Émile Gaboriau.

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under the touch of the hand turn into dust and ashes.

For with the news of his promotion came also the fatal order to a
distant shore. Why did they send such an order to him, who had at the
department an office in which he could render valuable services, while
so many of his comrades, waiting idly in port, watched anxiously, and
with almost feverish impatience, for a chance to go into active service?

"Ah!" he said to himself, his heart filled with rage, "how could I fail
to recognize in this abominable treachery Miss Brandon's cunning hand?"

First she had closed against him the gates of Count Ville-Handry's
palace, and thus separated him from his beloved Henrietta, so that they
could not meet nor speak to each other.

But this was not enough for the accursed adventuress. She wanted to
raise a barrier between them which should be more than a mere moral
and social obstacle, one of those difficulties which no human power, no
lover's ingenuity, could overcome, - the ocean and thousands of miles.

"Oh, no!" he cried in his anguish, "a thousand times no! Rather give up
my career, rather send in my resignation."

Hence, the very next day, he put on his uniform, determined to lay the
matter, first before that officer who was his immediate superior, but
resolved, if he should not succeed there, to go up to the minister
himself.

He had never worn that uniform since the night of a large court-ball,
where he had danced with Henrietta. It was nearly a year ago, a few
weeks before the death of the Countess Ville-Handry. As he compared his
happiness in those days with his present desperate condition, he was
deeply moved; and his eyes were still brimful of tears when he reached
the navy department, towards ten o'clock in the morning.

The officer whom he called upon was an old captain, an excellent man,
who had practised the appearance of a grim, stern official so long, that
he had finally become in reality what he only wished to appear.

Seeing Daniel enter his office, he thought he came to inform him of his
promotion, and made a great effort to smile as he hailed him with the
words, -

"Well, Lieut. Champcey, we are satisfied, I hope?"

And, perceiving that Daniel did not wear the epaulets of his new rank,
he added, -

"But how is that, lieutenant? Perhaps you have not heard yet?"

"I beg your pardon, captain."

"Why on earth, then, have you no epaulets?"

And he began to frown terribly, considering that such carelessness
augured ill for the service. Daniel excused himself as well as he could,
which was very little, and then boldly approached the purpose of his
call.

"I have received an order for active service."

"I know, - on board 'The Conquest,' in the roadstead at Rochefort, for
Cochin China."

"I have to be at my post in four days."

"And you think the time too short? It is short. But impossible to grant
you ten minutes more."

"I do not ask for leave of absence, captain; I want the favor - to be
allowed to keep my place here."

The old officer could hardly keep his seat.

"You would prefer not going on board ship," he exclaimed, "the very day
after your promotion? Ah, come, you are mad!"

Daniel shook his head sadly.

"Believe me, captain," he replied, "I obey the most imperative duty."

Leaning back in his chair, his eyes fixed on the ceiling, the captain
seemed to look for such a duty; then he asked suddenly, -

"Is it your family that keeps you?"

"If my place can really not be filled by one of my comrades, I shall be
compelled to send in my resignation."

The old sailor bounded as he heard that word, and said furiously, -

"I told you you were a fool!"

In spite of his determination, Daniel was too much troubled not to
commit a blunder. He insisted, -

"It is a matter of life and death with me, captain. And if you only knew
my reasons; if I could tell them" -

"Reasons which cannot be told are always bad reasons, sir. I insist upon
what I have told you."

"Then, captain, I shall be compelled, to my infinite sorrow, to insist
upon offering my resignation."

The old sailor's brow became darker and darker. He growled.

"Your resignation, your resignation! You talk of it very lightly. It
remains to be seen whether it will be accepted. 'The Conquest' does not
sail on a pleasure-party; she is sent out on a serious campaign, and
will probably be absent for some time. We have unpleasant complications
down there and are sending out reinforcements. You are still in France;
but you are actually under orders to meet the enemy; Men do not resign
in the face of the enemy, Lieut. Champcey!"

Daniel had turned very pale.

"You are severe, captain," he said.

"I have no idea, I assure you, of being gentle; and, if that can induce
you to change your mind" -

"Unfortunately, I cannot alter my decision."

The old sailor rose violently, and walked up and down the room several
times, giving vent to his anger in oaths of various kinds; then he
returned to Daniel, and said in his driest tone, -

"If that is so, the case is serious; I must report it to the secretary
of the navy. What time is it? Eleven o'clock. Come here again at half-
past twelve. I shall have settled the matter then."

Quite certain that his superior would say nothing in his favor, Daniel
retired, walking hurriedly through the narrow passages, when a joyous
voice hailed him, calling out, "Champcey!"

He turned, and found himself face to face with two of his comrades, with
whom he had been most intimate at school. They said eagerly, -

"So you are our superior now?"

And, with the utmost sincerity, they began to congratulate him,
delighted, as they said, that such good luck should have fallen upon a
man like him, whom everybody thought worthy of the distinction, and who
reflected honor upon the service. No enemy could have inflicted such
suffering upon Daniel as these two friends did. There was not one of
their good wishes which did not amount to a bitter sarcasm; every word
they said told upon him.

"You must confess, however," they continued, "that you are a lucky man,
like no other. One day you are made a lieutenant; and the next day they
offer you active service. The next time we meet, you will be a captain
in command of a frigate."

"I am not going out," replied Daniel, fiercely. "I have handed in my
resignation."

And, leaving his two friends looking utterly amazed, he went away at a
rapid pace.

Certainly, he had not foreseen all these difficulties; and in his blind
wrath he charged his chief with injustice and tyranny. He said, -

"I must stay in Paris; and I will stay."

Reflection, far from calming him, only excited him the more. Having left
home with the intention of offering his resignation only in an extreme
case, he was now determined to adhere to his plan, even if they should
offer him full satisfaction. Had he not an ample income of his own?
and could he not always find an honorable occupation? That would be
far better than to continue in a profession where one is never his own
master, but lives eternally under the dread of some order that may send
him, at a moment's warning, to heaven knows what part of the world.

That was the way he reasoned with himself while breakfasting at a tavern
not far off; and when he returned to the department, a little after
twelve, he looked upon himself as already no longer belonging to the
navy, and in his imagination caring little for the final decision.

It was the hour for receptions, when everybody who had any business at
the department came to look after his interests; and the anteroom
was filled with officers of every grade, some in uniform, others in
citizen's dress.

The conversation was very animated; for Daniel heard the sounds from the
outer passage.

He entered; and there was silence, - sudden, deep, chilling silence.

Evidently they had been talking about him.

Even if he could have doubted it for a moment, he read it in the faces
turned aside, the forced smiles, and the cautious glances with which he
was received. He thought, very much troubled, -

"What can this mean?"

In the meantime a young man in citizen's dress, whom he did not know,
called out from one side of the room to the other, to an old officer
in a seedy uniform, with blackened epaulets (a real sea-dog),
lean, bronzed, wrinkled, and with eyes bearing the traces of recent
ophthalmy, -

"Why do you stop, lieutenant? We were much interested, I assure you."

The lieutenant seemed to hesitate, as if he were making up his mind to
do a disagreeable thing, which still did not depend on his choice; and
then he resumed his account, -

"Well, we got there, convinced that we had taken all the necessary
precautions, and that there was, consequently, nothing to fear, - fine
precautions they turned out to be! In the course of a week the whole
crew was laid up; and as to the staff, little Bertram and I were the
only officers able to appear on deck. Moreover, my eyes were in a state.
You see what they say now. The captain was the first to die; the same
evening five sailors followed suit, and seven the next day; the day
after the first lieutenant and two of the noncommissioned officers. The
like was never seen before."

Daniel turned to his neighbor.

"Who is that officer?" he asked.

"Lieut. Dutac of 'The Valorous,' just returned from Cochin China."

Light broke upon Daniel's mind; it was a painful light.

"When did 'The Valorous' come in?" he asked again.

"Six days ago she made the harbor of Brest."

The other man went on, -

"And thus, you see, we left a goodly portion of our crew out there.
That is a campaign! As to my own notions, this is what I think, - a nasty
country, a wretched climate, a people fit for the gallows."

"Certainly," said the young man in citizen's dress, "things are not
pleasant in Cochin China."

"Ah, but still" -

"What if you were ordered back?"

"I would go, of course. Somebody must go, you know, and carry
reinforcements there; but I should not care if somebody else" -

He shrugged his shoulders, and said stoically, -

"And besides, since we navy men must be eaten by the fish some time or
other, it does not matter very much when that takes place."

Was not that, in a trivial, but terribly impressive manner, precisely
the same thing that Daniel had been told by his captain? People do not
resign when they face the enemy.

It was very evident that the officers who were there assembled doubted
his courage, and were discussing the fact when he entered. It was clear
that they attributed his resignation to fear.

At this idea, that he might be suspected of cowardice, Daniel trembled
all over. What could he do to prove that he was not a coward? Should he
challenge every one of these men, and fight one, two, ten duels? Would
that prove that he had not shrunk from the unknown perils of a new
country, from the dangers of an armed invasion, and a fatal climate? No;
unless he was willing to remain a marked man for life, he must go;
yes, go, since out there dangers awaited him of which he was held to be
afraid.

He went up, therefore, to the old lieutenant, and said, in a voice loud
enough to be heard by every one in the room, -

"My good comrade, I had just been ordered to the place you come from,
and I had sent in my resignation; but after what you have said, - things
I knew nothing of, - I shall go."

There was a murmur of approbation. And one voice said, "Ah! I was sure
of it!" and that was all. But it was quite enough to prove to Daniel
that he had chosen the only way to save his honor, which had been in
imminent peril. But, simple as the whole scene was in itself, it was
very extraordinary, in view of the usual reserve which prevails among
sailors. And, besides, does it not happen almost every day, that an
officer ordered to some station requests and obtains leave to exchange
with some one else, and nothing is said?

Daniel felt that underneath the whole affair there was some diabolic
intrigue. If Miss Brandon had really procured this order to active
service, was it not likely that she would have taken her measures, so
that he could not possibly avoid going? Were all these men in citizen's
dress whom he saw there really navy officers? The young man who had
asked Lieut. Dutac to go on in his story had disappeared. Daniel went
from one to the other, inquiring who that clever young man was, but in
vain. Soon a summons came for him to appear in the superior's office. He
hastened there; and, as he opened the door, he said, -

"I'll follow your advice, captain. In three days I shall be on board
'The Conquest.'"

The captain's stern face cleared up, and he said approvingly, -

"All right! You did well to change your mind; for your business began to
look very ugly. The minister is very angry with you."

"The minister? And why?"

"_Primo_, he had charged you with a very important duty."

"To be sure," stammered Daniel, hanging his head; "but I have been so
severely suffering!"

The fact is, he had totally forgotten that unlucky work.

"_Secundo_," continued the old officer, "he was doubtful whether you
were in your right senses, and I agree with him, since he has told me
that you yourself have solicited this appointment on foreign service in
the most urgent terms."

Daniel was stunned, and stammered out, -

"His Excellency is mistaken."

"Ah! I beg your pardon, M. Champcey; I have myself seen your letter."

But already a sudden inspiration had, like a flash of lightning, cleared
up the mystery in Daniel's mind.

"Ah! I wish I could see it too! Captain, I beseech you show me that
letter!"

The old officer began almost to think that Champcey was really not in
his right mind. He answered, -

"I do not have it; but it is among your papers in the bureau for
Personal Affairs."

In a minute Daniel was in the office where those papers were kept, and
obtained, not without much trouble, and under certain conditions only,
leave to look at his papers. He opened the parcel with feverish haste;
and the very first paper that fell in his hands was a letter, dated the
day before, in which he urgently requested the minister to grant him the
special favor of being sent out with the expedition to Cochin China on
board the frigate "Conquest."

Daniel was, of course, perfectly sure that he had written no such
letter.

But the handwriting was so precisely like his own, letter for letter,
and even his signature was so admirably imitated, that he felt for a
moment utterly bewildered, mistrusting, for a second, his own eyes, his
own reason. The whole was done so exceedingly well, that if the matter
had been one of ordinary importance, and the date of the letter had gone
back to a fortnight or so ago, he would certainly have suspected his
memory rather than the letter before him.

Overcome by the atrocity of such a trick, he exclaimed, -

"It is almost incredible!"

It was, however, only too certain, too indisputable, that the letter
could not have been dictated by any one but Miss Brandon. No doubt, one
of her accomplices, perhaps the great Sir Thorn himself, had written it.
Ah! now Daniel understood the insolent assurance of Miss Brandon, when
she insisted upon his taking poor Malgat's letters, and repeatedly said,
"Go and show them to the clerks who have known that unhappy man for long
years, and they will tell you if they are his own." Most assuredly he
would have met with no one bold enough to say the contrary, if Malgat's
handwriting had been copied with the same distressing perfection as his
own.

Still he might, perhaps, profit by this strange event; but how?

Ought he to mention his discovery? What would have been the use? Would
they believe him, if he accused her of forgery, of a trick unsurpassed
in boldness and wickedness? Would they even consent to an investigation;
and, if they instituted one, what would be the result? Where would they
find an expert ready to swear that this letter was not written by him,
when he himself, if each line had been presented to him separately,
would have felt bound to acknowledge it as his own?

Was it not far more probable, on the contrary, that, after what he had
done in the morning, they would have ascribed his charges to a mistake,
or seen in them a weak invention in order to cover his retreat?
Therefore it was a thousand times better to keep silence, to be resigned
to postpone to another day every attempt to avenge himself in a
manner corresponding to the injury he had suffered, and all the more
effectively, as his vengeance would have been carefully matured.

But he did not wish that false letter, which might become a formidable
piece of evidence against him, to remain among his papers; no doubt Miss
Brandon would soon find an opportunity of having it withdrawn. He asked,
therefore, for leave to copy it, obtained permission, went to work, and
succeeded, without being seen by anybody, in substituting his copy for
the original.

When this was done, knowing that he had not a minute to lose, he
instantly left the department, and, jumping into a carriage, drove to M.
de Brevan.




XII.

Like all energetic natures, Daniel felt a wonderful relief as soon as he
had formed an irrevocable decision. He would even have enjoyed the peace
that had once more returned to his mind, but for the savage hatred which
had accumulated in his heart, and which confused his thoughts whenever
he remembered Miss Brandon.

Providentially, it seemed to him, Maxime had not gone out, or, rather,
having been to breakfast at the English cafe with some of his friends,
he had just returned.

In ten words Daniel had told him every thing, and even shown him that
masterpiece of forgery, which he attributed to Miss Brandon's mind, and
M. Elgin's skill. Then, without heeding Maxime's exclamations of wonder
and indignation, loud and deep as they were, he continued, -

"Now, my dear Maxime, listen to me. It may be my last will which I am
going to give in your charge."

And, when his friend tried to remonstrate, he insisted, -

"I know what I am saying. I am sure I hope I shall not be buried out
there; but the climate is murderous, and I may encounter a cannon-ball.
It is always better to be prepared."

He paused a moment to collect his thoughts; and then he went on.

"You alone, in this world, Maxime, know all my private affairs. I have
no secret from you. I have friends whom I have known longer than you;
but I have none in whom I feel more confidence. Besides, my old friends
are all sailors, - men, who, like myself, may at any moment be sent,
Heaven knows where. Now I want a reliable, safe, and experienced man,
possessed of prudence and energy, and sure not to leave Paris. Will you
be that man, Maxime?"

M. de Brevan, who had remained in his chair, rose, and, putting his hand
on his heart, said, -

"Between us, Daniel, oaths are useless; don't you think so? I say,
therefore, simply, you may count upon me."

"And I do count upon you," exclaimed Daniel, - "yes, blindly and
absolutely; and I am going to give you a striking proof of it."

For a few moments it looked as if he were trying to find some brief and
yet impressive form for his communication; and then he said, speaking
very rapidly, -

"If I leave in despair, it is because I leave Henrietta in the hands of
the enemy. What persecution she will have to endure! My heart bleeds at
the mere thought. Miss Brandon must be meditating some terrible blow, or
she would not have been so anxious to keep me at a distance."

He sobbed almost, so great was his excitement; but he instantly became
master again of his emotion, and continued, -

"Well, Maxime, I shall ask you to watch over Henrietta. I intrust her to
you as I would intrust her to my brother, if I had one."

M. de Brevan was about to state some objections; but Daniel cut him
short, saying, -

"I will tell you how and in what manner you can watch over Miss
Ville-Handry. To-morrow evening I shall see her, and tell her the new
misfortune which has befallen us. I shall take leave of her then. I know
she will be terrified; but then, to reassure her, I shall explain to her
that I leave her a friend, another myself, ready, like myself, to assist
her at her first summons, and ready, like myself, to run any danger in
order to succor her. I shall tell her to appeal to you as if it were to
myself; to write to you as she used to write to me; to keep you informed
of all they may attempt to do; to consult and to obey you without
hesitation.

"As to what you will have to do, Maxime, I cannot tell you that, even
in a general way, as I know nothing of Miss Brandon's plans. I rely
upon your experience to do what is most expedient. Still there are two
alternatives which I can foresee. It may be that her father's house
becomes impossible for Henrietta, and that she should wish to leave
it. It may also be, that, under certain circumstances, you may think it
inexpedient for her to remain there, and that you have to advise her
to escape. In either case, you will take Henrietta to an old lady, a
relative of mine, who lives at the Rosiers, a little village in the
department of Maine-et-Loire, and whose address I will give you, while I
will inform her beforehand of what may happen."

He paused, trying to remember if there was any thing else, and,
recalling nothing, he said, -

"This, my dear Maxime, is all I expect you to do for me."

With open brow, a clear eye, and grave face, M. de Brevan replied in
a solemn tone of voice, speaking like a man who feels that he deserves
such confidence, -

"Friend Daniel, you may sail without fear."

But Daniel had not done yet.

Pressing his friend's hand heartily, he thanked him, and then with
a careless air, under which he very imperfectly concealed his real
embarrassment, he said, -

"There remains only to provide the means for carrying out these
measures, and for possible contingencies. You are not rich, my dear
Maxime, I mean rich in comparison with the people who are your friends;
you have told me so more than once."

He touched a wound which was always open, and always bleeding.

"Certainly," replied M. de Brevan, "in comparison with a number of my
friends, with men like Gordon Chalusse, for instance, I am only a poor
devil."

Daniel did not notice the bitterness of this reply.

"Now," he said, "suppose, at a given moment, Miss Henrietta's safety
should make a certain sum of money necessary, - perhaps a very large
sum, - are you sure you will always have enough in your drawer, and be
able to dispose of it without inconvenience?"

"Ah! you expect too much of me; but I have friends."

"And you would ask them! you would expose yourself to the humiliation of
hearing those set excuses which serve to conceal refusals! I could never
permit that."

"I assure you" -

"Let me tell you that I have forgotten nothing. Although my means are
modest, I can, by selling out some bonds, realize enough to secure you
against any embarrassment on that score. I also own property in Anjou
which is valued at fifty or sixty thousand dollars, and I mean to sell
it."

The other man opened his eyes wide.

"You mean," he said slowly.

"To sell it, yes. You heard right. Except, however, my home, my father's
house, with the little garden in front, the orchard, and the meadow
adjoining the house. In that house my father and my mother have lived
and died. I find them there, so to _say_, whenever I go in; their
thoughts are still filling the rooms, after so many years. The garden
and the orchard are the first little bits of land my father bought from
his earnings as ploughboy. He cultivated them in his leisure hours, and
there is literally not a foot of soil which he has not moistened with
the sweat of his brow. They are sacred to me; but the rest - I have
already given orders."

"And you expect to sell every thing in the three days before your
departure?"

"Oh, no! But you are here."

"What can I do?"

"Take my place, I should think. I will leave you a power-of-attorney.
Perhaps, if you make haste, you can get fifty thousand dollars for the
property. You will invest that so as to be able to use it any moment.
And, if ever Miss Henrietta should be compelled to leave her father's
house, you will hand the money over to her."

M. de Brevan had turned very pale.

"Excuse me," he said, "excuse me."

"What?"

"Well, it seems to me it would be more suitable to leave some one else
in charge of that."

"Whom?"

"Oh! I do not know, - a more experienced man! It may be that the property
will not bring as much as you expect. Or I might invest the money in the



Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 13 of 39)