Émile Gaboriau.

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first-comer, man or woman, who drives up in a carriage. And the number
of such first-comers is prodigiously large. Where do they come from? No
one knows. From Russia, from Turkey, from America, from Hungary, from
very far, from everywhere, from below, I do not count the impudent
fellows who are still muddy from the gutter in which they have been
lying. How do all these people live? That is a mystery. But they do
live, and they live well. They have, or at least seem to have, money;
and they shine, they intrigue, they conspire, they make believe, and
they extort. So that I verily believe all this high-life society, by
dint of helping one another, of pushing and crowding in, will, in the
end, be master of all. You may say that I am not in the crowd. Very
true. I willingly shake hands with the workmen who work for me, and
who earn their living worthily; but I do not shake hands with these
ambiguous personages in yellow kids, who have no title but their
impudence, and no means of living but their underhand intrigues."

He addressed himself apparently to no one, following, with his absent-
minded glance, the crowd in the garden; and yet, by his peculiar
manner, you would have known that he was speaking at some one among the
listeners.

However, it was evident that he had no success, and that his doctrine
seemed to be utterly out of season, and almost ridiculous. A young man
with a delicate black mustache, and extremely well dressed, even turned
to his neighbor, and asked, -

"Who is our friend, the preacher?"

"What! don't you know him?" replied the other.

"That is the Duke of Champdoce, you know, who has married a princess of
Mussidan. Quite an original."

M. de Brevan, however, had remained perfectly impassive, and now said, -

"At all events, I suppose it was not altogether a question of interest
which made Miss Brandon marry the count."

"Why not?"

"Because she is immensely rich."

"Pshaw!"

An old gentleman came up, and said, -

"She must needs be perfectly disinterested; for I have it from the count
himself that none of the property is to be settled upon Miss Brandon."

"That certainly is marvellously disinterested."

Having said what he meant to say, the duke had entered the church; and
the old beau now took the word.

"The only thing that is clear to me in this matter is, that I think I
know the person whom this wedding will not please particularly."

"Whom do you mean?"

"Count Ville-Handry's daughter, a young girl, eighteen years old, and
wondrously pretty. Just imagine! Besides, I have looked for her all over
the church, and she is not there."

"She is not present at the wedding," replied the old gentleman, the
friend of Count Ville-Handry, "because she was suddenly taken ill."

"So they say," interposed the young man; "but the fact is, that a friend
of mine has just seen her driving out in her carriage in full dress."

"That can hardly be so."

"My friend was positive. She intended this pretty piece of scandal as a
wedding-present for her stepmother."

M. de Brevan shrugged his shoulders, and said in an undertone, -

"Upon my word, I should not like to stand in the count's shoes."

As a faithful echo of the gossip that was going on in society, this
conversation, carried on in broken sentences, under the porch of St.
Clothilda, made it quite clear that public opinion was decidedly in
favor of Miss Brandon. It would have been surprising if it should have
been otherwise. She triumphed; and the world is always on the side of
the victor. That Duke of Champdoce, an original, was the only one there
who was disposed to remember the past; the others had forgotten it. The
brilliancy of her success was even reflected on those who belonged to
her; and a young man who copied to exaggeration English fashions was
just singing the praises of M. Thomas Elgin and Mrs. Brian, when a great
commotion was noticed under the porch.

People came out, and said, -

"It is all over. The wedding-guests are in the vestry now to sign their
names."

The conversation stopped at once. The old beau alone exclaimed, -

"Gentlemen, if we wish to present our respects to the newly-married
couple, we must make haste."

And with these words he hurried into the church, followed by all the
others, and soon reached the vestry, which was too small to hold all
the guests invited by Count Ville-Handry. The parish register had been
placed upon a small table; and every one approached, as his turn came,
taking off his gloves before seizing the pen. Fronting the door, and
leaning against one of the cupboards in which the holy vessels are kept,
stood Miss Brandon, now Countess Ville-Handry, having at her side grim
Mrs. Brian, and tall, stiff M. Elgin.

Her admirers had exaggerated nothing. In her white bridal costume she
looked amazingly beautiful; and her whole person exhaled a perfume of
innocence and ingenuous purity.

She was surrounded by eight or ten young persons, who overwhelmed
her with congratulations and compliments. She replied with a slightly
tremulous voice, and casting down her eyes with the long, silky
eyelashes. Count Ville-Handry stood in the centre of the room, swelling
with almost comic happiness; and at every moment, in replying to his
friends, used the words, "My wife," like a sweet morsel which he rolled
on his tongue.

Still a careful observer might have noticed underneath his victorious
airs a trace of almost painful restraint. From time to time his
face darkened as one of those unlucky, awkward people, who turn up
everywhere, asked him, -

"I hope Miss Henrietta is not complaining much? How very sorry she must
be to be detained at home!"

It is true, that, among these unlucky ones, there were not a few
malicious ones. Nobody was ignorant that something unpleasant had
happened in the count's family. They had suspected something from the
beginning of the ceremony.

For the count had hardly knelt down by Miss Brandon's side, on a velvet
cushion, when a servant wearing his livery had come up, and whispered
a few words in his ear. The guests who were nearest had seen him turn
pale, and utter an expression of furious rage.

What had the servant told him?

It became soon known, thanks to the Countess Bois, who went about
telling everybody with inexhaustible volubility, that she had just met
Miss Ville-Handry in the street.

When the last name had been signed, nobody was, therefore, surprised
at seeing Count Ville-Handry give his arm to his wife, and hand her
hurriedly to her carriage, - a magnificent state-carriage. He had
invited some twenty people, former friends of his, to a great wedding-
breakfast; but he seemed to have forgotten them. And once in his
carriage, alone with Mrs. Brian, M. Elgin, and the young countess, he
broke forth in incoherent imprecations and absurd threatenings.

When they reached the palace, he did not wait for the coachman to drive
as usually around the yard, but jumped out, and, rushing up to the
vestibule, cried out, -

"Ernest! send Ernest here!"

Ernest was his own valet, the clever artist to whom he was indebted for
the roses of his complexion. As soon as he appeared, he asked, -

"Where is the young lady?"

"Gone out."

"When?"

"Immediately after you, sir."

The young countess, Mrs. Brian, and M. Elgin, had, in the meantime, come
up, and gone into the room in the lower story, where this scene took
place.

"Do you hear that?" he asked them.

Then, turning again to the valet, he asked, -

"How did it happen?"

"Very naturally. The gates had not been closed behind your carriage,
sir, when the young lady rang the bell. They went up to see what she
wanted, and she ordered the landau to be brought round. She was told
very respectfully, that all three coachmen were out, and that there was
no one there to drive her. 'If that be so,' she answered, 'I want you to
run and get me a hired carriage.' And, when the servant to whom she gave
the order hesitated, she added, 'If you do not go instantly, I shall go
myself.'"

The count trembled with rage.

"And then?" he asked, seeing that the man was hesitating.

"Then the servant was frightened, and did what she wanted."

"He is dismissed, the fool!" exclaimed Count Ville-Handry.

"But allow me to _say_," commenced Ernest.

"No! Let his wages be paid. And you go on."

Without showing any embarrassment, the valet shrugged his shoulders, and
continued in a lazy tone, -

"Then the hack came into the court-yard; and we saw the young lady
come down in a splendid toilet, such as we have never seen her wear
before, - not pretty exactly, but so conspicuous, that it must have
attracted everybody's attention. She settled herself coolly on the
cushions, while we looked at her, utterly amazed; and, when she was
ready, she said, 'Ernest, you will tell my father that I shall not
be back for breakfast. I have a good many visits to make; and, as
the weather is fine, I shall afterwards go to the Bois de Boulogne.'
Thereupon the gates were opened, and off they went. It was then that I
took the liberty to send you word, sir."

In all his life Count Ville-Handry had not been so furious. The veins
in his neck began to swell; and his eyes became bloodshot, as if he had
been threatened with a fit of apoplexy.

"You ought to have kept her from going out," he said hoarsely. "Why did
you not prevent her? You ought to have made her go back to her room, use
force if necessary, lock her up, bind her."

"You had given no orders, sir."

"You ought to have required no orders to do your duty. To let a mad
woman run about! an impudent girl whom I caught the other day in the
garden with a man!"

He cried out so loud, that his voice was heard in the adjoining room,
where the invited guests were beginning to assemble. The unhappy man! He
disgraced his own child. The young countess at once came up to him and
said, -

"I beseech you, my dear friend, be calm!"

"No, this must end; and I mean to punish the wicked girl."

"I beseech you, my dear count, do not destroy the happiness of the first
day of our married life. Henrietta is only a child; she did not know
what she was doing."

Mrs. Brian was not of the same opinion. She declared, -

"The count is right. The conduct of this young lady is perfectly
shocking."

Then Sir Thorn interrupted her, saying, -

"Ah, ah! Brian, where is our bargain? Was it not understood that we
would have nothing to do with the count's private affairs?"

Thus every one took up at once his assigned part. The countess advocated
forbearance; Mrs. Brian advised discipline; and Sir Thorn was in favor
of silent impartiality.

Besides, they easily succeeded in calming the count. But, after such a
scene, the wedding breakfast could not be very merry. The guests, who
had heard nearly all, exchanged strange looks with each other.

"The count's daughter," they thought, "and a lover? That can hardly be!"

In vain did the count try to look indifferent; in vain did the young
countess display all her rare gifts. Everybody was embarrassed; nobody
could summon up a smile; and every five minutes the conversation gave
out. At half-past four o'clock, the last guest had escaped, and the
count remained alone with his new family. It was growing dark, and they
were bringing in the lamps, when the rolling of carriage-wheels was
heard on the sand in the court-yard. The count rose, turning pale.

"Here she comes!" he said. "Here is my daughter!"

It was Henrietta.

How could a young girl, usually so reserved, and naturally so timid,
make up her mind to cause such scandal? Because the most timid people
are precisely the boldest on certain occasions. Forced to abandon
their nature, they do not reason, and do not calculate, and, losing all
self-possession, rush blindly into danger, impelled by a kind of madness
resembling that of sheep when they knock their heads against the walls
of their stable.

Now, for nearly a fortnight, the count's daughter had been upset by
so many and so violent emotions, that she was no longer herself. The
insults which her father heaped upon her when he surprised her with
Daniel had unsettled her mind completely.

For Count Ville-Handry, acting under a kind of overexcitement, had that
day lost all self-control, and forgot himself so far as to treat his
daughter as no gentleman would have treated his child while in his
senses, and that in the presence of his servants!

And then, what tortures she had had to endure in the week that followed!
She had declared that she would not be present at the reading of the
marriage-contract, nor at the ceremonies of the civil marriage, nor
at church; and her father had tried to make her change her intentions.
Hence every day a new lamentable scene, as the decisive moment drew
nearer.

If the count had at least used a little discretion, if he had tried
the powers of persuasion, or sought to touch his daughter's heart by
speaking to her of herself, of her future, of her happiness, of her
peace!

But no! He never came to her room without a new insult, thinking of
nothing, as he acknowledged himself, but of sparing Miss Brandon's
feelings, and of saving her all annoyance. The consequence was, that his
threats, so far from moving Henrietta, had only served to strengthen her
in her determination.

The marriage-contract had been read and signed at six o'clock, just
before a grand dinner. At half-past five, the count had once more come
to his daughter's room. Without telling her any thing of it, he had
ordered her dressmaker to send her several magnificent dresses; and they
were lying about now, spread out upon chairs.

"Dress yourself," he said in a tone of command, "and come down!"

She, the victim of that kind of nervous exaltation which makes martyrdom
appear preferable to yielding, replied obstinately, -

"No, I shall not come down."

She did not care for any subterfuge or excuse; she did not even pretend
to be unwell; she said resolutely -

"I will not!"

And he, finding himself unable to overcome this resistance, maddened and
enraged, broke out in blasphemies and insane threats.

A chambermaid, who had been attracted by the loud voice, had come, and,
putting her ear to the keyhole, had heard every thing; and the same
evening she told her friends how the count had struck his daughter, and
that she had heard the blows.

Henrietta had always denied the charge.

Nevertheless, it was but too true, that, in consequence of these last
insults, she had come to the determination to make her protest as
public as she could by showing herself to all Paris while her father was
married at St. Clothilda to Miss Brandon. The poor girl had no one
to whom she could confide her griefs, no one to tell her that all the
disgrace would fall back upon herself.

So she had carried out her plan bravely. Putting on a very showy
costume, so as to attract as much attention as possible, she had spent
the day in driving about to all the places where she thought she would
meet most of her acquaintances. Night alone had compelled her to return,
and she felt broken to pieces, exhausted, upset by unspeakable anguish
of soul, but upheld by the absurd idea that she had done her duty and
shown herself worthy of Daniel.

She had just alighted, and was about to pay the coachman, when the
count's valet came up, and said to her in an almost disrespectful tone
of voice, -

"My master has ordered me to tell you to come to him as soon as you
should come home."

"Where is my father?"

"In the large reception-room."

"Alone?"

"No. The countess, Mrs. Brian, and M. Elgin are with him."

"Very well. I am coming."

Gathering all her courage, and looking whiter and colder than the marble
of the statues in the vestibule, she went to the reception-room, opened
the door, and entered stiffly.

"Here you are!" exclaimed Count Ville-Handry, restored to a certain
degree of calmness by the very excess of his wrath, - "here you are!"

"Yes, father."

"Where have you been?"

She had at a glance taken in the whole room; and at the sight of the new
countess, and those whom she called her accomplices, all her resentment
arose. She smiled haughtily, and said carelessly, -

"I have been at the Bois de Boulogne. In the morning I went out to make
some purchases; later, knowing that the Duchess of Champdoce is a little
unwell, and does not go out, I went to lunch with her; after that, as
the weather was so fine" -

Count Ville-Handry could endure it no longer.

Seizing his daughter by the wrists, he lifted her bodily, and, dragging
her up to the Countess Sarah, he hurled out, -

"On your knees, unhappy child! on your knees, and ask the best and
noblest of women to pardon you for all these insults!"

"You hurt me terribly, father," said the young girl coldly.

But the countess had already thrown herself between them.

"For Heaven's sake, madam," she said, "spare your father!"

And, as Henrietta measured her from head to foot with an insulting
glance, she went on, -

"Dear count, don't you see that your violence is killing me?"

Promptly Count Ville-Handry let his daughter go, and, drawing back, he
said, -

"Thank her, thank this angel of goodness who intercedes in your behalf!
But have a care! my patience is at an end. There are such things as
houses of correction for rebellious children and perverse daughters."

She interrupted him by a gesture, and exclaimed with startling energy, -

"Be it so, father! Choose among all these houses the very strictest, and
send me there. Whatever I may have to suffer there, it will be
better than being here, as long as I see in the place of my mother
that - woman!"

"Wretch!" howled the count.

He was suffocating. By a violent effort he tore off his cravat; and,
conscious that he was no longer master of himself, he cried to his
daughter, -

"Leave me, leave me! or I answer for nothing." She hesitated a moment.

Then, casting upon the countess one more look full of defiance, she
slowly went out of the room.




XIV.

"Well, I am sure the count can boast that he has had a curious
wedding-day."

This was the way the servants spoke at the moment when Henrietta left
the reception-room. She heard it; and without knowing whether they
approved her conduct, or laughed at it, she felt gratified, so eager is
passion for encouragement from anywhere.

But she had not yet gone half-way up the stairs which led to her own
rooms, when she was held at the place by the sound of all the bells of
the house, which had been set in motion by a furious hand. She bent over
the balusters to listen. The servants were rushing about; the vestibule
resounded with hurried steps; and she distinguished the imperious voice
of M. Ernest, the count's valet, who called out, -

"Salts, quick! Fresh water. The countess has a nervous attack."

A bitter smile curled Henrietta's lips.

"At least," she said to herself, "I shall have poisoned this woman's
joy." And, fearing to be caught thus listening, she went up stairs.

But, when she was alone once more, the poor girl failed not to recognize
the utter futility of her fancied triumph. Whom had she wounded, after
all? Her father.

However unwell the countess might be to-night, - and perhaps she was not
really unwell, - she would certainly be well again in the morning; and
then what would be the advantage of the scandal she had attempted in
order to ruin her? Now Henrietta saw it very clearly, - now, when it was
too late.

Worse than that! She fancied that what she had done to-day pledged
her for the future. The road upon which she had started evidently led
nowhere. Never mind, it seemed to her miserable cowardice to shrink from
going on.

Rising with the sun, she was deliberating on what weak point she might
make her next attack, when there came a knock at the door, and Clarissa,
her own maid, entered.

"Here is a letter for you, miss," she said. "I have received it this
moment, in an envelope addressed to me."

Henrietta examined the letter for a long time before opening it,
studying the handwriting, which she did not know. Who could write to
her, and in this way, unless it was Maxime de Brevan, to whom Daniel
had begged her to intrust herself, and who, so far, had given no sign of
life of himself?

It was M. de Brevan who wrote thus, -


"Madam, - Like all Paris, I also have heard of your proud and noble
protest on the day of your father's unfortunate marriage. Egotists and
fools will perhaps blame you. But you may despise them; for all the best
men are on your side. And my dear Daniel, if he were here, would approve
and admire your courage, as I do myself."


She drew a full breath, as if her heart had been relieved of a heavy
burden.

Daniel's friend approved her conduct. This was enough to stifle
henceforth the voice of reason, and to make her disregard every idea of
prudence. The whole letter of M. de Brevan was, moreover, nothing but a
long and respectful admonition to resist desperately.

Farther on he wrote, -


"At the moment of taking the train, Daniel handed me a letter, in which
he expresses his innermost thoughts. With a sagacity worthy of such a
heart, he foresees and solves in advance all the difficulties by which
your step-mother will no doubt embarrass you hereafter. This letter is
too precious to be intrusted to the mail, I shall, therefore, get myself
introduced at your father's house before the end of the week, and I
shall have the honor to put that letter into your own hands."


And again, -


"I shall have an opportunity, tomorrow, to send Daniel news from here.
If you wish to write to him, send me your letter to-day, Rue Laffitte,
No. 62, and I will enclose it in mine."


Finally, there came a postscript in these words, -


"Mistrust, above all, M. Thomas Elgin."


This last recommendation caused Henrietta particular trouble, and made
her feel all kinds of vague and terrible apprehensions.

"Why should I mistrust him," she said to herself, "more than the
others?"

But a more pleasing anxiety soon came to her assistance. What? Here
was an opportunity to send Daniel news promptly and safely, and she was
running the risk, by her delays, of losing the chance? She hastened to
dress; and, sitting down before her little writing-table, she went to
work communicating to her only friend on earth all her sufferings since
he had so suddenly left her, her griefs, her resentments, her hopes.

It was eleven o'clock when she had finished, having filled eight large
pages with all she felt in her heart. As she was about to rise, she
suddenly felt ill. Her knees gave way under her, and she felt as if
every thing was trembling around her. What could this mean? she thought.
And now only she remembered that she had eaten nothing since the day
before.

"I must not starve myself," she said almost merrily to herself. Her long
chat with Daniel had evidently rekindled her hopes.

She rang the bell; and, when her maid appeared, she said, -

"Bring me some breakfast!"

Miss Ville-Handry occupied three rooms. The first, her sitting-room,
opened upon the hall; on the right was her bed-chamber; and on the left
a boudoir with her piano, her music, and her books. When Henrietta took
her meals up stairs, which of late had happened quite often, she ate in
the sitting-room.

She had gone in there, and was clearing the table of the albums and
little trifles which were lying about, so as to hasten matters, when the
maid reappeared with empty hands.

"Ah, miss!"

"Well?"

"The count has given orders not to take any thing up stairs."

"That cannot be."

But a mocking voice from without interrupted her, saying, -

"It is so!"

And immediately Count Ville-Handry appeared, already dressed, curled,
and painted, bearing the appearance of a man who is about to enjoy his
revenge.

"Leave us!" he said to the maid-servant.

And, as soon as Clarissa had left the room, he turned to Henrietta with
these words, -

"Yes, indeed, my dear Henrietta, I have given strict orders not to bring
you up any thing to eat. Why should you indulge such fancies? I ask you.
Are you unwell? If you are, we will send for the doctor. If not, you
will do me the favor to come down and take your meals in the dining-room
with the family, - with the countess and myself, M. Elgin and Mrs.
Brian."

"But, father!"

"There is no father who could stand this. The time of weakness is
past, and so is the time of passion; therefore, you will come down. Oh!
whenever you feel disposed. You will, perhaps, pout a day, maybe two
days; but hunger drives the wolf into the village; and on the third day



Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 15 of 39)