Émile Gaboriau.

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at the bottom of the sea. I would have drunk deep from the cup of my
hopes; my pulse would have kept time with the fever of his excitement.
For his sake, I would have made myself small, humble, useful; I would
have watched in his looks for the shadow of a desire.

"But how proud I would have been, I, his wife, of his success and of his
glories, of the reverence paid him by his admirers, and the hatred of
his enemies!"

Her voice had vibrations in it that might have stirred up the heart of a
stoic. The splendor of her exalted beauty illumined the room.

And gradually, one by one, Daniel's suspicions vanished, or fell to
pieces like the ill-jointed pieces of an ancient armor. But Miss Brandon
paused, ashamed of her vehemence, and continued more slowly, -

"Now, sir, you know me better than any other person in this world. You
alone have read the innermost heart of Sarah Brandon. And yet I see you
today for the first time in my life. And yet you are the first man who
has ever dared to speak harshly to me, harsh unto insult. Will you make
me repent of my frankness? Oh, no, no! surely you will not be so cruel.
I know you to be a man of honor and of high principles; I know how, in
order to save a name which you revere, you have risked your prospects in
life, the girl you love, and an enormous fortune. Yes, Miss Ville-Handry
has made no ordinary choice."

She looked as if she were utterly despondent, and added, in a tone of
concentrated rage, -

"And I, I know my fate."

Then followed a pause, a terrible pause. They were standing face to
face, pale, troubled, trembling with excitement, their teeth firmly set,
their eyes eloquent with deep feeling.

Daniel, as he felt the hot breath of this terrible passion, became
almost unconscious of the surroundings; his mind was shaken; a
mysterious delirium took possession of his senses; the blood rushed to
his head; and he felt as if the beating at his temples was ringing in
the whole house.

"Yes," began at last Miss Brandon once more, "my fate is sealed. I must
become the Countess of Ville-Handry, or I am lost. And once more, sir,
I beseech you induce Miss Henrietta to receive me like an elder sister.
Ah! if I were the woman you think I am, what would I care for Miss
Henrietta and her enmity? You know very well that the count will go
on at any hazard. And yet I beg, - I who am accustomed to command
everywhere. What more can I do? Do you want to see me at your feet? Here
I am."

And really, as she said this, she sank down so suddenly, that her knees
struck the floor with a noise; and, seizing Daniel's hands, she pressed
them upon her burning brow.

"Great God!" she sighed, "to be rejected, by him!"

Her hair had become partially loosened, and fell in masses on Daniel's
hands. He trembled from head to foot; and, bending over Miss Brandon,
he raised her, and held her, half lifeless, while her head rested on his
shoulder.

"Miss Sarah," he said in a hoarse, low voice.

They were so near to each other, that their breaths mingled, and Daniel
felt Miss Brandon's sobs on his heart, burning him like fiery flames.
Then, half drunk with excitement, forgetting every thing, he pressed his
lips upon the lips of this strange girl.

But she, starting up instantly, drew back, and cried, -

"Daniel! unhappy man!"

Then breaking out in sobs, she stammered, -

"Go! I pray you go! I ask for nothing now. If I must be lost, I must."

And he replied with terrible vehemence, -

"Your will shall be done, Sarah; I am yours. You may count upon me."

And he rushed out like a madman, down the staircase, taking three steps
at once, and, finding the house-door open, out into the street.




X.

It was a dark, freezing night; the sky was laden with clouds which hung
so low, that they nearly touched the roofs of the houses; and a furious
wind was shaking the black branches of the trees in the Champs Elysees,
passing through the air like a fine dust of snow.

Daniel rushed in feverish haste, like an escaped convict, headlong on,
without aim or purpose, solely bent upon escaping. But, when he had gone
some distance, the motion, the cold night-air, and the keen wind playing
in his hair, restored him to consciousness. Then he became aware that he
was still in evening costume, bareheaded, and that he had left his hat
and his overcoat in Miss Brandon's house. Then he remembered that Count
Ville-Handry was waiting for him in the great reception-room, together
with M. Elgin and Mrs. Brian. What would they say and think? Unhappy
man, in what a sad predicament he found himself!

There might have been a way to escape from that hell; and he himself, in
his madness, had closed it forever.

Like one of those dissipated men who awake from the heavy sleep after a
debauch, with dry mouth and weary head, he felt as if he had just been
aroused from a singular and terrible dream. Like the drunkard, who, when
he is sobered, tries to recall the foolish things he may have done under
the guidance of King Alcohol, Daniel conjured up one by one all his
emotions during the hour which he had just spent by Miss Brandon's
side, - an hour of madness which would weigh heavily upon his future
fate, and which alone contained in its sixty minutes more experiences
than his whole life so far.

At no time had he been so near despair.

What! He had been warned, put on his guard, made fully aware of all of
Miss Brandon's tricks; they had told him of the weird charm of her eyes;
he himself had caught her that very evening in the open act of deceiving
others.

And in spite of all this, feeble and helpless as he was, he had let
himself be caught by the fascinations of this strange girl. Her voice
had made him forget every thing, every thing - even his dear and beloved
Henrietta, his sole thought for so many years.

"Fool!" he said to himself, "what have I done?"

Unmindful of the blast of the tempest, and of the snow which had begun
to fall, he had sat down on the steps of one of the grandest houses in
Circus Street, and, with his elbows on his knees, he pressed his brow
with his hands, as if hoping that he might thus cause it to suggest to
him some plan of salvation. Conjuring up the whole energy of his will,
he tried to retrace his interview with Miss Brandon in order to find out
by what marvellous transformation it had begun as a terrible combat, and
ended as a love-scene. And recalling thus to his memory all she had told
him in her soft, sweet voice, he asked himself if she had not really
been slandered; and, if there was actually something amiss in her
past life, why should it not rather be laid at the door of those two
equivocal personages who watched over her, M. Elgin and Mrs. Brian.

What boldness this strange girl had displayed in her defence! but also
what lofty nobility! How well she had said that she did not love Count
Ville-Handry with real love, and that, until now, no man had even
succeeded in quickening her pulse! Was she of marble, and susceptible
only of delight in foolish vanity?

Oh, no! a thousand times no! The most refined coquetry never achieved
that passionate violence; the most accomplished artist never possessed
that marvellous contagion which is the sublime gift of truth alone. And,
whatever he could do, his head and heart remained still filled with Miss
Brandon; and Daniel trembled as he remembered certain words in which,
under almost transparent illusions, the secret of her heart had betrayed
itself. Could she have told Daniel more pointedly than she had actually
done, "He whom I could love is none other but you"? Certainly not!
And as he thought of it his heart was filled with a sense of eager and
unwholesome desires; for he was a man, no better, no worse, than other
men; and there are but too many men nowadays, who would value a few
hours of happiness with a woman like Miss Brandon more highly than a
whole life of chaste love by the side of a pure and noble woman.

"But what is that to me?" he repeated. "Can I love her, I?"

Then he began again to revolve in his mind what might have happened
after his flight from the house.

How had Miss Brandon explained his escape? How had she accounted for her
own excitement?

And, drawn by an invincible power, Daniel had risen to return to the
house; and there, half-hid under the shadow of the opposite side, in a
deep doorway, he watched anxiously the windows, as if they could have
told him any thing of what was going on inside. The reception-room
was still brilliantly lighted, and people came and went, casting their
shadows upon the white curtains. A man came and leaned his face against
the window, then suddenly he drew back; and Daniel distinctly recognized
Count Ville-Handry.

What did that mean? Did it not imply that Miss Brandon had been taken
suddenly ill, and that people were anxious about her? These were
Daniel's thoughts when he heard the noise of bolts withdrawn, and doors
opened. It was the great entrance-gate of Miss Brandon's house, which
was thrown open by some of the servants. A low _coupe_ with a single
horse left the house, and drove rapidly towards the Champs Elysees.

But, at the moment when the _coupe_ turned, the light of the lamp fell
full upon the inside, and Daniel thought he recognized, nay, he did
recognize, Miss Brandon. He felt as if he had received a stunning blow
on the head.

"She has deceived me!" he exclaimed, grinding his teeth in his rage;
"she has treated me like an imbecile, like an idiot!"

Then, suddenly conceiving a strange plan, he added, -

"I must know where she is going at four o'clock in the morning. I will
follow her."

Unfortunately, Miss Brandon's coachman had, no doubt, received special
orders; for he drove down the avenue as fast as the horse could go,
and the animal was a famous trotter, carefully chosen by Sir Thorn, who
understood horse-flesh better than any one else in Paris. But Daniel
was agile; and the hope of being able to avenge himself at once gave him
unheard-of strength.

"If I could only catch a cab!" he thought.

But no carriage was to be seen. His elbows close to the body, managing
his breath, and steadily measuring his steps, he succeeded in not only
following the _coupe_, but in actually gaining ground. When Miss Brandon
reached Concord Square, he was only a few yards behind the carriage. But
there the coachman touched the horse, which suddenly increased its pace,
crossed the square, and trotted down Royal Street.

Daniel felt his breath giving out, and a shooting pain, first trifling,
but gradually increasing, in his side. He was on the point of giving
up the pursuit, when he saw a cab coming down towards him from the
Madeleine, the driver fast asleep on the box. He threw himself before
the horses, and cried out as well as he could, -

"Driver, a hundred francs for you, if you follow that _coupe_ down
there!"

But the driver, suddenly aroused by a man who stood in the middle of the
street, bareheaded, and in evening costume, and who offered him such
an enormous sum, thought it was a practical joke attempted by a drunken
man, and replied furiously, -

"Look out, rascal! Get out of the way, or I drive over you!"

And therewith he whipped his horses; and Daniel would have been driven
over, if he had not promptly jumped aside. But all this had taken
time; and, when he looked up, the _coupe_ was far off, nearly at the
boulevard. To attempt overtaking it now would have been folly indeed;
and Daniel remained there, overwhelmed and defeated.

What could he do? It occurred to him that he might hasten to Maxime, and
ask him for advice. But fate was against him; he gave up that idea. He
went slowly back to his lodgings, and threw himself into an arm-chair,
determined not to go to bed till he had found a way to extricate himself
from the effects of his egregious folly.

But he had now been for two days agitated by the extremest alternatives,
like a man out at sea, whom the waves buffet, and throw - now up to the
shore, and now back again into open water. He had not closed an eye for
forty-eight hours; and, if the heart seems to be able to suffer almost
indefinitely, our physical strength is strictly limited. Thus he fell
asleep, dreaming even in his sleep that he was hard at work, and just
about to discover the means by which he could penetrate the mystery of
Miss Brandon.

It was bright day when Daniel awoke, chilled and stiffened; for he had
not changed his clothes when he came home, and his fire had gone out.
His first impulse was one of wrath against himself. What! he succumbed
so easily? - he, the sailor, who remembered very well having remained
more than once for forty, and even once for sixty hours on deck,
when his vessel was threatened by a hurricane? Had his peaceful and
monotonous life in his office during the last two years weakened him to
such a point, that all the springs of his system had lost their power?

Poor fellow! he knew not that the direst fatigue _is_ trifling in
comparison with that deep moral excitement which shakes the human system
to its most mysterious depths. Nevertheless, while he hastened to kindle
a large fire, in order to warm himself, he felt that the rest had done
him good. The last evil effects of his excitement last night had passed
away; the charm by which he had been fascinated was broken; and he felt
once more master of all his faculties.

Now his folly appeared to him so utterly inexplicable, that, if he had
but tasted a glass of lemonade at Miss Brandon's house, he should have
been inclined to believe that they had given him one of those drugs
which set the brains on fire, and produce a kind of delirium. But he had
taken nothing, and, even if he had, was the foolish act less real for
that? The consequences would be fatal, he had no doubt.

He was thus busy trying to analyze the future, when his servant entered,
as he did every morning, bringing his hat and overcoat on his arm.

"Sir," he said, with a smile which he tried to render malicious, "you
have forgotten these things at the house where you spent the evening
yesterday. A servant - on horseback too - brought them. He handed me at
the same time this letter, and is waiting for an answer."

Daniel took the letter, and for a minute or more examined the direction.
The handwriting was a woman's, small and delicate, but in no ways
like the long, angular hand of an American lady. At last he tore the
envelope; and at once a penetrating but delicate perfume arose, which he
had inhaled, he knew but too well, in Miss Brandon's rooms.

The letter was indeed from her, and on the top of the page bore her
name, Sarah, in small blue Gothic letters. She wrote, -


"Is it really so, O Daniel! that you are entirely mine, and that I
can count upon you? You told me so tonight. Do you still remember your
promises?"


Daniel was petrified. Miss Brandon had told him that she was imprudence
personified; and here she gave him a positive proof of it.

Could not these few lines become a terrible weapon against her? Did they
not admit the most extraordinary interpretation? Still, as the bearer
might be impatient, the servant asked, -

"What must I tell the man?"

"Ah, wait!" answered Daniel angrily.

And, sitting down at his bureau, he wrote to Miss Brandon, -


"Certainly, Miss Brandon, I remember the promises you extorted from me
when I was not master of myself; I remember them but too well."


Suddenly an idea struck him; and he paused. What! Having been caught
already in the very first trap she had prepared for his inexperience,
was he to risk falling into a second? He tore the letter he had
commenced into small pieces, and, turning to his servant, said, -

"Tell the man that I am out; and make haste and get me a carriage!"

Then, when he was once more alone, he murmured, -

"Yes, it is better so. It is much better to leave Miss Brandon in
uncertainty. She cannot even suspect that her driving out this morning
has enlightened me. She thinks I am still in the dark; let her believe
it."

Still this letter of hers seemed to prepare some new intrigue, which
troubled Daniel excessively. Miss Brandon was certain of achieving her
end; what more did she want? What other mysterious aim could she have in
view?

"Ah! I cannot make it out," sighed Daniel. "I must consult Brevan."

On his writing-table he found that important and urgent work which the
minister had intrusted to his hands still unfinished. But the minister,
the department, his position, his preferment, - all these considerations
weighed as nothing in comparison with his passion.

He went down, therefore; and, while his carriage drove to his friend's
house, he thought of the surprise he would cause Maxime.

When he arrived there, he found M. de Brevan standing in his shirt-
sleeves before an immense marble table, covered all over with pots and
bottles, with brushes, combs, and sponges, with pincers, polishers, and
files, making his toilet.

If he expected Daniel, he had not expected him so soon; for his features
assumed an expression which seemed to prohibit all confidential talk.
But Daniel saw nothing. He shook hands with his friend, and, sinking
heavily into a chair, he said, -

"I went to Miss Brandon. She has made me promise all she wanted. I
cannot imagine how it came about!"

"Let us hear," said M. de Brevan.

Then, without hesitation, and with all the minutest details, Daniel told
him how Miss Brandon had taken him into her little boudoir, and how she
had exculpated herself from all complicity with Malgat by showing him
the letters written by that wretched man.

"Strange letters!" he said, "which, if they are authentic" -

M. de Brevan shrugged his shoulders.

"You were forewarned," he said, "and you have promised all she wanted!
Do you not think she might have made you sign your own death-sentence?"

"But Kergrist?" said Daniel. "Kergrist's brother is her friend."

"I dare say. But do you imagine that brother is any cleverer than you
are?"

Although he was by no means fully satisfied, Daniel went on, describing
his amazement when Miss Brandon told him that she did not love Count
Ville-Handry.

But Maxime burst out laughing, and interrupted him, saying with bitter
irony, -

"Of course! And then she went on, telling you that she had never yet
loved anybody, having vainly looked in the world for the man of whom she
dreamed. She painted to you the phoenix in such colors, that you had to
say to yourself, 'What does she mean? That phoenix! Why, she means me!'
That has tickled you prodigiously. She has thrown herself at your
feet; you have raised her up; she has fainted; she has sobbed like a
distressed dove in your arms; you have lost your head."

Daniel was overcome. He stammered, -

"How did you know?"

Maxime could not look him in the face; but his voice was as steady as
ever when he replied, in a tone of bitterest sarcasm, -

"I guess it. Did I not tell you I knew Miss Brandon? She has only one
card in her hand; but that is enough; it always makes a trick."

To have been deceived, and even to have been rendered ridiculous, is one
of those misfortunes which we confess to ourselves, however painful
the process may be; but to hear another person laugh at us after such a
thing has happened is more than we can readily bear. Daniel, therefore,
did not conceal his impatience, and said rather dryly, -

"If I have been the dupe of Miss Brandon, my dear Maxime, you see, at
last, that I am so no longer."

"Ah, ah!"

"No, not in the least. And that, thanks to her; for she herself has
destroyed my illusions."

"Pshaw!"

"Unconsciously, of course, having ran away from her like a fool, I was
wandering about in the streets near her house, when I saw her come out
in her _coupe_."

"Oh, come!"

"I saw her as distinctly as I see you. It was four o'clock in the
morning, mind!"

"Is it possible? And what did you do?"

"I followed her."

M. de Brevan nearly let the brush fall, with which he was polishing his
finger-nails; but he mastered his confusion so promptly, that Daniel did
not perceive it.

"Ah! you followed her," he said in a voice which all his efforts could
not steady entirely. "Then, of course, you know where she went."

"Alas, no! She drove so fast, that, quick as I am, I could not follow
her, and lost sight of her."

Certainly M. de Brevan was breathing more freely, and said in an easy
tone, -

"That is provoking, and you have lost a fine opportunity. I am, however,
by no means astonished that you are at last enlightened."

"Oh! I am so; you may believe me. And yet" -

"Well, yet?"

Daniel hesitated, for fear of seeing another sardonic smile appear on
Maxime's lips. Still making an effort, he replied, -

"Well, I am asking myself whether all that Miss Brandon states about her
childhood, her family, and her fortune, might not, after all, be true."

Maxime looked like a sensible man who is forced to listen to the absurd
nonsense of an insane person.

"You think I am absurd," said Daniel. "Perhaps I am; but, then, do me
the favor to explain to me how Miss Brandon, anxious as she must be to
conceal her past, could herself point out to me the means to ascertain
every thing about her, and even to learn the precise amount of her
income? America is not so far off!"

M. de Brevan's face no longer expressed astonishment; he looked
absolutely bewildered.

"What!" he cried out, "could you seriously think of undertaking a trip
to America?"

"Why not?"

"To be sure, my dear friend, you are, in all sincerity, too naive for
our age. What! have you not yet been able to divine Miss Brandon's
plan? And yet it is patent enough. When she saw you, and had taken your
measure, she said to herself, 'Here is an excellent young man who is in
my way, excessively in my way; he must go and breathe a better air a few
thousand miles off.' And thereupon she suggested to you that pleasant
trip to America."

After what Daniel had learned about Miss Brandon's character, this
explanation sounded by no means improbable. Nevertheless, he was not
quite satisfied. He objected to it thus: -

"Whether I go or stay, the wedding will still take place. Consequently,
she has no interest in my being abroad. Believe me, Maxime, there is
something else underneath. Outside of this marriage, Miss Brandon must
be pursuing some other plan."

"What plan?"

"Ah! That is what I cannot find out, to save my life. But you may be
sure that I am not mistaken. I want no better evidence of it than the
fact that she wrote to me this morning."

M. de Brevan jumped up, and said, -

"What! She has written to you?"

"Yes; it is that accursed letter, more than any thing else, that brings
me here. Here it is, just read it; and, if you can understand it, you
are more fortunate than I am."

At one glance M. de Brevan had read the five lines which Miss Brandon
had written; and, turning deadly pale, he said, -

"This is incomprehensible. A note, and such an indiscreet note, from her
who never writes!"

He looked upon Daniel as if he wished to penetrate his innermost
thoughts, and then asked him, weighing his words with the utmost care, -

"If she should really love you, what would you say?"

Daniel looked disgusted. He replied, - "It is hardly generous in you to
make sport of me, Maxime. I may be a fool; but I am not an idiot, to be
conceited to that degree."

"That is no answer to my question," said Brevan; "and I repeat my
question. What would you say?"

"I would say that I execrate her!"

"Oh! if you hate her so bitterly, you are very near loving her."

"I despise her; and without esteem" -

"That is an old story. That is no impediment."

"Finally, you know how dearly, how ardently, I love Miss Ville-Handry."

"Of course; but that is not the same thing."

M. de Brevan had at last finished his careful toilet. He put on a
dressing-gown; and, carrying Daniel with him into the small room which
he used as a dressing-room, he asked, -

"And what have you said in reply to that note?"

"Nothing."

M. de Brevan had thrown himself into a comfortable chair, and assumed
the careful air of a physician who has been consulted. He nodded, and
said, -

"You have done well, and for the future I advise you to pursue the same
plan. Don't say a word. Can you do any thing to prevent Miss Brandon
from carrying out her purposes? No! Let her go on, then."

"But" -

"Let me finish. It is not only your own interest to act thus, but also
Miss Henrietta's interest. The day on which they part you, you will be
inconsolable; but you will also be free to act. She, on the other hand,



Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 11 of 39)