Émile Gaboriau.

The Clique of Gold online

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terrible cry.

On the threshold stood Count Ville-Handry, his features terribly
distorted, a smoking revolver in his hand.

"No," he said, "Sarah, no, you are not free!"

Livid, and with eyeballs starting from their sockets, the wretched woman
had shrunk back to a door which opened from the dining-room directly
into her chamber.

She was not despairing yet.

It was evident she was looking for one of those almost incredible
excuses which are sometimes accepted by credulous old men when violent
passions seize them in their dotage.

She abandoned the thought, however, when the count stepped forward, and
thus allowed Papa Ravinet to be seen behind him.

"Malgat!" she cried, - "Malgat!"

She held out her hands before her as if to push aside a spectre that
had suddenly risen from the grave, and was now opening its arms to seize
her, and carry her off.

In the meantime Malgat came forward, with Henrietta leaning on Mrs.
Bertolle's arm.

"She also," muttered Sarah, - "she too!"

The terrible truth broke at last upon her mind: she saw the snare in
which she had been caught, and felt that she was lost. Then turning to
Daniel, she said to him, -

"Poor man! Who has made you do this? It was not in your loyal heart to
plan such treachery against a woman. Are you mad? And do you not see,
that for the privilege of being loved by me as I love you, and were it
but for a day, Malgat would again rob his employers, and the count would
again give all his millions, and his honor itself?"

She said this; but at the same time she had slipped one of her hands
behind her back, and was feeling for the knob of the door. She got hold
of it, and instantly disappeared, before any one could have prevented
her escape.

"Never mind!" said Malgat. "All the outer doors are guarded."

But she had not meant to escape. There she was again, pale and cold like
marble. She looked defiantly all around her, and said in a mocking tone
of voice, -

"I have loved; and now I can die. That is just. I have loved. Ah!
Planix, Malgat, and Kergrist ought to have taught me what becomes of
people who really love."

Then looking at Daniel, she went on, -

"And you - you will know what you have lost when I am no more. I may die;
but the memory of my love will never die: it will rankle ever in you
like a wound which opens daily afresh, and becomes constantly sorer.
You triumph now, Henrietta; but remember, that between your lips and
Daniel's there will forever rise the shadow of Sarah Brandon."

As she said the last words, she raised a small phial, which she held in
her hand, with an indescribably swift movement to her lips: she drank
the contents, and, sinking into a chair, said, -

"Now I defy you all!"

"Ah, she escapes after all!" exclaimed Malgat, "she escapes from
justice!" He rushed forward to assist her; but Daniel stepped between,
and said, -

"Let her die."

Already horrible convulsions began to seize her; and the penetrating
smell of bitter almonds, which slowly filled the whole room, told but
too plainly that the poison which she had taken was one of those from
which there is no rescue.

She was carried to her bed; and in less than ten minutes she was dead:
she had never uttered another word.

Henrietta and Mrs. Bertolle were kneeling by the side of the bed, and
the count was sobbing in a corner of the room, when a police-sergeant
entered.

"The woman Brian is not to be found," he said; "but M. Elgin has been
arrested. Where is the Countess Ville-Handry?"

Daniel pointed at the body.

"Dead?" said the officer. "Then I have nothing more to do here."

He was going out, when Malgat stopped him.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he said. "I wish to state that I am not
Ravinet, dealer in curiosities; but that my true name is Malgat,
formerly cashier of the Mutual Discount Society, sentenced _in
contumaciam_ to ten years' penal servitude. I am ready to be tried, and
place myself in your hands."




XXXIII.

The magistrate from Saigon saw his hopes fulfilled, and, thanks to his
promotion, was commissioned to continue the trial which he had so ably
commenced. After the jury had brought in their verdict of guilty, he
sentenced Justin Chevassat, alias Maxime de Brevan, to penal servitude
for life.

Crochard, surnamed Bagnolet, got off with twenty years; and the two
Chevassats escaped with ten years' solitary confinement.

The trial of Thomas Elgin, which came on during the same term, revealed
a system of swindling which was so strikingly bold and daring, that it
appeared at first sight almost incredible. It excited especial surprise
when it was found out that he had issued false shares, which he made
Count Ville-Handry buy in, so as to ruin, by the same process, the count
as an individual, and the company over which he presided. He was sent
for twenty years to the penitentiary.

These scandalous proceedings had one good result. They saved the poor
count; but they revealed, at the same time, such prodigious unfitness
for business, that people began to suspect how dependent he must have
been on his first wife, Henrietta's mother. He remained, however,
relatively poor. They had made Thomas Elgin refund, and had even
obtained possession of Sarah Brandon's fortune; but the count was called
upon to make amends for his want of business capacity. When he had
satisfied all his creditors, and handed over to his daughter a part of
her maternal inheritance, he had hardly more than six thousand dollars a
year left.

Of the whole "band," Mrs. Brian alone escaped.

Malgat, having surrendered to justice with the prescribed limits of time
to purge himself, was tried, and the whole process begun anew. But the
trial was naturally a mere form. His own lawyer had very little to
say. The state attorney himself made his defense. After having fully
explained the circumstances which had led the poor cashier to permit
a crime, rather than to commit it himself, the attorney said to the
jury, -

"Now, gentlemen, that you have learned what was the wrong of which he is
guilty, you ought also to know how he has expiated his crime.

"When he left the miserable woman who had ruined him, maddened by grief,
and determined to end his life, Malgat went home. There he found his
sister.

"She was one of those women who have religiously preserved the domestic
virtues of our forefathers, and who know of no compromise in questions
of honor.

"She had soon forced her brother to confess his fatal secret, and,
overcoming the horror she naturally felt, she found words, inspired
by her excellent heart, which moved him, and led him to reconsider his
resolve. She told him that suicide was but an additional crime, and that
he was in honor bound to live, so that he might make amends, and restore
the money he had stolen."

"Hope began to rise once more in his heart, and filled him with
unexpected energy. And yet what obstacles he had to encounter! How could
he ever hope to return four hundred thousand francs. How should he go
about to earn so much money? and where? How could he do anything, now
that he was compelled to live in concealment?

"Do you know, gentlemen, what this sister did in her almost sublime
devotion? She had a moderate income from state bonds; she sold them
all, and carried the proceeds to the president of the Mutual Discount
Society, begging him to be patient as to the remainder, and promising
that he should be repaid, capital and interest alike. She asked for
nothing but secrecy; and he pledged himself to secrecy.

"And from that day, gentlemen of the jury, the brother and the sister
have lived like the poorest laborers, working incessantly, and denying
themselves everything but what was indispensable for life itself.

"And this day, gentlemen, Malgat owes nothing to the society; he has
paid everything. He fell once; but he has risen again. And this place
in court, where he now sits as a prisoner, will become to him a place of
honor, in which he will recover his position in society, and his honor."

Malgat was acquitted.

The marriage of Henrietta, Countess Ville-Handry, and Lieut. Daniel
Champcey, was celebrated at the Church of St. Clothilda. Daniel's
groomsmen were Malgat and the old chief surgeon of the frigate
"Conquest." Several persons noticed that the bride wore, contrary to
usage, a dress of embroidered muslin. It was the robe which Henrietta
had so often covered with her tears, at the time when, having no bread
for the morrow, she had tried to live by the work of her hands. Malgat
had hunted it up, and bought it: the precious dress was his wedding-
gift.








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