It struck two when Daniel jumped out
of a carriage before N in Peletier Street, where
the offices of the Pennsylvania Petroleum Company
were now, and where Count Ville-Handry lived at present.
Never in his life had he felt so embarrassed,
or so dissatisfied with himself. In vain had
Papa Ravinet and Mrs. Bertolle brought up all possible
arguments to convince him, that, with a woman like
Sarah Brandon, all reprisals were fair; he would not
Unfortunately, he could not refuse
to go without risking the peace of his Henrietta,
her confidence, and her whole happiness; so he went
as bravely as he could.
A clerk whom he asked told him that
the president was in his rooms, — in the
third story on the left. He went up. The
maid who came to open the door recognized him.
It was the same Clarissa who had betrayed him.
When he asked for the count she invited him in.
She took him through an anteroom, dark, and fragrant
with odors from the kitchen; and then, opening a door,
she said; —
“Please walk in!”
Before an immense table, covered with
papers, sat Count Ville-Handry. He had grown
sadly old. His lower lip hung down, giving him
a painful expression of weakness of mind; and his
watery eyes looked almost senile. Still his efforts
to look young had not been abandoned. He was
rouged and dyed as carefully as ever. When he
recognized Daniel, he pushed back his papers; and
offering him his hand, as if they had parted the day
before, he said, —
“Ah, here you are back again
among us! Upon my word, I am very glad to see
you! We know what you have been doing out there;
for my wife sent me again and again to the navy department
to see if there were any news of you. And you
have become an officer of the Legion of Honor!
You ought to be pleased.”
“Fortune has favored, me, count.”
“Alas! I am sorry I cannot
say as much for myself,” replied the latter
with a sigh.
“You must be surprised,”
he continued, “to find me living in such a dog’s
kennel, I who formerly — But so it goes.
’The ups and downs of speculations,’ says
Sir Thorn. Look here, my dear Daniel, let me give
you a piece of advice: never speculate in industrial
enterprises! Nowadays it is mere gambling, furious
gambling; and everybody cheats. If you stake
a dollar, you are in for everything. That is my
story, and I thought I would enrich my country by
a new source of revenue. From the first day on
which I emitted shares, speculators have gotten hold
of them, and have crushed me, till my whole fortune
has been spent in useless efforts to keep them up.
And yet Sir Thorn says I have fought as bravely on
this slippery ground as my ancestors did in the lists.”
Every now and then the poor old man
passed his hand over his face as if trying to drive
away painful thoughts; and then he went on in a different
tone of voice, —
“And yet I am far from complaining.
My misfortunes have been the source of the purest
and highest happiness for me. It is to them I
owe the knowledge of the boundless devotion of a beloved
wife; they have taught me how dearly Sarah loves me.
I alone can tell what treasures are hid in that angelic
heart, which they dared to calumniate. Ah!
I think I can hear her now, when I told her one evening
how embarrassed I had become in my finances.
“‘To have concealed that
from me!’ she exclaimed, — ’from
me, your wife: that was wrong!’ And the
very next day she showed her sublime courage.
She sold her diamonds to bring me the proceeds, and
gave up to me her whole fortune. And, since we
are living here, she goes out on foot, like a simple
citizen’s wife; and more than once I have caught
her preparing our modest meals with her own hands.”
Tears were flowing down the furrowed
cheeks, leaving ghastly lines on the rouged and whitened
“And I,” he resumed in
an accent of deepest despair, — “I could
not reward her for such love and so many sacrifices.
How did I compensate her for being my only consolation,
my joy, my sole happiness in life! I ruined her;
I impoverished her! If I were to die to-morrow,
she would be penniless.”
“Ah, count,” he exclaimed,
“don’t speak of dying! People like
you live a hundred years.”
But the old man lowered his voice, and said, —
“You see, I have not told you
all yet. But you are my friend; and I know I
can open my heart to you. I did not have the — the — cleverness
to overcome all the restrictions which hamper this
kind of business. I was imprudent, in spite of
all Sir Thorn’s warnings. To-morrow there
will be a meeting of the stockholders; and, if they
do not grant me what I shall have to ask of them,
I may be in trouble. And, when a man calls himself
Count Ville-Handry, rather than appear in a police-court — you
know what I mean!”
He was interrupted by one of the clerks,
who brought him a letter. He read it, and said, —
“Tell them I am coming.”
Then, turning again to Daniel, he added, —
“I must leave you; but the countess
is at home, and she would never forgive me if I did
not take you in to present your respects to her.
Come! But be careful and don’t say a word
of my troubles. It would kill her.”
And, before Daniel could recover from
his bewilderment, the count had opened a door, and
pushed him into the room, saying, —
“Sarah, M. Champcey.”
Sarah started up as if she had received
an electric shock. Her husband had left them;
but, even if he had been still in the room, she would
probably not have been any more able to control herself.
“You!” she cried, “Daniel, my Daniel!”
And turning to Mrs. Brian, who was sitting by the
window, she said, —
“Your conduct is perfectly shocking,
Sarah!” began the grim lady. But Sarah,
as harshly as if she had been speaking to a servant,
cut her short, saying, —
“You are in the way, and I beg you will leave
Mrs. Brian did so without saying a
word; and the countess sank into an arm-chair, as
if overcome by a sudden good fortune which she was
not able to endure, looking intensely at Daniel, who
stood in the centre of the room like a statue.
She had on a simple black merino dress;
she wore no jewelry; but her marvellous, fatal beauty
seemed to be all the more dazzling. The years
had passed over her without leaving any more traces
on her than the spring breeze leaves on a half-opened
rose. Her hair still shone with its golden flashes;
her rosy lips smiled sweetly; and her velvet eyes
caressed you still, till hot fire seemed to run in
Once before Daniel had been thus alone
with her; and, as the sensations he then felt rose
in his mind, he began to tremble violently. Then,
thinking of his purpose in coming here, and the treacherous
part he was about to act, he felt a desire to escape.
It was she who broke the charm. She began, saying, —
“You know, I presume, the misfortunes
that have befallen us. Your betrothed, Henrietta?
Has the count told you?”
Daniel had taken a chair. He replied, —
“The count has said nothing about his daughter.”
“Well, then, my saddest presentiments
have been fulfilled. Unhappy girl! I did
what I could to keep her in the right way. But
she fell, step by step, and finally so low, that one
day, when a ray of sense fell upon her mind, she went
and killed herself.”
It was done. Sarah had overcome
the last hesitation which Daniel still felt.
Now he was in the right temper to meet cunning with
cunning. He answered in an admirably-feigned
tone of indifference, —
Then, encouraged by the joyous surprise
he read in Sarah’s face, he went on, —
“This expedition has cost me
dear. Count Ville-Handry has just informed me
that he has lost his whole fortune. I am in the
“What! You are” —
“Ruined. Yes; that is to
say, I have been robbed, — robbed of every
cent I ever had. On the eve of my departure,
I intrusted a hundred thousand dollars, all I ever
possessed, to M. de Brevan, with orders to hold it
at Miss Henrietta’s disposal. He found it
easier to appropriate the whole to himself. So,
you see, I am reduced to my pittance of pay as a lieutenant.
That is not much.”
Sarah looked at Daniel with perfect
amazement. In any other man, this prodigious
confidence in a friend would have appeared to her the
extreme of human folly; in Daniel, she thought it
“Is that the reason why they
have arrested M. de Brevan?” she asked.
Daniel had not heard of his arrest.
“What!” he said. “Maxime” —
“Was arrested last night, and is kept in close
However well prepared Daniel was by
Papa Ravinet’s account, he could never have
hoped to manage the conversation as well as chance
did. He replied, —
“It cannot be for having robbed
me. M. de Brevan must have been arrested for
having attempted to murder me.”
The lioness who has just been robbed
of her whelps does not rise with greater fury in her
eyes than Sarah did when she heard these words.
“What!” she cried aloud. “He
has dared touch you!”
“Not personally; oh, no!
But he hired for the base purpose a wretched felon,
who was caught, and has confessed everything.
I see that the order to apprehend my friend Maxime
must have reached here before me, although it left
Saigon some time later than I did.”
Might not M. de Brevan be as cowardly
as Crochard when he saw that all was lost? This
idea, one would think, would have made Sarah tremble.
But it never occurred to her.
“Ah, the wretch!” she
repeated. “The scoundrel, the rascal!”
And, sitting down by Daniel, she asked
him to tell her all the details of these attempted
assassinations, from which he had escaped only by a
The Countess Sarah, in fact, never
doubted for a moment but that Daniel was as madly
in love with her as Planix, as Malgat, and Kergrist,
and all the others, had been, she had become so accustomed
to find her beauty irresistible and all powerful.
How could it ever have occurred to her, that this
man, the very first whom she loved sincerely, should
also be the first and the only one to escape from
her snares? She was taken in, besides, by the
double mirage of love and of absence.
During the last two years she had
so often evoked the image of Daniel, she had so constantly
lived with him in her thoughts, that she mistook the
illusion of her desires for the reality, and was no
longer able to distinguish between the phantom of
her dreams and the real person.
In the meantime he entertained her
by describing to her his actual position, lamenting
over the treachery by which he had been ruined, and
adding how hard he would find it at thirty to begin
the world anew.
And she, generally, so clearsighted,
was not surprised to find that this man, who had been
disinterestedness itself, should all of a sudden deplore
his losses so bitterly, and value money so highly.
“Why do you not marry a rich
woman?” she suddenly asked him.
He replied with a perfection of affected
candor which he would not have suspected to be in
his power the day before, —
“What? Do you — you, Sarah — give
me such advice?”
He said it so naturally, and with
such an air of aggrieved surprise, that she was delighted
and carried away by it, as if he had made her the
most passionate avowal.
“You love me? Do you really, really love
The sound of a key turning in the door interrupted
And in an undertone, speaking passionately, she said, —
“Go now! You shall know
by to-morrow who she is whom I have chosen for you.
Come and breakfast with us at eleven o’clock.
And, kissing him on his lips till
they burnt with unholy fire, she pushed him out of
The poor man staggered like a drunken
man, as he went down the stairs.
“I am playing an abominable
game,” he said to himself. “She does
love me! What a woman!”
It required nothing less to rouse
him from his stupor than the sight of Papa Ravinet,
who was waiting for him below, hid in a corner of his
“Is it you?” he said.
“Yes, myself. And it seems
it was well I came. But for me, the count would
have kept you; but I came to your rescue by sending
him up a letter. Now, tell me all.”
Daniel reported to him briefly, while
they were driving along, his conversation with the
count and with Sarah. When he had concluded, the
old dealer exclaimed, —
“We have the whole matter in
our hands now. But there is not a minute to lose.
Do you go back to the hotel, and wait for me there.
I must go to the court.”
At the hotel Daniel found Henrietta
dying with anxiety. Still she only asked after
her father. Was it pride, or was it prudence?
She did not mention Sarah’s name. They
had, however, not much time for conversation.
Papa Ravinet came back sooner than they expected, all
busy and excited. He drew Daniel aside to give
him his last directions, and did not leave him till
midnight, when he went away, saying, —
“The ground is burning under
our feet; be punctual to-morrow.”
At the precise hour Daniel presented
himself in Peletier Street, where the count received
him with a delighted air.
“Ah!” he exclaimed, “you
come just in time. Brian is away; Sir Thorn is
out on business; and I shall have to leave you directly
after breakfast. You must keep the countess company.
Come, Sarah, let us have breakfast.”
It was an ill-omened breakfast.
Under the thick layers of rouge, the
count showed his livid pallor; and every moment nervous
tremblings shook him from head to foot. The countess
affected childish happiness; but her sharp and sudden
movements betrayed the storm that was raging in her
heart. Daniel noticed that she incessantly filled
the count’s glass, — a strong wine it
was too, — and that, in order to make him
take more, she drank herself an unusual quantity.
It struck twelve, and Count Ville-Handry got up.
“Well,” he said with the
air and the voice of a man who braces himself to mount
the scaffold, “it must be done; they are waiting
And, after having kissed his wife
with passionate tenderness, he shook hands with Daniel,
and went out hurriedly.
Crimson and breathless, Sarah also
had risen, and was listening attentively. And,
when she was quite sure that the count had gone downstairs,
she said, —
“Now, Daniel, look at me!
Need I tell you who the woman is whom I have chosen
for you? It is — the Countess Ville-Handry.”
He shook and trembled; but he controlled
himself by a supreme effort, and calmly smiling, in
a half tender, half ironical tone, he replied, —
“Why, oh, why! do you speak
to me of unattainable happiness? Are you not
“I may be a widow.”
These words from her lips had a fearful
meaning. But Daniel was prepared for them, and
“To be sure you may. But,
unfortunately, you, also, are ruined. You are
as poor as I am; and we are too clever to think of
joining poverty to poverty.”
She looked at him with a strange,
sinister smile. She was evidently hesitating.
A last ray of reason lighted up the abyss at her feet.
But she was drunk with pride and passion; she had
taken a good deal of wine; and her usually cool head
was in a state of delirium.
“And if I were not ruined?”
she said at last in a hoarse voice; “what would
you say then?”
“I should say that you are the
very woman of whom an ambitious man of thirty might
dream in his most glorious visions.”
She believed him. Yes, she was
capable of believing that what he said was true; and,
throwing aside all restraint, she went on, —
“Well, then, I will tell you.
I am rich, — immensely rich. That entire
fortune which once belonged to Count Ville-Handry,
and which he thinks has been lost in unlucky speculations, — the
whole of it is in my hands. Ah! I have suffered
horribly, to have to play for two long years the loving
wife to this decrepit old man. But I thought of
you, my much beloved, my Daniel; and that thought
sustained me. I knew you would come back; and
I wanted to have royal treasures to give you.
And I have them. These much coveted millions
are mine, and you are here; and now I can say to you,
’Take them, they are yours; I give them to you
as I give myself to you.’”
She had drawn herself up to her full
height as she said this; and she looked splendid and
fearful at the same time, in her matchless beauty,
diffusing energy and immodesty around her, and shaking
her head defiantly, till the waves of golden hair
flowed over her shoulders.
The untamed vagabond of the gutter
reappeared all of a sudden, breathless and trembling,
Daniel felt as if his reason was giving
way. Still he had the strength to say, —
“But unfortunately you are not a widow.”
She drew close up to him, and said in a strident voice, —
“Not a widow? Do you know
what Count Ville-Handry is doing at this moment?
He is beseeching his stockholders to relieve him from
the effects of his mismanagement. If they refuse
him, he will be brought up in court, and tried as
a defaulter. Well, I tell you! they will refuse
him; for among the largest stockholders there are three
who belong to me: I have bribed them to refuse.
What do you think the count will do when he finds
himself dishonored and disgraced? I will tell
you again; for I have seen him write his will, and
load his revolver.”
But the door of the outer room was
opened. She turned as pale as death itself, and,
seizing Daniel’s arm violently, she whispered, —
Heavy steps were heard in the adjoining room, then — nothing
“It is he!” she whispered again.
“Our fate is hanging in the scales” —
A shot was heard, which made the window-panes
rattle, and cut her short. She was seized with
spasms from head to foot, but, making a great effort,
she cried out, —
“Free at last, Daniel; we are free!”
And, rushing to the door, she opened it.
She opened it, but instantly shut
it again violently, and uttered a terrible cry.
On the threshold stood Count Ville-Handry,
his features terribly distorted, a smoking revolver
in his hand.
“No,” he said, “Sarah, no, you are
Livid, and with eyeballs starting
from their sockets, the wretched woman had shrunk
back to a door which opened from the dining-room directly
into her chamber.
She was not despairing yet.
It was evident she was looking for
one of those almost incredible excuses which are sometimes
accepted by credulous old men when violent passions
seize them in their dotage.
She abandoned the thought, however,
when the count stepped forward, and thus allowed Papa
Ravinet to be seen behind him.
“Malgat!” she cried, — “Malgat!”
She held out her hands before her
as if to push aside a spectre that had suddenly risen
from the grave, and was now opening its arms to seize
her, and carry her off.
In the meantime Malgat came forward,
with Henrietta leaning on Mrs. Bertolle’s arm.
“She also,” muttered Sarah, — “she
The terrible truth broke at last upon
her mind: she saw the snare in which she had
been caught, and felt that she was lost. Then
turning to Daniel, she said to him, —
“Poor man! Who has made
you do this? It was not in your loyal heart to
plan such treachery against a woman. Are you mad?
And do you not see, that for the privilege of being
loved by me as I love you, and were it but for a day,
Malgat would again rob his employers, and the count
would again give all his millions, and his honor itself?”
She said this; but at the same time
she had slipped one of her hands behind her back,
and was feeling for the knob of the door. She
got hold of it, and instantly disappeared, before
any one could have prevented her escape.
“Never mind!” said Malgat.
“All the outer doors are guarded.”
But she had not meant to escape.
There she was again, pale and cold like marble.
She looked defiantly all around her, and said in a
mocking tone of voice, —
“I have loved; and now I can
die. That is just. I have loved. Ah!
Planix, Malgat, and Kergrist ought to have taught me
what becomes of people who really love.”
Then looking at Daniel, she went on, —
“And you — you will
know what you have lost when I am no more. I may
die; but the memory of my love will never die:
it will rankle ever in you like a wound which opens
daily afresh, and becomes constantly sorer. You
triumph now, Henrietta; but remember, that between
your lips and Daniel’s there will forever rise
the shadow of Sarah Brandon.”
As she said the last words, she raised
a small phial, which she held in her hand, with an
indescribably swift movement to her lips: she
drank the contents, and, sinking into a chair, said, —
“Now I defy you all!”
“Ah, she escapes after all!”
exclaimed Malgat, “she escapes from justice!”
He rushed forward to assist her; but Daniel stepped
between, and said, —
“Let her die.”
Already horrible convulsions began
to seize her; and the penetrating smell of bitter
almonds, which slowly filled the whole room, told but
too plainly that the poison which she had taken was
one of those from which there is no rescue.
She was carried to her bed; and in
less than ten minutes she was dead: she had never
uttered another word.
Henrietta and Mrs. Bertolle were kneeling
by the side of the bed, and the count was sobbing
in a corner of the room, when a police-sergeant entered.
“The woman Brian is not to be
found,” he said; “but M. Elgin has been
arrested. Where is the Countess Ville-Handry?”
Daniel pointed at the body.
“Dead?” said the officer. “Then
I have nothing more to do here.”
He was going out, when Malgat stopped him.
“I beg your pardon, sir,”
he said. “I wish to state that I am not
Ravinet, dealer in curiosities; but that my true name
is Malgat, formerly cashier of the Mutual Discount
Society, sentenced in contumaciam to ten years’
penal servitude. I am ready to be tried, and
place myself in your hands.”