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- The Mysteries of Paris V2 - 110/113 -
have been unmasked."
"Nothing could be plainer. I had only to follow your instructions to the letter to terrify and crush these wretches. In this case, your highness has saved, as usual, people of worth, and punished the wicked; noble Providence that you are!"
"Sir Walter, Sir Walter, do you remember the flatteries of Baron de Graun?" said Rudolph, smiling.
"Well, let it pass. I will commence then; or, rather, you will first please to read this letter, from Madame d'Harville, which will inform you of all that occurred previous to my arrival."
"A letter? give it to me quickly."
Murphy, handing Rudolph the letter, added, "As it was agreed upon, instead of accompanying the lady to her father's I alighted at an inn, a short distance from the chateau, where I was to stay until her ladyship sent for me."
Rudolph read what follows, with tender and impatient solicitude:
"YOUR HIGHNESS,--To all I owe you already, I add the life of my father!
"I shall let facts speak for themselves; they will tell you better than I can, what new treasures of gratitude toward you I have collected in my heart.
"Comprehending all the importance of the counsels which you gave me through Sir Walter Murphy, who rejoined me on the road to Normandy, just as I left Paris, I arrived in all haste at the Chateau des Aubiers.
"I do not know why, but the features of the servants who received me appeared sinister; I did not see among them any of the old servitors of our house; no one knew me; I was obliged to announce myself. I learned that, some days before, my father was quite ill, and my stepmother had just returned from Paris with a physician. No more doubt--it was Dr. Polidori!
"Wishing to be conducted at once to my father, I asked where an old valet was, to whom he was much attached. This man had left the chateau some time before; this information was given me by a butler, who had conducted me to my apartments, saying 'that he would go and inform my step-mother of my arrival.'
"Was it an illusion or prejudice? it seemed to me that my arrival was disagreeable even to the servants. Everything in the chateau seemed mournful and sad. In the disposition of mind in which I found myself, one seeks to draw conclusions from the merest trifles. I remarked everywhere traces of disorder, of negligence, as if it had been thought useless to take care of a dwelling so soon to be abandoned.
"My anxiety increased each moment. After having settled my daughter and her governess in my apartment, I was about to go to my father when my step-mother entered. Notwithstanding her duplicity and the command which she ordinarily has over herself, she appeared uneasy at my arrival.
"M. d'Orbigny did not expect your visit, madame," said she to me. "He is so ill, that such a surprise might be fatal. I think it, then, suitable to leave him in ignorance of your presence; he cannot, in any way--" I did not allow her to finish.
"A great misfortune has happened, madame," said I; 'M. d'Harville is dead! victim of a fatal imprudence! After such a deplorable event, I cannot remain in Paris, and I have come to pass at my father's my mourning."
"You are a widow! Oh! what overpowering good fortune!' cried my step-mother, in a rage. From what you know of the unhappy marriage, which this woman schemed for me, your highness will comprehend the atrocity of her exclamation.
"It is because I feared that you would be also as overpoweringly fortunate as I am, madame, that I came here," said I, perhaps imprudently; "I wish to see my father."
"Your unexpected appearance may do your father much harm," cried she, placing herself before me, to bar the passage. 'I will not allow you to enter his chamber until I have informed him of your return, with all the precautions his situation requires.'
"I was in a state of cruel perplexity. A sudden surprise might, indeed, prove dangerous to my father; but this woman, ordinarily so cold, so much the mistress of herself, seemed so alarmed at my presence; I had so many reasons to doubt the sincerity of her solicitude for the health of him whom she had married from cupidity; finally, the presence of Dr. Polidori, my mother's murderer, caused a terror so great that, believing the life of my father to be threatened, I did not hesitate between the hope of saving him and the fear of causing him any serious emotions.
"'I will see my father at once,' said I to my stepmother.
"And although she caught me by the arms, I passed out.
"Losing her self-possession completely, this woman again endeavored to stop me. This incredible resistance redoubled my alarm. I disengaged myself from her hands. Knowing the apartment of my father, I ran thither rapidly; I entered. Oh, your highness! on my life, I shall never forget the scene presented to my view. My father, almost unrecognizable, pale, thin, suffering painted on every feature, with his head leaning on a pillow, was stretched out in a large arm-chair.
"At the chimney-corner, standing near him, was Dr. Polidori, prepared to pour in a cup, which a nurse presented to him, some drops of a liquid contained in a little glass bottle which he held in his hand.
"His long red beard gave a still more sinister expression to his face. I entered so precipitately, that he made a gesture of surprise, exchanged a look of intelligence with my step-mother, who followed in haste, and instead of giving my father the potion which he had prepared for him, he quickly placed it on the chimney-piece.
"Guided by an instinct which I cannot yet account for, my first movement was to seize the vial.
"Remarking the surprise and alarm of my step-mother and Polidori, I felicitated myself on my action. My father, stupefied, seemed irritated, at seeing me, as I expected. Polidori cast a ferocious glance at me; notwithstanding the presence of my father and that of the nurse, I feared that this wretch, seeing his crime almost discovered, would carry matters to extremities.
"I felt the need of help at this decisive moment; I rang the bell; one of the servants appeared; I begged him to say to my valet (who had his instructions) to go and bring some things I had left at the inn; Sir Walter Murphy knew that, not to arouse the suspicions of my stepmother, I would employ this subterfuge to bring him to me.
"The surprise of my father and my step-mother was such that the servant retired before they could say a word; I was reassured; in a few moments Sir Walter would be near me.
"'What does this mean?' said my father, at length, in a feeble but imperious and angry tone, 'You here, Clemence, without being sent for? And then, hardly arrived, you take possession of the vial which contains the potion that the doctor was about to give me; will you explain this folly?'
"'Leave the room,' said my step-mother to the nurse. 'Calm yourself, dear,' said she, addressing my father; 'you know the least emotion may injure you. Since your daughter comes here in spite of you, and her presence is disagreeable, give me your arm, I will conduct you to the little saloon; and leave our good doctor to make Madame d'Harville understand the imprudence (not to say anything worse) of her conduct.'
"And she cast a significant look at her accomplice. I comprehended the design of my step-mother. She wished to lead my father away, and leave me alone with Polidori, who, in this extreme case, would have doubtless employed violence to force from me the vial, which might furnish evident proof of his designs. 'You are right,' said my father; 'since she comes and persecutes me even in my own room, without any respect for my wishes, I will leave the place free to her importunacy.' And rising with an effort, he accepted the offered arm, and made some steps toward the small saloon. At this moment, Polidori advancing toward me, I drew nearer my father and said, 'I will explain to you the cause of my unexpected arrival, and what is strange in my conduct. I am a widow. I know your days are threatened, father.'
"He walked painfully, with his body bent. At these words, he stopped, stood erect, and looking at me with profound astonishment, cried, 'You are a widow? my days threatened? What does all this mean?'
"'And who dares to threaten the days of M. d'Orbigny, madame?' audaciously asked my step-mother. 'Who threatens them?' added Polidori.
"'You, sir; you, madame,' I answered. 'What an insult!' cried my step-mother, advancing toward me. 'What I say, I will prove, madame.' 'Such an accusation is frightful!' said my father.
"'I shall leave this house at once, since in it I am exposed to such atrocious calumnies!' said Dr. Polidori, with the assumed indignation of a man whose honor was outraged. Beginning to feel the danger of his position, he doubtless wished to fly. As he opened the door, he found himself face to face with Sir Walter Murphy."
Rudolph, stopping a moment, extended his hand to the squire, and said: "Very timely, my old friend; your presence must have been like a thunderbolt to this Wretch." "That is the word, your highness; he became livid, and retreated two steps, looking at me in a kind of stupor; he seemed astounded. To meet me in Normandy at such a moment! he thought it was a dream. But continue, my lord; you will see that this infernal Countess d'Orbigny had also her turn of a thunderbolt, thanks to what you told me of her visit to the quack Bradamanti Polidori in the house of the Rue du Temple; for, after all, it is you who act; or, rather, I was only the instrument of your thought."
Rudolph smiled, and went on with the perusal of the letter of Madame d'Harville.
"At the sight of Sir Walter, Polidori was petrified; my step-mother fell from one surprise into another; my father, alarmed at this scene, and weakened by sickness, was obliged to seat himself in a chair. Sir Walter double-locked the door by which he entered; and, placing himself before the one which opened into another apartment, so that
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