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CHAPTER XVIII.


Edouard, the moment his temper cooled, became very sad. He longed
to be friends again with Rose, but did not know how. His own pride
held him back, and so did his fear that he had gone too far, and
that his offended mistress would not listen to an offer of
reconciliation from him. He sat down alone now to all his little
meals. No sweet, mellow voices in his ear after the fatigues of the
day. It was a dismal change in his life.

At last, one day, he received three lines from Josephine, requesting
him to come and speak to her. He went over directly, full of vague
hopes. He found her seated pale and languid in a small room on the
ground floor.

"What has she been doing to you, dear?" began she kindly.

"Has she not told you, Madame Raynal?"

"No; she is refractory. She will tell me nothing, and that makes me
fear she is the one in fault."

"Oh! if she does not accuse me, I am sure I will not accuse her. I
dare say I am to blame; it is not her fault that I cannot make her
love me."

"But you can. She does."

"Yes; but she loves others better, and she holds me out no hope it
will ever be otherwise. On this one point how can I hope for your
sympathy; unfortunately for me you are one of my rivals. She told
me plainly she never could love me as she loves you."

"And you believed her?"

"I had good reason to believe her."

Josephine smiled sadly. "Dear Edouard," said she, "you must not
attach so much importance to every word we say. Does Rose at her
age know everything? Is she a prophet? Perhaps she really fancies
she will always love her sister as she does now; but you are a man
of sense; you ought to smile and let her talk. When you marry her
you will take her to your own house; she will only see me now and
then; she will have you and your affection always present. Each day
some new tie between you and her. You two will share every joy,
every sorrow. Your children playing at your feet, and reflecting
the features of both parents, will make you one. Your hearts will
melt together in that blessed union which raises earth so near to
heaven; and then you will wonder you could ever be jealous of poor
Josephine, who must never hope--ah, me!"

Edouard, wrapped up in himself, mistook Josephine's emotion at the
picture she had drawn of conjugal love. He soothed her, and vowed
upon his honor he never would separate Rose from her.

"Madame Raynal," said he, "you are an angel, and I am a fiend.
Jealousy must be the meanest of all sentiments. I never will be
jealous again, above all, of you, sweet angel. Why, you are my
sister as well as hers, and she has a right to love you, for I love
you myself."

"You make me very happy when you talk so," sighed Josephine. "Peace
is made?"

"Never again to be broken. I will go and ask her pardon. What is
the matter now?"

For Jacintha was cackling very loud, and dismissing with ignominy
two beggars, male and female.

She was industry personified, and had no sympathy with mendicity.
In vain the couple protested, Heaven knows with what truth, that
they were not beggars, but mechanics out of work. "March! tramp!"
was Jacintha's least word. She added, giving the rein to her
imagination, "I'll loose the dog." The man moved away, the woman
turned appealingly to Edouard. He and Josephine came towards the
group. She had got a sort of large hood, and in that hood she
carried an infant on her shoulders. Josephine inspected it. "It
looks sickly, poor little thing," said she.

"What can you expect, young lady?" said the woman. "Its mother had
to rise and go about when she ought to have been in her bed, and now
she has not enough to give it."

"Oh, dear!" cried Josephine. "Jacintha, give them some food and a
nice bottle of wine."

"That I will," cried Jacintha, changing her tone with courtier-like
alacrity. "I did not see she was nursing."

Josephine put a franc into the infant's hand; the little fingers
closed on it with that instinct of appropriation, which is our first
and often our last sentiment. Josephine smiled lovingly on the
child, and the child seeing that gave a small crow.

"Bless it," said Josephine, and thereupon her lovely head reared
itself like a snake's, and then darted down on the child; and the
young noble kissed the beggar's brat as if she would eat it.

This won the mother's heart more than even the gifts.

"Blessings on you, my lady!" she cried. "I pray the Lord not to
forget this when a woman's trouble comes on you in your turn! It is
a small child, mademoiselle, but it is not an unhealthy one. See."
Inspection was offered, and eagerly accepted.

Edouard stood looking on at some distance in amazement, mingled with
disgust.

"Ugh!" said he, when she rejoined him, "how could you kiss that
nasty little brat?"

"Dear Edouard, don't speak so of a poor little innocent. Who would
pity them if we women did not? It had lovely eyes."

"Like saucers."

"Yes."

"It is no compliment when you are affectionate to anybody; you
overflow with benevolence on all creation, like the rose which sheds
its perfume on the first-comer."

"If he is not going to be jealous of me next," whined Josephine.

She took him to Rose, and she said, "There, whenever good friends
quarrel, it is understood they were both in the wrong. Bygones are
to be bygones; and when your time comes round to quarrel again,
please consult me first, since it is me you will afflict." She left
them together, and went and tapped timidly at the doctor's study.

Aubertin received her with none of that reserve she had seen in him.
He appeared both surprised and pleased at her visit to his little
sanctum. He even showed an emotion Josephine was at a loss to
account for. But that wore off during the conversation, and,
indeed, gave place to a sort of coldness.

"Dear friend," said she, "I come to consult you about Rose and
Edouard." She then told him what had happened, and hinted at
Edouard's one fault. The doctor smiled. "It is curious. You have
come to draw my attention to a point on which it has been fixed for
some days past. I am preparing a cure for the two young fools; a
severe remedy, but in their case a sure one."

He then showed her a deed, wherein he had settled sixty thousand
francs on Rose and her children. "Edouard," said he, "has a good
place. He is active and rising, and with my sixty thousand francs,
and a little purse of ten thousand more for furniture and nonsense,
they can marry next week, if they like. Yes, marriage is a
sovereign medicine for both of these patients. She does not love
him quite enough. Cure: marriage. He loves her a little too much.
Cure: marriage."

"O doctor!"

"Can't help it. I did not make men and women. We must take human
nature as we find it, and thank God for it on the whole. Have you
nothing else to confide to me?"

"No, doctor."

"Are you sure?"

"No, dear friend. But this is very near my heart," faltered
Josephine.

The doctor sighed; then said gently, "They shall be happy: as happy
as you wish them."

Meantime, in another room, a reconciliation scene was taking place,
and the mutual concessions of two impetuous but generous spirits.


The baroness noticed the change in Josephine's appearance.

She asked Rose what could be the matter.

"Some passing ailment," was the reply.

"Passing? She has been so, on and off, a long time. She makes me
very anxious."

Rose made light of it to her mother, but in her own heart she grew
more and more anxious day by day. She held secret conferences with
Jacintha; that sagacious personage had a plan to wake Josephine from
her deathly languor, and even soothe her nerves, and check those
pitiable fits of nervous irritation to which she had become subject.
Unfortunately, Jacintha's plan was so difficult and so dangerous,
that at first even the courageous Rose recoiled from it; but there
are dangers that seem to diminish when you look them long in the
face.

The whole party was seated in the tapestried room: Jacintha was
there, sewing a pair of sheets, at a respectful distance from the
gentlefolks, absorbed in her work; but with both ears on full cock.

The doctor, holding his glasses to his eye, had just begun to read
out the Moniteur.

The baroness sat close to him, Edouard opposite; and the young
ladies each in her corner of a large luxurious sofa, at some little
distance.


"'The Austrians left seventy cannon, eight thousand men, and three
colors upon the field. Army of the North: General Menard defeated
the enemy after a severe engagement, taking thirteen field-pieces
and a quantity of ammunition.'"


The baroness made a narrow-minded renmark. "That is always the way
with these journals," said she. "Austrians! Prussians! when it's
Egypt one wants to hear about."--"No, not a word about Egypt," said
the doctor; "but there is a whole column about the Rhine, where
Colonel Dujardin is--and Dard. If I was dictator, the first
nuisance I would put down is small type." He then spelled out a
sanguinary engagement: "eight thousand of the enemy killed. We have
some losses to lament. Colonel Dujardin"--

"Only wounded, I hope," said the baroness.

The doctor went coolly on. "At the head of the 24th brigade made a
brilliant charge on the enemy's flank, that is described in the
general order as having decided the fate of the battle."

"How badly you do read," said the old lady, sharply. "I thought he
was gone; instead of that he has covered himself with glory; but it
is all our doing, is it not, young ladies? We saved his life."

"We saved it amongst us, madame."

"What is the matter, Rose?" said Edouard.

"Nothing: give me the salts, quick."

She only passed them, as it were, under her own nostrils; then held
them to Josephine, who was now observed to be trembling all over.
Rose contrived to make it appear that this was mere sympathy on
Josephine's part.

"Don't be silly, girls," cried the baroness, cheerfully; "there is
nobody killed that we care about."

Dr. Aubertin read the rest to himself.

Edouard fell into a gloomy silence and tortured himself about
Camille, and Rose's anxiety and agitation.

By and by the new servant brought in a letter. It was the long-
expected one from Egypt.

"Here is something better than salts for you. A long letter,
Josephine, and all in his own hand; so he is safe, thank Heaven! I
was beginning to be uneasy again. You frightened me for that poor
Camille: but this is worth a dozen Camilles; this is my son; I would
give my old life for him."--"My dear Mother--('Bless him!'), my dear
wife, and my dear sister--('Well! you sit there like two rocks!')--
We have just gained a battle--fifty colors. ('What do you think of
that?') All the enemy's baggage and ammunition are in our hands.
('This is something like a battle, this one.') Also the Pasha of
Natolie. ('Ah! the Pasha of Natolie; an important personage, no
doubt, though I never had the honor of hearing of him. Do you
hear?--you on the sofa. My son has captured the Pasha of Natolie.
He is as brave as Caesar.') But this success is not one of those
that lead to important results ('Never mind, a victory is a
victory'), and I should not wonder if Bonaparte was to dash home any
day. If so, I shall go with him, and perhaps spend a whole day with
you, on my way to the Rhine."

At this prospect a ghastly look passed quick as lightning between
Rose and Josephine.

The baroness beckoned Josephine to come close to her, and read her
what followed in a lower tone of voice.

"Tell my wife I love her more and more every day. I don't expect as
much from her, but she will make me very happy if she can make shift
to like me as well as her family do."--"No danger! What husband
deserves to be loved as he does? I long for his return, that his
wife, his mother, and his sister may all combine to teach this poor
soldier what happiness means. We owe him everything, Josephine, and
if we did not love him, and make him happy, we should be monsters;
now should we not?"

Josephine stammered an assent.

"NOW you may read his letter: Jacintha and all," said the baroness
graciously.

The letter circulated. Meantime, the baroness conversed with
Aubertin in quite an undertone.

"My friend, look at Josephine. That girl is ill, or else she is
going to be ill."

"Neither the one nor the other, madame," said Aubertin, looking her
coolly in the face.

"But I say she is. Is a doctor's eye keener than a mother's?"

"Considerably," replied the doctor with cool and enviable effrontery.

The baroness rose. "Now, children, for our evening walk. We shall
enjoy it now."

"I trust you may: but for all that I must forbid the evening air to
one of the party--to Madame Raynal."

The baroness came to him and whispered, "That is right. Thank you.
See what is the matter with her, and tell me." And she carried off
the rest of the party.

At the same time Jacintha asked permission to pass the rest of the
evening with her relations in the village. But why that swift,
quivering glance of intelligence between Jacintha and Rose de
Beaurepaire when the baroness said, "Yes, certainly"?

Time will show.

Josephine and the doctor were left alone. Now Josephine had noticed
the old people whisper and her mother glance her way, and the whole
woman was on her guard. She assumed a languid complacency, and by
way of shield, if necessary, took some work, and bent her eyes and
apparently her attention on it.

The doctor was silent and ill at ease.

She saw he had something weighty on his mind. "The air would have
done me no harm," said she.

"Neither will a few words with me."

"Oh, no, dear friend. Only I think I should have liked a little
walk this evening."

"Josephine," said the doctor quietly, "when you were a child I saved
your life."

"I have often heard my mother speak of it. I was choked by the
croup, and you had the courage to lance my windpipe."

"Had I?" said the doctor, with a smile. He added gravely, "It seems
then that to be cruel is sometimes kindness. It is the nature of
men to love those whose life they save."

"And they love you."

"Well, our affection is not perfect. I don't know which is most to
blame, but after all these years I have failed to inspire you with
confidence." The doctor's voice was sad, and Josephine's bosom
panted.

"Pray do not say so," she cried. "I would trust you with my life."

"But not with your secret."

"My secret! What secret? I have no secrets."

"Josephine, you have now for full twelve months suffered in body and
mind, yet you have never come to me for counsel, for comfort, for an
old man's experience and advice, nor even for medical aid."

"But, dear friend, I assure you"--

"We DO NOT deceive our friend. We CANNOT deceive our doctor."

Josephine trembled, but defended herself after the manner of her
sex. "Dear doctor," said she, "I love you all the better for this.
Your regard for me has for once blinded your science. I am not so
robust as you have known me, but there is nothing serious the matter
with me. Let us talk of something else. Besides, it is not
interesting to talk about one's self."

"Very well; since there is nothing serious or interesting in your
case, we will talk about something that is both serious and
interesting."

"With all my heart;" and she smiled with a sense of relief.

But the doctor leaned over the table to her, and said in a cautious
and most emphatic whisper, "We will talk about YOUR CHILD."

The work dropped from Josephine's hands: she turned her face wildly
on Aubertin, and faltered out, "M--my child?"

"My words are plain," replied he gravely. "YOUR CHILD."

When the doctor repeated these words, when Josephine looking in his
face saw he spoke from knowledge, however acquired, and not from
guess, she glided down slowly off the sofa and clasped his knees as
he stood before her, and hid her face in an agony of shame and
terror on his knees.

"Forgive me," she sobbed. "Pray do not expose me! Do not destroy
me."

"Unhappy young lady," said he, "did you think you had deceived me,
or that you are fit to deceive any but the blind? Your face, your
anguish after Colonel Dujardin's departure, your languor, and then
your sudden robustness, your appetite, your caprices, your strange
sojourn at Frejus, your changed looks and loss of health on your
return! Josephine, your old friend has passed many an hour thinking
of you, divining your folly, following your trouble step by step.
Yet you never invited him to aid you."

Josephine faltered out a lame excuse. If she had revered him less
she could have borne to confess to him. She added it would be a
relief to her to confide in him.

"Then tell me all," said he.

She consented almost eagerly, and told him--nearly all. The old man
was deeply affected. He murmured in a broken voice, "Your story is
the story of your sex, self-sacrifice, first to your mother, then to
Camille, now to your husband."

"And he is well worthy of any sacrifice I can make," said Josephine.
"But oh, how hard it is to live!"

"I hope to make it less hard to you ere long," said the doctor
quietly. He then congratulated himself on having forced Josephine
to confide in him. "For," said he, "you never needed an experienced
friend more than at this moment. Your mother will not always be so
blind as of late. Edouard is suspicious. Jacintha is a shrewd
young woman, and very inquisitive."

Josephine was not at the end of her concealments: she was ashamed to
let him know she had made a confidant of Jacintha and not of him.
She held her peace.

"Then," continued Aubertin, "there is the terrible chance of
Raynal's return. But ere I take on me to advise you, what are your
own plans?"

"I don't know," said Josephine helplessly.

"You--don't--know!" cried the doctor, looking at her in utter
amazement.

"It is the answer of a mad woman, is it not? Doctor, I am little
better. My foot has slipped on the edge of a precipice. I close my
eyes, and let myself glide down it. What will become of me?"

"All shall be well," said Aubertin, "provided you do not still love
that man."

Josephine did not immediately reply: her thoughts turned inwards.
The good doctor was proceeding to congratulate her on being cured of
a fatal passion, when she stopped him with wonder in her face. "Not
love him! How can I help loving him? I was his betrothed. I
wronged him in my thoughts. War, prison, anguish, could not kill
him; he loved me so. He struggled bleeding to my feet; and could I
let him die, after all? Could I be crueller than prison, and
torture, and despair?"

The doctor sighed deeply; but, arming himself with the necessary
resolution, he sternly replied, "A woman of your name cannot
vacillate between love and honor; such vacillations have but one
end. I will not let you drift a moral wreck between passion and
virtue; and that is what it will come to if you hesitate now."

"Hesitate! Who can say I have hesitated where my honor was
concerned? You can read our bodies then, but not our hearts. What!
you see me so pale, forlorn, and dead, and that does not tell you I
have bid Camille farewell forever? That we might be safer still I
have not even told him he is a father: was ever woman so cruel as I
am? I have written him but one letter, and in that I must deceive
him. I told him I thought I might one day be happy, if I could hear
that he did not give way to despair. I told him we must never meet
again in this world. So now come what will: show me my duty and I
will do it. This endless deceit burns my heart. Shall I tell my
husband? It will be but one pang more, one blush more for me. But
my mother!" and, thus appealed to, Dr. Aubertin felt, for the first
time, all the difficulty of the situation he had undertaken to cure.
He hesitated, he was embarrassed.

"Ah," said Josephine, "you see." Then, after a short silence, she
said despairingly, "This is my only hope: that poor Raynal will be
long absent, and that ere he returns mamma will lie safe from sorrow
and shame in the little chapel. Doctor, when a woman of my age
forms such wishes as these, I think you might pity her, and forgive
her ill-treatment of you, for she cannot be very happy. Ah me! ah
me! ah me!"

"Courage, poor soul! All is now in my hands, and I will save you,"
said the doctor, his voice trembling in spite of him. "Guilt lies
in the intention. A more innocent woman than you does not breathe.
Two courses lay open to you: to leave this house with Camille
Dujardin, or to dismiss him, and live for your hard duty till it
shall please Heaven to make that duty easy (no middle course was
tenable for a day); of these two paths you chose the right one, and,
having chosen, I really think you are not called on to reveal your
misfortune, and make those unhappy to whose happiness you have
sacrificed your own for years to come."

"Forever," said Josephine quietly.

"The young use that word lightly. The old have almost ceased to use
it. They have seen how few earthly things can conquer time."

He resumed, "You think only of others, Josephine, but I shall think
of you as well. I shall not allow your life to be wasted in a
needless struggle against nature." Then turning to Rose, who had
glided into the room, and stood amazed, "Her griefs were as many
before her child was born, yet her health stood firm. Why? because
nature was on her side. Now she is sinking into the grave. Why?
because she is defying nature. Nature intended her to be pressing
her child to her bosom day and night; instead of that, a peasant
woman at Frejus nurses the child, and the mother pines at
Beaurepaire."

At this, Josephine leaned her face on her hands on the doctor's
shoulder. In this attitude she murmured to him, "I have never seen
him since I left Frejus." Dr. Aubertin sighed for her. Emboldened
by this, she announced her intention of going to Frejus the very
next day to see her little Henri. But to this Dr. Aubertin
demurred. "What, another journey to Frejus?" said he, "when the
first has already roused Edouard's suspicions; I can never consent
to that."

Then Josephine surprised them both. She dropped her coaxing voice
and pecked the doctor like an irritated pigeon. "Take care," said
she, "don't be too cruel to me. You see I am obedient, resigned. I
have given up all I lived for: but if I am never to have my little
boy's arms round me to console me, then--why torment me any longer?
Why not say to me, 'Josephine, you have offended Heaven; pray for
pardon, and die'?"

Then the doctor was angry in his turn. "Oh, go then," said he, "go
to Frejus; you will have Edouard Riviere for a companion this time.
Your first visit roused his suspicions. So before you go tell your
mother all; for since she is sure to find it out, she had better
hear it from you than from another."

"Doctor, have pity on me," said Josephine.

"You have no heart," said Rose. "She shall see him though, in spite
of you."

"Oh, yes! he has a heart," said Josephine: "he is my best friend.
He will let me see my boy."

All this, and the tearful eyes and coaxing yet trembling voice, was
hard to resist. But Aubertin saw clearly, and stood firm. He put
his handkerchief to his eyes a moment: then took the pining young
mother's hand. "And, do you think," said he, "I do not pity you and
love your boy? Ah! he will never want a father whilst I live; and
from this moment he is under my care. I will go to see him; I will
bring you news, and all in good time; I will place him where you
shall visit him without imprudence; but, for the present, trust a
wiser head than yours or Rose's; and give me your sacred promise not
to go to Frejus."

Weighed down by his good-sense and kindness, Josephine resisted no
longer in words. She just lifted her hands in despair and began to
cry. It was so piteous, Aubertin was ready to yield in turn, and
consent to any imprudence, when he met with an unexpected ally.

"Promise," said Rose, doggedly.

Josephine looked at her calmly through her tears.

"Promise, dear," repeated Rose, and this time with an intonation so
fine that it attracted Josephine's notice, but not the doctor's. It
was followed by a glance equally subtle.

"I promise," said Josephine, with her eye fixed inquiringly on her
sister.

For once she could not make the telegraph out: but she could see it
was playing, and that was enough. She did what Rose bid her; she
promised not to go to Frejus without leave.

Finding her so submissive all of a sudden, he went on to suggest
that she must not go kissing every child she saw. "Edouard tells me
he saw you kissing a beggar's brat. The young rogue was going to
quiz you about it at the dinner-table; luckily, he told me his
intention, and I would not let him. I said the baroness would be
annoyed with you for descending from your dignity--and exposing a
noble family to fleas--hush! here he is."

"Tiresome!" muttered Rose, "just when"--

Edouard came forward with a half-vexed face.

However, he turned it off into play. "What have you been saying to
her, monsieur, to interest her so? Give me a leaf out of your book.
I need it."

The doctor was taken aback for a moment, but at last he said slyly,
"I have been proposing to her to name the day. She says she must
consult you before she decides that."

"Oh, you wicked doctor!--and consult HIM of all people!"

"So be off, both of you, and don't reappear before me till it is
settled."

Edouard's eyes sparkled. Rose went out with a face as red as fire.

It was a balmy evening. Edouard was to leave them for a week the
next day. They were alone: Rose was determined he should go away
quite happy. Everything was in Edouard's favor: he pleaded his
cause warmly: she listened tenderly: this happy evening her piquancy
and archness seemed to dissolve into tenderness as she and Edouard
walked hand in hand under the moon: a tenderness all the more
heavenly to her devoted lover, that she was not one of those angels
who cloy a man by invariable sweetness.

For a little while she forgot everything but her companion. In that
soft hour he won her to name the day, after her fashion.

"Josephine goes to Paris with the doctor in about three weeks,"
murmured she.

"And you will stay behind, all alone?"

"Alone? that shall depend on you, monsieur."

On this Edouard caught her for the first time in his arms.

She made a faint resistance.

"Seal me that promise, sweet one!"

"No! no!--there!"

He pressed a delicious first kiss upon two velvet lips that in their
innocence scarcely shunned the sweet attack.

For all that, the bond was no sooner sealed after this fashion, than
the lady's cheek began to burn.

"Suppose we go in NOW?" said she, dryly.

"Ah, not yet."

"It is late, dear Edouard."

And with these words something returned to her mind with its full
force: something that Edouard had actually made her forget. She
wanted to get rid of him now.

"Edouard," said she, "can you get up early in the morning? If you
can, meet me here to-morrow before any of them are up; then we can
talk without interruption."

Edouard was delighted.

"Eight o'clock?"

"Sooner if you like. Mamma bade me come and read to her in her room
to-night. She will be waiting for me. Is it not tiresome?"

"Yes, it is."

"Well, we must not mind that, dear; in three weeks' time we are to
have too much of one another, you know, instead of too little."

"Too much! I shall never have enough of you. I shall hate the night
which will rob me of the sight of you for so many hours in the
twenty-four."

"If you can't see me, perhaps you may hear me; my tongue runs by
night as well as by day."

"Well, that is a comfort," said Edouard, gravely. "Yes, little
quizzer, I would rather hear you scold than an angel sing. Judge,
then, what music it is when you say you love me!"

"I love you, Edouard."

Edouard kissed her hand warmly, and then looked irresolutely at her
face.

"No, no!" said she, laughing and blushing. "How rude you are. Next
time we meet."

"That is a bargain. But I won't go till you say you love me again.

"Edouard, don't be silly. I am ashamed of saying the same thing so
often--I won't say it any more. What is the use? You know I love
you. There, I HAVE said it: how stupid!"

"Adieu, then, my wife that is to be."

"Adieu! dear Edouard."

"My hus--go on--my hus--"

"My huswife that shall be."

Then they walked very slowly towards the house, and once more Rose
left quizzing, and was all tenderness.

"Will you not come in, and bid them 'good-night'?"

"No, my own; I am in heaven. Common faces--common voices would
bring me down to earth. Let me be alone;--your sweet words ringing
in my ear. I will dilute you with nothing meaner than the stars.
See how bright they shine in heaven; but not so bright as you shine
in my heart."

"Dear Edouard, you flatter me, you spoil me. Alas! why am I not
more worthy of your love?"

"More worthy! How can that be?"

Rose sighed.

"But I will atone for all. I will make you a better--(here she
substituted a full stop for a substantive)--than you expect. You
will see else."

She lingered at the door: a proof that if Edouard, at that
particular moment, had seized another kiss, there would have been no
very violent opposition or offence.

But he was not so impudent as some. He had been told to wait till
the next meeting for that. He prayed Heaven to bless her, and so
the affianced lovers parted for the night.

It was about nine o'clock. Edouard, instead of returning to his
lodgings, started down towards the town, to conclude a bargain with
the innkeeper for an English mare he was in treaty for. He wanted
her for to-morrow's work; so that decided him to make the purchase.
In purchases, as in other matters, a feather turns the balanced
scale. He sauntered leisurely down. It was a very clear night; the
full moon and the stars shining silvery and vivid. Edouard's heart
swelled with joy. He was loved after all, deeply loved; and in
three short weeks he was actually to be Rose's husband: her lord and
master. How like a heavenly dream it all seemed--the first hopeless
courtship, and now the wedding fixed! But it was no dream; he felt
her soft words still murmur music at his heart, and the shadow of
her velvet lips slept upon his own.

He had strolled about a league when he heard the ring of a horse's
hoofs coming towards him, accompanied by a clanking noise; it came
nearer and nearer, till it reached a hill that lay a little ahead of
Edouard; then the sounds ceased; the cavalier was walking his horse
up the hill.

Presently, as if they had started from the earth, up popped between
Edouard and the sky, first a cocked hat that seemed in that light to
be cut with a razor out of flint; then the wearer, phosphorescent
here and there; so brightly the keen moonlight played on his
epaulets and steel scabbard. A step or two nearer, and Edouard gave
a great shout; it was Colonel Raynal.

After the first warm greeting, and questions and answers, Raynal
told him he was on his way to the Rhine with despatches.

"To the Rhine?"

I am allowed six days to get there. I made a calculation, and found
I could give Beaurepaire half a day. I shall have to make up for it
by hard riding. You know me; always in a hurry. It is Bonaparte's
fault this time. He is always in a hurry too."

"Why, colonel," said Edouard, "let us make haste then. Mind they go
early to rest at the chateau."

"But you are not coming my way, youngster?"

"Not coming your way? Yes, but I am. Yours is a face I don't see
every day, colonel; besides I would not miss THEIR faces, especially
the baroness's and Madame Raynal's, at sight of you; and, besides,"--
and the young gentleman chuckled to himself, and thought of Rose's
words, "the next time we meet;" well, this will be the next time.
"May I jump up behind?"

Colonel Raynal nodded assent. Edouard took a run, and lighted like
a monkey on the horse's crupper. He pranced and kicked at this
unexpected addition; but the spur being promptly applied to his
flanks, he bounded off with a snort that betrayed more astonishment
than satisfaction, and away they cantered to Beaurepaire, without
drawing rein.

"There," said Edouard, "I was afraid they would be gone to bed; and
they are. The very house seems asleep--fancy--at half-past ten."

"That is a pity," said Raynal, "for this chateau is the stronghold
of etiquette. They will be two hours dressing before they will come
out and shake hands. I must put my horse into the stable. Go you
and give the alarm."

"I will, colonel. Stop, first let me see whether none of them are
up, after all."

And Edouard walked round the chateau, and soon discovered a light at
one window, the window of the tapestried room. Running round the
other way he came slap upon another light: this one was nearer the
ground. A narrow but massive door, which he had always seen not
only locked but screwed up, was wide open; and through the aperture
the light of a candle streamed out and met the moonlight streaming
in.

"Hallo!" cried Edouard.

He stopped, turned, and looked in.

"Hallo!" he cried again much louder.

A young woman was sleeping with her feet in the silvery moonlight,
and her head in the orange-colored blaze of a flat candle, which
rested on the next step above of a fine stone staircase, whose
existence was now first revealed to the inquisitive Edouard.

Coming plump upon all this so unexpectedly, he quite started.

"Why, Jacintha!"

He touched her on the shoulder to wake her. No. Jacintha was
sleeping as only tired domestics can sleep. He might have taken the
candle and burnt her gown off her back. She had found a step that
fitted into the small of her back, and another that supported her
head, and there she was fast as a door.

At this moment Raynal's voice was heard calling him.

"There is a light in that bedroom."

"It is not a bedroom, colonel; it is our sitting-room now. We shall
find them all there, or at least the young ladies; and perhaps the
doctor. The baroness goes to bed early. Meantime I can show you
one of our dramatis personae, and an important one too. She rules
the roost."

He took him mysteriously and showed him Jacintha.

Moonlight by itself seems white, and candlelight by itself seems
yellow; but when the two come into close contrast at night, candle
turns a reddish flame, and moonlight a bluish gleam.

So Jacintha, with her shoes in this celestial sheen, and her face in
that demoniacal glare, was enough to knock the gazer's eye out.

"Make a good sentinel--this one," said Raynal--"an outlying picket
for instance, on rough ground, in front of the enemy's riflemen."

"Ha! ha! colonel! Let us see where this staircase leads. I have an
idea it will prove a short cut."

"Where to?"

"To the saloon, or somewhere, or else to some of Jacintha's haunts.
Serve her right for going to sleep at the mouth of her den."

"Forward then--no, halt! Suppose it leads to the bedrooms? Mind
this is a thundering place for ceremony. We shall get drummed out
of the barracks if we don't mind our etiquette."

At this they hesitated; and Edouard himself thought, on the whole,
it would be better to go and hammer at the front door.

Now while they hesitated, a soft delicious harmony of female voices
suddenly rose, and seemed to come and run round the walls. The men
looked at one another in astonishment; for the effect was magical.
The staircase being enclosed on all sides with stone walls and
floored with stone, they were like flies inside a violoncello; the
voices rang above, below, and on every side of the vibrating walls.
In some epochs spirits as hardy as Raynal's, and wits as quick as
Riviere's, would have fled then and there to the nearest public, and
told over cups how they had heard the dames of Beaurepaire, long
since dead, holding their revel, and the conscious old devil's nest
of a chateau quivering to the ghostly strains.

But this was an incredulous age. They listened, and listened, and
decided the sounds came from up-stairs.

"Let us mount, and surprise these singing witches," said Edouard.

"Surprise them! what for? It is not the enemy--for once. What is
the good of surprising our friends?"

Storming parties and surprises were no novelty and therefore no
treat to Raynal.

"It will be so delightful to see their faces at first sight of you.
O colonel, for my sake! Don't spoil it by going tamely in at the
front door, after coming at night from Egypt for half an hour."

Raynal grumbled something about its being a childish trick; but to
please Edouard consented at last; only stipulated for a light: "or
else," said he, "we shall surprise ourselves instead with a broken
neck, going over ground we don't know to surprise the natives--our
skirmishers got nicked that way now and then in Egypt."

"Yes, colonel, I will go first with Jacintha's candle." Edouard
mounted the stairs on tiptoe. Raynal followed. The solid stone
steps did not prate. The men had mounted a considerable way, when
puff a blast of wind came through a hole, and out went Edouard's
candle. He turned sharply round to Raynal. "Peste!" said he in a
vicious whisper. But the other laid his hand on his shoulder and
whispered, "Look to the front." He looked, and, his own candle
being out, saw a glimmer on ahead. He crept towards it. It was a
taper shooting a feeble light across a small aperture. They caught
a glimpse of what seemed to be a small apartment. Yet Edouard
recognized the carpet of the tapestried room--which was a very large
room. Creeping a yard nearer, he discovered that it was the
tapestried room, and that what had seemed the further wall was only
the screen, behind which were lights, and two women singing a duet.

He whispered to Raynal, "It is the tapestried room."

"Is it a sitting-room?" whispered Raynal.

"Yes! yes! Mind and not knock your foot against the wood."

And Raynal went softly up and put his foot quietly through the
aperture, which he now saw was made by a panel drawn back close to
the ground; and stood in the tapestried chamber. The carpet was
thick; the voices favored the stealthy advance; the floor of the old
house was like a rock; and Edouard put his face through the
aperture, glowing all over with anticipation of the little scream of
joy that would welcome his friend dropping in so nice and suddenly
from Egypt.

The feeling was rendered still more piquant by a sharp curiosity
that had been growing on him for some minutes past. For why was
this passage opened to-night?--he had never seen it opened before.
And why was Jacintha lying sentinel at the foot of the stairs?

But this was not all. Now that they were in the room both men
became conscious of another sound besides the ladies' voices--a very
peculiar sound. It also came from behind the screen. They both
heard it, and showed, by the puzzled looks they cast at one another,
that neither could make out what on earth it was. It consisted of a
succession of little rustles, followed by little thumps on the
floor.

But what was curious, too, this rustle, thump--rustle, thump--fell
exactly into the time of the music; so that, clearly, either the
rustle thump was being played to the tune, or the tune sung to the
rustle thump.

This last touch of mystery inflamed Edouard's impatience beyond
bearing: he pointed eagerly and merrily to the corner of the screen.
Raynal obeyed, and stepped very slowly and cautiously towards it.

Rustle, thump! rustle, thump! rustle, thump! with the rhythm of
harmonious voices.

Edouard got his head and foot into the room without taking his eye
off Raynal.

Rustle, thump! rustle, thump! rustle, thump!

Raynal was now at the screen, and quietly put his head round it, and
his hand upon it.

Edouard was bursting with expectation.

No result. What is this? Don't they see him? Why does he not
speak to them? He seems transfixed.

Rustle, thump! rustle, thump; accompanied now for a few notes by one
voice only, Rose's.

Suddenly there burst a shriek from Josephine, so loud, so fearful,
that it made even Raynal stagger back a step, the screen in his
hand.

Then another scream of terror and anguish from Rose. Then a fainter
cry, and the heavy helpless fall of a human body.

Raynal sprang forward whirling the screen to the earth in terrible
agitation, and Edouard bounded over it as it fell at his feet. He
did not take a second step. The scene that caught his eye stupefied
and paralyzed him in full career, and froze him to the spot with
amazement and strange misgivings.





White Lies by Charles Reade
Category:
English Literature
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