Josephine paused on the landing, and laid her hand on Rose's shoulder. It was so cold it made Rose shudder, and exacted a promise from her not to contradict a word she should say to Camille. "I do not go to him for my pleasure, but for his life," she said; "I must deceive him and save him; and then let me lie down and die."
"Oh, that the wretch had never been born!" cried Rose, in despair. But she gave the required promise, and offered to go and tell Camille Josephine was coming to visit him.
But Josephine declined this. "No," said she; "give me every advantage; I must think beforehand every word I shall say; but take him by surprise, coward and doubleface that I am."
Rose knocked at the door. A faint voice said, "Come in." The sisters entered the room very softly. Camille sat on the sofa, his head bowed over his hands. A glance showed Josephine that he was doggedly and resolutely thrusting himself into the grave. Thinking it was only Rose—for he had now lost all hope of seeing Josephine come in at the door—he never moved. Some one glided gently but rapidly up to him. He looked up. Josephine was kneeling to him.
He lifted his head with a start, and trembled all over.
She whispered, "I am come to you to beg your pity; to appeal to your generosity; to ask a favor; I who deserve so little of you."
"You have waited a long time," said Camille, agitated greatly; "and so have I."
"Camille, you are torturing one who loved you once, and who has been very weak and faithless, but not so wicked as she appears."
"How am I torturing you?"
"With remorse; do I not suffer enough? Would you make me a murderess?"
"Why have you never been near me?" retorted Camille. "I could forgive your weakness, but not your heartlessness."
"It is my duty. I have no right to seek your society. If you really want mine, you have only to get well, and so join us down-stairs a week or two before you leave us."
"How am I to get well? My heart is broken."
"Camille, be a man. Do not fling away a soldier's life because a fickle, worthless woman could not wait for you. Forgive me like a man, or else revenge yourself like a man. If you cannot forgive me, kill me. See, I kneel at your feet. I will not resist you. Kill me."
"I wish I could. Oh! if I could kill you with a look and myself with a wish! No man should ever take you from me, then. We would be together in the grave at this hour. Do not tempt me, I say;" and he cast a terrible look of love, and hatred, and despair upon her. Her purple eye never winced; it poured back tenderness and affection in return. He saw and turned away with a groan, and held out his hand to her. She seized it and kissed it. "You are great, you are generous; you will not strike me as a woman strikes; you will not die to drive me to despair."
"I see," said he, more gently, "love is gone, but pity remains. I thought that was gone, too."
"Yes, Camille," said Josephine, in a whisper, "pity remains, and remorse and terror at what I have done to a man of whom I was never worthy."
"Well, madame, as you have come at last to me, and even do me the honor to ask me a favor—I shall try—if only out of courtesy—to—ah, Josephine! Josephine! when did I ever refuse you anything?"
At this Josephine sank into a chair, and burst out crying. Camille, at this, began to cry too; and the two poor things sat a long way from one another, and sobbed bitterly.
The man, weakened as he was, recovered his quiet despair first.
"Don't cry so," said he. "But tell me what is your will, and I shall obey you as I used before any one came between us."
"Then, live, Camille. I implore you to live."
"Well, Josephine, since you care about it, I will try and live. Why did not you come before and ask me? I thought I was in your way. I thought you wanted me dead."
Josephine cast a look of wonder and anguish on Camille, but she said nothing. She rang the bell, and, on Jacintha coming up, despatched her to Dr. Aubertin for the patient's medicine.
"Tell the doctor," said she, "Colonel Dujardin has let fall the glass." While Jacintha was gone, she scolded Camille gently. "How could you be so unkind to the poor doctor who loves you so? Only think: to throw away his medicines! Look at the ashes; they are wet. Camille, are you, too, becoming disingenuous?"
Jacintha came in with the tonic in a glass, and retired with an obeisance. Josephine took it to Camille.
"Drink with me, then," said he, "or I will not touch it." Josephine took the glass. "I drink to your health, Camille, and to your glory; laurels to your brow, and some faithful woman to your heart, who will make you forget this folly: it is for her I am saving you." She put the glass with well-acted spirit to her lips; but in the very action a spasm seized her throat and almost choked her; she lowered her head that he might not see her face, and tried again; but the tears burst from her eyes and ran into the liquid, and her lips trembled over the brim, and were paralyzed.
"No, no! give it me!" he cried; "there is a tear of yours in it." He drank off the bitter remedy now as if it had been nectar.
"If you wanted me to live, why did you not come here before?"
"I did not think you would be so foolish, so wicked, so cruel as to do what you have been doing."
"Come and shine upon me every day, and you shall have no fresh cause of complaint; things flourish in the sunshine that die in the dark: Rose, it is as if the sun had come into my prison; you are pale, but you are beautiful as ever—more beautiful; what a sweet dress! so quiet, so modest, it sets off your beauty instead of vainly trying to vie with it." With this he put out his hand and took her gray silk dress, and went to kiss it as a devotee kisses the altar steps.
She snatched it away with a shudder.
"Yes, you are right," said she; "thank you for noticing my dress; it is a beautiful dress—ha! ha! A dress I take a pride in wearing, and always shall, I hope. I mean to be buried in it. Come, Rose. Thank you, Camille; you are very good, you have once more promised me to live. Get well; come down-stairs; then you will see me every day, you know—there is a temptation. Good-by, Camille!—are you coming, Rose? What are you loitering for? God bless you, and comfort you, and help you to forget what it is madness to remember!"
With these wild words she literally fled; and in one moment the room seemed to darken to Camille.
Outside the door Josephine caught hold of Rose. "Have I committed myself?"
"Over and over again. Do not look so terrified; I mean to me, but not to him. How blind he is! and how much better you must know him than I do to venture on such a transparent deceit. He believes whatever you tell him. He is all ears and no eyes. Yes, love, I watched him keenly all the time. He really thinks it is pity and remorse, nothing more. My poor sister, you have a hard life to lead, a hard game to play; but so far you have succeeded; yet could look poor Raynal in the face if he came home to-day."
"Then God be thanked!" cried Josephine. "I am as happy to-day as I can ever hope to be. Now let us go through the farce of dressing—it is near dinner-time—and then the farce of talking, and, hardest of all, the farce of living."
From that hour Camille began to get better very slowly, yet perceptibly.
The doctor, afraid of being mistaken, said nothing for some days, but at last he announced the good news at the dinner-table. "He is to come down-stairs in three days," added the doctor.
But I am sorry to say that as Camille's body strengthened some of the worst passions in our nature attacked him. Fierce gusts of hate and love combined overpowered this man's high sentiments of honor and justice, and made him clench his teeth, and vow never to leave Beaurepaire without Josephine. She had been his four years before she ever saw this interloper, and she should be his forever. Her love would soon revive when they should meet every day, and she would end by eloping with him.
Then conscience pricked him, and reminded him how and why Raynal had married her: for Rose had told him all. Should he undermine an absent soldier, whose whole conduct in this had been so pure, so generous, so unselfish?
But this was not all. As I have already hinted, he was under a great personal obligation to his quondam comrade Raynal. Whenever this was vividly present to his mind, a great terror fell on him, and he would cry out in anguish, "Oh! that some angel would come to me and tear me by force from this place!" And the next moment passion swept over him like a flood, and carried away all his virtuous resolves. His soul was in deep waters; great waves drove it to and fro. Perilous condition, which seldom ends well. Camille was a man of honor. In no other earthly circumstance could he have hesitated an instant between right and wrong. But such natures, proof against all other temptations, have often fallen, and will fall, where sin takes the angel form of her they love. Yet, of all men, they should pray for help to stand; for when they fall they still retain one thing that divides them from mean sinners.
Remorse, the giant that rends the great hearts which mock at fear.
The day came in which the doctor had promised his patient he should come down-stairs. First his comfortable sofa was taken down into the saloon for his use: then the patient himself came down leaning on the doctor's arm, and his heart palpitating at the thought of the meeting. He came into the room; the baroness was alone. She greeted him kindly, and welcomed him. Rose came in soon after and did the same. But no Josephine. Camille felt sick at heart. At last dinner was announced; "She will surely join us at dinner," thought he. He cast his eyes anxiously on the table; the napkins were laid for four only. The baroness carelessly explained this to him as they sat down. "Madame Raynal dines in her own room. I am sorry to say she is indisposed."
Camille muttered polite regrets: the rage of disappointment drove its fangs into him, and then came the heart-sickness of hope deferred. The next day he saw her, but could not get a word with her alone. The baroness tortured him another way. She was full of Raynal. She loved him. She called him her son; was never weary of descanting on his virtues to Camille. Not a day passed that she did not pester Camille to make a calculation as to the probable period of his return, and he was obliged to answer her. She related to him before Josephine and Rose, how this honest soldier had come to them like a guardian angel and saved the whole family. In vain he muttered that Rose had told him.
"Let me have the pleasure of telling it you my way," cried she, and told it diffusely, and kept him writhing.
The next thing was, Josephine had received no letter from him this month; the first month he had missed. In vain did Rose represent that he was only a few days over his time. The baroness became anxious, communicated her anxieties to Camille among the rest; and, by a torturing interrogatory, compelled him to explain to her before Josephine and them all, that ships do not always sail to a day, and are sometimes delayed. But oh! he winced at the man's name; and Rose observed that he never mentioned it, nor acknowledged the existence of such a person as Josephine's husband, except when others compelled him. Yet they were acquainted; and Rose sometimes wondered that he did not detract or sneer.
"I should," said she; "I feel I should."
"He is too noble," said Josephine, "and too wise. For, if he did, I should respect him less, and my husband more than I do—if possible."
Certainly Camille was not the sort of nature that detracts, but the reason he avoided Raynal's name was simply that his whole internal battle was to forget such a man existed. From this dream he was rudely awakened every hour since he joined the family, and the wound his self-deceiving heart would fain have skinned over, was torn open. But worse than this was the torture of being tantalized. He was in company with Josephine, but never alone. Even if she left the room for an instant, Rose accompanied her and returned with her. Camille at last began to comprehend that Josephine had decided there should be no private interviews between her and him. Thus, not only the shadow of the absent Raynal stood between them, but her mother and sister in person, and worst of all, her own will. He called her a cold-blooded fiend in his rage. Then the thought of all her tenderness and goodness came to rebuke him. But even in rebuking it maddened him. "Yes, it is her very nature to love; but since she can make her heart turn whichever way her honor bids, she will love her husband; she does not now; but sooner or later she will. Then she will have children—(he writhed with anguish and fury at this thought)—loving ties between him and her. He has everything on his side. I, nothing but memories she will efface from her heart. Will efface? She must have effaced them, or she could not have married him." I know no more pitiable state of mind than to love and hate the same creature. But when the two feelings are both intense, and meet in an ardent bosom, such a man would do well to spend a day or two upon his knees, praying for grace divine. For he who with all his soul loves and hates one woman is next door to a maniac, and is scarcely safe an hour together from suicide or even from homicide; this truth the newspapers tell us, by examples, every month; but are wonderfully little heeded, because newspapers do not, nor is it their business to, analyze and dwell upon the internal feelings of the despairing lover, whose mad and bloody act they record. With such a tempest in his heart did Camille one day wander into the park. And soon an irresistible attraction drew him to the side of the stream that flowed along one side of it. He eyed it gloomily, and wherever the stagnant water indicated a deeper pool than usual he stopped, and looked, and thought, "How calm and peaceful you are!"
He sat down at last by the water-side, his eyes bent on a calm, green pool.
It looked very peaceful; and it could give peace. He thought, oh! what a blessing; to be quit of rage, jealousy, despair, and life, all in a minute!
Yet that was a sordid death for a soldier to die, who had seen great battles. Could he not die more nobly than that? With this he suddenly felt in his pocket; and there sure enough fate had placed his pistols. He had put them into this coat; and he had not worn this coat until to-day. He had armed himself unconsciously. "Ah!" said he; "it is to be; all these things are preordained." (This notion of fate has strengthened many a fatal resolution.) Then he had a cruel regret. To die without a word; a parting word. Then he thought to himself, it was best so; for perhaps he should have taken her with him.
"Sir! colonel!" uttered a solemn voice behind him.
Absorbed and strung up to desperation as he was, this voice seemed unnaturally loud, and discordant with Camille's mood; a sudden trumpet from the world of small things.
It was Picard, the notary.
"Can you tell me where Madame Raynal is?"
"No. At the chateau, I suppose."
"She is not there; I inquired of the servant. She was out. You have not seen her, colonel?"
"Not I; I never see her."
"Then perhaps I had better go back to the chateau and wait for her: stay, are you a friend of the family? Colonel, suppose I were to tell you, and ask you to break it to Madame Raynal, or, better still, to the baroness, or Mademoiselle Rose."
"Monsieur," said Camille coldly, "charge me with no messages, for I cannot deliver them. I AM GOING ANOTHER WAY."
"In that case, I will go to the chateau once more; for what I have to say must be heard."
Picard returned to the chateau wondering at the colonel's strange manner.
Camille, for his part, wondered that any one could be so mad as to talk to him about trifles; to him, a man standing on the brink of eternity. Poor soul, it was he who was mad and unlucky. He should have heard what Picard had to say. The very gentleness and solemnity of manner ought to have excited his curiosity.
He watched Picard's retiring form. When he was out of sight, then he turned round and resumed his thoughts as if Picard had been no more than a fly that had buzzed and then gone.
"Yes, I should have taken her with me," he said. He sat gloomy and dogged like a dangerous maniac in his cell; never moved, scarce thought for more than half an hour; but his deadly purpose grew in him. Suddenly he started. A lady was at the style, about a hundred yards distant. He trembled. It was Josephine.
She came towards him slowly, her eyes bent on the ground in a deep reverie. She stopped about a stone's throw from him, and looked at the river long and thoughtfully; then casting her eye around, she caught sight of Camille. He watched her grimly. He saw her give a little start, and half turn round; but if this was an impulse to retreat, it was instantly suppressed; for the next moment she pursued her way.
Camille stood gloomy and bitter, awaiting her in silence. He planted himself in the middle of the path, and said not a word.
She looked him all over, and her color came and went.
"Out so far as this," she said kindly; "and without your cap."
He put his hand to his head, and discovered that he was bareheaded.
"You will catch your death of cold. Come, let us go in and get your cap."
She made as if she would pass him. He planted himself right before her.
"Why do you shun me as if I was a viper?"
"I do not shun you. I but avoid conferences that can lead to no good; it is my duty."
"You are very wise; cold-hearted people can be wise."
"Am I cold-hearted, Camille?"
She looked him in the face; the water came into her eyes; after awhile she whispered, sorrowfully, "Well, Camille, I am."
"But with all your wisdom and all your coldness," he went on to say, "you have made a mistake; you have driven me to madness and despair."
"Heaven forbid!" said she.
"Your prayer comes too late; you have done it."
"Camille, let me go to the oratory, and pray for you. You terrify me."
"It is no use. Heaven has no mercy for me. Take my advice; stay where you are; don't hurry; for what remains of your life you gave to pass with me, do you understand that?"
"Ah!" And she turned pale.
"Can you read my riddle?"
She looked him in the face. "I can read your eyes, and I know you love me. I think you mean to kill me. I have heard men kill the thing they love."
"Of course they do; sooner than another should have it, they kill it—they kill it."
"God has not made them patient like us women. Poor Camille!"
"Patience dies when hope dies. Come, Madame Raynal, say a prayer, for you are going to die."
"God bless you, Camille!" said the poor girl, putting her hands together in her last prayer. At this sweet touch of affection, Camille hung his head, and sobbed. Then suddenly lashing himself into fury, he cried,—
"You are my betrothed! you talk of duty; but you forget your duty to me. Are you not my betrothed this four years? Answer me that."
"Yes, Camille, I was."
"Did I not suffer death a hundred times for you, to keep faith with you, you cold-blooded traitress with an angel's face?"
"Ah, Camille! can you speak so bitterly to me? Have I denied your right to kill me? You shall never dishonor me, but you shall kill me, if it is your pleasure. I do not resist. Why, then, speak to me like that; must the last words I hear from your mouth be words of anger, cruel Camille?"
"I was wrong. But it is so hard to kill her I love in cold blood. I want anger as well as despair to keep me to it. Come, turn your head away from me, and all our troubles shall end."
"No, Camille, let me look at you. Then you will be the last thing I shall see on earth."
At this he hesitated a moment; then, with a fierce stamp at what he thought was weakness, he levelled a pistol at her.
She put up her hands with a piteous cry, "Oh! not my face, Camille! pray do not disfigure my face. Here—kill me here—in my bosom—my heart that loved you well, when it was no sin to love you."
"I can't shoot you. I can't spill your blood. The river will end all, and not disfigure your beauty, that has driven me mad, and cost you, poor wretch, your life."
"Thank you, dear Camille. The water does not frighten me as a pistol does; it will not hurt me; it will only kill me."
"No, it is but a plunge, and you will be at peace forever; and so shall I. Come, take my hand, Madame Raynal, Madame Raynal."
She gave him her hand with a look of infinite love. She only said, "My poor mother!" That word did not fall to the ground. It flashed like lightning at night across the demented lover, and lighted up his egotism (suicide, like homicide, is generally a fit of maniacal egotism), even to his eyes blinded by fury.
"Wretch that I am," he shrieked. "Fly, Josephine, fly! escape this moment, that my better angel whispers to me. Do you hear? begone, while it is time."
"I will not leave you, Camille."
"I say you shall. Go to your mother and Rose; go to those you love, and I can pity; go to the chapel and thank Heaven for your escape."
"Yes, but not without you, Camille. I am afraid to leave you."
"You have more to fear if you stay. Well, I can't wait any longer. Stay, then, and live; and learn from me how to love Jean Raynal."
He levelled the pistol at himself.
Josephine threw herself on him with a cry, and seized his arm. With the strength excitement lent her she got the better, and all but overpowered him. But, as usual, the man's strength lasted longer, and with a sustained effort he threw her off; then, pale and panting, raised the pistol to take his life. This time she moved neither hand nor foot; but she palsied his rash hand with a word.
"No; I LOVE YOU."