Émile Gaboriau.

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wrong funds. Money questions are so delicate!"

But Daniel said, shrugging his shoulders, -

"I do not understand why you should hesitate to undertake so simple a
thing, when you have already consented to render me so signal and so
difficult a service."

So simple! M. de Brevan did not look upon it in that light.

A nervous shiver, which he could hardly conceal, ran down his backbone;
drops of perspiration broke out on his temples; and he turned deadly
pale.

"Fifty thousand dollars! That is an enormous sum."

"Oh, yes!" replied Daniel in the most careless manner.

And, looking at the clock, he added, -

"Half-past three. Come, Maxime, be quick. My carriage is waiting. The
notary expects us between three and four o'clock."

This notary was an exceptional man. He took an interest in the affairs
of his clients, and sometimes even listened to hear their explanations.
When Daniel had told him what he intended doing, he replied, -

"You have nothing to do, M. Champcey, but to give M. de Brevan a
power-of-attorney in proper form."

"Would it be possible," asked Daniel, "to have it drawn up at once?"

"Why not? It can be recorded this evening; and to-morrow" -

"Well, then, lose no time."

The notary called his chief clerk, gave him briefly his instructions,
then, making a sign to Daniel, he drew him into a kind of recess
resembling an enormous cupboard, adjoining his office, in which he
"confessed" his clients, as he called it. When they were there, he
said, -

"How is it, M. Champcey, do you really owe this M. de Brevan so much
money?"

"Not a cent."

"And you leave your entire fortune thus in his hands! You must have
marvellous confidence in the man."

"As much as in myself."

"That is a good deal. And if he should, during your absence, run away
with the fifty thousand dollars?"

Daniel was a little shaken; but he remained firm.

"Oh!" he said, "there are still some honest people in the world."

"Ah?" laughed the notary.

And, from the manner in which he shook his head, it was clearly seen
that experience had made him very sceptical on that subject.

"If you would only listen to me," he resumed, "I could prove to you" -

But Daniel interrupted him, and said, -

"I have no desire, sir, to change my mind; but, even if I should wish to
do so, I cannot retract my word. There are particular circumstances in
this case which I cannot explain to you in so short a time."

The notary raised his eyes to the ceiling, and said in a tone of great
pity, -

"At least, let me make him give you a deed of defeasance."

"Very well, sir."

This was done, but in such carefully guarded terms, that even the most
exquisite susceptibility on the part of Maxime could not have been
hurt. It was five o'clock, when the power-of-attorney and the deed were
signed, and the two friends left the worthy notary's office. It was
too late now for Daniel to write to Henrietta to send him for that same
evening the key to the little garden-gate; but he wrote to get it for
the next evening.

After that, having dined with M. de Brevan, he went all over Paris in
search of the thousand little things which are necessary for such a long
and perilous voyage. He came home late, and was fortunate enough to fall
asleep as soon as he had lain down. The next morning he breakfasted in
his rooms, for fear of being out of the house when they should bring him
the key.

It came towards one o'clock. It was brought by a large girl, nearly
thirty years old, with a cross expression of face, and eyes more than
modestly seeking the ground, and with narrow lips which seemed to
be perpetually engaged in reciting prayers. This was Clarissa, whom
Henrietta considered the safest of her waiting-women, and whom she had
taken into her confidence.

"Miss Henrietta," she said to Daniel, "has given me this key and this
letter for you, sir. She expects an answer."

Daniel tore the envelope, and read, -


"Take care, O my darling friend! to resort to this dangerous expedient
which we ought to reserve for the last extremity. Is what you have to
tell me really so important as you say? I can hardly believe it; and yet
I send you the key. Tell Clarissa the precise hour at which you will be
here."


Alas! the poor girl had no idea of the terrible news that was in store
for her.

"Request Miss Henrietta," said Daniel to the maid, "to expect me at
seven o'clock."

Sure now of seeing Henrietta, Daniel slipped the key in his pocket, and
hurried away. He had only a short afternoon to himself, and there were
still a thousand things to get, and countless preparations to make.

At his notary's, where he went first, he found the papers ready; all
the formalities had been fulfilled. But, at the moment when the deed was
placed before him, the worthy lawyer said in a prophetic voice, -

"M. Champcey, take care, reflect! I call that tempting a man pretty
strongly when you hand over to him fifty thousand dollars the day before
you start on a long and dangerous expedition."

"Ah! What matters my fortune, if I only see my Henrietta again?"

The notary looked discouraged.

"Ah! if there is a woman in the affair, I have nothing more to say."

It was as well. The next moment Daniel had forgotten him and his sombre
presentiments.

Seated in M. de Brevan's little sitting-room, he was handing over his
deeds and papers to his faithful confidant, explaining to him how he
might make the most of the different parcels of land which he owned; how
certain woods might be sold together; how, on the other hand, a large
farm, now held by one tenant, might be advantageously divided into small
lots, and sold at auction.

M. de Brevan did not look so pale now. He had recovered his self-
possession, and laid aside his usual reserve in order to show himself
all eagerness for his friend.

He declared that he would see to it that his friend Daniel should not
be robbed. He intended, therefore, to go himself to Anjou to call upon
those who were likely to purchase, and to be present at the sale. In his
opinion, it would be wiser to sell piecemeal, without hurry. If money
was needed, why, one could always get it at the bank.

Daniel was deeply touched by the devotion of his friend, whose intense
selfishness he had noticed but too often. Nor was this all. Capable of
the greatest sacrifices where Daniel's interests were at stake, M.
de Brevan had formed a grand resolution. He proposed to overcome his
aversion to Miss Brandon, and to seek, immediately after her marriage,
an introduction at Count Ville-Handry's palace, for the purpose of
going there constantly. He might have to play a disagreeable part, he
admitted; but he would thus be enabled to see Miss Henrietta frequently;
he would hear every thing that happened, and be at hand whenever she
should need advice or assistance.

"Dear Maxime," repeated Daniel, "dear, excellent friend, how can I ever
thank you for all you are doing for me!"

As the day before, they dined together at one of the restaurants on the
boulevard; and after dinner M. de Brevan insisted upon accompanying
his friend back to Count Ville-Handry's house. As they reached it long
before the appointed hour, they walked up and down on the sidewalk which
runs along the wall of the immense park belonging to the palace. It was
a cold but perfectly clear night. There was not a cloud in the sky, no
mist nor haze; and the moon was shining so brightly, that one could have
read by its light.

In the meantime seven o'clock struck at a neighboring convent.

"Come, courage, my friend!" said M. de Brevan.

And, pressing his hand once more cordially, he walked off rapidly in the
direction of the Invalides.

Daniel had not answered a word. Terribly excited, he had drawn near the
small door, examining anxiously all the surroundings. The street was
deserted. But he trembled so violently, that for a moment he thought
he would never be able to turn the key in the rusty lock. At last he
succeeded in opening it, and he slipped into the garden.

No one there. He was the first on the spot.

Looking for some dark place under the tall trees, he hid himself there,
and waited. It seemed to him a century. He had counted sixty by the
beating of his pulse ever so many times, and was beginning to be very
anxious, when at last he heard some dry branches crackling under rapid
footsteps. A shadow passed between the trees. He went forward, and
Henrietta was standing before him.

"What is it now, great God!" she said anxiously. "Clarissa said you
looked so pale and undone, that I have been terribly frightened."

Daniel had come to the conclusion that the plain truth would be less
cruel than the most skilful precautions.

"I have been ordered on active service," he replied, "and I must be on
board ship the day after tomorrow."

And then, without concealing any thing, he told her all he had suffered
since the day before. Miss Ville-Handry felt as if she had been stunned
by a crushing blow. She was leaning against a tree. Did she even hear
Daniel? Yes; for, suddenly rousing herself, she said, -

"You will not obey! It is impossible for you to obey!"

"Henrietta, my honor is at stake."

"Ah, what does it matter?"

He was about to reply; but she continued in a broken voice, -

"You will certainly not go when you have heard me. You think I am
strong, brave, and capable to breast the storm? You are mistaken. I was
only drawing upon your energy, Daniel. I am a child, full of daring as
long as it rests on its mother's knee, but helpless as soon as it feels
that it is left to itself; I am only a woman, Daniel; I am weak."

The unhappy man felt his strength leaving him; he could no longer bear
the restraint which he had imposed upon himself.

"You insist upon sending me off in utter despair?" he asked her. "Ah, I
have hardly courage enough for myself!"

She interrupted him with a nervous laugh, and said in bitter sarcasm, -

"It would be courage to stay, to despise public opinion."

And, as any thing appeared to her preferable to such a separation, she
added, -

"Listen! If you will stay, I will yield. Let us go together to my
father, and I will tell him that I have overcome my aversion to Miss
Brandon. I will ask him to present me to her; _I_ will humble myself
before her."

"That is impossible, Henrietta."

She bent towards him, joining her hands; and in a suppliant voice she
repeated, -

"Stay, I beseech you, in the name of our happiness! If you have ever
loved me, if you love me now, stay!"

Daniel had foreseen this heartrending scene; but he had vowed, that,
if his heart should break, he would have the fortitude to resist
Henrietta's prayers and tears.

"If I were weak enough to give way now, Henrietta," he said, "you would
despise me before the month is over; and I, desperate at having to drag
out a life of disgrace, would blow out my brains with a curse on you."

With her arms hanging listlessly by her side, her hands crossed behind
her, Miss Ville-Handry stood there motionless, like a statue. She felt
in her heart that Daniel's resolution was not to be shaken.

Then he said in a gentle voice, -

"I am going, Henrietta; but I leave you a friend of mine, - a true and
noble friend, who will watch over you. You have heard me speak of him
often, - Maxime de Brevan. He knows my wishes. Whatever may happen,
consult him. Ah! I should leave more cheerfully if you would promise me
to trust this faithful friend, to listen to his advice, and to follow
his directions."

"I promise you, Daniel, I will obey him."

But a rustling of the dry leaves interrupted them.

They turned round. A man was cautiously approaching them.

"My father!" cried Henrietta.

And, pushing Daniel towards the gate, she begged him to flee.

To remain would only have been to risk a painful explanation, insults,
perhaps even a personal collision. Daniel understood that but too well.

"Farewell," he said to Henrietta, "farewell! Tomorrow you will receive a
letter from me."

And he escaped, but not so promptly that he should not have heard the
count's angry voice, as he said, -

"Ah, ah! Is this the virtuous young lady who dares to insult Miss
Sarah?"

As soon as Daniel had locked the door again, he listened for a moment,
hoping that he might hear something of importance. But he could only
make out a few indistinct exclamations, then nothing, nothing more.

It was all over now. He would have to sail without seeing Henrietta
again, without enjoying that bitter happiness of holding her once more
in his arms. And yet he had told her nothing of all he had to tell her;
he had not spoken to her of half his recommendations, nor given her a
thousandth part of his tender farewells.

How had they been surprised? How came it about that the count had stayed
at home, instead of hurrying off immediately after dinner, as was his
custom? Why should he have inquired after his daughter, he who generally
took no more trouble about her than if she had not existed?

"Ah, we have been betrayed!" thought the unhappy man.

By whom? By that unpleasant maid evidently, whom he had seen that
morning; by that very Clarissa in whom Henrietta put such confidence. If
that was so, - and it was but too probable, - to whom should he send his
letters hereafter? Here, again, he saw himself reduced to Maxime de
Brevan as the only one who could convey news from him to Henrietta. Ah!
he recognized but too clearly the execrable but most cunning policy of
Miss Brandon.

"The wretch!" he swore; "the infamous woman!"

Wrath, mad wrath, set his brains on fire. And he could do nothing
against that woman!

"But she does not stand alone!" he suddenly exclaimed. "There is a man
there who shelters her under his responsibility, - Sir Thorn!"

M. Elgin might be insulted; he might be struck in the face, and thus be
compelled to fight.

And, without considering this absurd plan, he hurried to Circus Street.
Although it was barely eight o'clock, Miss Brandon's house looked as if
everybody were asleep. He rang the bell, however; and, when a servant
came to the door, he inquired, -

"M. Thomas Elgin?"

"M. Elgin is absent," replied the servant.

"At what hour will he be back?"

"He is not coming home to-night."

And whether he had received special instructions, or was only acting
upon general orders, he added, -

"Mrs. Brian is at the theatre; but Miss Brandon is at home."

Daniel's wrath changed into a kind of cold fury.

"They expected me," he thought.

And he hesitated. Should he see Miss Brandon? But for what end? He was
just turning away, when a sudden thought occurred to him. Why should he
not talk with her, come to an understanding, and perhaps make a bargain
with her?

"Show me to Miss Brandon's room," he said to the servant.

She sat, as she always did when left alone in the house, in the little
boudoir, where Daniel had already once been carried by her. Dressed in a
long dressing-wrapper of pale-blue cashmere, her hair scarcely taken up
at all, she was reading, reclining on a sofa.

As the door opened, she raised herself carelessly a little, and, without
turning around, asked, -

"Who is that?"

But, when the servant announced the name of M. Champcey, she rose with a
bound, almost terrified, dropping the book which she had in her hand.

"You!" she murmured as soon as the servant had left. "Here, and of your
own accord?"

Firmly resolved this time to remain master of his sensations, Daniel had
stopped in the middle of the room, as stiff as a statue.

"Don't you know, madam, what brings me here? All your combinations have
succeeded admirably; you triumph, and we surrender."

She looked at him in perfect amazement, stammering -

"I do not understand you. I do not know what you mean."

He shrugged his shoulders, and continued in an icy tone, -

"Do me the honor to think that I am not altogether a fool. I have seen
the letter which you have sent to the minister, signed with my name. I
have held that masterpiece of forgery in my hand and know now how you
free yourself of my presence!"

Miss Brandon interrupted him with an angry gesture, -

"Then it is really so! He has done it; he has dared do it!"

"Who is this he? M. Thomas Elgin, no doubt?"

"No, not he; another man."

"Name him!"

She hesitated, hung her head, and then said with a great effort, -

"I knew they wished to separate us; and, without knowing precisely what
means they would employ, I suspected them. And, when I came to you the
other day, I wanted to say to you, 'Have a care!' and you, M. Champcey,
you drove me from you."

He looked upon her with such an ironical smile that she broke off, and
cried, -

"Ah, he does not believe me! Tell me that you do not believe me!"

He bowed ceremoniously, and replied in his gravest manner, -

"I believe, Miss Brandon, that you desire to become Countess Ville-
Handry; and you clear everything out of your path that can hinder you in
your plans."

She was about to answer; but he did not give her time, and continued, -

"Mark, I pray, that I make no charges. Come, let us play openly. You
are too sensible and too practical to hate us - Miss Henrietta and
myself - from gratuitous and purely platonic motives. You hate us because
we are in your way. How are we in your way? Tell me; and, if you will
promise to help us, we - Henrietta and I - pledge ourselves not to stand
in your way."

Miss Brandon looked as if she could not trust her ears.

"But, sir, this is a bargain, I should say, which you propose?"

"Yes, indeed! And, that there may be no misunderstanding, I will mention
the precise terms: if you will swear to be kind to Henrietta during my
absence, to protect her against violence on the part of her father, and
never to force her to act contrary to her sentiments for me, I will give
you, in return, my word that I shall give up to you, without dispute
and without reserve, the whole immense fortune possessed by Count
Ville-Handry."

Succumbing to her grief, Miss Brandon seemed to be almost fainting; and
big tears rolled down her cheeks.

"Have I not yet been humiliated sufficiently?" she said in a low voice.
"Must you add shame to shame? Daniel, you think I am very mean."

And, checking the sobs which impeded her words, she went on, -

"And yet I cannot blame you for it, I cannot. No, you are right! Every
thing is against me; every thing bears witness against me. Yes, I must
appear a very wicked girl in your eyes. If you knew the truth, however,
Daniel - if I could, if I dared, tell you all!"

She drew nearer to him, all trembling; and then continued in a still
lower tone of voice, as if she feared to be overheard, -

"Do you not understand yet that I am no longer my own? Unfortunate as
I am, they have taken me, bound me, fettered me. I have no longer the
right to have a will of my own. If they say, 'Do this!' I must needs do
it. What a life I lead! Great God! Ah, if you had been willing, Daniel!
If you were willing even now!"

She became excited almost to exaltation; her eyes, moist with tears,
shone with matchless splendor; passing blushes colored her face; and her
voice had strange, weird vibrations.

Was she forgetting herself? Was she really about to betray her secret?
or was she merely inventing a new falsehood? Why should he not let her
go on?

"That is no answer, Miss Brandon," at last said Daniel. "Will you
promise me to protect Henrietta?"

"Do you really love her so dearly, your Henrietta?"

"Better than life!"

Miss Brandon turned as white as the lace on her dress; a flash of
indignation shot through her eyes; and, drying her tears, she said
curtly, -

"Oh!"

Then Daniel replied, -

"You will give me no answer, madam?"

And, as she persisted in her silence, he resumed, -

"Very well, then, I understand. You declare open war. Be it so! Only
listen to me carefully. I am setting out on a dangerous expedition, and
you hope I shall never return. Undeceive yourself, Miss Brandon; I shall
return. With a passion like mine, with so much love in one's heart, and
so much hatred, a man can defy every thing. The murderous climate will
not touch me; and, if I had ten rifle-balls in my body, I should still
have the strength to return, and hold you to an account for what you
have done to Henrietta. And if you have touched a hair on her head, if
you have made her shed a single tear, by all that is holy, it will bring
ill luck to you, and ill luck to others!"

He was going to leave her, when a thought struck him.

"I ought to tell you, moreover," he added, "that I leave a faithful
friend behind me; and, if the count or his daughter should die very
suddenly, the coroner will be informed. And now, madam, farewell - or,
rather, till we meet again!"

At eight o'clock on the evening of the next day, after having left in
M. de Brevan's hands a long letter for Henrietta, and after having given
him his last instructions, Daniel took his seat in the train which was
to take him to his new post.




XIII.

It was a week after Daniel's departure, a Wednesday, and about half-
past eleven o'clock.

Some thirty carriages, the most elegant, by all means, that Paris could
boast of, were standing alongside of the Church of St. Clothilda. In the
pretty little square before the building, some hundred and fifty or two
hundred idlers were waiting with open mouths. The passers-by, noticing
the crowd, went up and asked, -

"What is going on?"

"A wedding," was the answer.

"And a grand wedding, apparently."

"Why, the grandest thing you ever saw. It is a nobleman, and an
immensely rich one, who is going to be married, - Count Ville-Handry.
He marries an American lady. They have been in the church now for some
time, and they will soon come out again."

Under the porch a dozen men, in the orthodox black costume, with yellow
kid gloves, and white cravats showing under their overcoats, evidently
men belonging to the wedding-party, were chatting merrily while they
were waiting for the end of the ceremony. If they were amused, they
hardly showed it; for some made an effort to hide their yawning, while
others kept up a broken conversation, when a small _coupe_ drove up, and
stopped at the gate.

"Gentlemen," said a young man, "I announce M. de Brevan."

It was he really.

He stepped leisurely out of his carriage, and came up in his usual
phlegmatic manner. He knew the majority, perhaps, of the young men in
the crowd; and so he commenced at once shaking hands all around, and
then said in an easy tone of voice, -

"Who has seen the bride?"

"I!" replied an old beau, whose perpetual smile displayed all the
thirty-two teeth he owed to the dentist.

"Well, what do you think of her?"

"She is always sublime in her beauty, my dear. When she walked up the
aisle to kneel down at the altar, a murmur of admiration followed her
all the way. Upon my word of honor, I thought they would applaud."

This was too much enthusiasm. M. de Brevan cut it short, asking, -

"And Count Ville-Handry?"

"Upon my word," replied the old beau ironically, "the good count can
boast of a valet who knows almost as much as Rachel, the famous English
enameller. At a little distance you would have sworn that he was
sixteen years old, and that he was going, not to be married, but to be
confirmed."

"And how did he look?"

"Restless, I think."

"He might well be," observed a stout, elderly gentleman, who was said
not to be very happily married.

Everybody laughed; but a very young man, a mere youth, who did not catch
the joke, said, -

"Why so?"

A man of about thirty years, a perfect model of elegance, whom the
others called, according to the degree of intimacy which they could
claim, either "Your Grace," or "Duke" simply replied, -

"Because, my dear viscount, Miss Brandon is one of those ladies who
never are married. They are courted; they are worshipped; they make
us commit a thousand follies for their sakes; they allow us to ruin
ourselves, and, finally, to blow our brains out for them, all right! But
to bear our name, never!"

"It is true," said Brevan, "that they tell a number of stories about
her; but it is all gossip. However" -

"You certainly would not ask," replied the duke, "that I should prove
her to have been brought before a police-court, or to have escaped from
the penitentiary?"

And, without permitting himself to be interrupted, he went on, -

"Good society in France, they say, is very exclusive. It does not
deserve that reputation. Except, perhaps, a score of houses, where old
traditions are still preserved, all other houses are wide open to the



Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 14 of 39)