"You have done well, and for the future I advise you to pursue the same plan. Don't say a word. Can you do any thing to prevent Miss Brandon from carrying out her purposes? No! Let her go on, then."
"Let me finish. It is not only your own interest to act thus, but also Miss Henrietta's interest. The day on which they part you, you will be inconsolable; but you will also be free to act. She, on the other hand, will be forced to live under the same roof with Miss Brandon; and you do not know what a stepmother can do to torture the child of her husband!"
Daniel trembled. He had already thought of that; and the idea had made him shudder. Brevan continued,—
"For the present, the most important thing is to find out how your flight has been explained. We may be able to draw our conclusions from what has been said on the subject."
"I'll go at once and try to find out," said Daniel.
And, after having affectionately shaken hands with Maxime, he hurried down to his carriage and drove as fast as he could to Count Ville- Handry's palace. The count was at home and alone, walking up and down in the most excited manner. And certainly he had enough to excite and preoccupy him just now. It was nearly noon; and he had not yet been in the hands of his valet. When he saw Daniel, he paused for a moment, and, crossing his arms on his breast, he said, in a terrible tone,—
"Ah! here you are, M. Champcey. Well, you are doing nice things!"
"I, count? How so?"
"How so? Who else has overwhelmed poor Miss Sarah with insults at the very time when she was trying to explain every thing to you? Who else, ashamed of his scandalous conduct, has run away, never daring to reappear at her house?"
What had the count been told? Certainly not the truth. He went on,—
"And do you know, M. Champcey, what has been the effect of your brutality? Miss Brandon has been seized with such a terrible nervous attack, that they had to send the carriage for a doctor. You unlucky man, you might have killed her! They would, of course, never have allowed me to enter her own room; but from the reception-room I could at times hear her painful cries and sobs. It was only after eight o'clock this morning that she could get any rest; and then Mrs. Brian, taking pity on my great grief, granted me the favor to see her, sleeping like an infant."
Daniel listened, stupefied by amazement, utterly confounded by the impudence of Sir Thorn and Mrs. Brian, and hardly able to understand the count's astonishing credulity. He thought to himself,—
"This is abominable! Here I am an accomplice of this Miss Brandon. Must I actually aid her in obtaining possession of this unlucky man?"
But what could he do? Should he speak? Should he tell Count Ville- Handry, that if he really heard cries of pain, and sobs, they were certainly not uttered by Miss Brandon? Should he tell him, that, while he was dying with anxiety, his beloved was driving about Paris, Heaven knows where and with whom.
The thought of doing so occurred to Daniel. But what would have been the good of it? Would the count believe him? Most probably not. And thus he would only add new difficulties to his position, which was already complicated enough. Finally, he saw very, clearly that he would never dare tell the whole truth, or show that letter which he had in his pocket. Still he tried to excuse himself, and began,—
"I am too much of a gentleman to insult a woman."
The count interrupted him rudely, saying,—
"Spare me, I pray, a rigmarole which cannot affect me. Besides, I do not blame you particularly. I know the heart of man too well not to be sure, that, in acting thus, you have followed much less the inspirations of your own heart than the suggestions made by my daughter."
It might have been very dangerous for Henrietta to allow the count to cherish such thoughts. Daniel, therefore, tried once more to explain.
"I assure you, count"—
But the count interrupted him fiercely, stamping with his foot.
"No more! I mean to make an end to this absurd opposition, and to break it forever. Do they not know that I am master in my own house? and do they propose to treat me like a servant, and to laugh at me, into the bargain? I shall make you aware who is master."
He checked himself for an instant, and then continued,—
"Ah, M. Champcey! I did not expect that from you. Poor Sarah! To think that I could not spare her such a humiliation! But it is the last; and this very morning, as soon as she wakes, she shall know that all is ended. I have just sent for my daughter to tell her that the day for the wedding is fixed. All the formalities are fulfilled. We have the necessary papers"—
He paused, for Henrietta came in.
"You wish to speak to me, papa?" she said as she entered the room.
Greeting Daniel with a sweet glance of her eyes, Henrietta walked up to the count, and offered him her forehead to kiss; but he pushed her back rudely, and said, assuming an air of supreme solemnity,—
"I have sent for you, my daughter, to inform you that to-morrow fortnight I shall marry Miss Brandon."
Henrietta must have been prepared for something of the kind, for she did not move. She turned slightly pale; and a ray of wrath shot from her eyes. The count went on,—
"Under these circumstances, it is not proper, it is hardly decent, that you should not know her who is to be your mother hereafter. I shall therefore present you to her this very day, in the afternoon."
The young girl shook her head gently, and then she said,—
Count Ville-Handry had become very red. He exclaimed,—
"What! You dare! What would you say if I threatened to carry you forcibly to Miss Brandon's house?"
"I, should say, father, that that is the only way to make me go there."
Her attitude was firm, though not defiant. She spoke in a calm, gentle voice, but betrayed in every thing a resolution firmly formed, and not to be shaken by any thing. The count seemed to be perfectly amazed at this audacity shown by a girl who was usually so timid. He said,—
"Then you detest, you envy, this Miss Brandon?"
"I, father? Why should I? Great God! I only know that she cannot become the Countess Ville-Handry,—she who has filled all Paris with evil reports."
"Who has told you so? No doubt, M. Champcey."
"Everybody has told me, father."
"So, because she has been slandered, the poor girl"—
"I am willing to think she is innocent; but the Countess Ville-Handry must not be a slandered woman."
She raised herself to her full height, and added in a higher voice,—
"You are master here, father; you can do as you choose. But I—I owe it to myself and to the sacred memory of my mother, to protest by all the means in my power; and I shall protest."
The count stammered and stared. The blood rose to his head. He cried out,—
"At last I know you, Henrietta, and I understand you. I was not mistaken. It was you who sent M. Daniel Champcey to Miss Brandon, to insult her at her own house."
"Sir!" interrupted M. Daniel in a threatening tone.
But the count could not be restrained; and, with his eyes almost starting from their sockets, he continued,—
"Yes, I read your innermost heart, Henrietta. You are afraid of losing a part of your inheritance."
Stung by this insult, Henrietta had stepped up close to her father,—
"But don't you see, father, that it is this woman who wants your fortune, and that she does not like us, and cannot like us?"
"Why, if you please?"
Once before, Count Ville-Handry had asked this question of his daughter in almost the same words. Then she had not dared answer him; but now, carried away by her bitterness at being insulted by a woman whom she despised, she forgot every thing. She seized her father's hand, and, carrying him to a mirror, she said in a hoarse voice,—
"'Why?'—you ask. Well, look there! look at yourself!"
If Count Ville-Handry had trusted nature, he would have looked like a man of barely sixty, still quite robust and active. But he had allowed art to spoil every thing. And this morning, with his few hairs, half white, half dyed, with the rouge and the white paint of yesterday cracked, and fallen away in places, he looked as if he had lived a few thousand years.
Did he see himself as he really was,—hideous?
He certainly became livid; and coldly, for his excessive rage gave him the appearance of composure, he said,—
"You are a wretch, Henrietta!"
And as she broke out in sobs, terrified by his words, he said,—
"Oh, don't play comedy! Presently, at four o'clock precisely, I shall call for you. If I find you dressed, and ready to accompany me to Miss Brandon's house, all right. If not M. Champcey has been here for the last time in his life; and you will never—do you hear?—never be his wife. Now I leave you alone; you can reflect!"
And he went out, closing the door so violently, that the whole house seemed to shake.
"All is over!"
Both Henrietta and Daniel were crushed by this certain conviction.
The crisis could no longer be postponed. A few hours more, and the mischief would be done. Daniel was the first to shake off the stupor of despair; and, taking Henrietta's hand, he asked her,—
"You have heard what your father said. What will you do?"
"What I said I would do, whatever it may cost me."
"But could you yield?"
"Yield?" exclaimed the young girl.
And, looking at Daniel with grieved surprise, she added,—
"Would you really dare give me that advice,—you who had only to look at Miss Brandon to lose your self-control so far as to overwhelm her with insults?"
"Henrietta, I swear"—
"And this to such an extent, that father accused you of having done so at my bidding. Ah, you have been very imprudent, Daniel!"
The unhappy man wrung his hands with despair. What punishment he had to endure for a moment's forgetfulness! He felt as if he had rendered himself guilty already by not revealing the mean conduct of M. Elgin and Mrs. Brian while Miss Brandon was driving about Paris. And now, at this very hour, he was put into a still more difficult position, because he could not even give a glimpse of the true state of things.
He said nothing; and Henrietta gloried in his silence.
"You see," she said, "that if your heart condemns me, your reason and your conscience approve of my decision."
He made no reply, but, rising suddenly, he began to walk up and down in the room like a wild beast searching for some outlet from the cage in which it has been imprisoned. He felt he was caught, hemmed in on all sides, and he could do nothing, nothing at all.
"Ah, we must surrender!" he exclaimed at last, overcome with grief; "we must do it; we are almost helpless. Let us give up the struggle; reason demands it. We have done enough; we have done our duty."
All trembling with passion, he spoke on for some time, bringing up the most conclusive arguments, one by one; while his love lent him all its persuasive power. And at last it looked as if Henrietta's determination were giving way, and she began to hesitate. It was so; but she was still struggling against her own emotion, and said in a half-suppressed tone,—
"No doubt, Daniel, you think I am not yet wretched enough."
And then, fixing upon him a long, anxious glance, she added,—
"Say no more, or I shall begin to fear that you are dreading the time which has still to elapse till we can be united, and that you doubt me—or yourself."
He blushed, finding himself thus half detected; but, given up entirely to sinister presentiments, he insisted,—
"No, I do not doubt; but I cannot reconcile myself to the idea that you are going to live under the same roof with Miss Brandon, M. Elgin, and Mrs. Brian. Since this abominable adventuress must triumph, let us flee. I have in Anjou an old respectable kinswoman, who will be very proud to offer you her hospitality."
Henrietta stopped him by a gesture. Then she said,—
"In other words, I who risk my happiness in order to avoid a blot upon the name of Ville-Handry, I should tarnish it in an almost ineffaceable manner. That cannot be."
"No more. I stand upon a post of honor which I shall not abandon. The more formidable Miss Brandon is, the more it becomes my duty to remain here in order to watch over my father."
He remembered suddenly what M. de Brevan had told him of the means employed by Miss Brandon for the purpose of getting rid of troublesome people. Did Henrietta's instincts make her anticipate a crime? No, not such a crime, at least.
"You will understand my decision all the better," she continued, "if I tell you what a strange discovery I have made. This morning a gentleman called here, who said he was a business-man, and had an appointment with Count Ville-Handry which was of the utmost importance.
"The servants had told him that their master was out. He became angry, and began to talk so loud, that I came to see what was the matter. When he saw me, and found out who I was, he at once became very quiet, and begged me to take charge of a rough copy of a legal paper, which he had been directed to prepare secretly, and which he desired me to hand to my father.
"I promised to do so; but, as I was carrying the paper up stairs to put it upon my father's bureau, I happened to look at it. Do you know what it was? The statutes of a new society, of which father was to be president."
"Great God! Is it possible?"
"Most assuredly, unfortunately. I saw on the top of the paper, 'Count Ville-Handry, director in chief' and after the name followed all his titles, the high offices he has filled, and the French and foreign decorations which he has received."
Daniel could no longer doubt. He said,—
"We knew that they would try to obtain possession of your father's fortune, and now we have the proof of it. But what can we ever do, Henrietta, against the cunning manoeuvres of people like these?"
She bowed her head, and answered in a tone of resignation,—
"I have heard it said that often the mere presence of an inoffensive child is sufficient to intimidate and frighten away the boldest criminals. If God wills it so, I will be that child."
Daniel tried once more to insist; but she cut him short, saying,—
"You forget, my dear friend, that this is, perhaps for many years, the last time we shall ever be alone together. Let us think of the future. I have secured the confidence of one of my waiting-women, and to her you must direct your letters. Her name is Clarissa Pontois. If any grave and unforeseen necessity should arise, and it becomes absolutely necessary for me to see you, Clarissa will bring you the key of the little garden-gate, and you will come."
Both of them had their eyes filled with tears; and their hearts felt increasing anguish as the hand on the dial advanced. They knew they would have to part. Could they hope ever to meet again?
It struck four o'clock. Count Ville-Handry reappeared. Stung to the quick by what he called the insulting remarks of his daughter, he had stimulated the zeal of his valet; and that artist had evidently surpassed himself in the arrangement of the hair, and especially in the complexion.
"Well, Henrietta?" he asked.
"My decision remains unchanged, father."
The count was probably prepared for this answer; for he succeeded in controlling his fury.
"Once more, Henrietta," he said, "consider! Do not decide rashly, relying simply upon odious slanders."
He drew from his pocket a photograph, looked at it lovingly, and, handing it to his daughter, he added,—
"Here is Miss Brandon's portrait. Look at it, and see if she to whom God has given such a charming face, such sublime eyes, can have a bad heart."
For more than a minute Henrietta examined the likeness; and then, returning it to her father, she said coldly,—
"This woman is beautiful beyond all conception. Now I can explain to myself that new society of which you are going to be director-general."
Count Ville-Handry turned pale under this "juncture," and cried in a terrible voice,—
"Unhappy child! Unhappy child! You dare insult an angel?"
Maddened with rage, he had lifted up his hand, and was about to strike his daughter, when Daniel seized his wrist in his iron grasp, and threateningly, as if he himself was about to strike, he said,—
"Ah, sir, have a care! have a care!"
The count cast upon him a look of concentrated hatred; but, regaining his self-control, he freed himself, and, pointing at the door, he said slowly,—
"M. Champcey, I order you to leave this house instantly; and I forbid your ever coming back to it again. My servants will be informed, that, if any one of them ever allows you to cross the threshold of this house, he will be instantly dismissed. Go, sir!"
Twenty-four hours after Daniel had thus left Count Ville-Handry's palace, pale and staggering, he had not yet entirely recovered from this last blow. He had made a mortal enemy of the man whom it was his greatest interest to manage; and this man, who of his own accord would have parted with him only regretfully, had now turned him disgracefully out of his house.
He could hardly account to himself for the way in which this had come about. Nay, more; retracing step by step, his conduct during the last few days, it appeared to him pitiful, absurd. And then all that had happened seemed to have turned against him.
He accused Fate, that blind goddess, who is always blamed by those who have not the courage to blame themselves. He was in this state of mind when there came to him, to his great surprise, a letter from Henrietta. Thus it was she who anticipated him, and who, sure that he would be desperate, had the feminine delicacy to write to him almost cheerfully.
"Immediately after your departure, my dear Daniel, father ordered me up stairs, and decided that I should stay there till I should become more reasonable. I know I shall stay here a long time."
She concluded thus,—
"What we want most of all, oh, my only friend! is courage. Will you have as much as your Henrietta?"
"Oh, certainly, certainly! I shall have all that is needed," exclaimed Daniel, moved to tears.
And he vowed to himself that he would devote himself, heart and soul, to his work, and there find, if not forgetfulness, at least peace. He found, however, that to swear was easier than to do. In spite of all his efforts, he could not fix his thoughts upon any thing else but his misfortunes. The studies which he had formerly pursued with delight now filled him with disgust. The balance of his whole life was so completely destroyed, that he was not able to restore it.
The existence which he now led was that of a desperate man. As soon as he had risen, he hurried to M. de Brevan, and remained in his company as long as he could. Left alone, he wandered at haphazard along the Boulevards, or up the Champs Elysees. He dined early, hurried home again, and, putting on a rough overcoat which he had worn on board ship, he went to roam around the palace of his beloved.
There, behind those heavy, beautifully carved gates, which were open to all comers but to him, lived she who was more to him than his life. If he had struck the flagstones of the sidewalk with the heel of his boots, she would have heard the sound. He could hear the music of her piano; and yet the will of one man placed an abyss between them.
He was dying of inaction. It seemed to him atrocious, humiliating, intolerable, to be thus reduced to expecting good or evil fortune from fate, passively, without making an effort, like a man, who having taken a ticket in a lottery, and is all anxiety to obtain a large fortune, crosses his arms and waits for the drawing.
He was suffering thus for six days, and saw no end of it; when one morning, just as he was going out, his bell rang. He went to open the door.
It was a lady, who, without saying a word, swiftly walked in, and as promptly shut the door behind her.
Although she was wrapped up in a huge cloak which completely hid her figure, in spite of the very thick veil before her face, Daniel recognized her at once.
"Miss Brandon!" he exclaimed.
In the meantime she had raised her veil, "Yes, it is I," she replied, "risking another calumny in addition to all the others that have been raised against me, Daniel."
Amazed at a step which seemed to him the height of imprudence, he remained standing in the anteroom, and did not even think of inviting Miss Brandon to go into the next room, his study.
She went in of her own accord, quite aloof; and, when he had followed her, she said to him,—
"I came, sir, to ask you what you have done with that promise you gave me the other night at my house?"
She waited a moment; and, as he did not reply, she went on,—
"Come, I see you are like all men, if they pledge their word to another man, who is a match for them, they consider it a point of honor to keep it, but if it is a woman, then they do not keep it, and boast of it!"
Daniel was furious; but she pretended not to see it, and said more coldly,—
"I—I have a better memory than you, sir; and I mean to prove it to you. I know what has happened at Count Ville-Handry's house; he has told me all. You have allowed yourself to be carried away so far as to threaten him, to raise your hand against him."
"He was going to strike his daughter, and I held his arm."
"No, sir! my dear count is incapable of such violence; and yet his own daughter had dared to taunt him with his weakness, pretending that he had been induced by me to establish a new industrial company."
Daniel said nothing.
"And you," continued Miss Brandon,—"you allowed Miss Henrietta to say all these offensive and absurd things. I should induce the count to engage in an enterprise where money might be lost! Why? What interest could I have?"
Her voice began to tremble; and her beautiful eyes filled with tears.
"Interest!" she went on to say, "money! The world can think of no other motive nowadays. Money! I have enough of it. If I marry the count, you know why I do it,—you! And you also know that it depended, and perhaps, at this moment, still depends upon one single man, whether I shall break off that match this very day, now."
As she said this, she looked at him in a manner which would have caused a statue to tremble on its marble pedestal.
But he, with his heart full of hatred, remained icy, enjoying the revenge which was thus presented to him.
"I will believe whatever you wish to say," he answered in a mocking tone, "if you will answer me a single question."
"The other night, when I had left you, where did you go in your carriage?"
He expected to see her confused, turning pale, stammer. Not at all.
"What, you know that?" she said, with an accent of admirable candor. "Ah! I committed an act of almost as great imprudence as I now do. If some fool should see me leave your rooms?"
"Pardon me, Miss Brandon, that is no answer to my question. Where did you go?"
And as she kept silent, surprised by Daniel's firmness, he said sneeringly,—
"Then you confess that it would be madness to believe you? Let us break off here, and pray to God that I may be able to forget all the wrong you have done me."
Miss Brandon's beautiful eyes filled with tears of grief or of rage. She folded her hands, and said in a suppliant tone,—
"I conjure you, M. Champcey, grant me only five minutes. I must speak to you. If you knew"—
He could not turn her out; he bowed profoundly before her, and withdrew into his bedroom, closing the door behind him. But he immediately applied his eye to the keyhole, and saw Miss Brandon, her features convulsed with rage, threaten him with her closed hand, and leave the room hastily.
"She was going to dig another pit for me," thought Daniel.
And the idea that he had avoided it made him, for a part of that day at least, forget his sorrow. But on the following day he found, when he returned home, a formidable document from the navy department, and inside two letters.
One informed him that he had been promoted to be a lieutenant.
The other ordered him to report four days hence at Rochefort, on board the frigate "Conquest," which was lying in the roadstead waiting for two battalions of marines to be transferred to Cochin China.
Daniel had for long years, and with all the eager ambition of a young man, desired the promotion which he now obtained. That rank had been the supreme goal of all his dreams since the day on which he learned at the navy school the rudiments of his perilous vocation. How often, as he stood leaning against the monkey-railing, and saw boats passing by which carried officers, had he said to himself,—
"When I am a navy lieutenant!"
Well, now he was a lieutenant. But alas! his wishes, thus realized, filled him only with disgust and bitterness, like those golden apples, which, at a distance, shine brightly in the branches of magic trees, and under the touch of the hand turn into dust and ashes.
For with the news of his promotion came also the fatal order to a distant shore. Why did they send such an order to him, who had at the department an office in which he could render valuable services, while so many of his comrades, waiting idly in port, watched anxiously, and with almost feverish impatience, for a chance to go into active service?
"Ah!" he said to himself, his heart filled with rage, "how could I fail to recognize in this abominable treachery Miss Brandon's cunning hand?"
First she had closed against him the gates of Count Ville-Handry's palace, and thus separated him from his beloved Henrietta, so that they could not meet nor speak to each other.
But this was not enough for the accursed adventuress. She wanted to raise a barrier between them which should be more than a mere moral and social obstacle, one of those difficulties which no human power, no lover's ingenuity, could overcome,—the ocean and thousands of miles.
"Oh, no!" he cried in his anguish, "a thousand times no! Rather give up my career, rather send in my resignation."
Hence, the very next day, he put on his uniform, determined to lay the matter, first before that officer who was his immediate superior, but resolved, if he should not succeed there, to go up to the minister himself.
He had never worn that uniform since the night of a large court-ball, where he had danced with Henrietta. It was nearly a year ago, a few weeks before the death of the Countess Ville-Handry. As he compared his happiness in those days with his present desperate condition, he was deeply moved; and his eyes were still brimful of tears when he reached the navy department, towards ten o'clock in the morning.
The officer whom he called upon was an old captain, an excellent man, who had practised the appearance of a grim, stern official so long, that he had finally become in reality what he only wished to appear.
Seeing Daniel enter his office, he thought he came to inform him of his promotion, and made a great effort to smile as he hailed him with the words,—
"Well, Lieut. Champcey, we are satisfied, I hope?"
And, perceiving that Daniel did not wear the epaulets of his new rank, he added,—
"But how is that, lieutenant? Perhaps you have not heard yet?"
"I beg your pardon, captain."
"Why on earth, then, have you no epaulets?"
And he began to frown terribly, considering that such carelessness augured ill for the service. Daniel excused himself as well as he could, which was very little, and then boldly approached the purpose of his call.
"I have received an order for active service."
"I know,—on board 'The Conquest,' in the roadstead at Rochefort, for Cochin China."
"I have to be at my post in four days."
"And you think the time too short? It is short. But impossible to grant you ten minutes more."
"I do not ask for leave of absence, captain; I want the favor—to be allowed to keep my place here."
The old officer could hardly keep his seat.
"You would prefer not going on board ship," he exclaimed, "the very day after your promotion? Ah, come, you are mad!"
Daniel shook his head sadly.
"Believe me, captain," he replied, "I obey the most imperative duty."
Leaning back in his chair, his eyes fixed on the ceiling, the captain seemed to look for such a duty; then he asked suddenly,—
"Is it your family that keeps you?"
"If my place can really not be filled by one of my comrades, I shall be compelled to send in my resignation."
The old sailor bounded as he heard that word, and said furiously,—
"I told you you were a fool!"
In spite of his determination, Daniel was too much troubled not to commit a blunder. He insisted,—
"It is a matter of life and death with me, captain. And if you only knew my reasons; if I could tell them"—
"Reasons which cannot be told are always bad reasons, sir. I insist upon what I have told you."
"Then, captain, I shall be compelled, to my infinite sorrow, to insist upon offering my resignation."
The old sailor's brow became darker and darker. He growled.
"Your resignation, your resignation! You talk of it very lightly. It remains to be seen whether it will be accepted. 'The Conquest' does not sail on a pleasure-party; she is sent out on a serious campaign, and will probably be absent for some time. We have unpleasant complications down there and are sending out reinforcements. You are still in France; but you are actually under orders to meet the enemy; Men do not resign in the face of the enemy, Lieut. Champcey!"
Daniel had turned very pale.
"You are severe, captain," he said.
"I have no idea, I assure you, of being gentle; and, if that can induce you to change your mind"—
"Unfortunately, I cannot alter my decision."
The old sailor rose violently, and walked up and down the room several times, giving vent to his anger in oaths of various kinds; then he returned to Daniel, and said in his driest tone,—
"If that is so, the case is serious; I must report it to the secretary of the navy. What time is it? Eleven o'clock. Come here again at half- past twelve. I shall have settled the matter then."
Quite certain that his superior would say nothing in his favor, Daniel retired, walking hurriedly through the narrow passages, when a joyous voice hailed him, calling out, "Champcey!"
He turned, and found himself face to face with two of his comrades, with whom he had been most intimate at school. They said eagerly,—
"So you are our superior now?"
And, with the utmost sincerity, they began to congratulate him, delighted, as they said, that such good luck should have fallen upon a man like him, whom everybody thought worthy of the distinction, and who reflected honor upon the service. No enemy could have inflicted such suffering upon Daniel as these two friends did. There was not one of their good wishes which did not amount to a bitter sarcasm; every word they said told upon him.
"You must confess, however," they continued, "that you are a lucky man, like no other. One day you are made a lieutenant; and the next day they offer you active service. The next time we meet, you will be a captain in command of a frigate."
"I am not going out," replied Daniel, fiercely. "I have handed in my resignation."
And, leaving his two friends looking utterly amazed, he went away at a rapid pace.
Certainly, he had not foreseen all these difficulties; and in his blind wrath he charged his chief with injustice and tyranny. He said,—
"I must stay in Paris; and I will stay."
Reflection, far from calming him, only excited him the more. Having left home with the intention of offering his resignation only in an extreme case, he was now determined to adhere to his plan, even if they should offer him full satisfaction. Had he not an ample income of his own? and could he not always find an honorable occupation? That would be far better than to continue in a profession where one is never his own master, but lives eternally under the dread of some order that may send him, at a moment's warning, to heaven knows what part of the world.
That was the way he reasoned with himself while breakfasting at a tavern not far off; and when he returned to the department, a little after twelve, he looked upon himself as already no longer belonging to the navy, and in his imagination caring little for the final decision.
It was the hour for receptions, when everybody who had any business at the department came to look after his interests; and the anteroom was filled with officers of every grade, some in uniform, others in citizen's dress.
The conversation was very animated; for Daniel heard the sounds from the outer passage.
He entered; and there was silence,—sudden, deep, chilling silence.
Evidently they had been talking about him.
Even if he could have doubted it for a moment, he read it in the faces turned aside, the forced smiles, and the cautious glances with which he was received. He thought, very much troubled,—
"What can this mean?"
In the meantime a young man in citizen's dress, whom he did not know, called out from one side of the room to the other, to an old officer in a seedy uniform, with blackened epaulets (a real sea-dog), lean, bronzed, wrinkled, and with eyes bearing the traces of recent ophthalmy,—
"Why do you stop, lieutenant? We were much interested, I assure you."
The lieutenant seemed to hesitate, as if he were making up his mind to do a disagreeable thing, which still did not depend on his choice; and then he resumed his account,—
"Well, we got there, convinced that we had taken all the necessary precautions, and that there was, consequently, nothing to fear,—fine precautions they turned out to be! In the course of a week the whole crew was laid up; and as to the staff, little Bertram and I were the only officers able to appear on deck. Moreover, my eyes were in a state. You see what they say now. The captain was the first to die; the same evening five sailors followed suit, and seven the next day; the day after the first lieutenant and two of the noncommissioned officers. The like was never seen before."
Daniel turned to his neighbor.
"Who is that officer?" he asked.
"Lieut. Dutac of 'The Valorous,' just returned from Cochin China."
Light broke upon Daniel's mind; it was a painful light.
"When did 'The Valorous' come in?" he asked again.
"Six days ago she made the harbor of Brest."
The other man went on,—
"And thus, you see, we left a goodly portion of our crew out there. That is a campaign! As to my own notions, this is what I think,—a nasty country, a wretched climate, a people fit for the gallows."
"Certainly," said the young man in citizen's dress, "things are not pleasant in Cochin China."
"Ah, but still"—
"What if you were ordered back?"
"I would go, of course. Somebody must go, you know, and carry reinforcements there; but I should not care if somebody else"—
He shrugged his shoulders, and said stoically,—
"And besides, since we navy men must be eaten by the fish some time or other, it does not matter very much when that takes place."
Was not that, in a trivial, but terribly impressive manner, precisely the same thing that Daniel had been told by his captain? People do not resign when they face the enemy.
It was very evident that the officers who were there assembled doubted his courage, and were discussing the fact when he entered. It was clear that they attributed his resignation to fear.
At this idea, that he might be suspected of cowardice, Daniel trembled all over. What could he do to prove that he was not a coward? Should he challenge every one of these men, and fight one, two, ten duels? Would that prove that he had not shrunk from the unknown perils of a new country, from the dangers of an armed invasion, and a fatal climate? No; unless he was willing to remain a marked man for life, he must go; yes, go, since out there dangers awaited him of which he was held to be afraid.
He went up, therefore, to the old lieutenant, and said, in a voice loud enough to be heard by every one in the room,—
"My good comrade, I had just been ordered to the place you come from, and I had sent in my resignation; but after what you have said,—things I knew nothing of,—I shall go."
There was a murmur of approbation. And one voice said, "Ah! I was sure of it!" and that was all. But it was quite enough to prove to Daniel that he had chosen the only way to save his honor, which had been in imminent peril. But, simple as the whole scene was in itself, it was very extraordinary, in view of the usual reserve which prevails among sailors. And, besides, does it not happen almost every day, that an officer ordered to some station requests and obtains leave to exchange with some one else, and nothing is said?
Daniel felt that underneath the whole affair there was some diabolic intrigue. If Miss Brandon had really procured this order to active service, was it not likely that she would have taken her measures, so that he could not possibly avoid going? Were all these men in citizen's dress whom he saw there really navy officers? The young man who had asked Lieut. Dutac to go on in his story had disappeared. Daniel went from one to the other, inquiring who that clever young man was, but in vain. Soon a summons came for him to appear in the superior's office. He hastened there; and, as he opened the door, he said,—
"I'll follow your advice, captain. In three days I shall be on board 'The Conquest.'"
The captain's stern face cleared up, and he said approvingly,—
"All right! You did well to change your mind; for your business began to look very ugly. The minister is very angry with you."
"The minister? And why?"
"Primo, he had charged you with a very important duty."
"To be sure," stammered Daniel, hanging his head; "but I have been so severely suffering!"
The fact is, he had totally forgotten that unlucky work.
"Secundo," continued the old officer, "he was doubtful whether you were in your right senses, and I agree with him, since he has told me that you yourself have solicited this appointment on foreign service in the most urgent terms."
Daniel was stunned, and stammered out,—
"His Excellency is mistaken."
"Ah! I beg your pardon, M. Champcey; I have myself seen your letter."
But already a sudden inspiration had, like a flash of lightning, cleared up the mystery in Daniel's mind.
"Ah! I wish I could see it too! Captain, I beseech you show me that letter!"
The old officer began almost to think that Champcey was really not in his right mind. He answered,—
"I do not have it; but it is among your papers in the bureau for Personal Affairs."
In a minute Daniel was in the office where those papers were kept, and obtained, not without much trouble, and under certain conditions only, leave to look at his papers. He opened the parcel with feverish haste; and the very first paper that fell in his hands was a letter, dated the day before, in which he urgently requested the minister to grant him the special favor of being sent out with the expedition to Cochin China on board the frigate "Conquest."
Daniel was, of course, perfectly sure that he had written no such letter.
But the handwriting was so precisely like his own, letter for letter, and even his signature was so admirably imitated, that he felt for a moment utterly bewildered, mistrusting, for a second, his own eyes, his own reason. The whole was done so exceedingly well, that if the matter had been one of ordinary importance, and the date of the letter had gone back to a fortnight or so ago, he would certainly have suspected his memory rather than the letter before him.
Overcome by the atrocity of such a trick, he exclaimed,—
"It is almost incredible!"
It was, however, only too certain, too indisputable, that the letter could not have been dictated by any one but Miss Brandon. No doubt, one of her accomplices, perhaps the great Sir Thorn himself, had written it. Ah! now Daniel understood the insolent assurance of Miss Brandon, when she insisted upon his taking poor Malgat's letters, and repeatedly said, "Go and show them to the clerks who have known that unhappy man for long years, and they will tell you if they are his own." Most assuredly he would have met with no one bold enough to say the contrary, if Malgat's handwriting had been copied with the same distressing perfection as his own.
Still he might, perhaps, profit by this strange event; but how?
Ought he to mention his discovery? What would have been the use? Would they believe him, if he accused her of forgery, of a trick unsurpassed in boldness and wickedness? Would they even consent to an investigation; and, if they instituted one, what would be the result? Where would they find an expert ready to swear that this letter was not written by him, when he himself, if each line had been presented to him separately, would have felt bound to acknowledge it as his own?
Was it not far more probable, on the contrary, that, after what he had done in the morning, they would have ascribed his charges to a mistake, or seen in them a weak invention in order to cover his retreat? Therefore it was a thousand times better to keep silence, to be resigned to postpone to another day every attempt to avenge himself in a manner corresponding to the injury he had suffered, and all the more effectively, as his vengeance would have been carefully matured.
But he did not wish that false letter, which might become a formidable piece of evidence against him, to remain among his papers; no doubt Miss Brandon would soon find an opportunity of having it withdrawn. He asked, therefore, for leave to copy it, obtained permission, went to work, and succeeded, without being seen by anybody, in substituting his copy for the original.
When this was done, knowing that he had not a minute to lose, he instantly left the department, and, jumping into a carriage, drove to M. de Brevan.
Like all energetic natures, Daniel felt a wonderful relief as soon as he had formed an irrevocable decision. He would even have enjoyed the peace that had once more returned to his mind, but for the savage hatred which had accumulated in his heart, and which confused his thoughts whenever he remembered Miss Brandon.
Providentially, it seemed to him, Maxime had not gone out, or, rather, having been to breakfast at the English cafe with some of his friends, he had just returned.
In ten words Daniel had told him every thing, and even shown him that masterpiece of forgery, which he attributed to Miss Brandon's mind, and M. Elgin's skill. Then, without heeding Maxime's exclamations of wonder and indignation, loud and deep as they were, he continued,—
"Now, my dear Maxime, listen to me. It may be my last will which I am going to give in your charge."
And, when his friend tried to remonstrate, he insisted,—
"I know what I am saying. I am sure I hope I shall not be buried out there; but the climate is murderous, and I may encounter a cannon-ball. It is always better to be prepared."
He paused a moment to collect his thoughts; and then he went on.
"You alone, in this world, Maxime, know all my private affairs. I have no secret from you. I have friends whom I have known longer than you; but I have none in whom I feel more confidence. Besides, my old friends are all sailors,—men, who, like myself, may at any moment be sent, Heaven knows where. Now I want a reliable, safe, and experienced man, possessed of prudence and energy, and sure not to leave Paris. Will you be that man, Maxime?"
M. de Brevan, who had remained in his chair, rose, and, putting his hand on his heart, said,—
"Between us, Daniel, oaths are useless; don't you think so? I say, therefore, simply, you may count upon me."
"And I do count upon you," exclaimed Daniel,—"yes, blindly and absolutely; and I am going to give you a striking proof of it."
For a few moments it looked as if he were trying to find some brief and yet impressive form for his communication; and then he said, speaking very rapidly,—
"If I leave in despair, it is because I leave Henrietta in the hands of the enemy. What persecution she will have to endure! My heart bleeds at the mere thought. Miss Brandon must be meditating some terrible blow, or she would not have been so anxious to keep me at a distance."
He sobbed almost, so great was his excitement; but he instantly became master again of his emotion, and continued,—
"Well, Maxime, I shall ask you to watch over Henrietta. I intrust her to you as I would intrust her to my brother, if I had one."
M. de Brevan was about to state some objections; but Daniel cut him short, saying,—
"I will tell you how and in what manner you can watch over Miss Ville-Handry. To-morrow evening I shall see her, and tell her the new misfortune which has befallen us. I shall take leave of her then. I know she will be terrified; but then, to reassure her, I shall explain to her that I leave her a friend, another myself, ready, like myself, to assist her at her first summons, and ready, like myself, to run any danger in order to succor her. I shall tell her to appeal to you as if it were to myself; to write to you as she used to write to me; to keep you informed of all they may attempt to do; to consult and to obey you without hesitation.
"As to what you will have to do, Maxime, I cannot tell you that, even in a general way, as I know nothing of Miss Brandon's plans. I rely upon your experience to do what is most expedient. Still there are two alternatives which I can foresee. It may be that her father's house becomes impossible for Henrietta, and that she should wish to leave it. It may also be, that, under certain circumstances, you may think it inexpedient for her to remain there, and that you have to advise her to escape. In either case, you will take Henrietta to an old lady, a relative of mine, who lives at the Rosiers, a little village in the department of Maine-et-Loire, and whose address I will give you, while I will inform her beforehand of what may happen."
He paused, trying to remember if there was any thing else, and, recalling nothing, he said,—
"This, my dear Maxime, is all I expect you to do for me."
With open brow, a clear eye, and grave face, M. de Brevan replied in a solemn tone of voice, speaking like a man who feels that he deserves such confidence,—
"Friend Daniel, you may sail without fear."
But Daniel had not done yet.
Pressing his friend's hand heartily, he thanked him, and then with a careless air, under which he very imperfectly concealed his real embarrassment, he said,—
"There remains only to provide the means for carrying out these measures, and for possible contingencies. You are not rich, my dear Maxime, I mean rich in comparison with the people who are your friends; you have told me so more than once."
He touched a wound which was always open, and always bleeding.
"Certainly," replied M. de Brevan, "in comparison with a number of my friends, with men like Gordon Chalusse, for instance, I am only a poor devil."
Daniel did not notice the bitterness of this reply.
"Now," he said, "suppose, at a given moment, Miss Henrietta's safety should make a certain sum of money necessary,—perhaps a very large sum,—are you sure you will always have enough in your drawer, and be able to dispose of it without inconvenience?"
"Ah! you expect too much of me; but I have friends."
"And you would ask them! you would expose yourself to the humiliation of hearing those set excuses which serve to conceal refusals! I could never permit that."
"I assure you"—
"Let me tell you that I have forgotten nothing. Although my means are modest, I can, by selling out some bonds, realize enough to secure you against any embarrassment on that score. I also own property in Anjou which is valued at fifty or sixty thousand dollars, and I mean to sell it."
The other man opened his eyes wide.
"You mean," he said slowly.
"To sell it, yes. You heard right. Except, however, my home, my father's house, with the little garden in front, the orchard, and the meadow adjoining the house. In that house my father and my mother have lived and died. I find them there, so to say, whenever I go in; their thoughts are still filling the rooms, after so many years. The garden and the orchard are the first little bits of land my father bought from his earnings as ploughboy. He cultivated them in his leisure hours, and there is literally not a foot of soil which he has not moistened with the sweat of his brow. They are sacred to me; but the rest—I have already given orders."
"And you expect to sell every thing in the three days before your departure?"
"Oh, no! But you are here."
"What can I do?"
"Take my place, I should think. I will leave you a power-of-attorney. Perhaps, if you make haste, you can get fifty thousand dollars for the property. You will invest that so as to be able to use it any moment. And, if ever Miss Henrietta should be compelled to leave her father's house, you will hand the money over to her."
M. de Brevan had turned very pale.
"Excuse me," he said, "excuse me."
"Well, it seems to me it would be more suitable to leave some one else in charge of that."
"Oh! I do not know,—a more experienced man! It may be that the property will not bring as much as you expect. Or I might invest the money in the wrong funds. Money questions are so delicate!"
But Daniel said, shrugging his shoulders,—
"I do not understand why you should hesitate to undertake so simple a thing, when you have already consented to render me so signal and so difficult a service."
So simple! M. de Brevan did not look upon it in that light.
A nervous shiver, which he could hardly conceal, ran down his backbone; drops of perspiration broke out on his temples; and he turned deadly pale.
"Fifty thousand dollars! That is an enormous sum."
"Oh, yes!" replied Daniel in the most careless manner.
And, looking at the clock, he added,—
"Half-past three. Come, Maxime, be quick. My carriage is waiting. The notary expects us between three and four o'clock."
This notary was an exceptional man. He took an interest in the affairs of his clients, and sometimes even listened to hear their explanations. When Daniel had told him what he intended doing, he replied,—
"You have nothing to do, M. Champcey, but to give M. de Brevan a power-of-attorney in proper form."
"Would it be possible," asked Daniel, "to have it drawn up at once?"
"Why not? It can be recorded this evening; and to-morrow"—
"Well, then, lose no time."
The notary called his chief clerk, gave him briefly his instructions, then, making a sign to Daniel, he drew him into a kind of recess resembling an enormous cupboard, adjoining his office, in which he "confessed" his clients, as he called it. When they were there, he said,—
"How is it, M. Champcey, do you really owe this M. de Brevan so much money?"
"Not a cent."
"And you leave your entire fortune thus in his hands! You must have marvellous confidence in the man."
"As much as in myself."
"That is a good deal. And if he should, during your absence, run away with the fifty thousand dollars?"
Daniel was a little shaken; but he remained firm.
"Oh!" he said, "there are still some honest people in the world."
"Ah?" laughed the notary.
And, from the manner in which he shook his head, it was clearly seen that experience had made him very sceptical on that subject.
"If you would only listen to me," he resumed, "I could prove to you"—
But Daniel interrupted him, and said,—
"I have no desire, sir, to change my mind; but, even if I should wish to do so, I cannot retract my word. There are particular circumstances in this case which I cannot explain to you in so short a time."
The notary raised his eyes to the ceiling, and said in a tone of great pity,—
"At least, let me make him give you a deed of defeasance."
"Very well, sir."
This was done, but in such carefully guarded terms, that even the most exquisite susceptibility on the part of Maxime could not have been hurt. It was five o'clock, when the power-of-attorney and the deed were signed, and the two friends left the worthy notary's office. It was too late now for Daniel to write to Henrietta to send him for that same evening the key to the little garden-gate; but he wrote to get it for the next evening.
After that, having dined with M. de Brevan, he went all over Paris in search of the thousand little things which are necessary for such a long and perilous voyage. He came home late, and was fortunate enough to fall asleep as soon as he had lain down. The next morning he breakfasted in his rooms, for fear of being out of the house when they should bring him the key.
It came towards one o'clock. It was brought by a large girl, nearly thirty years old, with a cross expression of face, and eyes more than modestly seeking the ground, and with narrow lips which seemed to be perpetually engaged in reciting prayers. This was Clarissa, whom Henrietta considered the safest of her waiting-women, and whom she had taken into her confidence.
"Miss Henrietta," she said to Daniel, "has given me this key and this letter for you, sir. She expects an answer."
Daniel tore the envelope, and read,—
"Take care, O my darling friend! to resort to this dangerous expedient which we ought to reserve for the last extremity. Is what you have to tell me really so important as you say? I can hardly believe it; and yet I send you the key. Tell Clarissa the precise hour at which you will be here."
Alas! the poor girl had no idea of the terrible news that was in store for her.
"Request Miss Henrietta," said Daniel to the maid, "to expect me at seven o'clock."
Sure now of seeing Henrietta, Daniel slipped the key in his pocket, and hurried away. He had only a short afternoon to himself, and there were still a thousand things to get, and countless preparations to make.
At his notary's, where he went first, he found the papers ready; all the formalities had been fulfilled. But, at the moment when the deed was placed before him, the worthy lawyer said in a prophetic voice,—
"M. Champcey, take care, reflect! I call that tempting a man pretty strongly when you hand over to him fifty thousand dollars the day before you start on a long and dangerous expedition."
"Ah! What matters my fortune, if I only see my Henrietta again?"
The notary looked discouraged.
"Ah! if there is a woman in the affair, I have nothing more to say."
It was as well. The next moment Daniel had forgotten him and his sombre presentiments.
Seated in M. de Brevan's little sitting-room, he was handing over his deeds and papers to his faithful confidant, explaining to him how he might make the most of the different parcels of land which he owned; how certain woods might be sold together; how, on the other hand, a large farm, now held by one tenant, might be advantageously divided into small lots, and sold at auction.
M. de Brevan did not look so pale now. He had recovered his self- possession, and laid aside his usual reserve in order to show himself all eagerness for his friend.
He declared that he would see to it that his friend Daniel should not be robbed. He intended, therefore, to go himself to Anjou to call upon those who were likely to purchase, and to be present at the sale. In his opinion, it would be wiser to sell piecemeal, without hurry. If money was needed, why, one could always get it at the bank.
Daniel was deeply touched by the devotion of his friend, whose intense selfishness he had noticed but too often. Nor was this all. Capable of the greatest sacrifices where Daniel's interests were at stake, M. de Brevan had formed a grand resolution. He proposed to overcome his aversion to Miss Brandon, and to seek, immediately after her marriage, an introduction at Count Ville-Handry's palace, for the purpose of going there constantly. He might have to play a disagreeable part, he admitted; but he would thus be enabled to see Miss Henrietta frequently; he would hear every thing that happened, and be at hand whenever she should need advice or assistance.
"Dear Maxime," repeated Daniel, "dear, excellent friend, how can I ever thank you for all you are doing for me!"
As the day before, they dined together at one of the restaurants on the boulevard; and after dinner M. de Brevan insisted upon accompanying his friend back to Count Ville-Handry's house. As they reached it long before the appointed hour, they walked up and down on the sidewalk which runs along the wall of the immense park belonging to the palace. It was a cold but perfectly clear night. There was not a cloud in the sky, no mist nor haze; and the moon was shining so brightly, that one could have read by its light.
In the meantime seven o'clock struck at a neighboring convent.
"Come, courage, my friend!" said M. de Brevan.
And, pressing his hand once more cordially, he walked off rapidly in the direction of the Invalides.
Daniel had not answered a word. Terribly excited, he had drawn near the small door, examining anxiously all the surroundings. The street was deserted. But he trembled so violently, that for a moment he thought he would never be able to turn the key in the rusty lock. At last he succeeded in opening it, and he slipped into the garden.
No one there. He was the first on the spot.
Looking for some dark place under the tall trees, he hid himself there, and waited. It seemed to him a century. He had counted sixty by the beating of his pulse ever so many times, and was beginning to be very anxious, when at last he heard some dry branches crackling under rapid footsteps. A shadow passed between the trees. He went forward, and Henrietta was standing before him.
"What is it now, great God!" she said anxiously. "Clarissa said you looked so pale and undone, that I have been terribly frightened."
Daniel had come to the conclusion that the plain truth would be less cruel than the most skilful precautions.
"I have been ordered on active service," he replied, "and I must be on board ship the day after tomorrow."
And then, without concealing any thing, he told her all he had suffered since the day before. Miss Ville-Handry felt as if she had been stunned by a crushing blow. She was leaning against a tree. Did she even hear Daniel? Yes; for, suddenly rousing herself, she said,—
"You will not obey! It is impossible for you to obey!"
"Henrietta, my honor is at stake."
"Ah, what does it matter?"
He was about to reply; but she continued in a broken voice,—
"You will certainly not go when you have heard me. You think I am strong, brave, and capable to breast the storm? You are mistaken. I was only drawing upon your energy, Daniel. I am a child, full of daring as long as it rests on its mother's knee, but helpless as soon as it feels that it is left to itself; I am only a woman, Daniel; I am weak."
The unhappy man felt his strength leaving him; he could no longer bear the restraint which he had imposed upon himself.
"You insist upon sending me off in utter despair?" he asked her. "Ah, I have hardly courage enough for myself!"
She interrupted him with a nervous laugh, and said in bitter sarcasm,—
"It would be courage to stay, to despise public opinion."
And, as any thing appeared to her preferable to such a separation, she added,—
"Listen! If you will stay, I will yield. Let us go together to my father, and I will tell him that I have overcome my aversion to Miss Brandon. I will ask him to present me to her; I will humble myself before her."
"That is impossible, Henrietta."
She bent towards him, joining her hands; and in a suppliant voice she repeated,—
"Stay, I beseech you, in the name of our happiness! If you have ever loved me, if you love me now, stay!"
Daniel had foreseen this heartrending scene; but he had vowed, that, if his heart should break, he would have the fortitude to resist Henrietta's prayers and tears.
"If I were weak enough to give way now, Henrietta," he said, "you would despise me before the month is over; and I, desperate at having to drag out a life of disgrace, would blow out my brains with a curse on you."
With her arms hanging listlessly by her side, her hands crossed behind her, Miss Ville-Handry stood there motionless, like a statue. She felt in her heart that Daniel's resolution was not to be shaken.
Then he said in a gentle voice,—
"I am going, Henrietta; but I leave you a friend of mine,—a true and noble friend, who will watch over you. You have heard me speak of him often,—Maxime de Brevan. He knows my wishes. Whatever may happen, consult him. Ah! I should leave more cheerfully if you would promise me to trust this faithful friend, to listen to his advice, and to follow his directions."
"I promise you, Daniel, I will obey him."
But a rustling of the dry leaves interrupted them.
They turned round. A man was cautiously approaching them.
"My father!" cried Henrietta.
And, pushing Daniel towards the gate, she begged him to flee.
To remain would only have been to risk a painful explanation, insults, perhaps even a personal collision. Daniel understood that but too well.
"Farewell," he said to Henrietta, "farewell! Tomorrow you will receive a letter from me."
And he escaped, but not so promptly that he should not have heard the count's angry voice, as he said,—
"Ah, ah! Is this the virtuous young lady who dares to insult Miss Sarah?"
As soon as Daniel had locked the door again, he listened for a moment, hoping that he might hear something of importance. But he could only make out a few indistinct exclamations, then nothing, nothing more.
It was all over now. He would have to sail without seeing Henrietta again, without enjoying that bitter happiness of holding her once more in his arms. And yet he had told her nothing of all he had to tell her; he had not spoken to her of half his recommendations, nor given her a thousandth part of his tender farewells.
How had they been surprised? How came it about that the count had stayed at home, instead of hurrying off immediately after dinner, as was his custom? Why should he have inquired after his daughter, he who generally took no more trouble about her than if she had not existed?
"Ah, we have been betrayed!" thought the unhappy man.
By whom? By that unpleasant maid evidently, whom he had seen that morning; by that very Clarissa in whom Henrietta put such confidence. If that was so,—and it was but too probable,—to whom should he send his letters hereafter? Here, again, he saw himself reduced to Maxime de Brevan as the only one who could convey news from him to Henrietta. Ah! he recognized but too clearly the execrable but most cunning policy of Miss Brandon.
"The wretch!" he swore; "the infamous woman!"
Wrath, mad wrath, set his brains on fire. And he could do nothing against that woman!
"But she does not stand alone!" he suddenly exclaimed. "There is a man there who shelters her under his responsibility,—Sir Thorn!"
M. Elgin might be insulted; he might be struck in the face, and thus be compelled to fight.
And, without considering this absurd plan, he hurried to Circus Street. Although it was barely eight o'clock, Miss Brandon's house looked as if everybody were asleep. He rang the bell, however; and, when a servant came to the door, he inquired,—
"M. Thomas Elgin?"
"M. Elgin is absent," replied the servant.
"At what hour will he be back?"
"He is not coming home to-night."
And whether he had received special instructions, or was only acting upon general orders, he added,—
"Mrs. Brian is at the theatre; but Miss Brandon is at home."
Daniel's wrath changed into a kind of cold fury.
"They expected me," he thought.
And he hesitated. Should he see Miss Brandon? But for what end? He was just turning away, when a sudden thought occurred to him. Why should he not talk with her, come to an understanding, and perhaps make a bargain with her?
"Show me to Miss Brandon's room," he said to the servant.
She sat, as she always did when left alone in the house, in the little boudoir, where Daniel had already once been carried by her. Dressed in a long dressing-wrapper of pale-blue cashmere, her hair scarcely taken up at all, she was reading, reclining on a sofa.
As the door opened, she raised herself carelessly a little, and, without turning around, asked,—
"Who is that?"
But, when the servant announced the name of M. Champcey, she rose with a bound, almost terrified, dropping the book which she had in her hand.
"You!" she murmured as soon as the servant had left. "Here, and of your own accord?"
Firmly resolved this time to remain master of his sensations, Daniel had stopped in the middle of the room, as stiff as a statue.
"Don't you know, madam, what brings me here? All your combinations have succeeded admirably; you triumph, and we surrender."
She looked at him in perfect amazement, stammering—
"I do not understand you. I do not know what you mean."
He shrugged his shoulders, and continued in an icy tone,—
"Do me the honor to think that I am not altogether a fool. I have seen the letter which you have sent to the minister, signed with my name. I have held that masterpiece of forgery in my hand and know now how you free yourself of my presence!"
Miss Brandon interrupted him with an angry gesture,—
"Then it is really so! He has done it; he has dared do it!"
"Who is this he? M. Thomas Elgin, no doubt?"
"No, not he; another man."
She hesitated, hung her head, and then said with a great effort,—
"I knew they wished to separate us; and, without knowing precisely what means they would employ, I suspected them. And, when I came to you the other day, I wanted to say to you, 'Have a care!' and you, M. Champcey, you drove me from you."
He looked upon her with such an ironical smile that she broke off, and cried,—
"Ah, he does not believe me! Tell me that you do not believe me!"
He bowed ceremoniously, and replied in his gravest manner,—
"I believe, Miss Brandon, that you desire to become Countess Ville- Handry; and you clear everything out of your path that can hinder you in your plans."
She was about to answer; but he did not give her time, and continued,—
"Mark, I pray, that I make no charges. Come, let us play openly. You are too sensible and too practical to hate us—Miss Henrietta and myself—from gratuitous and purely platonic motives. You hate us because we are in your way. How are we in your way? Tell me; and, if you will promise to help us, we—Henrietta and I—pledge ourselves not to stand in your way."
Miss Brandon looked as if she could not trust her ears.
"But, sir, this is a bargain, I should say, which you propose?"
"Yes, indeed! And, that there may be no misunderstanding, I will mention the precise terms: if you will swear to be kind to Henrietta during my absence, to protect her against violence on the part of her father, and never to force her to act contrary to her sentiments for me, I will give you, in return, my word that I shall give up to you, without dispute and without reserve, the whole immense fortune possessed by Count Ville-Handry."
Succumbing to her grief, Miss Brandon seemed to be almost fainting; and big tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Have I not yet been humiliated sufficiently?" she said in a low voice. "Must you add shame to shame? Daniel, you think I am very mean."
And, checking the sobs which impeded her words, she went on,—
"And yet I cannot blame you for it, I cannot. No, you are right! Every thing is against me; every thing bears witness against me. Yes, I must appear a very wicked girl in your eyes. If you knew the truth, however, Daniel—if I could, if I dared, tell you all!"
She drew nearer to him, all trembling; and then continued in a still lower tone of voice, as if she feared to be overheard,—
"Do you not understand yet that I am no longer my own? Unfortunate as I am, they have taken me, bound me, fettered me. I have no longer the right to have a will of my own. If they say, 'Do this!' I must needs do it. What a life I lead! Great God! Ah, if you had been willing, Daniel! If you were willing even now!"
She became excited almost to exaltation; her eyes, moist with tears, shone with matchless splendor; passing blushes colored her face; and her voice had strange, weird vibrations.
Was she forgetting herself? Was she really about to betray her secret? or was she merely inventing a new falsehood? Why should he not let her go on?
"That is no answer, Miss Brandon," at last said Daniel. "Will you promise me to protect Henrietta?"
"Do you really love her so dearly, your Henrietta?"
"Better than life!"
Miss Brandon turned as white as the lace on her dress; a flash of indignation shot through her eyes; and, drying her tears, she said curtly,—
Then Daniel replied,—
"You will give me no answer, madam?"
And, as she persisted in her silence, he resumed,—
"Very well, then, I understand. You declare open war. Be it so! Only listen to me carefully. I am setting out on a dangerous expedition, and you hope I shall never return. Undeceive yourself, Miss Brandon; I shall return. With a passion like mine, with so much love in one's heart, and so much hatred, a man can defy every thing. The murderous climate will not touch me; and, if I had ten rifle-balls in my body, I should still have the strength to return, and hold you to an account for what you have done to Henrietta. And if you have touched a hair on her head, if you have made her shed a single tear, by all that is holy, it will bring ill luck to you, and ill luck to others!"
He was going to leave her, when a thought struck him.
"I ought to tell you, moreover," he added, "that I leave a faithful friend behind me; and, if the count or his daughter should die very suddenly, the coroner will be informed. And now, madam, farewell—or, rather, till we meet again!"
At eight o'clock on the evening of the next day, after having left in M. de Brevan's hands a long letter for Henrietta, and after having given him his last instructions, Daniel took his seat in the train which was to take him to his new post.
It was a week after Daniel's departure, a Wednesday, and about half- past eleven o'clock.
Some thirty carriages, the most elegant, by all means, that Paris could boast of, were standing alongside of the Church of St. Clothilda. In the pretty little square before the building, some hundred and fifty or two hundred idlers were waiting with open mouths. The passers-by, noticing the crowd, went up and asked,—
"What is going on?"
"A wedding," was the answer.
"And a grand wedding, apparently."
"Why, the grandest thing you ever saw. It is a nobleman, and an immensely rich one, who is going to be married,—Count Ville-Handry. He marries an American lady. They have been in the church now for some time, and they will soon come out again."
Under the porch a dozen men, in the orthodox black costume, with yellow kid gloves, and white cravats showing under their overcoats, evidently men belonging to the wedding-party, were chatting merrily while they were waiting for the end of the ceremony. If they were amused, they hardly showed it; for some made an effort to hide their yawning, while others kept up a broken conversation, when a small coupe drove up, and stopped at the gate.
"Gentlemen," said a young man, "I announce M. de Brevan."
It was he really.
He stepped leisurely out of his carriage, and came up in his usual phlegmatic manner. He knew the majority, perhaps, of the young men in the crowd; and so he commenced at once shaking hands all around, and then said in an easy tone of voice,—
"Who has seen the bride?"
"I!" replied an old beau, whose perpetual smile displayed all the thirty-two teeth he owed to the dentist.
"Well, what do you think of her?"
"She is always sublime in her beauty, my dear. When she walked up the aisle to kneel down at the altar, a murmur of admiration followed her all the way. Upon my word of honor, I thought they would applaud."
This was too much enthusiasm. M. de Brevan cut it short, asking,—
"And Count Ville-Handry?"
"Upon my word," replied the old beau ironically, "the good count can boast of a valet who knows almost as much as Rachel, the famous English enameller. At a little distance you would have sworn that he was sixteen years old, and that he was going, not to be married, but to be confirmed."
"And how did he look?"
"Restless, I think."
"He might well be," observed a stout, elderly gentleman, who was said not to be very happily married.
Everybody laughed; but a very young man, a mere youth, who did not catch the joke, said,—
A man of about thirty years, a perfect model of elegance, whom the others called, according to the degree of intimacy which they could claim, either "Your Grace," or "Duke" simply replied,—
"Because, my dear viscount, Miss Brandon is one of those ladies who never are married. They are courted; they are worshipped; they make us commit a thousand follies for their sakes; they allow us to ruin ourselves, and, finally, to blow our brains out for them, all right! But to bear our name, never!"
"It is true," said Brevan, "that they tell a number of stories about her; but it is all gossip. However"—
"You certainly would not ask," replied the duke, "that I should prove her to have been brought before a police-court, or to have escaped from the penitentiary?"
And, without permitting himself to be interrupted, he went on,—
"Good society in France, they say, is very exclusive. It does not deserve that reputation. Except, perhaps, a score of houses, where old traditions are still preserved, all other houses are wide open to the first-comer, man or woman, who drives up in a carriage. And the number of such first-comers is prodigiously large. Where do they come from? No one knows. From Russia, from Turkey, from America, from Hungary, from very far, from everywhere, from below, I do not count the impudent fellows who are still muddy from the gutter in which they have been lying. How do all these people live? That is a mystery. But they do live, and they live well. They have, or at least seem to have, money; and they shine, they intrigue, they conspire, they make believe, and they extort. So that I verily believe all this high-life society, by dint of helping one another, of pushing and crowding in, will, in the end, be master of all. You may say that I am not in the crowd. Very true. I willingly shake hands with the workmen who work for me, and who earn their living worthily; but I do not shake hands with these ambiguous personages in yellow kids, who have no title but their impudence, and no means of living but their underhand intrigues."
He addressed himself apparently to no one, following, with his absent- minded glance, the crowd in the garden; and yet, by his peculiar manner, you would have known that he was speaking at some one among the listeners.
However, it was evident that he had no success, and that his doctrine seemed to be utterly out of season, and almost ridiculous. A young man with a delicate black mustache, and extremely well dressed, even turned to his neighbor, and asked,—
"Who is our friend, the preacher?"
"What! don't you know him?" replied the other.
"That is the Duke of Champdoce, you know, who has married a princess of Mussidan. Quite an original."
M. de Brevan, however, had remained perfectly impassive, and now said,—
"At all events, I suppose it was not altogether a question of interest which made Miss Brandon marry the count."
"Because she is immensely rich."
An old gentleman came up, and said,—
"She must needs be perfectly disinterested; for I have it from the count himself that none of the property is to be settled upon Miss Brandon."
"That certainly is marvellously disinterested."
Having said what he meant to say, the duke had entered the church; and the old beau now took the word.
"The only thing that is clear to me in this matter is, that I think I know the person whom this wedding will not please particularly."
"Whom do you mean?"
"Count Ville-Handry's daughter, a young girl, eighteen years old, and wondrously pretty. Just imagine! Besides, I have looked for her all over the church, and she is not there."
"She is not present at the wedding," replied the old gentleman, the friend of Count Ville-Handry, "because she was suddenly taken ill."
"So they say," interposed the young man; "but the fact is, that a friend of mine has just seen her driving out in her carriage in full dress."
"That can hardly be so."
"My friend was positive. She intended this pretty piece of scandal as a wedding-present for her stepmother."
M. de Brevan shrugged his shoulders, and said in an undertone,—
"Upon my word, I should not like to stand in the count's shoes."
As a faithful echo of the gossip that was going on in society, this conversation, carried on in broken sentences, under the porch of St. Clothilda, made it quite clear that public opinion was decidedly in favor of Miss Brandon. It would have been surprising if it should have been otherwise. She triumphed; and the world is always on the side of the victor. That Duke of Champdoce, an original, was the only one there who was disposed to remember the past; the others had forgotten it. The brilliancy of her success was even reflected on those who belonged to her; and a young man who copied to exaggeration English fashions was just singing the praises of M. Thomas Elgin and Mrs. Brian, when a great commotion was noticed under the porch.
People came out, and said,—
"It is all over. The wedding-guests are in the vestry now to sign their names."
The conversation stopped at once. The old beau alone exclaimed,—
"Gentlemen, if we wish to present our respects to the newly-married couple, we must make haste."
And with these words he hurried into the church, followed by all the others, and soon reached the vestry, which was too small to hold all the guests invited by Count Ville-Handry. The parish register had been placed upon a small table; and every one approached, as his turn came, taking off his gloves before seizing the pen. Fronting the door, and leaning against one of the cupboards in which the holy vessels are kept, stood Miss Brandon, now Countess Ville-Handry, having at her side grim Mrs. Brian, and tall, stiff M. Elgin.
Her admirers had exaggerated nothing. In her white bridal costume she looked amazingly beautiful; and her whole person exhaled a perfume of innocence and ingenuous purity.
She was surrounded by eight or ten young persons, who overwhelmed her with congratulations and compliments. She replied with a slightly tremulous voice, and casting down her eyes with the long, silky eyelashes. Count Ville-Handry stood in the centre of the room, swelling with almost comic happiness; and at every moment, in replying to his friends, used the words, "My wife," like a sweet morsel which he rolled on his tongue.
Still a careful observer might have noticed underneath his victorious airs a trace of almost painful restraint. From time to time his face darkened as one of those unlucky, awkward people, who turn up everywhere, asked him,—
"I hope Miss Henrietta is not complaining much? How very sorry she must be to be detained at home!"
It is true, that, among these unlucky ones, there were not a few malicious ones. Nobody was ignorant that something unpleasant had happened in the count's family. They had suspected something from the beginning of the ceremony.
For the count had hardly knelt down by Miss Brandon's side, on a velvet cushion, when a servant wearing his livery had come up, and whispered a few words in his ear. The guests who were nearest had seen him turn pale, and utter an expression of furious rage.
What had the servant told him?
It became soon known, thanks to the Countess Bois, who went about telling everybody with inexhaustible volubility, that she had just met Miss Ville-Handry in the street.
When the last name had been signed, nobody was, therefore, surprised at seeing Count Ville-Handry give his arm to his wife, and hand her hurriedly to her carriage,—a magnificent state-carriage. He had invited some twenty people, former friends of his, to a great wedding- breakfast; but he seemed to have forgotten them. And once in his carriage, alone with Mrs. Brian, M. Elgin, and the young countess, he broke forth in incoherent imprecations and absurd threatenings.
When they reached the palace, he did not wait for the coachman to drive as usually around the yard, but jumped out, and, rushing up to the vestibule, cried out,—
"Ernest! send Ernest here!"
Ernest was his own valet, the clever artist to whom he was indebted for the roses of his complexion. As soon as he appeared, he asked,—
"Where is the young lady?"
"Immediately after you, sir."
The young countess, Mrs. Brian, and M. Elgin, had, in the meantime, come up, and gone into the room in the lower story, where this scene took place.
"Do you hear that?" he asked them.
Then, turning again to the valet, he asked,—
"How did it happen?"
"Very naturally. The gates had not been closed behind your carriage, sir, when the young lady rang the bell. They went up to see what she wanted, and she ordered the landau to be brought round. She was told very respectfully, that all three coachmen were out, and that there was no one there to drive her. 'If that be so,' she answered, 'I want you to run and get me a hired carriage.' And, when the servant to whom she gave the order hesitated, she added, 'If you do not go instantly, I shall go myself.'"
The count trembled with rage.
"And then?" he asked, seeing that the man was hesitating.
"Then the servant was frightened, and did what she wanted."
"He is dismissed, the fool!" exclaimed Count Ville-Handry.
"But allow me to say," commenced Ernest.
"No! Let his wages be paid. And you go on."
Without showing any embarrassment, the valet shrugged his shoulders, and continued in a lazy tone,—
"Then the hack came into the court-yard; and we saw the young lady come down in a splendid toilet, such as we have never seen her wear before,—not pretty exactly, but so conspicuous, that it must have attracted everybody's attention. She settled herself coolly on the cushions, while we looked at her, utterly amazed; and, when she was ready, she said, 'Ernest, you will tell my father that I shall not be back for breakfast. I have a good many visits to make; and, as the weather is fine, I shall afterwards go to the Bois de Boulogne.' Thereupon the gates were opened, and off they went. It was then that I took the liberty to send you word, sir."
In all his life Count Ville-Handry had not been so furious. The veins in his neck began to swell; and his eyes became bloodshot, as if he had been threatened with a fit of apoplexy.
"You ought to have kept her from going out," he said hoarsely. "Why did you not prevent her? You ought to have made her go back to her room, use force if necessary, lock her up, bind her."
"You had given no orders, sir."
"You ought to have required no orders to do your duty. To let a mad woman run about! an impudent girl whom I caught the other day in the garden with a man!"
He cried out so loud, that his voice was heard in the adjoining room, where the invited guests were beginning to assemble. The unhappy man! He disgraced his own child. The young countess at once came up to him and said,—
"I beseech you, my dear friend, be calm!"
"No, this must end; and I mean to punish the wicked girl."
"I beseech you, my dear count, do not destroy the happiness of the first day of our married life. Henrietta is only a child; she did not know what she was doing."
Mrs. Brian was not of the same opinion. She declared,—
"The count is right. The conduct of this young lady is perfectly shocking."
Then Sir Thorn interrupted her, saying,—
"Ah, ah! Brian, where is our bargain? Was it not understood that we would have nothing to do with the count's private affairs?"
Thus every one took up at once his assigned part. The countess advocated forbearance; Mrs. Brian advised discipline; and Sir Thorn was in favor of silent impartiality.
Besides, they easily succeeded in calming the count. But, after such a scene, the wedding breakfast could not be very merry. The guests, who had heard nearly all, exchanged strange looks with each other.
"The count's daughter," they thought, "and a lover? That can hardly be!"
In vain did the count try to look indifferent; in vain did the young countess display all her rare gifts. Everybody was embarrassed; nobody could summon up a smile; and every five minutes the conversation gave out. At half-past four o'clock, the last guest had escaped, and the count remained alone with his new family. It was growing dark, and they were bringing in the lamps, when the rolling of carriage-wheels was heard on the sand in the court-yard. The count rose, turning pale.
"Here she comes!" he said. "Here is my daughter!"
It was Henrietta.
How could a young girl, usually so reserved, and naturally so timid, make up her mind to cause such scandal? Because the most timid people are precisely the boldest on certain occasions. Forced to abandon their nature, they do not reason, and do not calculate, and, losing all self-possession, rush blindly into danger, impelled by a kind of madness resembling that of sheep when they knock their heads against the walls of their stable.
Now, for nearly a fortnight, the count's daughter had been upset by so many and so violent emotions, that she was no longer herself. The insults which her father heaped upon her when he surprised her with Daniel had unsettled her mind completely.
For Count Ville-Handry, acting under a kind of overexcitement, had that day lost all self-control, and forgot himself so far as to treat his daughter as no gentleman would have treated his child while in his senses, and that in the presence of his servants!
And then, what tortures she had had to endure in the week that followed! She had declared that she would not be present at the reading of the marriage-contract, nor at the ceremonies of the civil marriage, nor at church; and her father had tried to make her change her intentions. Hence every day a new lamentable scene, as the decisive moment drew nearer.
If the count had at least used a little discretion, if he had tried the powers of persuasion, or sought to touch his daughter's heart by speaking to her of herself, of her future, of her happiness, of her peace!
But no! He never came to her room without a new insult, thinking of nothing, as he acknowledged himself, but of sparing Miss Brandon's feelings, and of saving her all annoyance. The consequence was, that his threats, so far from moving Henrietta, had only served to strengthen her in her determination.
The marriage-contract had been read and signed at six o'clock, just before a grand dinner. At half-past five, the count had once more come to his daughter's room. Without telling her any thing of it, he had ordered her dressmaker to send her several magnificent dresses; and they were lying about now, spread out upon chairs.
"Dress yourself," he said in a tone of command, "and come down!"
She, the victim of that kind of nervous exaltation which makes martyrdom appear preferable to yielding, replied obstinately,—
"No, I shall not come down."
She did not care for any subterfuge or excuse; she did not even pretend to be unwell; she said resolutely—
"I will not!"
And he, finding himself unable to overcome this resistance, maddened and enraged, broke out in blasphemies and insane threats.
A chambermaid, who had been attracted by the loud voice, had come, and, putting her ear to the keyhole, had heard every thing; and the same evening she told her friends how the count had struck his daughter, and that she had heard the blows.
Henrietta had always denied the charge.
Nevertheless, it was but too true, that, in consequence of these last insults, she had come to the determination to make her protest as public as she could by showing herself to all Paris while her father was married at St. Clothilda to Miss Brandon. The poor girl had no one to whom she could confide her griefs, no one to tell her that all the disgrace would fall back upon herself.
So she had carried out her plan bravely. Putting on a very showy costume, so as to attract as much attention as possible, she had spent the day in driving about to all the places where she thought she would meet most of her acquaintances. Night alone had compelled her to return, and she felt broken to pieces, exhausted, upset by unspeakable anguish of soul, but upheld by the absurd idea that she had done her duty and shown herself worthy of Daniel.
She had just alighted, and was about to pay the coachman, when the count's valet came up, and said to her in an almost disrespectful tone of voice,—
"My master has ordered me to tell you to come to him as soon as you should come home."
"Where is my father?"
"In the large reception-room."
"No. The countess, Mrs. Brian, and M. Elgin are with him."
"Very well. I am coming."
Gathering all her courage, and looking whiter and colder than the marble of the statues in the vestibule, she went to the reception-room, opened the door, and entered stiffly.
"Here you are!" exclaimed Count Ville-Handry, restored to a certain degree of calmness by the very excess of his wrath,—"here you are!"
"Where have you been?"
She had at a glance taken in the whole room; and at the sight of the new countess, and those whom she called her accomplices, all her resentment arose. She smiled haughtily, and said carelessly,—
"I have been at the Bois de Boulogne. In the morning I went out to make some purchases; later, knowing that the Duchess of Champdoce is a little unwell, and does not go out, I went to lunch with her; after that, as the weather was so fine"—
Count Ville-Handry could endure it no longer.
Seizing his daughter by the wrists, he lifted her bodily, and, dragging her up to the Countess Sarah, he hurled out,—
"On your knees, unhappy child! on your knees, and ask the best and noblest of women to pardon you for all these insults!"
"You hurt me terribly, father," said the young girl coldly.
But the countess had already thrown herself between them.
"For Heaven's sake, madam," she said, "spare your father!"
And, as Henrietta measured her from head to foot with an insulting glance, she went on,—
"Dear count, don't you see that your violence is killing me?"
Promptly Count Ville-Handry let his daughter go, and, drawing back, he said,—
"Thank her, thank this angel of goodness who intercedes in your behalf! But have a care! my patience is at an end. There are such things as houses of correction for rebellious children and perverse daughters."
She interrupted him by a gesture, and exclaimed with startling energy,—
"Be it so, father! Choose among all these houses the very strictest, and send me there. Whatever I may have to suffer there, it will be better than being here, as long as I see in the place of my mother that—woman!"
"Wretch!" howled the count.
He was suffocating. By a violent effort he tore off his cravat; and, conscious that he was no longer master of himself, he cried to his daughter,—
"Leave me, leave me! or I answer for nothing." She hesitated a moment.
Then, casting upon the countess one more look full of defiance, she slowly went out of the room.
"Well, I am sure the count can boast that he has had a curious wedding-day."
This was the way the servants spoke at the moment when Henrietta left the reception-room. She heard it; and without knowing whether they approved her conduct, or laughed at it, she felt gratified, so eager is passion for encouragement from anywhere.