Émile Gaboriau.

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to God. If I wanted any thing for my toilet, I sent for the carriage,
and drove out, alone, to buy it. When a man spoke to me, I did not feel
bound to cast down my eyes; and, if he was amusing and witty, I laughed.
If a new fashion pleased me, I adopted it. I committed all these crimes.
I was young, rich, popular. These were as many more crimes. And after I
had been here a year, they said that Malgat, that wretch" -

She jumped up as she said this, ran up to Daniel, and, seizing him by
the hands, she said, -

"Malgat! Have they talked to you about Malgat?"

And, as he hesitated to answer, she added: -

"Ah, answer me! Don't you see that your hesitation is an insult?"

"Well - yes."

As if in utter despair, she raised her hands to heaven, calling God, as
it were, to witness, and asking for inspiration from on high. Then she
added suddenly, -

"But I have proofs, irrefutable proofs of Malgat's rascality."

And, without waiting for another word, she hurried into the adjoining
room. Daniel, moved to the bottom of his heart, remained standing where
he was, immovable, like a statue.

He was utterly confounded and overcome by the charm of that marvellous
voice, which passed through the whole gamut of passion with such a
sonorous ring, and yet with such sweet languor, that it seemed by turns
to sob and to threaten, to sigh with sadness and to thunder with wrath.

"What a woman!" he said to himself, repeating thus unconsciously the
words uttered by M. de Brevan.

"What a woman! And how well she defends herself."

But Miss Brandon was already back again, carrying in her arms a small
box of costly wood inlaid with jewels. She resumed her seat on the sofa;
and in that brief, sharp tone which betrays terrible passions restrained
with a great effort, she said, -

"Before all, I must thank you, M. Champcey, for your frankness, since it
enables me to defend myself. I knew that slander had attacked me; I felt
it, so to say, in the air I was breathing; but I had never been able yet
to take hold of it. Now, for the first time, I can face it; and I owe it
to you that I am able to defy it. Listen, therefore; for I swear to you
by all that is most sacred to me, by the memory of my sainted mother,
I swear to you solemnly, that you shall hear the truth, and nothing but
the truth."

She had opened the box, and was eagerly searching something among the
papers inside. She then continued, in feverish haste, -

"M. Malgat was the cashier and confidential clerk of the Mutual Discount
Society, a large and powerful company. M. Elgin had some business with
him, a few weeks after our arrival here, for the purpose of drawing
funds which he had in Philadelphia. He found him an exceedingly obliging
man, and, to show his appreciation, invited him to dine here. Thus he
became acquainted with Mrs. Brian and myself. He was a man of about
forty, of medium height, ordinary looking, very polite, but not refined
in his manners. The first time I looked at his light yellow eyes, I felt
disgusted and frightened. I read in his face an expression of base vice.
The impression was so strong, that I could not help telling M. Elgin how
sure I was this man would turn out a bad man, and that he ought not to
trust him in money-matters."

Daniel listened with breathless attention. This description of Malgat
impressed his portrait so deeply on his mind, that he thought he saw
him before his eyes, and would certainly recognize him if he should ever
meet him.

"M. Elgin," continued Miss Brandon, "only laughed at my presentiments;
and even Mrs. Brian, I remember distinctly, scolded me, saying it was
very wrong to judge a man by his appearance, and that there were
very honest men in the world who had yellow eyes. I must acknowledge,
moreover, that M. Malgat behaved perfectly well whenever he was here.
As M. Elgin did not know Paris, and had money to invest, he advised
him what to do. When we had drafts upon the Mutual Discount Society, he
always saved M. Elgin the trouble, and brought the money himself.
After a while, when M. Elgin took it into his head to try some small
speculations on 'change, M. Malgat offered him his assistance, although
they never had any luck, in fact."

By this time Miss Brandon had found the papers she was looking for. She
handed them to Daniel, saying, -

"And, if you do not believe what I say, look at this."

There were a dozen square bits of paper, on which Malgat had reported
the result of his operations on 'change, which he carried on on account
of, and with the money of, M. Elgin. All ended with these words: -

"We have lost considerably; but we may be more fortunate next time.
There is a capital chance on such and such funds; send me all the money
you can spare."

The words were always the same; the name of the funds alone varied in
each.

"That is strange," said Daniel.

Miss Sarah shook her head.

"Strange? Yes, indeed!" she replied. "But it does not help me in any
way. This letter, however, will tell you more. Read it, sir, and read it
aloud."

Daniel took the letter, and read, -


"'Paris, Dec. 5, 1865.

"'M. Thomas Elgin. _Dear Sir_, - It is to you alone, the most honorable
among men, that I can make the terrible confession that I have committed
a crime.

"'I am wretched. Employed by you in your speculations, I have given way
to temptation, and have speculated on my own account. One loss brought
about another, I lost my head; I hoped to recover my money; and now, at
this hour, I owe more than ten thousand dollars, which I have taken from
the safe of the society.

"'Will you have pity on me? Will you be so generous as to lend me that
sum? I may not be able to return it in less than six or seven years; but
I will repay you, I swear it, with interest.

"'I await your answer, like a criminal, who waits for the verdict. It
is a matter of life and death with me; and as you decide, so I may be
saved, or disgraced forever. A. Malgat.'"


On the margin, methodical M. Elgin had written in his angular
handwriting, -

"Answered immediately. Sent to M. M. ten thousand dollars, to be drawn
from funds deposited with the Mutual Discount Society. No interest to be
paid."

"And that," stammered Daniel, "that is the man" -

"Whom they charge me with having turned aside from the paths of honesty;
yes, sir! Now you learn to know him. But wait. You see, he was saved. It
was not long before he appeared here, his false face bathed in tears.
I can find no words to convey to you the exaggerated expressions of his
gratitude. He refused to shake hands with M. Elgin, he said, because
he was no longer worthy of such honor. He spoke of nothing but of his
devotion unto death. It is true M. Elgin carried his generosity to an
extreme. He, a model of honesty, who would have starved to death rather
than touch the gold intrusted to his care, - he consoled Malgat, finding
all kinds of apology for him, telling him, that, after all, he was not
so very much to blame, that there were temptations too strong to be
resisted, and repeating even those paradoxical principles which have
been specially invented as an apology for thieves. Malgat had still
some money of his own; but M. Elgin did not ask him for it, for fear of
hurting his feelings. He continued to invite him, and urged him to come
and dine with us as heretofore."

She stopped, laughing in a nervous manner, which was painful to hear,
and then continued, in a hoarse voice, -

"Do you know, M. Champcey, how Malgat repaid all this kindness? Read
this note; it will restore me in your esteem, I trust."

It was another letter written by Malgat to M. Elgin, and ran thus, -


"M. Elgin, - I have deceived you. It was not ten thousand dollars I had
taken, but sixty thousand five hundred dollars.

"Thanks to false entries, I have been able to conceal my defalcations
until now; but I can do so no longer. The board of directors have begun
to suspect me; and the president has just told me that tomorrow the
books will be examined. I am lost.

"I ought to kill myself, I know; but I have not the courage to do so.
I venture to ask you to furnish me the means of escaping from this
country. I beseech you on my knees, in the name of all that is dear to
you, for mercy's sake; for I am penniless, and cannot even pay the fare
on the railway as far as the frontier. Nor can I return to my house; for
I am watched.

"Once more, M. Elgin, have pity on a poor man, and leave the answer with
the concierge. I will come by about nine o'clock. A. Malgat."


Not on the margin, as before, but across the lines, M. Elgin had written
these laconic words: -

"Answered immediately. No! The scamp!"

Daniel could not have uttered a word to save his life; he was too
fearfully excited. Miss Brandon continued, -

"We were dining alone that day; and M. Elgin was so indignant, that he
forgot his usual reserve, and told us everything. Ah! I felt only pity
for the poor man; and I besought him to give the wretch the means to
escape. But he was inflexible. Seeing, however, how excited I was, he
tried to reassure me by telling me that Malgat would certainly not come,
that he would not dare to expect an answer to such a letter."

She pressed both her hands on her heart, as if to still its beating; and
then continued, in a weak voice, -

"Nevertheless, he came, and, seeing his hopes disappointed, he insisted
upon speaking to us. The servants let him go up, and he entered. Ah!
if I lived a thousand years, I should never forget that fearful scene.
Feeling that all was lost, this thief, this defaulter, had become
enraged; he demanded money. At first he asked for it on his knees in
humble words; but, when he found that this did not answer, he suddenly
rose in a perfect fury, his mouth foaming, his eyes bloodshot, and
overwhelmed us with the coarsest insults. At last M. Elgin's patience
gave out, and he rang for the servants. They had to employ force to drag
him out; and, as they pushed him down stairs, he threatened us with his
fist, and swore that he would be avenged."

Miss Brandon shuddered till she appeared to be all in a quiver; and, for
a moment, Daniel thought she was going to be ill. But she made an effort
to overcome her weakness; and, in a more decided tone, she continued, -

"Forty-eight hours passed; and the impression of this horrible scene
began to fade from our minds, till it appeared like a bad dream. If we
mentioned Malgat at all, it was with pity and contempt; for what could
he do to us? Nothing, you will say. Even if he should dare to accuse
us of some great crime, we thought no one would listen to him, and we
should never hear of it. How could we imagine that the world would set
to work doubting our honor upon the mere word of a wretch like him?

"His crime had, in the meantime, become known; and all the papers were
full of it, adding a number of more or less reliable stories. They
exaggerated the sums he had stolen; and they said he had succeeded in
escaping to England, and that the police had lost his traces in London.

"I, poor girl, had nearly forgotten the whole matter.

"He had really fled; but, before leaving Paris, he had succeeded in
preparing everything for the vengeance which he had threatened. Where
could he have found people mean enough to serve his purposes? and who
were they? I do not know. Perhaps he did nothing more, as Mrs. Brian
suggested, than to address two or three anonymous letters to some of our
acquaintances, who he knew did not like us, or envied us.

"At all events, in less than a week after his disappearance, it was
reported everywhere, that I, Sarah Brandon, had been an accomplice of
this defaulter, and, worse than that, that the sums he had stolen might
easily be found, if a certain bureau in my bedchamber could be searched.

"Yes, that is what they said, at first in a whisper and most cautiously,
then louder, and finally openly, and before all the world.

"Soon the papers took it up. They repeated the facts, arranging them
to suit their purpose, and alluding to me in a thousand infamous
innuendoes. They said that Malgat's defalcation was after the American
style, and that it was perfectly natural he should go to a foreign
country, after having been associated with a certain foreign lady."

She had become crimson all over; her bosom rose; and shame, indignation,
and resentment alternately appeared on her face, changing finally into
an ardent desire of vengeance.

"We, in the meantime," she continued, "quiet and safe in our honesty,
did not even suspect these infamous proceedings. It is true, I had
been struck by some strange whisperings, by curious looks and singular
smiles, when I passed some of my friends; but I had not noticed them
specially.

"A paper which had been left at the house one afternoon, when we were
out, showed us the true state of things. It was a summons. I was ordered
to appear before a magistrate.

"It was a thunderbolt. Mad with wrath and grief, M. Elgin swore I
should not go, that he would most assuredly find out the authors of this
infamous libel, and that, in the meantime, he would challenge and kill
every one who dared repeat it.

"In vain did Mrs. Brian and myself beseech him, on our knees, not to
leave the house until he had grown cooler. He pushed us aside almost
with brutality, and rushed out, taking with him the papers and letters
written by Malgat.

"We were at the end of our endurance, having suffered all the tortures
of anxiety, when, at last, near midnight, M. Elgin returned, pale,
exhausted, and distressed. He had found no one willing even to listen to
him; everybody telling him that he was much too good to give a thought
to such infamous reports; that they were too absurd to be believed."

She nearly gave way, sobs intercepting her words; but she mastered her
emotion, and continued, -

"The next day I went to the court-house; and, after being kept waiting
for a long time in a dark passage, I was brought before the magistrate.
He was an elderly man, with hard features and piercing eyes, who
received me almost brutally, as if I had been a criminal. But, when I
had shown him the letters which you have just read, his manner suddenly
changed, pity got the better of him; and I thought I saw a tear in his
eye. Ah! I shall be eternally grateful to him for the words he said when
I left his office, -

"'Poor, poor young girl! Justice bows reverently before your innocence.
Would to God that the world could be made to do the same!'"

She fixed her eyes, trembling with fear and hope, upon Daniel, and
added, in a voice of supplication and touching humility, -

"The world has been more cruel than justice itself but you, sir, will
you be harder than the magistrate?"

Alas! Daniel was sorely embarrassed what to answer. He felt as if all
his senses were in an uproar and in utter confusion.

"Sir!" begged Miss Brandon again. "M. Champcey!"

She continued to fix her eyes upon him. He turned his head aside,
feeling as if, under her obstinate gaze, his mind left him, his energy
evaporated, and all the fibres of his strong will were breaking.

"Great God!" exclaimed Miss Brandon, with grieved surprise; "he still
doubts me. Sir, I pray you, speak! Do you doubt the authenticity of
these letters? Ah, if you do, take them; for I do not hesitate to
confide them, the only proofs of my innocence, to your honor. Take them
and show them to the other clerks who have been sitting for twenty years
in the same office with Malgat; and they will tell you that it is his
handwriting; that he has signed his own condemnation. And, if that is
not enough for you, go to the magistrate who examined me; his name is
Patrigent."

And she waited, waited, but not a word came forth.

Daniel had sunk, undone, into a chair; and his elbow resting on a small
stand, his brow in his hands, he endeavored to think, to reason. Then
Miss Brandon rose, came gently up to him, and taking his hand, said
softly, -

"I beseech you!"

But as if suddenly electrified by the touch of this soft, warm hand,
Daniel rose so hastily, that he upset the chair; and, trembling with
mysterious terror, he cried out, -

"Kergrist!"

It was as if a fearful insult had set Miss Brandon on fire. Her face
turned crimson, and then, almost instantly, livid; and, stepping back a
little, she darted at Daniel a look of burning hatred.

"Oh!" she murmured, "oh!" finding, apparently, no words to express all
she felt.

Was she going away? It looked as if she thought of it, for she walked
to the door; but, suddenly changing her mind, she came back to where she
had stood, facing Daniel.

"This is the first time in my life," she said, trembling with rage,
"that I condescend to justify myself against such infamous charges; and
you abuse my patience by heaping insult after insult upon me. But never
mind. I look upon you as upon Henrietta's husband; and, since I have
commenced, I mean to finish."

Daniel tried to say a few words of apology; but she interrupted him, -

"Well, yes; one night a young man, Charles de Kergrist, - a profligate,
a gambler, crowning his scandalous life with the vilest and meanest
act, - did come and kill himself under my window. The next day a great
outcry arose against me. Three days later the brother of that wretched
madman, a M. Rene de Kergrist, came and held M. Elgin to account. But
do you know what came of these explanations? Charles de Kergrist, it
appears, killed himself after a supper, which he left in a state of
drunkenness. He committed suicide because he had lost his fortune at
Homburg and at Baden; because he had exhausted his last resources;
because his family, ashamed at his disgrace, refused to acknowledge
him any longer. And, if he chose my window for his self-murder, it was
because he wanted to satisfy a petty grievance. Looking upon me as an
heiress, whose fortune would enable him to continue his extravagant
life, he had courted me, and been refused by M. Elgin. Finally, at the
time when the catastrophe occurred, I was sixty miles away from here, in
Tours, staying at the house of one of M. Elgin's friends, M. Palmer, who
deposed" -

And, as Daniel looked at her with an air of utter bewilderment, she
added, -

"Perhaps you will ask me for proofs of what I state. I have none to give
you. But I know a man who can give you what you want, and that man is M.
de Kergrist's brother; for, after those explanations, he has continued
to be our friend, sir, one of our best friends. And he was here
to-night, and you have seen him; for he came and spoke to me while you
were standing by me. M. de Kergrist lives here in Paris; and M. Elgin
will give you his address."

She looked at Daniel with a glance in which pity and contempt were
strangely mixed, and then added, in her proudest tone, -

"And now, sir, since _I_ have deigned to stand here like a criminal, do
you sit in judgment on me. Question me, and I will answer. What else are
you going to charge me with?"

A judge, however, ought to be calm; and Daniel was but too conscious of
his deep excitement; he knew he could not even prevent his features from
expressing his utter bewilderment. He gave up all discussion therefore,
and simply said, -

"I believe you, Miss Brandon, I believe you."

Miss Brandon's beautiful eyes lighted up for a moment with joy; and in a
tone of voice which sounded like the echo of her heart, she said, -

"Oh, thank you, sir! now I am sure you will grant me Miss Henrietta's
friendship."

Why did she mention that name? It broke the charm which had overcome
Daniel. He saw how weak he had been, and was ashamed of himself.

He said sternly, thus proving his anger at himself, and the failure of
his judgment, -

"Permit me not to reply to that to-night. I should like to consider."

She looked at him half stupefied.

"What do you mean?" she said. "Have I, or have I not, removed your
doubts, your insulting suspicions? Perhaps you wish to consult one of my
enemies?"

She spoke in a tone of such profound disdain, that Daniel, stung to
the quick, forgot the discretion which he had intended to observe, and
said, -

"Since you insist upon it, Miss Brandon, I must confess that there is
one doubt which you have not removed."

"Which?"

Daniel hesitated, regretting the words he had allowed to escape him. But
he had gone too far now to retract. He replied, -

"I do not understand, Miss Brandon, how you can marry Count Ville-
Handry."

"Why not?"

"You are young. You are immensely rich, you say. The count is sixty-six
years old."

She, who had been so daring that nothing seemed to be able to disconcert
her, now lowered her head like a timid boarding-school girl who has been
caught acting contrary to rules; and a flood of crimson spread over her
face, and every part of her figure which was not concealed by her dress.

"You are cruel, sir!" she stammered; "the secret into which you pry is
one of those which a girl hardly dares to confide to her mother."

He was triumphant, thinking he had caught her at last.

"Ah, indeed!" he said ironically.

But the proud young lady did not waver, and replied with bitter
sadness, -

"You will have it so; be it so. For your sake, I will lay aside that
veil of proud reserve which conceals the mysteries of a young girl's
heart. I do not love Count Ville-Handry."

Daniel was startled. This confession seemed to him the height of
imprudence.

"I do not love him, - at least not with real love; and I have never
allowed him to hope for such a feeling. Still I shall be most happy to
become his wife. Do not expect me to explain to you what is going on
within me. I myself hardly understand it as yet. I can give no precise
name to that feeling of sympathy which attracts me towards him. I
have been captivated by his wit and his kindness; his words have an
indescribable charm for me. That is all I can tell you."

Daniel could not believe his ears.

"And," she continued, "if you must have motives of more ordinary
character, I will confess to you that I can no longer endure this life,
harassed as I am by vile calumnies. The palace of Count Ville-Handry
appears to me an asylum, where I shall bury my disappointments and my
sorrows, and where I shall find peace and a position which commands
respect. Ah! you need not be afraid for that great and noble name.
I shall bear it worthily and nobly, and shrink from no sacrifice to
enhance its splendor. You may say that I am a calculating woman. I dare
say _I_ am; but I see nothing mean or disgraceful in my hopes."

Daniel had thought he had confounded her, and it was she who crushed
him by her bold frankness; for there was nothing to say, no reasonable
objection to make. Fifty marriages out of every hundred are made upon
less high ground. Miss Brandon, however, was not a woman to be easily
overcome. She rose as she spoke, to her former haughtiness, and inspired
herself with the sound of her voice.

"During the last two years," she said, "I have had twenty offers; and
among them three or four that would have been acceptable to a duchess. I
have refused them, in spite of M. Elgin and Mrs. Brian. Only yesterday,
a man of twenty-five, a Gordon Chalusse, was here at my feet. I have
sent him off like the others, preferring my dear count. And why?"

She remained a moment buried in thought, her eyes swimming in tears;
and, answering apparently her own questions, rather than Daniel's, she
went on, -

"Thanks to my beauty, as the world calls it, a fatal beauty, alas! I
have been admired, courted, filled to satiety with compliments. They say
I am in the most elegant and most polished society in Europe; and yet I
have looked in vain for the man whose eye could for a moment even break
the peace of my heart. I have seen everywhere only persons of like
perfection, whose characters had no more wrinkles than the coat made
by the first of tailors, all equally eager and gallant, playing well,
talking well, dancing well, riding well."

She shook her head with a movement full of energy; and, beaming with
enthusiasm, she exclaimed, -

"Ah! I had dreamed of better things to come. What I dreamed of was a
man of noble heart, with an inflexible will, capable of attempting what
others dared not, - what, I do not know, but something grand, perilous,
impossible. I dreamed of one of those ambitious men with a pale brow, a
longing look, whose eyes sparkle with genius, - one of those strong men
who impose their will upon the multitude, and who remove mountains by
the force of their will.

"Alas! to repay the love of such a man, I would have found treasures in
my heart, which now remain useless, like all the wealth that is buried



Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 10 of 39)