There lie the dead corpses of those words on paper; but my art is powerless to tell you how they were uttered, those words, potent as a king's, for they saved a life.
They were a cry of terror and a cry of reproach and a cry of love unfathomable.
The weapon shook in his hand. He looked at her with growing astonishment and joy; she at him fixedly and anxiously, her hands clasped in supplication.
"As you used to love me?"
"More, far more. Give me the pistol. I love you, dearest. I love you."
At these delicious words he lost all power of resistance, she saw; and her soft and supple hand stole in and closed upon his, and gently withdrew the weapon, and threw it into the water. "Good Camille! now give me the other."
"How do you know there is another?"
"I know you are not the man to kill a woman and spare yourself. Come."
"Josephine, have pity on me, do not deceive me; pray do not take this, my only friend, from me, unless you really love me."
"I love you; I adore you," was her reply.
She leaned her head on his shoulder, but with her hand she sought his, and even as she uttered those loving words she coaxed the weapon from his now unresisting grasp.
"There, it is gone; you are saved from death—saved from crime." And with that, the danger was over, she trembled for the first time, and fell to sobbing hysterically.
He threw himself at her knees, and embraced them again and again, and begged her forgiveness in a transport of remorse and self-reproach.
She looked down with tender pity on him, and heard his cries of penitence and shame.
"Rise, Camille, and go home with me," said she faintly.
They went slowly and in silence. Camille was too ashamed and penitent to speak; too full of terror too at the abyss of crime from which he had been saved. The ancients feigned that a virgin could subdue a lion; perhaps they meant that a pure gentle nature can subdue a nature fierce but generous. Lion-like Camille walked by Josephine's side with his eyes bent on the ground, the picture of humility and penitence.
"This is the last walk you and I shall take together," said Josephine solemnly.
"I know it," said he humbly. "I have forfeited all right to be by your side."
"My poor, lost love," sighed Josephine, "will you never understand me? You never stood higher in my esteem than at this moment. It is the avowal you have forced from ME that parts us. The man to whom I have said 'I'—must not remain beneath my husband's roof. Does not your sense of honor agree with mine?"
"It does," faltered he.
"To-morrow you must leave the chateau."
"I will obey you."
"What, you do not resist, you do not break my heart by complaints, by reproaches?"
"No, Josephine, all is changed. I thought you unfeeling: I thought you were going to be HAPPY with him; that was what maddened me."
"I pray daily YOU may be happy, no matter how. But you and I are not alike, dear as we are to one another. Well, do not fear: I shall never be happy—will that soothe you, Camille?"
"Yes, Josephine, all is changed; the words you have spoken have driven the fiends out of my heart. I have nothing to do now but to obey, you to command: it is your right. Since you love me a little still, dispose of me. Bid me live: bid me die: bid me stay: bid me go. I shall never disobey the angel who loves me, my only friend upon the earth."
A single deep sob from Josephine was all the answer.
Then he could not help asking her why she had not trusted him?
"Why did you not say to me long ago, 'I love you, but I am a wife; my husband is an honest soldier, absent, and fighting for France: I am the guardian of his honor and my own; be just, be generous, be self-denying; depart and love me only as angels love'? Perhaps this might have helped me to show you that I too am a man of honor."
"Perhaps I was wrong," sighed Josephine. "I think I should have trusted more to you. But then, who would have thought you could really doubt my love? You were ill; I could not bear you to go till you were well, quite well. I saw no other way to keep you but this, to treat you with feigned coldness. You saw the coldness, but not what it cost me to maintain it. Yes, I was unjust; and inconsiderate, for I had many furtive joys to sustain me: I had you in my house under my care—that thought was always sweet—I had a hand in everything that was for your good, for your comfort. I helped Jacintha make your soup and your chocolate every day. I had the delight of lining the dressing-gown you were to wear. I had always some little thing or other to do for you. These kept me up: I forgot in my selfishness that you had none of these supports, and that I was driving you to despair. I am a foolish, disingenuous woman: I have been very culpable. Forgive me!"
"Forgive you, angel of purity and goodness? I alone am to blame. What right had I to doubt your heart? I knew the whole story of your marriage; I saw your sweet pale face; but I was not pure enough to comprehend angelic virtue and unselfishness. Well, I am brought to my senses. There is but one thing for me to do—you bade me leave you to-morrow."
"I was very cruel."
"No! not cruel, wise. But I will be wiser. I shall go to-night."
"To-night, Camille?" said Josephine, turning pale.
"Ay! for to-night I am strong; to-morrow I may be weak. To-night everything thrusts me on the right path. To-morrow everything will draw me from it. Do not cry, beloved one; you and I have a hard fight. We must be true allies; whenever one is weak, then is the time for the other to be strong. I have been weaker than you, to my shame be it said; but this is my hour of strength. A light from heaven shows me my path. I am full of passion, but like you I have honor. You are Raynal's wife, and—Raynal saved my life."
"Ah! is it possible? When? where? may Heaven bless him for it!"
"Ask HIM; and say I told you of it—I have not strength to tell it you, but I will go to-night."
Then Josephine, who had resisted till all her strength was gone, whispered with a blush that it was too late to get a conveyance.
"I need none to carry my sword, my epaulets, and my love for you. I shall go on foot."
Josephine said nothing, but she began to walk slower and slower. And so the unfortunate pair came along creeping slowly with drooping heads towards the gate of the Pleasaunce. There their last walk in this world must end. Many a man and woman have gone to the scaffold with hearts less heavy and more hopeful than theirs.
"Dry your eyes, Josephine," said Camille with a deep sigh. "They are all out on the Pleasaunce."
"No, I will not dry my eyes," cried Josephine, almost violently. "I care for nothing now."
The baroness, the doctor, and Rose, were all in the Pleasaunce: and as the pair came in, lo! every eye was bent on Josephine.
She felt this, and her eyes sought the ground: benumbed as she was with despondency, she began now to dread some fresh stroke or other.
Camille felt doubly guilty and confused. How they all look at us, he thought. Do they know what a villain I have been? He determined to slip away, and pack up, and begone. However, nobody took any notice of him. The baroness drew Josephine apart. And Rose followed her mother and sister with eyes bent on the ground.
There was a strange solemnity about them all.
Aubertin remained behind. But even he took no notice of Camille, but walked up and down with his hands behind him, and a sad and troubled face. Camille felt his utter desolation. He was nothing to any of them. He resolved to go at once, and charge Aubertin with his last adieus to the family. It was a wise and manly resolve. He stopped Aubertin in the middle of his walk, and said in a faint voice of the deepest dejection,—
"Doctor, the time is come that I must once more thank you for all your goodness to me, and bid you all farewell."
"What, going before your strength is re-established?" said the doctor politely, but not warmly.
"I am out of all danger, thanks to your skill."
"Colonel, at another time I should insist upon your staying a day or two longer; but now I think it would be unadvisable to press you to stay. Ah, colonel, you came to a happy house, but you leave a sad one. Poor Madame Raynal!"
"You saw the baroness draw her aside."
"By this time she knows it."
"In Heaven's name what do you mean?" asked Camille.
"I forgot; you are not aware of the calamity that has fallen upon our beloved Josephine; on the darling of the house."
Camille turned cold with vague apprehension. But he contrived to stammer out, "No; tell me! for Heaven's sake tell me."
The doctor thus pressed revealed all in a very few words. "My poor friend," said he solemnly, "her husband—is dead."