Émile Gaboriau.

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read so strikingly in the local columns of our papers. They were
disappointed, however. Noticing that he attracted attention, Daniel
shrugged his shoulders, and quickly walked off towards the boulevards.

He had promised Henrietta to be sure to tell her that very evening, if
possible, what he had found out; but it was too late now; midnight was
striking.

"I'll go to-morrow," he said to himself.

Whilst lounging leisurely down the boulevards, still brilliantly lighted
up, and crowded with people, he strained all his faculties for the
purpose of examining his situation coolly and calmly. At first he
had imagined he should only have to do with one of those common
_intriguantes_ who want to secure themselves a quiet old age, and
clumsily spread their nets to catch an old or a young man; and who
can always easily be gotten rid of by paying them a more or less
considerable sum of money, provided the police does not get hold of
them. In such a case he would have had some hope.

But here he saw himself suddenly confronted by one of those formidable
adventuresses in high life, who either save appearances altogether, or,
at worst, are only compromised far enough to give additional zest and
an air of mystery to their relations. How could he hope to compete with
such a woman? and with what weapons could he attack her? How should he
reach her? and how attack her?

Was it not pure folly to think even of making her give up the
magnificent fortune which she seemed already to have in her hands,
Heaven knows by what means? She evidently looked upon it as her own
already, and enjoyed its charms in anticipation.

"Great God!" said Daniel, "send me some inspiration."

But no inspiration came; and in vain did he torture his mind; he was
unable to think.

When he reached home, he went to bed as usual; but the consciousness of
his misfortunes kept him awake. At nine o'clock in the morning, having
never closed his eyes, and feeling utterly overcome by sleeplessness and
fatigue, he was just about to get up, when some one knocked at his door.
He rose hastily, put on his clothes, and went to open the door. It was
M. de Brevan, who came to hear all about his new acquaintance of last
night, and whose first word was, -

"Well?"

"Alas!" replied Daniel, "I think the wisest plan would be to give it
up."

"Upon my word, you are in great haste to surrender."

"And what would you do in my place, eh? That woman has beauty enough to
drive any one mad; and the count is a lost man."

And, before Maxime had time to reply, Daniel told him simply and
frankly all about his love for Miss Ville-Handry, the hopes he had been
encouraged to cherish, and the dangers that threatened his happiness in
life.

"For I can no longer deceive myself, Maxime," he concluded with a tone
of utter despair. "I foresee, I know, what is going to happen. Henrietta
will obstinately, and at any risk, do every thing in the world to
prevent her father's marriage with Miss Brandon; she will struggle to
the bitter end. Ought I, or ought I not, to help her? Certainly. Can we
succeed? No! But we shall have a mortal enemy in Miss Brandon; and, on
the morning after her wedding, her first thought will be how to avenge
herself, and how to separate Henrietta and myself forever."

Little as Brevan was generally given to show his feelings, he was
evidently deeply touched by his friend's despair.

"In short, my dear fellow, you have reached the point at which we no
longer know what to do. All the more reason, then, that you should
listen to the calm advice of a friend. You must have yourself presented
at Miss Brandon's house."

"She has invited me."

"Well, then, do not hesitate, but go there."

"What for?"

"Not for much. You will pay some compliments to Miss Sarah; you will
be all attention to Mrs. Brian; and you will try to win over the Hon.
Thomas Elgin. Finally, and above all, you will be all ears and all
eyes."

"I am sorry to say I do not understand you yet."

"What? Don't you see that the position of these daring adventurers,
however secure it may appear, may, after all, hang on a single
thread? and that nothing is wanting in order to cut that thread but an
opportunity? And when you may expect, at any moment, any thing and every
thing, what is to be done but to wait and watch?"

Daniel did not seem to be convinced. He added, -

"Miss Sarah will talk to me about her marriage."

"Certainly she will."

"What can I say?"

"Nothing, - neither yes nor no, - but smile, or run away; at all events,
you gain time."

He was interrupted by Daniel's servant, who came in, holding a card in
his hand, and said, -

"Sir, there is a gentleman down stairs in a carriage, who wants to know
if he would interrupt you if he came up to see you."

"What is the gentleman's name?"

"Count Ville-Handry. Here is his card."

"Be quick!" said Daniel, "run down and ask him, would he please come
up."

M. de Brevan had started up, and was standing, with his hat on, near the
door. As the servant left, he said, -

"I am running away."

"Why?"

"Because the count must not find me here. You would be compelled to
introduce me to him; he might remember my name; and, if he were to tell
Miss Sarah that I am your friend, all would be lost."

Thereupon he turned to go; but at the same moment the outer door was
opened, and he said, -

"There is the count! I am caught."

But Daniel opened promptly the door to his bedroom, pushed him in, and
shut the door. It was high time; the same moment the count entered.




VI.

The count must have risen early that day. Although it was not yet ten
o'clock, he was already brilliant, rouged, dyed, and frizzed. Of course
all these results had not been the work of an hour. As he entered, he
drew a long breath, and said, -

"Ah! You live pretty high up, my dear Daniel."

Poor fellow! He forgot that he was playing the young man. But he
recalled himself at once, and added, full of vivacity, -

"Not that I complain of it; oh, no! A few stories to climb - what is that
to me?"

At the same time he stretched out his leg, and caressed his calf, as if
to exhibit its vigor and its suppleness. In the meantime, Daniel, full
of respect for his future father-in-law, had drawn forward his easiest
arm-chair. The count took it, and in an airy manner, which contrasted
ill with his evident embarrassment, he said, -

"I am sure, my dear Daniel, you must be very much surprised and puzzled
to see me here; are you not?"

"I confess, sir, I am. If you wished to speak to me, you had only to
drop me a line, and I should have waited upon you at once."

"I am sure you would! But that is not necessary. In fact, I have nothing
to say to you. I should not have come to see you, if I had not missed an
appointment. I was to meet one of my fellow members of the assembly, and
he did not come to the place where we were to meet. On my return home,
I happened to pass your house; and I said to myself, 'Why not go up and
see my sailor friend? I might ask him what he thinks of a certain young
lady to whom he had, last night, the honor of being presented.'"

Now or never was the favorable moment for following Maxime's advice;
hence Daniel, instead of replying, simply smiled as pleasantly as he
could.

But that did not satisfy the count; so he repeated the question more
directly, and said, -

"Come, tell us frankly, what do you think of Miss Brandon?"

"She is one of the greatest beauties I have ever seen in my life."

Count Ville-Handry's eyes beamed with delight and with pride as he heard
these words. He exclaimed, -

"Say she is the greatest beauty, the most marvellous and transcendent
beauty, you ever saw. And that, M. Daniel Champcey, is her smallest
attraction. When she opens her lips, the charms of her mind, beauty and
her mind, and remember her admirable ingenuousness, her naive freshness,
and all the treasures of her chaste and pure soul."

This excessive, almost idiotic admiration, this implicit, absurd faith
in his beloved, gave the painted face of the count a strange, almost
ecstatic expression. He said to himself, but loud enough to be heard, -

"And to think that chance alone has led me to meet this angel!"

A sudden start, involuntary on the part of Daniel, seemed to disturb
him; for he resumed his speech, laying great stress upon his words, -

"Yes, chance alone; and I can prove it to you."

He settled down in his chair like a man who is going to speak for some
length of time; and, in that emphatic manner which so well expressed the
high opinion he had of himself, he continued, -

"You know, my friend, how deeply I was affected by the death of the
Countess Ville-Handry. It is true she was not exactly the companion a
statesman of my rank would have chosen. Her whole capacity rarely rose
beyond the effort to distinguish a ball-dress from a dinner-dress.
But she was a good woman, attentive, discreet, and devoted to me; an
excellent manager, economical, and yet always sure to do honor to the
high reputation of my house."

Thus, in all sincerity, the count spoke of her who had literally made
him, and who, for sixteen long years, had galvanized his empty head.

"In short," he continued, "the loss of my wife so completely upset me,
that I lost all taste for the occupations which had so far been dear
to me; and I set about to find distractions elsewhere. Soon after I had
gotten into the habit of going frequently to my club, I fell in with
M. Thomas Elgin, and, although we never became intimate, we always
exchanged a friendly greeting, and occasionally a cigar.

"Sir Thorn, as they call him, is an excellent horseman, you know, and
used to ride out every morning at an early hour; and as the physicians
had recommended to me horseback exercise, and as I like it, because I
excel in riding, as in every thing else, we often met in the Bois de
Boulogne. We wished each other good-day; and sometimes we galloped a
little while side by side. I am rather reserved; but Sir Thorn is even
more so, and thus it did not seem that our acquaintance was ever to
ripen into any thing better, till an accident brought us together.

"One morning we were returning slowly from a long ride, when Sir Thorn's
mare, a foolish brute, suddenly shied, and jumped so high, that he was
thrown. I jumped down instantly to help him up again; but he could not
rise. You know nothing ordinarily hurts these Americans. But it
seems, as we found out afterwards, that he had sprained an ankle, and
dislocated a knee. There was no one near the place; and I began to be
seriously embarrassed, when fortunately two soldiers appeared. I called
to them, and sent one on my horse to the nearest hack-stand to bring a
carriage. As soon as it came, we raised the invalid, and put him in
as well as we could; I got on the box to show the man the way to Sir
Thorn's house. When we arrived there, I rang the bell, and told
the servants to come down to their master. They got him, with some
difficulty, out of the hack; and there they were, carrying him painfully
up the stairs, and he groaning feebly, for he suffered terribly.

"I was going up before them; and, as I reached the second story, a door
suddenly opened, and a young girl was standing right before me.

"She was evidently dressing, when the noise which we made startled
her; and she came running out. She had only taken time to throw a loose
wrapper around her shoulders; and her dishevelled hair streamed out from
under a kind of coquettish morning-cap.

"When she saw her kinsman in the arms of the servants, she imagined he
was dangerously wounded, perhaps even - She turned as pale as death, and,
uttering a loud cry, she tottered.

"She would have fallen down the steps, head foremost, if I had not
caught her in my arms. She had fainted. And there I held her, leaning
on my shoulder, so close that I became aware of the warmth of her lovely
body, and actually felt her heart beat against mine. Her cap had become
unfastened; and her hair fell in golden floods all over me, and down to
the floor. But all this lasted only a few seconds.

"When she recovered, and found herself in the arms of a man, she rose
with an air of extreme distress, and, slipping away, disappeared in her
room."

At the mere description of this scene, the count turned pale under
his rouge; and his voice forsook him. Nor did he in any way attempt to
conceal his emotion.

"I am a poor old fellow," he said; "and between you and me, my dear
Daniel, I will tell you that the women - well - the women have not
been - exactly cruel to me. In fact, I thought I had outlived all the
emotions which they can possibly give us.

"Well, I was mistaken. Never in my life, I assure you, have I felt such
a deep sensation as when Miss Brandon was lying in my arms."

While saying this, he had pulled out his handkerchief, saturated with
a strong perfume, and was wiping his forehead, though very gently, and
with infinite precautions, so as not to spoil the artistic work of his
valet.

"You will know Miss Brandon," he went on, "I hope soon. Once having seen
her, one wants to see her again. I was lucky enough to have a pretext
for coming again; and the very next day I was at her door, inquiring
after M. Thomas Elgin. They showed me into the room of that excellent
gentleman, where I found him stretched out on an invalid's chair, with
his legs all bandaged up. By his side sat a venerable lady, to whom he
presented me, and who was no other than Mrs. Brian.

"They received me very kindly, although with some little reserve under
all their politeness; but I staid and staid in vain beyond the proper
time; Miss Sarah did not appear.

"Nor did I see her upon subsequent occasions, when I repeated my visits,
until at last I came to the conclusion that she avoided me purposely.

"Upon my word, I believed it. But one day Sir Thorn, who was improving
very rapidly, expressed a desire to walk out a few steps in the Champs
Elysees. I offered him my arm; he accepted it; and, when we came back,
he asked me if I would be kind enough to take pot-luck with him."

However important these communications were for Daniel, he was for some
time already listening but very inattentively to the count's recital,
for he had heard a strange, faint noise, which he could not by any
means explain to himself. At last, looking all around, he discovered the
cause.

The door to his bedroom, which he was sure he had closed himself,
was now standing partly open. No doubt M. de Brevan, weary of his
confinement and excited by curiosity, had chosen this way to see and
to listen. Of all this, however, Count Ville-Handry saw nothing, and
suspected nothing.

"Thus," he continued, "I was at last to see Miss Sarah again. Upon my
word, I was less excited, I think, the day I made my first speech. But
you know I have some power over myself; and I had recovered my calmness,
when Sir Thorn confessed to me that he would have invited me long since,
but for the fear of offending his young relative, who had declared she
would never meet me again. I was grieved, and asked how I had offended
her. And then Sir Thorn, with that marvellous composure which never
leaves him, said, 'It is not you she blames, but herself, on account of
that ridiculous scene the other day.'

"Do you hear, Daniel, he called that adorable scene which I have just
described to you, ridiculous! It is only Americans who can commit such
absurdities.

"I have since found out that they had almost to force Miss Brandon to
receive me; but she had tact enough not to let me see it, when I was
formally presented to her, just before going to dinner. It is true, she
blushed deeply; but she took my hand with the utmost cordiality, and cut
me short when I was trying to pay her some compliment, saying, -

"'You are Thorn's friend; I am sure we shall be friends also.'

"Ah, Daniel! you admired Miss Brandon at the theatre; but you ought
to see her at her house. Abroad she sacrifices herself in order to pay
proper regard to the world; but at home she can venture to be herself.

"We soon became friends, as she had foretold, so soon, in fact, that
I was quite surprised when I found her addressing me like an old
acquaintance. I soon discovered how that came about.

"Our young girls here in France, my dear Daniel, are charming, no doubt,
but generally ill taught, frivolous, and caring for nothing but balls,
novels, or dress. The Americans are very different. Their serious
minds are occupied with the same subjects which fill their parents'
minds, - with politics, industry, discussions in the assembly,
discoveries in science, &c. A man like myself, known abroad and at
home during a long political career of some distinction, could not be a
stranger to Miss Brandon. My earnestness in defending those causes which
I considered just had often filled her with enthusiasm. Deeply moved
by my speeches, which she was in the habit of reading, she had often
thought of the speaker. I think I can hear her now say with that
beautiful voice of hers, which has the clear ring of pure crystal, -

"'Oh, yes! I knew you, count; I knew you long ago. And there was many a
day when I wished I were a friend of yours, so that I might say to you,
"Well done, sir! what you are doing is grand, is noble!"'

"And that was true; for she remembered a number of passages from my
speeches, even from such as I had forgotten myself; and she always
quoted them literally. At times, I was amazed at some peculiarly bold
thoughts which she uttered; and, when I complimented her upon them, she
broke out in loud laughter, and said, -

"'Why, count, these are your own ideas; I got them from you. You said so
on such and such an occasion.'

"And when I looked at night, after my return, into my papers, to
ascertain the fact, I found almost always that Miss Brandon had been
right. Need I tell you after that, that I soon became an almost daily
visitor at the house in Circus Street? Surely you take it for granted.

"But what I must tell you is, that I found there the most perfect
happiness, and the purest that I have ever known upon earth. I was
filled with respect and with admiration, when I looked at their rigid
morality, united with the heartiest cheerfulness. There I enjoyed my
happiest hours, between Mrs. Brian, the Puritan lady, so strict for
herself, so indulgent for others; and Thomas Elgin, the noblest and best
of men, who conceals under an appearance of icy coldness the warmest and
kindest of hearts."

What was Count Ville-Handry aiming at? or had he no aim at all?

Had he come merely to confide to Daniel the amazing romance of his love?
Or did he simply yield to the natural desire of all lovers, to pour out
the exuberance of their feelings, and to talk of their love, even when
they know that their indiscretion may be fatal to their success?

Daniel put these questions to himself; but the count did not leave him
time to reflect, and to answer them.

After a short pause, he seemed to rouse himself, and said, suddenly
changing his tone, -

"I guess what you think, my dear Daniel. You say to yourself, 'Count
Ville-Handry was in love.' Well, I assure you you are mistaken."

Daniel started from his chair; and, overcome by amazement, he
exclaimed, -

"Can it be possible?"

"Exactly so; I give you my word of honor. The feelings which attracted
me toward Miss Brandon were the same that bound me to my daughter. But
as I am a shrewd observer, and have some knowledge of the human heart,
I could not help being struck by a change in Miss Brandon's face, and
especially in her manner. After having treated me with the greatest
freedom and familiarity, she had suddenly become reserved, and almost
cold. It was evident to me that she was embarrassed in my presence. Our
constant intercourse, so far from reassuring her, seemed to frighten
her. You may guess how I interpreted this change, my dear Daniel.

"But, as I have never been a conceited man, I thought I might be
mistaken. I devoted myself, therefore, to more careful observation;
and I soon became aware, that, if I loved Miss Brandon only with the
affection of a father, I had succeeded in inspiring her with a more
tender sentiment."

In any other person, this senile self-conceit would have appeared
intensely absurd to Daniel; in his Henrietta's father, it pained
him deeply. The count actually noticed his downcast look, and,
misinterpreting it, asked him, -

"Could you doubt what I say?"

"Oh, no, sir!"

"Very well, then. I can assure you, at all events, that this discovery
troubled me not a little. I was so surprised by it, that for three days
I could neither think of it coolly, nor decide on what I ought to do.
Still it was necessary I should make up my mind. I did not for a moment
think of abusing the confidence of this innocent child; and yet I knew,
I felt it, she was absolutely in my power. But no! It would have been
infamous in me to repay the hospitality of excellent Mrs. Brian, and the
kindness of noble M. Elgin, with such ingratitude. On the other hand,
must I necessarily deny myself my pleasant visits at the house in Circus
Street, and break with friends who were so dear to me? I thought of
that, also; but I had not the courage to do so."

He hesitated for a moment, trying to read in Daniel's eyes his real
opinion. After a while, he said very gravely, -

"It was then only, that the idea of marrying her occurred to me."

Daniel had been expecting the fatal word; thus, however heavy the blow
was, it found him prepared. He remained immovable.

This indifference seemed to surprise the count; for he uttered an
expression of discontent, and curtly repeated, -

"Yes, I thought of marrying her. You will say, 'That was a serious
matter.' I know that only too well; and therefore I did not decide
the question in a hurry, but weighed the reasons for and against very
carefully. I am not one of those weak men, you know, I am sure, who can
easily be hoodwinked, and who fancy they alone possess the secret of
perennial youth. No, no, I know myself, and am fully aware, better than
anybody else, that I am approaching maturer years.

"This was, in fact, the first objection that arose in my mind. But then
I answered it triumphantly by the fact that age is not a matter to be
decided by the certificate of baptism, but that we are just as old as we
appear to be. Now, thanks to an exceptionally sober and peaceful life,
of which forty years were spent in the country, to an iron constitution,
and to the extreme care I have always taken of my health, I possess
a - what shall I say? - a vigor which many young men might envy, who can
hardly drag one foot after the other."

He rose as he said this, threw out his chest, straightened his back,
and stretched out his well-shaped leg. Then, when he thought Daniel had
sufficiently admired him, he continued, -

"Now, what of Miss Brandon? You think, perhaps, she is still in her
teens? Far from that! She is at least twenty-five, my dear friend; and,
for a woman, twenty-five years are - ah, ah!"

He smiled ironically, as if to say that to him a woman of twenty-five
appeared an old, a very old woman. Then he went on, -

"Besides, I know how serious her disposition is, and her eminent good
sense. You may rely upon me, when I tell you I have studied her. A
thousand trifles, of no weight in appearance, and unnoticed by herself
in all probability, have told me that she abhors very young men. She has
learnt to appreciate the value of young husbands of thirty, who are all
fire and flame in the honeymoon, and who, six months later, wearied with
pure and tranquil happiness, seek their delights elsewhere. It is not
only of late that I have found out how truly she values what is, after
all, most desirable in this world, - a great name worthily borne by a
true man, and a reputation that would shed new radiance upon her. How
often have I heard her say to Mrs. Brian, 'Above all, aunt, I want to
be proud of my husband; I want to see everybody's eye sparkle with
admiration and envy as soon as I mention his name, which will have
become mine also; I want people to whisper around me, "Ah, how happy she
is to be loved by such a man!"'"

He shook his head gravely, and said in a solemn tone, -

"I examined myself, Daniel, and found that I answered all of Miss
Brandon's expectations; and the result of my meditations was, that I
would be a madman to allow such happiness to escape me, and that I was
bound to risk every thing. I made up my mind, therefore, firmly, and
went to M. Elgin in order to make him aware of my intentions. I cannot
describe to you the amazement of that worthy gentleman.



Online LibraryÉmile GaboriauThe Clique of Gold → online text (page 7 of 39)