Part 1 out of 11
editions, all of which are confirmed as Public Domain in the US
unless a copyright notice is included. Thus, we usually do not
keep etexts in compliance with any particular paper edition.
The "legal small print" and other information about this book
may now be found at the end of this file. Please read this
important information, as it gives you specific rights and
tells you about restrictions in how the file may be used.
THE CLIQUE OF GOLD
THE CLIQUE OF GOLD
There is not in all Paris a house better kept or more inviting-looking
than No. 23 in Grange Street. As soon as you enter, you are struck by
a minute, extreme neatness, which reminds you of Holland, and almost
sets you a-laughing. The neighbors might use the brass plate on the
door as a mirror to shave in; the stone floor is polished till it
shines; and the woodwork of the staircase is varnished to perfection.
In the entrance-hall a number of notices, written in the peculiar
style which owners of houses affect, request the tenants to respect
the property of others, without regard to the high price they pay for
their share. "Clean your feet, if you please," they say to all who
come in or go out. "No spitting allowed on the stairs." "Dogs are not
allowed in the house."
Nevertheless, this admirably-kept house "enjoyed" but a sorry
reputation in the neighborhood. Was it worse than other houses,--No.
21, for instance, or No. 25? Probably not; but there is a fate for
houses as well as for men.
The first story was occupied by the families of two independent
gentlemen, whose simplicity of mind was only equalled by that of their
mode of life. A collector, who occasionally acted as broker, lived in
the second story, and had his offices there. The third story was
rented to a very rich man, a baron as people said, who only appeared
there at long intervals, preferring, according to his own account, to
live on his estates near Saintonge. The whole fourth story was
occupied by a man familiarly known as Papa Ravinet, although he was
barely fifty years old. He dealt in second-hand merchandise,
furniture, curiosities, and toilet articles; and his rooms were filled
to overflowing with a medley collection of things which he was in the
habit of buying at auctions. The fifth story, finally, was cut up in
numerous small rooms and closets, which were occupied by poor families
or clerks, who, almost without exception, disappeared early in the
morning, and returned only as late as possible at night.
An addition to the house in the rear had its own staircase, and was
probably in the hands of still humbler tenants; but then it is so
difficult to rent out small lodgings!
However this may have been, the house had a bad reputation; and the
lodgers had to bear the consequences. Not one of them would have been
trusted with a dollar's worth of goods in any of the neighboring
shops. No one, however, stood, rightly or wrongly, in as bad repute as
the doorkeeper, or concierge, who lived in a little hole near the
great double entrance-door, and watched over the safety of the whole
house. Master Chevassat and his wife were severely "cut" by their
colleagues of adjoining houses; and the most atrocious stories were
told of both husband and wife.
Master Chevassat was reputed to be well off; but the story went that
he lent out money, and did not hesitate to charge a hundred per cent a
month. He acted, besides, it was said, as agent for two of his
tenants,--the broker, and the dealer in second-hand goods, and
undertook the executions, when poor debtors were unable to pay. Mrs.
Chevassat, however, had even graver charges to bear. People said she
would do anything for money, and had aided and encouraged many a poor
girl in the house in her evil career.
It was also asserted that the estimable couple had formerly lived in
the fashionable Faubourg St. Honore, but had been compelled to leave
there on account of several ugly occurrences. They were, finally,
reported to have a son called Justin, a handsome fellow, thirty-five
years old, who lived in the best society, and whom they nearly
worshipped; while he was ashamed of them, and despised them, although
he came often at night to ask them for money. No one, it must,
however, be confessed, had ever seen this son; and no one knew him.
The two Chevassats shrugged their shoulders, and said it would be
absurd if they should trouble themselves about public opinion, as long
as their consciences were clear, and they owed nobody anything.
Towards the end of last December, however, on a Saturday afternoon,
towards five o'clock, husband and wife were just sitting down to
dinner, when the dealer in old clothes, Papa Ravinet, rushed like a
tempest into their room.
He was a man of middle size, clean shaven, with small, bright,
yellowish eyes, which shone with restless eagerness from under thick,
bushy brows. Although he had lived for years in Paris, he was dressed
like a man from the country, wearing a flowered silk vest, and a long
frock-coat with an immense collar.
"Quick, Chevassat!" he cried, with a voice full of trouble. "Take your
lamp, and follow me; an accident has happened upstairs."
He was so seriously disturbed, although generally very calm and cool,
that the two Chevassats were thoroughly frightened.
"An accident!" exclaimed the woman; "that was all that was wanting.
But pray, what has happened, dear M. Ravinet?"
"How do I know? This very moment, as I was just coming out of my room,
I thought I heard the death-rattle of a dying person. It was in the
fifth story. Of course I ran up a few steps, I listened. All was
silent. I went down again, thinking I had been mistaken; and at once I
heard again a sighing, a sobbing--I can't tell you exactly what; but
it sounded exactly like the last sigh of a person in agony, and at the
point of death."
"Then I ran down to tell you, and ask you to come up. I am not sure,
you understand; but I think I could swear it was the voice of Miss
Henrietta,--that pretty young girl who lives up there. Well, are you
But they did not stir.
"Miss Henrietta is not in her room," said Mrs. Chevassat coldly. "She
went out just now, and told me she would not be back till nine
o'clock. My dear M. Ravinet, you must have been mistaken; you had a
ringing in your ears, or"--
"No, I am sure I was not mistaken! But never mind; we must see what it
During this conversation, the door of the room had been open; and
several of the lodgers, hearing the voice of the merchant and the
exclamations of the woman as they crossed the hall, had stopped and
"Yes, we must see what it is," they repeated.
Master Chevassat dared no longer oppose the general desire so
"Let us go then, since you will have it /so/," he sighed.
And, taking up his lamp, he began to ascend the stairs, followed by
the merchant, his wife, and five or six other persons.
The steps of all these people were heard all over the house; and from
story to story the lodgers opened their doors to see what was going
on. And, when they heard that something was likely to happen, they
almost all left their rooms, and followed the others.
So that Master Chevassat had nearly a dozen curious persons behind
him, when he stopped on the fifth floor to take breath.
The door to Miss Henrietta's room was the first on the left in the
passage. He knocked at first gently, then harder, and at last with all
his energy, till his heavy fists shook the thin partition-walls of all
Between each blow he cried,--
"Miss Henrietta, Miss Henrietta, they want you!"
No reply came.
"Well!" he said triumphantly, "you see!"
But, whilst the man was knocking at the door, M. Ravinet had knelt
down, and tried to open the door a little, putting now his eye, and
now his ear, to the keyhole and to the slight opening between the door
and the frame.
Suddenly he rose deadly pale.
"It is all over; we are too late!"
And, as the neighbors expressed some doubts, he cried furiously,--
"Have you no noses? Don't you smell that abominable charcoal?"
Everybody tried to perceive the odor; and soon all agreed that he was
right. As the door had given way a little, the passage had gradually
become filled with a sickening vapor.
The people shuddered; and a woman's voice exclaimed,--
"She has killed herself!"
As it happens strangely enough, but too frequently, in such cases, all
"I am going for the police," said at last Master Chevassat.
"That's right!" replied the merchant. "Now there is, perhaps, a chance
yet to save the poor girl; and, when you come back, it will of course
be too late."
"What's to be done, then?"
"Break in the door."
"I dare not."
"Well, I will."
The kind-hearted man put his shoulder to the worm-eaten door, and in a
moment the lock gave way. The bystanders shrank instinctively back;
they were frightened. The door was wide open, and masses of vapors
rolled out. Soon, however, curiosity triumphed over fear. No one
doubted any longer that the poor girl was lying in there dead; and
each one tried his best to see where she was.
In vain. The feeble light of the lamp had gone out in the foul air;
and the darkness was frightful.
Nothing could be seen but the reddish glow of the charcoal, which was
slowly going out under a little heap of white ashes in two small
stoves. No one ventured to enter.
But Papa Ravinet had not gone so far to stop now, and remain in the
"Where is the window?" he asked the concierge.
"On the right there."
"Very well; I'll open it."
And boldly the strange man plunged into the dark room; and almost
instantly the noise of breaking glass was heard. A moment later, and
the air in the room had become once more fit for breathing, and
everybody rushed in.
Alas! it was the death-rattle which M. Ravinet had heard.
On the bed, on a thin mattress, without blankets or bedclothes, lay a
young girl about twenty years old, dressed in a wretched black merino
dress, stretched out at full-length, stiff, lifeless.
The women sobbed aloud.
"To die so young!" they said over and over again, "and to die thus."
In the meantime the merchant had gone up to the bed, and examined the
"She is not dead yet!" he cried. "No, she cannot be dead! Come,
ladies, come here and help the poor child, till the doctor comes."
And then, with strange self-possession, he told them what to do for
the purpose of recalling her to life.
"Give her air," he said, "plenty of air; try to get some air into her
lungs. Cut open her dress; pour some vinegar on her face; rub her with
some woollen stuff."
He issued his orders, and they obeyed him readily, although they had
no hope of success.
"Poor child!" said one of the women. "No doubt she was crossed in
"Or she was starving," whispered another.
There was no doubt that poverty, extreme poverty, had ruled in that
miserable chamber: the traces were easily seen all around. The whole
furniture consisted of a bed, a chest of drawers, and two chairs.
There were no curtains at the window, no dresses in the trunk, not a
ribbon in the drawers. Evidently everything that could be sold had
been sold, piece by piece, little by little. The mattresses had
followed the dresses,--first the wool, handful by handful, then the
Too proud to complain, and cut off from society by bashfulness, the
poor girl who was lying there had evidently gone through all the
stages of suffering which the shipwrecked mariner endures, who floats,
resting on a stray spar in the great ocean.
Papa Ravinet was thinking of all this, when a paper lying on the
bureau attracted his eye. He took it up. It was the last will of the
poor girl, and ran thus:--
"Let no one be accused; I die voluntarily. I beg Mrs. Chevassat
will carry the two letters which I enclose to their addresses. She
will be paid whatever I may owe her. Henrietta."
There were the two letters. On the first he read,--
Count Ville-Handry, Rue de Varennest 115. And, on the other,--
M. Maxime de Brevan, 62 Rue Laffitte.
A sudden light seemed to brighten up the small yellowish eye of the
dealer in old clothes; a wicked smile played on his lips; and he
uttered a very peculiar, "Ah!"
But all this passed away in a moment.
His brow grew as dark as ever; and he looked around anxiously and
suspiciously to see if anybody had caught the impression produced upon
him by the letters.
No, nobody had noticed him, nobody was thinking of him; for everybody
was occupied with Miss Henrietta.
Thereupon he slipped the paper and the two letters into the vast
pocket of his huge frock-coat with a dexterity and a rapidity which
would have excited the envy of an accomplished pickpocket. It was high
time; for the women who were bending over the bed of the young girl
were exhibiting signs of intense excitement. One of them said she was
sure the body had trembled under her hand, and the others insisted
upon it that she was mistaken. The matter was soon to be decided,
After, perhaps, twenty seconds of unspeakable anguish, during which
all held their breath, and solemn stillness reigned in the room, a cry
of hope and joy broke forth suddenly.
"/She/ has trembled, she has moved!"
This time there was no doubt, no denial possible. The unfortunate girl
had certainly moved, very faintly and feebly; but still she had
A slight color returned to her pallid cheeks; her bosom rose
painfully, and sank again; her teeth, closely shut, opened; and with
parted lips she stretched forth her neck as if to draw in the fresh
"She is alive!" exclaimed the women, almost frightened, and as if they
had seen a miracle performed,--"she is alive!"
In an instant, M. Ravinet was by her side.
One of the women, the wife of the gentleman in the first story, held
the head of the girl on her arm, and the poor child looked around with
that blank, unmeaning eye which we see in mad-houses. They spoke to
her; but she did not answer; evidently she did not hear.
"Never mind!" said the merchant, "she is saved; and, /when/ the doctor
comes, he will have little else to do. But she must be attended to,
the poor child, and we cannot leave her here alone."
The bystanders knew very well what that meant; and yet hardly any one
ventured timidly to assent, and say, "Oh, of course!"
This reluctance did not deter the good man.
"We must put her to bed," he went on; "and, of course, she must have a
mattress, bedclothes and blankets. We want wood also (for it is
terribly cold here), and sugar for her tea, and a candle."
He did not mention all that was needed, but nearly so, and a great
deal too much for the people who stood by. As a proof of this, the
wife of the broker put grandly a five-franc piece on the mantlepiece,
and quietly slipped out. Some of the others followed her example; but
they left nothing. When Papa Ravinet had finished his little speech,
there was nobody left but the two ladies who lived on the first floor,
and the concierge and his wife. The two ladies, moreover, looked at
each other in great embarrassment, as if they did not know what their
curiosity might cost them. Had the shrewd man foreseen this noble
abandonment of the poor girl? One would have fancied so; for he smiled
bitterly, and said,--
Then, shrugging his shoulders, he added,--
"Luckily, I deal in all possible things. Wait a minute. I'll run down
stairs, and I'll be back in a moment with all that is needed. After
that, we shall see what can be done."
The face of the concierge's wife was a picture. Never in her life had
she been so much astonished.
"They have changed Papa Ravinet, or I am mad."
The fact is, that the man was not exactly considered a benevolent and
generous mortal. They told stories of him that would have made
Harpagon envious, and touched the heart of a constable.
Nevertheless, he re-appeared soon after, almost succumbing under the
weight of two excellent mattresses; and, when he came back a second
time, he brought much more than he had mentioned.
Miss Henrietta was breathing more freely, but her face was still
painfully rigid. Life had come back before the mind had recovered; and
it was evident that she was utterly unconscious of her situation, and
of what was going on around her. This troubled the two ladies not a
little, although they felt very much relieved, and disposed to do
everything, now that they were no longer expected to open their
"Well, that is always the way," said Papa Ravinet boldly. "However,
the doctor will bleed her, if there is any necessity."
And, turning to Master Chevassat, he added,--
"But we are in the way of these ladies; suppose we go down and take
something? We can come back when the child is comfortably put to bed."
The good man lived, to tell the truth, in the same rooms in which the
thousand and one things he was continually buying were piled up in
vast heaps. There was no fixed place for his bed even. He slept where
he could, or, rather, wherever an accidental sale had cleared a space
for the time,--one night in a costly bed of the days of Louis XIV.,
and the next night on a lounge that he would have sold for a few
francs. Just now he occupied a little closet not more than three-
quarters full; and here he asked the concierge to enter.
He poured some brandy into two small wineglasses, put a teakettle on
the fire, and sank into an arm-chair; then he said,--
"Well, M. Chevassat, what a terrible thing this is!"
His visitor had been well drilled by his wife, and said neither yes
nor no; but the old merchant was a man of experience, and knew how to
loosen his tongue.
"The most disagreeable thing about it," he said with an absent air,
"is, that the doctor will report the matter to the police, and there
will be an investigation."
Master Chevassat nearly dropped his glass.
"What? The police in the house? Well, good-by, then, to our lodgers;
we are lost. Why did that stupid girl want to die, I wonder! But no
doubt you are mistaken, my dear sir."
"No, I am not. But you go too fast. They will simply ask you who that
girl is, how she supports herself, and where she lived before she came
"That is exactly what I cannot tell."
The dealer in old clothes seemed to be amazed; he frowned and said,--
"Halloo! that makes matters worse. How came it about that Miss
Henrietta had rooms in your house?"
The concierge was evidently ill at ease; something was troubling him
"Oh! that is as clear as sunlight," he replied; "and, if you wish it,
I'll tell you the story; you will see there is no harm done."
"Well, let us hear."
"Well, then, it was about a year ago this very day, when a gentleman
came in, well dressed, an eyeglass stuck in his eye, impudent like a
hangman's assistant, in fact a thoroughly fashionable young man. He
said he had seen the notice that there was a room for rent up stairs,
and wanted to see it. Of course I told him it was a wretched garret,
unfit for people like him; but he insisted, and /I/ took him up."
"To the room in which Miss Henrietta is now staying?"
"Exactly. I thought he would be disgusted; but no. He looked out of
the window, tried the door if it would shut, examined the partition-
wall, and at last he said, 'This suits me; I take the room.' And
thereupon he hands me a twenty-franc piece to make it a bargain. I was
If M. Ravinet felt any interest in the story, he took pains not to
show it; for his eyes wandered to and fro as if his thoughts were
elsewhere, and he was heartily tired of the tedious account.
"And who is that fashionable young man?" he asked.
"Ah! that is more than I know, except that his name is Maxime."
That name made the old merchant jump as if a shower-bath had suddenly
fallen upon his head. He changed color; and his small yellowish eyes
had a strange look in them.
But he recovered promptly, so promptly, that his visitor saw nothing;
and then he said in a tone of indifference,--
"The young man did not give you his family name?"
"But ought you not to have inquired?"
"Ah, there is the trouble! I did not do it."
Gradually, and by a great effort, Master Chevassat began to master his
embarrassment. It looked as if he were preparing himself for the
assault, and to get ready for the police-officer.
"I know it was wrong," he continued; "but you would not have acted
differently in my place, my dear sir, I am sure. Just think! My room
belonged to M. Maxime, for I had his money in my pocket. I asked him
politely where he lived, and if there was any furniture to come. I
caught it nicely. He laughed me in the face, and did not even let me
finish my question. 'Do I look,' he said, 'like a man who lives in a
place like this?' And when he saw I was puzzled, he went on to tell me
that he took the room for a young person from the country, in whom he
took an interest, and that the contract and the receipts for rent must
all be made out in the name of Miss Henrietta. That was clear enough,
wasn't it? Still it was my duty to know who Miss Henrietta was; so I
asked him civilly. But he got angry, and told me that was none of my
business, and that some furniture would be sent presently."
He stopped, waiting for his host to express his approbation by a word
or a sign; but, as nothing came, he went on,--
"In fine, I did not dare to insist, and all was done as he wanted it
done. That very day a dealer in second-hand furniture brought the
pieces you have seen up stairs; and the day after, about eleven
o'clock, Miss Henrietta herself appeared. She had not much baggage, I
tell you; she brought every thing she owned in a little carpet-bag in
The old merchant was stooping over the fire as if his whole attention
was given to the teakettle, in which the water was beginning to boil.
"It seems to me, my good friend," he said, "that you did not act very
wisely. Still, if that is really all, I don't think they are likely to
"What else could there be?"
"How do I know? But if that young damsel had been carried off by M.
Maxime, if you were lending a hand in an elopement, I think you would
be in a bad box. The law is pretty strict about it, in the case of a
The concierge protested with a solemn air.
"I have told you the whole truth," he declared.
But Papa Ravinet did not by any means seem so sure of that.
"That is your lookout," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "Still, you
may be sure they will ask you how it could happen that one of your
tenants should fall into such a state of abject poverty without your
giving notice to anybody."
"Why, in the first place, I do not wait upon my lodgers. They are free
to do what they choose in their rooms."
"Quite right, Master Chevassat! quite right! So you did not know that
M. Maxime no longer came to see Miss Henrietta?"
"He still came to see her."
In the most natural manner in the world, Papa Ravinet raised his arms
to heaven, and exclaimed as if horror-struck,--
"What! is it possible? That handsome young man knew how the poor girl
suffered? he knew that she was dying of hunger?"
Master Chevassat became more and more troubled. He began to see what
the old merchant meant by his questions, and how unsatisfactory his
"Ah! you ask too many questions," he said at last. "It was not my duty
to watch over M. Maxime. As for Miss Henrietta, as soon as she is able
to move, the serpent! I tell you I'll send her off pretty quickly!"
The old merchant shook his head, and said in his softest voice,--
"My dear sir, you won't do that, because from today I'll pay the rent
for her room. And, more than that, if you wish to oblige me, you will
be very kind to the poor girl, you hear, and even respectful, if you
There was no misunderstanding the meaning of the word "oblige," from
the manner in which he pronounced it; and yet he was about to enforce
the recommendation, when a fretting voice exclaimed on the stairs,--
"Chevassat! where are you, Chevassat?"
"It's my wife," said the concierge.
And, delighted to get away, he said to Papa Ravinet--
"I understand; she shall be treated as politely as if she were the
daughter of the owner of the house. But excuse me, I must attend to
the door; they call me, and I must go down stairs."
He slipped out without waiting for an answer, and utterly unable to
guess why the old merchant should take such a sudden interest in the
lodger on the fifth floor.
"The rascal!" said Papa Ravinet to himself,--"the rascal!"
But he had found out what he wanted to know. He was alone, and he knew
he had no time to lose.
Quickly he drew the teakettle from the fire; and, pulling out Miss
Henrietta's two letters, he held the one that was addressed to M.
Maxime de Brevan over the steam of the boiling water. In a moment the
mucilage of the envelope was dissolved, and the letter could easily be
opened without showing in any way that it had ever been broken open.
And now the old man read the following words:--
"You are victorious, M. de Brevan. When you read this, I shall be
no longer alive.
"You may raise your head again; you are relieved of all fears.
Daniel can come back. I shall carry the secret of your infamy and
your cowardice into the grave with me.
"And yet, no!
"I can pardon you, having but a few moments longer to live; but God
will not pardon you. I--I shall be avenged. And, if it should
require a miracle, that miracle will be done, so as to inform that
honorable man who thought you were his friend, how and why the
poor girl died whom he had intrusted to your honor. H."
The old man was furious.
"The honor of Maxime de Brevan!" he growled with a voice of intense
hatred,--"the honor of Maxime de Brevan!"
But his terrible excitement did not keep him from manipulating the
other letter, addressed to Count Ville-Handry, in the same manner. The
operation was successful; and, without the slightest hesitation, he
"Dear father,--Broken down with anxiety, and faint from exhaustion,
I have waited till this morning for an answer to my humble letter,
which I had written to you on my knees.
"You have never replied to it; you are inexorable. I see I must
die. I shall die. Alas! I can hardly say I die willingly.
"I must appear very guilty in your eyes, father, that you should
abandon me thus to the hatred of Sarah Brandon and her people. And
yet--ah! I have suffered terribly. I have struggled hard before I
could make up my mind to leave your house,--the house where my
mother had died, where I had been so happy, and so tenderly
beloved as a child by both of you. Ah, if you but knew!
"And yet it was so little I asked of you!--barely enough to bury my
undeserved disgrace in a convent.
"Yes, undeserved, father; for I tell you at this hour, when no one
utters a falsehood, if my reputation was lost, my honor was not
Big tears rolled down the cheeks of the old man; and he said in a
"Poor, poor child! And to think that for a whole year I have lived
under the same roof with her, without knowing it. But I am here. I am
still in time. Oh, what a friend /chance/ can be when it chooses!"
Most assuredly not one of the inmates of the house would have
recognized Papa Ravinet at this moment; he was literally transfigured.
He was no longer the cunning dealer in second-hand articles, the old
scamp with the sharp, vulgar face, so well known at all public sales,
where he sat in the front rank, watching for good bargains, and
keeping cool when all around him were in a state of fervent
The two letters he had just read had opened anew in his heart more
than one badly-healed and badly-scarred wound. He was suffering
intensely; and his pain, his wrath, and his hope of vengeance long
delayed, gave to his features a strange expression of energy and
nobility. With his elbows on the table, holding his head in his hands,
and looking apparently into the far past, he seemed to call up the
miseries of the past, and to trace out in the future the vague
outlines of some great scheme. And as his thoughts began to overflow,
so to say, he broke out in a strange, spasmodic monologue,--
"Yes," he murmured, "yes, I recognize you, Sarah Brandon! Poor child,
poor child! Overcome by such horrible intrigues! And that Daniel, who
intrusted her to the care of Maxime de Brevan--who is he? Why did she
not write to him when she suffered thus? Ah, if she had trusted me!
What a sad fate! And how can I ever hope to make her confide in /me/?"
An old clock struck seven, and the merchant was suddenly recalled to
the present; he trembled in all his limbs.
"Nonsense!" he growled. "I was falling asleep; and that is what I
cannot afford to do. I must go up stairs, and hear the child's
Instantly, and with amazing dexterity, he replaced the letters in
their envelopes, dried them, pasted them up again, and smoothed them
down, till every trace of the steam had entirely disappeared. Then
looking at his work with an air of satisfaction, he said,--
"That was not so badly done. An expert in the post-office would not
suspect it. I may risk it."
And, thus re-assured, he rapidly mounted up to the fifth story; but
there Mrs. Chevassat suddenly barred his way, coming down stairs in a
manner which showed clearly that she had lain in wait for him.
"Well, my dear sir," she said with her sweetest manner: "so you have
become Miss Henrietta's banker?"
"Yes; do you object to it?"
"Oh, not at all! It is none of my business, only"--
She stopped, smiling wickedly, and then added,--
"Only she is a prodigiously pretty girl; and I was just saying to
myself, 'Upon my word, M. Ravinet's taste is not bad.'"
The merchant was on the point of giving her a pretty sharp, indignant
reply; but he controlled himself, because he knew how important it was
to mislead the woman; and, forcing himself to smile, he said,--
"You know I count upon your being discreet."
When he got up, he found that he ought, at least, to give credit to
Mamma Chevassat and the two ladies from the first floor, for having
employed their time well, and for having skilfully made use of the
articles he had contributed. The room, a short time ago cold and bare,
had an air of comfort about it now, which was delightful. On the
bureau stood a lamp with a shade to prevent the light from hurting the
patient's eyes; a bright fire blazed on the hearth; several old
curtains had been hung before the window, one before the other, to
replace for the time the missing panes; and on the table stood a
teakettle, a china cup, and two small medicine-bottles.
Evidently the doctor had been here during Ravinet's absence. He had
bled the poor girl, prescribed some medicines, and left again, with
the assurance that nothing more was needed but perfect quiet.
In fact, there was no trace left of the sufferings and the terrible
danger from which the patient had so marvellously escaped, except the
deep pallor of her face. Stretched out at full-length on her
comfortable bed with its thick mattresses and snow-white sheets, her
head propped up high on a couple of pillows, she was breathing freely,
as was easily seen by the steady, regular rising and falling of her
bosom under the cover.
But life and consciousness had also brought back to her a sense of the
horror of her position, and of her capacity for suffering.
Her brow resting on her arm, which was almost concealed by masses of
golden hair, immovable, and her eyes fixed steadily upon infinite
space, as if trying to pierce the darkness of the future, she would
have looked like a statue of sorrow rather than of resignation, but
for the big tears which were slowly dropping down her cheeks.
Her exquisite beauty looked almost ethereal under the circumstances;
and Papa Ravinet, when he saw her, remained fixed by admiration,
standing upon the threshold of the open door. But it occurred to him
at once that he might be looked upon as a spy, and that his feelings
would be sure to be misinterpreted. He coughed, therefore, to give
warning, and then stepped in.
At the noise he made, Henrietta roused herself. When she saw the old
merchant, she said in a faint, feeble voice,--
"Ah! it is you, sir. These kind ladies have told me all. You have
saved my life." Then, shaking her head, she added,--
"You have rendered me a sad service, sir."
She uttered these words so simply, but in a tone of such harrowing
grief, that Papa Ravinet was overcome.
"Unhappy child!" he exclaimed, "you do not think of trying it over
She made no answer. It was as good as if she had said, Yes.
"Why, you must be mad!" said the old man, excited almost beyond
control. "Only twenty years old, and give up life! That has never been
done before. You are suffering now; but you can hardly imagine what
compensation Providence may have in store for you hereafter"--
She interrupted him by a gesture, and said,--
"There was no future for me, sir, when I sought refuge in death."
"Oh, don't try to convince me, sir! What I did, I had to do. I felt
how life was leaving me, and I only wished to shorten the agony. I had
not eaten any thing for three days when I lit that charcoal. Even to
get the charcoal, I had to risk a falsehood, and cheat the woman who
let me have it in credit. And yet God knows I was not wanting in
courage. I would have done the coarsest, hardest work cheerfully,
joyously. But how did I know how to get work? I asked Mrs. Chevassat a
hundred times to obtain employment for me; but she always laughed at
me; and, when I begged hard, she said"--
She stopped; and her face became crimson with shame. She dared not
repeat what the wife of the concierge had said. But she added in a
voice trembling with womanly shame and deep indignation,--
"Ah, that woman is a wicked creature!"
The old merchant was probably fully aware of the character of Mrs.
Chevassat. He guessed only too readily what kind of advice she had
given this poor girl of twenty, who had turned to her for help in her
great suffering. He uttered an oath which would have startled even
that estimable woman, and then said warmly,--
"I understand, Miss Henrietta, I understand. Do you think I don't know
what you must have suffered? I know poverty, as well as you. I can
understand your purpose but too well. Who would not give up life
itself when everybody abandons us? But I do not understand your
despair, now that circumstances have changed."
"Alas, sir, how have they changed?"
"How? What do you mean? Don't you see me? Do you think I would leave
you, after having been just in time to save your life? That would be
nice! No, my dear child, compose yourself; poverty shall not come near
you again, I'll see to that. You want somebody to advise you, to
defend you; and here I am; if you have enemies, let them beware! Come,
smile again, and think of the good times a-coming."
But she did not smile; she looked frightened, almost stupefied. Making
a supreme effort, she looked fixedly at the old man to see if she
could read in his face what were his real thoughts. He, on his part,
was seriously troubled by his failure to inspire her with confidence.
"Do you doubt my promises?" he asked her.
She shook her head; and uttering her words one by one, as if to give
them greater weight, she said,--
"I beg your pardon, sir. I do not doubt you. But I cannot understand
why you should offer me your kind protection."
Papa Ravinet affected a greater surprise than he really felt, and
said, raising his hands to heaven,--
"Great God! she mistrusts my good will."
"Pray what can you have to fear from me? I am an old man; you are
almost a child. I come to help you. Is not that perfectly natural, and
She said nothing; and he remained a few moments buried in thought, as
if trying to find out her motive for refusing his help. Suddenly he
cried out, beating his forehead,--
"Ah, I have it. That woman Chevassat has talked to you about me, no
doubt. Ah, the viper! I'll crush her one of these days! Come, let us
be frank; what has she told you?"
He hoped she would say a word at least. He waited; but nothing came.
Then he broke forth, with a vehemence scarcely controlled, and in
words very unexpected from a man like him,--
"Well, I will tell you what the old thief has told you. She told you
Papa Ravinet was a dangerous, ill-reputed man, who carried on in the
dark all kind of suspicious trades. She told you the old scamp was a
usurer, who knew no law, and kept no promise; whose only principle was
profit; who dealt in every thing with everybody, selling to-day old
iron in junk-shops, and to-morrow cashmere shawls to fashionable
ladies; and who lent money on imaginary securities--the talent of men
and the beauty of women. In fine, she told you that it was a piece of
good-fortune for a woman to be under my protection, and you knew it
was a disgrace."
He stopped, as if to give the poor girl time to form her judgment, and
then went on more calmly,--
"Let us suppose there is such a Papa Ravinet as she has described. But
there is another one, whom but few people know, who has been sorely
tried by misfortune; and he is the one who now offers his aid to you."
There is no surer way to make people believe in any virtue we have, or
wish to appear to have, than to accuse ourselves of bad qualities, or
even vices, which we do not have. But, if the old man had calculated
upon this policy, he failed signally. Henrietta remained as icy as
ever, and said,--
"Believe me, sir, I am exceedingly obliged to you for all you have
done for me, and for your effort to convince me."
The poor man looked disappointed.
"In fact, you reject my offers, because I do not explain them to you
by any of the usual motives. But what can I tell you? Suppose I should
say to you that I have a daughter who has secretly left me, so that I
do not know what has become of her, and that her memory makes me
anxious to serve you. May I not have said to myself, that perhaps she
is struggling, just as you have done, with poverty; that she also has
been abandoned by her lover?"
The poor girl turned deadly pale as he spoke thus, and interrupted him
eagerly, raising herself on her pillows,--
"You are mistaken, sir. My position here may justify such suspicions,
I know; but I have no lover."
"I believe you; I swear I believe you. But, if that is so, how did you
get here? and how were you reduced to such extreme suffering?"
At last Papa Ravinet had touched the right chord. The poor girl was
deeply moved; and the tears started in her eyes. She said in a low
"There are secrets which cannot be revealed."
"Not even when life and honor depend on them?"
"Oh, pray do not insist!"
If Henrietta had known the old merchant, she would have read in his
eyes the satisfaction which he felt. A moment before he had despaired
of ever gaining her confidence; now he felt almost sure of success.
The time seemed to him to have come to strike a decisive blow.
"I have tried my best to win your confidence, I confess; but it was
solely in your own interest. If it had been otherwise, do you think I
should have asked you these questions, instead of finding out every
thing by simply tearing a piece of paper?"
The poor girl could not retain a cry of terror.
"You mean my letters?"
"I have both."
"Ah! That is why the ladies who nursed me looked for them everywhere
Instead of any other answer, he drew them from his pocket, and laid
them on the bed with an air of injured innocence. To all appearances,
the envelopes had not been touched. Henrietta glanced at them, and
then, holding out her hand to the old man, she said,--
"I thank you, sir!"
He did not stir; but he felt that this false evidence of honesty had
helped him more than all his eloquence. He hastily added,--
"After all, I could not resist the temptation to read the directions,
and to draw my own conclusions. Who is Count Ville-Handry? I suppose
he is your father. And M. Maxime de Brevan? No doubt he is the young
man who called to see you so often. Ah, if you would but trust me! If
you but knew how a little experience of the world often helps us to
overcome the greatest difficulties!"
He was evidently deeply moved.
"However, wait till you are perfectly well again before you come to
any decision. Consider the matter carefully. You need not tell me any
thing else but what is absolutely necessary for me to know in order to
"Yes, indeed! In that way I may"--
"Well, I'll wait, why, as long as you want me to wait,--two days, ten
"Only, I pray you, promise me solemnly that you will give up all idea
"I promise you solemnly I will."
Papa Ravinet's eyes shone with delight; and he exclaimed joyously,--
"Done! I'll come up again to-morrow; for, to tell the truth, I am
tired to death, and must go and lie down."
But he told a fib; for he did not go back to his rooms. In spite of
the wretched weather, he left the house; and, as soon as he was in the
street, he hid himself in a dark corner, from which he could watch the
front-door of the house. He remained there a long time, exposed to
wind and rain, uttering now and then a low oath, and stamping with his
feet to keep himself warm. At last, just as it struck eleven, a hack
stopped at No. 23. A young man got out, rang the bell, and entered.
"He is Maxime de Brevan," murmured the old man. Then he added in a
"I knew he would come, the scoundrel! to see if the charcoal had done
But the same moment the young man came out again, and jumped into the
carriage, which quickly drove off.
"Aha!" laughed the merchant. "No chance for you, my fine fellow! You
have lost your game, and you'll have to try your luck elsewhere; and
this time I am on hand. I hold you fast; and, instead of one bill to
pay, there will be two now."
Generally it is in novels only that unknown people suddenly take it
into their heads to tell their whole private history, and to confide
to their neighbors even their most important and most jealously-
guarded secrets. In real life things do not go quite so fast.
Long after the old merchant had left Henrietta, she lay pondering, and
undecided as to what she should do on the next day. In the first
place, she asked herself who this odd man could be, who had spoken of
himself as a dangerous and suspicious person. Was he really what he
appeared to be? The girl almost doubted it. Although wholly
inexperienced, she still had been struck by certain astounding changes
in Papa Ravinet. Thus, whenever he became animated, his carriage, his
gestures, and his manners, contrasted with his country-fashioned
costume, as if he had for the moment forgotten his lesson. At the same
time his language, usually careless and incorrect, and full of slang
terms belonging to his trade, became pure and almost elegant.
What was his business? Had he been a dealer in second-hand articles
before he became a tenant in No. 23 Grange Street, three years ago?
One might very easily have imagined that Papa Ravinet (was that his
real name?) had before that been in a very different position. And why
not? Is not Paris the haven in which all shipwrecked sailors of
society seek a refuge? Does not Paris alone offer to all wretched and
guilty people a hiding-place, where they can begin a new life, lost
and unknown in the vast multitude? What discoveries might be made
there? How many persons, once brilliant lights in the great world, and
then, of a sudden, sought for in vain by friend and foe, might be
found there again, disguised in strange costumes, and earning a
livelihood in most curious ways! Why should not the old merchant be
one of this class?
But, even if this were so, it would not have satisfactorily explained
to Henrietta the eagerness of Papa Ravinet to serve her, nor his
perseverance in offering her his advice. Was it merely from charity
that he did all this? Alas! Christian charity is not often so
Did he know who Henrietta was? Had he at any period of her life come
in contact with her? or had his interests ever been mixed up with
hers? Was he anxious to make a return for some kindness shown to him?
or did he count upon some reward in the future? Who could tell?
"Would it not be the height of imprudence to put myself in the power
of this man?" thought the poor girl.
If, on the other hand, she rejected his offers, she fell back into
that state of forlorn wretchedness, from which she had only been able
to save herself by suicide.
This view was all the more urgent, as the poor child, like all persons
who have been rescued from death only after having exhausted their
sufferings, now began to cling to life with an almost desperate
affection. It seemed as if the contact with death had wiped out at
once all the memory of the past, and all the threats of the future.
"O Daniel!" she said to herself, trembling all over,--"O Daniel! my
only friend upon earth, what would you suffer if you knew that you
lost me forever by the very means you chose to secure my safety!"
To refuse the assistance offered her by Papa Ravinet would have
required an amount of energy which she did not possess. The voice of
reflection continually said to her,--
"The old man is your only hope."
It never occurred to her to conceal the truth from Papa Ravinet, or to
deceive him by a fictitious story. She only thought how she could tell
him the truth without telling him all; how she could confess enough to
enable him to serve her, and yet not to betray a secret which she held
more dear than her happiness, her reputation, and life itself.
Unfortunately, she was the victim of one of those intrigues which are
formed and carried out within the narrow circle of a family,--
intrigues of the most abominable character, which people suspect, and
often even know perfectly well, and which yet remain unpunished,
because they cannot be reached by the law.
Henrietta's father, Count Ville-Handry, was in 1845 one of the
wealthiest land-owners of the province of Anjou. The good people near
Rosiers and Saint Mathurin were fond of pointing out to strangers the
massive towers of Ville-Handry, a magnificent castle half hid among
noble old woods on the beautiful slopes of the bluffs which line the
"There," they said, "lives a true gentleman, a little too proud,
perhaps, but, nevertheless, a true gentleman."
For contrary to the usual state of things in the country, where envy
is apt to engender hatred, the count was quite popular, in spite of
his title and his large fortune. He was at that time about forty years
old, quite tall and good-looking, solemn and courteous, obliging,
although reserved, and very good-natured as long as no one spoke in
his presence of the church or the reigning family, the nobility or the
clergy, of his hounds or the wines of his vineyards, or of various
other subjects on which he had what he chose to consider his "own
As he spoke but rarely, and said little at the time, he said fewer
foolish things than most people, and thus obtained the reputation of
being clever and well-informed, of which he was very proud and very
careful. He lived freely, almost profusely, and thus put aside every
year but little more than about half his income. He had all his
clothes made in Paris, was proud of his foot, and always wore gloves.
His house was kept handsomely; and his gardens cost him a good deal of
money. He kept a pack of hounds, and six hunters. Finally, he kept
half a dozen lazy servants in the house, whose gorgeous liveries, with
the family coat-of-arms, were a source of perpetual wonder at Saint
He would have been perfect, but for his passion for hunting.
As soon as the season opened, he was sure to be found, on foot or on
horseback, crossing the stubblefields, jumping over hedges, or
floundering in the swamps. This he carried so far, that the ladies of
the neighborhood, who had daughters, blamed him to his face for his
imprudence, and scolded him for risking his precious health so
This nobleman, forty years old, and enjoying all that heart could
desire, was unmarried. And yet he had not lacked opportunities to
remedy the evil. There was not a good mother for twenty miles around
who did not covet this prize for her daughter,--thirty thousand
dollars a year, and a great man.
He had only to appear at a ball in the provincial towns, and he was
the hero. Mothers and daughters kept their sweetest smiles for him;
and kind welcomes were offered on all sides. But all these manoeuvres
had been fruitless; he had escaped from all snares, and resisted the
most cunning devices.
Why was he so much opposed to marriage? His friends found the
explanation in a certain person, half housekeeper, half companion, who
lived in the castle, and was very pretty and very designing. But there
are malicious tongues everywhere.
The next year, however, an event occurred which was calculated to give
some ground to these idle, gossiping tales. One fine morning in the
month of July, 1847, the lady died suddenly of apoplexy. Six weeks
later, a report began to spread that Count Ville-Handry was going to
The report was well founded. The count did marry. The fact could not
be doubted any longer, when the banns were read, and the announcement
appeared in the official journal. And whom do you think he married?
The daughter of a poor widow, the Baroness Rupert, who lived in great
poverty at a place called Rosiers, having nothing but a small pension
derived from her husband, who had been a colonel of artillery.
If she had, at least, been of good and ancient family; if she had
been, at least, a native of the province!
But no. No one knew exactly who she was, or where she came from. Some
people said the colonel had married her in Austria; others, in Sweden.
Her husband, they added, had been made a baron after the fashion of
others, who dubbed themselves such during the first empire, and had no
right to call himself noble.
On the other hand, Pauline de Rupert, then twenty-three years old, was
in the full bloom of youth, and marvellously beautiful. Moreover, she
had, up to this time, been looked upon as a sensible, modest girl,
very bright and very sweet withal; in fact, possessed of every quality
and virtue that can make life happy, and add to the fame of a great
But now, not a cent, no dower, not even a trousseau!
Everybody was amazed; and a perfect storm of indignation arose in the
neighborhood. Was it possible, was it natural, that a great nobleman
like the count should end thus miserably, ridiculously? that he should
marry a penniless girl, an adventuress,--he who had had the pick and
choice of the richest and greatest ladies of the land?
Was Count Ville-Handry a fool? or was he only insane about Miss
Rupert? Was she not perhaps, after all, a designing hypocrite, who had
very quietly, in her retired home, woven the net in which the lion of
Anjou was now held captive?
People would have been less astonished, if they had known, that, for
years, a great intimacy had existed between the mother of the bride
and the housekeeper at the castle. But, on the other hand, this fact
might have led to very different surmises still.
However that might be, the count was not suffered long to remain in
doubt as to the entire change of opinion in the neighborhood. He saw
it as soon as he paid the usual visits in the town of Angers, and at
the houses of the nobility near him. No more affectionate smiles, no
tender welcomes, no little white hands stealthily seeking his. The
doors that formerly seemed to fly open at his mere approach now turned
but slowly on their hinges; some remained even closed, the owners
being reported not at home, although the count knew perfectly well
that they were in.
One very noble and very pious old lady, who gave the keynote to
society, had said in the most decided manner,--
"For my part, I shall never receive at my house a damsel who used to
give music-lessons to my nieces, even if she had caught and entrapped
The charge was true. Pauline, in order to provide her mother with some
of the comforts which are almost indispensable to old people, had
given lessons on the piano in the neighborhood. Her terms had been low
enough; now they blamed her for the sacrifice. They would have blamed
her for the noblest of virtues; for all the blame was laid upon her.
When people met her, they looked away, so as not to have to bow to
her. Even when she was leaning on the count's arm, there were persons
who spoke very kindly to him, and did not say a word to his wife, as
if they had not seen her, or she had not existed at all. This
impertinence went so far, that at last Count Ville-Handry, one day,
almost beside himself with anger, seized one of his neighbors by the
collar of his coat, shook him violently, and shouted out to him,--
"Do you see the countess, my wife, sir? How shall I chastise you to
cure you of your near-sightedness?"
Foreseeing a duel, the impertinent man made his excuses; and his
experience put the rest of them on their guard. But their opinions
remained unchanged; open war only changed into secret opposition, that
Fate, however, always more kind than man, held a reward in store for
Count Ville-Handry, which amply repaid him for his heroism in marrying
a poor girl. An uncle of his wife's, a banker at Dresden, died, and
left his "beloved niece Pauline" half a million dollars. This
immensely wealthy man, who had never assisted his sister in her
troubles, and who would have disinherited the daughter of a soldier of
fortune, had been flattered by the idea of writing in his last will
the name of his niece, the "high and mighty Countess Ville-Handry."
This unexpected piece of good-fortune ought to have delighted the
young wife. She might now have had her vengeance on all her miserable
slanderers, and enjoyed a boundless popularity. But far from it. She
had never appeared more sad than on the day when the great news
For on that very day she for the first time cursed her marriage. A
voice within her warned her that she ought never to have yielded to
the entreaties and the orders of her mother. An excellent daughter, as
she was to become the best of mothers, and the most faithful of wives,
she had sacrificed herself. And now an accident made all her
sacrifices useless, and punished her for having done her duty.
Ah, why had she not resisted, at least for the purpose of gaining
For when she was a girl she had dreamed of a very different future.
Long before giving herself to the count, she had, of her own free
will, given her heart to another. She had bestowed her first and
warmest affections upon a young man who was only two or three years
older than she,--Peter Champcey, the son of one of those marvellously
rich farmers who live in the valley of the Loire.
He worshipped her. Unfortunately one obstacle had risen between them
from the beginning,--Pauline's poverty. It could not be expected that
those keen, thrifty peasants, Champcey's father and mother, would ever
permit one of their sons--they had two--to commit the folly of making
They had worked hard for their children. The oldest, Peter, was to be
a lawyer; the other, Daniel, who wanted to become a sailor, was
studying day and night to prepare for his examination. And the old
couple were not a little proud of these "gentlemen," their sons. They
told everybody who would listen, that, in return for the costly
education they were giving them, they expected them to marry large
Peter knew his parents so well, that he never mentioned Pauline to
"When I am of age," he said to himself, "it will be a different
Alas! Why had not Pauline's mother waited at least till then?
Poor young girl! On the day on which she entered the castle of Ville-
Handry, she had sworn she would bury this love of hers so deep in the
innermost recesses of her heart, that it should never come up and
trouble her thoughts. And she had kept her word.
But now it suddenly broke forth, more ardent, more powerful, than
ever, till it well-nigh overcame her, and crushed her--sweetly and
sadly, like the memory of lost days, and at the same time cruel and
heart-rending, like bitter remorse.
What had become of him? When he had heard that she was going to marry
the count, he had written to her a letter full of despair, in which he
overwhelmed her with irony and contempt. Later, whether he had
forgotten her or not, he also had married; and the two lovers who had
once hoped to pursue their way through life leaning one upon the other
now went each their own way.
For long hours the poor young wife struggled in the solitude of her
chamber against these ghosts of the past which crowded around her.
But, if ever a guilty thought called up a blush on her brow, she
quickly triumphed over it. Like a brave, loyal woman, she renewed her
oath, and swore to devote herself entirely to her husband. He had
rescued her from abject poverty, and bestowed upon her his fortune and
his name; and she owed it to him in return to make him happy.
She needed all her courage, all her energy, to fulfil her vows; for
the count's character lay fully open before her now, after two years
of married life. She knew precisely how narrow his mind was, how empty
his thoughts, and how cold his heart. She had long since found out
that the brilliant man of the world, whom everybody considered so
clever, was in reality an absolute nullity, incapable of any thought
that was not suggested to him by others, and at the same time full of
overweening self-esteem, and absurdly obstinate.
The worst, however, was, that the count was very near hating his wife.
He had heard so many people say that she was not his equal, that he
finally believed it himself. Besides, he blamed her for the prestige
which he had lost.
An ordinary woman would have shrunk from the difficult task which
Pauline had assumed, and would have thought that nothing more could be
expected of her than to keep sacred her marriage-vows. But the
countess was not an ordinary woman. Full of resignation, she meant to
do more than her duty.
Fortunately, a cradle standing by her bedside made the task somewhat
easier. She had a daughter, her Henrietta; and upon that darling curly
head she built a thousand castles in the air. From that moment she
roused herself from the languor to which she had given way for nearly
two years, and set to work to study the count with that amazing
sagacity which a high stake is apt to give.
A remark accidentally made by her husband cast a new light upon her
fate. One morning, when they had finished breakfast, he said,--
"Ah! Nancy was very fond of you. The day before she died, when she
knew she was going, she made me promise her to marry you."
This Nancy was the count's former housekeeper.
After this awkward speech, the poor countess saw clearly enough what
position that woman had really held at the castle. She understood how,
modestly keeping in the background, and sheltering herself under the
very humility of her position, she had been in truth the intellect,
the energy, and the strong will, of her master. Her influence over him
had, besides, been so powerful, that it had survived her, and that she
had been obeyed even in the grave.
Although cruelly humiliated by this confession of her husband's, the
countess had sufficient self-control not to blame him for his
weakness. She said to herself,--
"Well, be it so. For his happiness and for our peace, I will stoop to
play the part Nancy played."
This was more easily said than done; for the count was not the man to
be led openly, nor was he willing to listen to good advice, simply
because it was good. Irritable, jealous, and despotic, like all weak
men, he dreaded nothing so much as what he called an insult to his
authority. He meant to be master everywhere, in every thing, and
forever. He was so sensitive on this point, that his wife had only to
show the shadow of a purpose of her own, and he went instantly to work
to oppose and prohibit it.
"I am not a weather-cock!" was one of his favorite sayings.
Poor fellow! He did not know that those who turn to the opposite side
of the wind, nevertheless turn, as well as those who go with the wind.
The countess knew it; and this knowledge made her strong. After
working for many months patiently and cautiously, she thought she had
learnt the secret of managing him, and that henceforth she would be
able to control his will whenever she was in earnest.
The opportunity to make the experiment came very soon. Although the
great people of the neighborhood had generally come round and treated
her quite fairly now, especially since she had become an heiress, the
countess found her position unpleasant, and was anxious to leave the
country. It recalled to her, besides, too many painful memories. There
were certain roads and lanes which she could never pass without a pang
at her heart. On the other hand, it was well known that the count had
sworn he would end his life in the province. He hated large cities;
and the mere idea of leaving his castle, where every thing was
arranged to suit his habits, made him seriously angry.
People would not believe it, therefore, when report first arose that
he was going to leave Ville-Handry, that he had bought a town-house in
Paris and that he would shortly go there to establish himself
permanently in the capital.
"It was much against the will of the countess," he said, full of
delight at her disappointment. "She would not agree to it at all; but
I am not a weather-cock. I insisted on having my way, and she yielded
So that in the latter part of October, in 1851, the Count and the
Countess Ville-Handry moved into the magnificent house in Varennes
Street, a princely mansion, which, however, did not cost them more
than a third of its actual value, as they happened to buy at a time
when real estate was very low.
But it had been comparatively child's play to bring the count to
Paris; the real difficulty was to keep him there. Nothing was more
likely than that, deprived of the active exercise and the fresh air he
enjoyed in the country, he should miss his many occupations and
duties, and either succumb to weariness, or seek refuge in
dissipation. His wife foresaw this difficulty, and looked for an
object that might give the count abundant employment and amusement.
Already before leaving home she had dropped in his mind the seed of
that passion, which, in a man of fifty, can take the place of all
others,--ambition. Thus he came to Paris with the secret desire and
the hope of becoming a leader in politics, and making his mark in some
great affair of state.
The countess however, aware of the dangers which beset a man who
ventures upon such slippery ground, determined first to examine the
condition of things so as to be able to warn him in time. Fortunately
her fortune and her name were of great service to her in this
enterprise. She managed to assemble at her house all the celebrities
of the day. Her relations helped her; and soon her Wednesdays and
Saturdays became famous in Paris. People exerted themselves to the
utmost to obtain an invitation to her state dinners, or her smaller
parties on Sundays. Her house in Varennes Street was looked upon as
neutral ground, where political intrigues and party strife were alike
tabooed. The countess spent a whole winter in making her observations.
The world, seeing her sit modestly by her fireside, thought she was
wholly occupied with her pretty daughter, Henrietta, who was always
playing or reading by her side. But she was all the time listening,
and trying, with all her mental powers, to understand the great
questions of the day. She studied characters; watched the passions of
some, and discovered the cunning tricks of others, ever anxious to
find out what enemies she would have to fear, and what allies to
conciliate. Like one of those ill-taught professors who study in the
morning what they mean to teach in the afternoon, she prepared herself
for the lessons which she soon meant to give. Fortunately her
apprenticeship was short, thanks to her superior intellect, her
womanly cleverness, and rare talents which no one suspected.
She soon reaped the fruit of her labors.
The next winter the count, who had so far kept aloof from politics,
came out with his opinions. He soon made his mark, aided by his fine
appearance, his elegant manners, and imperturbable self-possession. He
spoke in public, and made an impression by his good common-sense. He
advised others, and they were struck by his sagacity. He had soon
enthusiastic partisans, and, of course, as violent adversaries. His
friends encouraged him to become the leader of his party; and he
worked day and night to achieve that end.
"Unfortunately I have to pay for it at home," he said to his intimate
friends; "for my wife is one of those timid women who cannot
understand that men are made for the excitement of public life. I
should be still in the province, if I had listened to her."
She enjoyed her work in quiet delight. The greater the success of her
husband in the world, the prouder she became of her own usefulness to
him. Her feelings were very much those of a dramatic poet who hears
the applause given to the characters which he has created.
But there was this wonderful feature in her work,--that nobody
suspected her; no one, not even her own child. She wanted Henrietta,
as little as the world, to know what she was to her husband; and she
taught her not only to love him as her father, but to respect and
admire him as a man of eminence. Of course, the count was the very
last man to suspect any thing. He might have been told all, and he
would have believed nothing.
He fancied he had discovered himself the whole line of proceeding
which his wife had so carefully traced out for him. In the full
sincerity of his heart, he believed he had composed and written out
the speeches which she drew up for him; and the articles for the
newspapers, and the letters, which she dictated, appeared to him all
to have sprung from his own fertile brains. He was even sometimes
surprised at the want of good sense in his wife, and pointed out to
her, quite ironically, that the steps from which she tried hardest to
dissuade him were the most successful he took. But no irony could turn
the countess from the path which she had traced out for herself; nor
did she ever allow a word or even a smile to escape her, that might
have betrayed her secret. When her husband became sarcastic, she bowed
her head, and said nothing. But, the more he gloried in his utter
nullity, the more she delighted in her work, and found ample
compensation in the approval of her own conscience.
The count had been so exceedingly good as to take her when she was
penniless; she owed him the historic name she bore and a large
fortune; but, in return, she had given him, and without his being
aware of it, a position of some eminence. She had made him happy in
the only way in which a small and ordinary man could be made happy,--
by gratifying his vanity.
Now she was no longer under obligations to him.
"Yes," she said to herself, "we are quits, fairly quits!"
Now also, she reproached herself no longer for the long hours during
which her thoughts, escaping from the control of her will, had turned
to the man of her early choice.
Poor fellow! She had been his evil star.
His life had been imbittered from the day on which he found himself
forsaken by her whom he loved better than life itself. He had given up
His parents had "hunted up" an heiress, as they called it, and he had
married her dutifully. But the good old people had been unlucky. The
bride, chosen among a thousand, had brought their son a fortune of a
hundred thousand dollars; but she was a bad woman. And after eight
years of wretched, intolerable married life, Peter Champcey had shot
himself, unable to bear any longer his domestic misfortunes, and the
infidelity of his wife.
He had, however, avoided committing this crime at Angers, where he
held a high official position. He had gone to Rosiers, the house
formerly occupied by Pauline's mother; and there, in a narrow lane,
his body was found by some peasants coming home from market. The ball
had so fearfully disfigured his face, that at first no one recognized
him; and the accident made a terrible sensation.
The countess heard of it first through her husband. He could not
understand, he said, how a man in good position, with a bright future
before him, and a large income to support him, could thus kill
"And to choose such a strange place for his suicide!" he added. "It is
evident the man was insane."
But the countess did not hear this. She had fainted. She understood
but too well why Peter had wished to die in that lane overshadowed by
"I killed him," she thought, "I killed him!"
The blow was so sudden and so severe, that she came near dying.
Fortunately her mother died nearly at the same time; and this
misfortune helped to explain her utter prostration and deep grief.
Her mother had been gradually fading away, after having had all she
desired, and living in real luxury during her last years. Her
selfishness was so intense, that she never became aware of the cruelty
with which she had sacrificed her daughter.
Sacrificed, however, she really had been; for never did woman suffer
what the countess endured from the day on which her lover's suicide
added bitter remorse to all her former grief. What would have become
of her, if her child had not bound her to life! But she resolved to
live; she felt that she was bound to live for Henrietta's sake.
Thus she struggled on quite alone, for she had not a soul in whom she
could confide, when one afternoon, as she was going down stairs, a
servant came to tell her that there was a young man in naval uniform
below, who desired to have the honor of waiting upon her.
The servant handed her his card; she took it, and read,--
It was Daniel, Peter's brother. Pale as death, the countess turned as
if to escape.
"What must I say?" asked the servant, rather surprised at the emotion
shown by his mistress.
The poor woman felt as if she was going to faint.
"Show him up," she replied in a scarcely audible voice,--"show him
When she looked up again, there stood before her a young man, twenty-
three or twenty-four years old, with a frank and open face, and clear,
bright eyes, beaming with intelligence and energy.
The countess pointed at a chair near her; for she could not have
uttered a word to save her daughter's life.
He could not help noticing her embarrassment; but he did not guess the
cause. Peter had never mentioned Pauline's name in his father's house.
So he sat down, and explained why he came, showing neither
embarrassment nor forwardness.
As soon as he had graduated at the Naval Academy, he had been made a
midshipman on board "The Formidable," and there he was still. A
younger man had recently been wrongly promoted over him; and he had
asked for leave of absence to appeal to the secretary of the navy. He
felt quite sure of the justice of his claims; but he also knew that
strong recommendations never spoil a good cause. In fact, he hoped
that Count Ville-Handry, of whose kindness and great influence he had
heard much, would consent to indorse his claims.
Gradually, and while listening to him, the countess recovered her
"My husband will be happy to serve a countryman of his," she replied;
"and he will tell you so himself, if you will be kind enough to wait
for him, and stay to dinner."
Daniel did stay. At table he was placed by the side of Henrietta, who
was then fifteen years old; and the countess, seeing these two young
and handsome people side by side, was suddenly struck with an idea
which seemed to her nothing less than inspiration from on high. Why
might she not intrust the future happiness of her daughter to the
brother of the poor man who had loved her so dearly? Thus she might
make some amends for her own conduct, and show some respect to his
"Yes," she said to herself that night, before falling asleep, "it must
be so. Daniel shall be Henrietta's husband."
Thus it came about, that, only a fortnight later, Count Ville-Handry
said to one of his intimate friends, pointing out Daniel,--
"That young Champcey is a very remarkable young man; he has a great
future before him. And one of these days, when he is a lieutenant, and
a few years older, if it should so happen that he liked Henrietta, and
asked me for my consent, I should not say no. The countess might think
and say of it what she chooses, I am master."
After that time Daniel became, unfortunately, a constant visitor at
the house in Varennes Street.
He had not only obtained ample satisfaction at headquarters, but, by
the powerful influence of certain high personages, he had been
temporarily assigned to duty in the bureau of the navy department,
with the promise of a better position in active service hereafter.
Thus Daniel and Henrietta saw a great deal of each other, and, to all
appearances, began to love each other.
"O God!" thought the countess, "why are they not a few years older?"
The poor lady had for some months been troubled by dismal
presentiments. She felt as if she would not live long; and she
trembled at the idea of leaving her child without any other protector
but the count.
If Henrietta had at least known the truth, and, instead of admiring
her father as a man of superior ability, learned to mistrust his
judgment! A hundred times the countess was on the point of revealing
her secret. Alas! her great delicacy always kept her from doing so.
One night, as she returned from a great ball, she suddenly was seized
with vertigo. She did not think much of it, but sent for a cup of tea.
When it came, she was standing before the fireplace, undoing her hair;
but, instead of taking it, she suddenly raised her hand to her throat,
uttered a hoarse sound, and fell back.
They raised her up. In an instant the whole house was alive. They sent
for the doctors. All was in vain.
The Countess Ville-Handry had died from disease of the heart.
Henrietta, roused by the noise all over the house, the voices in the
passages, and the steps on the staircase, and suspecting that some
accident had happened, had rushed at once into her mother's room.
There she had heard the doctors utter the fatal words,--
"All is over!"
There were five or six of them in the room; and one of them, his eyes
swollen from sleeplessness, and overcome with fatigue, had drawn the
count into a corner, and, pressing his hands, repeated over and over
"Courage, my dear sir, courage!"
He, overcome, with downcast eye, and cold perspiration on his pallid
brow, did not understand him; for he continued to stammer
"It is nothing, I hope. Did you not say it was nothing?"
There are misfortunes so terrible, so overwhelming in their
suddenness, that the stunned mind refuses to believe them, and denies
their genuineness in spite of their actual presence.
How could any one imagine or comprehend that the countess, who but a
moment ago was standing there full of life, in perfect health, and the
whole vigor of her years, apparently perfectly happy, smiling, and
beloved by all,--how could one conceive that she had all at once
ceased to exist?
They had laid her on her bed in her ball costume,--a blue satin dress
trimmed with lace. The flowers were still in her hair; and the blow
had come with such suddenness, that, even in death, she retained the
appearance of life; she was still warm, her skin transparent, and her
limbs supple. Even her eyes, still wide open, retained their
expression, and betrayed the last sensation that had filled her heart,
--terror. It looked as if she had had at that last moment a revelation
of the future which her too great cautiousness had prepared for her
"My mother is not dead; oh, no! she cannot be dead!" exclaimed
Henrietta. And she went from one doctor to the other, urging them,
beseeching them, to find some means--
What were they doing there, looking so blank, instead of acting? Were
they not going to restore her,--they whose business it was to cure
people, and who surely had saved a number of people? They turned away
from her, distressed by her terrible grief, expressing their inability
to help by a gesture; and then the poor girl went back to the bed,
and, bending over her mother, watched with a painfully bewildered air
for her return to life. It seemed to her as if she felt that noble
heart still beat under her hand, and as if those lips, sealed forever
by death, must speak again to re-assure her.
They attempted to take her away from that heartrending sight; they
begged her to go to her room; but she insisted upon staying. They
tried to remove her by force; but she clung to the bed, and vowed that
they should tear her to pieces sooner than make her leave her mother.
At last, however, the truth broke upon her. She sank down upon her
knees by the side of the bed, hiding her face in the drapery, and
repeating with fierce sobs,--
"My mother, my darling mother!"
It was nearly morning, and the pale dawn was stealing into the room,
when at last some sisters of charity came, who had been sent for; and
then a couple of priests; a little later (it was towards the end of
January) one of the count's friends appeared, who undertook all those
sickening preparations which our civilization demands in such cases.
On the next day the funeral took place.
More than two hundred persons called to condole with the count,
twenty-five or thirty ladies came and kissed Henrietta, calling her
their poor dear child.
Then horses were heard in the court-yard, coachmen quarrelling; orders
were given; and at last the hearse rolled away solemnly--and that was
Henrietta wept and prayed in her chamber.
Late in the day, the count and Henrietta sat down at table alone for
the first time in their lives; but they did not eat a morsel. How
could they do it, seeing before them the empty seat, once occupied by
her who was the life of the whole house, and now never to be filled
And thus, for a long time, their meals were a steady reminder of their
loss. During the day they were seen wandering about the house, without
any apparent purpose, as if looking or hoping for something to happen.
But there was another true and warm heart, far from that house, which
had been sorely wounded by the death of the countess. Daniel had loved
her like a mother; and in his heart a mysterious voice warned him,
that, in losing her, he had well-nigh lost Henrietta.
He had called several times at the house of mourning; but it was only
a fortnight later that he was admitted. When Henrietta saw him, she
felt sorry she had not let him come in before. He had apparently
suffered as much as she; he looked pale; and his eyes were red.
They remained for some time seated opposite each other, without saying
a word, but deeply moved, and feeling instinctively that their common
grief bound them more firmly than ever to each other.
The count, in the meantime, walked up and down in the large room. He
was so much changed, that one might have failed to recognize him.
There was a strange want of steadiness in his movements; he looked
almost like a paralytic, whose crutches had suddenly broken down. Was
he conscious of the immense loss which he had suffered? His vanity was
too great to render that very probable.
"I shall master my grief as soon as I go back to work," he said.
He ought not to have done it; but he resumed his duties as a
politician at a time when they had become unusually difficult, and
when great things were expected of him. Two or three absurd,
ridiculous, in fact unpardonable blunders, ruined him forever. He lost
his reputation as a statesman, and with it his influence.
As yet, however, his reputation remained uninjured. No one suspected
the truth. They attributed the sudden failure of his faculties to the
great sorrow that had befallen him in the death of his wife.
"Who would have thought that he had loved her so deeply?" they asked
Henrietta was as much misled as the others, and perhaps even more. Her
respect and her admiration, so far from being diminished, only
increased day by day. She loved him all the more dearly as she watched
the apparent effect of his incurable grief.
He was really deeply grieved, but only by his fall. How had it come
about? He tortured his mind in vain; he could not find a plausible
explanation, and said over and over again,--
"It is perfectly inexplicable."
He talked of regular plots, of a coalition of his enemies, of the
black ingratitude of men, and their fickleness. At first he had
thought of going back to the country. But gradually, as day followed
day, and weeks grew into months, his wounded vanity began to heal; he
forgot his misfortunes, and adopted new habits of life.
He was a great deal at his club now, rode much on horseback, went to
the theatres, and dined with his friends. Henrietta was delighted; for
she had at one time begun to be seriously concerned for her father's
health. But she was not a little amazed when she saw him lay aside his
mourning, and exchange his simple costumes, suitable to his age, for
the eccentric fashions of the day, wearing brilliant waistcoats and
Some days later matters grew worse.
One morning Count Ville-Handry, who was quite gray, appeared at
breakfast with jet black beard and hair. Henrietta could not restrain
an expression of amazement. But he smiled, and said with considerable
"My servant is making an experiment; he thinks this goes better with
my complexion, and makes me look younger."
Evidently something strange had occurred in the count's life. But what
Henrietta, although ignorant of the world, and at that time innocence
personified, was, nevertheless, a woman, and hence had the keen
instinct of her sex, which is better than all experience. She
reflected, and she thought she could guess what had happened.
After hesitating for three days, the poor girl, saddened rather than
frightened, confided her troubles to Daniel. But she had only spoken a
few words when he interrupted her, and, blushing deeply, said,--
"Do not trouble yourself about that, Miss Henrietta; and, whatever
your father may do, do not mind it."
That advice was more easily given than followed; for the count's ways
became daily more extraordinary. He had gradually drifted away from
his old friends and his wife's friends, and seemed to prefer to their
high-bred society the company of very curious people of all kinds. A
number of young men came in the forenoon on horseback, and in the most
unceremonious costumes. They came in smoking their cigars, and asked
at once for liquors and absinthe. In the afternoon, another set of men
made their appearance,--vulgar and arrogant people, with huge whiskers
and enormous watch-chains, who gesticulated vehemently, and were on
most excellent terms with the servants. They were closeted with the
count; and their discussions were so loud, they could be heard all
over the house.
What were the grave discussions that made so much noise? The count
undertook to enlighten his daughter. He told her, that, having been
ill-treated in politics, he intended to devote himself henceforth to
grand enterprises, and hoped confidently to realize an enormous
fortune, while, at the same time, rendering great service to certain
branches of industry.
A fortune? Why should he want money? What with his own estate, and
what with his wife's fortune, he had already an income of a hundred
thousand dollars. Was that not quite enough for a man of sixty-five
and for a young girl who did not spend a thousand a year on her
Henrietta asked him timidly, for she was afraid of hurting her
father's feelings, why he wanted more money.
He laughed heartily, tapped her cheek playfully, and said,--
"Ah, you would like to rule your papa, would you?"
Then he added more seriously,--
"Am I so old, my little lady, that I ought to go into retirement? Have
you, also, gone over to my enemies?"
"Oh, dear papa!"
"Well, my child, then you ought to know that a man such as I am cannot
condemn himself to inactivity, unless he wants to die. I do not want
any more money; what I want is an outlet for my energy and my
This was so sensible a reply, that both Henrietta and Daniel felt
Both had been taught by the countess to look upon her husband as a man
of genius; hence they felt sure that he had only to undertake a thing,
and he was sure to succeed. Besides, Daniel hoped that such grave
matters of business would keep the count from playing the fashionable
But it seemed as if nothing could turn him from this folly; he became
daily younger and faster. He wore the most eccentric hats on one ear.
He ordered his coats to be made in the very last fashion; and never
went out without a camellia or a rosebud in his buttonhole. He no
longer contented himself with dyeing his hair, but actually began to
rouge, and used such strong perfumes, that one might have followed his
track through the streets by the odors he diffused around him.
At times he would sit for hours in an arm-chair, his eyes fixed on the
ceiling, his brow knit, and his thoughts apparently bent upon some
grave question. If he was spoken to, he started like a criminal caught
in the act. He who formerly prided himself on his magnificent appetite
(he saw in it a resemblance to Louis XIV.) now hardly ate any thing.
On the other hand, he was forever complaining of oppression in the
chest, and of palpitation of the heart.
His daughter repeatedly found him with tears in his eyes,--big tears,
which passed through his dyed beard, and fell like drops of ink on his
white shirt-front. Then, again, these attacks of melancholy would be
followed by sudden outbursts of joy. He would rub his hands till they
pained him; he would sing and almost dance with delight.
Now and then a commissionaire (it was always the same man) came and
brought him a letter. The count tore it from his hands, threw him a
gold-piece, and went to shut himself up in his study.
"Poor papa!" said Henrietta to Daniel. "There are moments when I
tremble for his mind."
At last, one evening after dinner, when he had drunk more than
usually, perhaps in order to gain courage, he drew his daughter on his
knee, and said in his softest voice,--
"Confess, my dear child, that in your innermost heart you have more
than once called me a very bad father. I dare say you blame me for
leaving you so constantly alone here in this large house, where you
must die from sheer weariness."
Such a charge would have been but too well founded. Henrietta was left
more completely to herself than the daughter of a workman, whose
business keeps him from home all day long. The workman, however, takes
his child out, at least on Sundays.
"I am never weary, papa," replied Henrietta.
"Really? Why, how do you occupy yourself?"
"Oh! in the first place I attend to the housekeeping, and try my best
to make home pleasant to you. Then I embroider, I sew, I study. In the
afternoon my music-teacher comes, and my English master. At night I
The count smiled; but it was a forced smile.
"Never mind!" he broke in; "such a lonely life cannot go on. A girl of
your age stands in need of some one to advise her, to pet her,--an
affectionate and devoted friend. That is why I have been thinking of
giving you another mother."
Henrietta drew back her arm, which she had wound round her father's
neck; and, rising suddenly, she said,--
"You think of marrying again?"
He turned his head aside, hesitated moment, and then replied,--
At first the poor girl could not utter a word, so great were her
stupor, her indignation, her bitter grief; then she made an effort,
and said in a pained voice,--
"Do you really tell me so, papa? What! you would bring another wife to
this house, which is still alive with the voice of her whom we have
lost? You would make her sit down in the chair in which she used to
sit, and let her rest her feet on the cushion which she embroidered?
Perhaps you would even want me to call her mamma? Oh, dear papa!
surely you do not think of such profanation!"
The count's trouble was pitiful to behold. And yet, if Henrietta had
been less excited, she would have read in his eye that his mind was
"What I mean to do is done in your behalf, my dear child," he