Josephine wrestled long and terribly with nature in that old oak-tree. But who can so struggle forever? Anguish, remorse, horror, despair, and love wrenched her to and fro; and O mysterious human heart! gleams of a mad fitful joy shot through her, coming quick as lightning, going as quickly, and leaving the despair darker. And then the fierce struggle of the soul to make itself heard! More than once she had to close her mouth with her hand: more than once she seized her throat not to cry out. But as the struggle endured, she got weaker and weaker, and nature mightier and mightier. And when the wounded hero fell on his knees so close to her; when he who had resisted death so bravely for her, prepared to give up life calmly for her, her bosom rose beyond all control: it seemed to fill to choking, then to split wide open and give the struggling soul passage in one gasping sob and heart-stricken cry. Could she have pent this in she must have died.
It betrayed her. She felt it had: so then came the woman's instinct—flight: the coward's impulse—flight: the chaste wife's inspiration—flight. She rushed from her hiding-place and made wildly for the house.
But, unluckily, Camille was at that moment darting round the tree: she ran right into the danger she meant to flee. He caught her in his arms. He held her irresistibly. "I have got her; I have got her," he shouted in wild triumph. "No! I will not let you go. None but God shall ever take you from me, and he has spared you to me. You are not dead: you have kept faith as I have: you have lived. See! look at me. I am alive, I am well, I am happy. I told Rose that I suffered. If I had suffered I should remember it. It is all gone at sight of you, my love! my love! Oh, my Josephine! my love!"
His arm was firm round her waist. His glowing eyes poured love upon her. She felt his beating heart.
All that passed in her then, what mortal can say? She seemed two women: that part of her which could not get away from his strong arm lost all strength to resist, it yielded and thrilled under his embrace, her bosom heaving madly: all that was free writhed away from him; her face was averted with a glare of terror, and both her hands put up between his eyes and it.
"You turn away your head. Rose, she turns away. Speak for me. Scold her; for I don't know how to scold her. No answer from either; oh, what has turned your hearts against me so?"
"Camille," cried Rose—the tears streaming down her cheeks—"my poor Camille! leave Beaurepaire. Oh, leave it at once."
Returned towards her with a look of inquiry.
At that Josephine, like some feeble but nimble wild creature on whom a grasp has relaxed, writhed away from him and got free: "Farewell! Farewell!" she cried, in despair's own voice, and made swiftly for the house.
Camille stood aghast, and did not follow her.
Now ere she had gone many steps who should meet her right in front but Jacintha.
"Madame Raynal, the baroness's carriage is just in sight. I thought you'd like to know." Then she bawled proudly to Rose, "I was the first to call her madame;" and off went Jacintha convinced she had done something very clever.
This blow turned those three to stone.
Josephine had no longer the power or the wish to fly. "Better so," she thought, and she stood cowering.
The great passions that had spoken so loud were struck dumb, and a deep silence fell upon the place. Madame Raynal's quivering eye turned slowly and askant towards Camille, but stopped in terror ere it could see him. For she knew by this fearful stillness that the truth was creeping on Camille. And so did Rose.
At last Camille spoke one word in a low whisper.
"White? both in white?"
Rose came between him and Josephine, and sobbed out, "Camille, it was our doing. We drove her to it. O sir, look how afraid of you she is. Do not reproach her, if you are a man."
He waved her out of his way as if she had been some idle feather, and almost staggered up to Josephine.
"It is for you to speak, my betrothed: are you married?"
The poor creature, true to her nature, was thinking more of him than herself. Even in her despair it flashed across her, "If he knew all, he too would be wretched for life. If I let him think ill of me he may be happy one day." She cowered the picture of sorrow and tongue-tied guilt.
"Are you a wife?"
He winced and quivered as if a bullet had pierced him.
"This is how I came to be suspected; she I loved was false."
"No, no!" cried Rose; "don't believe HER: she never suspected you. We have brought her to this, we alone."
"Be silent, Rose! oh, be silent!" gasped Josephine.
"I lived for you: I would have died for you; you could not even wait for me."
A low moan, but not a word of excuse.
"What can I do for you now?"
"Forget me, Camille," said she despairingly, doggedly.
"Forget you? never, never! there is but one thing I can do to show you how I loved you: I will forgive you, and begone. Whither shall I go? whither shall I go now?"
"Camile, your words stab her."
"Let none speak but I," said Camille; "none but I have the right to speak. Poor weak angel that loved yet could not wait: I forgive you. Be happy, if you can; I bid you be hap-py."
The quiet, despairing tones died away, and with them life seemed to end to her, and hope to go out. He turned his back quickly on her. He cried hoarsely, "To the army! Back to the army, and a soldier's grave!" Then with a prodigious effort he drew himself haughtily up in marching attitude. He took three strides, erect and fiery and bold.
At the next something seemed to snap asunder in the great heart, and the worn body that heart had held up so long, rolled like a dead log upon the ground with a tremendous fall.