Then, after a struggle, she replied with a tone and manner sospiteful and icy that it would have deceived even us who know herhad we heard it. "He has plenty of nurses without me." She added,almost violently, "My husband, if he were wounded, would ncardano news in marchot have somany, perhaps not have one."With this she rose and went out, leaving them aghast. She sat downin the passage on a window-seat, and laughed hysterically. Roseheard her and ran to her. Josephine told her what her mother hadsaid to her. Rose soothed her. "Never mind, you have your sisterwho understands you: don't you go back till they have got some othertopic."Rose out of curiosity went in, and found a discussion going on. Thedoctor was fathoming Josephine, for the benefit of his companion.
But Mr. Weeks soon found that he could not carry out his summary measures. The widow was bent on negotiations and binding agreements. In a stiff, cramped hand, she wrote to Holcroft in regard to the amount of "salary" he would be willing to pay, intimating that one burdened with such responsibilities as she was expected to assume "ort to be compensiated proposhundly."xrp price live tickerWeeks groaned as he dispatched his son on horseback with this first epistle, and Holcroft groaned as he read it, not on account of its marvelous spelling and construction, but by reason of the vista of perplexities and trouble it opened to his boding mind. But he named on half a sheet of paper as large a sum as he felt it possible to pay and leave any chance for himself, then affixed his signature and sent it back by the messenger.
The widow Mumpson wished to talk over this first point between the high contracting powers indefinitely, but Mr. Weeks remarked cynically, "It's double what I thought he'd offer, and you're lucky to have it in black and white. Now that everything's settled, Timothy will hitch up and take you and Jane up there at once.But Mrs. Mumpson now began to insist upon writing another letter in regard to her domestic status and that of her child. They could not think of being looked upon as servants. She also wished to be assured that a girl would be hired to help her, that she should have all the church privileges to which she had been accustomed and the right to visit and entertain her friends, which meant every farmer's wife and all the maiden sisters in Oakville. "And then," she continued, "there are always little perquisites which a housekeeper has a right to look for--" Mr. Weeks irritably put a period to this phase of diplomacy by saying, "Well, well, Cynthy, the stage will be along in a couple of hours. We'll put you and your things aboard, and you can go on with what you call your negotiations at Cousin Abiram's. I can tell you one thing though--if you write any such letter to Holcroft, you'll never hear from him again."Compelled to give up all these preliminaries, but inwardly resolving to gain each point by a nagging persistence of which she was a mistress, she finally declared that she "must have writings about one thing which couldn't be left to any man's changeful mind. He must agree to give me the monthly salary he names for at least a year."Weeks thought a moment, and then, with a shrewd twinkle in his eyes, admitted, "It would be a good thing to have Holcroft's name to such an agreement. Yes, you might try that on, but you're taking a risk. If you were not so penny-wise and pound-foolish, you'd go at once and manage to get him to take you for 'better or worse.'""You--misjudge me, Cousin Lemuel," replied the widow, bridling and rocking violently. If there's any such taking to be done, he must get me to take him."
"Well, well, write your letter about a year's engagement. That'll settle you for a twelvemonth, at least."Mrs. Mumpson again began the slow, laborious construction of a letter in which she dwelt upon the uncertainties of life, her "duty to her offspring," and the evils of "vicissitude." "A stable home is woman's chief desire," she concluded, "and you will surely agree to pay me the salary you have said for a year."She shrieked with sudden violence, "Dead! ah, pity! the glass! thecomposing draught." She stretched her hands out wildly. Raynal,with a face full of concern, ran to the table, and got the glass.
She crawled on her knees to meet it; he brought it quickly to herhand."There, my poor soul!"Even as their hands met, Rose threw herself on the cup, and snatchedit with fury from them both. She was white as ashes, and her eyes,supernaturally large, glared on Raynal with terror. "Madman!" shecried, "would you kill her?"He glared back on her: what did this mean? Their eyes were fixed oneach other like combatants for life and death; they did not see thatthe room was filling with people, that the doctor was only on theother side of the table, and that the baroness and Edouard were atthe door, and all looking wonderstruck at this strange sight--Josephine on her knees, and those two facing each other, white, withdilating eyes, the glass between them.But what was that to the horror, when the next moment the patientJosephine started to her feet, and, standing in the midst, tore herhair by handfuls, out of her head."Ah, you snatch the kind poison from me!""Poison!""Poison!""Poison!" cried the others, horror-stricken.
"Ah! you won't let me die. Curse you all! curse you! I never hadmy own way in anything. I was always a slave and a fool. I havemurdered the man I love--I love. Yes, my husband, do you hear? theman I love.""Hush! daughter, respect my gray hairs.""Your gray hairs! You are not so old in years as I am in agony. Sothis is your love, Rose! Ah, you won't let me die--won't you? THENI'LL DO WORSE--I'LL TELL.""He who is dead; you have murdered him amongst you, and I'll followhim in spite of you all--he was my betrothed. He struggled wounded,bleeding, to my feet. He found me married. News came of myhusband's death; I married my betrothed.""Married him!" exclaimed the baroness."Ah, my poor mother. And she kissed me so kindly just now--she willkiss me no more. Oh, I am not ashamed of marrying him. I am onlyashamed of the cowardice that dared not do it in face of all theworld. We had scarce been happy a fortnight, when a letter camefrom Colonel Raynal. He was alive. I drove my true husband away,wretch that I was. None but bad women have an atom of sense. Itried to do my duty to my legal husband. He was my benefactor. Ithought it was my duty. Was it? I don't know: I have lost thesense of right and wrong. I turned from a living creature to a lie.
He who had scattered benefits on me and all this house; he whom itwas too little to love; he ought to have been adored: this man camehere one night to wife proud, joyous, and warm-hearted. He found acradle, and two women watching it. Now Edouard, now MONSIEUR, doyou see that life is IMPOSSIBLE to me? One bravely accused herself:she was innocent. One swooned away like a guilty coward."Edouard uttered an exclamation."Yes, Edouard, you shall not be miserable like me; she was guilty.You do not understand me yet, my poor mother--and she was so happythis morning--I was the liar, the coward, the double-faced wife, themiserable mother that denied her child. Now will you let me die?
Now do you see that I can't and won't live upon shame and despair?Ah, Monsieur Raynal, my dear friend, you were always generous: youwill pity and kill me. I have dishonored the name you gave me tokeep: I am neither Beaurepaire nor Raynal. Do pray kill me,monsieur--Jean, do pray release me from my life!"And she crawled to his knees and embraced them, and kissed his hand,and pleaded more piteously for death, than others have begged forlife.Raynal stood like a rock: he was pale, and drew his breath audibly,but not a word. Then came a sight scarce less terrible thanJosephine's despair. The baroness, looking and moving twenty yearsolder than an hour before, tottered across the room to Raynal."Sir, you whom I have called my son, but whom I will never presumeso to call again, I thought I had lived long enough never to have toblush again. I loved you, monsieur. I prayed every day for you.
But she who WAS my daughter was not of my mind. Monsieur, I havenever knelt but to God and to my king, and I kneel to you: forgiveus, sir, forgive us!"She tried to go down on her knees. He raised her with his strongarm, but he could not speak. She turned on the others."So this is the secret you were hiding from me! This secret has notkilled you all. Oh! I shall not live under its shame so long as youhave. Chateau of Beaurepaire--nest of treason, ingratitude, andimmodesty--I loathe you as much as once I loved you. I will go andhide my head, and die elsewhere.""Stay, madame!" said he, in a voice whose depth and dignity was suchthat it seemed impossible to disobey it. "It was sudden--I wasshaken--but I am myself again.""Oh, show some pity!" cried Rose.
"I shall try to be just."There was a long, trembling silence; and during that silence andterrible agitation, one figure stood firm among those quaking,beating hearts, like a rock with the waves breaking round it--theMAN OF PRINCIPLE among the creatures of impulse.He raised Josephine from her knees, and placed her all limp andpowerless in an arm-chair. To her frenzy had now succeeded asickness and feebleness like unto death.
"Widow Dujardin," said he, in a broken voice, "listen to me."She moaned a sort of assent."Your mistake has been not trusting me. I was your friend, and nota selfish friend. I was not enough in love with you to destroy yourhappiness. Besides, I despise that sort of love. If you had toldme all, I would have spared you this misery. By the present law,civil contracts of marriage can be dissolved by mutual consent."At this the baroness uttered some sign of surprise."Ah!" continued Raynal, sadly, "you are aristocrats, and cannot keeppace with the times. This very day our mere contract shall beformally dissolved. Indeed, it ceases to exist since both partiesare resolved to withdraw from it. So, if you married Dujardin in achurch, you are Madame Dujardin at this moment, and his child islegitimate. What does she say?"This question was to Rose, for what Josephine uttered sounded like amere articulate moan. But Rose's quick ear had caught words, andshe replied, all in tears, "My poor sister is blessing you, sir. Weall bless you.""She does not understand my position," said Raynal. He then walkedup to Josephine, and leaning over her arm, and speaking rather loud,under the impression that her senses were blunted by grief, he said,"Look here: Colonel Dujardin, your husband, deliberately, and withhis eyes open, sacrificed his life for me, and for his own heroicsense of honor. Now, it is my turn. If that hero stood here, andasked me for all the blood in my body, I would give it him. He isgone; but, dying for me, he has left me his widow and his child;they remain under my wing. To protect them is my pride, and my onlyconsolation. I am going to the mayor to annul our unlucky contractin due form, and make us brother and sister instead. But," turningto the baroness, "don't you think to escape me as your daughter hasdone: no, no, old lady, once a mother, always a mother. Stir fromyour son's home if you dare!"And with these words, in speaking which his voice had recovered itsiron firmness, he strode out at the door, superb in manhood andprinciple, and every eye turned with wonder and admiration afterhim. Even when he was gone they gazed at the door by which acreature so strangely noble had disappeared.The baroness was about to follow him without taking any notice ofJosephine. But Rose caught her by the gown. "O mother, speak topoor Josephine: bid her live."The baroness only made a gesture of horror and disgust, and turnedher back on them both.Josephine, who had tottered up from her seat at Rose's words, sankheavily down again, and murmured, "Ah! the grave holds all that loveme now."Rose ran to her side. "Cruel Josephine! what, do not I love you?Mother, will you not help me persuade her to live? Oh! if she dies,I will die too; you will kill both your children."Stern and indignant as the baroness was, yet these words pierced herheart. She turned with a piteous, half apologetic air to Edouardand Aubertin. "Gentlemen," said she, "she has been foolish, notguilty. Heaven pardons the best of us. Surely a mother may forgiveher child." And with this nature conquered utterly; and she heldout her arms, wide, wide, as is a mother's heart. Her two erringchildren rushed sobbing violently into them; and there was not a dryeye in the room for a long time.
After this, Josephine's heart almost ceased to beat. Fear andmisgivings, and the heavy sense of deceit gnawing an honorableheart, were gone. Grief reigned alone in the pale, listless,bereaved widow.The marriage was annulled before the mayor; and, three daysafterwards, Raynal, by his influence, got the consummated marriageformally allowed in Paris.
With a delicacy for which one would hardly have given him credit, henever came near Beaurepaire till all this was settled; but hebrought the document from Paris that made Josephine the widowDujardin, and her boy the heir of Beaurepaire; and the moment shewas really Madame Dujardin he avoided her no longer; and he became acomfort to her instead of a terror.The dissolution of the marriage was a great tie between them. Somuch that, seeing how much she looked up to Raynal, the doctor saidone day to the baroness, "If I know anything of human nature, theywill marry again, provided none of you give her a hint which way herheart is turning."They, who have habituated themselves to live for others, can sufferas well as do great things. Josephine kept alive. A passion suchas hers, in a selfish nature, must have killed her.
Even as it was, she often said, "It is hard to live."Then they used to talk to her of her boy. Would she leave him--Camille's boy--without a mother? And these words were never spokento her quite in vain.Her mother forgave her entirely, and loved her as before. Who couldbe angry with her long? The air was no longer heavy with lies.
Wretched as she was, she breathed lighter. Joy and hope were gone.Sorrowful peace was coming. When the heart comes to this, nothingbut Time can cure; but what will not Time do? What wounds have Iseen him heal! His cures are incredible.The little party sat one day, peaceful, but silent and sad, in thePleasaunce, under the great oak.Two soldiers came to the gate. They walked feebly, for one waslame, and leaned upon the other, who was pale and weak, and leanedupon a stick.
"Soldiers," said Raynal, "and invalided.""Give them food and wine," said Josephine.Rose went towards them; but she had scarcely taken three steps ereshe cried out,--"It is Dard! it is poor Dard! Come in, Dard, come in."Dard limped towards them, leaning upon Sergeant La Croix. A bit ofDard's heel had been shot away, and of La Croix's head.
Rose ran to the kitchen."Jacintha, bring out a table into the Pleasaunce, and something fortwo guests to eat."The soldiers came slowly to the Pleasaunce, and were welcomed, andinvited to sit down, and received with respect; for France even inthat day honored the humblest of her brave.
Soon Jacintha came out with a little round table in her hands, andaffected a composure which was belied by her shaking hands and herglowing cheek.After a few words of homely welcome--not eloquent, but very sincere--she went off again with her apron to her eyes. She reappeared withthe good cheer, and served the poor fellows with radiant zeal.
"What regiment?" asked Raynal.Dard was about to answer, but his superior stopped him severely;then, rising with his hand to his forehead, he replied, with pride,"Twenty-fourth brigade, second company. We were cut up atPhilipsburg, and incorporated with the 12th."Raynal instantly regretted his question; for Josephine's eye fixedon Sergeant La Croix with an expression words cannot paint. Yet sheshowed more composure, real or forced, than he expected."Heaven sends him," said she. "My friend, tell me, were you--ah!"Colonel Raynal interfered hastily. "Think what you do. He can tellyou nothing but what we know, not so much, in fact, as we know; for,now I look at him, I think this is the very sergeant we found lyinginsensible under the bastion. He must have been struck before thebastion was taken even.""I was, colonel, I was. I remember nothing but losing my senses,and feeling the colors go out of my hand.""There, you see, he knows nothing," said Raynal."It was hot work, colonel, under that bastion, but it was hotter tothe poor fellows that got in. I heard all about it from PrivateDard here.""So, then, it was you who carried the colors?""Yes, I was struck down with the colors of the brigade in my hand,"cried La Croix.
"See how people blunder about, everything; they told me the colonelcarried the colors.""Why, of course he did. You don't think our colonel, the fightingcolonel, would let me hold the colors of the brigade so long as hewas alive. No; he was struck by a Prussian bullet, and he had justtime to hand the colors to me, and point with his sword to thebastion, and down he went. It was hot work, I can tell you. I didnot hold them long, not thirty seconds, and if we could know theirhistory, they passed through more hands than that before they got tothe Prussian flag-staff."Raynal suddenly rose, and walked rapidly to and fro, with his handsbehind him."Poor colonel!" continued La Croix. "Well, I love to think he diedlike a soldier, and not like some of my poor comrades, hashed toatoms, and not a volley fired over him. I hope they put a stoneover him, for he was the best soldier and the best general in thearmy.""O sir!" cried Josephine, "there is no stone even to mark the spotwhere he fell," and she sobbed despairingly.
"Why, how is this, Private Dard?" inquired La Croix, sternly.Dard apologized for his comrade, and touching his own headsignificantly told them that since his wound the sergeant's memorywas defective.
"Now, sergeant, didn't I tell you the colonel must have got thebetter of his wound, and got into the battery?""It's false, Private Dard; don't I know our colonel better thanthat? Would ever he have let those colors out of his hand, if therehad been an ounce of life left in him?""He died at the foot of the battery, I tell you.""Then why didn't we find him?"Here Jacintha put in a word with the quiet subdued meaning of herclass. "I can't find that anybody ever saw the colonel dead.""They did not find him, because they did not look for him," saidSergeant La Croix."God forgive you, sergeant!" said Dard, with some feeling. "Notlook for OUR COLONEL! We turned over every body that lay there,--full thirty there were,--and you were one of them.""Only thirty! Why, we settled more Prussians than that, I'llswear.""Oh! they carried off their dead.""Ay! but I don't see why they should carry our colonel off. Hisepaulets was all the thieves could do any good with. Stop! yet Ido, Private Dard; I have a horrible suspicion. No, I have not; itis a certainty. What! don't you see, ye ninny? Thunder andthousands of devils, here's a disgrace. Dogs of Prussians! theyhave got our colonel, they have taken him prisoner.""O God bless them!" cried Josephine; "O God bless the mouth thattells me so! O sir, I am his wife, his poor heart-broken wife. Youwould not be so cruel as to mock my despair. Say again that he maybe alive, pray, say it again!""His wife! Private Dard, why didn't you tell me? You tell menothing. Yes, my pretty lady, I'll say it again, and I'll prove it.