To return for a moment to Rose. She parted from Edouard, and went in at the front door: but the next moment she opened it softly and watched her lover unseen. "Dear Edouard!" she murmured: and then she thought, "how sad it is that I must deceive him, even to-night: must make up an excuse to get him from me, when we were so happy together. Ah! he little knows how I shall welcome our wedding-day. When once I can see my poor martyr on the road to peace and content under the good doctor's care. And oh! the happiness of having no more secrets from him I love! Dear Edouard! when once we are married, I never, never, will have a secret from you again—I swear it."
As a comment on these words she now stepped cautiously out, and peered in every direction.
"St—st!" she whispered. No answer came to this signal.
Rose returned into the house and bolted the door inside. She went up to the tapestried room, and found the doctor in the act of wishing Josephine good-night. The baroness, fatigued a little by her walk, had mounted no higher than her own bedroom, which was on the first floor just under the tapestried room. Rose followed the doctor out. "Dear friend, one word. Josephine talked of telling Raynal. You have not encouraged her to do that?"
"Certainly not, while he is in Egypt."
"Still less on his return. Doctor, you don't know that man. Josephine does not know him. But I do. He would kill her if he knew. He would kill her that minute. He would not wait: he would not listen to excuses: he is a man of iron. Or if he spared her he would kill Camille: and that would destroy her by the cruellest of all deaths! My friend, I am a wicked, miserable girl. I am the cause of all this misery!"
She then told Aubertin all about the anonymous letter, and what Raynal had said to her in consequence.
"He never would have married her had he known she loved another. He asked me was it so. I told him a falsehood. At least I equivocated, and to equivocate with one so loyal and simple was to deceive him. I am the only sinner: that sweet angel is the only sufferer. Is this the justice of Heaven? Doctor, my remorse is great. No one knows what I feel when I look at my work. Edouard thinks I love her so much better than I do him. He is wrong: it is not love only, it is pity: it is remorse for the sorrow I have brought on her, and the wrong I have done poor Raynal."
The high-spirited girl was greatly agitated: and Aubertin, though he did not acquit her of all blame, soothed her, and made excuses for her.
"We must not always judge by results," said he. "Things turned unfortunately. You did for the best. I forgive you for one. That is, I will forgive you if you promise not to act again without my advice."
"Oh, never! never!"
"And, above all, no imprudence about that child. In three little weeks they will be together without risk of discovery. Well, you don't answer me."
Rose's blood turned cold. "Dear friend," she stammered, "I quite agree with you."
"Not to let Josephine go to Frejus?" said Rose hastily. "Oh, yes! I promise."
"You are a good girl," said Aubertin. "You have a will of your own. But you can submit to age and experience." The doctor then kissed her, and bade her farewell.
"I leave for Paris at six in the morning," he said. "I will not try your patience or hers unnecessarily. Perhaps it will not be three weeks ere she sees her child under her friend's roof."
The moment Rose was alone, she sat down and sighed bitterly. "There is no end to it," she sobbed despairingly. "It is like a spider's web: every struggle to be free but multiplies the fine yet irresistible thread that seems to bind me. And to-night I thought to be so happy; instead of that, he has left me scarce the heart to do what I have to do."
She went back to the room, opened a window, and put out a white handkerchief, then closed the window down on it.
Then she went to Josephine's bedroom-door: it opened on the tapestried room.
"Josephine," she cried, "don't go to bed just yet."
"No, love. What are you doing? I want to talk to you. Why did you say promise? and what did you mean by looking at me so? Shall I come out to you?"
"Not just yet," said Rose; she then glided into the corridor, and passed her mother's room and the doctor's, and listened to see if all was quiet. While she was gone Josephine opened her door; but not seeing Rose in the sitting-room, retired again.
Rose returned softly, and sat down with her head in her hand, in a calm attitude belied by her glancing eye, and the quick tapping of her other hand upon the table.
Presently she raised her head quickly; a sound had reached her ear,—a sound so slight that none but a high-strung ear could have caught it. It was like a mouse giving a single scratch against a stone wall.
Rose coughed slightly.
On this a clearer sound was heard, as of a person scratching wood with the finger-nail. Rose darted to the side of the room, pressed against the wall, and at the same time put her other hand against the rim of one of the panels and pushed it laterally; it yielded, and at the opening stood Jacintha in her cloak and bonnet.
"Yes," said Jacintha, "under my cloak—look!"
"Ah! you found the things on the steps?"
"Yes! I nearly tumbled over them. Have you locked that door?"
"No, but I will." And Rose glided to the door and locked it. Then she put the screen up between Josephine's room and the open panel: then she and Jacintha were wonderfully busy on the other side the screen, but presently Rose said, "This is imprudent; you must go down to the foot of the stairs and wait till I call you."
Jacintha pleaded hard against this arrangement, and represented that there was no earthly chance of any one coming to that part of the chateau.
"No matter; I will be guarded on every side."
"Mustn't I stop and just see her happy for once?"
"No, my poor Jacintha, you must hear it from my lips."
Jacintha retired to keep watch as she was bid. Rose went to Josephine's room, and threw her arms round her neck and kissed her vehemently. Josephine returned her embrace, then held her out at arm's length and looked at her.
"Your eyes are red, yet your little face is full of joy. There, you smile."
"I can't help that; I am so happy."
"I am glad of it. Are you coming to bed?"
"Not yet. I invite you to take a little walk with me first. Come!" and she led the way slowly, looking back with infinite archness and tenderness.
"You almost frighten me," said Josephine; "it is not like you to be all joy when I am sad. Three whole weeks more!"
"That is it. Why are you sad? because the doctor would not let you go to Frejus. And why am I not sad? because I had already thought of a way to let you see Edouard without going so far."
"Rose! O Rose! O Rose!"
"This way—come!" and she smiled and beckoned with her finger, while Josephine followed like one under a spell, her bosom heaving, her eye glancing on every side, hoping some strange joy, yet scarce daring to hope.
Rose drew back the screen, and there was a sweet little berceau that had once been Josephine's own, and in it, sunk deep in snow-white lawn, was a sleeping child, that lay there looking as a rose might look could it fall upon new-fallen snow.
At sight of it Josephine uttered a little cry, not loud but deep—ay, a cry to bring tears into the eye of the hearer, and she stood trembling from head to foot, her hands clasped, and her eye fascinated and fixed on the cradle.
"My child under this roof! What have you done?" but her eye, fascinated and fixed, never left the cradle.
"I saw you languishing, dying, for want of him."
"Oh, if anybody should come?" But her eye never stirred an inch from the cradle.
"No, no, no! the door is locked. Jacintha watches below; there is no dan—Ah, oh, poor sister!"
For, as Rose was speaking, the young mother sprang silently upon her child. You would have thought she was going to kill him; her head reared itself again and again like a crested snake's, and again and again and again and again plunged down upon the child, and she kissed his little body from head to foot with soft violence, and murmured, through her streaming tears, "My child! my darling! my angel! oh, my poor boy! my child! my child!"
I will ask my female readers of every degree to tell their brothers and husbands all the young noble did: how she sat on the floor, and had her child on her bosom; how she smiled over it through her tears; how she purred over it; how she, the stately one, lisped and prattled over it; and how life came pouring into her heart from it.
Before she had had it in her arms five minutes, her pale cheek was as red as a rose, and her eyes brighter than diamonds.
"Bless you, Rose! bless you! bless you! in one moment you have made me forget all I ever suffered in my life."
"There is a cold draught," cried she presently, with maternal anxiety; "close the panel, Rose."
"No, dear; or I could not call to Jacintha, or she to me; but I will shift the screen round between him and the draught. There, now, come to his aunt—a darling!"
Then Rose sat on the floor too, and Josephine put her boy on aunt's lap, and took a distant view of him. But she could not bear so vast a separation long. She must have him to her bosom again.
Presently my lord, finding himself hugged, opened his eyes, and, as a natural consequence, his mouth.
"Oh, that will never do," cried Rose, and they put him back in the cradle with all expedition, and began to rock it. Young master was not to be altogether appeased even by that. So Rose began singing an old-fashioned Breton chant or lullaby.
Josephine sang with her, and, singing, watched with a smile her boy drop off by degrees to sleep under the gentle motion and the lulling song. They sang and rocked till the lids came creeping down, and hid the great blue eyes; but still they sang and rocked, lulling the boy, and gladdening their own hearts; for the quaint old Breton ditty was tunable as the lark that carols over the green wheat in April; and the words so simple and motherly, that a nation had taken them to heart. Such songs bind ages together and make the lofty and the low akin by the great ties of music and the heart. Many a Breton peasant's bosom in the olden time had gushed over her sleeping boy as the young dame's of Beaurepaire gushed now—in this quaint, tuneful lullaby.
Now, as they kneeled over the cradle, one on each side, and rocked it, and sang that ancient chant, Josephine, who was opposite the screen, happening to raise her eyes, saw a strange thing.
There was the face of a man set close against the side of the screen, and peeping and peering out of the gloom. The light of her candle fell full on this face; it glared at her, set pale, wonder-struck, and vivid in the surrounding gloom.
Horror! It was her husband's face.
At first she was quite stupefied, and looked at it with soul and senses benumbed. Then she trembled, and put her hand to her eyes; for she thought it a phantom or a delusion of the mind. No: there it glared still. Then she trembled violently, and held out her left hand, the fingers working convulsively, to Rose, who was still singing.
But, at the same moment, the mouth of this face suddenly opened in a long-drawn breath. At this, Josephine uttered a violent shriek, and sprang to her feet, with her right hand quivering and pointing at that pale face set in the dark.
Rose started up, and, wheeling her head round, saw Raynal's gloomy face looking over her shoulder. She fell screaming upon her knees, and, almost out of her senses, began to pray wildly and piteously for mercy.
Josephine uttered one more cry, but this was the faint cry of nature, sinking under the shock of terror. She swooned dead away, and fell senseless on the floor ere Raynal could debarrass himself of the screen, and get to her.
This, then, was the scene that met Edouard's eyes. His affianced bride on her knees, white as a ghost, trembling, and screaming, rather than crying, for mercy. And Raynal standing over his wife, showing by the working of his iron features that he doubted whether she was worthy he should raise her.
One would have thought nothing could add to the terror of this scene. Yet it was added to. The baroness rang her bell violently in the room below. She had heard Josephine's scream and fall.
At the ringing of this shrill bell Rose shuddered like a maniac, and grovelled on her knees to Raynal, and seized his very knees and implored him to show some pity.
"O sir! kill us! we are culpable"—
Dring! dring! dring! dring! dring! pealed the baroness's bell again.
"But do not tell our mother. Oh, if you are a man! do not! do not! Show us some pity. We are but women. Mercy! mercy! mercy!"
"Speak out then," groaned Raynal. "What does this mean? Why has my wife swooned at sight of me?—whose is this child?"
"Whose?" stammered Rose. Till he said that, she never thought there COULD be a doubt whose child.
Dring! dring! dring! dring! dring!
"Oh, my God!" cried the poor girl, and her scared eyes glanced every way like some wild creature looking for a hole, however small, to escape by.
Edouard, seeing her hesitation, came down on her other side. "Whose is the child, Rose?" said he sternly.
"You, too? Why were we born? mercy! oh! pray let me go to my sister."
Dring! dring! dring! dring! dring! went the terrible bell.
The men were excited to fury by Rose's hesitation; they each seized an arm, and tore her screaming with fear at their violence, from her knees up to her feet between them with a single gesture.
"Whose is the child?"
"You hurt me!" said she bitterly to Edouard, and she left crying and was terribly calm and sullen all in a moment.
"Whose is the child?" roared Edouard and Raynal, in one raging breath. "Whose is the child?"
"It is mine."