Émile Gaboriau.

The Clique of Gold online

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of her room.

When she awoke next morning, calm and refreshed, it was broad daylight,
nearly ten o'clock; and a pale ray of the sun was playing over the
polished furniture. When she opened her eyes, she saw the dealer's
sister standing at the foot of her bed, like a good genius who had been
watching over her slumbers.

"Oh, how lazy I am!" she exclaimed with the hearty laugh of a child; for
she felt quite at home in this little bedroom, where she had only spent
a night; she felt as much at home here as in her father's palace when
her mother was still alive; and it seemed to her as if she had lived
here many a year.

"My brother was here about half an hour ago to talk with you," said the
old lady; "but we did not like to wake you. You needed repose so much!
He will be back in the evening, and dine with us."

The bright smile which had lighted up Henrietta's face went out
instantly. Absorbed in the happiness of the moment, she had forgotten
every thing; and these few words brought her back to the reality of
her position, and recalled to her the sufferings of the past and the
uncertainty of the future.

The good widow in the meantime assisted her in getting up; and they
spent the day together in the little parlor, busily cutting out and
making up a black silk dress for which Papa Ravinet had brought the
material in the morning, and which was to take the place of Henrietta's
miserable, worn-out, alpaca dress. When the young girl had first seen
the silk, she had remembered all the kind widow had told her of their
excessive economy, and with difficulty only succeeded in checking her
tears.

"Why should you go to such an expense?" she had said very sadly. "Would
not a woollen dress have done quite as well? The hospitality which you
offer me must in itself be quite a heavy charge upon you. I should never
forgive myself for becoming a source of still greater privations to such
very kind friends."

But the old lady shook her head, and replied, -

"Don't be afraid, child. We have money enough."

They had just lighted the lamp, when they heard a key in the outer door;
and a moment later Papa Ravinet appeared. He was very red; and, although
it was freezing outdoors, he was streaming with perspiration.

"I am exhausted," he said, sinking into, an armchair, and wiping his
forehead with his broad checkered handkerchief. "You cannot imagine how
I have been running about to-day! I wanted to take an omnibus to come
home, but they were all full."

Henrietta jumped up, and exclaimed, -

"You have been to see my father?"

"No, madam. A week ago already, Count Ville-Handry left his palace."

A mad thought, the hope that her father might have separated from his
wife, crossed Henrietta's mind.

"And the countess," she asked, - "the Countess Sarah?"

"She has gone with her husband. They live in Peletier Street, in a
modest apartment just above the office of the Pennsylvania Petroleum
Company. Sir Thorn and Mrs. Brian are there also. They have only kept
two servants, - Ernest, the count's valet, and a certain Clarissa."

The name of the vile creature whose treachery had been one of the
principal causes of Henrietta's misfortunes did not strike her ear.

"How could my father ever be induced to leave his home?" she asked.

"He sold it, madam, ten days ago."

"Great God! My father must be ruined!"

The old man bowed his head.

"Yes!"

Thus were the sad presentiments realized which she had felt when first
she had heard Count Ville-Handry speak of the Pennsylvania Petroleum
Company. But never, oh, never! would she have imagined so sudden a
downfall.

"My father ruined!" she repeated, as if she were unable to realize the
precise meaning of these words.

"And only a year ago he had more than a hundred thousand dollars a year.
Six millions swallowed up in twelve months! - six millions!"

And as the enormous amount seemed to be out of all proportion to the
shortness of time, she said, -

"It cannot be. You must be mistaken, sir; they have misled you."

A smile of bitter irony passed over the old dealer's lips. He replied,
as if much puzzled by Henrietta's doubts, -

"What, madam, you do not see yet? Alas! what I tell you is but too true;
and, if you want proofs" -

He drew a newspaper from his pocket and handed it to Henrietta, pointing
out to her on the first page an article marked with a red pencil.

"There!" he said.

It was one of those financial sheets which arise every now and then, and
which profess to teach the art of becoming rich in a very short time,
without running any risk. This paper bore a title calculated to reassure
its readers. It was called "Prudence." Henrietta read aloud, -


"We shall never tire repeating to our subscribers the words which
form our motto and our heading, 'Prudence, prudence! Do not trust new
enterprises!'

"Out of a hundred enterprises which appear in the market, it may safely
be said that sixty are nothing but the simplest kind of wells, into
which the capital of foolhardy speculators is sunk almost instantly.
Out of the remaining forty, twenty-five may be looked upon as suspicious
enterprises, partaking too much of gambling speculations. Among the last
fifteen even, a careful choice must be made before we find out the few
that present safe guarantees."


The young girl paused, not understanding a word of all this stuff. But
the old man said, -

"That is only the honey of the preface, the sweet syrup intended to
conceal the bitterness of the medicine that is to follow. Go on, and you
will understand."

She continued to read, -


"A recent event, we ought to say a recent disaster, has just confirmed
our doctrines, and justifies but too clearly our admonition to be
careful.

"A company which started into existence last year with amazing
suddenness, which filled the whole world with its flaming
advertisements, crowding the newspapers, and decorating the
street-corners, - a company which was most surely to enrich its
stockholders, is already no longer able to pay the interest on its
paid-up capital.

"As to the capital itself - but we will not anticipate events.

"All of our readers will have understood that we are speaking of the
Franco-American Society of Pennsylvania Oil-Wells, which for the last
eight days has been the subject of universal excitement.

"On 'Change the shares of a hundred dollars are quoted at 4-to-5."


Blinding tears prevented Henrietta from going on. "Great God!" she
exclaimed. "O God!" Then, mastering her weakness, she began once more to
read, -


"And yet if ever any company seemed to offer all the material and
moral guarantees which we can desire before risking our carefully saved
earnings, this company presented them.

"It had at its head a man who in his day was looked up to as a statesman
endowed with rare administrative talents, and whose reputation as a man
of sterling integrity seemed to lie above all suspicion.

"Need we say that this was the 'high and mighty Count Ville-Handry'?

"Hence they did not spare this great and noble name, but proclaimed
it aloud on the housetops. It was the Count Ville-Handry here, and the
Count Ville-Handry there. He was to bestow upon the country a new branch
of industry. He was to change vile petroleum into precious gold.

"It was especially brought into notice that the noble count's personal
fortune was nearly equal to the whole capital of the new company, - ten
millions. Hence he was risking his own money rather than the money of
others.

"It is now a year since these dazzling promises were made. What remains
of them all? Shares, worth five dollars yesterday, worth, perhaps,
nothing at all to-morrow, and a more than doubtful capital.

"Who could have expected in our day a new edition of Law's Mississippi
Scheme?"


The paper fell from the hands of the poor girl. She had turned as pale
as death, and was staggering so, that Papa Ravinet's sister took her in
her arms to support her.

"Horrible," she murmured; "this is horrible!" Still she had not yet read
all. The old man picked up the paper, and read from another article,
below the lines which carried poison in every word, the following
comments: -


"Two delegates of the stockholders of the Pennsylvania Petroleum Company
were to sail this morning from Brest for New York.

"These gentlemen have been sent out by their fellow-sufferers to examine
the lands on which the oil-wells are situated which constitute the only
security of the shareholders. Certain people have gone so far as to
doubt even the existence of such oil-wells."


And in another place, under the head of local items: -


"The palace of Count Ville-Handry was sold last week. This magnificent
building, with the princely real estate belonging to it, was knocked
down to the highest bidder for the sum of one hundred and seventy-five
thousand dollars. The misfortune is, that house and lot are burdened
with mortgages, which amount together to nearly a hundred thousand
dollars."


Henrietta was overcome, and had sunk into a chair.

"But that is simply infamous," she stammered out in an almost inaudible
tone. "Nobody will believe such atrocious libels."

Pale and deeply grieved, Papa Ravinet and his sister exchanged looks of
distress. Evidently the poor girl did not at all realize the terrible
nature of the circumstances. And yet, seeing her thus crushed, they did
not dare to enlighten her. At last the old dealer, knowing but too
well that uncertainty is more agonizing than the most painful reality,
said, -

"Your father is fearfully calumniated. But I have tried to inform
myself. Two facts are but too certain. Count Ville-Handry is ruined; and
the shares of the company of which he is the president have fallen to
five dollars, because" -

His voice changed, and he added in a very low tone, -

"Because it is believed that the capital of the company has been
appropriated to other purposes, and lost in speculations on 'Change."

The poor old dealer was suffering intensely, and showed it.

"Ah, madam, perfectly as I am convinced of Count Ville-Handry's
uprightness and integrity, I also know that he was utterly ignorant of
business. What did he understand of these speculations into which he was
drawn? Nothing. It is a difficult and often a dangerous thing to manage
large capitals. They have no doubt deceived him, cheated him, misled
him, and driven him at last to the verge of bankruptcy."

"Who?"

Papa Ravinet trembled on his chair, and, raising his hands to the
ceiling, exclaimed, -

"Who? You ask who? Why, those who had an interest in it, the wretches by
whom he was surrounded, - Sarah, Sir Thorn" -

Henrietta shook her head and said, -

"_I_ do not think the Countess Sarah looked with a favorable eye upon
the formation of this company."

And, when objection was made, she went on, -

"Besides, what interest could she have in ruining my father? Evidently
none. To ruin him was to ruin herself, since she was absolute mistress
of her fortune, and free to dispose of it as she chose."

Proud of the accuracy of her decision, she was looking triumphantly at
the old dealer. The latter saw now that he must strike a decisive blow;
and his sister encouraged him by a gesture. He said, -

"Pray, listen to me, madam. So far I have only repeated to you the
report on 'Change. I told you: They say the capital of the Pennsylvania
Petroleum _Company_ has been swallowed up by unlucky speculations on
'Change. But I do not believe these reports. I am, on the contrary,
convinced, I am quite sure even, that these millions were not lost on
'Change, because they never were used for the purpose of speculating."

"Still" -

"Still they have disappeared, none the less; and your father is
probably the last man in the world to tell us how and where they have
disappeared. But I know it; and, when the question is raised how to
recover these enormous sums, I shall cry out, 'Search Sarah Brandon,
Countess Ville-Handry; search M. Thomas Elgin and Mrs. Brian; search
Maxime de Brevan,' the wretched tool of these wicked women!"

Now at last a terrible light broke upon Henrietta's mind.

"Then," she stammered, "these infamous slanders are only put out to
conceal an impudent robbery?"

"Yes."

The young girl's face showed that she was making a great effort to
comprehend; and then she said again, -

"And in that case, the articles in the papers" -

"Were written by the wretches who have robbed your father, yes, madam!"
And, shaking his fist with a threatening air, he added, -

"Oh! there is no mistaking it. Since when does this journal exist? Since
about six months ago. From the day on which it was established, it was
the aim and purpose of the founders to publish in it the articles which
you haven't read."

Even if she could not well understand by what ingenious combinations
such enormous sums could be abstracted, Henrietta was conquered by Papa
Ravinet's sincere and earnest conviction.

"Then," she went on, "these wretches who have robbed my father now mean
to ruin him!"

"They must do it for their own safety. The money has been stolen, you
see; therefore there must be a thief. For the world, for the courts, the
guilty one will be Count Ville-Handry."

"For the courts?"

"Alas, yes!"

The poor girl's eyes went from the brother to the sister with a terrible
expression of bewilderment. At last she asked, -

"And do you believe Sarah will allow my father's name to be thus
dishonored, - the name which she bears, and of which she was so proud?"

"She will, perhaps, even insist upon it."

"Great God! What do you mean? Why should she?"

Seeing her brother's hesitation, the old lady took it upon herself to
answer. She touched the poor girl's arm, and said in a subdued voice, -

"Because, you see, my poor child, now that Sarah has gotten possession
of the fortune she wanted, your father is in her way; because, you see,
she wants to be free - do you understand? - free!"

Henrietta uttered a cry of such horror that both the brother and the
sister saw at once that she had not misunderstood the horrible meaning
of that word "free."

But, since the blow had fallen, the old dealer did not think the rest
need be concealed from Henrietta. He got up, therefore, and, leaning
against the mantlepiece, he addressed the poor girl, trembling in all
her limbs with terror, and looking at him with a fixed and painful gaze,
in these words, -

"You must at last learn to know, madam, the execrable woman who has
sworn to ruin you. You see, I know, because I have experienced it
myself, of what crimes she is capable; and I see clear in the dark night
of her infernal intrigues. I know that this woman with the chaste brow,
the open smile, and the soft eyes, has the genius and the instinct of a
murderess, and has never counted upon any thing else, but murder for the
gratification of her lusts."

The attitude of the old man, who raised his head on high while his
breast swelled, breathed in every one of his sharp and threatening
gestures an intense thirst of vengeance. He no longer measured his words
carefully; and they overflowed from his lips as they came boiling up
under the pressure of his rage.

"Anthony!" said the old lady more than once, - "Anthony, brother! I
beseech you!"

But this friendly voice, ordinarily all-powerful, was not even heard by
him now. He went on, -

"And now, madam, must I still explain to you the simple and yet
formidable plan by which Sarah Brandon has succeeded in obtaining by one
effort the immense fortune of the Ville-Handry family? From the first
day, she has seen that you were standing between her and those millions;
therefore she attacked you first of all. A brave and honest man, M.
Daniel Champcey, loved you; he would have protected you; therefore she
got him out of the way. The world might have become interested in you,
might have taken your side; she beguiled your father, in his blind
passion, to calumniate you, to ruin your reputation, and to expose you
to the contempt of the world. Still you might have wished to secure
a protector, you might have found one. She placed by your side her
wretched tool, her spy, a forger, a criminal whom she knew to be able
of doing things from which even an accomplished galley-slave would have
shrunk with disgust and horror: I mean Maxime de Brevan."

The very excess, of eruption had restored a part of her energy to
Henrietta. She said, therefore, -

"Alas, _sir_! have I not told you, on, the contrary, that Daniel himself
had confided me to the care of M. de Brevan? Have I not told you" -

The old dealer smiled almost contemptuously, and then continued, -

"What does that prove? Nothing but the skill of M. de Brevan in carrying
out Sarah Brandon's orders. In order to get the more completely the
mastery over you, he began by obtaining the mastery over M. Champcey.
How he succeeded in doing this, I do not know. But we shall know it when
we want to know it; for we are going to find out every thing. Thus Sarah
was, through M. de Brevan, kept informed of all your thoughts, of all
your hopes, of _every_ word you wrote to M. Champcey, and of all he said
in reply; for you need not doubt he did answer, and they suppressed the
letters, just as they, very probably, intercepted all of your letters
which you did not yourself carry to the post-office. Still, as long as
you were living under your father's roof, Sarah could do nothing against
your life. She resolved, therefore, to force you to flee; and those mean
persecutions of M. Elgin served their purpose. You thought, and perhaps,
they think, that bandit really wanted your hand. Undeceive yourself.
Your enemies knew your character too well to hope that you would ever
break your word, and become faithless to M. Champcey. But they were bent
upon handing you over to M. de Brevan. And thus, poor child! you were
handed over to him. Maxime had as little idea of marrying you as Sir
Thomas; he was quite prepared, when he dared to approach you with open
arms, to be rejected with disgust. But he had received orders to add
the horror of his persecutions to the horror of your isolation and your
destitution.

"For he was quite sure, the scoundrel! that the secret of your
sufferings would be well kept. He had carefully chosen the house in
which you were to die of hunger and misery. The two Chevassats were
bound to be his devoted accomplices, even unto death. This is what gave
him the amazing boldness, the inconceivable brutality, to watch your
slow agony; no doubt he became quite impatient at your delaying suicide
so long.

"Finally you were driven to it; and your death would have realized their
atrocious hopes, if Providence had not miraculously stepped in, - that
Providence which always, sooner or later, takes its revenge, whatever
the wicked may say to the contrary. Yes, these wretches thought they
had now surely gotten rid of you, when I came in. That very morning, the
woman Chevassat had told them, no doubt, 'She'll do it to-night!' And
that evening, Sarah, Mrs. Brian, and M. Elgin asked, no doubt, full of
hope, 'Is it all over?'"

Immovable, and white as marble, her eyes dilated beyond measure, and her
lips half-open, poor Henrietta listened. She felt as if a bright ray
of the sun had suddenly illumined the darkest depths of the abyss from
which she had been barely snatched.

"Yes," she said, "yes; now I see it all."

Then, as the old dealer, out of breath, and his voice hoarse with
indignation, paused a moment, she asked, -

"Still there is one circumstance which I cannot understand: Sarah
insists upon it that she knew nothing of the forged letter by means of
which Daniel was sent abroad. She told me, on the contrary, that she had
wished to keep him here, because she loved him, and he loved her."

"Ah! do not believe a word of those infamous stories," broke in Papa
Ravinet's sister.

But the old man scratched his head, and said, -

"No, certainly not! We ought not to believe such stories. And yet, I
wonder if there is not some new trick in that. Unless, indeed - But no,
that would be almost too lucky for us! Unless Sarah should really love
M. Champcey!"

And, as if he was afraid of having given rise to hopes which he founded
upon this contingency, he added at once, -

"But let us return to facts. When Sarah was sure of you, she turned
her attention to your father. While they were murdering you slowly, she
abused the inexperience of Count Ville-Handry to lead him into a path
at the end of which he could not but leave his honor behind him. Notice,
pray, that the articles which you read are dated on the very day on
which you would probably have died. That is a clear evidence of her
crime. Thinking that she had gotten rid of you, she evidently said to
herself, 'And now for the father.'"

Henrietta grew red in her face, as if a jet of fire had blazed up in it.
She exclaimed, -

"Great God! The proofs are coming out; the crime will be disclosed.
I have no doubt the assassins told each other that Count Ville-Handry
would never survive such a foul stain on his honor. And they dared all,
sure as they were that that honorable man would carry the secret of
their wickedness and of their unheard-of robbery with him to the grave."

Papa Ravinet leisurely wiped the perspiration from his brow. Then he
replied in a hoarse voice, -

"Yes, that was probably, that was assuredly, the way Sarah Brandon
reasoned within herself."

But Henrietta, full of admirable energy, had roused herself; and, with
flushed cheeks and burning eyes, she said to him, -

"What! you knew all this? You knew that they were assassinating my
father, and you did not warn him? Ah, that was cruel cautiousness!"

And quick like lightning she dashed forward, and would have rushed out,
if the old lady had not promptly stepped in front of the door, saying, -

"Henrietta, poor child! where are you going?"

"To save my father, madam, who, perhaps at this very moment is
struggling in the last agonies of death, as I was struggling in like
manner only two nights ago."

Quite beside herself, she had clasped the knob of the door in her hands,
and tried with all the strength she still possessed to move the old lady
out of the way. But Papa Ravinet seized her by the arm, and said to her
solemnly, -

"Madam, I swear to you by all you hold sacred, and my sister will swear
to you in like manner, that your father's life is in no kind of danger."

She gave up the struggle; but her face bore the expression of the most
harassing anxiety. The old man continued, -

"Do you wish to defeat our triumph? Would you like to give warning to
our enemies, to put _them_ on their guard, and to deprive us of all
hopes of revenge?"

Henrietta almost mechanically passed her hand to and fro across her
brow, as if she hoped she could thus restore peace to her mind.

"And mind," continued the old man with a persuasive voice, "mind that
such imprudence would save our enemies, but would not save your father.
Pray consider and answer me. Do you really think that your arguments
would be stronger than Sarah Brandon's? You cannot so far underrate
the diabolical cunning of your enemy. Why, she has no doubt taken all
possible measures to keep your father's faith in her unshaken, and to
let him die as he has lived, completely deceived by her, and murmuring
with his last breath words of supreme love for her who kills him."

These arguments were so overwhelming, that Henrietta let go the door-
knob, and slowly went back to her seat by the fire. And yet she was far
from being reassured.

"If I were to appeal to the police," she suddenly proposed.

The old lady had come and taken a seat by Henrietta's side. She took her
hands in her own now, and said, gently, -

"Poor child! Do you not see that the whole power of this abominable
creature lies in the fact that she employs means which are not within
the reach of human justice. Believe me, my child, it is best for you to
rely blindly on my brother."

Once more the old dealer had come up to the mantlepiece. He repeated, -

"Yes, Miss Henrietta, rely on me. I have as much reason to curse Sarah
Brandon as you have, and perhaps I hate her more. Rely on me; for my
hatred has now been watching and waiting for years, ever anxious to
reach her, and to avenge my sufferings. Yes, for long years I have been
lying in wait, thirsting for vengeance, lost in darkness, but pursuing
her tracks with the unwearied perseverance of the Indian. For the
purpose of finding out who she is, and who her accomplices are,
whence they came, and how they have met to plot together such fearful



Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 24 of 39)