Part 7 out of 11
And the threat was not an idle one. That very afternoon the same
lamentable scene was repeated; and so it went on every morning and
every day. Mrs. Hilaire had friends in the house, who took up the
quarrel, and fell upon Henrietta whenever she appeared. They lay in
wait for her by turns; and she no sooner ventured upon the staircase
than the shouts began; so that the unfortunate girl no longer dared
leave the house. Early in the morning, as soon as the door was opened,
she ran out to buy her daily provisions; then, running up swiftly, she
barricaded herself in her chamber, and never stirred out again.
Surely, there was no lack of desire on her part to leave the house.
But where should she go? Besides, the unknown frightened her; might it
not have still greater terrors in reserve for her?
At last she was entirely without money.
In July her rent had cost her a hundred francs, and she had been
compelled to buy a dress in place of her merino dress, which was
falling to pieces. In the first days of August she was at the end of
her resources. Nor would she have been able to make them last so long,
even if she had not, ever since that evening at Mrs. Hilaire's, done
entirely without the expensive board of Mrs. Chevassat. Even this
rupture, at which Henrietta had at first rejoiced, became now to her a
source of overwhelming trouble. She had still a few things that she
might sell,--a brooch, her cashmere, her watch, and her ear-rings; but
she did not know how and to whom she could sell them.
All the stories by which the wicked woman down stairs had tried to
frighten her from going herself to the pawnbroker came back to her
mind; and she saw herself, at the first attempt, arrested by the
police, examined, and carried back to her father, handed over to Sarah
and Sir Thorn, and--
Still want pressed her hard; and at last, after long hesitation, one
evening, at dark, she slipped out to find a purchaser. What she was
looking for was one of those dark little shops in which men lie in
wait for their prey, whom the police always suspects, and carefully
watches. She found one such as she desired. An old woman with
spectacles on her nose, without even asking her name, and evidently
taking her to be a thief, gave her, for her brooch and her ear-rings,
a hundred and forty francs.
What was this sum of money? A nothing; Henrietta understood that
perfectly. And hence, overcoming all her reserve and her reluctance,
she vowed she would try every thing in her power to obtain work.
She kept her word, sustained by a secret hope of triumphing, by dint
of energy and perseverance, over fate itself. She went from store to
store, from door to door, so to say, soliciting employment, as she
would have asked for alms, promising to do any thing that might be
wanted, in return merely for her board and lodging. But it was written
that every thing should turn against her. Her beauty, her charms, her
distinguished appearance, her very manner of speaking, were so many
obstacles in her way. Who could think of engaging a girl as a servant,
who looked like a duchess? So that all her prayers only met with cold
faces, shrugging of shoulders, and ironical smiles. She was refused
everywhere. It is true that now and then some gallant clerk replied to
her application by a declaration of love.
Chance had thrown into her hands one of those small handbills which
bill-stickers paste upon the gutters, and in which workwomen are
"wanted." Henceforth she spent her days in looking up these handbills,
and in going to places from which they were issued. But here she met
with the same difficulties. There was no end of questions.
"Who are you? Where have you been? By whom have you been employed?"
and finally, always the same distressing answer,--
"We cannot employ persons like you."
Then she went to an employment agency. She had noticed one which
displayed at the door a huge placard, on which places were offered
from thirty-five up to a thousand francs a month. She went up stairs.
A very loquacious gentleman made her first deposit a considerable sum,
and then told her he had exactly what she wanted. She went ten times
back to the office, and always in vain. After an eleventh appointment,
he gave her the address of two houses, in one of which he assured her
she would certainly be employed. These two houses turned out to be two
small shops, where pretty young ladies were wanted to pour out
absinthe, and to wait upon the customers.
This was Henrietta's last effort. For ten months she had now been
struggling with a kind of helpless fury against inconquerable
difficulties, and at last the springs of her energy had lost their
elasticity. Now, crushed in body and mind, overwhelmed and conquered,
she gave up.
It lacked still eighteen months before she would become of age. Since
she had escaped from her father's house, she had not received a line
from Daniel, although she had constantly written to him, and she had,
of course, no means of ascertaining the date of his return. She had
once, following M. de Brevan's advice, summoned courage enough to go
to the navy department, and there to inquire if they had any news
about "The Conquest." A clerk had replied to her, with a joke, that
"The Conquest" might be afloat yet "a year or two." How could the poor
girl wait till then? Why should she any longer maintain the useless
struggle? She felt acute pains in her chest; she coughed; and, after
walking a few yards, her legs gave way under her, and she broke out in
cold perspiration. She now spent her days almost always in bed,
shivering with chills, or plunged in a kind of stupor, during which
her mind was filled with dismal visions. She felt as if the very
sources of life were drying up within her, and as if all her blood
was, drop by drop, oozing out of her through an open wound.
"If I could die thus!" she thought.
This was the last favor she asked of God. Henceforth, a miracle alone
could save her; and she hardly wished to be saved. A perfect
indifference and intense distaste of every thing filled her soul. She
thought she had exhausted all that man can suffer; and there was
nothing left for her to fear.
A last misfortune which now befell her did not elicit even a sigh from
her. One afternoon, while she had been down stairs, she had left the
window open. The wind had suddenly sprung up, slammed the blinds, and
thus upset a chair. On this chair hung her cashmere; it fell into the
fireplace, in which a little fire was still burning; and when she came
back she found the shawl half-burnt to ashes. It was the only article
of value which she still possessed; and she might at any time have
procured several hundred francs for it.
"Well," she said, "what does it matter? It means three months taken
from my life; that is all."
And she did not think of it any more; she did not even trouble herself
about the rent, which became due in October.
"I shall not be able to pay it," she said to herself. "Mrs. Chevassat
will give me notice, and then the hour will have come."
Still, to her great surprise, the worthy woman from below did not
scold her for not having the money ready, and even promised she would
make the owner of the house give her time. This inexplicable
forbearance gave Henrietta a week's respite. But at last, one morning,
she woke up, having not a cent left, having nothing even, she thought,
that she could get money for, and being very hungry.
"Well," she thought, as if announcing to her own soul that the
catastrophe had at last come, "all I need now is a few minutes'
She said so in her mind; but in reality she was chilled to the heart
by the fearful certainty that the crisis had really come: she felt as
if the executioner were at the door of the room, ready to announce her
sentence of death. And yet, for a month now, she had thought of
suicide only; and the evening before she had thought it over with a
kind of delight.
"I am surely not such a coward?" she said to herself in a fit of rage.
Yes, she was afraid. Yes, she told herself in vain that there was no
other choice left to her but that between death and Sir Thorn, or M.
de Brevan. She was terrified.
Alas! she was only twenty years old; she had never felt such
exuberance of life within her; she wanted to live,--to live a month
more, a week, a day!
If only her shawl had not been burnt! Then, examining with haggard
eyes her chamber, she saw that exquisite piece of embroidery which she
had undertaken. It was a dress, covered /all/ over with work of
marvellous delicacy and exquisite outlines. Unfortunately, it was far
from being finished.
"Never mind!" she said to herself; "perhaps they will give me
something for it."
And, wrapping the dress up hastily, she hurried to offer it for sale
to the old woman who had already bought her ear-rings, and then her
watch. The fearful old hag seemed to be overcome with surprise when
she saw this marvel of skill.
"That's very fine," she said; "why, it is magnificent! and, if it were
finished, it would be worth a mint of money; but as it is no one would
She consented, however, to give twenty francs for it, solely from love
of art, she said; for it was money thrown away. These twenty francs
were, for Henrietta, an unexpected release.
"It will last me a month," she thought, determined to live on dry
bread only; "and who can tell what a month may bring forth?"
And this unfortunate girl had an inheritance from her mother of more
than a million! If she had but known it, if she had but had a single
friend to advise her in her inexperience! But she had been faithful to
her vow never to let her secret be known to a living soul; and the
most terrible anguish had never torn from her a single complaint.
M. de Brevan knew this full well; for he had continued his weekly
visits with implacable regularity. This perseverance, which had at
first served to maintain Henrietta's courage, had now become a source
of unspeakable torture.
"Ah, I shall be avenged!" she said to him one day. "Daniel will come
But he, shrugging his shoulders, had answered,--
"If you count upon that alone, you may as well surrender, and become
my wife at once."
She turned her head from him with an expression of ineffable disgust.
Rather the icy arms of Death! And still the pulsations of her heart
were apparently counted. Since the end of November her twenty francs
had been exhausted; and to prolong her existence she had had to resort
to the last desperate expedients of extreme poverty. All that she
possessed, all that she could carry from her chamber without being
stopped by the concierge, she had sold, piece by piece, bit after bit,
for ten cents, for five cents, for a roll. Her linen had been
sacrificed first; then the covering of her bed, her curtains, her
sheets. The mattress had gone the way of the rest,--the wool from the
inside first, carried off by handfuls; then the ticking.
Thus, on the 25th of December, she found herself in a chamber as
utterly denuded as if a fire had raged there; while she herself had on
her body but a single petticoat under her thin alpaca dress, without a
rag to cover herself in these wintry nights. Two evenings before, when
terror triumphed over her resolution for a time, she had written her
father a long letter. He had made no reply. Last night she had again
written in these words:--
"I am hungry, and I have no bread. If by tomorrow at noon you have
not come to my assistance, at one o'clock you will have ceased to
have a daughter."
Tortured by cold and hunger, emaciated, and almost dying, she had
waited for an answer. At noon nothing had come. She gave herself time
till four o'clock. Four o'clock, and no answer.
"I must make an end of it," she said to herself.
Her preparations had been made. She had told the Cerberus below that
she would be out all the evening; and she had procured a considerable
stock of charcoal. She wrote two letters,--one to her father, the
other to M. de Brevan.
After that she closed hermetically all the openings in her room,
kindled two small fires, and, having commended her soul to God,
stretched herself out on her bed. It was five o'clock.
A dense, bitter vapor spread slowly through the room; and the candle
ceased to give a visible light. Then she felt as if an iron screw were
tightening on her temples. She was suffocating, and felt a desire to
sleep; but in her stomach she suffered intense pains.
Then strange and incoherent thoughts arose deliriously in her head;
her ears were filled with confused noises; her pulse beat with
extraordinary vehemence; nausea nearly convulsed her; and from time to
time she fancied terrific explosions were breaking her skull to
The candle went out. Maddened by a sensation of dying, she tried to
rise; but she could not. She wanted to cry; but her voice ended in a
rattle in her throat.
Then her ideas became utterly confused. Respiration ceased. It was all
over. She was suffering no longer.
Thus a few minutes longer, and all was really over. Count Ville-
Handry's daughter was dying! Count Ville-Handry's daughter was dead!
But at that very hour the tenant of the fourth story, Papa Ravinet,
the second-hand dealer, was going to his dinner. If he had gone down
as usually, by the front staircase, no noise would have reached him.
But Providence was awake. That evening he went down the back stairs,
and heard the death-rattle of the poor dying girl. In our beautiful
egotistical days, many a man, in the place of this old man, would not
have gone out of his way. He, on the contrary, hurried down to inform
the concierge. Many a man, again, would have been quieted by the
apparent calmness of the Chevassat couple, and would have been
satisfied with their assurance that Henrietta was not at home. He,
however, insisted, and, in spite of the evident reluctance of the
concierge and his wife, compelled them to go up, and brought out, by
his words first, and then by his example, one tenant after another.
It was he likewise, who, while the concierge and the other people were
deliberating, directed what was to be done for the dying girl, and who
hastened to fetch from his magazine a mattress, sheets, blankets, wood
to make a fire, in fact, every thing that was needed in that bare
A few moments later Henrietta opened her eyes. Her first sensation was
a very strange one.
In the first place she was utterly amazed at feeling that she was in a
warm bed,--she who had, for so many days, endured all the tortures of
bitter cold. Then, looking around, she was dazzled by the candles that
were burning on her table, and the beautiful, bright fire in her
fireplace. And then she looked with perfect stupor at all the women
whom she did not know, and who were bending over her, watching her
Had her father at last come to her assistance?
No, for he would have been there; and she looked in vain for him among
all these strange people.
Then, understanding from some words which were spoken close by her,
that it was to chance alone she owed her rescue from death, she was
filled with indescribable grief.
"To have suffered all that can be suffered in dying," she said to
herself, "and then not to die after all!"
She almost had a feeling of hatred against all these people who were
busying themselves around her. Now that they had brought her back to
life, would they enable her to live?
Nevertheless, she distinguished very clearly what was going on in her
room. She recognized the wealthy ladies from the first story, who had
stayed to nurse her, and between them Mrs. Chevassat, who assumed an
air of great activity, while she explained to them how Henrietta had
deceived her affectionate heart in order to carry out her fatal
"You see, I did not dream of any thing," she protested in a whining
tone. "A poor little pussy-cat, who was always merry, and this morning
yet sang like a bird. I thought she might be a little embarrassed, but
never suspected such misery. You see, ladies, she was as proud as a
queen, and as haughty as the weather. She would rather have died than
ask for assistance; for she knew she had only a word to say to me. Did
I not already, in October, when I saw she would not be able to pay her
rent, become responsible for her?"
And thereupon the infamous hypocrite bent over the poor girl, kissed
her on her forehead, and said with a tender tone of voice,--
"Did you not love me, dear little pussy-cat; did not you? I know you
loved poor old Mrs. Chevassat."
Unable to articulate a word, even if she had understood what was said,
poor Henrietta shivered, shrank with horror and disgust from the
contact with those lying lips. And the emotion which this feeling
caused her did more for her than all the attentions that were paid
her. Still, it was only after the doctor, who had been sent for, had
come and bled her, that she was restored to the full use of her
faculties. Then she thanked, in a very feeble voice, the people around
her, assuring them that she felt much better now, and might safely be
The two wealthy ladies, whom curiosity had carried off at the moment
when they were sitting down to dinner, did not wait for more, and,
very happy to be released, slipped away at once. But the concierge's
wife remained by Henrietta's bedside till she was alone with her
victim; and then every thing changed in her face, tone of voice, look,
"Well," she commenced, "now you are happy, miss! You have advertised
my house, and it will all be in the papers. Everybody will pity you,
and think your lover a cold-blooded villain, who lets you die of
The poor young girl deprecated the charge with such a sweet, gentle
expression of face, that a savage would have been touched; but Mrs.
Chevassat was civilized.
"And still you know very well," she went on in a bitter tone, "that
dear M. Maxime has done all he could to save you. Only day before
yesterday, he offered you his whole fortune"--
"Madam," stammered Henrietta, "have you no mercy?"
Mercy--Mrs. Chevassat! What a joke!
"You would take nothing," she continued, "from M. Maxime. Why, I ask
you? To play the virtuous woman, was it? It was hardly worth while, if
you meant, immediately afterwards, to accept that old miser, who will
make life hard enough for you. Ah, you have fallen into nice hands!"
Gathering up all the strength that had come back to her, Henrietta
raised herself on the pillows, and asked,--
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, nothing! I see. After all, you would have it so. Besides, he had
been looking after you a long time already."
As soon as Henrietta opened her eyes, Papa Ravinet had discreetly
withdrawn, in order to leave the ladies, who were about her, time to
undress her. Thus she had not seen the man who had saved her, and did
not understand the allusions of the old woman.
"Explain, madam, explain!"
"Ah, upon my word! that is not difficult. The man who has pulled you
out, who has brought you all these things to make your bed, and kindle
a fire; why, that is the second-hand dealer of the fourth story! And
he will not stop there, I am sure. Patience, and you will know well
enough what I mean."
It must be borne in mind, that the woman, for fear Henrietta might
sell to Papa Ravinet what she had to sell, or for some other reason,
had always painted the old man to her in colors by no means
"What ought I to be afraid of?" asked Henrietta.
The woman hesitated. At last she answered,--
"If I were to tell you, you would repeat it to him when he comes
"No, I promise you."
"Swear it on your mother's sacred memory."
Thus reassured, the old woman came close up to her bed; and, in an
animated but low voice, she said,--
"Well, I mean this: if you accept now what Papa Ravinet will offer
you, in six months you will be worse than any of Mrs. Hilaire's girls.
Ah! don't tell me 'I do not mean to touch him.' The old rascal has
ruined more than one who was just as good as you are. That's his
business; and, upon my word! he understands it. Now, forewarned,
forearmed. I am going down to make you a soup. I'll be back at night.
And above all, you hear, not a word!"
By one word Mrs. Chevassat had plunged Henrietta once more into an
abyss of profound despair.
"Great God!" she said to herself, "why must the generous assistance of
this old man be a new snare for me?"
With her elbow resting on her pillow, her forehead supported by her
hand, her eyes streaming with tears, she endeavored to gather her
ideas, which seemed to be scattered to the four winds, like the leaves
of trees after a storm; when a modest, dry cough aroused her from her
She trembled, and raised her head.
In the framework of the open door stood a man of mature age and of
medium height, looking at her.
It was Papa Ravinet, who, after a long conversation with the
concierge, and after some words with his amiable wife, had come up to
inquire after his patient. She guessed at it, rather than she knew;
for, although she lived in the same house with him, she was not in the
same part of the building, and she scarcely recollected having caught
a glimpse of him now and then in crossing the yard.
"That," she thought, "is the man who plots my ruin, the wretch whom I
am to avoid."
Now, it is true that this man, with his mournful face, his huge,
brushlike eyebrows, and his small, yellow eyes, startling by their
incessant activity, had for the observer something enigmatical about
him, and therefore did not inspire much confidence.
Nevertheless, Henrietta thanked him none the less heartily, although
greatly embarrassed, for his readiness to help her, his kind care, and
his generosity in providing every thing she wanted.
"Oh! you owe me no thanks," he said. "I have only done my duty, and
that very imperfectly."
And at once, in a rather grim manner, he began to tell her that what
he had done was nothing in comparison with what he meant to do. He had
but too well guessed what had led Henrietta to attempt suicide; he had
only to look around her room. But he swore she should have nothing
more to fear from want as long as he was there.
But, the more earnest and pressing the good man became in his
protestations, the more Henrietta drew back within her usual reserve;
her mind being filled with the prejudices instilled by Mrs. Chevassat.
Fortunately he was a clever man, the old dealer; and by means of not
saying what might shock her, and by saying much that could not fail to
touch her, he gradually regained his position. He almost conquered her
when he returned to her the letters she had written before making her
dreadful preparations, and when she saw that they looked unhurt, and
sealed as before. Thus, when he left her, after half an hour's
diplomatic intercourse, he had obtained from the poor young girl the
promise that she would not renew the attempt at her life, and that she
would explain to him by what fatal combination of circumstances she
had been reduced to such extreme suffering.
"You would not hesitate," he said, "if you knew how easy it often is,
by a little experience, to arrange the most difficult matters."
Henrietta did not hesitate. A thought which had occurred to her as
soon as she found herself alone had brought her to this conclusion:
"If Papa Ravinet were really what Mrs. Chevassat says, that bad woman
would not have warned me against him. If she tries to keep me from
accepting the old man's assistance, she no doubt finds it to her
advantage that I should do so."
When she tried, after that, to examine as coolly as she could the
probable consequences of her decision, she found enormous chances in
her favor. If Papa Ravinet was sincere, she might be enabled to wait
for Daniel; if he was not sincere, what did she risk? She who had not
feared death itself need not fear any thing else. Lucretia's dagger
will always protect a brave woman's liberty.
But still, in spite of the pressing need she had for rest, her promise
kept her awake for the greater part of the night; for she passed in
her mind once more over the whole lamentable story of her sufferings,
and asked herself what she might confess to, and what she ought to
withhold from the old dealer. Had he not already discovered, by the
address of one of her letters, that she was the daughter of Count
Ville-Handry? And just that she would have liked to keep him from
knowing. On the other hand, was it not foolish to ask the advice of a
man to whom we will not confess the whole truth?
"I must tell him all," she said, "or nothing." And, after a moment's
reflection, she added,--"I will tell him all, and keep nothing back."
She was in this disposition, when in the morning, about nine o'clock,
Papa Ravinet reappeared in her room. He looked very pale, the old man;
and the expression of his face, and the tone of his voice, betrayed an
emotion which he could scarcely control, together with deep anxiety.
"Well?" he asked forgetting in his preoccupation to inquire even how
the poor girl had passed the night.
She shook her head sadly, and replied, pointing to a chair,--
"I have made up my mind, sir; sit down, please, and listen to me." The
old dealer had been fully convinced that Henrietta would come to that;
but he had not hoped for it so soon. He could not help exclaiming, "At
last!" and intense, almost delirious joy shone in his eyes. Even this
joy seemed to be so unnatural, that the young girl was made quite
uncomfortable by it. Fixing her eyes upon the old man with all the
power of observation of which she was capable, she said,--
"I am fully aware that what I am about to do is almost unparalleled in
rashness. I put myself, to a certain extent, absolutely in your power,
sir,--the power of an utter stranger, of whom I am told I have every
thing to fear."
"O miss!" he declared, "believe me"--
But she interrupted him, saying with great solemnity,--
"I think, if you were to deceive me, you would be the meanest and
least of men. I rely upon your honor."
And then in a firm voice she began the account of her life, from that
fatal evening on which her father had said to her,--
"I have resolved, my daughter, to give you a second mother."
The old dealer had taken a seat facing Henrietta, and listened, fixing
his eyes upon her face as if to enter into her thoughts, and to
anticipate her meaning. His face was all aglow with excitement, like
the face of a gambler who is watching the little white ball that is to
make him a rich man or a beggar. It looked almost as if he had
foreseen the terrible communication she was making, and was
experiencing a bitter satisfaction at finding his presentiments
As Henrietta was proceeding, he would murmur now and then,--
"That is so! Yes, of course that had to come next."
And all these people whose abominable intrigues Henrietta was
explaining to him were apparently better known to him than to her, as
if he had frequently been in contact with them, or even lived in their
intimacy. He gave his judgment on each one with amazing assurance, as
the occasion presented itself, saying,--
"Ah! There I recognize Sarah and Mrs. Brian."
"Sir Thorn never does otherwise."
"Yes, that is all over Maxime de Brevan."
And, according to the different phases of the account, he would laugh
bitterly and almost convulsively, or he would break out in
"What a trick!" he murmured with an accent of deep horror, "what an
At another point he turned deadly pale, and almost trembled on his
chair, as if he were feeling ill, and were about to fall. Henrietta
was telling him at that moment, from Daniel's recital, the
circumstances under which M. de Kergrist had died, and Malgat had
disappeared,--that poor cashier who had left such an immense deficit
behind; who had been condemned to penal servitude; and whose body the
police believed to have found in a wood near Paris. But, as soon as
the young girl had finished, he rose all of a sudden, and cried out in
a formidable voice,--
"I have them now, the wretches! this time I have them!"
And, breaking down under his excessive excitement, he sank into his
chair, covering his face with his hands. Henrietta was dumfounded; she
looked aghast at the old man, in whom she now placed all her hopes.
Already, the night before, she had had some suspicions that he was not
what he seemed to be; now she was quite sure. But who was he? She had
nothing to go by to solve that riddle.
This only she thought she saw clearly, that Sarah Brandon, Mrs. Brian,
and M. Thomas Elgin, as well as M. de Brevan, had at some time or
other come in personal contact with Papa Ravinet, and that he hated
"Unless he should try to deceive me," she thought, not having quite
shaken off all doubts yet.
He had in the meantime mastered his emotion, and was regaining all his
"Let no one, henceforth, deny Providence!" he exclaimed. "Ah! fools
and idiots alone can do so. M. de Brevan had every reason to think
that this house would keep the secret of his crime as safe as the
grave, and so brought you here. And here it happens I must chance to
live,--of all men, I,--and he remain unaware of it! By a kind of
miracle we are brought together under the same roof,--you, the
daughter of Count Ville-Handry, and I, one after the other, without
knowing each other; and, at the very moment when this Brevan is about
to triumph, Providence brings us together, and this meeting ruins
His voice betrayed his fierce joy at approaching vengeance; his sallow
cheeks flushed up; and his eyes shone brilliantly.
"For M. de Brevan was triumphing last night. The woman Chevassat, his
confederate, had watched you, and noticing your preparations for
committing suicide, had said to him, 'Rejoice! at last we shall get
rid of her.'"
Henrietta shuddered, and stammered out,--
"Is it possible?"
Then the old man, looking at her half surprised, said,--
"What! after all you have seen of M. de Brevan, you have never
suspected him of meditating your death?"
"Why, yes! I sometimes thought so."
"Well, this time you were right, madam. Ah! you do not know your
enemies yet. But I know them, I; for I have had a chance of measuring
the depth of their wickedness. And there your safety would lie, if you
would follow my advice."
"I will, sir."
Papa Ravinet was evidently a little embarrassed. He said, however,--
"You see, madam, I shall have to ask you to trust me blindly."
"I will trust you blindly."
"It is of the utmost importance that you should escape out of reach of
M. de Brevan; he must lose every trace of you. You will, consequently,
have to leave this house."
"I will leave it."
"And in the way I say."
"I will obey you in every point."
The last shadow of trouble which had still overclouded the old
dealer's brow vanished as if by magic.
"Then all will go well," he said, rubbing his hands as if he were
taking off the skin; "and I guarantee the rest. Let us make haste to
understand each other; for I have been here a long time, and the woman
Chevassat must be on needles. Still, it is important she should not
suspect that we are acting in concert."
As if afraid that an indiscreet ear might be listening at the door, he
drew his chair quite close to Henrietta's bed, and whispered in a
voice but just audible to her,--
"As soon as I have turned my back that woman will come up, burning
with curiosity to know what has happened between us. You must pretend
to be very angry with me. Give her to understand that you think me a
wicked old man, who wants you to pay the price of infamy for the
services I wish to render to you."
Henrietta had turned crimson. Now she stammered out,--
"Perhaps you dislike telling a falsehood?"
"You see--I cannot, I fear. It would not be easy to lie so as to
deceive Mrs. Chevassat."
"Ah, madam, you must! it cannot be helped. If you admit the absolute
necessity, you may succeed in misleading her. Remember that we must
fight the enemy with his own weapons."
"Well, then, I will try, sir."
"So be it. The rest, you will see, is a small matter. As soon as night
falls, you will dress, and watch for the moment when the concierge, as
usually, goes about the house lighting the gas. As soon as you see him
on the great staircase; you will make haste and run down. I shall take
measures to have the woman Chevassat either kept engaged, or out of
the house; and you will thus find it easy to slip out without being
perceived. Once in the street, you will turn to the right. At the
corner of the street, in front of the great Auction-Mart, you will see
a cab standing, with a plaid handkerchief like this hanging out of the
window. Get into it boldly; I'll be inside. I do not know if I have
made it all clear to you?"
"Oh, perfectly, sir!"
"Then we understand each other. Do you feel strong enough?"
"Yes, sir. You may rely on me."
Every thing passed off just as the old dealer had foreseen; and
Henrietta played her part so well, that at night, when her
disappearance was discovered, Mrs. Chevassat was neither much
surprised nor troubled.
"She was tired of life, the girl!" she said to her husband. "I saw it
when I was up there. We'll see her again at the Morgue. As the
charcoal did not do the work, she has tried the water."
Dear woman! She would not have gone to bed so quietly, nor have fallen
asleep so comfortably, if she had suspected the truth.
What gave her such perfect peace was the certainty she had, that
Henrietta had left the house bareheaded, with wretched, worn-out shoes
on her feet, with nothing but one petticoat, and her thin alpaca dress
on her body. Now, she was quite sure, that in such a state of
destitution, and in this cold December night, the poor young girl
would soon be weary wandering through the streets of Paris, and would
be irresistibly drawn to the waters of the Seine.
But it was by no means so. When Henrietta was alone, after the
departure of Papa Ravinet, she had only become confirmed in her
determination to trust in him blindly: she had even forborne to think
it over, as she had, humanly speaking, no other choice on earth. Thus,
after having received Mrs. Chevassat's visit, and after having played
the part assigned to her by the old dealer, she rose, and, although
quite exhausted yet, took her place at the window to watch for the
proper time. Four o'clock struck; and, as it was growing dark, the
concierge came out, with a light in his hand, and went up the big
staircase to light the lamps.
"Now is the time!" she said to herself.
And casting a last look at this wretched room, where she had suffered
so much, and wept so much, and where she had expected to die, she
slipped out. The back stairs were quite dark, and thus she was not
recognized by two persons whom she met. The court was deserted, and
the concierge's room locked. She crossed the hall, and at one bound
was in the street. Some forty paces to the left she could see the
place where Papa Ravinet was waiting for her in his cab. She ran
there, got in; and the driver, who had received his instructions,
whipped his horses as soon as he heard the door shut.
"And now, sir," she began, "where do you take me?"
By the light of the gas in the stores, which from time to time lighted
up the interior of the carriage, she could see the features of her
neighbor. He looked at her with manifest satisfaction; and a smile of
friendly malice played upon his lips.
"Ah!" he replied, "that is a great secret. But you will know soon, for
the man drives well."
The poor horses went, indeed, as fast as if the dollar which the
driver had received had infused the noble blood of the fastest racer
into their veins. They drove down the whole long street at a furious
rate, turned to the right, and, after many more turns, stopped at last
before a house of modest appearance. Lightly and promptly, like a
sheriff's clerk, Papa Ravinet jumped out; and, having aided Henrietta
to alight, he offered her his arm, and drew her into the house,
"You will see what a surprise I have in store for you."
In the third story the old man stopped; and, drawing a key from his
pocket, he opened the door which faced the staircase. And, before she
had time to consider, Henrietta found herself gently pushed into a
small sitting-room, where a middle-aged lady was embroidering at a
frame by the light of a large copper lamp.
"Dear sister," said Papa Ravinet, still in the door, "here is the
young lady of whom I spoke to you, and who does us the honor to accept
Slowly the elderly lady put her needle into the canvas, pushed back
the frame, and rose.
She seemed to be about fifty years old, and must have been beautiful
formerly. But age and sorrow had blanched her hair, and furrowed her
face; and the habit of silence and meditation seemed to have sealed
her lips forever. Her stern countenance, nevertheless, expressed
kindliness. She was dressed in black; and her costume betrayed a lady
from a provincial town.
"You are welcome, madam," she said in a grave voice. "You will find in
our modest home that peace and that sympathy which you need."
In the meantime, Papa Ravinet had come forward; and, bowing to
Henrietta, he said,--
"I beg to present to you Mrs. Bertolle, my dearly beloved sister Mary,
a widow, and a saint, who has devoted herself to her brother, and who
has sacrificed to him every thing,--her fortune, her peace, and her
Ah! there was no mistaking the look with which the old man caressed
the old lady: he worshipped her. But she interrupted him, as if
embarrassed by his praise, saying,--
"You have told me so late, Anthony, that I have not been able to
attend to all of your orders. But the young lady's room is ready, and
if you choose"--
"Yes, we must show her the way."
The old lady having taken the lamp, after removing the screen, opened
a door which led from the parlor directly into a small, modestly
furnished room, which shone with exquisite tidiness, and which exhaled
that fresh odor of lavender so dear to all housekeepers from the
country. The mirrors and the furniture all glistened alike in the
bright fire on the hearth; and the curtains were as white as snow.
At one glance the old dealer had taken in every thing; and, after a
smile of gratitude addressed to his sister, he said to Henrietta,--
"This is your room, madam."
The poor girl, all overcome, sought in vain for words to express her
gratitude. The old lady did not give her time. She showed her, spread
out on the bed, petticoats, white linen, stockings, a warm dressing-
wrapper of gray flannel with blue flowers, and at the foot a pair of
"This will answer for a change to-night, madam," she said. "I have
provided what was most pressing; to-morrow we will see about the
Big tears, tears of happiness and gratitude, this time, rolled down
Henrietta's pale cheeks. Oh, indeed! this was a surprise, and a
delicious one, which the ingenious foresight of her new friend had
prepared for her.
"Ah, you are so kind!" she said, giving her hands to brother and
sister--"you are so kind! How can I ever repay what you are doing for
Then overcoming her emotion, and turning to Papa Ravinet, she added,--
"But pray, who are you, sir,--you who thus come to succor, a poor
young girl who is an utter stranger to you, doubling the value of your
assistance by your great delicacy?"
The old lady replied in his place,--"My brother, madam, is an
unfortunate man, who has paid for a moment's forgetfulness of duty,
with his happiness, his prospects, and /his/ very life. Do not
question him. Let him be for you what he is for all of us,--Anthony
Ravinet, dealer in curiosities."
The voice of the old lady betrayed such great sorrow, silently
endured, that Henrietta looked ashamed, regretting her indiscretion.
But the old man at once said,--
"What I may say to you madam, is, that you owe me no gratitude,--no,
none whatever. What I do, my own interest commands me to do; and I
deserve no credit for it. Why do you speak of gratitude? It is I who
shall forever be under obligations to you for the immense service
which you render me."
He seemed to be inspired by his own words; his figure straightened up;
his eyes flashed fire; and he was on the point of letting, perhaps,
some secret escape him, when his sister interrupted him, saying
He stopped at once. Then he resumed,--
"You are right; you are right! I forget myself here; and I ought to be
already back in Water Street. It is of the utmost importance that that
woman Chevassat should not miss me a moment to-night."
He was about to leave them, when the old lady held him back, and
"You ought to go back, I know; only be careful! It is a miracle that
M. de Brevan has never met you and recognized you, during the year he
has been coming to the house in which you live. If such a misfortune
should happen now, our enemies might once more escape us. After the
young lady's desperate act, he would not fail to recognize the man who
has saved her. What can you do to avoid meeting him?"
"I have thought of that danger," he replied. "When I go back, I shall
tell the two Chevassats a little story, which will frighten them, so
that they will advise Brevan never to appear there, except at night,
as he formerly did."
Thereupon he bowed to Henrietta, and went away with the words,--
"To-morrow we will consult with each other."
The shipwrecked man who is saved at the last moment, when, strength
and spirits being alike exhausted, he feels himself sinking into the
abyss, cannot, upon feeling once more firm ground under his feet,
experience a sense of greater happiness than Henrietta did that night.
For the delicious sensation had become deeper and intenser by the
evening spent in company with Papa Ravinet's sister.
The widow, free from embarrassment as from affectation, possessed a
quiet dignity which appeared in certain words and ways she had, and
which made Henrietta guess the principal events of her life. Ruined
all of a sudden,--she did not say how,--some months after the death of
her husband, she, who had been accustomed to all the comforts of
opulence had seen herself reduced to poverty, and all its privations.
This had happened about five years ago. Since then she had imposed
upon herself the strictest economy, although she never neglected her
appearance. She had but one servant, who came every morning to clean
up the house; she herself did all the other work, washing and ironing
her own linen, cooking only twice a week, and eating cold meat on the
other days, as much to save money as to save time.
For her time had its value. She worked on her frame patterns for
embroideries, for which a fashionable store paid her very good prices.
There were days in summer when she earned three francs.
The blow had been a severe one; she did not conceal it. Gradually,
however, she had become reconciled to it, and taken up this habit of
economizing with unflinching severity, and down to the smallest
details. At present, she felt in these very privations a kind of
secret satisfaction which results from the sense of having
accomplished a duty,--a satisfaction all the greater, the harder the
What duty, she did not say.
"That lady is a noble creature among many!" said Henrietta to herself
that night, when she retired after a modest repast.
Still she could not get over the mystery which surrounded the lives of
these two personages, whom fate, relenting at last, had placed in her
way. What was the mystery in the past of this brother and sister? For
there was one; and, so far from trying to conceal it, they had begged
Henrietta not to inquire into it. And how was their past connected
with her own past? How could their future depend in any way on her own
But fatigue soon made an end to her meditations, and confused her
ideas; and, for the first time in two years, she fell asleep with a
sense of perfect security; she slept peacefully, without starting at
the slightest noise, without being troubled by silence, without
wondering whether her enemies were watching her, without suspecting
the very walls of her room.
When she awoke next morning, calm and refreshed, it was broad
daylight, nearly ten o'clock; and a pale ray of the sun was playing
over the polished furniture. When she opened her eyes, she saw the
dealer's sister standing at the foot of her bed, like a good genius
who had been watching over her slumbers.
"Oh, how lazy I am!" she exclaimed with the hearty laugh of a child;
for she felt quite at home in this little bedroom, where she had only
spent a night; she felt as much at home here as in her father's palace
when her mother was still alive; and it seemed to her as if she had
lived here many a year.
"My brother was here about half an hour ago to talk with you," said
the old lady; "but we did not like to wake you. You needed repose so
much! He will be back in the evening, and dine with us."
The bright smile which had lighted up Henrietta's face went out
instantly. Absorbed in the happiness of the moment, she had forgotten
every thing; and these few words brought her back to the reality of
her position, and recalled to her the sufferings of the past and the
uncertainty of the future.
The good widow in the meantime assisted her in getting up; and they
spent the day together in the little parlor, busily cutting out and
making up a black silk dress for which Papa Ravinet had brought the
material in the morning, and which was to take the place of
Henrietta's miserable, worn-out, alpaca dress. When the young girl had
first seen the silk, she had remembered all the kind widow had told
her of their excessive economy, and with difficulty only succeeded in
checking her tears.
"Why should you go to such an expense?" she had said very sadly.
"Would not a woollen dress have done quite as well? The hospitality
which you offer me must in itself be quite a heavy charge upon you. I
should never forgive myself for becoming a source of still greater
privations to such very kind friends."
But the old lady shook her head, and replied,--
"Don't be afraid, child. We have money enough."
They had just lighted the lamp, when they heard a key in the outer
door; and a moment later Papa Ravinet appeared. He was very red; and,
although it was freezing outdoors, he was streaming with perspiration.
"I am exhausted," he said, sinking into, an armchair, and wiping his
forehead with his broad checkered handkerchief. "You cannot imagine
how I have been running about to-day! I wanted to take an omnibus to
come home, but they were all full."
Henrietta jumped up, and exclaimed,--
"You have been to see my father?"
"No, madam. A week ago already, Count Ville-Handry left his palace."
A mad thought, the hope that her father might have separated from his
wife, crossed Henrietta's mind.
"And the countess," she asked,--"the Countess Sarah?"
"She has gone with her husband. They live in Peletier Street, in a
modest apartment just above the office of the Pennsylvania Petroleum
Company. Sir Thorn and Mrs. Brian are there also. They have only kept
two servants,--Ernest, the count's valet, and a certain Clarissa."
The name of the vile creature whose treachery had been one of the
principal causes of Henrietta's misfortunes did not strike her ear.
"How could my father ever be induced to leave his home?" she asked.
"He sold it, madam, ten days ago."
"Great God! My father must be ruined!"
The old man bowed his head.
Thus were the sad presentiments realized which she had felt when first
she had heard Count Ville-Handry speak of the Pennsylvania Petroleum
Company. But never, oh, never! would she have imagined so sudden a
"My father ruined!" she repeated, as if she were unable to realize the
precise meaning of these words.
"And only a year ago he had more than a hundred thousand dollars a
year. Six millions swallowed up in twelve months!--six millions!"
And as the enormous amount seemed to be out of all proportion to the
shortness of time, she said,--
"It cannot be. You must be mistaken, sir; they have misled you."
A smile of bitter irony passed over the old dealer's lips. He replied,
as if much puzzled by Henrietta's doubts,--
"What, madam, you do not see yet? Alas! what I tell you is but too
true; and, if you want proofs"--
He drew a newspaper from his pocket and handed it to Henrietta,
pointing out to her on the first page an article marked with a red
"There!" he said.
It was one of those financial sheets which arise every now and then,
and which profess to teach the art of becoming rich in a very short
time, without running any risk. This paper bore a title calculated to
reassure its readers. It was called "Prudence." Henrietta read
"We shall never tire repeating to our subscribers the words which
form our motto and our heading, 'Prudence, prudence! Do not trust
"Out of a hundred enterprises which appear in the market, it may
safely be said that sixty are nothing but the simplest kind of
wells, into which the capital of foolhardy speculators is sunk
almost instantly. Out of the remaining forty, twenty-five may be
looked upon as suspicious enterprises, partaking too much of
gambling speculations. Among the last fifteen even, a careful
choice must be made before we find out the few that present safe
The young girl paused, not understanding a word of all this stuff. But
the old man said,--
"That is only the honey of the preface, the sweet syrup intended to
conceal the bitterness of the medicine that is to follow. Go on, and
you will understand."
She continued to read,--
"A recent event, we ought to say a recent disaster, has just
confirmed our doctrines, and justifies but too clearly our
admonition to be careful.
"A company which started into existence last year with amazing
suddenness, which filled the whole world with its flaming
advertisements, crowding the newspapers, and decorating the
street-corners,--a company which was most surely to enrich its
stockholders, is already no longer able to pay the interest on its
"As to the capital itself--but we will not anticipate events.
"All of our readers will have understood that we are speaking of
the Franco-American Society of Pennsylvania Oil-Wells, which for
the last eight days has been the subject of universal excitement.
"On 'Change the shares of a hundred dollars are quoted at 4-to-5."
Blinding tears prevented Henrietta from going on. "Great God!" she
exclaimed. "O God!" Then, mastering her weakness, she began once more
"And yet if ever any company seemed to offer all the material and
moral guarantees which we can desire before risking our carefully
saved earnings, this company presented them.
"It had at its head a man who in his day was looked up to as a
statesman endowed with rare administrative talents, and whose
reputation as a man of sterling integrity seemed to lie above all
"Need we say that this was the 'high and mighty Count Ville-
"Hence they did not spare this great and noble name, but proclaimed
it aloud on the housetops. It was the Count Ville-Handry here, and
the Count Ville-Handry there. He was to bestow upon the country a
new branch of industry. He was to change vile petroleum into
"It was especially brought into notice that the noble count's
personal fortune was nearly equal to the whole capital of the new
company,--ten millions. Hence he was risking his own money rather
than the money of others.
"It is now a year since these dazzling promises were made. What
remains of them all? Shares, worth five dollars yesterday, worth,
perhaps, nothing at all to-morrow, and a more than doubtful
"Who could have expected in our day a new edition of Law's
The paper fell from the hands of the poor girl. She had turned as pale
as death, and was staggering so, that Papa Ravinet's sister took her
in her arms to support her.
"Horrible," she murmured; "this is horrible!" Still she had not yet
read all. The old man picked up the paper, and read from another
article, below the lines which carried poison in every word, the
"Two delegates of the stockholders of the Pennsylvania Petroleum
Company were to sail this morning from Brest for New York.
"These gentlemen have been sent out by their fellow-sufferers to
examine the lands on which the oil-wells are situated which
constitute the only security of the shareholders. Certain people
have gone so far as to doubt even the existence of such oil-
And in another place, under the head of local items:--
"The palace of Count Ville-Handry was sold last week. This
magnificent building, with the princely real estate belonging to
it, was knocked down to the highest bidder for the sum of one
hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars. The misfortune is, that
house and lot are burdened with mortgages, which amount together
to nearly a hundred thousand dollars."
Henrietta was overcome, and had sunk into a chair.
"But that is simply infamous," she stammered out in an almost
inaudible tone. "Nobody will believe such atrocious libels."
Pale and deeply grieved, Papa Ravinet and his sister exchanged looks
of distress. Evidently the poor girl did not at all realize the
terrible nature of the circumstances. And yet, seeing her thus
crushed, they did not dare to enlighten her. At last the old dealer,
knowing but too well that uncertainty is more agonizing than the most
painful reality, said,--
"Your father is fearfully calumniated. But I have tried to inform
myself. Two facts are but too certain. Count Ville-Handry is ruined;
and the shares of the company of which he is the president have fallen
to five dollars, because"--
His voice changed, and he added in a very low tone,--
"Because it is believed that the capital of the company has been
appropriated to other purposes, and lost in speculations on 'Change."
The poor old dealer was suffering intensely, and showed it.
"Ah, madam, perfectly as I am convinced of Count Ville-Handry's
uprightness and integrity, I also know that he was utterly ignorant of
business. What did he understand of these speculations into which he
was drawn? Nothing. It is a difficult and often a dangerous thing to
manage large capitals. They have no doubt deceived him, cheated him,
misled him, and driven him at last to the verge of bankruptcy."
Papa Ravinet trembled on his chair, and, raising his hands to the
"Who? You ask who? Why, those who had an interest in it, the wretches
by whom he was surrounded,--Sarah, Sir Thorn"--
Henrietta shook her head and said,--
"/I/ do not think the Countess Sarah looked with a favorable eye upon
the formation of this company."
And, when objection was made, she went on,--
"Besides, what interest could she have in ruining my father? Evidently
none. To ruin him was to ruin herself, since she was absolute mistress
of her fortune, and free to dispose of it as she chose."
Proud of the accuracy of her decision, she was looking triumphantly at
the old dealer. The latter saw now that he must strike a decisive
blow; and his sister encouraged him by a gesture. He said,--
"Pray, listen to me, madam. So far I have only repeated to you the
report on 'Change. I told you: They say the capital of the
Pennsylvania Petroleum /Company/ has been swallowed up by unlucky
speculations on 'Change. But I do not believe these reports. I am, on
the contrary, convinced, I am quite sure even, that these millions
were not lost on 'Change, because they never were used for the purpose
"Still they have disappeared, none the less; and your father is
probably the last man in the world to tell us how and where they have
disappeared. But I know it; and, when the question is raised how to
recover these enormous sums, I shall cry out, 'Search Sarah Brandon,
Countess Ville-Handry; search M. Thomas Elgin and Mrs. Brian; search
Maxime de Brevan,' the wretched tool of these wicked women!"
Now at last a terrible light broke upon Henrietta's mind.
"Then," she stammered, "these infamous slanders are only put out to
conceal an impudent robbery?"
The young girl's face showed that she was making a great effort to
comprehend; and then she said again,--
"And in that case, the articles in the papers"--
"Were written by the wretches who have robbed your father, yes,
madam!" And, shaking his fist with a threatening air, he added,--
"Oh! there is no mistaking it. Since when does this journal exist?
Since about six months ago. From the day on which it was established,
it was the aim and purpose of the founders to publish in it the
articles which you haven't read."
Even if she could not well understand by what ingenious combinations
such enormous sums could be abstracted, Henrietta was conquered by
Papa Ravinet's sincere and earnest conviction.
"Then," she went on, "these wretches who have robbed my father now
mean to ruin him!"
"They must do it for their own safety. The money has been stolen, you
see; therefore there must be a thief. For the world, for the courts,
the guilty one will be Count Ville-Handry."
"For the courts?"
The poor girl's eyes went from the brother to the sister with a
terrible expression of bewilderment. At last she asked,--
"And do you believe Sarah will allow my father's name to be thus
dishonored,--the name which she bears, and of which she was so proud?"
"She will, perhaps, even insist upon it."
"Great God! What do you mean? Why should she?"
Seeing her brother's hesitation, the old lady took it upon herself to
answer. She touched the poor girl's arm, and said in a subdued
"Because, you see, my poor child, now that Sarah has gotten possession
of the fortune she wanted, your father is in her way; because, you
see, she wants to be free--do you understand?--free!"
Henrietta uttered a cry of such horror that both the brother and the
sister saw at once that she had not misunderstood the horrible meaning
of that word "free."
But, since the blow had fallen, the old dealer did not think the rest
need be concealed from Henrietta. He got up, therefore, and, leaning
against the mantlepiece, he addressed the poor girl, trembling in all
her limbs with terror, and looking at him with a fixed and painful
gaze, in these words,--
"You must at last learn to know, madam, the execrable woman who has
sworn to ruin you. You see, I know, because I have experienced it
myself, of what crimes she is capable; and I see clear in the dark
night of her infernal intrigues. I know that this woman with the
chaste brow, the open smile, and the soft eyes, has the genius and the
instinct of a murderess, and has never counted upon any thing else,
but murder for the gratification of her lusts."
The attitude of the old man, who raised his head on high while his
breast swelled, breathed in every one of his sharp and threatening
gestures an intense thirst of vengeance. He no longer measured his
words carefully; and they overflowed from his lips as they came
boiling up under the pressure of his rage.
"Anthony!" said the old lady more than once,--"Anthony, brother! I
But this friendly voice, ordinarily all-powerful, was not even heard
by him now. He went on,--
"And now, madam, must I still explain to you the simple and yet
formidable plan by which Sarah Brandon has succeeded in obtaining by
one effort the immense fortune of the Ville-Handry family? From the
first day, she has seen that you were standing between her and those
millions; therefore she attacked you first of all. A brave and honest
man, M. Daniel Champcey, loved you; he would have protected you;
therefore she got him out of the way. The world might have become
interested in you, might have taken your side; she beguiled your
father, in his blind passion, to calumniate you, to ruin your
reputation, and to expose you to the contempt of the world. Still you
might have wished to secure a protector, you might have found one. She
placed by your side her wretched tool, her spy, a forger, a criminal
whom she knew to be able of doing things from which even an
accomplished galley-slave would have shrunk with disgust and horror: I
mean Maxime de Brevan."
The very excess, of eruption had restored a part of her energy to
Henrietta. She said, therefore,--
"Alas, /sir/! have I not told you, on, the contrary, that Daniel
himself had confided me to the care of M. de Brevan? Have I not told
The old dealer smiled almost contemptuously, and then continued,--
"What does that prove? Nothing but the skill of M. de Brevan in
carrying out Sarah Brandon's orders. In order to get the more
completely the mastery over you, he began by obtaining the mastery
over M. Champcey. How he succeeded in doing this, I do not know. But
we shall know it when we want to know it; for we are going to find out
every thing. Thus Sarah was, through M. de Brevan, kept informed of
all your thoughts, of all your hopes, of /every/ word you wrote to M.
Champcey, and of all he said in reply; for you need not doubt he did
answer, and they suppressed the letters, just as they, very probably,
intercepted all of your letters which you did not yourself carry to
the post-office. Still, as long as you were living under your father's
roof, Sarah could do nothing against your life. She resolved,
therefore, to force you to flee; and those mean persecutions of M.
Elgin served their purpose. You thought, and perhaps, they think, that
bandit really wanted your hand. Undeceive yourself. Your enemies knew
your character too well to hope that you would ever break your word,
and become faithless to M. Champcey. But they were bent upon handing
you over to M. de Brevan. And thus, poor child! you were handed over
to him. Maxime had as little idea of marrying you as Sir Thomas; he
was quite prepared, when he dared to approach you with open arms, to
be rejected with disgust. But he had received orders to add the horror
of his persecutions to the horror of your isolation and your
"For he was quite sure, the scoundrel! that the secret of your
sufferings would be well kept. He had carefully chosen the house in
which you were to die of hunger and misery. The two Chevassats were
bound to be his devoted accomplices, even unto death. This is what
gave him the amazing boldness, the inconceivable brutality, to watch
your slow agony; no doubt he became quite impatient at your delaying
suicide so long.
"Finally you were driven to it; and your death would have realized
their atrocious hopes, if Providence had not miraculously stepped in,
--that Providence which always, sooner or later, takes its revenge,
whatever the wicked may say to the contrary. Yes, these wretches
thought they had now surely gotten rid of you, when I came in. That
very morning, the woman Chevassat had told them, no doubt, 'She'll do
it to-night!' And that evening, Sarah, Mrs. Brian, and M. Elgin asked,
no doubt, full of hope, 'Is it all over?'"
Immovable, and white as marble, her eyes dilated beyond measure, and
her lips half-open, poor Henrietta listened. She felt as if a bright
ray of the sun had suddenly illumined the darkest depths of the abyss
from which she had been barely snatched.
"Yes," she said, "yes; now I see it all."
Then, as the old dealer, out of breath, and his voice hoarse with
indignation, paused a moment, she asked,--
"Still there is one circumstance which I cannot understand: Sarah
insists upon it that she knew nothing of the forged letter by means of
which Daniel was sent abroad. She told me, on the contrary, that she
had wished to keep him here, because she loved him, and he loved her."
"Ah! do not believe a word of those infamous stories," broke in Papa
But the old man scratched his head, and said,--
"No, certainly not! We ought not to believe such stories. And yet, I
wonder if there is not some new trick in that. Unless, indeed-- But
no, that would be almost too lucky for us! Unless Sarah should really
love M. Champcey!"
And, as if he was afraid of having given rise to hopes which he
founded upon this contingency, he added at once,--
"But let us return to facts. When Sarah was sure of you, she turned
her attention to your father. While they were murdering you slowly,
she abused the inexperience of Count Ville-Handry to lead him into a
path at the end of which he could not but leave his honor behind him.
Notice, pray, that the articles which you read are dated on the very
day on which you would probably have died. That is a clear evidence of
her crime. Thinking that she had gotten rid of you, she evidently said
to herself, 'And now for the father.'"
Henrietta grew red in her face, as if a jet of fire had blazed up in
it. She exclaimed,--
"Great God! The proofs are coming out; the crime will be disclosed. I
have no doubt the assassins told each other that Count Ville-Handry
would never survive such a foul stain on his honor. And they dared
all, sure as they were that that honorable man would carry the secret
of their wickedness and of their unheard-of robbery with him to the
Papa Ravinet leisurely wiped the perspiration from his brow. Then he
replied in a hoarse voice,--
"Yes, that was probably, that was assuredly, the way Sarah Brandon
reasoned within herself."
But Henrietta, full of admirable energy, had roused herself; and, with
flushed cheeks and burning eyes, she said to him,--
"What! you knew all this? You knew that they were assassinating my
father, and you did not warn him? Ah, that was cruel cautiousness!"
And quick like lightning she dashed forward, and would have rushed
out, if the old lady had not promptly stepped in front of the door,
"Henrietta, poor child! where are you going?"
"To save my father, madam, who, perhaps at this very moment is
struggling in the last agonies of death, as I was struggling in like
manner only two nights ago."
Quite beside herself, she had clasped the knob of the door in her
hands, and tried with all the strength she still possessed to move the
old lady out of the way. But Papa Ravinet seized her by the arm, and
said to her solemnly,--
"Madam, I swear to you by all you hold sacred, and my sister will
swear to you in like manner, that your father's life is in no kind of
She gave up the struggle; but her face bore the expression of the most
harassing anxiety. The old man continued,--
"Do you wish to defeat our triumph? Would you like to give warning to
our enemies, to put /them/ on their guard, and to deprive us of all
hopes of revenge?"
Henrietta almost mechanically passed her hand to and fro across her
brow, as if she hoped she could thus restore peace to her mind.
"And mind," continued the old man with a persuasive voice, "mind that
such imprudence would save our enemies, but would not save your
father. Pray consider and answer me. Do you really think that your
arguments would be stronger than Sarah Brandon's? You cannot so far
underrate the diabolical cunning of your enemy. Why, she has no doubt
taken all possible measures to keep your father's faith in her
unshaken, and to let him die as he has lived, completely deceived by
her, and murmuring with his last breath words of supreme love for her
who kills him."
These arguments were so overwhelming, that Henrietta let go the door-
knob, and slowly went back to her seat by the fire. And yet she was
far from being reassured.
"If I were to appeal to the police," she suddenly proposed.
The old lady had come and taken a seat by Henrietta's side. She took
her hands in her own now, and said, gently,--
"Poor child! Do you not see that the whole power of this abominable
creature lies in the fact that she employs means which are not within
the reach of human justice. Believe me, my child, it is best for you
to rely blindly on my brother."
Once more the old dealer had come up to the mantlepiece. He
"Yes, Miss Henrietta, rely on me. I have as much reason to curse Sarah
Brandon as you have, and perhaps I hate her more. Rely on me; for my
hatred has now been watching and waiting for years, ever anxious to
reach her, and to avenge my sufferings. Yes, for long years I have
been lying in wait, thirsting for vengeance, lost in darkness, but
pursuing her tracks with the unwearied perseverance of the Indian. For
the purpose of finding out who she is, and who her accomplices are,
whence they came, and how they have met to plot together such fearful
crimes,--for that purpose I have walked in the deepest mud, and
stirred up heaps of infamy. But I have found out all. And yet in the
whole life of Sarah Brandon,--a life of theft and murder,--I have till
this moment not found a single fact which would bring her within the
reach of the law, so cunning is her wickedness."
His face brightened with an air of triumph; and his voice rose high as
"But now! This time success seemed to her so sure and so easy, that
she has neglected her usual precautions. Eager to enjoy her millions,
and, in proportion, weary of playing a comedy of love with your
father, she has been too eager. And she is lost if we, on our side,
are not also too eager.
"As to your father, madam, I have my reasons for feeling safe about
him. According to your mother's marriage contract, and in consequence
of a bequest of a million and a half which were left her by one of her
uncles, your father's estate is your debtor to the amount of two
millions; and that sum is invested in mortgages on his estates in
Anjou. That sum he cannot touch, even if he is bankrupt. Should he die
before you, that sum remains still yours; but, if you die before him,
it goes to him. Now Sarah has sworn, in her insatiate cupidity, that
she will have these two millions also."
"Ah," said Henrietta, "you are right! It is Sarah's interest that my
father should live; and he will live, therefore, as long as she does
not know whether I am dead or alive, in fact, as long as she does not
know what has become of me."
"And she must not know that for some time," chimed in the old man.
Then laughing his odd, silent laugh,--
"You ought to see the anxiety of your enemies since you have slipped
out of their hands. That woman Chevassat had, last night, come to the
conclusion that you were gone, and gone forever; but this morning
matters looked very differently. Maxime de Brevan had been there,
making a terrible row, and beating her (God forgive him!) because she
had relaxed in her watchfulness. The rascal! The fellow has been
spending the whole day in running from the police office to the
Morgue, and back again. Destitute as you were, and almost without
clothes, what could have become of you? I, for my part, did not show;
and the Chevassats are far from suspecting that I had any thing to do
with the whole affair. Ah! It will soon be our turn, and if you will
only accept my suggestions, madam"--
It was past nine o'clock when the old dealer, his sister, and
Henrietta sat down to their modest meal. But in the interval a hopeful
smile had reappeared on Henrietta's face, and she looked almost happy,
when, about midnight, Papa Ravinet left them with the words,--
"To-morrow evening I shall have news. I am going to the navy
The next day he reappeared precisely at six o'clock, but in what a
condition! He had in his hand a kind of carpet-bag; and his looks and
gestures made him look almost insane.
"Money!" he cried out to his sister as he entered. "I am afraid I have
not enough; and make haste. I have to be at the Lyons Railway at seven
And when his sister and Henrietta, terribly frightened, asked him,--
"What is the matter? What are you going to do?"
"Nothing," he replied joyously, "but that Heaven itself declares in
our favor. I went to the department. 'The Conquest' will remain
another year in Cochin China; but M. Champcey is coming back to
Europe. He was to have taken passage on board a merchant vessel, 'The
Saint Louis,' which is expected in Marseilles every day, if she has
not already come in. And I--I am going to Marseilles, I must see M.
Champcey before anybody else can see him."
When his sister had given him notes to the amount of four hundred
dollars, he rushed out, exclaiming,--
"To-morrow I will send you a telegram!"
If there is in our civilized states a profession more arduous than
others it is surely that of the sailor. So arduous is it, that we are
almost disposed to ask how men can be found bold enough to embrace
/it/, and firm enough in their resolution not to abandon it after
having tried it. Not because of the hazards, the fatigues, and the
dangers connected with it, but because it creates an existence apart,
and because the conditions it imposes seem to be incompatible with
Still no one is more attached to his home than the sailor. There are
few among them who are not married. And by a kind of special grace
they are apt to enjoy their short happiness as if it were for
eternity, indifferent as to what the morning may bring.
But behold! one fine morning, all of a sudden, a big letter comes from
It is an order to sail.
He must go, abandoning every thing and everybody,--mother, family, and
friends, the wife he has married the day before, the young mother who
sits smiling by the cradle of her first-born, the betrothed who was
looking joyfully at her bridal veil. He must go, and stifle all those
ominous voices which rise from the depth of his heart, and say to him,
"Will you ever return? and, if you return, will you find them all,
your dear ones? and, if you find them, will they not have changed?
will they have preserved your memory as faithfully as you have
To be happy, and to be compelled to open to mishap this fatal door,
absence! Hence it is only in comic operas, and inferior novels, that
the sailors are seen to sing their most cheerful songs at the moment
when a vessel is about to sail on a long and perilous voyage. The
moment is, in reality, always a sad one, very grave and solemn.
Such could not fail to be the scene also, when "The Conquest" sailed,
--the ship on board of which Daniel Champcey had been ordered as
lieutenant. And certainly there had been good reasons for ordering him
to make haste and get down to the port where she lay; for the very
next day after his arrival, she hoisted anchor. She had been waiting
for him only.
Having reached Rochefort at five o'clock in the morning, he slept the
same night on board; and the next day "The Conquest" sailed. Daniel
suffered more than any other man on board, although he succeeded in
affecting a certain air of indifference. The thought of Henrietta
being left in the hands of adventurers who were capable of any thing
was a thorn in his side, which caused him great and constant pain. As
he gradually calmed down, and peace returned to his mind, a thousand
doubts assailed him concerning Maxime de Brevan: would he not be
exposed to terrible temptation when he found himself thrown daily into
the company of a great heiress? Might he not come to covet her
millions, and try to abuse her peculiar situation in order to secure
them to himself?
Daniel believed too firmly in his betrothed to apprehend that she
would even listen to Brevan. But he reasoned, very justly, that his
darling would be in a desperate condition indeed, if M. de Brevan,
furious at being refused, should betray his confidence, and go over to
the enemy, to the Countess Sarah.
"And I," he thought, "who in my last directions urged her to trust
implicitly in Maxime, and to follow his advice as if it were my own!"
In the midst of these terrible anxieties, he hardly recollected that
he had intrusted to Maxime every thing that he possessed. What was his
money to him in comparison!
Thus it appeared to him a genuine favor of Providence when "The
Conquest," six days out at sea, experienced a violent storm, which
endangered her safety for nearly seventy-two hours. His thoughts
disappeared while he felt his grave responsibility, as long as the sea
tossed the vessel to and fro like a mere cork, and while the crew
fought with the elements till they were overcome by fatigue. He had
actually a good night's rest, which he had not enjoyed since he left
When he awoke, he was surprised to feel a certain peace of mind.
Henceforth his fate was no longer in his own hands; he had been shown
very clearly his inability to control events. Sad resignation
succeeded to his terrible anxiety.
A single hope now kept him alive,--the hope of soon receiving a letter
from Henrietta, or, it might be, of finding one upon arriving at his
destination; for it was by no means impossible for "The Conquest" to
be outstripped by some vessel that might have left port three weeks
later. "The Conquest," an old wooden frigate, and a sailing vessel,
justified her bad reputation of being the worst sailor in the whole
fleet. Moreover, alternate calms and sudden blows kept her much longer
than usually on the way. The oldest sailors said they had never seen a
more tedious voyage.
To add to the discomfort, "The Conquest" was so crammed full with
passengers, that sailors and officers had hardly half of the space
usually allotted to them on board ship. Besides the crew, there were
on board a half battalion of marines, and a hundred and sixty
mechanics of various trades, whom government sent out for the use of
the colony. Some of these artisans had their families with them,
having determined to become settlers in Cochin China; others,
generally quite young yet, only made the voyage in order to have an
opportunity for seeing foreign lands, and for earning, perhaps, a
little money. They were occasionally called upon to assist in handling
the ship, and were, on the whole, good men, with the exception of four
or five, who were so unruly that they had to be put in irons more than
The days passed, nevertheless; and "The Conquest" had been out three
months, when one afternoon, as Daniel was superintending a difficult
manoeuvre, he was suddenly seen to stagger, raise his arms on high,
and fall backwards on the deck.
They ran up to him, and raised him up; but he gave no sign of life;
and the blood poured forth from his mouth and nose in streams. Daniel
had won the hearts of the crew by his even temper, his strict
attention to duty, and his kindness, when off duty, to all who came in
contact with him. Hence, when the accident became known, in an instant
sailors and officers came hurrying up from one end of the frigate to
the other, and even from the lowest deck, to see what had happened to
What had happened? No one could tell; for no one had seen any thing.
Still it must be a very grave matter, to judge from the large pool of
blood which dyed the deck at the place where the young man had fallen
down so suddenly. They had carried him to the infirmary; and, as soon
as he recovered his senses, the surgeons discovered the cause of his
fall and his fainting.
He had an enormous contused wound on the back of his head, a little
behind the left ear,--a wound such as a heavy hammer in the hands of a
powerful man might have produced. Whence came this terrible blow,
which apparently a miracle alone had prevented from crushing the
skull? No one could explain this, neither the surgeons, nor the
officers who stood around the bed of the wounded man. When Daniel
could be questioned, he knew no more about it than the others. There
had been no one standing near him; nor had he seen anybody come near
him at the time of the accident; the blow, moreover, had been so
violent, that he had fallen down unconscious. All these details soon
became current among the sailors and passengers who had crowded on
deck. They were received with incredulous smiles, and, when they could
no longer be held in doubt, with bursts of indignation.
What! Lieut. Champcey had been struck in broad daylight, in the midst
of the crew! How? By whom?
The whole matter was so wrapped up in mystery, that it became all
important to clear it up; and the sailors themselves opened at once a
kind of court of inquest. Some hairs, and a clot of blood, which were
discovered on an enormous block, seemed to explain the riddle. It
would seem that the rope to which this enormous block was fastened had
slipped out of the hands of one of the sailors who were engaged in the
rigging, carrying out the manoeuvre superintended by Daniel.
Frightened by the consequences of his awkwardness, but, nevertheless
preserving his presence of mind, this man had, no doubt, drawn up the
block so promptly, that he had not been noticed. Could it be hoped
that he would accuse himself? Evidently not. Besides, what would be
the use of it? The wounded man was the first to request that the
inquiries might be stopped.
When, at the end of a fortnight, Champcey returned to duty, they
ceased talking of the accident; unfortunately, such things happen but
too frequently on board ship. Besides, the idea that "The Conquest"
was drawing near her destination filled all minds, and sufficed for
And really, one fine evening, as the sun was setting, land was seen,
and the next morning, at daybreak, the frigate sailed into the Dong-
Nai, the king of Cochin Chinese rivers, which is so wide and so deep,
that vessels of the largest tonnage can ascend it without difficulty
till they reach Saigon.
Standing on deck, Daniel watched the monotonous scenes which they
passed,--a landscape strange in form, and exhaling mortal fevers from
the soil, and the black yielding slime.
After a voyage of several months, he derived a melancholy pleasure
from seeing the banks of the river overshadowed by mango trees and
mangroves, with their supple, snakelike roots wandering far off under
water; while on shore a soft, pleasant vegetation presented to the eye
the whole range of shades in green, from the bluish, sickly green of
the idrys to the dark, metallic green of the stenia. Farther inland,
tall grapes, lianes, aloes, and cactus formed impenetrable thickets,
out of which rose, like fluted columns, gigantic cocoa-palms, and the
most graceful trees on earth, areca-palms. Through clearings here and
there, one could follow, as far as the eye reached, the course of low,
fever-breeding marshes, an immense mud-plain covered with a carpet of
undulating verdure, which opened and closed again under the breeze,
like the sea itself.
"Ah! That is Saigon, is it?" said to Daniel a voice full of delight.
He turned round. It was his best friend on board, a lieutenant like
himself, who had come to his side, and, offering him a telescope, said
with a great sigh of satisfaction,--
"Look! there, do you see? At last we are here. In two hours, Champcey,
we shall be at anchor."
In the distance one could, in fact, make out upon the deep blue of the
sky the profile of the curved roof of the pagodas in Saigon. It took a
long hour yet, before, at a turn in the river, the town itself
appeared, miserable looking,--with all deference to our geographies,
be it said,--in spite of the immense labor of the French colony.
Saigon consists mainly of one wide street running parallel with the
right bank of the Dong-Nai, a primitive, unpaved street cut up into
ruts, broken in upon by large empty spaces, and lined with wooden
houses covered with rice-straw or palm-leaves.
Thousands of boats crowd against the banks of the river along this
street, and form a kind of floating suburb, overflowing with a strange
medley of Annamites, Hindoos, and Chinamen. At a little distance from
the river, there appear a few massive buildings with roofs of red
tiles, pleasing to the eye, and here and there an Annamite farm, which
seems to hide behind groups of areca-palms. Finally, on an eminence,
rise the citadel, the arsenal, the house of the French commander, and
the former dwelling of the Spanish colonel.
But every town is beautiful, where we land after a voyage of several
months. Hence, as soon as "The Conquest" was safely at anchor, all the
officers, except the midshipman on duty, went on shore, and hastened
to the government house to ask if letters from France had arrived
there before them. Their hopes were not deceived. Two three-masters,
one French, the other English, which had sailed a month later than
"The Conquest," had arrived there at the beginning of the week,
There were two letters for Daniel, and with feverish hands and beating
heart he took them from the hand of the old clerk. But at the first
glance at the addresses he turned pale. He did not see Henrietta's
handwriting. Still he tore open the envelopes, and glanced at the
signatures. One of the letters was signed, "Maxime de Brevan;" the
other, "Countess Ville-Handry," /nee/ Sarah Brandon.
Daniel commenced with the latter. After informing him of her marriage,
Sarah described at great length Henrietta's conduct on the wedding-
"Any other but myself," she said, "would have been incensed at this
atrocious insult, and would abuse her position to be avenged. But I,
who never yet forgave anybody, I will forgive her, Daniel, for your
sake, and because I cannot see any one suffer who has loved you."
A postscript she had added ran thus,--
"Ah! why did you not prevent my marriage, when you could do so by a
word? They think I have reached the summit of my wishes. I have never
been more wretched."
This letter made Daniel utter an exclamation of rage. He saw nothing
in it but bitter irony.
"This miserable woman," he thought, "laughs at me; and, when she says
she does not blame Henrietta, that means that she hates her, and will
Maxime's letter fortunately reassured him a little. Maxime confirmed
Sarah's account, adding, moreover, that Miss Henrietta was very sad,
but calm and resigned; and that her step-mother treated her with the
greatest kindness. The surprising part was, that Brevan did not say a
word of the large amounts that had been intrusted to his care, nor of
his method of selling the lands, nor of the price which he had
But Daniel did not notice this; all his thoughts were with Henrietta.
"Why should she not have written," he thought, "when all the others
found means to write?"
Overwhelmed with disappointment, he had sat down on a wooden bench in
the embrasure of one of the windows in the hall where the letters were
distributed. Travelling across the vast distance which separated him
from France, his thoughts were under the trees in the garden of the
count's palace. He felt as if a powerful effort of his will would
enable him to transport himself thither. By the pale light of the moon
he thought he could discern the dress of his beloved as she stole
towards him between the old trees.
A friendly touch on the shoulder recalled him rudely to the real
world. Four or five officers from "The Conquest" were standing around
him, gay, and free from cares, a hearty laugh on their lips.
"Well, my dear Champcey," they said, "are you coming?"
"Why, to dinner!"
And as he looked at them with the air of a man who had just been
roused, and has not had time to collect his thoughts, they went on,--
"Well, to dinner. It appears Saigon possesses an admirable French
restaurant, where the cook, a Parisian, is simply a great artist.
Come, get up, and let us go."
But Daniel was in a humor which made solitude irresistibly attractive.
He trembled at the idea of being torn from his melancholy reveries, of
being compelled to take his part in conversation, to talk, to listen,
"I cannot dine with you to-day, my friends," he said to his comrades.
"You are joking."
"No, I am not. I must return on board." Then only, the others were
struck by the sad expression of his face; and, changing their tone,
they asked him in the most affectionate manner,--
"What is the matter, Champcey? Have you heard of any misfortune, any
"You have had letters from France, I see."
"They bring me nothing sad. I was expecting news, and they have not
come; that is all."
"Oh! then you must come with us."
"Do not force me; I would be a sorry companion."
Still they insisted, as friends will insist who will not understand
that others may not be equally tempted by what charms them; but
nothing could induce Daniel to change his mind. At the door of the
government house he parted with his comrades, and went back, sad and
solitary, towards the harbor.
He reached without difficulty the banks of the Dong-Nai; but here
obstacles presented themselves of which he had not thought. The night
was so dark, that he could hardly see to find his way along a wharf in
process of construction, and covered with enormous stones and timber.
Not a light in all the native huts around. In spite of his efforts to
pierce this darkness, he could discern nothing but the dark outline of
the vessels lying at anchor in the river, and the light of the
lighthouse as it trembled in the current.
He called. No voice replied. The silence, which was as deep as the
darkness, was broken only by the low wash of the river as it flowed
"I am quite capable," thought Daniel, "of not finding the boat of 'The
Still he did find it, after long search, drawn up, and half lost, in a
crowd of native boats. But the boat seemed to be empty. It was only
when he got into it, that he discovered a little midshipman fast
asleep in the bottom, wrapped up in a carpet which was used to cover
the seats for the officers. Daniel shook him. He rose slowly, and
grumbling, as if overcome by sleep.
"Well, what is the matter?" he growled.
"Where are the men?" asked Daniel.
Quite awake now, the midshipman, who had good eyes, had noticed, in
spite of the darkness, the gold of the epaulets. This made him very
respectful at once; and he replied,--
"Lieutenant, all the men are in town."
"How so? All?"
"Why, yes, lieutenant! When all the officers had gone on shore, they
told the boatswain they would not come back very soon, and he might
take his time to eat a mouthful, and to drink a glass, provided the
men did not get drunk."
That was so; and Daniel had forgotten the fact.
"And where did they go?" he asked.
"I don't know, lieutenant."
Daniel looked at the large, heavy boat, as if he had thought for a
moment to return in it to "The Conquest" with no other help but the
little midshipman; but, no, that was impracticable.
"Well, go to sleep again," he said to the boy.