Émile Gaboriau.

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the enemy's camp.

The result of her meditations was a long letter to a gentleman for whom
her mother had always entertained a great esteem, the Duke of Champdoce.
After having explained to him her situation, she told him all that she
knew of the new enterprise, and besought him to interfere whilst it was
yet time.

When she had written her letter, she gave it to Clarissa, urging her
to carry it immediately to its address. Alas! the poor girl was rapidly
approaching an incident which was to bring about a crisis.

Having by chance followed the maid down stairs, she saw her go into the
Countess Sarah's room, and hand her the letter.

Was Henrietta thus betrayed even by the girl whom she thought so fully
devoted to her interests, and since when? Perhaps from the first
day. Ah, how many things this explained to her which she had hitherto
wondered at as perfectly incomprehensible!

This last infamy, however, tempted her to lay aside for once her
carefully-nursed reserve. She rushed into the room, crimson with shame
and wrath, and said in a fierce tone, -

"Give me that letter, madam!"

Clarissa had fled when she saw her treachery discovered.

"This letter," replied the countess coldly, "I shall hand to your
father, madam, as it is my duty to do."

"Ah, take care, madam!" broke in the poor girl with a threatening
gesture; "take care! My patience has its limits."

Her attitude and her accent were so terrible, that the countess thought
it prudent to put a table between herself and her victim. But suddenly
a great revolution had taken place in Henrietta's heart. She said
roughly, -

"Look here, madam, let us have an explanation while we are alone. What
do you want me to do?"

"Nothing, I assure you."

"Nothing? Who is it, then, that has meanly slandered me, has robbed me
of my father's affection, surrounds me with spies, and overwhelms me
with insults? Who forces me to lead this wretched life to which I am

The countess showed in her features how deeply she was reflecting. She
was evidently calculating the effect of a new plan.

"You will have it so," she replied resolutely. "Very well, then, I will
be frank with you. Yes, I am bent on ruining you. Why? You know it as
well as I do. I will ask you, in my turn, who is it that has done
every thing that could possibly be done to prevent my marriage? Who has
endeavored to crush me? Who would like to drive me from this house like
an infamous person? Is it not you, always you? Yes, you are right. I
hate you; I hate you unto death, and I avenge myself!"


"Wait! What had I done to you before my marriage? Nothing. You did not
even know me by name. They came and told you atrocious stories invented
by my enemies, and you believed them. Your father told you, 'They are
wicked libels.' What did you answer? That 'those only are libelled who
deserve it.' I wanted to prove to you that it is not so. You are the
purest and chastest of girls whom I know; are you not? Very well. I defy
you to find a single person around you who does not believe that you
have had lovers."

Extreme situations have this peculiarity, that the principal actors may
be agitated by the most furious passions, and still outwardly preserve
the greatest calmness. Thus these two women, who were burning with
mortal hatred, spoke with an almost calm voice.

"And you think, madam," resumed Henrietta, "that sufferings like mine
can be long continued?"

"They will be continued till it pleases me to make an end to them."

"Or till I come of age."

The countess made a great effort to conceal her surprise.

"Oh!" she said to herself. "Oh, oh!"

"Or," continued the young girl, "till he returns whom you have taken
from me, my betrothed, M. Daniel Champcey."

"Stop, madam. You are mistaken. It was not I who sent Daniel away."

Daniel! the countess said so; said familiarly, Daniel! Had she any right
to do so? How? Whence this extraordinary impudence?

Still Henrietta saw in it only a new insult; no suspicion entered her
soul, and she replied in the most ironical tone, -

"Then it was not you who sent that petition to the secretary of the
navy? It was not you who ordered and paid for that forged document which
caused M. Champcey to be ordered abroad?"

"No; and I told him so myself, the day before he left, in his own room."

Henrietta was stunned. What? This woman had gone to see Daniel? Was this
true? It was not even plausible.

"In his room?" she repeated, - "in his room?"

"Why, yes, in University Street. I foresaw that trick which I could
not prevent, and I wished to prevent it. I had a thousand reasons for
wishing ardently that he should remain in Paris."

"A thousand reasons? You? Tell me only one!"

The countess courtesied, as if excusing herself for being forced to tell
the truth against her inclination, and added simply, -

"I love him!"

As if she had suddenly seen an abyss opening beneath her feet, Henrietta
threw herself back, pale, trembling, her eyes starting from their

"You - -love - Daniel!" she stammered, - "you love him!"

And, agitated by a nervous tremor, she said, laughing painfully, -

"But he - he? Can you hope that he will ever love you?"

"Yes, any day I may wish for it. And I shall wish it the day when he

Was she speaking seriously? or was the whole scene only a bit of cruel
sport? That is what Henrietta was asking herself, as far as she was able
to control her thoughts; for she felt her head growing dizzy, and her
thoughts rushed wildly through her mind.

"You love Daniel!" she repeated once more, "and yet you were married the
very week after his departure!"

"Alas, yes!"

"And what was my father to you? A magnificent prey, which you did
not like to let escape, - an easy dupe. After all, you acknowledge it
yourself, it was his fortune you wanted. It was for his money's
sake that you married him, - you, the young, marvellously-beautiful
woman, - the old man."

A smile rose upon the lips of the countess, in which she appeared
herself in all the deep treachery of her secret calculations. She broke
in, laughing ironically -

"I? I had coveted the fortune of this dear count, my husband? You do not
think of it, madam? Have you so completely forgotten the zeal with which
you heard me, only the other day, try to turn him from this enterprise
in which he is about to embark all he possesses?"

Henrietta hardly knew whether she was awake or asleep. Was she not,
perhaps, under the influence of one of those hallucinations which fevers

"And you dare tell me all these things, me, Count Ville-Handry's own
daughter, the daughter of your husband?"

"Why not?" asked the countess.

And, shrugging her shoulders, she added in a careless tone, -

"Do you think I am afraid of your reporting me to him? You are at
liberty to try it. Listen. I think I hear your father's footstep in the
vestibule; call him in, and tell him what we have been talking about."

And, as Henrietta said nothing, she laughed, and said, -

"Ah! you hesitate. You do not dare do it? Well, you are wrong. I mean to
hand him your letter, and I shall call him."

There was no need for it; for at the same moment the count entered,
followed by austere, grim Mrs. Brian. As he perceived his wife and his
daughter, his face lighted up immediately; and he exclaimed, -

"What? You are here, both of you, and chatting amicably like two
charming sisters? My Henrietta has come back to her senses, I trust."

They were both silent; and, seeing how they looked at each other with
fierce glances, he went on in a tone of great bitterness -

"But no, it is not so! I am not so fortunate. What is the matter? What
has happened?"

The countess shook her head sadly, and replied, -

"The matter is, that your daughter, during your absence, has written a
letter to one of my most cruel enemies, to that man who, you know,
on our wedding-day, slandered me meanly; in fine, to the Duke of

"And has any one of my servants dared to carry that letter?"

"No, my friend! It was brought to me in obedience to your orders; and
the young lady summoned me haughtily to hand her that letter."

"That letter?" cried the count. "Where is that letter?"

The countess gave it to him with these words, -

"Perhaps it would be better to throw it into the fire without reading

But already he had torn the envelope; and, as he was reading the first
lines, a crimson blush overspread his temples, and his eyes became
bloodshot. For Henrietta, sure of the Duke of Champdoce, had not
hesitated to open her heart to him, describing her situation as it
really was; painting her step-mother as he had anticipated she would
be; and at every turn certain phrases were repeated, which were so many
blows with a dagger to the count.

"This is unheard of!" he growled with a curse. "This is
incomprehensible! Such perversity has never been known before."

He went and stood before his daughter, his arms crossed, and cried with
a voice of thunder, -

"Wretch! Will you disgrace us all?"

She made no reply. Immovable like a statue, she did not tremble under
the storm. Besides, what could she do? Defend herself? She would not
stoop to do that. Repeat the impudent avowals of the countess? What
would be the use? Did she not know beforehand that the count would not
believe her? In the meantime, grim Mrs. Brian had taken a seat by the
side of her beloved Sarah.

"I," she said, "if I were, for my sins, afflicted with such a daughter,
I would get her a husband as soon as possible."

"I have thought of that," replied the count; "and I believe I have even
hit upon an arrangement which" -

But, when he saw his daughter's watchful eye fixed upon him, he paused,
and, pointing towards the door, said to her brutally, -

"You are in the way here!"

Without saying a word, she went out, much less troubled by her father's
fury than by the strange confessions which the countess had made. She
only now began to measure the full extent of her step-mother's hatred,
and knew that she was too practical a woman to waste her time by making
idle speeches. Therefore, if she had stated that she loved Daniel, - a
statement which Henrietta believed to be untrue, - if she had impudently
confessed that she coveted her husband's fortune, she had a purpose in
view. What was that purpose? How could any one unearth the truth from
among such a mass of falsehood and deception?

At all events, the scene was strange enough to confound any one's
judgment. And when Henrietta, that evening, found an opportunity to tell
M. de Brevan what had happened, he trembled in his chair, and was so
overwhelmed with surprise, that he forgot his precautions, and exclaimed
almost aloud, -

"That is not possible!"

There was no doubt that he, usually so impassive, was terribly excited.
In less than five minutes he had changed color more than ten times. You
would have thought he was a man who at a single blow sees the edifice of
all his hopes crumble to pieces. At last, after a moment's reflection,
he said, -

"Perhaps it would be wise, madam, to leave the house."

But she replied sadly, -

"What? How can I do that? After so many odious calumnies, my honor and
Daniel's honor oblige me to remain here. He recommends me only to flee
at the last extremity, and when there is no other resource left. Now, I
ask you, shall I be more unhappy or more seriously threatened to-morrow
than I am to-day? Evidently not."


But, this confidence which Henrietta expressed was only apparent. In her
heart she suffered from the most terrible presentiments. A secret voice
told her that this scene, no doubt well prepared and carefully brought
about, was but another step leading to the final catastrophe.

Days, however, passed by, and nothing unusual happened. It looked as if
they had resolved, after that crisis, to give her a short respite, and
time to recover.

Even the watch kept upon her movements was not quite as strict as
heretofore. The countess kept out of her way. Mrs. Brian had given up
the desire to frighten her by her incessant remarks. Her father she saw
but rarely; for he was entirely absorbed in the preparations for the
Pennsylvania Petroleum Society. Thus, a week later, all seemed to have
entirely forgotten the terrible explosion produced by the letter to the
Duke of Champdoce.

All? By no means. There was one of the inmates of the palace who
recalled it daily, - M. Thomas Elgin.

On the very evening after the scene, his generous indignation had so far
gotten the better of his usual reserve, and his pledge of neutrality,
that he had taken the Countess Sarah aside, and overwhelmed her with
sharp reproaches.

"You will have to eat your own words," he had told her, among other
things, "if you use such abominable means to gratify your hatred."

It is true, that, when he thus took his kinswoman aside, he also took
pains to be overheard by Henrietta. And besides, for fear, perhaps, that
she might not fully appreciate his sentiments, he had stealthily pressed
her hand, and whispered into her ear, -

"Poor, dear girl! But I am here. I shall watch."

This sounded like a promise to afford her protection, which certainly
would have been efficient if it had been sincere. But was it sincere?

"No; most assuredly not!" said M. de Brevan when he was consulted. "It
can be nothing but vile hypocrisy and the beginning of an abominable
farce. You will see, madam."

What Henrietta really saw was, that the Hon. M. Elgin suddenly underwent
a complete metamorphosis. A new Sir Thorn appeared, whom no one would
have ever suspected under the cloak of icy reserve which the former had
worn. His sympathetic pity of former days was succeeded by more tender
sentiments. It was not pity now, which animated his big, blue-china
eyes, but the half-suppressed flame of a discreet passion. In public he
did not commit himself much; but there was no little attention which
he did not pay Henrietta by stealth. He never left the room before
her; and, on the reception-evenings, he always took a seat by her, and
remained there till the end. The most direct result of these manoeuvres
was to keep M. de Brevan from her. The latter became naturally very
indignant at this, and began to dislike Sir Thorn to such an extent,
that he could hardly contain himself.

"Well, madam," he said to Henrietta on one of the few occasions when he
could speak to her, - "well, what did I tell you? Does the wretch show
his hand clearly enough now?"

Henrietta discouraged her curious lover as much as she could; but it was
impossible for her to avoid him, as they lived under the same roof, and
sat down twice a day at the same table.

"The simplest way," was M. de Brevan's advice, "would be, perhaps, to
provoke an explanation."

But he did not wait to be asked. One morning, after breakfast, he waited
for Henrietta in the vestibule; and, when she appeared, he said in an
embarrassed manner, -

"I must speak to you, madam; it is absolutely necessary."

She did not manifest any surprise, and simply replied, -

"Follow me, sir."

She entered into the parlor, and he came with her. For about a minute
they remained there alone, standing face to face, - she trying to keep up
her spirits, although blushing deeply; he, apparently so overcome, that
he had lost the use of his voice. At last, all of a sudden, and as
if making a supreme effort, Sir Thorn began in a breathless voice to
declare, that, according to Henrietta's answer, he would be the happiest
or the most unfortunate of mortals. Touched by her innocence, and the
persecutions to which she was exposed, he had at first pitied her,
then, discovering in her daily more excellent qualities, unusual energy,
coupled with all the charming bashfulness of a young girl, he had no
longer been able to resist such marvellous attractions.

Henrietta, still mistress of herself, because she was convinced that M.
Elgin was only playing a wretched farce, observed him as closely as she
could, and, when he paused a moment, began, -

"Believe me, sir" -

But he interrupted her, saying with unusual vehemence, -

"Oh! I beseech you, madam, let me finish. Many in my place would have
spoken to your father; but I thought that would hardly be fair in your
exceptional position. Still I have reason to believe that Count Ville-
Handry would look upon my proposals with favor. But then he would
probably have attempted to do violence to your feelings. Now I wish
to be indebted to you only, madam, deciding in full enjoyment of your
liberty; for" -

An expression of intense anxiety contracted the features of his usually
so impassive face; and he added with great earnestness, -

"Miss Henrietta, I am an honorable man; I love you. Will you be my

By a stroke of instinctive genius, he had found the only argument,
perhaps, that might have procured credit for his sincerity.

But what did that matter to Henrietta? She began, saying, -

"Believe me, sir. I fully appreciate the honor you do me; but I am no
longer free" -

"I beseech you" -

"Freely, and among all men, I have chosen M. Daniel Champcey. My life is
in his hands."

He tottered as if he had received a heavy blow, and stammered with a
half-extinct voice, -

"Will you not leave me a glimpse of hope?"

"I would do wrong if I did so, sir, and I have never yet deceived any

But the Hon. M. Elgin was not one of those men who despair easily, and
give up. He was not discouraged by a first failure; and he showed it
very soon. The very next day he became a changed man, as if Henrietta's
refusal had withered the very roots of his life. In his carriage, his
gestures, and his tone of voice, he betrayed the utmost dejection. He
looked as if he had grown taller and thinner. A bitter smile curled on
his lips; and his magnificent whiskers, usually so admirably kept, now
hung down miserably on his chest. And this intense melancholy grew and
grew, till it became so evident to all the world, that people asked the
countess, -

"What is the matter with poor M. Elgin? He looks funereal."

"He is unhappy," was the answer, accompanied by a sigh, which sounded
as if it had been uttered in order to increase curiosity, and stimulate
people to observe him more closely. Several persons did observe him; and
they soon found out that Sir Thorn no longer took his seat by Henrietta
as formerly, and that he avoided every occasion to address her a word.

For all that he was not resigned; far from that. He only laid siege from
a distance now, spending whole evenings in looking at her from afar,
absorbed in mute ecstasy. And at all times, incessantly and everywhere,
she met him, as if he had been her shadow, or as if he had been
condemned to breathe the air which had been displaced by her petticoats.
One would have thought him endowed with the gift of multiplying himself;
for he was inevitably seen wherever she was, - leaning against the
door-frame, or resting his elbow on the mantlepiece, his eyes fixed upon
her. And, when she did not see him, she felt his looks still weighing
her down. M. de Brevan, having been made aware of his importunate
attentions, seemed to check his indignation only with great difficulty.
Once or twice he spoke of calling out this wretched fellow (so he called
Sir Thorn); and, in order to quiet him, Henrietta had to repeat to him
over and over again, that, after such an encounter, he would no longer
be able to appear at the palace, and would thus deprive her of the only
friend to whom she could look for assistance.

He yielded; but he said after careful consideration, -

"This abominable persecution cannot go on, madam: this man compromises
you too dreadfully. You ought to lay your complaint before Count

She decided to do so, not without great reluctance; but the count
stopped her at the first word she uttered.

"I think, my daughter, your vanity blinds you. Before M. Elgin, who
is one of the most eminent financiers in all Europe, should think of
a little insignificant person like you, he would look a long time

"Permit me, father" -

"Stop! If you should, however, not deceive yourself, it would be the
greatest good luck for you, and an honor of which you ought to be very
proud indeed. Do you think it would be easy to find a husband for you,
after all the unpleasant talk to which you have given occasion?"

"I do not wish to marry, father."

"Of course not. However, as such a marriage would meet all my wishes, as
it would serve to tighten the bonds which unite us with this honorable
family (if M. Thomas Elgin should really have such intentions as
you mention), I should know, I think, how to force you to marry him.
However, I shall speak to him, and see."

He spoke to him indeed, and soon; for the very next morning the countess
and Mrs. Brian purposely went out, so as to leave Henrietta and Sir
Thorn alone. The honorable gentleman looked sadder than usually. He
began thus, -

"Is it really true, madam, that you have made complaint to your father?"

"Your pertinacity compelled me to do so," replied Henrietta.

"Is the idea of becoming my wife so very revolting to you?"

"I have told you, sir, I am no longer free."

"Yes, to be sure! You love M. Daniel Champcey. You love him. He knows
it; for you had told him so, no doubt: and yet he has forsaken you."

Sometimes, in her innermost heart, Henrietta had accused Daniel. But
what she thought she would permit no one else to think. She replied,
therefore, haughtily, -

"It was a point of honor with M. Champcey, and it was so with me. If
he had hesitated, I would have been the first one to say to him, 'Duty
calls; you must go.'"

Sir Thorn shook his head with a sardonic smile, and said, -

"But he did not hesitate. It is ten months now since he left you; and
no one knows for how many more months, for how many years, he will be
absent. For his sake you suffer martyrdom; and, when he returns, he may
have long since forgotten you."

Her eyes beaming with faith, Henrietta rose to her full height, and
replied, -

"I believe in Daniel as surely as in myself."

"And if they convinced you that you were mistaken?"

"They would render me a very sad service, which would bring no reward to
any one."

Sir Thorn's lips moved, as if he were about to answer. A thought seemed
to stop him. Then in a stifled voice, with a gesture of despair, he
added, -

"Keep your illusions, madam; and farewell."

He was going to leave the room; but she threw herself in his way,
crossed her arms, and said to him in an imperative tone, -

"You have gone too far, sir, to retrace your steps. You are bound now
to justify your insidious insinuations, or, to confess that they were

Then he seemed to make up his mind, and said, speaking rapidly, -

"You will have it so? Well, be it so. Know, then, since you insist upon
it, that M. Daniel Champcey has been deceiving you most wickedly; that
he does not love you, and probably never did love you."

"That is what you say," replied Henrietta.

Her haughty carriage, the disdain, rather than disgust, with which
she spoke, could not fail to exasperate M. Elgin. He checked himself,
however, and said, in a short and cutting tone, -

"I say so because it is so; and any one but you, possessing a less noble
ignorance of evil, would long since have discovered the truth. To
what do you attribute Sarah's implacable enmity? To the memory of your
offences on the occasion of her wedding? Poor child! If that had been
all, her indifference would have given you back your place months ago.
Jealousy alone is capable of that fierce and insatiable hatred which
cannot be disarmed by tears or submission, - that hatred which time
increases, instead of diminishing. Between Sarah and you, Miss
Henrietta, there stands a man."

"A man?"

"Yes, - M. Daniel Champcey."

Henrietta felt as if a sharp knife had been plunged into her bosom.

"I do not understand you, sir," she said.

He, shrugging his shoulders, and assuming an air of commiseration, went
on, -

"What? You will not understand that Sarah is your rival; that she has
loved M. Champcey; that she is still madly in love with him? Ah! they
have deceived Mrs. Brian and myself cruelly."

"How so?"

He turned his head aside, and murmured, as if speaking to himself, -

" - - - - - - - - was her lover."

Miss Ville-Handry discerned the truth with admirable instinct, drew
herself up, and said in her most energetic way, -

"That is false!"

Sir Thorn trembled; but that was all.

"You have asked me to tell the truth," he said coldly, "and I have done

Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 18 of 39)