Part 6 out of 11
waited for Henrietta in the vestibule; and, when she appeared, he said
in an embarrassed manner,--
"I must speak to you, madam; it is absolutely necessary."
She did not manifest any surprise, and simply replied,--
"Follow me, sir."
She entered into the parlor, and he came with her. For about a minute
they remained there alone, standing face to face,--she trying to keep
up her spirits, although blushing deeply; he, apparently so overcome,
that he had lost the use of his voice. At last, all of a sudden, and
as if making a supreme effort, Sir Thorn began in a breathless voice
to declare, that, according to Henrietta's answer, he would be the
happiest or the most unfortunate of mortals. Touched by her innocence,
and the persecutions to which she was exposed, he had at first pitied
her, then, discovering in her daily more excellent qualities, unusual
energy, coupled with all the charming bashfulness of a young girl, he
had no longer been able to resist such marvellous attractions.
Henrietta, still mistress of herself, because she was convinced that
M. Elgin was only playing a wretched farce, observed him as closely as
she could, and, when he paused a moment, began,--
"Believe me, sir"--
But he interrupted her, saying with unusual vehemence,--
"Oh! I beseech you, madam, let me finish. Many in my place would have
spoken to your father; but I thought that would hardly be fair in your
exceptional position. Still I have reason to believe that Count Ville-
Handry would look upon my proposals with favor. But then he would
probably have attempted to do violence to your feelings. Now I wish to
be indebted to you only, madam, deciding in full enjoyment of your
An expression of intense anxiety contracted the features of his
usually so impassive face; and he added with great earnestness,--
"Miss Henrietta, I am an honorable man; I love you. Will you be my
By a stroke of instinctive genius, he had found the only argument,
perhaps, that might have procured credit for his sincerity.
But what did that matter to Henrietta? She began, saying,--
"Believe me, sir. I fully appreciate the honor you do me; but I am no
"I beseech you"--
"Freely, and among all men, I have chosen M. Daniel Champcey. My life
is in his hands."
He tottered as if he had received a heavy blow, and stammered with a
"Will you not leave me a glimpse of hope?"
"I would do wrong if I did so, sir, and I have never yet deceived any
But the Hon. M. Elgin was not one of those men who despair easily, and
give up. He was not discouraged by a first failure; and he showed it
very soon. The very next day he became a changed man, as if
Henrietta's refusal had withered the very roots of his life. In his
carriage, his gestures, and his tone of voice, he betrayed the utmost
dejection. He looked as if he had grown taller and thinner. A bitter
smile curled on his lips; and his magnificent whiskers, usually so
admirably kept, now hung down miserably on his chest. And this intense
melancholy grew and grew, till it became so evident to all the world,
that people asked the countess,--
"What is the matter with poor M. Elgin? He looks funereal."
"He is unhappy," was the answer, accompanied by a sigh, which sounded
as if it had been uttered in order to increase curiosity, and
stimulate people to observe him more closely. Several persons did
observe him; and they soon found out that Sir Thorn no longer took his
seat by Henrietta as formerly, and that he avoided every occasion to
address her a word.
For all that he was not resigned; far from that. He only laid siege
from a distance now, spending whole evenings in looking at her from
afar, absorbed in mute ecstasy. And at all times, incessantly and
everywhere, she met him, as if he had been her shadow, or as if he had
been condemned to breathe the air which had been displaced by her
petticoats. One would have thought him endowed with the gift of
multiplying himself; for he was inevitably seen wherever she was,--
leaning against the door-frame, or resting his elbow on the
mantlepiece, his eyes fixed upon her. And, when she did not see him,
she felt his looks still weighing her down. M. de Brevan, having been
made aware of his importunate attentions, seemed to check his
indignation only with great difficulty. Once or twice he spoke of
calling out this wretched fellow (so he called Sir Thorn); and, in
order to quiet him, Henrietta had to repeat to him over and over
again, that, after such an encounter, he would no longer be able to
appear at the palace, and would thus deprive her of the only friend to
whom she could look for assistance.
He yielded; but he said after careful consideration,--
"This abominable persecution cannot go on, madam: this man compromises
you too dreadfully. You ought to lay your complaint before Count
She decided to do so, not without great reluctance; but the count
stopped her at the first word she uttered.
"I think, my daughter, your vanity blinds you. Before M. Elgin, who is
one of the most eminent financiers in all Europe, should think of a
little insignificant person like you, he would look a long time
"Permit me, father"--
"Stop! If you should, however, not deceive yourself, it would be the
greatest good luck for you, and an honor of which you ought to be very
proud indeed. Do you think it would be easy to find a husband for you,
after all the unpleasant talk to which you have given occasion?"
"I do not wish to marry, father."
"Of course not. However, as such a marriage would meet all my wishes,
as it would serve to tighten the bonds which unite us with this
honorable family (if M. Thomas Elgin should really have such
intentions as you mention), I should know, I think, how to force you
to marry him. However, I shall speak to him, and see."
He spoke to him indeed, and soon; for the very next morning the
countess and Mrs. Brian purposely went out, so as to leave Henrietta
and Sir Thorn alone. The honorable gentleman looked sadder than
usually. He began thus,--
"Is it really true, madam, that you have made complaint to your
"Your pertinacity compelled me to do so," replied Henrietta.
"Is the idea of becoming my wife so very revolting to you?"
"I have told you, sir, I am no longer free."
"Yes, to be sure! You love M. Daniel Champcey. You love him. He knows
it; for you had told him so, no doubt: and yet he has forsaken you."
Sometimes, in her innermost heart, Henrietta had accused Daniel. But
what she thought she would permit no one else to think. She replied,
"It was a point of honor with M. Champcey, and it was so with me. If
he had hesitated, I would have been the first one to say to him, 'Duty
calls; you must go.'"
Sir Thorn shook his head with a sardonic smile, and said,--
"But he did not hesitate. It is ten months now since he left you; and
no one knows for how many more months, for how many years, he will be
absent. For his sake you suffer martyrdom; and, when he returns, he
may have long since forgotten you."
Her eyes beaming with faith, Henrietta rose to her full height, and
"I believe in Daniel as surely as in myself."
"And if they convinced you that you were mistaken?"
"They would render me a very sad service, which would bring no reward
to any one."
Sir Thorn's lips moved, as if he were about to answer. A thought
seemed to stop him. Then in a stifled voice, with a gesture of
despair, he added,--
"Keep your illusions, madam; and farewell."
He was going to leave the room; but she threw herself in his way,
crossed her arms, and said to him in an imperative tone,--
"You have gone too far, sir, to retrace your steps. You are bound now
to justify your insidious insinuations, or, to confess that they were
Then he seemed to make up his mind, and said, speaking rapidly,--
"You will have it so? Well, be it so. Know, then, since you insist
upon it, that M. Daniel Champcey has been deceiving you most wickedly;
that he does not love you, and probably never did love you."
"That is what you say," replied Henrietta.
Her haughty carriage, the disdain, rather than disgust, with which she
spoke, could not fail to exasperate M. Elgin. He checked himself,
however, and said, in a short and cutting tone,--
"I say so because it is so; and any one but you, possessing a less
noble ignorance of evil, would long since have discovered the truth.
To what do you attribute Sarah's implacable enmity? To the memory of
your offences on the occasion of her wedding? Poor child! If that had
been all, her indifference would have given you back your place months
ago. Jealousy alone is capable of that fierce and insatiable hatred
which cannot be disarmed by tears or submission,--that hatred which
time increases, instead of diminishing. Between Sarah and you, Miss
Henrietta, there stands a man."
"Yes,--M. Daniel Champcey."
Henrietta felt as if a sharp knife had been plunged into her bosom.
"I do not understand you, sir," she said.
He, shrugging his shoulders, and assuming an air of commiseration,
"What? You will not understand that Sarah is your rival; that she has
loved M. Champcey; that she is still madly in love with him? Ah! they
have deceived Mrs. Brian and myself cruelly."
He turned his head aside, and murmured, as if speaking to himself,--
"-------- -------- was her lover."
Miss Ville-Handry discerned the truth with admirable instinct, drew
herself up, and said in her most energetic way,--
"That is false!"
Sir Thorn trembled; but that was all.
"You have asked me to tell the truth," he said coldly, "and I have
done so. Try to remember. Have you forgotten that little scene, after
which M. Champcey fled from our house in the middle of the night,
bareheaded, without taking his overcoat?"
"Did you not think that was extraordinary? That night, you see, we
discovered the whole thing. After having been one of the foremost to
recommend to Sarah to marry your father, M. Champcey came and asked
her to give up that marriage. He had, before that, tried to have it
broken off through your agency, madam, using thus his influence over
you, his betrothed, for the benefit of his passion."
"Ah! You lie impudently, sir!" said Henrietta.
To this charge, which fell like a blow upon his face, he only
"I have proofs."
"Letters written by M. Champcey to Sarah. I have obtained two; and I
have them here in my pocket-book."
He put at the same time his hand to his pocket. She stopped him.
"These letters would prove nothing to me, sir."
She cast a withering glance at him, and said, in a voice of unbearable
"Those who have sent a letter to the Navy Department, which pretended
to have been written by Daniel, cannot find any difficulty in
imitating his signature. Let us break off here, sir. I forbid you ever
to speak to me again."
M. Elgin laughed in a terrible way.
"That is your last word?" he asked.
Instead of answering him, she drew a step aside, thus opening the way
to the door, at which she pointed with her finger.
"Well," said Sir Thorn with an accent of fierce threatening, "remember
this; I have sworn you shall be my wife, whether you will or not; and
my wife you shall be!"
"Leave the room, sir, or I must give it up to you!"
He went out swearing; and, more dead than alive, Henrietta sank into
an arm-chair. As long as she had been in the presence of the enemy,
her pride had enabled her to keep up the appearance of absolute faith
in Daniel; but, now she was alone, terrible doubts began to beset her.
Was there not something true in the evident exaggerations of the Hon.
M. Elgin? She was not quite sure. Had not Sarah also boasted of it,
that she loved Daniel, and that she had been in his room? Finally,
Henrietta recalled with a shudder, that, when Daniel had told her of
his adventure in Circus Street, he had appeared embarrassed towards
the end, and had failed fully to explain the reasons of his flight.
And to crown the matter, when she had tried to draw from M. de Brevan
additional information on the subject, she had been struck by his
embarrassment, and the lame and confused way in which he had defended
"Ah, now all is really over!" she thought. "The measure of my
sufferings is full indeed!"
Unfortunately it was not yet full. A new persecution awaited her,
infamous, monstrous, by the side of which all the others amounted to
"Whether you will, or not, you shall be mine," had Sir Thorn said; and
from that moment he was bent upon convincing her that he was not the
man to shrink from any thing, even unto violence.
He was no longer the sympathetic defender of former days, nor the
timid lover, nor the sighing, rejected lover, who followed Henrietta
everywhere. He was, henceforth, a kind of wild beast, pursuing her,
harassing her, persecuting her, with his eyes glaring at her with
abominable lust. He no longer looked at her furtively, as formerly;
but he lay in wait for her in the passages, ready, apparently, to
throw himself upon her; projecting his lips as if to touch her cheeks,
and extending his arms as if to seize her around her waist. A drunken
lackey pursuing a scullion would not have looked and acted more
Terrified, the poor girl threw herself on her knees before her father,
beseeching him to protect her. But he pushed her back, and reproached
her for slandering the most honorable and most inoffensive of men.
Blindness could go no farther.
And Sir Thorn knew probably of her failure; for the next day he looked
at her, laughing, as if he felt that he now might venture upon any
thing. And he did venture upon something, that so far would have
seemed impossible. One evening, or rather one night, when the count
and the countess were at a ball, he came and knocked at the door of
Frightened, she rang the bell; and the servants who came up freed her
from the intruder. But from that moment her terrors had no limit; and,
whenever the count went out at night with his wife, she barricaded
herself up in her chamber, and spent the whole night, dressed, in a
chair. Could she remain any longer standing upon the brink of an abyss
without name? She thought she could not; and after long and painful
hesitation, she said one evening to M. de Brevan,--
"My mind is made up; I must flee."
Taken aback, as if he had received a blow upon his head, with his
mouth wide open, his eyes stretched out, M. de Brevan had turned
deadly pale; and the perspiration pearled in large drops on his
temples, while his hands trembled like the eager hands of a man who
touches, and is about to seize, a long-coveted prize.
"Then," he stammered out, "you are decided; you will leave your
"I must," she said; and her eyes filled with bright tears. "And the
sooner I can do it the better; for every moment I spend here now may
bring a new danger. And yet, before risking any thing decisive, it
might be better first to write to Daniel's aunt in order to ask her
about the directions she may have received, and to tell her that very
soon I shall come to ask for her pity and her protection."
"What? You think of seeking refuge at the house of that estimable
M. de Brevan, now entirely master of himself, and calculating with his
usual calmness, gravely shook his head, and said,--
"You ought to be careful, madam. To seek an asylum at the house of our
friend's relative might be a very grave imprudence."
"But Daniel recommended it to me in his letter."
"Yes; but he had not considered the consequences of the advice he gave
you. Do not deceive yourself; the wrath of your enemies will be
terrible when they find that you have escaped them. They will pursue
you; they will employ the police; they will search for you all over
France. Now, it is evident, that the very first place where they will
look for you will be Daniel's relatives. The house of the old aunt
will be watched at once, and most jealously. How can you there escape
from inquiry and pursuit? It would be folly to hope for safety there."
Pensively Henrietta hung her head. Then she said,--
"Perhaps you are right, sir."
"Now," continued M. de Brevan, "let us see what they would do if they
should discover you. You are not of age, consequently you are entirely
dependent on the will of your father. Under the inspiration of your
step-mother, he would attack Daniel's aunt, on the score of having
inveigled a minor, and would bring you back here."
She seemed to reflect; then she said suddenly,--"I can implore the
assistance of the Duchess of Champdoce."
"Unfortunately, madam, they told you the truth. For a year now, the
Duke of Champdoce and his wife have been travelling in Italy."
A gesture of despair betrayed the terrible dejection of the poor girl.
"Great God!" she said, "what must I do?"
A passing smile appeared on the face of M. de Brevan; and he answered
in his most persuasive manner,--
"Will you permit me to offer you some advice, madam?"
"Alas, sir! I beg you to do so for Heaven's sake."
"Well, this is the only plan that seems to me feasible. To-morrow
morning I will rent in a quiet house a suitable lodging, less than
modest, a little chamber. You will move into it, and await there your
coming of age, or Daniel's return. No detective will ever think of
seeking the daughter of Count Ville-Handry in a poor needlewoman's
"And I am to stay there alone, forsaken and lost?"
"It is a sacrifice which it seems to me you have to make for safety's
She said nothing, weighing the two alternatives,--to remain in the
house, or to accept M. de Brevan's proposition. After a minute she
"I will follow your advice, sir; only"-- She was evidently painfully
embarrassed, and covered with blushes.
"You see," she said, after long hesitation, "all this will cost money.
Formerly I used to have always a couple of hundred dollars in my
drawers somewhere; but now"--
"Madam," broke in M. de Brevan, "madam, is not my whole fortune
entirely at your disposal?"
"To be sure, I have my jewels; and they are quite valuable."
"For that very reason you ought to be careful not to take them with
you. We must guard against every thing. We may fail. They may discover
my share in the attempt; and who knows what charges they would raise
His apprehension alone betrayed the character of the man; and still it
did not enlighten Henrietta.
"Well, prepare every thing as you think best, sir," she said sadly. "I
rely entirely upon your friendship, your devotion, and your honor."
M. de Brevan had a slight attack of coughing, which prevented him from
answering at first. Then, finding that Henrietta was bent upon
escaping, he tried to devise the means.
Henrietta proposed that they should wait for a night when the count
would take the countess to a ball. She might then slip into the
garden, and climb the wall. But the attempt seemed to be too dangerous
in M. de Brevan's eyes. He said,--
"I think I see something better. Count Ville-Handry is going soon to
give a great party?"
"The day after to-morrow, Thursday."
"All right. On Thursday, madam, you will complain early in the morning
already, of a bad headache, and you will send for the doctor. He will
prescribe something, I dare say, which you will not take; but they
will think you are sick, and they will watch you less carefully. At
night, however, towards ten o'clock, you will come down and conceal
yourself at the foot of the back-stairs, in the corner of the
courtyard. You can do that, I presume?"
"Very easily, sir."
"In that case all will be right. I will be here with a carriage at ten
o'clock precisely. My coachman, whom I will instruct beforehand,
instead of stopping at the great entrance, will pretend to go amiss,
and stop just at the foot of the staircase. I will jump out; and you,
you will swiftly jump into the carriage."
"Yes, that also can be done."
"As the curtains will be down, no one will see you. The carriage will
drive out again, and wait for me outside; and ten minutes later I
shall have joined you."
The plan being adopted, as every thing depended upon punctuality, M.
de Brevan regulated his watch by Henrietta's; and then, rising, he
"We have already conversed longer than we ought to have done in
prudence. I shall not speak to you again to-night. Till Thursday."
And with sinking voice, she said,--
By this one word Henrietta sealed her destiny; and she knew it. She
was fully aware of the terrible rashness of her plan. A voice had
called to her, from her innermost heart, that her honor, her life, and
all her earthly hopes, had thus been staked upon one card. She foresaw
clearly what the world would say the day after her flight. She would
be lost, and could hope for rehabilitation only when Daniel returned.
If she could only have been as sure of the heart of her chosen one as
she had formerly been! But the cunning innuendoes of the countess, and
the impudent asseverations of Sir Thorn, had done their work, and
shaken her faith. Daniel had been absent for nearly a year now, and
during all that time she had written to him every month; but she had
received from him only two letters through M. de Brevan,--and what
letters! Very polite, very cold, and almost without a word of hope.
If Daniel upon his return should abandon her!
And still, the more she reflected with all that lucidity with which
the approach of a great crisis inspired her, the more she became
impressed with the absolute necessity of flight. Yes, she must face
unknown dangers, but only in order to escape from dangers which she
knew but too well. She was relying upon a man who was almost a
stranger to her; but was not this the only way to escape from the
insults of a wretch who had become the boon companion, the friend, and
the counsellor of her father? Finally, she sacrificed her reputation,
that is, the appearance of honor; but she saved the reality, honor
Ah, it was hard! As long as the day lasted on Wednesday, she was
wandering about, pale as a ghost, all over the vast palace. She bade
farewell to this beloved house, full of souvenirs of eighteen years in
which she had played as a child, where Daniel's voice had caused her
heart to beat loud and fast, and where her sainted mother had died.
And in the evening, at table, big tears were rolling down her cheeks
as she watched the stupidly-triumphant serenity of her father.
The next day, however, Thursday, Henrietta complained, as was agreed
upon, of a violent headache; and the doctor was sent for. He found her
in a violent fever, and ordered her to keep her bed. He little knew
that he was thus restoring the poor girl to liberty. As soon as he had
left, she rose; and, like a dying person who makes all her last
dispositions, she hastened to put every thing in order in her drawers,
putting together what she meant to keep, and burning what she wished
to keep from the curiosity of the countess and her accomplices.
M. de Brevan had recommended her not to take her jewels. She left
them, therefore, with the exception of such as she wore every day,
openly displayed on a /chiffonnier/. The manner of her escape forbade
her taking much baggage; and still some linen was indispensable. Upon
reflection it did not seem to her inexpedient to take a small carpet-
bag, which her mother had given her, and which contained a dressing-
case, all the articles in which were of solid gold and of marvellously
fine workmanship. When her preparations were complete, she wrote to
her father a long letter, in which she explained fully the motives of
her desperate resolution.
Then she waited. Night had fallen long since; and the last
preparations for a princely entertainment filled the palace with noise
and movement. She could hear the hasty steps of busy servants, the
loud orders of butlers and stewards, the hammer of upholsterers who
gave here and there a final touch.
Soon there came the rolling of wheels on the fine gravel in the court-
yard, and the arrival of the first guests.
Henceforth it was for Henrietta only a question of minutes; and she
counted them by her watch with a terrible beating of her heart. At
last the hands marked a quarter before ten. Acting almost
automatically, she rose, threw an immense cashmere shawl over her
shoulders; and, taking her little bag in her hand, she escaped from
her room, and slipped along the passages to the servants' stairs.
She went on tiptoe, holding her breath, eye and ear on the watch,
ready at the smallest noise to run back, or to rush into the first
open room. Thus she got down without difficulty, reached the dark hall
at the foot of the staircase; and there in the shade, seated on her
little bag, she waited, out of breath, her hair moist with a cold
perspiration, her teeth clattering in her mouth from fear. At last it
struck ten o'clock; and the vibration of the bell could still be
heard, when M. de Brevan's /coupe/ stopped at the door.
His coachman was certainly a skilful driver. Pretending to have lost
the control of his horse, he made it turn round, and forced it back
with such admirable awkwardness, that the carriage came close up to
the wall, and the right hand door was precisely in the face of the
dark little hall in which Henrietta was standing. As quick as
lightning M. de Brevan jumped out. Henrietta rushed forward. Nobody
saw any thing.
A moment later the carriage slowly drove out of the court-yard of the
palace of Count Ville-Handry, and stopped at some little distance.
It was done. In leaving her father's house, Miss Ville-Handry had
broken with all the established laws of society. She was at the mercy
now of what might follow; and, according as events might turn out
favorable or unfavorable, she was saved or lost. But she did not think
of that. As the danger of being surprised passed away, the feverish
excitement that had kept her up so far, also subsided, and she was
lying, undone, on the cushions, when the door suddenly opened, and a
man appeared. It was M. de Brevan.
"Well, madam," he cried with a strangely embarrassed voice, "we have
conquered. I have just presented my respects to the Countess Sarah and
her worthy companions; I have shaken hands with Count Ville-Handry;
and no one has the shadow of a suspicion." And, as Henrietta said
nothing, he added,--
"Now I think we ought to lose no time; for I must show myself again at
the ball as soon as possible. Your lodgings are ready for you, madam;
and I am going, with your leave, to drive you there."
She raised herself, and said, with a great effort,--
"Do so, sir!"
M. de Brevan had already jumped into the carriage, which started at
full gallop; and, while they were driving along, he explained to
Henrietta how she would have to conduct herself in the house in which
he had engaged a lodging for her. He had spoken of her, he said, as of
one of his relatives from the provinces, who had suffered a reverse of
fortune, and who had come to Paris in the hope of finding here some
way to earn her living.
"Remember this romance, madam," he begged her, "and let your words and
actions be in conformity with it. And especially be careful never to
utter my name or your father's. Remember that you are still under age,
that you will be searched for anxiously, and that the slightest
indiscretion may put them upon your traces."
Then, as she still kept silent, weeping, he wanted to take her hand,
and thus noticed the little bag which she had taken.
"What is that?" he asked, in a tone, which, under its affected
gentleness, betrayed no small dissatisfaction.
"Some indispensable articles."
"Ah! you did not after all take your jewels, madam?"
"No, certainly not, sir!"
Still this persistency on the part of M. de Brevan began to strike her
as odd; and she would have betrayed her surprise, if the carriage had
not at that moment stopped suddenly before No. 23 Water Street.
"Here we are, madam," said M. de Brevan.
And, lightly jumping down, he rang the bell at the door, which opened
immediately. The room of the concierge was still light. M. de Brevan
walked straight up to it, and opened the door like a man who is at
home in a house.
"It is I," he said.
A man and a woman, the concierge and his wife, who had been dozing,
her nose in a paper, started up suddenly.
"Monsieur Maxime!" they said with one voice.
"I bring," said M. de Brevan, "my young kinswoman, of whom I told you,
If Henrietta had had the slightest knowledge of Parisian customs, she
would have guessed from the bows of the concierge, and the courtesies
of his wife, how liberally they had been rewarded in advance.
"The young lady's room is quite ready," said the man.
"My husband has arranged every thing himself," broke in his wife; "it
was no trifle, after the papering had been done. And I--I made a fine
fire there as early as five o'clock, to take out the dampness."
"Let us go up then," said Brevan.
The concierge and his wife, however, were economical people; and the
gas on the stairs had long since been put out.
"Give me a candlestick, Chevassat," said the woman to her husband.
And with her lighted candle she went ahead, lighting M. de Brevan and
Henrietta, and stopping at every landing to praise the neatness of the
house. At last, in the fifth story, at the entrance to a dark passage,
she opened a door, and said,--
"Here we are! The young lady will see how nice it is."
It might possibly have been nice in her eyes; but Henrietta,
accustomed to the splendor of her father's palace, could not conceal a
gesture of disgust. This more than modest chamber looked to her like a
garret such as she would not have permitted the least of her maids to
occupy at home.
But never mind! She went in bravely, putting her travelling-bag on a
bureau, and taking off her shawl, as if to take possession of the
lodging. But her first impression had not escaped M. de Brevan. He
drew her into the passage while the woman was stirring the fire, and
said in a low voice,--
"It is a terrible room; but prudence induced me to choose it."
"I like it as it is, sir."
"You will want a great many things, no doubt; but we will see to that
to-morrow. To-night I must leave you: you know it is all important
that I should be seen again at your father's house."
"You are quite right; sir, go, make haste!"
Still he did not wish to go without having once more recommended his
"young kinswoman" to Mrs. Chevassat. He only left when she had over
and over again assured him that there was nothing more to be done; and
then the woman also went down.
The terrible emotions which had shaken and undermined Henrietta during
the last forty-eight hours were followed now by a feeling of intense
astonishment at what she had done, at the irrevocable step she had
taken. Her quiet life had been interrupted by an event which to her
appeared more stupendous than if a mountain had been moved. Standing
by the mantle-piece, she looked at her pale face in the little
looking-glass, and said to herself,--
"Is that myself, my own self?"
Yes, it was she herself, the only daughter of the great Count Ville-
Handry, here in a strange house, in a wretched garret-room, which she
called her own. It was she, yesterday still surrounded by princely
splendor, waited on by an army of servants, now in want of almost
every thing, and having for her only servant the old woman to whom M.
de Brevan had recommended her.
Was this possible? She could hardly believe it herself. Still she felt
no repentance at what she had done. She could not remain any longer in
her father's house where she was exposed to the vilest insults from
everybody. Could she have stayed any longer?
"But what is the use," she said to herself, "of thinking of what is
past? I must not allow myself to think of it; I must shake off this
And, to occupy her mind, she rose and went about to explore her new
home, and to examine all it contained. It was one of those lodgings
about which the owners of houses rarely trouble themselves, and where
they never make the smallest repairs, because they are always sure of
renting them out just as they are. The floor, laid in bricks, was
going to pieces; and a number of bricks were loose, and shaking in
their layers of cement. The ceiling was cracked, and fell off in
scales; while all along the walls it was blackened by flaring tallow-
candles. The papering, a greasy, dirty gray paper, preserved the
fingermarks of all the previous occupants of the room from the time it
had first been hung. The furniture, also, was in keeping with the
room,--a walnut bedstead with faded calico curtains, a chest of
drawers, a table, two chairs, and a miserable arm-chair; that was all.
A short curtain hung before the window. By the side of the bed was a
little strip of carpeting; and on the mantlepiece a zinc clock between
two blue glass vases. Nothing else!
How could M. de Brevan ever have selected such a room, such a hole?
Henrietta could not comprehend it. He had told her, and she had
believed him, that they must use extreme caution. But would she have
been any more compromised, or in greater danger of being discovered by
the Countess Sarah, if they had papared the room anew, put a simple
felt carpet on the floor, and furnished the room a little more
Still she did not conceive any suspicion even yet. She thought it
mattered very little where and how she was lodged. She hoped it was,
after all, only for a short time, and consoled herself with the
thought that a cell in a convent would have been worse still. And any
thing was better than her father's house.
"At least," she said, "I shall be quiet and undisturbed here."
Perhaps she was to be morally quiet; for as to any other peace, she
was soon to be taught differently. Accustomed to the profound
stillness of the immense rooms in her father's palace, Henrietta had
no idea, of course, of the incessant movement that goes on in the
upper stories of these Paris lodging-houses, which contain the
population of a whole village, and where the tenants, separated from
each other by thin partition-walls, live, so to say, all in public.
Sleep, under such circumstances, becomes possible only after long
experience; and the poor girl had to pay very dear for her
apprenticeship. It was past four o'clock before she could fall asleep,
overcome by fatigue; and then it was so heavy a sleep, that she was
not aroused by the stir in the whole house as day broke. It was broad
daylight, hence, when she awoke; and a pale sun-ray was gliding into
the room through the torn curtain. The zinc clock pointed at twelve
o'clock. She rose and dressed hastily.
Yesterday, when she rose, she rang her bell, and her maid came in
promptly, made a fire, brought her her slippers, and threw over her
shoulders a warm, wadded dressing-wrapper. But to-day!
This thought carried her back to her father's house. What were they
doing there at this hour? Her escape was certainly known by this time.
No doubt they had sent the servants out in all directions. Her father,
most probably, had gone to call in the aid of the police. She felt
almost happy at the idea of being so safely concealed; and looking
around her chamber, which appeared even more wretched by daylight than
last night, she said,--
"No, they will never think of looking for me here!"
In the meantime she had discovered a small supply of wood near the
fireplace; and, as it was cold, she was busy making a fire, when
somebody knocked at her door. She opened; and Mrs. Chevassat, the wife
of the concierge appeared.
"It is I, my pretty young lady," she said as she entered. "Not seeing
you come down, I said to myself, 'I must go up to look after her.' And
have you slept well?"
"Very well, madam, thank you!"
"Now, that's right. And how is your appetite? For that was what I came
up for. Don't you think you might eat a little something?"
Henrietta not only thought of it; but she was very hungry. For there
are no events and no adventures, no excitements and no sorrows, which
prevent us from getting hungry; the tyranny of our physical wants is
stronger than any thing else.
"I would be obliged to you, madam," she said, "if you would bring me
up some breakfast."
"If I would! As often as you desire, my pretty young lady. Just give
me the time to boil an egg, and to roast a cutlet, and I'll be up
Ordinarily sour-tempered, and as bitter as wormwood, Mrs. Chevassat
had displayed all the amiability of which she was capable, hiding
under a veil of tender sympathy the annoying eagerness of her eyes.
Her hypocrisy was all wasted. The efforts she made were too manifest
not to arouse the very worst suspicions.
"I am sure," thought Henrietta, "she is a bad woman."
Her suspicions were only increased when the worthy woman reappeared,
bringing her breakfast, and setting it out on a little table before
the fire, with all kinds of hideous compliments.
"You'll see how very well every thing is cooked, miss," she said.
Then, while Henrietta was eating, she sat down on a chair near the
door, and commenced talking, without ever stopping. To hear her, the
new tenant ought to thank her guardian angel who had brought her to
this charming house, No. 23 Water Street, where there was such a
concierge with such a wife!--he, the best of men; she, a real treasure
of kindness, gentleness, and, above all, discretion.
"Quite an exceptional house," she added, "as far as the tenants are
concerned. They are all people of notoriously high standing, from the
wealthy old ladies in the best story to Papa Ravinet in the fourth
story, and not excepting the young ladies who live in the small rooms
in the back building."
Then, having passed them all in review, she began praising M. de
Brevan, whom she always called M. Maxime. She declared that he had won
her heart from the beginning, when he had first come to the house, day
before yesterday, to engage the room. She had never seen a more
perfect gentleman, so kind, so polite, and so liberal! With her great
experience, she had at once recognized in him one of those men who
seem to be born expressly for the purpose of inspiring the most
violent passions, and of securing the most lasting attachments.
Besides, she added with a hideous smile, she was sure of his deep
interest in her pretty new tenant; and she was so well convinced of
this, that she would be happy to devote herself to her service, even
without any prospect of payment.
This did not prevent her from saying to Henrietta, as soon as she had
finished her breakfast,--
"You owe me two francs, miss; and, if you would like it, I can board
you for five francs a day."
Thereupon she went into a lively discussion to show that this would be
on her part a mere act of kindness, because, considering how dear
every thing was, she would most assuredly lose.
But Henrietta stopped her. Drawing from her purse a twenty-franc
piece, she said,--
"Make yourself paid, madam."
This was evidently not what the estimable woman expected; for she drew
back with an air of offended dignity, and protested,--
"What do you take me to be, miss? Do you think me capable of asking
And, shrugging her shoulders, she added,--
"Besides, does not all that regards your expenses concern M. Maxime?"
Thereupon she quickly folded the napkin, took the plates, and
disappeared. Henrietta did not know what to think of it. She could not
doubt that this Megsera pursued some mysterious aim with all her
foolish talk; but she could not possibly guess what that aim could be.
And still that was not all that kept her thoughts busy. What
frightened her most of all was the feeling that she was evidently
altogether at M. de Brevan's mercy. All her possessions amounted to
about two hundred francs. She was in want of every thing, of the most
indispensable articles: she had not another dress, nor another
petticoat. Why had not M. de Brevan thought of that beforehand? Was he
waiting for her to tell him of her distress, and to ask him for money?
She could not think so, and she attributed his neglect to his
excitement, thinking that he would no doubt come soon to ask how she
was, and place himself at her service.
But the day passed away slowly, and night came; but he did not appear.
What did this mean? What unforeseen event could have happened? what
misfortune could have befallen him? Torn by a thousand wild
apprehensions, Henrietta was more than once on the point of going to
It was not before two o'clock on the next day that he appeared at
last, affecting an easy air, but evidently very much embarrassed. If
he did not come the night before, he said, it was because he was sure
the Countess Sarah had him watched. The flight of the daughter of
Count Ville-Handry was known all over Paris, and he was suspected of
having aided and abetted her: so they had told him, he said, at his
club. He also added that it would be imprudent in him to stay longer;
and he left again, without having said a word to Henrietta, and
without having apparently noticed her destitution.
And thus, for three days, he only came, to disappear almost instantly.
He always came painfully embarrassed, as if he had something very
important to tell her; then his brow clouded over; and he went away
suddenly, without having said any thing.
Henrietta, tortured by terrible doubts, felt unable to endure this
atrocious uncertainty any longer. She determined to force an
explanation when, on the fourth day, M. de Brevan came in, evidently
under the influence of some terrible determination. As soon as he had
entered, he locked the door, and said in a hoarse voice,--
"I must speak to you, madam, yes, I must!"
He was deadly pale; his white lips trembled; and his eyes shone with a
fearful light, like those of a man who might have sought courage in
"I am ready to listen," replied the poor girl, all trembling.
He hesitated again for a moment; then overcoming his reluctance,
apparently by a great effort, he said,--
"Well, I wish to ask you if you have ever suspected what my real
reasons were for assisting you to escape?"
"I think, sir, you have acted from kind pity for me, and also from
friendship for M. Daniel Champcey."
"No! You are entirely mistaken."
She drew back instinctively, uttering only a low, "Ah!"
Pale as he had been, M. de Brevan had become crimson.
"Have you really noticed nothing? Are you really not aware that I love
She could understand any thing but this, the unfortunate girl; any
thing but such infamy, such an incredible insult! M. de Brevan must be
either drunk or mad.
"Leave me, sir!" she said peremptorily, but with a voice trembling
But he advanced towards her with open arms, and went on,--
"Yes, I love you madly, and for a long time,--ever since the first day
I saw you."
Henrietta, however, had swiftly moved aside, and opened the window.
"If you advance another step, I shall cry for help."
He stopped, and, changing his tone, said to her,--
"Ah! You refuse? Well, what are you hoping for? For Daniel's return?
Don't you know that he loves Sarah?"
"Ah! you abuse my forlorn condition infamously!" broke in the young
girl. And, as he still insisted, she added,--
"Why don't you go, coward? Why don't you go, wretched man? Must I
He was frightened, backed to the door, and half opened it; then he
"You refuse me to-day; but, before the month is over, you will beg me
to come to you. You are ruined; and I alone can rescue you."
At last, then, the truth had come out!
Overcome with horror, her hair standing at an end, and shaken by
nervous spasms, poor Henrietta was trying to measure the depth of the
abyss into which she had thrown herself.
Voluntarily, and with the simplicity of a child, she had walked into
the pit which had been dug for her. But who, in her place, would not
have trusted? Who could have conceived such an idea? Who could have
suspected such monstrous rascality?
Ah! Now she understood but too well all the mysterious movements that
had so puzzled her in M. de Brevan. She saw how profound had been his
calculations when he recommended her so urgently not to take her
jewels with her while escaping from her father's house, nor any object
of value; for, if she had had her jewelry, she would have been in
possession of a small fortune; she would have been independent, and
above want, at least for a couple of years.
But M. de Brevan wanted her to have nothing. He knew, the coward! with
what crushing contempt she would reject his first proposals; but he
flattered himself with the hope that isolation, fear, destitution
would at last reduce her to submission, and enable him--
"It is too horrible," repeated the poor girl,--"too horrible!"
And this man had been Daniel's friend! And it was he to whom Daniel,
at the moment of sailing, had intrusted his betrothed! What atrocious
deception! M. Thomas Elgin was no doubt a formidable bandit, faithless
and unscrupulous; but he was known as such: he was known to be capable
of any thing, and thus people were on their guard. But this man!--ah,
a thousand times meaner and viler!--he had watched for a whole year,
with smiling face, for the hour of treachery; he had prepared a
hideous crime under the veil of the noblest friendship!
Henrietta thought she could divine what was the traitor's final aim.
In obtaining possession of her, he no doubt thought he would secure to
himself a large portion of Count Ville-Handry's immense fortune.
And hence, she continued in her meditations, hence the hatred between
Sir Thorn and M. de Brevan. They both coveted the same thing; and each
one trembled lest the other should first get hold of the treasure
which he wanted to secure. The idea that the new countess was in
complicity with M. de Brevan did not enter Henrietta's mind. On the
contrary, she thought they were enemies, and divided from each other
by separate and opposite interests.
"Ah!" she said to herself, "they have one feeling, at all events, in
common; and that is hatred against me."
A few months ago, so fearful and so sudden a catastrophe would have
crushed Henrietta, in all probability. But she had endured so many
blows during the past year, that she bore this also; for it is a fact
that the human heart learns to bear grief as the body learns to endure
fatigue. Moreover, she called in to her assistance a light shining
high above all this terrible darkness,--the remembrance of Daniel.
She had doubted him for an instant; but her faith had, after all,
remained intact and perfect. Her reason told her, that, if he had
really loved Sarah Brandon, her enemies, M. Elgin and M. de Brevan,
would not have taken such pains to make her believe it. She thought,
therefore, she was quite certain that he would return to her with his
heart devoted to her as when he left her.
But, great God! to think of the grief and the rage of this man, when
he should hear how wickedly and cowardly he had been betrayed by the
man whom he called his friend! He would know how to restore the
count's daughter to her proper position, and how to avenge her.
"And I shall wait for him," she said, her teeth firmly set,--"I shall
wait for him!"
How? She did not ask herself that question; for she was yet in that
first stage of enthusiasm, when we are full of heroic resolves which
do not allow us to see the obstacles that are to be overcome. But she
soon learned to know the first difficulties in her way, thanks to Dame
Chevassat, who brought her her dinner as the clock struck six,
according to the agreement they had made.
The estimable lady had assumed a deeply grieved expression; you might
have sworn she had tears in her eyes. In her sweetest voice, she
"Well, well, my beautiful young lady; so you have quarrelled with our
dear M. Maxime?"
Henrietta was so sure of the uselessness of replying, and so fearful
of new dangers, that she simply replied,--
"I was afraid of it," replied the woman, "just from seeing him come
down the stairs with a face as long as that. You see, he is in love
with you, that kind young man; and you may believe me when I tell you
so, for I know what men are."
She expected an answer; for generally her eloquence was very effective
with her tenants. But, as no reply came, she went on,--
"We must hope that the trouble will blow over."
Looking at Mrs. Chevassat, one would have thought she was stunned.
"How savage you are!" she exclaimed at last. "Well, it is your
lookout. Only I should like to know what you mean to do?"
"Why, about your board."
"I shall find the means, madam, you may be sure."
The old woman, however, who knew from experience what that cruel word,
"living," sometimes means with poor forsaken girls, shook her head
seriously, and answered,--
"So much the better; so much the better! Only I know you owe a good
deal of money."
"Why, yes! The furniture here has never been paid for."
"What? The furniture"--
"Of course, M. Maxime was going to pay for it; he has told me so. But
if you fall out in this way--you understand, don't you?"
She hardly did understand such fearful infamy. Still Henrietta did not
show her indignation and surprise. She asked,--
"What did the furniture of this room cost? do you know?"
"I don't know. Something like five or six hundred francs, things are
so dear now!" The whole was probably not worth a hundred and fifty or
two hundred francs.
"Very well. I'll pay," said Henrietta. "The man will give me forty-
eight hours' time, I presume?"
As the poor girl was now quite sure that this honeyed Megsera was
employed by M. de Brevan to watch her, she affected a perfectly calm
air. When she had finished her dinner, she even insisted upon paying
on the spot fifty francs, which she owed for the last few days, and
for some small purchases. But, when the old woman was gone, she sank
into a chair, and said,--
"I am lost!"
There was, in fact, no refuge for her, no help to be expected.
Should she return to her father, and implore the pity of his wife? Ah!
death itself would be more tolerable than such a humiliation. And
besides, in escaping from M. de Brevan, would she not fall into the
hands of M. Elgin?
Should she seek assistance at the hands of some of the old family
friends? But which?
In greater distress than the shipwrecked man who in vain examines the
blank horizon, she looked around for some one to help her. She forced
her mind to recall all the people she had ever known. Alas! she knew,
so to say, nobody. Since her mother had died, and she had been living
alone, no one seemed to have remembered her, unless for the purpose of
Her only friends, the only ones who had made her cause their own, the
Duke and the Duchess of Champdoce, were in Italy, as she had been
"I can count upon nobody but myself," she repeated,--"myself, myself!"
Then rousing herself, she said, her heart swelling with emotion,--
"But never mind! I shall be saved!"
Her safety depended upon one single point: if she could manage to live
till she came of age, or till Daniel returned, all was right.
"Is it really so hard to live?" she thought. "The daughters of poor
people, who are as completely forsaken as I am, nevertheless live. Why
should not I live also?"
Because the children of poor people have served, so to say, from the
cradle, an apprenticeship of poverty,--because they are not afraid of
a day without work, or a day without bread,--because cruel experience
has armed them for the struggle,--because, in fine, they know life,
and they know Paris,--because their industry is adapted to their
wants, and they have an innate capacity to obtain some advantage from
every thing, thanks to their smartness, their enterprise, and their
But Count Ville-Handry's only daughter--the heiress of many millions,
brought up, so to say, in a hothouse, according to the stupid custom
of modern society--knew nothing at all of life, of its bitter
realities, its struggles, and its sufferings. She had nothing but
"That is enough," she said to herself. "What we will do, we can do."
Thus resolved to seek aid from no one, she set to work examining her
condition and her resources.
As to objects of any value, she owned the cashmere which she had
wrapped around her when she fled, the dressing-case in her mother's
travelling-bag, a brooch, a watch, a pair of pretty ear-rings, and,
lastly, two rings, which by some lucky accident she had forgotten to
take off, one of which was of considerable value. All this, she
thought, must have cost, at least, eight or nine thousand francs; but
for how much would it sell? since she was resolved to sell it. This
was the question on which her whole future depended.
But how could she dispose of these things? She wanted to have it all
settled, so as to get rid of this sense of uncertainty; she wanted,
especially, to pay for the scanty, wretched furniture in her chamber.
Whom could she ask to help her? For nothing in the world would she
have confided in Mrs. Chevassat; for her instincts told her, that, if
she once let that terrible woman see what were her necessities, she
would be bound hand and foot to her. She was thinking it out, when the
idea of the pawnbroker occurred to her. She had heard such men spoken
of; but she only knew that they kept places where poor people could
get money upon depositing a pledge.
"That is the place I must go to," Henrietta said to herself.
But how was she to find one?
"Well, I'll find it some way," she said.
So she went down, to Mrs. Chevassat's great astonishment, but without
answering her questions, where she was going to in such a hurry.
Having turned at the first corner, she went on at haphazard, walking
quite rapidly, and not minding the passers-by, entirely occupied in
looking at the houses and the sign-boards. But for more than an hour
she wandered thus through all the small streets and alleys in those
suburbs; she found nothing, and it was getting dark.
"And still I won't go home till I have found it," she said to herself
This resolution gave her courage to go up to a policeman, and, crimson
like a poppy, to ask him,--
"Will you be so kind, sir, as to tell me a pawnbroker's shop?"
The man looked with pity at the young girl, whose whole person exhaled
a perfume of distinction and of candor, asking himself, perhaps, what
terrible misfortune could have reduced a lady like her to such a step;
then he answered with a sigh,--
"There, madam, at the corner of the first street on the right, you
will find a loan office."
"Loan office?" These words suggested to Henrietta no clear idea. But
it mattered not. She went on in feverish haste, recognized the house
that had been pointed out to her, went up stairs, and, pushing open a
door, found herself in a large room, where some twenty people were
standing about, waiting.
On the right hand three or four clerks, shut off from the public by a
railing breast-high, were writing down the names of the depositors,
and counting out money. Far back, a large opening was visible, where
another clerk appeared from time to time, to take in the articles that
were pawned. After waiting for five minutes, and without asking a
question from anybody, Henrietta understood the whole process.
Trembling as if she had committed a crime, she went to the opening
behind, and put upon the ledge one of her rings, the most valuable of
the two. Then she waited, not daring to look up; for it seemed to her
as if all eyes were upon her.
"One diamond ring!" cried the clerk. "Nine hundred francs. Whose is
The large amount caused all to look around; and a big woman, but too
well dressed, and with a very impudent expression, said,--
"Oh, oh! The damsel dresses well!"
Crimson with shame, Henrietta had stepped up. She whispered,--
"It is my ring, sir."
The clerk looked at her, and then asked quite gently,--
"You have your papers?"
"Papers? What for?"
"The papers that establish your identity. Your passport, a receipt for
rent, or any thing."
The whole company laughed at the ignorance of this girl. She stammered
"I have no such papers, sir."
"Then we can make no advance."
One more hope, her last, vanished thus. She held out her hand,
"Please give me back my ring."
But the clerk now laughed, and replied,--
"No, no, my dear! that can't be done. You shall have it back when you
bring me the papers, or when you come accompanied by two merchants who
are known to us."
"That is so."
And, finding that he had lost time enough, he went on,--
"One velvet cloak! Thirty francs. Whose is it?"
Henrietta was rushing out, and down the stairs, pursued, as it seemed
to her, by the cries of the crowd. How that clerk had looked at her!
Did he think she had stolen the ring? And what was to become of it?
The police would inquire; they would trace her out; and she would be
carried back to her father's house, and given up to Sir Thorn. She
could hardly keep up until she reached Water Street; and there
fatigue, fright, and excitement made her forget her resolutions. She
confessed her discomfiture to Mrs. Chevassat.
The honest woman tried to look as grave as an attorney whom a great
client consults, who has unwittingly stirred up a wasps' nest; and,
when her tenant had finished, she said in a voice apparently half
drowned in tears,--
"Poor little kitten, poor little innocent kitten!"
But, if she succeeded in giving to her face an expression of sincere
sympathy, the greedy look in her eyes betrayed but too clearly her
immense satisfaction at seeing Henrietta at last at her feet.
"After all," she said, "you are prodigiously lucky in your
misfortunes; for you are too imprudent in all conscience."
And, as the poor girl was not a little astonished at this, she went
"Yes, you ran a great risk; and I can easily prove it to you. Who are
you? Well, you need not turn pale that way: I don't ask any questions.
But after all, if you carry your jewels yourself to the 'Uncle,' you
go, so to say, and rush right into the lion's mouth. If they had
arrested you when they saw you had no papers; if they had carried you
before a magistrate--eh? Ah! my beautiful friend, you would have fared
pretty badly, I dare say."
And then, changing her tone, she began scolding her beautiful young
lady for having concealed her troubles from her. That was wrong; that
hurt her feelings. Why had she given her money last night? Did she ask
for money? Did she look like such a terrible creditor? She knew, God
be thanked! what life was here below, and that we are bound to help
one another. To be sure, there was that furniture dealer, who must be
paid; but she would have been quite willing to make him wait; and why
should he not? She had got very different people to wait! Why, only
last week, she had sent one of those men away, and a dressmaker into
the bargain, who came to levy upon one of her tenants in the back
building,--the very nicest, and prettiest, and best of them all.
Thus she discoursed and discoursed with amazing volubility, till at
last, when she thought she had made a sufficiently strong impression
on her "poor little pussy-cat," she said,--
"But one can easily see, my dear young lady, that you are a mere
child. Sell your poor little jewels! Why, that is murder, as long as
there is some one at hand quite ready to do any thing for you."
At this sudden, but not altogether unexpected attack, Henrietta
"For I am sure," continued Mrs. Chevassat, "if it were only to be
agreeable to you, he would give one of his arms, this poor M. Maxime."
Henrietta looked so peremptorily at her, that the worthy lady seemed
to be quite disconcerted.
"I forbid you," cried the young lady, with a voice trembling with
indignation,--"I forbid you positively ever to mention his name!"
The woman shrugged her shoulders.
"As you like it," she answered.
And then, ready to change the conversation, she added,--
"Well, then, let us return to your ring. What /do/ you propose to do?"
"That is exactly why I came to you," replied Henrietta. "I do not know
what is to be done in such a case."
Mrs. Chevassat smiled, very much pleased.
"And you did very well to come to us," she said.
"Chevassat will go, take the charcoal-dealer and the grocer next door
with him; and before going to bed you will have your money, I promise
you! You see he understands pretty well how to make the clerks do
their duty, my Chevassat."
That evening the excellent man really condescended to go up stairs,
and to bring Henrietta himself eight hundred and ninety-five francs.
He did not bring the whole nine hundred francs, he said; for, having
put his two neighbors to some inconvenience, he was bound, according
to established usage, to invite them to take something. For himself,
he had, of course, kept nothing,--oh, nothing at all! He could take
his oath upon that; for he preferred by far leaving that little matter
to the beautiful young lady's liberality.
"Here are ten francs," said Henrietta curtly, in order to make an end
to his endless talk.
Thus, with the few gold-pieces which she had found in her purse, the
poor girl had a capital of about a thousand francs in hand. How many
days, how many months, this sum would have secured to her, if the
furniture-dealer had not been there with his bill! He did not fail to
present himself next day, accompanied by Mrs. Chevassat. He asked for
five hundred and seventy-nine francs. Such a sum for a few second-hand
pieces of furniture which adorned that wretched garret! It was a clear
swindle, and the impudence so great, that Henrietta was overwhelmed.
But still she paid.
When he was gone, she sadly counted from one hand into the other the
twenty-three gold-pieces that were left, when suddenly a thought
occurred to her, that might have saved her, if she had followed it
It was the thought of leaving the house by stealth, of going to the
station of the Orleans Railway, and of taking the first train for the
home of Daniel's aunt. Alas! she was content with writing to her, and
This inspiration was, moreover, to be the last favor which Providence
vouchsafed to Henrietta,--an opportunity which, once allowed to pass,
never returns. From that moment she found herself irrevocably insnared
in a net which tightened day by day more around her, and held her a
helpless captive. She had vowed to herself, the unfortunate girl, that
she would economize her little hoard like the blood in her veins. But
how could she economize?
She was without every thing. When M. de Brevan had gone to engage this
garret-room, he had thought of nothing; or rather (and such a
calculation was quite in keeping with his cold-blooded rascality) he
had taken his measures so that his victim must soon be in utter
destitution. Without any other clothes than those she wore on the
night of her flight, she had no linen, no shoes, not a towel even to
wipe her hands, unless she borrowed them from her friend down stairs.
Accustomed as she was to all the comforts of boundless wealth, and to
all the refinements of cleanliness, these privations became to her a
genuine martyrdom. Thus she spent in a variety of small purchases more
than a hundred and fifty francs. The sum was enormous at a time when
she could already count the days to the hour when she would be without
bread. In addition to that she had to pay Mrs. Chevassat five francs a
day for her board. Five francs were another enormous sum which
troubled her grievously; for she would have been quite willing to live
on bread and water. But in that direction she thought no economizing
One evening she had hinted at the necessity of retrenching, when Mrs.
Chevassat had shot at her a venomous glance, which pierced her to the
very marrow of her bones.
"It must be done," she said to herself.
In her mind she felt as if the five francs were a kind of daily ransom
which she paid the estimable concierge's wife for her good-will. It is
true, that, for such a consideration, the terrible woman was all
attention for her "poor little pussy-cat;" for thus she had definitely
dubbed Henrietta, becoming daily more familiar, and adding this odious
and irritating presumption to all the other tortures of the poor girl.
Many a time poor Henrietta had been made so indignant and furious,
that she had been on the point of rebelling; but she had never dared,
submitting to this familiarity for the same reason for which she paid
her five francs every day. The old woman, taking her silence for
consent, put no longer any restraint upon herself. She declared she
could not comprehend how her "little pussy-cat," young and pretty as
she was, could consent to live as she did. Was that a life?
Then she always came back to M. Maxime, who continued to call
regularly twice a day, the poor young man!
"And more than that, poor little pussy," she added, "you will see that
one of these days he will summon courage enough to come and offer you
But Henrietta would not believe that.
"He will never have such consummate impudence," she thought.
He had it, nevertheless. One morning, when she had just finished
righting up her room, somebody knocked discreetly, at her door.
Thinking that it was Mrs. Chevassat, who brought her her breakfast,
she went to the door and opened it, without asking who was there. And
she started back with amazement and with terror when she recognized M.
It really looked as if he were making a supreme effort over himself.
He was deadly pale; his lips trembled; his eyes looked dim and
uncertain; and he moved his lips and jaws as if he had gravel in his
"I have come, madam," he said, "to ask if you have reconsidered."
She made no reply, looking at him with an air of contempt which would
have caused a man with some remnant of honor in his heart to flee from
the spot instantly. But he had, no doubt, armed himself beforehand,
"I know," he continued, "that my conduct must appear abominable in
your eyes. I have led you into this snare, and I have meanly betrayed
a friend's confidence; but I have an excuse. My passion is stronger
than my will, than my reason."
"A vile passion for money!"
"You may think so, madam, if you choose. I shall not even attempt to
clear myself. That is not what I came for. I came solely for the
purpose of enlightening you in regard to your own position, which you
do not seem to realize."
If she had followed her own impulses, Henrietta would have driven the
wretch away. But she thought she ought to know his intentions and his
plans. She overcame her disgust, therefore, and remained silent.
"In the first place," said M. de Brevan, apparently trying to collect
his thoughts, "bear this in mind, madam. You are ruined in reputation,
and ruined through me. All Paris is convinced, by this time, that I
have run away with you; and that I keep you concealed in a charming
place, where we enjoy our mutual love; in fact, that you are my
He seemed to expect an explosion of wrath. By no means! Henrietta
remained motionless like a statue.
"What would you have?" he went on in a tone of sarcasm. "My coachman
has been talking. Two friends of mine, who reached the palace on foot
when I drove up, saw you jump into my /coupe/; and, as if that had not
been enough, that absurd M. Elgin must needs call me out. We had a
duel, and I have wounded him."
The manner in which the young girl shrugged her shoulders showed but
too clearly that she did not believe M. de Brevan. He added,--
"If you doubt it, madam, pray read this, then, at the top of the
She took the paper which he offered her, and there she read,--
"Yesterday, in the woods near Vincennes, a duel with swords was
fought between M. M. de B---- and one of the most distinguished
members of our American colony. After five minutes' close combat,
M. E---- was wounded in the arm. It is said that the sudden and
very surprising disappearance of one of the greatest heiresses of
the Faubourg Saint Germain was not foreign to this duel. Lucky M.
de B---- is reported to know too much of the beautiful young
lady's present home for the peace of the family. But surely these
lines ought to be more than enough on the subject of an adventure
which will ere long, no doubt, end in a happy and brilliant
"You see, madam," said M. de Brevan, when he thought Henrietta had had
time enough to read the article, "you see it is not I who advise
marriage. If you will become my wife, your honor is safe."
In that simple utterance there was so much contempt, and such profound
disgust, that M. de Brevan seemed to turn, if possible, whiter than
"Ah! I see you prefer marrying M. Thomas Elgin," he said.
She only shrugged her shoulders; but he went on,--
"Oh, do not smile! He or I; you have no other alternative. Sooner or
later you will have to choose."
"I shall not choose, sir."
"Oh, just wait till poverty has come! Then you think, perhaps, you
will only need to implore your father to come to your assistance. Do
not flatter yourself. Your father has no other will but that of the
Countess Sarah; and the Countess Sarah will have it so, that you marry
"I shall not appeal to my father, sir."
"Then you probably count upon Daniel's return? Ah, believe me! do not
indulge in such dreams. I have told you Daniel loves the Countess
Sarah; and, even if he did not love her, you have been too publicly
disgraced for him ever to give you his name. But that is nothing yet.
Go to the navy department, and they will tell you that 'The Conquest'
is out on a cruise of two years more. At the time when Daniel returns,
if he returns at all (which is very far from being certain), you will
long since have become Mrs. Elgin or Madame de Brevan, unless"--
Henrietta looked at him so fixedly, that he could not bear the glance;
and then she said in a deep voice,--
"Unless I die! did you not mean that? Be it so."
Coldly M. de Brevan bowed, as if he intended to say,--
"Yes, unless you should be dead: that was what I meant."
Then, opening the door, he added,--
"Let me hope, madam, that this is not your last word. I shall,
however, have the honor of calling every week to receive your orders."
And, bowing, he left the room.
"What brought him here, the wretch! What does he want of me?"
Thus she questioned herself as soon as she was alone, and the door was
'shut.' And her anguish increased tenfold; for she did not believe a
word of the pretexts which M. de Brevan had assigned for his visit.
No, she could not admit that he had come to see if she had reflected,
nor that he really cherished that abominable hope, that misery,
hunger, and fear would drive her into his arms.
"He ought to know me well enough," she thought with a new access of
wrath, "to be sure that I would prefer death a thousand times."
There was no doubt in her mind that this step, which had evidently
been extremely painful to himself, had become necessary through some
all-powerful consideration. But what could that be? By a great effort
of mind Henrietta recalled, one by one, all the phrases used by M. de
Brevan, in the hope that some word might give her light; but she
discovered nothing. All he had told her as to the consequences of her
flight, she had foreseen before she had resolved to escape. He had
told her nothing new, but his duel with Sir Thorn; and, when she
considered the matter, she thought that, also, quite natural. For did
they not both covet with equal eagerness the fortune which she would
inherit from her mother as soon as she came of age? The antagonism of
their interests explained, she thought, their hatred; for she was well
convinced that they hated each other mortally. The idea that Sir Thorn
and M. de Brevan understood each other, and pursued a common purpose,
never entered her mind; and, if it had suggested itself, she would
have rejected it as absurd.
Must she, then, come to the conclusion that M. de Brevan had really,
when he appeared before her, no other aim but to drive her to despair?
But why should he do so? what advantage would that be to him? The man
who wants to make a girl his own does not go to work to chill her with
terror, and to inspire her with ineffable disgust. Still M. de Brevan
had done this; and therefore he must aim at something different from
that marriage of which he spoke.
What was that something? Such abominable things are not done for the
mere pleasure of doing them, especially if that involves some amount
of danger. Now, it was very clear, that upon Daniel's return, whether
he still loved Henrietta or not, M. de Brevan would have a terrible
account to give to that brave sailor who had trusted him with the care
of his betrothed. Did M. de Brevan ever think of that return? Oh, yes!
he did; and with secret terror. There was proof of that in one of the
phrases that had escaped him.
After having said, "When Daniel returns," he had added, "if he ever
returns, which is by no means sure."
Why this proviso? Had he any reasons to think that Daniel might perish
in this dangerous campaign? Now she remembered, yes, she remembered
distinctly, that M. de Brevan had smiled in a very peculiar way when
he had said these words. And, as she recalled this, her heart sank
within her, and she felt as if she were going to faint. Was he not
capable of anything, the wretched man, who had betrayed him so
infamously,--capable even of arming an assassin?
"Oh, I must warn Daniel!" she exclaimed, "I must warn him, and not
lose a minute."
And, although she had written him a long letter only the day before,
she wrote again, begging him to be watchful, to mistrust everybody,
because most assuredly his life was threatened. And this letter she
carried herself to the post-office, convinced as she was that to
confide it to Mrs. Chevassat would have been the same as to send it to
M. de Brevan.
It was astonishing, however, how the estimable lady seemed to become
day by day more attached to Henrietta, and how expansive and
demonstrative her affections grew. At all hours of the day, and on the
most trivial pretexts, she would come up, sit down, and for entire
hours entertain her with her intolerable speeches. She did not put any
restraint upon herself any longer, but talked "from the bottom of her
heart" with her "dear little pussy-cat," as if she had been her own
daughter. The strange doctrines at which she had formerly only hinted,
she now proclaimed without reserve, boasting of an open kind of
cynicism, which betrayed a terrible moral perversity. It looked as if
the horrible Megsera had been deputed by Henrietta's enemies for the
special purpose of demoralizing and depraving her, if possible, and to
drive her into the brilliant and easy life of sin in which so many
unhappy women perish.
Fortunately, in this case, the messenger was ill-chosen. The eloquence
of Mrs. Chevassat, which very likely would have inflamed the
imagination of some poor but ambitious girl, caused nothing but
disgust in Henrietta's heart. She had gotten into the habit of
thinking of other things while the old woman was holding forth; and
her noble soul floated off to regions where these vulgarities could
reach her no more.
Her life was, nevertheless, a very sad one. She never went out,
spending her days in her chamber, reading, or working at a great
embroidery, a masterpiece of patience and taste, which she had
undertaken with a faint hope that it might become useful in case of
distress. But a new source of trouble roused her soon after from this
dull monotony. Her money grew less and less; and at last the day came
when she changed the last gold-piece of her nine hundred francs. It
became urgent to resort once more to the pawnbroker; for these were
the first days of April, and the honeyed words of Mrs. Chevassat had
given her to understand that she had better get ready to pay on the
8th her rent, which amounted to a hundred francs.
She intrusted therefore to the concierge the remaining ring to be
pawned. Calculating from the sum she had received for the first ring,
she hoped to obtain for this one, at the very least, five or six
The concierge brought her one hundred and ninety francs.
At first, she was convinced the man had robbed her; and she gave him
to understand that she thought so. But he showed her the receipt in a
"Look there," he said, "and remember to whom you are talking!"
On the receipt she read in fact these words: "Advanced, two hundred
francs." Convinced of the injustice of her accusations, Henrietta had
to make her apologies, and hardly succeeded by means of a ten-franc-
piece in soothing the man's wounded feelings.
Alas! the poor girl did not know that one is always at liberty to
pledge an article only for a given sum, a part of its real value; and
she was too inexperienced in such matters to notice the reference to
that mode of pawning on her receipt. However, it was one of those
mishaps for poor Henrietta which cannot be mended, and from which we
never recover. She lost two months' existence, the very time, perhaps,
that was needed till Daniel's return. Still the day when the rent was
due came, and she paid her hundred francs. The second day after that,
she was once more without money, and, according to Mrs. Chevassat's
elegant expression, forced to "live on her poor possessions." But the
pawnbroker had too cruelly disappointed her calculations: she would
not resort to him again, and risk a second disappointment.
This time she thought she would, instead of pawning, sell, her gold-
dressing-case; and she requested the obliging lady below to procure
her a purchaser. At first Mrs. Chevassat raised a host of objections.
"To sell such a pretty toy!" she said, "it's murder! Just think,
you'll never see it again. If, on the other hand, you carry it to
'Uncle' you can take it out again as soon as you have a little money."
But she lost her pains, she saw and at last consented to bring up a
kind of dealer in toilet-articles, an excellent honest man, she
declared, in whom one could put the most absolute confidence. And he
really showed himself worthy of her warm recommendation; for he
offered instantly five hundred francs for the dressing-case, which was
not worth much more than three times as much. Nor was this his last
bid. After an hour's irritating discussions, after having ten times
pretended to leave the room, he drew with many sighs his
/portemonnaie/ from its secret home, and counted upon the table the
seven hundred francs in gold upon which Henrietta had stoutly
That was enough to pay Mrs. Chevassat for four months' board.
"But no," said the poor young girl to herself, "that would be
pusillanimous in the highest degree."
And that very evening she summoned all her courage, and told the
formidable woman in a firm tone of voice, that henceforth she would
only take one meal, dinner. She had chosen this half-way measure in
order not to avoid a scene, for that she knew she could not hope for,
but a regular falling-out.
Contrary to all expectations, the concierge's wife appeared neither
surprised nor angry. She only shrugged her shoulders as she said,--
"As you like, my 'little pussy-cat.' Only believe me, it is no use
economizing in one's eating."
From the day of this /coup d'etat/, Henrietta went down every morning
herself to buy her penny-roll and the little supply of milk which
constituted her breakfast. For the rest of the day she did not leave
her room, busying herself with her great work; and nothing broke in
upon the distressing monotony of her life but the weekly visits of M.
For he did not forget his threat; and every week Henrietta was sure to
see him come. He came in with a solemn air, and coldly asked if she
had reflected since he had had the honor of presenting his respects to
her. She did not answer him ordinarily, except by a look of contempt;
but he did not seem in the least disconcerted. He bowed respectfully,
and invariably said, before leaving the room,--
"Next time, then; I can wait. Oh! I have time; I can wait."
If he hoped thus to conquer Henrietta more promptly, he was entirely
mistaken. This periodical insult acted only as an inducement to keep
up her wrath and to increase her energy. Her pride rose at the thought
of this unceasing struggle; and she swore that she would be
victorious. It was this sentiment which inspired her with a thought,
which, in its results, was destined to have a decisive influence on
It was now the end of June, and she saw with trembling her little
treasure grow smaller and smaller; when one day she asked Mrs.
Chevassat, who seemed to be of unusually good-humor, if she could not
procure her some work. She told her that she was considered quite
skilful in all kinds of needlework.
But the woman laughed at the first words, and said,--
"Leave me alone! Are hands like yours made to work?"
And when Henrietta insisted, and showed her, as a proof of what she
could do, the embroidery which she had commenced, she replied,--
"That is very pretty; but embroidering from morning till night would
not enable a fairy to keep a canary-bird."
There was probably some truth in what she said, exaggerated as it
sounded; and the poor girl hastened to add that she understood other
kinds of work also. She was a first-class musician, for instance, and
fully able to give music-lessons, or teach singing, if she could only
get pupils. At these words a ray of diabolic satisfaction lighted up
the old woman's eyes; and she cried out,--
"What, my 'pussy-cat,' could you play dancing-music, like those
artists who go to the large parties of fashionable people?"
"Well, that is a talent worth something! Why did you not tell me
before? I will think of it, and you shall see."
On the next Saturday, early in the morning, she appeared in
Henrietta's room with the bright face of a bearer of good news.
"I have thought of you," she said as soon as she entered.
"We have a tenant in the house who is going to give a large party
to-night. I have mentioned you to her; and she says she will give you
thirty francs if you will make her guests jump. Thirty francs! That's
a big sum; and besides, if they are pleased, you will get more
"In what part of the house does she live?"
"In the second story of the back building, looking upon the yard. Mrs.
Hilaire, a very nice person, and so good! there is no one like her.
You would have to be there at nine o'clock precisely."
Quite happy, and full of hope, Henrietta spent a part of the afternoon
in mending her only dress, a black silk dress, much worn
unfortunately, and already often repaired. Still, by much skill and
patience, she had managed to look quite respectable when she rang the
bell at Mrs. Hilaire's door. She was shown into a room furnished with
odd furniture, but brilliantly lighted, in which seven or eight ladies
in flaming costumes, and as many fashionable gentlemen, were smoking
and taking coffee. Both ladies and gentlemen had just risen from
table; there was no mistaking it from their eyes and the sound of
"Look! there is the musician from the garret!" exclaimed a large,
dark-skinned woman, pretty, but very vulgar, who seemed to be Mrs.
And, turning to Henrietta, she asked,--
"Will you take a little glass of something, my darling?"
The poor girl blushed crimson, and, painfully embarrassed, declined,
and asked pardon for declining; when the lady broke in rather rudely,
"You are not thirsty? Very well. You'll drink after some time. In the
meantime will you play us a quadrille? and mark the time, please."
Then imitating with distressing accuracy the barking voice of masters
of ceremonies at public balls, she called out,--
"Take your positions, take your positions: a quadrille!"
Henrietta had taken her seat at the piano. She turned her back to the
dancers; but she had before her a mirror, in which she saw every
gesture of Mrs. Hilaire and her guests. And then she became quite sure
of what she had suspected from the beginning. She understood into what
company she had been inveigled by the concierge's wife. She had,
however, sufficient self-control to finish the quadrille. But, when
the last figure had been danced, she rose; and, walking up to the
mistress of the house, said, stammering painfully, and in extreme
"Please excuse me, madam, I have to leave. I feel very unwell. I could
not play any more."
"How funny!" cried one of the gentlemen. "Here is our ball at an end!"
But the young woman said,--
"Hush, Julius! Don't you see how pale she is,--pale like death, the
poor child! What is the matter with you, darling? Is it the heat that
makes you feel badly? It is stifling hot here."
And, when Henrietta was at the door, she said,--
"Oh, wait! I do not trouble people for nothing. Come, Julius, turn
your pockets inside out, and give the little one a twenty-franc-
The poor girl was almost outside, when she turned, and said,--
"Thank you, madam; but you owe me nothing."
It was high time for Henrietta to leave. Her first surprise had been
followed by mad anger, which drove the blood to her head, and made her
weep bitter tears. She knew now that Mrs. Chevassat had caught her in
this trap. What could the wretched woman have meant?
Carried away by an irresistible impulse, and no longer mistress of
herself, Henrietta rushed down stairs, and broke like a whirlwind into
the little box of the concierge, crying out,--
"How could you dare to send me to such people? You knew all about it.
You are a wretch!"
Master Chevassat was the first to rise, and said,--
"What is the matter? Do you know to whom you are talking?"
But his wife interrupted him with a gesture, and, turning to
Henrietta, said with cynic laughter,--
"Well, what next? Are these people not good enough for you; eh? In the
first place, I am tired of your ways, my 'pussy-cat.' When one is a
beggar, as you are, one stays at home like a good girl; and one does
not run away with a young man, and gad about the world with lovers."
Thereupon she took advantage of the fact that Henrietta had paused
upon the threshold, to push her brutally out of the room at the risk
of throwing her down, and fiercely banged the door. An hour afterwards
the poor girl vehemently reproached herself for her passion.
"Alas!" she said to herself, weeping, "the weak, the unhappy, have no
right to complain. Who knows what this wicked woman will now do to
She found it out the second day afterwards.
Coming down a little before seven o'clock, in order to buy her roll
and her milk for breakfast, she met at the entrance-door Mrs. Hilaire,
face to face. At the sight of the poor girl, that irascible woman
turned as red as a poppy, and, rushing up to her, seized her by the
arm, and shook it furiously, crying out at the same time with the full
force of her lungs,--
"Ah, it is you, miserable beggar, who go and tell stories on me! Oh,
what wickedness! A beggar whom I had sent for to allow her to earn
thirty francs! And I must needs think she is sick, and pity her, and
ask Julius to give her a twenty-franc-piece."
Henrietta felt that she ought not to blame this woman, who, after all,
had shown her nothing but kindness. But she was thoroughly frightened,
and tried to get away. The woman, however, held her fast, and cried
still louder, till several tenants came to the open windows.
"They'll make you pay for that, my darling," she yelled, amid foul
oaths, which her wrath carried along with it, as a torrent floats down
stones and debris. "They'll make you pay for it! You'll have to clear
out of here, I tell you!"