Émile Gaboriau.

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village, and where the tenants, separated from each other by thin
partition-walls, live, so to say, all in public.

Sleep, under such circumstances, becomes possible only after
long experience; and the poor girl had to pay very dear for her
apprenticeship. It was past four o'clock before she could fall asleep,
overcome by fatigue; and then it was so heavy a sleep, that she was
not aroused by the stir in the whole house as day broke. It was broad
daylight, hence, when she awoke; and a pale sun-ray was gliding into the
room through the torn curtain. The zinc clock pointed at twelve o'clock.
She rose and dressed hastily.

Yesterday, when she rose, she rang her bell, and her maid came in
promptly, made a fire, brought her her slippers, and threw over her
shoulders a warm, wadded dressing-wrapper. But to-day!

This thought carried her back to her father's house. What were they
doing there at this hour? Her escape was certainly known by this time.
No doubt they had sent the servants out in all directions. Her father,
most probably, had gone to call in the aid of the police. She felt
almost happy at the idea of being so safely concealed; and looking
around her chamber, which appeared even more wretched by daylight than
last night, she said, -

"No, they will never think of looking for me here!"

In the meantime she had discovered a small supply of wood near the
fireplace; and, as it was cold, she was busy making a fire, when
somebody knocked at her door. She opened; and Mrs. Chevassat, the wife
of the concierge appeared.

"It is I, my pretty young lady," she said as she entered. "Not seeing
you come down, I said to myself, 'I must go up to look after her.' And
have you slept well?"

"Very well, madam, thank you!"

"Now, that's right. And how is your appetite? For that was what I came
up for. Don't you think you might eat a little something?"

Henrietta not only thought of it; but she was very hungry. For there
are no events and no adventures, no excitements and no sorrows, which
prevent us from getting hungry; the tyranny of our physical wants is
stronger than any thing else.

"I would be obliged to you, madam," she said, "if you would bring me up
some breakfast."

"If I would! As often as you desire, my pretty young lady. Just give me
the time to boil an egg, and to roast a cutlet, and I'll be up again."

Ordinarily sour-tempered, and as bitter as wormwood, Mrs. Chevassat had
displayed all the amiability of which she was capable, hiding under
a veil of tender sympathy the annoying eagerness of her eyes. Her
hypocrisy was all wasted. The efforts she made were too manifest not to
arouse the very worst suspicions.

"I am sure," thought Henrietta, "she is a bad woman."

Her suspicions were only increased when the worthy woman reappeared,
bringing her breakfast, and setting it out on a little table before the
fire, with all kinds of hideous compliments.

"You'll see how very well every thing is cooked, miss," she said.

Then, while Henrietta was eating, she sat down on a chair near the
door, and commenced talking, without ever stopping. To hear her, the
new tenant ought to thank her guardian angel who had brought her to this
charming house, No. 23 Water Street, where there was such a concierge
with such a wife! - he, the best of men; she, a real treasure of
kindness, gentleness, and, above all, discretion.

"Quite an exceptional house," she added, "as far as the tenants are
concerned. They are all people of notoriously high standing, from the
wealthy old ladies in the best story to Papa Ravinet in the fourth
story, and not excepting the young ladies who live in the small rooms in
the back building."

Then, having passed them all in review, she began praising M. de Brevan,
whom she always called M. Maxime. She declared that he had won her heart
from the beginning, when he had first come to the house, day before
yesterday, to engage the room. She had never seen a more perfect
gentleman, so kind, so polite, and so liberal! With her great
experience, she had at once recognized in him one of those men who
seem to be born expressly for the purpose of inspiring the most violent
passions, and of securing the most lasting attachments.

Besides, she added with a hideous smile, she was sure of his deep
interest in her pretty new tenant; and she was so well convinced of
this, that she would be happy to devote herself to her service, even
without any prospect of payment.

This did not prevent her from saying to Henrietta, as soon as she had
finished her breakfast, -

"You owe me two francs, miss; and, if you would like it, I can board you
for five francs a day."

Thereupon she went into a lively discussion to show that this would be
on her part a mere act of kindness, because, considering how dear every
thing was, she would most assuredly lose.

But Henrietta stopped her. Drawing from her purse a twenty-franc piece,
she said, -

"Make yourself paid, madam."

This was evidently not what the estimable woman expected; for she drew
back with an air of offended dignity, and protested, -

"What do you take me to be, miss? Do you think me capable of asking for

And, shrugging her shoulders, she added, -

"Besides, does not all that regards your expenses concern M. Maxime?"

Thereupon she quickly folded the napkin, took the plates, and
disappeared. Henrietta did not know what to think of it. She could not
doubt that this Megsera pursued some mysterious aim with all her foolish
talk; but she could not possibly guess what that aim could be. And still
that was not all that kept her thoughts busy. What frightened her
most of all was the feeling that she was evidently altogether at M.
de Brevan's mercy. All her possessions amounted to about two hundred
francs. She was in want of every thing, of the most indispensable
articles: she had not another dress, nor another petticoat. Why had not
M. de Brevan thought of that beforehand? Was he waiting for her to tell
him of her distress, and to ask him for money? She could not think so,
and she attributed his neglect to his excitement, thinking that he would
no doubt come soon to ask how she was, and place himself at her service.

But the day passed away slowly, and night came; but he did not appear.
What did this mean? What unforeseen event could have happened?
what misfortune could have befallen him? Torn by a thousand wild
apprehensions, Henrietta was more than once on the point of going to his

It was not before two o'clock on the next day that he appeared at last,
affecting an easy air, but evidently very much embarrassed. If he did
not come the night before, he said, it was because he was sure the
Countess Sarah had him watched. The flight of the daughter of Count
Ville-Handry was known all over Paris, and he was suspected of having
aided and abetted her: so they had told him, he said, at his club. He
also added that it would be imprudent in him to stay longer; and he
left again, without having said a word to Henrietta, and without having
apparently noticed her destitution.

And thus, for three days, he only came, to disappear almost instantly.

He always came painfully embarrassed, as if he had something very
important to tell her; then his brow clouded over; and he went away
suddenly, without having said any thing.

Henrietta, tortured by terrible doubts, felt unable to endure this
atrocious uncertainty any longer. She determined to force an explanation
when, on the fourth day, M. de Brevan came in, evidently under the
influence of some terrible determination. As soon as he had entered, he
locked the door, and said in a hoarse voice, -

"I must speak to you, madam, yes, I must!"

He was deadly pale; his white lips trembled; and his eyes shone with
a fearful light, like those of a man who might have sought courage in
strong drink.

"I am ready to listen," replied the poor girl, all trembling.

He hesitated again for a moment; then overcoming his reluctance,
apparently by a great effort, he said, -

"Well, I wish to ask you if you have ever suspected what my real reasons
were for assisting you to escape?"

"I think, sir, you have acted from kind pity for me, and also from
friendship for M. Daniel Champcey."

"No! You are entirely mistaken."

She drew back instinctively, uttering only a low, "Ah!"

Pale as he had been, M. de Brevan had become crimson.

"Have you really noticed nothing? Are you really not aware that I love

She could understand any thing but this, the unfortunate girl; any thing
but such infamy, such an incredible insult! M. de Brevan must be either
drunk or mad.

"Leave me, sir!" she said peremptorily, but with a voice trembling with

But he advanced towards her with open arms, and went on, -

"Yes, I love you madly, and for a long time, - ever since the first day I
saw you."

Henrietta, however, had swiftly moved aside, and opened the window.

"If you advance another step, I shall cry for help."

He stopped, and, changing his tone, said to her, -

"Ah! You refuse? Well, what are you hoping for? For Daniel's return?
Don't you know that he loves Sarah?"

"Ah! you abuse my forlorn condition infamously!" broke in the young
girl. And, as he still insisted, she added, -

"Why don't you go, coward? Why don't you go, wretched man? Must I call?"

He was frightened, backed to the door, and half opened it; then he
said, -

"You refuse me to-day; but, before the month is over, you will beg me to
come to you. You are ruined; and I alone can rescue you."


At last, then, the truth had come out!

Overcome with horror, her hair standing at an end, and shaken by nervous
spasms, poor Henrietta was trying to measure the depth of the abyss into
which she had thrown herself.

Voluntarily, and with the simplicity of a child, she had walked into the
pit which had been dug for her. But who, in her place, would not have
trusted? Who could have conceived such an idea? Who could have suspected
such monstrous rascality?

Ah! Now she understood but too well all the mysterious movements that
had so puzzled her in M. de Brevan. She saw how profound had been his
calculations when he recommended her so urgently not to take her jewels
with her while escaping from her father's house, nor any object
of value; for, if she had had her jewelry, she would have been in
possession of a small fortune; she would have been independent, and
above want, at least for a couple of years.

But M. de Brevan wanted her to have nothing. He knew, the coward! with
what crushing contempt she would reject his first proposals; but he
flattered himself with the hope that isolation, fear, destitution would
at last reduce her to submission, and enable him -

"It is too horrible," repeated the poor girl, - "too horrible!"

And this man had been Daniel's friend! And it was he to whom Daniel,
at the moment of sailing, had intrusted his betrothed! What atrocious
deception! M. Thomas Elgin was no doubt a formidable bandit, faithless
and unscrupulous; but he was known as such: he was known to be capable
of any thing, and thus people were on their guard. But this man! - ah, a
thousand times meaner and viler! - he had watched for a whole year, with
smiling face, for the hour of treachery; he had prepared a hideous crime
under the veil of the noblest friendship!

Henrietta thought she could divine what was the traitor's final aim.
In obtaining possession of her, he no doubt thought he would secure to
himself a large portion of Count Ville-Handry's immense fortune.

And hence, she continued in her meditations, hence the hatred between
Sir Thorn and M. de Brevan. They both coveted the same thing; and each
one trembled lest the other should first get hold of the treasure which
he wanted to secure. The idea that the new countess was in complicity
with M. de Brevan did not enter Henrietta's mind. On the contrary, she
thought they were enemies, and divided from each other by separate and
opposite interests.

"Ah!" she said to herself, "they have one feeling, at all events, in
common; and that is hatred against me."

A few months ago, so fearful and so sudden a catastrophe would have
crushed Henrietta, in all probability. But she had endured so many blows
during the past year, that she bore this also; for it is a fact that the
human heart learns to bear grief as the body learns to endure fatigue.
Moreover, she called in to her assistance a light shining high above all
this terrible darkness, - the remembrance of Daniel.

She had doubted him for an instant; but her faith had, after all,
remained intact and perfect. Her reason told her, that, if he had really
loved Sarah Brandon, her enemies, M. Elgin and M. de Brevan, would not
have taken such pains to make her believe it. She thought, therefore,
she was quite certain that he would return to her with his heart devoted
to her as when he left her.

But, great God! to think of the grief and the rage of this man, when he
should hear how wickedly and cowardly he had been betrayed by the man
whom he called his friend! He would know how to restore the count's
daughter to her proper position, and how to avenge her.

"And I shall wait for him," she said, her teeth firmly set, - "I shall
wait for him!"

How? She did not ask herself that question; for she was yet in that
first stage of enthusiasm, when we are full of heroic resolves which do
not allow us to see the obstacles that are to be overcome. But she
soon learned to know the first difficulties in her way, thanks to Dame
Chevassat, who brought her her dinner as the clock struck six, according
to the agreement they had made.

The estimable lady had assumed a deeply grieved expression; you might
have sworn she had tears in her eyes. In her sweetest voice, she
asked: -

"Well, well, my beautiful young lady; so you have quarrelled with our
dear M. Maxime?"

Henrietta was so sure of the uselessness of replying, and so fearful of
new dangers, that she simply replied, -

"Yes, madam."

"I was afraid of it," replied the woman, "just from seeing him come down
the stairs with a face as long as that. You see, he is in love with you,
that kind young man; and you may believe me when I tell you so, for I
know what men are."

She expected an answer; for generally her eloquence was very effective
with her tenants. But, as no reply came, she went on, -

"We must hope that the trouble will blow over."


Looking at Mrs. Chevassat, one would have thought she was stunned.

"How savage you are!" she exclaimed at last. "Well, it is your lookout.
Only I should like to know what you mean to do?"

"About what?"

"Why, about your board."

"I shall find the means, madam, you may be sure."

The old woman, however, who knew from experience what that cruel word,
"living," sometimes means with poor forsaken girls, shook her head
seriously, and answered, -

"So much the better; so much the better! Only I know you owe a good deal
of money."


"Why, yes! The furniture here has never been paid for."

"What? The furniture" -

"Of course, M. Maxime was going to pay for it; he has told me so. But if
you fall out in this way - you understand, don't you?"

She hardly did understand such fearful infamy. Still Henrietta did not
show her indignation and surprise. She asked, -

"What did the furniture of this room cost? do you know?"

"I don't know. Something like five or six hundred francs, things are so
dear now!" The whole was probably not worth a hundred and fifty or two
hundred francs.

"Very well. I'll pay," said Henrietta. "The man will give me forty-
eight hours' time, I presume?"

"Oh, certainly!"

As the poor girl was now quite sure that this honeyed Megsera was
employed by M. de Brevan to watch her, she affected a perfectly calm
air. When she had finished her dinner, she even insisted upon paying
on the spot fifty francs, which she owed for the last few days, and for
some small purchases. But, when the old woman was gone, she sank into a
chair, and said, -

"I am lost!"

There was, in fact, no refuge for her, no help to be expected.

Should she return to her father, and implore the pity of his wife?
Ah! death itself would be more tolerable than such a humiliation. And
besides, in escaping from M. de Brevan, would she not fall into the
hands of M. Elgin?

Should she seek assistance at the hands of some of the old family
friends? But which?

In greater distress than the shipwrecked man who in vain examines the
blank horizon, she looked around for some one to help her. She forced
her mind to recall all the people she had ever known. Alas! she knew,
so to say, nobody. Since her mother had died, and she had been living
alone, no one seemed to have remembered her, unless for the purpose of
calumniating her.

Her only friends, the only ones who had made her cause their own,
the Duke and the Duchess of Champdoce, were in Italy, as she had been

"I can count upon nobody but myself," she repeated, - "myself, myself!"

Then rousing herself, she said, her heart swelling with emotion, -

"But never mind! I shall be saved!"

Her safety depended upon one single point: if she could manage to live
till she came of age, or till Daniel returned, all was right.

"Is it really so hard to live?" she thought. "The daughters of poor
people, who are as completely forsaken as I am, nevertheless live. Why
should not I live also?"


Because the children of poor people have served, so to say, from the
cradle, an apprenticeship of poverty, - because they are not afraid of a
day without work, or a day without bread, - because cruel experience has
armed them for the struggle, - because, in fine, they know life, and they
know Paris, - because their industry is adapted to their wants, and
they have an innate capacity to obtain some advantage from every thing,
thanks to their smartness, their enterprise, and their energy.

But Count Ville-Handry's only daughter - the heiress of many millions,
brought up, so to say, in a hothouse, according to the stupid custom of
modern society - knew nothing at all of life, of its bitter realities,
its struggles, and its sufferings. She had nothing but courage.

"That is enough," she said to herself. "What we will do, we can do."

Thus resolved to seek aid from no one, she set to work examining her
condition and her resources.

As to objects of any value, she owned the cashmere which she had
wrapped around her when she fled, the dressing-case in her mother's
travelling-bag, a brooch, a watch, a pair of pretty ear-rings, and,
lastly, two rings, which by some lucky accident she had forgotten to
take off, one of which was of considerable value. All this, she thought,
must have cost, at least, eight or nine thousand francs; but for how
much would it sell? since she was resolved to sell it. This was the
question on which her whole future depended.

But how could she dispose of these things? She wanted to have it all
settled, so as to get rid of this sense of uncertainty; she wanted,
especially, to pay for the scanty, wretched furniture in her chamber.
Whom could she ask to help her? For nothing in the world would she have
confided in Mrs. Chevassat; for her instincts told her, that, if she
once let that terrible woman see what were her necessities, she would
be bound hand and foot to her. She was thinking it out, when the idea
of the pawnbroker occurred to her. She had heard such men spoken of; but
she only knew that they kept places where poor people could get money
upon depositing a pledge.

"That is the place I must go to," Henrietta said to herself.

But how was she to find one?

"Well, I'll find it some way," she said.

So she went down, to Mrs. Chevassat's great astonishment, but without
answering her questions, where she was going to in such a hurry.

Having turned at the first corner, she went on at haphazard, walking
quite rapidly, and not minding the passers-by, entirely occupied in
looking at the houses and the sign-boards. But for more than an hour she
wandered thus through all the small streets and alleys in those suburbs;
she found nothing, and it was getting dark.

"And still I won't go home till I have found it," she said to herself

This resolution gave her courage to go up to a policeman, and, crimson
like a poppy, to ask him, -

"Will you be so kind, sir, as to tell me a pawnbroker's shop?"

The man looked with pity at the young girl, whose whole person exhaled
a perfume of distinction and of candor, asking himself, perhaps, what
terrible misfortune could have reduced a lady like her to such a step;
then he answered with a sigh, -

"There, madam, at the corner of the first street on the right, you will
find a loan office."

"Loan office?" These words suggested to Henrietta no clear idea. But it
mattered not. She went on in feverish haste, recognized the house that
had been pointed out to her, went up stairs, and, pushing open a door,
found herself in a large room, where some twenty people were standing
about, waiting.

On the right hand three or four clerks, shut off from the public by a
railing breast-high, were writing down the names of the depositors, and
counting out money. Far back, a large opening was visible, where another
clerk appeared from time to time, to take in the articles that were
pawned. After waiting for five minutes, and without asking a question
from anybody, Henrietta understood the whole process. Trembling as if
she had committed a crime, she went to the opening behind, and put
upon the ledge one of her rings, the most valuable of the two. Then she
waited, not daring to look up; for it seemed to her as if all eyes were
upon her.

"One diamond ring!" cried the clerk. "Nine hundred francs. Whose is it?"

The large amount caused all to look around; and a big woman, but too
well dressed, and with a very impudent expression, said, -

"Oh, oh! The damsel dresses well!"

Crimson with shame, Henrietta had stepped up. She whispered, -

"It is my ring, sir."

The clerk looked at her, and then asked quite gently, -

"You have your papers?"

"Papers? What for?"

"The papers that establish your identity. Your passport, a receipt for
rent, or any thing."

The whole company laughed at the ignorance of this girl. She stammered
out, -

"I have no such papers, sir."

"Then we can make no advance."

One more hope, her last, vanished thus. She held out her hand, saying, -

"Please give me back my ring."

But the clerk now laughed, and replied, -

"No, no, my dear! that can't be done. You shall have it back when you
bring me the papers, or when you come accompanied by two merchants who
are known to us."

"But, sir" -

"That is so."

And, finding that he had lost time enough, he went on, -

"One velvet cloak! Thirty francs. Whose is it?"

Henrietta was rushing out, and down the stairs, pursued, as it seemed to
her, by the cries of the crowd. How that clerk had looked at her! Did he
think she had stolen the ring? And what was to become of it? The police
would inquire; they would trace her out; and she would be carried back
to her father's house, and given up to Sir Thorn. She could hardly
keep up until she reached Water Street; and there fatigue, fright,
and excitement made her forget her resolutions. She confessed her
discomfiture to Mrs. Chevassat.

The honest woman tried to look as grave as an attorney whom a great
client consults, who has unwittingly stirred up a wasps' nest; and, when
her tenant had finished, she said in a voice apparently half drowned in
tears, -

"Poor little kitten, poor little innocent kitten!"

But, if she succeeded in giving to her face an expression of sincere
sympathy, the greedy look in her eyes betrayed but too clearly her
immense satisfaction at seeing Henrietta at last at her feet.

"After all," she said, "you are prodigiously lucky in your misfortunes;
for you are too imprudent in all conscience."

And, as the poor girl was not a little astonished at this, she went
on, -

"Yes, you ran a great risk; and I can easily prove it to you. Who are
you? Well, you need not turn pale that way: I don't ask any questions.
But after all, if you carry your jewels yourself to the 'Uncle,' you go,
so to say, and rush right into the lion's mouth. If they had arrested
you when they saw you had no papers; if they had carried you before a
magistrate - eh? Ah! my beautiful friend, you would have fared pretty
badly, I dare say."

And then, changing her tone, she began scolding her beautiful young lady
for having concealed her troubles from her. That was wrong; that hurt

Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 20 of 39)