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- WHITE LIES - 30/77 -
Camille stood aghast, and did not follow her.
Now ere she had gone many steps who should meet her right in front but Jacintha.
"Madame Raynal, the baroness's carriage is just in sight. I thought you'd like to know." Then she bawled proudly to Rose, "I was the first to call her madame;" and off went Jacintha convinced she had done something very clever.
This blow turned those three to stone.
Josephine had no longer the power or the wish to fly. "Better so," she thought, and she stood cowering.
The great passions that had spoken so loud were struck dumb, and a deep silence fell upon the place. Madame Raynal's quivering eye turned slowly and askant towards Camille, but stopped in terror ere it could see him. For she knew by this fearful stillness that the truth was creeping on Camille. And so did Rose.
At last Camille spoke one word in a low whisper.
"White? both in white?"
Rose came between him and Josephine, and sobbed out, "Camille, it was our doing. We drove her to it. O sir, look how afraid of you she is. Do not reproach her, if you are a man."
He waved her out of his way as if she had been some idle feather, and almost staggered up to Josephine.
"It is for you to speak, my betrothed: are you married?"
The poor creature, true to her nature, was thinking more of him than herself. Even in her despair it flashed across her, "If he knew all, he too would be wretched for life. If I let him think ill of me he may be happy one day." She cowered the picture of sorrow and tongue-tied guilt.
"Are you a wife?"
He winced and quivered as if a bullet had pierced him.
"This is how I came to be suspected; she I loved was false."
"No, no!" cried Rose; "don't believe HER: she never suspected you. We have brought her to this, we alone."
"Be silent, Rose! oh, be silent!" gasped Josephine.
"I lived for you: I would have died for you; you could not even wait for me."
A low moan, but not a word of excuse.
"What can I do for you now?"
"Forget me, Camille," said she despairingly, doggedly.
"Forget you? never, never! there is but one thing I can do to show you how I loved you: I will forgive you, and begone. Whither shall I go? whither shall I go now?"
"Camile, your words stab her."
"Let none speak but I," said Camille; "none but I have the right to speak. Poor weak angel that loved yet could not wait: I forgive you. Be happy, if you can; I bid you be hap-py."
The quiet, despairing tones died away, and with them life seemed to end to her, and hope to go out. He turned his back quickly on her. He cried hoarsely, "To the army! Back to the army, and a soldier's grave!" Then with a prodigious effort he drew himself haughtily up in marching attitude. He took three strides, erect and fiery and bold.
At the next something seemed to snap asunder in the great heart, and the worn body that heart had held up so long, rolled like a dead log upon the ground with a tremendous fall.
The baroness and Aubertin were just getting out of their carriage, when suddenly they heard shrieks of terror in the Pleasaunce. They came with quaking hearts as fast as their old limbs would carry them. They found Rose and Josephine crouched over the body of a man, an officer.
Rose was just tearing open his collar and jacket. Dard and Jacintha had run from the kitchen at the screams. Camille lay on his back, white and motionless.
The doctor was the first to come up. "Who! what is this? I seem to know his face." Then shaking his head, "Whoever it is, it is a bad case. Stand away, ladies. Let me feel his pulse."
Whilst the old man was going stiffly down on one knee, Jacintha uttered a cry of terror. "See, see! his shirt! that red streak! Ah, ah! it is getting bigger and bigger:" and she turned faint in a moment, and would have fallen but for Dard.
The doctor looked. "All the better," said he firmly. "I thought he was dead. His blood flows; then I will save him. Don't clutch me so, Josephine; don't cling to me like that. Now is the time to show your breed: not turn sick at the sight of a little blood, like that foolish creature, but help me save him."
"Take him in-doors," cried the baroness.
"Into our house, mamma?" gasped Rose; "no, no."
"What," said the baroness, "a wounded soldier who has fought for France! leave him to lie and die outside my door: what would my son say to that? He is a soldier himself."
Rose cast a hasty look at Josephine. Josephine's eyes were bent on the ground, and her hands clenched and trembling.
"Now, Jacintha, you be off," said the doctor. "I can't have cowards about him to make the others as bad. Go and stew down a piece of good beef for him. Stew it in red wine and water."
"That I will: poor thing!"
"Why, I know him," said the baroness suddenly; "it is an old acquaintance, young Dujardin: you remember, Josephine. I used to suspect him of a fancy for you, poor fellow! Why, he must have come here to see us, poor soul."
"No matter who it is; it is a man. Now, girls, have you courage, have you humanity? Then come one on each side of him and take hands beneath his back, while I lift his head and Dard his legs."
"And handle him gently whatever you do," said Dard. "I know what it is to be wounded."
These four carried the lifeless burden very slowly and gently across the Pleasaunce to the house, then with more difficulty and caution up the stairs.
All the while the sisters' hands griped one another tight beneath the lifeless burden, and spoke to one another. And Josephine's arm upheld tenderly but not weakly the hero she had struck down. She avoided Rose's eye, her mother's, and even the doctor's: one gasping sob escaped her as she walked with head half averted, and vacant, terror-stricken eyes, and her victim on her sustaining arm.
The doctor selected the tapestried chamber for him as being most airy. Then he ordered the women out, and with Dard's help undressed the still insensible patient.
Josephine sat down on the stairs in gloomy silence, her eyes on the ground, like one waiting for her deathblow.
Rose, sick at heart, sat silent too at some distance. At last she said faintly, "Have we done well?"
"I don't know," said Josephine doggedly. Her eyes never left the ground.
"We could not let him die for want of care."
"He will not thank us. Better for him to die than live. Better for me."
At this instant Dard came running down. "Good news, mesdemoiselles, good news! the wound runs all along; it is not deep, like mine was. He has opened his eyes and shut them again. The dear good doctor stopped the blood in a twinkle. The doctor says he'll be bound to save him. I must run and tell Jacintha. She is taking on in the kitchen."
Josephine, who had risen eagerly from her despairing posture, clasped her hands together, then lifted up her voice and wept. "He will live! he will live!"
When she had wept a long while, she said to Rose, "Come, sister, help your poor Josephine."
"Yes, love, what shall we do?"
"My duty," faltered Josephine. "An hour ago it seemed so sweet," and she fell to weeping patiently again. They went to Josephine's room. She crept slowly to a wardrobe, and took out a gray silk dress.
"Oh, never mind for to-day," cried Rose.
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