Part 5 out of 11
An old gentleman came up, and said,--
"She must needs be perfectly disinterested; for I have it from the
count himself that none of the property is to be settled upon Miss
"That certainly is marvellously disinterested."
Having said what he meant to say, the duke had entered the church; and
the old beau now took the word.
"The only thing that is clear to me in this matter is, that I think I
know the person whom this wedding will not please particularly."
"Whom do you mean?"
"Count Ville-Handry's daughter, a young girl, eighteen years old, and
wondrously pretty. Just imagine! Besides, I have looked for her all
over the church, and she is not there."
"She is not present at the wedding," replied the old gentleman, the
friend of Count Ville-Handry, "because she was suddenly taken ill."
"So they say," interposed the young man; "but the fact is, that a
friend of mine has just seen her driving out in her carriage in full
"That can hardly be so."
"My friend was positive. She intended this pretty piece of scandal as
a wedding-present for her stepmother."
M. de Brevan shrugged his shoulders, and said in an undertone,--
"Upon my word, I should not like to stand in the count's shoes."
As a faithful echo of the gossip that was going on in society, this
conversation, carried on in broken sentences, under the porch of St.
Clothilda, made it quite clear that public opinion was decidedly in
favor of Miss Brandon. It would have been surprising if it should have
been otherwise. She triumphed; and the world is always on the side of
the victor. That Duke of Champdoce, an original, was the only one
there who was disposed to remember the past; the others had forgotten
it. The brilliancy of her success was even reflected on those who
belonged to her; and a young man who copied to exaggeration English
fashions was just singing the praises of M. Thomas Elgin and Mrs.
Brian, when a great commotion was noticed under the porch.
People came out, and said,--
"It is all over. The wedding-guests are in the vestry now to sign
The conversation stopped at once. The old beau alone exclaimed,--
"Gentlemen, if we wish to present our respects to the newly-married
couple, we must make haste."
And with these words he hurried into the church, followed by all the
others, and soon reached the vestry, which was too small to hold all
the guests invited by Count Ville-Handry. The parish register had been
placed upon a small table; and every one approached, as his turn came,
taking off his gloves before seizing the pen. Fronting the door, and
leaning against one of the cupboards in which the holy vessels are
kept, stood Miss Brandon, now Countess Ville-Handry, having at her
side grim Mrs. Brian, and tall, stiff M. Elgin.
Her admirers had exaggerated nothing. In her white bridal costume she
looked amazingly beautiful; and her whole person exhaled a perfume of
innocence and ingenuous purity.
She was surrounded by eight or ten young persons, who overwhelmed her
with congratulations and compliments. She replied with a slightly
tremulous voice, and casting down her eyes with the long, silky
eyelashes. Count Ville-Handry stood in the centre of the room,
swelling with almost comic happiness; and at every moment, in replying
to his friends, used the words, "My wife," like a sweet morsel which
he rolled on his tongue.
Still a careful observer might have noticed underneath his victorious
airs a trace of almost painful restraint. From time to time his face
darkened as one of those unlucky, awkward people, who turn up
everywhere, asked him,--
"I hope Miss Henrietta is not complaining much? How very sorry she
must be to be detained at home!"
It is true, that, among these unlucky ones, there were not a few
malicious ones. Nobody was ignorant that something unpleasant had
happened in the count's family. They had suspected something from the
beginning of the ceremony.
For the count had hardly knelt down by Miss Brandon's side, on a
velvet cushion, when a servant wearing his livery had come up, and
whispered a few words in his ear. The guests who were nearest had seen
him turn pale, and utter an expression of furious rage.
What had the servant told him?
It became soon known, thanks to the Countess Bois, who went about
telling everybody with inexhaustible volubility, that she had just met
Miss Ville-Handry in the street.
When the last name had been signed, nobody was, therefore, surprised
at seeing Count Ville-Handry give his arm to his wife, and hand her
hurriedly to her carriage,--a magnificent state-carriage. He had
invited some twenty people, former friends of his, to a great wedding-
breakfast; but he seemed to have forgotten them. And once in his
carriage, alone with Mrs. Brian, M. Elgin, and the young countess, he
broke forth in incoherent imprecations and absurd threatenings.
When they reached the palace, he did not wait for the coachman to
drive as usually around the yard, but jumped out, and, rushing up to
the vestibule, cried out,--
"Ernest! send Ernest here!"
Ernest was his own valet, the clever artist to whom he was indebted
for the roses of his complexion. As soon as he appeared, he asked,--
"Where is the young lady?"
"Immediately after you, sir."
The young countess, Mrs. Brian, and M. Elgin, had, in the meantime,
come up, and gone into the room in the lower story, where this scene
"Do you hear that?" he asked them.
Then, turning again to the valet, he asked,--
"How did it happen?"
"Very naturally. The gates had not been closed behind your carriage,
sir, when the young lady rang the bell. They went up to see what she
wanted, and she ordered the landau to be brought round. She was told
very respectfully, that all three coachmen were out, and that there
was no one there to drive her. 'If that be so,' she answered, 'I want
you to run and get me a hired carriage.' And, when the servant to whom
she gave the order hesitated, she added, 'If you do not go instantly,
I shall go myself.'"
The count trembled with rage.
"And then?" he asked, seeing that the man was hesitating.
"Then the servant was frightened, and did what she wanted."
"He is dismissed, the fool!" exclaimed Count Ville-Handry.
"But allow me to /say/," commenced Ernest.
"No! Let his wages be paid. And you go on."
Without showing any embarrassment, the valet shrugged his shoulders,
and continued in a lazy tone,--
"Then the hack came into the court-yard; and we saw the young lady
come down in a splendid toilet, such as we have never seen her wear
before,--not pretty exactly, but so conspicuous, that it must have
attracted everybody's attention. She settled herself coolly on the
cushions, while we looked at her, utterly amazed; and, when she was
ready, she said, 'Ernest, you will tell my father that I shall not be
back for breakfast. I have a good many visits to make; and, as the
weather is fine, I shall afterwards go to the Bois de Boulogne.'
Thereupon the gates were opened, and off they went. It was then that I
took the liberty to send you word, sir."
In all his life Count Ville-Handry had not been so furious. The veins
in his neck began to swell; and his eyes became bloodshot, as if he
had been threatened with a fit of apoplexy.
"You ought to have kept her from going out," he said hoarsely. "Why
did you not prevent her? You ought to have made her go back to her
room, use force if necessary, lock her up, bind her."
"You had given no orders, sir."
"You ought to have required no orders to do your duty. To let a mad
woman run about! an impudent girl whom I caught the other day in the
garden with a man!"
He cried out so loud, that his voice was heard in the adjoining room,
where the invited guests were beginning to assemble. The unhappy man!
He disgraced his own child. The young countess at once came up to him
"I beseech you, my dear friend, be calm!"
"No, this must end; and I mean to punish the wicked girl."
"I beseech you, my dear count, do not destroy the happiness of the
first day of our married life. Henrietta is only a child; she did not
know what she was doing."
Mrs. Brian was not of the same opinion. She declared,--
"The count is right. The conduct of this young lady is perfectly
Then Sir Thorn interrupted her, saying,--
"Ah, ah! Brian, where is our bargain? Was it not understood that we
would have nothing to do with the count's private affairs?"
Thus every one took up at once his assigned part. The countess
advocated forbearance; Mrs. Brian advised discipline; and Sir Thorn
was in favor of silent impartiality.
Besides, they easily succeeded in calming the count. But, after such a
scene, the wedding breakfast could not be very merry. The guests, who
had heard nearly all, exchanged strange looks with each other.
"The count's daughter," they thought, "and a lover? That can hardly
In vain did the count try to look indifferent; in vain did the young
countess display all her rare gifts. Everybody was embarrassed; nobody
could summon up a smile; and every five minutes the conversation gave
out. At half-past four o'clock, the last guest had escaped, and the
count remained alone with his new family. It was growing dark, and
they were bringing in the lamps, when the rolling of carriage-wheels
was heard on the sand in the court-yard. The count rose, turning pale.
"Here she comes!" he said. "Here is my daughter!"
It was Henrietta.
How could a young girl, usually so reserved, and naturally so timid,
make up her mind to cause such scandal? Because the most timid people
are precisely the boldest on certain occasions. Forced to abandon
their nature, they do not reason, and do not calculate, and, losing
all self-possession, rush blindly into danger, impelled by a kind of
madness resembling that of sheep when they knock their heads against
the walls of their stable.
Now, for nearly a fortnight, the count's daughter had been upset by so
many and so violent emotions, that she was no longer herself. The
insults which her father heaped upon her when he surprised her with
Daniel had unsettled her mind completely.
For Count Ville-Handry, acting under a kind of overexcitement, had
that day lost all self-control, and forgot himself so far as to treat
his daughter as no gentleman would have treated his child while in his
senses, and that in the presence of his servants!
And then, what tortures she had had to endure in the week that
followed! She had declared that she would not be present at the
reading of the marriage-contract, nor at the ceremonies of the civil
marriage, nor at church; and her father had tried to make her change
her intentions. Hence every day a new lamentable scene, as the
decisive moment drew nearer.
If the count had at least used a little discretion, if he had tried
the powers of persuasion, or sought to touch his daughter's heart by
speaking to her of herself, of her future, of her happiness, of her
But no! He never came to her room without a new insult, thinking of
nothing, as he acknowledged himself, but of sparing Miss Brandon's
feelings, and of saving her all annoyance. The consequence was, that
his threats, so far from moving Henrietta, had only served to
strengthen her in her determination.
The marriage-contract had been read and signed at six o'clock, just
before a grand dinner. At half-past five, the count had once more come
to his daughter's room. Without telling her any thing of it, he had
ordered her dressmaker to send her several magnificent dresses; and
they were lying about now, spread out upon chairs.
"Dress yourself," he said in a tone of command, "and come down!"
She, the victim of that kind of nervous exaltation which makes
martyrdom appear preferable to yielding, replied obstinately,--
"No, I shall not come down."
She did not care for any subterfuge or excuse; she did not even
pretend to be unwell; she said resolutely--
"I will not!"
And he, finding himself unable to overcome this resistance, maddened
and enraged, broke out in blasphemies and insane threats.
A chambermaid, who had been attracted by the loud voice, had come,
and, putting her ear to the keyhole, had heard every thing; and the
same evening she told her friends how the count had struck his
daughter, and that she had heard the blows.
Henrietta had always denied the charge.
Nevertheless, it was but too true, that, in consequence of these last
insults, she had come to the determination to make her protest as
public as she could by showing herself to all Paris while her father
was married at St. Clothilda to Miss Brandon. The poor girl had no one
to whom she could confide her griefs, no one to tell her that all the
disgrace would fall back upon herself.
So she had carried out her plan bravely. Putting on a very showy
costume, so as to attract as much attention as possible, she had spent
the day in driving about to all the places where she thought she would
meet most of her acquaintances. Night alone had compelled her to
return, and she felt broken to pieces, exhausted, upset by unspeakable
anguish of soul, but upheld by the absurd idea that she had done her
duty and shown herself worthy of Daniel.
She had just alighted, and was about to pay the coachman, when the
count's valet came up, and said to her in an almost disrespectful tone
"My master has ordered me to tell you to come to him as soon as you
should come home."
"Where is my father?"
"In the large reception-room."
"No. The countess, Mrs. Brian, and M. Elgin are with him."
"Very well. I am coming."
Gathering all her courage, and looking whiter and colder than the
marble of the statues in the vestibule, she went to the reception-
room, opened the door, and entered stiffly.
"Here you are!" exclaimed Count Ville-Handry, restored to a certain
degree of calmness by the very excess of his wrath,--"here you are!"
"Where have you been?"
She had at a glance taken in the whole room; and at the sight of the
new countess, and those whom she called her accomplices, all her
resentment arose. She smiled haughtily, and said carelessly,--
"I have been at the Bois de Boulogne. In the morning I went out to
make some purchases; later, knowing that the Duchess of Champdoce is a
little unwell, and does not go out, I went to lunch with her; after
that, as the weather was so fine"--
Count Ville-Handry could endure it no longer.
Seizing his daughter by the wrists, he lifted her bodily, and,
dragging her up to the Countess Sarah, he hurled out,--
"On your knees, unhappy child! on your knees, and ask the best and
noblest of women to pardon you for all these insults!"
"You hurt me terribly, father," said the young girl coldly.
But the countess had already thrown herself between them.
"For Heaven's sake, madam," she said, "spare your father!"
And, as Henrietta measured her from head to foot with an insulting
glance, she went on,--
"Dear count, don't you see that your violence is killing me?"
Promptly Count Ville-Handry let his daughter go, and, drawing back, he
"Thank her, thank this angel of goodness who intercedes in your
behalf! But have a care! my patience is at an end. There are such
things as houses of correction for rebellious children and perverse
She interrupted him by a gesture, and exclaimed with startling
"Be it so, father! Choose among all these houses the very strictest,
and send me there. Whatever I may have to suffer there, it will be
better than being here, as long as I see in the place of my mother
"Wretch!" howled the count.
He was suffocating. By a violent effort he tore off his cravat; and,
conscious that he was no longer master of himself, he cried to his
"Leave me, leave me! or I answer for nothing." She hesitated a moment.
Then, casting upon the countess one more look full of defiance, she
slowly went out of the room.
"Well, I am sure the count can boast that he has had a curious
This was the way the servants spoke at the moment when Henrietta left
the reception-room. She heard it; and without knowing whether they
approved her conduct, or laughed at it, she felt gratified, so eager
is passion for encouragement from anywhere.
But she had not yet gone half-way up the stairs which led to her own
rooms, when she was held at the place by the sound of all the bells of
the house, which had been set in motion by a furious hand. She bent
over the balusters to listen. The servants were rushing about; the
vestibule resounded with hurried steps; and she distinguished the
imperious voice of M. Ernest, the count's valet, who called out,--
"Salts, quick! Fresh water. The countess has a nervous attack."
A bitter smile curled Henrietta's lips.
"At least," she said to herself, "I shall have poisoned this woman's
joy." And, fearing to be caught thus listening, she went up stairs.
But, when she was alone once more, the poor girl failed not to
recognize the utter futility of her fancied triumph. Whom had she
wounded, after all? Her father.
However unwell the countess might be to-night,--and perhaps she was
not really unwell,--she would certainly be well again in the morning;
and then what would be the advantage of the scandal she had attempted
in order to ruin her? Now Henrietta saw it very clearly,--now, when it
was too late.
Worse than that! She fancied that what she had done to-day pledged her
for the future. The road upon which she had started evidently led
nowhere. Never mind, it seemed to her miserable cowardice to shrink
from going on.
Rising with the sun, she was deliberating on what weak point she might
make her next attack, when there came a knock at the door, and
Clarissa, her own maid, entered.
"Here is a letter for you, miss," she said. "I have received it this
moment, in an envelope addressed to me."
Henrietta examined the letter for a long time before opening it,
studying the handwriting, which she did not know. Who could write to
her, and in this way, unless it was Maxime de Brevan, to whom Daniel
had begged her to intrust herself, and who, so far, had given no sign
of life of himself?
It was M. de Brevan who wrote thus,--
"Madam,--Like all Paris, I also have heard of your proud and noble
protest on the day of your father's unfortunate marriage. Egotists
and fools will perhaps blame you. But you may despise them; for
all the best men are on your side. And my dear Daniel, if he were
here, would approve and admire your courage, as I do myself."
She drew a full breath, as if her heart had been relieved of a heavy
Daniel's friend approved her conduct. This was enough to stifle
henceforth the voice of reason, and to make her disregard every idea
of prudence. The whole letter of M. de Brevan was, moreover, nothing
but a long and respectful admonition to resist desperately.
Farther on he wrote,--
"At the moment of taking the train, Daniel handed me a letter, in
which he expresses his innermost thoughts. With a sagacity worthy
of such a heart, he foresees and solves in advance all the
difficulties by which your step-mother will no doubt embarrass you
hereafter. This letter is too precious to be intrusted to the
mail, I shall, therefore, get myself introduced at your father's
house before the end of the week, and I shall have the honor to
put that letter into your own hands."
"I shall have an opportunity, tomorrow, to send Daniel news from
here. If you wish to write to him, send me your letter to-day, Rue
Laffitte, No. 62, and I will enclose it in mine."
Finally, there came a postscript in these words,--
"Mistrust, above all, M. Thomas Elgin."
This last recommendation caused Henrietta particular trouble, and made
her feel all kinds of vague and terrible apprehensions.
"Why should I mistrust him," she said to herself, "more than the
But a more pleasing anxiety soon came to her assistance. What? Here
was an opportunity to send Daniel news promptly and safely, and she
was running the risk, by her delays, of losing the chance? She
hastened to dress; and, sitting down before her little writing-table,
she went to work communicating to her only friend on earth all her
sufferings since he had so suddenly left her, her griefs, her
resentments, her hopes.
It was eleven o'clock when she had finished, having filled eight large
pages with all she felt in her heart. As she was about to rise, she
suddenly felt ill. Her knees gave way under her, and she felt as if
every thing was trembling around her. What could this mean? she
thought. And now only she remembered that she had eaten nothing since
the day before.
"I must not starve myself," she said almost merrily to herself. Her
long chat with Daniel had evidently rekindled her hopes.
She rang the bell; and, when her maid appeared, she said,--
"Bring me some breakfast!"
Miss Ville-Handry occupied three rooms. The first, her sitting-room,
opened upon the hall; on the right was her bed-chamber; and on the
left a boudoir with her piano, her music, and her books. When
Henrietta took her meals up stairs, which of late had happened quite
often, she ate in the sitting-room.
She had gone in there, and was clearing the table of the albums and
little trifles which were lying about, so as to hasten matters, when
the maid reappeared with empty hands.
"The count has given orders not to take any thing up stairs."
"That cannot be."
But a mocking voice from without interrupted her, saying,--
"It is so!"
And immediately Count Ville-Handry appeared, already dressed, curled,
and painted, bearing the appearance of a man who is about to enjoy his
"Leave us!" he said to the maid-servant.
And, as soon as Clarissa had left the room, he turned to Henrietta
with these words,--
"Yes, indeed, my dear Henrietta, I have given strict orders not to
bring you up any thing to eat. Why should you indulge such fancies? I
ask you. Are you unwell? If you are, we will send for the doctor. If
not, you will do me the favor to come down and take your meals in the
dining-room with the family,--with the countess and myself, M. Elgin
and Mrs. Brian."
"There is no father who could stand this. The time of weakness is
past, and so is the time of passion; therefore, you will come down.
Oh! whenever you feel disposed. You will, perhaps, pout a day, maybe
two days; but hunger drives the wolf into the village; and on the
third day we shall see you come down as soon as the bell rings. I have
in vain appealed to your heart; you see I am forced to appeal to your
Whatever efforts Henrietta might make to remain impassive, the tears
would come into her eyes,--tears of shame and humiliation. Could this
idea of starving her into obedience have originated with her father?
No, he would never have thought of it! It was evidently a woman's
thought, and the result of bitter, savage hate.
Still the poor girl felt that she was caught; and her heart revolted
at the ignominy of the means, and the certainty that she would be
forced to yield. Her cruel imagination painted to her at once the
exultation of the new countess, when she, the daughter of Count Ville-
Handry, would appear in the dining-room, brought there by want, by
"Father," she begged, "send me nothing but bread and water, but spare
me that exposure."
But, if the count was repeating a lesson, he had learned it well. His
features retained their sardonic expression; and he said in an icy
"I have told you what I desire. You have heard it, and that is
He was turning to leave the room, when his daughter held him back.
"Father," she said, "listen to me."
"Well, what is it, now?"
"Yesterday you threatened to shut me up."
"To-day it is I who beseech you to do so. Send me to a convent.
However harsh and strict the rules may be, however sad life may be
there, I will find there some relief for my sorrow, and I will bless
you with all my heart."
He only shrugged his shoulders over and over again; then he said,--
"A good idea! And from your convent you would at once write to
everybody and everywhere, that my wife had turned you out of the
house; that you had been obliged to escape from threats and bad
treatment; you would repeat all the well-known elegies of the innocent
young girl who is persecuted by a wicked stepmother. Not so, my dear,
The breakfast-bell, which was ringing below, interrupted him.
"You hear, Henrietta," he said. "Consult your stomach; and, according
to what it tells you, come down, or stay here."
He went out, manifestly quite proud at having performed what he called
an act of paternal authority, without vouchsafing a glance at his
daughter, who had sunk back upon a chair; for she felt overcome, the
poor child! by all the agony of her pride. It was all over: she could
struggle no longer. People who would not shrink from such extreme
measures in order to overcome her might resort to the last
extremities. Whatever she could do, sooner or later she would have to
Hence--why might she not as well give way at once? She saw clearly,
that, the longer she postponed it, the sweeter would be the victory to
the countess, and the more painful would be the sacrifice to herself.
Arming herself, therefore, with all her energy, she went down into the
dining-room, where the others were already at table.
She had imagined that her appearance would be greeted by some
insulting remark. Not at all. They seemed hardly to notice her. The
countess, who had been talking, paused to say, "Good-morning, madam!"
and then went on without betraying in her voice the slightest emotion.
Henrietta had even to acknowledge that they had been considerate. Her
plate had not been put by her mother-in-law. A seat had been kept for
her between Mrs. Brian and M. Elgin. She sat down, and, while eating,
watched stealthily, and with all her powers of observation, these
strangers who were henceforth the masters of her destiny, and whom she
now saw for the first time; for yesterday she had hardly perceived
She was at once struck, painfully struck, with the dazzling,
marvellous beauty of Countess Sarah, although she had been shown her
photograph by her father, and ought thus to have been prepared. It was
evident that the young countess had barely taken time to put on a
wrapper before coming down to breakfast. Her complexion was more
animated than usually. She exhibited all the touching confusion of a
young bride, and was constantly more or less embarrassed.
Henrietta comprehended but too well the influence such a woman was
likely to have over an old man who had fallen in love with her. It
made her tremble. But grim Mrs. Brian appeared to her hardly less
formidable. She could read nothing in her dull, heavy eye but cold
wickedness; nothing in her lean, yellow face but an implacable will;
all the wrinkles seemed to be permanently graven in wax.
She thought, after all, the least to be feared was tall, stiff M.
Thomas Elgin. Seated by her, he had shown her discreetly some little
attentions; and, when she observed him more closely, she discovered in
his eyes something like commiseration.
"And yet," she thought, "it was against him that M. de Brevan warned
But breakfast was over. Henrietta rose, and having bowed, without
saying a word, was going back to her room when she met on the stairs
some of the servants, who were carrying a heavy wardrobe. Upon inquiry
she learned that, as Sir Thorn and Mrs. Brian were hereafter to live
in the palace, they were bringing up their furniture.
She shook her head sadly; but in her rooms a greater surprise was
awaiting her. Three servants were hard at work taking down her
furniture, under the direction of M. Ernest, the count's valet.
"What are you doing there?" she asked, and "Who has permitted you?"
"We are only obeying the orders of the count, your father," replied M.
Ernest. "We are getting your rooms ready for Madam Brian."
And, turning round to his colleagues, he said,--
"Go on, men! Take out that sofa; now!"
Overcome with surprise, Henrietta remained petrified where she was,
looking at the servants as they went on with their work. What? These
eager adventurers had taken possession of the palace, they invaded it,
they reigned here absolutely, and that was not enough for them! They
meant to take from her even the rooms she had occupied, she, the
daughter of their dupe, the only heiress of Count Ville-Handry! This
impudence seemed to her so monstrous, that unable to believe it, and
yielding to a sudden impulse, she went back to the dining-room, and,
addressing her father, said to him,--
"Is it really true, father, that you have ordered my furniture to be
"Yes, I have done so, my daughter. My architect will transform your
three rooms into a large reception-room for Mrs. Brian, who had not
space enough for"--
The young countess made a gesture of displeasure.
"I cannot understand," she said, "how Aunt Brian can accept that."
"I beg your pardon," exclaimed the admirable lady, "this is done
entirely without my consent."
But the count interposed, saying,--
"Sarah, my darling, permit me to be sole judge in all the arrangements
that concern my daughter."
Count Ville-Handry's accent was so firm as he said this, that one
would have sworn the idea of dislodging Henrietta had sprung from his
own brains. He went on,--
"I never act thoughtlessly, and always take time to mature my
decisions. In this case I act from motives of the most ordinary
propriety. Mrs. Brian is no longer young; my daughter is a mere child.
If one of the two has to submit to some slight inconvenience, it is
certainly my daughter."
All of a sudden M. Elgin rose.
"I should leave," he began.
Unfortunately the rest of the phrase was lost in an indistinct murmur.
He was no doubt at that moment recalling a promise he had made. And
resolved not to interfere in the count's family affairs, and, on the
other hand, indignant at what he considered an odious abuse of power,
he left the room abruptly. His looks, his physiognomy, his gestures,
all betrayed these sentiments so clearly, that Henrietta was quite
But Count Ville-Handry continued, after a moment's surprise, saying,--
"Therefore, my daughter will hereafter live in the rooms formerly
occupied by the companion of my--I mean of her mother. They are small,
but more than sufficient for her. Besides, they have this advantage,
that they can be easily overlooked from one of our own rooms, my dear
Sarah; and that is important when we have to deal with an imprudent
girl, who has so sadly abused the liberty which she enjoyed, thanks to
my blind confidence."
What should she say? What could she reply?
If she had been alone with her father, she would certainly have
defended herself; she would have tried to make him reconsider his
decision; she would have besought him; she might have gone on her
knees to him.
But here, in the presence of these two women, with the mocking eye of
Countess Sarah upon her, it was impossible! Ah! she would have died a
thousand times over rather than to give these miserable adventurers
the joy and the satisfaction of a new humiliation.
"Let them crush me," she said to herself; "they shall never hear me
complain, or cry for mercy."
And when her father, who had been quietly watching her, asked,--
"You shall be obeyed this very night," she replied.
And by a kind of miracle of energy, she went out of the room calmly,
her head on high; without having shed a tear.
But God knew what she suffered.
To give up those little rooms in which she had spent so many happy
hours, where every thing recalled to her sweet memories, certainly
that was no small grief: it was nothing however, in comparison with
that frightful perspective of having to live under the wary eye of
Countess Sarah, under lock and key.
They would not even leave her at liberty to weep. Her intolerable
sufferings would not extort a sigh from her that the countess did not
hear on the other side of the partition, and delight in.
She was thus harassing herself, when she suddenly remembered the
letter which she had written to Daniel. If M. de Brevan was to have it
that same day, there was not a moment to lose. Already it was too late
for the mail; and she would have to send it by a commissionaire.
She rang the bell, therefore, for Clarissa, her confidante, for the
purpose of sending it to the Rue Laffitte. But, instead of Clarissa,
one of the housemaids appeared, and said,--
"Your own maid is not in the house. Mrs. Brian has sent her to Circus
Street. If I can do any thing for you"--
"No, I thank you!" replied Henrietta.
It seemed, then, that she counted for nothing any more in the house.
She was not allowed to eat in her rooms; she was turned out of her own
rooms; and the maid, long attached to her service, was taken from her.
And here she was forced to submit to such humiliations without a
chance of rebelling.
But time was passing; and every minute made it more difficult to let
M. de Brevan have her letter in time for the mail.
"Well," said Henrietta to herself, "I will carry it myself."
And although she had, perhaps, in all her life not been more than
twice alone in the street, she put on her bonnet, wrapped herself up
in a cloak, and went down swiftly.
The concierge, a large man, very proud of his richly laced livery, was
sitting before the little pavilion in which he lived, smoking, and
reading his paper.
"Open the gates!" said Henrietta.
But the man, without taking his pipe out of his mouth, without even
getting up from his seat, answered in a surly tone,--
"The count has sent me orders never to let you go out without a verbal
or written permission; so that"--
"Impudence!" exclaimed Henrietta.
And resolutely she went up to the ponderous gates of the court-yard,
stretching out her hand to pull the bolt. But the man, divining her
intention, and quicker than she, had rushed up to the gate, and,
crying out as loud as he could, he exclaimed,--
"Miss, miss! Stop! I have my orders, and I shall lose my place."
At his cries a dozen servants who were standing idly about in the
stables, the vestibule, and the inner court, came running up. Then Sir
Thorn appeared, ready to go out on horseback, and finally the count
"What do you want? What are you doing there?" he asked his daughter.
"You see, I want to go out."
"Alone?" laughed the count. Then he continued harshly, pointing at the
"This man would be instantly dismissed if he allowed you to leave the
house alone. Oh, you need not look at me that way! Hereafter you will
only go out when, and with whom, it pleases me. And do not hope to
escape my watchful observation. I have foreseen every thing. The
little gate to which you had a key has been nailed up. And, if ever a
man should dare to steal into the garden, the gardeners have orders to
shoot him down like a dog, whether it be the man with whom I caught
you the other day, or some one else."
Under this mean and cowardly insult Henrietta staggered; but,
immediately collecting herself, she exclaimed,--
"Great God! Am I delirious? Father, are you aware of what you are
And, as the suppressed laughter of the servants reached her, she added
with--almost convulsive vehemence,--
"At least, say who the man was with whom I was in the garden, so that
all, all may hear his name. Tell them that it was M. Daniel Champcey,
--he whom my sainted mother had chosen for me among all,--he whom for
long years you have daily received at your house, to whom you have
solemnly promised my hand, who was my betrothed, and who would now be
my husband, if we had chosen to approve of your unfortunate marriage.
Tell them that it was M. Daniel Champcey, whom you had sent off the
day before, and whom a crime, a forgery committed by your Sarah,
forced to go to sea; for he had to be put out of the way at any
/hazard/. As long as he was in Paris, you would never have dared treat
me as I am treated."
Overcome by this unexpected violence, the count could only stammer out
a few incoherent words. Henrietta was about to go on, when she felt
herself taken by the arm, and gently but irresistibly taken up to the
house. It was Sir Thorn, who tried to save her from her own
excitement. She looked at him; a big tear was slowly rolling down the
cheek of the impassive gentleman.
Then, when he had led her as far as the staircase, and she had laid
hold of the balusters, he said,--
And went away with rapid steps.
Yes, "poor girl" indeed!
Her resolve was giving way under all these terrible blows; and seized
with a kind of vertigo, out of breath, and almost beside herself, she
had rushed up the steps, feeling as if she still heard the abominable
accusations of her father, and the laughter of the servants.
"O God," she sobbed, "have pity on me!"
She felt in her heart that she had no hope left now but God, delivered
up as she was to pitiless adversaries, sacrificed to the implacable
hatred of a stepmother, abandoned by all, and betrayed and openly
renounced by her own father.
Hour by hour she had seen how, by an incomprehensible combination of
fatal circumstances, the infernal circle narrowed down, within which
she was wretchedly struggling, and which soon would crush her
effectually. What did they want of her? Why did they try every thing
to exasperate her to the utmost? Did they expect some catastrophe to
result from her despair?
Unfortunately, she did not examine this question carefully, too
inexperienced as she was to suspect the subtle cunning of people whose
wickedness would have astonished a criminal judge. Ah, how useful one
word from Daniel would have been to her at this crisis! But, trembling
with anguish for his betrothed, the unhappy man had not dared repeat
to her the terrible words which had escaped M. de Brevan, in his first
moment of expansion,--
"Miss Brandon leaves the dagger and the poisoned cup to fools, as too
coarse and too dangerous means to get rid of people. She has safer
means to suppress those who are in her way--means which justice never
Lost in sombre reflections, the poor girl was forgetting the hour, and
did not notice that it had become dark already, when she heard the
dinner-bell ring. She was free not to go down; but she revolted at the
idea that the Countess Sarah might think her overcome. So she said to
"No. She shall never know how much I suffer!"
Ringing, then, for Clarissa, who had come back, she said,--
"Come, quick, dress me!"
And in less than five minutes she had arranged her beautiful hair, and
put on one of her most becoming dresses. While changing her dress, she
noticed the rustling of paper.
"Ah!" she said to herself, "my letter to Daniel. I had forgotten it."
Was it already too late to send it to M. de Brevan? Probably it was.
But why might she not try, at least? So she gave it to Clarissa,
"You will take a cab, and take this letter immediately to M. de
Brevan, Rue Laffitte, No. 62. If he is out, you will leave it, telling
the people to be sure to give it to him as soon as he comes in. You
can find some excuse, if they should ask you why you are going out. Be
She herself went down stairs, so determined to conceal her emotion,
that she actually had a smile on her lips as she entered the dining-
room. The fever that devoured her gave to her features unwonted
animation, and to her eyes a strange brilliancy. Her beauty,
ordinarily a little impaired, shone forth once more in amazing
splendor, so as to eclipse almost that of the countess.
Even Count Ville-Handry was struck by it, and exclaimed, glancing at
his young wife,--
Otherwise, this was the only notice which was taken of Henrietta.
After that, no one seemed to mind her presence, except M. Elgin, whose
eye softened whenever he looked at her. But what was that to her?
Affecting a composure which she was far from possessing, she made an
effort to eat, when a servant entered, and very respectfully whispered
a few words in the ear of the countess.
"Very well," she said; "I'll be there directly."
And, without vouchsafing an explanation, she left the table, and
remained perhaps ten minutes away.
"What was it?" asked Count Ville-Handry, with an accent of tenderest
interest, when his young wife reappeared.
"Nothing, my dear," she replied, as she took her seat again,--
"nothing, some orders to give."
Still Henrietta thought she noticed under this apparent indifference
of her step-mother an expression of cruel satisfaction. More than
that, she fancied she saw the countess and Mrs. Brian rapidly exchange
looks, one saying, "Well," and the other answering, "All right."
The poor girl, prejudiced as she was, felt as if she had been stabbed
once more to the heart.
"These wretches," she thought, "have prepared another insult for me."
This suspicion took so powerfully hold of her, that when dinner was
over, instead of returning to her rooms, she followed her father and
his new "friends" into the sitting-room. Count Ville-Handry spoke of
Mrs. Brian and M. Elgin always as "the family."
They did not long remain alone. The count and his young wife had
probably let it be known that they would be at home that evening; and
soon a number of visitors came in, some of them old friends of the
family, but the great majority intimates from Circus Street. Henrietta
was too busy watching her stepmother to notice how eagerly she herself
was examined, what glances they cast at her, and how careful the
married ladies, as well as the young girls, were to leave her alone.
It required a brutal scene to open her mind to the truth, and to bring
her thoughts back to the horrible reality of her situation. That scene
came but too soon.
As the visitors increased, the conversation had ceased to be general,
and groups had formed; so that two ladies came to sit down close by
Henrietta. They were apparently friends of the young countess, for she
did not know them, and one of them had a strong foreign accent. They
were talking. Instinctively Henrietta listened.
"Why did you not bring your daughter?" asked one of them.
"How could I?" replied the other. "I would not bring her here for the
world. Don't you know what kind of a woman the count's daughter is? It
is incredible, and almost too scandalous. On the day of her father's
marriage she ran away with somebody, by the aid of a servant, who has
since been dismissed; and they had to get the police to help them
bring her back. If it had not been for our dear Sarah, who is goodness
itself, they would have sent her to a house of correction."
A stifled cry interrupted them. They looked round. Henrietta had
suddenly been taken ill, and had fallen to the ground. Instantly, and
with one impulse, everybody was up. But the honorable M. Elgin had
been ahead of them all, and had rushed up with such surprising
promptness at the very moment when the accident happened, that it
almost looked as if he had had a presentiment, and was watching for
the precise time when his assistance would be needed.
Raising Henrietta with a powerful arm, he laid her on a sofa, not
forgetting to slip a cushion under her head. Immediately the countess
and the other ladies crowded around the fainting girl, rubbing the
palms of her hands, moistening her temples with aromatic vinegar and
cologne, and holding bottles of salts persistently to her nostrils.
Still all efforts to bring her to remained sterile; and this was so
extraordinary, that even Count Ville-Handry began to be moved,
although at first he had been heard to exclaim,--
"Pshaw! Leave her alone. It is nothing."
The mad passion of senile love had not yet entirely extinguished in
him the instincts of a father; and anxiety rekindled the affection he
had formerly felt for his child. He rushed, therefore, to the
vestibule, calling out to the servants who were there on duty,--
"Quick! Let some one run for the doctor; never mind which,--the
This acted as a signal for the guests to scatter at once. Finding that
this fainting-fit lasted too long, and fearing perhaps a fatal
termination, a painful scene, and tears, they slyly slipped out, one
by one, and escaped.
In this way the countess, Mrs. Brian, M. Elgin, and the unhappy father
found themselves soon once more alone with poor Henrietta, who was
"We ought not to leave her here," said Countess Sarah; "she will be
better in her bed."
"Yes, that is true, you are right!" replied the count. "I shall have
her carried to her room."
And he was stretching out his hand to pull the bell, when Sir Thorn
stopped him, saying in a voice of deep emotion,--
"Never mind, count. I'll carry her myself."
And, without waiting for an answer, he took her up like a feather, and
carried her to her room, followed by Count Ville-Handry, and his young
wife. He could, of course, not remain in Henrietta's room; but it
looked as if he could not tear himself away. For some time the
servants, quite amazed, saw him walk up and down the passage with
feverish steps, and, in spite of his usual impassiveness, giving all
the signs of extraordinary excitement. Every ten minutes he paused in
his walk to ask at the door, with a voice full of anxiety,--
"She is still in the same condition," was the answer.
In the meantime two physicians had arrived, but without obtaining any
better results than the countess and her friends. They had exhausted
all the usual remedies for such cases, and began, evidently, to be not
a little surprised at the persistency of the symptoms. Nor could Count
Ville-Handry suppress his growing anxiety as he saw them consulting in
the recess of one of the windows, discussing more energetic means to
be employed. At last, toward midnight, Sir Thorn saw the young
countess come out of Henrietta's room.
"How is she?" he cried out.
Then the countess said, speaking very loud, so as to be heard by the
"She is coming to; and that is why I am leaving her. She dislikes me
so terribly, that poor unhappy child, that I fear my presence might do
Henrietta had indeed recovered her consciousness. First had come a
shiver running over her whole body; then she had tried painfully and
repeatedly to raise herself on her pillows, looking around,--
Evidently she did not remember what had happened, and mechanically
passed her hand to and fro over her brow, as if to brush away the dark
veil that was hanging over her mind, looking with haggard eyes at the
doctors, at her father, and at her confidante, Clarissa, who knelt by
her bedside, weeping.
At last, when, all of a sudden, the horrid reality broke upon her
mind, she threw herself back, and cried out,--
But she was saved; and the doctors soon withdrew, declaring that there
was nothing to apprehend now, provided their prescriptions were
carefully observed. The count then came up to his daughter, and,
taking her hands, asked her,--
"Come, child. What has happened? What was the matter?"
She looked upon him in utter despair, and then said in a low voice,--
"Nothing! only you have ruined me, father."
"How, how?" said the count. "What do you mean?"
And very much embarrassed, perhaps angry against himself, and trying
to find an excuse for what he had done, he added, simpering,--
"Is it not your own fault? Why do you treat Sarah so badly, and do all
you can to exasperate me?"
"Yes, you are right. It is my fault," murmured Henrietta.
She said it in a tone of bitter irony now; but afterwards, when she
was alone, and more quiet, reflecting in the silence of the night, she
had to acknowledge, and confess to herself, that it was so. The
scandal by which she had intended to crush her step-mother had fallen
back upon herself, and crushed her.
Still, the next morning she was a little better; and, in spite of all
that Clarissa could say, she would get up, and go down stairs, for all
her hopes henceforth depended on that letter written by Daniel. She
had been waiting day after day for M. de Brevan, who was to bring it
to her; and for nothing in the world would she have been absent when
he came at last.
But she waited for him in vain that day, and four days after.
Attributing his tardiness to some new misfortune, she thought of
writing to him, when at last, on Tuesday,--the day which the countess
had chosen for her reception-day,--but not until the room was already
quite full of company, the servant announced,--"M. Palmer, M. de
Seized with most violent emotions, Henrietta turned round suddenly,
casting upon the door one of those glances in which a whole soul is
read at once. At last she was to know him whom her Daniel had called
his second self. Two men entered: one, quite old, had gray hair, and
looked as grave and solemn as a member of parliament; the other, who
might be thirty or thirty-five years old, looked cold and haughty,
having thin lips and a sardonic smile.
"That is the man!" said Henrietta to herself; "that is Daniel's
At first she disliked him excessively. Upon examining him more
closely, she thought his composure affected, and his whole appearance
lacking in frankness. But she never thought for a moment of
distrusting M. de Brevan. Daniel had blindly recommended him to her;
and that was enough. She had been too severely punished when she tried
to follow her own inspirations, ever to think of repeating the
Still she kept him in view. After having been presented to the
Countess Sarah and her husband, he had thrown himself into the crowd,
and managed, after a while, to get near to her. He went from one group
to another, throwing a word to each one, gaining thus, insensibly, and
without affectation, a small chair, which was vacant, by the side of
And the air of perfect indifference with which he took possession of
it would have made you think he had fully measured the danger of
risking a confidential talk with a young lady under the eyes of fifty
or sixty persons. He commenced with some of those set phrases which
furnish the currency of society, speaking loud enough to be heard by
the neighbors, and to satisfy their curiosity, if they should have a
fancy for listening. As he noticed that Henrietta had turned very red,
and looked overcome, while fixing most anxiously her eyes upon him, he
"I pray you, madam, affect a little more indifference. Smile; we may
be watched. Remember that we must not know each other; that we are
perfect strangers to each other."
Then he began in a very loud voice to sing the praise of the last new
play that had been performed, until finally, thinking that he had put
all suspicions asleep, he drew a little nearer, and, casting down his
eyes, he said,--
"It is useless to tell you, madam, that I am M. de Brevan."
"I heard your name announced, sir," replied Henrietta in the same way.
"I have taken the liberty of writing to you, madam, under cover to
your maid Clarissa, according to Daniel's orders; but I hope you will
"I have nothing to pardon, sir, but to thank you very much, from the
bottom of my heart, for your generous devotion."
No man is perfect. A passing blush colored the cheeks of M. de Brevan;
he had to cough a little; and once or twice passed his hand between
his collar and his neck, as if he felt troubled in his throat.
"You must have thought," continued Henrietta, "that I was not in great
haste to avail myself of your kind offer; but--there were difficulties
--in my way"--
"Oh, yes! I know," broke in M. de Brevan, sadly shaking his head;
"your maid has told me. For she found me at home, as no doubt you have
heard; and your letter arrived just in time to be sent on with mine.
They will gain a fortnight in this way; for the mail for Cochin China
does not leave more than once a month,--on the /26th/."
But he paused suddenly, or rather raised his voice to resume his
account of the new drama. Two young ladies had stopped just before
them. As soon as they were gone, he went on,--
"I bring you, madam, Daniel's letter."
"I have folded it up very small, and I have it here in my hand; if you
will let your handkerchief fall, I'll slip it into it as I pick it
The trick was not new; but it was also not very difficult. Still
Henrietta did it awkwardly enough. Her letting the handkerchief fall
looked any thing but natural; and, when she took it back again, she
was all eagerness. Then, when she felt the crisp paper under the folds
of the linen, she became all crimson in her face. Fortunately, M. de
Brevan had the presence of mind to rise suddenly, and to move his
chair so as to help her in concealing her embarrassment. Then, when he
saw her calm again, he sat down once more, and went on, with an accent
of deep interest,--
"Now, madam, permit me to inquire after your position here."
"It is terrible."
"Do they harass you?"
"No doubt, your step-mother?"
"Alas! who else would do it? But she dissembles, veiling her malignity
under the most affected gentleness. In appearance she is all kindness
to me. And my poor father becomes a willing instrument in her hands,--
my poor father, formerly so kind, and so fond of me!"
She was deeply moved; and M. de Brevan saw the tears starting in her
eyes. Quite frightened, he said,--
"Madam, for Heaven's sake control yourself!"
And, anxious to turn Henrietta's thoughts from her father, he asked,--
"How is Mrs. Brian to you?"
"She always takes sides against me."
"Naturally. And Sir Thorn?"
"You wrote me that I should mistrust him particularly, and so I do;
but, I must confess, he alone seems to be touched by my misfortunes."
"Ah! that is the very reason why you ought to fear him."
M. de Brevan hesitated, and then answered, speaking very rapidly, and
after having looked around cautiously,--
"Because M. Elgin might very well cherish a hope of replacing Daniel
in your heart, and of becoming your husband."
"Great God!" exclaimed Henrietta, sinking back in her chair with an
expression of horror. "Is it possible?"
"I am quite sure of it," replied M. Brevan.
And, as if he had been frightened himself by what he had said, he
"Yes, I am quite sure. I have read the heart of that man; and before
long you will have some terrible evidence of his intentions. But I
pray, madam, let this remain a secret between us, to be kept
religiously. Never allow yourself the slightest allusion."
"What can I do?" murmured the poor girl, "what can I do? You alone,
sir, can advise me."
For some time M. de Brevan continued silent; then he said in a very
"My experience, madam, supplies me with but one advice,--be patient;
say little; do as little as possible; and endeavor to appear
insensible to their insults. I would say to you, if you will excuse
the triviality of the comparison, imitate those feeble insects who
simulate death when they are touched. They are defenceless; and that
is their only chance of escape."
He had risen; and, while bowing deeply before Henrietta, he added,--
"I must also warn you, madam, not to be surprised if you see me doing
every thing in my power for the purpose of winning the good-will of
your step-mother. Believe me, if I tell you that such duplicity is
very distasteful to my character. But I have no other way to obtain
the privilege of coming here frequently, of seeing you, and of being
useful to you, as I have promised your friend Daniel."
During the last visits which Daniel had paid to Henrietta, he had not
concealed from her the fact that Maxime de Brevan had formerly been
quite intimate with Sarah Brandon and her friends. But still, in
explaining his reasons for trying to renew these relations, M. de
Brevan had acted with his usual diplomacy.
But for this, she might have conceived some vague suspicions when she
saw him, soon after he had left her, enter into a long conversation
with the countess, then speak with Sir Thorn, and finally chat most
confidentially with austere Mrs. Brian. But now, if she noticed it
all, she was not surprised. Her mind was, in fact, thousands of miles
away. She thought only of that letter which she had in her pocket, and
which was burning her fingers, so to say. She could think of nothing
What would she not have given for the right to run away and read it at
once? But adversity was teaching her gradually circumspection; and she
felt it would be unwise to leave the room before the last guests had
departed. Thus it was past two o'clock in the morning before she could
open the precious letter, after having dismissed her faithful
Alas! she did not find what she had hoped for,--advice, or, better
than that, directions how she should conduct herself. The fact is,
that in his terrible distress, Daniel no longer was sufficiently
master of himself to look calmly at the future, and to weigh the
probabilities. In his despair he had filled three pages with
assurances of his love, with promises that his last thoughts would be
for her, and with prayers that she would not forget him. There were
hardly twenty lines left for recommendations, which ought to have
contained the most precise and minute details.
All his suggestions, moreover, amounted to this,--arm yourself with
patience and resignation till my return. Do not leave your father's
house unless in the last extremity, in case of pressing danger, and
under no circumstances without first consulting Maxime.
And to fill up the measure, from excessive delicacy, and fearing to
wound his friend's oversensitive feelings, Daniel had omitted to
inform Henrietta of certain most important circumstances. Thus he only
told her, that, if flight became her only means of escape from actual
danger, she need not hesitate from pecuniary considerations; that he
had foreseen every thing, and made the needful preparations.
How could she guess from this, that the unlucky man, carried away and
blinded by passion, had intrusted fifty or sixty thousand dollars, his
entire fortune, to his friend Maxime? Still the two friends agreed too
fully on the same opinion to allow her to hesitate. Thus, when she
fell asleep, she had formed a decision. She had vowed to herself that
she would meet all the torments they might inflict upon her, with the
stoicism of the Indian who is bound to the stake, and to be, among her
enemies, like a dead person, whom no insult can galvanize into the
semblance of life.
During the following weeks it was not so difficult for her to keep her
promises. Whether it were weariness or calculation, they seemed to
forget her. Except at meals, they took no more notice of her than if
she had not been in existence.
That sudden access of affection which had moved Count Ville-Handry on
that evening when he thought his daughter in danger had long since
passed away. He only honored her with ironical glances, and never
addressed a word to her. The countess observed a kind of affectionate
reserve, like a well-disposed person who has seen all her advances
repelled, and who is hurt, but quite ready to be friends at the first
sign. Mrs. Brian never opened her thin lips but to growl out some
unpleasant remark, of which a single word was intelligible: shocking!
There remained the Hon. M. Elgin, whose sympathetic pity showed itself
daily more clearly. But, since Maxime's warning, Henrietta avoided him
She was thus leading a truly wretched life in this magnificent palace,
in which she was kept a prisoner by her father's orders; for such she
was; she could no longer disguise it from herself. She felt at every
moment that she was watched, and overlooked most jealously, even when
they seemed to forget her most completely. The great gates, formerly
almost always open, were now kept carefully closed; and, when they
were opened to admit a carriage, the concierge mounted guard before
them, as if he were the keeper of a jail. The little garden-gate had
been secured by two additional enormous locks; and whenever Henrietta,
during her walks in the garden, came near it, she saw one of the
gardeners watch her with anxious eyes. They were apparently afraid,
not only that she might escape, but that she might keep up secret
communications with the outer world. She wanted to be clear about
that; and one morning she asked her father's permission to send to the
Duchess of Champdoce, and beg her to come and spend the day with her.
But Count Ville-Handry brutally replied that he did not want to see
the Duchess of Champdoce; and that, besides, she was not in Paris, as
her husband had taken her south to hasten her recovery.
On another occasion, toward the end of February, and when several days
of fine spring weather had succeeded each other, the poor child could
not help expressing a desire to go out and breathe a little fresh air.
Her father said, in reply to her request,--"Every day, your mother and
I go out and drive for an hour or two in the Bois de Boulogne. Why
don't you go with us?"
She said nothing. She would sooner have allowed herself to be cut to
pieces than to appear in public seated by the side of the young
countess and in the same carriage with her.
Months passed thus without her having put a foot outside of the
palace, except her daily attendance at mass at eight o'clock on Sunday
mornings. Count Ville-Handry had not dared to refuse her that; but he
had added the most painful and most humiliating conditions. On these
occasions M. Ernest, his valet, accompanied her, with express orders
not to let her speak to any one whatsoever, and to "apprehend" her
(this was the count's own expression), and to bring her back forcibly,
if needs be, if she should try to escape.
But in vain they multiplied the insults; they did not extort a single
complaint. Her unalterable patience would have touched ordinary
executioners. And yet she had no other encouragement, no other
support, but what she received from M. de Brevan.
Faithful to the plan which he had mentioned to her, he had managed so
well as gradually to secure the right to come frequently to the house.
He was on the best terms with Mrs. Brian; and the count invited him to
dinner. At this time Henrietta had entirely overcome her prejudice
against him. She had discovered in M. de Brevan such a respectful
interest in her welfare, such almost womanly delicacy, and so much
prudence and discretion, that she blessed Daniel for having left her
this friend, and counted upon his devotion as upon that of a brother.
Was it not he, who, on certain evenings, when she was well-nigh
overcome by despair, whispered to her,--
"Courage; here is another day gone! Daniel will soon be back!"
But the more Henrietta was left to the inspirations of solitude, and
compelled to live within herself only, the more she observed all that
was going on around her. And she thought she noticed some very strange
changes. Never would Count Ville-Handry's first wife have been able to
recognize her reception-rooms. Where was that select society which had
been attracted by her, and which she had fashioned into something like
a court, in which her husband was king? The palace had become, so to
say, the headquarters of that motley society which forms the "Foreign
Legion" of pleasure and of scandal.
Sarah Brandon, now Countess Ville-Handry, was surrounded by that
strange aristocracy which has risen upon the ruins of old Paris,--a
contraband aristocracy, a dangerous kind of high life, which, by its
unheard-of extravagance and mysterious splendor, dazzles the
multitude, and puzzles the police.
The young countess did not exactly receive people notoriously tainted.
She was too clever to commit such a blunder; but she bestowed her
sweetest smiles upon all those equivocal Bohemians who represent all
races, and whose revenues come much less from good acres in the broad
sunlight than from the credulity and stupidity of mankind.
At first Count Ville-Handry had been rather shocked by this new world,
whose manners and customs were unknown to him, and whose language even
he hardly understood. But it had not taken long to acclimatize him.
He was the firm, the receiver of the fortune, the flag that covers the
merchandise, the master, in fine, although he exercised no authority.
All these titles secured to him the appearance of profound respect;
and all vied with each other in flattering him to the utmost, and
paying him court in the most abject manner. This led him to imagine
that he had recovered the prestige he had enjoyed in former days,
thanks to the skilful management of his first wife; and he assumed a
new kind of grotesque importance commensurate with his revived vanity.
He had, besides, gone to work once more most industriously. All the
business men who had called upon him before his marriage already
reappeared now, accompanied by that legion of famished speculators,
whom the mere report of a great enterprise attracts, like the flies
settling upon a lump of sugar. The count shut himself up with these
men in his study, and often spent the whole afternoon with them there.
"Most probably something is going on there," thought Henrietta.
She was quite sure of it when she saw her father unhesitatingly give
up the splendid suite of apartments in the lower story of the palace,
which were cut up into an infinite number of small rooms. On the doors
there appeared, one by one, signs not usually found in such houses;
as, "Office," "Board Room," "Secretary," "Cashier's Room."
Then office-furniture appeared in loads,--tables, desks, chairs; then
mountains of huge volumes; and at last two immense safes, as large as
Henrietta was seriously alarmed, and knowing beforehand that no one in
the house would answer her questions, she turned to M. de Brevan. In
the most off-hand manner he assured her that he knew nothing about it,
but promised to inquire, and to let her know soon.
There was no necessity; for one morning,, when Henrietta was wandering
about listlessly around the offices, which began to be filled with
clerks, she noticed an immense advertisement on one of the doors.
She went up to it, and read:--
For the development of Pennsylvania petroleum wells.
/Ten Million of Francs./
Twenty Thousand Shares of 500 Francs each.
The Charter may be seen at the
Office of M. Lilois, N. P.
The books for subscription will be opened
on the 25th of March.
principal office, /Palace of Count Ville-Handry, Rue de Varennes/.
branch office, /Rue Lepelletier, No. 1p/.
At the foot, in small print, was a full explanation of the enormous
profits which might be expected, the imperative necessity which had
led to the establishment of the Pennsylvania Petroleum Society, the
nature of its proposed operations, the immense services which it would
render to the world at large, and, above all, the immense profits
which would promptly accrue to the stockholders.
Then there came an account of petroleum or oil wells, in which it was
clearly demonstrated that this admirable product represented, in
comparison with other oils, a saving of more than sixty per cent; that
it gave a light of matchless purity and brilliancy; that it burnt
without odor; and, above all, that, in spite of what might have been
said by interested persons, there was no possible danger of explosion
connected with its use.
"In less than twenty years," concluded the report in a strain of lyric
prophecy, "petroleum will have taken the place of all the primitive
and useless illuminating mediums now employed. It will replace, in
like manner, all the coarse and troublesome varieties of fuel of our
day. In less than twenty years the whole world will be lighted and
heated by petroleum; and the oil-wells of Pennsylvania are
A eulogy on the president, Count Ville-Handry, crowned the whole work,
--a very clever eulogy, which called him a man sent by Providence;
and, alluding to his colossal fortune, suggested that, with such a
manager at the head of the enterprise, the shareholders could not
possibly run any risk.
Henrietta was overwhelmed with surprise. "Ah!" she said to herself,
"this is what Sarah Brandon and her accomplices were aiming at. My
father is ruined!"
That Count Ville-Handry should risk all he possessed in this terrible
game of speculation was not so surprising to Henrietta. But what she
could not comprehend was this, that he should assume the whole
responsibility of such a hazardous enterprise, and run the terrible
risk of a failure. How could he, with his deeply-rooted aristocratic
prejudices, ever consent to lend his name to an industrial enterprise?
"It must have cost prodigies of patience and cunning," she thought,
"to induce him to make such a sacrifice, such a surrender of old and
cherished convictions. They must have worried him terribly, and
brought to bear upon him a fearful pressure."
She was, therefore, truly amazed, when, two days afterwards, she
became accidentally a witness to a lively discussion between her
father and the countess on this very subject of the famous placards,
which were now scattered all over Paris and France. The countess
seemed to be distressed by the whole affair, and presented to her
husband all the objections which Henrietta herself would have liked to
have urged; only she did it with all the authority she derived from
the count's passionate love for her. She did not understand, she said,
how her husband, a nobleman of ancient lineage, could stoop to "making
money." Had he not enough of it already? Would he be any happier if he
had twice or thrice as many thousands a year?
He met all these objections with a sweetish smile, like a great artist
who hears an ignoramus criticise his work. And, when the countess
paused, he deigned to explain to her in that emphatic manner which
betrayed his intense conceit, that if he, the representative of the
very oldest nobility, threw himself into the great movement, it was
for the purpose of setting a lofty example. He had no desire for
"filthy lucre," he assured her; he only desired to render his country
a great service.
"Too dangerous a service!" replied the countess. "If you succeed, as
you hope, who will thank you for it? No one. More than that, if you
speak to them of disinterestedness, they will laugh in your face. If
the thing fails, on the other hand, who is to pay? You. And they will
call you a dunce into the bargain."
Count Ville-Handry shrugged his shoulders almost imperceptibly; and
then he said, taking his wife by the hand,--
"Would you love me less if I were ruined?"
She looked at him with her beautiful eyes as if overflowing with
affection, and replied in a voice full of emotion,--
"God is my witness, my friend, that I should be delighted to be able
to prove to you that I did not think of money when I married you."
"Sarah!" cried the count in ecstasy, "Sarah, my darling, that was a
word worth the whole of that fortune which you blame me for risking."
Even if Henrietta had been more disposed to mistrust appearances, she
would never have supposed that the whole scene was most cunningly
devised for the purpose of impressing upon the count's feeble
intellect this idea more forcibly than ever. She was rather inclined
to believe, and she did believe, that this Petroleum Society,
conceived by Sir Thorn, was unpleasant to the countess; and that thus
discord reigned in the enemy's camp.
The result of her meditations was a long letter to a gentleman for
whom her mother had always entertained a great esteem, the Duke of
Champdoce. After having explained to him her situation, she told him
all that she knew of the new enterprise, and besought him to interfere
whilst it was yet time.
When she had written her letter, she gave it to Clarissa, urging her
to carry it immediately to its address. Alas! the poor girl was
rapidly approaching an incident which was to bring about a crisis.
Having by chance followed the maid down stairs, she saw her go into
the Countess Sarah's room, and hand her the letter.
Was Henrietta thus betrayed even by the girl whom she thought so fully
devoted to her interests, and since when? Perhaps from the first day.
Ah, how many things this explained to her which she had hitherto
wondered at as perfectly incomprehensible!
This last infamy, however, tempted her to lay aside for once her
carefully-nursed reserve. She rushed into the room, crimson with shame
and wrath, and said in a fierce tone,--
"Give me that letter, madam!"
Clarissa had fled when she saw her treachery discovered.
"This letter," replied the countess coldly, "I shall hand to your
father, madam, as it is my duty to do."
"Ah, take care, madam!" broke in the poor girl with a threatening
gesture; "take care! My patience has its limits."
Her attitude and her accent were so terrible, that the countess
thought it prudent to put a table between herself and her victim. But
suddenly a great revolution had taken place in Henrietta's heart. She
"Look here, madam, let us have an explanation while we are alone. What
do you want me to do?"
"Nothing, I assure you."
"Nothing? Who is it, then, that has meanly slandered me, has robbed me
of my father's affection, surrounds me with spies, and overwhelms me
with insults? Who forces me to lead this wretched life to which I am
The countess showed in her features how deeply she was reflecting. She
was evidently calculating the effect of a new plan.
"You will have it so," she replied resolutely. "Very well, then, I
will be frank with you. Yes, I am bent on ruining you. Why? You know
it as well as I do. I will ask you, in my turn, who is it that has
done every thing that could possibly be done to prevent my marriage?
Who has endeavored to crush me? Who would like to drive me from this
house like an infamous person? Is it not you, always you? Yes, you are
right. I hate you; I hate you unto death, and I avenge myself!"
"Wait! What had I done to you before my marriage? Nothing. You did not
even know me by name. They came and told you atrocious stories
invented by my enemies, and you believed them. Your father told you,
'They are wicked libels.' What did you answer? That 'those only are
libelled who deserve it.' I wanted to prove to you that it is not so.
You are the purest and chastest of girls whom I know; are you not?
Very well. I defy you to find a single person around you who does not
believe that you have had lovers."
Extreme situations have this peculiarity, that the principal actors
may be agitated by the most furious passions, and still outwardly
preserve the greatest calmness. Thus these two women, who were burning
with mortal hatred, spoke with an almost calm voice.
"And you think, madam," resumed Henrietta, "that sufferings like mine
can be long continued?"
"They will be continued till it pleases me to make an end to them."
"Or till I come of age."
The countess made a great effort to conceal her surprise.
"Oh!" she said to herself. "Oh, oh!"
"Or," continued the young girl, "till he returns whom you have taken
from me, my betrothed, M. Daniel Champcey."
"Stop, madam. You are mistaken. It was not I who sent Daniel away."
Daniel! the countess said so; said familiarly, Daniel! Had she any
right to do so? How? Whence this extraordinary impudence?
Still Henrietta saw in it only a new insult; no suspicion entered her
soul, and she replied in the most ironical tone,--
"Then it was not you who sent that petition to the secretary of the
navy? It was not you who ordered and paid for that forged document
which caused M. Champcey to be ordered abroad?"
"No; and I told him so myself, the day before he left, in his own
Henrietta was stunned. What? This woman had gone to see Daniel? Was
this true? It was not even plausible.
"In his room?" she repeated,--"in his room?"
"Why, yes, in University Street. I foresaw that trick which I could
not prevent, and I wished to prevent it. I had a thousand reasons for
wishing ardently that he should remain in Paris."
"A thousand reasons? You? Tell me only one!"
The countess courtesied, as if excusing herself for being forced to
tell the truth against her inclination, and added simply,--
"I love him!"
As if she had suddenly seen an abyss opening beneath her feet,
Henrietta threw herself back, pale, trembling, her eyes starting from
"You---love--Daniel!" she stammered,--"you love him!"
And, agitated by a nervous tremor, she said, laughing painfully,--
"But he--he? Can you hope that he will ever love you?"
"Yes, any day I may wish for it. And I shall wish it the day when he
Was she speaking seriously? or was the whole scene only a bit of cruel
sport? That is what Henrietta was asking herself, as far as she was
able to control her thoughts; for she felt her head growing dizzy, and
her thoughts rushed wildly through her mind.
"You love Daniel!" she repeated once more, "and yet you were married
the very week after his departure!"
"And what was my father to you? A magnificent prey, which you did not
like to let escape,--an easy dupe. After all, you acknowledge it
yourself, it was his fortune you wanted. It was for his money's sake
that you married him,--you, the young, marvellously-beautiful woman,--
the old man."
A smile rose upon the lips of the countess, in which she appeared
herself in all the deep treachery of her secret calculations. She
broke in, laughing ironically--
"I? I had coveted the fortune of this dear count, my husband? You do
not think of it, madam? Have you so completely forgotten the zeal with
which you heard me, only the other day, try to turn him from this
enterprise in which he is about to embark all he possesses?"
Henrietta hardly knew whether she was awake or asleep. Was she not,
perhaps, under the influence of one of those hallucinations which
"And you dare tell me all these things, me, Count Ville-Handry's own
daughter, the daughter of your husband?"
"Why not?" asked the countess.
And, shrugging her shoulders, she added in a careless tone,--
"Do you think I am afraid of your reporting me to him? You are at
liberty to try it. Listen. I think I hear your father's footstep in
the vestibule; call him in, and tell him what we have been talking
And, as Henrietta said nothing, she laughed, and said,--
"Ah! you hesitate. You do not dare do it? Well, you are wrong. I mean
to hand him your letter, and I shall call him."
There was no need for it; for at the same moment the count entered,
followed by austere, grim Mrs. Brian. As he perceived his wife and his
daughter, his face lighted up immediately; and he exclaimed,--
"What? You are here, both of you, and chatting amicably like two
charming sisters? My Henrietta has come back to her senses, I trust."
They were both silent; and, seeing how they looked at each other with
fierce glances, he went on in a tone of great bitterness--
"But no, it is not so! I am not so fortunate. What is the matter? What
The countess shook her head sadly, and replied,--
"The matter is, that your daughter, during your absence, has written a
letter to one of my most cruel enemies, to that man who, you know, on
our wedding-day, slandered me meanly; in fine, to the Duke of
"And has any one of my servants dared to carry that letter?"
"No, my friend! It was brought to me in obedience to your orders; and
the young lady summoned me haughtily to hand her that letter."
"That letter?" cried the count. "Where is that letter?"
The countess gave it to him with these words,--
"Perhaps it would be better to throw it into the fire without reading
But already he had torn the envelope; and, as he was reading the first
lines, a crimson blush overspread his temples, and his eyes became
bloodshot. For Henrietta, sure of the Duke of Champdoce, had not
hesitated to open her heart to him, describing her situation as it
really was; painting her step-mother as he had anticipated she would
be; and at every turn certain phrases were repeated, which were so
many blows with a dagger to the count.
"This is unheard of!" he growled with a curse. "This is
incomprehensible! Such perversity has never been known before."
He went and stood before his daughter, his arms crossed, and cried
with a voice of thunder,--
"Wretch! Will you disgrace us all?"
She made no reply. Immovable like a statue, she did not tremble under
the storm. Besides, what could she do? Defend herself? She would not
stoop to do that. Repeat the impudent avowals of the countess? What
would be the use? Did she not know beforehand that the count would not
believe her? In the meantime, grim Mrs. Brian had taken a seat by the
side of her beloved Sarah.
"I," she said, "if I were, for my sins, afflicted with such a
daughter, I would get her a husband as soon as possible."
"I have thought of that," replied the count; "and I believe I have
even hit upon an arrangement which"--
But, when he saw his daughter's watchful eye fixed upon him, he
paused, and, pointing towards the door, said to her brutally,--
"You are in the way here!"
Without saying a word, she went out, much less troubled by her
father's fury than by the strange confessions which the countess had
made. She only now began to measure the full extent of her step-
mother's hatred, and knew that she was too practical a woman to waste
her time by making idle speeches. Therefore, if she had stated that
she loved Daniel,--a statement which Henrietta believed to be untrue,
--if she had impudently confessed that she coveted her husband's
fortune, she had a purpose in view. What was that purpose? How could
any one unearth the truth from among such a mass of falsehood and
At all events, the scene was strange enough to confound any one's
judgment. And when Henrietta, that evening, found an opportunity to
tell M. de Brevan what had happened, he trembled in his chair, and was
so overwhelmed with surprise, that he forgot his precautions, and
exclaimed almost aloud,--
"That is not possible!"
There was no doubt that he, usually so impassive, was terribly
excited. In less than five minutes he had changed color more than ten
times. You would have thought he was a man who at a single blow sees
the edifice of all his hopes crumble to pieces. At last, after a
moment's reflection, he said,--
"Perhaps it would be wise, madam, to leave the house."
But she replied sadly,--
"What? How can I do that? After so many odious calumnies, my honor and
Daniel's honor oblige me to remain here. He recommends me only to flee
at the last extremity, and when there is no other resource left. Now,
I ask you, shall I be more unhappy or more seriously threatened
to-morrow than I am to-day? Evidently not."
But, this confidence which Henrietta expressed was only apparent. In
her heart she suffered from the most terrible presentiments. A secret
voice told her that this scene, no doubt well prepared and carefully
brought about, was but another step leading to the final catastrophe.
Days, however, passed by, and nothing unusual happened. It looked as
if they had resolved, after that crisis, to give her a short respite,
and time to recover.
Even the watch kept upon her movements was not quite as strict as
heretofore. The countess kept out of her way. Mrs. Brian had given up
the desire to frighten her by her incessant remarks. Her father she
saw but rarely; for he was entirely absorbed in the preparations for
the Pennsylvania Petroleum Society. Thus, a week later, all seemed to
have entirely forgotten the terrible explosion produced by the letter
to the Duke of Champdoce.
All? By no means. There was one of the inmates of the palace who
recalled it daily,--M. Thomas Elgin.
On the very evening after the scene, his generous indignation had so
far gotten the better of his usual reserve, and his pledge of
neutrality, that he had taken the Countess Sarah aside, and
overwhelmed her with sharp reproaches.
"You will have to eat your own words," he had told her, among other
things, "if you use such abominable means to gratify your hatred."
It is true, that, when he thus took his kinswoman aside, he also took
pains to be overheard by Henrietta. And besides, for fear, perhaps,
that she might not fully appreciate his sentiments, he had stealthily
pressed her hand, and whispered into her ear,--
"Poor, dear girl! But I am here. I shall watch."
This sounded like a promise to afford her protection, which certainly
would have been efficient if it had been sincere. But was it sincere?
"No; most assuredly not!" said M. de Brevan when he was consulted. "It
can be nothing but vile hypocrisy and the beginning of an abominable
farce. You will see, madam."
What Henrietta really saw was, that the Hon. M. Elgin suddenly
underwent a complete metamorphosis. A new Sir Thorn appeared, whom no
one would have ever suspected under the cloak of icy reserve which the
former had worn. His sympathetic pity of former days was succeeded by
more tender sentiments. It was not pity now, which animated his big,
blue-china eyes, but the half-suppressed flame of a discreet passion.
In public he did not commit himself much; but there was no little
attention which he did not pay Henrietta by stealth. He never left the
room before her; and, on the reception-evenings, he always took a seat
by her, and remained there till the end. The most direct result of
these manoeuvres was to keep M. de Brevan from her. The latter became
naturally very indignant at this, and began to dislike Sir Thorn to
such an extent, that he could hardly contain himself.
"Well, madam," he said to Henrietta on one of the few occasions when
he could speak to her,--"well, what did I tell you? Does the wretch
show his hand clearly enough now?"
Henrietta discouraged her curious lover as much as she could; but it
was impossible for her to avoid him, as they lived under the same
roof, and sat down twice a day at the same table.
"The simplest way," was M. de Brevan's advice, "would be, perhaps, to
provoke an explanation."
But he did not wait to be asked. One morning, after breakfast, he