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- WHITE LIES - 70/77 -
not come for days to the chateau. He saw the doctor coming and bade the servant say he was not in the village.
He drew down the blind, that he might never see the chateau again. He drew it up again: he could not exist without seeing it. "She will be miserable, too," he cried, gnashing his teeth. "She will see whether she has chosen well." At other times, all his courage, and his hatred, and his wounded vanity, were drowned in his love and its despair, and then he bowed his head, and sobbed and cried as if his heart would burst. One morning he was so sobbing with his head on the table, when his landlady tapped at his door. He started up and turned his head away from the door.
"A young woman from Beaurepaire, monsieur."
"From Beaurepaire?" his heart gave a furious leap. "Show her in."
He wiped his eyes and seated himself at a table, and, all in a flutter, pretended to be the state's.
It was not Jacintha, as he expected, but the other servant. She made a low reverence, cast a look of admiration on him, and gave him a letter. His eye darted on it: his hand trembled as he took it. He turned away again to open it. He forced himself to say, in a tolerably calm voice, "I will send an answer."
The letter was apparently from the baroness de Beaurepaire; a mere line inviting him to pay her a visit. It was written in a tremulous hand. Edouard examined the writing, and saw directly it was written by Rose.
Being now, naturally enough, full of suspicion, he set this down as an attempt to disguise her hand. "So," said he, to himself, "this is the game. The old woman is to be drawn into it, too. She is to help to make Georges Dandin of me. I will go. I will baffle them all. I will expose this nest of depravity, all ceremony on the surface, and voluptuousness and treachery below. O God! who could believe that creature never loved me! They shall none of them see my weakness. Their benefactor shall be still their superior. They shall see me cold as ice, and bitter as gall."
But to follow him farther just now, would be to run too far in advance of the main story. I must, therefore, return to Beaurepaire, and show, amongst other things, how this very letter came to be written.
When Josephine and Rose awoke from that startled slumber that followed the exhaustion of that troubled night, Rose was the more wretched of the two. She had not only dishonored herself, but stabbed the man she loved.
Josephine, on the other hand, was exhausted, but calm. The fearful escape she had had softened down by contrast her more distant terrors.
She began to shut her eyes again, and let herself drift. Above all, the doctor's promise comforted her: that she should go to Paris with him, and have her boy.
This deceitful calm of the heart lasted three days.
Carefully encouraged by Rose, it was destroyed by Jacintha.
Jacintha, conscious that she had betrayed her trust, was almost heart-broken. She was ashamed to appear before her young mistress, and, coward-like, wanted to avoid knowing even how much harm she had done.
She pretended toothache, bound up her face, and never stirred from the kitchen. But she was not to escape: the other servant came down with a message: "Madame Raynal wanted to see her directly."
She came quaking, and found Josephine all alone.
Josephine rose to meet her, and casting a furtive glance round the room first, threw her arms round Jacintha's neck, and embraced her with many tears.
"Was ever fidelity like yours? how COULD you do it, Jacintha? and how can I ever repay it? But, no; it is too base of me to accept such a sacrifice from any woman."
Jacintha was so confounded she did not know what to say. But it was a mystification that could not endure long between two women, who were both deceived by a third. Between them they soon discovered that it must have been Rose who had sacrificed herself.
"And Edouard has never been here since," said Josephine.
"And never will, madame."
"Yes, he shall! there must be some limit even to my feebleness, and my sister's devotion. You shall take a line to him from me. I will write it this moment."
The letter was written. But it was never sent. Rose found Josephine and Jacintha together; saw a letter was being written, asked to see it; on Josephine's hesitating, snatched it out of her hand, read it, tore it to pieces, and told Jacintha to leave the room. She hated the sight of poor Jacintha, who had slept at the very moment when all depended on her watchfulness.
"So you were going to send to HIM, unknown to me."
"Forgive me, Rose." Rose burst out crying.
"O Josephine! is it come to this? Would you deceive ME?"
"You have deceived ME! Yes! it has come to that. I know all. Twill not consent to destroy ALL I love."
She then begged hard for leave to send the letter.
Rose gave an impetuous refusal. "What could you say to him? foolish thing, don't you know him, and his vanity? When you had exposed yourself to him, and showed him I had insulted him for you, do you think he would forgive me? No! this is to make light of my love--to make me waste the sacrifice I have made. I feel that sacrifice as much as you do, more perhaps, and I would rather die in a convent than waste that night of shame and agony. Come, promise me, no more attempts of that kind, or we are sisters no more, friends no more, one heart and one blood no more."
The weaker nature, weakened still more by ill-health and grief, was terrified into submission, or rather temporized. "Kiss me then," said Josephine, "and love me to the end. Ah, if I was only in my grave!"
Rose kissed her with many sighs, but Josephine smiled. Rose eyed her with suspicion. That deep smile; what did it mean? She had formed some resolution. "She is going to deceive me somehow," thought Rose.
From that day she watched Josephine like a spy. Confidence was gone between them. Suspicion took its place.
Rose was right in her misgivings. The moment Josephine saw that Edouard's happiness and Rose's were to be sacrificed for her whom nothing could make happy, the poor thing said to herself, "I CAN DIE."
And that was the happy thought that made her smile.
The doctor gave her laudanum: he found she could not sleep: and he thought it all-important that she should sleep.
Josephine, instead of taking these small doses, saved them all up, secreted them in a phial, and so, from the sleep of a dozen nights, collected the sleep of death: and now she was tranquil. This young creature that could not bear to give pain to any one else, prepared her own death with a calm resolution the heroes of our sex have not often equalled. It was so little a thing to her to strike Josephine. Death would save her honor, would spare her the frightful alternative of deceiving her husband, or of telling him she was another's. "Poor Raynal," said she to herself, "it is so cruel to tie him to a woman who can never be to him what he deserves. Rose would then prove her innocence to Edouard. A few tears for a weak, loving soul, and they would all be happy and forget her."
One day the baroness, finding herself alone with Rose and Dr. Aubertin, asked the latter what he thought of Josephine's state.
"Oh, she was better: had slept last night without her usual narcotic."
The baroness laid down her knitting and said, with much meaning, "And I tell you, you will never cure her body till you can cure her mind. My poor child has some secret sorrow."
"Sorrow!" said Aubertin, stoutly concealing the uneasiness these words created, "what sorrow?"
"Oh, she has some deep sorrow. And so have you, Rose."
"Me, mamma! what DO you mean?"
The baroness's pale cheek flushed a little. "I mean," said she, "that my patience is worn out at last; I cannot live surrounded by secrets. Raynal's gloomy looks when he left us, after staying but one hour; Josephine ill from that day, and bursting into tears at every word; yourself pale and changed, hiding an unaccountable sadness under forced smiles-- Now, don't interrupt me. Edouard, who was almost like a son, gone off, without a word, and never comes near us now."
"Really you are ingenious in tormenting yourself. Josephine is ill! Well, is it so very strange? Have you never been ill? Rose is pale! you ARE pale, my dear; but she has nursed her sister for a month; is it a wonder she has lost color? Edouard is gone a journey, to inherit his uncle's property: a million francs. But don't you go and fall ill, like Josephine; turn pale, like Rose; and make journeys in the region of fancy, after Edouard Riviere, who is tramping along on the vulgar high road."
This tirade came from Aubertin, and very clever he thought himself. But he had to do with a shrewd old lady, whose suspicions had long smouldered; and now burst out. She said quietly, "Oh, then Edouard
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