It struck midnight; but the poor people
in the little parlor in the Hotel du Louvre hardly
thought of sleep. How could they have become
aware of the flight of time, as long as all their faculties
were bent upon the immense interests that were at
stake? On the struggle which they were about
to undertake depended Count Ville-Handry’s life
and honor, and the happiness and whole future life
of Daniel and Henrietta.
And Papa Ravinet and his sister had
said, — “As for us, even more than
that depends upon it.” The old dealer, therefore,
drew up an easy-chair, sat down, and began in a somewhat
husky voice, —
“The Countess Sarah is not Sarah
Brandon, and is not an American. Her real name,
by which she was known up to her sixteenth year, is
Ernestine Bergot; and she was born in Paris, in the
suburb of Saint Martin, just on the line of the corporation.
To tell you in detail what the first years of Sarah
were like would be difficult indeed. There are
things of that kind which do not bear being mentioned.
Her childhood might be her excuse, if she could be
excused at all.
“Her mother was one of those
unfortunate women of whom Paris devours every year
several thousands; who come from the provinces in wooden
shoes, and are seen, six months later, dressed in all
the fashion; and who live a short, gay life, which
invariably ends in the hospital.
“Her mother was neither better
nor worse than the rest. When her daughter came,
she had neither the sense to part with her, nor the
courage — perhaps (who knows?) she had not
the means — to mend her ways. Thus the
little one grew up by God’s mercy, but at the
Devil’s bidding, living by chance, now stuffed
with sweet things, and now half-killed by blows, fed
by the charity of neighbors, while her mother remained
for weeks absent from her lodgings.
“Four years old, she wandered
through the neighborhood dressed in fragments of silk
or velvet, with a faded ribbon in her hair, but with
bare feet in her torn shoes, hoarse, and shivering
with severe colds, — very much after the
fashion of lost dogs, who rove around open-air cooking-shops, — and
looking in the gutters for cents with which to buy
fried potatoes or spoilt fruit.
“At a later time she extended
the circle of her excursions, and wandered all over
Paris, in company of other children like herself, stopping
on the boulevards, before the brilliant shops or performing
jugglers, trying to learn how to steal from open stalls,
and at night asking in a plaintive voice for alms
in behalf of her poor sick father. When twelve
years old she was as thin as a plank, and as green
as a June apple, with sharp elbows and long red hands.
But she had beautiful light hair, teeth like a young
dog’s, and large, impudent eyes. Merely
upon seeing her go along, her head high with an air
of saucy indifference, coquettish under her rags,
and walking with elastic steps, you would have guessed
in her the young Parisian girl, the sister of the
poor ‘gamin,’ a thousand times more wicked
than her brothers, and far more dangerous to society.
She was as depraved as the worst of sinners, fearing
neither God nor the Devil, nor man, nor anything.
“However, she did fear the police.
“For from them she derived the
only notions of morality she ever possessed; otherwise,
it would have been love’s labor lost to talk
to her of virtue or of duty. These words would
have conveyed no meaning to her imagination; she knew
no more about them than about the abstract ideas which
“One day, however, her mother,
who had virtually made a servant of her, had a praiseworthy
inspiration. Finding that she had some money,
she dressed her anew from head to foot, bought her
a kind of outfit, and bound her as an apprentice to
“But it came too late.
“Every kind of restraint was
naturally intolerable to such a vagabond nature.
The order and the regularity of the house in which
she lived were a horror to her. To sit still
all day long, a needle in her hand, appeared to her
harder than death itself. The very comforts around
her embarrassed her, and she felt as a savage would
feel in tight boots. At the end of the first
week, therefore, she ran away from the dressmaker,
stealing a hundred francs. As long as these lasted,
she roved over Paris. When they were spent, and
she was hungry, she came back to her mother.
“But her mother had moved away,
and no one knew what had become of her. She was
inquired after, but never found. Any other person
would have been in despair. Not she. The
same day she entered as waiter in a cheap coffee-house.
Turned out there, she found employment in a low restaurant,
where she had to wash up the dishes and plates.
Sent away here, also, she became a servant in two
or three other places of still lower character; then,
at last, utterly disgusted, she determined to do nothing
“She was sinking into the gutter,
she was on the point of being lost before she had
reached womanhood, like fruit which spoils before it
is ripe, when a man turned up who was fated to arm
her for life’s Struggle, and to change the vulgar
thief into the accomplished monster of perversity
whom you know.”
Here Papa Ravinet suddenly paused,
and, looking at Daniel, said, —
“You must not believe, M. Champcey,
that these details are imaginary. I have spent
five years of my life in tracing out Sarah’s
early life, — five years, during which I
have been going from door to door, ever in search
of information. A dealer in second-hand goods
enters everywhere without exciting suspicion.
And then I have witnesses to prove everything I have
told you so far, — witnesses whom I shall
summon, and who will speak whenever the necessity
arises to establish the identity of the Countess Sarah.”
Daniel made no reply.
Like Henrietta, even like Mrs. Bertolle,
at this moment he was completely fascinated by the
old gentleman’s manner and tone. The latter,
after having rested for a few minutes, went on, —
“The man who picked up Sarah
was an old German artist, painter and musician both,
of rare genius, but a maniac, as they called him.
At all events, he was a good, an excellent man.
“One winter morning, as he was
at work in his studio, he was struck by the strange
ring in a woman’s voice, which recited in the
court-yard below a popular song. He went to the
window, and beckoned the singer to come up. It
was Sarah; and she came. The good German used
often to speak of the deep compassion which seized
him as he saw this tall girl of fourteen come into
his studio, — a child, stained by vice already,
thin like hunger itself, and shivering in her thin
calico dress. But he was at the same time almost
dazzled by the rich promises of beauty in her face,
the pure notes of her superb voice, which had withstood
so far, and the surprising intelligence beaming in
“He guessed what there was in
her; he saw her, in his mind’s eye, such as
she was to be at twenty.
“Then he asked her how she had
come to be reduced to such misery, who she was, where
her parents lived, and what they did for a living.
When she had told him that she stood quite alone,
and was dependent on no one, he said to her, —
“’Well, if you will stay
with me, I will adopt you; you shall be my daughter;
and I will make you an eminent artist.’
“The studio was warm, and it
was bitterly cold outside. Sarah had no roof
over her head, and had eaten nothing for twenty-four
hours. She accepted.
“She accepted, be it understood,
not doubting, in her perversity, but that this kind
old man had other intentions besides those he mentioned
in offering her a home. She was mistaken.
He recognized in her marvellous talents, and thought
of nothing but of making of her a true marvel, which
should astonish the world. He devoted himself
heart and soul to his new favorite, with all the enthusiastic
ardor of an artist, and all the jealous passion of
“It was a hard task, however,
which he had undertaken. Sarah could not even
read. She knew nothing, except sin.
“How the old German went to
work to keep this untamable vagabond at home, how
he made her bend to his will, and submit to his lessons,
no one will ever be able to tell. It was long
a problem for me also. Some of the neighbors
told me that he treated her harshly, beating her often
brutally; but neither threats nor blows were apt to
make an impression on Sarah Brandon. A friend
of the old man’s thought he had guessed the
riddle: he thought the old artist had succeeded
in arousing Sarah’s pride. He had kindled
in her a boundless ambition and the most passionate
covetousness. He intoxicated her with fairylike
“‘Follow my counsels,’
he used to say to her, ’and at twenty you will
be a queen, — a queen of beauty, of wit,
and of genius. Study, and the day will come when
you will travel through Europe, a renowned artist,
welcomed in every capital, feted everywhere,
honored, and glorified. Work, and wealth will
come with fame, — immense, boundless wealth,
surpassing all your dreams. You will have the
finest carriages, the most magnificent diamonds; you
will draw from inexhaustible purses; the whole world
will be at your feet; and the women will turn pale
with envy and jealousy when they see you. Among
men there will be none so noble, none so great, none
so rich, but he will beg for one of your looks; and
they will fight for one of your smiles. Only
work and study!’
“At all events, Sarah did work,
and studied with a steady perseverance which spoke
of her faith in the promises of her old master, and
of the influence he had obtained over her through
her vanity. At first she had been deterred by
the extreme difficulties which beset so late a beginning;
but her amazing natural gifts had soon begun to show
themselves, and in a short time her progress was almost
“It is true that her innate
sagacity had made her soon find out how ignorant she
was of the world. She saw that society did not
exclusively consist, as she had heretofore imagined,
of people like those she had known. She felt,
for instance, what she had never suspected before,
that her unfortunate mother, with all her friends
and companions, were only the rare exceptions, laid
under the ban by the immense majority.
“At last she actually learned
to know the tree of good fruit, after having for so
many years known only the tree of forbidden fruit.
She listened with eager curiosity to all the old artist
had to tell her. And he knew much; for the eccentric
old man had travelled for a long time over the world,
and observed man on every step of the social ladder.
He had been a favorite artist at the court of Vienna;
he had had several of his operas brought out in Italy;
and he had been admitted to the best society in Paris.
At night, therefore, while sipping his coffee, his
feet on the andirons, and his long pipe in his mouth,
he would soon forget himself amid the recollections
of his youth. He described to her the splendor
of courts, the beauty of women, the magnificence of
their toilets, and the intrigues which he had seen
going on around him. He spoke to her of the men
whose portraits he had painted, of the manners and
the jealousies behind the stage, and of the great singers
who had sung in his operas.
“Thus it came about, that, two
years later, no one would have recognized the lean,
wretched-looking vagabond of the suburbs in this fresh,
rosy girl, with the lustrous eyes and the modest mien,
whom they called in the house the ‘pretty artist
in the fifth story.’
“And yet the change was only on the surface.
“Sarah was already too thoroughly
corrupted, when the good German picked her up, to
be capable of being entirely changed. He thought
he had infused his own rough honesty into her veins:
he had only taught her a new vice, — hypocrisy.
“The soul remained corrupt;
and all the charms with which it was outwardly adorned
became only so many base allurements, like those beautiful
flowers which unfold their splendor on the surface
of bottomless swamps, and thus lead those whom they
attract to miserable death.
“At that time, however, Sarah
did not yet possess that marvellous self-control which
became one of her great charms hereafter; and at the
end of two years she could endure this peaceful atmosphere
no longer; she grew homesick after sin.
“As she was already a very fair
musician, and her voice, trained by a great master,
possessed amazing power, she urged her old teacher
to procure her an engagement at one of the theatres.
He refused in a manner which made it clear to her
that he would never change his mind on that subject.
He wanted to secure to his pupil one of those debuts
which are an apotheosis; and he had decided, as he
told her, that she should not appear in public till
she had reached the full perfection of her voice and
her talent, — certainly not before her nineteenth
or twentieth year.
“That meant she should wait
three or four years longer, — a century!
“In former days Sarah would
not have hesitated a moment; she would have run away.
“But education had changed her
ideas. She was quite able now to reflect and
to calculate. She asked herself where she could
go, alone, without money, without friends, and what
she should do, and what would become of her.
“She knew what destitution meant,
and she was afraid of it now.
“When she thought of the life
her mother had led, — a long series of nights
spent in orgies, and of days without bread; that life
of distress and disgrace, when she depended on the
whims of a good-for-nothing, or the suspicions of
a police constable, — Sarah felt the cold
perspiration break out on her temples.
“She wanted her liberty; but
she did not want it without money. Vice attracted
her irresistibly; but it was gorgeous vice, seated
in a carriage, and bespattering with mud the poor,
honest women who had to walk on foot, while it was
envied by the crowd, and worshipped by the foolish.
She remained, therefore, and studied hard.
“Perhaps, in spite of everything,
in spite of herself and her execrable instincts, Sarah
might have become a great artist, if the old German
had not been taken from her by a terrible accident.
“One fine afternoon in April,
in the beginning of spring, he was smoking his pipe
at the window, when he heard a noise in the street,
and leaned over to see.
“The bar broke, — he
tried in vain to hold on to the window-frame, — and
the next moment he fell from the fifth story to the
ground, and was killed instantly.
“I have held in my own hands
the police report of the accident. It states
that the fall was unavoidable; and that, if no such
calamity had occurred before, this was due to the
simple fact, that, during the bad weather, nobody
had thought of looking out of the window. The
castings of the little railing in front were found
to be broken in two places, and so long ago, that
a thick layer of rust had filled up the cracks.
The wooden part had become perfectly loose, as the
mortar that originally had kept it in place had been
apparently eaten away by the winter frosts.”
Daniel and Henrietta had turned very
pale. It was evident that the same terrible suspicion
had flashed upon their mind.
“Ah! it was Sarah’s work,”
they exclaimed simultaneously. “It was Sarah
who had broken the bar, and loosened the wooden rods;
she had, no doubt, been watching for months to see
her benefactor fall and kill himself.”
Papa Ravinet shook his head.
“I do not say that,” he
said; “and, at all events, it would be impossible
to prove it at this time, — I mean, to prove
it against her denial. It is certain that no
one suspected Sarah. She seemed to be in despair;
and everybody pitied her sincerely. Was she not
ruined by this misfortune?
“The old artist had left no
will. His relatives, of whom several lived in
Paris, rushed to his rooms; and their first act was
to dismiss Sarah, after having searched her trunks,
and after giving her to understand that she ought
to be very grateful if she was allowed to take away
all she said she owed to the munificence of her late
“Still the inheritance was by
no means what the heirs had expected. Knowing
that the deceased had had ample means, and how simply
he had always lived, they expected to find in his
bureau considerable savings. There was nothing.
A single bond for less than two thousand dollars, and
a small sum in cash, were all that was found.
“Ah! I have long endeavored
to find out what had become of the various bonds and
the ready money of the old artist; for everybody who
had known him agreed that there must be some.
Do you know what I discovered by dint of indefatigable
investigations? I procured leave to examine the
books of the savings-bank in which he invested his
earnings for the year of his death; and I found there,
that on the 17th of April, that is, five days before
the poor German’s fall, a certain Ernestine Bergot
had deposited a sum of fifteen hundred francs.”
“Ah, you see!” exclaimed
Daniel. “Weary of the simple life with the
old man, she murdered him in order to get hold of
But the old gentleman continued, as
if he had heard nothing, —
“What Sarah did during the three
first months of her freedom, I cannot tell. If
she went and rented furnished lodgings, she did it
under a false name. A clerk in the mayor’s
office, who is a great lover of curiosities, and for
whom I have procured many a good bargain, had all
the lists of lodging-houses for the four months from
April to July carefully examined; but no Ernestine
Bergot could be found.
“I am quite sure, however, that
she thought of the stage. One of the former secretaries
of the Lyric Theatre told me he recollected distinctly
a certain Ernestine, beautiful beyond description,
who, came several times, and requested a trial.
She was, however, refused, simply because her pretensions
were almost ridiculous. And this was quite natural;
for her head was still full of all the ambitious dreams
of the old artist.
“The first positive trace I
find of Sarah in that year appears towards the end
of summer. She was then living in a fashionable
street with a young painter full of talent, and very
rich, called Planix. Did she really love him?
The friends of the unfortunate young man were sure
she did not. But he — he worshipped
her; he loved her passionately, madly, and was so
absurdly jealous, that he became desperate if she stayed
out an hour longer than he expected. Hence she
often complained of his love, which restrained her
cherished liberty; and still she bore it patiently
till fate threw in her way Maxime de Brevan.”
At the name of the wretch who had
been so bent upon ruining them both, and who had been
so nearly successful, Henrietta and Daniel trembled,
and looked at each other. But Papa Ravinet did
not give them, time to ask any questions, and continued,
as calmly as if he had been reading a report, —
“It was several years before
this, that Justin Chevassat, released from the galleys,
had made a nobleman of himself, and claimed before
all the world to be Maxime de Brevan. We need
not be surprised, in this age of ours, where impudence
takes the place of everything else, that he should
have promptly succeeded in making his way into high
life, and in being admitted to many houses which were
considered more or less exclusive. In a society
which seems to have adopted for its motto the words
‘Toleration and Discretion,’ and where,
consequently, anybody is admitted without question,
Justin Chevassat very naturally had a great success.
He had carefully prepared his way, like those adventurers
who never appear abroad without having their passports
in much better order than most honest travellers.
He had learned prudence by experience; for his antecedents
were stormy enough, though less so than Sarah’s.
“Justin’s parents, Mr.
and Mrs. Chevassat, now concierges of N Water
Street, were, some thirty-eight or forty years ago,
living in the upper part of the suburb of Saint Honore.
They had a very modest little shop, partly restaurant,
partly bar: their customers were generally the
servants of the neighborhood. They were people
of easy principles and loose morals, — as
there are so many in our day, — honest enough
as long as there is nothing to be gained by being
otherwise. As their trade prospered, they were
not dishonest; and, when any of their customers forgot
their portemonnaies at the shop, they always returned
them. The husband was twenty-four, and the wife
nineteen years old, when, to their great joy, a son
was born. There was rejoicing in the shop; and
the child was christened Justin, in honor of his godfather,
who was no less a personage than the valet of the
Marquis de Brevan.
“But to have a son is a small
matter. To bring him up till he is seven or eight
years old, is nothing. The difficulty is to give
him an education which shall secure him a position
in the world. This thought now began to occupy
the minds of his parents incessantly. These stupid
people, who had a business which supported them handsomely,
and enabled them, in the course of time, to amass
a small fortune, did not see that the best thing they
could have done would have been to enlarge it, and
to leave it to their son. But no. They vowed
they would sacrifice all their savings, and deprive
themselves even of the necessaries of life, in order
that their Justin might become a ‘gentleman.’
“And what a gentleman!
The mother dreamed of him as a rich broker, or, at
the very least, a notary’s first clerk.
The father preferred seeing him a government official,
holding one of those much-coveted places, which give
the owner, after twenty-five years’ service,
a title, and an income of some six or seven hundred
“The result of all these speculations
was, that, at the age of nine, Master Justin was sent
to a high school. He conducted himself there just
badly enough to be perpetually on the brink of being
sent away, without ever being really expelled.
This made but little impression upon the two Chevassats.
They had become so accustomed to look upon their son
as a superior being, that it never entered their mind
to think he was not the first, the best, and the most
remarkable pupil of the establishment. If Justin’s
reports were bad, — and they were always bad, — they
accused the teachers of partiality. If he gained
no prize at the end of the year, — and he
never got any, — they did not know what to
do for him to console him for having been victimized
by such cruel injustice.
“The consequences of such a system need hardly
“When Justin was fourteen years
old, he despised his parents thoroughly, treated them
like servants, and was so much ashamed of them, that
he would not allow his mother to come and see him
in the parlor of the college to which he had been
admitted of late. When he was at home during
vacations, he would have cut his right arm off rather
than help his father, or pour out a glass of wine
for a customer. He even stayed away from the
house on the plea that he could not endure the odors
from the kitchen.
“Thus he reached his seventeenth
year. His course was not completed; but, as he
was tired of college-life, he declared he would not
return there, and he never did return. When his
father asked him timidly what he proposed doing, he
shrugged his shoulders as his sole reply. What
did he do? Nothing. He idled about Paris.
“To dress in the height of fashion;
to walk up and down before the most renowned restaurants,
with a toothpick in his mouth; to hire a carriage,
and drive it himself, having a hired groom in livery
by his side, — this was the delight of those
days. At night he gambled; and, when he lost,
there was the till in his father’s shop.
“His parents had rented for
him, and comfortably furnished, a nice set of rooms
in their house, and tried by all manner of servility
to keep him at home, neglecting even their own business
in order to be always ready for his orders. But
this did not prevent him from being constantly away.
He said he could not possibly receive his friends in
a house where his name was to be seen on the signboard
of such a low establishment.
“It was his despair to be the
son of a restaurant-keeper, and to be called Chevassat.
“But greater grief was to come
to him after two years’ idle and expensive life
such as has been described.
“One fine morning when he needed
a couple of hundred dollars, his parents told him,
with tears in their eyes, that they had not twenty
dollars in the house; that they were at the end of
their resources; that the day before a note of theirs
had been protested; and that they were at that moment
on the brink of bankruptcy. They did not reproach
Justin with having spent all their savings; oh, no!
On the contrary, they humbly asked his pardon, if
they were no longer able to provide for his wants.
And, with fear and trembling, they at last ventured
to suggest, that perhaps it would be well if he should
seek some kind of work.
“He told them coolly that he
would think it over, but that he must have his two
hundred dollars. And he got them. His father
and mother had still a watch and some jewelry; they
pawned everything and brought him the proceeds.
“Still he saw that the till
he had considered inexhaustible was really empty,
and that henceforth his pockets also would be empty,
unless he could devise some means to fill them.
He went, therefore, in search of some employment;
and his godfather, the valet, found one for him at
the house of a banker, who was in want of a reliable
young man to be trained for his business, and hereafter
to be intrusted with the management of his funds.”
Papa Ravinet’s voice changed
so perceptibly as he uttered these last words, that
Daniel and Henrietta, with one impulse, asked him, —
“Is anything the matter, sir?”
He did not make any reply; but his sister, Mrs. Bertolle,
“No, there is nothing the matter
with my brother;” and she looked at him with
a nod of encouragement.
“I am all right,” he said,
like an echo. Then, making a great effort, he
“Justin Chevassat was at twenty
precisely what you know him to be as Maxime de Brevan, — a
profound dissembler, a fierce egotist devoured by
vanity, in fine, a man of ardent passions, and capable
of anything to satisfy his desires.
“The hope of getting rich at
once by some great stroke was already so deeply rooted
in his mind, that it gave him the strength to change
his habits and manner of life from one day to another,
and to keep up the deceit with a perseverance unheard
of at his age. This lazy, profligate gambler
rose with the day, worked ten hours a day, and became
the model of all clerks. He had resolved to win
the favor of his patron, and to be trusted. He
succeeded in doing it by the most consummate hypocrisy.
So that, only two years after he had first been admitted
into the house, he had already been promoted to a
place which conferred upon him the keeping of all
the valuables of the firm.
“This occurred before those
accidents which have, since that time, procured for
the keepers of other people’s money such a sad
reputation. Nowadays it seems almost an ordinary
event to hear of some cashier’s running away
with the funds intrusted to his keeping; and no one
is astonished. To create a sensation by such
an occurrence, the sum must be almost fabulous, say,
two or three millions. And, even in that case,
the loser is by no means the man in whom the world
is most interested.
“At the time of which I am now
speaking, défalcations were quite rare as yet.
Financial companies and brokers did not contemplate
being robbed by their own clerks as one of the ordinary
risks. When they knew the keys of their safe
to be in the hands of an honest man, whose family and
mode of life were well known, they slept soundly.
Justin Chevassat’s patron was thus sleeping
soundly for ten months, when one Sunday he was specially
in need of certain bonds which Justin used to keep
in one of the drawers of his desk. He did not
like to have his clerk hunted up on such a day; so
he simply sent for a locksmith to open the drawer.
“The first thing he saw was
a draft signed by himself; and yet he had never put
his name to such a paper. Still, most assuredly,
it was his signature; he would have sworn to it in
court. And yet he was as sure as he was standing
there, that it was not he who had put his name, and
the somewhat complicated ornament belonging to it,
where he saw it written.
“His first amazement was succeeded
by grievous apprehension. He had the other drawers
opened likewise, searched them, and soon discovered
all the details of a formidable and most ingenious
plan, by which he was to be robbed at a single blow
of more than a million.
“If he had slept soundly one
month longer, he would have been ruined. His
favorite clerk was a wretch, a forger of matchless
skill. He instantly sent for a detective; and
the next morning, when Justin Chevassat came as usual,
he was arrested. It was then thought that his
crime was confined to this abortive attempt. Not
so. A minute and careful examination of all the
papers soon revealed other misdeeds. Evidence
was found, that, on the very next day after the day
on which he had been appointed confidential clerk,
he had stolen a thousand dollars, concealing his theft
by a false entry. Since that time not a week had
passed without his laying hands on a more or less considerable
sum; and all these thefts had been most ingeniously
covered by such skilful imitations of other people’s
signatures, that he had once been sick for a fortnight,
and yet his substitute had never become aware of anything.
In fine, it appeared that the sum total of his défalcations
amounted to some eighty thousand dollars.
“What had he done with all that
money? The magistrate before whom he was brought
at once asked that question. He replied that he
had not a cent left. His explanations and his
excuses were the old story pleaded by all who put
their hands into their neighbors’ pockets.
“To hear him, no one could be
more innocent than he was, however guilty he might
appear at first sight. He was like one of those
men who allow their little finger to be caught in
a machine. His only fault was the desire to speculate
on ’Change. Did not his employer speculate
himself? Having lost some money, and fearing
to lose his place if he did not pay, the fatal thought
had occurred to him to borrow from the strong box.
From that moment he had only cherished one thought, — to
restore what he had taken. If he speculated anew,
it was from extreme honesty, and because he constantly
hoped to gain enough to make restitution. But
most extraordinary ill luck had pursued him; so that,
seeing the deficit growing larger and larger, and
overcome with remorse and terror, he had almost gone
mad, and ceased to put any restraint upon himself.
“He laid great stress upon the
fact that his whole eighty thousand dollars had been
lost on ’Change, and that he would have looked
upon himself as the meanest of rascals, if he had
spent any part of it on his personal enjoyments.
Unfortunately the forged checks and drafts in his
drawer destroyed the force of this plea. Convinced
that the sums he had thus obtained were not lost,
the investigating magistrate suspected the parents
of the accused. He questioned them, and obtained
sufficient evidence against them to justify their
arrest. But they could not be convicted at the
trial, and had to be released. Justin Chevassat,
however, appeared at the assizes.
“Matters looked very serious
for him; but he had the good luck of falling in with
a young lawyer who initiated in his case a system of
pleading which has since become very popular.
He made no effort to exculpate his client: he
boldly accused the banker. ’Was it the act
of a sensible man,’ he said, ’to trust
so young a man with such important sums? Was
it not tempting him beyond his powers of resistance,
and almost provoking him to become dishonest?
What, this banker never examined his books for so
many months? What kind of a business was it,
where a cashier could so easily take eighty thousand
dollars, and remain undiscovered? And then, what
immorality in a banker to speculate on ’Change,
and thus to set so bad an example to his young, inexperienced
“Justin Chevassat escaped with
twenty years’ penal servitude.
“What he was at the galleys,
you may imagine from what you know of him. He
played the ‘repentant criminal,’ overflowing
with professions of sorrow for the past, and amendment
in future, and cringing and crouching at the feet
of the officials of the prison. He carried on
this comedy so successfully, that, after three years
and a half, he was pardoned. But he had not lost
his time in prison. The contact with the vilest
of criminals had sharpened his wits, and completed
his education in rascality. He came out of prison
an accomplished felon. And even while he still
dragged the chain and ball along with him, he was already
planning and maturing new plots for the future, which
he afterwards executed with success. He conceived
the idea of bursting forth in a new shape, under which
no one would ever suspect his former identity.
“How he went about to do this,
I am enabled to tell you accurately. Through
his godfather, the valet, who had died before his trial,
Justin Chevassat knew the history of the Brevan family
in its minutest details. It was a very sad story.
The old marquis had died insolvent, after having lost
his five sons, who had gone abroad to make their fortunes.
The noble family had thus become extinct; but Justin
proposed to continue its lineage. He knew that
the Brevans were originally from Maine; that they
had formerly owned immense estates in the neighborhood
of Mans; and that they had not been there for more
than twenty years. Would they still be remembered
in a land where they had once been all powerful?
Most assuredly they would. Would people take the
trouble to inquire minutely what had become of the
marquis and his five sons? As assuredly not.
“Chevassat’s plot was based upon these
“As soon as he was free once
more, he devoted all his energies to the destruction
of every trace of his identity; and, when he thought
he had accomplished this, he went to Mans, assuming
the name of one of the sons of the marquis, who had
been nearly of his own age. No one doubted for
a moment that he was Maxime de Brevan. Who could
have doubted it, when he purchased the old family
mansion for a considerable sum, although it only consisted
of a ruinous castle, and a small farm adjoining the
house? He paid cash, moreover, proving thus the
correctness of the magistrate’s suspicions as
to his story about losses on ’Change, and as
to the complicity of his parents. He even took
the precaution of living on his little estate for
four years, practising the life of a country-gentleman,
received with open arms by the nobility of the neighborhood,
forming friendships, gaining supporters, and becoming
more and more identified with Maxime de Brevan.
“What was his aim at that time?
I always thought he was looking out for a wealthy
wife, so as to consolidate his position; and he came
near realizing his hopes.
“He was on the point of marrying
a young lady from Mans, who would have brought him
half a million in money, and the banns had already
been published, when, all of a sudden, the marriage
was broken off, no one knew why.
“This only is certain:
he was so bitterly disappointed by his failure, that
he sold his property, and left the country. For
the next three years, he lived in Paris, more completely
Maxime de Brevan than ever; and then he met Sarah
Papa Ravinet had been speaking now
for nearly three hours, and he was beginning to feel
exhausted. He showed his weariness in his face;
and his voice very nearly gave out. Still it was
in vain for Daniel, Henrietta, and Mrs. Bertolle herself
to unite in begging him to go and lie down for a few
“No,” he replied, “I
will go to the end. You do not know how important
it is that M. Champcey should be in a position to act
to-morrow, or rather to-day.
“It was at a fancy ball,”
he went on, “given by M. Planix, that Sarah
Brandon, at that time still known as Ernestine Bergot,
and Justin Chevassat, now Maxime de Brevan, met for
the first time. He was completely overpowered
by her marvellous beauty, and she — she was
strangely impressed by the peculiar expression in Maxime’s
face. Perhaps they divined each other’s
character, perhaps they had an intuitive perception
of who they were. At all events, they soon became
acquainted, drawn as they were to each other by an
instinctive and irresistible attraction. They
danced several times together; they sat side by side;
they talked long and intimately; and, when the ball
came to an end, they were friends already.
“They met frequently; and, if
it were not profanation, I would say they loved each
other. They seemed to be made on purpose to understand,
and, so to say, compliment, each other, equally corrupt
as they were, devoured by the same sinful desires,
and alike free from all the old-fashioned prejudices,
as they called it, about justice, morals, and honor.
They could hardly help coming soon to some understanding
by which they agreed to associate their ambitions
and their plans for the future.
“For in those early days, when
their feelings were still undented, they had no secrets
for each other. Love had torn the mask from their
faces; and each one vied with the other in letting
the foulness of their past days be seen clearly.
This, no doubt, secured, first the constancy of their
passion, and the continuation of their intimacy long
after they had ceased loving each other.
“For now they hate each other;
but they are also afraid of each other. Ten times
they have tried to break off their intimacy; and as
often they have been compelled to renew it, bound
as they feel they are to each other by a chain far
more oppressive and solid than the one Justin Chevassat
wore at the galleys.
“At first, however, they had
to conceal their intimacy; for they had no money.
By joining what she had stolen from her benefactor,
to what she had obtained from M. Planix, Sarah could
not make up more than some forty thousand francs.
‘That was not enough,’ she said, ’to
“set up” the most modest establishment.’
As to M. de Brevan, however economical he had been,
he had come to an end of the sums stolen from his employer.
For eight or ten months now, he had been reduced to
all kinds of dangerous expedients in order to live.
He rode in his carriage; but he had been more than
once very happy when he could extort a twenty-franc-piece
from his parents. He visited them, of course only
in secret; for they had in the meantime exchanged their
shop, for the modest little box assigned to the concierge
of N Water Street.
“Far, therefore, from being
able to be useful to Sarah, he was perfectly delighted
when she brought him one fine day ten thousand francs
to alleviate his distress.
“‘Ah!’ she said
to him on this occasion, and often thereafter, ’why
can’t we have that fool’s money?’
meaning her friend and lover, M. Planix.
“The next step was naturally
an attempt at obtaining this much coveted treasure.
To begin, Sarah induced him to make a last will, in
which he made her his residuary legatee. One
would be at a loss to guess how she could obtain this
from a young, healthy man, full of life and happiness,
if it were not that love will explain everything.
When this success had been achieved, M. de Brevan
undertook to introduce in the society frequented by
Sarah and M. Planix one of his friends, who was considered,
and who really was, the best swordsman in Paris, a
good fellow otherwise, honor itself, and rather patient
in temper than given to quarrelling.
“Without compromising herself,
and with that abominable skill which is peculiarly
her own, Sarah, coquetted just enough with this young
man, M. de Font-Avar, to tempt him to pay her some
attentions. But that very night she complained
to M. Planix of his persecution, and knew so skilfully
how to excite his jealousy, and to wound his vanity,
that, three days later, he allowed himself to be carried
away by passion, and struck M. de Font-Avar in the
presence of a dozen friends.
“A duel became inevitable; and
M. de Brevan, pretending to try and reconcile the
two young men, secretly fanned the flame. The
duel came off one Saturday morning, in the woods near
Vincennes. They fought with small-swords; and,
after little more than a minute, M. Planix received
a stab in his breast, fell, and was dead in an instant.
He was not yet twenty-seven years old.
“Sarah’s joy was almost
delirious. Accomplished actress as she was, she
could hardly manage to shed a few tears for the benefit
of the public, when the body, still warm, was brought
to the house. And still she had once loved the
man, whom she had now assassinated.
“Even as she knelt by the bedside,
hiding her face in her handkerchief, she was thinking
only of the testament, lying safe and snug, as she
knew, in one of the drawers of that bureau, enclosed
in a large official envelope with a huge red wax seal.
“It was opened and read the
same day by the justice of the peace, who had been
sent for to put the seals on the deceased man’s
property. And then Sarah began to cry in good
earnest. Her tears were tears of rage. For
seized by a kind of remorse, and at a moment when Sarah’s
absence had rendered him very angry, M. Planix had
added two lines as a codicil.
“He still said, ‘I appoint
Miss Ernestine Bergot my residuary legatee’;
but he had written underneath, ’on condition
that she shall pay to each of my sisters the sum of
a hundred and fifty thousand francs.’ This
was more than three-fourths of his whole fortune.
“When she arrived, therefore,
that night, at Brevan’s rooms, her first words
“’We have been robbed!
Planix was a wretch! We won’t have a hundred
thousand francs left.’
“Maxime, however, recovered
his equanimity pretty soon; for the sum appeared to
him quite large enough to pay for a crime in which
they had run no risk, and he was quite as willing
as before to marry Sarah; but she refused to listen
to him, saying that a hundred thousand francs were
barely enough for a year’s income, and that they
must wait. It was then that M. de Brevan became
a gambler. The wretch actually believed in the
cards; he believed that fortunes could be made by playing.
He had systems of his own which could not fail, and
which he was bent upon trying.
“He proposed to Sarah to risk
the hundred thousand francs, promising to make a million
out of them; and she yielded, tempted by the very
boldness of his proposition.
“They resolved they would not
stop playing till they had won a million, or lost
everything. And so they went to Homburg.
There they led a mad life for a whole month, spending
ten hours every day at the gaming-table, feverish,
breathless, fighting the bank with marvellous skill
and almost incredible coolness. I have met an
old croupier who recollects them even now. Twice
they were on the point of staking their last thousand-franc-note;
and one lucky day they won as much as four hundred
thousand francs. That day, Maxime proposed they
should leave Homburg. Sarah, who kept the money,
refused, repeating her favorite motto, ‘All,
“It was nothing. Victory
remained, as usual, with, the ‘big battalions;’
and one evening the two partners returned to their
lodgings, ruined, penniless, having not even a watch
left, and owing the hotel-keeper a considerable sum
“That evening Maxime spoke of
blowing his brains out. Never, on the contrary,
had Sarah been merrier.
“The next morning she dressed
very early and went out, saying she had a plan in
her head, and would soon be back.
“But she did not come back;
and all that day M. de Brevan, devoured by anxiety,
waited in vain for her return. At five o’clock,
however, a messenger brought him a letter. He
opened it; there were three thousand francs in it,
and these words: —
“’When you receive these
lines, I shall be far from Homburg. Do not wait
for me. Enclosed is enough to enable you to return
to Paris. You shall see me again when our fortune
“Maxime was at first overcome
with amazement. To be abandoned in this way!
To be thus unceremoniously dismissed, and by Sarah!
He could not recover from it. But anger soon
roused him to fury; and at the same time he was filled
with an intense desire to avenge himself. But,
in order to avenge himself, he must first know how
to find his faithless ally. What had become of
her? Where had she gone?
“By dint of meditating, and
recollecting all he could gather in his memory, M.
de Brevan remembered having seen Sarah two or three
times, since fortune had forsaken them, in close conversation
with a tall, thin gentleman of about forty years,
who was in the habit of wandering through the rooms,
and attracted much attention by his huge whiskers,
his stiff carriage, and his wearied expression.
No doubt Sarah, being ruined, had fallen an easy prey
to this gentleman, who looked as if he might be a
“Where did he stay? At
the Hotel of the Three Kings. Maxime went there
at once. Unfortunately, he was too late.
The gentleman had left that morning for Frankfort,
by the 10.45 train, with an elderly lady, and a remarkably
“Sure of his game now, M. de
Brevan left immediately for Frankfort, convinced that
Sarah’s brilliant beauty would guide him like
a star. But he hunted in vain all over town,
inquiring at the hotels, and bothering everybody with
his questions. He found no trace of the fugitives.
“When he returned to his lodgings that night,
“Never in his life had he fancied
himself half so unhappy. In losing Sarah, he
thought he had lost everything. During the five
months of their intimacy, she had gained such complete
ascendency over him, that now, when he was left to
his own strength, he felt like a lost child, having
no thought and no resolution.
“What was to become of him,
now that this woman was no longer there to sustain
and inspire him, — that woman with the marvellous
talent for intrigue, the matchless courage that shrank
from nothing, and the energy which sufficed for everything?
Sarah had, besides, filled his imagination with such
magnificent hopes, and opened before his covetous
eyes such a vast horizon of enjoyment, that he had
come to look upon things as pitiful, which would formerly
have satisfied his highest wishes. Should he,
after having dreamed of those glorious achievements
by which millions are won in a day, sink back again
into the meanness of petty thefts? His heart
turned from that prospect with unspeakable loathing;
and yet what was he to do?
“He knew, that, if he returned
to Paris, matters would not be very pleasant for him
there. His creditors, made restless by his prolonged
absence, would fall upon him instantly. How could
he induce them to wait? Where could he get the
money to pay them, at least, a percentage of his dues?
How would he support himself? Were all of his
dark works to be useless? Was he to be shipwrecked
before ever seeing even the distant port?
“Nevertheless, he returned to
Paris, faced the storm, passed through the crisis,
and resumed his miserable life, associating with another
adventurer like himself, and succeeding thus, by immensely
hard work, in maintaining his existence and his assumed
name. Ah! if our honest friends could but know
what misery, what humiliations and anxieties are hid
beneath that false splendor of high life, which they
often envy, they would think themselves fully avenged.
“It is certain that Maxime de
Brevan found times hard in those days, and actually
more than once regretted that he had not remained a
stupid, honest man. He thought that was so simple,
and so clever.
“Thus it came about, that, two
years later, he had not yet been reconciled to Sarah’s
absence. Often and often, in his hours of distress,
he recalled her parting promise, ’You shall see
me again when our fortune is made.’ He
knew she was quite capable of amassing millions; but,
when she had them, would she still think of him?
Where was she? What could have become of her?
“Sarah was at that time in America.
“That tall, light-haired gentleman,
that eminently respectable lady, who had carried her
off, were M. Thomas Elgin and Mrs. Brian. Who
were these people? I have had no time to trace
out their antecedents. All I know is, that they
belonged to that class of adventurers whom one sees
at all the watering-places and gambling-resorts, — at
Nice, at Monaco, and during the winter in Italy; swindlers
of the highest class, who unite consummate skill with
excessive caution; who are occasionally suspected,
but never found out; and who are frequently indebted
to their art of making themselves agreeable, and even
useful to others, to the carelessness of travellers,
and their thorough knowledge of life, for the acquaintance,
or even friendship, of people whom one is astonished
to find in such company.
“Sir Thorn and Mrs. Brian were
both English, and, so far, they had managed to live
very pleasantly. But old age was approaching;
and they began to be fearful about the future, when
they fell in with Sarah. They divined her, as
she had divined Maxime; and they saw in her an admirable
means to secure a fortune. They did not hesitate,
therefore, to offer her a compact by which she was
to be a full partner, although they themselves had
to risk all they possessed, — a capital of
some twenty thousand dollars. You have seen what
these respectable people proposed to make of her, — a
snare and a pitfall. They knew very well that
her matchless beauty would catch fools innumerable,
and bring in a rich harvest of thousand-franc-notes.
“The idea was by no means new,
M. Champcey, as you seem to think; nor is the case
a rare one.
“In almost all the capitals
of Europe, you will find even now some of these almost
sublimely beautiful creatures, who are exhibited in
the great world by cosmopolitan adventurers. They
have six or seven years, — eighteen to twenty-five, — during
which, their beauty and their tact may secure an immense
fortune to themselves and their comrades; and according
to chance, to their skill, or the whims or the folly
of men, they end by marrying some great personage
in high life, or by keeping a wretched gambling hell
in the suburbs. They may fall upon the velvet
cushions of a princely carriage, or sink, step by step,
to the lowest depths of society.
“M. Elgin and Mrs. Brian
had agreed that they would exhibit Sarah in Paris;
that she was to marry a duke with any number of millions;
and that they should be paid for their trouble by
receiving an annual allowance of some ten thousand
dollars. But, in order to undertake the adventure
with a good chance of success, it was indispensable
that Sarah should lose her nationality as a Parisian;
that she should rise anew, as an unknown star; and,
above all, that she should be trained and schooled
for the profession she was to practise.
“Hence the trip to America, and her long residence
“Chance had helped the wretches.
They had hardly landed, when they found that they
could easily introduce the girl as the daughter of
Gen. Brandon, just as Justin Chevassat had managed
to become Maxime de Brevan. In this way, Ernestine
Bergot appeared at once in the best society of Philadelphia
as Sarah Brandon. Not less prudent than Maxime,
M. Elgin also purchased, in spite of his limited means,
for a thousand dollars, vast tracts of land in the
western part of the State, where there was no trace
of oil-wells, but where there might very well be a
good many, and had them entered upon the name of his
“Of all these measures, I have
the evidence in hand, and can produce it at any moment.”
For some time already, Daniel and
Henrietta had looked at each other with utter amazement.
They were almost dumfounded by the prodigious sagacity,
the cunning, patience, and labor which the old dealer
must have employed to collect this vast mass of information.
But he continued, after a short pause, —
“Sir Thorn and Mrs. Brian found
out in a few days how well they had been served by
their instincts in taking hold of Sarah. In less
than six months, this wonderful girl, whose education
they had undertaken, spoke English as well as they
did, and had become their master, controlling them
by the very superiority of her wickedness. From
the day on which Mrs. Brian explained to her the part
she was expected to play, she had assumed it so naturally
and so perfectly, that all traces of art disappeared
at once. She had instinctively appreciated the
immense advantage she would derive from personifying
a young American girl, and the irresistible effect
she might easily produce by her freedom of movement
and her bold ingenuousness. Finally, at the end
of eighteen months’ residence in America, M.
Elgin declared that the moment had come when Sarah
might appear on the stage.
“It was, therefore, twenty-eight
months after their parting in Homburg, that M. de
Brevan received, one morning, the following note: —
“’Come to-night, at nine
o’clock, to M. Thomas Elgin’s house in
Circus Street, and be prepared for a surprise.’
“He went there. A tall
man opened the door of the sitting-room; and, at the
sight of a young lady who sat before the fire, he could
not help exclaiming, ‘Ernestine, is that you?’
“But she interrupted him at
once, saying, ’You are mistaken: Ernestine
Bergot is dead, and buried by the side of Justin Chevassat,
my dear M. de Brevan. Come, lay aside that amazed
air, and kiss Miss Sarah Brandon’s hand.’
“It was heaven opening for Maxime.
She had at last come back to him, — this
woman, who had come across his life like a tempest,
and whose memory he had retained in his heart, as
a dagger remains in the wound it has made. She
had come back, more beautiful than ever, irresistible
in her matchless charms; and he fancied it was love
which had brought her back.
“His vanity led him astray.
Sarah Brandon had long since ceased to admire him.
Familiar as she was with the life of adventurers in
high life, she had soon learned to appreciate M. de
Brevan at his just value. She saw him now as
he really was, — timid, overcautious, petty,
incapable of conceiving bold combinations, scarcely
good enough for the smallest of plots, ridiculous,
in fine, as all needy scamps are.
“Nevertheless, Sarah wanted
him, although she despised him. On the point
of entering upon a most dangerous game, she felt the
necessity of having one accomplice, at least, in whom
she could trust blindly. She had, to be sure,
Mrs. Brian and Sir Thorn, as he began to be called
now; but she mistrusted them. They held her,
and she had no hold on them. On the other hand,
Maxime de Brevan was entirely hers, dependent on her
pleasure, as the lump of clay in the hands of the sculptor.
“It is true that Maxime appeared
almost distressed when he heard that that immense
fortune which he coveted with all his might was still
to be made, and that Sarah was no farther advanced
now than she was on the day of their separation.
She might even have said that she was less so; for
the two years and more which had just elapsed had made
a large inroad upon the savings of M. Elgin and Mrs.
Brian. When they had paid for their establishment
in Circus Street, when they had advanced the hire
of a coupe, a landau, and two saddle-horses,
they had hardly four thousand dollars left in all.
“They knew, therefore, that
they must succeed or sink in the coming year.
And, thus driven to bay, they were doubly to be feared.
They were determined to fall furiously upon the first
victim that should pass within reach, when chance
brought to them the unlucky cashier of the Mutual
Discount Society, Malgat.”