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Samuel Brohl and Company By Victor Cherbuliez Characters: 28296

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


In reading the fourth letter of Mme. de Lorcy, M. Moriaz experienced a feeling of satisfaction and deliverance, over which he was not master. His daughter had gone to pay a visit in the neighbourhood, and he was alone with Mlle. Moiseney, who said to him, "You have received good news, monsieur?"

"It is excellent," he replied; then, promptly correcting himself, he added: "Excellent, or to be regretted, or vexatious; I leave that to our powers of discernment."

When he had finished reading the letter, and replaced it in the envelope, he remained thoughtful for some moments; he was wondering how he should proceed to announce the excellent news. For three weeks his daughter had been a mystery to him. She never once had pronounced the name of Count Larinski. Churwalden pleased her as much as Saint Moritz; apparently, she was gay, tranquil, perfectly happy. Had her delusion passed away? Had she changed her mind? M. Moriaz did not know; but he surmised that still waters should be mistrusted, and that a young girl's imagination is like an abyss. One thoroughly good warning is worth two indifferent ones; henceforth, he feared everything. "If I speak to her," thought he, "I shall not be able to dissimulate my joy, and perhaps she will go into hysterics." He had a horror of hysterics; he resolved to have recourse to Mlle. Moiseney, and he said to her, abruptly:

"I suppose, mademoiselle, that you are acquainted with all that has passed, and that Antoinette has given you her confidence?"

She opened her eyes wide, and was on the point of answering that she knew nothing; but she restrained herself, and setting her little pointed head erect on her thin shoulders, she said, proudly, "Can you imagine that Antoinette would keep any secrets from me?"

"Heaven forbid!" replied he. "And do you approve, do you encourage her sentiments for M. Larinski?"

Mlle. Moiseney started; she had been far from suspecting that Count Larinski had specially impressed Mlle. Moriaz, and, as on certain occasions her mind worked rapidly, she understood immediately all the consequences of this prodigious event. There was a cloud before her eyes, and in this cloud she beheld all manner of things, both pleasing and displeasing to her; her mouth open, she strove to clear her ideas. She said to herself: "It is an imprudent act; not only that, it cannot be;" but she also said: "Mlle. Antoinette can no more make a mistake than the Queen of England can; because she wishes it, she is right in wishing it." Mlle. Moiseney ended by regaining her self-possession; her lips formed the most pleasant smile, as she exclaimed:

"He has no fortune, but he has a beautiful name. Mme. la Comtesse Larinski! it sounds well to the ear."

"Like music; I grant, it is perfect," rejoined M. Moriaz. "Unfortunately, music is not everything in the affairs of this world."

She was not listening to him. Full of her own idea, without taking time to breathe: "You jest, monsieur," she continued, with extraordinary volubility. "Believe me or not, I have foreseen this marriage for some time. I have presentiments that never deceive me. I was sure that it would be thus. What a handsome couple! Fancy them driving in an open carriage through the park, or entering a proscenium-box at the opera! They will make a sensation. And truly, without boasting, I think I may call your attention to the fact that I have been of some account in the affair. The first time I saw Count Larinski, you know, at the table d'hote in Bergun, I recognised at once that he was beyond comparison-"

"By-the-way, he ate trout?" interrupted M. Moriaz; "it does honour to your discernment."

"You had better ask Antoinette," replied she, "if that very evening I did not praise the handsome stranger. She maintained that he stooped, and that his head was badly poised; would you believe it?-his head badly poised! Ah! I was sure it would end so. Do you wish to prove my discernment? Shall I tell you where your letter comes from that contains such excellent news? The count wrote it; he has at last proposed. I guessed it at once. Ah! monsieur, I sympathize in your joy. He is, indeed, the son-in-law that I have dreamed of for you. A superior man, so open-hearted, so unaffected and frank!"

"Do you really think so?" asked M. Moriaz, fanning himself with the letter.

"He related to us his whole life," rejoined she, in a pedantic tone. "How many people could do as much?"

"A delightful narration. I only regret that he was silent concerning one detail which was of a nature to interest us."

"An unpleasant detail?" she asked, raising her gooseberry-coloured eyes to him.

"On the contrary, a circumstance that does him honour, and for which I am obliged to him. Believe me, my dear demoiselle, I should be charmed to receive a son-in-law from your hands, and to give my daughter to a man whose genius and noble sentiments you divined from merely seeing him eat. Unfortunately, I fear this marriage will not come about; there is one little difficulty."

"What?"

"Count Larinski forgot to apprise us that he was already married."

Mlle. Moiseney sent forth a doleful cry. M. Moriaz handed her Mme. de Lorcy's letter; after reading it, she remained in a state of deep dejection; a pitiless finger had burst the iris bubble that she had just blown, and that she saw resplendent at the end of her pipe.

"Do not give way to your despair," said M. Moriaz; "take courage, follow the example I set you, imitate my resignation. But tell me, how do you think Antoinette will take the matter?"

"It will be a terrible blow to her," replied Mlle. Moiseney; "she loves him so much!"

"How do you know, since she has not judged it best to tell you?"

"I know from circumstances. Poor dear Antoinette! The greatest consideration must be used in announcing to her this intelligence; and I alone, I believe-"

"I agree with you," M. Moriaz hastened to interpose; "you alone are capable of operating on our patient without causing her suffering. You are so skilful! your hand is so light! Make the best of the situation, mademoiselle-I leave it to you."

With these words he took up his hat and cane, and hastened to get away, rather anxious about what had passed, yet feeling too happy, too much rejoiced, to be a good consoler.

It was not long before Mlle. Moriaz returned from her walk. She came humming a ballad; she was joyous, her complexion brilliant, her eyes sparkling, and she carried an armful of heather and ferns. Mlle. Moiseney went to meet her, her face mournful, her head bent down, her glance tearful.

"Why! what is the matter, my dear Joan?" she said; "you look like a funeral."

"Alas!" sighed Mlle. Moiseney, "I have sad news to communicate."

"What! have they written to you from Cormeilles that your parrot is dead?"

"Ah, my dear child, be reasonable, be strong; summon up all your courage."

"For the love of God, what is the matter?"

"Ah! would that I could spare you this trouble! Your father has just received a letter from Mme. de Lorcy."

Antoinette grew more attentive, her breath came quickly. "And what was there in this letter that is so terrible, so heart-rending?" she asked, forcing a smile.

"Fortunately, I am here," replied Mlle. Moiseney. "You know that your joys and your sorrows are mine. All the consolation that I can lavish upon you, the tenderest sympathy-"

"My dear Joan, in the name of Heaven, explain first, and then console!"

"You told me nothing, my child-I have a right to complain; but I have divined all. I can read your heart. I am sure that you love him."

"Of whom do you speak?" replied Antoinette, whose colour rose in her cheeks.

"Of a most charming man, who, either through inconceivable stupidity, or through most criminal calculation, neglected to tell us that he was married."

And with these words, Mlle. Moiseney extended both arms, that she might receive into them Mlle. Moriaz, whom she believed to be already swooning.

Mlle. Moriaz did not swoon. She flushed crimson, then grew very pale; but she remained standing, her head proudly erect, and she said, in a tone of well-feigned indifference: "Oh! M. Larinski is married? My very sincere compliments to the Countess Larinski."

After which she busied herself arranging in a vase the heather and ferns she had brought back with her. Mlle. Moiseney stood lost in astonishment at her calm; she gazed in a stupor at her, and suddenly exclaimed: "Thank God! you do not love him! Your father has mistaken, he often mistakes; he sometimes gets the strangest ideas into his mind; he was persuaded that this would be a death-blow to you; he does not know you at all. Ah! unquestionably, M. Larinski is far from being disagreeable; I do not dispute his having some merit; but I always thought that there was something suspicious about him; his manners were a little equivocal; I suspected him of hiding something from us. As it appears, he has made a mesalliance that he did not care to acknowledge. It is deplorable that a man of such excellent address should have low tastes and doubtful morality. His duty was to tell us all; he was neither loyal nor delicate."

"You dream, my dear," replied Antoinette. "What law, human or divine, obliged M. Larinski to tell us everything? Did you expect him to render an account of his deeds and misdeeds to us as to a tribunal of penance?"

In speaking thus, she took off her hat and mantilla, seated herself in the embrasure of a window, and opened a book which she began to read with great attention.

"God be praised! she does not love him," thought Mlle. Moiseney, who was not aware that Mlle. Moriaz was turning two or three pages at a time with perceiving it.

Deeply absorbed as she was, she still recognised her father's step as he came upstairs to his room. She hurried out to meet him. He noticed with pleasure that her face was not wan, nor were her eyes red. He was less satisfied when she said, in a calm, clear voice:

"Please show me the letter that you have received from Mme. de Lorcy."

"What is the use?" he rejoined. "I know it by heart. I am ready to recite it to you."

"Is it a letter that cannot be shown?"

"No, indeed; but as I tell you that I am ready to give you an account of it-"

"I would prefer to read it with my own eyes."

"After all, you have a right. There! take it. But I beg of you do not be offended by unfortunate expressions."

"Mme. de Lorcy always knows how to choose the proper word to express her thought," she responded.

When she had run her eye rapidly over Mme. de Lorcy's eight closely written pages, she looked at her father and smiled.

"You must own that you found a very useful and a very zealous ally in Mme. de Lorcy; do her this justice, she has worked hard, and you owe her many thanks for having busied herself so actively in ridding you of 'this worthy man, this good man, this delightful man'; those are her own words, if you remember."

M. Moriaz exclaimed: "I hope you do not imagine that it was a matter arranged between us. Do you really suspect me of having some dark plot with Mme. de Lorcy! Do you believe me capable of being implicated in an act of perfidy?"

"God forbid! I only accuse you of being too joyous, and of not knowing how to conceal it."

"Is that a crime?"

"Perhaps it is an indiscretion."

"I swear to you, my dear child, that I only consider your happiness, and Mme. de Lorcy herself-Since M. Langis no longer thinks of you, what reason could she have-"

"I do not know," interrupted Antoinette; "but her prejudice would take the place of reason."

"So you will not believe that Count Larinski is married?"

"I believe it, without being certain, and I wish to be assured of it. Have I not acted in good faith through all this matter? was I not ready to comply with your conditions? I consented to refer to the judgment of Mme. de Lorcy. She has deigned to be gracious to the accused. She has admitted that M. Larinski is a perfectly honourable and even a delightful man; but she has discovered, at intervals of several days, first, that he does not love me, and then, that he has deceived me by letting me believe that he was still free. I wish to satisfy my own mind, and convince myself that I am not being played with."

"And you have concluded--"

"I have concluded that, with your permission, we shall leave to-morrow morning for Cormeilles."

This conclusion was by no means agreeable to M. Moriaz, whose face grew sensibly longer.

"Of what are you afraid? You know that I have character, and you ought to know, no matter what Mme. de Lorcy says, that I am not wanting in good sense. When it is proved to me that I have deceived myself, I will make the sign of the cross over my romance; it will be dead and buried, and I promise you not to wear mourning for it."

"So be it," said he; "I believe in your good sense, I have faith in your reason: we shall leave to-morrow for Cormeilles."

Four days later, Mme. de Lorcy was walking in an alley in her park. She was joined there by M. Langis, to whom she said, in a good-humoured tone: "Always grave and melancholy, my dear Camille! When will you cease your drooping airs? I cannot understand you. I do my best to be agreeable to you, to settle matters satisfactorily. Nothing seems to cheer you. You make me think of the hare in La Fontaine:

"'Cet animal est triste, et la Crainte le ronge.'"

"Fear and hate, madame," replied he. "I hate this man; he is insupportable to me. I will give up coming to Maisons if I always must meet him here. Has he paid you his adieux for the last time?"

"Not yet; a little patience-we shall not count the minutes. Besides, what harm can this man do you? The lion has lost his claws-what do I say?-he has carried his good-nature to the point of muzzling himself. It is not generous to pursue with hate a disarmed enemy."

"Very well, madame, if he is not gone in three days, I return to my first idea; it was the best."

"You will cut his throat?"

"With all my heart."

"For the love of art?"

"I am not a very bloodth

irsty individual, but I would take a singular delight in slashing at the skin of this gloomy personage."

Mme. de Lorcy shrugged her shoulders. "What makes you think him gloomy, my dear? You are perfectly reasonable. You ought to adore M. Larinski; you are under the greatest obligations to him. He has been the first to succeed in touching the heart of our dear, hitherto insensible girl; he has broken the charm. She was the Sleeping Beauty; he has awakened her, and, through the favour of Heaven, he cannot marry her. I can see her in Churwalden, a prey to the gloomiest ennui, weeping over her illusions, furious at having been deceived. Do you not divine all the advantage that can be derived from a woman's anger?"

"You know that I love her, and yet I do not wish to owe anything to her spite."

"You are a child: be guided. The moment is come for you to propose. In a few days you will start for Churwalden, and you will say to this angry woman, 'I have lied-I love you.' In short, you will talk to her of your amorous flame; and you may, freely, under these circumstances, exhaust all your treasure-store of hyperbole. She will listen to you, I can promise you, and she will say to herself, 'I seek vengeance-here it is.'"

"I would like to believe you, madame," he replied, "but are you very certain that Mlle. Moriaz is still at Churwalden?"

And, pointing with his finger, he showed her at the end of the avenue a figure coming towards them clad in a pretty nut-brown dress with a long train sweeping the gravel.

"Truly, I believe that it is she," cried Mme. de Lorcy. "M. Moriaz is the most unskilful person; but, after all, not much harm is done."

Mlle. Moriaz had arrived the evening previous at Cormeilles. After resting somewhat from the fatigues of the journey, she had nothing more urgent to do than to order the horses put to her coupe and to come and pay her respects to her godmother, who could not fail to be touched by this attention.

Mme. de Lorcy ran to Antoinette and embraced her several times, saying: "You are here at last! How charmed I am to see you again! You made us wait long enough; I began to fear that you had taken root in the Grisons. Is it indeed an enchanted land? I rather believe that your father is a cruel egotist, that he shamefully sacrificed you to his own convenience in prolonging his cure; but here you are-I will pardon him. Your poor, your proteges, are clamorous for you. Who do you think asked after you, the other day? Mlle. Galet, whom, according to your orders, I supplied with her quarter's allowance. How you spoil her! I found on her table a bouquet fit for a duchess; she insisted that you had sent it to her from where you were, and I had all the trouble in the world to make her understand that double camellias are not gathered among the glaciers of Roseg. Strew with flowers, if you will, Mlle. Galet's existence and garret; but do not fling at her head a bushel of double camellias, streaked with white; it is madness. I seriously propose to have you put under restraint. Never mind, I am very happy to see you again. You are looking very well.-Don't you think, Camille, that she appears extremely well?"

Mlle. Moriaz coldly received Mme. de Lorcy's embraces; but she smiled graciously on M. Langis, and pressed his hand affectionately. Mme. de Lorcy led them into her salon, where they talked on indifferent subjects. Antoinette was waiting for M. Langis's departure to broach the subject that she had at heart. At the end of twenty minutes, he rose, but immediately reseated himself. A door had just opened, giving admittance to Count Abel Larinski.

At the unexpected apparition of Samuel Brohl, the two women changed colour; the one flushed from the effort that she made to dissimulate her vexation, the other turned pale from emotion. Samuel Brohl crossed the salon with deliberate step, without appearing to recognise the person who was with Mme. de Lorcy. Suddenly he trembled, as if he had been touched by a torpedo, and, profoundly agitated, almost lost countenance. Was he as much astonished as he seemed? For some time the Sannois Hill had become his favourite promenade, and he never went there without going as far as a certain spot whence he could see the front of a certain house, the window-shutters of which had remained during two months as though hermetically sealed. It might be that the evening before he had found them open. Induction is a scientific process with which Samuel Brohls are familiar.

He had abundant will and self-control. He was not long in recovering himself; he raised his head like one who feels himself strong enough to defy all dangers. After greeting Mme. de Lorcy, he drew near Antoinette, and asked how she was, in a grave, almost ceremonious tone.

"Your visit distresses me, my dear count," said Mme. de Lorcy to him; "I fear it is the last. Have you come to bid us farewell?"

"Alas! yes, madame," he replied. "The letter for which I have been waiting has not yet arrived; but this delay will not alter my plans: in three days I shall leave Paris."

"Without a desire to return, without regret?" she asked.

"I shall only regret Maisons, and the kind reception I have received there. Paris is too large; little people like myself feel their smallness more here than elsewhere; it does not require an excess of pride for one to dislike being reduced to the state of an atom. Residing in Vienna suits me better; I breathe freer there; it is a city better adapted to my size and taste. Birds do wrong to change their nests."

Thereupon, he began to describe and warmly extol the Prater and its fine walks, Schonbrunn, its botanical gardens and the Gloriette, the church of St. Stephen's, and the limpid waters of the Danube; sometimes addressing himself to Antoinette, who listened without a word, and sometimes to Mme. de Lorcy, whose eyes were turned at intervals towards M. Langis, seeming to say to him: "Was I not right? Confess that your apprehensions lacked common-sense. Do you hear him? he has only half an hour to spend with her, and he describes the Prater. Are you still thinking of cutting his throat? Please say one polite and civil word to him. It is not he, it is you who are gloomy. Throw off your sinister air. How long will this taciturn reverie last in which you are sunk? You make yourself a laughing-stock-you act like a fool. You resemble a sphinx of the desert engaged in meditating upon a serpent, and who mistakes an innocent adder for a viper." M. Langis understood what she wished to say to him, but he did not throw off his sinister air.

After praising Vienna and its environs, Samuel Brohl eulogized the easy, careless character of the Viennese. He told, in a sprightly way, several anecdotes. His gaiety was rather feverish-somewhat forced studied, and abrupt; but, nevertheless, it was gaiety. Mme. de Lorcy responded to him, Mlle. Moriaz continued silent; she crumpled between her fingers the guipure lace of her Marie-Antoinette fichu, and, with fixed eye, she seemed to be counting the stitches. Samuel Brohl interrupted himself in the midst of a sentence, and rose suddenly. He turned towards Antoinette; in a hollow voice he begged her to tell M. Moriaz how much he regretted that his early departure would deprive him of the honour and pleasure of visiting him at Cormeilles; then he bowed to Mme. de Lorcy, thanked her for the happy moments that he had spent with her, and charged her to commend him to the kind remembrance of Abbe Miollens.

"We shall meet again, my dear count," she said to him, in a clear voice, emphasizing her words; "and I hope that, before long, we shall make the acquaintance of the Countess Larinski."

He looked at her in astonishment, and murmured, "I lost my mother ten years ago."

Immediately, without giving Mme. de Lorcy time to explain herself, he directed his steps hastily towards the door, followed by three glances, all three of which spoke, although they did not all say the same thing. The room was large; during the thirty seconds that it took him to cross it, the angel of silence hovered in the air.

He was about passing through the door, when, as fatality ordained, there occurred to him an unfortunate and disastrous thought. He could not resist the desire to see Mlle. Moriaz once more, to impress forever on his memory her adored image. He turned, and their eyes met. He paid dearly for this weakness of the will. Apparently the violent restraint that he had exercised over himself for an hour had exhausted his strength. It seemed to him that his heart ceased to beat; he felt his legs stiffen, and refuse to serve him; his teeth clinched, his pupils dilated, consciousness forsook him. Suddenly, heavily as a mass of lead, he fell prone upon the floor, where he remained in a senseless condition.

Mlle. Moriaz could not suppress a cry, and seemed for a moment on the point of fainting herself. Mme. de Lorcy drew her arm around her waist, and hurried her into the next room, throwing to M. Langis a bottle of salts as she did so, and saying, "Take care of Count Larinski."

The first thing that M. Langis did was to set the bottle on the table, after which he went close up to Samuel Brohl, who, fainting and inanimate, bore almost the appearance of death. He examined him an instant, bent over him, then, folding his arms and shrugging his shoulders, he said to him, "Monsieur, Mlle. Moriaz is no longer here."

Samuel Brohl did not stir. "You did not hear me," continued Camille. "You are superb, M. le Comte; you are very handsome; your attitude is irreproachable, and you might well be taken for a dead person. You fell admirably; I swear I never saw at the theatre a more successful fainting-fit; but spare yourself further trouble for the performance. I repeat, Mlle. Moriaz is no longer here."

Samuel Brohl remained inert and rigid.

"Perhaps you want to try the strength of my wrists," continued Camille. "Very well, I will give you that satisfaction."

And, with these words, he seized him round his waist, summoned all his strength in order to lift him, and deposited him at full length on the sofa.

He examined him again, and said: "Will this tragi-comedy last much longer? Shall I not find a secret to resuscitate you? Listen to me, monsieur. I love with all my soul the woman that you pretend to love. Does that not suffice? Monsieur, you are a Polish adventurer, and I have as much admiration for your social talents as I have little esteem for yourself. Does that not suffice yet? I would not, however, lift my hand to you. I entreat you to consider the affront received."

It seemed as if the dead man trembled slightly, and Camille exclaimed: "Thank God! this time you have given sign of life, and the insult found the way to your heart. I would be charmed to restore you to your senses. I await your commands. The day, the place, and the weapons, I leave to your choice. And, stay! You can count on my absolute discretion. No one, I give you my word, shall learn from me that your fainting-fit had ears, and resented insults. Here is my address, monsieur."

And, drawing from his pocket a visiting-card, he tried to slip it into the cold, listless, pendent hand, which let it fall to the ground.

"What obstinacy!" he said. "As you will, M. le Comte; I am at the end of my eloquence."

He turned his back, seated himself in a chair, and taking a paper, he unfolded it. Meanwhile the door opened, and Mme. de Lorcy appeared.

"What are you doing here, Camille?" she exclaimed.

"You see, madame," he answered, "I am waiting until this great comedian has finished playing his piece."

He was not aware that Mlle. Moriaz also had just entered the salon. She cast him an angry, indignant, threatening glance, in which he read his condemnation. He tried to find some word of excuse or explanation to disarm her anger, but his voice failed him. He bowed low, took his hat, and went away.

Mme. de Lorcy, very much agitated, opened a window; then she threw water into Samuel Brohl's face, rubbed his temples with a vivacity that was not altogether exempt from roughness, and made him smell English salts.

"Ah, my dear! pray go away," she said to Antoinette; "this is no place for you."

Antoinette did not go away; her face contracted, her lips trembling, she seated herself aside at some distance from the sofa.

Mme. de Lorcy's energetic exertions at last produced their effect. Samuel Brohl was not dead; a quiver ran through his frame, his limbs relaxed, and at the end of a few instants he reopened his eyes, then his mouth; he sat up, and stammered: "Where am I? What has happened? Ah, my God! it was but a moment ago that she was here!"

Mme. de Lorcy laid her hand on his mouth, and, bending over his ears, she said, in a severe, imperious tone, "She is here still!"

She did not succeed in making herself understood. One only recovers by degrees from such a fainting-fit. Samuel Brohl was again overcome by weakness; his eyes closed once more, and he let his head sink between his hands. After a silence of a few moments he said, in a choked voice: "Ah! pardon me, madame. I am ashamed of myself. My courage failed me; my strength betrayed me. I love her madly, and I had sworn never to see her again. It was in order to fly from her that I was going away."

He raised his head; he saw Antoinette; he looked wildly at her, as though he did not recognise her.

He recognised her at last, made a gesture of alarm, rose precipitately, and fled.

Mlle. Moriaz drew near Mme. de Lorcy, and said to her, "Well, what do you think of it?"

"I think, my dear," she replied, "that Mme. de Lorcy is a fool, and that Count Larinski is a powerful man."

Antoinette looked at her with a bitter smile, and touched her arm lightly. "Admit, madame," she said, "that if he had a hundred thousand livres' income, you would not think of doubting his sincerity."

Mme. de Lorcy did not reply; she could not say "No," and she was enraged to feel that she was both right and wrong. It is an accident that happens sometimes to women of the world.

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