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CHAPTER XXIII.


You see now into what a fatal entanglement two high-minded young
ladies were led, step by step, through yielding to the natural
foible of their sex--the desire to hide everything painful from
those they love, even at the expense of truth.

A nice mess they made of it with their amiable dishonesty. And pray
take notice that after the first White Lie or two, circumstances
overpowered them, and drove them on against their will. It was no
small part of all their misery that they longed to get back to truth
and could not.

We shall see presently how far they succeeded in that pious object,
for the sake of which they first entered on concealments. But first
a word is due about one of the victims of their amiable, self-
sacrificing lubricity. Edouard Riviere fell in one night, from
happiness and confidence, such as till that night be had never
enjoyed, to deep and hopeless misery.

He lost that which, to every heart capable of really loving, is the
greatest earthly blessing, the woman he adored. But worse than
that, he lost those prime treasures of the masculine soul, belief in
human goodness, and in female purity. To him no more could there be
in nature a candid eye, a virtuous ready-mantling cheek: for frailty
and treachery had put on these signs of virtue and nobility.
Henceforth, let him live a hundred years, whom could he trust or
believe in?

Here was a creature whose virtues seemed to make frailty impossible:
treachery, doubly impossible: a creature whose very faults--for
faults she had--had seemed as opposite to treachery as her very
virtues were. Yet she was all frailty and falsehood.

He passed in that one night of anguish from youth to age. He went
about his business like a leaden thing. His food turned tasteless.
His life seemed ended. Nothing appeared what it had been. The very
landscape seemed cut in stone, and he a stone in the middle of it,
and his heart a stone in him. At times, across that heavy heart
came gushes of furious rage and bitter mortification; his heart was
broken, and his faith was gone, for his vanity had been stabbed as
fiercely as his love. "Georges Dandin!" he would cry, "curse her!
curse her!" But love and misery overpowered these heats, and froze
him to stone again.

The poor boy pined and pined. His clothes hung loose about him; his
face was so drawn with suffering, you would not have known him. He
hated company. The things he was expected to talk about!--he with
his crushed heart. He could not. He would not. He shunned all the
world; he went alone like a wounded deer. The good doctor, on his
return from Paris, called on him to see if he was ill: since he had
not come for days to the chateau. He saw the doctor coming and bade
the servant say he was not in the village.

He drew down the blind, that he might never see the chateau again.
He drew it up again: he could not exist without seeing it. "She
will be miserable, too," he cried, gnashing his teeth. "She will
see whether she has chosen well." At other times, all his courage,
and his hatred, and his wounded vanity, were drowned in his love and
its despair, and then he bowed his head, and sobbed and cried as if
his heart would burst. One morning he was so sobbing with his head
on the table, when his landlady tapped at his door. He started up
and turned his head away from the door.

"A young woman from Beaurepaire, monsieur."

"From Beaurepaire?" his heart gave a furious leap. "Show her in."

He wiped his eyes and seated himself at a table, and, all in a
flutter, pretended to be the state's.

It was not Jacintha, as he expected, but the other servant. She
made a low reverence, cast a look of admiration on him, and gave him
a letter. His eye darted on it: his hand trembled as he took it.
He turned away again to open it. He forced himself to say, in a
tolerably calm voice, "I will send an answer."

The letter was apparently from the baroness de Beaurepaire; a mere
line inviting him to pay her a visit. It was written in a tremulous
hand. Edouard examined the writing, and saw directly it was written
by Rose.

Being now, naturally enough, full of suspicion, he set this down as
an attempt to disguise her hand. "So," said he, to himself, "this
is the game. The old woman is to be drawn into it, too. She is to
help to make Georges Dandin of me. I will go. I will baffle them
all. I will expose this nest of depravity, all ceremony on the
surface, and voluptuousness and treachery below. O God! who could
believe that creature never loved me! They shall none of them see
my weakness. Their benefactor shall be still their superior. They
shall see me cold as ice, and bitter as gall."

But to follow him farther just now, would be to run too far in
advance of the main story. I must, therefore, return to
Beaurepaire, and show, amongst other things, how this very letter
came to be written.


When Josephine and Rose awoke from that startled slumber that
followed the exhaustion of that troubled night, Rose was the more
wretched of the two. She had not only dishonored herself, but
stabbed the man she loved.

Josephine, on the other hand, was exhausted, but calm. The fearful
escape she had had softened down by contrast her more distant
terrors.

She began to shut her eyes again, and let herself drift. Above all,
the doctor's promise comforted her: that she should go to Paris with
him, and have her boy.

This deceitful calm of the heart lasted three days.

Carefully encouraged by Rose, it was destroyed by Jacintha.

Jacintha, conscious that she had betrayed her trust, was almost
heart-broken. She was ashamed to appear before her young mistress,
and, coward-like, wanted to avoid knowing even how much harm she had
done.

She pretended toothache, bound up her face, and never stirred from
the kitchen. But she was not to escape: the other servant came down
with a message: "Madame Raynal wanted to see her directly."

She came quaking, and found Josephine all alone.

Josephine rose to meet her, and casting a furtive glance round the
room first, threw her arms round Jacintha's neck, and embraced her
with many tears.

"Was ever fidelity like yours? how COULD you do it, Jacintha? and
how can I ever repay it? But, no; it is too base of me to accept
such a sacrifice from any woman."

Jacintha was so confounded she did not know what to say. But it was
a mystification that could not endure long between two women, who
were both deceived by a third. Between them they soon discovered
that it must have been Rose who had sacrificed herself.

"And Edouard has never been here since," said Josephine.

"And never will, madame."

"Yes, he shall! there must be some limit even to my feebleness, and
my sister's devotion. You shall take a line to him from me. I will
write it this moment."

The letter was written. But it was never sent. Rose found
Josephine and Jacintha together; saw a letter was being written,
asked to see it; on Josephine's hesitating, snatched it out of her
hand, read it, tore it to pieces, and told Jacintha to leave the
room. She hated the sight of poor Jacintha, who had slept at the
very moment when all depended on her watchfulness.

"So you were going to send to HIM, unknown to me."

"Forgive me, Rose." Rose burst out crying.

"O Josephine! is it come to this? Would you deceive ME?"

"You have deceived ME! Yes! it has come to that. I know all.
Twill not consent to destroy ALL I love."

She then begged hard for leave to send the letter.

Rose gave an impetuous refusal. "What could you say to him? foolish
thing, don't you know him, and his vanity? When you had exposed
yourself to him, and showed him I had insulted him for you, do you
think he would forgive me? No! this is to make light of my love--to
make me waste the sacrifice I have made. I feel that sacrifice as
much as you do, more perhaps, and I would rather die in a convent
than waste that night of shame and agony. Come, promise me, no more
attempts of that kind, or we are sisters no more, friends no more,
one heart and one blood no more."

The weaker nature, weakened still more by ill-health and grief, was
terrified into submission, or rather temporized. "Kiss me then,"
said Josephine, "and love me to the end. Ah, if I was only in my
grave!"

Rose kissed her with many sighs, but Josephine smiled. Rose eyed
her with suspicion. That deep smile; what did it mean? She had
formed some resolution. "She is going to deceive me somehow,"
thought Rose.

From that day she watched Josephine like a spy. Confidence was gone
between them. Suspicion took its place.

Rose was right in her misgivings. The moment Josephine saw that
Edouard's happiness and Rose's were to be sacrificed for her whom
nothing could make happy, the poor thing said to herself, "I CAN
DIE."

And that was the happy thought that made her smile.

The doctor gave her laudanum: he found she could not sleep: and he
thought it all-important that she should sleep.

Josephine, instead of taking these small doses, saved them all up,
secreted them in a phial, and so, from the sleep of a dozen nights,
collected the sleep of death: and now she was tranquil. This young
creature that could not bear to give pain to any one else, prepared
her own death with a calm resolution the heroes of our sex have not
often equalled. It was so little a thing to her to strike
Josephine. Death would save her honor, would spare her the
frightful alternative of deceiving her husband, or of telling him
she was another's. "Poor Raynal," said she to herself, "it is so
cruel to tie him to a woman who can never be to him what he
deserves. Rose would then prove her innocence to Edouard. A few
tears for a weak, loving soul, and they would all be happy and
forget her."


One day the baroness, finding herself alone with Rose and Dr.
Aubertin, asked the latter what he thought of Josephine's state.

"Oh, she was better: had slept last night without her usual
narcotic."

The baroness laid down her knitting and said, with much meaning,
"And I tell you, you will never cure her body till you can cure her
mind. My poor child has some secret sorrow."

"Sorrow!" said Aubertin, stoutly concealing the uneasiness these
words created, "what sorrow?"

"Oh, she has some deep sorrow. And so have you, Rose."

"Me, mamma! what DO you mean?"

The baroness's pale cheek flushed a little. "I mean," said she,
"that my patience is worn out at last; I cannot live surrounded by
secrets. Raynal's gloomy looks when he left us, after staying but
one hour; Josephine ill from that day, and bursting into tears at
every word; yourself pale and changed, hiding an unaccountable
sadness under forced smiles-- Now, don't interrupt me. Edouard,
who was almost like a son, gone off, without a word, and never comes
near us now."

"Really you are ingenious in tormenting yourself. Josephine is ill!
Well, is it so very strange? Have you never been ill? Rose is
pale! you ARE pale, my dear; but she has nursed her sister for a
month; is it a wonder she has lost color? Edouard is gone a
journey, to inherit his uncle's property: a million francs. But
don't you go and fall ill, like Josephine; turn pale, like Rose; and
make journeys in the region of fancy, after Edouard Riviere, who is
tramping along on the vulgar high road."

This tirade came from Aubertin, and very clever he thought himself.
But he had to do with a shrewd old lady, whose suspicions had long
smouldered; and now burst out. She said quietly, "Oh, then Edouard
is not in this part of the world. That alters the case: where IS
he?"

"In Normandy, probably," said Rose, blushing.

The baroness looked inquiringly towards Aubertin. He put on an
innocent face and said nothing.

"Very good," said the baroness. "It's plain I am to learn nothing
from you two. But I know somebody who will be more communicative.
Yes: this uncomfortable smiling, and unreasonable crying, and
interminable whispering; these appearances of the absent, and
disappearances of the present; I shall know this very day what they
all mean."

"Really, I do not understand you."

"Oh, never mind; I am an old woman, and I am in my dotage. For all
that, perhaps you will allow me two words alone with my daughter."

"I retire, madame," and he disappeared with a bow to her, and an
anxious look at Rose. She did not need this; she clenched her
teeth, and braced herself up to stand a severe interrogatory.

Mother and daughter looked at one another, as if to measure forces,
and then, instead of questioning her as she had intended, the
baroness sank back in her chair and wept aloud. Rose was all
unprepared for this. She almost screamed in a voice of agony, "O
mamma! mamma! O God! kill me where I stand for making my mother
weep!"

"My girl," said the baroness in a broken voice, and with the most
touching dignity, "may you never know what a mother feels who finds
herself shut out from her daughters' hearts. Sometimes I think it
is my fault; I was born in a severer age. A mother nowadays seems
to be a sort of elder sister. In my day she was something more.
Yet I loved my mother as well, or better than I did my sisters. But
it is not so with those I have borne in my bosom, and nursed upon my
knee."

At this Rose flung herself, sobbing and screaming, at her mother's
knees. The baroness was alarmed. "Come, dearest, don't cry like
that. It is not too late to take your poor old mother into your
confidence. What is this mystery? and why this sorrow? How comes
it I intercept at every instant glances that were not intended for
me? Why is the very air loaded with signals and secrecy? (Rose
replied only by sobs.) Is some deceit going on? (Rose sobbed.) Am
I to have no reply but these sullen sobs? will you really tell me
nothing?"

"I've nothing to tell," sobbed Rose.

"Well, then, will you do something for me?"

Such a proposal was not only a relief, but a delight to the
deceiving but loving daughter. She started up crying, "Oh, yes,
mamma; anything, everything. Oh, thank you!" In the ardor of her
gratitude, she wanted to kiss her mother; but the baroness declined
the embrace politely, and said, coldly and bitterly, "I shall not
ask much; I should not venture now to draw largely on your
affection; it's only to write a few lines for me."

Rose got paper and ink with great alacrity, and sat down all
beaming, pen in hand.

The baroness dictated the letter slowly, with an eye gimleting her
daughter all the time.

"Dear--Monsieur--Riviere."

The pen fell from Rose's hand, and she turned red and then pale.

"What! write to him?"

"Not in your own name; in mine. But perhaps you prefer to give me
the trouble."

"Cruel! cruel!" sighed Rose, and wrote the words as requested.

The baroness dictated again,--

"Oblige me by coming here at your very earliest convenience."

"But, mamma, if he is in Normandy," remonstrated Rose, fighting
every inch of the ground.

"Never you mind where he is," said the baroness. "Write as I
request."

"Yes, mamma," said Rose with sudden alacrity; for she had recovered
her ready wit, and was prepared to write anything, being now fully
resolved the letter should never go.

"Now sign my name." Rose complied. "There; now fold it, and
address it to his lodgings." Rose did so; and, rising with a
cheerful air, said she would send Jacintha with it directly.

She was half across the room when her mother called her quietly
back.

"No, mademoiselle," said she sternly. "You will give me the letter.
I can trust neither the friend of twenty years, nor the servant that
stayed by me in adversity, nor the daughter I suffered for and
nursed. And why don't I trust you? Because YOU HAVE TOLD ME A
LIE."

At this word, which in its coarsest form she had never heard from
those high-born lips till then, Rose cowered like a hare.

"Ay, A LIE," said the baroness. "I saw Edouard Riviere in the park
but yesterday. I saw him. My old eyes are feeble, but they are not
deceitful. I saw him. Send my breakfast to my own room. I come of
an ancient race: I could not sit with liars; I should forget
courtesy; you would see in my face how thoroughly I scorn you all."
And she went haughtily out with the letter in her hand.

Rose for the first time, was prostrated. Vain had been all this
deceit; her mother was not happy; was not blinded. Edouard might
come and tell her his story. Then no power could keep Josephine
silent. The plot was thickening; the fatal net was drawing closer
and closer.

She sank with a groan into a chair, and body and spirit alike
succumbed. But that was only for a little while. To this
prostration succeeded a feverish excitement. She could not, would
not, look Edouard in the face. She would implore Josephine to be
silent; and she herself would fly from the chateau. But, if
Josephine would not be silent? Why, then she would go herself to
Edouard, and throw herself upon his honor, and tell him the truth.
With this, she ran wildly up the stairs, and burst into Josephine's
room so suddenly, that she caught her, pale as death, on her knees,
with a letter in one hand and a phial of laudanum in the other.





White Lies by Charles Reade
Category:
English Literature
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