Émile Gaboriau.

The Clique of Gold online

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That evening, when Henrietta told Daniel the name of her future
mother-in-law, he started with an air of utter despair, and said, -

"Great God! If Maxime de Brevan is not mistaken, that is worse than any
thing we could possibly anticipate."




IV.

When Henrietta saw how the young officer was overcome by the mere
mention of that name, Sarah Brandon, she felt the blood turn to ice in
her veins. She knew perfectly well that a man like Daniel was not likely
to be so utterly overwhelmed unless there was something fearful, unheard
of, in the matter.

"Do you know the woman, Daniel?"

But he, regretting his want of self-possession, was already thinking how
he could make amends for his imprudence.

"I swear to you," he began.

"Oh, don't swear! I see you know who she is."

"I know nothing about her."

"But" -

"It is true I have heard people talk of her once, a _long time ago_."

"Whom?"

"One of my friends, Maxime de Brevan, a fine, noble fellow."

"What sort of a woman is she?"

"Ah, me! that I cannot tell you. Maxime happened to mention her just
in passing; and I never thought that one of these days I should - If
I seemed to be so very much surprised just now, it was because I
remembered, all of a sudden, a very ugly story in which Maxime said she
had been involved, and then" -

He was ridiculous in his inability to tell a fib; so, when he found that
he was talking nonsense, he turned his head away to avoid Henrietta's
eyes. She interrupted him, and said reproachfully, -

"Do you really think I am not strong enough to hear the truth?"

At first he did not reply. Overcome by the strange position in which he
found himself, he looked for a way to escape, and found none. At last he
said, -

"Miss Henrietta, you must give me time before I tell you any more. I
know nothing positive; and I dare say I am unnecessarily alarmed. I will
tell you all as soon as I am better informed."

"When will that be?"

"To-night, if I can find Maxime de Brevan at home, as I hope I shall do;
if I miss him, you must wait till to-morrow."

"And if your suspicions turn out to be well founded; if what you fear,
and hide from me now, is really so, - what must I do then?"

Without a moment's hesitation, he rose and said in a solemn voice, -

"I am not going to tell you again how I love you, Henrietta; I am not
going to tell you that to lose you would be death to me, and that in our
family we do not value life very highly; you know that, don't you? But,
in spite of all that, if my fears should be well founded, as I apprehend
they are, I should not hesitate to say to you, whatever might be the
consequences, Henrietta, and even if we should have to part forever, we
must try our utmost, we must employ all possible means in our power, to
prevent a marriage between Count Ville-Handry and Sarah Brandon."

In spite of all her sufferings, Henrietta felt her heart bounding with
unspeakable happiness and joy. Ah! he deserved to be loved, - this man
whom her heart had freely chosen among them all, - this man who gave her
such an overwhelming proof of his love. She offered him her hand; and,
with her eyes beaming with enthusiasm and tenderness, she said, -

"And I, I swear by the sacred memory of my mother, that whatever may
happen, and whatever force they may choose to employ, I shall never
belong to any one but to you."

Daniel had seized her hand, and held it for some time pressed to his
lips. At last, when his rapture gave way to calmer thoughts, he said, -

"I must leave you at once, Henrietta, if I want to catch Maxime."

As he left, his head was in a whirl, his thoughts in a maze. His life
and his happiness were at stake; and a single word would decide his fate
in spite of all he could do.

A cab was passing; he hailed it, jumped in, and cried to the driver, -

"Go quick, I say! You shall have five francs! No. 61 Rue Laffitte!"

That was the house where Maxime de Brevan lived.

He was a man of thirty or thirty-five years, remarkably well made,
light-haired, wearing a full beard, with a bright eye, and pleasing
face. Mixing on intimate terms with the men who make up what is called
high life, and with whom pleasure is the only occupation, he was very
popular with them all. They said he was a man that could always be
relied upon, at all times ready to render you a service when it was
in his power, a pleasant companion, and an excellent second whenever a
friend had to fight a duel.

In fine, neither slander nor calumny had ever attacked his reputation.
And yet, far from following the advice of the philosopher, who tells us
to keep our life from the eye of the public, Maxime de Brevan seemed to
take pains to let everybody into his secrets. He was so anxious to tell
everybody where he had been, and what he had been doing, that you might
have imagined he was always preparing to prove an alibi.

Thus he told the whole world that the Brevans came originally from the
province of Maine, and that he was the last, the sole representative,
of that old family. Not that he prided himself particularly on his
ancestors; he acknowledged frankly that there was very little left of
their ancient splendor; in fact, nothing but a bare support. But he
never said what this "support" amounted to; his most intimate friends
could not tell whether he had one thousand or ten thousand a year. So
much only was certain, that, to his great honor and glory, he had solved
the great problem of preserving his independence and his dignity while
associating, a comparatively poor man, with the richest young men of
Paris.

His rooms were simple and unpretending; and he kept but a single
servant - his carriage he hired by the month.

How had Maxime Brevan become Daniel's friend? In the simplest possible
way. They had been introduced to each other at a great ball by a common
friend of theirs, a lieutenant in the navy. About one o'clock in
the morning they had gone home together; and as the moon was shining
brightly, the weather was mild, and the walking excellent, they had
loitered about the Place de la Concorde while smoking their cigars.

Had Maxime really felt such warm sympathy for his friend? Perhaps so. At
all events, Daniel had been irresistibly attracted by the peculiar ways
of Maxime, and especially by the cool stoicism with which he spoke
of his genteel poverty. Then they had met again, and finally became
intimate.

Brevan was just dressing for the opera when Daniel entered his room. He
uttered a cry of delight when he saw him, as he always did.

"What!" he said, "the hermit student from the other side of the river
in this worldly region, and at this hour? What good wind blows you over
here?"

Then, suddenly noticing Daniel's terrified appearance, he added, -

"But what am I talking about? You look frightened out of your wits.
What's the matter?"

"A great misfortune, I fear," replied Daniel.

"How so? What is it?"

"And I want you to help me."

"Don't you know that I am at your service?"

Daniel certainly thought so.

"I thank you in advance, my dear Maxime; but I do not wish to give you
too much trouble. I have a long story to tell you, and you are just
going out" -

But Brevan interrupted him, shaking his head kindly, and saying, -

"I was only going out for want of something better to do, upon my word!
So sit down, and tell me all."

Daniel had been so overcome by terror, and the fear that he might
possibly lose Henrietta, that he had run to his friend without
considering what he was going to tell him. Now, when the moment came to
speak, he was silent. The thought had just occurred to him, that Count
Ville-Handry's secret was not his own, and that he was in duty bound not
to betray it, if possible, even if he could have absolutely relied upon
his friend's discretion.

He did not reply, therefore, but walked up and down the room, seeking in
vain some plausible excuse, and suffering perfect agony. This continued
so long, that Maxime, who had of late heard much of diseases of the
brain, asked himself if Daniel could possibly have lost his mind.

No; for suddenly his friend stopped before him, and said in a short,
sharp tone, -

"First of all, Maxime, swear that you will never, under any
circumstances, say to any human being a word of what I am going to tell
you."

Thoroughly mystified, Brevan raised his hand, and said, -

"I pledge my word of honor!"

This promise seemed to re-assure Daniel; and, when he thought he had
recovered sufficient control over himself, he said, -

"Some months ago, my dear friend, I heard you telling somebody a
horrible story concerning a certain Mrs. Sarah Brandon" -

"Miss, if you please, not Mrs."

"Well, it does not matter. You know her?"

"Certainly. Everybody knows her."

Daniel did not notice the extreme self-conceit with which these words
were uttered.

"All right, then. Now, Maxime, I conjure you, by our friendship, tell
me frankly what you think of her. What kind of a woman is this Miss
Brandon?"

His features, as well as his voice, betrayed such extreme excitement,
that Brevan was almost stunned. At last he said, -

"But, my dear fellow, you ask me that in a manner" -

"I must know the truth, I tell you. It is of the utmost importance to
me."

Brevan, struck by a sudden thought, touched his forehead, and
exclaimed, -

"Oh, I see! You are in love with Sarah!"

Daniel would never have thought of such a subterfuge in order to avoid
mentioning the name of Count Ville-Handry; but, seeing it thus offered
to him, he determined to profit by the opportunity.

"Well, yes, suppose it is so," he said with a sigh.

Maxime raised his hands to heaven, and said in a tone of painful
conviction, -

"In that case you are right. You ought to inquire; for you may be close
upon a terrible misfortune."

"Ah, is she really so formidable?"

Maxime shrugged his shoulders, as if he were impatient at being called
upon to prove a well-known fact, and said, -

"I should think so."

There seemed to be no reason why Daniel should persist in his questions
after that. Those words ought to have been explanation enough.
Nevertheless he said in a subdued voice, -

"Pray explain, Maxime! Don't you know, that, as I lead a very quiet
life, I know nothing?"

Brevan, looking more serious than he had ever done, rose and replied,
leaning against the mantlepiece, -

"What would you have me tell you? It is only fools who call out to
lovers to beware; and to warn a man who will not be warned, is useless.
Are you really in love with Miss Sarah, or are you not? If you are,
nothing that I could say would change your mind. Suppose I were to tell
you that this Sarah is a wretched creature, an infamous forger, who has
already the death of three poor devils on her conscience, who loved her
as you do? Suppose I told you worse things than these, and could prove
them? Do you know what would happen? You would press my hand with
effusion. You would overwhelm me with thanks, tears in your eye. You
would vow, in the candor of your heart, that you are forever cured, and,
when you leave me" -

"Well?"

"You would rush to your beloved, tell her all I said, and beseech her to
clear herself of all these charges."

"I beg your pardon; I am not one of those men who" -

But Brevan was getting more and more excited. He interrupted his friend,
and said, -

"Nonsense! You are a man like all other men. Passion does not reason,
does not calculate; and that is the secret of its strength. As long as
we have a spark of commonsense left, we are not really in love. That is
so, I tell you; and no will, no amount of energy, can do any thing with
it. There are people who tell you soberly that they have been in love
without losing their senses, and reproach you for not keeping cool.
Bosh! Those people remind me of still champagne blaming sparkling
champagne for popping off the cork. And now, my dear fellow, have the
kindness to accept this cigar, and let us take a walk."

Was that really so as Brevan said? Was it true that real love destroys
in us the faculty of reasoning, and of distinguishing truth from
falsehood? Did he really not love Henrietta truly, because he was on the
point of giving her up for the sake of doing his duty?

Oh, no, no! Brevan had been speaking of another kind of love, - a love
neither pure nor chaste. He spoke of those passions which suddenly
strike us down like lightning; which confound our senses, and mislead
our judgment; which destroy every thing, as fire does, and leave nothing
behind but disaster and disgrace and remorse.

But all the more painful became Daniel's thoughts as he remembered that
Count Ville-Handry was overcome by one of these terrible passions for a
worthless creature. He could not accept Maxime's offer.

"One word, I pray you," he said. "Suppose I lose my free will, and
surrender absolutely; what will become of me?"

Brevan looked at him with an air of pity, and said, -

"Not much will happen to you; only" -

And then he added with almost sternness, mixed with bitter sarcasm, -

"You ask me for your horoscope? Be it so. Have you a large fortune?"

"About fifty thousand dollars."

"Well, in six months they will be gone; in a year you will be
overwhelmed with debts, and at your wits' end; in less than a year and a
half, you will have become a forger."

"Maxime!"

"Ah! You asked me to tell you the truth. Then, as to your social
position. Now it is excellent; you have been promoted as rapidly as
merit could claim, everybody says. You will be an admiral one of these
days. But in six months you will be nothing at all; you will have
resigned your commission, or you will have been dismissed."

"Allow me" -

"No. You are an honest man, the most honorable man I know; after six
months' acquaintance with Sarah Brandon, you will have lost your self-
respect so completely, that you will have become a drunkard. There is
your picture. 'It's not flattered!' you will say. But you wanted to have
it. And now let us go."

This time he was determined; and Daniel saw that he would not obtain
another word from him, unless he changed his tactics. He held him back,
therefore, a moment; and, as he opened the door, he said, -

"Maxime, you must pardon me a very innocent deception, which was
suggested by your own words. It is not I who am in love with Miss Sarah
Brandon."

Brevan was so much surprised, he could not stir.

"Who is it, then?" he asked.

"One of my friends."

"What name?"

"I wish you would render the service I ask of you doubly valuable by not
asking me that question, - at least, not to-day."

Daniel spoke with such an accent of truth, that not a shadow of doubt
remained on Maxime's mind. It was not Daniel who had fallen in love with
Sarah Brandon. Brevan did not doubt that for a moment. But he could not
conceal his trouble, and his disappointment even, as he exclaimed, -

"Well done, Daniel! Tell me that your ingenuous people cannot deceive
anybody!"

However, he said nothing more about it; and, while Daniel was pouring
out his excuses, he quietly went back to the fire, and sat down. After a
moment's silence, he began again, -

"Let us assume, then, that it is one of your friends who is bewitched?"

"Yes."

"And the matter is - serious?"

"Alas! He talks of marrying that woman."

Maxime shrugged his shoulders contemptuously, and said, -

"As to that, console yourself. Sarah will never consent."

"So far from that, she herself has made the suggestion."

This time, Maxime raised his head suddenly, and looked stupefied.

"Then your friend must be very rich."

"He is immensely rich."

"He bears a great name, and holds a high position?"

"His name is one of the oldest and noblest in the province of Anjou."

"And he is a very old man?"

"He is sixty-five."

Brevan struck the marble slab of the mantlepiece with his fist so that
it shook, and exclaimed, -

"Ah, she told me she would succeed!"

And then he added in a very low tone of voice, as if speaking to himself
with an indescribable accent of mingled admiration and hatred, -

"What a woman! Oh, what a woman!"

Daniel, who was himself greatly excited, and far too busy with his own
thoughts to observe what was going on, did not notice the excitement of
his friend; he continued quietly, -

"Now you will understand my great curiosity. In order to prevent the
scandal of such a marriage, my friend's family would do every thing in
the world. But how can you attack a woman of whose antecedents and mode
of life nothing is known?"

"Yes, I understand," said Brevan, - "I understand."

His features betrayed that he was making a great mental effort. He
remained for some time absorbed in his thoughts; and at last he said, as
if coming to a decision, -

"No, I do not see any way to prevent this marriage; none at all."

"Still, from what you told me" -

"What!"

"About the cupidity of this woman."

"Well?"

"If she were offered a large sum, some eighty or a hundred thousand
dollars?"

Maxime laughed out loud; but there was not the true ring in his
laughter.

"You might offer her two hundred thousand, and she would laugh at you.
Do you think she would be fool enough to content herself with a fraction
of a fortune, if she can have the whole, with a great name and a high
position into the bargain?"

Daniel opened his lips to present another suggestion; but Maxime, laying
aside his usual half-dreamy, mocking manner, said, as if roused by a
matter of great personal interest, -

"You do not understand me, my dear friend. Miss Brandon is not one of
those vulgar hawks, who, in broad daylight, seize upon a poor pigeon,
pluck it alive, and cast it aside, still living, and bleeding all over."

"Then, Maxime, she must be" -

"Well, I tell you you misapprehend her. Miss Brandon" -

He stopped suddenly, and looking at Daniel with a glance with which
a judge examines the features of a criminal, he added in an almost
threatening voice, -

"By telling you what little I know about her, Daniel, I give you the
highest proof of confidence which one man can give to another. I love
you too dearly to exact your promise to be discreet. If you ever mention
my name in connection with this affair, if you ever let any one suspect
that you learned what I am going to tell you from me, you will dishonor
yourself."

Daniel, deeply moved, seized his friend's hand, and, pressing it most
affectionately, said, -

"Ah, you know Daniel Champcey is to be relied upon."

Maxime knew it; for he continued, -

"Miss Sarah Brandon is one of those female cosmopolitan adventurers,
whom steam brings nowadays to us from all the four quarters of the
world. Like so many others, she, also, has come to Paris to spread her
net, and catch her birds, But she is made of finer stuff than most of
them, and more clever. Her ambition soars higher; and she possesses a
real genius for intrigues. She means to have a fortune, and is willing
to pay any price for it; but she is also desirous to be respected in the
world.

"I should not be surprised if anybody told me Miss Sarah was born within
ten miles of Paris; but she calls herself an American. The fact is,
she speaks English like an Englishwoman, and knows a great deal more of
America than you know of Paris. I have heard her tell the story of
her family to a large and attentive audience; but I do not say that I
believed it.

"According to her own account, M. Brandon, her father, a thoroughbred
Yankee, was a man of great enterprise and energy, who was ten times
rich, and as often wretchedly poor again in his life, but died leaving
several millions. This Brandon, she says, was a banker and broker in New
York when the civil war broke out. He entered the army, and in less than
six months, thanks to his marvellous energy, he rose to be a general.
When peace came, he was without occupation, and did not know what on
earth to do with himself. Fortunately, his good star led him into a
region where large tracts of land happened to be for sale. He bought
them for a few thousand dollars, and soon after discovered on his
purchase the most productive oil-wells in all America. He was just about
to be another Peabody when a fearful accident suddenly ended his
life; he was burnt in an enormous fire that destroyed one of his
establishments.

"As to her mother, Miss Sarah says she lost her when she was quite
young, in a most romantic, though horrible manner" -

"What!" broke in Daniel, "has nobody taken the trouble to ascertain if
all these statements are true?"

"I am sure I do not know. This much is certain, that sometimes curious
facts leak out. For instance, I have fallen in with Americans who have
known a broker Brandon, a Gen. Brandon, a Petroleum Brandon."

"He may have borrowed the name."

"Certainly, especially when the original man is said to have died in
America. However, Miss Brandon has been living now for five years in
Paris. She came here accompanied by a Mrs. Brian, a relative of hers,
who is the dryest, boniest person you can imagine, but at the same time
the slyest woman I have ever seen. She also brought with her a kind
of protector, a Mr. Thomas Elgin, also a relation of hers, a most
extraordinary man, stiff like a poker, but evidently a dangerous man,
who never opens his mouth except when he eats. He is a famous hand at
small-swords, however, and snuffs his candle, nine times out of ten, at
a distance of thirty yards. This Mr. Thomas Elgin, whom the world calls
familiarly Sir Thorn, and Mrs. Brian, always stay with Miss Sarah.

"When she first arrived, Miss Sarah established herself in a house near
the Champs Elysees, which she furnished most sumptuously. Sir Thorn, who
is a jockey of the first water, had discovered a pair of gray horses for
her which made a sensation at the Bois de Boulogne, and drew everybody's
attention to their fair owner. Heaven knows how she had managed to get
a number of letters of introduction. But certainly two or three of the
most influential members of the American colony here received her at
their houses. After that, all was made easy. Gradually she crept into
society; and now she is welcome almost everywhere, and visits, not only
at the best houses, but even in certain families which have a reputation
of being quite exclusive.

"In fine, if she has enemies, she has also fanatic partisans. If some
people say she is a wretch, others - and they are by no means the least
clever - tell you that she is an angel, only wanting wings to fly away
from this wicked world. They talk of her as of a poor little orphan-
girl, whom people slander atrociously because they envy her youth, her
beauty, her splendor."

"Ah, is she so rich?"

"Miss Brandon spends at least twenty thousand dollars a year."

"And no one inquires where they come from?"

"From her sainted father's petroleum-wells, my dear fellow. Petroleum
explains everything."

Brevan seemed to feel a kind of savage delight in seeing Daniel's
despair, and in explaining to him most minutely how solidly, and
how skilfully Miss Sarah Brandon's position in the world had been
established. Had he any expectation to prevent a struggle with her by
exaggerating her strength? Or rather, knowing Daniel as he did, - far
better, unfortunately, than he was known by him, - was he trying to
irritate him more and more against this formidable adversary?

At all events, he continued in that icy tone which gives to sarcasm its
greatest bitterness, -

"Besides, my dear Daniel, if you are ever introduced at Miss
Brandon's, - and I pray you will believe me, people are not so easily
introduced there, - you will be dumfounded at first by the tone that
prevails in that house. The air is filled with a perfume of hypocrisy
which would rejoice the stiffest of Quakers. Cant rules supreme there,
putting a lock to the mouth, and a check to the eyes."

Daniel began evidently to be utterly bewildered.

"But how, how can you reconcile that," he said, "with the thoroughly
worldly life of Miss Brandon?"

"Oh, very easily, my dear fellow! and there you see the sublime policy
of the three rogues. To the outer world, Miss Brandon is all levity,
indiscretion, coquettishness, and even worse. She drives herself,
shortens her petticoats, and cuts down her dress-bodies atrociously. She
says she has a right to do as she pleases, according to the code of laws
which govern American young ladies. But at home she bows to the taste
and the wishes of her relative, Mrs. Brian, who displays all the extreme
prudishness of the austerest Puritan. Then she has that stiff, tall Sir
Thorn ever at her side, who never jokes. Oh! they understand each other



Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 5 of 39)