Part 3 out of 11
sure I shall compel your friends to grant me your hand.'
"This she did.
"And what I had foreseen came to pass. In the face of such evidence of
what they called our madness, Sir Thorn and Mrs. Brian dared not
oppose our plans any longer. After some little hesitations, and
imposing certain honorable conditions, they said to Sarah and
"'You will have it so. Go, then, and get married.'"
This is what Count Ville-Handry called chance, a " blessed chance," as
he said, utterly unmindful of the whole chain of circumstances which
he himself related. From the accident that had befallen M. Elgin, and
the fainting-fit of Miss Brandon, to the meeting in the Bois de
Boulogne and the proposed runaway-match, all seemed to him perfectly
natural and simple,--even the sudden enthusiasm of a young, frivolous
woman for his political opinions, and the learning by heart of his
Daniel was amazed. That a man like the count should be so perfectly
blind to the intrigue that was going on around him, seemed to him
incomprehensible. The count, however, was not so blind, that he should
not have at least suspected the nature of Daniel's feelings.
"What are you thinking of?" he asked. "Come, let us hear your opinion.
Tell us frankly that you suspect Miss Brandon, and accuse her of
trying to catch me in her snares, or, at least, of having selfish
"I do not say so," stammered Daniel.
"No, but you think so; and that is worse. Well, come; I think I can
convince you of your mistake. What do you think Miss Brandon would
gain by marrying me? A fortune, you say. I have only one word in
reply; but that is sufficient; Miss Brandon is richer than I am."
How, and at what price, Miss Brandon had managed to possess herself of
such a fortune, Daniel knew but too well from Maxime's account; hence
he could not suppress a nervous shudder, which the count noticed, and
which irritated him.
"Yes, richer than I am," he repeated. "The oil-wells which she has
inherited from her father bring her in, bad years and good years, from
thirty to forty thousand dollars a year, and that in spite of their
being sadly mismanaged. If they were well managed, they would produce,
three, four, or five times as much, or even more. Sir Thorn has proved
to me that they are an almost inexhaustible mine of wealth. If
petroleum was not fabulously profitable, how would you account for the
oil-fever with which these cool, calculating Americans have suddenly
been seized, and which has made more millionaires than the gold-fever
in California and the Territories? Ah! there is something to be made
there yet, and something grand, if one could dispose of a large
He became excited, and forgot himself; but he soon checked himself. He
had evidently been on the point of letting a secret leak out. After a
few moments, he continued more calmly,--
"But enough of that. I trust your suspicions are removed. Next you may
tell me that Miss Brandon takes me because she can do no better.
Mistaken again, my friend. At this very moment she is called upon to
choose between me and a much younger man than I am, whose fortune,
moreover, is larger than mine,--Mr. Wilkie Gordon."
How did it come about that Count Ville-Handry seemed to appeal to
Daniel, and to plead his cause before him? Daniel did not even think
of asking himself that question; his mind was in a state of utter
confusion. Still, as the count insisted on having his opinion, as he
urged him, and repeatedly asked, "Well, do you see any other
objection?" he forgot at last his friend's prudent warning, and said
in a troubled voice,--
"No doubt, count, you know Miss Brandon's family?"
"Certainly! Do you think I would buy a cat in a bag? Her excellent
father was a model of honesty."
"And--her previous life?"
The count started from his chair, and, casting a savage glance at
"Oh, oh! I see one of those rascally slanderers, who have tried to
tarnish the honor of the noblest and chastest of all women, has
already been at work here, anticipating my communication to you, and
repeating those infamous calumnies. You must give me the name of the
Unconsciously, almost, Daniel turned towards the door, behind which M.
de Brevan was listening. Perhaps he expected him to come forth; but
Maxime did not stir.
"Sarah's previous life!" continued the count. "I know every hour of
it; and I can answer for it as for my own. The darling! Before
consenting to be mine, she insisted upon my knowing every thing, yes,
every thing, without reserve or boastfulness; and I know what she has
suffered. Did they not actually say she had been the accomplice of a
wretched thief, a cashier of some bank, who had become a defaulter?
Did they not say that she had driven a foolish young man, a gambler,
to commit suicide; and that she had watched, unmoved, the tortures of
his agony? Ah! you have only to look at Miss Brandon to know that
these vile stories are wretched inventions of malicious enemies and
rivals. And look here, Daniel; you may believe me; whenever you see
people calumniate a man or a woman, you may rest assured that that man
or woman has, somehow or other, wounded or humiliated some vulgar
person, some mean, envious fool, who cannot endure his or her
superiority in point of fortune, rank, or beauty and talent."
He had actually recovered his youthful energy in thus defending his
beloved. His eye brightened up; his voice became strong, and his
"But no more of that painful topic," he said: "let us talk seriously."
He rose, and leaning on the mantelpiece, so as to face Daniel, he
"I told you, my dear Daniel, that Sir Thorn and Mrs. Brian insisted
upon certain conditions before they consented to our marriage. One is,
that Miss Brandon is to be received by my relations as she deserves to
be, not only respectfully, but affectionately, even tenderly. As to
relations, there is not any. I have some remote cousins, who, having
nothing to expect from me when I die, do not trouble themselves any
more about me than I trouble myself about them. But I have a daughter;
and there is the danger. I know she is distressed at the idea of my
marrying again. She cannot bear the mere idea that another woman is to
take the place of her mother, to bear her name, and to rule in my
Daniel began at last to know what he had to understand by that
unsuccessful appointment which had procured him the pleasure of a
visit from Count Ville-Handry.
"Now," continued the latter, "I know my daughter. She is her mother
over again, weak, but obstinate beyond endurance. If she has taken it
into her head to receive Miss Brandon uncivilly, she will do so, in
spite of all she has promised me, and she will make a terrible scene
of it. And if Miss Brandon consents, in spite of all, to go on, my
house will become a hell to me, and my wife will suffer terribly. Now
the question is, whether I have sufficient influence over Henrietta to
bring her to reason. I think not. But this influence which I have not
--a very nice young man may have it; and that man is you."
Daniel had turned red. It was for the first time that the count spoke
so clearly. He went on,--
"I have never disapproved of my poor wife's plans; and the proof is,
that I have allowed you to pay your attentions to my daughter. But now
I make this condition: if my daughter is to Miss Brandon what she
ought to be to her, a tender and devoted sister, then, six months
after my wedding, there shall be another wedding at my house."
Daniel was about to speak; but he stopped him, saying,--
"No, not a word! I have shown you the wisdom of my decision, and you
may act accordingly."
He had already put on his hat and opened the door, when he added,--
"Ah! one word more. Miss Brandon has asked me to present you to her
to-night. She wants to speak to you. Come and dine with me; and after
dinner we will go to Circus Street. Now, pray think of what I have
told you, and good-by!"
Count Ville-Handry had hardly closed the door, when M. de Brevan
rushed out of the bedroom in which he had been concealed.
"Was I right?" he exclaimed.
But Daniel did not hear him. He had forgotten his very presence.
Overcome by the great effort he had made to conceal his emotions, he
had sunk into a chair, hiding his face in his hands, and said to
himself in a mournful voice, and as if trying to convince himself of
an overwhelming fact,--
"The count has lost his mind altogether, and we are lost."
The grief of this excellent young man was so great and so bitter, that
M. de Brevan seemed to be deeply moved. He looked at him for some time
with an air of pity, and then suddenly, as if yielding to a good
impulse, he touched his shoulder, and said,--
The unhappy man started like one who has suddenly been roused from
deep slumber; and, as he recalled what had just happened, he said,--
"You have heard all, Maxime?"
"All! I have not lost a word nor a gesture. But do not blame me for my
indiscretion. It enables me to give you some friendly advice. You know
I have paid dear for my experience."
He hesitated, being at a loss how to express his ideas; then he
continued in a short, sharp tone,--
"You love Miss Ville-Handry?"
"More than my life, don't you know?"
"Well, if that is so, abandon all thoughts of useless resistance;
induce Miss Henrietta to do as her father wishes; and persuade Miss
Brandon to let your wedding take place a month after her own. But ask
for special pledges. Miss Ville-Handry may suffer somewhat during that
month; but the day after your wedding you will carry her off to your
own home, and leave the poor old man to his amorous folly."
Daniel showed in his face that this suggestion opened a new prospect
"I had not thought of that," he said.
"It is all you can do."
"Yes, it is what prudence would advise me to do. But can I do so in
"Oh, honor, honor!"
"Would it not be wrong in me to abandon the poor old man to the mercy
of Miss Brandon and her accomplices?"
"You will never be able to rescue him, my dear fellow."
"I ought at least to try. You thought so yesterday, and even this
morning, not two hours ago."
Maxime could scarcely hide his impatience.
"I did not know then what I know now," he said.
Daniel had risen, and was walking up and down the small room, replying
to his own objections, rather than to those raised by Brevan.
"If I were alone master," he said, "I might, perhaps, agree to a
capitulation. But could Henrietta accept it? Never, never! Her father
knows her well. She is as weak as a child; but at the proper moment
she can develop a masculine energy and an iron will."
"Why should you tell her at all who Miss Brandon is?"
"I have pledged my word of honor to tell her every thing."
Brevan again shrugged his shoulders, and there was no mistaking what
he meant by that gesture. He might just as well have said aloud, "Can
one conceive such stupidity?"
"Then you had better give up your Henrietta, my poor fellow," he said.
But Daniel's despair had been overcome. He ground his teeth with
anger, and said,--
"Not yet, my friend, not yet! An honest man who defends his honor and
his life is pretty strong. I have no experience, that is true; but I
have you, Maxime; and I know I can always count upon you."
Daniel did not seem to have noticed that M. de Brevan, at first all
fire and energy, had rapidly cooled off, like a man, who, having
ventured too far, thinks he has made a mistake, and tries to retrace
"Certainly you may count upon me," he replied; "but what can be done?"
"Well, what you said yourself. I shall call upon Miss Brandon, and
watch her. I shall dissemble, and gain time. If necessary, I shall
employ detectives, and find out her antecedents. I shall try to
interest some high personage in my behalf,--my minister, for instance,
who is very kind to me. Besides, I have an idea."
"That unlucky cashier, whose story you told me, and who, you think, is
not dead--if we could find him. How did you call him? Oh, Malgat! An
advertisement inserted in all the leading newspapers of Europe would,
no doubt, reach him; and the hope of seeing himself avenged"--
M. de Brevan's cheeks began to redden perceptibly. He broke out with
Then he added, more collectedly,--
"You forget that Malgat has been sentenced to I know not how many
years' penal servitude, and that he will see in your advertisement a
trick of the police; so that he will only conceal himself more
carefully than ever."
But Daniel was not so easily shaken. He said,--
"I will think it over. I will see. Perhaps something might be done
with that young man whom the count mentioned, that M. Wilkie Gordon.
If I thought he was really anxious for Miss Brandon's hand"--
"I have heard it said, and I am sure it is so, the young man is one of
those idiots whom vanity renders insane, and who do not know what to
do in order to make themselves notorious. Miss Brandon being very
famous, he would marry her, just as he would pay a hundred thousand
dollars for a famous racer."
"And how do you account for Miss Brandon's refusal?"
"By the character of the man, whom I know very well, and whom she
knows as well. She is quite aware that, three months after the
wedding, he would decamp, and in less than a year she would be
divorced. Then there is another thing: Wilkie is only twenty-five
years old; and you know a fellow at that age is likely to live a good
deal longer than a lover who is beyond the sixties."
The way in which he said this lent to his words a terrible
significance; and Daniel, turning pale, stammered out,--
"Great God! Do you think Miss Brandon could"--
"Could do anything, most assuredly,--except, perhaps, get into trouble
with the police. I have heard her say that only fools employ poison or
A strange smile passed over his lips; and he added in a tone of
"It is true there are other means, less prompt, perhaps, but much
safer, by which people may be removed when they become inconvenient.
"What means? The same, no doubt, which she had employed to get rid of
poor Kergrist, and that unlucky Malgat, the cashier of the Mutual
Discount Society. Purely moral means, based upon her thorough
knowledge of the character of her victims, and her own infernal power
But Daniel tried in vain to obtain more light from his friend. Brevan
answered evasively; perhaps because he did not dare to speak out
freely, and reveal his real thoughts; or because it lay in his plans
to be content with having added this horrible fear to all the other
apprehensions of his friend.
His embarrassment, just now unmistakable, had entirely disappeared, as
if he had come to a final decision after long hesitation. He who had
first advised all kinds of concessions now suggested the most
energetic resistance, and seemed to be confident of success.
When he at last left Daniel, he had made him promise to keep him hour
by hour informed of all that might happen, and, above all, to try
every means in his power to unmask Miss Brandon.
"How he hates her!" said Daniel to himself when he was alone,--"how he
But this very hatred, which had already troubled him the night before,
now disturbed him more and more, and kept him from coming to any
decision. The more he reflected, the more it seemed to him that Maxime
had allowed himself to be carried away beyond what was probable, or
even possible. The last accusation, especially, seemed to him
A young and beautiful woman, consumed by ambition and covetousness,
might possibly play a comedy of pure love while she was disgusted in
her heart. She might catch by vile tricks a foolish old man, and make
him marry her, openly and avowedly selling her beauty and her youth.
Such things happen, and are excused by the morality of our day. The
same wicked, heartless woman might speculate upon becoming speedily a
widow, and thus regaining her liberty, together with a large fortune.
This also happens, however horrible it may appear. But that she should
marry a poor old fool, with the preconceived purpose of hastening his
end by a deliberate crime, there was a depth in that wickedness which
terrified Daniel's imagination.
Deeply ensconced in his chair, he was losing himself in conjectures,
forgetting how time passed, and how his work was waiting for him, even
the invitation to dinner which the count had given to him, and the
prospect of being introduced that very evening to Miss Brandon. Night
came; and then only his concierge, who came in to see what had become
of him all day long, aroused him from his torpor.
"Ah, I am losing my senses!" he exclaimed, rising suddenly. "And
Henrietta, who has been waiting for me--what must she think of me?"
Miss Ville-Handry, at that very moment, had reached that degree of
anxiety which becomes well-nigh intolerable. After having waited for
Daniel all the evening of the day before, and after having spent a
sleepless night, she had surely expected him to-day, counting the
seconds by the beating of her heart, and starting at the noise of
every carriage in the street. In her despair, knowing hardly what she
was doing, she was thinking of running herself to University Street,
to Daniel's house, when the door opened.
In the same indifferent tone in which he announced friends and
enemies, the servant said,--
"M. Daniel Champcey."
Henrietta was up in a moment. She was about to exclaim,--
"What has kept you? What has happened?" But the words died away on her
It had been sufficient for her to look at Daniel's sad face to feel
that a great misfortune had befallen her.
"Ah! you had been right in your fears," she said, sinking into a
"Speak: let me know all."
"Your father has come to me, and offered me your hand, Henrietta,
provided I can obtain your consent to his marriage with Miss Brandon.
Now, listen to me; and then you can decide."
Faithful to his promise, he thereupon told her every thing he had
learned from Maxime and the count, suppressing only those details
which would have made the poor girl blush, and also that terrible
charge which he was unwilling to believe.
When he had ended, Henrietta said warmly,--
"What! I should allow my father to marry such a creature? I should sit
still and smile when such dishonor and such ruin are coming to a house
over which my mother has presided! No; far be it from me ever to be so
selfish! I shall oppose Miss Brandon's plans with all my strength and
all my energy."
"She may triumph, after all."
"She shall not triumph over my resistance and my contempt. Never--do
you hear me, Daniel?--never will I bow down before her. Never shall my
hand touch hers. And, if my father persists, I shall ask him, the day
before his wedding, to allow me to bury myself in a convent."
"He will not let you go."
"Then I shall shut myself up in my room, and never leave it again. I
do not think they will drag me out by force."
There was no mistaking it; she spoke with an earnestness and a
determination which nothing could shake or break. And yet the very
saddest presentiments oppressed Daniel's heart. He said,--
"But Miss Brandon will certainly not come alone to this house."
"Whom will she bring with her?"
"Her relatives, M. Thomas Elgin and Mrs. Brian. Oh Henrietta, dearest
Henrietta! to think that you should be exposed to the spite and the
persecution of these wretches!"
She raised her head proudly, and replied,--
"I am not afraid of them." Then she added in a gentler tone,--
"Besides, won't you always be near me, to advise me, and to protect me
in case of danger?"
"I? Don't you think they will try to part us soon enough?"
"No, Daniel, I know very well that the house will no longer be open to
The poor girl blushed up to the roots of her hair, and, turning her.
eyes away from him to avoid his looks, she said,--
"Since they force us to do so, I must needs do a thing a girl,
properly speaking, ought not to do. We will meet secretly. I shall
have to stoop to win over one of my waiting-women, who may be discreet
and obliging enough to aid me, and, through her, I will write to you,
and receive your letters."
But this arrangement did not relieve Daniel from his terrible
apprehensions. There was a question which constantly rose to his lips,
and which still he did not dare to utter. At last, making a great
effort, he asked,--
Henrietta understood perfectly what he meant. She answered,--
"I thought you would be able to wait until the day should come when
the law would authorize me to make my own choice."
She offered him her hand, and said solemnly,--
"And on that day, Daniel, I promise you, if my father still withholds
his consent, I will ask you openly for your arm; and then, in broad
daylight, before all the world, I shall leave this house never to
re-enter it again."
As quick as thought, Daniel had seized her hand, and, carrying it to
his lips, he said,--"Thanks! A thousand thanks! You restore me to
Still, before abandoning the effort, he thought he would try one more
measure; and for that purpose it was necessary that Henrietta should
be induced to conceal her intentions as long as possible. It was only
with great difficulty that he succeeded in obtaining her consent.
"I will do what you desire; but believe me, all your efforts will be
She was interrupted by the arrival of Count Ville-Handry. He kissed
his daughter, said a few words about rain and fine weather; and then,
drawing Daniel into one of the windows, he asked--
"Have you spoken to her?"
"Miss Henrietta wants a few days to consider."
The count looked displeased, and said,--
"That is absurd. Nothing can be more ridiculous. But, after all, it is
your business, my dear Daniel. And, if you want any additional motive,
I will tell you that my daughter is very rich. She has a quarter of a
million of her own."
"Sir!" exclaimed Daniel indignantly.
But Count Ville-Handry had already turned upon his heels; and the
butler came to announce that dinner was on the table.
The meal, though excellent in itself, was necessarily very dull and
sad. It was promptly despatched; for the count seemed to be sitting on
needles, and every minute looked at his watch.
They had but just handed the coffee around, when he turned to Daniel,
"Let us make haste. Miss Brandon expects us."
Daniel was instantly ready. But the count did not even give him time
to take leave of Henrietta; he carried him off to his carriage, pushed
him in, jumped in after him, and called out to the servant,-- "Circus
Street! Miss Brandon! Drive fast!"
The servants knew very well what the count meant when he said, "Drive
fast!" The coachman, on such occasions, made his horses literally go
as fast as they could; and, but for his great skill, the foot-
passengers would have been in considerable danger. Nevertheless, on
this evening Count Ville-Handry twice lowered the window to call
"Don't drive at a walk!"
The fact is, that, in spite of his efforts to assume the air of a
grave statesman, he was as impatient, and as vain of his love, as a
young collegian hurrying to his first rendezvous with his beloved.
During dinner he had been sullen and silent; now he became talkative,
and chatted away, without troubling himself about the silence of his
To be sure, Daniel did not even listen. Half-buried in the corner of
the well-padded carriage, he tried his best to control his emotions;
for he was excited, more excited than ever in his life, by the thought
that he was to see, face to face, this formidable adventuress, Miss
Brandon. And like the wrestler, who, before making a decisive assault,
gathers up all his strength, he summoned to his aid his composure and
his energy. It took them not more than ten minutes to drive the whole
distance to Circus Street.
"Here we are!" cried the count.
And, without waiting for the steps to be let down, he jumped on the
sidewalk, and, running ahead of his servants, knocked at the door of
Miss Brandon's house. It was by no means one of those modern
structures which attract the eye of the passer-by by a ridiculous and
conspicuous splendor. Looking at it from the street, you would have
taken it for the modest house of a retired grocer, who was living in
it upon his savings at the rate of two or three thousand a year. It is
true, that from the street, you could see neither the garden, nor the
stables and the carriage-houses.
In the meantime a servant had appeared, who took the count's and
Daniel's coats, and showed them up stairs. When they reached the upper
landing, the count stopped, as if his breath had been giving out of a
"There," he stammered, "there!"
"Where? What?" Daniel did not know what he meant. The count only
wished to say that "there" was the place where he had held Miss
Brandon in his arms the day she had fainted. But Daniel had no time to
ask any questions. Another servant appeared, coming out of the rooms,
and, bowing low before Count Ville-Handry, he said,--
"The ladies have but just risen from table, and are still dressing."
"If the gentlemen will please sit down in the parlor, I will tell M.
"Very well," said the count, speaking in a tone which showed that he
considered himself perfectly at home in Miss Brandon's house. He
entered the parlor, followed by Daniel. It was a magnificent room; but
every thing in it, from the carpet on the floor to the chandelier on
the ceiling, betrayed the Puritanic taste of Mrs. Brian. It was
splendid; but the splendor was cold, stiff, and mournful. The
furniture had sharp angles, and suggested any thing but comfort. The
bronze figures on the mantlepiece-clock were biblical personages; and
the other bronzes were simply hideous. Except these, there was no
ornament visible, not a painting, nor a statuette.
Yes, one. Opposite the fireplace, in the place of honor, there stared
at you a painting in a most costly gilt frame,--a horrible daub,
representing a man of about fifty years, who wore a fancy uniform with
enormous epaulets, a huge sword, a plumed hat, and a blue sash, into
which two revolvers were thrust.
"Gen. Brandon, Miss Sarah's father," said Count Ville-Handry, in a
tone of deep respect, which unnerved Daniel. "As a work of art, this
portrait leaves, no doubt, much to be wished for; but they say the
likeness is excellent."
Certainly, though that might be so, there was no resemblance to be
discovered between the tanned face of this American general and the
blooming features of Miss Brandon. But there was something more. As
Daniel examined this picture nearer by, and more closely, he thought
he discovered a studied and intentional coarseness of execution. It
looked to him like the work of an artist who had endeavored to imitate
those wretched painters who live upon the vanity of weak men and
little children. He thought he discovered by the side of gross
inaccuracies unmistakable traces of a master's hand; and especially
one of the ears, half hid behind the hair, seemed to him admirably
But, before he could draw his conclusions from this strange discovery,
M. Thomas Elgin appeared in the room. He was in evening costume,
looking taller and stiffer than ever in his white cravat; and, as he
came forward, he halted a little on one foot, though leaning upon a
"What, my dear Sir Thorn!" exclaimed the count, "your leg still gives
"Oh, a great deal!" replied the honorable gentleman, with a very
marked English accent,--"a great deal since this morning. The doctor
thinks there must be something the matter with the bone."
At the same time, obeying the tendency which we all have to display
our ailments, he slightly drew up his trousers, so that the bandages
became visible which he wore around his leg. Count Ville-Handry looked
at it with pity; then, forgetting that he had introduced Daniel
already the night before at the opera, he presented him once more;
and, when the ceremony was over, he said to Sir Thorn,--
"Upon my word, I am almost ashamed to appear so early; but I knew you
expected company to-night."
"Oh, only a few persons!"
"And I desired to see you for a few moments alone."
A strange grimace represented the only smile of which the honorable
gentleman was capable. He made it twice, and then said, caressing his
"They have told Miss Sarah that you are here, my dear count; and I
heard her tell Mrs. Brian that she was nearly ready. I cannot imagine
how she can spend so much time at her toilet."
They were thus chatting away before the fireplace, Sir Thorn stretched
out in an easy-chair, and the count leaning against the mantlepiece,
while Daniel had withdrawn into the embrasure of a window which looked
upon the court-yard and the garden behind the house. There, his brow
pressed against the cool window-panes, he was meditating. He could not
understand this wound of M. Elgin's.
"Is it possible that his fall was an intentional fall?" he thought,
"or did he really break his leg? If he did so, that fainting-fit might
have been natural, and not prearranged; but"--
He was just plunging into these doubts and speculations, when the
noise of a carriage entering the court-yard, aroused him from his
He looked out. A /coupe/ had driven up to the back porch of the house.
A lady stepped out; and he was on the point of uttering a cry of
surprise, for he thought he recognized Miss Sarah in that woman. But
could that be so? He was unwilling to believe it, when she suddenly
raised her head in order to speak to the coachman, and the light from
the lamps fell full upon her face.
There was no doubt now on his mind. It was Miss Brandon.
She flew up the steps, and entered the house. He heard distinctly the
heavy door close behind her.
At the opera, the night before, a single word uttered by Miss Brandon
had sufficed to enlighten Daniel. But now this was a very different
matter. It was a potent fact, unmistakable and tangible, which came to
him in support of his suspicions.
In order to increase the passionate impatience of the count, they had
told him that Miss Brandon was still dressing, but that she was making
all haste to come down to him. Not a word had been said of her being
out, and of her return at that very moment. Where had she been? What
new intrigues had compelled her to leave the house just then? It must
have evidently been something of great importance to have kept her out
till so late an hour, and when she knew, moreover, that the count was
waiting for her.
This incident threw a flood of light on the cunning policy pursued in
this house, and on the clever and active complicity of M. Thomas Elgin
and Mrs. Brian. What their game really was, and how Count Ville-Handry
had been caught in the trap, he now understood well enough; he would
have been caught in it himself.
How clever these actors were! how perfect all the arrangements! and
how scientifically the smallest details were prepared! How
marvellously well even the parlor was arranged to serve the purposes
of the owners! This simple elegance could not but banish all doubts;
and this horrible portrait of the so-called Gen. Brandon--what a
stroke of genius!
As to the lame leg. of Sir Thorn, Daniel no longer believed in it.
"His leg is no more broken than mine," he thought.
But at the same time he marvelled at the self-denial of this
gentleman, who, in order to prove a falsehood, consented to wear his
leg bandaged up for months, as if it really had been severely injured.
"And to-night," said Daniel to himself, "the performance, no doubt, is
to be specially artistic, as they expected me."
Still, like a duellist, who tries to regain all his strength after a
sleepless night, Daniel was now fully prepared for the battle. He even
returned to the fireplace, for fear that his standing alone, and his
preoccupation, might betray his thoughts.
The conversation between Count Ville-Handry and M. Elgin had in the
meantime become very familiar; and the count was just detailing all
his arrangements for the approaching wedding. He would live, he said,
with his wife in the second story of his palace. The first story was
to be divided into two suites of apartments,--one for M. Thomas Elgin,
and the other for Mrs. Brian; for he knew very well that his adored
Sarah would never consent to part with her dear relatives, who had
been father and mother to her.
The last words remained in his throat; he stood as if he were
petrified, his eyes starting from their sockets, his mouth wide open.
Mrs. Brian had entered the room, followed by Miss Brandon. Daniel was
even more struck by her strange beauty to-day than at the opera; it
was literally dazzling. She wore on that night a dress of tea-color
embroidered with tiny bouquets in Chinese silk, and trimmed below with
an immense flounce of plaited muslin. In her hair, which looked even
more carelessly put up than usually, she had nothing but a branch of
fuschia, the crimson bells falling gracefully down upon her neck,
where they mingled with her golden curls.
She came smilingly up to Count Ville-Handry, and, offering him her
brow to kiss, she said,--
"Do I look well, dear count?"
He trembled from head to foot; and all he could do was to stretch out
his lips, and to stammer in an almost ecstatic tone of voice,--
"Oh, beautiful! too beautiful!"
"It has taken you long enough, I am sure," said Sir Thorn severely,--
He might have known that Miss Brandon had accomplished a miracle of
expeditiousness; for it was not a quarter of an hour since she
returned to the house.
"You are an impertinent villain, Thorn," she said, laughing in the
fresh and hearty manner of a child; "and I am very happy that the
presence of the count relieves /me/ from your eternal sermons."
"Sarah!" exclaimed Mrs. Brian reprovingly.
But she had already turned round, with her hand outstretched towards
"I am so glad you have come, sir!" she said. "I am sure we shall
understand each other admirably."
She told him this with the softest possible voice; but, if he had
known her better, he would have read in the way in which she looked at
him, that her disposition towards him had entirely changed since
yesterday; then she wished him well; now she hated him savagely.
"Understand each other?" he repeated as he bowed; "in what?"
She made no answer.
The servant announced some of the usual visitors; and she went to
receive them. Ten o'clock struck; and from that moment the invited
guests did not cease to arrive. At eleven o'clock there were perhaps a
hundred persons in the room; and in the two adjoining rooms card-
tables had been arranged.
It appeared that the gentlemen who showed themselves there--old men
mostly, amply decorated with foreign orders, and young men in
extravagantly fashionable costumes--were not free from suspicion; but
they all belonged to Paris high-life, to that society, which, under a
dazzlingly brilliant outside, conceals hideous crimes, and allows now
and then traces of real misery to be seen through the rents in the
splendid livery worn by its members.
Some of these men stood, by the name they bore or the position they
filled, high above the rest of the company; they were easily
recognized by their haughty manner, and the intense deference with
which their slightest remarks were received. And to this crowd Count
Ville-Handry displayed his good-fortune. He assumed all the airs of
the master of the house; as if he had been in his own house, gave
orders to the servants, and then, with mock modesty, went from group
to group, eagerly picking up all the compliments he could gather on
Miss Brandon's beauty, and his own good luck.
Gracefully reclining in an easy-chair near the fireplace, Miss Sarah
looked a young queen surrounded by her court. But in spite of the
multitude of her admirers, and the number of compliments she received
at every moment, she never for a moment lost sight of Daniel, watching
him all the time stealthily, to read his thoughts in his features.
Once she even shocked the crowd of her worshippers by suddenly leaving
her place in order to ask him why he held himself so aloof, and
whether he felt indisposed. Then, seeing that he was a perfect
stranger here, she was good enough to point out to him some of the
most remarkable men in the crowd. In doing this, she was so anxious to
make him aware of her distinguished friends, that Daniel began to
think she must have divined his intentions, and thus indirectly defied
him, as if she had said in so many words,--
"You see what friends I have, and how they would defend me if you
should dare to attack me."
Nevertheless, he was not discouraged, being fully aware of all the
difficulties of his undertaking, and having long since counted up all
the obstacles in his way. While the conversation was going on around
him, he arranged in his head a plan, which, he hoped, would enable him
to find out the antecedents of this dangerous adventuress.
These thoughts preoccupied him to such a degree, that he did not
become aware how the rooms became gradually empty. It was so,
nevertheless; and there were finally only a few intimate friends left,
and four players at a card-table.
Then Miss Brandon arose, and, coming up to Daniel, said to him,--
"Will you grant me ten minutes' conversation, sir?"
He prepared to follow her, when Mrs. Brian interposed, saying a few
words in a tone of reproach to her niece. Daniel knew enough English
to understand that she said,--
"What you are doing is highly improper, Sarah."
"Shocking!" added M. Thomas Elgin.
But she shrugged her shoulders slightly, and replied in English,--
"My dear count alone would have a right to judge my conduct; and he
has authorized me to do what I am doing."
Then turning to Daniel, she said to him in French,--
"Come with me, sir."
Miss Sarah led Daniel to a small boudoir adjoining her own room.
Nothing could be fresher and more coquettish than this little room,
which looked almost like a greenhouse, so completely was it filled
with rare and fragrant flowers, while the door and window-frames were
overgrown with luxuriant creepers. In the windows stood large vases
filled with flowers; and the light bamboo chairs were covered with the
same bright silk with which the walls were hung. If the great
reception-room reflected the character of Mrs. Brian, this charming
boudoir represented Miss Brandon's own exquisite taste.
She sat down on a small sofa and began, after a short pause,--
"My aunt was right; it would have been more proper for me to convey to
you through M. Elgin what I want to say. But I have the independence
of all the girls of my country; and, when my interests are at stake, I
trust no one but myself."
She was bewitching in her ingenuousness as she uttered these words
with the air of a little child who looks cunning, and determined to
undertake something that appears quite formidable.
"I am told that my dear count has been to see you this afternoon," she
continued, "and you have heard that in less than a month I shall be
the Countess Ville-Handry?"
Daniel was surprised. In less than a month! What could be done in so
"Now, sir," continued Miss Brandon, "I wish to hear from your own lips
whether you see--any--objections to this match."
She spoke so frankly, that it was evident she was utterly unconscious
of that article in the code of social laws which prescribes that a
French girl must never mention the word "marriage" without blushing to
the roots of her hair. Daniel, on the contrary, was terribly
"I confess," he replied with much hesitation, "that I do not
understand, that I cannot possibly explain to myself, why you do me
"To consult you? Pardon me; I think you understand me perfectly well.
Have they not promised you Miss Ville-Handry's hand?"
"The count has permitted me to hope"--
"He has pledged his word, sir, under certain conditions. My dear count
has told me every thing. I speak, therefore, to Count Ville-Handry's
son-in-law, and I repeat, Do you see any objections to this match?"
The question was too precisely put to allow of any prevarication. And
still Daniel was bent upon gaining time, and avoiding any positive
answer. For the first time in his life he said a falsehood; and,
turning crimson all over, he stammered out,--
"I see no objection."
She shook her head, and then said very slowly,--
"If that is so, you will not refuse me a great favor. Carried away by
her grief at seeing her father marry again, Miss Ville-Handry hates
me. Will you promise me to use your influence in trying to persuade
her to change her disposition towards me?"
Never had honest Daniel Champcey been tried so hard. He answered
"I am afraid you overestimate my influence."
She looked at him suddenly with such a sharp and penetrating glance
that he felt almost startled, and then said,--
"I do not ask of you to succeed, only promise me upon your honor that
you will do your best, and I shall be very much obliged to you. Will
you give me that promise?"
Could he do so? The situation was so exceptional, Daniel had at all
cost to lull the enemy into security for a time, and for a moment he
was inclined to pledge his honor. Nay, more than that, he made an
effort to do it. But his lips refused to utter a false oath.
"You see," resumed Miss Brandon very coldly, "you see you were
And, turning away from him, she hid her face in her hands, apparently
overcome by grief, and repeated in a tone of deep sorrow,--
"What a disgrace! Great God! What a humiliation!"
But suddenly she started up again, her face bright with a glow of
hope, and cried out,--
"Well, be it so. I like it all the better so. A mean man would not
have hesitated at an oath, however determined he might have been not
to keep it. Whilst you--I can trust you; you are a man of honor, and
all is not lost yet. Whence comes your aversion? Is it a question of
money, the count's fortune?"
"No, it is not that, I see. I was quite sure of it. What, then, can it
be? Tell me, sir, I beseech you! tell me something."
What could he tell her? Daniel remained silent.
"Very well," said Sarah, clinching her teeth convulsively. "I
She made a supreme effort not to break out in sobs; and big tears,
resembling diamonds of matchless beauty, rolled slowly down from
between her long, trembling eyelashes.
"Yes," she said, "I understand. The atrocious calumnies which my
enemies have invented have reached you; and you have believed them.
They have, no doubt, told you that I am an adventuress, come from
nowhere; that my father, the brave defender of the Union, exists only
in the painting in my parlor; that no one knows where my income comes
from; that Thorn, that noble soul, and Mrs. Brian, a saint upon earth,
are vile accomplices of mine. Confess, you have been told all that,
and you have believed it."
Grand in her wrath, her cheeks burning, her lips trembling, she rose,
and added in a tone of bitter sarcasm,--
"Ah! When people are called upon to admire a noble deed, they refuse
to believe, they insist upon inquiring before they admire, they
examine carefully. But, if they are told something bad, they dispense
with that ceremony; however monstrous the thing may appear, however
improbable it may sound, they believe it instantly. They would not
touch a child; but they do not hesitate to repeat a slander which
dishonors a woman, and kills her as surely as a dagger. If I were a
man, and had been told that Miss Brandon was an adventuress, I would
have been bent upon ascertaining the matter. America is not so far
off. I should have soon found the ten thousand men who had served
under Gen. Brandon, and they would have told me what sort of a man
their chief had been. I should have examined the oil-regions of
Pennsylvania; and I would have learned there that the petroleum-wells
belonging to M. Elgin, Mrs. Brian, and Miss Brandon produce more than
many a principality."
Daniel was amazed at the candor and the boldness with which this young
girl approached the terrible subject. To enable her to speak with such
energy and in such a tone, she must either be possessed of unsurpassed
impudence, or--he had to confess it--be innocent.
Overcome by the effort she had made, she had sunk back upon the sofa,
and continued in a lower tone of voice, as if speaking to herself,--
"But have I a right to complain? I reap as I have sown. Alas! Thorn
has told me so often enough, and I would not believe him. I was not
twenty years old when I came to Paris, after my poor father's death. I
had been brought up in America, where young girls know no other law
but that of their own consciences. They tell us at home, all the time,
that it is our first duty to be truthful. In France, young girls are
taught that hypocrisy is their first duty. We are taught not to blush,
except when we have done wrong; they are taught all the appearances of
false prudishness. In France, they work hard to save appearances; with
us, we aim at reality. In Philadelphia, I did every thing I chose to
do, provided I did not think it was wrong. I thought I could do the
same here. Poor me! I did not count upon the wickedness of the world.
I went out alone, on horseback, in the morning. I went alone to
church, to pray to God. If I wanted any thing for my toilet, I sent
for the carriage, and drove out, alone, to buy it. When a man spoke to
me, I did not feel bound to cast down my eyes; and, if he was amusing
and witty, I laughed. If a new fashion pleased me, I adopted it. I
committed all these crimes. I was young, rich, popular. These were as
many more crimes. And after I had been here a year, they said that
Malgat, that wretch"--
She jumped up as she said this, ran up to Daniel, and, seizing him by
the hands, she said,--
"Malgat! Have they talked to you about Malgat?"
And, as he hesitated to answer, she added:--
"Ah, answer me! Don't you see that your hesitation is an insult?"
As if in utter despair, she raised her hands to heaven, calling God,
as it were, to witness, and asking for inspiration from on high. Then
she added suddenly,--
"But I have proofs, irrefutable proofs of Malgat's rascality."
And, without waiting for another word, she hurried into the adjoining
room. Daniel, moved to the bottom of his heart, remained standing
where he was, immovable, like a statue.
He was utterly confounded and overcome by the charm of that marvellous
voice, which passed through the whole gamut of passion with such a
sonorous ring, and yet with such sweet languor, that it seemed by
turns to sob and to threaten, to sigh with sadness and to thunder with
"What a woman!" he said to himself, repeating thus unconsciously the
words uttered by M. de Brevan.
"What a woman! And how well she defends herself."
But Miss Brandon was already back again, carrying in her arms a small
box of costly wood inlaid with jewels. She resumed her seat on the
sofa; and in that brief, sharp tone which betrays terrible passions
restrained with a great effort, she said,--
"Before all, I must thank you, M. Champcey, for your frankness, since
it enables me to defend myself. I knew that slander had attacked me; I
felt it, so to say, in the air I was breathing; but I had never been
able yet to take hold of it. Now, for the first time, I can face it;
and I owe it to you that I am able to defy it. Listen, therefore; for
I swear to you by all that is most sacred to me, by the memory of my
sainted mother, I swear to you solemnly, that you shall hear the
truth, and nothing but the truth."
She had opened the box, and was eagerly searching something among the
papers inside. She then continued, in feverish haste,--
"M. Malgat was the cashier and confidential clerk of the Mutual
Discount Society, a large and powerful company. M. Elgin had some
business with him, a few weeks after our arrival here, for the purpose
of drawing funds which he had in Philadelphia. He found him an
exceedingly obliging man, and, to show his appreciation, invited him
to dine here. Thus he became acquainted with Mrs. Brian and myself. He
was a man of about forty, of medium height, ordinary looking, very
polite, but not refined in his manners. The first time I looked at his
light yellow eyes, I felt disgusted and frightened. I read in his face
an expression of base vice. The impression was so strong, that I could
not help telling M. Elgin how sure I was this man would turn out a bad
man, and that he ought not to trust him in money-matters."
Daniel listened with breathless attention. This description of Malgat
impressed his portrait so deeply on his mind, that he thought he saw
him before his eyes, and would certainly recognize him if he should
ever meet him.
"M. Elgin," continued Miss Brandon, "only laughed at my presentiments;
and even Mrs. Brian, I remember distinctly, scolded me, saying it was
very wrong to judge a man by his appearance, and that there were very
honest men in the world who had yellow eyes. I must acknowledge,
moreover, that M. Malgat behaved perfectly well whenever he was here.
As M. Elgin did not know Paris, and had money to invest, he advised
him what to do. When we had drafts upon the Mutual Discount Society,
he always saved M. Elgin the trouble, and brought the money himself.
After a while, when M. Elgin took it into his head to try some small
speculations on 'change, M. Malgat offered him his assistance,
although they never had any luck, in fact."
By this time Miss Brandon had found the papers she was looking for.
She handed them to Daniel, saying,--
"And, if you do not believe what I say, look at this."
There were a dozen square bits of paper, on which Malgat had reported
the result of his operations on 'change, which he carried on on
account of, and with the money of, M. Elgin. All ended with these
"We have lost considerably; but we may be more fortunate next time.
There is a capital chance on such and such funds; send me all the
money you can spare."
The words were always the same; the name of the funds alone varied in
"That is strange," said Daniel.
Miss Sarah shook her head.
"Strange? Yes, indeed!" she replied. "But it does not help me in any
way. This letter, however, will tell you more. Read it, sir, and read
Daniel took the letter, and read,--
"'Paris, Dec. 5, 1865.
"'M. Thomas Elgin. /Dear Sir/,--It is to you alone, the most
honorable among men, that I can make the terrible confession that
I have committed a crime.
"'I am wretched. Employed by you in your speculations, I have given
way to temptation, and have speculated on my own account. One loss
brought about another, I lost my head; I hoped to recover my
money; and now, at this hour, I owe more than ten thousand
dollars, which I have taken from the safe of the society.
"'Will you have pity on me? Will you be so generous as to lend me
that sum? I may not be able to return it in less than six or seven
years; but I will repay you, I swear it, with interest.
"'I await your answer, like a criminal, who waits for the verdict.
It is a matter of life and death with me; and as you decide, so I
may be saved, or disgraced forever. A. Malgat.'"
On the margin, methodical M. Elgin had written in his angular
"Answered immediately. Sent to M. M. ten thousand dollars, to be drawn
from funds deposited with the Mutual Discount Society. No interest to
"And that," stammered Daniel, "that is the man"--
"Whom they charge me with having turned aside from the paths of
honesty; yes, sir! Now you learn to know him. But wait. You see, he
was saved. It was not long before he appeared here, his false face
bathed in tears. I can find no words to convey to you the exaggerated
expressions of his gratitude. He refused to shake hands with M. Elgin,
he said, because he was no longer worthy of such honor. He spoke of
nothing but of his devotion unto death. It is true M. Elgin carried
his generosity to an extreme. He, a model of honesty, who would have
starved to death rather than touch the gold intrusted to his care,--he
consoled Malgat, finding all kinds of apology for him, telling him,
that, after all, he was not so very much to blame, that there were
temptations too strong to be resisted, and repeating even those
paradoxical principles which have been specially invented as an
apology for thieves. Malgat had still some money of his own; but M.
Elgin did not ask him for it, for fear of hurting his feelings. He
continued to invite him, and urged him to come and dine with us as
She stopped, laughing in a nervous manner, which was painful to hear,
and then continued, in a hoarse voice,--
"Do you know, M. Champcey, how Malgat repaid all this kindness? Read
this note; it will restore me in your esteem, I trust."
It was another letter written by Malgat to M. Elgin, and ran thus,--
"M. Elgin,--I have deceived you. It was not ten thousand dollars I
had taken, but sixty thousand five hundred dollars.
"Thanks to false entries, I have been able to conceal my
defalcations until now; but I can do so no longer. The board of
directors have begun to suspect me; and the president has just
told me that tomorrow the books will be examined. I am lost.
"I ought to kill myself, I know; but I have not the courage to do
so. I venture to ask you to furnish me the means of escaping from
this country. I beseech you on my knees, in the name of all that
is dear to you, for mercy's sake; for I am penniless, and cannot
even pay the fare on the railway as far as the frontier. Nor can I
return to my house; for I am watched.
"Once more, M. Elgin, have pity on a poor man, and leave the answer
with the concierge. I will come by about nine o'clock. A. Malgat."
Not on the margin, as before, but across the lines, M. Elgin had written
these laconic words:--
"Answered immediately. No! The scamp!"
Daniel could not have uttered a word to save his life; he was too
fearfully excited. Miss Brandon continued,--
"We were dining alone that day; and M. Elgin was so indignant, that he
forgot his usual reserve, and told us everything. Ah! I felt only pity
for the poor man; and I besought him to give the wretch the means to
escape. But he was inflexible. Seeing, however, how excited I was, he
tried to reassure me by telling me that Malgat would certainly not
come, that he would not dare to expect an answer to such a letter."
She pressed both her hands on her heart, as if to still its beating;
and then continued, in a weak voice,--
"Nevertheless, he came, and, seeing his hopes disappointed, he
insisted upon speaking to us. The servants let him go up, and he
entered. Ah! if I lived a thousand years, I should never forget that
fearful scene. Feeling that all was lost, this thief, this defaulter,
had become enraged; he demanded money. At first he asked for it on his
knees in humble words; but, when he found that this did not answer, he
suddenly rose in a perfect fury, his mouth foaming, his eyes
bloodshot, and overwhelmed us with the coarsest insults. At last M.
Elgin's patience gave out, and he rang for the servants. They had to
employ force to drag him out; and, as they pushed him down stairs, he
threatened us with his fist, and swore that he would be avenged."
Miss Brandon shuddered till she appeared to be all in a quiver; and,
for a moment, Daniel thought she was going to be ill. But she made an
effort to overcome her weakness; and, in a more decided tone, she
"Forty-eight hours passed; and the impression of this horrible scene
began to fade from our minds, till it appeared like a bad dream. If we
mentioned Malgat at all, it was with pity and contempt; for what could
he do to us? Nothing, you will say. Even if he should dare to accuse
us of some great crime, we thought no one would listen to him, and we
should never hear of it. How could we imagine that the world would set
to work doubting our honor upon the mere word of a wretch like him?
"His crime had, in the meantime, become known; and all the papers were
full of it, adding a number of more or less reliable stories. They
exaggerated the sums he had stolen; and they said he had succeeded in
escaping to England, and that the police had lost his traces in
"I, poor girl, had nearly forgotten the whole matter.
"He had really fled; but, before leaving Paris, he had succeeded in
preparing everything for the vengeance which he had threatened. Where
could he have found people mean enough to serve his purposes? and who
were they? I do not know. Perhaps he did nothing more, as Mrs. Brian
suggested, than to address two or three anonymous letters to some of
our acquaintances, who he knew did not like us, or envied us.
"At all events, in less than a week after his disappearance, it was
reported everywhere, that I, Sarah Brandon, had been an accomplice of
this defaulter, and, worse than that, that the sums he had stolen
might easily be found, if a certain bureau in my bedchamber could be
"Yes, that is what they said, at first in a whisper and most
cautiously, then louder, and finally openly, and before all the world.
"Soon the papers took it up. They repeated the facts, arranging them
to suit their purpose, and alluding to me in a thousand infamous
innuendoes. They said that Malgat's defalcation was after the American
style, and that it was perfectly natural he should go to a foreign
country, after having been associated with a certain foreign lady."
She had become crimson all over; her bosom rose; and shame,
indignation, and resentment alternately appeared on her face, changing
finally into an ardent desire of vengeance.
"We, in the meantime," she continued, "quiet and safe in our honesty,
did not even suspect these infamous proceedings. It is true, I had
been struck by some strange whisperings, by curious looks and singular
smiles, when I passed some of my friends; but I had not noticed them
"A paper which had been left at the house one afternoon, when we were
out, showed us the true state of things. It was a summons. I was
ordered to appear before a magistrate.
"It was a thunderbolt. Mad with wrath and grief, M. Elgin swore I
should not go, that he would most assuredly find out the authors of
this infamous libel, and that, in the meantime, he would challenge and
kill every one who dared repeat it.
"In vain did Mrs. Brian and myself beseech him, on our knees, not to
leave the house until he had grown cooler. He pushed us aside almost
with brutality, and rushed out, taking with him the papers and letters
written by Malgat.
"We were at the end of our endurance, having suffered all the tortures
of anxiety, when, at last, near midnight, M. Elgin returned, pale,
exhausted, and distressed. He had found no one willing even to listen
to him; everybody telling him that he was much too good to give a
thought to such infamous reports; that they were too absurd to be
She nearly gave way, sobs intercepting her words; but she mastered her
emotion, and continued,--
"The next day I went to the court-house; and, after being kept waiting
for a long time in a dark passage, I was brought before the
magistrate. He was an elderly man, with hard features and piercing
eyes, who received me almost brutally, as if I had been a criminal.
But, when I had shown him the letters which you have just read, his
manner suddenly changed, pity got the better of him; and I thought I
saw a tear in his eye. Ah! I shall be eternally grateful to him for
the words he said when I left his office,--
"'Poor, poor young girl! Justice bows reverently before your
innocence. Would to God that the world could be made to do the same!'"
She fixed her eyes, trembling with fear and hope, upon Daniel, and
added, in a voice of supplication and touching humility,--
"The world has been more cruel than justice itself but you, sir, will
you be harder than the magistrate?"
Alas! Daniel was sorely embarrassed what to answer. He felt as if all
his senses were in an uproar and in utter confusion.
"Sir!" begged Miss Brandon again. "M. Champcey!"
She continued to fix her eyes upon him. He turned his head aside,
feeling as if, under her obstinate gaze, his mind left him, his energy
evaporated, and all the fibres of his strong will were breaking.
"Great God!" exclaimed Miss Brandon, with grieved surprise; "he still
doubts me. Sir, I pray you, speak! Do you doubt the authenticity of
these letters? Ah, if you do, take them; for I do not hesitate to
confide them, the only proofs of my innocence, to your honor. Take
them and show them to the other clerks who have been sitting for
twenty years in the same office with Malgat; and they will tell you
that it is his handwriting; that he has signed his own condemnation.
And, if that is not enough for you, go to the magistrate who examined
me; his name is Patrigent."
And she waited, waited, but not a word came forth.
Daniel had sunk, undone, into a chair; and his elbow resting on a
small stand, his brow in his hands, he endeavored to think, to reason.
Then Miss Brandon rose, came gently up to him, and taking his hand,
"I beseech you!"
But as if suddenly electrified by the touch of this soft, warm hand,
Daniel rose so hastily, that he upset the chair; and, trembling with
mysterious terror, he cried out,--
It was as if a fearful insult had set Miss Brandon on fire. Her face
turned crimson, and then, almost instantly, livid; and, stepping back
a little, she darted at Daniel a look of burning hatred.
"Oh!" she murmured, "oh!" finding, apparently, no words to express all
Was she going away? It looked as if she thought of it, for she walked
to the door; but, suddenly changing her mind, she came back to where
she had stood, facing Daniel.
"This is the first time in my life," she said, trembling with rage,
"that I condescend to justify myself against such infamous charges;
and you abuse my patience by heaping insult after insult upon me. But
never mind. I look upon you as upon Henrietta's husband; and, since I
have commenced, I mean to finish."
Daniel tried to say a few words of apology; but she interrupted him,--
"Well, yes; one night a young man, Charles de Kergrist,--a profligate,
a gambler, crowning his scandalous life with the vilest and meanest
act,--did come and kill himself under my window. The next day a great
outcry arose against me. Three days later the brother of that wretched
madman, a M. Rene de Kergrist, came and held M. Elgin to account. But
do you know what came of these explanations? Charles de Kergrist, it
appears, killed himself after a supper, which he left in a state of
drunkenness. He committed suicide because he had lost his fortune at
Homburg and at Baden; because he had exhausted his last resources;
because his family, ashamed at his disgrace, refused to acknowledge
him any longer. And, if he chose my window for his self-murder, it was
because he wanted to satisfy a petty grievance. Looking upon me as an
heiress, whose fortune would enable him to continue his extravagant
life, he had courted me, and been refused by M. Elgin. Finally, at the
time when the catastrophe occurred, I was sixty miles away from here,
in Tours, staying at the house of one of M. Elgin's friends, M.
Palmer, who deposed"--
And, as Daniel looked at her with an air of utter bewilderment, she
"Perhaps you will ask me for proofs of what I state. I have none to
give you. But I know a man who can give you what you want, and that
man is M. de Kergrist's brother; for, after those explanations, he has
continued to be our friend, sir, one of our best friends. And he was
here to-night, and you have seen him; for he came and spoke to me
while you were standing by me. M. de Kergrist lives here in Paris; and
M. Elgin will give you his address."
She looked at Daniel with a glance in which pity and contempt were
strangely mixed, and then added, in her proudest tone,--
"And now, sir, since /I/ have deigned to stand here like a criminal,
do you sit in judgment on me. Question me, and I will answer. What
else are you going to charge me with?"
A judge, however, ought to be calm; and Daniel was but too conscious
of his deep excitement; he knew he could not even prevent his features
from expressing his utter bewilderment. He gave up all discussion
therefore, and simply said,--
"I believe you, Miss Brandon, I believe you."
Miss Brandon's beautiful eyes lighted up for a moment with joy; and in
a tone of voice which sounded like the echo of her heart, she said,--
"Oh, thank you, sir! now I am sure you will grant me Miss Henrietta's
Why did she mention that name? It broke the charm which had overcome
Daniel. He saw how weak he had been, and was ashamed of himself.
He said sternly, thus proving his anger at himself, and the failure of
"Permit me not to reply to that to-night. I should like to consider."
She looked at him half stupefied.
"What do you mean?" she said. "Have I, or have I not, removed your
doubts, your insulting suspicions? Perhaps you wish to consult one of
She spoke in a tone of such profound disdain, that Daniel, stung to
the quick, forgot the discretion which he had intended to observe, and
"Since you insist upon it, Miss Brandon, I must confess that there is
one doubt which you have not removed."
Daniel hesitated, regretting the words he had allowed to escape him.
But he had gone too far now to retract. He replied,--
"I do not understand, Miss Brandon, how you can marry Count Ville-
"You are young. You are immensely rich, you say. The count is sixty-
six years old."
She, who had been so daring that nothing seemed to be able to
disconcert her, now lowered her head like a timid boarding-school girl
who has been caught acting contrary to rules; and a flood of crimson
spread over her face, and every part of her figure which was not
concealed by her dress.
"You are cruel, sir!" she stammered; "the secret into which you pry is
one of those which a girl hardly dares to confide to her mother."
He was triumphant, thinking he had caught her at last.
"Ah, indeed!" he said ironically.
But the proud young lady did not waver, and replied with bitter
"You will have it so; be it so. For your sake, I will lay aside that
veil of proud reserve which conceals the mysteries of a young girl's
heart. I do not love Count Ville-Handry."
Daniel was startled. This confession seemed to him the height of
"I do not love him,--at least not with real love; and I have never
allowed him to hope for such a feeling. Still I shall be most happy to
become his wife. Do not expect me to explain to you what is going on
within me. I myself hardly understand it as yet. I can give no precise
name to that feeling of sympathy which attracts me towards him. I have
been captivated by his wit and his kindness; his words have an
indescribable charm for me. That is all I can tell you."
Daniel could not believe his ears.
"And," she continued, "if you must have motives of more ordinary
character, I will confess to you that I can no longer endure this
life, harassed as I am by vile calumnies. The palace of Count Ville-
Handry appears to me an asylum, where I shall bury my disappointments
and my sorrows, and where I shall find peace and a position which
commands respect. Ah! you need not be afraid for that great and noble
name. I shall bear it worthily and nobly, and shrink from no sacrifice
to enhance its splendor. You may say that I am a calculating woman. I
dare say /I/ am; but I see nothing mean or disgraceful in my hopes."
Daniel had thought he had confounded her, and it was she who crushed
him by her bold frankness; for there was nothing to say, no reasonable
objection to make. Fifty marriages out of every hundred are made upon
less high ground. Miss Brandon, however, was not a woman to be easily
overcome. She rose as she spoke, to her former haughtiness, and
inspired herself with the sound of her voice.
"During the last two years," she said, "I have had twenty offers; and
among them three or four that would have been acceptable to a duchess.
I have refused them, in spite of M. Elgin and Mrs. Brian. Only
yesterday, a man of twenty-five, a Gordon Chalusse, was here at my
feet. I have sent him off like the others, preferring my dear count.
She remained a moment buried in thought, her eyes swimming in tears;
and, answering apparently her own questions, rather than Daniel's, she
"Thanks to my beauty, as the world calls it, a fatal beauty, alas! I
have been admired, courted, filled to satiety with compliments. They
say I am in the most elegant and most polished society in Europe; and
yet I have looked in vain for the man whose eye could for a moment
even break the peace of my heart. I have seen everywhere only persons
of like perfection, whose characters had no more wrinkles than the
coat made by the first of tailors, all equally eager and gallant,
playing well, talking well, dancing well, riding well."
She shook her head with a movement full of energy; and, beaming with
enthusiasm, she exclaimed,--
"Ah! I had dreamed of better things to come. What I dreamed of was a
man of noble heart, with an inflexible will, capable of attempting
what others dared not,--what, I do not know, but something grand,
perilous, impossible. I dreamed of one of those ambitious men with a
pale brow, a longing look, whose eyes sparkle with genius,--one of
those strong men who impose their will upon the multitude, and who
remove mountains by the force of their will.
"Alas! to repay the love of such a man, I would have found treasures
in my heart, which now remain useless, like all the wealth that is
buried at the bottom of the sea. I would have drunk deep from the cup
of my hopes; my pulse would have kept time with the fever of his
excitement. For his sake, I would have made myself small, humble,
useful; I would have watched in his looks for the shadow of a desire.
"But how proud I would have been, I, his wife, of his success and of
his glories, of the reverence paid him by his admirers, and the hatred
of his enemies!"
Her voice had vibrations in it that might have stirred up the heart of
a stoic. The splendor of her exalted beauty illumined the room.
And gradually, one by one, Daniel's suspicions vanished, or fell to
pieces like the ill-jointed pieces of an ancient armor. But Miss
Brandon paused, ashamed of her vehemence, and continued more slowly,--
"Now, sir, you know me better than any other person in this world. You
alone have read the innermost heart of Sarah Brandon. And yet I see
you today for the first time in my life. And yet you are the first man
who has ever dared to speak harshly to me, harsh unto insult. Will you
make me repent of my frankness? Oh, no, no! surely you will not be so
cruel. I know you to be a man of honor and of high principles; I know
how, in order to save a name which you revere, you have risked your
prospects in life, the girl you love, and an enormous fortune. Yes,
Miss Ville-Handry has made no ordinary choice."
She looked as if she were utterly despondent, and added, in a tone of
"And I, I know my fate."
Then followed a pause, a terrible pause. They were standing face to
face, pale, troubled, trembling with excitement, their teeth firmly
set, their eyes eloquent with deep feeling.
Daniel, as he felt the hot breath of this terrible passion, became
almost unconscious of the surroundings; his mind was shaken; a
mysterious delirium took possession of his senses; the blood rushed to
his head; and he felt as if the beating at his temples was ringing in
the whole house.
"Yes," began at last Miss Brandon once more, "my fate is sealed. I
must become the Countess of Ville-Handry, or I am lost. And once more,
sir, I beseech you induce Miss Henrietta to receive me like an elder
sister. Ah! if I were the woman you think I am, what would I care for
Miss Henrietta and her enmity? You know very well that the count will
go on at any hazard. And yet I beg,--I who am accustomed to command
everywhere. What more can I do? Do you want to see me at your feet?
Here I am."
And really, as she said this, she sank down so suddenly, that her
knees struck the floor with a noise; and, seizing Daniel's hands, she
pressed them upon her burning brow.
"Great God!" she sighed, "to be rejected, by him!"
Her hair had become partially loosened, and fell in masses on Daniel's
hands. He trembled from head to foot; and, bending over Miss Brandon,
he raised her, and held her, half lifeless, while her head rested on
"Miss Sarah," he said in a hoarse, low voice.
They were so near to each other, that their breaths mingled, and
Daniel felt Miss Brandon's sobs on his heart, burning him like fiery
flames. Then, half drunk with excitement, forgetting every thing, he
pressed his lips upon the lips of this strange girl.
But she, starting up instantly, drew back, and cried,--
"Daniel! unhappy man!"
Then breaking out in sobs, she stammered,--
"Go! I pray you go! I ask for nothing now. If I must be lost, I must."
And he replied with terrible vehemence,--
"Your will shall be done, Sarah; I am yours. You may count upon me."
And he rushed out like a madman, down the staircase, taking three
steps at once, and, finding the house-door open, out into the street.
It was a dark, freezing night; the sky was laden with clouds which
hung so low, that they nearly touched the roofs of the houses; and a
furious wind was shaking the black branches of the trees in the Champs
Elysees, passing through the air like a fine dust of snow.
Daniel rushed in feverish haste, like an escaped convict, headlong on,
without aim or purpose, solely bent upon escaping. But, when he had
gone some distance, the motion, the cold night-air, and the keen wind
playing in his hair, restored him to consciousness. Then he became
aware that he was still in evening costume, bareheaded, and that he
had left his hat and his overcoat in Miss Brandon's house. Then he
remembered that Count Ville-Handry was waiting for him in the great
reception-room, together with M. Elgin and Mrs. Brian. What would they
say and think? Unhappy man, in what a sad predicament he found
There might have been a way to escape from that hell; and he himself,
in his madness, had closed it forever.
Like one of those dissipated men who awake from the heavy sleep after
a debauch, with dry mouth and weary head, he felt as if he had just
been aroused from a singular and terrible dream. Like the drunkard,
who, when he is sobered, tries to recall the foolish things he may
have done under the guidance of King Alcohol, Daniel conjured up one
by one all his emotions during the hour which he had just spent by
Miss Brandon's side,--an hour of madness which would weigh heavily
upon his future fate, and which alone contained in its sixty minutes
more experiences than his whole life so far.
At no time had he been so near despair.
What! He had been warned, put on his guard, made fully aware of all of
Miss Brandon's tricks; they had told him of the weird charm of her
eyes; he himself had caught her that very evening in the open act of
And in spite of all this, feeble and helpless as he was, he had let
himself be caught by the fascinations of this strange girl. Her voice
had made him forget every thing, every thing--even his dear and
beloved Henrietta, his sole thought for so many years.
"Fool!" he said to himself, "what have I done?"
Unmindful of the blast of the tempest, and of the snow which had begun
to fall, he had sat down on the steps of one of the grandest houses in
Circus Street, and, with his elbows on his knees, he pressed his brow
with his hands, as if hoping that he might thus cause it to suggest to
him some plan of salvation. Conjuring up the whole energy of his will,
he tried to retrace his interview with Miss Brandon in order to find
out by what marvellous transformation it had begun as a terrible
combat, and ended as a love-scene. And recalling thus to his memory
all she had told him in her soft, sweet voice, he asked himself if she
had not really been slandered; and, if there was actually something
amiss in her past life, why should it not rather be laid at the door
of those two equivocal personages who watched over her, M. Elgin and
What boldness this strange girl had displayed in her defence! but also
what lofty nobility! How well she had said that she did not love Count
Ville-Handry with real love, and that, until now, no man had even
succeeded in quickening her pulse! Was she of marble, and susceptible
only of delight in foolish vanity?
Oh, no! a thousand times no! The most refined coquetry never achieved
that passionate violence; the most accomplished artist never possessed
that marvellous contagion which is the sublime gift of truth alone.
And, whatever he could do, his head and heart remained still filled
with Miss Brandon; and Daniel trembled as he remembered certain words
in which, under almost transparent illusions, the secret of her heart
had betrayed itself. Could she have told Daniel more pointedly than
she had actually done, "He whom I could love is none other but you"?
Certainly not! And as he thought of it his heart was filled with a
sense of eager and unwholesome desires; for he was a man, no better,
no worse, than other men; and there are but too many men nowadays, who
would value a few hours of happiness with a woman like Miss Brandon
more highly than a whole life of chaste love by the side of a pure and
"But what is that to me?" he repeated. "Can I love her, I?"
Then he began again to revolve in his mind what might have happened
after his flight from the house.
How had Miss Brandon explained his escape? How had she accounted for
her own excitement?
And, drawn by an invincible power, Daniel had risen to return to the
house; and there, half-hid under the shadow of the opposite side, in a
deep doorway, he watched anxiously the windows, as if they could have
told him any thing of what was going on inside. The reception-room was
still brilliantly lighted, and people came and went, casting their
shadows upon the white curtains. A man came and leaned his face
against the window, then suddenly he drew back; and Daniel distinctly
recognized Count Ville-Handry.
What did that mean? Did it not imply that Miss Brandon had been taken
suddenly ill, and that people were anxious about her? These were
Daniel's thoughts when he heard the noise of bolts withdrawn, and
doors opened. It was the great entrance-gate of Miss Brandon's house,
which was thrown open by some of the servants. A low /coupe/ with a
single horse left the house, and drove rapidly towards the Champs
But, at the moment when the /coupe/ turned, the light of the lamp fell
full upon the inside, and Daniel thought he recognized, nay, he did
recognize, Miss Brandon. He felt as if he had received a stunning blow
on the head.
"She has deceived me!" he exclaimed, grinding his teeth in his rage;
"she has treated me like an imbecile, like an idiot!"
Then, suddenly conceiving a strange plan, he added,--
"I must know where she is going at four o'clock in the morning. I will
Unfortunately, Miss Brandon's coachman had, no doubt, received special
orders; for he drove down the avenue as fast as the horse could go,
and the animal was a famous trotter, carefully chosen by Sir Thorn,
who understood horse-flesh better than any one else in Paris. But
Daniel was agile; and the hope of being able to avenge himself at once
gave him unheard-of strength.
"If I could only catch a cab!" he thought.
But no carriage was to be seen. His elbows close to the body, managing
his breath, and steadily measuring his steps, he succeeded in not only
following the /coupe/, but in actually gaining ground. When Miss
Brandon reached Concord Square, he was only a few yards behind the
carriage. But there the coachman touched the horse, which suddenly
increased its pace, crossed the square, and trotted down Royal Street.
Daniel felt his breath giving out, and a shooting pain, first
trifling, but gradually increasing, in his side. He was on the point
of giving up the pursuit, when he saw a cab coming down towards him
from the Madeleine, the driver fast asleep on the box. He threw
himself before the horses, and cried out as well as he could,--
"Driver, a hundred francs for you, if you follow that /coupe/ down
But the driver, suddenly aroused by a man who stood in the middle of
the street, bareheaded, and in evening costume, and who offered him
such an enormous sum, thought it was a practical joke attempted by a
drunken man, and replied furiously,--
"Look out, rascal! Get out of the way, or I drive over you!"
And therewith he whipped his horses; and Daniel would have been driven
over, if he had not promptly jumped aside. But all this had taken
time; and, when he looked up, the /coupe/ was far off, nearly at the
boulevard. To attempt overtaking it now would have been folly indeed;
and Daniel remained there, overwhelmed and defeated.
What could he do? It occurred to him that he might hasten to Maxime,
and ask him for advice. But fate was against him; he gave up that
idea. He went slowly back to his lodgings, and threw himself into an
arm-chair, determined not to go to bed till he had found a way to
extricate himself from the effects of his egregious folly.
But he had now been for two days agitated by the extremest
alternatives, like a man out at sea, whom the waves buffet, and throw
--now up to the shore, and now back again into open water. He had not
closed an eye for forty-eight hours; and, if the heart seems to be
able to suffer almost indefinitely, our physical strength is strictly
limited. Thus he fell asleep, dreaming even in his sleep that he was
hard at work, and just about to discover the means by which he could
penetrate the mystery of Miss Brandon.
It was bright day when Daniel awoke, chilled and stiffened; for he had
not changed his clothes when he came home, and his fire had gone out.
His first impulse was one of wrath against himself. What! he succumbed
so easily?--he, the sailor, who remembered very well having remained
more than once for forty, and even once for sixty hours on deck, when
his vessel was threatened by a hurricane? Had his peaceful and
monotonous life in his office during the last two years weakened him
to such a point, that all the springs of his system had lost their
Poor fellow! he knew not that the direst fatigue /is/ trifling in
comparison with that deep moral excitement which shakes the human
system to its most mysterious depths. Nevertheless, while he hastened
to kindle a large fire, in order to warm himself, he felt that the
rest had done him good. The last evil effects of his excitement last
night had passed away; the charm by which he had been fascinated was
broken; and he felt once more master of all his faculties.
Now his folly appeared to him so utterly inexplicable, that, if he had
but tasted a glass of lemonade at Miss Brandon's house, he should have
been inclined to believe that they had given him one of those drugs
which set the brains on fire, and produce a kind of delirium. But he
had taken nothing, and, even if he had, was the foolish act less real
for that? The consequences would be fatal, he had no doubt.
He was thus busy trying to analyze the future, when his servant
entered, as he did every morning, bringing his hat and overcoat on his
"Sir," he said, with a smile which he tried to render malicious, "you
have forgotten these things at the house where you spent the evening
yesterday. A servant--on horseback too--brought them. He handed me at
the same time this letter, and is waiting for an answer."
Daniel took the letter, and for a minute or more examined the
direction. The handwriting was a woman's, small and delicate, but in
no ways like the long, angular hand of an American lady. At last he
tore the envelope; and at once a penetrating but delicate perfume
arose, which he had inhaled, he knew but too well, in Miss Brandon's
The letter was indeed from her, and on the top of the page bore her
name, Sarah, in small blue Gothic letters. She wrote,--
"Is it really so, O Daniel! that you are entirely mine, and that I
can count upon you? You told me so tonight. Do you still remember
Daniel was petrified. Miss Brandon had told him that she was
imprudence personified; and here she gave him a positive proof of it.
Could not these few lines become a terrible weapon against her? Did
they not admit the most extraordinary interpretation? Still, as the
bearer might be impatient, the servant asked,--
"What must I tell the man?"
"Ah, wait!" answered Daniel angrily.
And, sitting down at his bureau, he wrote to Miss Brandon,--
"Certainly, Miss Brandon, I remember the promises you extorted from
me when I was not master of myself; I remember them but too well."
Suddenly an idea struck him; and he paused. What! Having been caught
already in the very first trap she had prepared for his inexperience,
was he to risk falling into a second? He tore the letter he had
commenced into small pieces, and, turning to his servant, said,--
"Tell the man that I am out; and make haste and get me a carriage!"
Then, when he was once more alone, he murmured,--
"Yes, it is better so. It is much better to leave Miss Brandon in
uncertainty. She cannot even suspect that her driving out this morning
has enlightened me. She thinks I am still in the dark; let her believe
Still this letter of hers seemed to prepare some new intrigue, which
troubled Daniel excessively. Miss Brandon was certain of achieving her
end; what more did she want? What other mysterious aim could she have
"Ah! I cannot make it out," sighed Daniel. "I must consult Brevan."
On his writing-table he found that important and urgent work which the
minister had intrusted to his hands still unfinished. But the
minister, the department, his position, his preferment,--all these
considerations weighed as nothing in comparison with his passion.
He went down, therefore; and, while his carriage drove to his friend's
house, he thought of the surprise he would cause Maxime.
When he arrived there, he found M. de Brevan standing in his shirt-
sleeves before an immense marble table, covered all over with pots and
bottles, with brushes, combs, and sponges, with pincers, polishers,
and files, making his toilet.
If he expected Daniel, he had not expected him so soon; for his
features assumed an expression which seemed to prohibit all
confidential talk. But Daniel saw nothing. He shook hands with his
friend, and, sinking heavily into a chair, he said,--
"I went to Miss Brandon. She has made me promise all she wanted. I
cannot imagine how it came about!"
"Let us hear," said M. de Brevan.
Then, without hesitation, and with all the minutest details, Daniel
told him how Miss Brandon had taken him into her little boudoir, and
how she had exculpated herself from all complicity with Malgat by
showing him the letters written by that wretched man.
"Strange letters!" he said, "which, if they are authentic"--
M. de Brevan shrugged his shoulders.
"You were forewarned," he said, "and you have promised all she wanted!
Do you not think she might have made you sign your own death-
"But Kergrist?" said Daniel. "Kergrist's brother is her friend."
"I dare say. But do you imagine that brother is any cleverer than you
Although he was by no means fully satisfied, Daniel went on,
describing his amazement when Miss Brandon told him that she did not
love Count Ville-Handry.
But Maxime burst out laughing, and interrupted him, saying with bitter
"Of course! And then she went on, telling you that she had never yet
loved anybody, having vainly looked in the world for the man of whom
she dreamed. She painted to you the phoenix in such colors, that you
had to say to yourself, 'What does she mean? That phoenix! Why, she
means me!' That has tickled you prodigiously. She has thrown herself
at your feet; you have raised her up; she has fainted; she has sobbed
like a distressed dove in your arms; you have lost your head."
Daniel was overcome. He stammered,--
"How did you know?"
Maxime could not look him in the face; but his voice was as steady as
ever when he replied, in a tone of bitterest sarcasm,--
"I guess it. Did I not tell you I knew Miss Brandon? She has only one
card in her hand; but that is enough; it always makes a trick."
To have been deceived, and even to have been rendered ridiculous, is
one of those misfortunes which we confess to ourselves, however
painful the process may be; but to hear another person laugh at us
after such a thing has happened is more than we can readily bear.
Daniel, therefore, did not conceal his impatience, and said rather