Daniel had turned red. It was for the first time that the count spoke so clearly. He went on,—
“I have never disapproved of my poor wife’s plans; and the proof is, that I have allowed you to pay your attentions to my daughter. But now I make this condition: if my daughter is to Miss Brandon what she ought to be to her, a tender and devoted sister, then, six months after my wedding, there shall be another wedding at my house.”
Daniel was about to speak; but he stopped him, saying,—
“No, not a word! I have shown you the wisdom of my decision, and you may act accordingly.”
He had already put on his hat and opened the door, when he added,—
“Ah! one word more. Miss Brandon has asked me to present you to her to-night. She wants to speak to you. Come and dine with me; and after dinner we will go to Circus Street. Now, pray think of what I have told you, and good-by!”
Count Ville-Handry had hardly closed the door, when M. de Brevan rushed out of the bedroom in which he had been concealed.
“Was I right?” he exclaimed.
But Daniel did not hear him. He had forgotten his very presence. Overcome by the great effort he had made to conceal his emotions, he had sunk into a chair, hiding his face in his hands, and said to himself in a mournful voice, and as if trying to convince himself of an overwhelming fact,—
“The count has lost his mind altogether, and we are lost.”
The grief of this excellent young man was so great and so bitter, that M. de Brevan seemed to be deeply moved. He looked at him for some time with an air of pity, and then suddenly, as if yielding to a good impulse, he touched his shoulder, and said,—
The unhappy man started like one who has suddenly been roused from deep slumber; and, as he recalled what had just happened, he said,—
“You have heard all, Maxime?”
“All! I have not lost a word nor a gesture. But do not blame me for my indiscretion. It enables me to give you some friendly advice. You know I have paid dear for my experience.”
He hesitated, being at a loss how to express his ideas; then he continued in a short, sharp tone,—
“You love Miss Ville-Handry?”
“More than my life, don’t you know?”
“Well, if that is so, abandon all thoughts of useless resistance; induce Miss Henrietta to do as her father wishes; and persuade Miss Brandon to let your wedding take place a month after her own. But ask for special pledges. Miss Ville-Handry may suffer somewhat during that month; but the day after your wedding you will carry her off to your own home, and leave the poor old man to his amorous folly.”
Daniel showed in his face that this suggestion opened a new prospect before him.
“I had not thought of that,” he said.