Émile Gaboriau.

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so. Try to remember. Have you forgotten that little scene, after which
M. Champcey fled from our house in the middle of the night, bareheaded,
without taking his overcoat?"


"Did you not think that was extraordinary? That night, you see, we
discovered the whole thing. After having been one of the foremost to
recommend to Sarah to marry your father, M. Champcey came and asked her
to give up that marriage. He had, before that, tried to have it broken
off through your agency, madam, using thus his influence over you, his
betrothed, for the benefit of his passion."

"Ah! You lie impudently, sir!" said Henrietta.

To this charge, which fell like a blow upon his face, he only replied, -

"I have proofs."

"What proofs?"

"Letters written by M. Champcey to Sarah. I have obtained two; and I
have them here in my pocket-book."

He put at the same time his hand to his pocket. She stopped him.

"These letters would prove nothing to me, sir."

"But" -

She cast a withering glance at him, and said, in a voice of unbearable
contempt, -

"Those who have sent a letter to the Navy Department, which pretended to
have been written by Daniel, cannot find any difficulty in imitating his
signature. Let us break off here, sir. I forbid you ever to speak to me

M. Elgin laughed in a terrible way.

"That is your last word?" he asked.

Instead of answering him, she drew a step aside, thus opening the way to
the door, at which she pointed with her finger.

"Well," said Sir Thorn with an accent of fierce threatening, "remember
this; I have sworn you shall be my wife, whether you will or not; and my
wife you shall be!"

"Leave the room, sir, or I must give it up to you!"

He went out swearing; and, more dead than alive, Henrietta sank into
an arm-chair. As long as she had been in the presence of the enemy, her
pride had enabled her to keep up the appearance of absolute faith in
Daniel; but, now she was alone, terrible doubts began to beset her. Was
there not something true in the evident exaggerations of the Hon. M.
Elgin? She was not quite sure. Had not Sarah also boasted of it, that
she loved Daniel, and that she had been in his room? Finally, Henrietta
recalled with a shudder, that, when Daniel had told her of his adventure
in Circus Street, he had appeared embarrassed towards the end, and had
failed fully to explain the reasons of his flight.

And to crown the matter, when she had tried to draw from M. de Brevan
additional information on the subject, she had been struck by his
embarrassment, and the lame and confused way in which he had defended
his friend.

"Ah, now all is really over!" she thought. "The measure of my sufferings
is full indeed!"

Unfortunately it was not yet full. A new persecution awaited her,
infamous, monstrous, by the side of which all the others amounted to

"Whether you will, or not, you shall be mine," had Sir Thorn said; and
from that moment he was bent upon convincing her that he was not the man
to shrink from any thing, even unto violence.

He was no longer the sympathetic defender of former days, nor the
timid lover, nor the sighing, rejected lover, who followed Henrietta
everywhere. He was, henceforth, a kind of wild beast, pursuing her,
harassing her, persecuting her, with his eyes glaring at her with
abominable lust. He no longer looked at her furtively, as formerly;
but he lay in wait for her in the passages, ready, apparently, to throw
himself upon her; projecting his lips as if to touch her cheeks, and
extending his arms as if to seize her around her waist. A drunken lackey
pursuing a scullion would not have looked and acted more impudently.

Terrified, the poor girl threw herself on her knees before her father,
beseeching him to protect her. But he pushed her back, and reproached
her for slandering the most honorable and most inoffensive of men.
Blindness could go no farther.

And Sir Thorn knew probably of her failure; for the next day he looked
at her, laughing, as if he felt that he now might venture upon any
thing. And he did venture upon something, that so far would have seemed
impossible. One evening, or rather one night, when the count and the
countess were at a ball, he came and knocked at the door of Henrietta's

Frightened, she rang the bell; and the servants who came up freed her
from the intruder. But from that moment her terrors had no limit; and,
whenever the count went out at night with his wife, she barricaded
herself up in her chamber, and spent the whole night, dressed, in a
chair. Could she remain any longer standing upon the brink of an abyss
without name? She thought she could not; and after long and painful
hesitation, she said one evening to M. de Brevan, -

"My mind is made up; I must flee."

Taken aback, as if he had received a blow upon his head, with his mouth
wide open, his eyes stretched out, M. de Brevan had turned deadly pale;
and the perspiration pearled in large drops on his temples, while his
hands trembled like the eager hands of a man who touches, and is about
to seize, a long-coveted prize.

"Then," he stammered out, "you are decided; you will leave your father's

"I must," she said; and her eyes filled with bright tears. "And the
sooner I can do it the better; for every moment I spend here now may
bring a new danger. And yet, before risking any thing decisive, it might
be better first to write to Daniel's aunt in order to ask her about the
directions she may have received, and to tell her that very soon I shall
come to ask for her pity and her protection."

"What? You think of seeking refuge at the house of that estimable lady?"


M. de Brevan, now entirely master of himself, and calculating with his
usual calmness, gravely shook his head, and said, -

"You ought to be careful, madam. To seek an asylum at the house of our
friend's relative might be a very grave imprudence."

"But Daniel recommended it to me in his letter."

"Yes; but he had not considered the consequences of the advice he gave
you. Do not deceive yourself; the wrath of your enemies will be terrible
when they find that you have escaped them. They will pursue you; they
will employ the police; they will search for you all over France. Now,
it is evident, that the very first place where they will look for you
will be Daniel's relatives. The house of the old aunt will be watched
at once, and most jealously. How can you there escape from inquiry and
pursuit? It would be folly to hope for safety there."

Pensively Henrietta hung her head. Then she said, -

"Perhaps you are right, sir."

"Now," continued M. de Brevan, "let us see what they would do if they
should discover you. You are not of age, consequently you are entirely
dependent on the will of your father. Under the inspiration of your
step-mother, he would attack Daniel's aunt, on the score of having
inveigled a minor, and would bring you back here."

She seemed to reflect; then she said suddenly, - "I can implore the
assistance of the Duchess of Champdoce."

"Unfortunately, madam, they told you the truth. For a year now, the Duke
of Champdoce and his wife have been travelling in Italy."

A gesture of despair betrayed the terrible dejection of the poor girl.

"Great God!" she said, "what must I do?"

A passing smile appeared on the face of M. de Brevan; and he answered in
his most persuasive manner, -

"Will you permit me to offer you some advice, madam?"

"Alas, sir! I beg you to do so for Heaven's sake."

"Well, this is the only plan that seems to me feasible. To-morrow
morning I will rent in a quiet house a suitable lodging, less than
modest, a little chamber. You will move into it, and await there your
coming of age, or Daniel's return. No detective will ever think of
seeking the daughter of Count Ville-Handry in a poor needlewoman's

"And I am to stay there alone, forsaken and lost?"

"It is a sacrifice which it seems to me you have to make for safety's

She said nothing, weighing the two alternatives, - to remain in the
house, or to accept M. de Brevan's proposition. After a minute she
said, -

"I will follow your advice, sir; only" - She was evidently painfully
embarrassed, and covered with blushes.

"You see," she said, after long hesitation, "all this will cost money.
Formerly I used to have always a couple of hundred dollars in my drawers
somewhere; but now" -

"Madam," broke in M. de Brevan, "madam, is not my whole fortune entirely
at your disposal?"

"To be sure, I have my jewels; and they are quite valuable."

"For that very reason you ought to be careful not to take them with you.
We must guard against every thing. We may fail. They may discover
my share in the attempt; and who knows what charges they would raise
against me?"

His apprehension alone betrayed the character of the man; and still it
did not enlighten Henrietta.

"Well, prepare every thing as you think best, sir," she said sadly. "I
rely entirely upon your friendship, your devotion, and your honor."

M. de Brevan had a slight attack of coughing, which prevented him from
answering at first. Then, finding that Henrietta was bent upon escaping,
he tried to devise the means.

Henrietta proposed that they should wait for a night when the count
would take the countess to a ball. She might then slip into the garden,
and climb the wall. But the attempt seemed to be too dangerous in M. de
Brevan's eyes. He said, -

"I think I see something better. Count Ville-Handry is going soon to
give a great party?"

"The day after to-morrow, Thursday."

"All right. On Thursday, madam, you will complain early in the morning
already, of a bad headache, and you will send for the doctor. He will
prescribe something, I dare say, which you will not take; but they will
think you are sick, and they will watch you less carefully. At night,
however, towards ten o'clock, you will come down and conceal yourself at
the foot of the back-stairs, in the corner of the courtyard. You can do
that, I presume?"

"Very easily, sir."

"In that case all will be right. I will be here with a carriage at ten
o'clock precisely. My coachman, whom I will instruct beforehand, instead
of stopping at the great entrance, will pretend to go amiss, and stop
just at the foot of the staircase. I will jump out; and you, you will
swiftly jump into the carriage."

"Yes, that also can be done."

"As the curtains will be down, no one will see you. The carriage will
drive out again, and wait for me outside; and ten minutes later I shall
have joined you."

The plan being adopted, as every thing depended upon punctuality, M. de
Brevan regulated his watch by Henrietta's; and then, rising, he said, -

"We have already conversed longer than we ought to have done in
prudence. I shall not speak to you again to-night. Till Thursday."

And with sinking voice, she said, -

"Till Thursday."


By this one word Henrietta sealed her destiny; and she knew it. She was
fully aware of the terrible rashness of her plan. A voice had called
to her, from her innermost heart, that her honor, her life, and all her
earthly hopes, had thus been staked upon one card. She foresaw clearly
what the world would say the day after her flight. She would be lost,
and could hope for rehabilitation only when Daniel returned.

If she could only have been as sure of the heart of her chosen one as
she had formerly been! But the cunning innuendoes of the countess, and
the impudent asseverations of Sir Thorn, had done their work, and shaken
her faith. Daniel had been absent for nearly a year now, and during all
that time she had written to him every month; but she had received
from him only two letters through M. de Brevan, - and what letters! Very
polite, very cold, and almost without a word of hope.

If Daniel upon his return should abandon her!

And still, the more she reflected with all that lucidity with which the
approach of a great crisis inspired her, the more she became impressed
with the absolute necessity of flight. Yes, she must face unknown
dangers, but only in order to escape from dangers which she knew but too
well. She was relying upon a man who was almost a stranger to her; but
was not this the only way to escape from the insults of a wretch who had
become the boon companion, the friend, and the counsellor of her father?
Finally, she sacrificed her reputation, that is, the appearance of
honor; but she saved the reality, honor itself.

Ah, it was hard! As long as the day lasted on Wednesday, she was
wandering about, pale as a ghost, all over the vast palace. She bade
farewell to this beloved house, full of souvenirs of eighteen years in
which she had played as a child, where Daniel's voice had caused her
heart to beat loud and fast, and where her sainted mother had died. And
in the evening, at table, big tears were rolling down her cheeks as she
watched the stupidly-triumphant serenity of her father.

The next day, however, Thursday, Henrietta complained, as was agreed
upon, of a violent headache; and the doctor was sent for. He found her
in a violent fever, and ordered her to keep her bed. He little knew that
he was thus restoring the poor girl to liberty. As soon as he had left,
she rose; and, like a dying person who makes all her last dispositions,
she hastened to put every thing in order in her drawers, putting
together what she meant to keep, and burning what she wished to keep
from the curiosity of the countess and her accomplices.

M. de Brevan had recommended her not to take her jewels. She left them,
therefore, with the exception of such as she wore every day, openly
displayed on a _chiffonnier_. The manner of her escape forbade her
taking much baggage; and still some linen was indispensable. Upon
reflection it did not seem to her inexpedient to take a small carpet-
bag, which her mother had given her, and which contained a dressing-
case, all the articles in which were of solid gold and of marvellously
fine workmanship. When her preparations were complete, she wrote to her
father a long letter, in which she explained fully the motives of her
desperate resolution.

Then she waited. Night had fallen long since; and the last preparations
for a princely entertainment filled the palace with noise and movement.
She could hear the hasty steps of busy servants, the loud orders of
butlers and stewards, the hammer of upholsterers who gave here and there
a final touch.

Soon there came the rolling of wheels on the fine gravel in the court-
yard, and the arrival of the first guests.

Henceforth it was for Henrietta only a question of minutes; and she
counted them by her watch with a terrible beating of her heart. At last
the hands marked a quarter before ten. Acting almost automatically, she
rose, threw an immense cashmere shawl over her shoulders; and, taking
her little bag in her hand, she escaped from her room, and slipped along
the passages to the servants' stairs.

She went on tiptoe, holding her breath, eye and ear on the watch, ready
at the smallest noise to run back, or to rush into the first open room.
Thus she got down without difficulty, reached the dark hall at the foot
of the staircase; and there in the shade, seated on her little bag,
she waited, out of breath, her hair moist with a cold perspiration, her
teeth clattering in her mouth from fear. At last it struck ten o'clock;
and the vibration of the bell could still be heard, when M. de Brevan's
_coupe_ stopped at the door.

His coachman was certainly a skilful driver. Pretending to have lost
the control of his horse, he made it turn round, and forced it back with
such admirable awkwardness, that the carriage came close up to the wall,
and the right hand door was precisely in the face of the dark little
hall in which Henrietta was standing. As quick as lightning M. de Brevan
jumped out. Henrietta rushed forward. Nobody saw any thing.

A moment later the carriage slowly drove out of the court-yard of the
palace of Count Ville-Handry, and stopped at some little distance.

It was done. In leaving her father's house, Miss Ville-Handry had broken
with all the established laws of society. She was at the mercy now of
what might follow; and, according as events might turn out favorable or
unfavorable, she was saved or lost. But she did not think of that. As
the danger of being surprised passed away, the feverish excitement that
had kept her up so far, also subsided, and she was lying, undone, on the
cushions, when the door suddenly opened, and a man appeared. It was M.
de Brevan.

"Well, madam," he cried with a strangely embarrassed voice, "we have
conquered. I have just presented my respects to the Countess Sarah and
her worthy companions; I have shaken hands with Count Ville-Handry; and
no one has the shadow of a suspicion." And, as Henrietta said nothing,
he added, -

"Now I think we ought to lose no time; for I must show myself again at
the ball as soon as possible. Your lodgings are ready for you, madam;
and I am going, with your leave, to drive you there."

She raised herself, and said, with a great effort, -

"Do so, sir!"

M. de Brevan had already jumped into the carriage, which started at full
gallop; and, while they were driving along, he explained to Henrietta
how she would have to conduct herself in the house in which he had
engaged a lodging for her. He had spoken of her, he said, as of one of
his relatives from the provinces, who had suffered a reverse of fortune,
and who had come to Paris in the hope of finding here some way to earn
her living.

"Remember this romance, madam," he begged her, "and let your words and
actions be in conformity with it. And especially be careful never to
utter my name or your father's. Remember that you are still under
age, that you will be searched for anxiously, and that the slightest
indiscretion may put them upon your traces."

Then, as she still kept silent, weeping, he wanted to take her hand, and
thus noticed the little bag which she had taken.

"What is that?" he asked, in a tone, which, under its affected
gentleness, betrayed no small dissatisfaction.

"Some indispensable articles."

"Ah! you did not after all take your jewels, madam?"

"No, certainly not, sir!"

Still this persistency on the part of M. de Brevan began to strike her
as odd; and she would have betrayed her surprise, if the carriage had
not at that moment stopped suddenly before No. 23 Water Street.

"Here we are, madam," said M. de Brevan.

And, lightly jumping down, he rang the bell at the door, which opened
immediately. The room of the concierge was still light. M. de Brevan
walked straight up to it, and opened the door like a man who is at home
in a house.

"It is I," he said.

A man and a woman, the concierge and his wife, who had been dozing, her
nose in a paper, started up suddenly.

"Monsieur Maxime!" they said with one voice.

"I bring," said M. de Brevan, "my young kinswoman, of whom I told you,
Miss Henrietta."

If Henrietta had had the slightest knowledge of Parisian customs, she
would have guessed from the bows of the concierge, and the courtesies of
his wife, how liberally they had been rewarded in advance.

"The young lady's room is quite ready," said the man.

"My husband has arranged every thing himself," broke in his wife; "it
was no trifle, after the papering had been done. And I - I made a fine
fire there as early as five o'clock, to take out the dampness."

"Let us go up then," said Brevan.

The concierge and his wife, however, were economical people; and the gas
on the stairs had long since been put out.

"Give me a candlestick, Chevassat," said the woman to her husband.

And with her lighted candle she went ahead, lighting M. de Brevan and
Henrietta, and stopping at every landing to praise the neatness of the
house. At last, in the fifth story, at the entrance to a dark passage,
she opened a door, and said, -

"Here we are! The young lady will see how nice it is."

It might possibly have been nice in her eyes; but Henrietta, accustomed
to the splendor of her father's palace, could not conceal a gesture of
disgust. This more than modest chamber looked to her like a garret such
as she would not have permitted the least of her maids to occupy at

But never mind! She went in bravely, putting her travelling-bag on
a bureau, and taking off her shawl, as if to take possession of the
lodging. But her first impression had not escaped M. de Brevan. He drew
her into the passage while the woman was stirring the fire, and said in
a low voice, -

"It is a terrible room; but prudence induced me to choose it."

"I like it as it is, sir."

"You will want a great many things, no doubt; but we will see to that
to-morrow. To-night I must leave you: you know it is all important that
I should be seen again at your father's house."

"You are quite right; sir, go, make haste!"

Still he did not wish to go without having once more recommended his
"young kinswoman" to Mrs. Chevassat. He only left when she had over and
over again assured him that there was nothing more to be done; and then
the woman also went down.

The terrible emotions which had shaken and undermined Henrietta during
the last forty-eight hours were followed now by a feeling of intense
astonishment at what she had done, at the irrevocable step she had
taken. Her quiet life had been interrupted by an event which to her
appeared more stupendous than if a mountain had been moved. Standing
by the mantle-piece, she looked at her pale face in the little
looking-glass, and said to herself, -

"Is that myself, my own self?"

Yes, it was she herself, the only daughter of the great Count Ville-
Handry, here in a strange house, in a wretched garret-room, which she
called her own. It was she, yesterday still surrounded by princely
splendor, waited on by an army of servants, now in want of almost every
thing, and having for her only servant the old woman to whom M. de
Brevan had recommended her.

Was this possible? She could hardly believe it herself. Still she felt
no repentance at what she had done. She could not remain any longer
in her father's house where she was exposed to the vilest insults from
everybody. Could she have stayed any longer?

"But what is the use," she said to herself, "of thinking of what is
past? I must not allow myself to think of it; I must shake off this

And, to occupy her mind, she rose and went about to explore her new
home, and to examine all it contained. It was one of those lodgings
about which the owners of houses rarely trouble themselves, and where
they never make the smallest repairs, because they are always sure of
renting them out just as they are. The floor, laid in bricks, was going
to pieces; and a number of bricks were loose, and shaking in their
layers of cement. The ceiling was cracked, and fell off in scales; while
all along the walls it was blackened by flaring tallow-candles. The
papering, a greasy, dirty gray paper, preserved the fingermarks of all
the previous occupants of the room from the time it had first been hung.
The furniture, also, was in keeping with the room, - a walnut bedstead
with faded calico curtains, a chest of drawers, a table, two chairs, and
a miserable arm-chair; that was all.

A short curtain hung before the window. By the side of the bed was a
little strip of carpeting; and on the mantlepiece a zinc clock between
two blue glass vases. Nothing else!

How could M. de Brevan ever have selected such a room, such a hole?
Henrietta could not comprehend it. He had told her, and she had believed
him, that they must use extreme caution. But would she have been any
more compromised, or in greater danger of being discovered by the
Countess Sarah, if they had papared the room anew, put a simple felt
carpet on the floor, and furnished the room a little more decently?

Still she did not conceive any suspicion even yet. She thought it
mattered very little where and how she was lodged. She hoped it was,
after all, only for a short time, and consoled herself with the thought
that a cell in a convent would have been worse still. And any thing was
better than her father's house.

"At least," she said, "I shall be quiet and undisturbed here."

Perhaps she was to be morally quiet; for as to any other peace, she was
soon to be taught differently. Accustomed to the profound stillness
of the immense rooms in her father's palace, Henrietta had no idea, of
course, of the incessant movement that goes on in the upper stories
of these Paris lodging-houses, which contain the population of a whole

Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 19 of 39)