Émile Gaboriau.

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will be forced to live under the same roof with Miss Brandon; and you do
not know what a stepmother can do to torture the child of her husband!"

Daniel trembled. He had already thought of that; and the idea had made
him shudder. Brevan continued, -

"For the present, the most important thing is to find out how your
flight has been explained. We may be able to draw our conclusions from
what has been said on the subject."

"I'll go at once and try to find out," said Daniel.

And, after having affectionately shaken hands with Maxime, he hurried
down to his carriage and drove as fast as he could to Count Ville-
Handry's palace. The count was at home and alone, walking up and down
in the most excited manner. And certainly he had enough to excite and
preoccupy him just now. It was nearly noon; and he had not yet been in
the hands of his valet. When he saw Daniel, he paused for a moment, and,
crossing his arms on his breast, he said, in a terrible tone, -

"Ah! here you are, M. Champcey. Well, you are doing nice things!"

"I, count? How so?"

"How so? Who else has overwhelmed poor Miss Sarah with insults at the
very time when she was trying to explain every thing to you? Who
else, ashamed of his scandalous conduct, has run away, never daring to
reappear at her house?"

What had the count been told? Certainly not the truth. He went on, -

"And do you know, M. Champcey, what has been the effect of your
brutality? Miss Brandon has been seized with such a terrible nervous
attack, that they had to send the carriage for a doctor. You unlucky
man, you might have killed her! They would, of course, never have
allowed me to enter her own room; but from the reception-room I could at
times hear her painful cries and sobs. It was only after eight o'clock
this morning that she could get any rest; and then Mrs. Brian, taking
pity on _my_ great grief, granted me the favor to see her, sleeping like
an infant."

Daniel listened, stupefied by amazement, utterly confounded by the
impudence of Sir Thorn and Mrs. Brian, and hardly able to understand the
count's astonishing credulity. He thought to himself, -

"This is abominable! Here I am an accomplice of this Miss Brandon. Must
I actually aid her in obtaining possession of this unlucky man?"

But what could he do? Should he speak? Should he tell Count Ville-
Handry, that if he really heard cries of pain, and sobs, they were
certainly not uttered by Miss Brandon? Should he tell him, that, while
he was dying with anxiety, his beloved was driving about Paris, Heaven
knows where and with whom.

The thought of doing so occurred to Daniel. But what would have been the
good of it? Would the count believe him? Most probably not. And thus
he would only add new difficulties to his position, which was already
complicated enough. Finally, he saw very, clearly that he would never
dare tell the whole truth, or show that letter which he had in his
pocket. Still he tried to excuse himself, and began, -

"I am too much of a gentleman to insult a woman."

The count interrupted him rudely, saying, -

"Spare me, I pray, a rigmarole which cannot affect me. Besides, I do not
blame you particularly. I know the heart of man too well not to be sure,
that, in acting thus, you have followed much less the inspirations of
your own heart than the suggestions made by my daughter."

It might have been very dangerous for Henrietta to allow the count to
cherish such thoughts. Daniel, therefore, tried once more to explain.

"I assure you, count" -

But the count interrupted him fiercely, stamping with his foot.

"No more! I mean to make an end to this absurd opposition, and to break
it forever. Do they not know that I am master in my own house? and do
they propose to treat me like a servant, and to laugh at me, into the
bargain? I shall make you aware who is master."

He checked himself for an instant, and then continued, -

"Ah, M. Champcey! I did not expect that from you. Poor Sarah! To think
that I could not spare her such a humiliation! But it is the last; and
this very morning, as soon as she wakes, she shall know that all is
ended. I have just sent for my daughter to tell her that the day for
the wedding is fixed. All the formalities are fulfilled. We have the
necessary papers" -

He paused, for Henrietta came in.

"You wish to speak to me, papa?" she said as she entered the room.

"Yes."

Greeting Daniel with a sweet glance of her eyes, Henrietta walked up to
the count, and offered him her forehead to kiss; but he pushed her back
rudely, and said, assuming an air of supreme solemnity, -

"I have sent for you, my daughter, to inform you that to-morrow
fortnight I shall marry Miss Brandon."

Henrietta must have been prepared for something of the kind, for she
did not move. She turned slightly pale; and a ray of wrath shot from her
eyes. The count went on, -

"Under these circumstances, it is not proper, it is hardly decent, that
you should not know her who is to be your mother hereafter. I shall
therefore present you to her this very day, in the afternoon."

The young girl shook her head gently, and then she said, -

"No!"

Count Ville-Handry had become very red. He exclaimed, -

"What! You dare! What would you say if I threatened to carry you
forcibly to Miss Brandon's house?"

"I, should say, father, that that is the only way to make me go there."

Her attitude was firm, though not defiant. She spoke in a calm, gentle
voice, but betrayed in every thing a resolution firmly formed, and not
to be shaken by any thing. The count seemed to be perfectly amazed at
this audacity shown by a girl who was usually so timid. He said, -

"Then you detest, you envy, this Miss Brandon?"

"I, father? Why should I? Great God! I only know that she cannot become
the Countess Ville-Handry, - she who has filled all Paris with evil
reports."

"Who has told you so? No doubt, M. Champcey."

"Everybody has told me, father."

"So, because she has been slandered, the poor girl" -

"I am willing to think she is innocent; but the Countess Ville-Handry
must not be a slandered woman."

She raised herself to her full height, and added in a higher voice, -

"You are master here, father; you can do as you choose. But I - I owe it
to myself and to the sacred memory of my mother, to protest by all the
means in my power; and I shall protest."

The count stammered and stared. The blood rose to his head. He cried
out, -

"At last I know you, Henrietta, and I understand you. _I_ was not
mistaken. It was you who sent M. Daniel Champcey to Miss Brandon, to
insult her at her own house."

"Sir!" interrupted M. Daniel in a threatening tone.

But the count could not be restrained; and, with his eyes almost
starting from their sockets, he continued, -

"Yes, I read your innermost heart, Henrietta. You are afraid of losing a
part of your inheritance."

Stung by this insult, Henrietta had stepped up close to her father, -

"But don't you see, father, that it is this woman who wants your
fortune, and that she does not like us, and cannot like us?"

"Why, if you please?"

Once before, Count Ville-Handry had asked this question of his daughter
in almost the same words. Then she had not dared answer him; but now,
carried away by her bitterness at being insulted by a woman whom she
despised, she forgot every thing. She seized her father's hand, and,
carrying him to a mirror, she said in a hoarse voice, -

"'Why?' - you ask. Well, look there! look at yourself!"

If Count Ville-Handry had trusted nature, he would have looked like a
man of barely sixty, still quite robust and active. But he had allowed
art to spoil every thing. And this morning, with his few hairs, half
white, half dyed, with the rouge and the white paint of yesterday
cracked, and fallen away in places, he looked as if he had lived a few
thousand years.

Did he see himself as he really was, - hideous?

He certainly became livid; and coldly, for his excessive rage gave him
the appearance of composure, he said, -

"You are a wretch, Henrietta!"

And as she broke out in sobs, terrified by his words, he said, -

"Oh, don't play comedy! Presently, at four o'clock precisely, I shall
call for you. If I find you dressed, and ready to accompany me to Miss
Brandon's house, all right. If not M. Champcey has been here for the
last time in his life; and you will never - do you hear? - never be his
wife. Now I leave you alone; you can reflect!"

And he went out, closing the door so violently, that the whole house
seemed to shake.

"All is over!"

Both Henrietta and Daniel were crushed by this certain conviction.

The crisis could no longer be postponed. A few hours more, and the
mischief would be done. Daniel was the first to shake off the stupor of
despair; and, taking Henrietta's hand, he asked her, -

"You have heard what your father said. What will you do?"

"What I said I would do, whatever it may cost me."

"But could you yield?"

"Yield?" exclaimed the young girl.

And, looking at Daniel with grieved surprise, she added, -

"Would you really dare give me that advice, - you who had only to look at
Miss Brandon to lose your self-control so far as to overwhelm her with
insults?"

"Henrietta, I swear" -

"And this to such an extent, that father accused you of having done so
at my bidding. Ah, you have been very imprudent, Daniel!"

The unhappy man wrung his hands with despair. What punishment he had
to endure for a moment's forgetfulness! He felt as if he had rendered
himself guilty already by not revealing the mean conduct of M. Elgin and
Mrs. Brian while Miss Brandon was driving about Paris. And now, at this
very hour, he was put into a still more difficult position, because he
could not even give a glimpse of the true state of things.

He said nothing; and Henrietta gloried in his silence.

"You see," she said, "that if your heart condemns me, your reason and
your conscience approve of my decision."

He made no reply, but, rising suddenly, he began to walk up and down in
the room like a wild beast searching for some outlet from the cage in
which it has been imprisoned. He felt he was caught, hemmed in on all
sides, and he could do nothing, nothing at all.

"Ah, we must surrender!" he exclaimed at last, overcome with grief; "we
must do it; we are almost helpless. Let us give up the struggle; reason
demands it. We have done enough; we have done our duty."

All trembling with passion, he spoke on for some time, bringing up the
most conclusive arguments, one by one; while his love lent him all its
persuasive power. And at last it looked as if Henrietta's determination
were giving way, and she began to hesitate. It was so; but she was
still struggling against her own emotion, and said in a half-suppressed
tone, -

"No doubt, Daniel, you think I am not yet wretched enough."

And then, fixing upon him a long, anxious glance, she added, -

"Say no more, or I shall begin to fear that you are dreading the time
which has still to elapse till we can be united, and that you doubt
me - or yourself."

He blushed, finding himself thus half detected; but, given up entirely
to sinister presentiments, he insisted, -

"No, I do not doubt; but I cannot reconcile myself to the idea that you
are going to live under the same roof with Miss Brandon, M. Elgin, and
Mrs. Brian. Since this abominable adventuress must triumph, let us flee.
I have in Anjou an old respectable kinswoman, who will be very proud to
offer you her hospitality."

Henrietta stopped him by a gesture. Then she said, -

"In other words, I who risk my happiness in order to avoid a blot upon
the name of Ville-Handry, I should tarnish it in an almost ineffaceable
manner. That cannot be."

"Henrietta!"

"No more. I stand upon a post of honor which I shall not abandon. The
more formidable Miss Brandon is, the more it becomes my duty to remain
here in order to watch over my father."

Daniel trembled.

He remembered suddenly what M. de Brevan had told him of the means
employed by Miss Brandon for the purpose of getting rid of troublesome
people. Did Henrietta's instincts make her anticipate a crime? No, not
such a crime, at least.

"You will understand my decision all the better," she continued, "if I
tell you what a strange discovery I have made. This morning a gentleman
called here, who said he was a business-man, and had an appointment with
Count Ville-Handry which was of the utmost importance.

"The servants had told him that their master was out. He became angry,
and began to talk so loud, that I came to see what was the matter. When
he saw me, and found out who I was, he at once became very quiet, and
begged me to take charge of a rough copy of a legal paper, which he had
been directed to prepare secretly, and which he desired me to hand to my
father.

"I promised to do so; but, as I was carrying the paper up stairs to put
it upon my father's bureau, I happened to look at it. Do you know
what it was? The statutes of a new society, of which father was to be
president."

"Great God! Is it possible?"

"Most assuredly, unfortunately. I saw on the top of the paper, 'Count
Ville-Handry, director in chief' and after the name followed all his
titles, the high offices he has filled, and the French and foreign
decorations which he has received."

Daniel could no longer doubt. He said, -

"We knew that they would try to obtain possession of your father's
fortune, and now we have the proof of it. But what can we ever do,
Henrietta, against the cunning manoeuvres of people like these?"

She bowed her head, and answered in a tone of resignation, -

"I have heard it said that often the mere presence of an inoffensive
child is sufficient to intimidate and frighten away the boldest
criminals. If God wills it so, I will be that child."

Daniel tried once more to insist; but she cut him short, saying, -

"You forget, my dear friend, that this is, perhaps for many years, the
last time we shall ever be alone together. Let us think of the future.
I have secured the confidence of one of my waiting-women, and to her you
must direct your letters. Her name is Clarissa Pontois. If any grave and
unforeseen necessity should arise, and it becomes absolutely necessary
for me to see you, Clarissa will bring you the key of the little
garden-gate, and you will come."

Both of them had their eyes filled with tears; and their hearts felt
increasing anguish as the hand on the dial advanced. They knew they
would have to part. Could they hope ever to meet again?

It struck four o'clock. Count Ville-Handry reappeared. Stung to the
quick by what he called the insulting remarks of his daughter, he
had stimulated the zeal of his valet; and that artist had evidently
surpassed himself in the arrangement of the hair, and especially in the
complexion.

"Well, Henrietta?" he asked.

"My decision remains unchanged, father."

The count was probably prepared for this answer; for he succeeded in
controlling his fury.

"Once more, Henrietta," he said, "consider! Do not decide rashly,
relying simply upon odious slanders."

He drew from his pocket a photograph, looked at it lovingly, and,
handing it to his daughter, he added, -

"Here is Miss Brandon's portrait. Look at it, and see if she to whom
God has given such a charming face, such sublime eyes, can have a bad
heart."

For more than a minute Henrietta examined the likeness; and then,
returning it to her father, she said coldly, -

"This woman is beautiful beyond all conception. Now I can explain to
myself that new society of which you are going to be director-general."

Count Ville-Handry turned pale under this "juncture," and cried in a
terrible voice, -

"Unhappy child! Unhappy child! You dare insult an angel?"

Maddened with rage, he had lifted up his hand, and was about to strike
his daughter, when Daniel seized his wrist in his iron grasp, and
threateningly, as if he himself was about to strike, he said, -

"Ah, sir, have a care! have a care!"

The count cast upon him a look of concentrated hatred; but, regaining
his self-control, he freed himself, and, pointing at the door, he said
slowly, -

"M. Champcey, I order you to leave this house instantly; and I forbid
your ever coming back to it again. My servants will be informed, that,
if any one of them ever allows you to cross the threshold of this house,
he will be instantly dismissed. Go, sir!"




XI.

Twenty-four hours after Daniel had thus left Count Ville-Handry's
palace, pale and staggering, he had not yet entirely recovered from
this last blow. He had made a mortal enemy of the man whom it was his
greatest interest to manage; and this man, who of his own accord would
have parted with him only regretfully, had now turned him disgracefully
out of his house.

He could hardly account to himself for the way in which this had come
about. Nay, more; retracing step by step, his conduct during the last
few days, it appeared to him pitiful, absurd. And then all that had
happened seemed to have turned against him.

He accused Fate, that blind goddess, who is always blamed by those who
have not the courage to blame themselves. He was in this state of mind
when there came to him, to his great surprise, a letter from Henrietta.
Thus it was she who anticipated him, and who, sure that he would be
desperate, had the feminine delicacy to write to him almost cheerfully.


"Immediately after your departure, my dear Daniel, father ordered me up
stairs, and decided that I should stay there till I should become more
reasonable. I know I shall stay here a long time."


She concluded thus, -


"What we want most of all, oh, my only friend! is courage. Will you have
as much as your Henrietta?"


"Oh, certainly, certainly! I shall have all that is needed," exclaimed
Daniel, moved to tears.

And he vowed to himself that he would devote himself, heart and soul,
to his work, and there find, if not forgetfulness, at least peace. He
found, however, that to swear was easier than to do. In spite of all
his efforts, he could not fix his thoughts upon any thing else but his
misfortunes. The studies which he had formerly pursued with delight now
filled him with disgust. The balance of his whole life was so completely
destroyed, that he was not able to restore it.

The existence which he now led was that of a desperate man. As soon as
he had risen, he hurried to M. de Brevan, and remained in his company
as long as he could. Left alone, he wandered at haphazard along the
Boulevards, or up the Champs Elysees. He dined early, hurried home
again, and, putting on a rough overcoat which he had worn on board ship,
he went to roam around the palace of his beloved.

There, behind those heavy, beautifully carved gates, which were open to
all comers but to him, lived she who was more to him than his life. If
he had struck the flagstones of the sidewalk with the heel of his boots,
she would have heard the sound. He could hear the music of her piano;
and yet the will of one man placed an abyss between them.

He was dying of inaction. It seemed to him atrocious, humiliating,
intolerable, to be thus reduced to expecting good or evil fortune from
fate, passively, without making an effort, like a man, who having taken
a ticket in a lottery, and is all anxiety to obtain a large fortune,
crosses his arms and waits for the drawing.

He was suffering thus for six days, and saw no end of it; when one
morning, just as he was going out, his bell rang. He went to open the
door.

It was a lady, who, without saying a word, swiftly walked in, and as
promptly shut the door behind her.

Although she was wrapped up in a huge cloak which completely hid
her figure, in spite of the very thick veil before her face, Daniel
recognized her at once.

"Miss Brandon!" he exclaimed.

In the meantime she had raised her veil, "Yes, it is I," she replied,
"risking another calumny in addition to all the others that have been
raised against me, Daniel."

Amazed at a step which seemed to him the height of imprudence, he
remained standing in the anteroom, and did not even think of inviting
Miss Brandon to go into the next room, his study.

She went in of her own accord, quite aloof; and, when he had followed
her, she said to him, -

"I came, sir, to ask you what you have done with that promise you gave
me the other night at my house?"

She waited a moment; and, as he did not reply, she went on, -

"Come, I see you are like all men, if they pledge their word to another
man, who is a match for them, they consider it a point of honor to keep
it, but if it is a woman, then they do not keep it, and boast of it!"

Daniel was furious; but she pretended not to see it, and said more
coldly, -

"I - I have a better memory than you, sir; and I mean to prove it to you.
I know what has happened at Count Ville-Handry's house; he has told me
all. You have allowed yourself to be carried away so far as to threaten
him, to raise your hand against him."

"He was going to strike his daughter, and I held his arm."

"No, sir! my dear count is incapable of such violence; and yet his own
daughter had dared to taunt him with his weakness, pretending that he
had been induced by me to establish a new industrial company."

Daniel said nothing.

"And you," continued Miss Brandon, - "you allowed Miss Henrietta to say
all these offensive and absurd things. I should induce the count to
engage in an enterprise where money might be lost! Why? What interest
could I have?"

Her voice began to tremble; and her beautiful eyes filled with tears.

"Interest!" she went on to say, "money! The world can think of no other
motive nowadays. Money! I have enough of it. If I marry the count, you
know why I do it, - you! And you also know that it depended, and perhaps,
at this moment, still depends upon one single man, whether I shall break
off that match this very day, now."

As she said this, she looked at him in a manner which would have caused
a statue to tremble on its marble pedestal.

But he, with his heart full of hatred, remained icy, enjoying the
revenge which was thus presented to him.

"I will believe whatever you wish to say," he answered in a mocking
tone, "if you will answer me a single question."

"Ask, sir."

"The other night, when I had left you, where did you go in your
carriage?"

He expected to see her confused, turning pale, stammer. Not at all.

"What, you know that?" she said, with an accent of admirable candor.
"Ah! I committed an act of almost as great imprudence as I now do. If
some fool should see me leave your rooms?"

"Pardon me, Miss Brandon, that is no answer to my question. Where did
you go?"

And as she kept silent, surprised by Daniel's firmness, he said
sneeringly, -

"Then you confess that it would be madness to believe you? Let us break
off here, and pray to God that I may be able to forget all the wrong you
have done me."

Miss Brandon's beautiful eyes filled with tears of grief or of rage. She
folded her hands, and said in a suppliant tone, -

"I conjure you, M. Champcey, grant me only five minutes. I must speak to
you. If you knew" -

He could not turn her out; he bowed profoundly before her, and withdrew
into his bedroom, closing the door behind him. But he immediately
applied his eye to the keyhole, and saw Miss Brandon, her features
convulsed with rage, threaten him with her closed hand, and leave the
room hastily.

"She was going to dig another pit for me," thought Daniel.

And the idea that he had avoided it made him, for a part of that day
at least, forget his sorrow. But on the following day he found, when
he returned home, a formidable document from the navy department, and
inside two letters.

One informed him that he had been promoted to be a lieutenant.

The other ordered him to report four days hence at Rochefort, on board
the frigate "Conquest," which was lying in the roadstead waiting for two
battalions of marines to be transferred to Cochin China.

Daniel had for long years, and with all the eager ambition of a young
man, desired the promotion which he now obtained. That rank had been the
supreme goal of all his dreams since the day on which he learned at the
navy school the rudiments of his perilous vocation. How often, as he
stood leaning against the monkey-railing, and saw boats passing by which
carried officers, had he said to himself, -

"When I am a navy lieutenant!"

Well, now he was a lieutenant. But alas! his wishes, thus realized,
filled him only with disgust and bitterness, like those golden apples,
which, at a distance, shine brightly in the branches of magic trees, and



Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 12 of 39)