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Samuel Brohl and Company By Victor Cherbuliez Characters: 26785

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

Two, three, four days passed without Count Larinski reappearing at the Hotel Badrutt, where every evening he was expected. This prolonged absence keenly affected Mlle. Moriaz. She sought an explanation thereof; the search occupied part of her days, and troubled her sleep. She had too much character not to conceal her trouble and anxiety. Those about her had not the least suspicion that she asked herself a hundred times in the twenty-four hours: "Why does he not come? will he never come again? is it a fixed resolution? Does he blame us for drawing out, by our questions, the secret of his life? or does he suspect that I have discovered him to be the writer of the anonymous letter? Will he leave Engadine without bidding us good-bye? Perhaps he has already gone, and we shall never see him again." This thought caused Mlle. Moriaz a heart-burn that she had never before experienced. Her day had come; her heart was no longer free: the bird had allowed itself to be caught.

Mlle. Moiseney said to her one evening: "It seems certain to me that we never shall see Count Larinski again."

She replied in an almost indifferent tone, "No doubt he has found people at Cellarina, or elsewhere, who are more entertaining than we."

"You mean to say," said Mlle. Moiseney, "that M. Moriaz and the bezique has frightened him away. I would not for worlds speak ill of your father; he has all the good qualities imaginable, except a certain delicacy of sentiment, which is not to be learned in dealing with acids. Think of condemning a Count Larinski to play bezique! There are some things that your father does not and never will understand."

M. Moriaz had entered meanwhile. "Please oblige me by explaining what it is that I do not understand," said he to Mlle. Moiseney.

She replied with some embarrassment, "You do not understand, monsieur, that certain visits were a charming diversion to us, and that now we miss them."

"And do you think that I do not miss them? It has been four days since I have had a game of cards. But how can it be helped? Poles are fickle-more fools they who trust them."

"It may be simply that M. Larinski has been ill," interrupted Antoinette, with perfect tranquility. "I think, father, that it would be right for us to make inquiries."

The following day M. Moriaz went to Cellarina. He brought back word that M. Larinski had gone on a walking-excursion through the mountains; that he had started out with the intention of climbing to the summit of Piz-Morteratsch, and of attempting the still more difficult ascent of Piz-Roseg. Mlle. Moriaz found it hard to decide whether this news was good or bad news. All depended on what point of view was taken, and she changed hers every hour.

Since his mishap, M. Moriaz had become less rash than formerly. Experience had taught him that there are treacherous rocks that can be climbed without much difficulty, but from which it is impossible to descend-rocks exposing one to the danger of ending one's days in their midst, if there is no Pole near at hand. Certain truths stamp themselves indelibly on the mind; so M. Moriaz never ventured again on the mountains without being attended by a guide, who received orders from Antoinette not to leave him, and not to let him expose himself. One day he came in later than usual, and his daughter reproached him, with some vivacity, for the continual anxiety he caused her. "The glaciers and precipices will end by giving me the nightmare," she said to him.

"Pray on whose account, my dear?" he playfully rejoined. "I assure you the ascent that I have just made was neither more difficult nor more dangerous than that of Montmartre, nor of the Sannois Hill, and as to glaciers, I have firmly resolved to keep shy of them. I have passed the age of prowess. My guide has been making me tremble by relating the dangers to which he was exposed in 1864 on Morteratsch, where he had accompanied Professor Tyndall and another English tourist. They were all swept away by an avalanche. Attached to the same rope, they went down with the snow. A fall of three hundred metres! They would have been lost, if, through the presence of mind of one of the guides, they had not succeeded in stopping themselves two feet from a frightful precipice, which was about to swallow them up. I am a father, and I do not despise life. Let him ascend Morteratsch who likes! I wish our friend Larinski had made the descent safe and sound. If he has met an avalanche on the way, he will invent no more guns."

Antoinette was no longer mistress of her nerves: during the entire evening she was so preoccupied that M. Moriaz could not fail to notice it; but he had no suspicion of the cause. He was profoundly versed in qualitative and quantitative analysis, but less skilled in the analysis of his daughter's heart. "How pale you are!" he said to her. "Are you not well? You are cold.-Pray, Mlle. Moiseney, make yourself useful and prepare her a mulled egg; you know I do not permit her to be sick."

It was not the mulled egg that restored Mlle. Moriaz's color. The next morning as she was giving a drawing lesson to her protegee, Count Abel was announced. She trembled; the blood rose in her cheeks, and she could not conceal her agitation from the penetrating gaze of the audacious charmer. It might easily be seen that he had just descended from where the eagles themselves seldom ascend. His face was weather-beaten by the ice and snow. He had successfully accomplished the double ascent, of which he was compelled to give an account. In descending from Morteratsch he had been overtaken by a storm, and had come very near never again seeing the valley or Mlle. Moriaz. He owed his life to the presence of mind and courage of his guide, on whom he could not bestow sufficient praise.

While he modestly narrated his exploits, Antoinette had dismissed her pupil. He seemed embarrassed by the tete-a-tete which, nevertheless, he had sought. He rose, saying: "I regret not being able to see M. Moriaz; I came to bid him farewell. I leave this evening."

She summoned courage and replied: "You did well to come; you left a volume of Shakespeare-here it is." Then drawing from her notebook a paper-"I have still another restitution to make to you. I have had the misfortune to discover that it was you who wrote this letter."

With these words she handed him the anonymous note. He changed countenance, and it was now his turn to grow red. "Who can prove to you," he demanded, "that I am the author of this offence, or rather crime?"

"Every bad case may be denied, but do not you deny."

After a moment's silence, he replied: "I will not lie, I am not capable of lying. Yes, I am the guilty one; I confess it with sorrow, because you are offended by my audacity."

"I never liked madrigals, either in prose or verse, signed or anonymous," she returned, rather dryly.

He exclaimed, "You took this letter for a madrigal?" Then, having reread it, he deliberately tore it up, throwing the pieces into the fireplace, and added, smiling: "It certainly lacked common-sense; he who wrote it is a fool, and I have nothing to say in his defence."

Crossing her hands on her breast, and uplifting to him her brown eyes, that were as proud as gentle, she softly murmured, "What more?"

"I came to Chur," he replied, "I entered a church, I there saw a fair unknown, and I forgot myself in gazing at her. That evening I saw her again; she was walking in a garden where there was music, and this music of harps and violins was grateful to me. I said within myself: 'What a thing is the heart of man! The woman who has passed me by without seeing me does not know me, will never know of my existence; I am ignorant of even her name, and I wish to remain so, but I am conscious that she exists, and I am glad, content, almost happy. She will be for me the fair unknown; she cannot prevent me from remembering her. I will think sometimes of the fair unknown of Chur.'"

"Very good," said she, "but this does not explain the letter."

"We are coming to that," he continued. "I was seated in a copse, by the roadside. I had the blues-was profoundly weary; there are times when life weighs on me like a torturing burden. I thought of disappointed expectations, of dissipated illusions, of the bitterness of my youth and of my future. You passed by on the road, and I said to myself, 'There is good in life, because of such encounters, in which we catch renewed glimpses of what was once pleasant for us to see.'"

"And the note?" she asked again, in a dreamy tone.

He went on: "I never was a philosopher; wisdom consists in performing only useful actions, and I was born with a taste for the useless. That evening I saw you climb a hill, in order to gather some flowers; the hill was steep and you could not reach the flowers. I gathered them for you, and, in sending my bouquet, I could not resist the temptation of adding a word. 'Before doing penance,' I said to myself, 'let me commit this one folly; it shall be the last.' We always flatter ourselves that each folly will be our last. The unfortunate note had scarcely gone, when I regretted having sent it; I would have given much to have had it back; I felt all its impropriety; I have dealt justly by it in tearing it to pieces. My only excuse was my firm resolution not to meet you, not to make your acquaintance. Chance ordered otherwise: I was presented to you, you know by whom, and how; I ended by coming here every evening, but I rebelled against my own weakness, I condemned myself to absence for a few days, so as to break a dangerous habit, and, thank God! I have broken my chain."

She lightly tapped the floor with the tip of her foot, and demanded with the air of a queen recalling a subject to his allegiance, "Are you to be believed?"

He had spoken in a half-serious, half-jesting tone, tinged with the playful melancholy that was natural to him. He changed countenance, his face flushed, and he cried out abruptly, "I regained my strength and will on the summit of Morteratsch, and I only return to bid you farewell, and to give you the assurance that I never will see you again."

"It is a strange case," she replied; "but I pardon you, on condition that you do not execute your threat. You are resolved to be wise; the wise avoid extremes. You will remember that you have friends in Paris. My father has many connections; if we can be of service to you in any way-"

He did not permit her to finish, and responded proudly: "I thank you, with all my heart. I have sworn to be under obligations to none but myself."

"Very well," she replied, "you will visit us for our pleasure. In a month we shall be at Cormeilles."

He shook his head in sign of refusal. She looked fixedly at him, and said, "It must be so."

This look, these words, sent to Count Abel's brain such a thrill of joy and of hope that for a moment he thought he had betrayed himself. He nearly fell on his knees before Mlle. Moriaz, but, speedily mastering his emotions, he bowed gravely, casting down his eyes. She herself immediately resumed her usual voice and manner, and questioned him on his journey. He told her, in reply, that he proposed to go by the route of Soleure, and to stay there a day in order to visit in Gurzelengasse the house where Kosciuszko, the greatest of Poles, had died. He had thought of this pilgrimage for a long time. He added: "Still another useless action. Ah! when shall I improve?"

"Don't improve too much," she said, smiling. And then he went away.

M. Moriaz returned to the hotel about noon: his guide being engaged elsewhere, he had taken only a short ramble. After breakfast his daughter proposed to him that he should go down with her to the banks of the lake. They made the descent, which is not difficult. This pretty piece of water, that has been falsely accused of resembling a shaving-dish, is said to be not less than a mile in length. When the father and daughter reached the entrance of the woods that pedestrians pass through in going to Pontresina, they seated themselves on the grass at the foot of a larch. They remained some time silent. Antoinette watched the cows grazing, and stroked the smooth, glossy leaves of a yellow gentian with the end of her parasol. M. Moriaz busied himself with neither the cows nor the yellow gentian-he thought of M. Camille Langis, and felt more than a little guilty in that quarter; he had not written to him, having nothing satisfactory to tell him. He could see the young man waiting in vain, at the Hotel Steinbock. To pass a fortnight at Chur is a torture that the most robust constitution scarcely can endure, and it is an increased torture to watch every evening and every morning for a letter that never comes. M. Moriaz resolved to open hostilities, to begin a new assault on the impregnable place. He was seeking in his mind for a beginning for his first phrase. He had just found it, when suddenly Antoinette said to him, in a low, agitated, but distinct voice: "I have a question for you. What would you think if I should some day marry M. Abel Larinski?"

M. Moriaz started up, and his cane, slipping from his hand, rolled to the bottom of the declivity. He looked at his daughter, and said to her: "I beg of you to repeat what you just said to me. I fear I have misunderstood you."

She answered in a fi

rmer voice, "I am curious to know what you would think if I should marry, some day or other, Count Larinski."

He was startled, thunderstruck. He never had foreseen that such a catastrophe could occur, nor had the least suspicion that anything had passed between his daughter and M. Larinski. Of all the ideas that had suggested themselves to him, this seemed the least admissible, the most improbable and ridiculous. After a long silence, he said to Antoinette, "You want to frighten me-this is not serious."

"Do you dislike M. Larinski?" she asked.

"Certainly not; I by no means dislike him. He has good manners, he speaks well, and I must acknowledge that he had a very graceful way of taking me from off my rock, where I should still be had it not been for him. I am grateful to him for it; but, from that to giving him my daughter, there is a wide margin. If he wanted me to give him a medal he should have it."

"Let us talk seriously," said she. "What objections have you to make?"

"First, M. Larinski is a stranger, and I mistrust strangers. Then, I know him but slightly. I naturally demand additional information. Finally, I own that the state of his affairs-"

"Ah! that is the main point," she interrupted. "He is poor; that is his crime, which he has not disguised. How differently we think! I have some fortune; its only advantage that I can see is that it makes me free to marry the man I esteem, though he be poor."

"And perhaps a little because of that very reason," interrupted M. Moriaz, in his turn. "Come, I entreat you, let me explain the anxieties arising from my miserable good sense. M. Larinski has related his history to us. Frankly, do you not think that it is rather that-what shall I say-of an adventurer? The word shocks you-I take it back-but you must admit that this Pole belongs to the-ambulatory family."

"Or family of heroes," she replied.

"That is it, of wandering heroes. I wish all manner of good to heroes, although I never have clearly discovered their use. At all events, I am not sure that they are the best qualified men in the world to make a wife happy, and I intend that my daughter shall be happy."

"You are not convinced as I am that M. Larinski has a superior mind, and a heart of gold?"

"A heart of gold! I should be glad to believe it. I have no reason to doubt it; but many very skilful persons are deceived by false jewellery. Ah! my dear, if you were better versed in chemistry, you would know how easy it is to manufacture a false trinket. Formerly, after having cleaned the piece to be gilded, a gold amalgam was applied. Now, the brass or copper trinket is steeped in a solution of perchloride of gold and bicarbonate of potash, and in less than a minute the thing is accomplished. It is called gilding by immersion. There is another process in which galvanism-But let us admit that M. Larinski's heart is real gold. In the purest gold there is usually some alloy, to dispense with which resort must be had to the cupel. Do you not know what a cupel is? It is a small capsule or cup of a porous substance, used in the refining process, and possessing the property of absorbing the fused oxides and retaining the refined metal. What is the proportion of lead or of gold ore in M. Larinski's heart? Neither you nor I know."

She was no longer listening; her chin in her hand, her glances wandered over the glade. He touched her arm gently to rouse her, and said: "It is all over? You love him?"

"Why will you make me say so?" she replied, blushing.

"And he has declared himself? He has dared--"

"He has dared nothing. Ah! how little you know him! If you were to offer me to him, his pride would say no, and I would have to go down on my knees to get the better of his refusal."

"We will say, at once, that he is unique, that he is a marvel, that there is not a second Pole like him; the mould has been broken. And yet are you sure that he loves you?"

She replied by a motion of the head.

"I should confess," he resumed, "that the passion that is called the grand passion is for me a sealed letter, the mystery of mysteries. I am completely ignorant of it. Yet that did not prevent my marrying, and making a choice that brought me great happiness. Your method is different, and I must believe that you have yielded to an irresistible force. It seems to me, however, that resistance can always be made. You have will, character-"

She interrupted him, murmuring, "It is either he or no one."

"Oh! if it comes to that," he continued, "you are of age, and mistress of your actions; there is nothing for me but to submit. Still, it will be painful to you, I like to believe, to marry in opposition to my wishes."

"Do you doubt it? I am willing not to marry."

"Bad solution! It is worse than the other. Let us come to terms. The positive has its place only in science. It is absolutely true that borax is a salt composed of boracic acid and soda. Beyond such facts all is uncertain. Does this happy man surmise the sentiments he has inspired?"

"I tell you that you do not know him? Do you take him for a coxcomb? When he came this morning to announce his departure, his serious intention was to bid us an eternal farewell, and never to see me again."

"A most excellent idea that," sighed M. Moriaz. "Unfortunately, you represented to him that it took but two hours to go from Paris to Cormeilles."

"I had trouble to persuade him of it."

"Well, since the matter stands thus, nothing is yet lost. You know, my dear, that my physician advised me to beware of abrupt transitions, and not to change too suddenly from the keen air of Engadine to the heavy atmosphere of the plains. On leaving Saint Moritz, we will descend five hundred metres lower, and remain three weeks at Churwalden; consequently, we will not be in Paris for a month. You will employ this month in somewhat calming your imagination. It is very easy for it to become excited in these mountain-holes, without taking into account the wearisomeness of hotel-life. From the very day after our arrival you took a dislike to the paper in our little salon, and its squares, I confess, are very ugly. In every square, a thrush stretching out its neck to peck a currant. Two hundred thrushes and two hundred currants-it was enough to weary you to death. Suddenly there appears a Pole-"

"The thrushes had nothing to do with it," she replied, smiling. "A month hence I shall say as I do to-day. 'It is either he or no one.' And you shall choose."

"Do not repeat that formula, I beg. Fixed resolves are the prison-house of the will. Promise me to reflect; reflection is an excellent thing. One thing more-grant me in advance what I am going to ask you."

"It is granted."

"You have a godmother-"

"Ah! now we are coming to the point," she added.

"You cannot deny that Mme. De Lorcy is a woman of the world, a woman of good sense, a woman of experience, who is deeply interested in your welfare-"

"And who has decided from time immemorial, that I can only be happy on condition that I marry her nephew, M. Camille Langis."

"Well, I admit that she is partial. That is no reason why we should not send her our Pole. She will inspect him, she will tell us her opinion; it will be a new element in the argument."

"Ah! I know her opinion without asking it. This woman of experience and good sense is incapable of recognising merit in a man who is sufficiently impertinent to make Mlle. Moriaz love him, without having at least fifty thousand livres a year to offer her."

"What does that matter? We will let her speak-we need not question her, an oracle; but she knows false jewellery. If she discover-"

"I would require proofs," she interrupted, quickly.

"And if she furnish them?"

She was silent an instant, then she said: "Let it be so; do as you please."

With these words they ended the conversation; then arose, and retook the road to Saint Moritz. M. Moriaz scarcely had reached there, when he entered a carriage to drive to Cellarina, provided with a portfolio given him by Antoinette. He found M. Larinski busy strapping his trunks, and waiting for the mail-coach that made the journey between Samaden and Chur by the Col du Julier.

M. Moriaz expressed his regret at having missed his visit, and asked if he would consent to charge himself with a commission for his daughter, who desired to send to her godmother, Mme. De Lorcy, a sketch of Saint Moritz.

"Cheerfully," coldly replied Count Abel, and he promised, so soon as he reached Paris, to send the portfolio to Maisons Lafitte.

"Do better than that," rejoined M. Moriaz, "and carry your good-nature so far as to take it yourself to its address. Mme. de Lorcy is an amiable woman, who will be charmed to make your acquaintance, and hear from you of us."

The count bowed with a submissive air. There was so little ardour in this submission that M. Moriaz queried if his daughter had not been dreaming, if M. Larinski was as much in love with her as she fancied. He had not read the anonymous letter; Antoinette had refrained from even mentioning it to him.

He was returning to Saint Moritz, when he met midway a pedestrian, who, lost in thought, neither looked at him nor recognised him. M. Moriaz ordered the coachman to stop, sprang out of the carriage, went up to the traveller whom he seized by both shoulders, exclaiming:

"What, you! you again! I can go nowhere in Grisons without meeting you. I ask as I did at Chur, 'Where do you come from?'"

"Did you think I would stay there forever?" rejoined M. Camille Langis, reproachfully. "You have not kept your word, you have forgotten me; you did not write to me. I am tired of waiting, so here I am."

"And where are you going?"

"To the Hotel Badrutt, to plead my own cause, because my advocate has failed me."

"Ah! you have chosen an excellent time," cried M. Moriaz; "you have a real genius for arriving in season. Go, hurry, plead, moan, weep, entreat; you will be well received; you can come and tell me all about it."

"What do you mean?" asked Camille; "is it all over? Have you spoken, and did she silence you?"

"Not at all; she listened to me, without enthusiasm, it is true, but with attention and deference, when suddenly-Ah! my poor friend, how can it be helped? This sad world is full of accidents and Poles."

M. Langis looked at him in amazement, as if to ask for an explanation. M. Moriaz continued: "Do yourself justice. You are the most honest fellow upon earth, I grant; you are a charming man, and an engineer of the highest merit. But, unfortunately, there is no mystery of blood and tears in your existence; you are perfectly unpretending, frank, unaffected, and as transparent as crystal; in short, you are not a stranger. Had you a delicate, blond, and romantic mother, and do you wear her portrait on your heart? have you unfathomable green eyes? have you adventures to relate? have you visited California? have you swept the streets of San Francisco? have you exchanged bullets with the Cossacks? have you been killed in three combats and in ten skirmishes? I fear you have not even thought of dying once. Have you tried all professions, without succeeding in one? have you invented a gun which burst? and, above all, are you as poor as a church-mouse? What! is it possible that you possess none of these fine advantages, and yet are audacious enough to ask me for my daughter's hand?"

M. Moriaz ended this harangue as the Samaden mail-coach passed. Count Abel, seated on the outside, bowed and waved his hand to them.

"Look well at that man," said M. Moriaz to Camille, "for he is the enemy."

And then, instead of giving him the remaining information that the youth desired, he said:

"Go away and forget; it is the best thing that you can do."

"You do not know me yet," replied Camille. "I am obstinate, I fire to the last cartridge. I will follow your steps. Oh! don't be afraid, I will lie-deceive Antoinette; let her think that I have relinquished my claims. I shall pay her only a friendly visit; but my eyes hunger to see her, and I will see her."

The morning of the following day the enemy arrived at Chur, whence he proceeded to Berne. Deponent saith not why he failed to turn aside at Soleure, as he had expressed his intention of doing in order to pay tribute there to the memory of the great Kosciuszko. The facts of the case are, that from Berne he went direct to Lausanne, and that immediately on reaching there he hastened to the Saxon Casino. When he seated himself at the gaming-table, he experienced a violent palpitation of the heart. His ears tingled, his brain was on fire, and the cold sweat started out on his forehead. He cast fierce glances right and left; he seemed to see in his partner's eyes his past, his future, and Mlle. Moriaz life-size. Fortune made amends for the harshness she had shown him at Milan. After a night of anguish and many vicissitudes, at daybreak Count Abel had twenty thousand francs in his pocket. It was sufficient to pay his debts, which he was anxious to do, and to enable him to await without too much impatience the moment for executing his projects.

He left the casino, his face flushed and radiant; he was so joyful that he became tender and affectionate, and, had M. Guldenthal himself come in his way, he could have embraced him.

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