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CHAPTER XX.


These were not words; they were electric shocks.

The two arms that gripped Rose's arms were paralyzed, and dropped
off them; and there was silence.

Then first the thought of all she had done with those three words
began to rise and grow and surge over her. She stood, her eyes
turned downwards, yet inwards, and dilating with horror.

Silence.

Now a mist began to spread over her eyes, and in it she saw
indistinctly the figure of Raynal darting to her sister's side, and
raising her head.

She dared not look round on the other side. She heard feet stagger
on the floor. She heard a groan, too; but not a word.

Horrible silence.

With nerves strung to frenzy, and quivering ears, that magnified
every sound, she waited for a reproach, a curse; either would have
been some little relief. But no! a silence far more terrible.

Then a step wavered across the room. Her soul was in her ear. She
could hear and feel the step totter, and it shook her as it went.
All sounds were trebled to her. Then it struck on the stone step of
the staircase, not like a step, but a knell; another step, another
and another; down to the very bottom. Each slow step made her head
ring and her heart freeze.

At last she heard no more. Then a scream of anguish and recall rose
to her lips. She fought it down, for Josephine and Raynal. Edouard
was gone. She had but her sister now, the sister she loved better
than herself; the sister to save whose life and honor she had this
moment sacrificed her own, and all a woman lives for.

She turned, with a wild cry of love and pity, to that sister's side
to help her; and when she kneeled down beside her, an iron arm was
promptly thrust out between the beloved one and her.

"This is my care, madame," said Raynal, coldly.

There was no mistaking his manner. The stained one was not to touch
his wife.

She looked at him in piteous amazement at his ingratitude. "It is
well," said she. "It is just. I deserve this from you."

She said no more, but drooped gently down beside the cradle, and hid
her forehead in the clothes beside the child that had brought all
this woe, and sobbed bitterly.

Then honest Raynal began to be sorry for her, in spite of himself.
But there was no time for this. Josephine stirred; and, at the same
moment, a violent knocking came at the door of the apartment, and
the new servant's voice, crying, "Ladies, for Heaven's sake, what is
the matter? The baroness heard a fall--she is getting up--she will
be here. What shall I tell her is the matter?"

Raynal was going to answer, but Rose, who had started up at the
knocking, put her hand in a moment right before his mouth, and ran
to the door. "There is nothing the matter; tell mamma I am coming
down to her directly." She flew back to Raynal in an excitement
little short of frenzy. "Help me carry her into her own room,"
cried she imperiously. Raynal obeyed by instinct; for the fiery
girl spoke like a general, giving the word of command, with the
enemy in front. He carried the true culprit in his arms, and laid
her gently on her bed.

"Now put IT out of sight--take this, quick, man! quick!" cried Rose.

Raynal went to the cradle. "Ah! my poor girl," said he, as he
lifted it in his arms, "this is a sorry business; to have to hide
your own child from your own mother!"

"Colonel Raynal," said Rose, "do not insult a poor, despairing girl.
C'est lache."

"I am silent, young woman," said Raynal, sternly. "What is to be
done?"

"Take it down the steps, and give it to Jacintha. Stay, here is a
candle; I go to tell mamma you are come; and, Colonel Raynal, I
never injured YOU: if you tell my mother you will stab her to the
heart, and me, and may the curse of cowards light on you!--may"--

"Enough!" said Raynal, sternly. "Do you take me for a babbling
girl? I love your mother better than you do, or this brat of yours
would not be here. I shall not bring her gray hairs down with
sorrow to the grave. I shall speak of this villany to but one
person; and to him I shall talk with this, and not with the idle
tongue." And he tapped his sword-hilt with a sombre look of
terrible significance.

He carried out the cradle. The child slept sweetly through it all.

Rose darted into Josephine's room, took the key from the inside to
the outside, locked the door, put the key in her pocket, and ran
down to her mother's room; her knees trembled under her as she went.

Meantime, Jacintha, sleeping tranquilly, suddenly felt her throat
griped, and heard a loud voice ring in her ear; then she was lifted,
and wrenched, and dropped. She found herself lying clear of the
steps in the moonlight; her head was where her feet had been, and
her candle out.

She uttered shriek upon shriek, and was too frightened to get up.
She thought it was supernatural; some old De Beaurepaire had served
her thus for sleeping on her post. A struggle took place between
her fidelity and her superstitious fears. Fidelity conquered.
Quaking in every limb, she groped up the staircase for her candle.

It was gone.

Then a still more sickening fear came over her.

What if this was no spirit's work, but a human arm--a strong one--
some man's arm?

Her first impulse was to dart up the stairs, and make sure that no
calamity had befallen through her mistimed drowsiness. But, when
she came to try, her dread of the supernatural revived. She could
not venture without a light up those stairs, thronged perhaps with
angry spirits. She ran to the kitchen. She found the tinderbox,
and with trembling hands struck a light. She came back shading it
with her shaky hands; and, committing her soul to the care of
Heaven, she crept quaking up the stairs. Then she heard voices
above, and that restored her more; she mounted more steadily.
Presently she stopped, for a heavy step was coming down. It did not
sound like a woman's step. It came further down; she turned to fly.

"Jacintha!" said a deep voice, that in this stone cylinder rang like
thunder from a tomb.

"Oh! saints and angels save me!" yelled Jacintha; and fell on her
knees, and hid her head for security; and down went her candlestick
clattering on the stone.

"Don't be a fool!" said the iron voice. "Get up and take this."

She raised her head by slow degrees, shuddering. A man was holding
out a cradle to her; the candle he carried lighted up his face; it
was Colonel Raynal.

She stared at him stupidly, but never moved from her knees, and the
candle began to shake violently in her hand, as she herself trembled
from head to foot.

Then Raynal concluded she was in the plot; but, scorning to reproach
a servant, he merely said, "Well, what do you kneel there for,
gaping at me like that? Take this, I tell you, and carry it out of
the house."

He shoved the cradle roughly down into her hands, then turned on his
heel without a word.

Jacintha collapsed on the stairs, and the cradle beside her, for all
the power was driven out of her body; she could hardly support her
own weight, much less the cradle.

She rocked herself, and moaned out, "Oh, what's this? oh, what's
this?"

A cold perspiration came over her whole frame.

"What could this mean? What on earth had happened?"

She took up the candle, for it was lying burning and guttering on
the stairs; scraped up the grease with the snuffers, and by force of
habit tried to polish it clean with a bit of paper that shook
between her fingers; she did not know what she was doing. When she
recovered her wits, she took the child out of the cradle, and
wrapped it carefully in her shawl; then went slowly down the stairs;
and holding him close to her bosom, with a furtive eye, and brain
confused, and a heart like lead, stole away to the tenantless
cottage, where Madame Jouvenel awaited her.

Meantime, Rose, with quaking heart, had encountered the baroness.
She found her pale and agitated, and her first question was, "What
is the matter? what have you been all doing over my head?"

"Darling mother," replied Rose, evasively, "something has happened
that will rejoice your heart. Somebody has come home."

"My son? eh, no! impossible! We cannot be so happy."

"He will be with you directly."

The old lady now trembled with joyful agitation.

"In five minutes I will bring him to you. Shall you be dressed? I
will ring for the girl to help you."

"But, Rose, the scream, and that terrible fall. Ah! where is
Josephine?"

"Can't you guess, mamma? Oh, the fall was only the screen; they
stumbled over it in the dark."

"They! who?"

"Colonel Raynal, and--and Edouard. I will tell you, mamma, but
don't be angry, or even mention it; they wanted to surprise us.
They saw a light burning, and they crept on tiptoe up to the
tapestried room, where Josephine and I were, and they did give us a
great fright."

"What madness!" cried the baroness, angrily; "and in Josephine's
weak state! Such a surprise might have driven her into a fit."

"Yes, it was foolish, but let it pass, mamma. Don't speak of it,
for he is so sorry about it."

Then Rose slipped out, ordered a fire in the salon, and not in the
tapestried room, and the next minute was at her sister's door.
There she found Raynal knocking, and asking Josephine how she was.

"Pray leave her to me a moment," said she. "I will bring her down to
you. Mamma is waiting for you in the salon."

Raynal went down. Rose unlocked the bedroom-door, went in, and, to
her horror, found Josephine lying on the floor. She dashed water in
her face, and applied every remedy; and at last she came back to
life, and its terrors.

"Save me, Rose! save me--he is coming to kill me--I heard him at the
door," and she clung trembling piteously to Rose.

Then Rose, seeing her terror, was almost glad at the suicidal
falsehood she had told. She comforted and encouraged Josephine and--
deceived her. (This was the climax.)

"All is well, my poor coward," she cried; "your fears are all
imaginary; another has owned the child, and the story is believed."

"Another! impossible! He would not believe it."

"He does believe it--he shall believe it."

Rose then, feeling by no means sure that Josephine, terrified as she
was, would consent to let her sister come to shame to screen her,
told her boldly that Jacintha had owned herself the mother of the
child, and that Raynal's only feeling towards HER was pity, and
regret at having so foolishly frightened her, weakened as she was by
illness. "I told him you had been ill, dear. But how came you on
the ground?"

"I had come to myself; I was on my knees praying. He tapped. I
heard his voice. I remember no more. I must have fainted again
directly."

Rose had hard work to make her believe that her guilt, as she called
it, was not known; and even then she could not prevail on her to
come down-stairs, until she said, "If you don't, he will come to
you." On that Josephine consented eagerly, and with trembling
fingers began to adjust her hair and her dress for the interview.

All this terrible night Rose fought for her sister. She took her
down-stairs to the salon; she put her on the sofa; she sat by her
and pressed her hand constantly to give her courage. She told the
story of the surprise her own way, before the whole party, including
the doctor, to prevent Raynal from being called on to tell it his
way. She laughed at Josephine's absurdity, but excused it on
account of her feeble health. In short, she threw more and more
dust in all their eyes.

But by the time when the rising sun came faintly in and lighted the
haggard party, where the deceived were happy, the deceivers
wretched, the supernatural strength this young girl had shown was
almost exhausted. She felt an hysterical impulse to scream and
weep: each minute it became more and more ungovernable. Then came
an unexpected turn. Raynal after a long and tiring talk with his
mother, as he called her, looked at his watch, and in a
characteristic way coolly announced his immediate departure, this
being the first hint he had given them that he was not come back for
good.

The baroness was thunderstruck.

Rose and Josephine pressed one another's hands, and had much ado not
to utter a loud cry of joy.

Raynal explained that he was the bearer of despatches. "I must be
off: not an hour to lose. Don't fret, mother, I shall soon be back
again, if I am not knocked on the head."

Raynal took leave of them all. When it came to Rose's turn, he drew
her aside and whispered into her ear, "Who is the man?"

She started, and seemed dumfounded.

"Tell me, or I ask my wife."

"She has promised me not to betray me: I made her swear. Spare me
now, brother; I will tell you all when you come back."

"That is a bargain: now hear ME swear: he shall marry you, or he
shall die by my hand."

He confirmed this by a tremendous oath.

Rose shuddered, but said nothing, only she thought to herself, "I am
forewarned. Never shall you know who is the father of that child."

He was no sooner gone than the baroness insisted on knowing what
this private communication between him and Rose was about.

"Oh," said Rose, "he was only telling me to keep up your courage and
Josephine's till he comes back."

This was the last lie the poor entangled wretch had to tell that
morning. The next minute the sisters, exhausted by their terrible
struggle, went feebly, with downcast eyes, along the corridor and up
the staircase to Josephine's room.

They went hand in hand. They sank down, dressed as they were, on
Josephine's bed, and clung to one another and trembled together,
till their exhausted natures sank into uneasy slumbers, from which
each in turn would wake ever and anon with a convulsive start, and
clasp her sister tighter to her breast.

Theirs was a marvellous love. Even a course of deceit had not yet
prevailed to separate or chill their sister bosoms. But still in
this deep and wonderful love there were degrees: one went a shade
deeper than the other now--ay, since last night. Which? why, she
who had sacrificed herself for the other, and dared not tell her,
lest the sacrifice should be refused.


It was the gray of the morning, and foggy, when Raynal, after taking
leave, went to the stable for his horse. At the stable-door he came
upon a man sitting doubled up on the very stones of the yard, with
his head on his knees. The figure lifted his head, and showed him
the face of Edouard Riviere, white and ghastly: his hair lank with
the mist, his teeth chattering with cold and misery. The poor
wretch had walked frantically all night round and round the chateau,
waiting till Raynal should come out. He told him so.

"But why didn't you?--Ah! I see. No! you could not go into the
house after that. My poor fellow, there is but one thing for you to
do. Turn your back on her, and forget she ever lived; she is dead
to you."

"There is something to be done besides that," said Edouard, gloomily.

"What?"

"Vengeance."

"That is my affair, young man. When I come back from the Rhine, she
will tell me who her seducer is. She has promised."

"And don't you see through that?" said Edouard, gnashing his teeth;
"that is only to gain time: she will never tell you. She is young
in years, but old in treachery."

He groaned and was silent a moment, then laying his hand on Raynal's
arm said grimly, "Thank Heaven, we don't depend on her for
information! I know the villain."

Raynal's eyes flashed: "Ah! then tell me this moment."

"It is that scoundrel Dujardin."

"Dujardin! What do you mean?"

"I mean that, while you were fighting for France, your house was
turned into a hospital for wounded soldiers."

"And pray, sir, to what more honorable use could they put it?"

"Well, this Dujardin was housed by you, was nursed by your wife and
all the family; and in return has seduced your sister, my affianced."

"I can hardly believe that. Camille Dujardin was always a man of
honor, and a good soldier."

"Colonel, there has been no man near the place but this Dujardin. I
tell you it is he. Don't make me tear my bleeding heart out: must I
tell you how often I caught them together, how I suspected, and how
she gulled me? blind fool that I was, to believe a woman's words
before my own eyes. I swear to you he is the villain; the only
question is, which of us two is to kill him."

"Where is the man?"

"In the army of the Rhine."

"Ah! all the better."

"Covered with glory and honor. Curse him! oh, curse him! curse
him!"

"I am in luck. I am going to the Rhine."

"I know it. That is why I waited here all through this night of
misery. Yes, you are in luck. But you will send me a line when you
have killed him; will you not? Then I shall know joy again. Should
he escape you, he shall not escape me."

"Young man," said Raynal, with dignity, "this rage is unmanly.
Besides, we have not heard his side of the story. He is a good
soldier; perhaps he is not all to blame: or perhaps passion has
betrayed him into a sin that his conscience and honor disapprove: if
so, he must not die. You think only of your wrong: it is natural:
but I am the girl's brother; guardian of her honor and my own. His
life is precious as gold. I shall make him marry her."

"What! reward him for his villany?" cried Edouard, frantically.

"A mighty reward," replied Raynal, with a sneer.

"You leave one thing out of the calculation, monsieur," said
Edouard, trembling with anger, "that I will kill your brother-in-law
at the altar, before her eyes."

"YOU leave one thing out of the calculation: that you will first
have to cross swords, at the altar, with me."

"So be it. I will not draw on my old commandant. I could not; but
be sure I will catch him and her alone some day, and the bride shall
be a widow in her honeymoon."

"As you please," said Raynal, coolly. "That is all fair, as you
have been wronged. I shall make her an honest wife, and then you
may make her an honest widow. (This is what they call LOVE, and
sneer at me for keeping clear of it.) But neither he nor you shall
keep MY SISTER what she is now, a ----," and he used a word out of
camp.

Edouard winced and groaned. "Oh! don't call her by such a name.
There is some mystery. She loved me once. There must have been
some strange seduction."

"Now you deceive yourself," said Raynal. "I never saw a girl that
could take her own part better than she can; she is not like her
sister at all in character. Not that I excuse him; it was a
dishonorable act, an ungrateful act to my wife and my mother."

"And to you."

"Now listen to me: in four days I shall stand before him. I shall
not go into a pet like you; I am in earnest. I shall just say to
him, 'Dujardin, I know all!' Then if he is guilty his face will
show it directly. Then I shall say, 'Comrade, you must marry her
whom you have dishonored.'"

"He will not. He is a libertine, a rascal."

"You are speaking of a man you don't know. He WILL marry her and
repair the wrong he has done."

"Suppose he refuses?"

"Why should he refuse? The girl is not ugly nor old, and if she has
done a folly, he was her partner in it."

"But SUPPOSE he refuses?"

Raynal ground his teeth. "Refuse? If he does, I'll run my sword
through his carcass then and there, and the hussy shall go into a
convent."





White Lies by Charles Reade
Category:
English Literature
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