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Like all energetic natures, Daniel felt a wonderful relief as soon as he had formed an irrevocable decision. He would even have enjoyed the peace that had once more returned to his mind, but for the savage hatred which had accumulated in his heart, and which confused his thoughts whenever he remembered Miss Brandon.
Providentially, it seemed to him, Maxime had not gone out, or, rather, having been to breakfast at the English cafe with some of his friends, he had just returned.
In ten words Daniel had told him every thing, and even shown him that masterpiece of forgery, which he attributed to Miss Brandon's mind, and M. Elgin's skill. Then, without heeding Maxime's exclamations of wonder and indignation, loud and deep as they were, he continued,--
"Now, my dear Maxime, listen to me. It may be my last will which I am going to give in your charge."
And, when his friend tried to remonstrate, he insisted,--
"I know what I am saying. I am sure I hope I shall not be buried out there; but the climate is murderous, and I may encounter a cannon-ball. It is always better to be prepared."
He paused a moment to collect his thoughts; and then he went on.
"You alone, in this world, Maxime, know all my private affairs. I have no secret from you. I have friends whom I have known longer than you; but I have none in whom I feel more confidence. Besides, my old friends are all sailors,--men, who, like myself, may at any moment be sent, Heaven knows where. Now I want a reliable, safe, and experienced man, possessed of prudence and energy, and sure not to leave Paris. Will you be that man, Maxime?"
M. de Brevan, who had remained in his chair, rose, and, putting his hand on his heart, said,--
"Between us, Daniel, oaths are useless; don't you think so? I say, therefore, simply, you may count upon me."
"And I do count upon you," exclaimed Daniel,--"yes, blindly and absolutely; and I am going to give you a striking proof of it."
For a few moments it looked as if he were trying to find some brief and yet impressive form for his communication; and then he said, speaking very rapidly,--
"If I leave in despair, it is because I leave Henrietta in the hands of the enemy. What persecution she will have to endure! My heart bleeds at the mere thought. Miss Brandon must be meditating some terrible blow, or she would not have been so anxious to keep me at a distance."
He sobbed almost, so great was his excitement; but he instantly became master again of his emotion, and continued,--
"Well, Maxime, I shall ask you to watch over Henrietta. I intrust her to you as I would intrust her to my brother, if I had one."
M. de Brevan was about to state some objections; but Daniel cut him short, saying,--
"I will tell you how and in what manner you can watch over Miss Ville-Handry. To-morrow evening I shall see her, and tell her the new misfortune which has befallen us. I shall take leave of her then. I know she will be terrified; but then, to reassure her, I shall explain to her that I leave her a friend, another myself, ready, like myself, to assist her at her first summons, and ready, like myself, to run any danger in order to succor her. I shall tell her to appeal to you as if it were to myself; to write to you as she used to write to me; to keep you informed of all they may attempt to do; to consult and to obey you without hesitation.
"As to what you will have to do, Maxime, I cannot tell you that, even in a general way, as I know nothing of Miss Brandon's plans. I rely upon your experience to do what is most expedient. Still there are two alternatives which I can foresee. It may be that her father's house becomes impossible for Henrietta, and that she should wish to leave it. It may also be, that, under certain circumstances, you may think it inexpedient for her to remain there, and that you have to advise her to escape. In either case, you will take Henrietta to an old lady, a relative of mine, who lives at the Rosiers, a little village in the department of Maine-et-Loire, and whose address I will give you, while I will inform her beforehand of what may happen."
He paused, trying to remember if there was any thing else, and, recalling nothing, he said,--
"This, my dear Maxime, is all I expect you to do for me."
With open brow, a clear eye, and grave face, M. de Brevan replied in a solemn tone of voice, speaking like a man who feels that he deserves such confidence,--
"Friend Daniel, you may sail without fear."
But Daniel had not done yet.
Pressing his friend's hand heartily, he thanked him, and then with a careless air, under which he very imperfectly concealed his real embarrassment, he said,--
"There remains only to provide the means for carrying out these measures, and for possible contingencies. You are not rich, my dear Maxime, I mean rich in comparison with the people who are your friends; you have told me so more than once."
He touched a wound which was always open, and always bleeding.
"Certainly," replied M. de Brevan, "in comparison with a number of my friends, with men like Gordon Chalusse, for instance, I am only a poor devil."
Daniel did not notice the bitterness of this reply.
"Now," he said, "suppose, at a given moment, Miss Henrietta's safety should make a certain sum of money necessary,--perhaps a very large sum,--are you sure you will always have enough in your drawer, and be able to dispose of it without inconvenience?"
"Ah! you expect too much of me; but I have friends."
"And you would ask them! you would expose yourself to the humiliation of hearing those set excuses which serve to conceal refusals! I could never permit that."
"I assure you"--
"Let me tell you that I have forgotten nothing. Although my means are modest, I can, by selling out some bonds, realize enough to secure you against any embarrassment on that score. I also own property in Anjou which is valued at fifty or sixty thousand dollars, and I mean to sell it."
The other man opened his eyes wide.
"You mean," he said slowly.
"To sell it, yes. You heard right. Except, however, my home, my father's house, with the little garden in front, the orchard, and the meadow adjoining the house. In that house my father and my mother have lived and died. I find them there, so to say, whenever I go in; their thoughts are still filling the rooms, after so many years. The garden and the orchard are the first little bits of land my father bought from his earnings as ploughboy. He cultivated them in his leisure hours, and there is literally not a foot of soil which he has not moistened with the sweat of his brow. They are sacred to me; but the rest--I have already given orders."
"And you expect to sell every thing in the three days before your departure?"
"Oh, no! But you are here."
"What can I do?"
"Take my place, I should think. I will leave you a power-of-attorney. Perhaps, if you make haste, you can get fifty thousand dollars for the property. You will invest that so as to be able to use it any moment. And, if ever Miss Henrietta should be compelled to leave her father's house, you will hand the money over to her."
M. de Brevan had turned very pale.
"Excuse me," he said, "excuse me."
"Well, it seems to me it would be more suitable to leave some one else in charge of that."
"Oh! I do not know,--a more experienced man! It may be that the property will not bring as much as you expect. Or I might invest the money in the wrong funds. Money questions are so delicate!"
But Daniel said, shrugging his shoulders,--
"I do not understand why you should hesitate to undertake so simple a thing, when you have already consented to render me so signal and so difficult a service."
So simple! M. de Brevan did not look upon it in that light.
A nervous shiver, which he could hardly conceal, ran down his backbone; drops of perspiration broke out on his temples; and he turned deadly pale.
"Fifty thousand dollars! That is an enormous sum."
"Oh, yes!" replied Daniel in the most careless manner.
And, looking at the clock, he added,--
"Half-past three. Come, Maxime, be quick. My carriage is waiting. The notary expects us between three and four o'clock."
This notary was an exceptional man. He took an interest in the affairs of his clients, and sometimes even listened to hear their explanations. When Daniel had told him what he intended doing, he replied,--
"You have nothing to do, M. Champcey, but to give M. de Brevan a power-of-attorney in proper form."
"Would it be possible," asked Daniel, "to have it drawn up at once?"
"Why not? It can be recorded this evening; and to-morrow"--
"Well, then, lose no time."
The notary called his chief clerk, gave him briefly his instructions, then, making a sign to Daniel, he drew him into a kind of recess resembling an enormous cupboard, adjoining his office, in which he "confessed" his clients, as he called it. When they were there, he said,--
"How is it, M. Champcey, do you really owe this M. de Brevan so much money?"
"Not a cent."
"And you leave your entire fortune thus in his hands! You must have marvellous confidence in the man."
"As much as in myself."
"That is a good deal. And if he should, during your absence, run away with the fifty thousand dollars?"
Daniel was a little shaken; but he remained firm.
"Oh!" he said, "there are still some honest people in the world."
"Ah?" laughed the notary.
And, from the manner in which he shook his head, it was clearly seen that experience had made him very sceptical on that subject.
"If you would only listen to me," he resumed, "I could prove to you"--
But Daniel interrupted him, and said,--
"I have no desire, sir, to change my mind; but, even if I should wish to do so, I cannot retract my word. There are particular circumstances in this case which I cannot explain to you in so short a time."
The notary raised his eyes to the ceiling, and said in a tone of great pity,--
"At least, let me make him give you a deed of defeasance."
"Very well, sir."
This was done, but in such carefully guarded terms, that even the most exquisite susceptibility on the part of Maxime could not have been hurt. It was five o'clock, when the power-of-attorney and the deed were signed, and the two friends left the worthy notary's office. It was too late now for Daniel to write to Henrietta to send him for that same evening the key to the little garden-gate; but he wrote to get it for the next evening.
After that, having dined with M. de Brevan, he went all over Paris in search of the thousand little things which are necessary for such a long and perilous voyage. He came home late, and was fortunate enough to fall asleep as soon as he had lain down. The next morning he breakfasted in his rooms, for fear of being out of the house when they should bring him the key.
It came towards one o'clock. It was brought by a large girl, nearly thirty years old, with a cross expression of face, and eyes more than modestly seeking the ground, and with narrow lips which seemed to be perpetually engaged in reciting prayers. This was Clarissa, whom Henrietta considered the safest of her waiting-women, and whom she had taken into her confidence.
"Miss Henrietta," she said to Daniel, "has given me this key and this letter for you, sir. She expects an answer."
Daniel tore the envelope, and read,--
"Take care, O my darling friend! to resort to this dangerous expedient which we ought to reserve for the last extremity. Is what you have to tell me really so important as you say? I can hardly believe it; and yet I send you the key. Tell Clarissa the precise hour at which you will be here."
Alas! the poor girl had no idea of the terrible news that was in store for her.
"Request Miss Henrietta," said Daniel to the maid, "to expect me at seven o'clock."
Sure now of seeing Henrietta, Daniel slipped the key in his pocket, and hurried away. He had only a short afternoon to himself, and there were still a thousand things to get, and countless preparations to make.
At his notary's, where he went first, he found the papers ready; all the formalities had been fulfilled. But, at the moment when the deed was placed before him, the worthy lawyer said in a prophetic voice,--
"M. Champcey, take care, reflect! I call that tempting a man pretty strongly when you hand over to him fifty thousand dollars the day before you start on a long and dangerous expedition."
"Ah! What matters my fortune, if I only see my Henrietta again?"
The notary looked discouraged.
"Ah! if there is a woman in the affair, I have nothing more to say."
It was as well. The next moment Daniel had forgotten him and his sombre presentiments.
Seated in M. de Brevan's little sitting-room, he was handing over his deeds and papers to his faithful confidant, explaining to him how he might make the most of the different parcels of land which he owned; how certain woods might be sold together; how, on the other hand, a large farm, now held by one tenant, might be advantageously divided into small lots, and sold at auction.
M. de Brevan did not look so pale now. He had recovered his self- possession, and laid aside his usual reserve in order to show himself all eagerness for his friend.
He declared that he would see to it that his friend Daniel should not be robbed. He intended, therefore, to go himself to Anjou to call upon those who were likely to purchase, and to be present at the sale. In his opinion, it would be wiser to sell piecemeal, without hurry. If money was needed, why, one could always get it at the bank.
Daniel was deeply touched by the devotion of his friend, whose intense selfishness he had noticed but too often. Nor was this all. Capable of the greatest sacrifices where Daniel's interests were at stake, M. de Brevan had formed a grand resolution. He proposed to overcome his aversion to Miss Brandon, and to seek, immediately after her marriage, an introduction at Count Ville-Handry's palace, for the purpose of going there constantly. He might have to play a disagreeable part, he admitted; but he would thus be enabled to see Miss Henrietta frequently; he would hear every thing that happened, and be at hand whenever she should need advice or assistance.
"Dear Maxime," repeated Daniel, "dear, excellent friend, how can I ever thank you for all you are doing for me!"
As the day before, they dined together at one of the restaurants on the boulevard; and after dinner M. de Brevan insisted upon accompanying his friend back to Count Ville-Handry's house. As they reached it long before the appointed hour, they walked up and down on the sidewalk which runs along the wall of the immense park belonging to the palace. It was a cold but perfectly clear night. There was not a cloud in the sky, no mist nor haze; and the moon was shining so brightly, that one could have read by its light.
In the meantime seven o'clock struck at a neighboring convent.
"Come, courage, my friend!" said M. de Brevan.
And, pressing his hand once more cordially, he walked off rapidly in the direction of the Invalides.
Daniel had not answered a word. Terribly excited, he had drawn near the small door, examining anxiously all the surroundings. The street was deserted. But he trembled so violently, that for a moment he thought he would never be able to turn the key in the rusty lock. At last he succeeded in opening it, and he slipped into the garden.
No one there. He was the first on the spot.
Looking for some dark place under the tall trees, he hid himself there, and waited. It seemed to him a century. He had counted sixty by the beating of his pulse ever so many times, and was beginning to be very anxious, when at last he heard some dry branches crackling under rapid footsteps. A shadow passed between the trees. He went forward, and Henrietta was standing before him.
"What is it now, great God!" she said anxiously. "Clarissa said you looked so pale and undone, that I have been terribly frightened."
Daniel had come to the conclusion that the plain truth would be less cruel than the most skilful precautions.
"I have been ordered on active service," he replied, "and I must be on board ship the day after tomorrow."
And then, without concealing any thing, he told her all he had suffered since the day before. Miss Ville-Handry felt as if she had been stunned by a crushing blow. She was leaning against a tree. Did she even hear Daniel? Yes; for, suddenly rousing herself, she said,--
"You will not obey! It is impossible for you to obey!"
"Henrietta, my honor is at stake."
"Ah, what does it matter?"
He was about to reply; but she continued in a broken voice,--
"You will certainly not go when you have heard me. You think I am strong, brave, and capable to breast the storm? You are mistaken. I was only drawing upon your energy, Daniel. I am a child, full of daring as long as it rests on its mother's knee, but helpless as soon as it feels that it is left to itself; I am only a woman, Daniel; I am weak."
The unhappy man felt his strength leaving him; he could no longer bear the restraint which he had imposed upon himself.
"You insist upon sending me off in utter despair?" he asked her. "Ah, I have hardly courage enough for myself!"
She interrupted him with a nervous laugh, and said in bitter sarcasm,--
"It would be courage to stay, to despise public opinion."
And, as any thing appeared to her preferable to such a separation, she added,--
"Listen! If you will stay, I will yield. Let us go together to my father, and I will tell him that I have overcome my aversion to Miss Brandon. I will ask him to present me to her; I will humble myself before her."
"That is impossible, Henrietta."
She bent towards him, joining her hands; and in a suppliant voice she repeated,--
"Stay, I beseech you, in the name of our happiness! If you have ever loved me, if you love me now, stay!"
Daniel had foreseen this heartrending scene; but he had vowed, that, if his heart should break, he would have the fortitude to resist Henrietta's prayers and tears.
"If I were weak enough to give way now, Henrietta," he said, "you would despise me before the month is over; and I, desperate at having to drag out a life of disgrace, would blow out my brains with a curse on you."
With her arms hanging listlessly by her side, her hands crossed behind her, Miss Ville-Handry stood there motionless, like a statue. She felt in her heart that Daniel's resolution was not to be shaken.
Then he said in a gentle voice,--
"I am going, Henrietta; but I leave you a friend of mine,--a true and noble friend, who will watch over you. You have heard me speak of him often,--Maxime de Brevan. He knows my wishes. Whatever may happen, consult him. Ah! I should leave more cheerfully if you would promise me to trust this faithful friend, to listen to his advice, and to follow his directions."
"I promise you, Daniel, I will obey him."
But a rustling of the dry leaves interrupted them.
They turned round. A man was cautiously approaching them.
"My father!" cried Henrietta.
And, pushing Daniel towards the gate, she begged him to flee.
To remain would only have been to risk a painful explanation, insults, perhaps even a personal collision. Daniel understood that but too well.
"Farewell," he said to Henrietta, "farewell! Tomorrow you will receive a letter from me."
And he escaped, but not so promptly that he should not have heard the count's angry voice, as he said,--
"Ah, ah! Is this the virtuous young lady who dares to insult Miss Sarah?"
As soon as Daniel had locked the door again, he listened for a moment, hoping that he might hear something of importance. But he could only make out a few indistinct exclamations, then nothing, nothing more.
It was all over now. He would have to sail without seeing Henrietta again, without enjoying that bitter happiness of holding her once more in his arms. And yet he had told her nothing of all he had to tell her; he had not spoken to her of half his recommendations, nor given her a thousandth part of his tender farewells.
How had they been surprised? How came it about that the count had stayed at home, instead of hurrying off immediately after dinner, as was his custom? Why should he have inquired after his daughter, he who generally took no more trouble about her than if she had not existed?
"Ah, we have been betrayed!" thought the unhappy man.
By whom? By that unpleasant maid evidently, whom he had seen that morning; by that very Clarissa in whom Henrietta put such confidence. If that was so,--and it was but too probable,--to whom should he send his letters hereafter? Here, again, he saw himself reduced to Maxime de Brevan as the only one who could convey news from him to Henrietta. Ah! he recognized but too clearly the execrable but most cunning policy of Miss Brandon.
"The wretch!" he swore; "the infamous woman!"
Wrath, mad wrath, set his brains on fire. And he could do nothing against that woman!
"But she does not stand alone!" he suddenly exclaimed. "There is a man there who shelters her under his responsibility,--Sir Thorn!"
M. Elgin might be insulted; he might be struck in the face, and thus be compelled to fight.
And, without considering this absurd plan, he hurried to Circus Street. Although it was barely eight o'clock, Miss Brandon's house looked as if everybody were asleep. He rang the bell, however; and, when a servant came to the door, he inquired,--
"M. Thomas Elgin?"
"M. Elgin is absent," replied the servant.
"At what hour will he be back?"
"He is not coming home to-night."
And whether he had received special instructions, or was only acting upon general orders, he added,--
"Mrs. Brian is at the theatre; but Miss Brandon is at home."
Daniel's wrath changed into a kind of cold fury.
"They expected me," he thought.
And he hesitated. Should he see Miss Brandon? But for what end? He was just turning away, when a sudden thought occurred to him. Why should he not talk with her, come to an understanding, and perhaps make a bargain with her?
"Show me to Miss Brandon's room," he said to the servant.
She sat, as she always did when left alone in the house, in the little boudoir, where Daniel had already once been carried by her. Dressed in a long dressing-wrapper of pale-blue cashmere, her hair scarcely taken up at all, she was reading, reclining on a sofa.
As the door opened, she raised herself carelessly a little, and, without turning around, asked,--
"Who is that?"
But, when the servant announced the name of M. Champcey, she rose with a bound, almost terrified, dropping the book which she had in her hand.
"You!" she murmured as soon as the servant had left. "Here, and of your own accord?"
Firmly resolved this time to remain master of his sensations, Daniel had stopped in the middle of the room, as stiff as a statue.
"Don't you know, madam, what brings me here? All your combinations have succeeded admirably; you triumph, and we surrender."
She looked at him in perfect amazement, stammering--
"I do not understand you. I do not know what you mean."
He shrugged his shoulders, and continued in an icy tone,--
"Do me the honor to think that I am not altogether a fool. I have seen the letter which you have sent to the minister, signed with my name. I have held that masterpiece of forgery in my hand and know now how you free yourself of my presence!"
Miss Brandon interrupted him with an angry gesture,--
"Then it is really so! He has done it; he has dared do it!"
"Who is this he? M. Thomas Elgin, no doubt?"
"No, not he; another man."
She hesitated, hung her head, and then said with a great effort,--
"I knew they wished to separate us; and, without knowing precisely what means they would employ, I suspected them. And, when I came to you the other day, I wanted to say to you, 'Have a care!' and you, M. Champcey, you drove me from you."
He looked upon her with such an ironical smile that she broke off, and cried,--
"Ah, he does not believe me! Tell me that you do not believe me!"
He bowed ceremoniously, and replied in his gravest manner,--
"I believe, Miss Brandon, that you desire to become Countess Ville- Handry; and you clear everything out of your path that can hinder you in your plans."
She was about to answer; but he did not give her time, and continued,--
"Mark, I pray, that I make no charges. Come, let us play openly. You are too sensible and too practical to hate us--Miss Henrietta and myself--from gratuitous and purely platonic motives. You hate us because we are in your way. How are we in your way? Tell me; and, if you will promise to help us, we--Henrietta and I--pledge ourselves not to stand in your way."
Miss Brandon looked as if she could not trust her ears.
"But, sir, this is a bargain, I should say, which you propose?"
"Yes, indeed! And, that there may be no misunderstanding, I will mention the precise terms: if you will swear to be kind to Henrietta during my absence, to protect her against violence on the part of her father, and never to force her to act contrary to her sentiments for me, I will give you, in return, my word that I shall give up to you, without dispute and without reserve, the whole immense fortune possessed by Count Ville-Handry."
Succumbing to her grief, Miss Brandon seemed to be almost fainting; and big tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Have I not yet been humiliated sufficiently?" she said in a low voice. "Must you add shame to shame? Daniel, you think I am very mean."
And, checking the sobs which impeded her words, she went on,--
"And yet I cannot blame you for it, I cannot. No, you are right! Every thing is against me; every thing bears witness against me. Yes, I must appear a very wicked girl in your eyes. If you knew the truth, however, Daniel--if I could, if I dared, tell you all!"
She drew nearer to him, all trembling; and then continued in a still lower tone of voice, as if she feared to be overheard,--
"Do you not understand yet that I am no longer my own? Unfortunate as I am, they have taken me, bound me, fettered me. I have no longer the right to have a will of my own. If they say, 'Do this!' I must needs do it. What a life I lead! Great God! Ah, if you had been willing, Daniel! If you were willing even now!"
She became excited almost to exaltation; her eyes, moist with tears, shone with matchless splendor; passing blushes colored her face; and her voice had strange, weird vibrations.
Was she forgetting herself? Was she really about to betray her secret? or was she merely inventing a new falsehood? Why should he not let her go on?
"That is no answer, Miss Brandon," at last said Daniel. "Will you promise me to protect Henrietta?"
"Do you really love her so dearly, your Henrietta?"
"Better than life!"
Miss Brandon turned as white as the lace on her dress; a flash of indignation shot through her eyes; and, drying her tears, she said curtly,--
Then Daniel replied,--
"You will give me no answer, madam?"
And, as she persisted in her silence, he resumed,--
"Very well, then, I understand. You declare open war. Be it so! Only listen to me carefully. I am setting out on a dangerous expedition, and you hope I shall never return. Undeceive yourself, Miss Brandon; I shall return. With a passion like mine, with so much love in one's heart, and so much hatred, a man can defy every thing. The murderous climate will not touch me; and, if I had ten rifle-balls in my body, I should still have the strength to return, and hold you to an account for what you have done to Henrietta. And if you have touched a hair on her head, if you have made her shed a single tear, by all that is holy, it will bring ill luck to you, and ill luck to others!"
He was going to leave her, when a thought struck him.
"I ought to tell you, moreover," he added, "that I leave a faithful friend behind me; and, if the count or his daughter should die very suddenly, the coroner will be informed. And now, madam, farewell--or, rather, till we meet again!"
At eight o'clock on the evening of the next day, after having left in M. de Brevan's hands a long letter for Henrietta, and after having given him his last instructions, Daniel took his seat in the train which was to take him to his new post.
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