The baroness took the doctor a-shopping; she must buy Rose a gray silk. In doing this she saw many other tempting things. I say no more.
But the young ladies went up to Beaurepaire in the other carriage, for Josephine wished to avoid the gaze of the town, and get home and be quiet. The driver went very fast. He had drunk the bride's health at the mayor's, item the bridegroom's, the bridesmaid's, the mayor's, etc., and "a spur in the head is worth two in the heel," says the proverb. The sisters leaned back on the soft cushions, and enjoyed the smooth and rapid motion once so familiar to them, so rare of late.
Then Rose took her sister gently to task for having offered to go to Egypt. She had forgotten her poor sister.
"No, love," replied Josephine, "did you not see I dared not look towards you? I love you better than all the world; but this was my duty. I was his wife: I had no longer a feeble inclination and a feeble disinclination to decide between, but right on one side, wrong on the other."
"Oh! I know where your ladyship's strength lies: my force is—in—my inclinations."
"Yes, Rose," continued Josephine thoughtfully, "duty is a great comfort: it is so tangible; it is something to lay hold of for life or death; a strong tower for the weak but well disposed."
Rose assented, and they were silent a minute; and when she spoke again it was to own she loved a carriage. "How fast we glide! Now lean back with me, and take my hand, and as we glide shut your eyes and think: whisper me all your feelings, every one of them."
"Well, then," said Josephine, half closing her eyes, "in the first place I feel a great calm, a heavenly calm. My fate is decided. No more suspense. My duties are clear. I have a husband I am proud of. There is no perfidy with him, no deceit, no disingenuousness, no shade. He is a human sun. He will make me a better, truer woman, and I him a happier man. Yes, is it not nice to think that great and strong as he is I can teach him a happiness he knows not as yet?" And she smiled with the sense of her delicate power, but said no more; for she was not the one to talk much about herself. But Rose pressed her. "Yes, go on, dear," she said, "I seem to see your pretty little thoughts rising out of your heart like a bubbling fountain: go on."
Thus encouraged, Josephine thought on aloud, "And then, gratitude!" said she. "I have heard it said, or read it somewhere, that gratitude is a burden: I cannot understand that sentiment; why, to me gratitude is a delight, gratitude is a passion. It is the warmest of all the tender feelings I have for dear Monsieur Raynal. I feel it glow here, in my bosom. I think I shall love him as I ought long before he comes back."
"Yes," murmured Josephine, her eyes still half closed. "His virtues will always be present to me. His little faults of manner will not be in sight. Good Raynal! The image of those great qualities I revere so, perhaps because I fail in them myself, will be before my mind; and ere he comes home I shall love him dearly. I'll tell you one reason why I wished to go home at once was—no—you must guess."
"Guess?" said Rose, contemptuously. "As if I did not see it was to put on your gray silk."
Josephine smiled assent, and said almost with fervor, "Good Raynal! I feel prouder of his honest name than of our noble one. And I am so calm, dear, thanks to you, so tranquil; so pleased that my mother's mind is at rest, so convinced all is for the best, so contented with my own lot; so hap—py."
A gentle tear stole from beneath her long lashes. Rose looked at her wistfully: then laid her cheek to hers. They leaned back hand in hand, placid and silent.
The carriage glided fast. Beaurepaire was almost in sight.
Suddenly Josephine's hand tightened on Rose's, and she sat up in the carriage like a person awakened from a strange dream.
"What is it?" asked Rose.
"Some one in uniform."
"Oh, is that all? Ah! you thought it was a message from Raynal."
"Oh! no! on foot—walking very slowly. Coming this way, too. Coming this way!" and she became singularly restless, and looked round in the carriage. It was one of those old chariots with no side windows, but a peep hole at the back. This aperture, however, had a flap over it. Josephine undid the flap with nimble though agitated fingers; and saw—nothing. The road had taken a turn. "Oh," said Rose, carelessly, "for that matter the roads are full of soldiers just now."
"Ay, but not of officers on foot."
Rose gave her such a look, and for the first time this many a day spoke sternly to her, and asked her what on earth she had to do with uniforms or officers except one, the noblest in the world, her husband.
A month ago that word was almost indifferent to Josephine, or rather she uttered it with a sort of mild complacency. Now she started at it, and it struck chill upon her. She did not reply, however, and the carriage rolled on.
"He seemed to be dragging himself along." This was the first word Josephine had spoken for some time. "Oh, did he?" replied Rose carelessly; "well, let him. Here we are, at home."
"I am glad of it," said Josephine, "very glad."
On reaching Beaurepaire she wanted to go up-stairs at once and put on her gray gown. But the day was so delightful that Rose begged her to stroll in the Pleasaunce for half an hour and watch for their mother's return. She consented in an absent way, and presently began to walk very fast, unconscious of her companion. Rose laid a hand upon her playfully to moderate her, and found her skin burning.
"Why, what is the matter?" said she, anxiously.
"Nothing, nothing," was the sharp reply.
"There's a fretful tone; and how excited you look, and feel too. Well, I thought you were unnaturally calm after such an event."
"I only saw his back," said Josephine. "Did not you see him?"
"See who? Oh, that tiresome officer. Why, how much more are we to hear about him? I don't believe there WAS one."
At this moment a cocked hat came in sight, bobbing up and down above the palings that divided the park from the road. Josephine pointed to it without a word.
Rose got a little cross at being practically confuted, and said coldly, "Come, let us go in; the only cocked hat we can see is on the way to Paris."
Josephine assented eagerly. But she had not taken two steps towards the house ere she altered her mind, and said she felt faint, she wanted air; no, she should stay out a little longer. "Look, Rose," said she, in a strangely excited way, "what a shame! They put all manner of rubbish into this dear old tree: I will have it all turned out." And she looked with feigned interest into the tree: but her eyes seemed turned inward.
Rose gave a cry of surprise. "He is waving his hat to me! What on earth does that mean?"
"Perhaps he takes you for me," said Josephine.
"Who is it? What do you mean?"
"IT IS HE! I knew his figure at a glance." And she blushed and trembled with joy; she darted behind the tree and peered round at him unseen: turning round a moment she found Rose at her back pale and stern. She looked at her, and said with terrible simplicity, "Ah, Rose, I forgot."
"Are you mad, Josephine? Into the house this moment; if it IS he, I will receive him and send him about his business."
But Josephine stood fascinated, and pale as ashes; for now the cocked hat stopped, and a pale face with eyes whose eager fire shone even at that distance, rose above the palings. Josephine crouched behind Rose, and gasped out, "Something terrible is coming, terrible! terrible!"
"Say something hateful," said Rose, trembling in her turn, but only with anger. "The heartless selfish traitor! He never notices you till you are married to the noblest of mankind; and then he comes here directly to ruin your peace. No; I have altered my mind. He shall not see you, of course; but YOU shall hear HIM. I'll soon make you know the wretch and loathe him as I do. There, now he has turned the corner; hide in the oak while he is out of sight. Hide, quick, quick." Josephine obeyed mechanically; and presently, through that very aperture whence her sister had smiled on her lover she hissed out, in a tone of which one would not have thought her capable, "Be wise, be shrewd; find out who is the woman that has seduced him from me, and has brought two wretches to this. I tell you it is some wicked woman's doing. He loved me once."
"Not so loud!—one word: you are a wife. Swear to me you will not let him see you, come what may."
"Oh! never! never!" cried Josephine with terror. "I would rather die. When you have heard what he has to say, then tell him I am dead. No, tell him I adore my husband, and went to Egypt this day with him. Ah! would to God I had!"
Camille was at the little gate.
Rose stood still, and nerved herself in silence. Josephine panted in her hiding-place.
Rose's only thought now was to expose the traitor to her sister, and restore her peace. She pretended not to see Camille till he was near her. He came eagerly towards her, his pale face flushing with great joy, and his eyes like diamonds.
"Josephine! It is not Josephine, after all," said he. "Why, this must be Rose, little Rose, grown up to a fine lady, a beautiful lady."
"What do you come here for, sir?" asked Rose in a tone of icy indifference.
"What do I come here for? is that the way to speak to me? but I am too happy to mind. Dear Beaurepaire! do I see you once again!"
"Madame Dujardin that is or was to be."
"This is the first I have ever heard of her," said Camille, gayly.
"This is odd, for we have heard all about it."
"Are you jesting?"
"If I understand you right, you imply that I have broken faith with Josephine?"
"Then you lie, Mademoiselle Rose de Beaurepaire."
"No. It is you who have insulted your sister as well as me. She was not made to be deserted for meaner women. Come, mademoiselle, affront me, and me alone, and you shall find me more patient. Oh! who would have thought Beaurepaire would receive me thus?"
"It is your own fault. You never sent her a line for all these years."
"Why, how could I?"
"Well, sir, the information you did not supply others did. We know that you were seen in a Spanish village drinking between two guerillas."
"That is true," said Camille.
"An honest French soldier fired at you. Why, he told us so himself."
"He told you true," said Camille, sullenly. "The bullet grazed my hand; see, here is the mark. Look!" She did look, and gave a little scream; but recovering herself, said she wished it had gone through his heart. "Why prolong this painful interview?" said she; "the soldier told us all."
"I doubt that," said Camille. "Did he tell you that under the table I was chained tight down to the chair I sat in? Did he tell you that my hand was fastened to a drinking-horn, and my elbow to the table, and two fellows sitting opposite me with pistols quietly covering me, ready to draw the trigger if I should utter a cry? Did he tell you that I would have uttered that cry and died at that table but for one thing, I had promised her to live?"
"Not he; he told me nothing so incredible. Besides, what became of you all these years? You are a double traitor, to your country and to her."
Camille literally gasped for breath. "You are a most cruel young lady to insult me so," said he, and scalding tears forced themselves from his eyes.
Rose eyed him with merciless scorn.
He fought manfully against this weakness, with which his wound and his fatigue had something to do, as well as Rose's bitter words; and after a gallant struggle he returned her her haughty stare, and addressed her thus: "Mademoiselle, I feel myself blush, but it is for you I blush, not for myself. This is what BECAME of me. I went out alone to explore; I fell into an ambuscade; I shot one of the enemy, and pinked another, but my arm being broken by a bullet, and my horse killed under me, the rascals got me. They took me about, tried to make a decoy of me as I have told you, and ended by throwing me into a dungeon. They loaded me with chains, too, though the walls were ten feet thick, and the door iron, and bolted and double-bolted outside. And there for months and years, in spite of wounds, hunger, thirst, and all the tortures those cowards made me suffer, I lived, because, Rose, I had promised some one at that gate there (and he turned suddenly and pointed to it) that I would come back alive. At last, one night, my jailer came to my cell drunk. I seized him by the throat and throttled him till he was insensible; his keys unlocked my fetters, and locked him in the cell, and I got safely outside. But there a sentinel saw me, and fired at me. He missed me but ran after me, and caught me. You see I was stiff, confined so long. He gave me a thrust of his bayonet; I flung my heavy keys fiercely in his face; he staggered; I wrested his piece from him, and disabled him."
"I crossed the frontier in the night, and got to Bayonne; and thence, day and night, to Paris. There I met a reward for all my anguish. They gave me the epaulets of a colonel. See, here they are. France does not give these to traitors, young lady." He held them out to her in both hands. She eyed them half stupidly; all her thoughts were on the oak-tree hard by. She began to shudder. Camille was telling the truth. She felt that; she saw it; and Josephine was hearing it. "Ay! look at them, you naughty girl," said Camille, trying to be jocose over it all with his poor trembling lip. He went on to say that from the moment he had left dark Spain, and entered fair France everybody was so kind, so sympathizing. "They felt for the poor worn soldier coming back to his love. All but you, Rose. You told me I was a traitor to her and to France."
"I was told so," said Rose, faintly. She was almost at her wits' end what to say or do.
"Well, are you sorry or not sorry for saying such a cruel thing to a poor fellow?"
"Sorry, very sorry," whispered Rose. She could not persist in injustice, yet she did not want Josephine to hear.
"Then say no more about it; there's my hand. You are not a soldier, and did not know what you were talking about."
"I am very sorry I spoke so harshly to you. But you understand. How you look; how you pant."
"There, I will show you I forgive you. These epaulets, dear, I have never put them on. I said, no; Josephine shall put them on for me. I will take honor as well as happiness from her dear hand. But you are her sister, and what are epaulets compared with what she will give me? You shall put them on, dear. Come, then you will be sure I bear no malice."
Rose, faint at heart, consented in silence, and fastened on the epaulets. "Yes, Camille!" she cried, with sudden terror, "think of glory, now; nothing but glory."
"No one thinks of it more. But to-day how can I think of it, how can I give her a rival? To-day I am all love. Rose, no man ever loved a human creature as I love Josephine. Your mother is well, dear? All are well at Beaurepaire? Oh, where is she all this time? in the house?" He was moving quickly towards the house; but Rose instinctively put out her hand to stop him. He recoiled a little and winced.
"What is the matter?" cried she.
"Nothing, dear girl; you put your hand on my wound, that is all. What is that noise in the tree? Anybody listening to us?"
"I'll see," said Rose, with all a woman's wit, and whipped hastily round to hinder Camille from going. She found Josephine white as death, apparently fainting, and clutching at the tree convulsively with her nails. Such was the intensity of the situation that she left her beloved sister in that piteous state, and even hoped she would faint dead away, and so hear no more. She came back white, and told Camille it was only a bird got into the tree. "And to think you should be wounded," said she, to divert his attention from the tree.
"Yes," said he, "and it is rather inflamed, and has worried me all the way. You need not go telling Josephine, though. They wanted me to stop and lay up at Bayonne. How could I? And again at Paris. How could I? They said, 'You will die.'—'Not before I get to Beaurepaire,' said I. I could bear the motion of a horse no longer, so at the nearest town I asked for a carriage. Would you believe it? both his carriages were OUT AT A WEDDING. I could not wait till they came back. I had waited an eternity. I came on foot. I dragged my self along; the body was weak, but the heart was strong. A little way from here my wound seemed inclined to open. I pressed it together tight with my hand; you see I could not afford to lose any more blood, and so struggled on. 'Die?' said I, 'not before Beaurepaire.' And, O Rose! now I could be content to die—at her feet; for I am happy. Oh! I am happy beyond words to utter. What I have gone through! But I kept my word, and this is Beaurepaire. Hurrah!" and his pale cheek flushed, and his eye gleamed, and he waved his hat feebly over his head, "hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!"
"Oh, don't!—don't!—don't!" cried Rose wild with pity and dismay.
"How can I help?—I am mad with joy—hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!"
"No! no! no! no! no!"
"What is the matter?"
"And must I stab you worse than all your enemies have stabbed you?" sighed Rose, and tears of womanly pity now streamed down her cheeks.
Camille's mind began to misgive him. What was become of Josephine? she did not appear. He faltered out, "Your mother is well; all are well I hope. Oh, where is she?" and receiving no reply, began to tremble visibly with the fear of some terrible calamity.
Rose, with a sister fainting close by, and this poor lover trembling before her, lost all self-command, and began to wring her hands and cry wildly. "Camille," she almost screamed, "there is but one thing for you to do; leave Beaurepaire on the instant: fly from it; it is no place for you."
"She is dead," said Camille, very quietly.
When he said that, with an unnatural and monotonous calm such as precedes deliberate suicide, it flashed in one moment across Rose that it was much best he should think so.
She did not reply; but she drooped her head and let him think it.
"She would have come to me ere this if she was alive," said he. "You are all in white: they mourn in white for angels like her, that go to heaven, virgins. Oh! I was blind. You might have told me at once; you see I can bear it. What does it matter to one who loves as I love? It is only to give her one more proof I lived only for her. I would have died a hundred times but for my promise to her. Yes, I am coming, love; I am coming."
He fell on his knees and smiled, and whispered, "I am coming, Josephine, I am coming."
A sob and a moan as of a creature dying in anguish answered him.
Rose screamed with terror when she heard it.
Camille rose to his feet, awestruck. "That was her voice, behind this tree," he whispered.
"No, no," cried Rose; "it was me."
But at that moment a rustle and a rush was heard of some one darting out of the tree.
Camille darted furiously round it in the same direction. Rose tried to stop him, but was too late. The next moment Raynal's wife was in his arms.