Josephine was much disconcerted, and showed a disposition cardano chain densityto cryagain. The servant, a good-natured girl, nosed a wedding, andoffered to run and bring his reverence in a minute.
And now, Monsieur Riviere, you will permit us to bid you adieu."Edouard was obligedethereum classic weekly forecast to take the hint. "It is I who am theintruder," said he. "Mesdemoiselles, conceive, if you can, my prideand my disappointment." He then bowed low; they courtesied low tohim in return; and he retired slowly in a state of mixed feelingindescribable.With all their sweetness and graciousness, he felt overpowered bytheir high breeding, their reserve, and their composure, in asituation that had set his heart beating itself nearly out of hisbosom. He acted the scene over again, only much more adroitly, andconcocted speeches for past use, and was very hot and very cold byturns.
I wish he could have heard what passed between the sisters as soonas ever he was out of earshot. It would have opened his eyes, andgiven him a little peep into what certain writers call "the sex.""Poor boy," murmured Josephine, "he has gone away unhappy.""Oh, I dare say he hasn't gone far," replied Rose, gayly. "Ishouldn't if I was a boy."Josephine held up her finger like an elder sister; then went on tosay she really hardly knew why she had dismissed him."Well, dear," said Rose, dryly, "since you admit so much, I must sayI couldn't help thinking--while you were doing it--we were letting'the poor boy' off ridiculously cheap.""At least I did my duty?" suggested Josephine, inquiringly."Magnificently; you overawed even me. So now to business, as thegentlemen say. Which of us two takes him?""Takes whom?" inquired Josephine, opening her lovely eyes."Edouard," murmured Rose, lowering hers.Josephine glared on the lovely minx with wonder and comical horror.
"Oh! you shall have him," said Rose, "if you like. You are theeldest, you know.""Fie!""Do now; TO OBLIGE ME.""For shame! Rose. Is this you? talking like that!""Oh! there's no compulsion, dear; I never force young ladies'inclinations. So you decline him?""Of course I decline him.""Then, oh, you dear, darling Josephine, this is the prettiestpresent you ever made me," and she kissed her vehemently.But, at the same moment, the mouth of this face suddenly opened in along-drawn breath. At this, Josephine uttered a violent shriek, andsprang to her feet, with her right hand quivering and pointing atthat pale face set in the dark.
Rose started up, and, wheeling her head round, saw Raynal's gloomyface looking over her shoulder. She fell screaming upon her knees,and, almost out of her senses, began to pray wildly and piteouslyfor mercy.Josephine uttered one more cry, but this was the faint cry ofnature, sinking under the shock of terror. She swooned dead away,and fell senseless on the floor ere Raynal could debarrass himselfof the screen, and get to her.This, then, was the scene that met Edouard's eyes. His affiancedbride on her knees, white as a ghost, trembling, and screaming,rather than crying, for mercy. And Raynal standing over his wife,showing by the working of his iron features that he doubted whethershe was worthy he should raise her.One would have thought nothing could add to the terror of thisscene. Yet it was added to. The baroness rang her bell violentlyin the room below. She had heard Josephine's scream and fall.
At the ringing of this shrill bell Rose shuddered like a maniac, andgrovelled on her knees to Raynal, and seized his very knees andimplored him to show some pity."O sir! kill us! we are culpable"--Dring! dring! dring! dring! dring! pealed the baroness's bell again.
"But do not tell our mother. Oh, if you are a man! do not! do not!Show us some pity. We are but women. Mercy! mercy! mercy!""Speak out then," groaned Raynal. "What does this mean? Why has mywife swooned at sight of me?--whose is this child?""Whose?" stammered Rose. Till he said that, she never thought thereCOULD be a doubt whose child.Dring! dring! dring! dring! dring!"Oh, my God!" cried the poor girl, and her scared eyes glanced everyway like some wild creature looking for a hole, however small, toescape by.
Edouard, seeing her hesitation, came down on her other side. "Whoseis the child, Rose?" said he sternly."You, too? Why were we born? mercy! oh! pray let me go to mysister."Dring! dring! dring! dring! dring! went the terrible bell.The men were excited to fury by Rose's hesitation; they each seizedan arm, and tore her screaming with fear at their violence, from herknees up to her feet between them with a single gesture."Whose is the child?""You hurt me!" said she bitterly to Edouard, and she left crying andwas terribly calm and sullen all in a moment.
"Whose is the child?" roared Edouard and Raynal, in one ragingbreath. "Whose is the child?""It is mine."Chapter 20
These were not words; they were electric shocks.The two arms that gripped Rose's arms were paralyzed, and droppedoff them; and there was silence.
Then first the thought of all she had done with those three wordsbegan to rise and grow and surge over her. She stood, her eyesturned downwards, yet inwards, and dilating with horror.Silence.Now a mist began to spread over her eyes, and in it she sawindistinctly the figure of Raynal darting to her sister's side, andraising her head.She dared not look round on the other side. She heard feet staggeron the floor. She heard a groan, too; but not a word.Horrible silence.With nerves strung to frenzy, and quivering ears, that magnifiedevery sound, she waited for a reproach, a curse; either would havebeen some little relief. But no! a silence far more terrible.
Then a step wavered across the room. Her soul was in her ear. Shecould hear and feel the step totter, and it shook her as it went.All sounds were trebled to her. Then it struck on the stone step ofthe staircase, not like a step, but a knell; another step, anotherand another; down to the very bottom. Each slow step made her headring and her heart freeze.
At last she heard no more. Then a scream of anguish and recall roseto her lips. She fought it down, for Josephine and Raynal. Edouardwas gone. She had but her sister now, the sister she loved betterthan herself; the sister to save whose life and honor she had thismoment sacrificed her own, and all a woman lives for.She turned, with a wild cry of love and pity, to that sister's sideto help her; and when she kneeled down beside her, an iron arm waspromptly thrust out between the beloved one and her.
"This is my care, madame," said Raynal, coldly.There was no mistaking his manner. The stained one was not to touchhis wife.
She looked at him in piteous amazement at his ingratitude. "It iswell," said she. "It is just. I deserve this from you."She said no more, but drooped gently down beside the cradle, and hidher forehead in the clothes beside the child that had brought allthis woe, and sobbed bitterly.Then honest Raynal began to be sorry for her, in spite of himself.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.