Chapter VIII.
 

"Oh! there's no time for that," said Raynal. And as the baroness looked horrified and amazed, Picard explained: "The state marries its citizens now, with reason: since marriage is a civil contract."

"Marriage a civil contract!" repeated the baroness. "What, is it then no longer one of the holy sacraments? What horrible impiety shall we come to next? Unhappy France! Such a contract would never be a marriage in my eyes: and what would become of an union the Church had not blessed?"

"Madame," said Picard, "the Church can bless it still; but it is only the mayor here that can do it."

All this time Josephine was blushing scarlet, and looking this way and that, with a sort of instinctive desire to fly and hide, no matter where, for a week or so.

"Haw! haw! haw!" roared Raynal; "here is a pretty mother. Wants her daughter to be unlawfully married in a church, instead of lawfully in a house. Give me the will!"

"Look here, mother-in-law: I have left Beaurepaire to my lawful wife."

"Otherwise," put in Picard, "in case of death, it would pass to his heir-at-law."

"And he would turn you all out, and that does not suit me. Now there stands the only man who can make mademoiselle my lawful wife. So quick march, monsieur the mayor, for time and Bonaparte wait for no man."

"Stay a minute, young people," said the mayor. "We should soothe respectable prejudices, not crush them. Madam, I am at least as old as you, and have seen many changes. I perfectly understand your feelings."

"Ah, monsieur! oh!"

"Calm yourself, dear madam; the case is not so bad as you think. It is perfectly true that in republican France the civil magistrate alone can bind French citizens in lawful wedlock. But this does not annihilate the religious ceremony. You can ask the Church's blessing on my work; and be assured you are not the only one who retains that natural prejudice. Out of every ten couples that I marry, four or five go to church afterwards and perform the ancient ceremonies. And they do well. For there before the altar the priest tells them what it is not my business to dilate upon--the grave moral and religious duties they have undertaken along with this civil contract. The state binds, but the Church still blesses, and piously assents to that"--

"From which she has no power to dissent."

"Monsieur Picard, do you consider it polite to interrupt the chief magistrate of the place while he is explaining the law to a citizen?"

(This closed Picard.)

"I married a daughter last year," continued the worthy mayor.

"What, after this fashion?"

"I married her myself, as I will marry yours, if you will trust me with her. And after I have made them one, there is nothing to prevent them adjourning to the church."

"I beg your pardon," cried Raynal, "there are two things to prevent it: a couple that wait for no man: Time and Bonaparte. Come, sir; marry us, and have done with it."

The mayor assented. He invited Josephine to stand before him. She trembled and wept a little: Rose clung to her and wept, and the good mayor married the parties off hand.

"Is that all?" asked the baroness; "it is terribly soon done."

"It is done effectively, madam," said the mayor, with a smile. "Permit me to tell you that his Holiness the Pope cannot undo my work."

Picard grinned slyly, and whispered something into Raynal's ear.

"Oh! indeed," said Raynal aloud and carelessly. "Come, Madame Raynal, to breakfast: follow us, the rest of you."

They paired, and followed the bride and bridegroom into the breakfast-room.

The light words Picard whispered were five in number.

Now if the mayor had not snubbed Picard just before, he would have uttered those jocose but true words aloud. There was no particular reason why he should not. And if he had,--The threads of the web of life, how subtle they are! The finest cotton of Manchester, the finer meshes of the spider, seem three-inch cables by comparison with those moral gossamers which vulgar eyes cannot see at all, the "somethings, nothings," on which great fates have hung.

It was a cheerful breakfast, thanks to Raynal, who would be in high spirits, and would not allow a word of regret from any one. Madame Raynal sat by his side, looking up at him every now and then with innocent admiration. A merry wedding breakfast.

But if men and women could see through the walls of houses!

Two doors off sat the wounded colonel alone, recruiting the small remnant of his sore tried strength, that he might struggle on to Beaurepaire, and lose in one moment years of separation, pain, prison, anguish, martyrdom, in one great gush of joy without compare.

The wedding breakfast was ended. The time was drawing near to part. There was a silence. It was broken by Madame Raynal. She asked Raynal very timidly if he had reflected. "On what?" said he.

"About taking me to Egypt."

"No: I have not given it a thought since I said 'no.'"

"Yet permit me to say that it is my duty to be by your side, my husband." And she colored at this word, being the first time she had ever used it. Raynal was silent. She murmured on, "I would not be an encumbrance to you, sir: I should not be useless. Gentlemen, I could add more to his comfort than he gives me credit for."

Warm assent of the mayor and notary to this hint.

"I give you credit for being an angel," said Raynal warmly.

He hesitated. Rose was trembling, her fork shaking in her poor little hand.

She cast a piteous glance at him. He saw it.

"You shall go with me next time," said he. "Let us speak of it no more."

Josephine bowed her head. "At least give me something to do for you while you are away. Tell me what I can do for my absent friend to show my gratitude, my regard, my esteem."

"Well, let me think. I saw a plain gray dress at Beaurepaire."

"Yes, monsieur. My gray silk, Rose."

"I like that dress."

"Do you? Then the moment I reach home after losing you I shall put it on, and it shall be my constant wear. I see; you are right; gray becomes a wife whose husband is not dead, but is absent, and alas! in hourly danger."

"Now look at that!" cried Raynal to the company. "That is her all over: she can see six meanings where another would see but one. I never thought of that, I swear. I like modest colors, that is all. My mother used to be all for modest wives wearing modest colors."

"I am of her mind, sir. Is there nothing more difficult you will be so good as give me to do?"

"No; there is only one order more, and that will be easier still to such a woman as you. I commit to your care the name of Raynal. It is not so high a name as yours, but it is as honest. I am proud of it: I am jealous of it. I shall guard it for you in Egypt: you guard it in France for me."

"With my life," cried Josephine, lifting her eyes and her hand to heaven.

Soon after this Raynal ordered his charger.

The baroness began to cry. "The young people may hope to see you again," said she; "but there are two chances against your poor old mother."

"Courage, mother!" cried the stout soldier. "No, no; you won't play me such a trick: once is enough for that game."

"Brother!" cried Rose, "do not go without kissing your little sister, who loves you and thanks you." He kissed her. "Bravo, generous soul!" she cried, with her arms round his neck. "God protect you, and send you back safe to us!"

"Amen!" cried all present by one impulse, even the cold notary.

Raynal's mustache quivered. He kissed Josephine hastily on the brow, the baroness on both cheeks; shook the men's hands warmly but hastily, and strode out without looking behind him. He was moved for once.

They all followed him to the door of the house. He was tightening his horse's girths. He flung himself with all the resolution of his steel nature into the saddle, and, with one grand wave of his cocked hat to the tearful group, he spurred away for Egypt.