Those who will not take the trouble to gather my moral from thelivicardano on normal coinbaseng tree, would not lift it out of my dead basket: would notunlock their jaw-bones to bite it, were I to thrust it into theirvery mouths.
But is it possible you have no misgiving? Tell the truth, now.""Alas! I am full of them; at your words, at your manner, they flyaround me in crowds.""Have you no ONE?""No.""Then turn your head from me a bit, my sweet young lady; I am anhonest woman, though I am not so innocent as you, and I am forcedagainst my will to speak my mind plainer than I am used to."Then followed a conversation, to detail which might anticipate ourstory; suffice it to say, that Rose, coming into the room rathersuddenly, found her sister weeping on Jacintha's bosom, and Jacinthacrying and sobbing over her.She stood and stared in utter amazement.Dr. Aubertin, on his arrival, was agreeably surprised at MadameRaynal's appearance. He inquired after her appetite."Oh, as to her appetite," cried the baroness, "that is immense.""Indeed!""It was," explained Josephine, "just when I began to get better, butnow it is as much as usual." This answer had been arrangedbeforehand by Jacintha. She added, "The fact is, we wanted to seeyou, doctor, and my ridiculous ailments were a good excuse fortearing you from Paris."--"And now we have succeeded," said Rose,"let us throw off the mask, and talk of other things; above all, ofParis, and your eclat.""For all that," persisted the baroness, "she was ill, when I firstwrote, and very ill too.""Madame Raynal," said the doctor solemnly, "your conduct has beenirregular; once ill, and your illness announced to your medicaladviser, etiquette forbade you to get well but by his prescriptions.Since, then, you have shown yourself unfit to conduct a malady, itbecomes my painful duty to forbid you henceforth ever to be ill atall, without my permission first obtained in writing."This badinage was greatly relished by Rose, but not at all by thebaroness, who was as humorless as a swan.
He stayed a month at Beaurepaire, then off to Paris again: and beingnow a rich man, and not too old to enjoy innocent pleasures, he gota habit of running backwards and forwards between the two places,spending a month or so at each alternately. So the days rolled on.Josephine fell into a state that almost defies description; herheart was full of deadly wounds, yet it seemed, by some mysterious,half-healing balm, to throb and ache, but bleed no more. Beams ofstrange, unreasonable complacency would shoot across her; the nextmoment reflection would come, she would droop her head, and sighpiteously. Then all would merge in a wild terror of detection. Sheseemed on the borders of a river of bliss, new, divine, andinexhaustible: and on the other bank mocking malignant fiends daredher to enter that heavenly stream. The past to her was full ofregrets; the future full of terrors, and empty of hope. Yet she didnot, could not succumb. Instead of the listlessness and languor ofa few months back, she had now more energy than ever; at times itmounted to irritation. An activity possessed her: it broke out inmany feminine ways. Among the rest she was seized with what we mencall a cacoethes of the needle: "a raging desire" for work. Herfingers itched for work. She was at it all day. As devotees retireto pray, so she to stitch. On a wet day she would often slip intothe kitchen, and ply the needle beside Jacintha: on a dry day shewould hide in the old oak-tree, and sit like a mouse, and ply thetools of her craft, and make things of no mortal use to man orwoman; and she tried little fringes of muslin upon her white hand,and held it up in front of her, and smiled, and then moaned. It waswinter, and Rose used sometimes to bring her out a thick shawl, asshe sat in the old oak-tree stitching, but Josephine nearly alwaysdeclined it. SHE WAS NEARLY IMPERVIOUS TO COLD."There is my hand," he groaned.
"And here is mine, mamma," said Rose, smiling to please her mother.Oh! the mixture of feeling, when her soft warm palm pressed his.How the delicious sense baffled and mystified the cold judgment.Josephine raised her eyes thankfully to heaven.
While the young lovers yet thrilled at each other's touch, yet couldnot look one another in the face, a clatter of horses' feet washeard."That is Colonel Raynal," said Josephine, with unnatural calmness.
"I expected him to-day."The baroness was at the side window in a moment."It is he!--it is he!"She hurried down to embrace her son.Josephine went without a word to her own room. Rose followed herthe next minute. But in that one minute she worked magic.She glided up to Edouard, and looked him full in the face: not thesad, depressed, guilty-looking humble Rose of a moment before, butthe old high-spirited, and some what imperious girl.
"You have shown yourself noble this day. I am going to trust you asonly the noble are trusted. Stay in the house till I can speak toyou."She was gone, and something leaped within Edouard's bosom, and aflood of light seemed to burst in on him. Yet he saw no objectclearly: but he saw light.Rose ran into Josephine's room, and once more surprised her on herknees, and in the very act of hiding something in her bosom."What are you doing, Josephine, on your knees?" said she, sternly."I have a great trial to go through," was the hesitating answer.
Rose said nothing. She turned paler. She is deceiving me, thoughtshe, and she sat down full of bitterness and terror, and, affectingnot to watch Josephine, watched her."Go and tell them I am coming, Rose.""No, Josephine, I will not leave you till this terrible meeting isover. We will encounter him hand in hand, as we used to go when ourhearts were one, and we deceived others, but never each other."At this tender reproach Josephine fell upon her neck and wept.
"I will not deceive you," she said. "I am worse than the poordoctor thinks me. My life is but a little candle that a breath mayput out any day."Rose said nothing, but trembled and watched her keenly."My little Henri," said Josephine imploringly, "what would you dowith him--if anything should happen to me?""What would I do with him? He is mine. I should be his mother.
Oh! what words are these: my heart! my heart!""No, dearest; some day you will be married, and owe all the motherto your children; and Henri is not ours only: he belongs to some oneI have seemed unkind to. Perhaps he thinks me heartless. For I ama foolish woman; I don't know how to be virtuous, yet show a man myheart. But THEN he will understand me and forgive me. Rose, love,you will write to him. He will come to you. You will go togetherto the place where I shall be sleeping. You will show him my heart.You will tell him all my long love that lasted to the end. YOU neednot blush to tell him all. I have no right. Then you will give himhis poor Josephine's boy, and you will say to him, 'She never lovedbut you: she gives you all that is left of her, her child. She onlyprays you not to give him a bad mother.'"Poor soul! this was her one bit of little, gentle jealousy; but itmade her eyes stream. She would have put out her hand from the tombto keep her boy's father single all his life."Oh! my Josephine, my darling sister," cried Rose, "why do you speakof death? Do you meditate a crime?""No; but it was on my heart to say it: it has done me good.""At least, take me to your bosom, my well-beloved, that I may notSEE your tears.""There--tears? No, you have lightened my heart. Bless you! blessyou!"The sisters twined their bosoms together in a long, gentle embrace.You might have taken them for two angels that flowed together in onelove, but for their tears.A deep voice was now heard in the sitting-room.Josephine and Rose postponed the inevitable one moment more, byarranging their hair in the glass: then they opened the door, andentered the tapestried room.
Raynal was sitting on the sofa, the baroness's hand in his. Edouardwas not there.Colonel Raynal had given him a strange look, and said, "What, youhere?" in a tone of voice that was intolerable.
Raynal came to meet the sisters. He saluted Josephine on the brow."You are pale, wife: and how cold her hand is.""She has been ill this month past," said Rose interposing.
"You look ill, too, Mademoiselle Rose.""Never mind," cried the baroness joyously, "you will revive themboth."Raynal made no reply to that."How long do you stay this time, a day?""A month, mother."The doctor now joined the party, and friendly greetings passedbetween him and Raynal.
But ere long somehow all became conscious this was not a joyfulmeeting. The baroness could not alone sustain the spirits of theparty, and soon even she began to notice that Raynal's replies wereshort, and that his manner was distrait and gloomy. The sisters sawthis too, and trembled for what might be coming.At last Raynal said bluntly, "Josephine, I want to speak to youalone."The baroness gave the doctor a look, and made an excuse for goingdown-stairs to her own room. As she was going Josephine went to herand said calmly,--"Mother, you have not kissed me to-day.""There! Bless you, my darling!"Raynal looked at Rose. She saw she must go, but she lingered, andsought her sister's eye: it avoided her. At that Rose ran to thedoctor, who was just going out of the door."Oh! doctor," she whispered trembling, "don't go beyond the door. Ifound her praying. My mind misgives me. She is going to tell him--or something worse.""What do you mean?""I am afraid to say all I dread. She could not be so calm if shemeant to live. Be near! as I shall. She has a phial hid in herbosom."She left the old man trembling, and went back."Excuse me," said she to Raynal, "I only came to ask Josephine ifshe wants anything.""No!--yes!--a glass of eau sucree."Rose mixed it for her. While doing this she noticed that Josephineshunned her eye, but Raynal gazed gently and with an air of pity onher.
She retired slowly into Josephine's bedroom, but did not quite closethe door.Raynal had something to say so painful that he shrank from plunginginto it. He therefore, like many others, tried to creep into it,beginning with something else.
"Your health," said he, "alarms me. You seem sad, too. I don'tunderstand that. You have no news from the Rhine, have you?""Monsieur!" said Josephine scared."Do not call me monsieur, nor look so frightened. Call me yourfriend. I am your sincere friend.""Oh, yes; you always were.""Thank you. You will give me a dearer title before we part thistime.""Yes," said Josephine in a low whisper, and shuddered.
"Have you forgiven me frightening you so that night?""Yes.""It was a shock to me, too, I can tell you. I like the boy. Sheprofessed to love him, and, to own the truth, I loathe all treacheryand deceit. If I had done a murder, I would own it. A lie doublesevery crime. But I took heart; we are all selfish, we men; of thetwo sisters one was all innocence and good faith; and she was theone I had chosen."At these words Josephine rose, like a statue moving, and took aphial from her bosom and poured the contents into the glass.But ere she could drink it, if such was her intention, Raynal, withhis eyes gloomily lowered, said, in a voice full of strangesolemnity,--"I went to the army of the Rhine."Josephine put down the glass directly, though without removing herhand from it.
"I see you understand me, and approve. Yes, I saw that your sisterwould be dishonored, and I went to the army and saw her seducer.""You saw HIM. Oh, I hope you did not go and speak to him of--ofthis?""Why, of course I did."Josephine resolved to know the worst at once. "May I ask," saidshe, "what you told him?""Why, I told him all I had discovered, and pointed out the course hemust take; he must marry your sister at once. He refused. Ichallenged him. But ere we met, I was ordered to lead a forlornhope against a bastion. Then, seeing me go to certain death, thenoble fellow pitied me. I mean this is how I understood it all atthe time; at any rate, he promised to marry Rose if he should live."Josephine put out her hand, and with a horrible smile said, "I thankyou; you have saved the honor of our family;" and with no more ado,she took the glass in her hand to drink the fatal contents.But Raynal's reply arrested her hand. He said solemnly, "No, I havenot. Have you no inkling of the terrible truth? Do not fiddle withthat glass: drink it, or leave it alone; for, indeed, I need allyour attention."He took the glass out of her patient hand, and with a furtive lookat the bedroom-door, drew her away to the other end of the room;"and," said he, "I could not tell your mother, for she knows nothingof the girl's folly; still less Rose, for I see she loves him still,or why is she so pale? Advise me, now, whilst we are alone.Colonel Dujardin was COMPARATIVELY indifferent to YOU. Will youundertake the task? A rough soldier like me is not the person tobreak the terrible tidings to that poor girl.""What tidings? You confuse, you perplex me. Oh! what does thishorrible preparation mean?""It means he will never marry your sister; he will never see hermore."Then Raynal walked the room in great agitation, which at oncecommunicated itself to his hearer. But the loving heart isingenious in avoiding its dire misgivings."I see," said she; "he told you he would never visit Beaurepaireagain. He was right."Raynal shook his head sorrowfully.
"Ah, Josephine, you are far from the truth. I was to attack thebastion. It was mined by the enemy, and he knew it. He tookadvantage of my back being turned. He led his men out of thetrenches; he assaulted the bastion at the head of his brigade. Hetook it.""Ah, it was noble; it was like him.""The enemy, retiring, blew the bastion into the air, and Dujardin--is dead.""Dead!" said Josephine, in stupefied tones, as if the word conveyedno meaning to her mind, benumbed and stunned by the blow."Don't speak so loud," said Raynal; "I hear the poor girl at thedoor. Ay, he took my place, and is dead.""Dead!""Swallowed up in smoke and flames, overwhelmed and crushed under theruins."Josephine's whole body gave way, and heaved like a tree fallingunder the axe. She sank slowly to her knees, and low moans of agonybroke from her at intervals. "Dead, dead, dead!""Is it not terrible?" he cried.
She did not see him nor hear him, but moaned out wildly, "Dead,dead, dead!" The bedroom-door was opened.She shrieked with sudden violence, "Dead! ah, pity! the glass! thecomposing draught." She stretched her hands out wildly. Raynal,with a face full of concern, ran to the table, and got the glass.
She crawled on her knees to meet it; he brought it quickly to herhand."There, my poor soul!"Even as their hands met, Rose threw herself on the cup, and snatchedit with fury from them both. She was white as ashes, and her eyes,supernaturally large, glared on Raynal with terror. "Madman!" shecried, "would you kill her?"He glared back on her: what did this mean? Their eyes were fixed oneach other like combatants for life and death; they did not see thatthe room was filling with people, that the doctor was only on theother side of the table, and that the baroness and Edouard were atthe door, and all looking wonderstruck at this strange sight--Josephine on her knees, and those two facing each other, white, withdilating eyes, the glass between them.