THREE more days have passed. It is evening. Rose, Trudaine and Lomaque are seated together on the bench that overlooks the windings of the Seine. The old familiar scene spreads before them, beautiful as ever--unchanged, as if it was but yesterday since they had all looked on it for the last time.
They talk together seriously and in low voices. The same recollections fill their hearts--recollections which they refrain from acknowledging, but the influence of which each knows by instinct that the other partakes. Sometimes one leads the conversation, sometimes another; but whoever speaks, the topic chosen is always, as if by common consent, a topic connected with the future.
The evening darkens in, and Rose is the first to rise from the bench. A secret look of intelligence passes between her and her brother, and then she speaks to Lomaque.
"Will you follow me into the house," she asks, "with as little delay as possible? I have something that I very much wish to show you."
Her brother waits till she is out of hearing, then inquires anxiously what has happened at Paris since the night when he and Rose left it.
"Your sister is free," Lomaque answers.
"The duel took place, then?"
"The same day. They were both to fire together. The second of his adversary asserts that he was paralyzed with terror; his own second declares that he was resolved, however he might have lived, to confront death courageously by offering his life at the first fire to the man whom he had injured. Which account is true, I know not. It is only certain that he did not discharge his pistol, that he fell by his antagonist's first bullet, and that he never spoke afterward."
"And his mother?"
"It is hard to gain information. Her doors are closed; the old servant guards her with jealous care. A medical man is in constant attendance, and there are reports in the house that the illness from which she is suffering affects her mind more than her body. I could ascertain no more."
After that answer they both remain silent for a little while, then rise from the bench and walk toward the house.
"Have you thought yet about preparing your sister to hear of all that has happened?" Lomaque asks, as he sees the lamp-light glimmering in the parlor window.
"I shall wait to prepare her till we are settled again here--till the first holiday pleasure of our return has worn off, and the quiet realities of our every-day life of old have resumed their way," answers Trudaine.
They enter the house. Rose beckons to Lomaque to sit down near her, and places pen and ink and an open letter before him.
"I have a last favor to ask of you," she says, smiling.
"I hope it will not take long to grant," he rejoins; "for I have only tonight to be with you. To-morrow morning, before you are up, I must be on my way back to Chalons."
"Will you sign that letter?" she continues, still smiling, "and then give it to me to send to the post? It was dictated by Louis, and written by me, and it will be quite complete, if you will put your name at the end of it."
"I suppose I may read it?"
She nods, and Lomaque reads these lines:
"CITIZEN--I beg respectfully to apprise you that the commission you intrusted to me at Paris has been performed.
"I have also to beg that you will accept my resignation of the place I hold in your counting-house. The kindness shown me by you and your brother before you, emboldens me to hope that you will learn with pleasure the motive of my withdrawal. Two friends of mine, who consider that they are under some obligations to me, are anxious that I should pass the rest of my days in the quiet and protection of their home. Troubles of former years have knit us together as closely as if we were all three members of one family. I need the repose of a happy fireside as much as any man, after the life I have led; and my friends assure me so earnestly that their whole hearts are set on establishing the old man's easy-chair by their hearth, that I cannot summon resolution enough to turn my back on them and their offer.
"Accept, then, I beg of you, the resignation which this letter contains, and with it the assurance of my sincere gratitude and respect.
"To Citizen Clairfait, Silk-mercer, "Chalons-sur-Marne."
After reading these lines, Lomaque turned round to Trudaine and attempted to speak; but the words would not come at command. He looked up at Rose, and tried to smile; but his lip only trembled. She dipped the pen in the ink, and placed it in his hand. He bent his head down quickly over the paper, so that she could not see his face; but still he did not write his name. She put her hand caressingly on his shoulder, and whispered to him:
"Come, come, humor 'Sister Rose.' She must have her own way now she is back again at home."
He did not answer--his head sank lower--he hesitated for an instant--then signed his name in faint, trembling characters, at the end of the letter.
She drew it away from him gently. A few tear-drops lay on the paper. As she dried them with her handkerchief she looked at her brother.
"They are the last he shall ever shed, Louis; you and I will take care of that!"
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