"HIS uncle," said the shrewd old lady. "She is no longer a child;and she says his uncle. This makes me half suspect it is her thatdear boy--Josephine, tell me the truth, which of you is it?""Dear mother, who should it be? they are nearly of an age: and whatmacardano price julyn would not love our sweet Rose, that had eyes or a heart?"The baroness sighed deeply; and was silent. After awhile she said,"The moment they have a lover, he detaches their hearts from theirpoor old mother. She is no longer what my Josephine is to me.""Mamma, she is my superior. I see it more and more every day. Sheis proud: she is just; she looks at both sides. As for me, I am tooapt to see only what will please those I love.""And that is the daughter for me," cried the poor baroness, openingher arms wide to her.
"Oh, come now! You know a man's got to lbuy bitcoin mining machineet his women-folks have their say about household matters, but that don't make any difference in my feelings toward you.""Well, well, Tom! If it did, I should be slow to quarrel with a man who had done me as good a turn as you have. Thank the Lord! I've got a wife that'll let me have some say about household and all other matters. You, too, are inclined to think that I'm in an awful scrape. I feel less like getting out of it every day. My wife is as respectable as I am and a good sight better than I am. If I'm no longer respectable for having married her, I certainly am better contented than I ever expected to be again. I want it understood, though, that the man who says anything against my wife may have to get me arrested for assault and battery."
"When it comes to that, Jim," replied Watterly, who was meek only in the presence of his wife, "I'd just as lief speak against her as wink if there was anything to say. But I say now, as I said to you at first, she aint one of the common sort. I thought well of her at first, and I think better of her now since she's doing so well by you. But I suppose marrying a woman situated as she was isn't according to regulation. We men are apt to act like the boys we used to be and go for what we want without thinking of the consequences.""It's the consequences that please me most. If you had been dependent on Mumpson, Malonys, and Wigginses for your home comfort you wouldn't worry about the talk of people who'd never raise a finger for you. Well, goodbye, I'm in a hurry. Your heart's in the right place, Tom, and some day you'll come out and take dinner with me. One dinner, such as she'll give you, will bring you round. One of our steady dishes is a bunch of flowers and I enjoy 'em, too. What do you think of that for a hard-headed old fellow like me?"Some men are chilled by public disapproval and waver under it, but Holcroft was thereby only the more strongly confirmed in his course. Alida had won his esteem as well as his good will, and it was the instinct of his manhood to protect and champion her. He bought twice as many flowers and seeds as she had asked for, and also selected two simple flower vases; then started on his return with the feeling that he had a home.Alida entered upon her duties to the poultry with almost the pleasure of a child. She first fed them, then explored every accessible nook and hiding place in the barn and outbuildings. It was evident that many of the biddies had stolen their nests, and some were brooding upon them with no disposition to be disturbed. Out of the hundred or more fowls on the place, a good many were clucking their maternal instincts, and their new keeper resolved to put eggs under all except the flighty ones that left their nests within two or three days' trial. As the result of her search, the empty egg basket was in a fair way to be full again very soon. She gloated over her spoils as she smilingly assured herself, "I shall take him at his word. I shall spend nearly all I make this year in fixing up the old house within and without, so he'll scarcely know it."It was eleven o'clock before Holcroft drove to the door with the flowers, and he was amply repaid by her pleasure in receiving them. "Why, I only expected geraniums," she said, "and you've bought half a dozen other kinds."
"And I expected to get my own coffee this morning and a good breakfast was given me instead, so we are quits.""You're probably ready for your dinner now, if it is an hour earlier than usual. It will be ready in ten minutes."But there was no time for this. Josephine stirred; and, at the samemoment, a violent knocking came at the door of the apartment, andthe new servant's voice, crying, "Ladies, for Heaven's sake, what isthe matter? The baroness heard a fall--she is getting up--she willbe here. What shall I tell her is the matter?"Raynal was going to answer, but Rose, who had started up at theknocking, put her hand in a moment right before his mouth, and ranto the door. "There is nothing the matter; tell mamma I am comingdown to her directly." She flew back to Raynal in an excitementlittle short of frenzy. "Help me carry her into her own room,"cried she imperiously. Raynal obeyed by instinct; for the fierygirl spoke like a general, giving the word of command, with theenemy in front. He carried the true culprit in his arms, and laidher gently on her bed.
"Now put IT out of sight--take this, quick, man! quick!" cried Rose.Raynal went to the cradle. "Ah! my poor girl," said he, as helifted it in his arms, "this is a sorry business; to have to hideyour own child from your own mother!""Colonel Raynal," said Rose, "do not insult a poor, despairing girl.C'est lache.""I am silent, young woman," said Raynal, sternly. "What is to bedone?""Take it down the steps, and give it to Jacintha. Stay, here is acandle; I go to tell mamma you are come; and, Colonel Raynal, Inever injured YOU: if you tell my mother you will stab her to theheart, and me, and may the curse of cowards light on you!--may"--"Enough!" said Raynal, sternly. "Do you take me for a babblinggirl? I love your mother better than you do, or this brat of yourswould not be here. I shall not bring her gray hairs down withsorrow to the grave. I shall speak of this villany to but oneperson; and to him I shall talk with this, and not with the idletongue." And he tapped his sword-hilt with a sombre look ofterrible significance.He carried out the cradle. The child slept sweetly through it all.
Rose darted into Josephine's room, took the key from the inside tothe outside, locked the door, put the key in her pocket, and randown to her mother's room; her knees trembled under her as she went.Meantime, Jacintha, sleeping tranquilly, suddenly felt her throatgriped, and heard a loud voice ring in her ear; then she was lifted,and wrenched, and dropped. She found herself lying clear of thesteps in the moonlight; her head was where her feet had been, andher candle out.
She uttered shriek upon shriek, and was too frightened to get up.She thought it was supernatural; some old De Beaurepaire had servedher thus for sleeping on her post. A struggle took place betweenher fidelity and her superstitious fears. Fidelity conquered.Quaking in every limb, she groped up the staircase for her candle.It was gone.
Then a still more sickening fear came over her.What if this was no spirit's work, but a human arm--a strong one--some man's arm?Her first impulse was to dart up the stairs, and make sure that nocalamity had befallen through her mistimed drowsiness. But, whenshe came to try, her dread of the supernatural revived. She couldnot venture without a light up those stairs, thronged perhaps withangry spirits. She ran to the kitchen. She found the tinderbox,and with trembling hands struck a light. She came back shading itwith her shaky hands; and, committing her soul to the care ofHeaven, she crept quaking up the stairs. Then she heard voicesabove, and that restored her more; she mounted more steadily.Presently she stopped, for a heavy step was coming down. It did notsound like a woman's step. It came further down; she turned to fly.
"Jacintha!" said a deep voice, that in this stone cylinder rang likethunder from a tomb."Oh! saints and angels save me!" yelled Jacintha; and fell on herknees, and hid her head for security; and down went her candlestickclattering on the stone.
"Don't be a fool!" said the iron voice. "Get up and take this."She raised her head by slow degrees, shuddering. A man was holdingout a cradle to her; the candle he carried lighted up his face; itwas Colonel Raynal.She stared at him stupidly, but never moved from her knees, and thecandle began to shake violently in her hand, as she herself trembledfrom head to foot.
Then Raynal concluded she was in the plot; but, scorning to reproacha servant, he merely said, "Well, what do you kneel there for,gaping at me like that? Take this, I tell you, and carry it out ofthe house."He shoved the cradle roughly down into her hands, then turned on hisheel without a word.Jacintha collapsed on the stairs, and the cradle beside her, for allthe power was driven out of her body; she could hardly support herown weight, much less the cradle.She rocked herself, and moaned out, "Oh, what's this? oh, what'sthis?"A cold perspiration came over her whole frame."What could this mean? What on earth had happened?"She took up the candle, for it was lying burning and guttering onthe stairs; scraped up the grease with the snuffers, and by force ofhabit tried to polish it clean with a bit of paper that shookbetween her fingers; she did not know what she was doing. When sherecovered her wits, she took the child out of the cradle, andwrapped it carefully in her shawl; then went slowly down the stairs;and holding him close to her bosom, with a furtive eye, and brainconfused, and a heart like lead, stole away to the tenantlesscottage, where Madame Jouvenel awaited her.Meantime, Rose, with quaking heart, had encountered the baroness.She found her pale and agitated, and her first question was, "Whatis the matter? what have you been all doing over my head?""Darling mother," replied Rose, evasively, "something has happenedthat will rejoice your heart. Somebody has come home.""My son? eh, no! impossible! We cannot be so happy.""He will be with you directly."The old lady now trembled with joyful agitation.
"In five minutes I will bring him to you. Shall you be dressed? Iwill ring for the girl to help you.""But, Rose, the scream, and that terrible fall. Ah! where isJosephine?""Can't you guess, mamma? Oh, the fall was only the screen; theystumbled over it in the dark.""They! who?""Colonel Raynal, and--and Edouard. I will tell you, mamma, butdon't be angry, or even mention it; they wanted to surprise us.They saw a light burning, and they crept on tiptoe up to thetapestried room, where Josephine and I were, and they did give us agreat fright.""What madness!" cried the baroness, angrily; "and in Josephine'sweak state! Such a surprise might have driven her into a fit.""Yes, it was foolish, but let it pass, mamma. Don't speak of it,for he is so sorry about it."Then Rose slipped out, ordered a fire in the salon, and not in thetapestried room, and the next minute was at her sister's door.
There she found Raynal knocking, and asking Josephine how she was."Pray leave her to me a moment," said she. "I will bring her down toyou. Mamma is waiting for you in the salon."Raynal went down. Rose unlocked the bedroom-door, went in, and, toher horror, found Josephine lying on the floor. She dashed water inher face, and applied every remedy; and at last she came back tolife, and its terrors.
"Save me, Rose! save me--he is coming to kill me--I heard him at thedoor," and she clung trembling piteously to Rose.Then Rose, seeing her terror, was almost glad at the suicidalfalsehood she had told. She comforted and encouraged Josephine and--deceived her. (This was the climax.)"All is well, my poor coward," she cried; "your fears are allimaginary; another has owned the child, and the story is believed.""Another! impossible! He would not believe it.""He does believe it--he shall believe it."Rose then, feeling by no means sure that Josephine, terrified as shewas, would consent to let her sister come to shame to screen her,told her boldly that Jacintha had owned herself the mother of thechild, and that Raynal's only feeling towards HER was pity, andregret at having so foolishly frightened her, weakened as she was byillness. "I told him you had been ill, dear. But how came you onthe ground?""I had come to myself; I was on my knees praying. He tapped. Iheard his voice. I remember no more. I must have fainted againdirectly."Rose had hard work to make her believe that her guilt, as she calledit, was not known; and even then she could not prevail on her tocome down-stairs, until she said, "If you don't, he will come toyou." On that Josephine consented eagerly, and with tremblingfingers began to adjust her hair and her dress for the interview.
All this terrible night Rose fought for her sister. She took herdown-stairs to the salon; she put her on the sofa; she sat by herand pressed her hand constantly to give her courage. She told thestory of the surprise her own way, before the whole party, includingthe doctor, to prevent Raynal from being called on to tell it hisway. She laughed at Josephine's absurdity, but excused it onaccount of her feeble health. In short, she threw more and moredust in all their eyes.But by the time when the rising sun came faintly in and lighted thehaggard party, where the deceived were happy, the deceiverswretched, the supernatural strength this young girl had shown wasalmost exhausted. She felt an hysterical impulse to scream andweep: each minute it became more and more ungovernable. Then camean unexpected turn. Raynal after a long and tiring talk with hismother, as he called her, looked at his watch, and in acharacteristic way coolly announced his immediate departure, thisbeing the first hint he had given them that he was not come back forgood.The baroness was thunderstruck.Rose and Josephine pressed one another's hands, and had much ado notto utter a loud cry of joy.
Raynal explained that he was the bearer of despatches. "I must beoff: not an hour to lose. Don't fret, mother, I shall soon be backagain, if I am not knocked on the head."Raynal took leave of them all. When it came to Rose's turn, he drewher aside and whispered into her ear, "Who is the man?"She started, and seemed dumfounded."Tell me, or I ask my wife.""She has promised me not to betray me: I made her swear. Spare menow, brother; I will tell you all when you come back.""That is a bargain: now hear ME swear: he shall marry you, or heshall die by my hand."He confirmed this by a tremendous oath.
Rose shuddered, but said nothing, only she thought to herself, "I amforewarned. Never shall you know who is the father of that child."He was no sooner gone than the baroness insisted on knowing whatthis private communication between him and Rose was about."Oh," said Rose, "he was only telling me to keep up your courage andJosephine's till he comes back."This was the last lie the poor entangled wretch had to tell thatmorning. The next minute the sisters, exhausted by their terriblestruggle, went feebly, with downcast eyes, along the corridor and upthe staircase to Josephine's room.
They went hand in hand. They sank down, dressed as they were, onJosephine's bed, and clung to one another and trembled together,till their exhausted natures sank into uneasy slumbers, from whicheach in turn would wake ever and anon with a convulsive start, andclasp her sister tighter to her breast.Theirs was a marvellous love. Even a course of deceit had not yetprevailed to separate or chill their sister bosoms. But still inthis deep and wonderful love there were degrees: one went a shadedeeper than the other now--ay, since last night. Which? why, shewho had sacrificed herself for the other, and dared not tell her,lest the sacrifice should be refused.
It was the gray of the morning, and foggy, when Raynal, after takingleave, went to the stable for his horse. At the stable-door he cameupon a man sitting doubled up on the very stones of the yard, withhis head on his knees. The figure lifted his head, and showed himthe face of Edouard Riviere, white and ghastly: his hair lank withthe mist, his teeth chattering with cold and misery. The poorwretch had walked frantically all night round and round the chateau,waiting till Raynal should come out. He told him so."But why didn't you?--Ah! I see. No! you could not go into thehouse after that. My poor fellow, there is but one thing for you todo. Turn your back on her, and forget she ever lived; she is deadto you.""There is something to be done besides that," said Edouard, gloomily."What?""Vengeance.""That is my affair, young man. When I come back from the Rhine, shewill tell me who her seducer is. She has promised.""And don't you see through that?" said Edouard, gnashing his teeth;"that is only to gain time: she will never tell you. She is youngin years, but old in treachery."He groaned and was silent a moment, then laying his hand on Raynal'sarm said grimly, "Thank Heaven, we don't depend on her forinformation! I know the villain."Raynal's eyes flashed: "Ah! then tell me this moment.""It is that scoundrel Dujardin.""Dujardin! What do you mean?""I mean that, while you were fighting for France, your house wasturned into a hospital for wounded soldiers.""And pray, sir, to what more honorable use could they put it?""Well, this Dujardin was housed by you, was nursed by your wife andall the family; and in return has seduced your sister, my affianced.""I can hardly believe that. Camille Dujardin was always a man ofhonor, and a good soldier.""Colonel, there has been no man near the place but this Dujardin. Itell you it is he. Don't make me tear my bleeding heart out: must Itell you how often I caught them together, how I suspected, and howshe gulled me? blind fool that I was, to believe a woman's wordsbefore my own eyes. I swear to you he is the villain; the onlyquestion is, which of us two is to kill him.""Where is the man?""In the army of the Rhine.""Ah! all the better.""Covered with glory and honor. Curse him! oh, curse him! cursehim!""I am in luck. I am going to the Rhine.""I know it. That is why I waited here all through this night ofmisery. Yes, you are in luck. But you will send me a line when youhave killed him; will you not? Then I shall know joy again. Shouldhe escape you, he shall not escape me.""Young man," said Raynal, with dignity, "this rage is unmanly.Besides, we have not heard his side of the story. He is a goodsoldier; perhaps he is not all to blame: or perhaps passion hasbetrayed him into a sin that his conscience and honor disapprove: ifso, he must not die. You think only of your wrong: it is natural:
but I am the girl's brother; guardian of her honor and my own. Hislife is precious as gold. I shall make him marry her.""What! reward him for his villany?" cried Edouard, frantically."A mighty reward," replied Raynal, with a sneer.
"You leave one thing out of the calculation, monsieur," saidEdouard, trembling with anger, "that I will kill your brother-in-lawat the altar, before her eyes.""YOU leave one thing out of the calculation: that you will firsthave to cross swords, at the altar, with me.""So be it. I will not draw on my old commandant. I could not; butbe sure I will catch him and her alone some day, and the bride shallbe a widow in her honeymoon.""As you please," said Raynal, coolly. "That is all fair, as youhave been wronged. I shall make her an honest wife, and then youmay make her an honest widow. (This is what they call LOVE, andsneer at me for keeping clear of it.) But neither he nor you shallkeep MY SISTER what she is now, a ----," and he used a word out ofcamp.Edouard winced and groaned. "Oh! don't call her by such a name.
There is some mystery. She loved me once. There must have beensome strange seduction.""Now you deceive yourself," said Raynal. "I never saw a girl thatcould take her own part better than she can; she is not like hersister at all in character. Not that I excuse him; it was adishonorable act, an ungrateful act to my wife and my mother.""And to you.""Now listen to me: in four days I shall stand before him. I shallnot go into a pet like you; I am in earnest. I shall just say tohim, 'Dujardin, I know all!' Then if he is guilty his face willshow it directly. Then I shall say, 'Comrade, you must marry herwhom you have dishonored.'""He will not. He is a libertine, a rascal.""You are speaking of a man you don't know. He WILL marry her andrepair the wrong he has done.""Suppose he refuses?""Why should he refuse? The girl is not ugly nor old, and if she hasdone a folly, he was her partner in it.""But SUPPOSE he refuses?"Raynal ground his teeth. "Refuse? If he does, I'll run my swordthrough his carcass then and there, and the hussy shall go into aconvent."Chapter 21