity of speaking to her, or a reconciliation would have taken place. As it was, he went home intensely happy. But he did not resume his visits to the chateau. When he came to think calmly over it, his vanity was cruelly mortified. She was innocent of the greater offence; but how insolently she had sacrificed him, his love, and his respect, to another's interest.
More generous thoughts prevailed by degrees. And one day that her pale face, her tears, and her remorse got the better of his offended pride, he determined to give her a good lecture that should drown her in penitent tears; and then end by forgiving her. For one thing he could not be happy till he had forgiven her.
She walked into the room with a calm, dignified, stately air, and before he could utter one word of his grave remonstrance, attacked him thus: "You wish to speak to me, sir. If it is to apologize to me, I will save your vanity the mortification. I forgive you."
"You forgive me!" cried Edouard furiously.
"No violence, if you please," said the lady with cold hauteur. "Let us be friends, as Josephine and Raynal are. We cannot be anything more to one another now. You have wounded me too deeply by your jealous, suspicious nature."
Edouard gasped for breath, and was so far out-generalled that he accepted the place of defendant. "Wasn't I to believe your own lips? Did not Colonel Raynal believe you?"
"Oh, that's excusable. He did not know me. But you were my lover; you ought to have seen I was forced to deceive poor Raynal. How dare you believe your eyes; much more your ears, against my truth, against my honor; and then to believe such nonsense?" Then, with a grand assumption of superior knowledge, says she, "You little simpleton, how could the child be mine when I wasn't married at all?"
At this reproach, Edouard first stared, then grinned. "I forgot that," said he.
"Yes, and you forgot the moon isn't made of green cheese. However, if I saw you very humble, and very penitent, I might, perhaps, really forgive you--in time."
"No, forgive me at once. I don't understand your angelical, diabolical, incomprehensible sex: who on earth can? forgive me."
"Oh! oh! oh! oh!"
Lo! the tears that could not come at a remonstrance were flowing in a stream at his generosity.
"What is the matter now?" said he tenderly. She cried away, but at the same time explained,--
"What a f--f--foolish you must be not to see that it is I who am without excuse. You were my betrothed. It was to you I owed my duty; not my sister. I am a wicked, unhappy girl. How you must hate me!"
"I adore you. There, no more forgiving on either side. Let our only quarrel be who shall love the other best."
"Oh, I know how that will be," said the observant toad. "You will love me best till you have got me; and then I shall love you best; oh, ever so much."
However, the prospect of loving best did not seem disagreeable to her; for with this announcement she deposited her head on his shoulder, and in that attitude took a little walk with him up and down the Pleasaunce: sixty times; about eight miles.
These two were a happy pair. This wayward, but generous heart never forgot her offence, and his forgiveness. She gave herself to him heart and soul, at the altar, and well she redeemed her vow. He rose high in political life: and paid the penalty of that sort of ambition; his heart was often sore. But by his own hearth sat comfort and ever ready sympathy. Ay, and patient industry to read blue-books, and a ready hand and brain to write diplomatic notes for him, off which the mind glided as from a ball of ice.
In thirty years she never once mentioned the servants to him.
"Oh, let eternal honor crown her name!"
It was only a little bit of heel that Dard had left in Prussia. More fortunate than his predecessor (Achilles), he got off with a slight but enduring limp. And so the army lost him.
He married Jacintha, and Josephine set them up in Bigot's, (deceased) auberge. Jacintha shone as a landlady, and custom flowed in. For all that, a hankering after Beaurepaire was observable in her. Her favorite stroll was into the Beaurepaire kitchen, and on all fetes and grand occasions she was prominent in gay attire as a retainer of the house. The last specimen of her homely sagacity I shall have the honor to lay before you is a critique upon her husband, which she vented six years after marriage.
"My Dard," said she, "is very good as far as he goes. What he has felt himself, that he can feel for: nobody better. You come to him with an empty belly, or a broken head, or all bleeding with a cut, or black and blue, and you shall find a friend. But if it is a sore heart, or trouble, and sorrow, and no hole in your carcass to show for it, you had better come to me; for you might as well tell your grief to a stone wall as to my man."
The baroness took her son Raynal to Paris, and there, with keen eye, selected him a wife. She proved an excellent one. It would have been hard if she had not, for the baroness with the severe sagacity of her age and sex, had set aside as naught a score of seeming angels, before she could suit herself with a daughter-in-law. At first the Raynals very properly saw little of the Dujardins; but when both had been married some years, the recollection of that fleeting and nominal connection waxed faint, while the memory of great benefits conferred on both sides remained lively as ever in hearts so great, and there was a warm, a sacred friendship between the two houses--a friendship of the ancient Greeks, not of the modern club-house.
Camille and Josephine were blessed almost beyond the lot of humanity: none can really appreciate sunshine but those who come out of the cold dark. And so with happiness. For years they could hardly be said to live like mortals: they basked in bliss. But it was a near thing; for they but just scraped clear of life-long misery, and death's cold touch grazed them both as they went.
Yet they had heroic virtues to balance White Lies in the great Judge's eye.
A wholesome lesson, therefore, and a warning may be gathered from this story: and I know many novelists who would have preached that lesson at some length in every other chapter, and interrupted the sacred narrative to do it. But when I read stories so mutilated, I think of a circumstance related by Mr. Joseph Miller.
"An Englishman sojourning in some part of Scotland was afflicted with many hairs in the butter, and remonstrated. He was told, in reply, that the hairs and the butter came from one source--the cow; and that the just and natural proportions hitherto observed, could not be deranged, and bald butter invented--for one. 'So be it,' said the Englishman; 'but let me have the butter in one plate, and the hairs in another.'"
Acting on this hint, I have reserved some admirable remarks, reflections, discourses, and tirades, until the story should be ended, and the other plate be ready for the subsidiary sermon.
And now that the proper time is come, that love of intruding one's own wisdom in one's own person on the reader, which has marred so many works of art, is in my case restrained--first, by pure fatigue; secondly, because the moral of this particular story stands out so clear in the narrative, that he who runs may read it without any sermon at all.
Those who will not take the trouble to gather my moral from the living tree, would not lift it out of my dead basket: would not unlock their jaw-bones to bite it, were I to thrust it into their very mouths.