White Lies by Charles Reade
After Edouard's departure, Josephine de Beaurepaire was sad, and weighed down with presentiments. She felt as soldiers sometimes feel who know the enemy is undermining them; no danger on the surface; nothing that can be seen, met, baffled, attacked, or evaded; in daily peril, all the more horrible that it imitates perfect serenity, they await the fatal match. She imparted her misgivings to Aubertin; but he assured her she exaggerated the danger.
"We have a friend still more zealous and active than our enemy; believe me, your depression is really caused by his absence; we all miss the contact of that young heroic spirit; we are a body, and he its soul."
Josephine was silent, for she said to herself, "Why should I dash their spirits? they are so happy and confident."
Edouard had animated Rose and Aubertin with his own courage, and had even revived the baroness.
It had been agreed between him and Picard that the latter should communicate with Dr. Aubertin direct, should anything fresh occur. And on the third day after Edouard's departure, Picard sent up a private message: "Perrin has just sent me a line to say he will not trouble us, as he is offered the money in another quarter."
This was a heavy blow, and sent them all to bed more or less despondent.
The next day brought a long letter from Edouard to Rose, telling her he had found his uncle crusty at first; but at last with a little patience, and the co-operation of Martha, his uncle's old servant, and his nurse, the old boy had come round. They might look on the affair as all but settled.
The contents of this letter were conveyed to the baroness. The house brightened under it: the more so that there was some hope of their successful champion returning in person next day. Meantime Perrin had applied to Raynal for the immediate loan of a large sum of money on excellent security. Raynal refused plump. Perrin rode away disconsolate.
But the next day he returned to the charge with another proposal: and the nature of this second proposal we shall learn from events.
The day Edouard was expected opened deliciously. It was a balmy morning, and tempted the sisters out before breakfast. They strolled on the south terrace with their arms round each other's waists, talking about Edouard, and wondering whether they should really see him before night. Rose owned she had missed him, and confessed for the first time she was a proud and happy girl.
"May I tell him so?" asked Josephine.
"Not for all the world. Would you dare?"
Further discussion of that nice point was stopped by the baroness coming out, leaning on Dr. Aubertin.
Then--how we young people of an unceremonious age should have stared--the demoiselles de Beaurepaire, inasmuch as this was their mother's first appearance, lowered their fair heads at the same time like young poplars bowing to the wind, and so waited reverently till she had slightly lifted her hands, and said, "God bless you, my children!"
It was done in a moment on both sides, but full of grace and piety, and the charm of ancient manners.
"How did our dear mother sleep?" inquired Josephine. Aubertin interposed with a theory that she slept very well indeed if she took what he gave her.
"Ay, if," suggested Rose, saucily.
"I slept," said the baroness, "and I wish I had not for I dreamed an ugly dream." They all gathered round her, and she told her dream.
"I thought I was with you all in this garden. I was admiring the flowers and the trees, and the birds were singing with all their might. Suddenly a dark cloud came; it cleared almost directly; but flowers, trees, sky, and birds were gone now, and I could see the chateau itself no more. It means that I was dead. An ugly dream, my children, an ugly dream."
"But only a dream, dear mother," said Rose: then with a sweet, consoling smile, "See, here is your terrace and your chateau."
"And here are your daughters," said Josephine; and they both came and kissed her to put their existence out of doubt. "And here is your Aesculapius," said Aubertin. "And here is your Jacintha."
"Breakfast, madame," said Jacintha. "Breakfast, mesdemoiselles. Breakfast, monsieur:" dropping each a distinct courtesy in turn.
"She has turned the conversation very agreeably," said the baroness, and went in leaning on her old friend.
But the sisters lagged behind and took several turns in silence. Rose was the first to speak. "How superstitious of you!"
"I said nothing."
"No; but you looked volumes at me while mamma was telling her dream. For my part I feel sure love is stronger than hate; and we shall stay all our days in this sweet place: and O Josey! am I not a happy girl that it's all owing to him!"
At this moment Jacintha came running towards them. They took it for a summons to breakfast, and moved to meet her. But they soon saw she was almost as white as her apron, and she came open-mouthed and wringing her hands. "What shall I do? what shall I do? Oh, don't let my poor mistress know!"
They soon got from her that Dard had just come from the town, and learned the chateau was sold, and the proprietor coming to take possession this very day. The poor girls were stupefied by the blow.
If anything, Josephine felt it worst. "It is my doing," she gasped, and tottered fainting. Rose supported her: she shook it off by a violent effort. "This is no time for weakness," she cried, wildly; "come to the Pleasaunce; there is water there. I love my mother. What will I not do for her? I love my mother."
Muttering thus wildly she made for the pond in the Pleasaunce. She had no sooner turned the angle of the chateau than she started back with a convulsive cry, and her momentary feebleness left her directly; she crouched against the wall and griped the ancient corner-stone with her tender hand till it powdered, and she spied with dilating eye into the Pleasaunce, Rose and Jacintha panting behind her. Two men stood with their backs turned to her looking at the oak-tree; one an officer in full uniform, the other the human snake Perrin. Though the soldier's back was turned, his off-handed, peremptory manner told her he was inspecting the place as its master.
"The baroness! the baroness!" cried Jacintha, with horror. They looked round, and the baroness was at their very backs.
"What is it?" cried she, gayly.
"Let me see this nothing."
They glanced at one another, and, idle as the attempt was, the habit of sparing her prevailed, and they flung themselves between her and the blow.
"Josephine is not well," said Rose. "She wants to go in." Both girls faced the baroness.
"Jacintha," said the baroness, "fetch Dr. Aubertin. There, I have sent her away. So now tell me, why do you drive me back so? Something has happened," and she looked keenly from one to the other.
"O mamma! do not go that way: there are strangers in the Pleasaunce."
"Let me see. So there are. Call Jacintha back that I may order these people out of my premises." Josephine implored her to be calm.
"Be calm when impertinent intruders come into my garden?"
"Mother, they are not intruders."
"What do you mean?"
"They have a right to be in our Pleasaunce. They have bought the chateau."
"It is impossible. He was to buy it for us--there is some mistake-- what man would kill a poor old woman like me? I will speak to this gentleman: he wears a sword. Soldiers do not trample on women. Ah! that man."
The notary, attracted by her voice, was coming towards her, a paper in his hand.
Raynal coolly inspected the tree, and tapped it with his scabbard, and left Perrin to do the dirty work. The notary took off his hat, and, with a malignant affectation of respect, presented the baroness with a paper.
The poor old thing took it with a courtesy, the effect of habit, and read it to her daughters as well as her emotion permitted, and the language, which was as new to her as the dialect of Cat Island to Columbus.
"Jean Raynal, domiciled by right, and lodging in fact at the Chateau of Beaurepaire, acting by the pursuit and diligence of Master Perrin, notary; I, Guillaume Le Gras, bailiff, give notice to Josephine Aglae St. Croix de Beaurepaire, commonly called the Baroness de Beaurepaire, having no known place of abode"--
"but lodging wrongfully at the said Chateau of Beaurepaire, that she is warned to decamp within twenty-four hours"--
"failing which that she will be thereto enforced in the manner for that case made and provided with the aid of all the officers and agents of the public force."
"Ah! no, messieurs, pray do not use force. I am frightened enough already. I did not know I was doing anything wrong. I have been here thirty years. But, since Beaurepaire is sold, I comprehend perfectly that I must go. It is just. As you say, I am not in my own house. I will go, gentlemen, I will go. Whither shall I go, my children? The house where you were born to me is ours no longer. Excuse me, gentlemen--this is nothing to you. Ah! sir, you have revenged yourself on two weak women--may Heaven forgive you!"
The notary turned on his heel. The poor baroness, all whose pride the iron law, with its iron gripe, had crushed into dismay and terror, appealed to him. "O sir! send me from the house, but not from the soil where my Henri is laid! is there not in all this domain a corner where she who was its mistress may lie down and die? Where is the new baron, that I may ask this favor of him on my knees?"
She turned towards Raynal and seemed to be going towards him with outstretched arms. But Rose checked her with fervor. "Mamma! do not lower yourself. Ask nothing of these wretches. Let us lose all, but not forget ourselves."
The baroness had not her daughter's spirit. Her very person tottered under this blow. Josephine supported her, and the next moment Aubertin came out and hastened to her side. Her head fell back; what little strength she had failed her; she was half lifted, half led, into the house.
Commandant Raynal was amazed at all this, and asked what the deuce was the matter.
"Oh!" said the notary, "we are used to these little scenes in our business."
"But I am not," replied the soldier. "You never told me there was to be all this fuss."
He then dismissed his friend rather abruptly and strode up and down the Pleasaunce. He twisted his mustaches, muttered, and "pested," and was ill at ease. Accustomed to march gayly into a town, and see the regiment, that was there before, marching gayly out, or vice versa, and to strike tents twice a quarter at least, he was little prepared for such a scene as this. True, he did not hear all the baroness's words, but more than one tone of sharp distress reached him where he stood, and the action of the whole scene was so expressive, there was little need of words. He saw the notice given; the dismay it caused, and the old lady turn imploringly towards him with a speaking gesture, and above all he saw her carried away, half fainting, her hands clasped, her reverend face pale. He was not a man of quick sensibilities. He did not thoroughly take the scene in at first: it grew upon him afterwards.
"Confound it," thought he, "I am the proprietor. They all say so. Instead of which I feel like a thief. Fancy her getting so fond of a place as all this."
Presently it occurred to him that the shortness of the notice might have much to do with her distress. "These notaries," said he to himself, "understand nothing save law: women have piles of baggage, and can't strike tents directly the order comes, as we can. Perhaps if I were to give them twenty-four days instead of hours?--hum!"
With this the commandant fell into a brown study. Now each of us has his attitude of brown study. One runs about the room like hyena in his den; another stands stately with folded arms (this one seldom thinks to the purpose); another sits cross-legged, brows lowered: another must put his head into his hand, and so keep it up to thinking mark: another must twiddle a bit of string, or a key; grant him this, he can hatch an epic. This commandant must draw himself up very straight, and walk six paces and back very slowly, till the problem was solved: I suspect he had done a good bit of sentinel work in his time.
Now whilst he was guarding the old oak-tree, for all the world as if it had been the gate of the Tuileries or the barracks, Josephine de Beaurepaire came suddenly out from the house and crossed the Pleasaunce: her hair was in disorder, her manner wild: she passed swiftly into the park.
Raynal recognized her as one of the family; and after a moment's reflection followed her into the park with the good-natured intention of offering her a month to clear out instead of a day.
But it was not so easy to catch her: she flew. He had to take his scabbard in his left hand and fairly run after her. Before he could catch her, she entered the little chapel. He came up and had his foot on the very step to go in, when he was arrested by that he heard within.
Josephine had thrown herself on her knees and was praying aloud: praying to the Virgin with sighs and sobs and all her soul: wrestling so in prayer with a dead saint as by a strange perversity men cannot or will not wrestle with Him, who alone can hear a million prayers at once from a million different places,--can realize and be touched with a sense of all man's infirmities in a way no single saint with his partial experience of them can realize and be touched by them; who unasked suspended the laws of nature that had taken a stranger's only son, and she a widow; and wept at another great human sorrow, while the eyes of all the great saints that stood around it and Him were dry.
Well, the soldier stood, his right foot on the step and his sword in his left hand, transfixed: listening gravely to the agony of prayer the innocent young creature poured forth within:--
"O Madonna! hear me: it is for my mother's life. She will die--she will die. You know she cannot live if she is taken away from her house and from this holy place where she prays to you this many years. O Queen of Heaven! put out your hand to us unfortunates! Virgin, hear a virgin: mother, listen to a child who prays for her mother's life! The doctor says she will not live away from here. She is too old to wander over the world. Let them drive us forth: we are young, but not her, mother, oh, not her! Forgive the cruel men that do this thing!--they are like those who crucified your Son-- they know not what they are doing. But you, Queen of Heaven, you know all; and, sweet mother, if you have kind sentiments towards me, poor Josephine, ah! show them now: for you know that it was I who insulted that wicked notary, and it is out of hatred to me he has sold our beloved house to a hard stranger. Look down on me, a child who loves her mother, yet will destroy her unless you pity me and help me. Oh! what shall I say?--what shall I do? mercy! mercy! for my poor mother, for me!"
Here her utterance was broken by sobs.
The soldier withdrew his foot quietly. Her words had knocked against his very breast-bone. He marched slowly to and fro before the chapel, upright as a dart, and stiff as a ramrod, and actually pale: for even our nerves have their habits; a woman's passionate grief shook him as a cannon fired over his head could not.
Josephine little thought who was her sentinel. She came to the door at last, and there he was marching backwards and forwards, upright and stiff. She gave a faint scream and drew back with a shudder at the sight of their persecutor. She even felt faintish at him, as women will in such cases.
Not being very quick at interpreting emotion, Raynal noticed her alarm, but not her repugnance; he saluted her with military precision by touching his cap as only a soldier can, and said rather gently for him, "A word with you, mademoiselle."
She replied only by trembling.
"Don't be frightened," said Raynal, in a tone not very reassuring. "I propose an armistice."
"I am at your disposal, sir," said Josephine, now assuming a calmness that was belied by the long swell of her heaving bosom.
"Of course you look on me as an enemy."
"How can I do otherwise, sir? yet perhaps I ought not. You did not know us. You just wanted an estate, I suppose--and--oh!"
"Well, don't cry; and let us come to the point, since I am a man of few words."
"If you please, sir. My mother may miss me."
"Well, I was in position on your flank when the notary delivered his fire. And I saw the old woman's distress."
"When you came flying out I followed to say a good word to you. I could not catch you. I listened while you prayed to the Virgin. That was not a soldier-like trick, you will say. I confess it."
"It matters little, sir, and you heard nothing I blush for."
"No! by St. Denis; quite the contrary. Well, to the point. Young lady, you love your mother."
"What has she on earth now but her children's love?"
"Now look here, young lady, I had a mother; I loved her in my humdrum way very dearly. She promised me faithfully not to die till I should be a colonel; and she went and died before I was a commandant, even; just before, too."
"Then I pity you," murmured Josephine; and her soft purple eye began to dwell on him with less repugnance.
"Thank you for that word, my good young lady," said Raynal. "Now, I declare, you are the first that has said that word to me about my losing the true friend, that nursed me on her knee, and pinched and pinched to make a man of me. I should like to tell you about her and me."
"I shall feel honored," said Josephine, politely, but with considerable restraint.
Then he told her all about how he had vexed her when he was a boy, and gone for a soldier, though she was all for trade, and how he had been the more anxious to see her enjoy his honors and success. "And, mademoiselle," said he, appealingly, "the day this epaulet was put on my shoulder in Italy, she died in Paris. Ah! how could you have the heart to do that, my old woman?"
The soldier's mustache quivered, and he turned away brusquely, and took several steps. Then he came back to Josephine, and to his infinite surprise saw that her purple eyes were thick with tears. "What? you are within an inch of crying for my mother, you who have your own trouble at this hour."
"Monsieur, our situations are so alike, I may well spare some little sympathy for your misfortune."
"Thank you, my good young lady. Well, then, to business; while you were praying to the Virgin, I was saying a word or two for my part to her who is no more."
"Oh! it was nothing beautiful like the things you said to the other. Can I turn phrases? I saw her behind her little counter in the Rue Quincampoix; for she is a woman of the people, is my mother. I saw myself come to the other side of the counter, and I said, 'Look here, mother, here is the devil to pay about this new house. The old woman talks of dying if we take her from her home, and the young one weeps and prays to all the saints in paradise; what shall we do, eh?' Then I thought my old woman said to me, 'Jean, you are a soldier, a sort of vagabond; what do you want with a house in France? you who are always in a tent in Italy or Austria, or who knows where. Have you the courage to give honest folk so much pain for a caprice? Come now,' says she, 'the lady is of my age, say you, and I can't keep your fine house, because God has willed it otherwise; so give her my place; so then you can fancy it is me you have set down at your hearth: that will warm your heart up a bit, you little scamp,' said my old woman in her rough way. She was not well-bred like you, mademoiselle. A woman of the people, nothing more."
"She was a woman of God's own making, if she was like that," cried Josephine, the tears now running down her cheeks.
"Ah, that she was, she was. So between her and me it is settled-- what are you crying for now? why, you have won the day; the field is yours; your mother and you remain; I decamp." He whipped his scabbard up with his left hand, and was going off without another word, if Josephine had not stopped him.
"But, sir, what am I to think? what am I to hope? it is impossible that in this short interview--and we must not forget what is due to you. You have bought the estate."
"True; well, we will talk over that, to-morrow; but being turned out of the house, that was the bayonet thrust to the old lady. So you run in and put her heart at rest about it. Tell her that she may live and die in this house for Jean Raynal; and tell her about the old woman in the Rue Quincampoix."
"God bless you, Jean Raynal!" cried Josephine, clasping her hands.
"Are you going?" said he, peremptorily.
"Oh, yes!" and she darted towards the chateau.
But when she had taken three steps she paused, and seemed irresolute. She turned, and in a moment she had glided to Raynal again and had taken his hand before he could hinder her, and pressed two velvet lips on it, and was away again, her cheeks scarlet at what she had done, and her wet eyes beaming with joy. She skimmed the grass like a lapwing; you would have taken her at this minute for Rose, or for Virgil's Camilla; at the gate she turned an instant and clasped her hands together, with such a look, to show Raynal she blessed him again, then darted into the house.
"Aha, my lady," said he, as he watched her fly, "behold you changed a little since you came out." He was soon on the high road marching down to the town at a great rate, his sword clanking, and thus ran his thoughts: "This does one good; you are right, my old woman. Your son's bosom feels as warm as toast. Long live the five-franc pieces! And they pretend money cannot make a fellow happy. They lie; it is because they do not know how to spend it."
Meantime at the chateau, as still befalls in emergencies and trials, the master spirit came out and took its real place. Rose was now the mistress of Beaurepaire; she set Jacintha, and Dard, and the doctor, to pack up everything of value in the house. "Do it this moment!" she cried; "once that notary gets possession of the house, it may be too late. Enough of folly and helplessness. We have fooled away house and lands; our movables shall not follow them."
The moment she had set the others to work, she wrote a single line to Riviere to tell him the chateau and lands were sold, and would he come to Beaurepaire at once? She ran with it herself to Bigot's auberge, the nearest post-office, and then back to comfort her mother.
The baroness was seated in her arm-chair, moaning and wringing her hands, and Rose was nursing and soothing her, and bathing her temples with her last drop of eau de Cologne, and trying in vain to put some of her own courage into her, when in came Josephine radiant with happiness, crying "Joy! joy! joy!" and told her strange tale, with this difference, that she related her own share in it briefly and coldly, and was more eloquent than I about the strange soldier's goodness, and the interest her mother had awakened in his heart. And she told about the old woman in the Rue Quincampoix, her rugged phrases, and her noble, tender heart. The baroness, deaf to Rose's consolations, brightened up directly at Josephine's news, and at her glowing face, as she knelt pouring the good news, and hope, and comfort, point blank into her. But Rose chilled them both.
"It is a generous offer," said, she, "but one we cannot accept. We cannot live under so great an obligation. Is all the generosity to be on the side of this Bonapartist? Are we noble in name only? What would our father have said to such a proposal?"
Josephine hung her head. The baroness groaned.
"No, mother," continued Rose; "let house and land go, but honor and true nobility remain."
"What shall I do? you are cruel to me, Rose."
"Mamma," cried the enthusiastic girl, "we need depend on no one. Josephine and I have youth and spirit."
"But no money."
"We have plenty of jewels, and pictures, and movables. We can take a farm."
"A farm!" shrieked the baroness.
"Why, his uncle has a farm, and we have had recourse to him for help: better a farmhouse than an almshouse, though that almshouse were a palace instead of a chateau."
Josephine winced and held up her hand deprecatingly. The baroness paled: it was a terrible stroke of language to come from her daughter. She said sternly, "There is no answer to that. We were born nobles, let us die farmers: only permit me to die first."
"Forgive me, mother," said Rose, kneeling. "I was wrong; it is for me to obey you, not to dictate. I speak no more." And, after kissing her mother and Josephine, she crept away, but she left her words sticking in both their consciences.
"His uncle," said the shrewd old lady. "She is no longer a child; and she says his uncle. This makes me half suspect it is her that dear boy--Josephine, tell me the truth, which of you is it?"
"Dear mother, who should it be? they are nearly of an age: and what man would not love our sweet Rose, that had eyes or a heart?"
The baroness sighed deeply; and was silent. After awhile she said, "The moment they have a lover, he detaches their hearts from their poor old mother. She is no longer what my Josephine is to me."
"Mamma, she is my superior. I see it more and more every day. She is proud: she is just; she looks at both sides. As for me, I am too apt to see only what will please those I love."
"And that is the daughter for me," cried the poor baroness, opening her arms wide to her.
The next morning when they were at breakfast, in came Jacintha to say the officer was in the dining-room and wanted to speak with the young lady he talked to yesterday. Josephine rose and went to him. "Well, mademoiselle," said he gayly, "the old woman was right. Here I have just got my orders to march: to leave France in a month. A pretty business it would have been if I had turned your mother out. So you see there is nothing to hinder you from living here."
"In your house, sir?"
"Why not, pray?"
"Forgive us. But we feel that would be unjust to you, humiliating to us: the poor are sometimes proud."
"Of course they are," said Raynal: "and I don't want to offend your pride. Confound the house: why did I go and buy it? It is no use to me except to give pain to worthy people." He then, after a moment's reflection, asked her if the matter could not be arranged by some third party, a mutual friend. "Then again," said he, "I don't know any friend of yours."
"Yes, sir," said Josephine; "we have one friend, who knows you, and esteems you highly."
She wanted to name Edouard; but she hesitated, and asked her conscience if it was fair to name him: and while she blushed and hesitated, lo and behold a rival referee hove in sight. Raynal saw him, suddenly opened a window, and shouted, "Hallo come in here: you are wanted."
Perrin had ridden up to complete the exodus of the De Beaurepaires, and was strolling about inspecting the premises he had expelled them from.
Here was a pretty referee!
Josephine almost screamed--"What are you doing? that is our enemy, our bitterest enemy. He has only sold you the estate to spite us, not for the love of you. I had--we had--we mortified his vanity. It was not our fault: he is a viper. Sir, pray, pray, pray be on your guard against his counsels."
These words spoken with rare fire and earnestness carried conviction: but it was too late to recall the invitation. The notary entered the room, and was going to bow obsequiously to Raynal, when he caught sight of Josephine, and almost started. Raynal, after Josephine's warning, was a little at a loss how to make him available; and even that short delay gave the notary's one foible time to lead him into temptation. "Our foibles are our manias."
"So," said he, "you have taken possession, commandant. These military men are prompt, are they not, mademoiselle?"
"Do not address yourself to me, sir, I beg," said Josephine quietly.
Perrin kept his self-command. "It is only as Commandant Raynal's agent I presume to address so distinguished a lady: in that character I must inform you that whatever movables you have removed are yours: those we find in the house on entering we keep."
"Come, come, not so fast," cried Raynal; "bother the chairs and tables! that is not the point."
"Commandant," said the notary with dignity, "have I done anything to merit this? have I served your interests so ill that you withdraw your confidence from me?"
"No, no, my good fellow; but you exceed your powers. Just now I want you to take orders, not give them."
"That is only just," said Perrin, "and I recall my hasty remark: excuse the susceptibility of a professional man, who is honored with the esteem of his clients; and favor me with your wishes."
"All right," said Raynal heartily. "Well, then--I want mademoiselle and her family to stay here while I go to Egypt with the First Consul. Mademoiselle makes difficulties; it offends her delicacy."
"Comedy!" said the notary contemptuously.
"Though her mother's life depends on her staying here."
"Comedy!" said Perrin. Raynal frowned.
"Her pride (begging her pardon) is greater than her affection."
"I have pitched upon you to reconcile the two."
"Then you have pitched upon the wrong man," said Perrin bluntly. He added obsequiously, "I am too much your friend. She has been talking you over, no doubt; but you have a friend, an Ulysses, who is deaf to the siren's voice. I will be no party to such a transaction. I will not co-operate to humbug my friend and rob him of his rights."
If Josephine was inferior to the notary in petty sharpness, she was his superior in the higher kinds of sagacity; and particularly in instinctive perception of character. Her eye flashed with delight at the line Perrin was now taking with Raynal. The latter speedily justified her expectations: he just told Perrin to be off, and send him a more accommodating notary.
"A more accommodating notary!" screamed Perrin, stung to madness by this reproach. "There is not a more accommodating notary in Europe. Ungrateful man! is this the return for all my zeal, my integrity, my unselfishness? Is there another agent in the world who would have let such a bargain as Beaurepaire fall into your hands? It serves me right for deviating from the rules of business. Send me another agent--oh!"
The honest soldier was confused. The lawyer's eloquence overpowered him. He felt guilty. Josephine saw his simplicity, and made a cut with a woman's two-edged sword. "Sir," said she coolly, "do you not see it is an affair of money? This is his way of saying, Pay me handsomely for so unusual a commission."
"And I'll pay him double," cried Raynal, catching the idea; "don't be alarmed, I'll pay you for it."
"And my zeal, my devotion?"
"Put 'em in figures."
"And my prob--?"
"Add it up."
"And my integ--?"
"Add them together: and don't bother me."
"I see! I see! my poor soldier. You are no match for a woman's tongue."
"Nor, for a notary's. Go to h---, and send in your bill!" roared the soldier in a fury. "Well, will you go?" and he marched at him.
The notary scuttled out, with something between a snarl and a squeak.
Josephine hid her face in her hands.
"What is the matter with you?" inquired Raynal. "Not crying again, surely!"
"Me! I never cry--hardly. I hid my face because I could not help laughing. You frightened me, sir," said she: then very demurely, "I was afraid you were going to beat him."
"No, no; a good soldier never leathers a civilian if he can possibly help it; it looks so bad; and before a lady!"
"Oh, I would have forgiven you, monsieur," said Josephine benignly, and something like a little sun danced in her eye.
"Now, mademoiselle, since my referee has proved a pig, it is your turn. Choose you a mutual friend."
Josephine hesitated. "Ours is so young. You know him very well. You are doubtless the commandant of whom I once heard him speak with such admiration: his name is Riviere, Edouard Riviere."
"Know him? he is my best officer, out and out." And without a moment's hesitation he took Edouard's present address, and accepted that youthful Daniel as their referee; then looked at his watch and marched off to his public duties with sabre clanking at his heels.
The notary went home gnashing his teeth. His sweet revenge was turned to wormwood this day. Raynal's parting commissions rang in his ear; in his bitter mood the want of logical sequence in the two orders disgusted him.
So he inverted them.
He sent in a thundering bill the very next morning, but postponed the other commission till his dying day.
As for Josephine, she came into the drawing-room beaming with love and happiness, and after kissing both her mother and Rose with gentle violence, she let them know the strange turn things had taken.
And she whispered to Rose, "Only think, your Edouard to be our referee!"
Rose blushed and bent over her work; and wondered how Edouard would discharge so grave an office.
The matter approached a climax; for, as the reader is aware, Edouard was hourly expected at Beaurepaire.
He did not come; but it was not his fault. On receiving Rose's letter he declined to stay another hour at his uncle's.
He flung himself on his horse; and, before he was well settled on the stirrups, the animal shied violently at a wheelbarrow some fool had left there; and threw Edouard on the stones of the courtyard. He jumped up in a moment and laughed at Marthe's terror; meantime a farm-servant caught the nag and brought him back to his work.
But when Edouard went to put his hand on the saddle, he found it would not obey him. "Wait a minute," said he; "my arm is benumbed."
"Let me see!" said the farmer, and examined the limb himself; "benumbed? yes; and no wonder. Jacques, get on the brute and ride for the surgeon."
"Are you mad, uncle?" cried Edouard. "I can't spare my horse, and I want no surgeon; it will be well directly."
"It will be worse before it is better."
"I don't know what you mean, uncle; it is only numbed, ah! it hurts when I rub it."
"It is worse than numbed, boy; it is broken."
"Broken? nonsense:" and he looked at it in piteous bewilderment: "how can it be broken? it does not hurt except when I touch it."
"It will hurt: I know all about it. I broke mine fifteen years ago: fell off a haystack."
"Oh, how unfortunate I am!" cried Edouard, piteously. "But I will go to Beaurepaire all the same. I can have the thing mended there, as well as here."
"You will go to bed," said the old man, quietly; "that is where you'll go."
"I'll go to blazes sooner," yelled the young one.
The old man made a signal to his myrmidons, whom Marthe's cries had brought around, and four stout fellows took hold of Edouard by the legs and the left shoulder and carried him up-stairs raging and kicking; and deposited him on a bed.
Presently he began to feel faint, and so more reasonable. They cut his coat off, and put him in a loose wrapper, and after considerable delay the surgeon came, and set his arm skilfully, and behold this ardent spirit caged. He chafed and fretted sadly. Fortitude was not his forte.
It was two days after his accident. He was lying on his back, environed by slops and cursing his evil fate, and fretting his soul out of its fleshly prison, when suddenly he heard a cheerful trombone saying three words to Marthe, then came a clink-clank, and Marthe ushered into the sickroom the Commandant Raynal. The sick man raised himself in bed, with great surprise and joy.
"O commandant! this is kind to come and see your poor officer in purgatory."
"Ah," cried Raynal, "you see I know what it is. I have been chained down by the arm, and the leg, and all: it is deadly tiresome."
"Tiresome! it is--it is--oh, dear commandant, Heaven bless you for coming!"
"Ta! ta! ta! I am come on my own business."
"All the better. I have nothing to do; that is what kills me. I'm eating my own heart."
"Cannibal! Well, my lad, since you are in that humor, cheer up, for I bring you a job, and a tough one; it has puzzled me."
"What is it, commandant? What is it?"
"Well, do you know a house and a family called Beaurepaire?"
"Do I know Beaurepaire?"
And the pale youth turned very red; and stared with awe at this wizard of a commandant. He thought he was going to be called over the coals for frequenting a disaffected family. "Well," said Raynal, "I have been and bought this Beaurepaire."
Edouard uttered a loud exclamation. "It was you bought it! she never told me that."
"Yes," said Raynal, "I am the culprit; and we have fixed on you to undo my work without hurting their pride too much, poor souls; but let us begin with the facts."
Then Raynal told him my story after his fashion. Of course I shall not go and print his version; you might like his concise way better than my verbose; and I'm not here to hold up any man's coat-tails. Short as he made it, Edouard's eyes were moist more than once; and at the end he caught Raynal's hand and kissed it. Then he asked time to reflect; "for," said he, "I must try and be just."
"I'll give you an hour," said Raynal, with an air of grand munificence. The only treasure he valued was time.
In less than an hour Edouard had solved the knot, to his entire satisfaction; he even gave the commandant particular instructions for carrying out his sovereign decree. Raynal received these orders from his subordinate with that simplicity which formed part of his amazing character, and rode home relieved of all responsibility in the matter.
Commandant Raynal to Mademoiselle de Beaurepaire.
Mademoiselle,--Before I could find time to write to our referee, news came in that he had just broken his arm;--
"Oh! oh, dear! our poor Edouard!"
And if poor Edouard had seen the pale faces, and heard the faltering accents, it would have reconciled him to his broken arm almost. This hand-grenade the commandant had dropped so coolly among them, it was a long while ere they could recover from it enough to read the rest of the letter,--
so I rode over to him, and found him on his back, fretting for want of something to do. I told him the whole story. He undertook the business. I have received his instructions, and next week shall be at his quarters to clear off his arrears of business, and make acquaintance with all your family, if they permit.
As the latter part of this letter seemed to require a reply, the baroness wrote a polite note, and Jacintha sent Dard to leave it for the commandant at Riviere's lodgings. But first they all sat down and wrote kind and pitying and soothing letters to Edouard. Need I say these letters fell upon him like balm?
They all inquired carelessly in their postscripts what he had decided as their referee. He replied mysteriously that they would know that in a week or two. Meantime, all he thought it prudent to tell them was that he had endeavored to be just to both parties.
"Little solemn puppy," said Rose, and was racked with curiosity.
Next week Raynal called on the baroness. She received him alone. They talked about Madame Raynal. The next day he dined with the whole party, and the commandant's manners were the opposite of what the baroness had inculcated. But she had a strong prejudice in his favor. Had her feelings been the other way his brusquerie would have shocked her. It amused her. If people's hearts are with you, that for their heads!
He came every day for a week, chatted with the baroness, walked with the young ladies; and when after work he came over in the evening, Rose used to cross-examine him, and out came such descriptions of battles and sieges, such heroism and such simplicity mixed, as made the evening pass delightfully. On these occasions the young ladies fixed their glowing eyes on him, and drank in his character as well as his narrative, in which were fewer "I's" than in anything of the sort you ever read or heard.
At length Rose contrived to draw him aside, and, hiding her curiosity under feigned nonchalance, asked him what the referee had decided. He told her that was a secret for the present.
"Well, but," said Rose, "not from me. Edouard and I have no secrets."
"Come, that's good," said Raynal. "Why, you are the very one he warned me against the most; said you were as curious as Mother Eve, and as sharp as her needle."
"Then he is a little scurrilous traitor," cried Rose, turning very red. "So that is how he talks of me behind my back, and calls me an angel to my face; I'll pay him for this. Do tell me, commandant; never mind what he says."
"What! disobey orders?"
"Orders? to you from that boy!"
"Oh!" said Raynal, "for that matter, we soldiers are used to command one moment, and obey the next."
In a word, this military pedant was impracticable, and Rose gave him up in disgust, and began to call up a sulky look when the other two sang his praises. For the old lady pronounced him charming, and Josephine said he was a man of crystal; never said a word he did not mean, and she wished she was like him. But the baroness thought this was going a little too far.
"No, thank you," said she hastily; "he is a man, a thorough man. He would make an intolerable woman. A fine life if one had a parcel of women about, all blurting out their real minds every moment, and never smoothing matters."
"Mamma, what a horrid picture!" chuckled Rose.
She then proposed that at his next visit they should all three make an earnest appeal to him to let them know what Edouard had decided.
But Josephine begged to be excused, feared it would be hardly delicate; and said languidly that for her part she felt they were in good hands, and prescribed patience. The baroness acquiesced, and poor Rose and her curiosity were baffled on every side.
At last, one fine day, her torments were relieved without any further exertion on her part. Jacintha bounced into the drawing- room with a notice that the commandant wanted to speak to Josephine a minute out in the Pleasaunce.
"How droll he is," said Rose; "fancy sending in for a young lady like that. Don't go, Josephine; how, he would stare."
"My dear, I no more dare disobey him than if I was one of his soldiers." And she laid down her work, and rose quietly to do what she was bid.
"Well," said Rose, superciliously, "go to your commanding officer. And, O Josephine, if you are worth anything at all, do get out of him what that Edouard has settled."
Josephine kissed her, and promised to try. After the first salutation, there was a certain hesitation about Raynal which Josephine had never seen a trace of in him before; so, to put him at his ease, and at the same time keep her promise to Rose, she asked timidly if their mutual friend had been able to suggest anything.
"What! don't you know that I have been acting all along upon his instructions?" answered Raynal.
"No, indeed! and you have not told us what he advised."
"Told you? why, of course not; they were secret instructions. I have obeyed one set, and now I come to the other; and there is the difficulty, being a kind of warfare I know nothing about."
"It must be savage warfare, then," suggested the lady politely.
"Not a bit of it. Now, who would have thought I was such a coward?"
Josephine was mystified; however, she made a shrewd guess. "Do you fear a repulse from any one of us? Then, I suppose, you meditate some extravagant act of generosity."
"Of delicacy, then."
"Just the reverse. Confound the young dog! why is he not here to help me?"
"But, after all," suggested Josephine, "you have only to carry out his instructions."
"That is true! that is true! but when a fellow is a coward, a poltroon, and all that sort of thing."
This repeated assertion of cowardice on the part of the living Damascus blade that stood bolt-upright before her, struck Josephine as so funny that she laughed merrily, and bade him fancy it was only a fort he was attacking instead of the terrible Josephine; whom none but heroes feared, she assured him.
This encouragement, uttered in jest, was taken in earnest. The soldier thanked her, and rallied visibly at the comparison. "All right," said he, "as you say, it is only a fort--so--mademoiselle!"
"Hum! will you lend me your hand for a moment?"
"My hand! what for? there," and she put it out an inch a minute. He took it, and inspected it closely.
"A charming hand; the hand of a virtuous woman?"
"Yes," said Josephine as cool as a cucumber, too sublimely and absurdly innocent even to blush.
"Is it your own?"
"Sir!" She blushed at that, I can tell you.
"Because if it was, I would ask you to give it me. (I've fired the first shot anyway.)"
Josephine whipped her hand off his palm, where it lay like cream spilt on a trencher.
"Ah! I see; you are not free: you have a lover."
"No, no!" cried Josephine in distress; "I love nobody but my mother and sister: I never shall."
"Your mother," cried Raynal; "that reminds me; he told me to ask her; by Jove, I think he told me to ask her first;" and Raynal up with his scabbard and was making off.
Josephine begged him to do nothing of the kind.
"I can save you the trouble," said she.
"Ah, but my instructions! my instructions!" cried the military pedant, and ran off into the house, and left Josephine "planted there," as they say in France.
Raynal demanded a private interview of the baroness so significantly and unceremoniously that Rose had no alternative but to retire, but not without a glance of defiance at the bear. She ran straight, without her bonnet, into the Pleasaunce to slake her curiosity at Josephine. That young lady was walking pensively, but turned at sight of Rose, and the sisters came together with a clash of tongues.
"O Rose! he has"--
So nimbly does the female mind run on its little beaten tracks, that it took no more than those syllables for even these innocent young women to communicate that Raynal had popped.
Josephine apologized for this weakness in a hero. "It wasn't his fault," said she. "It is your Edouard who set him to do it."
"My Edouard? Don't talk in that horrid way: I have no Edouard. You said 'no' of course."
"Something of the kind."
"What, did you not say 'no' plump?"
"I did not say it brutally, dear."
"Josephine, you frighten me. I know you can't say 'no' to any one; and if you don't say 'no' plump to such a man as this, you might as well say 'yes.'"
"Well, love," said Josephine, "you know our mother will relieve me of this; what a comfort to have a mother!"
They waited for Raynal's departure, to go to the baroness. They had to wait a long time. Moreover, when he did leave the chateau he came straight into the Pleasaunce. At sight of him Rose seized Josephine tight and bade her hold her tongue, as she could not say "no" plump to any one. Josephine was far from raising any objection to the arrangement.
"Monsieur," said Rose, before he could get a word out, "even if she had not declined, I could not consent."
Raynal tapped his forehead reflectively, and drew forth from memory that he had no instructions whatever to ask her consent.
She colored high, but returned to the charge.
"Is her own consent to be dispensed with too? She declined the honor, did she not?"
"Of course she did; but this was anticipated in my instructions. I am to be sure and not take the first two or three refusals."
"O Josephine, look at that insolent boy: he has found you out."
"Insolent boy!" cried Raynal; "why, it is the referee of your own choosing, and as well behaved a lad as ever I saw, and a zealous officer."
"My kind friends," put in Josephine with a sweet languor, "I cannot let you quarrel about a straw."
"It is not about a straw," said Raynal, "it is about you."
"The distinction involves a compliment, sir," said Josephine; then she turned to Rose, "Is it possible you do not see Monsieur Raynal's strange proposal in its true light? and you so shrewd in general. He has no personal feeling whatever in this eccentric proceeding: he wants to make us all happy, especially my mother, without seeming to lay us under too great an obligation. Surely good-nature was never carried so far before; ha, ha! Monsieur, I will encumber you with my friendship forever, if you permit me, but farther than that I will not abuse your generosity."
"Now look here, mademoiselle," began Raynal bluntly, "I did start with a good motive at first, that there's no denying. But, since I have been every day in your company, and seen how good and kind you are to all about you, I have turned selfish; and I say to myself, what a comfort such a wife as you would be to a soldier! Why, only to have you to write letters home to, would be worth half a fellow's pay. Do you know sometimes when I see the fellows writing their letters it gives me a knock here to think I have no one at all to write to."
"So you see I am not so mighty disinterested. Now, mademoiselle, you speak so charmingly, I can't tell what you mean: can't tell whether you say 'no' because you could never like me, or whether it is out of delicacy, and you only want pressing. So I say no more at present: it is a standing offer. Take a day to consider. Take two if you like. I must go to the barracks; good-day."
"Oh! this must be put an end to at once," said Rose.
"With all my heart," replied Josephine; "but how?"
"Come to our mother, and settle that," said the impetuous sister, and nearly dragged the languid one into the drawing-room.
To their surprise they found the baroness walking up and down the room with unusual alacrity for a person of her years. She no sooner caught sight of Josephine than she threw her arms open to her with joyful vivacity, and kissed her warmly. "My love, you have saved us. I am a happy old woman. If I had all France to pick from I could not have found a man so worthy of my Josephine. He is brave, he is handsome, he is young, he is a rising man, he is a good son, and good sons make good husbands--and--I shall die at Beaurepaire, shall I not, Madame the Commandante?"
Josephine held her mother round the neck, but never spoke. After a silence she held her tighter, and cried a little.
"What is it?" asked the baroness confidentially of Rose, but without showing any very profound concern.
"Mamma! mamma! she does not love him."
"Love him? She would be no daughter of mine if she loved a man at sight. A modest woman loves her husband only."
"But she scarcely knows Monsieur Raynal."
"She knows more of him than I knew of your father when I married him. She knows his virtues and appreciates them. I have heard her, have I not, love? Esteem soon ripens into love when they are once fairly married."
"Mother, does her silence then tell you nothing? Her tears--are they nothing to you?"
"Silly child! These are tears that do not scald. The sweet soul weeps because she now for the first time sees she will have to leave her mother. Alas! my eldest, it is inevitable. Mothers are not immortal. While they are here it is their duty to choose good husbands for their daughters. My youngest, I believe, has chosen for herself--like the nation. But for my eldest I choose. We shall see which chooses the best. Meantime we stay at Beaurepaire, thanks to my treasure here."
"Josephine! Josephine! you don't say one word," cried Rose in dismay.
"What can I say? I love my mother and I love you. You draw me different ways. I want you to be both happy."
"Then if you will not speak out I must. Mother, do not deceive yourself: it is duty alone that keeps her silent: this match is odious to her."
"Then we are ruined. Josephine, is this match odious to you?"
"Not exactly odious: but I am very, very indifferent."
"There!" cried Rose triumphantly.
"There!" cried the baroness in the same breath, triumphantly. "She esteems his character; but his person is indifferent to her: in other words, she is a modest girl, and my daughter; and let me tell you, Rose, that but for the misfortunes of our house, both my daughters would be married as I was, without knowing half as much of their husbands as Josephine knows of this brave, honest, generous, filial gentleman."
"Well, then, since she will not speak out, I will. Pity me: I love her so. If this stranger, whom she does not love, takes her away from us, he will kill me. I shall die; oh!"
Josephine left her mother and went to console Rose.
The baroness lost her temper at this last stroke of opposition. "Now the truth comes out, Rose; this is selfishness. Do not deceive yourself--selfishness!"
"You are only waiting to leave me yourself. Yet your eldest sister, forsooth, must be kept here for you,--till then." She added more gently, "Let me advise you to retire to your own room, and examine your heart fairly. You will find there is a strong dash of egoism in all this."
"If I do"--
"You will retract your opposition."
"My heart won't let me; but I will despise myself, and be silent."
And the young lady, who had dried her eyes the moment she was accused of selfishness, walked, head erect, from the room. Josephine cast a deprecating glance at her mother. "Yes, my angel!" said the latter, "I was harsh. But we are no longer of one mind, and I suppose never shall be again."
"Oh, yes, we shall. Be patient! Mother--you shall not leave Beaurepaire."
The baroness colored faintly at these four last words of her daughter, and hung her head.
Josephine saw that, and darted to her and covered her with kisses.
That day the doctor scolded them both. "You have put your mother into a high fever," said he; "here's a pulse; I do wish you would be more considerate."
The commandant did not come to dinner as usual. The evening passed heavily; their hearts were full of uncertainty.
"We miss our merry, spirited companion," said the baroness with a grim look at Rose. Both young ladies assented with ludicrous eagerness.
That night Rose came and slept with Josephine, and more than once she awoke with a start and seized Josephine convulsively and held her tight.
Accused of egoism! at first her whole nature rose in arms against the charge: but, after a while, coming as it did from so revered a person, it forced her to serious self-examination. The poor girl said to herself, "Mamma is a shrewd woman. Am I after all deceiving myself? Would she be happy, and am I standing in the way?" In the morning she begged her sister to walk with her in the park, so that they might be safe from interruption.
There, she said sadly, she could not understand her own sister. "Why are you so calm and cold, while am I in tortures of anxiety? Have you made some resolve and not confided it to your Rose?"
"No, love," was the reply; "I am scarce capable of a resolution; I am a mere thing that drifts."
"Let me put it in other words, then. How will this end?"
"I hardly know."
"Do you mean to marry Monsieur Raynal, then? answer me that."
"No; but I should not wonder if he were to marry me."
"But you said 'no.'"
"Yes, I said 'no' once."
"And don't you mean to say it again, and again, and again, till kingdom come?"
"What is the use? you heard him say he would not desist any the more, and I care too little about the matter to go on persisting, and persisting, and persisting."
"Why not, if he goes on pestering, and pestering, and pestering?"
"Ah, he is like you, all energy, at all hours; but I have so little where my heart is unconcerned: he seems, too, to have a wish! I have none either way, and my conscience says 'marry him!'"
"Your conscience say marry one man when you love another?"
"Heaven forbid! Rose, I love no one: I have loved; but now my heart is dead and silent; only my conscience says, 'You are the cause of all your mother's trouble; you are the cause that Beaurepaire was sold. Now you can repair that mischief, and at the same time make a brave man happy, our benefactor happy.' It is a great temptation: I hardly know why I said 'no' at all; surprise, perhaps--or to please you, pretty one."
Rose groaned: "Are you then worth so little that you would throw yourself away on a man who does not love you, nor want you, and is quite as happy single?"
"No; not happy; he is only stout-hearted and good, and therefore content; and he is a character that it would be easy--in short, I feel my power here: I could make that man happy; he has nobody to write to even, when he is away--poor fellow!"
"I shall lose all patience," cried Rose; "you are at your old trick, thinking of everybody but yourself: I let you do it in trifles, but I love you too well to permit it when the happiness of your whole life is at stake. I must be satisfied on one point, or else this marriage shall never take place: just answer me this; if Camille Dujardin stood on one side, and Monsieur Raynal on the other, and both asked your hand, which would you take?"
"That will never be. Whose? Not his whom I despise. Esteem might ripen into love, but what must contempt end in?"
This reply gave Rose great satisfaction. To exhaust all awkward contingencies, she said, "One question more, and I have done. Suppose Camille should turn out--be not quite--what shall I say-- inexcusable?"
At this unlucky gush, Josephine turned pale, then red, then pale again, and cried eagerly, "Then all the world should not part us. Why torture me with such a question? Ah! you have heard something." And in a moment the lava of passion burst wildly through its thin sheet of ice. "I was blind. This is why you would save me from this unnatural marriage. You are breaking the good news to me by degrees. There is no need. Quick--quick--let me have it. I have waited three years; I am sick of waiting. Why don't you speak? Why don't you tell me? Then I will tell you. He is alive--he is well-- he is coming. It was not he those soldiers saw; they were so far off. How could they tell? They saw a uniform but not a face. Perhaps he has been a prisoner, and so could not write; could not come: but he is coming now. Why do you groan? why do you turn pale? ah! I see; I have once more deceived myself. I was mad. He I love is still a traitor to France and me, and I am wretched forever. Oh! that I were dead! oh! that I were dead! No; don't speak to me: never mind me; this madness will pass as it has before, and leave me a dead thing among the living. Ah! sister, why did you wake me from my dream? I was drifting so calmly, so peacefully, so dead, and painless, drifting over the dead sea of the heart towards the living waters of gratitude and duty. I was going to make more than one worthy soul happy; and seeing them happy, I should have been content and useful--what am I now?--and comforted other hearts, and died joyful--and young. For God is good; he releases the meek and patient from their burdens."
With this came a flood of tears; and she leaned against a bough with her forehead on her arm, bowed like a wounded lily.
"Accursed be that man's name, and my tongue if ever I utter it again in your hearing!" cried Rose, weeping bitterly. "You are wiser than I, and every way better. O my darling, dry your tears! Here he comes: look! riding across the park."
"Rose," cried Josephine, hastily, "I leave all to you. Receive Monsieur Raynal, and decline his offer if you think proper. It is you who love me best. My mother would give me up for a house; for an estate, poor dear."
"I would not give you for all the world."
"I know it. I trust all to you."
"Well, but don't go; stay and hear what I shall say."
"Oh, no; that poor man is intolerable to me now. Let me avoid his sight, and think of his virtues."
Rose was left alone, mistress of her sister's fate. She put her head into her hands and filled with anxiety and sudden doubt.
Like a good many more of us, she had been positive so long as the decision did not rest with her. But with power comes responsibility, with responsibility comes doubt. Easy to be an advocate in re incerta; hard to be the judge. And she had but a few seconds to think in; for Raynal was at hand. The last thing in her mind before he joined her was the terrible power of that base Camille over her sister. She despaired of curing Josephine, but a husband might. There's such divinity doth hedge a husband in innocent girls' minds.
"Well, little lady," began Raynal, "and how are you, and how is my mother-in-law that is to be--or is not to be, as your sister pleases; and how is she? have I frightened her away? There were two petticoats, and now there is but one."
"She left me to answer you."
"All the worse for me: I am not to your taste."
"Do not say that," said Rose, almost hysterically.
"Oh! it is no sacrilege. Not one in fifty likes me."
"But I do like you, sir."
"Then why won't you let me have your sister?"
"I have not quite decided that you shall not have her," faltered poor Rose. She murmured on, "I dare say you think me very unkind, very selfish; but put yourself in my place. I love my sister as no man can ever love her, I know: my heart has been one flesh and one soul with hers all my life. A stranger comes and takes her away from me as if she was I don't know what; his portmanteau; takes her to Egypt, oh! oh! oh!"
Raynal comforted her.
"What, do you think I am such a brute as to take that delicate creature about fighting with me? why, the hot sand would choke her, to begin. No. You don't take my manoeuvre. I have no family; I try for a wife that will throw me in a mother and sister. You will live all together the same as before, of course; only you must let me make one of you when I am at home. And how often will that be? Besides, I am as likely to be knocked on the head in Egypt as not; you are worrying yourself for nothing, little lady."
He uttered the last topic of consolation in a broad, hearty, hilarious tone, like a trombone impregnated with cheerful views of fate.
"Heaven forbid!" cried Rose: "and I will, for even I shall pray for you now. What you will leave her at home? forgive me for not seeing all your worth: of course I knew you were an angel, but I had no idea you were a duck. You are just the man for my sister. She likes to obey: you are all for commanding. So you see. Then she never thinks of herself; any other man but you would impose on her good-nature; but you are too generous to do that. So you see. Then she esteems you so highly. And one whom I esteem (between you and me) has chosen you for her."
"Then say yes, and have done with it," suggested the straightforward soldier.
"Why should I say 'no?' you will make one another happy some day: you are both so good. Any other man but you would tear her from me; but you are too just, too kind. Heaven will reward you. No! I will. I will give you Josephine: ah, my dear brother-in-law, it is the most precious thing I have to give in the world."
"Thank you, then. So that is settled. Hum! no, it is not quite; I forgot; I have something for you to read; an anonymous letter. I got it this morning; it says your sister has a lover."
The letter ran to this tune: a friend who had observed the commandant's frequent visits at Beaurepaire wrote to warn him against traps. Both the young ladies of Beaurepaire were doubtless at the new proprietor's service to pick and choose from. But for all that each of them had a lover, and though these lovers had their orders to keep out of the way till monsieur should be hooked, he might be sure that if he married either, the man of her heart would come on the scene soon after, perhaps be present at the wedding.
In short, it was one of those poisoned arrows a coarse vindictive coward can shoot.
It was the first anonymous letter Rose had ever seen. It almost drove her mad on the spot. Raynal was sorry he had let her see it.
She turned red and white by turns, and gasped for breath.
"Why am I not a man?--why don't I wear a sword? I would pass it through this caitiff's heart. The cowardly slave!--the fiend! for who but a fiend could slander an angel like my Josephine? Hooked? Oh! she will never marry you if she sees this."
"Then don't let her see it: and why take it to heart like that? I don't trust to the word of a man who owns that his story is a thing he dares not sign his name to; at all events, I shall not put his word against yours. But it is best to understand one another in time. I am a plain man, but not a soft one. I should not be an easygoing husband like some I see about: I'd have no wasps round my honey; if my wife took a lover I would not lecture the woman--what is the use?--I'd kill the man then and there, in-doors or out, as I would kill a snake. If she took another, I'd send him after the first, and so on till one killed me."
"And serve the wretches right."
"Yes; but for my own sake I don't choose to marry a woman that loves any other man. So tell me the plain truth; come."
Rose turned chill in her inside. "I have no lover," she stammered. "I have a young fool that comes and teases me: but it is no secret. He is away, but why? he is on a sickbed, poor little fellow!"
"But your sister? She could not have a lover unknown to you."
"I defy her. No, sir; I have not seen her speak three words to any young man except Monsieur Riviere this three years past."
"That is enough;" and he tore the letter quietly to atoms.
Then Rose saw she could afford a little more candor. "Understand me; I can't speak of what happened when I was a child. But if ever she had a girlish attachment, he has not followed it up, or surely I should have seen something of him all these years."
"Of course. Oh! as for flirtations, let them pass: a lovely girl does not grow up without one or two whispering some nonsense into her ear. Why, I myself should have flirted no doubt; but I never had the time. Bonaparte gives you time to eat and drink, but not to sleep or flirt, and that reminds me I have fifty miles to ride, so good-by, sister-in-law, eh?"
Left alone, Rose had some misgivings. She had equivocated with one whose upright, candid nature ought to have protected him: but an enemy had accused Josephine; and it came so natural to shield her. "Did he really think I would expose my own sister?" said she to herself, angrily. Was not this anger secret self-discontent?
"Well, love," said Josephine, demurely, "have you dismissed him?"
Josephine smiled feebly. "It is easy to say 'say no;' but it is not so easy to say 'no,' especially when you feel you ought to say 'yes,' and have no wish either way except to give pleasure to others."
"But I am not such skim milk as all that," replied Rose: "I have always a strong wish where you are concerned, and your happiness. I hesitated whilst I was in doubt, but I doubt no longer: I have had a long talk with him. He has shown me his whole heart: he is the best, the noblest of creatures: he has no littleness or meanness. And then he is a thorough man; I know that by his being the very opposite of a woman in his ways. Now you are a thorough woman, and so you will suit one another to a T. I have decided: so no more doubts, love; no more tears; no more disputes. We are all of one mind, and I do think I have secured your happiness. It will not come in a day, perhaps, but it will come. So then in one little fortnight you marry Monsieur Raynal."
"What!" said Josephine, "you have actually settled that?"
"But are you sure I can make him as happy as he deserves?"
"I think so too; still"--
"It is settled, dear," said Rose soothingly.
"Oh, the comfort of that! you relieve me of a weight; you give me peace. I shall have duties; I shall do some good in the world. They were all for it but you before, were they not?"
"Yes, and now I am strongest for it of them all. Josephine, it is settled."
Josephine looked at her for a moment in silence, then said eagerly, "Bless you, dear Rose; you have saved your sister;" then, after a moment, in a very different voice, "O Camille! Camille! why have you deserted me?"
And with this she fell to sobbing terribly. Rose wept on her neck, but said nothing. She too was a woman, and felt that this was the last despairing cry of love giving up a hopeless struggle.
They sat twined together in silence till Jacintha came to tell them it was close upon dinner-time; so then they hastened to dry their tears and wash their red eyes, for fear their mother should see what they had been at, and worry herself.
"Well, mademoiselle, these two consent; but what do you say? for after all, it is you I am courting, and not them. Have you the courage to venture on a rough soldier like me?"
This delicate question was put point-blank before the three ladies.
"Sir," replied Josephine timidly, "I will be as frank, as straightforward as you are. I thank you for the honor you do me."
Raynal looked perplexed.
"And does that mean 'yes' or 'no'?"
"Which you please," said Josephine, hanging her sweet head.
The wedding was fixed for that day fortnight. The next morning wardrobes were ransacked. The silk, muslin, and lace of their prosperous days were looked out: grave discussions were held over each work of art. Rose was active, busy, fussy. The baroness threw in the weight of her judgment and experience.
Josephine managed to smile whenever either Rose or the baroness looked at all fixedly at her.
So glided the peaceful days. So Josephine drifted towards the haven of wedlock.