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At the same hour when Papa Ravinet, on the deck of "The Saint Louis," was pressing Daniel's hand, and bidding him farewell, there were in Paris two poor women, who prayed and watched with breathless anxiety,--the sister of the old dealer, Mrs. Bertolle, the widow; and Henrietta, the daughter of Count Ville-Handry. When Papa Ravinet had appeared the evening before, with his carpet-bag in his hand, his hurry had been so extraordinary, and his excitement so great, that one might have doubted his sanity. He had peremptorily asked his sister for two thousand francs; had made Henrietta write in all haste a letter of introduction to Daniel; and had rushed out again like a tempest, as he had come in, without saying more than this,--
"M. Champcey will arrive, or perhaps has already arrived, in Marseilles, on board a merchant vessel, 'The Saint Louis.' I have been told so at the navy department. It is all important that I should see him before anybody else. I take the express train of quarter past seven. To-morrow, I'll send you a telegram."
The two ladies asked for something more, a hope, a word; but no, nothing more! The old dealer had jumped into the carriage that had brought him, before they had recovered from their surprise; and they remained there, sitting before the fire, silent, their heads in their hands, each lost in conjectures. When the clock struck seven, the good widow was aroused from her grave thoughts, which seemed so different from her usual cheerful temper.
"Come, come, Miss Henrietta," she said with somewhat forced gayety, "my brother's departure does not condemn us, as far as I know, to starve ourselves to death."
She had gotten up as she said this. She set the table, and then sat down opposite to Henrietta, to their modest dinner. Modest it was, indeed, and still too abundant. They were both too much overcome to be able to eat; and yet both handled knife and fork, trying to deceive one another. Their thoughts were far away, in spite of all their efforts to keep them at home, and followed the traveller.
"Now he has left," whispered Henrietta as it struck eight.
"He is on his way already," replied the old lady.
But neither of them knew anything of the journey from Paris to Marseilles. They were ignorant of the distances, the names of the stations, and even of the large cities through which the railroad passes.
"We must try and get a railway guide," said the good widow. And, quite proud of her happy thought, she went out instantly, hurried to the nearest bookstore, and soon reappeared, flourishing triumphantly a yellow pamphlet, and saying,--
"Now we shall see it all, my dear child."
Then, placing the guide on the tablecloth between them, they looked for the page containing the railway from Paris to Lyons and Marseilles, then the train which Papa Ravinet was to have taken; and they delighted in counting up how swiftly the "express" went, and all the stations where it stopped.
Then, when the table was cleared, instead of going industriously to work, as usually, they kept constantly looking at the clock, and, after consulting the book, said to each other,--
"He is at Montereau now; he must be beyond Sens; he will soon be at Tonnerre."
A childish satisfaction, no doubt, and very idle. But who of us has not, at least once in his life, derived a wonderful pleasure, or perhaps unspeakable relief from impatience, or even grief, from following thus across space a beloved one who was going away, or coming home? Towards midnight, however, the old lady remarked that it was getting late, and that it would be wise to go to bed.
"You think you will sleep, madam?" asked Henrietta, surprised.
"No, my child; but"--
"Oh! I, for my part,--I could not sleep. This work on which we are busy is very pressing, you say; why could we not finish it?"
"Well, let us sit up then," said the good widow.
The poor women, reduced as they were to conjectures by Papa Ravinet's laconic answers, nevertheless knew full well that some great event was in preparation, something unexpected, and yet decisive. What it was, they did not know; but they understood, or rather felt, that Daniel's return would and must totally change the aspect of affairs. But would Daniel really come?
"If he does come," said Henrietta, "why did they only the other day tell me, at the navy department, that he was not coming? Then, again, why should he come home in a merchant vessel, and not on board his frigate?"
"Your letters have probably reached him at last," explained the old lady; "and, as soon as he received them, he came home."
Gradually, however, after having exhausted all conjectures, and after having discussed all contingencies, Henrietta became silent. When it struck half-past three, she said once more,--
"Ah! M. Ravinet is at the Lyons station now."
Then her hand became less and less active in drawing the worsted, her head oscillated from side to side, and her eyelids closed unconsciously. Her old friend advised her to retire; and this time she did not refuse.
It was past ten o'clock when she awoke; and upon entering, fully dressed, into the sitting-room, Mrs. Bertolle greeted her with the exclamation:--
"At this moment my brother reaches Marseilles!"
"Ah! then it will not be long before we shall have news," replied Henrietta.
But there are moments in which we think electricity the slowest of messengers. At two o'clock nothing had come; and the poor women began to accuse the old dealer of having forgotten them, when, at last, the bell was rung.
It was really the telegraph messenger, with his black leather pouch. The old lady signed her receipt with marvellous promptness; and, tearing the envelope hastily open, she read,--
Marseilles, 12.40 a.m.
"Saint Louis" signalled by telegraph this morning. Will be in to-night. I hire boat to go and meet her, provided Champcey is on board. This evening telegram.
"But this does not tell us any thing," said Henrietta, terribly disappointed. "Just see, madam, your brother is not even sure whether M. Champcey is on board 'The Saint Louis.'"
Perhaps Mrs. Bertolle, also, was a little disappointed; but she was not the person to let it be seen.
"But what did you expect, dear child? Anthony has not been an hour in Marseilles; how do you think he can know? We must wait till the evening. It is only a matter of a few hours."
She said this very quietly; but all who have ever undergone the anguish of expectation will know how it becomes more and more intolerable as the moment approaches that is to bring the decision. However the old lady endeavored to control her excitement, the calm and dignified woman could not long conceal the nervous fever that was raging within her. Ten times during the afternoon she opened the window, to look for--what? She could not have told it herself, as she well knew nothing could come as yet. At night she could not stay in any one place. She tried in vain to work on her embroidery; her fingers refused their service.
At last, at ten minutes past nine, the telegraph man appeared, as impassive as ever.
This time it was Henrietta who had taken the despatch; and, before opening it, she had half a minute's fearful suspense, as if the paper had contained the secret of her fate. Then, by a sudden impulse, tearing the envelope, she read, almost at a glance,--
Marseilles, 6.45 p.m.
I have seen Champcey. All well; devoted to Henrietta. Return this evening. Will be in Paris tomorrow evening at seven o'clock. Prepare your trunks as if you were to start on a month's journey immediately after my return. All is going well.
Pale as death, and trembling like a leaf, but with open lips and bright eyes, Henrietta had sunk into a chair. Up to this moment she had doubted every thing. Up to this hour, until she held the proof in her hand, she had not allowed herself to hope. Such great happiness does not seem to the unhappy to be intended for them. But now she stammered out,--
"Daniel is in France! Daniel! Nothing more to fear; the future is ours. I am safe now."
But people do not die of joy; and, when she had recovered her equanimity, Henrietta understood how cruel she had been in the incoherent phrases that had escaped her in her excitement. She rose with a start, and, seizing Mrs. Bertolle's hands, said to her,--
"Great God! what am I saying! Ah, you will pardon me, madam, I am sure; but I feel as if I did not know what I am doing. Safe! I owe it to you and your brother, if I am safe. Without you Daniel would find nothing of me but a cross at the cemetery, and a name stained and destroyed by infamous calumnies."
The old lady did not hear a word. She had picked up the despatch, had read it; and, overcome by its contents, had sat down near the fireplace, utterly insensible to the outside world. The most fearful hatred convulsed her ordinarily calm and gentle features; and pale, with closed teeth, and in a hoarse voice, she said over and over again,--
"We shall be avenged."
Most assuredly Henrietta did not find out only now that the old dealer and his sister hated her enemies, Sarah Brandon and Maxime de Brevan, mortally; but she had never seen that hatred break out so terribly as to-night. What had brought it about? This she could not fathom. Papa Ravinet, it was evident, was not a nobody. Ill-bred and coarse in Water Street, amid the thousand articles of his trade, he became a very different man as soon as he reached his sister's house. As to the Widow Bertolle, she was evidently a woman of superior intellect and education.
How had they both been reduced to this more than modest condition? By reverses of fortune. That accounts for everything, but explains nothing.
Such were Henrietta's thoughts, when the old lady roused her from her meditations.
"You saw, my dear child," she began saying, "that my brother desires us to be ready to set out on a long journey as soon as he comes home."
"Yes, madam; and I am quite astonished."
"I understand; but, although I know no more than you do of my brother's intentions, I know that he does nothing without a purpose. We ought, therefore, in prudence, comply with his wishes."
They agreed, therefore, at once on their arrangements; and the next day Mrs. Bertolle went out to purchase whatever might be necessary,--ready-made dresses for Henrietta, shoes, and linen. Towards five o'clock in the afternoon, all the preparations of the old lady and the young girl had been made; and all their things were carefully stowed away in three large trunks. According to Papa Ravinet's despatch, they had only about two hours more to wait, three hours at the worst. Still they were out of their reckoning. It was half-past eight before the good man arrived, evidently broken down by the long and rapid journey which he had just made.
"At last!" exclaimed Mrs. Bertolle. "We hardly expected you any longer to-night."
But he interrupted her, saying,--
"Oh, my dear sister! don't you think I suffered when I thought of your impatience? But it was absolutely necessary I should show myself in Water Street."
"You have seen Mrs. Chevassat?"
"I come from her just now. She is quite at her ease. I am sure she has not the slightest doubt that Miss Ville-Handry has killed herself; and she goes religiously every morning to the Morgue."
"And M. de Brevan?" she asked.
Papa Ravinet looked troubled.
"Ah, I don't feel so safe there," he replied. "The man I had left in charge of him has foolishly lost sight of him."
Then noticing the trunks, he said,--
"But I am talking, and time flies. You are ready, I see. Let us go. I have a carriage at the door. We can talk on the way."
When he noticed some reluctance in Henrietta's face, he added with a kindly smile,--
"You need not fear anything, Miss Henrietta; we are not going away from M. Champcey, very far from it. Here, you see, he could not have come twice without betraying the secret of your existence."
"But where are we going?" asked Mrs. Bertolle.
"To the Hotel du Louvre, dear sister, where you will take rooms for Mrs. and Miss Bertolle. Be calm; my plans are laid."
Thereupon, he ran out on the staircase to call the concierge to help him in taking down the trunks.
Although the manoeuvres required by Papa Ravinet's appearance on board "The Saint Louis" had taken but little time, the delay had been long enough to prevent the ship from going through all the formalities that same evening. She had, therefore, to drop anchor at some distance from the harbor, to the great disgust of the crew, who saw Marseilles all ablaze before them, and who could count the wineshops, and hear the songs of the half-drunken people as they walked down the wharves in merry bands.
The least unhappy of them all was, for once, Daniel. The terrible excitement he had undergone had given way to utter prostration. His nerves, strained to the utmost, relaxed; and he felt the delight of a man who can at last throw down a heavy burden which he has long borne on his shoulders. Papa Ravinet had given him no details; but he did not regret it, he hardly noticed it. He knew positively that his Henrietta was alive; that she was in safety; and that she still loved him. That was enough.
"Well, lieutenant," said Lefloch, delighted at his master's joy, "did I not tell you? Good wind during the passage always brings good news upon landing."
That night, while "The Saint Louis" was rocking lazily over her anchors, was the first night, since Daniel had heard of Count Ville-Handry's marriage, that he slept with that sweet sleep given by hope. He was only aroused by the noise of the people who came in the quarantine boat; and, when he came on deck, he found that there was nothing any longer to prevent his going on shore. The men had been actively engaged ever since early in the morning, to set things right aloft and below, so as to "dress" "The Saint Louis;" for every ship, when it enters port, is decked out gayly, and carefully conceals all traces of injuries she has suffered, like the carrier-pigeon, which, upon returning to his nest after a storm, dries and smooths his feathers in the sun.
Soon the anchors were got up again; and the great clock on the wharf struck twelve, when Daniel jumped on the wharf at Marseilles, followed by his faithful man, and dazzled by the most brilliant sunlight. Ah! when he felt his foot once more standing on the soil of France, whence a vile plot had driven him long ago, his eyes flashed, and a threatening gesture boded ill to his enemies. It looked as if he were saying to them,--
"Here I am, and my vengeance will be terrible!"
Neither his joy nor his excitement, however, could make him forget the apprehensions of Papa Ravinet, although he thought they were eccentric, and very much exaggerated. That a spy should be waiting for him in the harbor, concealed in this busy, noisy crowd, to follow his track, and report his minutest actions,--this seemed to him, if not impossible, at least very improbable.
Nevertheless, he determined to ascertain the fact. Instead, therefore, of simply following the wharf, of going up Canebiere Street, and turning to the right on his way to the Hotel du Luxembourg, he went through several narrow streets, turning purposely every now and then. When he reached the hotel, he was compelled to acknowledge that the old dealer had acted wisely.
A big fellow, dark complexioned, and wicked looking, had followed the same route as he, always keeping some thirty yards behind him. The man who thus watched him, with his nose in the air and his hands in his pockets, hardly suspected the danger which he ran by practising his profession within reach of Lefloch. The idea of being tracked put the worthy sailor into a red-hot fury; and he proposed nothing less than to "run foul" of the spy, and make an end of him for good.
"I can do it in a second," he assured his master. "I just go up to him, without making him aware of my presence. I seize him by his cravat; I give him two turns, like that--and good-night. He won't track anybody again."
Daniel had to use all his authority to keep him back, and found it still harder to convince him of the necessity to let the scamp not know that he had been discovered.
"Besides," he added, "it is not proved yet that we are really watched; it may be merely a curious coincidence."
"That may be so," growled Lefloch.
But they could no longer doubt, when, just before dinner, as they looked out of the window, they saw the same man pass the hotel. At night they saw him again at the depot; and he took the same express train of 9.45 for Paris, in which they went. They recognized him in the refreshment-room at Lyons. And the first person they saw as they got out at Paris was the same man.
But Daniel did not mind the spy. He had long since forgotten him. He thought of nothing but the one fact that he was in the same town now with Henrietta. Too impatient to wait for his trunks, he left Lefloch in charge, and jumped into a cab, promising the driver two dollars if he would go as fast as he could to the Hotel du Louvre. For such pay, the lean horses of any cab become equal to English thoroughbreds; and in three-quarters of an hour Daniel was installed in his room at the hotel, and waited with anxiety the return of the waiter. Now that he was really here, a thousand doubts assailed him: "Had he understood Papa Ravinet correctly? Had the good old man given him the right directions? Might they not, excited as they both were, have easily made a mistake?"
"In less than a quarter of an hour after your arrival," Papa Ravinet had said to Daniel, "you shall have news."
Less than a quarter of an hour! It seemed to Daniel as if he had been an eternity in this room. Thinking that Henrietta might possibly occupy a room on the same floor with him, on the same side of the house, that he might even be separated from her only by a partition-wall, he felt like cursing Papa Ravinet, when there came a knock at the door.
"Come in!" he cried.
A waiter appeared, and handed him a visiting-card, on which was written, "Mrs. Bertolle, third story. No. 5."
As the waiter did not instantly disappear, Daniel said almost furiously,--
"Did I not tell you it was all right?"
He did not want the man to see his excitement, the most intense excitement he had ever experienced in all his life. His hands shook; he felt a burning sensation in his throat; his knees gave way under him. He looked at himself in the glass, and was startled; he looked deadly pale.
"Am I going to be ill?" he thought.
On the table stood a carafe with water. He filled a large glass, and drank it at one draught; this made him feel better, and he went out. But, once outside, he was so overcome, that he lost his way in the long passages and interminable staircases, in spite of the directions hung up at every turn, and had finally to ask a waiter, who pointed out a door which he had passed half a dozen times, and said,--
"That is No. 5."
He knocked gently, and the door opened instantly, as if somebody had been standing behind it, ready to open it promptly. As he entered, he tottered, and, almost in a mist, saw on his right side Papa Ravinet and an old lady, then, farther back, near the window, Henrietta.
He uttered a cry, and went forward. But as quickly she bounded to meet him, casting both arms around his neck, and leaning upon his bosom, sobbing and stammering,--
"Daniel, Daniel! At last!"
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