"One of these days," said the baroness, shocked. "You used not tobe so hard-hearted. A soldier, anshould i buy nft crypto old comrade of your husband's,wounded and sick, and you alone never go to him, to console him witha word of sympathy or encouragement."Josephine looked at her mother with a sort of incredulous stare.
"Well, well," said Mr. Weeks, laughing, "you needn't think that because I've hintron out of energyted at a good match for you I'm making one for my wife's cousin. You may see the day when you'll be more hot for it than she is. All I'm, trying to do is to help you keep your place, and live like a man ought and stop people's mouths.""If I could only fill my own and live in peace, it's all I ask. When I get to plowing and planting again I'll begin to take some comfort."
These words were quoted against Holcroft, far and near. "Filling his own mouth and making a little money are all he cares for," was the general verdict. And thus people are misunderstood. The farmer had never turned anyone hungry from his door, and he would have gone to the poorhouse rather than have acted the part of the man who misrepresented him. He had only meant to express the hope that he might be able to fill his mouth--earn his bread, and get it from his native soil. "Plowing and planting"--working where he had toiled since a child---would be a solace in itself, and not a grudged means to a sordid end.Mr. Weeks was a thrifty man also, and in nothing was he more economical than in charitable views of his neighbors' motives and conduct. He drove homeward with the complacent feeling that he had done a shrewd, good thing for himself and "his folks" at least. His wife's cousin was not exactly embraced in the latter category, although he had been so active in her behalf. The fact was, he would be at much greater pains could he attach her to Holcroft or anyone else and so prevent further periodical visits.He regarded her and her child as barnacles with such appalling adhesive powers that even his ingenuity at "crowding out" had been baffled. In justice to him, it must be admitted that Mrs. Mumpson was a type of the poor relation that would tax the long suffering of charity itself. Her husband had left her scarcely his blessing, and if he had fled to ills he knew not of, he believed that he was escaping from some of which he had a painfully distinct consciousness. His widow was one of the people who regard the "world as their oyster," and her scheme of life was to get as much as possible for nothing. Arrayed in mourning weeds, she had begun a system of periodical descents upon his relatives and her own. She might have made such visitations endurable and even welcome, but she was not shrewd enough to be sensible. She appeared to have developed only the capacity to talk, to pry, and to worry people. She was unable to rest or to permit others to rest, yet her aversion to any useful form of activity was her chief characteristic. Wherever she went she took the ground that she was "company," and with a shawl hanging over her sharp, angular shoulders, she would seize upon the most comfortable rocking chair in the house, and mouse for bits of news about everyone of whom she had ever heard. She was quite as ready to tell all she knew also, and for the sake of her budget of gossip and small scandal, her female relatives tolerated her after a fashion for a time; but she had been around so often, and her scheme of obtaining subsistence for herself and child had become so offensively apparent, that she had about exhausted the patience of all the kith and kin on whom she had the remotest claim. Her presence was all the more unwelcome by reason of the faculty for irritating the men of the various households which she invaded. Even the most phlegmatic or the best-natured lost their self-control, and as their wives declared, "felt like flying all to pieces" at her incessant rocking, gossiping, questioning, and, what was worse still, lecturing. Not the least endurable thing about Mrs. Mumpson was her peculiar phase of piety. She saw the delinquencies and duties of others with such painful distinctness that she felt compelled to speak of them; and her zeal was sure to be instant out of season.When Mr. Weeks had started on his ominous mission to Holcroft his wife remarked to her daughter confidentially, "I declare, sis, if we don't get rid of Cynthy soon, I believe Lemuel will fly off the handle."To avoid any such dire catastrophe, it was hoped and almost prayed in the Weeks household that the lonely occupant of the hill farm would take the widow for good and all.
Chapter 3 Mrs. Mumpson Negotiates and YieldsMr. Weeks, on his return home, dropped all diplomacy in dealing with the question at issue. "Cynthy," he said in his own vernacular, "the end has come, so far as me and my folks are concerned--I never expect to visit you, and while I'm master of the house, no more visits will be received. But I haint taken any such stand onconsiderately," he concluded. "I've given up the whole forenoon to secure you a better chance of living than visiting around. If you go to Holcroft's you'll have to do some work, and so will your girl. But he'll hire someone to help you, and so you won't have to hurt yourself. Your trump card will be to hook him and marry him before he finds you out. To do this, you'll have to see to the house and dairy, and bestir yourself for a time at least. He's pretty desperate off for lack of women folks to look after indoor matters, but he'll sell out and clear out before he'll keep a woman, much less marry her, if she does nothing but talk. Now remember, you've got a chance which you won't get again, for Holcroft not only owns his farm, but has a snug sum in the bank. So you had better get your things together, and go right over while he's in the mood.""What! write to him?""Not in your own name; in mine. But perhaps you prefer to give methe trouble.""Cruel! cruel!" sighed Rose, and wrote the words as requested.
The baroness dictated again,--"Oblige me by coming here at your very earliest convenience.""But, mamma, if he is in Normandy," remonstrated Rose, fightingevery inch of the ground."Never you mind where he is," said the baroness. "Write as Irequest.""Yes, mamma," said Rose with sudden alacrity; for she had recoveredher ready wit, and was prepared to write anything, being now fullyresolved the letter should never go."Now sign my name." Rose complied. "There; now fold it, andaddress it to his lodgings." Rose did so; and, rising with acheerful air, said she would send Jacintha with it directly.She was half across the room when her mother called her quietlyback.
"No, mademoiselle," said she sternly. "You will give me the letter.I can trust neither the friend of twenty years, nor the servant thatstayed by me in adversity, nor the daughter I suffered for andnursed. And why don't I trust you? Because YOU HAVE TOLD ME ALIE."At this word, which in its coarsest form she had never heard fromthose high-born lips till then, Rose cowered like a hare.
"Ay, A LIE," said the baroness. "I saw Edouard Riviere in the parkbut yesterday. I saw him. My old eyes are feeble, but they are notdeceitful. I saw him. Send my breakfast to my own room. I come ofan ancient race: I could not sit with liars; I should forgetcourtesy; you would see in my face how thoroughly I scorn you all."And she went haughtily out with the letter in her hand.Rose for the first time, was prostrated. Vain had been all thisdeceit; her mother was not happy; was not blinded. Edouard mightcome and tell her his story. Then no power could keep Josephinesilent. The plot was thickening; the fatal net was drawing closerand closer.She sank with a groan into a chair, and body and spirit alikesuccumbed. But that was only for a little while. To thisprostration succeeded a feverish excitement. She could not, wouldnot, look Edouard in the face. She would implore Josephine to besilent; and she herself would fly from the chateau. But, ifJosephine would not be silent? Why, then she would go herself toEdouard, and throw herself upon his honor, and tell him the truth.With this, she ran wildly up the stairs, and burst into Josephine'sroom so suddenly, that she caught her, pale as death, on her knees,with a letter in one hand and a phial of laudanum in the other.
Chapter 24Josephine conveyed the phial into her bosom with wonderful rapidityand dexterity, and rose to her feet. But Rose just saw her concealsomething, and resolved to find out quietly what it was. So shesaid nothing about it, but asked Josephine what on earth she wasdoing."I was praying.""And what is that letter?""A letter I have just received from Colonel Raynal."Rose took the letter and read it. Raynal had written from Paris.He was coming to Beaurepaire to stay a month, and was to arrive thatvery day.
Then Rose forgot all about herself, and even what she had come for.She clung about her sister's neck, and implored her, for her sake,to try and love Raynal.
Josephine shuddered, and clung weeping to her sister in turn. Forin Rose's arms she realized more powerfully what that sister wouldsuffer if she were to die. Now, while they clung together, Rosefelt something hard, and contrived just to feel it with her cheek.It was the phial.
A chill suspicion crossed the poor girl. The attitude in which shehad found Josephine; the letter, the look of despair, and now thislittle bottle, which she had hidden. WHY HIDE IT? She resolved notto let Josephine out of her sight; at all events, until she had seenthis little bottle, and got it away from her.She helped her to dress, and breakfasted with her in the tapestriedroom, and dissembled, and put on gayety, and made light ofeverything but Josephine's health.Her efforts were not quite in vain. Josephine became more composed;and Rose even drew from her a half promise that she would giveRaynal and time a fair trial.And now Rose was relieved of her immediate apprehensions forJosephine, but the danger of another kind, from Edouard, remained.So she ran into her bedroom for her bonnet and shawl, determined totake the strong measure of visiting Edouard at once, or interceptinghim. While she was making her little toilet, she heard her mother'svoice in the room. This was unlucky; she must pass through thatroom to go out. She sat down and fretted at this delay. And then,as the baroness appeared to be very animated, Rose went to thekeyhole, and listened. Their mother was telling Josephine how shehad questioned Rose, and how Rose had told her an untruth, and howshe had made that young lady write to Edouard, etc.; in short, thevery thing Rose wanted to conceal from Josephine.Rose lost all patience, and determined to fly through the room andout before anybody could stop her. She heard Jacintha come in withsome message, and thought that would be a good opportunity to slipout unmolested. So she opened the door softly. Jacintha, itseemed, had been volunteering some remark that was not wellreceived, for the baroness was saying, sharply, "Your opinion is notasked. Go down directly, and bring him up here, to this room."Jacintha cast a look of dismay at Rose, and vanished.
Rose gathered from that look, as much as from the words, who thevisitor was. She made a dart after Jacintha. But the room was along one, and the baroness intercepted her: "No," said she, gravely,"I cannot spare you."Rose stood pale and panting, but almost defiant. "Mamma," said she,"if it is Monsieur Riviere, I MUST ask your leave to retire. Andyou have neither love nor pity, nor respect for me, if you detainme.""Mademoiselle!" was the stern reply, "I FORBID you to move. Be goodenough to sit there;" with which the baroness pointed imperiously toa sofa at the other side of the room. "Josephine, go to your room."Josephine retired, casting more than one anxious glance over hershoulder.Rose looked this way and that in despair and terror; but ended bysinking, more dead than alive, into the seat indicated; and even asshe drooped, pale and trembling, on that sofa, Edouard Riviere, wornand agitated, entered the room, and bowed low to them all, without aword.
The baroness looked at him, and then at her daughter, as much as tosay, now I have got you; deceive me now if you can. "Rose, mydear," said this terrible old woman, affecting honeyed accents,"don't you see Monsieur Riviere?"The poor girl at this challenge rose with difficulty, and courtesiedhumbly to Edouard.He bowed to her, and stealing a rapid glance saw her pallor anddistress; and that showed him she was not so hardened as he hadthought.
"You have not come to see us lately," said the baroness, quietly,"yet you have been in the neighborhood."These words puzzled Edouard. Was the old lady all in the dark,then? As a public man he had already learned to be on his guard; sohe stammered out, "That he had been much occupied with publicduties."Madame de Beaurepaire despised this threadbare excuse too much tonotice it at all. She went on as if he had said nothing. "Intimateas you were with us, you must have some reason for deserting us sosuddenly.""I have," said Edouard, gravely."What is it?""Excuse me," said Edouard, sullenly.
"No, monsieur, I cannot. This neglect, succeeding to a somewhatardent pursuit of my daughter, is almost an affront. You shall, ofcourse, withdraw yourself altogether, if you choose. But notwithout an explanation. This much is due to me; and, if you are agentleman, you will not withhold it from me.""If he is a gentleman!" cried Rose; "O mamma, do not you affront agentleman, who never, never gave you nor me any ground of offence.Why affront the friends and benefactors we have lost by our ownfault?""Oh, then, it is all your fault," said the baroness. "I feared asmuch.""All my fault, all," said Rose; then putting her pretty palmstogether, and casting a look of abject supplication on Edouard, shemurmured, "my temper!""Do not you put words into his mouth," said the shrewd old lady."Come, Monsieur Riviere, be a man, and tell me the truth. What hasshe said to you? What has she done?"By this time the abject state of terror the high-spirited Rose wasin, and her piteous glances, had so disarmed Edouard, that he hadnot the heart to expose her to her mother."Madame," said he, stiffly, taking Rose's hint, "my temper andmademoiselle's could not accord.""Why, her temper is charming: it is joyous, equal, and gentle.""You misunderstand me, madame; I do not reproach Mademoiselle Rose.
It is I who am to blame.""For what?" inquired the baroness dryly."For not being able to make her love me.""Oh! that is it! She did not love you?""Ask herself, madame," said Edouard, bitterly.
"Rose," said the baroness, her eye now beginning to twinkle, "wereyou really guilty of such a want of discrimination? Didn't you lovemonsieur?"Rose flung her arms round her mother's neck, and said, "No, mamma, Idid not love Monsieur Edouard," in an exquisite tone of love, thatto a female ear conveyed the exact opposite of the words.But Edouard had not that nice discriminating ear. He sighed deeply,and the baroness smiled. "You tell me that?" said she, "and you arecrying!""She is crying, madame?" said Edouard, inquiringly, and taking astep towards them.
"Why, you see she is, you foolish boy. Come, I must put an end tothis;" and she rose coolly from her seat, and begging Edouard toforgive her for leaving him a moment with his deadly enemy, went offwith knowing little nods into Josephine's room; only, before sheentered it, she turned, and with a maternal smile discharged thisword at the pair."Babies!"But between the alienated lovers was a long distressing silence.
Neither knew what to say; and their situation was intolerable. Atlast Rose ventured in a timorous voice to say, "I thank you for yourgenerosity. But I knew that you would not betray me.""Your secret is safe for me," sighed Edouard. "Is there anythingelse I can do for you?"Rose shook her head sadly.Edouard moved to the door.Rose bowed her head with a despairing moan. It took him by theheart and held him. He hesitated, then came towards her."I see you are sorry for what you have done to me who loved you so;and you loved me. Oh! yes, do not deny it, Rose; there was a timeyou loved me. And that makes it worse: to have given me such sweethopes, only to crush both them and me. And is not this cruel of youto weep so and let me see your penitence--when it is too late?""Alas! how can I help my regrets? I have insulted so good afriend."There was a sad silence. Then as he looked at her, her looks beliedthe charge her own lips had made against herself.
A light seemed to burst on Edouard from that high-minded, sorrow-stricken face."Tell me it is false!" he cried.
She hid her face in her hands--woman's instinct to avoid being read."Tell me you were misled then, fascinated, perverted, but that yourheart returned to me. Clear yourself of deliberate deceit, and Iwill believe and thank you on my knees.""Heaven have pity on us both!" cried poor Rose.
"On us! Thank you for saying on us. See now, you have not gainedhappiness by destroying mine. One word--do you love that man?--thatDujardin?""You know I do not.""I am glad of that; since his life is forfeited; if he escapes myfriend Raynal, he shall not escape me."Rose uttered a cry of terror. "Hush! not so loud. The life ofCamille! Oh! if he were to die, what would become of--oh, pray donot speak so loud.""Own then that you DO love him," yelled Edouard; "give me truth, ifyou have no love to give. Own that you love him, and he shall besafe. It is myself I will kill, for being such a slave as to loveyou still."Rose's fortitude gave way."I cannot bear it," she cried despairingly; "it is beyond mystrength; Edouard, swear to me you will keep what I tell you secretas the grave!""Ah!" cried Edouard, all radiant with hope, "I swear.""Then you are under a delirium. I have deceived, but never wrongedyou; that unhappy child is not-- Hush! HERE SHE COMES."The baroness came smiling out, and Josephine's wan, anxious face wasseen behind her.