Émile Gaboriau.

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carefully observed. The count then came up to his daughter, and, taking
her hands, asked her, -

"Come, child. What has happened? What was the matter?"

She looked upon him in utter despair, and then said in a low voice, -

"Nothing! only you have ruined me, father."

"How, how?" said the count. "What do you mean?"

And very much embarrassed, perhaps angry against himself, and trying to
find an excuse for what he had done, he added, simpering, -

"Is it not your own fault? Why do you treat Sarah so badly, and do all
you can to exasperate me?"

"Yes, you are right. It is my fault," murmured Henrietta.

She said it in a tone of bitter irony now; but afterwards, when she was
alone, and more quiet, reflecting in the silence of the night, she had
to acknowledge, and confess to herself, that it was so. The scandal by
which she had intended to crush her step-mother had fallen back upon
herself, and crushed her.

Still, the next morning she was a little better; and, in spite of all
that Clarissa could say, she would get up, and go down stairs, for all
her hopes henceforth depended on that letter written by Daniel. She had
been waiting day after day for M. de Brevan, who was to bring it to her;
and for nothing in the world would she have been absent when he came at
last.

But she waited for him in vain that day, and four days after.

Attributing his tardiness to some new misfortune, she thought of writing
to him, when at last, on Tuesday, - the day which the countess had chosen
for her reception-day, - but not until the room was already quite full of
company, the servant announced, - "M. Palmer, M. de Brevan!"

Seized with most violent emotions, Henrietta turned round suddenly,
casting upon the door one of those glances in which a whole soul is
read at once. At last she was to know him whom her Daniel had called his
second self. Two men entered: one, quite old, had gray hair, and looked
as grave and solemn as a member of parliament; the other, who might be
thirty or thirty-five years old, looked cold and haughty, having thin
lips and a sardonic smile.

"That is the man!" said Henrietta to herself; "that is Daniel's friend!"

At first she disliked him excessively. Upon examining him more closely,
she thought his composure affected, and his whole appearance lacking
in frankness. But she never thought for a moment of distrusting M. de
Brevan. Daniel had blindly recommended him to her; and that was enough.
She had been too severely punished when she tried to follow her own
inspirations, ever to think of repeating the experiment.

Still she kept him in view. After having been presented to the Countess
Sarah and her husband, he had thrown himself into the crowd, and
managed, after a while, to get near to her. He went from one group to
another, throwing a word to each one, gaining thus, insensibly, and
without affectation, a small chair, which was vacant, by the side of
Henrietta.

And the air of perfect indifference with which he took possession of it
would have made you think he had fully measured the danger of risking
a confidential talk with a young lady under the eyes of fifty or sixty
persons. He commenced with some of those set phrases which furnish the
currency of society, speaking loud enough to be heard by the neighbors,
and to satisfy their curiosity, if they should have a fancy for
listening. As he noticed that Henrietta had turned very red, and looked
overcome, while fixing most anxiously her eyes upon him, he even said, -

"I pray you, madam, affect a little more indifference. Smile; we may be
watched. Remember that we must not know each other; that we are perfect
strangers to each other."

Then he began in a very loud voice to sing the praise of the last new
play that had been performed, until finally, thinking that he had put
all suspicions asleep, he drew a little nearer, and, casting down his
eyes, he said, -

"It is useless to tell you, madam, that I am M. de Brevan."

"I heard your name announced, sir," replied Henrietta in the same way.

"I have taken the liberty of writing to you, madam, under cover to your
maid Clarissa, according to Daniel's orders; but I hope you will pardon
me."

"I have nothing to pardon, sir, but to thank you very much, from the
bottom of my heart, for your generous devotion."

No man is perfect. A passing blush colored the cheeks of M. de Brevan;
he had to cough a little; and once or twice passed his hand between his
collar and his neck, as if he felt troubled in his throat.

"You must have thought," continued Henrietta, "that I was not in
great haste to avail myself of your kind offer; but - there were
difficulties - in my way" -

"Oh, yes! I know," broke in M. de Brevan, sadly shaking his head; "your
maid has told me. For she found me at home, as no doubt you have heard;
and your letter arrived just in time to be sent on with mine. They will
gain a fortnight in this way; for the mail for Cochin China does not
leave more than once a month, - on the _26th_."

But he paused suddenly, or rather raised his voice to resume his account
of the new drama. Two young ladies had stopped just before them. As soon
as they were gone, he went on, -

"I bring you, madam, Daniel's letter."

"Ah!"

"I have folded it up very small, and I have it here in my hand; if you
will let your handkerchief fall, I'll slip it into it as I pick it up."

The trick was not new; but it was also not very difficult. Still
Henrietta did it awkwardly enough. Her letting the handkerchief fall
looked any thing but natural; and, when she took it back again, she was
all eagerness. Then, when she felt the crisp paper under the folds of
the linen, she became all crimson in her face. Fortunately, M. de Brevan
had the presence of mind to rise suddenly, and to move his chair so as
to help her in concealing her embarrassment. Then, when he saw her
calm again, he sat down once more, and went on, with an accent of deep
interest, -

"Now, madam, permit me to inquire after your position here."

"It is terrible."

"Do they harass you?"

"Oh, fearfully!"

"No doubt, your step-mother?"

"Alas! who else would do it? But she dissembles, veiling her malignity
under the most affected gentleness. In appearance she is all kindness
to me. And my poor father becomes a willing instrument in her hands, - my
poor father, formerly so kind, and so fond of me!"

She was deeply moved; and M. de Brevan saw the tears starting in her
eyes. Quite frightened, he said, -

"Madam, for Heaven's sake control yourself!"

And, anxious to turn Henrietta's thoughts from her father, he asked, -

"How is Mrs. Brian to you?"

"She always takes sides against me."

"Naturally. And Sir Thorn?"

"You wrote me that I should mistrust him particularly, and so I do; but,
I must confess, he alone seems to be touched by my misfortunes."

"Ah! that is the very reason why you ought to fear him."

"How so?"

M. de Brevan hesitated, and then answered, speaking very rapidly, and
after having looked around cautiously, -

"Because M. Elgin might very well cherish a hope of replacing Daniel in
your heart, and of becoming your husband."

"Great God!" exclaimed Henrietta, sinking back in her chair with an
expression of horror. "Is it possible?"

"I am quite sure of it," replied M. Brevan.

And, as if he had been frightened himself by what he had said, he
added, -

"Yes, I am quite sure. I have read the heart of that man; and before
long you will have some terrible evidence of his intentions. But I pray,
madam, let this remain a secret between us, to be kept religiously.
Never allow yourself the slightest allusion."

"What can I do?" murmured the poor girl, "what can I do? You alone, sir,
can advise me."

For some time M. de Brevan continued silent; then he said in a very sad
voice, -

"My experience, madam, supplies me with but one advice, - be patient; say
little; do as little as possible; and endeavor to appear insensible to
their insults. I would say to you, if you will excuse the triviality
of the comparison, imitate those feeble insects who simulate death when
they are touched. They are defenceless; and that is their only chance of
escape."

He had risen; and, while bowing deeply before Henrietta, he added, -

"I must also warn you, madam, not to be surprised if you see me doing
every thing in my power for the purpose of winning the good-will of
your step-mother. Believe me, if I tell you that such duplicity is
very distasteful to my character. But I have no other way to obtain the
privilege of coming here frequently, of seeing you, and of being useful
to you, as I have promised your friend Daniel."




XV.

During the last visits which Daniel had paid to Henrietta, he had not
concealed from her the fact that Maxime de Brevan had formerly been
quite intimate with Sarah Brandon and her friends. But still, in
explaining his reasons for trying to renew these relations, M. de Brevan
had acted with his usual diplomacy.

But for this, she might have conceived some vague suspicions when she
saw him, soon after he had left her, enter into a long conversation
with the countess, then speak with Sir Thorn, and finally chat most
confidentially with austere Mrs. Brian. But now, if she noticed it all,
she was not surprised. Her mind was, in fact, thousands of miles away.
She thought only of that letter which she had in her pocket, and which
was burning her fingers, so to say. She could think of nothing else.

What would she not have given for the right to run away and read it at
once? But adversity was teaching her gradually circumspection; and she
felt it would be unwise to leave the room before the last guests had
departed. Thus it was past two o'clock in the morning before she could
open the precious letter, after having dismissed her faithful Clarissa.

Alas! she did not find what she had hoped for, - advice, or, better than
that, directions how she should conduct herself. The fact is, that
in his terrible distress, Daniel no longer was sufficiently master of
himself to look calmly at the future, and to weigh the probabilities. In
his despair he had filled three pages with assurances of his love, with
promises that his last thoughts would be for her, and with prayers
that she would not forget him. There were hardly twenty lines left for
recommendations, which ought to have contained the most precise and
minute details.

All his suggestions, moreover, amounted to this, - arm yourself with
patience and resignation till my return. Do not leave your father's
house unless in the last extremity, in case of pressing danger, and
under no circumstances without first consulting Maxime.

And to fill up the measure, from excessive delicacy, and fearing to
wound his friend's oversensitive feelings, Daniel had omitted to inform
Henrietta of certain most important circumstances. Thus he only told
her, that, if flight became her only means of escape from actual
danger, she need not hesitate from pecuniary considerations; that he had
foreseen every thing, and made the needful preparations.

How could she guess from this, that the unlucky man, carried away and
blinded by passion, had intrusted fifty or sixty thousand dollars, his
entire fortune, to his friend Maxime? Still the two friends agreed too
fully on the same opinion to allow her to hesitate. Thus, when she fell
asleep, she had formed a decision. She had vowed to herself that she
would meet all the torments they might inflict upon her, with the
stoicism of the Indian who is bound to the stake, and to be, among
her enemies, like a dead person, whom no insult can galvanize into the
semblance of life.

During the following weeks it was not so difficult for her to keep
her promises. Whether it were weariness or calculation, they seemed to
forget her. Except at meals, they took no more notice of her than if she
had not been in existence.

That sudden access of affection which had moved Count Ville-Handry
on that evening when he thought his daughter in danger had long since
passed away. He only honored her with ironical glances, and never
addressed a word to her. The countess observed a kind of affectionate
reserve, like a well-disposed person who has seen all her advances
repelled, and who is hurt, but quite ready to be friends at the first
sign. Mrs. Brian never opened her thin lips but to growl out some
unpleasant remark, of which a single word was intelligible: shocking!
There remained the Hon. M. Elgin, whose sympathetic pity showed itself
daily more clearly. But, since Maxime's warning, Henrietta avoided him
anxiously.

She was thus leading a truly wretched life in this magnificent palace,
in which she was kept a prisoner by her father's orders; for such she
was; she could no longer disguise it from herself. She felt at every
moment that she was watched, and overlooked most jealously, even when
they seemed to forget her most completely. The great gates, formerly
almost always open, were now kept carefully closed; and, when they were
opened to admit a carriage, the concierge mounted guard before them, as
if he were the keeper of a jail. The little garden-gate had been secured
by two additional enormous locks; and whenever Henrietta, during her
walks in the garden, came near it, she saw one of the gardeners watch
her with anxious eyes. They were apparently afraid, not only that she
might escape, but that she might keep up secret communications with
the outer world. She wanted to be clear about that; and one morning she
asked her father's permission to send to the Duchess of Champdoce,
and beg her to come and spend the day with her. But Count Ville-Handry
brutally replied that he did not want to see the Duchess of Champdoce;
and that, besides, she was not in Paris, as her husband had taken her
south to hasten her recovery.

On another occasion, toward the end of February, and when several days
of fine spring weather had succeeded each other, the poor child could
not help expressing a desire to go out and breathe a little fresh air.
Her father said, in reply to her request, - "Every day, your mother and
I go out and drive for an hour or two in the Bois de Boulogne. Why don't
you go with us?"

She said nothing. She would sooner have allowed herself to be cut to
pieces than to appear in public seated by the side of the young countess
and in the same carriage with her.

Months passed thus without her having put a foot outside of the palace,
except her daily attendance at mass at eight o'clock on Sunday mornings.
Count Ville-Handry had not dared to refuse her that; but he had added
the most painful and most humiliating conditions. On these occasions M.
Ernest, his valet, accompanied her, with express orders not to let
her speak to any one whatsoever, and to "apprehend" her (this was the
count's own expression), and to bring her back forcibly, if needs be, if
she should try to escape.

But in vain they multiplied the insults; they did not extort a single
complaint. Her unalterable patience would have touched ordinary
executioners. And yet she had no other encouragement, no other support,
but what she received from M. de Brevan.

Faithful to the plan which he had mentioned to her, he had managed so
well as gradually to secure the right to come frequently to the house.
He was on the best terms with Mrs. Brian; and the count invited him
to dinner. At this time Henrietta had entirely overcome her prejudice
against him. She had discovered in M. de Brevan such a respectful
interest in her welfare, such almost womanly delicacy, and so much
prudence and discretion, that she blessed Daniel for having left her
this friend, and counted upon his devotion as upon that of a brother.

Was it not he, who, on certain evenings, when she was well-nigh overcome
by despair, whispered to her, -

"Courage; here is another day gone! Daniel will soon be back!"

But the more Henrietta was left to the inspirations of solitude, and
compelled to live within herself only, the more she observed all that
was going on around her. And she thought she noticed some very strange
changes. Never would Count Ville-Handry's first wife have been able to
recognize her reception-rooms. Where was that select society which had
been attracted by her, and which she had fashioned into something like a
court, in which her husband was king? The palace had become, so to say,
the headquarters of that motley society which forms the "Foreign Legion"
of pleasure and of scandal.

Sarah Brandon, now Countess Ville-Handry, was surrounded by that strange
aristocracy which has risen upon the ruins of old Paris, - a contraband
aristocracy, a dangerous kind of high life, which, by its unheard-of
extravagance and mysterious splendor, dazzles the multitude, and puzzles
the police.

The young countess did not exactly receive people notoriously tainted.
She was too clever to commit such a blunder; but she bestowed her
sweetest smiles upon all those equivocal Bohemians who represent all
races, and whose revenues come much less from good acres in the broad
sunlight than from the credulity and stupidity of mankind.

At first Count Ville-Handry had been rather shocked by this new world,
whose manners and customs were unknown to him, and whose language even
he hardly understood. But it had not taken long to acclimatize him.

He was the firm, the receiver of the fortune, the flag that covers the
merchandise, the master, in fine, although he exercised no authority.
All these titles secured to him the appearance of profound respect; and
all vied with each other in flattering him to the utmost, and paying
him court in the most abject manner. This led him to imagine that he
had recovered the prestige he had enjoyed in former days, thanks to
the skilful management of his first wife; and he assumed a new kind of
grotesque importance commensurate with his revived vanity.

He had, besides, gone to work once more most industriously. All the
business men who had called upon him before his marriage already
reappeared now, accompanied by that legion of famished speculators, whom
the mere report of a great enterprise attracts, like the flies settling
upon a lump of sugar. The count shut himself up with these men in his
study, and often spent the whole afternoon with them there.

"Most probably something is going on there," thought Henrietta.

She was quite sure of it when she saw her father unhesitatingly give up
the splendid suite of apartments in the lower story of the palace, which
were cut up into an infinite number of small rooms. On the doors there
appeared, one by one, signs not usually found in such houses; as,
"Office," "Board Room," "Secretary," "Cashier's Room."

Then office-furniture appeared in loads, - tables, desks, chairs; then
mountains of huge volumes; and at last two immense safes, as large as a
bachelor's-lodging.

Henrietta was seriously alarmed, and knowing beforehand that no one in
the house would answer her questions, she turned to M. de Brevan. In the
most off-hand manner he assured her that he knew nothing about it, but
promised to inquire, and to let her know soon.

There was no necessity; for one morning, when Henrietta was wandering
about listlessly around the offices, which began to be filled with
clerks, she noticed an immense advertisement on one of the doors.

She went up to it, and read: -


FRANCO-AMERICAN SOCIETY,

For the development of Pennsylvania petroleum wells.

Capital, _Ten Million of Francs._ Twenty Thousand Shares of 500 Francs
each.

The Charter may be seen at the Office of M. Lilois, N. P.

_President_, Count Ville-Handry.

The books for subscription will be opened on the 25th of March.

principal office, _Palace of Count Ville-Handry, Rue de Varennes_.
branch office, _Rue Lepelletier, No. 1p_.


At the foot, in small print, was a full explanation of the enormous
profits which might be expected, the imperative necessity which had led
to the establishment of the Pennsylvania Petroleum Society, the nature
of its proposed operations, the immense services which it would render
to the world at large, and, above all, the immense profits which would
promptly accrue to the stockholders.

Then there came an account of petroleum or oil wells, in which it
was clearly demonstrated that this admirable product represented, in
comparison with other oils, a saving of more than sixty per cent;
that it gave a light of matchless purity and brilliancy; that it burnt
without odor; and, above all, that, in spite of what might have been
said by interested persons, there was no possible danger of explosion
connected with its use.

"In less than twenty years," concluded the report in a strain of lyric
prophecy, "petroleum will have taken the place of all the primitive
and useless illuminating mediums now employed. It will replace, in like
manner, all the coarse and troublesome varieties of fuel of our day.
In less than twenty years the whole world will be lighted and heated by
petroleum; and the oil-wells of Pennsylvania are inexhaustible."

A eulogy on the president, Count Ville-Handry, crowned the whole
work, - a very clever eulogy, which called him a man sent by Providence;
and, alluding to his colossal fortune, suggested that, with such a
manager at the head of the enterprise, the shareholders could not
possibly run any risk.

Henrietta was overwhelmed with surprise. "Ah!" she said to herself,
"this is what Sarah Brandon and her accomplices were aiming at. My
father is ruined!"

That Count Ville-Handry should risk all he possessed in this terrible
game of speculation was not so surprising to Henrietta. But what
she could not comprehend was this, that he should assume the whole
responsibility of such a hazardous enterprise, and run the terrible
risk of a failure. How could he, with his deeply-rooted aristocratic
prejudices, ever consent to lend his name to an industrial enterprise?

"It must have cost prodigies of patience and cunning," she thought,
"to induce him to make such a sacrifice, such a surrender of old and
cherished convictions. They must have worried him terribly, and brought
to bear upon him a fearful pressure."

She was, therefore, truly amazed, when, two days afterwards, she became
accidentally a witness to a lively discussion between her father and
the countess on this very subject of the famous placards, which were
now scattered all over Paris and France. The countess seemed to be
distressed by the whole affair, and presented to her husband all the
objections which Henrietta herself would have liked to have urged;
only she did it with all the authority she derived from the count's
passionate love for her. She did not understand, she said, how her
husband, a nobleman of ancient lineage, could stoop to "making money."
Had he not enough of it already? Would he be any happier if he had twice
or thrice as many thousands a year?

He met all these objections with a sweetish smile, like a great artist
who hears an ignoramus criticise his work. And, when the countess
paused, he deigned to explain to her in that emphatic manner which
betrayed his intense conceit, that if he, the representative of the very
oldest nobility, threw himself into the great movement, it was for the
purpose of setting a lofty example. He had no desire for "filthy lucre,"
he assured her; he only desired to render his country a great service.

"Too dangerous a service!" replied the countess. "If you succeed, as you
hope, who will thank you for it? No one. More than that, if you speak
to them of disinterestedness, they will laugh in your face. If the thing
fails, on the other hand, who is to pay? You. And they will call you a
dunce into the bargain."

Count Ville-Handry shrugged his shoulders almost imperceptibly; and then
he said, taking his wife by the hand, -

"Would you love me less if I were ruined?"

She looked at him with her beautiful eyes as if overflowing with
affection, and replied in a voice full of emotion, -

"God is my witness, my friend, that I should be delighted to be able to
prove to you that I did not think of money when I married you."

"Sarah!" cried the count in ecstasy, "Sarah, my darling, that was a word
worth the whole of that fortune which you blame me for risking."

Even if Henrietta had been more disposed to mistrust appearances,
she would never have supposed that the whole scene was most cunningly
devised for the purpose of impressing upon the count's feeble intellect
this idea more forcibly than ever. She was rather inclined to believe,
and she did believe, that this Petroleum Society, conceived by Sir
Thorn, was unpleasant to the countess; and that thus discord reigned in



Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 17 of 39)