"Edouard," said she, "can you get up early in the morning? eth address on bscIf youcan, meet me here to-morrow before any of them are up; then we cantalk without interruption."Edouard was delighted.
"Oh, how do you do, Mr. Ho@polkadot/api-contractlcroft?" cried the widow, bursting in and rushing forward with extended hand.The farmer turned away and looked as if made of stone.
Changing her tactics instantly, she put her handkerchief to her eyes and moaned, "You never can have the heart to say I can't come and see my child. I've signed writings, 'tis true, under threats and compulsions; but I trust there will be relentings--""There won't be one relent!" cried Jane. "I never want to see you again, and a blind post could see that he doesn't.""Jane," said Holcroft sternly, "don't speak so again. If strangers can be kind and patient with you, you can be so with your mother. She has no claims on me and has said things which make it impossible for me to speak to her again, but I shall insist on your visiting and treating her kindly. Goodbye, Watterly. You've proved yourself a friend again," and he went rapidly away, followed by Jane.Mrs. Mumpson was so taken aback by Holcroft's final words and Watterly's stern manner as he said, "This is my office," that for once in her life she disappeared silently.Holcroft soon purchased the articles on his list, meanwhile racking his brains to think of something that he could buy for Alida, but the fear of being thought sentimental and of appearing to seek a personal regard for himself, not "nominated in the bond," restrained him.
On his way home he was again sunk in deep abstraction, but the bitterness of his feeling had passed away. Although as mistaken as before in his apprehension of Alida, his thoughts were kinder and juster. "I've no right to find fault or complain," he said to himself. "She's done all I asked and better than she agreed, and there's no one to blame if she can't do more. It must have been plain enough to her at first that I didn't want anything but a housekeeper--a quiet, friendly body that would look after the house and dairy, and she's done better than I even hoped. That's just the trouble; she's turned out so different from what I expected, and looks so different from what she did, that I'm just sort of carried away. I'd give half the farm if she was sitting by my side this June evening and I could tell her all I feel and know she was glad. I must be just and fair to her. I asked her to agree to one thing and now I'm beginning to want a tremendous sight more--I want her to like not only her home and work and the quiet life she so longed for, but I want her to like me, to enjoy my society, not only in a friendly, businesslike way, but in another way--yes, confound my slow wits! Somewhat as if she was my wife in reality and not merely in name, as I insisted. It's mighty mean business in me, who have been so proud of standing up to my agreements and so exacting of others to do the same. I went away cold and stiff this afternoon because she wasn't silly and sentimental when I was. I'm to her an unpolished, homely, middle-aged man, and yet I sort of scoffed at the self-sacrifice which has led her to be pleasant and companionable in every way that her feelings allowed. I wish I were younger and better looking, so it wouldn't all be a sense of duty and gratitude. Gratitude be hanged! I don't want any more of it. Well, now, James Holcroft, if you're the square man you supposed yourself to be, you'll be just as kind and considerate as you know how, and then you'll leave Alida to the quiet, peaceful life to which she looked forward when she married you. The thing for you to do is to go back to your first ways after you were married and attend to the farm. She doesn't want you hanging around and looking at her as if she was one of her own posies. That's something she wasn't led to expect and it would be mean enough to force it upon her before she shows that she wishes it, and I couldn't complain if she NEVER wished it."During the first hour after Holcroft's departure Alida had been perplexed and worried, but her intuitions soon led to hopefulness, and the beauty and peace of nature without aided in restoring her serenity. The more minutely she dwelt on Holcroft's words and manner, the more true it seemed that he was learning to take an interest in her that was personal and apart from every other consideration. "If I am gentle, patient, and faithful," she thought, "all will come out right. He is so true and straightforward that I need have no fears."But the doctor leaned over the table to her, and said in a cautiousand most emphatic whisper, "We will talk about YOUR CHILD."The work dropped from Josephine's hands: she turned her face wildlyon Aubertin, and faltered out, "M--my child?""My words are plain," replied he gravely. "YOUR CHILD."When the doctor repeated these words, when Josephine looking in hisface saw he spoke from knowledge, however acquired, and not fromguess, she glided down slowly off the sofa and clasped his knees ashe stood before her, and hid her face in an agony of shame andterror on his knees.
"Forgive me," she sobbed. "Pray do not expose me! Do not destroyme.""Unhappy young lady," said he, "did you think you had deceived me,or that you are fit to deceive any but the blind? Your face, youranguish after Colonel Dujardin's departure, your languor, and thenyour sudden robustness, your appetite, your caprices, your strangesojourn at Frejus, your changed looks and loss of health on yourreturn! Josephine, your old friend has passed many an hour thinkingof you, divining your folly, following your trouble step by step.Yet you never invited him to aid you."Josephine faltered out a lame excuse. If she had revered him lessshe could have borne to confess to him. She added it would be arelief to her to confide in him."Then tell me all," said he.She consented almost eagerly, and told him--nearly all. The old manwas deeply affected. He murmured in a broken voice, "Your story isthe story of your sex, self-sacrifice, first to your mother, then toCamille, now to your husband.""And he is well worthy of any sacrifice I can make," said Josephine.
"But oh, how hard it is to live!""I hope to make it less hard to you ere long," said the doctorquietly. He then congratulated himself on having forced Josephineto confide in him. "For," said he, "you never needed an experiencedfriend more than at this moment. Your mother will not always be soblind as of late. Edouard is suspicious. Jacintha is a shrewdyoung woman, and very inquisitive."Josephine was not at the end of her concealments: she was ashamed tolet him know she had made a confidant of Jacintha and not of him.She held her peace.
"Then," continued Aubertin, "there is the terrible chance ofRaynal's return. But ere I take on me to advise you, what are yourown plans?""I don't know," said Josephine helplessly."You--don't--know!" cried the doctor, looking at her in utteramazement."It is the answer of a mad woman, is it not? Doctor, I am littlebetter. My foot has slipped on the edge of a precipice. I close myeyes, and let myself glide down it. What will become of me?""All shall be well," said Aubertin, "provided you do not still lovethat man."Josephine did not immediately reply: her thoughts turned inwards.The good doctor was proceeding to congratulate her on being cured ofa fatal passion, when she stopped him with wonder in her face. "Notlove him! How can I help loving him? I was his betrothed. Iwronged him in my thoughts. War, prison, anguish, could not killhim; he loved me so. He struggled bleeding to my feet; and could Ilet him die, after all? Could I be crueller than prison, andtorture, and despair?"The doctor sighed deeply; but, arming himself with the necessaryresolution, he sternly replied, "A woman of your name cannotvacillate between love and honor; such vacillations have but oneend. I will not let you drift a moral wreck between passion andvirtue; and that is what it will come to if you hesitate now.""Hesitate! Who can say I have hesitated where my honor wasconcerned? You can read our bodies then, but not our hearts. What!
you see me so pale, forlorn, and dead, and that does not tell you Ihave bid Camille farewell forever? That we might be safer still Ihave not even told him he is a father: was ever woman so cruel as Iam? I have written him but one letter, and in that I must deceivehim. I told him I thought I might one day be happy, if I could hearthat he did not give way to despair. I told him we must never meetagain in this world. So now come what will: show me my duty and Iwill do it. This endless deceit burns my heart. Shall I tell myhusband? It will be but one pang more, one blush more for me. Butmy mother!" and, thus appealed to, Dr. Aubertin felt, for the firsttime, all the difficulty of the situation he had undertaken to cure.He hesitated, he was embarrassed."Ah," said Josephine, "you see." Then, after a short silence, shesaid despairingly, "This is my only hope: that poor Raynal will belong absent, and that ere he returns mamma will lie safe from sorrowand shame in the little chapel. Doctor, when a woman of my ageforms such wishes as these, I think you might pity her, and forgiveher ill-treatment of you, for she cannot be very happy. Ah me! ahme! ah me!""Courage, poor soul! All is now in my hands, and I will save you,"said the doctor, his voice trembling in spite of him. "Guilt liesin the intention. A more innocent woman than you does not breathe.Two courses lay open to you: to leave this house with CamilleDujardin, or to dismiss him, and live for your hard duty till itshall please Heaven to make that duty easy (no middle course wastenable for a day); of these two paths you chose the right one, and,having chosen, I really think you are not called on to reveal yourmisfortune, and make those unhappy to whose happiness you havesacrificed your own for years to come.""Forever," said Josephine quietly.
"The young use that word lightly. The old have almost ceased to useit. They have seen how few earthly things can conquer time."He resumed, "You think only of others, Josephine, but I shall thinkof you as well. I shall not allow your life to be wasted in aneedless struggle against nature." Then turning to Rose, who hadglided into the room, and stood amazed, "Her griefs were as manybefore her child was born, yet her health stood firm. Why? becausenature was on her side. Now she is sinking into the grave. Why?because she is defying nature. Nature intended her to be pressingher child to her bosom day and night; instead of that, a peasantwoman at Frejus nurses the child, and the mother pines atBeaurepaire."At this, Josephine leaned her face on her hands on the doctor'sshoulder. In this attitude she murmured to him, "I have never seenhim since I left Frejus." Dr. Aubertin sighed for her. Emboldenedby this, she announced her intention of going to Frejus the verynext day to see her little Henri. But to this Dr. Aubertindemurred. "What, another journey to Frejus?" said he, "when thefirst has already roused Edouard's suspicions; I can never consentto that."Then Josephine surprised them both. She dropped her coaxing voiceand pecked the doctor like an irritated pigeon. "Take care," saidshe, "don't be too cruel to me. You see I am obedient, resigned. Ihave given up all I lived for: but if I am never to have my littleboy's arms round me to console me, then--why torment me any longer?
Why not say to me, 'Josephine, you have offended Heaven; pray forpardon, and die'?"Then the doctor was angry in his turn. "Oh, go then," said he, "goto Frejus; you will have Edouard Riviere for a companion this time.Your first visit roused his suspicions. So before you go tell yourmother all; for since she is sure to find it out, she had betterhear it from you than from another.""Doctor, have pity on me," said Josephine.
"You have no heart," said Rose. "She shall see him though, in spiteof you.""Oh, yes! he has a heart," said Josephine: "he is my best friend.He will let me see my boy."All this, and the tearful eyes and coaxing yet trembling voice, washard to resist. But Aubertin saw clearly, and stood firm. He puthis handkerchief to his eyes a moment: then took the pining youngmother's hand. "And, do you think," said he, "I do not pity you andlove your boy? Ah! he will never want a father whilst I live; andfrom this moment he is under my care. I will go to see him; I willbring you news, and all in good time; I will place him where youshall visit him without imprudence; but, for the present, trust awiser head than yours or Rose's; and give me your sacred promise notto go to Frejus."Weighed down by his good-sense and kindness, Josephine resisted nolonger in words. She just lifted her hands in despair and began tocry. It was so piteous, Aubertin was ready to yield in turn, andconsent to any imprudence, when he met with an unexpected ally."Promise," said Rose, doggedly.Josephine looked at her calmly through her tears."Promise, dear," repeated Rose, and this time with an intonation sofine that it attracted Josephine's notice, but not the doctor's. Itwas followed by a glance equally subtle."I promise," said Josephine, with her eye fixed inquiringly on hersister.
For once she could not make the telegraph out: but she could see itwas playing, and that was enough. She did what Rose bid her; shepromised not to go to Frejus without leave.Finding her so submissive all of a sudden, he went on to suggestthat she must not go kissing every child she saw. "Edouard tells mehe saw you kissing a beggar's brat. The young rogue was going toquiz you about it at the dinner-table; luckily, he told me hisintention, and I would not let him. I said the baroness would beannoyed with you for descending from your dignity--and exposing anoble family to fleas--hush! here he is.""Tiresome!" muttered Rose, "just when"--Edouard came forward with a half-vexed face.
However, he turned it off into play. "What have you been saying toher, monsieur, to interest her so? Give me a leaf out of your book.I need it."The doctor was taken aback for a moment, but at last he said slyly,"I have been proposing to her to name the day. She says she mustconsult you before she decides that.""Oh, you wicked doctor!--and consult HIM of all people!""So be off, both of you, and don't reappear before me till it issettled."Edouard's eyes sparkled. Rose went out with a face as red as fire.
It was a balmy evening. Edouard was to leave them for a week thenext day. They were alone: Rose was determined he should go awayquite happy. Everything was in Edouard's favor: he pleaded hiscause warmly: she listened tenderly: this happy evening her piquancyand archness seemed to dissolve into tenderness as she and Edouardwalked hand in hand under the moon: a tenderness all the moreheavenly to her devoted lover, that she was not one of those angelswho cloy a man by invariable sweetness.For a little while she forgot everything but her companion. In thatsoft hour he won her to name the day, after her fashion.
"Josephine goes to Paris with the doctor in about three weeks,"murmured she."And you will stay behind, all alone?""Alone? that shall depend on you, monsieur."On this Edouard caught her for the first time in his arms.She made a faint resistance."Seal me that promise, sweet one!""No! no!--there!"He pressed a delicious first kiss upon two velvet lips that in theirinnocence scarcely shunned the sweet attack.
For all that, the bond was no sooner sealed after this fashion, thanthe lady's cheek began to burn."Suppose we go in NOW?" said she, dryly.
"Ah, not yet.""It is late, dear Edouard."And with these words something returned to her mind with its fullforce: something that Edouard had actually made her forget. Shewanted to get rid of him now."Edouard," said she, "can you get up early in the morning? If youcan, meet me here to-morrow before any of them are up; then we cantalk without interruption."Edouard was delighted.
"Eight o'clock?""Sooner if you like. Mamma bade me come and read to her in her roomto-night. She will be waiting for me. Is it not tiresome?""Yes, it is.""Well, we must not mind that, dear; in three weeks' time we are tohave too much of one another, you know, instead of too little.""Too much! I shall never have enough of you. I shall hate the nightwhich will rob me of the sight of you for so many hours in thetwenty-four.""If you can't see me, perhaps you may hear me; my tongue runs bynight as well as by day.""Well, that is a comfort," said Edouard, gravely. "Yes, littlequizzer, I would rather hear you scold than an angel sing. Judge,then, what music it is when you say you love me!""I love you, Edouard."Edouard kissed her hand warmly, and then looked irresolutely at herface."No, no!" said she, laughing and blushing. "How rude you are. Nexttime we meet.""That is a bargain. But I won't go till you say you love me again.
"Edouard, don't be silly. I am ashamed of saying the same thing sooften--I won't say it any more. What is the use? You know I loveyou. There, I HAVE said it: how stupid!""Adieu, then, my wife that is to be.""Adieu! dear Edouard.""My hus--go on--my hus--""My huswife that shall be."Then they walked very slowly towards the house, and once more Roseleft quizzing, and was all tenderness."Will you not come in, and bid them 'good-night'?""No, my own; I am in heaven. Common faces--common voices wouldbring me down to earth. Let me be alone;--your sweet words ringingin my ear. I will dilute you with nothing meaner than the stars.See how bright they shine in heaven; but not so bright as you shinein my heart.""Dear Edouard, you flatter me, you spoil me. Alas! why am I notmore worthy of your love?""More worthy! How can that be?"Rose sighed."But I will atone for all. I will make you a better--(here shesubstituted a full stop for a substantive)--than you expect. Youwill see else."She lingered at the door: a proof that if Edouard, at thatparticular moment, had seized another kiss, there would have been novery violent opposition or offence.
But he was not so impudent as some. He had been told to wait tillthe next meeting for that. He prayed Heaven to bless her, and sothe affianced lovers parted for the night.It was about nine o'clock. Edouard, instead of returning to hislodgings, started down towards the town, to conclude a bargain withthe innkeeper for an English mare he was in treaty for. He wantedher for to-morrow's work; so that decided him to make the purchase.
In purchases, as in other matters, a feather turns the balancedscale. He sauntered leisurely down. It was a very clear night; thefull moon and the stars shining silvery and vivid. Edouard's heartswelled with joy. He was loved after all, deeply loved; and inthree short weeks he was actually to be Rose's husband: her lord andmaster. How like a heavenly dream it all seemed--the first hopelesscourtship, and now the wedding fixed! But it was no dream; he felther soft words still murmur music at his heart, and the shadow ofher velvet lips slept upon his own.He had strolled about a league when he heard the ring of a horse'shoofs coming towards him, accompanied by a clanking noise; it camenearer and nearer, till it reached a hill that lay a little ahead ofEdouard; then the sounds ceased; the cavalier was walking his horseup the hill.
Presently, as if they had started from the earth, up popped betweenEdouard and the sky, first a cocked hat that seemed in that light tobe cut with a razor out of flint; then the wearer, phosphorescenthere and there; so brightly the keen moonlight played on hisepaulets and steel scabbard. A step or two nearer, and Edouard gavea great shout; it was Colonel Raynal.After the first warm greeting, and questions and answers, Raynaltold him he was on his way to the Rhine with despatches.